Pearl Harbor - "The results…what are they?"
by Gregory Karpicky
Fuchida's plane circled had the harbor area for about two hours, until 1000. He
was assessing and trying to photograph the damage from both strikes. Smoke and
flames from the destruction wrought by his forces made this task difficult. His
plane had taken some hits and was holed and badly shot up. He then had his
pilot begin the long journey north to the task force. On his way there, he
reflected on his desire for a second full strike. He wanted to put the few
remaining American ships out of commission. He had also noticed the tank farms,
dry-docks and other shore facilities. He knew that if the Japanese could
destroy Pearl Harbor's maintenance facilities, America would have a hard time
projecting any strong naval presence in the Pacific.
Upon landing on the flagship AKAGI at about 1200, he was greeted by an elated
Genda. Fuchida was immediately summoned to the bridge to brief Nagumo and his
staff, but decided to gather the intelligence from his pilot's debriefings and
have a cup of tea before presenting himself to Nagumo. His pilots for the most
part verified what he already knew so he hurried to the bridge. There he found
Nagumo, Kusaka, Oishi, Genda and others waiting. As soon as Fuchida began to
speak Admiral Nagumo broke in: "The results…what are they?" Fuchida answered
that he observed four battleships sunk and four damaged to varying degrees. He
started to report but again, before he could finish, Nagumo interrupted, "Do
you think the U.S. Fleet could not come out from Pearl Harbor within six
months?" Fuchida recognized the quandary he was in. If he gave a glowing
report, Nagumo would never approve another full strike on the American land
facilities. However, he could not lie to his superior officer. Caught like a
rat in a trap he answered, "The main force of the U.S. Pacific Fleet will not
be able to come out within six months."
The old Admiral nodded. Then the aggressive minded Kusaka asked, "What do you
think the next targets should be?" Nagumo would not be distracted. "Where do
you think the missing U.S. carriers are?" Fuchida had no choice but to answer
that in his mind the carriers had received word of the attack by now and were
probably searching for the Japanese fleet. This answer made a deep impression
on the cautious Nagumo.
The little group of officers then discussed what the U.S. carriers could do the
fleet if they found it. Genda had to admit that while the Japanese held a two
to one edge in carriers, the American's could still inflict much damage on
Nagumo's ships if they found them. Admiral Nagumo took this as advice well
given and gave orders for the carriers to clear their decks of aircraft and for
the fleet to prepare to return to Japan. Fuchida was bitterly disappointed when
he heard the admiral issue his orders, feeling in no small part responsible
that Nagumo had viewed his damage report as an indication that nothing further
could be gained by a second full strike. Additionally, he had hurt his case by
admitting that the failure of the Japanese to find and sink the American
carriers presented a threat to the Japanese fleet.
In fact, Nagumo had never had any intention of launching a second strike. and
had argued against just such a thing during all the previous discussions.
Nagumo had no gambler's heart like his Commander in Chief. His force had sunk
or damaged eighteen ships, destroyed or damaged over 150 American aircraft and
inflicted numerous military, naval and even civilian casualties. All this for
the cost of nine fighters, fifteen dive-bombers and five torpedo planes lost.
For a conservative man like him, the time had come to gather his winnings and
leave the table. Genda, like Fuchida, was aghast. He had planned and mapped
strategies and operational scenarios for months and these plans had almost
always included a second full strike. His position now that the first waves had
achieved so much was to wait until the next day and launch a second full
strike. He wanted to mop up U.S. assets in the Hawaiian area. He also hoped to
locate the American carriers and take care of them at the same time. His
attitude and training were both based on the attack and he had no patience with
Admirals who left jobs half-done. But he was powerless to do anything. His
trump card, Admiral Yamamoto, would not budge. Genda knew it was Yamamoto's
long time policy was to leave tactical decisions to his commanders in the
field. The Admiral had always relied on the judgment of the man on the scene,
and he believed they had the best information and could use their best
judgement. Once he had appointed a commander, Yamamoto almost never interfered
with the man's decisions. "Even a burglar," he had said, "hesitates to go back
The attack on Pearl Harbor proved to be an unqualified tactical success for the
Japanese Empire. In one moment, Japan had crippled the mighty U.S. Pacific
Fleet and secured for herself a clear path to the domination of East Asia. It
would be a long time before the United States could or would be able to regain
the upper hand in the Pacific Theater of operations. But the price was not as
steep as it initially seemed. Our Pacific navy was down but not out. All three
carriers assigned to the Pacific Fleet were absent from Pearl during the
attack. USS SARATOGA was just entering San Diego after being repaired at
Bremerton, Wash. She got underway the next day carrying aircraft to reinforce
the garrison on Wake Island. USS ENTERPRISE was returning from delivering
Marine Corps Fighters to Wake on December 2nd. Her scout planes arrived over
Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack and went into action in defense of the
base. USS LEXINGTON was on a sortie with TF12 carrying marine aircraft from
Pearl Harbor to reinforce Midway. She joined up with INDIANAPOLIS and
ENTERPRISE and conducted a search southwest of Hawaii for the attacking
carriers. This Japanese failure to eliminate American naval air power was
arguably the most costly error they made.
Additionally, almost all of the ships sunk or damaged in the attack were
eventually recovered and many re-floated and used later in the war. The air
raid on Pearl Harbor could not have been more propitious for the United States
had we planned it ourselves. The harbor at Pearl is only thirty-five feet deep.
Many ships just settled in the mud on the bottom and were relatively easily
recovered. For example, NEVADA was damaged so slightly she was back in action
by May of the next year. Of the battleships sunk or damaged in the raid, only
ARIZONA and OKLAHOMA were not eventually refloated and put to use.
Yamamoto had achieved a stunning tactical success. For a small, island nation
to so humble the United States Navy was an event almost unprecedented in the
history of war. But the victory did not come without price. The result of what
will forever be perceived as the "sneak attack at Pearl Harbor" was to unite
the citizens of America against Japan. Perhaps Admiral Yamamoto had
underestimated the response to an undeclared action of war. And perhaps the
Japanese high command would better have been served had they remembered how
victories had been celebrated by an empire even older than they had.
Some two thousand years before the beginning of WWII, Imperial Rome was at the
height of its power; it's empire stretching from the Middle East to England.
Its legions and marshals were known the world over for their military abilities
and it seemed that wherever Rome fought, Rome triumphed. But whenever any Roman
general would win a great victory he would be feted with a triumph or great
parade. As he proceeded through the streets of central Rome he would be
standing on a white chariot, and also on that chariot, standing behind the
victorious general, would be a lone slave. This slave would be holding a golden
crown above the head of the general.
And all during the triumphal procession the slave would quietly whisper in the
general’s ear that “thou art mortal…”thou art mortal.”
. Giants of Japan , Mark Weston; p. 195.
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Copyright © 2006 Gregory Karpicky.
Written by Gregory Karpicky. If you have questions or comments on
this article, please contact Gregory Karpicky at:
About the author:
My literary background has mostly been in writing for various businesses I have
consulted for. My father was a career Army officer who earned the Legion of
Merit, and the exposure I received at various postings around the world with
this gave me a lifelong interest military history.
Published online: 04/15/2006.