This arti­cle is part 5 of 8 in the series War Plans

“Well, Commander, it’s about to hit the fan.  What we have to do is to make sure the fan is run­ning and ready to scat­ter the debris.”

The admi­ral was speak­ing to his adju­tant, Commander Lowe.

“At least I think we’re ready.  Here’s what I want you to do.  Send this mes­sage in the clear.  ‘TO ALL SHIPS IN HARBOR.  WEIGH ANCHOR AND GET UNDERWAY IMMEDIATELY.  THIS APPLIES TO ALL SHIPS NOT CURRENTLY UNDER REPAIR.  RENDEZVOUS WITH OUR CARRIER GROUPS NOW AT SEA AND MAKE MAXIMUM SPEED TO 30 DEGREES NORTH, 157 DEGREES WEST.  TO ALL AIR UNITS, KEEP DEFENSIVE UNITS ON HIGH ALERT AND PREPARE ALL LONG-RANGE BOMBER AND DIVE BOMBER CRAFT FOR DEPLOYMENT AS SOON AS CONTACT IS MADE BY AIR UNITS OF THE FLEET’.”

“But, sir.  Sending this in the clear is like­ly to alert the ene­my fleet that we’re onto their approach.”

“Exactly,  Commander.  I want them to mon­i­tor that mes­sage.  They have been approach­ing under the delu­sion that they will be able to launch a sur­prise attack.  If they know that we’re onto them, it may just be suf­fi­cient rea­son for them to pull out.  They may decide that their costs would be too high to make this a suc­cess­ful attack.  That’s what I’m bank­ing on.  If it does­n’t work out that way, we won’t be any worse off in an open bat­tle than we would have been if we’d been caught with our pants down.”

“Understood, sir.  I’ll get this mes­sage out imme­di­ate­ly!”  As he had so many times before, Lowe wheeled and hur­ried from the admi­ral’s office.  Only this time he knew that he was about to send a mes­sage that could change the course of world his­to­ry, not an incon­se­quen­tial task for a low­ly commander.

The com­mand­ing admi­ral of the approach­ing ene­my fleet was now faced with a momen­tous deci­sion.  Lookouts from most of the ships in the fleet had spot­ted the recon­nais­sance air­craft as it wheeled some­what leisure­ly above before mak­ing its hasty retreat into the clouds and south, so all the ships’ cap­tains were now aware that their intend­ed sur­prise attack would no longer be a sur­prise and that an aroused ene­my would be awake and wait­ing for them. 

A few more hours would have made a dif­fer­ence, hours in which the fleet would have been with­in strik­ing dis­tance of its tar­get and all its planes would have been launched.

In addi­tion, the admi­ral’s radio room had just picked up the mes­sage direct­ing inter­cep­tion by the ene­my’s sur­face fleet, includ­ing its car­ri­ers, and its land-based planes would be avail­able to sup­port the sur­face fleet.  All-in-all, the com­bined air pow­er would prove to be a for­mi­da­ble force and, very like­ly, one that could over­pow­er his own.

Despite hav­ing come sev­er­al thou­sand miles under radio silence, there was no choice now but to con­tact his supe­ri­or and ask whether the attack should pro­ceed.  He had no doubt that every­one up the line had heard the same mes­sage he had since it was sent in the clear.  He also had no doubt of its intent, but it seemed cer­tain now that his ini­tial plan of a sur­prise attack on ships in har­bor and planes on the ground had gone up in smoke.

Other recon­nais­sance air­craft had tak­en up sta­tion to keep an eye on the ene­my fleet and to pro­vide con­tin­u­ing info on its head­ing.  The pilots of these planes were all aston­ished by the fact that no ene­my planes had yet been sent aloft to inter­cept them and no anti-air­craft fire was being sent up toward them.

Quite sud­den­ly, all the planes cir­cling above the ene­my fleet noticed the same thing.  The entire fleet was mak­ing a huge turn to the west!  It was imme­di­ate­ly obvi­ous that the fleet was no longer mak­ing its way to a point where it could launch its planes and expect them to reach their target.

Had the roar of the planes’ engines not been so loud, it might have been pos­si­ble to hear the shouts of joy from crew mem­bers out­side the planes.

The senior pilot of the fly­ing group had the hon­or — indeed, the plea­sure —  of send­ing the mes­sage back to base about the turn of events… and the turn of the ships below.

“Thank God,” breathed the admi­ral, with obvi­ous delight and relief.

Commander Lowe was stand­ing before the admi­ral’s desk, a huge smile on his face.  He had been only too hap­py to be rush­ing this mes­sage to the admi­ral, the one stat­ing that the ene­my fleet had appar­ent­ly turned for home.

“Commander, send this mes­sage to the fleet.  ‘ENEMY FLEET HAS APPARENTLY TURNED TAIL.  MAINTAIN COURSE AND TAKE UP STATION AT PREVIOUSLY NOTED COORDINATES UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. WELL DONE.’  We can’t take a chance that the ene­my will do anoth­er about-face if we drop our guard, but for now it looks like we’ve man­aged to avoid a war.  I shud­der to think what Pearl Harbor would have looked like if the Japs had reached their launch point tomor­row morn­ing and we had­n’t spot­ted them.”

The admi­ral leaned back in his chair and rubbed his fin­gers through his hair.  It’s pos­si­ble that it had become a good deal more gray in the last few days.


This sto­ry was writ­ten as a pos­si­ble alter­na­tive to the events of December 7th, 1941.  It describes a sit­u­a­tion that did not exist at the time, a sit­u­a­tion in which there was close coör­di­na­tion between all American code break­ers around the world, in Washington, Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Singapore, and Australia.  In real­i­ty, there was even a good deal of internecine war­fare going on with­in cod­ing groups, espe­cial­ly in Washington and between Washington and Pearl Harbor.  It is also true that some of the prin­ci­pal play­ers in the intel­li­gence sec­tors in Washington went to great lengths fol­low­ing the events of December 7th to cov­er up their own cul­pa­bil­i­ty.  Had all world­wide code col­lect­ing activ­i­ties been more close­ly coör­di­nat­ed, it is high­ly pos­si­ble that Pearl Harbor could have been prevented.

In order to main­tain some degree of sus­pense about the out­come of this sto­ry, it was nec­es­sary to avoid using real names and places. However, some clues were placed in the sto­ry.  The gen­er­al’s name ‘Walt’ refers to General Walter Short who was in com­mand of Army forces in Hawaii and ‘Ed’, the name used for the admi­ral alludes to the mid­dle name of Husband Edward Kimmel, the admi­ral in com­mand of naval forces in Hawaii.  Also, the coor­di­nates not­ed are very close to where the Japanese fleet was when the attack was launched and the sink­ing of the sub­ma­rine ear­ly in the sto­ry reflects the actions tak­en by the USS Ward short­ly before the attack began. And Commander Layton was the real name of the offi­cer in charge of the Pearl Harbor code-break­ing unit which was instru­men­tal in prepar­ing the defeat of the Japanese fleet at Midway six months after Pearl Harbor.

This is a map of the route tak­en by the Japanese fleet dur­ing its attack on Pearl Harbor.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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