Which was the most useless

Attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years agoThe big mistake

"Of course I'll go back to Pearl Harbor. I want this, and so do the Americans."

Dr. Hiroya Sugano is a strange bird. This is what the 83-year-old doctor says of himself. In a white coat, he welcomes his guests with a friendly smile. The showcases in the entrance area of ​​his clinic are crammed with models of warships and combat bombers. The back of his business card identifies the kidney specialist as - quote - "General director of the club of admirers of kamikaze pilots". So this is the Japanese who has been traveling to Pearl Harbor for 25 years, always on December 7th.

"Maybe I'm a strange bird, here and there. At first I was looked at crookedly when, as a Japanese, I mingled with the guests at the memorial ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial. But then I showed the canteen that I had as a child had found. "

Two B-29 bombers had collided and crashed over his hometown of Shizuoka in the final stages of the war. The then twelve-year-old student picked up the dented metal bottle, dented by the hand of a dying American. It is now a relic. Every year Sugano takes her on his pilgrimage to Hawaii and performs a bizarre ceremony with it. In honor of the soldiers killed, he sprinkles a few drops of bourbon whiskey at the memorial of the USS Arizona, "to calm the souls of Americans," as he says. A strange bird - even for the Japanese.

2,403 Americans died in the attack

In the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 2,403 Americans were killed, most of them Marines. Almost half died when Japanese torpedoes dropped from the air sank the battleship Arizona. Full of ammunition, the ship exploded in a huge ball of fire.

On a platform above the wreck, the public can find out more about the American view of things. But hardly any Japanese do that, says historian Professor Yujin Yaguchi:

"Hawaii is the most popular foreign vacation island for the Japanese. 1.5 million tourists come here from Japan every year. Most of them are on Waikiki Beach. It's only half an hour from Pearl Harbor. But almost no one thinks of going there They don 't know anything about it. Their historical awareness relates, if at all, to events in Japan - Hiroshima or the bombing of Tokyo. But they are not aware of what Japan did elsewhere. "

On December 7, 1941, shortly before 8 a.m., Japanese fighter bombers appeared in the sky over the Hawaiian island of O'ahu. 360 aircraft attack the main base of the US Pacific Fleet in two waves.

The shocked American radio operators understand "Tora Tora Tora", which would mean "Tiger Tiger Tiger" in Japanese. But the radio message was much more prosaic. Composed of the syllables "to" and "ra", it referred to the projectiles developed by the Japanese especially for use in the shallow coastal waters of Hawaii: to-tsugeki - to attack and ra-igeki - torpedo. "Tora" meant nothing more than torpedo bombers.

The warning from the troop radio shows how unprepared the Americans were - despite the highest level of alert.

"This is not an exercise, this is a real attack. We are being attacked by enemy planes. You can see the rising sun mark on the wings of every plane. At that moment, they are attacking Pearl Harbor."

In less than two hours, Japanese planes sank five battleships, severely damaging three more, and killing eleven other warships. 188 US planes are destroyed on the ground, the Japanese only lose 29. Pearl Harbor is on fire, American radio stations interrupt their programs:

"We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by air, President Roosevelt has just announced."

Japanese fighter planes from the time of the Second World War (picture alliance / dpa / Publifoto)

Strategically ingenious planning

The planning of the attack, which was ingenious from a military-strategic point of view, lay with Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, an unusual man in every respect. He had studied English and petroleum at Harvard and had done so successfully that even American oil companies wanted to hire him. Yamamoto had no resentment towards Americans, on the contrary. He admired their efficiency and was convinced that a war against the USA could not be won. But he was also considered a passionate player. At Harvard, Yamamoto also came into contact with aviation, which was still young at the time.

The intensive preoccupation with this - he obtained his pilot's license in the mid-1920s - led Yamamoto to the realization that in future wars aircraft would be indispensable as attack weapons. As a result, he became the captain of an aircraft carrier that was put into service in 1927. He deals intensively with aircraft navigation and with the northern latitudes.

That this man was predestined to carry out the attack on Pearl Harbor can be seen from his biography. But he didn't want it. Waging a war with the United States was what Yamamoto, after all commander-in-chief of the United Fleet of the Imperial Navy, described as fatal. Which didn't help. The Japanese political leadership and the army had decided to attack. Under pressure, the admiral planned a surprise effect, explains Professor Yaguchi:

"Yamamoto knew that Japan couldn't get through a war against the US. His goal was therefore to show the Americans with one short, mighty blow that they had better not mess with Japan. For him, Pearl Harbor was not about that to start a war, but to destroy the US fleet as much as possible. "

In November 1941, six fully equipped aircraft carriers, two battleships, three cruisers and eleven destroyers gathered off the Kuril island of Iturup on the northernmost tip of Japan. Because of the winter storms, shipping is usually stopped during this time of the year. Nobody suspects anything, there is strict radio silence. Hawaii is 6,000 kilometers away. On November 23, Yamamoto reveals his battle plan to the pilots of the bombers on the deck of the ships. One of them is Haruo Yoshino:

"At that moment I only understood why we had gathered in front of the northernmost island. And that from here we would first drive to Hawaii and then fly an attack. Neither of us had imagined that. I was absolutely delighted with his Clever. Really ! "

At dawn on December 7th, the aircraft carriers turn into the wind 370 kilometers northeast of Pearl Harbor. A sunday. The sky is blue, the American sailors and soldiers sit unsuspectingly at breakfast. Then the inferno breaks over them.

"This is a special report. The Imperial Headquarters announces: The Army and Navy of the German Empire have entered a state of war against the United States in the western Pacific Ocean."

"The Japanese assumed that if the Japanese won their first victory, the Americans would be so shocked that they would probably beg for peace."

Great historical error of the Japanese

Sven Saaler, Professor of Modern Japanese History in Tokyo. But this idea turned out to be a major historical error. The American president's reaction was very different from what the Japanese expected. US President Roosevelt addresses his people on the radio:

"Yesterday, December 7th 1941, a date which will live in infamy, United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

Roosevelt speaks of a "day of shame" on which Japan suddenly and deliberately attacked the US. He receives congress permission to declare war on Japan.

Japan's military dictator Hideki Tojo also spoke up the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor - with a speech on Japanese radio:

"The very existence of Japan depends on this war. The time has come for 100 million Japanese to stand up and fight with all their might against the United States of America."

Whether Japan actually wanted to attack all of a sudden - that is, without a formal declaration of war - is controversial. It is said that there have been misunderstandings in Japan's leadership. Although the declaration of war was issued before the attack, it got stuck in the mills of the imperial bureaucracy instead of being delivered. The historian Yaguchi says:

"There is still puzzles about this belated declaration of war. But I wonder if it would have changed the course of the war if the US had been warned an hour or half an hour before the attack. Japan wanted the surprise effect."

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. Oil is still leaking from the wreck of the USS Arizona. (picture alliance / Chris Melzer / dpa)

Even if several commissions later tried to find out how the Japanese armed forces could manage to take America by surprise, the suspicion remains that at least US President Roosevelt was hardly surprised by the attack. On the contrary: For him, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a welcome opportunity to get his people, the majority of whom were against the participation of the USA in World War II, behind them.

"One thing is clear: Roosevelt wanted to intervene in the war against Hitler in Europe. Pearl Harbor triggered the right mood. Many Americans felt the attack was unfair, and slashed eyes, too. Such racist motives also played a role. I agree with." many historians: Roosevelt knew that Japan would attack the USA. They had intercepted enough radio messages. But they didn't know where. Maybe more in the Philippines, which they owned. But Hawaii with airplanes? They didn't trust the Japanese to do that. "

US fleet was not operational

It is true that the US had only moved its Pacific fleet from San Diego to Hawaii a few months earlier, allegedly to send a political signal against the Japanese threat. But ships and planes were not immediately operational. The machines stood there as if they were on the presentation plate, neither camouflaged nor ready to go. The ships weren't even protected by torpedo nets. And this despite the fact that the American decryption specialists had repeatedly warned of an imminent Japanese pre-emptive strike.

They even knew of a 14-part Japanese note planned for December 7th to end the bilateral negotiations in Washington. Until recently, the Japanese had hoped in vain to persuade America to lift the oil embargo that they had imposed on Japan in July 1941.

But the White House had long since decided not to stay out of the war anymore, but to accept the challenge. America was primarily concerned with the European theater of war, where its main ally Great Britain suffered severely from attacks by the German air force.

The handover time was 1 p.m. in Washington, 7.30 a.m. in Hawaii. But the 14th part of the dispatch, the one with the declaration of war, which was allegedly only delivered due to atmospheric disturbances when the attack was over. Japan's allies, the National Socialist German Reich and Italy, did not hesitate long. Four days later, on December 11th, they too declared war on the United States.

"There is the theory that the Americans knew about the attack, but that President Roosevelt, who needed or was looking for a reason to enter the war, let it happen. So in America in particular this is of course very controversial and it will not glad to hear that a US president may have accepted the deaths of American soldiers or sailors in order to be able to realize his political agenda. "

Was had been in the air for a long time

In any case, the claim that the attack came out of the blue is only meteorologically correct. Was had been in the air for a long time. And not just on the day before Pearl Harbor, when President Roosevelt had turned to Emperor Hirohito with a personal message of peace because he had been informed in advance about the 14-part intelligence dispatch. For him - so literally - "synonymous with a declaration of war".

A month before the attack, on November 7, 1941, the Japan Times reported that the number of Americans living in Tokyo had fallen to 200. So relations between Japan and the US had been deteriorating for months. The Americans felt increasingly threatened in their economic interests by the Japanese expansion policy. This was particularly true of their own colony, the Philippines, but also of European possessions in Southeast Asia. Even so, they still provided the Japanese with fuel for their campaigns in China. Japan did not have its own energy sources.

It was not until July 1941, when Japan had annexed French Indochina, that these deliveries came to an end. The USA, Great Britain and the Netherlands imposed a trade embargo on Japan. Its oil reserves were just enough for a year. The attack on Pearl Harbor had to take place while there was still enough fuel.

After Pearl Harbor, the army leadership in Tokyo pushed all the more to occupy Dutch Indonesia and the British colonies of Malaya and Burma. Because there was oil there. In the same breath, Japan's soldiers marched into Manila, the capital of the American Philippines. The war machine overran all of Asia.

Nonetheless, the blow against Pearl Harbor turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. Because a second attack did not take place, the shipyards and infrastructure were not destroyed. Some battleships were quickly repaired, but most importantly, the aircraft carriers remained intact. With them and other ships that were withdrawn from the Atlantic, the Americans were soon able to make their first forays against Japan. The historian Sven Saaler sums up:

"Military historians speak of a typical overstretching of the Japanese expansion during World War II. Japan simply was not able to control such a large area and so far apart territories. The raw materials it would have needed to make Japan, Korea or Manchuria to produce war goods, ie planes or tanks, no longer arrived by mid-1943 at the latest, because US submarines practically sank the entire Japanese merchant navy. "

Japan's new world order - Asia to the Japanese, Europe to the Germans and America to the USA - turned out to be a pipe dream. Admiral Yamamoto had seen defeat coming, but never seen it. His plane was shot down by a squadron of US fighters on April 18, 1943 over Bougainville. The operation was called "Vengeance" - revenge.