The White House
December 7, 1941
19:45 hrs E.S.T.
PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELANO Roosevelt looked up from the text of his speech as General George Marshall stood at the doorway, a flimsy sheet of telex printout clutched in his hand.
The President turned back to Missy LeHand, his secretary, pointing out where he had just crossed out a line for the address he was preparing for the nation, now scheduled for noon tomorrow before a joint session of Congress.
"Here, put this in the first sentence," and he pointed to his margin notes, " ‘a date which will live in infamy.’ "
She nodded in agreement.
He now focused his attention on his Army chief of staff.
"What do you have for us?"
"This just came in, Mr. President," and Marshall stepped into the room, unfolding the telex sheet and handing it to him. "It reports that a third strike wave of at least seventy Japanese aircraft is attacking Pearl Harbor. The line went dead approximately ten minutes ago."
The President scanned the few brief lines: "Oil tank farms struck. Fires out of control. Harbor channel blocked. Preparing to face invasion. . . ." The message stopped in midsentence.
The President crumpled the report up, ready to angrily toss it on the floor by the side of his wheelchair, but then thought again. It was a document now, a moment of history, and he instead tossed it onto his desk, to be filed away for later. Attack the United States, would they? On our own soil? Without a declaration of war?
He thought about this dastardly sneak attack. What could this ever be compared to? Even when the British attacked and burned Washington and this very building to the ground, we knew we’d survive. Could this onslaught be but the beginning? Hitler was at the gates of Moscow. Might the Japanese turn on the Soviets as well, together those two dark powers finish off Stalin and then fling their entire fury at England and then us?
It was sobering to be the President presiding over the crisis of Western civilization and its death struggle with the forces of modern evil in both Europe and Asia. Our civilization must not lose this war, or it would be, indeed, as Winston Churchill said, "a thousand years of darkness."
No, never think about the possibility of defeat, he thought to himself. If I allow that thought ever to take hold, it could permeate down across the entire nation. If ever America, if ever the entire free world, needed leadership that showed not just righteous anger, but also a firm, calm resolve that inevitable victory would come, it was now. Being an optimist was a trait he had acquired at Warm Springs, Georgia, when everyone else thought he should relax and accept that polio had crippled him and ended his political life. If he had given in eighteen years earlier, he would not be in the White House looking at General Marshall and dictating his most important speech to Congress.
No, he thought to himself, these Japanese will not turn me to thoughts of defeat, and neither will Herr Hitler. They have given us the possibility of bringing to bear the full force of our great people and the full resources of our great nation and now, after three years of quiet sustained effort, our preparedness program will show its results.
That strength had to be aroused through words. Words often meant more than ships and planes and tanks. It was words that aroused a people and focused a nation. He thought of his good friend across the Atlantic with fondness for his inspiring courage and language.
Though some of the more effete and cynical still privately shook their heads about Winston Churchill’s posturing and rhetoric, there would never be a denial that the strength of his words and his pugnacious defiance were worth as much as an entire army in the field and had braced England in the darkest days of its long history.
I must do the same. I must be the war President. I must lead. If I show weakness now, even for a moment, then surely darkness will triumph. In fact I must become the President of inevitable victory transcending the war.
He stirred from his thoughts and looked back at Marshall, who stood silent by the doorway into his office.
"Anything else?" the President asked, fixing Marshall with his gaze.
"Not much, sir. Most cable links to Hawaii are down. Apparently the terminus on Oahu was damaged. Our Army radio monitoring at the Presidio in San Francisco reports that it can still pick up a civilian station that is frantically calling for volunteers to donate blood, and for anyone with medical training to report to the nearest military base. World War One veterans with combat experience are to report, too. The Lightning Division and national guard units are mobilizing and preparing to repel any landing attempts, but it is still too early to tell what’s really happening.
"Other than that, sir, we are in the dark."
"Have you talked to Admiral Stark?"
"Yes, sir. I must say he is still in shock. It is his fleet that has taken the brunt of the immediate punishment. The only good news is this: Our two carriers still based at Pearl Harbor were out to sea and for the moment are assumed to be safe."
"Where are they now?"
"Halsey with Enterprise is believed to be somewhere southwest of Oahu. Lexington unfortunately is not in mutual support range; it is more than seven hundred miles to the northwest of Enterprise. They
could hardly have been assigned farther apart. It was just random chance, sir, call it good luck or bad, with Halsey inbound after dropping planes off at Wake Island and Newton on Lexington outbound to Midway on the same mission. I just thank God they were not in the harbor this morning, which has usually been the typical routine."
Roosevelt, a sailor and former undersecretary of the Navy, could picture the scenario and already had the potential answer. Along with Enterprise and Lexington being out at sea, a month back Saratoga had secretly transited back to the West Coast, for a refit in Bremerton, Washington, and was just preparing to head back out to Oahu.
As Marshall had just voiced, thank God the timing of all this regarding the aircraft carriers had worked out as it did, otherwise they would be burned-out hulks resting in the mud and flames of Pearl Harbor, along with the battleships.
"Do we even have a remote idea as to the size of the Japanese fleet that hit us?" Roosevelt asked.
Marshall shook his head.
"Apparently no one has yet organized a proper search. It could be four of their carriers; Admiral Stark thinks maybe five or six. There is no clear indication. We don’t even know what direction they came from."
The President grunted at the lack of intelligence and analysis. "Surely we must do better than that," he said to General Marshall, "and quickly."
One of the first priorities would be to get Yorktown and Hornet transferred out to the Pacific. Together, five carriers could be a potent match-up with the Japanese—if Enterprise and Lexington survived the next few days.
That was a very big if.
He considered the distances, the obvious aggressiveness of the Japanese attack force. If he could step inside the mind of their admiral in command, whoever he was, chances were he would not be satisfied with the destruction inflicted so far. The third strike was proving that. A more timid soul would have made the surprise attacks of the morning and then pulled out. This opponent was in it for the kill.
"The Japs could move between our two carriers out there and finish each off in turn."
"If their continued aggressiveness is any indication." Marshall hesitated. "I am not a naval officer, sir, but yes, that would be my assessment."
"I want those carriers to hit back, and hit them hard," the President replied sharply. "If whoever launched this attack wishes to seek out our carriers, I expect ours not to turn tail and run, but to fight," and he slapped the sides of his wheelchair. "To fight them, by God, and show them from the start that we intend to punch back."
"I know Admiral Halsey, sir," Marshall said quietly. "I think that is a foregone conclusion."
The President nodded. He reached into his breast pocket, opened his cigarette case, inserted one into its holder, and lit it. Never in the history of American arms, in the history of the United States Navy, had such a defeat been dealt. Perhaps in the war against the Barbary pirates, when America’s only ship of the line, Philadelphia, had been lost, but not eight capital ships in one morning. And it was on his watch.
Now two carriers and what was left of the shattered fleet in Pearl, along with a couple of small task groups led by cruisers luckily out to sea as well this morning, were the only tools left to try and balance the ledger of this grim and terrible day. Later, thanks to the massive building program he and Carl Vinson had pushed through Congress during peacetime, there would be more than enough ships and planes. Last year he had called for fifty thousand planes to be built, more aircraft than existed in all the air forces of all the other nations now in this war. The factories to build them were still under construction, but soon the strength of America, would start to pour warplanes forth from those factories. Already tens of thousands of young men were in training to fly those planes yet to be built.
Come autumn of next year, a new fleet carrier would be sliding down the ways each month. Battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines by the hundreds were under construction even now. But those forces were more than a year off. In the meantime, what can
the Japanese, who have been preparing for years for this moment, do to us? Perhaps sweep the entire Pacific from the China coast to San Francisco and so entrench themselves that it could take a decade or more to push them back, if ever.
But it’s a year or more before we can even begin to replace our losses, until then we have to fight with what we have. This evening it all rests on two understrength carrier groups, their crews, and the as-yet-untested young men flying antiquated planes.
"Please ask Admiral Stark to see me at once. I expect our boys to fight back, starting now, today. If we lose our carriers but deal it back to them"—he hesitated only for the briefest instant—"back to those bastards, then that is a risk we must be willing to take."
Aboard the Imperial Japanese Navy carrier Akagi 150 miles north of Oahu December 7, 1941 18:00 hrs local time
"SO WHAT IS the final tally of our losses?" Admiral Yamamoto asked, looking at Commander Genda.
Genda looked down at his notepad.
"All six carriers of the fleet have filed their reports. We lost twenty-nine planes in the first two strikes and another thirty-five damaged, twenty of them requiring extensive repairs and half of those to be broken down for spare parts, then jettisoned. The third strike was far more costly. Of the seventy-seven planes engaged, twenty-seven were lost, another twenty-one damaged, of which seven have been listed as no longer combat effective and should be salvaged for parts. That is a total of at least eighty-six aircraft that are no longer combat effective. Our strike capability has therefore been reduced to a total of just under three hundred aircraft."
Yamamoto, saying nothing, sipped his cup of tea, then sat back, lit another cigarette with his American Zippo lighter, a gift from long ago, and exhaled.
"Expected. Remember when we war-gamed this in the fall we anticipated upward of a hundred fifty aircraft lost just in the first two strikes. We are still far ahead of the ledger of what we deemed acceptable."
He could see the glum faces, especially those of the leftover staff of Admiral Nagumo, whom he had replaced at the last minute. His third strike had more than doubled the total losses incurred so far, and they were not happy about it.
"And the report on the results of the third strike?"
"Photo recon planes are just returning now," Genda announced. "Developed film will be delivered shortly, but debriefing of pilots indicates a near-fatal blow to their base. Tens of thousands of barrels of oil are burning. There is a report that a cruiser, perhaps a heavy cruiser, has grounded in their main channel. Their submarines still in port have either been destroyed or damaged. Extensive damage to repair shops, several large cranes destroyed, their headquarters totally destroyed, and most important their large three-hundred-meter dry-dock totally eliminated. It is estimated that a score or two score of combat-ready aircraft still exist on the island compared to over three hundred, twelve hours ago."
As Genda spoke he nodded toward his closest friend, Lieutenant Commander Fuchida, still in his flight coveralls. They had been comrades for years, the perfect team, Genda the intellectual architect of the Navy’s air fleet, and Fuchida the practitioner, the one who took the ideas, practiced and perfected them, and turned them into reality. After he was tasked by Admiral Yamamoto at the start of the year, he had conceived the battle plan to strike Pearl Harbor. Fuchida was the one who developed the training routines for the strike force, drilled them relentlessly for months, to a razor-sharp perfection, and then led them into battle this morning.
Genda could not help but smile inwardly at a romantic analogy that flashed to mind. If Yamamoto was their shogun, then he was the old loyal daimyo, the advisor who suggested the plan . . . and it was Fuchida, the bravest of their samurai, who would then train the warriors and lead the charge.
In spite of Yamamoto’s orders to stand down and rest, Fuchida had been unable to sleep for long and begged to attend this briefing, which the admiral with fatherly goodwill had agreed to. Fuchida was most certainly the hero of the day. Having guided the first two strikes and then personally delivering the fatal blow to the drydock in the third strike, he had limped back to Akagi, his plane shot to ribbons, crash landed, and barely escaped with his life.
admiral Yamamoto nodded good-naturedly at the two sitting across from him. Actual commendations and decorations within the Imperial Navy were rare; it was just assumed that all men would do their utmost duty, without regard for self, so why offer medals and rewards? It was a policy that he personally wanted to change, for though it was a most cynical comment, Napoleon had once said that it is with such "baubles" that men are led. He might not be able to offer medals to these two heroes, but when he returned to Tokyo, he already had decided, he would personally present Genda and Fuchida to the Emperor for the praise they so well deserved.
Yamamoto silently contemplated the tip of his glowing cigarette, flicking the ashes, taking another deep drag.
"But their carriers are still out there."
No one spoke.
Nagumo’s overly cautious staff had whispered that very thing throughout the long afternoon, expecting at any minute a counter-strike . . . but none had come.
"They are not north of the islands, of that I am now utterly
certain. If they had been, they would have struck us this afternoon," and he nodded toward the open porthole. Twilight was beginning to settle on the tropical sea, which had flattened out significantly throughout the day.
No, there would be no American strike now. It meant that his gambler’s hunch of earlier in the day had been right. The American carriers were somewhere south or west of the islands, out of range, but they were out there . . . and now he wanted to sink them, to make this victory complete.
He was still shaken by the diplomatic news that had been filtering in all day. Radio stations on the American West Coast had been monitored: bitter commentary that the attack had been unprovoked, without warning, a "Jap sneak attack." That news had horrified him.
The Foreign Ministry had totally failed in their mission. When he had agreed to undertake the planning of this war, back early in the year, he had absolutely insisted, before the Emperor himself, that with his knowledge of Americans, their proper sense of diplomatic and military protocol must be followed. That a formal declaration of war must be delivered before the first bomb fell. Some thought him insane, loudly proclaiming that it was folly, that it would double, triple the losses, but he had always replied that the life of fifty, a hundred pilots, when placed in the balance of fighting an opponent who could not claim "a stab in the back," as Americans put it, would be worth the price. If their sense of correct behavior had been observed, their anger, though significant, would not be aroused to fever pitch. Just as an opponent in cards, knowing he was beaten fairly in a poker match, would withdraw as a gentleman, but if ever he suspected a sleight of hand, a bitter rivalry and hatred that could burn for years would be the result. Yamamoto now faced just such an opponent. The Foreign Ministry had left him with a terrible task. He could not just achieve victory here, he must achieve a crushing victory. It would have been far easier if their carriers had indeed been in harbor, but they were not. The Americans would now turn to those three carriers, Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga, and most likely within the month, Yorktown and Hornet, as the means of trying to gain revenge.
No, he had to give an even more crippling blow, a far more crippling blow, and in so doing hammer the Americans into so resigned a mood that only negotiation made sense, in spite of what he expected would be their towering rage.
Perhaps, he thought shrewdly, that rage can be turned to our advantage. An opponent in cards, when losing, tends to become reckless in his desire to win back what he has already lost. I must play to that and must take the risks as well.
Yamamoto stubbed out his cigarette and leaned over, looking at the charts spread out on the table. He traced his finger around the waters south and west of Oahu.
"I am convinced that their three carriers, Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga, are somewhere out here," and then he drew a vague outline across nearly a million square miles of ocean, the vast triangle from Oahu northwest to Midway, over 1,100 miles away, and then down to Wake, which stood sentinel over the approaches into the Japanese-held waters of the Marshalls.
"Tomorrow we shall hunt for them there."
There was an uncomfortable stirring, and he looked over at Nagumo’s chief of staff, whom he had retained, at least temporarily, for this mission.
"Sir, though I expressed concerns about your third strike on Pearl Harbor, I now bow to your wisdom. But this?"
"As Commander Genda already pointed out, we are down to less than three hundred aircraft. Their three carriers, which we know carry more planes than our carriers, might be able to marshal three hundred in reply. They might very well be anticipating even now our moving toward them and be ready, aided by what aircraft survived on Oahu to provide scouting reports. We could be at a serious disadvantage tomorrow. They can surmise where we are; we might not be able to do the same."
Excerpted from Days of Infamy by Newt Gingrich, William R. Forstchen, and Albert s. Hanser,.
Copyright 2008 by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen..
Published in August 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.