"You Be the Judge"

by Vice Admiral David C. Richardson USN(Ret)

Final draft submitted to and accepted by American Heritage Magazine for publication in its July 2001 edition.  Text for this web page from a copy from the collection of Edward R. Kimmel.


Another day of infamy? By that choice of title in April's issue, Kevin Baker expresses outrage with recent congressional action that would restore the reputations of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, the commanders in Hawaii at the time of the Pearl Harbor disaster. With no evidence whatsoever to back his assertion, Baker states erroneously that this action sneaks "a conspiracy theory through the back door of the people's house", and in so doing "it sets a sorry precedent". The conspiracy theory alleges that President Roosevelt had been forewarned of the coming attack. Baker asks: "What is history? It is all that we are now, and all that we believe ourselves to be, if we are to start now tearing ourselves down, knocking apart everything we knew to be the truth, not on the basis of any new evidence or research but simply to serve some narrow purpose or ancient grudge, what will be left of us?" Excellent questions, but surprising, especially in light of his earlier comment that:

"-All Washington had to do was to give Pearl Harbor an explicit last-minute warning and Japan's fleet would have been caught flatfooted, thousands of miles from its home waters and close to nothing but American possessions.  If Kevin Baker's history asserts that the commanders in Hawaii could somehow have caught the Japanese flatfooted, then his version of truth sorely needs getting knocked apart.

Let me assure readers at the outset that for every assertion I present as fact, I hold written evidence for those who need to inquire more thoroughly into both facts and mystery of what then occurred.

Since the Baker article expresses such strong objection to the recent congressional initiative, and Baker, himself, seems preoccupied with blame-fixing, perhaps my statement of purpose will enlighten. My name was mentioned in the congressional amendment. My presentation of operational reality that bore on what happened was a factor in the congressional decision. Thirty five years ago, in 1966, I commenced our carrier task forces in the Gulf of Tonkin. I quickly learned that timely intelligence aided mission accomplishment and avoided needless loss in lives. I applied that knowledge, and preached that gospel in three subsequent assignments while on active duty, then for 19 years thereafter as a consultant to navy and secdef panels that were command and intelligence related. In 1982 quite by chance I had reason to inquire into events surrounding the Pearl Harbor disaster.  It quickly became clear that I had come upon a perfect medium for registering in top level administrative and military heads the essentiality of quality, pertinent, timely information, including intelligence. The purpose is to learn lessons from past mistakes so as to avoid repeating them in the future. The theory that Roosevelt was forewarned is peripheral to my objectives.

The date of November 26th, 1941, is enormously significant. On that date, over strong and reiterated objections by the service chiefs, Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold R. Stark, and Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, the administration knowingly issued its virtual ultimatum to Japan setting forth conditions which Japan would have to satisfy for the two nations to coexist peacefully. Predominant upon ten demands for lifting the embargo on oil were "The Government of Japan will withdraw all military, naval, air and police forces from China and from Indochina." and that neither government will support any regime in China other than the National Government of the Republic of China in Chungking, which government Japan was then at war. That set of demands cemented Japan's decision to initiate war with an attack on Pearl Harbor. None of these crucial developments were provided to either Admiral Kimmel or General Short in Hawaii.

We only know what the administration did. Why the ultimatum was issued and how it came about is for historians to resolve.

There is no basis in fact that merits Baker's assertion that Kimmel's fleet or Short's defensive capabilities could nave caught the Japanese attacking force flatfooted, for the opposite is true. On the morning of the attack and during the preceding day Admiral Kimmel had 7 operable battleships, no aircraft carriers. Battleships speeds were 16 knots, weapons ranges 15 miles. The Japanese used 6 aircraft carriers with speeds over 30 knots, weapons range, 300 miles. To complete the threat Japan deployed 29 submarines off Pearl Harbor entrance and in the waters around OAHU. Both had assorted cruisers and destroyers. Kimmel's eighth battleship, his flagship, was in dry dock., his ninth in overhaul. Japanese submarines were as dangerous as their aircraft carriers. In view of Japanese carrier speed and weapons range advantages, any analysis worth its salt will recognize that the Japanese commander achieved full control over subsequent events dating from about mid-morning the day before the attack. If Kimmel tried to escape, what Japanese submarines missed Japanese aircraft could seek out and sink. Historical accuracy would assert that Kimmel was without any viable operational action to either defeat the attack or save himself. From mid-morning of the 6th the remaining issue was only the extent of damages to be achieved and the cost to the Japanese in lost aircraft for their effort. This evidence is as old as the event itself!

Three of Kimmel's task forces were away from Pearl Harbor during the attack On November 27th the carrier Enterprise.  Task Group departed Pearl with Marine fighter aircraft for Wake Island. On December 5th the carrier Lexington task group departed with fighters for Midway Island. The carrier Saratoga was on the West Coast for repairs. Ordered by Washington to transfer 50 army pursuit planes to reinforce the two islands, Kimmel substituted Marine fighters, as there was no way to offload the army aircraft. A third task force, an amphibious force, was enroute Johnson Island. It is hard to reconcile an order to transfer half of army pursuit aircraft strength to reinforce outer islands with the notion that Washington thought on November 26th that Pearl Harbor was a candidate target.

What might. have happened had Kimmel been fully informed as events developed subsequent to his war warning November 27th is purely conjectural. The message itself had stated "This dispatch is to be considered a war warning."  Then, referring to the number and types of Japanese troops and naval organization, the message indicated an expected aggressive move by Japan against "either the Philippines, or Kra Peninsula or possibly Borneo". It directed Admiral Kimmel to assume "an appropriate defensive deployment preparatory to carrying out the tasks assigned in WPL (War Plan)46, which specified a raid against the Marshall Islands. Kimmel was known for his vigorous, aggressive style of leadership. General Short's war warning stated; "The United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act". This same desire was expressed to Kimmel in a message sent to him two days after he had received his war warning of the 27th. Given that imposition, we can only wonder what the commanders in Hawaii might have attempted offensively, or even what Washington had in mind. If Kimmel redeployed his two carrier task forces, the Japanese advantage still exceeded three to one. This we do know. If the Japanese messages that had been deciphered and distributed in Washington had been forwarded to Kimmel and Short, it would have entitled them to initiate whatever action they deemed needed, from departing Pearl to employing a preemptive attack! When a senior commander assigns forces and mission to a subordinate, then fails to provide pertinent, requisite information that he holds, he retains force control. If so doing denies that subordinate the right to discharge his most fundamental responsibility, an initiation of whatever action that subordinate may deem needed to preserve the integrity of his force.

The stage was set for the disaster in April, 1941, by two actions. Admiral Kelly Turner, Director of War Plans, with the support of Admiral Stark took control over intelligence distribution away from the Director, Naval Intelligence. His reason was to prevent an unwanted initiative by a fleet commander based on intelligence. The second action was taken for sound strategic reasons. The president transferred the carrier Yorktown and three battleships to the Atlantic to aid in getting supplies to Britain. This transfer gave Japan a 2 to 1 advantage in naval strength at that time.

So, what information was denied? Military professionals know that an aggressor in surprise attacks, specifically so in this case, benefits from full knowledge of location and identity of potential targets, constraints imposed and defensive measures in place. He chooses time, place and circumstances of attack.  In this regard, Tokyo planners divided Pearl Harbor into five sectors and on September 24th, in J-19 code, directed their consul general to make periodic reports of the identity of warships located in those areas. On November 15th and 18th Japan advised that relations with the United States and were most critical, and directed its spies on Oahu to report ship locations irregularly, at least twice weekly. A 4th intercept, sent November 29th, directed "Now, report, even when ships not moving". The response also stated there were no protective balloons in use. This last message was deciphered and circulated December 5th, the other three on December 3rd and 6th. Also on December 5th the Japanese plain text message "East Wind, Rain", which was known to mean war with the US and Britain, was received and circulated in Washington. Long denied, receipt of "East wind, Rain" is now thoroughly corroborated.

The Director of War Plans also neglected to send to Kimmel information learned from our decryption of diplomatic instructions to Japanese Ambassador, Admiral Nomura, in the Purple Code, as did army staff fail General Short. Extracts from these message reveal the flavor of their contents. PURPLE #736 -absolutely necessary agreement be reached by the 25th (November). Another, you see how short time is. Do not allow the United States to delay negotiations. #812 - Very difficult to change date, but if you can achieve desired results, new deadline is Nov. 29th. This message cites reason "beyond your ability to guess" why the dates are critical. #985 informs Berlin of gravity of situation, and that "war may come quicker than anyone dreams".  #865, deciphered 12/4, states that to prevent US from being unduly suspicious, we are advising press and others in Japan that negotiations are continuing. #867 directed code destruction of specific codes. #901 deciphered and distributed 12/6 advises Nomura that an extremely sensitive message of 14 parts is coming, together with delivery instructions. #902, the first 13 parts, was read by Roosevelt in company with Harry Hopkins early in the evening of the 6th. Roosevelt remarked that this means war, then shortly thereafter  to his family at dinner, we will be at war tomorrow.

Some historians note the plethora of incoming information, and claim that import of the foregoing message content is seen only in retrospect. If so, that fog was cleared by a most unusual initiative by Ambassador Nomura. One day in November Admiral Nomura sent a young naval officer to contact Captain Smedburg, aide to Admiral Stark, to arrange a secret meeting with our CNO. Captain William R. Smedburg, III, picked up the ambassador on Massachusetts Avenue, drove him to Stark's quarters, then after the meeting returned Nomura to the Mass Avenue dropoff for his walk back to his embassy. According to Smedburg Nomura told Stark that the virtual ultimatum issued by Secretary of State, Hull, on November 26th, played into the hands of Tokyo's militarists. "When they came out, (after the meeting) Admiral Nomura had tears in his eyes. I then dropped him off on Massachusetts Avenue", records Smedburg. Stark told Smedburg that Nomura said: "the Japanese Army, which headed the Japanese war party, didn't understand the power and potential of the United States. He said he had tried in vain to tell them that Japan could never in a war against the United States". Unless the United States eased up on the sanctions being imposed, "the military men in my country are going to be driven to do something desperate --". Stark and General Marshall then went to see the president with Nomura's comments. Both of them "told Roosevelt that under no circumstances could the United States accept a war in the near future".

Equally strange is what then followed. According to Smedburg, Roosevelt told Hull to modify Hull's very strong resistance to any easing of sanctions. Very shortly thereafter "navy people" learned that Hull's strong reply went out without any modification whatsoever. Stark and Marshall then "got the president to admit that after Hull got back to the State Department all his advisers had impressed on him the fact that the Japanese respected firmness and if he gave in, he would lose face - -".  Hull called the President. The President agreed.  None of the information about these crucial developments was provided to Kimmel or Short!

Military professionals, especially those who have commanded combat forces, find the view of historians that derogate the essentiality of timely, complete information support incomprehensible and exasperating. In any event, that view isn't marketable, for Kimmel had clearly identified his need in the final paragraph of his formal letter to Admiral Stark on that subject, personally delivered in June, 41. After statements in that and an earlier letter relating to the central importance of his mission to provide trained personnel for new construction, Kimmel refers to his distance from seat of government "in complex and rapidly changing situations", to his information that confusion may exist regarding who in the CNO's office is responsible for keeping him properly informed, and concludes; "it is suggested that it be made a cardinal principle that the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet be immediately informed of all important developments as they occur and by the quickest secure means possible."

In a recent correspondence exchange with Army General Andrew Goodpaster he wrote me; "You speak of the aggressor choosing time, place and circumstances of the attack. This caught my eye because it is exactly the point I repeatedly made to NATO and US authority when I served as SACEUR.  I emphasize that because they, the Russians, could have the initiative. The Soviets could choose the time, and place and mode of attack. Powerful advantages which meant that I should be furnished and be free to act upon the best possible intelligence to provide warning. This is exactly what was not provided to Admiral Kimmel and General Short. "This most distinguished senior military commander also validates my assertion that it is a basic right of a combat force commander to receive "and be free to act upon" late breaking information. Military officers whose views are referenced in the recent congressional initiative cite an information support failure as the reason Kimmel and Short were surprised.

Some historians assert that Kimmel and Short failed because they did not use available aircraft for long range search. In 1944 the Navy Court of inquiry found Kimmel blameless, given the information provided him. Admiral E. J. King, Admiral Stark's relief as CNO, reversed that finding, citing Kimmel's misuse of PBY patrol aircraft. Four years later, King recanted his endorsement, noting that after giving the matter most careful consideration certain portions of (his) endorsement stand out "as not being in accord with the realities of the situation existing" when (he) signed it. Does this not reveal a state of mind of our wartime leadership that only harm could come from a finding during the war that neither Kimmel nor Short were to blame? King states Kimmel's faults were faults of omission rather than commission.  Indeed, they were, for Kimmel failed to order general quarters shortly after daylight, having been denied intelligence that would have alerted him to the imminence of an attack. And, "-- their (Stark and Kimmel) usefulness in the billets assigned them was impaired by the course of events- - ." Again, most assuredly so given the popular impression derived from the Robert's Commission report. A few historians cite overlooked opportunities by the two Hawaiian commanders. These charges are invalidated either by logistics limitations that prevented their implementation or by the erroneous belief that Hawaii had enough information to warrant their execution.

Emeritus Professor of History, University of Florida, Michael Gannon, has analyzed problems and testimony regarding search aircraft use. He finds both Kimmel and Short blameless.  I cite only the nature of the problem. At sunset the evening before the attack, the Japanese were about 550 miles out. Separation of search aircraft should not exceed 20 miles There were no airborne radars. At 550 miles out and 20 miles separation 45 operable aircraft were needed each day to search a semicircle.  Of 49 PBYs assigned, 36 would be top availability for search at the outset, fewer two or three days later. PBY speeds were about 100 knots. Eleven of fourteen hours flight duration would be spent outside the search area. Ask your airline pilot about the reasonableness of a 9 day search by 36 of 49 aircrews in flight 14 hours each day.

When 1 am asked; "then if not Kimmel and Short, who is to blame for the disaster?" I respond; "The Japanese." Our president believed Hitler a threat to western civilization. Helping Britain was paramount. He assumed risks for valid strategic purposes. His body politic opposed an involvement in a European war. His transfer of the carrier Yorktown, 3 battleships, some cruisers and destroyers to the Atlantic that April was a great risk. For those who play the blame game, there is this question. What might have been the consequences had the president not shifted major naval forces away from Hawaii to buttress aid to Britain?

The president, Secretary of State Hull, service secretaries, Knox and Stimson, Admiral Stark and General Marshall were all highly competent assiduous, responsible-minded individuals. We can assume that their actions were logical in light of what they knew. They were functioning at a critical time, one of great military danger. Their belief of 27 November that Borneo, the Kra Peninsula and the Philippines were the threatened targets underwent a major change that culminated the evening of December 6th. Recent deciphered messages, the 14 part message and it's delivery instructions together indicated Pearl Harbor as the initial target.  If Kimmel sortied, an already out of control situation would likely be much worse. In some way not recorded, the administration made the decision not to notify Hawaii for fear Kimmel would sortie the fleet. Secretary Knox thought the decision had been to inform Kimmel. When he arrived Pearl 4 days after the attack, he asked Kimmel; "Didn't you get the warning we sent Saturday?" Hearing negative, he inquired of others. No warning was sent. Stark's briefer about 10:30 AM Sunday urged he call Kimmel.  Stark picked up his phone, then slowly put it down, saying would call the president instead. The President? For permission to discuss even the possibility of an attack with his fleet CinC? If not that, what?  He did call the president, but was told he could not then be put through. In a series of recorded comments dated May 4th, 1961, General Carter Clarke, an expert on codes and serving on Marshall's staff that morning, December 7th, cites that staffs frustrations at their inability to persuade Marshall to call Short. Both army and navy staffs fully understood the threat to Oahu. The reluctance of both Stark and Marshall to call their subordinates in Hawaii and their unbelievable claims that they couldn't remember where they were that night of the 6th make sense when viewed as postulated above.

The historical record is clear that Kimmel's prescribed defense preparations functioned as planned. Thirty nine Japanese attacking aircraft were shot down by both army and navy during the attacks. When in port Kimmel's standing orders required battleships to man half their AAA batteries with ammo at the ready, smaller ships one fourth. The other half were mostly blanketed, since battleships necessarily toured alongside each other. In those days before air conditioning battleships were steel boxes in a hot sun, cooled mainly by windscoops in portholes to trap the northeast trades. General quarters would not be routinely set.  Specific, imminent threat information was required. Setting GQ was Kimmel's sole sensible remaining course of action that infamous morning.

We know that Short had two options: have armed pursuit aircraft ready for launch and implement a flyaway of all other military and civilian aircraft. The latter required advanced planning to prescribed readiness and arrange notification, and would have violated his war warning not to alarm civilians, including just under 200,000 of Japanese descent, or reveal intent. Short notified Washington of his plan to only protect his forces against sabotage. Marshall knew that, and failed to advise Short otherwise, if Marshall so thought. Short's failure to implement these essentially last day and last hours readiness measures is directly attributable to Washington's intelligence support failure.  In evolving situations we are dependent on timely, pertinent information updates to adapt or adjust our plans. The information held in Washington would have allowed Kimmell the opportunity to set general quarters. It would have permitted Short to ready his pursuit aircraft, to plan for and execute a flyaway of all other aircraft. And, indeed, Kimmel might have sortied.

I hope the foregoing information convinces readers of American Heritage that an accurate record of events that resulted in that disaster has national significance. It should perplex us all that when so many highly experienced major force commanders, then and now, assert their view that Kimmel and Short were not to blame, and cite professional recognition of the essentiality of pertinent, timely information for sound decision-making, some historians profess differently. I quote Admiral Spruance;

"1 have always felt that Kimmel and Short were held responsible for Pearl Harbor in order that the American people might have no reason to lose confidence in their government in Washington.  This was probably justifiable under the circumstances at time, but it does not justify forever damning these two fine officers."

Admiral Spruance, victor of the battle of Midway, the turning point of the war with Japan, was top combat commander of naval forces throughout most of the remaining years of the war, a position he alternated with Admiral Halsey. Others who held similar views were Admiral Kimmel's predecessor, Admiral J, 0. Richardson, (no kin), Admiral Chester Nimitz, Kimmel's relief as Pacific Fleet commander, Admirals Halsey, and Stanley, the latter a member of the Robert's Commission. Predominant among latter day military professionals who support restoration of reputations to the two Hawaiian commanders are two former Chairmen, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admirals Thomas Moorer and William Crowe, three former Chiefs of Naval Operations, Admirals Jim Holloway, Elmo Zumwalt and Carlisle Trost, and former Supreme Allied Commander, NATO, Army General Andrew Goodpaster.

For succinctness, no explanation tops that of Admiral Thomas Moorer. Moorer wrote; "I have always maintained that had Nelson and Napoleon been command in Pearl, the results would have been the same".

 


Details on the pages of the Kimmel Family Record web site come from the collection of
Timothy W. Kimmel of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  You can contact Tim at timkimmel@comcast.net

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