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Posted on Sep 22, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Pearl Harbor – An Alternate History

By Wayne Cassell

Admiral Bloch also held a staff meeting on the morning of November 28th. Attending this meeting were:

“Good morning, gentlemen. What does this latest message mean for us?” asked Admiral Bloch.

Captain Earl replied, “Nothing much new at this time, Admiral. I delivered the message to Admiral Kimmel. I believe he’s meeting with his staff this morning to discuss the implications. We should probably look at our base defenses and our patrol aircraft status.”

“Let’s start with the patrol status. Admiral Bellinger, what is our status?”

“Admiral,” answered Admiral Bellinger, “we still have the same problems, not enough personnel, aircraft, and training time. I know the Army relinquished its responsibility for long range reconnaissance but, even with their help, we can’t sustain a 360° patrol plan out to 700 miles for more than five days. If we do we may not have enough planes to patrol when we get more specific intelligence. Plus we have responsibility for anti-submarine patrols.”


“Thank you. If the Japanese carriers can’t launch an attack from greater then 300 miles away, set up a plan for that range. As for the 360°, Commander Rochefort, do we have any idea where the Japanese carriers are?”

“No, Sir,” replied Commander Rochefort, “We are monitoring JN-25 [Japanese naval code], but they changed their radio service calls the beginning of the month and…”

“Is that significant Joe?” asked Admiral Bellinger.

“No, Sir. They have been changing them every six months and it was time. It does mean we have to rebuild our call sign list but it is almost back up to date. As far as the Japanese carriers I’ve talked with Commander Layton and we think they are in home waters or possibly the Marshall Islands.”

“Very well, Admiral Bellinger, write a patrol plan for south through west to north.”

“Will do sir,” answered Admiral Bellinger. “The shorter distance will help with crews and maintenance. I’ll talk to General Martin and see what kind of support he can provide.”

“John, what about base security?”

“I believe the tank farms are secure. They’re fenced in and patrolled. I’m not as worried about sabotage as General Short is. I’m more concerned with the Japanese from the consulate watching our ship movements, but the FBI is watching them,” answered Captain Earle. “We have elements of a Marine defense battalion with some anti-aircraft guns. We could set the guns up at their prepared sites on base and build some storage boxes so they can keep their ammunition nearby.”

“Good idea, John. Even with the fleet in port, more guns can’t hurt. And since they’re on base we don’t have to worry about sabotage. Anything else?… If not, I have a meeting with Admiral Kimmel and General Short this afternoon and will bring our concerns to their attention.”

November 28th through December 2nd, 1941, Increased Preparations

General Short, Admiral Kimmel, and Admiral Bloch met on the afternoon of November 28th and compared their responses to the war warning messages. While no one believed an attack was imminent, all three commanders voiced the same concerns about readiness. A sense of urgency, lacking in the past due to a lack of resources, was conveyed to all who attended. It could have been their tone of voice in the staff meetings. It could have been a feeling of greater concern from Washington. Washington wanted to reinforce the outer islands of Midway and Wake Island with additional aircraft and these aircraft could only come from Hawaii. More B-17s were due in from the mainland enroute to the Philippines to bolster the defenses there. Washington was concerned about possible attacks in the South China Sea area. Perhaps it was the second “war warning” in four days. For whatever reason, this sense of immediacy filtered through the chain of command to the lowest unit.

Events began to happen faster. Lt. Colonel Powell, working with other members of the staff, established a partially operational fighter direction center at Ft. Shafter. While not at the level of sophistication of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain in 1940, the center was still able to receive radar and visual sightings, interpret the reports, and transmit orders to the airfields. This meant the Army fighters could get airborne and fly a direction to intercept an incoming attack. Once airborne, the fighters were on their own and coordination between units was virtually non-existent. It was assumed that the enemy would attack from carriers meaning all attacks would come from only one direction. Combined with the obvious targets and their close proximity to each other, most fighters, once airborne, could figure out where the fight was going to be. Due to fuel and spare parts restrictions, fighters did not fly Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over Oahu at this time, but fighter patrol areas were designated.

Mobile radar units were established along the northwest to east coast of Oahu. They were connected to the fighter direction center and the airfields by telephone wire. As soon as the three were linked, training began. The radars were now operational from 0400-0900 and from 1700 [5:00 P.M.] until dusk. Spare parts came from the mobile sets not yet installed. Soldiers with binoculars were also positioned around the island from west through north to east to report any visual sightings.

The areas to the south not covered by radar were covered by PBYs from Patrol Wing 2. These patrol planes were usually flying anti-submarine missions around the entrance to Pearl Harbor and also covering Lahaina anchorage near Maui. Their mission parameters and patrol areas were extended out to about 100 miles. Any sightings would be reported to the 14th Naval District duty officer. He was also connected to the fighter direction center. Additionally, the coastal forts and the coastal artillery center on Diamond Head were also put into the communications loop. Like a giant web, any sightings would be sent to the fighter direction center for interpretation. Subsequent orders would be issued and the various commands notified.

This represented an almost unprecedented degree of cooperation between the Army and the Navy, as well as between the various commands within the two services. It was recognized that there would be no immediate reinforcement from the mainland in the event of an attack and there was no place to retreat. Hawaii was on its own.

Talks with the FBI confirmed that most espionage was confined to the Japanese embassy. There was no hint of a coordinated fifth element within the Issei and Nisei communities. While not willing to rule out some sabotage against his airfields, General Short realized sabotage was not as great a concern as he feared. He ordered General Martin to move fighters and bombers to the revetments at the airfields and to disperse some fighters to the outlying air strips. Lt. Colonel Powell insured that these satellite air strips were tied into the fighter direction communications web.

The fleet remained in port. Inspections continued. Sailors were granted liberty. Some guns were kept manned at all times and ships were prepared to sortie under emergency conditions in two hours or less. Normal maintenance was carried out. Without the carriers to provide fighter support, the battleships were safer in port. More destroyers were allocated to 14th Naval District for increased anti-submarine patrols. Submarines were still considered the main threat.

Other events began taking on more ominous overtones. On December 1st, the Japanese changed operational service radio calls (call signs). Usually calls were changed every six months and had last been changed on November 1st (Prange 438). This was considered unusual and of great concern to Lt. Commander Layton and Commander Rochefort. It also appeared that the Japanese were taking greater radio security precautions.

Carrier Division 1 [Kaga and Akagi] and Carrier Division 2 [Hiryu and Soryu] could not be located. Washington located all of Admiral Nagumo’s carriers in Japanese home waters (Prange 441). Fortunately, this information did not reach Hawaii as the Japanese fleet was already enroute to its destiny.

“What! You don’t know where Carrier Division 1 and Carrier Division 2 are?”

“I think they are in home waters but I do not know where they are.”[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?