Seven Days of Infamy: Pearl Harbor Across the World

Seven Days of Infamy: Pearl Harbor Across the World

by Nicholas Best


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December 7, 1941: One of those rare days in world history that people remember exactly where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt when they heard the news.

Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable, and James Cagney were in Hollywood. Kurt Vonnegut was in the bath, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was napping. Kirk Douglas was a waiter in New York, getting nowhere with Lauren Bacall. Ed Murrow was preparing for a round of golf in Washington. In Seven Days of Infamy, historian Nicholas Best uses fascinating individual perspectives to relate the story of Japan’s momentous attack on Pearl Harbor and its global repercussions in tense, dramatic style. But he doesn’t stop there.

Instead, Best takes readers on an unprecedented journey through the days surrounding the attack, providing a snapshot of figures around the world—from Ernest Hemingway on the road in Texas to Jack Kennedy playing touch football in Washington; Mao Tse-tung training his forces in Yun’an and the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe cheering as the United States entered the war.

Offering a human look at an event that would forever alter the global landscape, Seven Days of Infamy chronicles one of the most extraordinary weeks in world history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250078018
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/29/2016
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

NICHOLAS BEST grew up in Kenya, served in the Grenadier Guards, and worked as a journalist before becoming a full-time author. His many other books include Five Days That Shocked the World, Happy Valley: The Story of the English in Kenya, Tennis and the Masai, and The Greatest Day in History. For ten years he was a fiction critic for the Financial Times and has written for countless other publications. He currently lives in Cambridge, England.

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The New Public Offices building lies just across the road from St James's Park, in the heart of central London. It is an unremarkable office block completed in 1916, one of many similar government buildings clustered around Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament. Nobody walking past it in the dark days of December 1941 ever gave it a thought as they passed the concrete blast wall erected against the bombing and continued on their way.

But appearances are deceptive. There was far more to the New Public Offices building than met the eye. For more than two years, ever since the last days of peace in August 1939, the anonymous gray building had been the nerve center of Britain's fight against Hitler and the Nazis. It was where Winston Churchill usually spent the night, rather than the prime minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street. It was also where his staff conducted the war, from the seventy or so windowless cubicles in the basement known collectively as the Cabinet War Rooms.

The basement had not been designed with war in mind. It wasn't even bombproof, although it was safer than anywhere else in the vicinity. As war approached and a conflict with the Germans became inevitable, the British had set up their headquarters below ground level with all the pipes, wiring, and electronic equipment that they needed for a prolonged confrontation that would probably have to be fought all over the world. The lights in the Cabinet War Rooms had been switched on for the first time on August 27, 1939, four days before Germany invaded Poland. They had not been turned off since.

The rooms could only be entered from inside the building. A steel-helmeted marine with rifle and bayonet stood guard at the door. Nobody was admitted if their name wasn't on the list, or if they didn't know the password, which was changed every day. From the inside, the war rooms seemed more like a ship than anything else, with narrow, cramped corridors, humming machinery, ventilation pipes overhead, and seamanlike marines who said "Aye-aye, sir" when addressing an officer.

Most of the men who worked in the war rooms were servicemen. They were usually retired officers from the three fighting arms taking desk jobs that would free younger men for active duty. Most of the women were civilians — young typists, secretaries, and decoders who worked long hours in atrocious conditions and saw so little daylight that they were provided with sunlamps to make up for the vitamin deficiency. Those sleeping in the dank accommodation beneath the war rooms had to ask the sentry's permission to visit the bathroom on the first floor, flashing him a bare ankle as they hurried past in their nightclothes, clutching towels and soap.

Central to the war rooms, the single most important place in the whole complex, was the Map Room. It was here, next door to Churchill's emergency bedroom, that three senior officers, one each from the army, navy, and Royal Air Force, worked around the clock with a team of map plotters to collate the information that came in to them from all over the world.

Sitting at a bank of red, white, green, and black telephones, each with a different function, the Map Room staff labored tirelessly for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, updating the war and pinning the latest situation reports to the maps, charts, and bulletin boards that covered the walls. Only a handful of people were allowed into the Map Room. Those who had authorization could tell at a glance exactly how the war was progressing at any point across the globe.

On the British front, there was something of a lull on the morning of December 4, 1941. British convoys were still losing to the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic, but not so badly as before. Fewer ships were being sunk as the Royal Navy's tactics improved, and more were emerging from the shipyards to make up the lost tonnage. The map of the Atlantic on the wall was covered with tiny pinpricks as the progress of the various convoys and escort ships was charted across the sea.

The British weren't losing so badly in North Africa either. Troops from a variety of countries were holding the Germans at bay, preventing the Afrika Korps from sweeping across Egypt toward the oil fields of the Middle East. The Germans had the upper hand, but the British were still in contention, enjoying successes as well as defeats as the battle swung to and fro. They had everything to gain as the fighting continued.

The most interesting battleground that morning belonged to Britain's Soviet allies. The map of the Russian front (actually several maps pinned together) was so large that it had a whole wall to itself at the end of the room. It too was covered with pinpricks as the Map Room officials tracked the German army's movement across the Soviet Union.

Progress had been relentless since the invasion in June. Hitler's troops and tanks had pushed ever onward for the past five months and were poised now at the gates of Moscow. They were besieging Leningrad in the north and had long since taken Kiev in the south. Until recently, it had seemed that nothing could stop them as they thrust deeper and deeper into the heart of the Soviet Union.

The exact position of the front line was marked by a row of pushpins linked by a length of black wool yarn — a crude but effective way of seeing how far the Germans had gotten. Until the past few days, all the pinpricks on the map had been to the west of the yarn, following the Germans as they advanced from one forward position to the next.

But then something extraordinary had happened, something unprecedented in the history of the war: One or two of the pinpricks now lay to the east of the black yarn, marking places where the German army had fallen back instead of pressing on.

There was nothing unusual about falling back. It was a routine military procedure if the supply lines were overextended or the front needed straightening out, but it had never happened to the German army in Europe. Not since their first attack on Poland had the Germans ever given up ground that they had won. They had always gone forward, taking the capital cities of Warsaw, Oslo, Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, and Athens with consummate ease. No one had ever managed to stop them.

Until now. The Germans were still advancing steadily in Russia, but in the few places where they had fallen back it wasn't because they had supply problems or needed to straighten the line: It was because the Russians had prevented their advance and forced them to retreat.

Far too early to read anything into it. A few withdrawals were neither here nor there while the Germans still had the upper hand. All anyone could say in the Map Room that December morning was that the fighting was fierce on the Russian front and the casualties on both sides were enormous. It would be a long time yet, months at the very least, before anyone knew what the outcome would be.

The day shift came on at 9:00 a.m. The overnight report had already been written by then, a typed summary of all the information that had come in to the Map Room during the past twenty-four hours. Uniformed messengers stood ready to deliver copies to Winston Churchill, the chiefs of staff, and the king at Buckingham Palace.

There wasn't a great deal to report. The Germans were trying to take Moscow, but the capital was stubbornly resisting. The Afrika Korps was threatening Tobruk, in the Western Desert. The New Zealanders had taken a heavy pounding in holding them off. The RAF had crippled an Axis tanker in the Mediterranean; the Royal Navy had sunk it with gunfire.

And the Japanese were at sea. The British and Americans had been tracking them for days, sharing their reports across the Atlantic. The Japanese had been at war with China since 1937 and had just changed their naval call signs for the second time in a month. That almost certainly meant that they were about to launch an operation somewhere.

Nobody in the Map Room could say where. All they knew for sure was that Japan's aircraft carriers had recently gone missing, along with numerous other warships. They were at large somewhere in the Pacific.

The best guess that Thursday morning was that the Japanese might be about to attack Thailand, or the Burma Road, to cut off the flow of military supplies to China. Or they might be going for Malaya, whose tin and rubber they needed for their war effort. Or maybe the Philippines, to protect their flank. The only certainty was that wherever the Japanese were aiming for, the rest of the world would find out soon enough.

On the Russian front, the Germans had been so close to Moscow on the morning of December 2 that they thought they could see the towers of the Kremlin through their field glasses. Some of them were convinced that they had seen movement in the streets as well. But that had been earlier, before the weather closed in. The Germans could hardly see one another's faces now that the snow had begun to fall again.

The snow was still falling as Lieutenant Heinrich Haape and his two companions drove up to the front line from the railway town of Klin. According to the map in the Cabinet War Rooms, the front lay directly ahead of them, a neat length of black yarn crossing the road a few miles short of Moscow. The reality, in the murk and chaos, was rather harder to determine.

Haape was a medical officer attached to the Eighteenth Infantry Regiment. Together with Oberleutnant Kageneck and Fischer, their driver, he was bringing up a carload of cognac, chocolate, cigars, cigarettes, and medical supplies — gifts from the Luftwaffe, which still had access to such luxuries. Sitting beside Kageneck while Fischer followed the tracks of some other vehicle through the snow, Haape could hardly believe that they were almost in Moscow at last.

Already there were signs of an approaching city all around them: houses, side streets, billboards along the way plastered with enormous pictures of Lenin and Stalin. Now and then there was even a two-story building among all the wooden shacks. But no people. None that Haape could see. The whole place appeared to be deserted:

Not a soul was in sight. Many of the buildings were burnt-out shells, a heap of rubble bearing mute evidence of a bombing raid or concentrated artillery fire. Not a building was occupied — every man, woman, child and beast had fled. The snow had drifted up against the doors of the wooden hovels, and on the window-sills. An occasional Wehrmacht signboard, in code, showed us that we were still on the right road.

By Haape's calculation another fifteen minutes at the same speed would bring them to Moscow's city limits. He found it sobering, frightening even, to think that they could be in Red Square fifteen minutes after that, if the Russians didn't stop them first.

They drove on for some time before coming at length to a front-line post beside the road. Two officers emerged as they drew up. One asked where they were going.

"Moscow," Kageneck told him.

"That's where we're going too. Perhaps you'd better wait for us."

The officer pointed with his leather glove. There were Russians to the right and left of them. The tram stop to Moscow lay just ahead, but the trams weren't running. The officer advised them to come back next week if they wanted to drive any farther into Moscow.

He told Haape that the men in his unit had taken 25 percent casualties from frostbite alone in the past few days. They were still waiting for their winter clothing to arrive. All any of them could think about was getting to Moscow before Christmas and finding somewhere warm and dry to spend the rest of the winter. The troops had convinced themselves that the fall of Moscow must surely mean the end of the war:

"One more jump and we'll be there," the officer said confidently. "It'll be over. Surely we can't be denied it now?"3

Haape wished he could be so certain. Like many in the German army, he was beginning to have his doubts about the wisdom of invading Russia.

He walked over to the tram stop. It was a stone shed with wooden seats. The tramlines were invisible under the snow, but a row of telegraph poles pointed the way to Moscow.

A bin on the wall was full of old tram tickets with Moskva stamped on them. On impulse Haape pocketed a few as a souvenir. Then he and the others returned to their car and drove back the way they had come. It was probably as near as any German got to Moscow that winter.

* * *

Some 130 miles to the south, General Heinz Guderian was acutely aware of the difficulties facing the troops as they struggled to fight a war in the bitter cold, with the temperature continuing to plummet. If he had his way, the men under his command would dig in for the winter, recoup their strength, and wait for spring before attempting to advance any further. But Hitler's orders were unequivocal. Guderian was to push on, regardless of the weather. There was nothing else he could do if he wanted to retain his command.

Guderian was one of the stars of the war so far. He had never needed any urging to push on in the past. His panzer tanks had led the way in Poland and France, moving forward so fast that his men had nicknamed him "Der schnelle Heinz" as they visited blitzkrieg on their enemies. It was only an order from above that had prevented him from annihilating the British at Dunkirk.

Guderian's panzers had led the way in Russia too. They had swept all before them as they aimed straight for Moscow. They might have taken the capital already if Hitler hadn't suddenly diverted them south to reinforce the Kiev front.

Guderian was in command now at Tula, covering the approaches to Moscow from the south. He had set up a temporary headquarters at Yasnaya Polyana, the country estate just outside Tula that was home to the Tolstoy family. Guderian had arrived on December 2, taking over one of the two big houses on the property for himself and his staff. The other was still occupied by the family.

It had not escaped the Germans' notice that Yasnaya was where Russia's most famous novelist had written his most famous novel. Leo Tolstoy had spent most of the 1860s writing War and Peace, a tribute to the courage of the Russian people during the Napoleonic campaign of 1812, in which his father had fought. The Germans knew all about War and Peace, even if they hadn't read it themselves. In particular, they all knew how it turned out in the end.

There was a Tolstoy museum at Yasnaya, whose contents the Russians had prudently removed before the Wehrmacht arrived. Guderian had given orders that the Tolstoy family's remaining furniture and books were to be locked away in two rooms for safekeeping. He had also ordered that the novelist's descendants were to be left undisturbed in their own house on the estate.

But War and Peace was not so easily locked away. The 1812 campaign was on everybody's minds as the Germans braced themselves for a struggle that was clearly going to be much harder than anticipated. Russian accounts of the 1812 campaign attributed Napoleon's defeat to the formidable fighting qualities of the Russian soldier; French ones blamed the weather. Both seemed eminently plausible to the Germans.

The resilience of the Russian army had been their first big surprise. It was poorly equipped and led after Stalin's purges of the 1930s. The Germans had expected to cut through it like a knife through butter, as they had with every other army over the past two years.

They had been wildly successful at first, driving the Russians back across one endless horizon after another. But their success had not led to a Russian surrender, as it had with everyone else. It had steeled the Russians' resolve, if anything. The fighting was just as determined as ever.

The real revelation, however, had been the weather. The Germans had never seen anything like it before. Winter had hardly begun and already they were knee-deep in snow. The temperature had dropped to unbelievable levels, -30°F as a matter of routine, -60° on occasion.


Excerpted from "Seven Days of Infamy"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Nicholas Best.
Excerpted by permission of Thistle Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1. Where Are Japan’s Aircraft Carriers?

2. Still a Chance to Call It Off

3. All Quiet in the Pacific

4. Japanese Forces on the Move

5. Admiral Nagumo Hoists a Signal

6. Where Are America’s Aircraft Carriers?

7. “The Japanese Will Not Go to War”

8. An Englishwoman Dances on Deck

9. A Strange Periscope at Sea

10. “Tora! Tora! Tora!”

11. A Japanese Pilot Grins at James Jones

12. Lord Mountbatten’s Nephew and CBS-TV’s First Breaking News Story

13. Edgar Rice Burroughs Watches the War Games

14. Future U.S. Presidents Remember the Moment

15. Britain Cheers the News

16. Opinion Divided in Europe

17. The Response in the Far East

18. The British Empire Declares War

19. Americans Gather Around the Radio

20. HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales Begin the Fight Back

21. First Mass Gassing of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Europe

22. HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales Go Down Fighting

23. Hitler and Mussolini Declare War on the United States

Epilogue: Reflections from Later Life





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