Pearl Harbor: The First Overt Act
“…the Japanese aviators at that time
[7 December 1941] were all charged
up to go fight. Our people were not
charged up to go fight, until after Pearl
Harbor was hit.”(1)
Although it has been eighty years since the Japanese delivered the first substantial overt act against the United States of the Second World War, nothing yet published has reasonably explained how the Army and Navy in Hawaii were taken by apparent surprise.
Having spent the past thirty-eight years studying and analyzing Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, we, the authors of this essay, are prepared to provide our readers with a short explanation. We believe the accuracy of our major conclusion is correct.
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the American people were deceived. But before anyone walks away from further reading, let us assure you that the deception of the past eighty years was in the public’s best interest. Our major conclusion is that while the Japanese planned and worked hard at delivering a sneak attack, “a raid, actually,” the raid the Imperial Japanese Navy planned to deliver against the United States had been well considered by American military strategists.
Our major conclusion–that part of our analysis that has never publicly been explored before–is that the Hawaiian Commanders, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, were not deceived by their superiors in the War and Navy Departments in Washington, D.C.
In his January 1946 testimony to the Joint Congressional Committee (JCC) investigating Pearl Harbor, and again in 1955 in his book, Admiral Kimmel’s Story, Admiral Kimmel claimed the Navy Department had committed an “affirmative misrepresentation” by telling him they would supply the Pacific Fleet Commander with all important information on the Japanese-American diplomatic conversations taking place in Washington, D.C. Admiral Kimmel claimed the Navy Department did not furnish this information to him. A similar claim was made that the War Department did not furnish similar information to Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, commanding general of the Hawaiian Department.
Time and space permitting, we could make a detailed study of testimony given to the various investigations into Pearl Harbor regarding claims made as to whether or not critical intelligence was furnished to the Hawaiian Commanders. There are perhaps 2,000 or more pages of testimony from the eight government investigations into Pearl Harbor examining the issue of what intelligence was or was not supplied to Admiral Kimmel and General Short. This writer has read and studied every page of that testimony. A statement in the JCC’s majority report regarding Admiral Kimmel’s claim on this matter is worth repeating: “The burden of the statements of both Admiral Kimmel and General Short to the committee is that Washington withheld vital information from them. In fact, Admiral Kimmel has charged that the Navy Department’s handling of Magic constituted an affirmative misrepresentation. On the basis of the evidence before the committee, this charge is without foundation in fact.”(2)
Conclusion #10 of the JCC’s majority report reads as follows:
“As reflected by an examination of the situation in Hawaii, there was a failure to employ the necessary imagination with respect to the intelligence which was at hand [emphasis added].
“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 [emphasis added].
“The committee feels that the failure to demonstrate the highest imagination with respect to the intelligence which was available in Hawaii and Washington is traceable, at least in part, to the failure to accord to intelligence work the important and significant role which it deserves.”(3)
We, the authors of this essay believe that in claiming there was an “affirmative misrepresentation” placed into the proceedings of these investigations, Admiral Kimmel was absolutely correct. There was and there are many “affirmative misrepresentations” placed in the historical record of the Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings. These affirmative misrepresentations were made by officers from the Navy and War Departments in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. But just as surely as this, the published record is replete with affirmative misrepresentations made by Admiral Kimmel, General Short, and other military personnel who had been on duty on Oahu or aboard ship in the eastern Pacific in 1941.
We further conclude there was no attempt, whether accidental or deliberate, to withhold critical intelligence from either Admiral Kimmel or General Short. After-the-fact testimony by Admiral Kimmel, General Short and subordinate officers serving on Oahu in 1941, claimed the Hawaiian Commanders were not furnished with intercepted, decoded and translated Japanese diplomatic message traffic.
Eighty years after Pearl Harbor, researchers have many advantages over researchers in the first several decades or more after World War II ended. Our computers can index and catalogue the material we read in the 39-volumes of the Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings. The Seventy-Ninth Congress made no attempt to provide a detailed index of these volumes. The modern day historian has various other worthwhile research tools. For instance, Newspapers.com provides its readers with photostatic copies of many different newspapers from years past. This includes the period leading up to United States entry into World War II. And the researcher of today, no matter where he or she lives, can remain at home and read the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin from 1941. Those of us who take the time to read these Hawaiian newspapers will be astounded to see the quality of the news readers of these two great American newspapers were getting. More importantly, these two papers kept their readers, whomever those readers may have been, well informed on Japanese-American diplomatic relations. There are also various and sundry social media channels. Not all of these are reliable sources of information, but if researchers try hard enough, they will find an amazing mass of reliable material available online.
For example, if the researcher wishes to drop in on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, he or she can do so by using his/her computer with all of the comforts of home. One can also drop-in on the National Archives. If one is willing to spend the time to do the research, excellent information is yours for the taking! (The 39-volume Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings themselves are available online.) (4)
Many of the documents furnished to the eight investigations into Pearl Harbor were “sanitized” prior to being made public. Some documents were sanitized for security reasons; others were sanitized to protect the most sensitive secrets of Pearl Harbor. It is also likely that some documents, such as the Navy Department’s famous “war warning” dispatch of 27 November 1941, and the War Department’s “do-don’t message of the same date(5), were written to confuse the public from realizing just how much was known by the military establishment prior to the outbreak of war. That said, the most important parts of the Navy Department’s war warning dispatch read: “This dispatch is to be considered a war warning. Negotiations with Japan looking toward stabilization of conditions in the Pacific have ceased….Execute an appropriate defensive deployment.”
The War Department’s warning message, #472, was termed a “do-don’t message” by the three general officers of the Army Pearl Harbor Board. The instructions in this dispatch are self-conflicting. While it appears War Department #472 was written by a group of novices in the War Department, it was written “on direction of the President” (Mr. Roosevelt). The Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson read and approved the message before it was sent. According to testimony, the message was prepared in the war plans division of the War Department. This message was shown to individuals in the Navy war plans division prior to being sent to General Short in Hawaii. Another conflicting point when compared to the Navy’s war warning: “Negotiations with Japan appear to be terminated to all practical purposes with only the barest possibilities that the Japanese Government might come back and offer to continue.” OPNAV 272337 flatly states: “Negotiations….have ceased.” These two “war warning messages” were released to Admiral Kimmel and General Short the day after Secretary of State Cordell Hull gave the 10-Point Note to Japanese ambassador’s Kichisaburo Nomura and Saburo Kurusu.
The State Department’s 10-Point Note effectively served as an ultimatum to Japan. In the words of the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, the 10-Point Note “touched the button” that provoked Japan into war with the United States and our allies.(6)
Former Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson’s diary entry of 27 November 1941 supports what Mr. Grew testified: “On the following morning, Hull told Stimson, `I have washed my hands of it, and it is now in the hands of you and Knox—the Army and the Navy.’”(7)
(1) Extract from the 12 September 1944 Army Pearl Harbor Board testimony of then Captain Edwin T. Layton, (PHA28, p. 1586). In the rank of lieutenant commander, E.T. Layton was the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer in 1941. An extremely competent naval officer, Layton remained the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer throughout the entire Pacific War. He retired in the rank of Rear Admiral, 1 November 1959.
(2) Joint Committee’s majority report, published in the Report of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack (cited hereafter as Report), p. 234.
(3) Conclusion No. 10 of the JCC’s majority report, see Report, p. 259.
(4) Back in the late 1980’s, this writer had to look hard to find copies of the Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings in the San Diego Public Library. As a matter of fact, the main downtown branch of the San Diego Public Library had only four of the 39-parts in its possession. On the other hand, the Love Library at San Diego State University, SDSU, had two full sets of the 39-parts (volumes) of PHA in its government documents section. And SDSU had an extremely helpful documents librarian, Greta Marlatt, without whom this research project would never have gotten off the ground. For approximately thirty years Greta has been an employee of the Dudley Knox Library at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. This is my public thanks to Greta for her help!
(5) The Navy Department’s war warning dispatch, OPNAV 272337, of 27 Nov. 1941, is published in various parts of the Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings (see JCC exhibit 37, PHA14, p. 1406 as one example); for the War Department’s #472 to the Commanding General of the Hawaiian Department, also of 27 Nov. 1941 (see JCC exhibit 32, PHA14, p. 1328).
(6) Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, the Honorable Joseph Clark Grew’s Army Pearl Harbor Board (APHB) testimony, Wednesday, 27 September 1944, see PHA29, pp. 2142-2155 (see specifically p. 2152). On page 2144 of his testimony, Mr. Grew states, regarding economic embargoes: “I pointed out that when we put embargoes against Japan into effect, our relations with that country were bound to go steadily down-hill and it might, and probably would, end in war.” There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that by early 1941, the foreign policy of the United States towards Japan was deliberately conceived to provoke Japan into war with our country.
(7) On Active Service in Peace and War, by Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1947, p. 389. As Stimson notes, this was the basis for the 27 Nov. war warning messages.
By Andy and Debbie McKane
30 November 2021 at 18:39
In a sense, this enduring “controversy”, which is basically an argument over “Who is to Blame?”, involves the differences between strategic and operational analyses. It’s apparent from the various war warning and threat analysis messages sent from Washington provided the zone commanders the essential elements of information available from the exploitation of MAGIC. Even labeling those warnings as derived specifically from decrypted Japanese diplomatic cable traffic would not have added anything to their impact to ADM Kimmel and GEN Short. Other, that is, than adding the possible public disclosure that the US (and UK) had the ability to decrypt Japanese diplomatic traffic.
No IJN order or support traffic was directly compromised through MAGIC. Analysts at OP-20-G were struggling with JN25 and other IJN cryptographic systems, such as the codes used to encrypt IJN-related Maru logistic shipments. Traffic Analysis, in the absence of actual message intercepts due to radio silence, led Fleet and Army analysts to assume that IJN combat forces were headed toward the Dutch, UK, and French possessions in SE Asia.
There was also the differences between the operational art employed by the IJN and the US Navy & U.S. Army Air Force. The IJN concentrated its carrier air force into a combined strike group – the Kido Butai – consisting of all six of its fleet carriers. On 7 December, three U.S. carriers were individually deployed on separate missions ranging across the Pacific and one carrier was in San Diego undergoing a maintenance period. The U.S. Navy had no capability to identify, locate, and counter an IJN attack against Pearl Harbor. In fact, the Navy and Army had no operational plan, other than War Plan Orange, that was originally developed in 1924 and last revised in 1938.
GEN Short believed that the greatest threat to his air force elements was posed by sabotage. So he ordered his aircraft, especially his pursuit (fighter) aircraft concentrated wing tip-to-wing tip at his airfields.
Of course, no one in the State, War, or Navy Departments had reason to suspect that the IJN was ordered to attack Pearl Harbor. No analyst at OP-20-G or the Army Signals Intelligence Service had any direct intelligence pointing to Pearl Harbor.
Still, the 27 November War Warning authorized local zone commanders to execute operations to protect their forces. Did the Navy and Army have plans and the adequate resources to conduct 24-hour aerial surveillance? No, but no attempt was made – despite the fact that U.S. Navy war game exercises in 1932 (led by ADM Harry Yarnell) and 1938 (led by ADM Ernest King) proved the feasibility of such an attack as had been forewarned in 1925 by GEN Billy Mitchell.
On 7 December 1941, IJN Air Service pilots destroyed 27 PBY “Catalina” reconnaissance aircraft on the ground and damaged another six. There is no record I’ve found that reconnaissance missions were flown prior to 7 December 1941 over the north Pacific Ocean covering a route proposed by the 1932 or 1938 Naval war games.
7 December 2021 at 17:47
The PBY pilots complained to Admiral Kimmel’s wife that because of their early Sunday morning reconnaissance missions, they couldn’t attend Saturday night officer parties, and socialize with senior officers, which hurt their promotion opportunities.
Kimmel’s wire persuaded the Admiral to cancel Sunday morning reconnaissance missions.