In his foreword to the American edition of the book “Zero! ” Martin Caidin observed, that “the question is not why the Japanese managed to achieve everything in the Pacific, but more likely why we had to spend so much time to finish this war ”. This paper is an attempt to critically evaluate three basic issues, concerning the beginning, the during and the ending of the conflict. The format of the paper does not allow to consider the details, so only the most general trends shall be examined.
The reasons for the Day of Infamy, or was America unprepared to the war The outbreak of World War II and the beginning of the war in the Pacific are separated by more than two years. Throughout 1940-1941, the United States did no remain a simple observer of the European events. Despite most Americans had been isolationists, President Roosevelt managed to pass the Neutrality Act, swapping fifty obsolete destroyers to the British for the right to build American bases on British territory in the Americas and in early in 1941, he secured the passage of LendLease, a military aid act.
In March and April 1941, the United States occupied Greenland, seized Axis and Danish ships in its ports, and began training British pilots and repairing British warships . By 1941 America actually became a non-fighting ally of Britain, and later a Soviet Union. American fleet dominated in Western Atlantics and half of the Pacific, the industry produced increasing amounts of technics and materials under military orderings. So, it is impossible to speak that America was not ready to the war itself.
It was not ready only to the particular attack at the particular time and in the particular place. In order to clarify the reasons, which caused Japan to attack Pearl Harbor one should take into account the Japanese expansionist politics. It‘s key point was to achieve decisive influence in East Asia and in the regions of the Pacific and to secure the vital interests of the Japanese Empire in China. By 1941 France was defeated and it‘s colonies remained without protection, England remained too busy in Europe, so America stayed the only major power, threatening Japanese interests.
In fact, Japan was not interested in US mainland, it‘s primary aim in the war was to remove America‘s bases from the Philippines and to block military deliveries to China . The main obstacle in fulfilling those plans was the US Pacific Fleet. Even being weaker than Japanese Combined Fleet, it still could prevent Japan from quick occupation of Philippines and islands in the Pacific, making the war long, and consequently unpromising for Japan.
But the Empire seemed to possess a superior instrument to neutralize the Pacific fleet – the aircraft carriers and naval aviation. In the mid 30-s Japan‘s constructors managed to perform the truly outstanding aircraft, including bomber type 99 (Kate), naval diving bomber type 99 (Val) and the best naval fighter of the early period of the war – type 6 Naval fighter, known as “Zero”. With it‘s 20-mm cannons, airspeed of 300 miles per hour, and excellent manoeuvrability, “Zero” was better than any American equivalent .
This, combined with fighting experience, obtained in China made the Japanese naval aviation almost invincible. Relying on this, Admiral Yamamoto, a commander in chief of the Japanese navy, decided to attack America in the most unexpected place –its main naval base in the Pacific – Pearl Harbor. Even despite of the data, received from the radio intercept and naval intelligence, the command of the Navy expected an attack in the region of the Philippines or Indo-China.
This allowed the Japanese attack force to near the Hawaiian archipelago unnoticed and early in the morning of December 7, 1941 suddenly attack Pearl Harbor. The result was the death of 2403 Americans, loss 5 battleships, serious damage to the other 4, loss of 188 airplanes, with own losses of about a hundred men, 29 planes, 1 submarine and 5 minisubmarines . Those results seem to be brilliant, however the Japanese failed to destroy the American aircraft carriers, which later appeared to be the main shock force of the war.
Tactical victory appeared to be a strategic mistake. It appears to be, that the scuttled battleships would anyway not prevent Japan from occupying Philippines, Wake, Guam, Indonesia and Solomon Islands. Victories of 1941-1942 were provided not by the power of cannons, but by air superiority. However, the Japanese government made a mistake, trying to overcome America‘s power only using armed force and neglecting politics. As Japanese admiral Nagumo has observed, the attack on Pearl Harbor awoke a sleeping giant.