to Pearl Harbor
By David H. Lippman
On 22 November 1941, the First Air Fleet
under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo arrives
in Tankan Bay in Japan’s remote Kurile
Islands. This force of six aircraft carriers,
two battlecruisers, two heavy cruisers, one
light cruiser and 10 destroyers is the first
multi-carrier task force assembled in history.
Its presence in Tankan Bay is a total secret.
The six carriers' radio operators are left
behind in Sasebo and Kure to bat out imaginary
traffic to fool Western radio eavesdroppers.
Sailors from other ships are driven on public
bus tours of Japanese national shrines to
give the impression the fleet is staying
in home waters. And at Tankan Bay, Chief
Engineer Yoshiburi Tanbo is ordered to dispose
of the carrier Akagi's trash. He does so
by burning it at pierside. On the battleship Hiei, communications officer Cdr. Kanjiro
Ono removes a vital part from his main transmitter
and hides it under his pillow. Meanwhile,
Japanese negotiators in Washington present
a new document to the Americans.
The next day, Nagumo assembles his senior
officers in the wardroom of his flagship Akagi. Yanking a sheet of a massive and excellent
physical map of the island of Oahu, he reveals
their target: Pearl Harbor.
On November 24, the U.S. War Department
issues a warning to all Pacific commanders
that there is a possibility of a "surprise
aggressive moment in any direction, including
an attack on the Philippines or Guam." There’s
no mention of Pearl Harbor.
On the 25th, Adm. Harold Stark, Chief of
Naval Operations, tells Adm. Husband E. Kimmel,
CINCPAC, that neither Stark nor President
Roosevelt nor Secretary of State Cordell
Hull would be surprised if the Japanese were
to launch a surprise attack. The two admirals
discuss the probable location and decide
it will be the Philippines, which would be "most
embarrassing," though Stark also guesses
Kimmel reacts by discussing anti-aircraft
guns with Gen. Walter E. Short, who commands
all U.S. Army troops in Hawaii. Kimmel wants
to deploy ships and AA guns at Wake and Midway,
but is short of the latter. It turns out
the Army is short of guns, too.
Shortly before midnight, at Tankan Bay,
Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo's six carriers and
15 escorts weigh anchor amid thick gloom
and thicker secrecy. They sail west, heading
for the International Date Line... and Pearl
In Washington on 26 November, the Americans
offer the Japanese ten points for a settlement.
Japan must yield territory she has occupied
in both China and Indochina, end recognition
of their puppet Chinese government in Nanking,
and withdraw from alliance with Hitler. The
Japanese reject the demands. Vice Adm. Chuichi
Nagumo's force has been at sea for a day.
On the 27th, President Roosevelt and his
advisors decide that Japan is bent on war.
With Gen. George Marshall attending maneuvers
in Georgia, his aide, Lt. Gen. Miles Gerow,
sends out a pre-written war warning to all
Army commands in the Pacific, stressing that
the "United States desires that Japan
commit the first overt act." In Hawaii,
Gen. Short puts his men on anti-sabotage
alert, fearing that the 350,000 Japanese
in Hawaii are actually Fifth Columnists.
Adm. Kimmel dispatches the carrier Enterprise to Midway to deliver Marine air units and
the Lexington to Wake to do the same, sailing
at top speed all the way. This decision leaves
eight of the Pacific Fleet's nine battleships
in Pearl Harbor (USS Colorado is at Bremerton
Navy Yard in Washington).
At sea, the Japanese task force en route
to Pearl Harbor struggles through fog and
rain. Tankers assigned to keep the warships
topped up keep losing their way, and destroyers
have to round them up. On the carrier Hiryu,
28 November, naval aviators turn ice cream
and milk into American milkshakes. On the
carrier Akagi's bridge, Vice Adm. Chuichi
Nagumo blurts out to Rear Adm. Ryunosuke
Kusaka, "Mr. Chief of Staff, what do
you think? I feel that I've undertaken a
heavy responsibility. If only I'd have held
out and declined it." Kusaka tranquilly
replies, "Don't worry, sir. Everything
will turn out all right."
On 29 November, Premier Hideki Tojo tells
a meeting of Japan's top officials, including
Emperor Hirohito, that Japan must go to war,
and that diplomacy has failed.
In the Pacific Ocean on 30 November, rain
and sleet turn the flight deck of the carrier Kaga into
a skating rink. Aviators kill time by studying
flash identification cards of American battleships.
All across the Pacific, Japanese troops
and ships move to their action stations.
Most are in French Indo-China, China, or
Formosa, preparing for assaults on the American-held
Philippines, British-held Malaya, Hong Kong,
and Borneo, Dutch Java, or neutral Thailand.
These moves, many of them quite visible,
set off alarms in Singapore, but nobody detects
the carrier fleet heading for Hawaii.
In Washington, Japanese emissaries Kichisaburo
Nomura and Saboru Kurusu
continue to talk peace with Cordell Hull.
Their conversations are disrupted by Hull's
cleft palate and Nomura's deafness. The British
put Malaya on full alert on 1 December 1941.
In Japan, the final meeting of the Imperial
Privy Council is held. Prime Minister Hideki
Tojo argues the case for war. Some advisers
warn that Japan's economy cannot match America's,
and point out there are no plans in case
of air raids on Tokyo, a mostly wooden city.
Privy Council President Yochimichi Hara retorts, "The
United States is acting in a conceited, stubborn,
and disrespectful manner." Tojo tops
that by saying that the Japanese Empire stands
at the threshold of glory or collapse, and
promises that a "united nation will
go on to victory."
There is nothing more to be said. The ministers
sign the documents declaring war, and give
them to Hirohito, who signs them a few hours
later, telling his aides that he does not
feel that a constitutional monarch can overturn
his ministers on such a momentous decision.
Shortly after that, the Imperial Japanese
Navy's main radio towers in Tokyo, grind
out orders to the far-flung fleet to commence
hostilities on 8 December, Tokyo time. One
signal goes out to Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo's
carrier force: "Niitaka Yama Nobore," which
means, "Climb Mt. Niitaka." That
order tells Nagumo to proceed with the attack
on Pearl Harbor. Niitaka, a peak on Formosa,
was at that time the highest (13,599 feet)
peak in the Japanese Empire.
Back in Japan, the leading English-language
paper, Japan Times and Advertiser, headlines: "Japan
Will Renew Efforts to Reach U.S. Understanding."
Tokyo fires a telegram to its chief spy
in Pearl Harbor, German Julius Otto Kuhn,
to ask if there are any barrage balloons
over Pearl Harbor, or any anti-torpedo nets.
The answer is no. The Americans break this
message faster than Kuhn, but regard
it as a routine intelligence inquiry.
In Hawaii, Lt. Cdr. Edwin D. Layton, the
U.S. Pacific Fleet's intelligence officer,
tells his boss, Vice Adm. Husband E. Kimmel,
that he has "no information" about
the location of Japan's six aircraft carriers,
but presumes they are in "home waters."
Kimmel jokingly asks, "Do you mean
to say that they could be rounding Diamond
Head this minute and we wouldn't know?"
Layton replies blandly, "I would hope
they would be sighted by now, sir."
On 3 December 1941 the Japanese Consul-General
in Hawaii fires a radiogram to Tokyo reporting
the American warships at anchor in Pearl
Harbor, which include the battleships Oklahoma
and Nevada, both sisters, and the carrier
USS Enterprise. This information is radioed
to Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo's First Air Fleet,
whose six carriers have just reached a point
1,300 miles northwest of Hawaii and are now
headed southeast, towards its target.
In his office aboard the battleship Nagato,
Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto writes a letter to
a friend who has expressed jingoistic
rhetoric. "If we attack America," Yamamoto
chides his friend sarcastically, "it
will not be necessary for us to seize California.
In order for us to make peace, we would have
to march into the White House. I wonder if
those who would blindly lead us to war have
thought about that!" Japanese propagandists
turn this warning of American determination
and toughness into a boast that Yamamoto
is looking forward to dictating peace to
the Americans in the White House.
In the north Pacific, Nagumo's force gets
word from Tokyo on 4 December that an American
submarine is nearby. The fleet changes course,
but it turns out to be an error; there is
no submarine. That evening the force gets
another scare when lights of an aircraft
are seen. They turn out to be sparks from
the carrier Kaga's funnel. She gets a stiff
warning to be more careful.
A cartoon found in a downed Japanese fighter
after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In Tokyo, the Japanese Foreign Ministry
goes over the final note to the Americans,
the one that will declare war. They agree
to deliver it at 1 p.m., Washington time,
half an hour before the attack. It will not
include a simple declaration of war, but
simply say that "in view of the attitude
of the American Government it must be concluded
that it is impossible to reach an agreement
through further negotiations."
Lead domestic American news stories on 6
December 1941 are a car crash in Baltimore,
a train wreck in Kentucky, the death of a
Civil War veteran, and the murder of a 12-year-old
girl at a "petting party." In Seattle,
a gun-toting burglar breaks into a local
doctor's home at 4:30 a.m., and makes off
with a purse's entire contents: 15 cents.
As there are only 16 shopping days til Christmas,
newspapers are packed with ads that link
consumer goods to the defense push ("This
Christmas... Give the 8 Freedoms of (Glover)
Pajamas That Really Fit!")
The New York Times headlines
its story on Japan's aggressive tone: "Japan
rattles sword but echo is pianissimo." Life magazine
says, "Japan is desperate and
getting weaker every day."
That afternoon, Japan sends a the first
segments of a 14-part message to its embassy
in Washington, ordering them to present their
final demands to the United States at 1 p.m.
Washington time, tomorrow. This message is
intercepted and decoded by the Americans
faster than the Japanese can do it.
This intelligence lands in the hands of
Lt. Cdr. Alvin Kramer of the Navy's Cryptographic
Department, who drives around Washington
that evening, showing the message to top
officials. The message indicates that the
Japanese intend to break off negotiations
completely, and is filled with inconclusive
President Franklin D. Roosevelt reads the
document and says, "This means war." He
then sends a personal message to Japan's
Emperor Hirohito, begging him to start negotiations
afresh. Other American senior officers are
less certain that the message means war.
Some senior officers, like Gen. George C.
Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, and Rear Adm.
Richmond K. Turner, Chief of War Plans, cannot
be reached that evening. No warnings go out
to Hawaii, or anywhere else, for that matter.
When Roosevelt's message reaches Tokyo (after
a long delay by the Japanese telegraph agency),
U.S. Ambassador Robert C. Grew passes it
on to the Foreign Ministry and asks for an
immediate audience with the Emperor. Prime
Minister Hideki Tojo, the fiercest militarist,
denies the American request.
At Pearl Harbor, all eight battleships of
the Pacific Fleet are in port, and all three
carriers are at sea.
Pearl Harbor, October 1941.
On the battleship USS Arizona, YN3 Oree
Weller stands zone inspection in the ship's
navigation office. He just manages to clean
up dripping red paint before Capt. Franklin
Van Valkenburgh inspects the space. Weller's
space passes inspection, and Weller is handed
his liberty card for that evening.
"A river of white flows down Hotel
Street" that evening as thousands of
sailors descend on Honolulu's main entertainment
area, filled with shooting galleries, pinball
machines, taxi-dancehalls, and cafes named
the Black Cat, the Bunny Ranch, or Lousy
Lui's. However, both the shore patrol and
the military police have a quiet night. One
sailor is jailed for a "malicious conversation," and
another from USS California for using a shipmate's
liberty card. Only 80 out of 100,000 military
on liberty or pass are carted off to brigs
Many sailors and soldiers enjoy simpler
pleasures. Private First Class Aloysius Manuszewski
has a beer at the PX, and then writes home
to his parents in Buffalo, N.Y. Officers'
clubs hold small parties and Dutch treats.
Ensign Victor Delano spends a properly respectful
evening at the home of Rear Admiral Isaac
C. Kidd, who is COMBATDIV 2. It is the last
night Kidd will be alive.
A lot of sailors go Pearl Harbor's Bloch
Recreation Arena, where the main event is
the "Battle of Music," a musical
contest between ship's bands. The contest
is won by USS Pennsylvania. The band of USS Arizona finishes second. The musicians are
rewarded by being allowed to sleep late the
following day. Not one member of Arizona's band survives the attack.
At midnight, Hawaii's stern blue laws kick
in. At bars and clubs throughout Honolulu,
the national anthem is played. Sailors and
soldiers snap to attention, face the music,
then race for the doors, buses, and liberty
Some have to work. The swing shift at the
Pearl Harbor drydock puts new steel plates
on the destroyer USS Downes and aligns boring
bars on the USS Pennsylvania's propeller
shafts, while loudspeakers blare "Moonlight
Serenade." Japanese midget submarines
use the work lights to navigate towards the
Radio station KGMB is ordered to stay on
the air after midnight to guide in a flight
of 12 B-17 Flying Fortresses due in from
the West Coast.
North of Hawaii, the attacking Japanese
task force increases speed to 25 knots, and
six midget submarines are released from their
mother boats off Oahu, in a bid to cause
additional chaos at Pearl Harbor. Among them
is a midget sub commanded by Ensign Kazuo
On the carrier Akagi, Vice Adm. Chuichi
Nagumo sends a message to his fleet: "The
fate of the Empire rests on this enterprise.
Every man must devote himself totally to
the task at hand."
To be continued.
Pick up Great Pacific War and attack or defend Pearl Harbor
H. Lippman, an award-winning journalist and
graduate of the New School for Social Research,
has written many magazine articles about World
War II. He currently works as a public
information officer for the city of Newark,
N.J. We're pleased to add his work to our Daily