Pearl Harbor Reconsidered Part II
"Authorizing" the offensive? Really?
Today I'm going to talk about how the Pearl Harbor attack—indeed, the whole 1941 offensive—was tactically authorized... or not.
Conventional wisdom and popular culture have always held that the phrase “Climb Mount Niitake 1208” transmitted from Fleet Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku’s HQ in Tokyo Bay to every Japanese task force 2 December 1941, meant that the diplomats in Washington had failed to reach an accord with the US, and the Kido Butai’s under Nagumo Chuichi was to attack Pearl Harbor as planned, and that the rest of the Japanese forces were to begin their attacks on US, British and Dutch installations.
This is the top half of the message intercepted, as passed by the US Navy’s Hawaiian intercept station, codenamed HYPO, that picked up the signal and worked the code. Serial 676 is what it's commonly known as in cryptoanalytic circles.
The imagery of the bottom half is garbled, but it says that the interception was at 2100 (9 PM) on 2 December 1941, and was declassified in June 1972.
With all due respect to those who have all agreed that this was a "go" message for all Japanese forces… nonsense.
The Japanese diplomats in Washington had been stalling on purpose for two months on orders from Tokyo. There was no chance that the primary American demand—that Japan withdraw from French Indochina—was going to be met, and Tokyo knew it. No matter what else happened, the Americans weren’t about to shut off the last sanctions and embargoes unless Japan complied... and no one expected them to.
Japan had committed tremendous forces to not only attack Pearl Harbor but also Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, Guam, and Malaya. Stopping that whole mechanism because the Combined Fleet did not receive a single message—or if it were not sent—is impractical at best, unlikely at worst.
There is no record—anywhere—of the existence of a “no-go” message. If the Mount Niitake signal was the “go” there had to have been—logically—a “no-go.” What was it?
The Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) didn’t play well together. Their rivalries made the annual American Army-Navy football game look like a Care Bears® convention. The IJA would not take orders from the IJN—ever. A single message to start everything in motion… improbable doesn’t come close to describing it.
Yamamoto sent the message to start the war in the Pacific… on whose authority? Sure, Japan’s Government Liaison Conference had approved war with the US, Britain and the Netherlands in November, and the senior officers in both the IJA and the IJN widely knew of such approval. After that, however… who said, “there’s a chance this won’t be needed so let’s make this code up?” No record of that, nor is there even a chance for such approval to have even existed.
Mount Niitake on Taiwan was the tallest mountain in the Japanese Empire. I believe the “Climb Mount Niitake 1208” signal is better understood as meaning “perform the hard task with the blessings of the IJN boss.” That its absence would have stopped anything—absent a message to the contrary—is highly unlikely. It is more likely that post-war historians have put that emphasis on the Mount Niitake signal to make the pre-1945 Japanese appear to still have had some restraint, that they went to war with some reluctance and trepidation. The “East Wind Rain” message, which was never transmitted according to Japanese records, was the only widely accepted official “war warning” that existed, and even that was unspecific as to timing.
Why The Samurai Lost Japan: A Study in Miscalculation and Folly
My co-author, Lee Rochwerger, and I don’t talk specifically about the Climb Mount Niitake message in the book, but we provide the evidence that bolsters my case for the unlikelihood of it being what postwar historians have declared it to be.
Pearl Harbor Reconsidered III
Pearl Harbor Reconsidered IV
On 10 November:
1896: Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite (as a safer mining explosive) dies in Sanremo, Italy. His legacy has come down to us as the Nobel Prize, awarded more or less annually, for the past century and change.
1941: Land-based Japanese warplanes sank British warships Prince of Wales and Repulse in the Indian Ocean. It was the first time that aircraft alone had sunk maneuvering warships.
And today is NATIONAL LAGER DAY. For those of you who do not drink beer, today is the day you should start.