Holiday, work, travel, and a recent bug have conspired to keep my blogging output relatively low. Thus, some of my friends and colleagues were surprised when December 7th passed without some mention of that event from me.
There is a large cottage industry on the Web touting conspiracy theories about Roosevelt who, it is said, either provoked or engineered the Japanese attack in order to find a pretext to enter the war against the Axis powers. As a student of history I have always been fascinated by this particular conspiracy theory because of its obvious inconsistencies and non-sequiturs.
By December 1941 Nazi Germany had proven itself the epitome of totalitarian brutality, barbarism, and nationalism run amok. The same could be said for the behavior of pre-defeat Showa Japan, especially in China and Korea. The expansionist warring of both Germany and Japan not only posed an existential threat to the ideals of freedom and self-government, but to civilization itself; to any concept of civilization based on law as opposed to predation. They were also existential threats to the United States–or, at least, a United States based on constitutional government and democratic processes. President Roosevelt made it no secret that he viewed the world in exactly this way. His actions were provocative to all of the Axis governments. Short of capitulation this was both the right and only reasonable position to take. Fascism and Showa ideology were hostile to American interests and institutions, and those of its allies.
A sizable portion of the U.S. electorate did not wish to get involved in the war. In this way Roosevelt was ahead of the American people. The Selective Service Act was extended that October by a single vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. But Roosevelt did everything he could short of war to support China and the United Kingdom, as well as Russia once Hitler double-crossed Stalin on their non-aggression pact, while at the same time preparing the United States for war. These actions were taken publicly and garnered a lot of attention and criticism from isolationists and many prominent individuals–especially on the right–who outwardly supported Germany and fascism, at the time.
Many on what is considered the American right–though it often appears in the literature of the New Left–seem to adhere most to the theory that Roosevelt provoked or engineered the attack to sway the American people to support the war. Thus, in this thinking, the American Servicemen who gave their lives at Pearl Harbor were martyrs to Roosevelt’s intention. This ignores so much history that one has to live in an alternative universe or imagine a conspiracy so wide as to include individuals of differing walks of life and political allegiances over several decades. It also ignores the actions of Japan.
By the summer of 1941 the United States and the Axis powers were on a collision course. Japan’s war of aggression continued to expand as they sought to form puppet governments under their economic and political suzerainty in order to create what they called a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Under this regime, the self-described Japanese Asian master race would reign over all other Pacific peoples. In the way of this ambition stood the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth, France, China, Russia, and the United States.
In particular, the United States considered the Pacific Ocean an “American lake.” Governments across Asia considered (and still consider) the United States Navy the honest broker in ensuring that international waters and trade went unmolested. Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines were United States territory. (The first, of course, is now a state and Guam is still a possession of the United States. The Philippines was given its independence after the war). The United States, especially due to the sizable U.S. west coast population of Chinese descent, had developed a close relationship with China, especially supporting the efforts of Sun Yat-sen and his (somewhat problematic) protégés in their efforts to create a Chinese constitutional republic.
By November 1941 it appeared to the opposing sides in the Pacific that war was inevitable. The question was: when? When Japan invaded French Indochina, the United States froze all Japanese assets in the United States. Scrap metal, as well as oil and gasoline products were also embargoed, and the Panama Canal was closed to Japanese shipping. These economic actions had a direct adverse impact on the Japanese economy and its ability to sustain the war. Instead of seeking peace and pulling back from its imperial ambitions, the Japanese doubled-down and adjusted their strategy to take out the ability of the United States to undermine their ambitions and to seize these resources by expanding their zone of control.
Thus stood the two sides when Japanese emissaries came to the United States to negotiate an alternative to war. What the Japanese did not know was that the U.S. was monitoring its cryptographic traffic and had broken its highest codes under the codename MAGIC. What the United States did not know, because the MAGIC communications did not provide such information, was the location of a portion of the Japanese fleet. The most likely strike was expected in the Philippines, but Pearl Harbor, Guam, Wake, Midway and the Aleutians were also identified as possible targets.
The United States’ possessions and interests in the Pacific were quite extensive. Much has been made of the decision to forward deploy the fleet to Pearl Harbor, but given the distances involved it made much more sense to place them in Hawaii, where they could be called up when needed, while at the same time being out of harm’s way near much of the action in Southeast Asia. One of the worst things a country can do in war and diplomacy is underestimate one’s opponent. It was felt that the Japanese could not project power and any long-range strike, even if carried out, could not be sustained. But forward deploying the fleet, even with the losses on December 7th, proved prescient. Despite the loss of life and materiel, most of the ships sustaining damage–including most of the battleships–were repaired or refloated, and entered into combat.
Anyone who has served in the sea services in the Pacific can understand the scale of that ocean. It contains just over half of all of the earth’s oceanic water. It extends 9600 miles north to south and over 12,300 miles from east to west. Even when I served in the U.S. Navy back in the 1980s and 1990s I engaged in operations, now declassified, in which we were able to evade submarine, electronic, and satellite detection by assets of the old Soviet Union and pop up in unexpected places–allowing detection (in order to send an unequivocal message) when we chose. It is not inconceivable, given the technology of 1941, that the Japanese fleet would have traveled within striking distance of Pearl Harbor without detection, and without need for some elaborate and tone-deaf conspiracy theory.
There were eight investigations to determine the root cause of the failure to determine why the Japanese attack was not anticipated where it occurred. Many of the documents and findings from these investigations remained classified until the 1980s. Generally the investigations, especially the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry that was held from July to October 1944, found that Admiral Harold Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, bore the brunt of the blame. Later more politicized investigations held by Congress found a number of scapegoats, mainly Admiral Husband Kimmel and Army General Walter Short, the area commanders at the time of the attack.
The following are excerpts from the summary of the investigation conducted by Admiral Kent Hewitt in from 14 May to 11 July 1945. The exhibits referred to in the text can be found on-line here. Captain Layton in the text refers to the future Admiral, Edwin T. Layton, who was Kimmel’s intelligence officer. The Pacific theater commanders had been warned of impending war on November 27, 1941. The inquiry focuses on the speculation of where the possible attack would occur and the countermeasures that were undertaken at the time.
Admiral McMorris stated that he did not know whether Washington kept CincPac fully informed but, he said, the information which was received was taken at its face value (page 899).
The “war warning,” it will be recalled, had been sent to Admiral Kimmel on November 27th. On November 28th, the Army dispatch had been repeated to Admiral Kimmel, advising, among other things, that Japanese future action was unpredictable but that hostile action was possible at any moment. Also on November 28th, there had been sent to Admiral Kimmel a copy of CinCAF’s dispatch advising of the “winds code” to be used if diplomatic relations were on the verge of being severed. And, on the same day, he had been in communication with OPNAV concerning his plan for the reinforcement of Midway and Wake, and, in that connection there had been mention made of the shortage of antiaircraft guns.
On November 30th, Admiral Kimmel sent a dispatch (Exhibit 77) urgently recommending the shipment of 37 mm. anti‑aircraft guns and ammunition for familiarization and training.
On November 30, 1941, OPNAV sent a dispatch to CincAF for action and to CinCPac for information (Exhibit 76), which advised in part:
“Indications that Japan about to attack points on KRA by overseas expedition X. Desire you cover by air the line Manila Camranh Bay on three days commencing upon receipt of this dispatch X.
A second similar dispatch was also sent on the same day (Exhibit 77) requesting a daily report from CincAF, even if there were no contacts and the information were all negative….Also on November 30th Admiral McMorris prepared, at the direction of Admiral Kimmel, a memorandum setting forth the steps which he recommended to be taken in the event of American‑Japanese war within the ensuing twenty‑four hours (Exhibit 69A). This was revised on December 5th and set forth the steps to be taken in the event of war within forty‑eight hours (Exhibit 69B).
Vice Admiral McMorris testified that during the first week of December, 1941, he, and he was sure Admiral Kimmel, had in mind constantly the “war warning,” the fact that the Japanese forces were, according to Intelligence, on the move, the fact that the Japanese were destroying codes, and that the Japanese in the past had attacked without declaration of war (p. 328).
He stated further that during that time he was also considering the tasks set forth in Phase IA of the Pacific Fleet Plan, and that daily or on alternate days he furnished Admiral Kimmel with an informal memorandum as to the action that should be taken by important elements of the Fleet if war were initiated within twenty‑four hours. He stated that typical of such memoranda were Naval Court of Inquiry Exhibits 69A and 69B, which were dated 30 November and 5 December 1941, respectively (p. 328‑329).
With reference to the Phase IA task of maintaining air patrols against enemy forces in the approaches to Oahu and the fact that no provision was made for carrying out that task, Vice Admiral McMorris testified that submarines were considered to be the greatest element of danger. He said that anti‑submarine patrols had been placed in effect (p. 339).
At about this time, it will be recalled, Admiral Kimmel also received information concerning the estimated position of the Japanese Fleet. As Captain Layton expressed it:
Captain Layton testified that in accordance with the request of Admiral Kimmel, he prepared a memorandum for the Admiral, dealing with the location of the Japanese Fleet. This was prepared, according to Layton, on the evening of December 1st and was submitted by him to Admiral Kimmel on 2 December 1941. The original memorandum bears certain notations in red pencil which, Layton testified, were inserted by him on December 2nd prior to submission of the memorandum to Admiral Kimmel and which reflected the later information received after Preparation of the memorandum on the night of December 1st‑2nd. It also bears certain lead pencil notations which Layton identified as the handwriting of Admiral Kimmel. This memorandum, according to Layton, summarized his best estimate of the location of the Japanese Fleet, based on all information available to him and to Admiral Kimmel up to and including 1 December 1941.
Layton’s estimate stated that from the best available information, units of the Orange (Japanese) fleet were “thought” to be located as listed in the memorandum. In the Kure‑Sasebo area he listed the Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet and Commander in Chief, First Fleet, with six battleships, “(f)” and other units. He listed the Commander in Chief, Third Fleet, at Nagara initially and then corrected it in red to indicate that it was at Takao. Also in the Kure‑Sasebo area he located Cruiser Division 8.
In the Shanghai area, Layton’s estimate located the Commander in Chief, China Fleet, the Shanghai Base Force, and an air group.
In the Bako‑Takao area Layton listed Third Fleet submarine squadrons and various destroyers and the commander of the Combined Air Force with numerous air groups and the KASUGA MARU (thought to be a converted carrier with 36 planes). He estimated that the Commander in Chief, Second Fleet, had been en route to Takao (this he corrected in red pencil to indicate that he was at Takao) with a cruiser division, destroyers, and with “Cardiv 4‑two CV and four DD; Cardiv 3‑two CV and 3 DD; Batdiv 3 less HARUNA‑3 BB (maybe 2 BB) and, he added in red pencil, certain cruisers and Destroyer Division 2.
In the Hainan‑Canton area, Layton located the Commander in Chief of the South China Fleet and various cruisers and destroyers and transports. In the French Indo‑China Area, he located the Commander in Chief of an Expeditionary Fleet with various ships, including 21 transports and some base forces, among others. In the Mandates area, he located at Palao an air group and base force; at Truk, the Commander in Chief of the Fourth Fleet with cruisers and destroyers, and a base force and an air group At Saipan he located the Commander in Chief of the Submarine Force with possibly submarines and various air groups and a base force. In the Marshalls area, he located various air groups and the carrier “KORYU” plus plane guards,” and several submarine squadrons and base force (Hew. Ex. 23).
Layton’s memorandum did not make any reference to the location of Carrier Divisions 1 and 2 of the Japanese Fleet (which in fact were en route to attack Pearl Harbor). According to Layton, on 2 December 1941, during his conference with Admiral Kimmel, the Admiral noticed and commented on the absence of information concerning Japanese Carrier Divisions 1 and 3. In his testimony, he described the conversation on this point as follows:
“Mr. SONNETT: Will you state the substance of what he said and what you said, as best you recall it?
“Captain LAYTON: As best I recall it, Admiral Kimmel said, ‘What! You don’t know where Carrier Division 1 and Carrier Division 3 are?’ and I replied, ‘No, sir, I do not. I think they are in home waters, but I do not know where they are. The rest of those units, 1 feel pretty confident of their location.’ Then Admiral Kimmel looked at me, as sometimes he would, with somewhat a stern countenance and yet partially with a twinkle in his eye and said, ‘Do you mean to say that they could be rounding Diamond Head and you wouldn’t know it?’ or words to that effect. My reply was that, ‘I hope they would be sighted before now,’ or words to that effect . . . . (P. 213‑213)
“Mr. SONNETT: Your testimony, Captain, was not quite clear to me, arising out of your description of Admiral Kimmel’s twinkle in his eye when he spoke. What I am trying to get at is this: Was the discussion about the absence of information concerning Cardivs 1 and 3 a serious jocular one?
“Captain LAYTON: His question was absolutely serious, but when he said, ‘Where are Cardivs 1 and ,3?’ and I said, ‘I do not know precisely, but if I must estimate, I would say that they are probably in the Kure area since we haven’t heard from them in a long time and they may be refitting as they finished operations only a month and a half ago,’ and it was then when he, with a twinkle in his eye, said, ‘Do you mean to say they could be rounding Diamond Head? or words to that effect. In other words, he was impressing me on my complete ignorance as to their exact location.
“Mr. SONNETT: He was conscious, therefore, of your lack of information about those carriers?
“Captain LAYTON. This incident has been impressed on my mind. I do not say that I quote him exactly, but I do know that he made such a statement to me in the way to point out to me that I should know where they are but hadn’t so indicated their location” (P. 255‑266).
On December 1, 1941, he submitted to Admiral Kimmel, on request, his estimate of the locations of all major units of the Japanese Navy (page 913). After this was typed, more recent information caused it to be changed, in red; it showed available in the Empire—4 aircraft carriers, 6 battleships, with a question mark after them, 4 heavy cruisers, with a question mark after them, and 12 destroyers—available for use in the home area. This was a portion of the entire Japanese Navy, the majority of which was shown as disposed to the south and implicated in the impending moves, from their sources of information. The witness referred to his translation of a book (“a novel published in Tokyo to inflame public opinion toward larger armament money”—page 911), which stated that it would be very dangerous for Japan to launch a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor using carriers, battleships, and cruisers; with Japan staking its existence on the move to the south it could not afford to gamble its defenses by sending some of this force on a raid which would denude the Empire of vessels. That was generally his reasoning (page 913);
Captain Layton further testified that there were delivered to him, for presentation to Admiral Kimmel, daily communication intelligence summaries, during the period of time subsequent to the sending and receipt of the dispatches of 26 November. (Page 192). Captain Layton identified such summaries for the period 14 October to 14 December 1941, (Exhibit 22), and pointed out that the initials appearing in the lower right hand corner of these documents reading HEK, appeared on the original and were the initials of Admiral Kimmel (Page 193‑194)….
during this period, as previously noted, included the fortnightly summary of current national situations, prepared by ONI and issued on December 1, 1941 (Exhibit 57). In addition to the military and naval information furnished, this stated, concerning the Japanese diplomatic situation, that unless the Japanese requested a continuance of the conversations, the Japanese‑American negotiations would have virtually broken down; the Japanese government and press were proclaiming loudly that the nation must carry on resolutely the work of building the greater East Asia sphere; the press was also criticising Thailand severely; strong indications pointed to an early Japanese advance against Thailand; and, relations between Japan and Russia remained strained.
On December 2, 1941, Admiral Kimmel wrote to Admiral Stark (Exhibit 50) and advised that Admiral Halsey’s advance in the ENTERPRISE to Wake had been covered by two patrol squadrons operating from Johnston, Midway, and Wake, and that upon completion of the movement, Admiral Kimmel planned to return one squadron to Pearl Harbor and leave the other at Midway and awaiting developments. The letter discussed the difficulty of supply and defense of the outlying islands. The letter also stated that consideration was being given to the dispatches concerning the use of Army personnel in outlying islands; and, that Admiral Kimmel had frequently called Admiral Stark’s attention to the inadequacy of Army anti‑aircraft defense in the Pearl Harbor area, with particular reference to the shortage of anti‑aircraft guns. So far, he said, very little had been done to improve this situation. It was pointed out that because of the Army’s lack of equipment, Admiral Kimmel was unable to understand the dispatches directing that the Army be utilized in the defense of the outlying islands.
A postscript to this letter stated, “You will note that I have issued orders to the Pacific Fleet to depth bomb all submarine contacts in the Oahu operating area.” It will be recalled that Admiral Stark testified that he took no exception to this (page 153)….
On December 3, 1941, OPNAV sent two dispatches advising of Japanese instructions to destroy codes as follows:
1. A dispatch from OPNAV to CincAF, ComSIXTEEN for action, and to CinCPac and ComFOURTEEN for information which advised that Tokyo ordered London, Hongkong, Singapore, and Manila to destroy Purple machine and the Batavia machine already had been sent to Tokyo; Washington also had been directed to destroy the Purple and all but one copy of other systems, and all secret documents; also, that the British Admiralty had reported that the Embassy at London had complied (Exhibit 66).
Captain Safford referred to OpNav secret dispatch 031855 which he said he prepared on December 3, and to a similar dispatch released by Admiral Wilkinson. He then said:
“Before drafting my message, I called Commander McCollum on the telephone and asked him, “Are you people in Naval Intelligence doing anything to get a warning out to the Pacific Fleet?’ McCollum emphasized both “we’s’. McCollum replied, ‘We are doing everything we can to get the news out to the Fleet.’ In sending this information, I was overstepping the bounds as established by approved war plans and joint agreement between Naval Communications and Naval Intelligence, but I did it because I thought McCollum had been unable to get his message released. OpNav 031855 was addressed to CinCAF and Com 16 for action, but was routed to CinCPac and Com 14 for information. It was written in highly technical language and only one officer present at Pearl Harbor, the late Lieutenant H. M. Coleman, U. S. N., on CinCPac’s Staff, could have explained its significance.” (p.359‑360)
Captain Safford said that the unit in the Fourteenth Naval District did not have any material from which they could have gained this information through their own efforts. (p. 360)
2. A dispatch from OPNAV to CincAF, CincPac, ComFOURTEEN, ComSIXTEEN, for action:
“Highly reliable information has been received that categoric and urgent instructions were sent yesterday to Japanese diplomatic and consular posts at Hong Kong X Singapore X Batavia X Manila X Washington and London to destroy most of their codes and ciphers at once and to burn all other important and confidential and secret documents” (Exhibit 20)
Admiral Pye said that he saw the December 3 dispatch concerning the destruction of codes and discussed it with the Commander in Chief, that it seemed perfectly evident that such action could precede war by many days and it did not indicate immediate action. They were unaware of the source of this information and as it had appeared in the newspapers it probably did not mean as much as it would have meant had they known the source. Admiral Pye felt that at Oahu they were pretty much operating in the dark so far as the international situation was concerned. (p. 157)
Exhibit 11 is the December 3 dispatch by CNO to CinCAF, CinCPac and others.
Concerning the code destruction messages, Admiral Turner said that it was impossible for him to understand how anyone could believe that because of the messages the war was coming in the Western Pacific and would not involve Oahu. He pointed out that both Washington and Manila had been included in the dispatch.
Admiral McMorris said that the December 3rd dispatch concerning codes was the best indication, in his opinion, that the United States would be involved in war with Japan. He did not recall Admiral Kimmel’s view. (p. 247)
Admiral Anderson said that he had not precise knowledge but he thought that there had been a proper dissemination of information among the officers of the higher command. He saw the Commander in Chief at least weekly. Admiral Anderson did not think that he had seen nor had he been told about the October 16 dispatch. (p. 392). Admiral Anderson could not recall the November 24 dispatch or the November 30 dispatch to CinCAF with copy to CinCPac for information. He did remember having seen the war warning and believed that he had seen the December 3 dispatch.
As a matter of interest, it may be noted that a sentence appearing at the end of this copy of the dispatch, which was released by T. S. Wilkinson, was stricken out in pencil. That sentence read: “From foregoing infer that Orange plans early action in Southeast Asia.”
On December 4 1941, OPNAV sent a dispatch (Exhibit 21) to NavStaGuam for action, and to CincAF; CincPac; ComFOURTEEN, and ComSIXTEEN for information stating:
“Guam destroy all secret and confidential publications and other classified mat matter except that essential for current purposes and special intelligence retaining minimum cryptographic channels necessary for essential communications with CincAF, CincPac, ComFOURTEEN, ComSIXTEEN, and OpNav X Be prepared to destroy instantly in event of emergency all classified matter you retain X Report crypto channels retained”
On December 6, 1941, a dispatch (Exhibit 22) bearing time‑date stamp 061743 was sent by OPNAV to CinCPac for action, and to CincAF for information. This stated:
“In view of the international situation and the exposed position of our outlying Pacific islands, you may authorize the destruction by them of secret and confidential documents now or under later conditions of greater emergency X Means of communication to support our current operations and special intelligence should of course be maintained until the last moment”
Commander Kramer drafted Exhibit 66, the December 3rd dispatch concerning Japanese destruction of the “purple” machine. This was sent on the “Kopek” Channel, which was a channel for technical traffic between the Navy Department; Pearl Harbor and the Asiatic Station (page 971). It indicated, he said, a break in diplomatic relations. Exhibit 20, sent out by OPNAV on the same day as Exhibit 66, was the interpretive dispatch of Exhibit 66 (page 960).
Admiral Noyes said that Exhibit 21 (dispatch to Guam of December 4th, directing the destruction of codes) was prepared by him and motivated by the growing feeling that war in the Pacific was imminent (page 1031). It was released by Admiral Ingersoll.
Admiral Noyes said that Exhibit 22 (authorizing destruction of codes on outlying islands, dated December 6, 1941) was prepared by him and treated as priority dispatch, despite the lack of priority shown on its face (pages 1040, 1042).
Admiral Stark testified that the code destruction message was sent to Guam because he felt that Guam was in the most danger; he did not similarly advise ComFOURTEEN because he did not think Hawaii was in as much danger as was Guam. (page 69). At this time, Admiral Stark testified, he believed that war was imminent. Of particular significance he felt, was the information relating the destruction of codes (pages 165‑6). We also knew that the Japanese consuls were advising the evacuation of Japanese nationals from Malay, the Philippines, Hawaii, the United States, etc. (page 157). Admiral Ingersoll stated that the dispatch concerning Japanese destruction of codes strengthened the “war warning” (page 835).
Admiral Turner said that on Friday, December 5, 1941, there was a discussion between Admiral Stark, Admiral Ingersoll and himself concerning the general situation, and they all felt that all necessary orders had been issued to all echelons of command preparatory to war and that nothing further was necessary (page 1006). They did send some other messages about destruction of codes, both Japanese and our own (page 1007).
Admiral Kimmel testified that he regarded the dispatches concerning Japanese destruction of codes as indicating that the Japanese were going to take steps to prevent the seizure of their codes upon the breaking off of diplomatic negotiations, and regarded the dispatch directing Guam to destroy classified matter as a general precautionary measure (page 327). He “presumed” that he received the December 6th dispatch prior to the attack (page 327).
Admiral Smith testified that he saw the dispatches relating to the destruction of codes but that this meant little to him as CincPac was prepared to destroy codes (page 533). At this time, he said, war was inevitable (page 534).
About December 3rd, Admiral Smith said, after receipt of the dispatch of that date, and information from the Asiatic Fleet to the effect that heavy Japanese movements were on the way to the Southward, he believed that the Japanese were going to attack Malay Peninsula and possibly the Philippines; he thinks that the reaction of others at Admiral Kimmel’s headquarters was the same.
Admiral Pye testified that he saw Exhibit 20 (Japanese destroying codes) on December 4th, but that this information was published in the newspapers (page 427). Admiral Pye testified that he had not seen Exhibits 21 and 22 (Page 428).
Commander Rochefort, who was in charge of combat intelligence of the Fourteenth Naval District, stated that during this period the Japanese Consulate was burning or destroying various papers (page 474).
Captain Layton said that the messages concerning Japanese code destruction meant to him only that the Japanese, were destroying a cipher machine; he knew “purple” designated it as a diplomatic code (pages 904‑5) and that the “purple” cipher was A high class cipher (page 908).
On December 5, 1941, he said, they received word from the Naval Observer at Wellington that the Japanese were destroying codes. This was given to CincPac and was considered along with other information received at that time (page 906). At that time, they received messages from the British and from Washington Stating that highly secret and reliable information indicated a Japanese attack on the Kra Peninsula; this seemed to dovetail with the other information which they had (page 906).
There was a discussion concerning the significance of the code destruction messages; they seemed to indicate to Layton that Japan was preparing for all eventualities. He presumed that when it was discussed by Admiral Kimmel with the War Plans Officer and others, it was a matter of discussion (page 906).
Admiral McMorris said that he felt that Exhibit 20 (Japanese destroying codes) indicated strongly that there would be war with Japan. He did not recall whether this opinion was prevalent on CincPac’s staff, but believed it was thought by CincPac that war was then extremely possible (page 895).
It may be noted that although Admiral Kimmel stated that he had kept General Short informed, he did not personally direct that General Short be given the dispatches concerning codes destruction (Exhibits 20, 21, 22) and did not know whether they were given to him (page 327).
The only action that Admiral Bloch recalled as a result of the December 3 dispatch concerning the destruction of codes was the security measures already prescribed, the additional inshore patrol in Honolulu, a warning that was given to the Destroyer captains, and his belief the Army was on a full alert. (p. 18)
Admiral Bloch did not believe that the Army had been informed of these warning (code) messages. The messages, he said, ‘were secret and they had been admonished to keep them secret to prevent alarming people, and one thing and another, Admiral Bloch’s War Plans Officer would know about them. Admiral Bloch said that since General Short and he saw one another very frequently and Admiral Kimmel and he saw one another practically every day, it is hard to believe that anything of importance could take place or that anything could be received of even small importance that was not discussed because it is only fair to assume that they discussed everything. (p 18)
General Short, he said, had an Army Colonel as a liaison officer in Admiral Bloch’s office and Admiral Bloch had in the General’s office a Lieutenant of the Naval Reserve as a liaison officer and these men were supposed to be kept informed. Admiral Bloch’s liaison officer did not know of the dispatches that had been received because Admiral Bloch did not consider that it was proper to tell him; he was quite inexperienced. Nor was Admiral Bloch sure that the Army’s liaison officer knew of the messages, but he said they were in close touch through these liaison officers and felt that they knew what was going on. He said that it was indicated that there were some things which they were not correctly informed about. (p. 18)
Neither General Short nor his Chief of Staff recalled having seen these messages prior to the attack (pages 255, 486).”
As with all information, intelligence is only as good the context and significance that can be discerned from it. Once processed it can then inform decision-makers of the actions that must be taken. In 1985, after most of the MAGIC and other documents had been declassified, including many of those from the various investigations, Admiral Layton broke his silence in the book And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway–Breaking the Secrets. In the book Layton, breaking his silence of over 40 years, detailed the infighting and professional jealousy between the Washington and fleet commands within the Navy which caused important intelligence to be withheld and misrouted that not only contributed to the lack of readiness on December 7th at Pearl Harbor, but had almost led to a similar disaster at Midway had better minds not prevailed.
The title of the book was derived from a heated exchange between Layton and Admiral R. K. Turner that almost led to fisticuffs. According to Layton, who had served the war as the fleet intelligence officer for Admiral Chester Nimitz, the day of the Japanese surrender Turner had entered the wardroom of the USS Missouri and was jubilant that another inquiry had placed the blame for the size of the disaster at Pearl Harbor on its area commander, Admiral Kimmel. According to Layton:
“Turner continued to hold forth. Time and again he said, ‘Kimmel was given all that information and didn’t do anything about it.’ I sat there stunned. I knew that what he was saying was not only untrue, but a monstrous slur on my former commander in chief….Turner repeated his rant: “They should hang him higher than a kite!” And I, boiling with indignation, had to correct him. ‘Admiral,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry. But Kimmel did not have that information. You say that he did. I know that he did not, and I was there.”
Turner had good reason to celebrate the placing of blame elsewhere since, as the head of war plans for the Navy, it was his job to keep the fleets informed of the latest intelligence. According to Layton it is not Kimmel or any subordinates in the fleets that deserved blame. As CNO Admiral Stark certainly was responsible for ensuring that his fleet was informed. In his own role as part of the triumvirate of Naval Operations, Admiral Turner, who monopolized intelligence for his own purposes, bore as much responsibility as the CNO for the disaster. Layton wrote that had he had the same intelligence that had been selectively routed elsewhere within the Navy, that he would have had sufficient warning to provide to Kimmel to minimize, and perhaps thwart, the Japanese attack. He also wrote that, having learned the lessons from Pearl Harbor, the commanders and officers in the fleet learned to quickly adjust to prevent a similar disaster from occurring at Midway, but just barely.
It must be said that Turner, though loathed by many men and officers around him for his temper and alleged bouts with the bottle, distinguished himself during the war in charge of amphibious operations. Reality rarely makes for black-and-white characters. Admiral Stark took the initial blame, as he must have. Admiral Turner dodged a bullet.
But Pearl Harbor was an extraordinary event. No one possesses clairvoyance. The audacity, bravery, preparation, and dedication of the Japanese fleet was as much responsible for the effectiveness of the attack as any failure on the part of U.S. Navy intelligence or its commanders. The standard for placing blame under a court of inquiry or JAG investigation is to determine whether gross negligence or incompetence was a contributing factor. Looking back in history through the various reports, most of what I see is the fog of war. That and organizational confusion regarding the use and distribution of intelligence, and internecine rivalry. The secrecy of MAGIC was of utmost concern to Naval Operations in Washington. Excluding Kimmel due to rivalries among senior command certainly contributed to the tragedy.
Even a man as otherwise rational as Layton finds regret in not encouraging Admiral Kimmel to read the translation of a Japanese book written in 1933 that plays out the scenario of an attack on Pearl Harbor. Had Kimmel found the time to do so, would he have acted differently on December 7th without the intelligence that Turner possessed? I doubt it. But there lies the basis of valid criticism that also reveals the defect in Kimmel’s defense (and I started out doing the research for this post wanting to absolve him).
While it is true that Kimmel believed that the missing carriers were reported as heading to Malaysia or the Philippines, thousands of miles away, that was only supposition and he expressed that to Layton. Knowing war was imminent what would a circumspect commander do? Kimmel’s own defense was that he relied on Navy Operations to share all essential intelligence derived from MAGIC. But this was 1941 where international and naval communications were relatively slow. He was in Pearl Harbor and MAGIC was in Washington, where raw data went through a series of decryptions and processing before it became intelligence that then had to be properly interpreted and routed. His argument assumes a level of inerrancy in intelligence sharing unknown in military history before or since, especially considering the pace of events from November 27th, when he received the war memo, to December 7th.
I would say that Kimmel should have remained on a readiness footing that Sunday. He should have continued to fly missions to the north as identified by the Orange war games that identified that position as the most likely place from which the Japanese would launch an attack, even if he thought his aircraft levels were too low to be completely effective. (Forces are always deficient. Not using what one has is inexcusable). And he should have continued to keep a portion of the surface fleet underway along with his carriers. Then and only then could he argue that he had done everything that could be possibly done absent the latest intelligence. The overall impact of the attack would certainly have been lessened and it is possible that the Japanese fleet could have been directly engaged. Instead, he abrogated his responsibility by relying on Washington to give him sufficient advance warning–4,828 miles away. That is at least simple, and perhaps, gross negligence. While not a proximate cause, it is a contributing cause to the severity of the attack and the inability for his forces to engage the enemy.
But Navy Operations also bears a great deal of responsibility. Kimmel was left on his own, and neither Stark nor Turner displayed any urgency regarding the readiness of their two main areas of operation: Pearl or the Philippines. Given the information they had, if they could not share information due to the sensitivity of MAGIC, then they should have taken it upon themselves to order measures without revealing the particular reason for it. The post-World War attempt by some officers and their political allies to scapegoat others, including General Marshall and the President, ring hollow when one sees that the Navy had all of the information it needed prior to December 7 to at least defend from, if not counter, an attack.
To the U. S. Navy Pearl Harbor is a cautionary tale. Since that time Command at any level has been imbued with a high degree of accountability and responsibility. As a result, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on readiness at all times–even during peacetime. During the war the Navy developed new methods of leadership and reformed itself to be more inclusive in its officer corps. For all that, the Navy still experiences many of the internal conflicts and rivalries of those days. It’s inability to balance the need for security and control while taking advantage of new information technologies is its biggest challenge today. In that way the lessons of Pearl Harbor still need to be learned.
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