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Posted on Sep 22, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Pearl Harbor – An Alternate History

By Wayne Cassell

At 0815 the second wave, consisting of 167 bombers and fighters was sighted by one of the PBYs searching for the Japanese fleet. The unlucky pilot was able to transmit a sighting before being pounced on by four ZEROs and shot down. This raid proceeded south along the east coast of Oahu heading towards Kaneohe NAS (Naval Air Station) and Bellows Field. The 16 remaining P-40s attacked from the west. They shot down ten bombers as they dove through the formation and headed for the deck to escape the Zeros.

Second Wave

At 0854, the second wave split up to attack their assigned targets. Twenty ZEROs were still with the bombers. The other 14 fighters were chasing after the P-40s that had just bounced the raid. Twelve ZEROs headed towards Kaneohe NAS where they strafed the already damaged air base. Two ZEROs were shot down by small arms fire. They were followed by 18 KATE high-level bombers that hit the remaining hangers and the seaplane ramp. None were hit by 3-inch anti-aircraft fire.


Eight ZEROs attacked Bellows Airfield, which had been untouched by the first wave. A number of P-40s on the ground rearming were destroyed but the Japanese lost another two ZEROs to anti-aircraft fire.

All 80 VAL dive bombers headed toward Pearl Harbor. Dive bombing was more accurate than level bombing, but even the veteran Japanese pilots had never experienced intense anti-aircraft fire. Twenty VALs saw Nevada steaming around the north end of Ford Island and attacked. Despite heavy anti-aircraft, they scored five hits while losing four planes. One VAL crashed into the hospital ship Solace. Captain Francis W. Scanland, realizing the extent of the damage, beached his battleship on the north end of Ford Island. The other 60 dive bombers focused on the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. The battleship Pennsylvania, in dry dock with the destroyers Cassin and Downes, took one hit; Cassin took 2 hits and collapsed against Downes. The destroyer Shaw, in the floating dry dock, took a bomb and exploded in a huge fireball. The Japanese lost 14 dive bombers. Others VALs were damaged and many missed their targets due to the intense anti-aircraft fire.

While the dive bombers were attacking the naval base, 27 KATE high-level bombers attacked Hickam Field. The targets this time were the remaining hangers and other buildings not hit in the first wave. Bombers on the ground that were damaged in the first wave were also hit. Because of their altitude and the lack of American fighters, they suffered no damage. Nine KATEs attacked Ford Island but the intense smoke from the burning Neosho caused them to miss their target.

The nine ZEROs heading toward Ewa Field were not so fortunate. They were bounced from above and behind by four F4Fs and two P-40s. These were the remaining Ewa-based fighters from the first wave. They shot down six ZEROs and once again flew out over the west coast to regroup and gain altitude. The nine ZEROs attacking Wheeler airfield were also bounced by ten P-36 fighters that had survived the first attack and had gotten airborne. Though outclassed, the P-36s attacked with a vengeance, shooting down four EROs and breaking up the formation.

By 0930, the second wave was finished and heading back to the carriers. For the Americans, an eerie quiet settled over Oahu. Damage control parties worked to contain the fires burning on the ships. Other firefighters worked on the burning buildings. The Honolulu Fire Department was also busy. Some bombs had fallen in the city from the Japanese planes during the attack but most of the damage had come from wrongly fused anti-aircraft shells. Schofield barracks was relatively untouched and suffered few casualties. General Short was concerned about invasion. He ordered the Army to man its defensive positions and prepare to repel a Japanese attack. The bombers loitering over Maui were ordered to land at Hickam Airfield. Like most of the airfields attacked, the runways were in good shape. They were told to fly in low with wheels down so they would not be shot down by trigger happy gunners. General Martin received reports and totaled his losses, as did Admiral Kimmel and Admiral Bloch. The losses are listed in the following chart:

American and Japanese Losses


All decisions have consequences. Senior commanders make decisions based on input from a variety of sources, including staff officers and superiors in the chain of command. As with all human beings, this information is filtered, consciously or subconsciously, by the individual presenting the information. Add to this the biases and experiences of the senior commanders receiving the information, and the same information can be interpreted in different ways. In this scenario, the senior commanders interpreted the information differently than in real life. The war warnings were taken more seriously, the Issei and Nisei threat of sabotage was taken less seriously, and the urgency of preparing defenses was transmitted through the various commands. Communications between the commands was encouraged and practiced regularly. The duty officers were given more freedom to make decisions before asking for permission. This meant the defenders were at their battle stations when the Japanese planes appeared.

The actual attack isn’t much different in this scenario. It is based on the original Japanese plan. In this scenario, the Japanese took more losses as the American fighters were in the air, the anti-aircraft guns were manned, ammunition was distributed, and the ships were buttoned up. Because of these changes, Japanese losses in this scenario were greater than in the actual battle. Given how outclassed the American fighters were, the American aircraft losses were about the same. Naval losses were similar to the real attack. Studies show that Arizona probably would not have catastrophically exploded in this alternate scenario which accounts for the fewer numbers of sailor and marine casualties (Kimmett 47).

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  1. I strongly disagree.

    While I am no historian I do believe that if the citizens knew Pearl Harbor were prepared for a sneak attack they would be less incline to believe in FDR’s push to join the war and likely protested harder knowing Pearl Harbor did it’s damn best.

  2. What a total ass! He should’ve kept it (Our US Navy) in San Diego far out of reach of any possible attack and closer to back up from air support that’s always there!

    It doesn’t take a pair of geniuses to figure out that putting our navy in one spot in the middle of the Pacific far from outside help is a dangerous path at best. If not from WW2 a different event would’ve done it later such as Korea maybe.

    At least in San Diego the fuel carriers of the Japanese had no chance of penetrating that far without worry of fuel loss and since it’s in mainland would be much closer to resistance if San Diego were attacked for whatever reason our US Air force would be right there!.

    It would be pure suicidal to Japan both it’s people and economy (whatever was left of it) to attempt a sneak attack on San Diego.

  3. BTW: Did you know weather forecasting other then basic temps of yesterday’s high and low and precip was banned due to war measures?