The Battle at Dawn: The first battle between the United States and Japan December 7-10, 1941

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Battle at Dawn introduction
The Battle at Dawn: The first battle between the United States and Japan


Nearly all Americans and Japanese know of the series of battles around Hawaii in the opening week of the war between Japan and the United States. The “Date which will live in Infamy” was how President Franklin Roosevelt put it in his speech while the battle was still raging, and indeed the shock of the sudden Japanese attack united America behind the war effort like nothing else could of.

But the fateful battle that would change naval air warfare forever did not just last one day, but three exhausting desperate days, and only the foresighted leadership of Admiral Richardson and General Harmon, the dogged aggression of Admiral Halsey and the tireless determination of Admiral Yamamoto brought about the result that followed. The fighting which began on December 7 and did not end until the December 10, 1941 saw the first carrier versus carrier fight, the first surface actions between the Japanese and United States Navies, and great air battles between Japanese and American aviators that would prove that both were brave and skilled combatants.

This is the story of those days of fierce courage and determination.
on this eve of the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor I just cannot wait any longer to start the timeline idea I have been pondering for a couple of years now

So here it goes...

I like Gingrich/Forstchen and their two works, but I had a number of quibbles while reading it. I have been reading about Pearl Harbor since I was 11 years old and the Pacific War has always been among my favorite historical subjects. I didn't much care for Conway's take, nor did I buy for a minute Turtledoves treatment (of a successful invasion, which I consider ASB).

sources for this will include Gordan Prange, John Toland, John Keegan, Walter Lord, Martin Caidin, and a new work I found particularly instructive

Which I highly recommend

In my opinion, FDR made his biggest mistake of the war when he relieved Admiral James O Richardson, a man who helped develop War Plan Orange, and who in my opinion would have been far more aggressive in preparing for the war to come. You may disagree, but I hope to show why I think so as write my story.

A handy guide and shortcuts to chapter links can be found here

Thanks to kclcmbr for that

This story is now part of a larger overall history of the Pacific War. The other stories can be found here:
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The Pacific Fleet Moves to Hawaii
The Pacific Fleet moves to Hawaii

[Richardson] was one of the Navy's foremost figures. Since his earliest days, after leaving Annapolis, he had made the study of Japanese warfare his life's work. He was beyond question the Navy's outstanding authority on Pacific naval warfare and Japanese strategy (John Dyer, Pearl Harbor Countdown: The Biography of Admiral James O. Richardson by Skipper Steely, published by Pelican Press, Gretna, Louisiana, 2008.)

Frank Knox saves his commander
On October 8, 1940, in response to Japanese pressure that leads to the stationing of their troops in French Indochina, and the Japanese government signature on the Tripartite Pact, President Roosevelt decides to station the Pacific Fleet permanently at Pearl Harbor in hopes of restraining further Japanese aggression. Admiral James O Richardson, Commander in Chief US Fleet, who commands the Battle Force and Scouting Force in the Pacific, protests the move. He is ordered to Washington by Navy Secretary Frank Knox, who is worried that his outspoken but highly valuable commander is about to get himself into political trouble by challenging the President. In discussions that at times grow heated, the Secretary talks Richardson into agreeing to listen to the President and follow orders and most importantly, keeping his mouth shut.

Over the next few days Roosevelt and Knox meet privately and then with Richardson and Roosevelt promises to do what he can to strengthen Pearl Harbor but insists that the fleet must stay. Admiral Richardson finally accepts the decision, although it becomes clear to Roosevelt that Richardson is not the man he needs for Chief of Naval Operations, which means Admiral Stark will keep his job, but the Admiral accepts the decision to take what is in effect a partial demotion to Commander Pacific Fleet as the growing threat of Germany requires a new position, Commander Atlantic Fleet, which will require taking some ships from the Pacific and sending them to the Atlantic. Husband Kimmel is promoted to his new rank of Commander Atlantic Fleet in November 1940. Kimmel, with extensive experience with destroyers, cruisers and battleships, is viewed as a good choice for facing the possible war with Germany and the submarine threat from them, while Richardson, who is one of the authors of War Plan Orange, is best suited for the Pacific and the possible war with Japan.

Horse trading with Atlantic Fleet and Neutrality Patrol
Richardson does however manage to get a few things from his President. Plans to send the carrier Yorktown to the Atlantic are canceled, as Richardson argues that he needs every scout plane he can get, and instead the planned experimental escort carrier Long Island, as well as the carriers Wasp and Ranger, plus the new Hornet when she is completed, will be assigned to the neutrality patrol. He does lose the battleships Idaho, New Mexico and Mississippi, plus all of the Omaha class cruisers plus several heavy cruisers and numerous destroyers. Richardson is not pleased but considers it a worthwhile trade for keeping 4 carriers in the Pacific. He does manage to talk Stark and Knox into giving him a few more fleet oilers however, arguing that as the Atlantic Fleet is primarily patrolling the western Atlantic, that fleet does not need oilers as badly as his fleet does, and that it will extend the range of the Pacific Scouting Force. He gets 6 oilers that will arrive in mid 1941.

Richardson, who like Halsey is a strong proponent of carrier aviation, also asks Admiral Harry Yarnell, recently retired from his post as Commander Asiatic Fleet, to come to Hawaii for a visit and manages to get permission to conduct Fleet Problem XXII, which was planned for the Spring of 1941 and recently canceled be reinstated. The Admiral points out that as the Army is conducting its own maneuvers it is important that the Navy do so as well. Roosevelt, who still considers the Navy 'his service' agrees and Knox grants permission and the necessary funds for it.

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authors note: for those who don't know, Admiral Yarnell conducted Fleet Problem XIII, in 1932, which was an attack by the carriers Saratoga and Lexington (simulated of course) on battleship row at Pearl Harbor and was wildly successful (according to the umpires) and carefully noted by the Japanese and buried as deep as they could by the USN battleship admirals.

He commanded the Asiatic Fleet until 1939, and as he reached retirement age, went inactive until the war began. He spent the war in advisory position.s

I have always wondered what a US Carrier Fleet led by him would have been like....
As I have to work tomorrow thats it for tonight, but more to come tomorrow....(sorry I won't be able to complete the whole story tomorrow but I hope to make a good start)

the actual deployment of the US Navy on December 7, 1941. I will be using this as a basis of where the Navy will be, with modifications to take into account developments that will occur as the prewar timeline moves along

but as tomorrow is the anniversary, this is of considerable historical interest
Question, how much campaigning can the Japanese carriers undertake near Pearl Harbor due to fuel concerns? IIRC in OTL they had to refuel on the way to Pearl and that was for a straight line, one morning of attacks and then straight back to Japanese home waters. Could they undertake 4 days of combat?
Any Timeline by GB is worth reading, like cloning Johnboy :). Looking forward to this. Just picked up the book linked and added a couple to my amazon shopping list on Richardson, thanks.
What would be the consequences if somebody manages to sink the Japanese fleet oilers?

IIRC they were already right up against the redline, so I imagine you might well have no choice but to abandon the destroyers at the very least to give the rest of the ships a chance to get back to safe waters. Hopefully they'd just transfer the crew onto the other ships instead of doing some asanine plan like "A banzai charge into the mouth of hell"
historical note:
From "Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths and Deceptions" Alan D. Zimm 2011

Regarding General Short
"Pearl Harbor was supposed to be a sanctuary, a place where the Pacific Fleet could rest, break down equipment for maintenance, and allow crews rest and liberty, all of which were needed considering the fleets Fleet's intense training schedule. General Short, the commander in charge of the air and ground defenses of the island, was tasked to provide that sanctuary." (Page 355)

"General Short had sufficient forces and equipment to do his job. If the AIC (Air Information Center, essentially the Air Defense Command HQ) had been active and his air defenses alert, the Army defenders would likely have given the Japanese a very bloody nose and the fleet would have been well defended." (page 356)

Regarding Admiral Kimmell
"As Prange noted,

He never looked over the Army's antiaircraft batteries, did not know that Short had three types of alert, and did not visit the Information Center to see for himself how the radar setup operated, although these were essential factors in the defense of his precious anchorage and the Fleet at its moorings." (Page 358)

to be blunt, I hold these two men directly responsible for the sins of omission and commission on the American side regarding Pearl Harbor. To a lesser extent I hold responsible the people who appointed these two men in command, in spite of their limited knowledge and even less understanding of aviation, of a post that was most likely to be attacked from the air if it were attacked in force.

On that note I will be watching "Tora, Tora, Tora" as I do my evenings writing
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