A Diminutive Man Bet Against Pearl Harbor, and Won

A look at one man who did prepare for attack on Pearl Harbor: Isoroku Yamamoto
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2016 3:40 PM CST
Updated Dec 7, 2016 6:54 AM CST
A Diminutive Man Bet Against Pearl Harbor, and Won
In this Dec. 7, 1941 photo made available by the US Navy, a small boat rescues a seaman from the USS West Virginia burning in the foreground in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after Japanese aircraft attacked the military installation.   (U.S. Navy via AP)

The man responsible for ravaging America's Navy 75 years ago this month "stood only three inches taller than five feet and weighed 130 pounds, maybe," writes Steve Twomey in a deep dive for Smithsonian on how we got to the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. In roughly 5,000 words,Twomey credits good luck for the effectiveness of Japan's attack, but also two errors of assumption on America's part: that Japan would never cross the great and powerful United States, and that it wasn't militarily and technologically advanced enough to do so. But "as with every innovation, someone gets there first," writes Twomey. Credit goes to the petite commander of Japan's Combined Fleet, Isoroku Yamamoto, for helping get Japan there. Japan had 10 aircraft carriers (America, seven), and Yamamoto realized there was strength in numbers.

He saw the power in joining together six of them—and the dive and torpedo bombers they carried—a few hundred miles off Hawaii. The plan was rife with potential pitfalls: that the fleet would be spotted during its two-week oceanic crossing; that the US fleet would be out on a training exercise on the day in question. And then there was the torpedo issue: With a shallow depth of about 45 feet, Pearl Harbor and its ships were mostly immune to the weapons, which would burrow into the mud. That is until Japan upped the number of stabilizing fins, halting a torpedo's mid-air roll and shortening its dive. The Navy, unaware, had deemed torpedo nets unnecessary along the harbor's "Battleship Row." It was a fatal combination. Read Twomey's piece in full here for other factors that contributed to our unpreparedness. (Read more Pearl Harbor stories.)

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