Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 7, 2010

Who are the Harry Yarnells of homeland security?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 7, 2010

Today we recall the 69th anniversary of the day that will live in infamy.

A few months ago I came across a story about Pearl Harbor I had not read before. Here it is:


“Dawn was breaking on Sunday morning, the seventh day of the month, on the island of Oahu. Aside from its status as a tourist mecca, the island was home to several major American military facilities, including the huge naval base at Pearl Harbor and the Army’s Hickam airfield. For the soldiers and sailors, the day began like any other Sunday, with a skeleton crew on duty while many others slept off their Saturday night revelries.

“But this was no ordinary Sunday.

“For over a week, unknown to the island’s commanders, a large fleet had been steaming toward the Hawaiian Islands, operating under strict radio silence and without running lights to avoid detection. The fleet sailed to the north of the islands, far beyond the normal shipping lanes, to reduce the chances of being detected by U.S. Naval patrols or commercial ships.

“This time of year found the northern Pacific storm-tossed, and as the fleet pressed on toward its target, it adjusted its course to sail inside rain squalls.

“Early that Sunday, following a high-speed run, the fleet’s aircraft carriers came within one hundred miles of Pearl Harbor, their principal target. An hour before daybreak pilots scrambled into their planes.

“Shortly thereafter the carriers launched their strike aircraft, more than 150 in all, a mix of fighters, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes, which quickly moved into formation and headed through the night sky for Oahu. Their mission: execute Raid Plan No. 1.

“As the aircraft approached Pearl Harbor, the weather cleared, as if on cue. This enabled the strike formations to use the battery of searchlights at Kahuku Point as a navigation aid to guide them toward their targets.

“Dawn was now breaking. As sunlight streamed over the horizon, the airborne strike force pressed home its attack over Pearl Harbor, achieving complete surprise.

“Dive bombers and torpedo planes went to work on the ships lying at anchor along Battleship Row, where the U.S. Navy’s capital ships were berthed. Fighter aircraft peeled off and strafed the airfield, hitting parked planes, fuel storage tanks, and hangers.

“Army Air Corps pilots rushed to take off after the attacking force, but by the time they were aloft, the attackers had completed their strikes and vanished. Failing to locate the attackers, the Army aircraft returned to base, whereupon a second wave of carrier strike aircraft hit them.

“A New York Times reporter on the scene reported that the attacks were ‘unopposed by the defense, which was caught virtually napping.’

“Surveying the results, the American defenders were filled with anger — and relief.

The attack, executed on the morning of Sunday, February 7, 1932, occurred at the outset of a U.S. Army-Navy war game called Grand Joint Exercise 4.

“Rear Admiral Harry Yarnell, commander of the newly commissioned American aircraft carriers Saratoga and Lexington, had launched the attacking planes. The ‘bombs’ dropped were flour bags, which could be found splattered on the Navy’s ships still sitting at anchor.

“Red-faced, the Army Air Corps commanders sought to minimize the attack’s results. They argued that the damage incurred to Hickam Field was minimal, and asserted that they had found and attacked Yarnell’s carriers. [Although the New York Times reported that “the Pearl Harbor defenders had yet to locate [Yarnell’s] task force 24 hours after the attack.”]

“Finally, [the Army commanders] protested the attack on legal grounds — it was improper to begin a war on Sunday.”


That account is from the book “7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century,” by Andrew F. Krepinevich (pp. 1-3).

Another account of the February 7, 1932 “attack” was written by Jack Young in an essay called “The Real Architect of Pearl Harbor.”

Young notes the U.S. Navy ignored the implications of the exercise. The after action report made no mention of Yarnell’s attack.


“Yarnell’s reward for his achievement was his assignment in 1933 as Commandant of the Pearl Harbor Naval Station, a backwater rear admiral posting. In the years that followed, the Navy appropriated funds for 12 battleships and only one aircraft carrier. President Roosevelt was building up the Navy but with the wrong ships.

“Although the Navy refused to learn from the exercise, the Japanese paid close attention, and their observers provided a thorough report to Tokyo. In 1936, Japan’s Navy War College circulated a study of ‘Strategy and Tactics in Operations Against the United States.’ One of its main conclusions was ‘in case the enemy’s main fleet is berthed at Pearl Harbor, the idea should be to open hostilities by surprise attack from the air.’

“Admiral Yamamato followed the exact strategy demonstrated by Harry Yarnell’s 1932 exercise, taking his task force under radio silence through the Northern Pacific with rain squalls and rough weather, away from the commercial maritime and naval sea routes, to a point just north of the island of Oahu from which point he launched his attack on the day that will live in infamy.”


Two thousand four hundred and three Americans were killed at Pearl Harbor on this day, 69 years ago.  You can read their names at this link.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

December 7, 2010 @ 2:43 am

Amazing! Never heard of Yarnell or the 1932 Exercise. Of course as long as a nation’s military thinks the transition from peace to war will include a lengthy period of warning it remains vulnerable. What nation adopted that doctrine between 1975 to 1989–The USA. Well perhaps we could extend that period for that doctrine to 9/11/01 although clearly use of our own aircraft to launch the attack while played in a number of excercises was beyond the ken of much of the US leadership. Condi Rice the leading example. But then she was largely a cold war product and that effort though huge in its implications for the nuclear pristhood of the US and Soviet Union had limited lessons for conventional warfighting.
And of course if you look at dispersion as a strategy note how the Pentagon was rebuilt after 9/11/01 and not moved to say Ft. Riley Kansas because the military industrial complex understands its real enemy is the budget not someone other organized mass military. And of course DHS with it location of its massive new HQ within striking range of the Potomac River and potential deployment of WMD. And Congress with its willingness to reopen Reagan National Airport so that its convenience could be continued. At least until the next errant US aircraft becomes a weapons platform for some terrorist.
And hey thanks to Japan for helping shift the US Navy from its battleship row to a more modern Navy. Although personally I believe the US will lose one of its giant carriers to enemy attack before this century is out. But Mahan has not been repudiated completely and now China appears to have concluded the East Asian littoral is really a Chinese lake. But time will tell.
Just for the record, made my parents blush when I pointed out as a ten year old that I was born 8 months and 27 days after December 7, 1941. Thanks Japan.

Comment by John Comiskey

December 7, 2010 @ 9:28 am

The 9/11 Commission and near all post mortem’s bemoan a lack of imagination and commensurate unanswered calls to arms.

Yarnell et all “told you so-ers” will, IMHO, see their ranks fill in the near future.
If 9/11 told us anything it was/is that life is not fair, no one is entitled to anything, there are no rules, and we can lose.

The 21st Century battle space is a new world order replete with emerging world powers, unprecedented market forces, techno-industrial complexities, and empowered loosely-knit transnational terrorist organizations.
The NIC’s Global Trends 2025 Global Trends 2025 reads like a battle order and provides much of the background for Krepinevich’s deadly scenarios.

Thomas Friedman’s Dec 4,2010 op-ed The Big American Leak Friedman laments America’s dependency on Arab Oil and Chinese credit. Friedman’s the world is flattening-realpolitik should be the first words of our National Security Strategy.

Global Trends 2025 predicts that the US will likely still be the world’s strongest power in 2025 but will share center stage with, amongst others, BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China). BRIC is hungry and Americans are complacent. Global Trends 2050 – a post mortem might include a chapter called Global Trends 2025-I told you so.

Imagine that!

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