The Japanese decision attack the United States in December 1941 was insane. I'll come back to this statement later.
As mentioned in earlier reviews, this book uses modern operations research techniques to analyze the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the levels of strategy, operations and tactics. In the process the reader learns the difference between deterministic and stochastic models of the efficiency of hits by bombs, torpedoes and shells on warships. The reader is also presented with many useful tables showing things like torpedo hit probabilities and ship damage possibilities under different attack scenarios. These tables are based on pre and post-war US and Japanese war college studies or on results of other naval battles during World War II. There are many good maps and many good photographs.
The overall conclusion of the author is that the Pearl Harbor attack was poorly planned and executed at strategic, operational and tactical levels. At an operational level the plan worked, but only by chance. By this I mean that the Japanese carriers reached their launch point north of Oahu without being detected, and their first attack wave achieved a surprise attack. But this operational success resulted from luck and poor American reconnaissance. Toward the end of the book the author mentions that any type of reasonable precautions such as dawn fighter patrols off Oahu, or a properly manned control room able to react to the early radar contact with the incoming Japanese strike would have led to a massacre of the Japanese aircraft.
There is a new interpretation of the goals of the Imperial Japanese Navy and Admiral Yamamoto, the driving force behind the attack on Pearl Harbor. The author argues convincingly that Yamamoto's first targets were American battleships, not American aircraft carriers. Yamamoto believed that immediately sinking one or more American battleships at the outbreak of the war would destroy American will to fight. This idea is not in line with most previous studies. Yamamoto is usually presented as a carrier oriented officer who would have wanted to strike American carriers first. The author seems to believe that battleships first was a rational goal, assuming weak US morale, since most wars end when one side decides it is no longer worth fighting, rather than by the complete destruction of one side.
Interestingly, the author also shows that the Japanese aviators deviated from Yamamoto's goals by allocating more aircraft against carriers than would have been required if battleships were the primary target. As the author states, it is not good when goals of the most senior commanders are superseded by those of lower level officers!
A tactical planning shortfall effecting Japanese success was the failure of the various types of naval aircraft to practice together before the attack. Training in Japan during October and November of 1941 was done separately for the fighters, dive bombers, torpedo bombers, and level bombers. I knew that the Japanese navy and army did not cooperate, but had no idea that combined training by the air components was also fragmented. The author points out that this lack of joint training was a prelude to the failure of the different types of Japanese aircraft to properly support each other during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Also on the tactical planning level the author is highly critical of the allocation of strike aircraft to various Oahu targets, the way the planned strike tracks for aircraft were allowed to cross on their final approach runs over the harbor, and the failure of the torpedo planes to provide mutual support during the first attack. The author also argues that the allocation of dive bombers during the second wave attack was horribly wrong. Other details concern things like a high rate of duds among the Japanese bombs, and the poor to non-existent central control over the first Japanese strike aircraft as they made their final approach to Pearl Harbor.
Now back to my opening sentence. The Japanese started a war against the United States, with more than 6 times the industrial power, based on wrong assumptions about the willingness of the American people to fight. Willingness they regarded as weak. So the Japanese military, politicians, and Admiral Yamamoto himself, bet the future of the country on a wild gamble. A strategic gamble they would surely lose in a long war. Yamamoto may have come up with the best way to take advantage of this assumption about American will to fight, but it was a wrong assumption. Japan was almost destroyed on the resulting war. I repeat, the Japanese decision to enter the war was insane. That is just my definition of "insane", but I hardly know what else to call it.
As mentioned by a previous reviewer the book could have been better edited. Two important facts repeated almost word by word in the book are: The pre-attack engine setting experiments that led to greatly extending the range of the Japanese Zero fighter, and the number of American fighters that managed to get in the air during the first attack and the number of kills they made. I noted a number of smaller editing errors, including an event set in 1942 that obviously occurred in 1941.
One reviewer mentioned an online article about the British carrier attack on Taranto that might have been usefully cited by the author of this book. I found the article and it argues that the British planning of their attack on Taranto suffered from some of the same tactical failings that the Japanese demonstrated at Pearl Harbor. I am sure there is some lesson here, but I am not sure what it is.
In summary, I enjoyed reading this book, as it gives a much different take on the Pearl Harbor attack and backs its interpretation with a lot of facts. I would not have been able to write such a long review if the book did not have lots of useful information. And there is a lot of information I have not covered in this review. (What about those miniature submarines, were they a good idea?) But, the book deserved better editing.