Before entering World War II, Japan had many other problems to deal with. It had begun to rely more and more for raw materials (especially oil) from outside sources because their land was so lacking in these. Despite these difficulties, Japan began to build a successful empire with a solid industrial foundation and a good army and navy. The military became highly involved in the government, and this began to get them into trouble. In the early 1930’s, the Japanese Army had many small battles with the Chinese in Manchuria. The Japanese Army won a series of battles, and Manchuria became a part of the Japanese Empire.
In 1937, the conflicts began again with the Chinese in the area near Beijing’s Marco Polo Bridge. Whether or not these conflicts began inadvertently or whether they were planned is unknown. These led to a full-scale war known as the second Sino-Japanese War. This was one of the bloodiest wars in world history and continued until the final defeat of Japan in 1945. In 1939, World War II was beginning with a string of victories by German forces. Germany’s success included defeats of Poland and France along with bombings of England.
Many of the European nations hat Germany now controlled had control over important colonial empires such as the East Indies and Singapore in Southeast Asia. These Southeast Asian countries contained many of the natural resources that Japan so desperately needed. Now that these countries were worried about matters over in Europe, Japan felt that it could seize some of them. At the same time in the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to halt the expansion of Germany and Japan, but many others in the government wanted to leave the situation alone.
The United States began to supply materials to the countries at war with Germany and Japan, but it wanted to remain neutral to prevent and overseas war. Meanwhile, Germany, Italy, and Japan formed the Axis Alliance in September of 1940. Japan was becoming desperate for more natural resources. In July of 1941, Japan made the decision to secure access to the abundance of the much-needed resources in Southeast Asia. It was afraid that it could not defeat the larger and stronger Western powers. It needed to build up its armies in order to stay in the war.
It also had to worry, though about the United States’ reaction to their plans to seize Southeast Asia. Japan began their seizure with southern Indochina. The United States was in strict opposition to Japan’s plans, and began their reaction with an embargo on the shipment of oil to Japan. Oil was necessary to keep Japan’s technology and military progressing. Without it, Japan’s industrial and military forces would come to a stop in only a short time. Japan’s government viewed the oil embargo as an act of war. Throughout the next few months of 1941, the United States tried to come to some kind of resolve with Japan to settle their differences.
Japan wanted the United States to lift the oil embargo and allow them to attempt a takeover of China. The United States refused to lift the embargo until Japan would back off of their aggression with China. Neither country would budge on their demands, and war seemed to be inescapable. The United States regarded Japan’s adamant refusal to budge on their stance as a sign of hostility. They too realized that war was inevitable. They responded to this potential war with Japan by adding to the military forces stationed in the Pacific. General Douglas MacArthur and his ground forces in the Philippines began to organize into a formidable army.
The B-17 was just arriving at many air force bases throughout the country, and was a great confidence to MacArthur upon its arrival. MacArthur became so confident in his forces stationed in the Philippines that on December 5,1941, he said, “Nothing would please me better than if they would give me three months and then attack here. ” The most powerful and most crucial part of American defense in the Pacific Ocean was that of the U. S. Pacific Fleet. Usually, this fleet was stationed somewhere along the West Coast of the United States, and made a training cruise to Hawaii each year.
With war looming, the U. S. Pacific Fleet was moved to the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. This was the perfect location for the American forces in the Pacific because of its location, halfway between the United States West Coast and the Japanese military bases in the Marshall Islands. The Pacific Fleet first arrived at Pearl Harbor naval base on April 2, 1940, and was scheduled to return to the United States mainland around May 9, 1940. This plan was drastically changed because of the increasing activity of Italy in Europe and Japan’s attempt at expansion in Southeast Asia.
President Roosevelt felt that the presence of the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii would stop any Japanese attempt at a strike on the United States. Admiral James O. Richardson of the Pacific Fleet was in full opposition to the long stay at Pearl Harbor. He felt that the facilities were inadequate to maintain the ships or crews. Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, was the one who originally made the decision to extend the crew’s stay in Hawaii; and, in spite of Admiral Richardson’s complaints, he maintained that the Pacific Fleet must stay there to keep the Japanese from entering the East Indies.
Richardson felt that the Japanese would realize the military disadvantages of being stationed at Pearl Harbor, and would be quick to act on the situation. All of Richardson’s objections, in meetings with both the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and the President, got him nothing but a dismissal shortly thereafter. On November 12,1940, British torpedo bombers launched an attack on the Taranto harbor in Italy severely crippling the Italian Fleet.
This sent worry into United States government officials who were afraid that the same thing could happen to Pearl Harbor. On November 22, Admiral Stark suggested to Richardson the idea of placing anti-torpedo nets in Pearl Harbor. Richardson replied that they were neither necessary nor practical. On February 1,1941, Richardson was officially replaced by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel. Kimmel also did not like the idea of his fleet at Pearl Harbor; but, after seeing what had happened to Richardson, he was very quiet about his objections.
The Pacific Fleet was to be used as a defensive measure to direct Japan’s attention away from Southeast Asia by: (a) capturing the Caroline and Marshall Islands, (b) disrupting Japanese trade routes, and (c) defending Guam, Hawaii, and the United States mainland. Kimmel was supposed to prepare his fleet for war with Japan. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet, had to be careful of his country’s position in the Pacific. If he concentrated his forces too much in the pacific islands, then the mainland would be more susceptible to attack from Europe and even the United States.
Yamamoto devised a plan that involved an opening blow to the United States Pacific Fleet at the same time as their offensive against British, American, and Dutch forces in Southeast Asia. He planned to cripple the United States while he quickly conquered much of Southeast Asia and gathered their natural resources. He hoped that his attack against the Pacific Fleet would demoralize the American forces and get them to sign a peace settlement allowing Japan to remain as the power in the Pacific.
A month after the British attack on Taranto harbor, Yamamoto decided that if war with the United States were unavoidable he would launch a carrier attack on Pearl Harbor. In January of 1941, Yamamoto first began to commit to this strategy by planning out his attack and showing it to other Japanese officials. Yamamoto developed the following eight guidelines for the attack:
(1) surprise was crucial, (2) American aircraft carriers there should be the primary targets, (3) U. S. rcraft there must be destroyed to prevent aerial opposition, (4) all Japanese aircraft carriers available should be used, (5) all types of bombing should be used in the attack, (6) a strong fighter element should be included in the attack for air cover for the fleet, (7) refueling at sea would be necessary, and (8) a daylight attack promised best results, especially in the sunrise hours.
Many of Japan’s Navy General Staff was in opposition to Yamamoto’s plan, but they continued to prepare for the attack. All of the necessary training was given to troops, and all of the fighters and submarines were prepared. .