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Why didn't Japan attack the West Coast of the United States during World War II?

Why didn't Japan attack the West Coast of the United States during World War II?


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In the early months of World War II, the United Stated spent several millions of dollars to fortify the West Coast against possible Japanese attack, going as far as to stretch a gigantic submarine net across the Juan de Fuca Strait and to cover the entire Boeing plant in Seattle with camouflaging wire net to make it look like a residential suburb.

Yet all these numerous fears of Japanese attack never materialized. Aside from sending a couple thousand bomb-filled balloons across the Pacific (all of which fell on sparsely inhabited areas), Japan never even touched the West Coast of America.

Why didn't the Japanese attempt even a single attack on the mainland? What deterred them from striking such a direct blow on America? A submarine attack would have been easy for them, but they never sent a known submarine beyond the territorial waters of Hawaii.

So what's the story here? Or were there attacks I simply didn't come across in all my sources about World War II?


There were several well-known attacks.

Aleutian Islands Campaign

On June 6, two days after the bombing of Dutch Harbor, 500 Japanese marines landed on Kiska, one of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska… The next day, a total of 1,140 Japanese infantrymen landed on Attu via Holtz Bay, eventually reaching Massacre Bay and Chichagof Harbor… The invasion was only the second time that American soil had been occupied by a foreign enemy, the first being the British during the War of 1812.

Submarine operations:

During 1941 and 1942, more than 10 Japanese submarines operated in the West Coast, Alaska, and Baja California. They attacked American, Canadian, and Mexican ships, successfully sinking over 10 vessels including the Soviet Navy submarine L-16 on October 11, 1942.

The United States mainland was first shelled by the Axis on February 23, 1942 when the Japanese submarine I-17 attacked the Ellwood Oil Field west of Goleta, near Santa Barbara, California.

In what became the only attack on a mainland American military installation during World War II, the Japanese submarine I-25, under the command of Tagami Meiji,[26] surfaced near the mouth of the Columbia River, Oregon on the night of June 21 and June 22, 1942, and fired shells toward Fort Stevens.

Balloon bomb attacks

Japan released about 9,000 bomb-carrying balloons across the Pacific between November 1944 and April 1945. Hundreds if not thousands of these actually landed in North America. The program was suspended after Allied bombing took out Japanese hydrogen plants. The Japanese didn't have much way of knowing how effective the bombs were, but one did cause casualties.

On May 5, 1945, five children and local pastor Archie Mitchell's pregnant wife Elsie were killed as they played with the large paper balloon they'd spotted during a Sunday outing in the woods near Bly, Oregon-the only enemy-inflicted casualties on the U.S. mainland in the whole of World War II.

It is somewhat incorrect to assume that there was no attempt by Japan to attack the mainland. There were attacks. However, Japan focused its military forces on the two main fronts, China and South-East Asia and it couldn't afford another front at the time.


Japan had a lot of targets closer to home. They included Southeast Asia (which they conquered), China, and India (Japan came fairly close). They did attack American possessions on the far side of the Pacific such as Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines, plus Midway and the Aleutians, but otherwise, pretty much left mainland America alone after Pearl Harbor. Only when Japan had run out of Asian targets to attack, when the choice was between Australia, Iran, and San Francisco, would it make sense to attack the U.S. west coast. By that time, the Japanese planned to have a behemouth consisting of Japan, China, India, today's "ASEAN" nations, and maybe Siberian Russia behind her, but not before.

The Pacific was a relatively low priority theater for America, because it took America twice as many supplies to maintain one soldier against Japan in Asia versus Germany in Europe. Likewise, it would take a multiple more supplies for Japan to sustain an attack on the U.S. west coast versus say, China.


Japanese submarines did come to the American Pacific coast. I know of one bombardment while visiting Fort Stevens on vacation. The attack did no damage, but appears to have helped foster fears of further attacks.

In the strategic sense, basically nothing happened on the American Pacific coast to change the course of the war, but one could argue that the defenses were a huge diversion of resources to guard against a threat that in hindsight was fairly marginal. However, had Japan won the Battle of Midway, then strong Pacific coast defenses would have been an even higher priority.


Range of their ships…

The Japanese doctrine dictated a naval battle near the home islands, a repeat of the Russo-Japanese war. They did so largely because they lacked enough fuel to reliably reach, much less maintain any kind of battle fleet off the coast of the U.S.

The major reason that a Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor was of low probability was that it was believed the Japanese lacked the ability to refuel underway, especially in the North Pacific in the winter. Such refueling was absolutely necessary because a battle fleet absolutely required the protection of its destroyers and destroyers were small fast ships that carried little fuel and quickly burned through that which they did.

The U.S. had only managed to accomplish underway refueling under simulated war conditions in late 1939 using a newly invented and highly secret disposable fast decoupler for the fuel lines. Knowing the Japanese lacked this technology, it was thought unlikely they could reach Hawaii.

But as usual, the Japanese used hyper-intensive training and much higher tolerance for casualties to build the skills necessary to perform such refueling. Most of those superbly trained men died at Midway trapped in the inferno the hangar decks of the stricken Japanese carriers turned into, after the American bomb strikes.

Fuel oil ruled the Pacific War in 1942. The U.S. stupidly let itself get by with only three fleet oilers (tankers who could keep pace with battle fleets which traveled at twice the speed of regular merchant ships and tankers). Two were sunk or damaged and the U.S. relied on civilian tankers to support all their operations. See: Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway & Guadalcanal.

Every one of the battleships sunk and then razed at Pearl Harbor were relegated to patrolling the West Coast because they did not have either the speed or range to keep pace with carrier task forces. Neither did the U.S. have enough tanker capacity to support them away from home ports.

The real question is why the Japanese did not utilize their submarines like the Germans. Had they deployed submarines along the West Coast as the Germans did during Operation Drumbeat, they could have devastated the U.S. pacific merchant fleet and crippled all offensive actions.

They didn't do so because they were fighting a scripted war. They knew they could not defeat the Americans materially in a long war, so they all deluded themselves that the war would be decided by a quick devastating destruction of the Pacific fleet in one massive decisive battle. At which point the Americans who where nothing but greedy, craven businessmen, would beg for peace.

They originally planned on luring the U.S. Fleet to a decisive battle somewhere between the Philippines and Okinawa. The sole doctrine for the Japanese subs was to whittle down the U.S. battle fleet as it traveled across the Pacific to the area of the decisive battle. Sub commanders were ordered to ignore merchant vessels and only attack warships.

Worse, the doctrine required large fleet subs, able to travel on the surface with the main battle fleet. This made the sub too large to dive quickly, so they suffered high losses when they ventured too far into areas where the U.S. had dense air patrols. Even if they had decided to deploy their ship in anti-logistics attacks on the west coast, they didn't have subs suitable for such a mission.

The Japanese inflexibility to the point of delusion, gave the U.S. a year to build a real logistics system and unlearn all the mistaken doctrines the Navy had developed after not having fought a serious naval war since 1898.

In the end, the Military, who thought of themselves as Samurai whose only role was war, were so desperate to maintain their role and status that they deluded themselves they could win a war with U.S. But they could only win a war that followed a specific narrow script. The script said that the war would end long before logistics issues came into play; they did not plan on attacking U.S. logistics nor did they rush to develop the Indonesian oil fields.


Japan, like all major navies, had doctrines that were highly influenced by Mahon's book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History published in 1890, which emphasized the critical role of capital ships (battleships) in defensive roles in the home waters. The US Pacific Fleet was deployed forward, at Pearl Harbor, in an position to conduct offensive operations throughout the Pacific. Japan could not execute its strategic plan of dominating China and Indonesia with the US threatening its rear.

Ironically, the very success of the attack on Pearl Harbor rendered the battleship obsolete except as a floating artillery battery against land targets. A single pilot, flying an aircraft that could be quickly an cheaply produced, dropping an inexpensive bomb or torpedo could cripple or sink a very long leadtime, expensive battleship with thousands of crew.

Yamamoto immediately recognized the significance of his accomplishment at Pearl and set out an elaborate plan to draw the few US aircraft carriers into battle near Midway. Part of his plan was the diversion in the Aleutian Islands with the occupation of Siska, for domestic propaganda purposes, and an attack toward Dutch Harbor, which is the only deep water port on the Great Circle (i.e., shortest) route from Japan to the US. Thanks to breaking the Japanese naval code and a lot of skull sweat, Nimitz knew that would not be the main event. The battle of Midway, just months after Pearl, was a stunning defeat for the Japanese Navy, which lost 4 carriers in 5 minutes. After that, the US had the strategic initiative and rolled up the enemy outposts along the chain of islands leading east to New Guinea and then north to Okinawa and eventually the home islands.

From June 1942, Japan was on the strategic defense. There was little coastwise commerce along the West Coast to disrupt (mainly timber, which could be moved by rail, if necessary). There was a high probability of surface craft being detected and attacked by land based aircraft, and the flow of materiel from San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego was convoyed and at the outer limits of submarine operations. Japan lacked a strategic air arm capable of inflicting substantial damages and casualties on American cities. There was no likelihood of inflicting sufficient damage to bring the US to negotiations.

In short, offensive operations against the US mainland were high-cost, low-payoff missions that detracted from the fierce rearguard retreat toward the home islands.


The following map - somewhat ironically - was recently granted the prestigious Grand Award of Japan for design. As you can see, the distance between Japan and the United States is quite large.

Another geographic feature that simply dealt a better hand to the Americans in WWII was island placement. Hawaii, being somewhat halfway in between the U.S. and Japan is pretty much your last stop till you hit California. That's a long supply chain to deal with, even if the Japanese decisively conquered Hawaii. And even then, if the Japanese successfully invaded the West Coast and took over major cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles, they would have to deal with the sprawling network of railways and automobiles which could bring Americans to the front lines much faster than a Japanese resupply coming in from Hawaii, much less Japan itself.

It is also worth noting that there is a decently spaced chain of islands and atolls that stretch from Hawaii to the Philippines and southern Japanese islands like Okinawa, which put Japan on the defensive for much of their fight against America. After the Japanese conquered America's Pacific outposts, it had to hold them at all costs to stave off what eventually became their inevitable defeat.


I've been in excavation for 30 years… all that to say… I love "Man and Machine" and I have paid close attention to some of the logistical side of man-made machines.

I believe the "hit and run" sub attacks created good psychological fear along with the balloon bombs. But to amass a fleet of ships to actually sail the distance to American coast lines would have been a suicide mission. They would be too far from "support" to carry out a continued attack and land invasion.

My understanding is, we, at the time had a very effective civil air patrol very willing to patrol our skies… and they did. This would have helped a great deal in spotting ships afar.


Another bombing of the Continental US by Japan that was not mentioned yet was the Japanese bombing of Oregon via submarine-launched bomber planes.

The Lookout Air Raids are bombings that were carried out by the Japanese Navy against the American mainland by using incendiary bombs to start forest fires and therefore divert American resources to fighting fires.

However, the bombs failed to cause a fire, rendering the operation more or less useless.

An interesting footnote to this story is that one of the pilots involved, Nobuo Fujita, returned to the town he bombed after the war to express his remorse, and was favourably received during his visit by the citizens of Brookings, Oregon.


Another attack I don't see mentioned here yet was on the SS Montebello off the Central California coast near Cambria. From Wikipedia:

SS Montebello was an oil tanker sunk by the Japanese submarine, I-21, off the coast of California on December 23, 1941.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Montebello


Why didn't the Japanese attempt even a single attack on the mainland? What deterred them from striking such a direct blow on America? A submarine attack would have been easy for them, but they never sent a known submarine beyond the territorial waters of Hawaii.

In addition to the other answers, I'll mention the I-400 class submarine. They were under water aircraft carriers and each carried 3 M6A seaplanes. They were conceived in 1942 as a way to bring more than just a submarine's one little deck gun to the US west coast.

The Japanese knew sending a surface fleet to raid the US west coast would be a nightmare. Going beyond Hawaii meant an extra 5000 miles round trip. 5000 miles of extra fuel tankers and logistics ships. 5000 miles of patrolling and very angry US aircraft, ships, and submarines. Even if successful those ships would be out of action for weeks while in transit. Their solution was the I-400.

The I-400 class married the stealth and operational range of a submarine with the strike range of small bombers. Instead of a normal submarine firing at the coastline with its little deck gun, the I-400 could launch three bombers which could head inland and attack vital industrial and transportation targets.

Unlike many Axis "super-weapons" this one worked! But also like many Axis super-weapons, it took too long to reach the battlefield and there weren't enough. 18 were planned, 3 were completed, only 2 entered service before the war ended.

The plan was to attack the Panama Canal and stem the tide of US ships flooding from the East Coast to the West. The Panama Canal was well guarded against conventional surface, air, or submarine attack. The thinking was that a fleet of I-400s could sneak up and launch its aircraft late at night. They could do this in 30 minutes. The aircraft would attack from an unexpected direction bypassing the defenses and having the element of surprise.

By the time they were completed the war was basically over. And like everything else in the Japanese arsenal it was planned to be sent on a suicide mission against the US fleet. But the elaborate plan failed and the submarines were captured at the end of the war.

There's a good documentary on the I-400 by World War II in HD Colour.


We must never forget that Germany and Japan, the Axis powers, were also developing nuclear weapons in WW2, but before the Axis could finish development and deploy their nuclear weapons or dirty bombs, the Allies won the war.

The German submarine U-234 was delivering nuclear materials from Germany to Japan when Germany surrendered. That German submarine was ordered to surrender by the German high command and the two Japanese officer passengers on that submarine committed suicide. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_submarine_U-234

The Japanese planned to use these nuclear materials to make dirty bombs since they had not yet been successful in completing an atomic bomb. The Japanese had already dropped biological weapons on China and planned to do the the same to the American West Coast. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Cherry_Blossoms_at_Night

We rarely hear about Germany and Japans nuclear development efforts since they did not finish them in time to use them. Some say the Axis lost the nuclear arms race in WW2 because Germany discounted the value of theoretical physics over the applied sciences, thus allowing Jewish scientists to study theoretical physics before fleeing persecution in Germany leaving a knowledge gap while adding considerably to the Allies knowledge of in this area.


This Is the Reason Why Imperial Japan Lost the Battle of Midway

Key point: Tokyo miscalculated and Washingon had broken Imperial Japan's codes.

Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, sought to extend Japan’s defensive perimeter in the central Pacific with the seizure of Midway atoll, about 1,300 miles west of Hawaii. Yamamoto intended to occupy Midway and lure the U.S. Navy into a decisive battle during which his superiority in warships, particularly aircraft carriers, and planes would destroy American naval power, leaving Hawaii and possibly the West Coast of the United States open to attack.

Cracking the Japanese Naval Code

Yamamoto devised a complex plan that included a diversionary feint toward the Aleutian Islands far to the north and the division of his naval forces into a carrier group, battleship group, and landing group. Unknown to the Japanese, U.S. Navy cryptanalysts had cracked the Japanese naval code and determined that the primary target of the forthcoming Japanese offensive was Midway. Moreover, the Japanese believed they had sunk the carrier USS Yorktown during the recent Battle of the Coral Sea. However, the Yorktown had been severely damaged and underwent sufficient repairs to rejoin the U.S. Pacific Fleet in only 72 hours. Rather than facing only the American carriers Enterprise and Hornet, Yamamoto would have to contend with three carriers.

Nevertheless, Yamamoto ventured toward Midway with overwhelming superiority, including the four powerful aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. American admirals Frank Jack Fletcher and Raymond A. Spruance rendezvoused northeast of Midway and waited.

Midway’s Turning Point

The outcome of the Battle of Midway turned on Nagumo’s decision to change the armament carried by his planes to attack naval rather than land targets on Midway after an American carrier, presumably the Yorktown, was sighted. On the morning of June 4, 1942, American carrier planes attacked Nagumo’s force. The Americans had failed to mount a coordinated attack, and U.S. torpedo planes, attacking alone, were slaughtered. At the crucial moment, with the decks of the Japanese carriers full of rearming and fueled aircraft and fighter cover chasing the torpedo planes, American dive bombers attacked and destroyed Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.

Retaliatory strikes by Japanese planes from Hiryu crippled the Yorktown, and the carrier was later sunk by a Japanese submarine. Subsequently, Hiryu was sunk by American dive bombers.

Midway, fought June 4-7, 1942, was the turning point of World War II in the South Pacific. Yamamoto’s plan was shattered, and the Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered from the loss of four frontline aircraft carriers and irreplaceable pilots and aircrews.

This article by Mike Haskew originally appeared on the Warfare History Network. Originally Published in 2014.


Japanese Submarines Prowl the U.S. Pacific Coastline in 1941

Over a seven-day period, from December 18 to 24, 1941, nine Japanese submarines positioned at strategic points along the U.S. west coast attacked eight American merchant ships, of which two were sunk and two damaged. Six seamen were killed. It was the first and only time during the three years and eight months of war to come that more than one Japanese submarine appeared at the same time off the American coast.

Twelve I-type submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st Submarine Squadron had taken up position in Hawaiian waters by the evening of December 6, 1941, anticipating an attack on U.S. Pacific Fleet ships if they broke out of Pearl Harbor the next day. So successful was the December 7 surprise attack that for two days not a single American ship was spotted at sea.

On December 10, the Japanese learned that an American Lexington-class aircraft carrier was heading for the U.S. mainland. Nine of the 12 subs were ordered to pursue and sink the enemy carrier, then take up positions at designated sites off the Pacific coast and begin attacking American merchant ships. As a climax to the operation, around midnight on Christmas Eve all nine subs were to shell selected U.S. coastal cities and lighthouses. After expending all of their 5.5-inch shells, they were to retire to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.

The nine submarines sent to shell the U.S. coast were all launched a year or two before the war began. With only slight differences, all had a range of approximately 15,000 miles, a surface speed of 23 1/2 knots, carried as many as 18 torpedoes, mounted a 5.5-inch deck gun, were over 355 feet long and carried a complement of 94 to 100 men.

The nine subs were strategically located–based on prewar intelligence–to give them the best opportunity to attack the shipping lanes most commonly used by American merchantmen. Four subs, I-19, I-15, I-25 and I-26, were ordered to the most important locations: I-19 off Los Angeles Harbor, I-15 off San Francisco Bay, I-25 off the mouth of the Columbia River and I-26 off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the important waterway leading into and out of the port of Seattle. The remaining five subs, assigned to locations that had been deemed less crucial, would nonetheless see the most action: I-9 off Cape Blanco, Ore. I-17 off Cape Mendocino, Calif. I-23 off Monterey Bay, Calif. I-21 off Estero Bay, Calif. and I-10 off San Diego.

About an hour before dawn on December 18, I-17 was moving quietly along the surface 15 miles off Cape Mendocino when one of her lookouts spotted a ship approaching. Kozo Nishino, captain of the 2,500-ton sub, ordered an attack on the American freighter Samoa, which was on her way to San Diego with a load of lumber. Since he was allotted only one torpedo per merchant ship, Nishino decided to open the attack with his 5.5-inch deck gun and use a torpedo only if necessary.

Moments before Samoa crossed the bow of I-17, First Mate John Lehtonen, on watch at the time, spotted a dim light from the approaching enemy sub and yelled down to the captain, ‘A submarine is attacking us!’ Captain Nels Sinnes, who had been asleep, sat bolt upright in his bunk, quickly pulled on his pants and shirt, grabbed a life jacket and yelled into the crew’s quarters for everyone to report to their lifeboat stations. As crewmen began tearing the canvas covers from the lifeboats, the Japanese opened up. ‘Five shots were fired at us,’ Captain Sinnes later recalled. ‘One, apparently aimed at our radio antenna, burst in the air above the stern. Fragments fell to the deck.’

Captain Nishino, unsatisfied with the results of the shelling from his pitching deck, ordered a torpedo fired at 70 yards. Seconds later, as Sinnes recalled, ‘We saw the telltale wake of a torpedo coming directly at us amidships. It was too late to do more than just wait for our destiny.

‘[Then] the miracle happened. The torpedo went directly beneath us, didn’t even touch the hull and continued beyond. A short distance away it exploded. There was a huge shower accompanied by smoke and flames. Fragments from the torpedo also fell on our deck.’

A combination of three things saved the freighter and her crew. Two were the darkness and the torpedo’s explosion away from the ship. Nishino, unable to see whether the torpedo had hit the ship, moved in closer to check it out. In the dim light, with the Japanese sub less than 15 feet away, the third bit of luck came into play. ‘Shortly after the attack,’ said Sinnes, ‘the sub hove to about 40 feet away. Visibility was extremely poor and I couldn’t make out the flag or anybody on board. There was a shout: ‘Hi ya!’ from the submarine. I replied, ‘What do you want of us?’ There was no answer. Then it disappeared, evidently thinking that we were sinking on account of our heavy port list.

‘The list was due to the fact that the engineers had been shifting water in the ballast tanks,’ Sinnes explained. ‘We also lost our No. 1 lifeboat a couple of days before in a storm, part of which was still hanging from its davit. He evidently thought…[we were] sinking on account of this and left us alone.’

Sinnes was right. Captain Nishino did radio the flag submarine, I-15, off San Francisco, that he had sunk an American merchantman. Samoa hove to until daybreak at 7 a.m., then headed at full speed for San Diego, making port two days later.

On December 20, two days after his attack on Samoa, Captain Nishino got his second chance at an American merchantman. Around 1:30 that afternoon, the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company’s tanker Emidio, returning empty from Seattle to San Francisco, was about 20 miles off Cape Mendocino when a report came down to the captain that a sub had been sighted about a quarter of a mile off the stern and was closing.

Captain Clark Farrow, after first attempting to outrun the enemy raider, ordered ‘full speed, and dumped ballast, but…had no chance to escape. We were rapidly overtaken. The sub was making 20 knots. I tried to get behind her but [the sub] reversed course and kept after us.’

Realizing the situation was hopeless, Farrow ordered his radio operator, W.S. Foote, to send an SOS, which he did, accompanied by the words, ‘Under attack by enemy sub.’ No sooner had the message been tapped out over the wireless than I-17 opened up with its deck gun, the first shot carrying away the radio antenna. Two more shots from the sub struck Emidio, one of which destroyed one of the lifeboats hanging in its davits on deck.

Farrow stopped the engines and hoisted a white flag, then ordered the crew to take to the lifeboats. ‘Three of the crew–R.W. Pennington, Fred Potts and Stuart McGillivray–were attempting to launch one of the boats when a shell struck it, spilling them into the water,’ said one of the crewmen later. ‘Other lifeboats were put over the side to search for the three missing men, but we couldn’t find them.’

With the exception of four men still on board and the three lost over the side, the remaining members of the 36-man crew quickly rowed away from the imperiled ship. About 10 minutes later, after a parting shot in the direction of the lifeboats, I-17 abruptly submerged. A couple of minutes later the reason for its sudden disappearance became apparent. ‘It may have been 10 or 15 minutes after the SOS when two U.S. bombers came roaring overhead from the coast,’ said Farrow later. ‘To us in the lifeboats it was a welcome sight. One of the two planes, circling where the sub had gone down, dropped a depth charge. We couldn’t tell if it hit it or not.’

The depth charge did not damage the sub. On board I-17, in fact, Captain Nishino had decided to risk attack from the American planes in order to take one torpedo shot at the abandoned tanker.

‘We were still looking at where the sub went down,’ continued Farrow, ‘when we saw its periscope slowly push up above the surface. While still partially submerged it fired a torpedo from 200 yards. We could see the trail as it sped straight for the ship. It struck with a loud explosion.’

On board Emidio, radioman Foote, who had quickly jury-rigged another antenna, was just preparing to send a second SOS when the torpedo hit. Undaunted by the blast, the dutiful wireless operator tapped out his SOS, added the words ‘Torpedoed in the stern,’ then calmly made his way to the main deck and jumped overboard.

The other men, oiler B.F. Moler, fireman Kenneth Kimes and 3rd engineer R.A. Winters–who had either ignored the order to abandon ship or were unaware of it–were still at their stations in the engine room when the torpedo struck. Astoundingly, Moler saw it penetrate the engine room bulkhead and pass so close to him that, as he told an examining medical officer the next day at the Eureka naval section base, ‘I could have reached out and touched it. It exploded on the other side of the engine room and killed Kimes and Winters outright.’ Despite three broken ribs and a punctured lung, Moler’somehow swam and climbed up to the upper deck and jumped overboard.’ Both Moler and Foote were picked up by the lifeboats.

‘Back came the planes as the sub sank out of sight again,’ continued Farrow. ‘One of them dropped another depth charge. There was a big blast and plenty of smoke. That may have hit her, we figured, for we didn’t see her again.’ Once again, however, the sub escaped damage. On February 23, 1942, I-17 would shell the Ellwood Oil Company refinery, 10 miles north of Santa Barbara–the first enemy shells to land on the continental United States in World War II.

Despite the torpedo hit, Emidio did not sink. Several days later, in fact, she ran aground on a pile of rocks off Crescent City, Calif., an amazing 85 miles north of where she had been torpedoed. The 31 survivors of the stricken ship rowed their lifeboats for 16 hours and 20 miles through a driving rainstorm until they were picked up by a Coast Guard lightship a few miles off Humbolt Bay.

About the time Emidio crewmen were beginning their agonizing 16-hour pull to safety, a second Japanese sub, I-23, had begun stalking another American tanker, Agwiworld, some 330 miles to the south, off Santa Cruz. At 2:15 p.m., as the 6,771-ton Richfield Oil Company tanker headed north some 20 miles off Monterey Bay, an explosion off the stern of the ship brought Captain Frederick Goncalves running to the bridge. About 500 yards to the west and directly in line with the sun, Goncalves could make out what appeared to be a submarine.

‘I ordered the helm hard to port and headed straight for [it],’ said the captain, ‘but when the second shot came, I put the helm hard over the starboard and presented my stern to the sub.’

Although this sub, under the command of Captain Genichi Shibata, was much faster than Agwiworld, the Japanese faced a dilemma. The swells were heavy at the time, and Shibata knew that an attempt to overtake the fleeing American tanker with I-23‘s decks awash would affect his gun’s accuracy and could even result in the loss of some gun crewmen.

Another reason the enemy sub did not close was probably that the Japanese had overheard the tanker’s distress call to the U.S. Navy. Whatever the reasons, I-23 remained at 500 yards while firing at least a half-dozen more times at the now fishtailing American ship.

‘The sub didn’t chase us into port exactly,’ Captain Goncalves later recalled. ‘We zigzagged around, maneuvering always to present the smallest target possible. The sub circled and dodged, trying to get broadside of us, but never succeeded. As we neared land and the sub fired the last of its eight shots–four of which splashed water onto the deck–it quickly submerged.’

On shore, several Monterey peninsula residents had unknowingly witnessed the chase. A story in the Monterey Herald that evening said, ‘Scores of golfers playing seaside courses reported today they had observed the tanker with huge clouds of smoke pouring from her funnel, fleeing toward Santa Cruz and zigzagging wildly, but most of them thought little more about it.’

On the morning of December 22, 1941, the Standard Oil Company tanker H.M. Story was off Point Arguello, some 55 miles north of Santa Barbara. Submerged less than two miles off the treacherous point, Japanese submarine I-21, under the command of Captain Kanji Matsumura, had been lying in wait for two days.

Walking the lonely beach of Point Arguello that morning was a woman–whose name was later withheld by the Navy–who, along with Jack Sudden, a young high-school student from nearby Lompoc, witnessed the encounter between Story and I-21. Both saw a torpedo fired from I-21.

Sudden, who was rabbit hunting along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks at the time, said that around 8:30 a.m. he ‘heard a dull explosion and saw smoke arising from the sea. At first I couldn’t tell what it was, but a few minutes later heavy smoke began to settle over [the] water like a smoke screen. To the northwest of the screen and about three miles from shore I could see the tanker speeding up the coast.

‘I later saw a long dark object leave the smoke screen heading in the general direction of the ship. Watching the object–that must have been a torpedo–it closed the gap between itself and the ship and at times came to the surface and kicked up a white spray. The last I could see of the torpedo, it passed in front of the ship.’

The explosion that first attracted Sudden’s attention had come from I-21‘s deck gun, but the heavy smoke screen put out by the fleeing tanker made it impossible for Matsumura’s gun crew to see the target, forcing him to submerge and use a torpedo.

The other witness, who had binoculars, could see the submarine plainly. ‘It was between the tanker and the shore when I saw it,’ she said, ‘less than two miles away. I saw what I thought were two torpedoes fired from the submarine at the ship, but they all went behind it. The tanker then went full speed ahead, with heavy black smoke pouring from her funnel.’ Not long after that, planes arrived and dropped several bombs. ‘They were so heavy that when they exploded they shook the ground where I was standing,’ the woman continued. ‘The explosions raised great columns of water.’

On the morning of December 22, the Japanese submarine I-21, after failing to sink H.M. Story off Point Arguello, headed north in search of another target. At 3 a.m. the next day the sub spotted the Richfield Oil Company tanker Larry Doheney, and Captain Kanji Matsumura fired his 5.5-inch deck gun at her.

Some six miles away in the little beach community of Cayucas, Calif., on the northern edge of Estero Bay, Mrs. Roy Genardini, wife of the town’s constable, was awakened by the noise of the shot. Twenty seconds later a second shot was heard.

On board Doheney, no one was asleep after the first shot. Captain Roy Brieland, the skipper of the empty tanker, was already on the bridge directing the maneuvers of his ship when the second shot came. Both missed, and Brieland frantically zigzagged his 20-year-old oiler into the night.

A few minutes later, on board I-21, Captain Matsumura was about to call off the chase, thwarted by the darkness and Doheney‘s fishtailing maneuvers, when a lookout picked up the tanker inside 200 yards with its port side exposed. The Japanese commander quickly ordered a torpedo fired.

Still in her bed back in Cayucas, Mrs. Genardini was just about convinced the shooting was over when she was suddenly jarred by an explosion that, in her own words, ‘nearly threw me on the floor.’ The explosion was the concussion from a Japanese Long Lance torpedo that had exploded after missing Larry Doheney. With that, Matsumura broke off the chase and submerged. His frustration at being outrun by two American tankers in two days, however, would be more than made up for in less than two hours.

About the time I-21 disappeared below the surface, another American tanker, the Union Oil Company’s Montebello, was pulling away from the company wharf some 20 miles away at Avila, on its way north with a cargo of oil and gasoline. An hour and a half later she found herself in a life-or-death race with a frustrated Japanese submarine commander with vengeance on his mind.

At 5:30 a.m. William Srez, on watch aboard Montebello, alerted Captain Olaf Eckstrom that they were being stalked by what looked like a sub. Five-and-a-half hours earlier, Eckstrom had been the ship’s first mate. At midnight, her captain had abruptly resigned, giving the command to Eckstrom.

‘I saw a dark outline on the water, close astern of us,’ said the new captain later. ‘Srez was right. It was the silhouette of a Jap submarine, a big fellow, possibly 300 feet long. I ordered the quartermaster at the wheel, John McIsaac, to zigzag. For 10 minutes we tried desperately to cheat the sub, but it was no use. She was too close…[and] let a torpedo go when we were broadside to her.’

‘The torpedo smashed us square amidships,’ said Srez, ‘and there was a big blast and the ship shuddered and trembled and we knew she was done for.’

Fortunately for Montebello, the torpedo hit the only compartment not loaded with gasoline. ‘The men wouldn’t have had a chance if any other hold was hit,’ said Eckstrom. But it did knock out the radio.

‘The skipper was as cool as a snowdrift,’ remembered Srez. ‘He yelled an order to stand by the lifeboats and then an order to abandon ship, and there was something in the way he gave those orders that made us proud to be serving under him.’

As the crew responded by lowering the lifeboats, the Japanese opened fire with their deck gun at nearly point-blank range. ‘The sub began shelling us,’ continued Captain Eckstrom. ‘There was from eight to 10 flashes. One hit the foremast, snapping it. Another whistled by my head so close I could have reached out and touched it. But there was no panic, no hysteria. We got all four lifeboats into the water. Splinters from one of the shells struck some of the boats, but by some kind of miracle, none of us was wounded.’

Despite the torpedoing, Eckstrom was not sure Montebello was going to sink, and he ordered his lifeboats ‘to lie a short distance from the ship. But 45 minutes later, just as dawn was breaking, she went down.’

As the 36 men in four lifeboats began rowing for shore, I-21 opened fire with machine guns on the helpless American sailors until poor visibility forced the Japanese to retire. Although no one was wounded, the boat carrying Eckstrom, Srez and four other crewmen was hit.

‘Machine-gun bullets hit our boat,’ said Srez, ‘and she began leaking like a sieve. We began rowing shoreward, with some of us leaning on the oars for all we were worth and the others bailing.’

Fighting fatigue, rough water and a leaking boat, it was not until noon–some six hours after the sinking–that the six men literally hit the beach below the town of Cambria. ‘We were caught in the surf,’ Srez recalled, ‘and the lifeboat capsized….Some of the boys were scratched up, and the captain nearly drowned.’

As the lumber schooner Barbara Olson was quietly steaming toward San Diego on the morning of December 24, she was rocked by a violent blast 100 feet off its seaward side. Although no one on board saw what caused it, the explosion was from a torpedo fired by I-19, which had gone under Olson and blown up on the other side.

About four miles away, aboard the Navy subchaser USS Amethyst, on patrol off the Los Angeles Harbor entrance, lookouts were attracted by the blast, and the captain sounded general quarters one minute later. The note in the ship’s log read: ‘At 0625 sighted an explosion that threw smoke and spray approximately 300 feet into the air. At 0626 sounded general quarters. At 0730 secured from general quarters and set condition Baker.’

Amethyst went down for a ‘look-see’ but did not locate the enemy sub. Although
I-19 had missed Barbara Olson, four hours later she would have another chance at an American ship. By 10 a.m., I-19 had moved to new hunting grounds a few miles north off Point Fermin. Entering the Catalina Channel some five miles north of the waiting enemy sub was the McCormick Steamship Company’s 5,700-ton freighter Absaroka, also on her way south with a load of lumber.

By 10:30, the freighter was off Point Fermin, whose famous 77-year-old lighthouse was clearly visible less than a mile away. Manning a coast artillery gun position on the point just below the lighthouse, Army Sergeant James Hedwood and his crew watched the ship as it passed. ‘We were looking at the lumber schooner when suddenly we saw a fountain of water spout 100 feet into the air at the stern,’ Hedwood recalled. The boat spun around some 220 degrees from the force of the blow, ‘ending up with its stern to sea and its bow facing toward land.’

On board, Seaman Joseph Scott was the first to see the sub that got Absaroka. ‘It was midmorning and all hands were up, when I looked off to starboard and saw a whale,’ he recalled. ‘At least I was about to say ‘look over yonder, a whale,’ when I changed my mind and yelled, ‘There’s a Jap submarine!’

‘She was coming head-on. Then her periscope went up and she shot a torpedo. I’ve seen torpedoes coming at me before. ‘They’ve wasted that one,’ says I. Sure enough it went wide, but right on its heels came another. ‘Oh, oh, that’s bad,’ says I, because I could see this one was going to get us.’

Scott’s reference to previous experience with torpedoes was no exaggeration. At sea since his early 20s, the 48-year-old veteran had had four merchant ships torpedoed out from under him on four consecutive voyages during World War I.

‘In those other torpedoings, as I recall ’em, there was always a bang or blast and a bump,’ Scott continued. ‘But this one was a sort of slow jar, with nothing but a rumble because she hit well below the waterline.’

Four men–Harry Greenwald, Marshall Mansfield, Herbert Stevens and Joseph Ryan–were working on the starboard side of Absaroka, routinely checking the lashings on the particularly heavy deckload of lumber she was carrying, moments before the torpedo struck. One of them glanced up in time to see the wake. ‘Torpedo!’ he yelled, pointing toward the stern of the ship. ‘I knew [it] was going to miss us and broke into a grin,’ said Greenwald. ‘But my grin froze, because the second fish followed the first one quicker than it takes to tell it.’

The second torpedo struck with tremendous impact about 50 feet aft of the beam, knocking three of the four men into the sea. The fourth, Ryan, was able to ride out the blast, which, according to one observer, threw tons of lumber into the air ‘as if a man were throwing matchsticks around.’

Amazingly, within a matter of seconds, Greenwald was back on deck after being thrown overboard. As he struggled to the surface after his sudden dunking, the rail over which he had just been hurled came close enough for him to grab. ‘The ship [rolled] over so far from the explosion that her deck went underwater,’ said Greenwald. ‘I grabbed the rail as the ship shuddered and righted herself [and] was carried up as she swung back.’ Mansfield pulled himself back on board by a rope.

The third man, Stevens, whose leg had been injured in the blast and his subsequent fall into the sea, began yelling for his shipmates to help. Ryan located him and dashed to the deck rail, picked up a coil of heavy mooring line and tossed it toward Stevens’ bobbing head. Ryan had begun pulling Stevens toward the ship when the next disaster struck. The explosion had snapped the lashings anchoring the deckload of lumber behind Ryan. As he was leaning over the rail drawing his injured comrade toward the side of the ship, a 10-foot wall of lumber teetered and then fell, instantly killing Ryan and tumbling his body overboard along with hundreds of board feet of lumber.

Another man, oiler James O’Brien, who had been positioned a little farther forward when the torpedo hit, said that the blast ‘knocked me off my feet and made me goofy for a minute. Because the sub had the glare behind her, we couldn’t have had a chance to escape. She had a perfect target.’

Radio operator Walt Williams, in the communications shack on the aft end of the boat when the torpedo exploded, was thrown out of his chair onto the floor by the blast. Seconds later, Williams recalled, ‘Captain Louie Pringle notified me to send out the SOS signal and the message that we’d been torpedoed. Two messages I didn’t have to be told to send.’

Out on deck, crewmen had already lowered the lifeboats. There was no need to wait for the order to abandon ship. Within minutes, Absaroka had already settled up to her main deck.

Not long after Williams’ distress call, planes showed up and dropped bombs near where the sub was last seen. On the heels of the bombing, Amethyst arrived on the scene and began dropping depth charges. Despite the effors to retaliate against I-19, neither bombs nor the pattern of 32 depth charges showed results.

As the day wore on, seven of the 33-man crew rescued from Absaroka, including Captain Pringle, had come back on board. Seeing that the old lumber ship was not in any immediate danger of sinking, Lt. Cmdr. Hans B. Olson tied on his U.S. Navy tug, and Absaroka was gingerly towed in and beached on a strip of sand below Fort MacArthur.

One month later, in the January 26, 1942, issue of LIFE magazine, movie actress Jane Russell was featured in the full-page ‘Picture of the Week,’ standing in the tremendous hole in Absaroka‘s hull created by the Japanese torpedo. In the picture she is holding a poster that warns: ‘A slip of the lip may sink a ship,’ with the words ‘may sink a ship’ crossed out and the words ‘may have sunk this ship’ written in.

As a finale to the seven days of attacks on west coast shipping, early on Christmas Day all eight Japanese subs (I-9 had been ordered to Panama on December 20) were to select a choice mainland target and fire all of their 5.5-inch deck gun ammunition at it, then withdraw to the Marshall Islands. That did not happen. According to a postwar Japanese monograph, orders from Combined Fleet headquarters in Tokyo canceled the operation for fear of retaliation by U.S. anti-submarine forces, which they announced had become ‘very severe’ within the past few days. Only I-17 carried out such an attack, shelling the oil refinery near Santa Barbara late in February.

This article was written by Donald J. Young and originally appeared in the July 1998 issue of World War II magazine. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today!


A Vivid 1937 Map Imagining How Japan Might Attack the West Coast of the United States

Four years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Los Angeles Examiner published this full-page map by artist Howard Burke, outlining a potential Japanese strategy for attacking the West Coast and “demolishing” its cities. The map is online as part of the Cornell University Library’s Persuasive Cartography digital collection.

The Examiner, founded in 1903, was a Hearst newspaper in 1937, it was published both on weekdays and in a weekend morning edition. This map came into Los Angeles households on a Sunday morning, describing the way that Japan—which had recently invaded China—could extend its influence over the Western United States. Insets illustrated how Los Angeles could be cut off from the rest of the country with strategic bombing of mountain passes and how its key utilities—water supply and electricity—could be easily controlled by an invading army.

The Examiner thought the main thrust of a Japanese offensive might come from the north. While “crippling or annihilating” the American fleet at Pearl Harbor would be a key part of the plan, allowing Japan to “speed capital ships that would send 16-inch shells screeching to wreak bloody swaths of terror and destruction at Los Angeles and San Francisco,” the southern front would “only be a smoke-screen for a main attack via Alaska and Seattle.”

The Examiner’s fearmongering purple prose is intriguing, given Hearst newspapers’ general support for American neutrality in overseas conflicts during the 1930s. Collector P.J. Mode notes that the Hearst papers were notably anti-Japanese throughout the early 20 th century “Hearst didn’t coin the phrase ’yellow peril,’ but he used it early, often and forcefully.”

John Ptak, whose blog first informed me of this map, has identified several other times when American media hypothesized about a breach of the home front during the runup to World War II (and during the war itself). The popularity of the trope notwithstanding, Germany and Japan didn’t actually have the resources to mount such a costly invasion.

Click on the image below to reach a zoomable version, or visit the map’s page in Cornell’s digital collections.

Persuasive Cartography: The PJ Mode Collection, Cornell University Library


Fact: Adolf Hitler Could Have Won World War II

As we celebrate the ending of the war 75 years ago, know this: victory for the Allies was never guaranteed, and historians agree there were countless ways Germany could have won the war. Defeat never came down to one battle or one campaign. Germany's defeat came about from a number of much larger factors.

From the late spring to early fall of 1945 Europe saw several large "Victory Parades" that celebrated the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the Second World War. The Moscow Victory Parade on June 24, 1945, involved some 40,000 Red Army soldiers and nearly 1,900 military vehicles. The highlight of the event was the lowering of the captured German standards, which were flung down in front of Lenin's Tomb – to be trampled by Soviet marshals riding white horses.

The outcome could have been quite different. Instead of the four Allied powers – the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union – then standing together in a final Allied Victory Parade in a defeated Berlin in September 1944, the Germans could have celebrated the defeat of the British, marching through London and Moscow as they did Paris.

Victory for the Allies was never guaranteed, and historians agree there were countless ways Germany could have won the war. Defeat never came down to one battle or one campaign. Germany's defeat came about from a number of much larger factors.

The Wrong Equipment

There is no denying that German industry was able to produce some very fine weapons and military equipment. This included such small arms as the MG34, MG42 and the world's first "assault rifle," the StG44. Yet, the Germans lacked in numerous other ways.

Nazi Germany had a powerful High Seas Fleet, but it was still really no match for the British Royal Navy and it never really could be. It was a great symbol of prestige for the resurgent Kriegsmarine, but the money and material could have been utilized in a larger U-Boat force.

During the Spanish Civil War, which has been called a dress rehearsal for the Second World War, Germany's Luftwaffe perfected its strategy of using dive bombers and close-support attack aircraft. This proved crucial in the Blitzkrieg against the Low Countries and France. But such aircraft were unable to defeat Great Britain. Germany built no heavy bombers and lacked any truly effective long range aircraft.

If Germany developed the right aircraft the war could have turned out differently, but another factor was its industry. While the United States quickly transitioned to a wartime economy that had companies like IBM making rifles instead of typewriters and GM making tanks instead of cars Germany was producing consumer goods all the way until 1942 when Albert Speer took over as Minister of Armaments.

In 1941 Germany only produced 2,900 tanks – a number that increased to 17,300 by 1944! Had Germany been on an actual wartime economy from 1939 things could have been vastly different.

Couldn't Defeat the British

Adolf Hitler joined a list of would-be invaders of the British Isles but clearly didn't remember that no one successfully invaded since 1066 when William the Conqueror defeated Harold II, the last crowned Anglo-Saxon king of England. Various French Kings conducted some raids, the Spanish planned to use its Armada, the Dutch managed to at least burn some English warships in the Thames but even Napoleon never dared mount what would have been a futile invasion.

Without landing craft – another example of wrong equipment – and lacking control of the skies of Great Britain, an invasion by Germany was simply impossible.

With Great Britain in the war it meant Germany was dragged into various side campaigns from Greece to North Africa. That bogged down the men and material that could have been used in the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Two Front War

Germany lost the First World War largely because it couldn't fight a sustained two-front war. After the defeat of Imperial Russia, which came as the result of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the German Army was able to move vast quantities of men to the western front and launched a final offensive in the spring of 1918.

The lessons from the First World War should have been enough for Hitler and the German high command, but the decision to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941 when the British were still undefeated was a colossal blunder. And yet, it almost worked. The German Army was practically at the gates of Moscow in late 1941.

Perhaps if it hadn't wasted time in securing Greece after Italy bungled that invasion, Germany could have launched the invasion of the Soviet Union a bit earlier. Yet, here again is a case of the wrong equipment. Germany invaded France with more horses than Napoleon had used in 1812!

More trucks weren't possible again because the nation wasn't on a war economy.

Then there is the fact that Germany lacked the winter clothing for its Army during that first terrible Soviet winter. There was another sad example of not learning from history.

Lackluster Coalition

Today to win a war even against a regional power there is a process that often involves "coalition" building. The First World War saw two factions of "great powers" square off. But when World War II has considered it is really Germany and Japan against most of the world.

During World War I – not to mention wars in European wars through the ages – Germany didn't really fight alone. It had Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria on its side. That proved to be fairly well matched against Russia, France, and Great Britain – at least in the early stages of the war.

World War II in Europe was Germany and Italy, which was joined by Finland, Hungary, Romania, and to some extent Bulgaria. There were the puppet states of Slovakia and Slovenia, volunteers from across Europe including neutral Spain, but all this was matched against Great Britain, France, Poland, the Soviet Union, and notably the United States. Throw in the fact that Germany's victories in Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France didn't really help – this tied down vast amounts of men and material that could have been better used on the frontlines in the Soviet Union.

Germany had to deal with resistance and partisan efforts, and as the tide of war turned its "allies" left the fight. Finland was only in the war to fight the Soviet Union, while the same was largely true of Romania and Hungary. Eventually, those nations got out of the fight and in the case of Romania joined with the Soviets against the Hungarians.

Italy was a reliable partner but its army was neither prepared nor even eager for war. As noted, it dragged the Germans into campaigns that were unnecessary including in Greece and North Africa, and then when Benito Mussolini's government was toppled Germany was forced to occupy its former ally.

Then there was the fact that its Axis partner, Imperial Japan, didn't join in fighting the Soviet Union. While the Japanese did draw away British resources to the Far East, which included the Commonwealth forces of Australia and New Zealand, as well as the Indian Army, this really didn't benefit the Germans all that much.

A Japanese attack on the Soviet Union, on the other hand, would have put Josef Stalin in the very difficult situation of also fighting a two-front war.

Declaring War on America

Even with everything noted above, Germany and its European partners could have still won the war were it not for Germany's declaration of war on the United States on December 11, 1941. It was really the only time Nazi Germany had actually declared war on an enemy, and it needed not to have happened.

Japan had attacked the United States, so Germany was never required to join with its Axis partner. By doing so it practically ensured defeat. The United States was never within striking distance of Germany and it should have been obvious that Japan couldn't mount an invasion of the American west coast.

Keeping America out of the war should have been the goal for Germany. Instead, the United States became the arsenal of democracy and Germany's defeat was all but assured.


12 - Japan, the United States, and the Cold War, 1945–1960

On August 14, 1945, still reeling from the aftershock of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese government accepted the Allied powers’ Potsdam Declaration, and World War II came to an end in the Asia-Pacific. Stripped of all of its colonial possessions acquired since 1895, Japan faced, for the first time in its history, occupation by foreign troops and reconstitution of its government at the behest of external authorities. As the nominally Allied occupation of the vanquished empire began, US general Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), stood atop the Allied military command and administrative structure in Japan. At this moment, the post-World War II histories of the United States and Japan became inexorably entwined. The atomic blasts, which killed 40,000 of Hiroshima’s 350,000 inhabitants and 70,000 of the 270,000 people in Nagasaki, ushered in the nuclear age and Japan’s quest for redemption in the postwar world where visions of the “American century” now reigned supreme. This symbiotic genesis foreshadowed the knotting of Japan’s antinuclear pacifism and the United States’ investment, both material and metaphorical, in a nuclear arsenal as the bedrock of international peace and security during the Cold War.

In this braided history, it was the United States’ self-assigned mission to remold Japan into a stable democracy conforming to the Western and capitalist rules of the game. But within months of the war’s end, the confrontation with the Soviet Union began to color American strategic thinking and foreign policymaking, and the task of refashioning Japan came under the added and accumulating weight of the developing Cold War between the two superpowers. Officials in Washington and the American proconsul in Japan became determined to minimize Soviet influence in occupied Japan. By early 1946, the effective exclusion from the Allied Council and the Far East Commission – the inter-Allied institutions overseeing the occupation – of Soviet, and to a lesser extent British, voices infused another source of rancor into the former Grand Alliance. The implementation of occupation policies became in all vital respects an American enterprise, with a small contingent of British Commonwealth forces, mostly Australian, sharing peripheral military tasks.


3 Reasons Why Japan Attacked Pearl Harbor

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor for three reasons. The reason for the attack on Pearl Harbor and the goal of the attack are not the same.

Here are 3 reasons why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor:

Reason #1: An Increased Need For Natural Resources

Japan had an increased need for natural resources like oil, minerals and steel as their goals for expansion in Asia and the Pacific increased.

Reason #2: Restrictions

The United States also had an obvious interest in these natural resources, and in response to to the Japanese aggression, the U.S. Congress placed restrictions on doing business with Japan. And, if that weren’t enough, Japanese assets in the United States were frozen.

Reason #3: Expansion in the Pacific

President Roosevelt moved the US Pacific Fleet from California to Pearl Harbor in 1939. This move was a threat to Japan, who wanted to expand in the Pacific. Military leaders and politicians saw a war between the U.S. and Japan as inevitable, with the solution being to attack first. Japan did just that.

Those are three reasons why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Many people believe the Japanese were successful in their attack. They took the lives of more than 2,500 Americans and destroyed 18 ships and about 300 airplanes. But, the result of the attack did not enable Japan to expand in the Pacific. It did not result in the acquisition of more natural resources. And, the restrictions were not lifted as a result of the attack.

The reasons why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor deem the attack as a failure and a mistake.

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75 years ago, what if Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor?

Few events in World War II were as defining as the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The "date which shall live in infamy" — as President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously put it — prompted the American entry into the war, subdued an entrenched isolationist faction in the country's politics and, in the long run, prefigured Washington's assumption of the role of global superpower.

2,403 Americans died and 19 vessels were either sunk or badly damaged in the attack, which involved more than 350 warplanes launched from Japanese carriers that had secretly made their way to a remote expanse of the North Pacific. It caught the brass in Hawaii by surprise and stunned the nation.

"With astounding success,” Time magazine wrote, “the little man has clipped the big fellow.”

But the big fellow would hit back. Japan's bold strike is now largely seen as an act of "strategic imbecility," a move born out of militarist, ideological fervor that provoked a ruinous war Japan could never win and ended in mushroom clouds and hideous death and destruction at home.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese naval commander, hoped his plan to attack on Pearl Harbor would deliver a fatal blow to American capabilities in the Pacific and persuade Washington to push for a political settlement. Otherwise, he knew that his country stood no chance against the United States in a protracted war, according to Steve Twomey, author of a new book on the tense build-up to Pearl Harbor.

Twomey documents Yamamoto's initial opposition to engaging the United States: "In a drawn-out conflict, 'Japan’s resources will be depleted, battleships and weaponry will be damaged, replenishing materials will be impossible,' Yamamoto wrote on September 29 to the chief of the Naval General Staff. 'Japan will wind up 'impoverished,' and any war 'with so little chance of success should not be fought.'"

But with war a fait accompli, Yamamoto conceived of a raid that would be so stunning that American morale would go "down to such an extent that it cannot be recovered," as he put it. Unfortunately for him, the United States was galvanized by the assault — and had its fleet of aircraft carriers largely unscathed. A plane carrying the Japanese admiral would be shot down over the Solomon Islands by American forces in 1943 with the U.S. counter-offensive already well underway.

Could it have gone differently? No modern conflict has spawned more alternative histories than World War II. In the decades since, writers, Hollywood execs and amateur historians have indulged in all sorts of speculation: What the world would look like if the Axis powers triumphed, or if the Nazis crushed the Soviets, or if the United States had not deployed nuclear weapons, or if Roosevelt had chosen not to enter the war at all.

But even if Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor, it's quite likely that the two sides would have still clashed.

Japan's will to power

For imperial Japan, the United States posed a fundamental obstacle to its expanding position in the Pacific. Here was a resource-hungry island nation eager to assert itself on the world stage in the same way European powers had done in centuries prior. By the summer of 1941, it had seized a considerable swath of East Asia, from Manchuria and Korea to the north to the formerly French territories of Indochina further south, and was embroiled in a bitter war in China.

American sanctions attempted to rein in Tokyo: Washington slapped on embargoes on oil and other goods essential to Japan's war machine. The price to have them lifted — a Japanese withdrawal from China, as well as the abandonment of its "tripartite" alliance with Germany and Italy — proved too steep and humiliating. So Japan calculated further expansion in order to access the resources it needed.

"Our increasing economic pressure on Japan, plus the militaristic cast of the government . and their partial loss of face in China, spelled a probable resumption of their policy of conquest," mused a lengthy essay in the Atlantic, published in 1948. "In what direction would the Japanese strike, and against whom?"

Japan opted not to venture into Soviet Siberia in 1939, Japanese troops had suffered a chastening defeat at the hands of a combined Soviet and Mongolian army and its forces were already bogged down on various fronts in China.

The decision was made to target the vulnerable British and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia — what's now the independent nations of Burma, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Japanese knew this would likely spur a greater response from the United States, which then controlled the Philippines and other scattered island possessions in the Pacific.

"Unwilling to give up what it wanted — greater empire — in return for the restoration of lost trade, unwilling to endure the humiliation of swift withdrawal from China, as the Americans wanted, Japan was going to seize the tin, nickel, rubber, and especially oil of the British and Dutch colonies," wrote Twomey.

The rest is history. Some observers, though, reckon that American policy could have forced imperialist Japan's hand.

"Never inflict upon another major military power a policy which would cause you yourself to go to war unless you are fully prepared to engage that power militarily," wrote American historian Roland Worth Jr., in "No Choice But War: The United States Embargo against Japan and the Eruption of War in the Pacific." "And don't be surprised that if they do decide to retaliate, that they seek out a time and a place that inflicts maximum harm and humiliation upon your cause."

Roosevelt's battle with the isolationists

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Roosevelt faced widespread public opposition to entering the war. The memory of World War I — a struggle many Americans believed wasn't worth fighting — still loomed large in the political imagination. Roosevelt faced off a 1940 election challenge by pandering to anti-war voters.

"I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again," he declared on the campaign trail in Boston in October 1940. "Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars."

But Roosevelt was steadily trying to engage in the conflicts abroad, no matter his rhetoric. He was an avowed anti-fascist and was preoccupied more by Nazi aggression in Europe than Japanese inroads in Asia.

His political opponents fretted that he would push toward a greater confrontation. This included figures from the America First movement, a big tent coalition of isolationists, nationalists, pacifists and, indeed, some anti-Semites, who wanted the United States to cling to a policy of neutrality and weren't that bothered by an ascendant fascism in Europe.

Charles Lindbergh, the legendary aviator, was one of the more prominent champions of the America First cause.

“The pall of the war seems to hang over us today. More and more people are simply giving in to it. Many say we are as good as in already. The attitude of the country seems to waver back and forth,” Lindbergh wrote in his diary on Jan. 6, 1941. “Our greatest hope lies in the fact [that] eighty-five percent of the people in the United States (according to the latest polls) are against intervention.”


Japanese Interment Camps

The internment of Japanese Americans in the US during World War II was the forced relocation and imprisonment in camps in and around the state of California and surrounding states.

President Roosevelt ordered the round-up of 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage to one of 10 internment camps—officially called "relocation centers"—in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas.

The FBI was arresting anyone of Japanese heritage. BOTH Nisei and Issei!

• Americans didn't like that 127,000 japan immigrants came the west coast of the US in the early 1900s to get away from over crowded cities in Japan.

• American feared the the Japanese would out number them.

• American didn't like that Japanese were buying property and farms.

• Japanese taking American agricultural jobs.

• The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1942 increased anti-Japanese feelings

• Americans worried that citizens of Japanese ancestry would act as spies for the Japanese government.

• US was afraid Japan was going to attack the US again, so they thought any Japanese Americans would be a huge security risk.


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