Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack by Steve Twomey

In Countdown to Pearl Harbor Steve Twomey revisits the reasons why the Americans were so caught off-guard by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Still to this day it astounds me at the incompetence and arrogance of America’s leaders as Japan prepared for war against the United States. Twomey does a masterful job of bringing this incompetence and arrogance into blindingly bright light. He uses countless examples of the lackadaisical attitude of officers at Pearl Harbor that led to the destruction of a good portion of the Pacific Fleet.

Although some officers at the time argued that this attack could not have been predicted, Twomey mentions the Pearl Harbor attack was not unprecedented for the Japanese.  The Japanese navy surprised the Russian navy to start the Russo-Japanese War – completely destroying the Russian fleet.

Hindsight is always twenty/twenty and it is easy to criticize past decisions with most of the facts in hand, but it is hard not to judge American leadership – both navy and army – in not taking simple steps to avoid the destruction of American forces in Hawaii. Just one example that Twomey mentions is the simple precaution of putting up torpedo nets – this would have saved many lives. Although the nets were a pain to put up and take down, they would have been worth the effort due to the nature of Pearl Harbor (ships were bottled up and easy targets for bombs and torpedoes).

In contrast to the efforts at Pearl Harbor, Twomey highlights the efforts of some to increase the warnings to not just the Philippines, Wake Island, and Guam, but also Pearl Harbor – these men did not know that Pearl Harbor was a target, but they thought it was prudent that all U.S. forces be put on alert. Unfortunately, those warnings were either not sent or went unheard.

Lastly, Twomey does give credit to the Japanese for executing the perfect surprise attack. For instance, not only did they solve the shallow water problem for torpedoes, but they also successfully crossed thousands of miles of ocean without being detected.

An excellent analysis of everything that the Americans did not do to be prepared for an attack and all that the Japanese did right in order to pull off the surprise.

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