Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack by Steve Twomey

In Countdown to Pearl Harbor Steve Twomey revisits the reasons why the Americans were so caught off-guard by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Still to this day it astounds me at the incompetence and arrogance of America’s leaders as Japan prepared for war against the United States. Twomey does a masterful job of bringing this incompetence and arrogance into blindingly bright light. He uses countless examples of the lackadaisical attitude of officers at Pearl Harbor that led to the destruction of a good portion of the Pacific Fleet.

Although some officers at the time argued that this attack could not have been predicted, Twomey mentions the Pearl Harbor attack was not unprecedented for the Japanese.  The Japanese navy surprised the Russian navy to start the Russo-Japanese War – completely destroying the Russian fleet.

Hindsight is always twenty/twenty and it is easy to criticize past decisions with most of the facts in hand, but it is hard not to judge American leadership – both navy and army – in not taking simple steps to avoid the destruction of American forces in Hawaii. Just one example that Twomey mentions is the simple precaution of putting up torpedo nets – this would have saved many lives. Although the nets were a pain to put up and take down, they would have been worth the effort due to the nature of Pearl Harbor (ships were bottled up and easy targets for bombs and torpedoes).

In contrast to the efforts at Pearl Harbor, Twomey highlights the efforts of some to increase the warnings to not just the Philippines, Wake Island, and Guam, but also Pearl Harbor – these men did not know that Pearl Harbor was a target, but they thought it was prudent that all U.S. forces be put on alert. Unfortunately, those warnings were either not sent or went unheard.

Lastly, Twomey does give credit to the Japanese for executing the perfect surprise attack. For instance, not only did they solve the shallow water problem for torpedoes, but they also successfully crossed thousands of miles of ocean without being detected.

An excellent analysis of everything that the Americans did not do to be prepared for an attack and all that the Japanese did right in order to pull off the surprise.

Countdown to Pearl Harbor Book Cover Countdown to Pearl Harbor
Steve Twomey
Simon and Schuster
November 1, 2016

In Washington, DC, in late November 1941, admirals compose the most ominous message in Navy history to warn Hawaii of possible danger, but they write it too vaguely. They think precautions are being taken, but never check to see if they are. A key intelligence officer wants more warnings sent, but he is on the losing end of a bureaucratic battle and can’t get the message out. American sleuths have pierced Japan’s most vital diplomatic code, and Washington believes it has a window on the enemy’s soul—but it does not.

In a small office at Pearl Harbor, overlooking the battleships at the heart of America’s seafaring power, the Commander of the Pacific Fleet tries to figure out how much danger he really faces. His intelligence unit has lost track of Japan’s biggest aircraft carriers, but assumes they are resting in a port far away. The admiral thinks Pearl is too shallow for torpedoes, so he never puts up a barrier. As he frets, a Japanese spy is counting the warships in the harbor and reporting to Tokyo.

There were false assumptions, and racist ones: The Japanese aren’t very good aviators and they don’t have the nerve or the skill to attempt a strike so far from their home. There were misunderstandings, conflicting desires, painful choices. And there was a naval officer who, on his very first mission as captain of his very first ship, did exactly the right thing. His warning could have averted disaster, but his superiors reacted too leisurely. Japanese planes arrived moments later.

Twomey’s telescoping of the twelve days leading to the attack unravels the crucial characters and moments, and produces an edge-of-your seat drama with fascinating details about America at this moment in its history. By the end, the reader understands how assumption is the root of disaster, and how sometimes a gamble pays off.t.

About the author

Jeff Grim

Jeff Grim has been a reader all of his life. He has had a particular interest in military history, any war at any time. His fascination with military history has brought him to an interest in historical fiction where the history comes alive with fictitious heroes and villains. Recently, Jeff has become interested in historical mysteries set in various time periods.

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