It is the morning of 8 December 1941. Pearl Harbor is the scene of intense activity, as grim-faced Sailors and Marines come to grips with the fact that the United States is at war with Japan. The Japanese sneak attack had been devastating, with a large but unknown number of American casualties. Reports are bleak, as many US ships have been sunk or damaged, and most of the aircraft destroyed on the ground.
But the US military personnel in Hawaii can only imagine the horror. Here, there are no fires, no oil slicks, no capsized or shattered battleships, none sinking slowly into the mud. There is no wreckage of airplanes here that never left the tarmac, no dead and wounded, no clouds of black smoke. Just the US Pacific Fleet, swinging peacefully at anchor, and aircraft still lined up in neat rows.
The Japanese have instead struck US installations in the Philippines beginning at 0230, 8 December, 1941. The wrecked aircraft litter Clark field and smaller outlying airstrips. The sunk, sinking, and burning ships are of the Asiatic Squadron, at anchorages of Olongapo, Cavite, and Mariveles. Hospitals in Manila and elsewhere are crowded with US and Fillipino wounded. Temporary morgues are filled with American dead.
Those of us who fancy ourselves students of history will often indulge in the examining of alternative outcomes to historical events. This is a common activity, and can allow for analysis of events in new and interesting ways. So it is especially with the Second World War. Many critical battles and campaigns were won or lost by the closest of margins, with the shaping of succeeding decades hanging in the balance. As Wellington said of Waterloo, “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life…”
CINCLAX made a comment here in another post that gets right to the point. (He must have some sort of mind-reading device set up near where I live. Ask SWMBO some time, that is a definite possibility…) To wit, what if the Japanese hadn’t attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941?
Instead, what if that surprise blow had fallen first on General MacArthur and Admiral Hart in the Philippines?
What if the Combined Fleet had, instead of attacking Hawaii, lain waiting in ambush for the US Pacific Fleet and its precious carriers to sortie from Pearl Harbor?
How much would the obsolete and slow battleships (or any other assets lost at Pearl Harbor) have changed the balance of forces?
Would the US have been able to relieve Wake? Guam?
What help might have been available to reinforce the Philippines?
Even Yamamoto admitted the strategic mistake of attacking Pearl Harbor. Was it also a tactical/operational error for Japan to strike the US Pacific Fleet?
I throw the matter open to this learned group of brigands, renegades, and Naval enthusiasts.
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- Aboard the Charles de Gaulle: Sea Power and la République
- On Midrats 22 November 2015 – Episode 307: Our Own Private Petard – Procurement & Strategy with Robert Farley
- Leveraging our military relationships on the homefront
- Bring your voice once more unto the breach