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Posted on Sep 22, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Pearl Harbor – An Alternate History

By Wayne Cassell

Sometime on the afternoon of November 27th, Captain John B. Earle, Admiral Bloch’s Chief of Staff, brought Admiral Kimmel a similar message from the Navy Department. This message, read as follows:

Consider this dispatch a war warning. The negotiations with Japan in an effort to stabilize conditions in the Pacific have ended. Japan is expected to make aggressive move within the next few days. An amphibious expedition against either the Philippines, Thai, or Kra Peninsula or possibly Borneo is indicated by the number and equipment of Japanese troops and the organization of their naval task forces. You will execute a defensive deployment in preparation for carrying out the tasks assigned in WPL-46 only. Guam, Samoa and Continental Districts have been directed to take appropriate measures against sabotage. A similar warning is being sent by the War Department. Inform naval district and Army authorities. British to be informed by Spenavo (Prange 406).


Upon receiving this message, Admiral Kimmel instructed Lt. Commander Edwin T. Layton to paraphrase the message and deliver it to General Short. The following morning, November 28th, Admiral Kimmel convened a meeting with his staff to discuss the implications. This meeting included:

Admiral Kimmel started the meeting. “Well, gentlemen, this is the second message in four days [November 24th] concerning possible hostilities with the Japanese. It states possible attacks in the Philippines or Malaysia but leaves out Guam this time. Neither mentions Hawaii specifically. Oh, before we get stated, Poco, did you send a copy of this to Admiral Bloch and Admiral Bellinger?”

“Yes, Sir. I believe they are meeting this morning to discuss the seriousness of the situation,” replied Captain Smith.

“Good. Admiral Bloch is responsible for all our long range patrol aircraft. If there is a Japanese fleet out there, his PBYs [Amphibious Patrol Plane] will keep us from being surprised. We’ll talk about that after the meeting. Right now let’s focus on the fleet defenses. Captain Delany, what is our status?”

“Sir, when the fleet is in port we are at Condition III. All ships are following your instructions about liberty and manning of anti-aircraft guns,” stated Captain Delany. “We can set Condition II but we can’t keep it for long without adversely affecting training. We can keep half the fleet at sea but have to be concerned with fuel utilization. That will…”

“I’m not going to sortie the fleet without our carriers. Halsey leaves today to deliver planes to Wake Island. He won’t be back until December 6. Saratoga is still refitting on the West Coast and Lexington will be taking planes to Midway. She is scheduled to leave Pearl on December 5. So the fleet won’t have air cover. I’m more concerned about submarines.”

“Sir,” injected Commander Davis, “we can request more anti-submarine patrols from Admiral Bloch but that will leave fewer PBYs for long range patrol. The last I talked with his staff, they said they could conduct 360° patrols to 700 miles for a maximum of five days before they would wear out their planes and pilots. And we already know the Army gave up all responsibility for long range patrols to the Navy. It’s a matter of too many responsibilities and too few resources.”

“Damn it, I don’t want excuses,” responded Admiral Kimmel angrily. “Halsey gets the most from what he has and doesn’t ask for the moon. I expect the same from everyone in this command. Since most of the fleet will be remaining in port, we can provide Admiral Bloch with a few more destroyers for in-shore patrol. And there’s no point in flying search patrols until we have more information about where to look. Can a submarine penetrate the harbor?”

“Unlikely, Sir,” replied Captain Delany. “We have nets across the harbor and two forts at the entrance plus our patrols. I’m more concerned about submarine attacks out side the harbor.”

“Sir,” interjected Commander Davis, “what happens if a submarine does get into the harbor? Our battleships are vulnerable. Why not place anti-torpedo nets while the battleships and carriers are in port?”

“We’ve been through this before, Arthur,” said Captain Smith. “Admiral Kimmel and I agree that torpedo nets would restrict our ability to sortie the fleet rapidly. And the channels are too narrow for any type of anti-torpedo baffles.”

“I understand, Sir,” replied Commander Davis, “but what about torpedo planes? As you all know the British attacked the Italian fleet in Taranto with torpedo planes and sank three battleships. The Japanese could do it here.”

“I don’t think so, Commander,” countered Admiral Kimmel. “First, Pearl is only 45 feet deep and we both know an aerial torpedo initially plunges to a depth of 75 feet before leveling off. Plus there just isn’t that much space to get a good straight run on the battleships. Look at all the cranes and buildings they would have to avoid. And they would be under fire by our ships. No, I am more concerned with high-level bombers and dive bombers than torpedo planes.”

“Also, we would have to have the nets delivered from the mainland. There are no facilities to build them in Hawaii,” said Captain McMorris, “and the ones we use now are too heavy.”

“How about barrage balloons?” asked Commander Curtis.

“I heard the Army is training troops for balloon units,” answered Commander Davis. “We don’t have the mooring equipment or the troops. Furthermore, with Hickam, Ford Island and Ewa [airfields] close by, placing the barrage balloons so they would provide protection for the fleet would interfere with flight operations.”

“Commander Layton, do you have anything more definite about the Japanese fleet movements?”

“No, Sir. Nothing at this time,” answered Lt. Commander Layton.

“Very well gentlemen, this is what we are going to do. I want the anti-submarine patrols, both air and ship, strengthened. Issue orders to any pilot or captain he is authorized to attack any submarine contact in Oahu waters with depth charges.”

“Poco, get with Admiral Bloch and inform him of the increased patrols. Make sure Admiral Withers [Commander, Submarine Scouting Forces] gets the word so we can set up some recognition signals. I wouldn’t want to accidentally attack one of our subs.”

“Commander Davis, get with Admiral Bellinger’s staff and check their patrol plan. We aren’t going to implement it but let’s see how effective it is.”

Kimmel ordered that in port there must be at all times on board each ship at least 50% of the enlisted and 25% of the officers. There must be at all times sufficient number of men on board to get the ship under way, to go to sea, and to fight the ship. After 29 April each battleship at anchor had 2 machine guns continuously manned, with 2 cases of .50 cal ammunition, and crews standing by two 5”AA guns with 15 rounds of ammunition per gun. No guns on cruisers or destroyers were manned but ammunition was in ready boxes by their guns (Gannon 27).

“We’ll keep the fleet at Condition III for now until we get more information. And we’ll keep the fleet in port until the carriers return. There’s no point sailing around wasting precious fuel if we don’t know where to look.”

“Commander Layton, check with Commander Rochefort. See if he knows something; oh and check with the Army. Maybe they know something we don’t. That’s all gentlemen. Thank you.”[continued on next page]

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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?