First Overt Act (25)

Captain Edwin T. Layton probably gave a better summation of why we had Pearl Harbor than any historian has provided in the years since the end of World War II. As Layton explained to the Army Pearl Harbor Board in 1944: “Our people were not charged up to go fight until after Pearl Harbor was hit.” (26)

One might ask, Why not allow the Pacific Fleet to fight a sea engagement off Oahu at the initiation of hostilities? According to Layton: “I think the American forces here would have taken the licking of their life….because the American people were not psychologically prepared for war.” (27)

American war plans developed and prepared prior to December 1941 placed the Pacific Fleet in “a waiting attitude” and established the policy of “the first overt act” being committed against the United States rather than by the United States. (28)

Prior to assuming command of the Pacific Fleet on 1 February 1941, Admiral Kimmel told Commander John L. McCrea: “Tell Admiral Stark that I will do my utmost in this job. I will be guided in what I do by what I think is best for the country.”*

In January 1941 while McCrea was discussing the new war plan with Admiral Thomas C. Hart in Manila, Hart told McCrea: “I feel certain that [Japan] won’t jump us unless they feel certain that in so doing they can attain a tremendous initial advantage….I do not feel that the destruction of the entire Asiatic Fleet would be regarded by them as such an `initial advantage.’”**

A key element of the ORANGE war plan that was omitted from the Rainbow 3 and the later Rainbow 5 war plans reads as follows:

“The Army and Naval Forces stationed in the HAWAIIAN ISLANDS
will be prepared at all times to defend OAHU against all forms of
surprise attack, including the following: (a) Gun, torpedo, and
bombing raids, mining operations, and a possible landing of minor
forces. (b) Attempts to enter PEARL HARBOR or HONOLULU
HARBOR, or to close those harbors by blockships. (c) Sabotage or
armed insurrection.”***

The omission of Change No. 6 of the Orange War Plan from Rainbow 3 and Rainbow 5 war plans, effectively led to what occurred on Oahu on 7 December 1941. Put another way, it was no longer desired that the Army and Navy would “be prepared at all times to defend Oahu against all forms of surprise attack.” (29)

The War Department’s war warning, sent as dispatch #472 to Lieutenant General Walter C. Short on 27 November 1941, confirms the above: “If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot, be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act.”30 On 28 November this same message, containing the exact same phrase, was sent by Admiral Stark to Admiral Kimmel and other naval officers. (31)

In his Reminiscences, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur described the effect of the war warning dispatch in this way: “My orders from Washington were not to initiate hostilities against the Japanese under any circumstances. The first overt move in the Philippine area must come from the enemy.” (32) Admiral Kimmel and General Short could have used the exact same words to describe their situation by substituting the words “Hawaiian area” for “Philippine area.”

The first two sentences in Section II – Assumptions of the Hawaiian Defense plans read as follows: “1. There will be a period of strained relations preceding the outbreak of war with ORANGE….2. Active hostilities against the UNITED STATES by ORANGE will be precipitated without a formal declaration of war.”****

Pacific Fleet Confidential Letter 2CL-41 of 14 October 1941 includes the following statement: “(b) That a declaration of war may be preceded by: (1) a surprise attack on ships in Pearl Harbor. (2) a surprise submarine attack on ships in operating area. (33) (3) a combination of these two.”*****

Operation Plan No. 1-41 of December 1941 circulated by the Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District, Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch, advised the Harbor Control post at Pearl Harbor: “…be prepared to `alert’ Army and Navy forces against aircraft or other surprise attack, and assist in coordinating their defense measures.”(34)

On 2 December 1941, Rear Admiral Bloch circulated Local Base Defense Force Order No. 1. Enclosed with this letter was a “special military map” of Oahu, and, “1. The unified grid system as used by the U.S. Army will be adopted for use of the Naval Local Base Defense Force.”(35)

On 4 December 1941, Admiral Kimmel circulated Pacific Fleet Confidential Letter No. 16CL-41. The subject of 16CL-41 was, U.S. Army Position Grid—Hawaiian Area. All ships presently in port at Pearl Harbor received 16CL-41 and the “unified grid system” documents that were associated with it. (36)

One indication that Magic was available on Oahu is found in a memorandum by Lieutenant Colonel George W. Bicknell, titled Seizure and Detention Plan (Japanese). This document is dated 21 November 1941. The assistant G-2 of the Hawaiian Department’s memo begins; “1. It is quite possible that war may develop with Japan with or without a formal declaration, in the near future.”

Under item 5 is stated: “Plan II considers the situation which would exist in a general Pacific war with the United States Fleet (or a considerable portion thereof) in Hawaiian waters but with threats of surprise raids (by air or surface craft) against the Hawaiian Islands.” (37)

An indication that the “winds execute” message had been intercepted is contained in a telegram from Manila to the Theo. H. Davies Company in Honolulu. This telegram reads, in part: “C. Our considered opinion concludes that Japan invisages [sic] early hostilities with Britain and U.S. Japan does not, repeat not intend to attack Russia. You may inform Chiefs of American Military and Naval Intelligence [in] Honolulu.” Copies of this telegram were given to “Col. Bicknell, Mr. [Robert L.] Shivers [FBI Agent in Charge, Honolulu], and Capt. Mayfield.” (38)

The Japanese Navy’s execute for war was sent by Admiral Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief, Combined Fleet to all units of the Combined Fleet. This message, “Climb Niitakayama 1208, repeat 1208!,” was intercepted by Station HYPO at 2100, 2 December 1941 (GMT). (39)

For all intents and purposes United States diplomatic relations with Japan were terminated on 26 November 1941. (40) Secretary of State Cordell Hull and others in the Roosevelt Administration knew the Japanese Government would not accept the terms of the U.S. 10-Point Note. (41)

The Navy’s “most accomplished and experienced intelligence expert,” Captain Ellis M. Zacharias, had dinner with Lorrin Thurston and his wife in their home on 27 November 1941. In his book, Captain Zacharias wrote that in the Thurston’s living room after dinner, “for three hours, we discussed the situation. I revealed to them in detail what I had told Admiral Kimmel and [Curtis B.] Munson….as I concluded the careful analysis of past events and those soon to come, he [Thurston] suddenly exclaimed, `Here I am, a reserve officer in G-two, and I haven’t even been advised what to send out over my radio in case of an attack!’” (42)

On Sunday, 30 November 1941, the front page headlines of Lorrin Thurston’s Honolulu Advertiser warned: “Japanese May Strike Over Weekend!” and “Kurusu Bluntly Warned Nation Ready for Battle.”(43)

During his testimony to the Roberts Commission on Thursday, 8 January 1942, Captain Zacharias stated: “I consider that on the 1st of December, 1941, we had an excellent and efficient intelligence organization working in Hawaii.” (44)

Just as surely as the Japanese Navy used strategy in planning their opening moves of the Pacific War, high level officials of the United States provoked Japan into committing the first overt act. American strategy allowed the sacrifice of obsolete ships and of X-number of lives on Oahu on Sunday, 7 December 1941. (45)

The strategic lesson of Pearl Harbor is that when we deceive ourselves as to how past events happened, we condemn ourselves to repeat similar events in the future. (46)

* A twenty-three page “secret” Memorandum for Admiral Stark of 5 February 1941 is published as Appendix B in the Reminiscences of Vice Admiral John L. McCrea, U.S. Navy (Ret.), U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, 1990, quoted from p. 22. McCrea’s memo was not furnished to any investigation into Pearl Harbor.

** Ibid, McCrea memo, p. 14.

*** See Changes in Joint Basic War Plan – ORANGE, JB No. 325 (Serial 594), signed by the then Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William H. Standley, and approved by Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson, 9 December 1936. This was inserted as Change No. 6 to the Orange war plan on 26 March 1937. Admiral Standley was one of the five members of the Roberts Commission that investigated Pearl Harbor.

**** JCC Exhibit 44, Copies of Defense Plans (Hawaiian Department & Fourteenth Naval District), as revised 11 April 1941, PHA15, p. 1423. (The full text of Exhibit 44 is found in PHA15, pp. 1423-1471.)

*****Pacific Fleet Confidential Letter No. 2CL-41 (Revised), 14 October 1941. Quoted from JCC Exhibit 44, PHA15, p. 1453. This document and its earlier version were used as exhibits of some of the earlier investigations into Pearl Harbor. 2CL-41 of 14 Oct. 1941 is also published as an appendix in Admiral Kimmel’s Story, by Rear Admiral H.E. Kimmel, Henry Regnery Company, Chicago, 1955, see pp. 189-201, quoted from p. 190.

By Mr. Andy McKane