Admiral Nimitz: Three Mistakes Japan Made At Pearl Harbor

Discussion in 'All Things Boats & Boating' started by brian eiland, Jun 21, 2011.

  1. brian eiland
    Joined: Jun 2002
    Posts: 4,976
    Likes: 194, Points: 73, Legacy Rep: 1903
    Location: St Augustine Fl, Thailand

    brian eiland Senior Member

    An interesting story about the insight Admiral Nimitz had into the "Mistakes" the Japanese made when they bombed Pearl Harbor.

    Tour boats ferry people out to the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii every thirty minutes. We just missed a ferry and had to wait thirty minutes. I went into a small gift shop to kill time. In the gift shop, I purchased a small book entitled, "Reflections on Pearl Harbor" by Admiral Chester Nimitz.
    Sunday, December 7th, 1941--Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington D.C. He was paged and told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the phone. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet. Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. He landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941. There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat--you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war.

    On Christmas Day, 1941, Adm. Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction wrought on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Big sunken battleships and navy vessels cluttered the waters every where you looked. As the tour boat returned to dock, the young helmsman of the boat asked, "Well Admiral, what do you think after seeing all this destruction?" Admiral Nimitz's reply shocked everyone within the sound of his voice. Admiral Nimitz said, "The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?" Shocked and surprised, the young helmsman asked, "What do mean by saying the Japanese made the three biggest mistakes an attack force ever made?"
    Nimitz explained.

    Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk--we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

    Mistake number two: when the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow everyone of those ships to America to be repaired. As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired and at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.

    Mistake number three: every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in top of the ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply. That's why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make or God was taking care of America.

    I've never forgotten what I read in that little book. It is still an inspiration as I reflect upon it. In jest, I might suggest that because Admiral Nimitz was a Texan, born and raised in Fredricksburg, Texas--he was a born optimist. But anyway you look at it--Admiral Nimitz was able to see a silver lining in a situation and circumstance where everyone else saw only despair and defeatism. President Roosevelt had chosen the right man for the right job.

    We desperately needed a leader that could see silver linings in the midst of the clouds of dejection, despair and defeat.
  2. kach22i
    Joined: Feb 2005
    Posts: 2,414
    Likes: 111, Points: 63, Legacy Rep: 1222
    Location: Michigan

    kach22i Architect

    I'm not sure who gets the credit or blame for the following comments, but I've heard or read them somewhere before. Something to the affect; the Japanese did us a favor by destroying our obsolete battleships and proving the value of carrier based air-power.

    The comment is to be taken in context of what if war had been declared in a means other than an carrier based sneak air attack. The USA would most likely prepared for the wrong kind of war by building more large capital ships / battleships in lieu of the aircraft carriers which followed.

    This fact is completely new to me, may have been kept confidential for many years including the Cold War for obvious reasons. What year was the book first published?
  3. jehardiman
    Joined: Aug 2004
    Posts: 3,597
    Likes: 974, Points: 113, Legacy Rep: 2040
    Location: Port Orchard, Washington, USA

    jehardiman Senior Member

    Unlikely; because Japan and the US would have fought the war they had planned to fight. The entire Japanese war plan was based around the Kantai Kessen (decisive battle) doctrine ( it is an expansion of an old bushido concept, look it up on wikipedia). Any sacrifice was permitted if major enemy fleet elements are brought to battle and destroyed. Notice the emphisis on major fleet elements. The drydocks, the subs, the fuel depot, the CA's and DD's were all ignored under this overarching concept. And it was not just Pearl Harbor where the concept failed, Coral Sea, Midway, the Solomons, the Mariana, Samar & Leyte, and the entire IJN submarine war, were all examples where the Kaigun ignored the stratigic implications of the war and strove to win the tactical battle by attempting to force a decisive action. Pearl Harbor in itself was just a just a tactical trick copied from the British (see Mers-el-Kébir and Taranto), not a new way of waging war. There was not a radical move in Japanese Navy tactical thinking to airpower. Japan still, throught the war, attempted to bring about the decisive gun battle even after the US had decided that airpower was the way war was to be waged. A better way to represent Japanese thinking about aircraft carriers (and warships for that matter) is to think of the aircraft and pilots as guided munitions to be expended just like gun shells.

    Nope, this has been taught in every military science class I've ever had, so at least since the mid 1970's and it is mentioned in Morrison's history. There was no reason to keep it secret because the way the Navy operated changed on that day. FWIW, the day it really sunk in that the Cold War was over and that the USSR was finished was in 1992 when I saw 3 active carriers tied up at North Island. That never whould have happened before then.
  4. brian eiland
    Joined: Jun 2002
    Posts: 4,976
    Likes: 194, Points: 73, Legacy Rep: 1903
    Location: St Augustine Fl, Thailand

    brian eiland Senior Member

    First off it was not myself that purchased that book. That discussion was forwarded to me from an old retired Navy friend that was also not likely the purchaser of that book.

    I did find a reference to the book here

    ...and here an interesting forum on the subject
    ...there are also references here to the sub pens and drydocks mentioned by Jehardiman above
  5. wardd
    Joined: Apr 2009
    Posts: 897
    Likes: 37, Points: 0, Legacy Rep: 442
    Location: usa

    wardd Senior Member

    even at the time japanese military thinking, tactics and weapons were not highly thought of in western military circles and many ships were lost that the us navy would have saved do to poor damage control practices

    also japanese production suffered from poor to non-existent quality control, vacuum tubes being an example, after manufacture tubes were tested and bad ones discarded, there was little if any thought to examining production practices and making changes

    another example was the policy of keeping their best pilots in combat whils the usa pulled them back to train new piolets, ensuring a supply of quality pilots
  6. cthippo
    Joined: Sep 2010
    Posts: 813
    Likes: 52, Points: 28, Legacy Rep: 465
    Location: Bellingham WA

    cthippo Senior Member

    I don't think #1 was a mistake. Admiral Yammamoto would have known that we could replace manpower losses much more easily than material losses and the advantages of hitting when the ships were minimally staffed would have outweighed whatever personnel losses they could have inflicted. Sailors at home in bed can't shoot back.

    As for #2, I would argue that drydocks can't sink ships. The Japanese plan didn't call for an extended war, but rather a knockout punch that would effectively take the US out of the war within 6 months. In that context, not hitting the docks makes sense. Finally, drydocks are not fixed. Even if the Japanese had sunk the docks, replacements could have been brought out from the west coast.

    The turning point of the war in the Pacific was unquestionably (IMHO anyway) the battle of Midway, which, but for an incredible stroke of luck, we should have lost. The US would have still won the war in the end, but it likely would have taken at least one if not two more years. The modern political balance would also look much different because the delay would have given Russia time to get fully engaged in the Pacific theater and it's possible they, rather than the allies, could have ended up occupying Japan.
  7. PAR
    Joined: Nov 2003
    Posts: 19,133
    Likes: 496, Points: 93, Legacy Rep: 3967
    Location: Eustis, FL

    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    Yamamoto himself told Togo that the best he could do was keep America on their heels for 6 months, a year at best. They knew what they were in for (they knew how much oil they had in reserve), but 19th century mind sets controlled the upper ranks of the military. They honestly felt they could demoralize the Americans into suing for peace, shortly after the attack, of course based on their sociological concepts and traits.

    The Germans tried the same thing, with the bombing of major populated areas in England, but what both failed to understand is the more you kick a person when they're down, the more likely they'll do anything to get well enough to kick back twice as hard. This is typical of western thinking and has been for centuries, but self adsorbed and inflated leaders make the same mistakes over and over because they can't see the forest, for all the trees they have up their ***. This is why we again are attempting to remove ourselves from an insurrection, even though we've learned this lesson several times previously.

    Back to 12/7/1941, several "mistakes" were made by the Japs. They failed their primary missions, which were to seal the harbor and destroy the aircraft carriers in it. In fact, the only objective they actually completed, that was of strategic significance was the destruction of the air wings based there. The sinking of obsolete battle wagons (many slated for target practice) just wasn't as important as thought at the time. Had they launched the planned 3rd wave of aircraft, it's likely these targets would have been hit, but the element of surprise was long gone and our aim was getting better.

    Lastly they fought a modern war with late 19th century tactics and mentality. This cost them dearly, very early in the war. They lost most of their experienced pilots, who were among the world's best, within 6 months of the attack on Pearl. They never could replace them. This coupled with several overly complex battle plans, that couldn't possably be executed timely enough, they lost the functionality of their navy as an aggressive force. By late summer of 1942, just 8 months into the war, Yamamoto was right and they were in retreat on every front.

    I disagree Cthippo, though Chester Nimitz was a plodding fool in many of his exploits, he was right about the attack. The sole point of engagement is to drag out their fleet and destroy it, especially the men, because it takes time to train and replace them. As for the second point, even a quick knock out blow requires a decisive and meaningful exploitation of asset destruction. No war planner in their right mind would over look taking out repair facilities. Without these and fuel stores, you have no way of getting back into battle quickly, therefore more reason to consider suing for peace.

    Lastly the Pacific war began to turn as soon as we leaned on them in the Coral Sea. Technically they won the battle in terms of tonnage lost, but they lost pilots and aircraft carriers, which they needed the following month at Midway. After Midway, they were skidding down hill fast and we realized this at Guadalcanal. After this point we knew what was to come, it was just how long the American people would permit it to continue. For the record, none of the wars we've been in have been popular. Even WW II faced considerable opposition by early 1943.
  8. bntii
    Joined: Jun 2006
    Posts: 731
    Likes: 97, Points: 28, Legacy Rep: 1324
    Location: MD

    bntii Senior Member

    Delay is the only tactical goal they could have hoped to accomplish.
    Is there some point in time where their expansion into the pacific could have become intractable? Or at least envisioned to be so..

    Edit- a quick search yields this:

    "Japan was at war with China. Despite being a military superpower, their war with China was using up their resources. During that time, most of their resources especially oil were coming from the US. The US did not approve of Japanese aggression in China and they declared an embargo on Japan. This means they would stop supplying Japan with raw materials. So where would Japan get their resources to continue the war now?

    The Japanese High Command carefully discussed this and came up with the conclusion that the Dutch East Indies would be the best place to gain resources. But they knew that an attack on the Dutch East Indies would probably bring the US into the war. So they had to find a way to prevent the US from fighting with them until they conquered the Dutch East Indies. That's when they planned Pearl Harbor. The goal of Pearl Harbor was to disable the American fleet for a few months to give them enough time to conquer the Dutch East Indies and to absorb its resources to finance their war in China and the US once the US' navy was rebuilt."
  9. Frosty

    Frosty Previous Member

    The comment that the sunken ships could be floated and put in the dry dock for quick repair quicker than towing them to another US port does not sound right.

    Some of those boats had the decks blown off.

    Blundering Nimitz could be right, optimism is a wonderful thing as long as it not dreaming.

    I don't know of one that was pulled out and repaired. I think he was in shock.
  10. PAR
    Joined: Nov 2003
    Posts: 19,133
    Likes: 496, Points: 93, Legacy Rep: 3967
    Location: Eustis, FL

    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    The battle wagons: USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma where total loses
    USS West Virginia, USS California were sunk, later raised, repaired and rejoined fleet in 1944
    USS Nevada, USS Tennessee, USS Pennsylvania and USS Maryland were damaged, repaired and rejoined fleet in 1942.

    The cruisers: USS Helena, USS Honolulu and USS Raleigh (my dad's boat), were damaged, repaired and rejoined fleet by the spring of 1942

    The destroyer: USS Cassin, USS Downes, USS Helm and USS Shaw were damaged, some more so than others, repaired and rejoined the fleet. USS Helm was repaired under way and continued her patrol duties.

    The minelayer USS Oglala was sunk, raised, repaired and rejoined fleet in early 1944

    The seaplane tender USS Curtiss was damaged, repaired and rejoined fleet after 30 days

    Frosty, you apparently haven't seen a naval ship yard at work trying to get ships back in service. Most of the boats above were back in service in a few months. Magical workers can't describe the efforts I've seen or read about being preformed. The repairs to USS Yorktown, after the Coral Sea engagement or USS Enterprise at New Caledonia come to mind as absolutely astounding. In the case of the Yorktown, she was put back in service in just a few days and took part in the Battle at Midway. The Japanese couldn't believe it was Yorktown, as it wasn't humanly possible to have fixed that floating wreck in just a few days, but they did.
  11. troy2000
    Joined: Nov 2009
    Posts: 1,743
    Likes: 170, Points: 63, Legacy Rep: 2078
    Location: California

    troy2000 Senior Member

    I'm years removed from the sources of the following comments; please don't ask me to annotate them.:)

    But I remember seeing maps of the original Japanese plan, where they were going to seize enough territory to supply them with raw materials for war and industry, establish a defensive perimiter, and defend it until the Allies got tired of the war. But they were victims of their own success.

    They reached their original objectives so quickly that their momentum and overconfidence pushed them into expanding out across the Pacific until they effectively had no defensive perimeter. They were stretched so far and so thin that they couldn't possible defend everything they had taken from pressure being applied to specific points. So instead of attacking them on a broad front, we started rolling them up one island at a time.

    Although some have mentioned the Japanese belief in decisive strikes, we shouldn't ignore the effect that generations of strategists playing Go instead of chess had on their military thinking. They tended to be fond of overly-complex battle plans that involved pincer movements, splitting their forces, and sequential attacks to keep pressure on the enemy, instead of committing everything available for one overwhelming blow.

    That isn't to say the Americans were strategic or tactical geniuses. But their answer to the Japanese had been succinctly stated by the Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest almost a century before. Although it's doubtful he said it in such a colorful and illiterate manner, his philosophy has come down to us as, "git there fustest with the mostest."

    The Americans didn't over-think things. They accumulated an overwhelming superiority of forces at a particular point, then threw it all at the Japanese. After they had mopped up, they moved on to the next objective.

    My father was an Army infantryman (a BAR gunner, to be exact). He fought the Japanese across island after island, all the way to and through the Philippines. And while he had nothing but respect for the courage and endurance of the soldiers he faced, he didn't think much of the higher-echelon strategists who sent them out to die.
  12. Poida
    Joined: Apr 2006
    Posts: 1,189
    Likes: 51, Points: 48, Legacy Rep: 497
    Location: Australia

    Poida Senior Member

    There are two things I don't understand about the second world war.

    1. Why did the Japanese fight with the Germans. The Germans as I understand it considered themselves the Master Race, blue eyed blondes etc. What part of Master Race didn't they understand? Didn't the Japanese have mirrors in the 1940s, did they think they were blue eyed blondes? Didin't they realise that as soon as they helped Germany defeat the rest of the world, they too would be servants to the Germans.
    2. I do not understand either why Germany and Japan concerned themselves with the Pacific Islands, including Singapore, Africa even the Australians fought the Japanese in New Guinea.
    All the Germans had to do was defeat England and America, the rest of the world would have to fall in place.
    Heck the Japanese even attacked Darwin. Even now the only defence we have there is three pubs and a nudist beach.
  13. troy2000
    Joined: Nov 2009
    Posts: 1,743
    Likes: 170, Points: 63, Legacy Rep: 2078
    Location: California

    troy2000 Senior Member

    The Japanese and Germans didn't really fight together. Each country went to war for its own purposes, and they happened to have the same opponents. But although they signed a military treaty (apparently mostly based on the theory that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'), there was very little cooperation or coordination between them, either strategically or on the battlefield.

    I'm not aware of any significant military actions by the Germans in the Pacific. And of course, there were none by the Japanese in Europe....

    The Japanese fought an island war in the Pacific because they're an island nation in the Pacific. As I mentioned earlier, they wanted a defensive perimeter of island bases--to stop the Americans and their allies from attacking Japan itself, and to defend the territories (including islands) they targeted for oil and other natural resources.

    The Japanese 'bothered with Singapore' because it was part of British Malaya (now known as the federation of Malaysia), which was the world's largest source of rubber and tin at the time. The area also produced large amounts of timber, copper, iron ore, and bauxite, and had significant petroleum reserves.
  14. yipster
    Joined: Oct 2002
    Posts: 3,486
    Likes: 96, Points: 58, Legacy Rep: 1148
    Location: netherlands

    yipster designer

    but there was german submarine U-234 captured close to the end of the war that was, along with other wonder wapons, carying uranium oxide to japan
    could have been ballast but rummor goes it was used together with stuf made in the manhattan project used in the first a-bomb on japan

  15. troy2000
    Joined: Nov 2009
    Posts: 1,743
    Likes: 170, Points: 63, Legacy Rep: 2078
    Location: California

    troy2000 Senior Member

    Very interesting stuff, yipster. I was completely unaware of that sub mission. Regarding the uranium aboard, I note the article says this:
    That sounds more likely to me than the possibility that Japan was pursuing nuclear weapons. I know nothing about the production of synthetic methanol, but it's no secret that the Germans and Japanese were both hurting for petroleum-based fuels to support their war effort.

    I think both countries seriously miscalculated popular sentiment and national pride, both in the US and in England (and in the conquered countries of Europe). They thought all they had to do was hang on until folks got tired of the war, then negotiate settlements that would legitimize their conquests. It never even crossed their minds that the only acceptable outcome of the war in their adversaries' eyes would be unconditional surrender...
Forum posts represent the experience, opinion, and view of individual users. Boat Design Net does not necessarily endorse nor share the view of each individual post.
When making potentially dangerous or financial decisions, always employ and consult appropriate professionals. Your circumstances or experience may be different.