“United States Desires that Japan Commit the First Overt Act”

United States war plans for war in the Pacific were long based on war between the United States and one other nation. That country was Japan. The United States war plan for war with Japan was known as War Plan ORANGE. Plan Orange was periodically updated. But with war raging in Europe, the United States initiated a new set of war plans. These new plans were known as the RAINBOW war plans. (There were five versions of the RAINBOW plans, each for a different scenario.)

The RAINBOW war plans were designed for coalition war between the United States and its allies against Germany, Italy and Japan and nations allied with these three countries.

There were three major assumptions in the 1940 version of the ORANGE war plan that were not carried over into either RAINBOW THREE OR RAINBOW FIVE. These assumptions are:

“War with ORANGE will be precipitated without notice.”

“War will be preceded by a period of strained relations which will develop into actual hostilities before
a formal declaration of War.”

Change No. 6 to the then current ORANGE Plan (WPL-13) was issued 26 March 1937. This change
states the following:

“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.”

These three major assumptions, all of which appeared in the final version of the ORANGE war plan (WPL-13), were not carried over into RAINBOW THREE or RAINBOW FIVE. (22)

About two months after Admiral Kimmel relieved Admiral James O. Richardson as Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, and Lieutenant General Walter C. Short relieved Major General Charles D. Herron as

Commanding General, Hawaiian Department, two of their subordinates, issued what most writers refer to as the Martin-Bellinger Report. The actual title of this document is: Joint Estimate Covering Joint Army and Navy Relations in the event of sudden hostile action against Oahu or Fleet Units in the Hawaiian Area. We prefer to use the document’s full title as it better expresses the nature of this “estimate.”

This “estimate” begins:

“I. Summary of the Situation. (A) Relations between the United States and Orange are strained,
uncertain and varying. (B) In the past Orange has never preceded hostile actions by  a declaration of
war. (C) A successful sudden raid, against our ships and Naval installations on Oahu might prevent
effective offensive action by our forces in the Western Pacific for a long period. (D) A strong part of our
fleet is now constantly at sea in the operating areas organized to take prompt offensive action against
any surface or submarine force which initiates hostile action….”

“III. Possible enemy action. (A) A declaration of war might be preceded by: (1) A surprise submarine
attack on ships in the operating area. (2) A surprise attack on OAHU including ships and installations in
Pearl Harbor. (3) A combination of these two. (B) It appears that the most likely and dangerous form
of attack on OAHU would be an air attack. It is believed that at present such an attack would most
likely be launched from one or more carriers which would probably approach inside of three hundred
miles. (C) A single attack might or might not indicate the presence of more submarines or more planes
awaiting to attack after defending aircraft have been drawn away by the original thrust. (D) Any single
submarine attack might indicate the presence of a considerable undiscovered surface force
probably composed of fast ships accompanied by a carrier.”

(This is what happened early on the morning of 7 Dec. 1941 when the USS Ward and local base defense force aircraft attacked—and sank—one or more midget submarines off the entrance channel into Pearl Harbor.)

Under Possible Enemy Action is further stated: “…until an overt act has been committed we probably will take no offensive action….”(23)

There are considerably more details to this prescient document. On 31 March 1941, the document was signed by Major General Frederick L. Martin, commanding general, Hawaiian Air Force and Rear Admiral Patrick N.L. Bellinger, Commander, Naval Base Defense Air Force, and Commander

Patrol Wing Two.

A Joint Coastal Frontier Defense Plan Hawaiian Department and Fourteenth Naval District—1939 (Revised 28 March 1941) was signed by General Short and Admiral Bloch. Under Item 1, General, is stated: “In order to coordinate joint defensive measures for the security of the Fleet and for the Pearl Harbor Naval Base for defense against hostile raids or air attacks delivered prior to a declaration of war and before a general mobilization for war.” This agreement was to take effect at once.

An undated “Operations Orders” was circulated by the Hawaiian Department probably in the first several days of the month of December 1941. Item (2) of this document states: “In the current unsettled international situation, it is assumed that it is possible that a declaration of war upon the United States may be preceded by a surprise attack upon the Pearl Harbor Naval Base and ships of the Pacific Fleet by hostile aircraft, submarines, or surface ships with a view to the destruction or damaging of naval installations, ships, and facilities. Such a raid or attack may be accompanied by acts of sabotage committed by hostile sympathizers.”

The Pacific Fleet Confidential Letter No. 2CL-41 (Revised) of 14 October 1941 has as “Enclosure (A): Pearl Harbor Mooring and Berthing Plan showing Air Defense Sector. (B) Measures to be effective until further notice.” Under sub-paragraph (b) is stated: “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. (3) a combination of these two.”

Near this lengthy document’s conclusion it states:
“(2) It must be remembered that a single attack may or may not indicate the presence of more
submarines waiting to attack. (3) It must be remembered too, that a single submarine attack may
indicate the presence of a considerable surface force probably composed of fast ships accompanied
by a carrier….”

This document is signed – H.E. Kimmel.


(22) There is no reference to this omission in the 39-volume Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings. Nor can reference be found to this in the Report of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack. Fortunately, for the sake of posterity, this major omission was reported in On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor: The Memoirs of Admiral James O. Richardson, USN (Ret.), as told to Vice Admiral George C. Dyer, USN (Ret.), Naval History Division, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1973, see Chapter XIV, War Plans, pp. 251-306, quoted specifically from pp. 303-304.

(23) Although the Joint Estimate Covering Joint Army and Navy Air Action in the Event of Sudden Hostile Action Against Oahu or Fleet Units in the Hawaiian Area is published in various places in PHA, we recommend the version published in JCC exhibit 44, Copies of Defense Plans, PHA15, pp. 1423-1471. The document quoted above of 31 March 1941 is found on pp. 1437-1440 of Exhibit 44.

By Andy and Debbie McKane