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Posted on Sep 22, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Pearl Harbor – An Alternate History

By Wayne Cassell

“Do you mean to say that they could be rounding Diamond Head and you wouldn’t know it?”

“I hope they would be sighted before now.”

Admiral Kimmel and Lt. Commander Layton, December 1, 1941 (Prange 440).

December 3rd, 1941, War Warning

As the various commands undertook to comply with all haste to the orders issued on November 27th and 28th, and the intelligence centers worked to locate the Japanese carries, a new message arrived at 14th Naval District from Washington.

Highly reliable information has been received that categoric (sic) and urgent instructions were sent yesterday to Japanese diplomatic and consular posts at Hong Kong, Singapore, Batavia, Manila, Washington, and London to destroy most of their codes and ciphers at once and to burn all other important confidential and secret documents (Prange 447).


Given the ever increasing concerns of the major commanders and the increased degree of inter-service cooperation being observed, this message was sent from Admiral Bloch to Admiral Kimmel and General Short. General Short called an immediate staff meeting:

“Gentlemen, we just received another war warning. It seems the Japanese consulates are burning their codes and files. We are going to Alert Status Two immediately. General Wilson, General Murray, you will not deploy your infantry to their defensive positions as yet. I do want all commanders to review their battle positions and make any necessary adjustments. Have the engineers start building any fortifications that don’t directly impact private property.”

“Colonel Powell, what is the status of the fighter direction center?”

“General, we are functioning,” answered Lt. Colonel Powell. “The communications are in place to talk to the airfields, radar, and the coastal units. We also can talk directly with 14th Naval District. We still need more training but at least we can alert everyone quickly.”

“Keep working on the training. What about the radar?”

“The three sets are functioning properly. We had to cannibalize the other three to keep three working but we’re also using parts from the fixed sites that have arrived. The soldiers are eager and learning quickly. They believe in their equipment and its value.”

“Very good, Colonel Powell. General Martin, what’s your status?”

“Sir,” replied General Martin, “we have dispersed ten P-40s at Haleiwa, ten P-40s at Bellows, and a squadron of P-40s with the Navy at Ewa. The rest are in revetments at Wheeler and Hickam. We’re prepared to support the Navy reconnaissance patrols with our B-17s but I would prefer to keep them back to attack the enemy fleet. Communications with the fighter direction center are in place. We have three form-up locations for our fighters depending on which direction the Japanese attack. We expect to have enough time to hit them before they cross the coast. The P-40s will engage the escorts while the others go for the bombers.”

“I want two planes from each airfield on alert, all others fueled and armed. Keep the pilots on base and ready to fly. You know the most vulnerable times. Be ready.”

“Yes, Sir, we’ll give a good fight,” General Martin responded.

“Tige, let’s move the mobile anti-aircraft guns into position. I don’t want the ammunition with them but take as many trucks as you need from Schofield, load them up, and park them in the ammunition dump. If we go to full alert, they can be at the guns in an hour. After they unload, send them back to the infantry units. Oh, and tell them to try not to upset the civilians too much.”

“Yes, Sir,” answered Colonel Phillips. “What about the 37mm guns? We still don’t have any ammunition for them.”

“Set them up anyway. The Japanese won’t know that. Maybe one or two pilots will get scared. Also move more .50 caliber ammunition into the barracks’ small arms storage areas. Tige, make sure Admiral Bloch and Admiral Kimmel know what we’re doing. That’s all for now.”

At Pearl Harbor, Admiral Kimmel also called a staff meeting. He referred to the message and then responded, “We’re going to Condition II at this time. Make sure all ships are prepared to sortie at short notice. We’ill forgo all inspections for now so have the ships check for watertight integrity. Poco, tell California I won’t be inspecting so she can secure the inspection ports. Also, don’t be surprised if Admiral Bloch asks for more destroyers for anti-submarine patrols.”

“Sir, do you want to sortie the fleet in case of an attack?” asked Captain Delany.

“Arthur, how many fighters do we have available?” asked Admiral Kimmel.

“We have 24 F4Fs but many are being repaired and they’re not assigned to a cohesive air wing.” replied Commander Davis.

“I don’t think so, Walter. That’s not enough planes to protect the fleet. We can’t count on the Army. They will be busy defending the shore installations. No, as much as it bothers me being cooped up in port, I think we’re better off fighting from inside the harbor. It’ll give us protection from submarines and torpedo bombers. But let’s have more ammunition available for the guns. And increase anti-aircraft drills. Commander Layton, anything?”

“No, Sir,” answered Lt. Commander Layton. “I am working with Captain Rochefort but we don’t have anything new at this time.”

“I don’t like this. We can’t stay at high alert all the time. We need more information… I know, I should listen to what I told Admiral Halsey; do the best with what you have. That’s all.”

At 14th Naval District, nothing changed. They were already flying increased anti-submarine patrols and, until a possible direction of attack was identified, there was no point in flying long range reconnaissance patrols.

December 4th through December 6th, 1941, The Last Days of Peace

Events proceeded at a greater pace. The third war warning of December 3rd put new emphasis on preparing for a possible attack. While nothing definite was received from Washington, all commands on Oahu continued improving their defenses. More destroyers were allocated to 14th Naval District and the patrols were strengthened around Oahu as well as Maui, Molokai, and Lanai. This coincided with three Japanese submarines (I-71, I-72, I-73) arriving in the same area, scouting for elements of the American fleet. On December 5th two destroyers reported an underwater contact about five miles off of Pearl Harbor but lost it. This report was relayed to 14th Naval District. The duty officer followed the newly established reporting protocols and alerted all other commands [Army, Pacific Fleet, and Army Air Force]. A number of other underwater contacts were reported and duly noted. Each new contact added to the increasing anxiety on Oahu.

The intelligence community was working overtime. On December 6th, the Japanese forces moving towards Malaysia were sighted by British reconnaissance. The sighting confirmed that Japan’s long expected move south was underway. Captain Mayfield, Intelligence Officer for 14th Naval District, received a message from Washington to that effect and passed it along to the other commands.

Each command reacted differently to the message. Admiral Kimmel called a meeting with Captain Smith [Chief of Staff], Captain Delany [Operations], and Captain McMorris [War Plans] to discuss and update his memorandum entitled “Steps to be Taken in Case of American-Japanese War Within the Next Twenty Four Hours” (Prange 470).

“This latest intelligence report is disturbing,” stated Admiral Kimmel. “The Japanese are on the move in the South China Sea. Given the number of transports, an invasion is likely. Your thoughts, gentlemen?”

“If they’re that far south, are they going to ignore the Philippines?” asked Captain McMorris.

“I don’t know. I sent Commander Layton over to California to discuss the situation with Admiral Pye [Commander Battle Force, Task Force 1].”[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?