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Posted on Sep 22, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Pearl Harbor – An Alternate History

By Wayne Cassell

“I’m getting concerned about the increased submarine sightings,” Captain Delany said. “Nothing is definite but everyone is edgy. Quite frankly, I wonder if some of the destroyers are just over enthusiastic. If we get too many false sightings, how will we know when one is real?”

“Walter, I’d rather have them enthusiastic than lazy, but I know what you mean. The Army has had so many alerts that no one takes them seriously.”

“While we are waiting for Commander Layton, have you decided to keep the fleet in port for now?” asked Captain Smith.

“I have. We don’t have air cover with the carriers gone and all these submarine sightings are causing me a great deal of concern. Can we be sure a submarine can’t penetrate the harbor?”


“Yes, Sir,” replied Captain Smith. “Even though the net at the entrance is really an anti-torpedo net and not a strong anti-submarine net, Pearl is too shallow.”

“We also have to be concerned about upsetting the civilians. Remember what that message said last week. If I sail the fleet on a weekend on short notice, everyone will take notice, and where would we go? There are no indications of any Japanese forces in the area. Enterprise or Lexington haven’t reported any sightings. And we still have to worry about fuel.”

“General Short isn’t as concerned about worrying the civilians as he was last week,” said Captain McMorris. “He has some of his troops preparing positions on the North Shore in case of an invasion and is moving his mobile anti-aircraft guns into position.”

“I thought he was concerned about sabotage,” piped in Captain Delany.

“He was,” replied Captain Smith, “but his staff showed him the FBI reports and other counter-intelligence reports and he’s backed off a little. He even has his planes dispersed instead of parked wing tip to wing tip like they were in the past.”

“Ah, here is Commander Layton. Well, Commander, what news from Admiral Pye?”

Lt. Commander Layton sat down and replied, “Sir, Admiral Pye doesn’t think the Japanese would deliberately leave their flank open. Neither do I. That means they can’t afford not to attack the Philippines. They know we have B-17s based there that could attack any shipping moving from Malaysia to Japan. That means cutting off the Japanese supply of oil. He doesn’t think they will attack us here though.”

“Well,” interjected Captain McMorris. “You can’t have it both ways. This is very unsettling. I almost wish they would attack so at least the uncertainty would be over.”

“Be careful what you wish for, Charlie,” responded Admiral Kimmel with a smile. “Anything on the Japanese carriers, Commander?”

“No, Sir, “answered Lt. Commander Layton somewhat sheepishly. “ I’ve been talking with Commander Rochefort and Colonel Fielder. Nothing. Commander Rochefort has worn out a pair of slippers from the pacing.” That response got a chuckle from everyone. Commander Rochefort was known for his eccentric behavior, but everyone looked the other way because he was good at what he did and all intelligence officers were a bit eccentric anyway.

“However, the Japanese consulate appears to be burning its papers. I think that is significant.”

“Do you want to go on full alert, Sir?” asked Captain Smith.

“Not at this time. Just remind everyone to be alert. We haven’t had much trouble with our sailors on liberty. Usually more civilians are arrested for drunk and disorderly than our boys (Wallin 105). Commander Layton, stay in touch with your counterparts and let me know the minute anything comes in. Poco, make sure 14th Naval District keeps us informed on any sightings. That’s all. Think I’ll skip cocktails at the Japanese Consulate tonight. Also, send a message to Washington informing them of our status and intentions. Have a pleasant evening, gentlemen.”

General Short also held an abbreviated staff meeting the same morning.

“Colonel Fielder has some new developments regarding the movement of Japanese forces in near Cambodia. Does the Navy know about this?”

“Yes, Sir,” replied Lt. Colonel Fielder. “We received it through 14th Naval District. Everybody is very concerned about keeping everybody else informed. The Japanese are burning their papers and their codes at the consulate.”

“What does this mean for us?”

“I think it means war is near but they’re burning their codes all over, not just in Hawaii. It doesn’t mean specifically an attack here,” replied Lt. Colonel Fielder.

“Sir, we‘ve been exercising the radars and our communications,” said Lt Colonel Powell. “General Martin is pleased with the speed he’s getting information. We think we’ll have enough time to detect an enemy air raid and launch fighters to intercept it.”

“You think? That’s not very satisfactory. What about our mobile anti-aircraft guns? Are they in position? And do they have ammunition?”

Lt. Colonel Donegan answered, “Sir, the trucks have ammunition loaded at Aliamanu Crater and ready to move. We still need to move the guns onto private property but they can be set up by the time the ammunition arrives. If the radar or patrol planes give us an hour warning we can be ready.”

General Murray said, “I’m moving more small arms ammunition out of the magazine area at Schofield and into the barracks. I just don’t like it all in one spot.”

“Good, keep me informed. Anything else?…. Tige, send a message to the War Department and inform them of our readiness. They may hear something we don’t and it won’t hurt to remind them we’re out here. Have a pleasant weekend.”

That evening was like most Saturday nights in Hawaii. The primary commanders and their principle staff had various personal social engagements in the evening; dinner, dancing, seeing a show. All were home before midnight, perhaps a bit uneasy about events. They did not realize that this was to be the last night of peace for a long time. The fleet maintained Condition II alert status but liberty was granted in accordance with Admiral Kimmel’s directive. The Army maintained skeleton crews on the mobile anti-aircraft guns. The Army Air Force prepared fighters for their alert mission and allowed only half of the fighter pilots passes. Many soldiers and sailors took advantage of the next day being Sunday to relax, knowing they could sleep in.

December 7th, 1941, The Attack

The early morning of December 7th, 1941, saw the minesweepers Condor and Crossbill performing minesweeping duties outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor. This was the usual routine, though the crews were more alert, given all the submarine “sightings” over the last five days. At 0342, a periscope was sighted and this information was transmitted to the destroyer Ward, one of the anti-submarine destroyers patrolling in the area. Lieutenant William W. Outerbridge was the newly assigned captain and took his command seriously. He was well aware of the increased tensions. He immediately reported the sighting to 14th Naval District duty officer, Lt. Commander Harold Kaminski, a World War 1 veteran recalled to active duty. He noted the message in the log. Given the numerous sightings, Lt. Commander Kaminski did not feel this one was unusual. Nevertheless, he pulled out the alert notification instructions and reviewed them. He directed everyone on duty to review their procedures as well.

In Washington, the final part of a diplomatic message was decoded. Colonel Rufus S. Bratton [War Department Counterintelligence Branch, Far Eastern Section] received the decoded message between 0830 and 0900 Washington time [0300 Pearl Harbor time]. He was convinced the Japanese were going to attack United States installations somewhere. He did not think at this time it would be Pearl Harbor. The Navy also received a copy of the translation and came to similar conclusions, with one big exception. Admiral Harold R. Stark [Chief of Naval Operations] knew the fleet was still in port and vulnerable. He directed that a warning message of possible imminent attack be broadcast to all major Pacific commands immediately. [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?