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The long term effects of Pearl Harbor

The Pearl Harbor attack severely crippled U.S. naval and air strength in the Pacific.

However, the losses could have been much greater. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz wrote,

As bad as our losses were at Pearl harbor on December 1941 – they could have

been devastatingly worse – had the Japanese returned for more strikes against

our naval installations, surface oil storage and our submarines base installation.

Such attacks could have been made with impunity as we had little left to

oppose them.


If the Japanese had continued their assault on Pearl harbor it could have given them

even greater victory. However they did not destroyed most of the docks, repair shops,

warehouses, and ammunitions. What is more, one of the Japanese main objectives was to

destroy the three American aircraft carriers stationed in the Pacific, but these were not


The USS Enterprise (CV6) was a Yorktown class aircraft carrier. She was the only

ship in U.S. Navy to earn the highest award of the British Admiralty Pennant and took part in
almost every important engagement of the war against the Japanese. During the Japanese

attack on Pearl Harbor the Enterprise was on her way to Hawaii from her mission of

delivering Marine Corps to Wake Island. When the Enterprise arrived over Pearl Harbor, her

aircraft immediately went into action in defense of the naval base and in search for the

Japanese striking force, but with no effect. After the attack the Enterprise restocked fuel and

other supplies then sailed on the next morning in order to guarding the Hawaiian Islands

because Americans were afraid of an additional attack. (Zalewski, page 16 and


The USS Saratoga (CV3) was originally designed as a cruiser changed into aircraft

carrier. When the Japanese struck on Pearl Harbor, Saratoga was arriving from an interim dry-

docking at Bremerton where she was on a long deferred modernization. She entered Pearl
Harbor on 15 December and stayed there only to fill up with fuel. After that the Saratoga was

heading with reinforcements to garrison on Wake Island.


The USS Lexington nicknamed the “Green lady” on 7 December was at the sea

transporting Marine aircraft to reinforce Midway. After receiving the message of the Japanese

attack, the Lexington immediately started searching for the Japanese fleet however, with no

result. (Zalewski, page 12)

After Pearl Harbor these three aircraft carriers, the Enterprise, the Saratoga and the

Lexington became a hard core of the U.S. Navy and played an important part in subsequent

U.S. actions on the Pacific. The Americans could repair most of the vassals on the spot.

During the weeks following the Japanese raid, a great deal of work was done by the Pearl

Harbor Navy Yard. The Maryland returned to active service in February, the Nevada was

repaired in 1942 just as the Pennsylvania. The California and the West Virginia returned in

1943. The Arizona and the Oklahoma would never return to service. The Japanese saw most

of the destroyed ships within two years in active service. These ships took part in many

victorious sea battles against the Japanese and also played an important role in preparing

landings in crucial for Americans islands. (Lipiński, page 372).

The rumors about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and routing the U.S Pacific Fleet
exerted shocking impression on the population of the USA. That event was unexpected,

caused psychological shock and spread a panic. On December 8 Congress declared war on

Japan. On the same day Great Britain joined to war and also Canada, Australia, New Zealand

and later on other countries like India, Netherlands, France, Poland, Belgium, Nicaragua,

Panama and Honduras. However, Japan, Germany and Italy also tightened bonds of

friendship. On December 11 1941 Germany and Italy declared war on USA. (Wolny, 111 –


After being defeated at Pearl Harbor, American’s general strategic thought was to

regain initiative, as fast as it was possible, and next to go on the offensive in order to attack


U.S general staff set apart three basic periods of strategic actions:
1) Defensive – during which U.S military forces were supposed to take care only of

protecting communications lines on Pacific against destructive Japanese attacks.

2) Balance of power, during which U.S. operations had only a defensive character. However,

it was possible to take sporadic offensive actions.

3) Offensive – which was supposed to start when the Americans would hold an advantage

over Japan, attacking enemy in the places and time convenient for them.

The Japanese, destroying the main U.S. naval forces on Pacific directed their military

efforts towards Hong Kong and Malaya and also towards the islands where the Americans

had built a chain of airports joining Hawaii, Philippines and Australia. The Allied armed

forces were spread out and not prepared for war, without proper aerial support, were not able

to fight off the attack. On December 8, two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese

attacked Wake Island they used 16 medium bombers flown from bases on the Marshall

Islands. They destroyed eight of the twelve Wildcat fighter aircraft. In the morning of

December 11, the garrison with the support of the four remaining Wildcats warded off the

first Japanese landing attempt by the South Sea Forces, which included the three light

cruisers, six destroyers and four troop transport ships of Japanese Marines. The U.S. Marines

fired at the invasion fleet with their six 5 – inch coastal artillery guns with a great success,

they managed to sink the Hayate and damaged most of the others ships. The four Wildcats
also succeeded in sinking another destroyer, the Kisaragi. The second Japanese invasion force

landed on December 23. After a full night and morning of fighting the Wake garrison

surrendered to the Japanese. The three U.S. aircraft were supposed to help in defending the

Wake Island, but they did not manage to reach them on time so they returned to the Pearl

Harbor. (Lipiński, page 374).

In the South China Sea, the Japanese got absolutely domination. On December 25

Japanese captured Hong Kong and directed their efforts towards Singapore. For the British,

Singapore was supposed to be a fortress that exemplified the main point of resistance of the

British Navy. However, the British high command had not prepared the base properly and on

February 15 1942 after 52 days of siege Singapore surrendered. (Lipiński pages 376 – 377).
On March 1942 Japanese conquered the territory which they had earlier planned to

capture in their introductory plan. They seized Dutch East Indies, the Solomon Islands, and a

part of New Guinea, Guam, Wake, Malaya, Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the

Philippines. They entered the province of Junnan in south China. The Japanese captured a

vast area at that time inhabited by 160 million people.

The Japanese plan of the further offensive aimed to:

1) Capture Port Moresby – a Japanese air base there would threaten northeastern Australia

and support plans for further expansion into the South Pacific, possibly helping to drive

Australia out of the war and certainly enhancing the strategic defense of Japan’s newly –

enlarged oceanic empire.

2) Conquer the Midway – what was supposed to prevent air raids on Tokyo.

3) Seize the Aleutian Islands – in order to better protect Japan from the north.

After achieving those goals Japanese wanted to capture Fiji, Samoa, and New

Caledonia. Seizing those islands would allow the Japanese to break the connection between

Australia and USA and it would be very difficult for those countries to supply in necessary

equipment. However, the Japanese were not very careful with preparing their plan attack and

the U.S. communications intelligence was able to intercept a lot of information about the plan.

Consequently, the Americans could prepare themselves for the attack. (Lipiński, pages 387 –

The Japanese operation in the Battle of the Coral Sea included two invasion forces, a

minor one targeting Tulagi, in the Southern Solomon, and the main one aimed at Port

Moresby. Those two naval forces contained a small aircraft carrier, several cruisers, seaplane

tenders, and gunboats. More distant cover would be provided by the big aircraft carriers the

Shokaku and the Zuikaku with their escorting cruisers and destroyers. The U.S. Navy

countered with two of its own carriers, the Lexington and the Yorktown, plus cruisers,

destroyers, submarines and patrol seaplanes. Preliminary operations on 3 – 6 May and two

days of active carrier combat on 7 – 8 May, where the Lexington and the Yorktown inflicted

heavily damaged to the Japanese forces, cost the United States one aircraft carrier, the

Lexington was hit by two torpedoes and three bombers, a destroyer and one of its very
valuable tanker, plus damage to the second carrier. However the Japanese were forced to

cancel their Port Moresby invasion. In the fighting they lost a light carrier, a destroyer, and

some smaller ships. The Shokaku received serious bomb damage and the Zuikaku’s air group

was badly depleted. Most importantly, those two carriers were eliminated from the upcoming

Midway operation. Moreover, the Japanese march to the south was restrained; the Japanese

strike forces operating in that area were paralyzed. The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first in

the history of sea battles that battleships did not fire even one shot at each other, but only

aircraft carriers were involved in the action.

The results of Battle of the Coral Sea did not influence the Japanese decision to attack

Midway. Japanese Fleet commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto set off toward Midway in

order to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers striking forces. Unfortunately for the

Japanese, Yamamoto’s intended surprise was thwarted by American communication

intelligence, which deducted his scheme well before the battle was joined. That allowed

Admiral Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, to establish an ambush by having his

carriers, the Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown, plus a strong air force and reinforced ground

defensive at the Midway Base, ready and waiting for the Japanese. On 4 June 1942 thanks to

the perseverance, sacrifice and skills of the U.S. Navy aviators, three squadrons of scout

bombers, two from Enterprise and one from Yorktown, almost simultaneously dove on three
of the four Japanese carriers. In a few minutes, the Akagi, the Kaga, and the Soryu were

ablaze and out of action. By the end of the day, U.S. carrier planes had found and bombed the


The Battle of Midway redressed the balance of forces in the Pacific. The Japanese had

to restrict their offensive actions to the southern districts of this ocean, where the geographical

position still ensured them an advantage over the Allies.

Estimating the results of the Battle of Midway, the Japanese naval and air forces were

destroyed. The General staff had made a lot of tactical mistakes and consequently, the

Japanese lost four irreplaceable aircraft carriers, the cruiser the Mikuma, 253 aircraft and

about three thousand people. Americans lost one aircraft carrier, a destroyer, 150 aircraft and
300 people. However, the loss of the ships or aircraft was not as substantial for Japanese as

loss of so well trained and experienced crew. (Lipiński, pages 391 – 400).

In 1943 the Japanese progress was stopped and the Allies took the initiative in

offensive actions on the Pacific. The general courses of action laid out by U.S. general staff

on 1943 were:

1) Continuing Guadalcanal and New Guinea operation until they will captured Rabaul.

2) Continuing Hawaii operations towards Truk Island and Guam.

3) Guarding the Aleutian Islands.

4) Capturing Burma.

In the first half of 1943 there were not any spectacular battles on the Pacific. Both

sides were trying to gather forces necessary to complete earlier planned actions – the

Americans in order to prepare to take offensive actions and the Japanese to tighten up their

security system.

After a few months of preparing, the Allies went to offensive in the Pacific. They

managed to capture Gilbert Island and Marshall Island. What is more, in June 1944 the Allies

were able to break the external ring of Japanese defense. They seized the Mariana Islands,

routed the Japanese fleet in the battle of Leyte Gulf and also relieved the Philippines. Almost

in all these battles took parts the U.S. aircraft carriers especially the Enterprise and the
Saratoga. However, the most spectacular was the Battle of the Philippine Sea. For over eight

hours U.S. pilots were fighting against the Japanese in the sky. The Americans lost there 130

planes and 76 pilots but the Japanese suffered much more losses namely 426 ship – based

aircraft and three carriers the Hiye, Shokaku and Taiho. Japanese naval aviation never

recovered from this blow. After the battle the Enterprise together with other ships continued

to support the Saipen. (Lipiński, page 418).

In early spring 1945 the war in Europe drew to an end and territory of the fights in the

Pacific decreased significantly. The Allies decided to send the whole air force and fleet

against Japan. It allowed them to break the inner line of Japanese defense. The U.S. airfield

on the Marianas, built for long distance bombers, was too distant from Japan to deal the

ultimate blow. The Allies had to capture new closer located islands.
At 08:30 on February 19 the first of eventual 30,000 U.S. Marines landed on the

Japanese Island of Iwo Jima. The Allies forces suffered 28,649 casualties, with 4,917 dead.

The Japanese losses were bigger 22,305 were killed and 1,083 were taken prisoner. Next the

Allies struck Okinawa. It was the largest amphibious assault during the Pacific canpaign. . It

was also the largest sea-land-air battle in history, running from April through June 1945.

American losses were over 30,000 casualties , of whom 7,000 were killed. On both these

battles the U.S. aircraft from the Enterprise and the Saratoga were supporting the Marines

from the day landings. Over Iwo Jima the Enterprise, in one period, kept aircraft aloft

continuously for 174 hours. On August 6 and August 9 the United States military dropped two

atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At least 120,000 people, about 95%

of which were civilians, were killed outright. Those were the first and only nuclear attacks in

the history of the world. Japan, crushed by the enormity of those events, sent a notice of its

unconditional surrender to the Allies of the World War II on August 15. (Lipiński, pages 467

– 477).

Admiral Isoroku Ymamoto predicted Japanese defeat. In 1941 in a conversation with

Prince Konoye he said:

I will be fighting against Americans and British tooth and nails over six –

twelve months and I will achieve an incessant winning streak, but I have to
addmit that if the war will extend to two or three years I can not give an

assurance that we will attain final victory.

Yamamoto was a diplomat in USA in 30’s so he knew the military and economic potential of

United States.