WI: Kido Butai Spotted En Route to Pearl

And nobody can prove that the Japanese were lying.
So what? Japan has attacked multiple countries without bothering to declare war at this point China, Russia, within a few days of the sighting the British and the Dutch. Literally EVERYONE who hears about this will know exactly what it means. And anyone trying to argue differently is going to be dismissed as a naive moron with no conception of history whatsoever. Which will be a difficult claim to argue against since it would be 100% true. This argument that so long as Japan was in international waters they aren't the aggressor is absurd.
 
So what? Japan has attacked multiple countries without bothering to declare war at this point China, Russia, within a few days of the sighting the British and the Dutch. Literally EVERYONE who hears about this will know exactly what it means. And anyone trying to argue differently is going to be dismissed as a naive moron with no conception of history whatsoever. Which will be a difficult claim to argue against since it would be 100% true. This argument that so long as Japan was in international waters they aren't the aggressor is absurd.
Indeed. Unless they also call off all their other attacks (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines).
 
Had any advance warning been issued, how would Lieutenant Kermit Tyler at Fort Shafter’s Intercept Center have evaluated the radar contact from the Opana Radar site?
Wasn't the radar site still not properly operational so standard procedures weren't yet in place? If it had been, it's more likely that a couple of fighters or a scout plane would have been sent to check. How much that would have helped is another issue, but there is at least one other thread on effects of a short advance warning which probably covers it.
Even if the assumption was that it was the B17s, the strange direction of travel might indicate a navigation error and a friendly plane could help ensure they headed the right way.
But this was just one of many missed opportunities and half-opportunities that weren't collated or acted on, and which Kimmel took the blame for.
It is hard to see how to change the mind of the group of people who overlooked credible (mini)sub sightings in the harbour entrance and a probable sinking, but a well-connected and determined intel officer collating the several reports of something strange going on in what should be an empty bit of ocean might be enough to make a difference, even if only to add credibility (more importantly a spur to action) when the submarines are spotted on the morning of the attack.
 
The bolded portion really should quash any notion that the Japanese would have acted innocent and calmly turned around if spotted.
That would be a big maybe. Prior to 5 December, Nagumo was ready to sink an un-declared enemy or neutral and continue on with his mission if he believed no warning had gone out to blow his surprise approach. Prior to 5 Dec, if surprise was lost, he was under orders to turn around and go home. According to Mori, 5 December was set as the date where Kido Butai had reached the point of no return, and the attack would be pressed home no matter what without regard to the likelihood of greatly increased losses.

As for Lieutenant Kermit Tyler at Fort Shafter’s Intercept Center, if the 12th and 14th Naval Districts had paid attention to the SS Lurline and other irregular Japanese radio intercepts from 30 Nov-2 Dec, the Intercept Center would have been more robustly manned, probably under the direct control of someone with more rank and experience than 1LT Tyler. The radar sites, even though still considered experimental, would have been alerted to watch for and report any strange activity. Moreover, given reports of 'squirrely" Japanese activity to the north that shipping usually avoided in the winter, the Army and Navy would have found a way to provide better long- range patrols, using PBYs, B-17s and probably the otherwise nearly useless B-18s. Even the antique B-12s could be used to fly out, look around and report back.
 
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Nearly 81 years after the event it's easy for us to find it incredible that so many clues were failed to be reported properly or that intelligence analysts failed to link the clues they had together to provide irrefutable evidence that the Japanese were about to go to war with Great Britain, the Dutch and the U.S.

The US had SIGINT clues, without revealing any code breaking secrets, that Japan might be about to strike U.S. assets as far east as Hawaii or Dutch harbor. Contrary to the popular notion that the Kido Butai was observing complete radio silence, John Toland in "Infamy" pp.291-294 relates how multiple very strange radio intercepts with RDF bearings were reported to USN 12th (San Francisco) and 14th (Pearl Harbor) District Headquarters but action was not taken.

On 30 November, radio operators on the SS Lurline enroute to Hawaii began to pick up and record strange Japanese transmissions northwest by west of their position coming from an area of the stormy North Pacific that was usually void of shipping that time of year. A more than 2 hour series of transmissions from JCS Yokohama was being broadcast in code that were being acknowledged by repeat back verbatim by station JOC and others somewhere in the North Pacific, "possibly for copying by crafts with small antennas." The lengthy transmissions were good enough to get RDF bearings. In 30 years, the operators had never heard JCS Yokohama broadcast before 9PM and then have the entire transmission rebroadcast on the lower marine frequency from somewhere in the Pacific. They felt the situation so unusual that they kept a detailed log to present to naval authorities when they arrived in Honolulu on 3 Dec. The next night, 1 Dec, it happened again, and again, but even stronger transmissions were recorded on 2 Dec. Something was happening, but what? (Toland, Infamy pp.291-293)

12th Naval District Intelligence (San Fransisco) was also involved in the hunt for the possibly missing Japanese carrier task force and analysts were collating reports from commercial ships and the 4 wire services. One of the wire services reported queer signals west of Hawaii on a frequency that didn't make sense. Other services and shipping companies were asked if they were getting strange signals, and several confirmed that they had. Plotting signal bearings on a large chart, they located where the bearings intersected and reported to the 12th Naval District Intelligence Chief, Captain Richard T. McCollough, that this could be a Japanese carrier force operating near Hawaii. (Toland, Infamy pp. 293-294)

Now, back to the Russian freighter: If the freighter had come under attack by Kido Butai cruisers and destroyers and had time to get off an RRRR, under attack by surface warships! and broadcast their position before being sunk...naval intelligence analysts will now have a clear picture of Kido Butai's location and hostile intent. Long range submarine and aircraft patrols could begin actively seeking the carrier force.

Even if not pinpointed and engaged in the North Pacific 4-5 days before the intended Pearl Harbor attack date, Nagumo and Japan are screwed! The surprise needed for success is gone, there is no plausible peaceful reason for the Kido Butai to have been discovered where they are, and now they've gone and sunk a neutral vessel. Nagumo will be forced to break off and return to Japan without attacking and will likely commit suicide. The sham negotiations in Washington blow up, Russia tears up its Non-Aggression Pact with Japan, public opinion goes from being isolationist to Gung Ho and the U.S. goes on a war footing.

Do we know if McCullough then passed any information up the chain of command? I'm wondering at what level the intelligence was determined to be insufficient to take action? Did it reach Kimmel?
 
If, and it's a big if, the Japanese turn back after being sighted then there's not much the US can do without being seen as the aggressor. So long as they're still in international waters the Japanese can claim they're just on a training exercise and they have every legal right to go where they wish due to the Freedom of the Seas.
Who is going to care (that matters) USS Nimitz could strike and wipe out the entire KB on the night of the 6th and nobody would care after the IJA come ashore in Malaya US has all the allies it needs?
 
it's more likely that a couple of fighters or a scout plane would have been sent to check. How much that would have helped is another issue, but there is at least one other thread on effects of a short advance warning which probably covers it.
This would have been an excellent training flight.
OTOH, this was a Sunday morning.... after a Saturday night.
Never mind.
 
It's important to keep in mind that there had already (by December 7) been TWO (2) "Imminent War Warnings" issued (one on November 27, and another on December 3rd) and everyone had been pretty much standing alert since the first one. As noted prior to December 5 if Nagumo was spotted he had standing orders to call it all off so if we assume the Russian freighter (for example) spots them in theory Nagumo follows orders and head back to port and probably sends a message that the raid is off. (Coded likely as some routine traffic)
He might be ordered to split up his forces to help cover other targets or they might just bring them home to prepare for the "Decisive Battle" assuming the USN will rush the fleet towards the Philippines.

On the converse side it's an open question if the Russian's even TELL anyone about it since they have no real stake at this point.

As to the radio intercepts I'll point out that was actually part of the Japanese plan as they were spamming radio traffic all over the Pacific to hide any possible transmission that might 'leak' from the strike force.

The bolded portion really should quash any notion that the Japanese would have acted innocent and calmly turned around if spotted.

Not really because 'technically' his orders said up to December 5 and this was because there was no real reason to think the Strike Force could take on an alert and ready USN at that distance. Being spotted before that point gives the USN too much time to prepare Hawaii and more importantly disperse the fleet making the attack useless. The interesting thing is what DOES the US do with the warning?

Likely the USAAC sends out its heavy and medium bombers but I'm not so sure the USN would sortie given the circumstances. Most of the US Battle Line can't catch the Japanese Carriers and those ships that can are going to be facing a desperate air attack that would likely be a Midway-prequal in outcome. (The lessons from THAT should have interesting butterflies down the road) That spreads out to now that 'war' is officially here several days early does anyone really do anything different? There's some argument that it might effect some aspects of the way things go but in context everyone has been 'preparing' for a week now already.

Randy
 
Do we know if McCullough then passed any information up the chain of command? I'm wondering at what level the intelligence was determined to be insufficient to take action? Did it reach Kimmel?
Don't know if McCollough did anything with the info. Toland plays up a rumor that McCollough had a personal back channel access to Harry Hopkins and FDR, but given the careerist follow-the-rules peacetime way of doing things, it's most likely that if McCollough did anything it was to pass the RDF intercept info on to Naval Intelligence in Washington where the report was dismissed. The Washington military and political hierarchy refused to believe that Pearl Harbor was in any real danger of imminent attack, thinking that if the Japanese were going to attack any U.S. assets in the Pacific, it was going to be limited to Guam, the Philippines and possibly Wake. And as for the Philippines, given McArthur's grandiose self-promoting reports, Washington felt McArthur had things under control.

Did Kimmel know of the radio intercepts? Again, don't know to what extent he was informed, but he possibly was told of the SS Lurline's report after it was given to 14th Naval District Intelligence, but that alone may not have been conclusive enough to take action. It's likely that the additional corroborating intercept RDF info discovered by the 12th Naval District in San Fransisco was passed directly to Washington alone and Naval Intelligence at Pearl Harbor (and Kimmel) never received it.

Historical data from multiple sources prove that Kimmel was largely kept in the dark by Washington. Washington arrogantly thought they knew everything best and only fed Kimmel what they thought he needed to know. While CINCPAC Intelligence and the 14th Naval District Intelligence worked very closely together (Edwin Layton and Joseph Rocheford), the Washington Naval Staff domineered by the terrible director of the War Plans Division, Richmond K. Turner, was jealous and distrustful of the subordinate naval staffs in Hawaii, and deliberately withheld critical information that led to the severity of the Pearl Harbor defeat. There's a scene in Tora, Tora, Tora where Martin Balsam who played Kimmel says something to the effect, "Well, Washington doesn't think it's a problem, so I guess it's not a problem."
 
Compounding the issue was everyone in Washington had run the numbers and "best guess" was that Hawaii was likely at the very edge of the range for a Japanese attack directly from Japan and after all it was "only" the carriers that were missing, not the battle line. And frankly they were right for any conventional operation, but the fact that the Japanese had pulled off rather unconventional operations before wasn't really considered. THEY certainly wouldn't have engaged in such a risky operation, (my how thing can change after a few years of actual war :) ) so the assumption was neither would the Japanese and that the upcoming war was going to pretty much go according to plan. (Well it DID for short time for the Japanese :) )

In context an 'attack' on Hawaii was possible but highly risky, (even the Japanese admitted that much) and the likely hood was such that until those planes arrived over Pearl it was a very low-probability item. Had Negumo's Strike Force been spotted and confirmed there's a good possibility both Hawaii and Washington might have sunk due to the of 'brown pants-ing' in both places over what MIGHT have happened :)

Randy
 
RAdm Edwin Layton, who was Kimmel's CINCPAC Combat Intelligence Officer, in his book "And I Was There, Pearl Harbor and Midway-Breaking the Secrets" offers a different account of the pre-attack radio intercepts and the encounter with the Russian freighter. Layton's timeline is also a bit different from those recounted by Juzo Mori and John Toland, with Layton stating the strange radio intercepts investigated by the 12th Naval District occurred 3-5 Dec, the encounter with the Russian Freighter Uritsky happening on 5 Dec and Combined Fleet HQ in Japan radioing precise orders to Nagumo on how he was to deal with any unexpected encounters also occurring on 5 Dec.

p. 260. Orders to Nagumo:
"1. A warship which sights the enemy or third-nation warships or merchant ships, must recognize the need for concealing our plans and so will immediately render it incapable of signaling and if necessary, sink it.
2. Panamanian, Norwegian and Greek ships shall be treated as enemy shipping. Vessels flying the Soviet flag are excluded."

P. 261. The Russian ship, Uritsky, a 1200-ton freighter was sighted the same day. The Russian vessel failed to make the customary sighting report in plain Morse on recognized international shipping frequencies. Layton speculates Russian and Japanese collusion.

P.262. Layton downplays the mysterious radio signals. He says the SS Lurline only had unsophisticated DF gear that placed the signals in the general direction of Japan and Vladivostok, and "their apparent mid-Pacific origination could only be explained by atmospheric anomalies or misidentification of the daily position reports radioed out by the Uritsky." Layton also says the 12th Naval District RDF report was not as specific or as sensational as revisionist historians tried to make them out to be, that the transmissions could have been from a fishing fleet, rather than a carrier force, and might not have even been Japanese, but Russian.
 
P. 261. The Russian ship, Uritsky, a 1200-ton freighter was sighted the same day. The Russian vessel failed to make the customary sighting report in plain Morse on recognized international shipping frequencies. Layton speculates Russian and Japanese collusion.
Found a good read regarding the Uritsky.


Conclusion drawn is that the Uritsky did not come within spotting range of Kido Butai - that Juzo Mori's account of how things went down is correct barring perhaps the exact date, and Layton's is not.
 
Found a good read regarding the Uritsky.


Conclusion drawn is that the Uritsky did not come within spotting range of Kido Butai - that Juzo Mori's account of how things went down is correct barring perhaps the exact date, and Layton's is not.
WOW! Great find! When re-reading Layton's explanation events today, I had the feeling that he was grasping at straws to diminish and dismiss his role in not being able to predict, and prevent, what happened on 7 Dec 41.

I don't think it was necessary for him to try and come up with excuses for his actions/conclusions leading to 7 Dec, or those of Kimmel based on Layton (and Rochefort's) input. Layton (and Kimmel) must have died with the feeling that they had failed to do more, and that's unfortunate. Discounting fate, and Japanese good luck at that point in history, it was the Washington mindset and inept conduct, primarily a weak CNO "Betty" Stark allowing an out of control narcissist Kelly Turner to run the show that was the leading cause for the debacle at Pearl Harbor.
 
Contrary to the popular notion that the Kido Butai was observing complete radio silence, John Toland in "Infamy" pp.291-294 relates how multiple very strange radio intercepts with RDF bearings were reported to USN 12th (San Francisco) and 14th (Pearl Harbor) District Headquarters but action was not taken.
No one reputable takes Toland's claim seriously. His sources either don't say what he claims, or can't be found.

Against Toland's citation of a mysterious "Seaman X" is the unanimous testimony of all surviving Japanese participants that Kido Butai kept strict radio silence. (One signals officer not only disassembled his ship's transmitter, he kept the essential parts in a box under his pillow.) All ship's logs and other records in IJN files confirm this. Unless the Japanese went to a lot of trouble to sanitize and falsify their own records, and rehearsed their veterans in orchestrated lies, that's dispositive.

By the end of his life, Toland was reduced to lecturing at meetings of the notorious "Institute for Historical Review" (the primary venue for Holocaust denial).
 
I would LOVE to know more about this incident. It appears to have escaped my knowledge entirely, up until now. If it did occur, and the attack went ahead anyway, one can only presume that the neutrality pact between Japan and the Soviets somehow prevented the encounter from ending in violence and disclosure.
It was mentioned in a book I read years ago, but I don't recall which Pearl Harbor book it was in (i've read dozens).

It might be something to look for in the Russian/Soviet archives, if the merchant reported the encounter.

Regards,
 
It was mentioned in a book I read years ago, but I don't recall which Pearl Harbor book it was in (i've read dozens).

It might be something to look for in the Russian/Soviet archives, if the merchant reported the encounter.

Regards,
Not a problem.

As you can glean from the recent posts here, we've managed to determine more or less what happened. The freighter was detected by a sub scouting ahead for Kido Butai, who were prepared to sink it if necessary, but it never got within spotting range.
 
I was always curious how the Pacific fleet would have fared against the Japanese strike force at sea. Lets say PH gets 36-24 hour advanced notice, how would the resulting sea battle have played out? The US had the advantage in battleships, and I believe Lexington and Enterprise might have close enough to participate (but with inexperienced aircrews),. The Japanese only have two battleships, but they have all those carriers, and arguably the best carrier based strike force in the world.

ric350
The Japanese did not fare all THAT well at Pearl Harbor against berthed ships with semi prepared AA defences.

Against maneuvering vessels on the high seas with AA defences going at full force, the likelihood is that they would have done even poorer.
 
The Japanese did not fare all THAT well at Pearl Harbor against berthed ships with semi prepared AA defences.

Against maneuvering vessels on the high seas with AA defences going at full force, the likelihood is that they would have done even poorer.
It depends a lot on how well the US fighters do. The Japanese crews were the best in the world at the time and in the open sea could have done hammer and anvil or dive bomb plus torpedo attacks which weren't an option in Pearl Harbour. If the US fighters can disrupt the set up then they won't suffer too badly, but if the fighters get tangled in dogfights or are poorly controlled it will be a bad day. Bearing in mind that sunk = lost forever and badly damaged = risk from sub or carrier based attack and it doesn't look particularly clear-cut, with at least some possibility that credible luck could cause equal or worse damage than OTL, and a possibilty of doing better.
 
What would the Americans do after the sighting?

If they sortied a large portion of the fleet based at Pearl, doesn't that actually put them in a more vulnerable position?
 
What would the Americans do after the sighting?

If they sortied a large portion of the fleet based at Pearl, doesn't that actually put them in a more vulnerable position?
We know that the Kido Butai was short of fuel, so an important question is whether or not the US command would assume this.
I suspect they'd know it was a big stretch to attack Hawai'i. So the US fleet can win (and possibly decisively) by forcing the Kido Butai to manouevre or to speed up [1]. I have no idea how easy this would be to arrange, but sound reasoning or blind luck for the US and bad planning or panic by the Japanese cpuld be enough.

[1] If they run out of fuel or think that this could happen, the entire Kido Butai(or at least a substantial part of the smaller ships) could be at risk. Can aircraft carriers launch when out of fuel?
 
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