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Discuss on research, history, and issues dealing with reference materials.
Of Tanks and Tankers: Oil at Pearl Harbor
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Washington, United States
Member Since: March 15, 2009
entire network: 3,662 Posts
KitMaker Network: 527 Posts
Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2019 - 07:49 AM UTC
Is a modeling forum the place for such a theoretical discussion? Maybe not but it's interesting to ponder. Red Hill is indeed still in use today. It's east across the H-1 from the appropriately named Crater Housing area (I lived there for three years) and it also has (or had--not sure if it's still there) a swimming pool complex and an elementary school (my wife taught there and my kids went there). In the 80s, Red Hill was actually administered by the USCG. However, the tank farm and underground portion are down on the flats west of the H-1. It's only a short distance from PH at the most. To my knowledge it's the largest fuel depot in Hawaii, in fact, I believe it's the largest fuel depot in the central Pacific, which is why it is and was so strategically important--then and now.

Had the Japanese chosen to attack the fuel depots and farms instead of concentrating on Battleship Row and Wheeler and Hickam, and had they managed to damage them significantly, it would have set US strategy and offensive actions back considerably, as there would have been a lack of bunker-C and other fuels for Coral Sea, Midway, the Gilberts and Guadalcanal. There would have been a lack of fuel for repair and salvage operations, aviation air defense operations, and even if reserves could be brought from the mainland US, it would take time to rebuild storage and pumping capacity. Japanese failure to attack these facilities was a strategic blunder demonstrating a tremendous lack of vision and a disconnect between the political-military aims of Japanese strategy. It's really inexcusable given that the Japanese were seeking to break the Western stranglehold on oil in the first place-- one of the major aims in the "Greater Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere" (control of industrial oil from Dutch East Indies without Western influence being a primary aim).

Nagumo's (and to some extent Yamamoto's) lack of strategic foresight (gee-- we're fighting this war to break the Western stranglehold on oil in the Pacific, therefore wouldn't it be prudent to deprive the US Pacific Fleet the same resources we're going to war for?) is in fact a bit astonishing. It demonstrates the narrow Japanese Military's focus on defeating the immediate means (the US Pacific Fleet) without regard to their own overall strategic end goal. This is a classic Clausewitzian dilemma.

In retrospect (easy for us to say in hindsight), The Japanese should have gone for the tank farms and port facilities, and ignored the battleships altogether. Japanese startegic war aims were always to seize the industrial fuel capacity in the Pacific for their own use and break the US monopoly on the same resource. Would attacking the fuel farms and bypassing the battleships have changed the outcome of WWII? Probably not, given the Japanese had a decided "defensive" stragtegy (demonstrated by those big "Pagoda-like" observation platforms on their capital ships--designed for long range detection and engagement of enemy forces attacking the home islands) in the first place. But had they deprived the US and the Central Pacific the ability to "pump gas" from the biggest gas station in the Pacific, they might have delayed US offensive action just enough to consolidate their gains elsewhere. Did I mention there was a concerted effort in Japan to develop atomic weapons? Imagine a war lasting until 1950. With WMDs. Things might have been much different had those tank farms been the primary target. Now just imagine the effect of those 30 tankers you mention above, all set aflame simultaneously. How long would it take to put that fire out?
VR, Russ
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Florida, United States
Member Since: July 06, 2019
entire network: 76 Posts
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Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2019 - 02:37 PM UTC
Speculation in another topic about the impact of a December 7, 1941 third wave attack on Pearl Harbor oil storage facilities made me curious about their Navy Standard Fuel Oil (NSFO) capacity. So I did a little digging. Here is what I found.

There were five areas of storage tanks at Pearl Harbor on December 7: the Lower Tank Farm, the Middle Tank Farm, the Upper Tank Farm, Merry Point, and the Ford Island Tank. The latter stored aviation gasoline and Merry Point stored lubrication oils. The Lower, Middle, and Upper Tank Farms were primarily (if not totally) dedicated to NSFO storage.

Including 5 tanks build in 1913 - 1915, a 150,000 barrel capacity underground reservoir, and 21 tanks built in 1923, the capacity of the Lower Tank Farm (LTF) was totaled 1,435,000 barrels of NSFO. Most of the LTF NFSO tanks were relatively small, 50,000 barrel capacity (and one of the original 5 was only 35,000 barrels).

The Middle Tank Farm (MTF) was the smallest of the three NSFO areas. The MTF contained 10 tanks, 9 of 50,000 barrel capacity, and 1 of 80,000 barrel capacity. MTF capacity totaled 530,000 barrels of NSFO.

The Upper Tank Farm (UTF) was the largest of the three NSFO tank facilities, containing 17 150,000 barrel capacity tanks. UTF total capacity on December 7th was 2,550,000 barrels. However, later in 1942, two tanks were removed, reducing the UTF capacity by 300K barrels. I use the full 17 tanks in my calculations as that is the Dec. 7th capacity.

My spreadsheet totals the three tank facilities to 4,515,000 barrels agreeing closely with most references (not counting the ones that cite 4.5M "gallons".) By the way, 1 barrel (oil) = 41 US gallons.

It is noteworthy that the Red Hill underground storage facility, still in use today, was under construction on December 7th but would not be completed until 1943. Red Hill's 20 underground storage tanks can each held 300,000 barrels of NSFO, or 6 million barrels total. One can speculate that Red Hill's completion might well have been accelerated had there been a 3rd Japanese strike on December 7th.

To put this total into the context of tanker capacity, a T2-SE-A1 type tanker held roughly 141,000 barrels of oil and a T2-S2-A1 (AO Cimarron type) transported 146,000. Dividing PH's tank capacity by tanker capacity tells us that about 30 fully loaded tankers were the equivalent of the PH tank farm capacity.

So those are the historical numbers - let the speculation fly!