Book Review: The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions


by Alan Zimm

Philadelphia: Casemate, 2011. Pp. 464. Illus., maps, diagr., tables, appends., notes., biblio., index . $32.95. ISBN: 161200010X

Attack on Pearly Harbor is not a history of the “date that will live in infamy,” but rather, as the author puts it a look at “Japanese planning, execution, and post battle analysis of the attack, in the context of their overall strategy.” 

Dr. Zimm, a Navy veteran, defense analyst, and wargame designer, does this quite well, and he by no means neglects the American side of events.  The book consists of thirteen chapters, each of which deals one aspect of the Pearl Harbor operation, plus a series of valuable appendices.  Zimm opens with a look at the strategic and operational setting, primarily as perceived by the Japanese.  He follows this with a chapter on various technical aspects of the planning of the operation, notably the selection of targets and the development of innovative weaponry.  Zimm’s next chapter gives us a look at how gaming helped shape the development of the overall plan, the details of which he discusses in a separate chapter.  He then examines Japanese training for the mission and the development of special tactics and contingency plans.  The attack itself is dealt with in one chapter, which is essentially a survey, rather than a detailed examination of the events. 

The chapters that follow deal with the outcome of the attack.  Two address the assessment of the attack by the Japanese, with their evaluation of the way in which the operation unfolded and the second with their analysis of the damage inflicted.  These are followed by a chapter discussing possible alternative outcomes had the defenses been better prepared or even alerted.  This naturally leads to a chapter titled “Assessing the Folklore,” in which Zimm does an excellent job of dissecting many of the myths attached to attack, and he follows this with a chapter on the activities of the five Japanese midget submarines, including speculation that one may have torpedoed  the West Virginia. 

Zimm then devotes a chapter to assessing the performance of the principal officers involved in the operation, on both sides, none of whom come off very well, particularly important since Yamamoto has been praised as a “genius” for conceiving the operation, while Kimmel and Short have frequently been portrayed as scapegoats.  The final chapter summarizes Zimm’s conclusions.   

Zimm is severely critical of the “received” narrative, which makes Attack on Pearl Harbor essential reading for anyone interested in the operation or the opening phases of the Pacific War, though the conspiracy-prone will probably reject it.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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