aviation in World War 2

bomber tactics
the Blitz
bombing of Coventry
bombing in the Bristol area
Combined Bomber (CBO)
Bomber Command
the Dambusters
bombing of Hamburg
1000 bomber raids
bombing of Dresden
bombing of Nuremberg
the Schweinfurt raids
German Night Fighters
the Pathfinders
Soviet bombing raids
Pearl Harbour
the Doolittle raid
the B-17 and B-29
fire bombing raids on Japan
Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima

Pearl Harbour

Pearl Harbour was originally an extensive, shallow embayment called Wai Momi (meaning "water of pearl") or Pu‘uloa by the Hawaiians. Pu‘uloa was regarded as the home of the shark goddess Ka‘ahupahau and her brother, Kahi‘uka. The harbour was teeming with pearl-producing oysters until the late 1800's.

In the years following the arrival of Captain James Cook, Pearl Harbour was not considered a suitable port due to shallow water. The United States of America and the Hawaiian Kingdom signed the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 as Supplemented by Convention on December 6, 1884 and ratified in 1887. On January 20, 1887, the United States Senate allowed the Navy to lease Pearl Harbour as a naval base (the US took possession on November 9 that year). As a result, Hawaii obtained exclusive rights to allow Hawaiian sugar to enter the United States duty free. The Spanish-American War of 1898 and the desire for the United States to have a permanent presence in the Pacific both contributed to the decision to annex Hawai‘i.

After annexation, Pearl Harbour was refitted to allow for more navy ships. In 1908 the Pearl Harbour Naval Shipyard was established. In 1917, Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbour was purchased for joint Army and Navy use in the development of military aviation in the Pacific.

As Japanese influence increased in the Pacific, the US increased the US Navy's presence as well. With tensions rising between the United States and Japan in 1940, the US began training operations at the base. The attack on Pearl Harbour by Japan on December 7, 1941 brought the United States into World War II.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, planes and midget submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy began a surprise attack on the US under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. This attack brought the United States into World War II. At 6:00 a.m. on December 7th the six Japanese carriers launched a first wave of 181 planes composed of torpedo bombers, dive-bombers, horizontal bombers and fighters. The Japanese hit American ships and military installations at 7:53 a.m.. They attacked military airfields at the same time they hit the fleet anchored in Pearl Harbour. Overall, twenty-one ships of the U.S. Pacific fleet were damaged and the death toll reached 2,400.


26 November 1941

At 0900hrs local time, a large Japanese fleet sailed out of Tankan Bay at Etorofu in the Kurile Islands, the northernmost chain of the Japanese archipelago. They were to set sail for Hawaii, maintaining radio silence and taking a northerly route to avoid detection. The strike force's commander Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo (Nagumo, Chuichi) had orders to attack the United States Pacific Fleet, which was at anchor in Pearl Harbour, the US Navy base on the Hawaiianisland of Oahu over 3,000 miles away.

This daring plan of attack had been hatched back in September, although talks were still continuing between Japan and the US to avert war. Its architect was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Yamamoto, Isoroku), a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. He had lost two fingers at the Battle of Tsushima, the decisive naval engagement where two-thirds of the Russian fleet had been sunk. Yamamoto was against going to war with the US. As naval attaché to Washington, he had seen the industrial might of America first hand. Asked about Japan's chances of victory, Yamamoto replied: "If I am told to fight regardless of the consequences, I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have absolutely no confidence about the second and third years."

Japan's aim was to complete its conquest of China and seize the southeast Asian colonies of Britain, France, and the Netherlands. These nations were at war in Europe. Only America stood in Japan's way. Yamamoto realized that the destruction of the US Pacific Fleet would give Japan time to establish an empire in Asia. Then it would have the resources to resist the inevitable American counteroffensive. Japan had nursed its imperial ambitions for many years. In 1895, victory over China had allowed it to annex the island of Formosa, now Taiwan. Korea had been annexed in 1910; Manchuria invaded in 1931. And in 1937, Japan began the wholesale invasion of China, leading to the infamous Rape of Nanking.

By that time Japan was a member of the Axis, along with Germany and Italy. The German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940 had left Dutch Indonesia defenceless. The fall of France allowed Japanese troops to enter French Indochina, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. By 1941, Britain was beleaguered and its possessions in the Far East vulnerable. The German attack on Russia in June 1940 neutralized Japan's abiding enemy in the region. The time was ripe for Japan to create what it called the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a Japanese empire.

Although war had been raging in Europe for two years, the American people wanted no part of it. Nor were they ready to go to war in the Far East. However Washington backed Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese leader resisting the Japanese onslaught and had imposed sanctions on Japan. Talks ensued but got nowhere. On 20 November 1941, America received an ultimatum from the Japanese government. It said the US must withdraw its support from the Chinese, lift its trade embargo, and supply Japan with the one vital commodity it lacked -oil. The US could not comply. Any concession to the Japanese would mean that China would fall, along with British possessions in the Far East. Without its empire, Britain would fall, leaving the whole of Europe, Africa, and Asia to the Axis. America would then be surrounded on all sides by hostile dictatorships.

On November 26, Washington sent a reply to the Japanese ultimatum that simply outlined the principles of self-determination once more. The Americans knew that this would not be acceptable to the Japanese, but they did not know that the Japanese fleet had already sailed. For Japan there was no time to lose. The Germans seemed on the brink of victory in Europe. In that case, they would soon arrive in the Far East to seize their enemies' colonies as spoils of war. If Japan was to have its empire, it had to strike straight away, at Pearl Harbour.

How much did Roosevelt know?

Pearl Harbour has always been portrayed as a surprise attack on an unsuspecting nation. And that, to a large extent, is true. The American people's attention was focussed on the war in Europe, fearful that they would be dragged in. Already Roosevelt (Roosevelt, Franklin D.) was backing Britain against Hitler by supplying the UK with weapons under the Lend-Lease Act passed in March 1941. American shipping was in danger from attack by German submarines, the very thing that had brought America into World War I. And America had occupied Greenland and Iceland. Few Americans raised any concerns about the Sino-Japanese War which had been raging since 1937.

Whether the US administration was surprised by the attack on Pearl Harbour is another matter. A good case can be made that the US government knew of Japan's plans, or should have. There were certainly indications.

On January 27, 1941, the Peruvian envoy in Tokyo told the third secretary in the US embassy that he had learnt from intelligence sources that the Japanese had a war plan which involved an attack on Pearl Harbour. On 10 July, the US military attaché in Tokyo reported that the Japanese Navy were secretly practicing airborne torpedo attacks on targets moored in Ariake Bay-a bay that resembles Pearl Harbour. The US military attaché in Mexico also reported that the Japanese were building midget submarines which would be towed to Hawaii for an attack on Pearl Harbour.

A top British agent, codenamed 'Tricycle,' told the FBI that the Japanese planned to attack Pearl Harbour, but his information was dismissed. And a Korean agent told American broadcaster Eric Severeid that the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbour. The agent repeated his story to a US Senator who alerted the State Department, US Army and Navy intelligence, and President Roosevelt personally.

American intelligence had broken all the Japanese codes. On 24 September 1941, a message from Japanese Naval Intelligence headquarters in Tokyo to the Japanese consul general in Honolulu was deciphered. It requested the exact locations of all US Navy ships in Pearl Harbour. Such detailed information would only be required if the Japanese were planning an attack on the ships at their moorings. In November, another message was intercepted ordering more drills involving attacks on capital ships at anchor in preparation to 'ambush and completely destroy the US enemy.' The only American fleet within reach was at Pearl Harbour.

On 25 November, a radio message from Admiral Yamamoto (Yamamoto, Isoruko) ordering the Japanese task force to attack the US fleet in Hawaii was intercepted. US Intelligence was understaffed and it is not known whether this message was decoded at the time. However, that same day, the US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, noted in his diary:

'FDR stated that we were likely to be attacked perhaps as soon as next Monday. FDR asked: 'The question was how we should manoeuvre them into the position of firing the first shot without too much danger to ourselves. In spite of the risk involved, however, in letting the Japanese fire the first shot, we realized that in order to have the full support of the American people it was desirable to make sure that the Japanese be the ones to do this so that there should remain no doubt in anyone's mind as to who were the aggressors.''

On 29 November, US Secretary of State Cordell Hull (Hull, Cordell) showed a reporter from The New York Times a message saying that Pearl Harbour was going to be attacked on 7 December. As the attack approached, the American government received information from numerous sources that 7 December would be the day. On 1 December, Naval Intelligence in San Francisco worked out from news reports and signals picked up by shipping companies that the Japanese fleet that had disappeared from home waters was then to the west of Hawaii. Those who believe that Roosevelt knew about the attack all along maintain that a number of other reports say that the Japanese would strike at Pearl Harbour, but they have yet to be declassified.

With hindsight, it is clear that the information that showed the Japanese would attack at Pearl Harbour was there. But it is a very serious matter to say that President Roosevelt knew where and when the attack would come and did nothing about it. It is, essentially, accusing him of treason. However, the Japanese attack did suit his purposes well. Since the fall of France in June 1940, Roosevelt had believed that America would have to go to war against Hitler. In August 1941, when Roosevelt and Churchill met on warships in the Atlantic, Churchill noted the 'astonishing depth of Roosevelt's intense desire for war.' But the American people had no wish to get involved in a European war. Even Roosevelt conceded that 'the American people would never agree to enter the war in Europe unless they were attacked within their own borders.'

Roosevelt was right. After the attack on Pearl Harbour, the American people were willing, if not eager, to go to war. Once the US had declared war on Japan, under the provisions of the Tripartite Pact signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan on September 1940, Hitler declared war on the US. At the Atlantic Conference, Roosevelt had already agreed with Churchill that the priority was to defeat Hitler, before finishing off Japan. So the attack on Pearl Harbour allowed Roosevelt to get America into the war against Germany 'through the back door.' It is difficult to see how else this could have been achieved and there are those who contend that Roosevelt's plan to get America into the war against the wishes of its people was the 'mother of all conspiracies.' They maintain that Roosevelt moved the Pacific fleet from the West Coast out to Hawaii against the advice of his commanders, not to threaten the Japanese, but as bait.

Admiral Richardson (Richardson, James O.) complained that Pearl Harbour had inadequate air defences and no defence against torpedo attack, as did his successor Admiral Kimmel (Kimmel, Husband E.). And when the aircraft carriers were ordered out of Pearl Harbour, it further deprived Pearl of air defences at a time when Roosevelt's negotiations with the Japanese were at their most provocative.

The conspiracy theorists say that the attack was stage managed to make America look weak. If America had looked strong and well-prepared, Germany might not have declared war. While this theory is plausible, the conspiracy theorists go further. They maintain that Roosevelt was a secret admirer of the Soviet Union and wanted to fight Germany to defend Russia, but could never expect to get the American people to ally themselves directly with the Soviets. According to this theory, Roosevelt also conspired with Stalin to use the war to destabilize the British Empire. In such a grand scheme, the sacrifice of a few thousand American lives at Pearl Harbour was small beer. The attack on Pearl Harbour was played up by the government and the press as the most infamous act in history, though it was known that the Japanese never declared war before attacking. Some 2,403 people were killed at Pearl Harbour and 1,178 wounded. However, these casualties are slight compared to later losses in the war. The US aircraft carriers were unscathed and only two capital ships lost completely.

While it is true that various wings of the US government did have good reason to suspect that the attack would come at Pearl Harbour, it is difficult to know now how far this intelligence was transmitted. With the nation not yet at war, there were often delays in sending incepted message for decryption. US Intelligence was short staffed and there were long delays in decoding and reading even high priority traffic. Some incepts were filed and forgotten, and it is not possible to know how much President Roosevelt and other key players knew at the time. For example, due to concern that the Japanese might realize their codes had been broken, President Roosevelt himself was taken off the list of raw intelligence sent between 20 May and 12 November, 1941. During that period he was only given an oral summary.

It was noted at the time that Roosevelt, usually a highly strung man, was surprisingly calm on the night of 7 December, 1941, as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. America was now at war.

How much did Churchill know?

Throughout World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Roosevelt, Franklin D.) were portrayed as the closest of friends. In fact, Roosevelt had only met Churchill once briefly before the war and found him extremely rude. His closest advisors dismissed Churchill as a 'drunk and a windbag.' Although they appeared friendly in front of the cameras, Roosevelt never fully trusted Churchill and carefully distanced himself from Churchill's plans.

Roosevelt was right to be wary. From the moment Churchill returned to government with the outbreak of war in September 1939, he planned to defeat Germany by dragging America into the war. While Roosevelt was keen to help Britain, and eventually came to believe that war with Germany was inevitable, he was keen not to be dragged into Churchill's imperial adventure.

Throughout the first year of the war, Churchill bombarded Roosevelt with flattering messages. At the same time, he skilfully manipulated the intelligence he shared with Roosevelt to manoeuvre America to the brink of war. The Americans had cracked the Japanese diplomatic codes and, in January 1941, they gave the British the Purple and 'Red' decoding machines which allowed the British to read Japanese diplomatic traffic. In return, they expected to be given the German Enigma code machine, so they could break the German codes. The British refused to hand one over. It was not until after the attack on Pearl Harbour that the Americans learned the British had broken the Japanese navy code JN-25.

The British had listening posts in the Far East, with headquarters in Singapore. From 1939, they had been on a war footing and priority was given to intercepting enemy messages and decoding them. Churchill insisted on seeing all JN-25 messages personally.

While America was still at peace, code-breaking was not given priority. Its western-most listening station was in Seattle. Some of the crucial intercepts indicating that the Japanese intended to attack Pearl Harbor were not decoded until after 1945, and due to security considerations, President Roosevelt was often not privy to raw intelligence. There were US liaison officers at the British decoding centre in Singapore, but they were not allowed to see raw intelligence and did not even know that the British had broken JN-25. British and Australian intelligence officers sent all their decrypts back to London, assuming that intelligence concerning an attack on Pearl Harbour would be forwarded to the Americans. It was not.

Although Churchill knew of the Japanese intentions, he deliberately misled Roosevelt by exaggerating the British strength in Singapore. He gave the impression that this was where the first attack would come - or, at the very least, that the Japanese would split their fleet and attack British and American forces simultaneously. However, he knew this was not the case. A report had already been drawn up showing that Singapore could not be defended. It would take at least 90 days for a fleet to reach Singapore from Britain, and besides, all available vessels were needed to protect the Atlantic convoys. In his mind, Churchill had already abandoned Singapore. And the Japanese knew it. The defence report had been on its way out to Singapore when it had been captured by a German ship and forwarded to Tokyo. The Japanese knew that it was not necessary to make a first strike against Singapore. It would fall anyway. Churchill knew that too, but he maintained the pretence that the first attack would come there, to the extent of pouring in British and Australian troops who would end up in Japanese prisoner of war camps with hardly a shot being fired. Not even the Australian prime minister was informed of the deception.

On November 19, 1941, the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo sent out a 'Purple' message to its embassies and consulates around the world. It instructed them to listen to Japanese news bulletins. If they ended with a weather report saying 'east wind rain' the attack would be on the US. 'North wind cloudy' would mean an attack on Russia, and 'west wind clear' would herald an attack on the British, with an invasion of Thailand or Malaya, or an attack on the Dutch East Indies. Both the British listening station in Melbourne and the American station in Seattle intercepted this and reported it to London and Washington respectively. While the Japanese diplomatic traffic still talked of negotiation, JN-25 traffic intercepted by the British talked of 'opening hostilities.' From November 21, it was clear that an attack was being set in motion and a large Japanese fleet was being assembled. Meanwhile, Japanese merchant ships were sailing home.

On November 25, the British intelligence headquarters in Singapore decoded a JN-25 message from Admiral Yamamoto (Yamamoto, Isoroku) saying: 'The Task Force will move out of Hitokappu Wan [Tankan Bay in the Kuriles] on the morning of November 26 and advance to the standing-by position on the afternoon of December 4 and speedily complete refuelling.'

As negotiations with the Americans were continuing, it was unlikely that the Japanese would have sent a fleet towards Singapore or Manila as they would almost certainly be spotted by merchant shipping in the busy southern waters and the reconnaissance planes which patrolled that area. So Pearl Harbour was the likely objective. It is not clear whether this information was conveyed from Churchill to Roosevelt as those documents are still classified. However, there was a considerable hardening of Roosevelt's negotiating position with the Japanese the following day.

On 2 December, the Singapore station decoded a message from Yamamoto saying: 'Climb Mount Niitaka 1208.' This was the signal for the attack to go ahead and gave the date of the attack - 8 December, in Tokyo, 7 December in Pearl Harbour. As each day passed and no Japanese fleet was spotted heading for Singapore or the Philippines, intelligence analysts in Singapore became all the more convinced that the attack would be on Pearl Harbour. They informed London, assuming that the warning would be forwarded to the Americans. It wasn't.

On 4 December, Japanese news bulletins ended with a weather forecast predicting 'east wind rain' -the code for an attack on America. This was broadcast three times before anyone in American intelligence realized that the attack was imminent. But without the JN-25 intelligence, it was still not clear where the attack would come.

Staff shortages in the American decoding rooms meant that Churchill knew the contents of Tokyo's final communiqué to Washington before Roosevelt did. He had time to invite the American ambassador John Winant and Roosevelt's special envoy to Britain, Averell Harriman, down to Chequers for dinner. At 9pm, he asked his butler to bring a portable radio into the dining room so they could listen to the evening news. It announced that Pearl Harbor was being attacked.

'No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States on our side was to be the greatest joy,' Churchill said. 'Once again in our long island history we would emerge safe and victorious. Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.'

However, the British intelligence analysts at the Singapore station were puzzled. If the Americans had received all the JN-25 intelligence reports they had sent back to London, how could they had been taken by surprise? If they had received those reports, they would have had more than enough warning to prepare a trap, or perhaps even to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbour occurring at all.

Where does blame lie?

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel (Kimmel, Husband E.) -Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet -and General Walter C. Short (Short, Walter C.) - the Army commander on Oahu were relieved of duty and demoted.

During the raid itself, Kimmel had replaced the shoulder boards of a full admiral he wore as CinCPac with those of a rear admiral, his permanent rank. Both Kimmel and Short retired in 1942.

A commission of inquiry hurriedly set up under Associate Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts and seven subsequent inquiries blamed Kimmel and Short for the catastrophe at Pearl Harbour. However, the Navy Court of Inquiry and the Army Pearl Harbour Board partially exonerated them, though their ranks were not restored to them. Neither man was granted the court martial they requested to clear their names. In 1941, they had agreed to sign a waiver to speed the investigation and the government held them to it.

Short died in 1949, it is said, due to the stress cause by the humiliation of Pearl Harbour. During the attack on Pearl, a spent bullet broke the window of Kimmel's office. 'It would have been more merciful if it had killed me,' he said. Kimmel died in 1968, still protesting that the Pearl Harbour debacle - America's worst wartime defeat - was not his fault.

But there was plenty to blame Kimmel and Short for. Although, for security reasons, they were not supplied with raw intelligence data, they were give 'war warnings' that told them to prepare for a Japanese attack. A surprise attack by submarines, planes, possibly both, was a 'definite possibility,' they were told on 18 February. However, like most other people, neither Kimmel nor Short expected the Japanese to attack at Pearl Harbour. They assumed that the enemy's first target would be far to the west. The crucial information that the Japanese consulate was sending Tokyo - details of the Pacific Fleet's moorings in Pearl Harbour in preparation for an attack - was denied to them.

Nevertheless, Kimmel failed to organize long-range reconnaissance flights. He had flying boats that could have patrolled out to 800 miles from Hawaii - the Japanese attack was launched from only 250 miles. (Although, to have covered the area effectively, Kimmel would have needed 250 flying boats, not the 49 he had.) Meanwhile, Short, who thought Kimmel had long-range reconnaissance in place, only deployed his radar equipment for three hours a day. It was operated by inadequately trained men who had no proper way of communicating with headquarters.

Neither Kimmel nor Short had any experience with aviation and Kimmel had been leap-frogged over 46 senior officers to take command in the Pacific. When the war warnings came, Kimmel saw his duty to follow the long-established US Navy battle plan, which was to divert the Japanese from attacking Singapore, until the Royal Navy had time to reinforce it. However, he had more ambitious plans of his own. He aimed to lure the enemy out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean and engage them in an old-fashioned engagement between battleships. This kind of battle never took place during the Pacific war; all naval engagements took place between carrier-borne aircraft. So Kimmel's preparation for war was to ready his fleet for aggressive action. The defence of Pearl Harbour, he thought, was in the hands of the Army and he complained bitterly to Washington at Short's lack of equipment.

Short, however, believed that the Japanese would not attack the military installations on Oahu while the Navy was there. An infantry officer, he admitted that he had no idea of how to protect the base against air attack. He made preparations to defend to the island against an amphibious assault. When the attack came, he retreated to his bunker and prepared to defend the beaches.

Although Kimmel and Short played golf together, they had set up no effective Navy-Army liaison. Kimmel did not pass on intelligence reports he received from Washington and failed to inform Short that he had not instituted reconnaissance flights. He did not even inform the Army when an enemy submarine was spotted at the entrance to Pearl Harbour on the morning of 7 December, even though intelligence analysts had long said that this would herald an aerial assault.

In turn, Short, who believed that the Navy had deployed reconnaissance aircraft, failed to inform Kimmel that he was limiting the use of radar to three hours a day, due to a shortage of spare parts. It is clear that he thought that the Navy was in Pearl Harbour to defend the Army installations, rather than the other way around. With the fleet in port, he believed that the major threat to his aircraft was sabotage, so he bunched the planes together on the airbase. That way they were easy to guard against saboteurs, but it made them sitting targets to air attack.

On instructions from Washington, Short had not instituted an all-out alert for fear of alarming the civilian population. When he informed Washington that he was calling a low-level alert against sabotage only, they made no response, so he assumed they concurred. The Navy was also informed of his state of preparedness, which was Level 1, the lowest state, in Army parlance. The Navy assumed that Level 1 was the highest.

When the attack on Pearl Harbour finally came, neither Kimmel nor Short had serious defence plans to put into action. Kimmel said that, if he had received the raw intelligence that had been denied to him, he would have ordered the aircraft carrier Saratoga back from the West Coast and would have sent the Pacific Fleet to sea to intercept the enemy. His successor, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz pointed out that this would have been a disaster:

'It was God's mercy that Admiral Kimmel didn't have warning that the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbour, he said. 'If we had been warned, our fleet would have gone out to sea. All our ships would have been destroyed one by one in deep water We would have lost the entire Pacific Fleet and eighteen to nineteen thousand men, instead of the ships and 3,300 men we did lose.'

Kimmel, a 1991 report concluded, fancied himself 'the American Nelson' and neglected his defences while preparing for attack. He had already had a falling out with Short over the defence of Wake Island. Short wanted command if the Army was deployed there. Kimmel refused, and deployed the Marines instead. This falling out explained why vital intelligence was not forwarded from Kimmel to Short.

Kimmel and Short must bear some of the responsibility for the losses at Pearl Harbour. Despite the warnings they had been given, they were not ready for war. But they were not the only commanders to be unprepared. General Douglas MacArthur on the Philippines, for example, had seven hours' warning after the attack on Pearl Harbour and his aircraft were also caught on the ground. He eventually conceded the Philippines with over 70,000 killed or taken prisoner, yet he went on to become a war hero.

If there was a conspiracy at the highest level to invite a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour to get America into the war in Europe on the British side then, it is argued, Kimmel and Short were merely scapegoats. Since their deaths their families and friends have tried to clear their names on the grounds that Washington had not provided them with all the intelligence indicating an impending attack. On those grounds the US Congress exonerated the two men in 2001. They have subsequently been returned to the ranks they held before Pearl Harbour. Now, it seems, America must find someone else to blame.

Was the bombing of Pearl Harbour really a success?

The Japanese claimed that the attack on Pearl Harbour was a great victory. There was jubilation on board the Japanese fleet and among the militarists back in Tokyo. But even as the Japanese task force turned for home, there were those who expressed their doubts.

Commander Fuchida (Fuchida, Mitsuo), the flight leader who had led the attack, begged the task force commander Admiral Nagumo to let him lead a third strike against the fuel depot on Oahu. Nagumo refused. The enemy now knew of the Japanese intentions and he believed his fleet was vulnerable to attack from the US carriers that were missing from Pearl Harbour. He decided to turn for home. He believed he had succeeded in his mission, which was to cripple the fleet in Pearl Harbour and put it out of action for six months.

Had Nagumo sent in a third strike and finished off the fleet, blown up the fuel depot and destroyed the naval dockyard, the Japanese would have had the undisputed mastery of the whole of the Pacific. Even the dockyards along the West Coast, where the Americans would have tried to build a new fleet, would be vulnerable. However, the only way to defeat the United States permanently would have been to mount a full-scale invasion. And not even the most fanatical Japanese militarist was planning that. As it was, Nagumo had left the Pacific fleet the facilities to raise and mend their ships, and the fuel to send them to sea. Indeed, all of the ships sunk by the Japanese that day foundered in shallow water and-with the exception of the Arizona and the Oklahoma-they were raised, repaired, and returned to service.

Back in Tokyo Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the attack, also had his doubts. He was against going to war with America, believing that Japan could not win against the USA's industrial might. However, he believed that an attack on Pearl Harbour would keep America on the defensive for six months, while Japan expanded its 'co prosperity sphere' to take in the oilfield and other sources of raw materials it needed to fight the war. He succeeded in giving Japan that six-month breathing space. But in June 1942, the US Navy revenged itself on the Japanese fleet with a decisive victory in the Battle of Midway (Midway, Battle of). Planes from the Hornet, Enterprise, and Yorktown-all carriers that the Japanese had hoped to catch in Pearl Harbour-obliterated the Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga, and Soryu, the carriers that had launched the attack. This destroyed Japan's first line carrier fleet and killed most of the pilots who had attacked Pearl Harbour. From then on, no matter how tenaciously the Japanese fought, their defeat was inevitable.

The atomic bomb finally forced their surrender. But, by that time, Japan was ringed by British and American fleets. On the day the first atomic bomb was dropped, more people on the mainland Japan were killed by conventional bombing and shellfire than died in Hiroshima itself. The justification for the use of the atomic bomb was that military planners calculated that an invasion of the Japanese islands would cost a million Allied casualties.

From the point of view of Japan's war aims, the attack on Pearl Harbour was a failure because the Japanese strategists had misread the situation in Russia. Their war strategy assumed that Germany was on the brink of crushing the Soviet Union. They thought that, once Germany had won the war in Europe, they would seize the colonies of their former enemies in the Far East. Japan had to act fast to grab them first. However, the war in Europe was not nearly won and, ultimately, the Soviet Union crushed Germany. If you believe that Churchill or Roosevelt, or both of them, connived in the attack on Pearl Harbour, then as an Allied strategy it was a success.

For Churchill, it brought the United States into the war. Without the US, the war against Hitler would probably have been won, but at an even more terrible price. If the Japanese had taken the British colonies in Asia and invaded India and Australia unopposed by the US, the British alone would not have had the strength to open a second front. The Soviet Union would have taken over the whole of Continental Europe and, ultimately, Britain itself. For Roosevelt, the attack on Pearl Harbour served the long-term interests of the United States. It united America behind him and, with Hitler's subsequent declaration of war against the United States, allowed him to follow the strategy he had long proclaimed in private. It brought the US into the war in Europe on the side of Britain. Hitler, not Hirohito, Roosevelt was convinced, was America's real enemy.

If the United States had not been brought into the war at that point, Japan would have seen the German advances into the Soviet Union falter. With the former colonies of France, the Netherlands, and Britain no longer at risk of being seized by the Germans, Japan might then have gone to the aid of its German ally and attack its traditional enemy Russia.

Fighting on two fronts, the Soviet Union would have probably been defeated, or Stalin would have sued for a humiliating peace. Britain and its colonies would then have fallen, leaving America to stand alone between an Atlantic Ocean controlled by the Germans and a Pacific dominated by the Japanese. Not even the might of the US could have survived this encirclement.

It was the attack on Pearl Harbour and Hitler's subsequent, foolish, declaration of war on the United States that allowed the liberal democracies to triumph in the 20th century. It is true that the Soviet Union also came out of World War II as a superpower. It had lost 21 million citizens, but its industry was intact. It subsequently built up its military might with materiel looted from Germany and the slave labour of German prisoners of war. And the memory of the suffering of the war kept its own citizens loyal to its oppressive system. But ultimately, its economy could not match those of the victors in the West.

It might also been argued that the attack on Pearl Harbour and its subsequent defeat in the war was a success for Japan in the long term. It freed it from its feudal past and allowed its economy to flourish. The attack could even be described as a success for Germany - with America's entry into the war, it was possible for the Western Allies to mount the D-Day landings and occupy half of Germany in 1945. West Germany soon became the industrial powerhouse of Europe and it was rich enough to bail out the East, which had suffered under Soviet control, when the country was reunited in 1990.

Pearl Harbour forced Britain and America to ally themselves with the Chinese in their war against the Japanese. This rid China of the foreign invader, but it built up the strength of the Communists who defeated the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek and took over in 1949. The Japanese were also forced out of Korea, but the northern part was occupied by the Soviets who declared war on Japan on 8 August 1945, two days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Korea remains divided. In the broad sweep of history, it can be argued that the one loser here was Great Britain. The loss of Singapore to the Japanese exposed British weakness in the Far East. After 1945, it no longer seemed feasible for Britain to hold on to its colonies in Asia. Following Indian independence in 1947, the rest of the British Empire was slowly disbanded and the last British colony in the Far East, Hong Kong, was handed back to China in 1997.

America still sees the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour as a defeat, but it set off a chain of events that has left the United States as the world's one remaining super power and its dominant economy.