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Steps toward War, July to December 1941

The United States and Japan were still talking. The Roosevelt administration was at least ostensibly trying to bargain with the Japanese. It was objecting to Japanese troops in China and Japan's claim to economic supremacy in China and East Asia's Pacific region. It suggested a settlement between China and Japan that was "advantageous and acceptable" to both sides, including cooperation between China and Japan against "communist activities." The Roosevelt administration suggested that it might recognize Japan's hold on Manchuria and also support the Philippines becoming neutral. note63

Negotiations were damaged by Japan's move to Saigon on 25 January 1941 – the Japanese having made another agreement with the French. The Japanese also mobilized a million of its reservists. It appeared to the Americans that Japan was choosing war. Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, urged that all practical steps be taken to increase "defensive strength" in the Philippines. Roosevelt ordered the merging of American and Filipino troops into a single army with MacArthur as its commander. The US froze all Japanese assets in the United States, closed the Panama Canal to Japanese shipping and forbade the export of oil, iron or rubber to Japan. Britain and the Dutch declared similar embargoes.

Japan's Foreign Office sent a coded message to its embassy in Germany that said it was necessary to "to break asunder" the "ever-strengthening chain of encirclement" being woven around Japan. It spoke of a "pistol aimed at Japan's heart" and of Japan's need for military bases in Thailand and control over Thailand's rubber, tin and rice.note64

On September 6, another Imperial Conference in Japan decided that if the United States did not become agreeable by the end of October, Japan would then set a date certain for commencing hostilities "against the United states, Britain and the Netherlands. But in deference to Emperor Hirohito's continuing hopes for peace, talks with the United States would be allowed to continue.

Yamamoto and his colleagues were conducting secret war simulations in an effort to increase the feasibility of an attack on Pearl Harbor. The game trials failed to produce assurance of a military success at Pearl Harbor, and work continued to polish the operation.

On September 26, fourteen companies of soldiers arrived in the Philippines, and, in early November, an under-strength regiment of Marines arrived from Shanghai. The War Department assured General MacArthur that 50,000 more men would arrive in February 1942. The Navy stationed in the Philippines had three cruisers, thirteen destroyers and eighteen submarines, and the Army Airforce promised to send some B-17 bombers that were being held in California because of a lack of spare parts. MacArthur was upbeat. He spoke of Filipino trainees being eager to learn. A new airfield was being built and some PT boats were scheduled to arrive. Everything, he said, was coming along splendidly. note65

The Filipinos were delighted to see the Japanese evacuating their nationals. When the Filipinos in Manila were told of air raid shelters being built in Tokyo they laughed, and they were indifferent about none being built in Manila.

More Preparations

On November 5, Japan's Imperial Conference set early December as the time for starting its war against the Americans, British and Dutch, with the proviso that the war could be called off if negotiations with the Americans were successful.

On November 27, Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, was made aware of a large Japanese force sailing from Shanghai. Stimson suggested to Roosevelt that the War Department cable MacArthur telling him to be ready for an attack, and Roosevelt agreed. The message to MacArthur spoke of negotiations with the Japanese appearing to be "terminated to all practical purposes" and it went on to read:

HOSTILE ACTION POSSIBLE AT ANY MOMENT. . . IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT, REPEAT CANNOT, BE AVOIDED, THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT. THIS POLICY SHOULD NOT, REPEAT NOT, BE CONSTRUED AS RESTRICTING YOU TO A COURSE OF ACTION THAT MIGHT JEOPARDIZE YOUR DEFENSE. note66

MacArthur asked for clarifications and reported that "everything is in readiness for the conduct of a successful defense." The next day the military command in Washington, in the person of General "Hap" Arnold sent orders to MacArthur and to Pearl Harbor that steps were to be taken "to protect your personnel against subversive propaganda, protect all activities against espionage, and protect against sabotage of your equipment, property and establishments." To this end, aircraft were to be moved together, wing tip to wing tip. note67

That same day, the 28th, Roosevelt met with his war cabinet, including Stimson. Stimson suggested striking against the Japanese force moving southward without warning. Others preferred warning the Japanese that the U.S. would attack once the force crossed a certain line. Roosevelt agreed and suggested sending a message to Emperor Hirohito asking him to stop the drift toward war. Stimson opposed the idea, saying the one does not warn an emperor. Roosevelt agreed again.

In Hawaii, Admiral Kimmel continued to believe that Japan would not attack Pearl Harbor and that the main threat was sabotage, but both he and the army's commander at Pearl Harbor, Lt. General Walter Short, saw it as their duty to be prepared for a possible attack. Meanwhile, the carrier Enterprise, three cruisers, nine destroyers, twelve Marine Corps fighter planes and some army bombers were sent to Wake Island. The carrier Lexington, three cruisers, five destroyers and eighteen Marine Corps fighter planes were sent to the Midway Islands. A third aircraft carrier, the Saratoga, was in San Diego for repairs.

On December 2 and 3, Japanese reconnaissance planes flew over Luzon. On the 5th and 6th, MacArthur ordered 24-hour alerts, including the guard doubled at airfields and more air reconnaissance patrols. By now, Admiral Yamamoto and his aircraft carriers were on their way to the Hawaiian Islands. Responding to the warnings from his superiors of a possible attack by the Japanese, Admiral Kimmel in Hawaii on December 6, was nervous. It was Saturday, with enlisted men and some officers enjoying their week-ends. Around Kimmel was talk that Japan was heading deeper into Southeast Asia and that Japan would not, or could not, divide its forces by also attacking Hawaii. But Kimmel saw it as his duty to be prepared. He discussed his options with two operations officers and suggested that all liberty parties be recalled, that everyone be put on alert and that the entire fleet be sent out to sea in silence after dark. The two operations officers with him, Captain Charles H. McMorris and Rear Admiral Walter DeLany, objected, and it was agreed to follow the orders of Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, that nothing be done to alarm the people of Honolulu. note68

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