"Secret Missions"
The Lessons of Pearl Harbor
Chapter 24

FLAGBAR 501x15

1. The Test of Intelligence

It cannot be said that the complete un-preparedness in which the enemy caught our fleet on December 7th, 1941 was shared to an equal extent by our Intelligence; but there were many naval organizational deficiencies which were reflected in our intelligence setup.

Before the Congressional Committee I indicated that the following organizational deficiencies were contributing factors to Pearl Harbor:

(1). That the planning officers were allowed to take over the intelligence function of evaluation. This resulted in individuals without a full knowledge of the Japanese or their psychology determining what the Japanese might do. This practice applied not only in Washington but also at Pearl Harbor, where the erroneous conclusion was reached by the planning officer that there was no chance of an air attack on Pearl Harbor.

(2). That the two purely technical organizations of the SIS, Signal Intelligence Service of the Army, and ONC, Office of Naval Communications, were allowed to take over the intelligence functions of decoding, translating, evaluating, and disseminating intercepted messages. I had fought for years to have these functions properly allocated to the Office of Naval Intelligence.

(3). That the selection of officers for Intelligence and the rapidity with which the directors of Intelligence were changed ---seven directors between 1940 and 1945---made for inefficiency. The qualifications for Intelligence as set forth in my letter to the Chief of Naval Operations and reproduced in the Appendix are vital considerations to efficiency.

One of these deficiencies had practical application in the Fleet Intelligence Office, an agency charged with superhuman responsibilities but given extremely limited authority. In 1941 we had in this key post a fleet intelligence officer who was alert and imaginative, with a tremendous capacity for work---Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton. When I arrived in Pearl Harbor and visited him in his office, I found the conditions under which he was compelled to work entirely unsatisfactory. He was assisted by only one officer, and the two were even then working day and night to cope with the manifold responsibilities of the job.

The fact that a lieutenant commander was in charge of this all-important intelligence office was characteristic of the attitude higher echelons had toward their intelligence arms. I do not mean to imply that for work a lieutenant commander is inferior in intelligence and imagination to a captain or a rear admiral. But it is an indisputable fact that he is inferior in rank and, hence, in influence. I had tried for years to bring about the designation of a captain as fleet intelligence officer, so that he might pound the desk of the planners if need be. But I had been unsuccessful; and until Layton was appointed, the job was only collateral duty. The higher echelons just could not visualize the important duties a fleet intelligence officer should perform.

This officer necessarily learns most about the enemy from immediate observation and, therefore, cannot avoid drawing his own conclusions. In the case of the Japanese he must make his own estimate of the situation influenced by his personal knowledge of the enemy and their psychology, which may not always agree with various estimates made on higher echelons. Even so, fleet intelligence officers are wont to present their opinions and outline probable enemy intentions based on their complete over-all view of the enemy's position; and this is an important consideration, since our fleet intelligence officers, in the nature of things, should know more about the enemy than anyone else. In fact, during the war our intelligence officers knew more about the enemy than the Japs themselves.

Eddie Layton, too, had his own ideas and drew his own conclusions, but he could not present them with the force necessary, since he was only a lieutenant commander. He himself felt that his ears were pinned back too often for comfort, and was reluctant to provoke the ire of superior officers who disliked intensely a junior officer interfering with their own ideas, especially when the junior was "only an intelligence officer." The old prejudices, subconscious rather than deliberate, traditional rather than natural, were extremely evident in Pearl Harbor, somewhat further complicated by the fact that the Commander in Chief failed to have a proper appreciation of the value of intelligence.

All this does not mean, however, that the Fleet Intelligence Office, though overworked and understaffed, was not working full time with the highest possible efficiency. There was another branch of Intelligence which was similarly efficient and was coordinated by Layton through personal friendship: Communication Intelligence, in charge of Lieutenant Commander J. J. Rochefort, USN, a highly trained specialist in two fields, being also a Japanese-language officer. These two intelligence activities followed closely the movements of the Japanese, but it was not the officer's privilege" to deduce enemy intentions from the information they gathered. This function was usurped by the planners, whose main preoccupation should have been to take appropriate countermeasures to the Japanese moves culled from the incoming material, promptly submitted to higher echelons, and high-lighted by those who knew the Japanese.

I have now before me a fairly comprehensive record of the activities of our intelligence agencies at Pearl Harbor as they functioned between early Nov. 1941 and the day of the attack. It may be useful to reconstruct from their reports the quality and quantity of their work and make a short summary of the information which they were able to place at the disposal of the Commander in Chief and his planners to enable them to make their estimate of the situation and their preparations.

Although radio traffic was found to be normal early in November, Communication Intelligence discovered several important signs of increased Japanese activities. Above all, Japan introduced an entirely new set of calls for her units afloat, while shore station calls and shore addressees remained unchanged. A series of high priority dispatches, sent from Tokyo to major fleet commanders, was also discovered.

On November 3 traffic volume was found slightly under normal, but this condition failed to mislead our Communication Intelligence. On that date Communication Intelligence Summary contained this significant information: "General messages continue to emanate from Tokyo communications. Such an amount is unprecedented, and the import is not understood. A mere call change does not account for activities of this nature. The impression is strong that these messages are periodic reports to the Major Commander of a certain nature."

Simultaneously an increase in dummy traffic (meaningless messages sent to keep volume of traffic at a certain level) was noted, also emanating from Tokyo radio. The Japanese commander in chief was found sending an urgent message to "all concerned," including major commanders, the combined fleet, the Naval Intelligence in Tokyo, the chief of the Naval General Staff, and the Bureau of Personnel. Then a significant note: "The Commander in Chief, Combined [Admiral Yamamoto], continues to be associated with the carriers and submarines."

This was the yield of just one day's radio monitoring work, and it must be admitted that it contained enough for contemplation. In retrospect, the information culled from intercepts was significant enough. Other information supplemented the findings of Communication Intelligence. On Nov. 4, the Fleet Intelligence Officer reported: "The Fifth Fleet has its flag in a light cruiser at Maizuru, but nothing else is known about the force as yet. It is possibly the nucleus of a Japanese Sea Fleet." Subsequent events proved that it was.

By November 6 Communication Intelligence found traffic volume slightly above normal. Another divination from long-established custom was also noted. Formerly Tokyo radio called the unit concerned when the dispatch was addressed to a member of that unit. Beginning this day all specific call-ups was eliminated. All broadcast messages were now addressed to a single call without regard to the specific addressee of the message. This was properly evaluated as meaning another advance in communication security by the Japanese, and was another straw in the wind. On the same day Communication Intelligence was able to confirm a very heavy air concentration on Formosa. (A few weeks later Formosa was openly identified as the center of Japanese air activities against the Philippines.) Monitoring Admiral Yamamoto's traffic, Communication Intelligence made this significant discovery: "A large amount of Combined Fleet traffic is now appearing with secret (tactical) calls in use."

Traffic remained heavy the next day, but increasing security measures introduced daily by the Japanese made our analysts fight against overwhelming odds. "Greatest effort is being made," Communication Intelligence now reported, "to increase the number of identified calls to facilitate analysis of the traffic but Orange [the Japanese] changes in methods of handling fleet traffic render this more difficult than had been hoped."

On November 8 it was found that the Chichijima air station was included in much of the traffic between Empire offices and the mandates, and another important observation was made. "The area between Chichijima [Bonins], Naha [Okinawa], Takao [Formose], Palau [Pelews], and Jaluit [Marshalls] appears to be particularly concerned with movement of air forces and auxiliaries," the summary stated, "while the formation of a force under Combined Air Commander in the Takao-Bako [Pescadores] area appears to be nearly completed as indicated by reports addressed to Commander in Chief, Combined, Naval Minister, Commanders of Carrier Divisions, Combined Air Force, First Fleet, and shore addresses generally associated with movements or organization changes.

The next day was a Sunday, but traffic was found to be heavy. The deployment of the two carrier divisions was found proceeding on schedule, and it was even discovered that the chief of staff of the French Indo-China force was in for a conference in Tokyo. A message sent for Yamamoto to the cruiser at Maizuru, flagship of the force which Intelligence previously had indicated as the possible nucleus of a high-seas fleet, seemed to reveal the presence of the Commander in Chief with this obscure force.

On November 10, traffic was dominated by Japanese Naval Intelligence addressing dispatches to all major commanders. Intelligence calls continued to occupy the air for several days afterward, even to the elimination of other messages. While increased activities made a definite establishment of ship movements difficult, it was definitely established that far greater than the usual movement occurred during these days. Obviously the deployment of the fleet was continuing without interruption, by now proceeding to their prearranged stations according to previous orders, which explains the accumulation of traffic between Nov. 1 and 10, and the sudden reduction afterward.

On November 15, when Communication Intelligence discovered "an apparent movement of Fourth Fleet units in prospect or underway," the Office of Naval Intelligence revealed that it was fully alert to the general political situation. Its fortnightly summary of the current national situation began with these ominous lines: "The approaching crisis in the United States--Japanese relations overshadowed all other developments in the Far East during the period. Saburo Kurusu, former Japanese Ambassador to Berlin, is flying to Washington with compromise Japanese proposals. No one apparently expects his mission to succeed, the envoy himself reportedly expressing extreme pessimism." Again, the evaluation of ONI proved more realistic than the evaluations of certain higher echelons to whom this important intelligence function was then wrongly assigned.

On November 16 Communication Intelligence discovered that Japanese Destroyer Squadron One was assigned to operate with the carrier divisions and battleship division; while the fifth Fleet, dubbed by intelligence officers "the mythical fleet," remained obscure. Yamamoto's circuit was becoming increasingly busy, especially in contact with the commander of the Second Fleet. Evaluating this information, Communication Intelligence made the following deduction, to be revealed as correct when later all information became known: "Commander in Chief, Second Fleet will be in command of a large Task Force comprising the Third Fleet, Combined Air Force, some Carrier Divisions, and Battleship Division Three." This force, just three weeks later, provided the assault force for the attack against Pearl Harbor.

On November 20-21 Communication Intelligence definitely established the progressing concentration of Japanese fleet units, and also found increasing activity by the Tokyo Personnel Bureau. "The traffic load on the Tokyo-Takao circuit," the summary reported, "was very heavy on the 21st, so heavy that the circuit was in duplex operation most of the mid-watch." Traffic volume remained above normal on the twenty-second ---the date which we now know as Y-Day. An intercepted message indicated that "Combined Fleet tactical exercises are now completed." Tokyo Intelligence was also found on the air with a long message to its addressees. On that same day the Fleet Intelligence Officer at Pearl Harbor received a significant message, the reliability rating of which could not be established. "Dutch authorities in the Netherlands East Indies have received information," the report stated, "that a Japanese Expeditionary Force which is strong enough to constitute a threat against the Netherlands East Indies or Portuguese Timor has arrived in the vicinity of Palau. If this force moves past the line through Davao-Waigea-Equator, the Governor General of the NEI will regard it as an act of hostility and will consider war to have begun."

While high-priority traffic now almost monopolized the air at the Japanese end, with "increased activity among Third Fleet addressees with a high percentage of what appears to be movement reports," our Chief of Naval Operations sent a dispatch to Cincus: "The chances of any favorable result coming out of the present negotiations with Japan are very doubtful. It is his opinion that this, coupled with the statements of the Japanese Government, and the movements of their military and naval forces, indicates that they may make a surprise aggressive movement in any direction, including an attack on the Philippines or Guam."

It was about this time that the Japanese task forces left their assembly points and, accordingly, traffic returned to an ambiguous normal. Only Tokyo Intelligence remained on the air, transmitting additional information to addressees who received it all without the necessity of acknowledgments. To mislead our monitors by keeping traffic up to normal at a time when no further orders were transmitted to the fleets sailing under their own prearranged or sealed orders, Japanese radio stations began to transmit all messages, a fact noted and mentioned by Communication Intelligence as having considerable significance. On the other hand, Japanese Intelligence increased its radio activity from day to day. On November 29, for example, a large share of the day's traffic was made up of messages of an intelligence nature. Tokyo Intelligence alone sent eleven messages during the day to major commanders both ashore and afloat, while the radio intelligence activity at Tokyo sent four exceptionally long messages to major commanders. So heavy was the traffic that the Yokosuka transmitter had to be enlisted for the transmission of these messages.

Agent reports, received in Pearl Harbor, also indicated increased activity, not merely afloat but on land as well. Thus, for example, on November 27 a reliable agent stated that Imperial Headquarters had assumed control over certain increased air activities; while a British Intelligence source stated categorically that "Japan will commence military operations on December 1 against the KRA Isthmus and Thailand," proceeding from Formosa, where Communication Intelligence had previously detected the concentration of these forces.

On November 28 a report from another British source informed the Fleet Intelligence Officer of the Japanese procedure to be carried out on Japanese news broadcasts in the event that diplomatic relations were on the verge of severance, repeating the words "Higashi-Higashi" five times to indicate bread in Japanese-American relations. On December 1 our attaché in Bangkok sent word that an "absolutely reliable agent" had reported conferences taking place in Bangkok preparatory to the commencement of hostilities, and a further report followed, that another agent had reported on November 30th that the Japanese ambassador to Thailand had obtained permission to burn his papers and codes.

By then it was inevitable that we should discover something imminent. On December 1st all Japanese call letters were changed again, inducing Communication Intelligence to point out: "The fact that service calls lasted only one month indicates an additional progressive step in preparing for active operations on a large scale."

The remainder of the evaluation is of equal interest: "A study of traffic prior to December 1st [when all calls were changed again] indicates that an effort was made to deliver all dispatches using old calls so that promptly with the change of calls there would be a minimum of undelivered dispatches and consequent confusion and compromise. Either that or the large number of old messages may have been used to pad the total volume and make it appear as if nothing unusual was pending."

It was obvious from this proper deduction that our Intelligence was not deceived by the Japanese trick.

By December 2 our Communication Intelligence had succeeded in definitely establishing that the Japanese high-seas fleet was on the move. Of course, radio intelligence is largely based on circumstantial evidence and deductions, and it is pitted against and compared with information obtained from other sources. The whole intelligence which we are after is rarely told on the air, and the decoding of certain messages takes time. Even so, the deductions which can be made on the basis of experience and practice usually provide a lead for other agencies on higher echelons to make their own estimates of the situation.

Just five days before Pearl Harbor our Communication Intelligence informed all those concerned that certain radio intercepts as well as the absence of normal radio traffic, indicating radio silence of the Japanese fleets, was a sign of impending events. The fleets, which until recently had been worked and serviced by Takao (Formosa) radio, were no longer receiving their signals from this station. In several instances it was found that instead of signaling direct to the fleets, as was the previous custom, Takao radio now forwarded traffic to Tokyo for transmittal to these fleets.

From this and from other indices, Communication Intelligence made the following deductions, included in their daily summary on December 2nd:

1. The First Fleet was relatively quiet. It appears that there may have been a split in the Combined Fleet Staff and there may be two supreme commanders with their staffs (This could indicate operations in two widely separate areas.)

2. The Second Fleet was obscure. "This is partly due to lack of new identifications but contributes somewhat to the belief that a large part of the Second Fleet is underway in company."

3. In so far as the carriers were concerned, there continued an almost "complete blank of information." Not one carrier call had been recovered since the change of calls, leading Communication Intelligence to regard this as a sign that carrier traffic was at a low ebb.

4. The Combined Air Force was reported to have "undoubtedly left the Takao area." And then, the most important over-all deduction:

5. "Summing up all reports and indications, it is believed that the large fleet made up of Second, Third, and First Fleet units has left Empire waters." Closer identification was impossible by these means, since Communication Intelligence was dependent on radio traffic and no such traffic originated from the phantom fleet, while the traffic beamed to it was heavily camouflaged, the Japanese trying hard to practice radio deception

Next day, December 3rd, it was reported again: "No information on submarines or carriers." And the reiteration of previous deductions: "It is the impression that both Second and Third Fleets are underway." On the fourth the Commander of the Second and Third Fleets, described in the summary as a "previously very talkative commander," was found to be ominously quiet. The Second and Third Fleets were completely absent from the air and, accordingly, also from the summary. Suddenly, on December 5, traffic volume became very heavy. All circuits were overloaded with Tokyo broadcasts going over full twenty-four hours. The air was filled with high-precedence messages, and pressure must have been so great that, occasionally, there was no time for coding. A Captain Okawa, for example, addressed a signal to a certain Fujihara, described as chief of the Political Affairs Bureau, in plain language, saying: "In reference to the Far Eastern crisis, what you said is considered important at this end, but proceed with what you are doing; specific orders will be issued soon."

There was just one fragmentary message from the two phantom fleets at sea, but it was, especially when viewed in retrospect, significant. It was addressed to the commander of the Fourteenth Army aboard the Ryujo Maru. A number of transports were in communication with the Third Fleet without, of course, receiving answers.

On Saturday afternoon, December 6th, the office of the communication intelligence officer had drawn up what was to become its last peacetime summary. By then all Japanese radio stations were going full blast, radio volume was extremely heavy, and Tokyo was represented with three distinct and separate broadcasts. Other messages emanated from Saipan, Ominato, and Takao. Naval Intelligence again dominated the air with prefixes of high priority. And then the stereotyped entry: "Still no traffic from the Second and Third Fleet Commanders."

The pattern which one can receive from this detailed analysis in the knowledge of all subsequent events and information obtained since the end of the war is an interesting one and may be described briefly. an expeditionary force was formed of units of the first, Second, and Third Fleets, divided in two, one moving on the Philippines with transports attached, the other moving against Pearl Harbor. The carriers were in this latter force. The submarines were identified as being definitely in the Marshalls, obviously left there to go north to interfere were we to pursue the retiring Japanese fleet on its way back from Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese plan was simple enough. It was this simplicity and the daring which was inherent in its simplicity that made its execution appear impossible to some people who did not know the Japanese. Even so, Intelligence succeeded in alerting the Commander in Chief, and at noon on December 5th, 1941, he received from his war plans officer, then Captain (now Vice Admiral), C. H. McMorris, USN, a short memorandum significantly entitled, "Recommended Steps to be taken in case of American-Japanese War within the next forty-eight hours." The imminence of war was evident in every one of Captain McMorris' memoranda. On December 1st he had submitted another in which he assumed war "within the next twenty-four hours."

The plan was a good one if viewed with the eyes of the conventional seaman who is dependent upon traditional textbook learning in drawing up his plots. It was a good plan but was oriented to the wrong direction. It was doomed to failure, and was never to be executed in practice because our planners could not conceive what the Japanese could do: throw Western conventions overboard and apply what they had learned from history, their own history at Port Arthur---surprise attack without a prior declaration of war.

I was properly asked by the Congressional Pearl Harbor Committee why I thought the Japanese would start the war with an air attack on our fleet. I told them there were four sound reasons:

(1) The Japanese could not be expected to make the grave strategically blunder of a movement to the southward leaving our fleet intact on their flank. This, in spite of the fact that the Japanese then had at their disposal in the Pacific 180 ships to our 102, because they well knew that by the time we could assemble an expeditionary force on the west coast, the rest of our fleet would come around to the west coast. There, it was obligatory that they attempt to sink or cripple seriously at least four of our battleships in order to bring us down to a nominal parity with them.

(2) The Japanese are great students and could be expected to know all the fundamental principles of war and the lessons of history. They had seen the effectiveness of surprise at Port Arthur and could be counted upon to realize the possibilities of a successful surprise air attack on our fleet at Pearl Harbor.

(3) The Japanese knew to the utmost minute detail the situation in Hawaii, the scheduled movements of our forces, and everything necessary to make such an attack successful if we were not alert to it. The large number of agents at their disposal and the complete information obtained by them was an open invitation.

(4) The Japanese had discussed in books, in considerable detail, the chances for success of an air attack on Pearl Harbor. In one of these books collected by our naval representatives in Japan was a most pertinent paragraph. A translation was handed to the Pacific Fleet war plans officer in October 1941. In fact it was translated in the Fleet Intelligence Office. It read:

The American Commander-in-Chief has been occupied by carious secret plans but the three points which he is the most concerned are:

(1) Will a Japanese fast striking force made up of cruisers and aircraft carriers come on a scouting or striking mission?

(2) Will Japanese submarines hover near the Islands to attack or harass the Fleet?

(3) Will a Japanese Expeditionary force be sent overseas?

The first of these is the most fearsome. Suppose Japan were to form a fast striking force composed of such speedy battleships (whose speed American cannot match) as the Haruna, Kongo and Kirishima, the aircraft carriers Akagi and Ryujo, and the Nachi class of heavy cruisers? This would be a fast-stepping force that would be truly matchless and invincible! Were they opposed to even the large guns of American battleships; they could utilize their superior speeds, thus leaving their slow adversaries behind. If opposed to a cruiser force they could close in and with telling blows crush the opposition. Truly, this would be a peerless force; able to close to battle or open out, if out gunned! If this Fast Striking Force should meet misfortune, losing one or two fast battleships or aircraft carriers, they would surely be a sever blow to Japan and we would have to grit our teeth, smothering our rage until the day of a decisive Main Engagement to obtain our revenge!

Maybe such a bold venture would be too great a risk, who can say? On the other hand, warfare is a risk and he who hesitates, or fears the risks of bold venture, cannot wage war! Moreover, an attack off Hawaii would be the first battle of the Pacific War and if in the very first engagement one can wrest the courage away from the enemy by one's own daring, it would put him in a funk or give him the jitters....[Excerpt from When Japan Fights by Naosaku Hirata]

I think it is proper to emphasize that my analysis has been prepared some years after the events to which it refers. The indices which appear so convincing today might have been overlooked then---although I still maintain that they were crystal clear and should have induced a greater preparedness rather than an inferential relaxation of caution. While the South China Sea, the Philippines, and even Guam figured prominently in the summaries and intelligence reports, there was no reference to Pearl Harbor, since the fact that Japan was to start the war with an all-out attack on our fleet at Pearl was their greatest and best-kept secret.

Even so, the imminence of war was recognized by all concerned. Regardless of whether or not it was to include the Philippines, Guam, territory bordering the South China Sea, or areas father to the south, all far distant from Pearl Harbor, this Hawaiian out-post was our main Pacific naval base and as such was automatically involved in any and all naval activities of a hostile nature. Therefore I could never sympathize with the argument that the lack of an alert at Pearl Harbor was due to the fact that hostilities were expected to be started elsewhere. Moreover, in 1941 it was not so much the base as the fleet anchored there which was the center of Japanese interest. While the base is immobile, the fleet is mobile. It has, in fact, no fixed geographical location; and if the war does not come to the fleet, it is the fleet's mission to go to the war. This was the focal idea which motivated all Japanese plans when they went after our fleet. It was my conception of Japanese plans based on the four reasons, given previously, which convinced me that Japan would commence hostilities with an air attack on our fleet. The total absence of consideration of this possibility in our planning was a partial cause of our failure. War reaches a climax at its very outset, the Battle of the Marne being a splendid example. That battle revealed that while a major power, with its initial moves, can hardly expect to win the war against another major power or coalition of powers; it can very well lose the war then and there if appropriate and energetic countermeasures are taken by the opponents. This was the position in which we had the Japanese at the time of their bold venture against Pearl Harbor. If we had been alert and able to deliver an effective attack on their carriers, the whole trend of the Pacific war could have been drastically changed.

In summary, then, of the activities of Intelligence just prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, it becomes obvious from the foregoing selections from our own intelligence reports that our high command was given repeated indications of the concentration of large Japanese forces and of the movement of a powerful Japanese force coincident with the most determined Japanese attempts to cloak their movements and messages in secrecy. And furthermore, I have never heard the following question asked of those concerned with preparations at Pearl Harbor: "In arriving at your estimates, did you consult in detail the opinion of those who were best qualified to state what the Japanese might do in the premises?"

II. The Test of Leadership

The reader of the foregoing analysis may properly ask the same question posed by the Congressional Joint Committee on the investigation of the Pearl Harbor attack: "Why, with some of the finest intelligence available in our history, with the almost certain knowledge that war was at hand, with plans that contemplated the precise type of attack that was executed by Japan on the morning of December 7---why was it possible for a Pearl Harbor to occur?"

We should not be concerned any longer over the effectiveness and seriousness of the warning given to Admiral Kimmel and General Short in highly classified dispatches passing from Washington to Hawaii. It has been established definitely that ample information and warning was provided, both from Washington and by the proper observers on the spot, to enable Admiral Kimmel to prepare his command for the emergency. But what about the additional vital information in Washington not sent to them? One may ask. By their own admission, oriented as they were only to war in the Far East, it is inconceivable that Admiral Kimmel and his staff would have reacted any differently to the additional information available in Washington.

Anyone who read the daily papers in Honolulu would have known that war was imminent by merely scanning the headlines. The following items were displayed prominently by the Honolulu Advertiser: November 13, 1941. "Tokyo radio asserts war is already on--Any military moves only logical result of encirclement policy, Japanese Staff says."

November 14th: "Japanese Confident of Naval Victory"

On December 3rd, an editorial in the Advertiser said bluntly: "There is nothing further to be gained by stalling in Washington....The immediate future of US-Japan relations is gloomy....Unless there is immediate and complete reversal of Tokyo policy....the died is cast. Japan and America will travel down the bloody road to war."

On December 5, an almost last warning: "Pacific Zero Hour Near. Japan Answers US Today."

The Joint Committee, recounting some of these headlines, commented that "it would seem difficult to imagine how anyone---upon reading the newspapers alone---could have failed to appreciate the increasing tenseness of the international situation and the unmistakable signs of war."

This prominent idea was similarly expressed by former Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson when, referring to the commander on the spot, he said: "If he did not know that the relations between Japan and the United States were strained and might be broken at any time, he must have been almost the only man in Hawaii who did not know it, for the radio and the newspapers were blazoning out the facts daily, and he had a chief of staff and an intelligence officer to tell him so. And if he did not know that the Japanese were likely to strike without warning, he could not have read his history of Japan or known the lessons taught in the Army schools in respect to such matters."

Admiral Kimmel did read the newspapers. In his own testimony he made a point of the fact that after the warnings of November 27th he was dependent on the newspapers for information concerning the state of negotiations, and while he added that he did not act on newspaper information, he obtained a major portion of his "diplomatic information from the newspapers."

Who, then, was at fault, and where must we seek the responsibilities for the failure to be alert? The specific failures of the Hawaiian commands as set forth by the Joint Committee indicates comprehensively what those commands failed to do and thereby constituted lack of alertness. The report states:

8. Specifically, the Hawaiian commands failed---

(a) To discharge their responsibilities in the light of the warnings received from Washington, other information possessed by them, and the principle of command by mutual cooperation.

(b) To integrate and coordinate their facilities for defense and particularly in light of the warnings and intelligence available to them during the period November 27 to December 7, 1941.

(c) To affect liaison on a basis designed to acquaint each of them with the operations of the other, which was necessary to their joint security, and to exchange fully all significant intelligence.

(d) To maintain a more effective reconnaissance within the limits of their equipment.

(e) To affect a state of readiness throughout the Army and Navy establishments designed to meet all possible attacks.

(f) To employ the facilities, material, and personnel at their command, which were adequate at least to have greatly minimized the effects of the attack, in repelling the Japanese raiders.

(g) To appreciate the significance of intelligence and other information available to them.

9. The errors made by the Hawaiian commands were errors of judgment and no dereliction's of duty.

These failures, at least on the part of Admiral Kimmel and his staff are best summed up in the words of Admiral King when he said:

"The basic trouble was that the Navy failed to appreciate what the Japanese could, and did, do."

Here, then, is the concrete reason why we were not alert at Pearl Harbor on December 7th. It was for the specific purpose of eliminating this "basic trouble" that I called upon Admiral Kimmel and related to him and his chief of staff, Captain, (now Vice Admiral) W. W. Smith, in March 1941 the details of just such possible moves by the Japanese in case of hostilities which they undertook exactly as predicted.

Admiral Kimmel did expect war---but by a rationalization for which it is difficult to find an explanation, he excluded himself and his command from participation in that war. Of course his mind was predisposed by the statement of his planning officer, Captain McMorris, made at a joint conference with General Short, that there was little chance of an air attack on Hawaii. And his chief of staff did not inquire as to the reasons for the Army alert that week.

Sufficient facts are now known for the historian to pass judgment even today. All of the documents are available. We know that Pearl Harbor was a test of leadership. And we know that when this test came, the leadership was found wanting.

It was said of Admiral Jellicoe after the Battle of Jutland that he was the only man in history who could have lost the war for Britain in one afternoon, by exposing his fleet to the torpedoes of the German high seas fleet. It may now be said of Admiral Kimmel that fate had given him the opportunity to save the United States in one morning, by repelling the treacherous attack and turning Japan's victory into Japan's defeat.

In Admiral King's opinion, the following courses were open to Admiral Kimmel:

"(1) He could have used patrol craft which were available to him to conduct long range reconnaissance in the more dangerous sectors..."

"(2) He could have rotated the 'in port' periods of his vessels in a less routine manner..."

"(3) If he had appreciated the gravity of the danger even a few hours before the Japanese attack, it is logical to suppose that naval planes would have been in the air during the early morning period, that ships' batteries would have been fully manned and that damage control organizations would have been fully operational."

In the light of the Japanese statement that three remaining waves of their attack were called off because of the heavy resistance put up by the ships after they were firing and because the attacks became increasingly ineffective, it is interesting to speculate on the results had the ships been initially alerted.

All these factors of a tragic past are significant only in their importance for the future. The Joint Committee was abundantly conscious of this fact when it concluded its report with a series of recommendations ranging from such truisms as need for unity of command to elimination of personal jealousies.

Of particular importance for our future security is the recommendation that "effective steps be taken to ensure that statutory or other restrictions do not operate to the benefit of an enemy or other forces inimical to the Nation's security and to the handicap of our own intelligence agencies."

Most important is early and effective action upon the realization that "operational and intelligence work requires centralization of authority and clear-cut allocation of responsibility."

The Joint Committee further recommended that "the coordination and proper evaluation of intelligence in times of stress must be insured by continuity of service and centralization of responsibility in competent officials." The committee voiced the opinion that the security of the nation can be insured only through continuity of service and centralization of responsibility in those charged with handling intelligence, adding that "the assignment of an officer having an aptitude for such work over an extended period of time should not impede his progress nor affect his promotion."

In my own testimony before the Joint Committee I dealt extensively with the basic problems, and I am gratified to find some of my own analyses and recommendations are now so fully incorporated in the committee's report.

Surveying the tragedy of Pearl Harbor in the lessons which it teaches, the Joint Committee introduced its report with words which bear repetition:

The Pyrrhic victory of having executed the Pearl Harbor attack with surprise, cunning, and deceit belongs to the war lords of Japan whose dreams of conquest were buried in the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. History will properly place the responsibility for Pearl Harbor upon the military clique dominating the people of Japan at the time. Indeed, this responsibility Premier Tojo himself has already assumed.

We come today, over 4 years after the event, not to detract from this responsibility but to record for posterity the facts of the disaster. In another sense we seek to find lessons to avoid pitfalls in the future, to evolve constructive suggestions for the protection of our national security, and to determine whether there were failures in our own military and naval establishments which in any measure may have contributed to the extent and intensity of the disaster.

This is the proper sprit in which the tragedy of Pearl Harbor must be viewed and the only approach which may enable us to escape a similar disaster in the future. If we succeed in learning the lessons of history's cruel teachings, we may yet say that the agony of Pearl Harbor was not in vain and that we succeeded in gaining strength from our own shortcomings.

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Return to Index

Chapter 22:
The Shooting War Begins

Chapter 23:
Behind the Tragedy of Pearl Harbor

Chapter 25:
An Intermezzo At Sea

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