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Pearl Harbor - "The results…what are they?"
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 for more."

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.”

Footnotes

[1]. Giants of Japan , Mark Weston; p. 195.

- - -

Copyright © 2006 Gregory Karpicky.

Written by Gregory Karpicky.  If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Gregory Karpicky at: glkarpicky@earthlink.net.

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.
 
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