Belmont Club

What's Important?

Wired describes a list of “critical infrastructure facilities” listed in a 2009 classified cable, that have appeared in Wikileaks. “They include an Israeli weapons manufacturer in Haifa, undersea cables in China and elsewhere, hydroelectric plants, metal and chemical mines and manufacturers, and pharmaceutical facilities and labs in Denmark and France where critical formulas are manufactured — such as insulin and vaccines for smallpox, influenza, foot-and-mouth disease and other ailments. Also, notably: the Straits of Hormuz, a choke point through which much of the Middle East’s crude oil passes.”

Some have pooh-poohed the value of the information saying that the bad guys known enough to select critical targets themselves. “Steve Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said that while it might interest potential attackers to know what facilities the United States deems sensitive and critical, a motivated attacker is capable of selecting his own targets without government aid.”

But sometimes the bad guys are not always aware of a country’s vulnerabilities. For years before the outbreak of Second World War, the USN was aware of the danger of aerial attack to the Fleet’s fuel storage. The Navy’s long term solution was to bury the tanks underground at Red Hill.

The storage was built between 1940 and 1943 and is still in use today. In June 1995, the Facility was designated a Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers and referred as the eighth great wonder of the world. …

Several years before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Navy recognized that the existing aboveground fuel storage tanks near the harbor presented a vulnerable enemy target. All of the fuel was stored in unprotected tanks next to the Submarine Base. …

The Navy came up with a plan to dig a series of tunnels and insert tanks vertically. … There are twenty subterranean vertical vaults (cylindrical steel tanks) hollowed out of rock. … Each tank has a height of 150 feet and a diameter of 100 feet. At the top and bottom of each cylinder is a hemispherical dome that adds 100 feet to the height, providing total tank height of 250 feet; i.e., each tank equals a 20-story building. …

Construction began at Christmas 1940; cavities were constructed by blasting out the surrounding volcanic rock. … Most of the work was done in secrecy. … The number of men on the project reached a peak of 3,400 in June 1942 and remained at that level until October 1942 when the first two tanks were completed and turned over to the Navy for operation.”

The last tank was finished in July 1943. But on Dec 7, 1941, the USN’s fuel supply was sitting right out in the open. Fortunately the Japanese did not see them as critical infrastucture. In the minds of the planners, the key thing to destroy was the Pacific Fleet’s battleships.

“The failure of the Japanese to destroy the American aircraft carriers and their fuel supply at Pearl Harbor contributed significantly to the defeat of Japan,” is the opinion on one website.

The outcome of the Pacific War would be largely determined by fast aircraft carriers rather than lumbering battleships. Fortunately for the United States and Australia, the powerful American aircraft carriers Lexington and Enterprise were at sea when the Japanese attack took place and escaped damage. … If the vital fuel storage tanks had been destroyed in either attack, the surviving American warships, including the carriers Lexington and Enterprise would have been deprived of fuel to operate. The course of the Pacific War would have been dramatically altered in Japan’s favour. Japanese submarines could have played havoc with tankers attempting to bring fresh fuel supplies from the United States across 2,200 miles (3,960 km) of open Pacific Ocean.

The fuel tanks had been a “stretch goal”; their destruction had been slated for a Third Wave attack. “Several Japanese junior officers, including Mitsuo Fuchida and Minoru Genda, the chief architect of the attack, urged Nagumo to carry out a third strike in order to destroy as much of Pearl Harbor’s fuel and torpedo storage, maintenance, and dry dock facilities as possible. Military historians have suggested the destruction of these would have hampered the U.S. Pacific Fleet far more seriously than loss of its battleships.”

If they had been wiped out, “serious [American] operations in the Pacific would have been postponed for more than a year”; according to American Admiral Chester Nimitz, later Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, “it would have prolonged the war another two years.”

But Nagumo decided not to. He had destroyed the critical infrastucture he had come so far to strike. Steve Aftergood might well be right to say that Wikileaks teaches nothing to the enemy. But I wonder whether he would have thought the same of telling Admiral Nagumo about Red Hill, and the vulnerabilities that led to its construction.

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