Despite the fact that United States entry into World War II happened seventy-seven years ago, nothing yet published accurately reflects how America’s military leaders on Oahu were apparently taken by surprise on 7 December 1941.
Even before Japan’s surrender, some writers had claimed that President Roosevelt knew Japan was going to attack us. (1) Ever since the Second World War ended, it has been widely assumed that while high-level officials in Washington, D.C. had good intelligence on Japanese intentions, little or none of this intelligence was available to the Army and Navy in Hawaii.
A variety of explanations on how intelligence failed to get to Oahu have been offered through the years since Pearl Harbor. We’ve been told that Army and Navy relations were poor, both in Washington and on Oahu. We’ve been told there were “turf wars” between members of the naval communications community and members of the naval intelligence community. We’ve been told that intercepted Japanese diplomatic and consular message traffic, “Magic,” that was decoded and translated in Washington, D.C. and the Philippines, was not furnished to the senior Army and Navy commands in Hawaii. (2) We’ve been told that only 5, 6, 7 or 8 Purple machines had been built, and thus no Purple machine was available to send to Hawaii. (3) We’ve also been told that while the Navy had a communications intelligence (ComInt) facility on Oahu, that unit wasn’t authorized to read Japanese diplomatic and consular message traffic. (4) And we’ve heard that the Navy’s ComInt unit on Oahu, popularly known as Station HYPO, was ordered to “stay away from all Japanese naval codes with the exception of one.” That one code HYPO was ordered to exclusively focus on was the Japanese Navy’s flag officers system of which there were too few intercepts available to enable cryptanalysts at HYPO to break into the flag officers system. (5) And we’ve heard there was another turf war within the Office of Naval Communications, “the Redman brothers” vs. everyone else—the legendary Laurance F. Safford and legendary Joseph J. Rochefort included!
One of the most often repeated stories is that the officer in charge of the Navy’s war plans division had a domineering personality and that he didn’t understand intelligence and “had no use for intelligence.” A number of writers claimed this officer believed in late 1941 that Japan was about to attack Siberia rather than United States and British possessions in the Pacific. This officer has been called “the forceful junior member of the triumvirate that ran the Navy Department” in 1941.* This officer, a captain in 1940, a rear admiral in 1941, and a four star admiral effective 14 May 1945, was a bully. His well-known nickname, “Terrible” Turner, suggests this. While in the wardroom aboard battleship South Dakota in Tokyo Bay on the night of Japan’s formal surrender, this officer, we have been told, ranted that Admiral Kimmel, the Pacific Fleet commander at the time of Pearl Harbor, “should be hanged higher than a kite!”(6)
We who have served in the Navy have a proud tradition of telling sea stories. Our sea stories often begin around what civilians call a drinking fountain. We of the Navy, however, refer to these drinking fountains as the scuttlebutt; the stories we tell there are known as “scuttlebutt.” Like gossip, scuttlebutt isn’t always true!
The United States Navy did not fail the American people or its President and Commander in Chief on 7 December 1941. Neither did the Army or the Army Air Force. Neither did the Marine Corps.
Any individual looking for the finest examples in American military leadership and in the quality of our enlisted personnel will find the wealth of our greatness through the study of Pearl Harbor.
A vast amount of misinformation has been published on America’s entry into World War II. Unfortunately, a large volume of disinformation is in the public domain on Pearl Harbor. Not surprisingly, much of the disinformation on U.S. entry into the Second World War initially surfaced in testimony and exhibits published in the Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings.
There were eight government investigations into Pearl Harbor commencing with the Roberts Commission on 18 December 1941. The last of these investigations, conducted by a ten member joint congressional committee (JCC), began on 15 November 1945. The JCC concluded hearing the testimony of witnesses on 31 May 1946. The testimony and exhibits of these investigations were published in 1946. This publication, in 39-paperback volumes, “parts” as they are popularly known, is titled: Pearl Harbor Attack: Hearings Before the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack. (7)
Unfortunately, by the late 1980s, the availability of any of these 39-paperback volumes even in a city the size of San Diego, was limited.**
Another document related to the 39-volume Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings is titled: Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack: Report of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack. Many writers refer to this as “the 40th part.”(8) Unfortunately, most writers appear to have relied more on the JCC’s Report than on reading the 39-volumes of PHA.
The greatest influence on what has been published on Pearl Harbor since 1946 are the twenty-five conclusions of the JCC’s majority report. (9) Little attention, however, has been given to conclusion number 10, which reads, in part: “Washington, like Hawaii, possessed unusually significant and vital intelligence. Had greater imagination and a keener awareness of the significance of intelligence existed, concentrating and applying it to particular situations, it is proper to suggest that someone should have concluded that Pearl Harbor was a likely point of Japanese attack” (10) (emphasis added).
Conclusion number (10), however, was weakened by this statement which follows what we quoted above: “The committee feels that the failure to demonstrate the highest imagination with respect to the intelligence which was available in Hawaii and in Washington (emphasis added) is traceable, at least in part, to the failure to accord to intelligence work the important and significant role which it deserves” (11) (emphasis added).
* The members of this alleged triumvirate were the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold R. Stark, USNA 1903; the “Assistant Chief” of Naval Operations (as the position was then known) Rear Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, USNA 1905; and the Director of War Plans, Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, USNA 1908. At least one writer hinted that Admiral Stark’s nickname, “Betty,” indicates the CNO was a sissy!
** As an example, in January 1990, the main (downtown) branch of the San Diego public library had only four of the thirty-nine volumes in its collection. These four volumes were kept in a secure place in the basement of the San Diego public library. At that same time, however, the Love Library at San Diego State University had two full sets of PHA in its collection. The growth in the popularity of the Internet, with specialists in the sale of used books, such as ABE.com, and Military Books of Washington, D.C. make it possible for students of Pearl Harbor to locate various parts of PHA, and, on occasion, to find an entire set of the 39-volumes. Expect to pay in excess of $2,000 for an entire set of the 39-volumes of PHA.
By Mr. Andy McKane
Note: All footnotes in parentheses will be posted in part 5 of this series.