Pearl Harbor: US ‘could have anticipated attack’ from intercepted Japanese telegrams

President Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor plans says theorist

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Today is the 80th anniversary of the surprise Japanese offensive that cemented America’s involvement in World War 2. More than 2,400 US citizens died in the attack on the US naval base in Hawaii on December 7, 1941 – a Sunday morning. Japanese dive bombers and fighters destroyed or damaged almost 20 US naval vessels, including eight battleships and more than 300 aircraft.

The following day, the US Congress declared war on Japan and, shortly after, on Nazi Germany.

US President Franklin D Roosevelt said of Pearl Harbor that it is a “date which will live in infamy”.

Pearl Harbor spelled the end of the US’ decades-long policy of neutrality.

The attack also garnered increased support among the American people for the country’s entry into the war.

Eight decades on from Pearl Harbour, an academic laid bare how the attack might have been prevented.

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Takuma Melber, a historian at Germany’s Heidelberg University, claimed that the US did not use the information they had about the Japanese effectively.

The academic published the book ‘Pearl Harbor: Japan’s Attack and America’s Entry into World War II’ in October last year.

In it he wrote: “With hindsight, it is conceivable that the Americans could have anticipated the attack on Pearl Harbor on the basis of the intercepted and decoded Japanese telegrams.”

Prior to 1941, the US underestimated the threat posed by Japan, including its torpedo-carrying fighter jets, which were a relatively new technology at the time.

In the run-up to Pearl Harbor, an American team of 10 people had been intercepting the vast majority of Japan’s telegrams.

Based in Washington, the code-breakers had access to details concerning pivotal moments of Japanese military activity.

They learned that the Japanese had been conducting practice naval exercises on large vessels off its coast.

The month before the attack, they also intercepted orders from Tokyo for the Japanese consulate in Hawaii to provide updates on US ships in Pearl Harbor.

Just days before the attack, they also received information that Tokyo had ordered its foreign embassies to destroy their encrypting machines and codebooks.

However, the Washington team was reportedly blighted by shortages of staff, including enough Japanese speakers.

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The situation led to chaotic scenes of an overworked team unable to sift through the mountains of documents in their office.

Admiral Husband E Kimmel, the Commander of Pearl Harbor, also received a cable from US military chiefs warning of imminent war.

However, the message didn’t specifically mention Hawaii and so he did not make any defensive preparations.

Despite America’s apparent security blunders, the US has been defended by some academics, including Bill McWilliams, who authored the 2014 book ‘Sunday in Hell: Pearl Harbor Minute by Minute’.

He said: “It’s always easy to criticise intelligence, and frankly I think all that is a great hue and cry about nothing.

“Those kinds of criticisms are always rife, particularly when disaster strikes.

“Post-World War 2, our armed services were reorganised, which hopefully will keep us focused on what we need to do in the future.”

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