The Mind Behind Pearl Harbor
March 22, 2017
War with the United States was inevitable. Though the Americans refused to pick up arms and join the battle, it would only be so long before they were drawn in to battle Hitler’s conquest of Europe. Though engaged with Japan in negotiations, no headway was being made and tensions between the two nations continued to mount.
War was inevitable, but somebody needed to start it.
Enter Japan’s Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and the Imperial Conference of July 2nd, 1941. With Japan’s emperor fully supporting the decision to go to war with the United States, someone would need to devise a plan that would guarantee Japan’s victory. To confront the United States head-on would be suicide, so Yamamoto planned to take the country by surprise.
When the admiral proposed the idea to attack the United States, he was met with a great deal of resistance. Only after unbending persistence on his part did approval finally come for a plan that he was believed to have been formulating at least a year before the concept of war with the United States was posed as a real possibility.
Yamamoto’s ideas for his plan are said to have started taking shape in May of 1940, when the United States moved it’s Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu in the Territory of Hawaii. Knowing the attack would need to be perfect, he enlisted Rear Admiral Onishi Takijiro to thoroughly study an attack on the harbor without letting their commanders know. After the British attacked the Italian base at Taranto in November of 1940, Yamamoto decided on a December 1941 launch for his attack on Pearl Harbor.
Approving the Plan
Though Yamamoto had a plan to surprise the American fleet, it wasn’t up to him to give final approval. He needed that of the Naval General Staff, which was initially opposed to the idea. By the annual war games in September, Yamamoto had at least garnered enough interest from the Naval General Staff to allow the attack on Pearl Harbor to be entertained and examined during the event. Though the plan was deemed feasible, it was still considered far too risky and once again was denied.
Yamamato had one last idea, to give the Naval General Staff the ultimatum that, either the attack on Pearl Harbor would go ahead or he would and the Combined Fleet staff would resign. Unwilling to go to war with the Americans without Yamamoto, the attack was approved.
Alongside Commander Genda Minoru, who had recently been assigned as an officer of the First Air Fleet, Yamamoto worked through the logistics including how they would make torpedoes effective in the harbor’s shallow waters and how the attack would remain a surprise.
On December 7th, 1941, Yamamato saw his work come to fruition, though his year of hard work and tenacity ultimately proved to be for naught.