As far back as 1893 the U. S. Military began planning for a defense against an attack by the forces of the Empire of Japan known as Plan Orange. Ironically it called for a response in the form of an island-hopping campaign eventually crossing the Pacific to the Empire’s home islands. Again in 1923 Army and Navy planners updated Plan Orange. The Japanese military and Foreign Office were keenly aware of what they saw as a “racial bias” against their people as a backdrop to all their dealings with America.
In World War I Japan sided with the U.S. and Entente nations in fighting Germany and her allies hoping to earn a greater parity in any future international planning. When the Washington Naval Treaty placing a limit on future Naval power among the victorious nations was laid down in an effort to force arms limitation in the 1920s, the ratio of Capital and lesser warships left Japan “playing 3rd fiddle” to the other major powers. The Japanese insult was serious and long-lasting ending in their renunciation of the treaty in 1936 and contributing to the erosion of trust and relationships between the two countries.
Japan’s counter-plan called for a first blow against the largest part of the Pacific fleet where it was gathered, followed by two great sea battles which would finish off the remaining U.S. battle force. Aircraft carriers were not yet considered capital ships although by war’s breakout they would be key factors for both.
Among the intelligence not known to the planners in Tokyo was the absence from Pearl Harbor of the three (or four) U.S. Carriers they must destroy, and the ability of diplomatic code-breakers to garner advance information of enemy intentions. Perhaps even more important, the U. S. decision-makers in Washington had failed to grasp the delicate balance of military/political “winds” blowing among the highest level of leaders on the Japanese side. The cooler heads among Japan’s leaders had realized that the invasion of “bottomless” China had been a losing proposition from the beginning and that the pending invasion of Indochina would bring more economic problems than it would solve in addition to angering the United States beyond the breaking point.
The most respected military mind in Japan, that of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had long counseled against war with the U.S, as had no greater an authority than Marshal Tojo himself. The much-loved and respected younger brother of Emperor Hirohito urged him not to take his country into a war “that couldn’t be won.” Facing these arguments was the constant worry of a coups by young Army “Hawks” who were committed to victory in China and the always-lingering fear of loss of face. A disengagement from the “China disaster” might even be welcome to Japan if it could have been accomplished over time and without shame. And then – at the suggestion of Ambassador Grew there was the message from President Roosevelt which contained a possible solution to the impasse, but mysteriously got “held up” somewhere in the corridors of power in Tokyo. Tojo would later remark that if Roosevelt’s peace message had arrived three days earlier, war might have been averted. As it turned out it was an empty observation; December 1st, 1941 had become the commitment date.
On December 2, 1941 from an anchorage in Japan’s Inland Sea, Admiral Yamamoto sent a radio message to Admiral Chuichi Nagumo whose 1st Air Fleet was just crossing the International date-line along the 180th meridian en route to Pearl Harbor. It read simply “Climb Mount Niitaka 1208.” World War II in the Pacific was about to begin.
NOTE: There were no U.S. aircraft carriers or submarines at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, and Nagumo failed to bomb the fuel tanks and repair shops. Nearly all the sunk and damaged ships would be
raised and repaired within six months; The “Sleeping Tiger” would be awakened!