The War Reaches America

The failure of Washington authorities to keep in mind the peculiar peril to Pearl Harbor that both Secretaries, the Chief of Staff, and WPD had pointed out from time to time and, more especially, the particular peril to the U. S. Fleet moored there periodically, can be traced to estimates of Japan's intentions that were arrived at late in 1941. During that autumn there was a rising expectation that attack would first be directed against targets much nearer to Japan itself. For months there was doubt, even, that America would be a primary victim. Despite the five-year nonaggression pact that Moscow and Tokyo reached in April 1941,1  there was a persistent conviction in Washington that Japan was merely biding its time for an attack upon the Siberian maritime provinces. When Germany attacked the Soviet Union and in a few days began gaining its astonishing successes, numerous Army and Navy Staff officers expected that Japan would move northward as soon as Russia was defeated. An illustration is the Navy judgment of 5 July, expressed in a communication to the Chief of Staff (and sent on by him to the commanding generals in the Philippines, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the Fourth Army for their guidance). In it the Navy offered "the unmistakable deduction" that the Japanese Government now had determined on a policy which "probably involves war in the near future," and pointed out a recent Japanese order to commercial vessels in east Atlantic ports that they clear the Panama Canal by 1 August. Advances against British and Dutch possessions were thought of as possible and operations against Indo-China likelier, but the northward thrust was thought of as all but certain: "the neutrality pact with Russia will be abrogated" and Japan's major military effort would be against Russia's maritime provinces probably at the end of July or "deferred until after the collapse of European Russia." 2  A few days later, how-


ever, the Navy's planning chief advised the Chief of Naval Operations of a decided increase in anti-American comment in the Japanese newspapers and suggested that aggressive movements against the United States, Great Britain, and the Dutch East Indies could "not be entirely ruled out." He recommended concurrent orders to the American commanders in the Philippines to establish their underwater defenses and deploy forces against a possible Japanese attack. When the Army's part in such a program was brought up at the next day's discussion in Joint Board General Marshall pointed out that there could be no deployment save by Presidential proclamation to bring the Philippine Army into United States service, and this "could be readily considered by Japan as an aggressive step." 3 As a substitute it was decided to explore means of having the Philippine Army mobilized for training, nominally.

Japan added to uneasiness and uncertainty by sending to Vichy on 12 July the equivalent of an ultimatum calling for "permission" to enter Indochina, and four days later by installing the new and strongly militarist Konoye government, with the aggressive General Hideki Tojo as its war minister. Far from intimidating Washington, it encouraged Mr. Roosevelt to proceed immediately with measures designed to retard Japan's accumulation of war materiel. With his approval the Chiefs of Army and Navy on 25 July warned Pacific commanders that on the following day the United States would impose against Japan an embargo on all trade, save as licensed, and would freeze Japanese assets in the United States. They did not anticipate "immediate hostile reaction" but sent the information so that the commanders "may take appropriate precautionary measures." 4  The military was not in full sympathy with the decision. In answer to Mr. Roosevelt's request for advice Admiral Stark gave him on 22 July a study by Admiral Turner, the Navy's planning chief. The study recommended against an embargo, reasoning that such an act would probably result in early attack by Japan upon Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies, and possibly would involve the United States in early war in the Pacific.5

For some weeks thereafter there was a continuing delusion (presumably based on the continuing Russian defeats) that when Japan moved it would be


against the Soviet Union rather than the United States. In late September G-2 continued to see a crisis in Japan, and a desire to attack Siberia as soon as Russia was defeated; G-2 continued to urge "increasingly strong power diplomacy" by the United States in the expressed belief that this was the best means of gaining time and of preventing a spread of hostilities.6  The same general attitude prevailed among General Marshall's intelligence advisers far into October. It is of interest to note that in the middle of that month the Navy issued another warning that as a result of a new Japanese cabinet reorganization, bringing Tojo to the premiership, hostilities between Japan and Russia were strongly possible. There was, however, a belated realization that perhaps Japan now had other intentions, for the warning (which again was passed on to the Hawaiian naval command and thus communicated to General Short as well) proceeded:

. . . Since Britain and the United States are held responsible by Japan for her present situation there is also a possibility that Japan may attack those two powers. In view of these possibilities you will take due precautions, including such preparatory deployments as will not disclose strategic intent and constitute provocative action . . . .7

This was still so far from Army belief that two days later General Gerow of WPD and General Miles of G2 expressed their nonconcurrence in the view that attack upon United States forces was an early possibility and recommended a message to General Short advising that "No abrupt change in Japanese foreign policy appears imminent." The Deputy and the Chief of Staff having noted both viewpoints, the "corrective" message recommended by WPD was sent out on 20 October both to General MacArthur and to the Western Defense Command as well as to General Short. 8

Factors Contributing to the 7 December Surprise

Although there was disagreement as to the timing of whatever Japan was contemplating, Army and Navy planners were in substantial accord in a large


part of their appraisal. This accord was unfortunate for, by reason of it, both groups of authorities were unmindful of what proved to be the most important item of all. Both of them still failed to sense a special threat to Pearl Harbor and the fleet, even though in the light of after-events it seemed to Congressional investigators that this was unmistakable in the "Magic" intercepts available to the intelligence and operations staffs of both services. These intercepts recorded, by decoding, numerous messages between Tokyo and Japanese agents and officials in Honolulu, Washington, Berlin, and a much smaller number to and from Japanese agents in Panama. They designated, among other things, the locations of U. S. ships in harbor and their movements and timing. Regardless of the specific peril to Hawaii that should have been discerned in the messages because the invaluable fleet was based there, the U. S. War and Navy Chiefs in Washington continued to provide Hawaii with only the same broad warnings of peril which were forwarded to the Caribbean Command and the Western Defense Command at San Francisco, as well as to Manila. Hawaii received all those broad warnings, as did the others, but nothing more specific than the others. The "Magic" intercepts were passed from the communications officers to G-2 in Washington and examined consistently by only two designated officers before being referred to General Marshall. Because of their number not all were deciphered until after days of delay (several of importance only after the Pearl Harbor attack). Because of the desire for secrecy none was sent to General Short, but a few were transmitted (by the safer Navy code) to Admiral Kimmel.9  The plain fact, as concluded by the official post-factum investigations, is that while both Army and Navy Chiefs now were tense with expectation that Japan might move in force, neither Army nor Navy expected that hostile move to be in the direction of Pearl Harbor, near which so much American strength had been concentrated.10  Each may have leaned somewhat upon the other's agreeing judgment but, whatever the cause, the trend of thinking in both services, as 1941 wore on,


was that (if Japan were not actually deterred by fear of America's slowly rising strength) her assault would be upon targets in the Far East rather than in the mid-Pacific. This thinking is apparent in the stream of correspondence and discussion during the weeks prior to Pearl Harbor.11

The evidence upon this and upon other points related to the disaster that fell upon Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 is of overwhelming volume, including 15,000 transcript pages of testimony in the postwar Congressional committee hearings alone, which ran from 15 November 1945 to 31 May 1946, with 9,754 additional pages of testimony accumulated in the seven previous official inquiries.12  It is out of the question to present in detail in this volume all this evidence or even all which affects only the Office of the Chief of Staff. One cannot even present, at any length, the whole variety of conflicting conclusions which have been drawn from the same evidence. The conclusions in extenso are available in the summaries of the majority and minority reports mentioned. It will be difficult to avoid several judgments to which items in the present chapter inevitably lead, namely: (1) that the initial attack upon Pearl Harbor (rather than upon installations in the Far East) effected as complete


a surprise as the Japanese had hoped for; (2) that the event startled the high commands of Army and Navy as completely as it did the local commanders of Army and Navy at Oahu; (3) that much of the secret information available to Washington (particularly the "Magic" intercepts of Japanese communications) was not decoded in time, and much which was decoded was inaccurately appraised within the General Staff, and that its most serious implications, crystal clear after the tragic fact, were not discerned when there was usefulness in discerning them; 13  (4) that not all the highly relevant information which was at the General Staff's disposal was shared with the Hawaiian Command for its own appraisal, and none of the "Magic" was forwarded to General Short direct; (5) that, regardless of this, enough information was provided to the Hawaiian Command -"the sentinel on post" in Secretary Stimson's figure- to warrant a belief that it, like the forces in San Francisco and Panama, was alert to its own peril; (6) that the forces available to the Hawaiian Command were far too small to permit both the reconnaissance and the training activities directed, and that insufficient attention was paid the Bellinger-Martin warnings of March 1941 (specifically II (b) and IV (e)) 14  on the impossibility of conducting the daily air-patrols contemplated in the official defense plan; (7) that, insufficient as they were, these forces were not deployed to their maximum effectiveness or with that thoroughness to be expected in light of Army doctrine and past maneuvers, and of the warnings contained in the 24 November and the 27 November dispatches; (8) that, on the other hand, despite the known peril of war throughout 1941, too much was decided at long range and there was no adequate, on-the-spot inspection by high Washington authority of what actually was being set up as an operating defense; and, finally (9) that the strategic planners of Army and Navy themselves in estimating Japanese intentions failed to make a surmise which in retrospective clairvoyance seems to have been almost inescapable, namely, that a crippling raid on the U. S. Fleet could be regarded as a necessary preliminary to any major Japanese campaign in the Pacific.15


This last conclusion is based upon the exact stipulation which entered into all American planning for the Pacific-that the fleet was the principal instrument of American action; that accordingly it must be kept intact as a unit rather than dispersed (for Singapore's protection, for instance); that, as General Marshall told General Short on his assumption of the new post, "the fullest protection for the Fleet [was] the rather than a major consideration for us"; that the fleet was not based on Pearl Harbor in order to protect the Army garrison, but, rather, the garrison was there in order to protect the fleet and its base. Yet with full American understanding of the fleet's supreme importance to America, there is no indication that the chiefs or the planners of the armed services credited Japanese planners with ability to recognize that same patent and basic fact. In Japan's planning of a new Pacific adventure, it would seem, the first aim surely would be to remove, or at least neutralize, the principal potential obstacle to such an adventure. This obstacle, by universal agreement, was the U. S. Fleet. Whether the Japanese adventure was toward Thailand or Malaya or Siberia or the Philippines, then, would be unimportant; in no case could it have high promise of success if a hostile U. S. Fleet was in operation, despite the fact that in late 1941 the fleet was not at maximum strength. From that stage in reasoning it is a short step to the next-that Japanese planning would require that the fleet be crippled, or its one reliable base shattered, or both. After the fact, which indicates that this is exactly the reasoning that Japanese professional planners followed, it seems extraordinary that American planners, by like reasoning, did not come unerringly to the same judgment; and hence surmise that, whatever Japan's ultimate objective, its first target could be the U. S. Fleet and its Pearl Harbor base by the often-predicted surprise attack; and hence, recognize the overwhelming necessity of emergency defenses there-not along with Manila and Panama but before them, and instantly.


Ample evidence that the Japanese had made their plans on this reasoning was provided after the war, when Japanese naval officers gave to U. S. naval interrogators their recollections of pre-Pearl Harbor discussions and turned over relevant records. Thus, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo's air operations officer during the attack, Capt. Minoru Genda, recalled Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's having said about 1 February 1941 : "If we have war with the United States we will have no hope of winning unless the U. S. Fleet in Hawaiian waters can be destroyed." 16 From the recollections of Capt. Sadatoshi Tomioka, chief of the Japanese Naval General Staffs Operations Section, and others, came a composite answer to the question of what important factors were considered in reaching the decision to attack Pearl Harbor. The factor given first in the translated summary was this: "Rendering impotent the United States Pacific Fleet in order to gain time and maintain freedom of action in the South Seas Operation, including the Philippine Islands." 17 Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, commanding the Akagi unit in the attack, observed that "the object of this attack was to destroy the capital strength of the United States Pacific Fleet and to delay any attack which it might make across the Pacific. . . : " 18 From the printed version of an oral discussion by the Japanese Combined Fleet's chief of staff, explaining that fleet's Secret Operations Order No. 1, dated 1 November 1941, are extracted these fragments:

5. In connection with the attack on Pearl Harbor, reports indicate that a gigantic fleet, which includes the Atlantic Fleet, has massed in Pearl Harbor . . . . This fleet will be utterly crushed at one blow at the very beginning of hostilities. It is planned to shift the balance of power and thereby confuse the enemy at the outset, and deprive him of his fighting spirit. . . 19

In post-factum analysis of Japanese strategy this became clear to lay as well as professional strategists. When General Marshall was testifying before the joint Committee on the fourth anniversary of Pearl Harbor he was asked, "Isn't it almost compelling that we must have kept constantly in mind that Japan would make an air strike at the main naval forces in the Pacific as long as they were sitting out on their flank [of the planned Japanese drive toward Malaya] ?" Restating the hypothesis, General Marshall wound up with the simple reply that "given an opportunity to strike a crippling blow at the Fleet, it is useless to say she would probably do it, because she did it." 20  It therefore seems profitless to do more than


mention another post-factum explanation of misjudging the situation: this noted that Japan might have invaded Indochina or even Borneo with impunity at the time, with the United States declining to go to war on such an issue; that, this being so, Japan obviously should not have forced America into the war; that American planners may have been guided by this same reasoning and by conjecture on what a sagacious enemy should do, rather than on what an aggressive enemy was capable of doing- in other words, estimating an enemy's intentions rather than his capabilities. In General Marshall's curt dismissal of that logic, "she did it."

Beyond the nine conclusions given above many other conclusions can be drawn, some pointing to the greater culpability of the local command, some to that of the higher authority in Washington. Many others were drawn in the course of the Congressional committee's inquiry, and no doubt will be drawn in further examinations and analyses to be made for years to come. The present chapter offers no more than the nine listed, supplementing the earlier recital of important actions taken, or not taken, to build up an appropriate defense for the fleet and the air bases, and an appraisal of the part played in this sequence of actions by the Office of the Chief of Staff.

Evidence of Japan's Southeast Asia Objectives

Apart from the "Magic" intercepts dealing with precise identifications of Pearl Harbor berthings, with fleet movements, with harbor defenses, and the target, 21 there was much to encourage the belief that other areas were in greater peril. Japan had obvious need for the petroleum of the Netherlands East Indies, more than ever as a result of the American embargo on petroleum. The intentions for expansion of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere had been publicly announced long before, and that sphere was commonly understood to include the maritime provinces of Siberia (eyed by Japan as far back as 1918), French Indochina (already the subject of pressure on Vichy), Burma, Malaya, and the Netherlands East Indies, as well as the Philippines which, in American hands, were recognized as a threat to Japan's southward expansion. Hence, when Japanese naval concentrations were reported, they were almost automatically assumed to be pointed toward one of these targets. One of them, in fact, was pointed toward Indochina, and was so recognized. The certainty of the identification


appears to have satisfied observers and analysts alike and, strangely, to have kept them from further observations. A few more facts and conjectures on the circumstance noted (that one naval concentration's whereabouts was unknown) might have raised their suspicion that Japan was then contemplating not the one expedition to Indochina which was in unmistakable preparation but another against the Philippines, and yet a third. This third venture was precisely the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the fleet, which had been a stated presumption of the Orange War Plan years before.

Among the incoming warnings one may note two Manila radiograms of late October 1941. The one reported a general southward movement of Japanese shipping in the western Pacific-possibly toward Indochina or the Malaya barrier. The other reported a number of Japanese vessels off Takao, in Formosa, to which the commander in chief of the Combined Naval and Air Forces had been ordered: the intelligence agent stated, "I believe the assembling of an expeditionary force may be under way." 22 A few days later a Military Intelligence Division (MID) summary of information from a source "considered reliable" reported that in late August General Tojo (while he was war minister) had ordered full preparations by November "to meet any emergency with the United States." The summary also quoted a Japanese judgment that "war with the United States would best begin in December or in February." 23 On the same day, 3 November, the Joint Board met to consider messages laid before the State Department two days previously. The messages were from Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and Maj. Gen. John Magruder, head of the current U. S. Mission to China, both urging that the United States warn Japan to remain out of Yunnan province. Secretary of State Hull, then trying to avert a break with Japan for as long as possible, saw small profit in further warnings "if we can't back them up" and found General Marshall and Admiral Stark in agreement with him. The Chief of Staff, likewise seeking time, expressed the view that by mid-December the scheduled shipment of munitions and men to the Philippines would have built up a total strength sufficient to deter Japanese aggressiveness: only then, he went on, could American declarations be backed up. The Chief of Naval Operations appears to have been unconvinced about the immediate imperilment either of Yunnan or of Chungking, the temporary Chinese capital: the notes of the meeting mention his view that the Japanese


were capable of attacking in five directions-toward Russia, the Philippines, Yunnan, Thailand, and Malaya.24 That he did not mention Hawaii is not significant, for he was discussing the Far East situation and not the whole Pacific problem.

It was this meeting that led Admiral Stark and General Marshall on 5 November to make a joint estimate and recommendations to the President, in order to discourage at so critical a time anything that would either weaken the anti-Axis nations or prod Japan into hostilities prematurely. They held firmly that any offensive operations undertaken to protect the Burma Road would lead to war with Japan. They pointed out that currently the U. S. Fleet in the Pacific was inferior to Japan's, so that if an unlimited strategic offensive in the western Pacific was to be undertaken it would first be necessary to withdraw from the Atlantic all naval vessels there stationed except for those in local defense. This, the Joint Chiefs continued, would endanger the United Kingdom. They therefore recommended:

1. Disapproval of dispatching troops to intervene in China.
2. Acceleration of material aid to China-consonant with the needs of Russia, Great Britain, and the United States.
3. Acceleration, to a practical maximum, of aid to the American Volunteer Group in China (the air unit of Americans fighting for Chiang).
4. No ultimatum to Japan.25

On 7 November, exactly one month before Pearl Harbor, Admiral Stark expressed his forebodings in a letter to Admiral Kimmel. A paragraph in which, by startling accident, he precisely dated the possibility of "most anything," was as follows:

Things seem to be moving steadily toward a crisis in the Pacific. Just when it will break, no one can tell. The principal reaction I have to it all is what I have written you before; it continually gets "worser and worser"! A month may see, literally, most anything.


Two irreconcilable policies can not go on forever- particularly if one party can not live with the set up. It doesn't look good.26

The Warnings of Late November

The Army and Navy concern over Japanese intentions, which were greatly disturbing the State Department as well, now was echoed from London. A message from Military Attaché Brig. Gen. Raymond E. Lee reported that the British ambassador in Tokyo not only observed the Japanese likelier to attack the Dutch East Indies than either Indo-China or the Siberian maritime provinces but, more significantly, also believed that "Japan no longer feels that she must make every effort to avoid war with the United States." 27 Two weeks later, because of confirming reports from other sources and the continuing warnings of the State Department, the imminence of war was rapidly becoming clear. On 24 November, with General Marshall's concurrence, Admiral Stark sent to fleet and district Navy commanders in the Pacific area, for transmission to their Army colleagues, a warning that ". . . a surprise aggressive movement in any direction, including an attack on the Philippines or Guam, is a possibility. The Chief of Staff has seen this dispatch and concurs . . . ." 28 Although there was in this no specific mention of imperilment in mid- or east-Pacific such as would most surely arouse a recipient to that possibility, the warning was sufficient to impress Lt. Gen. John DeWitt, commanding the Fourth Army and the Western Defense Command. Without delay he established a harbor alert at San Francisco, ordered like precautions in Alaska, initiated co-operative measures with the Navy, and next day requested authority to direct air as well as ground force deployment in his command. Similarly, General Andrews, at the Caribbean Defense Command, promptly reported a 24-hour alert of harbor troops in co-ordination with the Naval Defense, of the Air Forces, of the Aircraft Warning Service and the antiaircraft artillery, while warning that, despite all possible precautions, there was a marked insufficiency of personnel and materiel for the assigned mission.29


At about this time the Navy was informed that Japanese reconnaissance planes were flying over American islands in the Pacific, presumably for photographic purposes, and at a Joint Board meeting expressed a desire for corresponding photographs of the Marshalls and Carolines. General Arnold, remarking that two Army photographic planes were already en route to the Philippines (they had not yet cleared Hawaii), volunteered to have them perform the mission if provided with a memorandum of what the Navy desired. Instructions for the Army flyers were therefore drawn up and sent to them by way of General Short, in the second of two messages to Hawaii referring to this mission. The flyers were to photograph Truk, Jaluit, and Ponape and make visual reconnaissance of surface and submarine vessels, planes, fields, barracks, and camps. Significantly the flyers were to be warned that the Japanese-mandated islands were strongly fortified and manned, and that they would have to move rapidly at high altitude; if attacked they were "to use all means in their power for self-preservation"; General Short was to insure that both planes were fully equipped with guns and ammunition. 30 The reason for this last admonition became apparent when the first of the two photographic planes reached Hawaii and was found to be lacking its needed 50-caliber machine guns in three locations, as General Martin promptly reported by radio, advising that the second plane be properly equipped in the United States. Even on 7 December while the devastating attack was in progress an incoming flight of B-17's sent from the mainland was not able to defend itself. Its machine guns were packed with cosmolene, and were not bore-sighted. No machine gun ammunition was aboard.

The fixity of Japan's purpose had become clear on 20 November, with the ambassador's presentation to the State Department of an "absolutely final proposal" as Japan's foreign minister described it to Mr. Nomura. 31 While Secretary Hull regarded it as calling for an "abject surrender" of America's position as a protector of China, he remained aware of the American military's need for more time to deploy forces in the Pacific. General Marshall and Admiral Stark urged diplomatic maneuvering which would provide months or even days for that purpose and, following a White House discussion of methods, the State Department on


24 November drafted for consideration a proposal of a three-months' modus vivendi. It was so placative in tone as to include a proposal for a partial resumption of trade between Japan and the United States. Examination of the draft immediately brought indignant protest from China and so little approval from Mr. Churchill and others that Mr. Hull abandoned the idea altogether. Instead, on 26 November (of course with Mr. Roosevelt's approval) he gave to the Japanese, as reply to the 20 November ultimatum, an "Outline of Proposed Basis for Agreement between the United States and Japan." 32 This action was learned of at the War Department late in the day, after General Marshall had left the city. The outline was a much sturdier expression of American views upon Pacific peace requirements, and for that reason there was such complete certainty that Japan would not accept it as a reply that both Army and Navy began preparing for expected consequences.

On 27 November Secretary Stimson sent for General Gerow, in General Marshall's absence (at the North Carolina maneuvers), and asked him what warnings had been sent to General MacArthur and what it was proposed to send. Reporting in writing to General Marshall, General Gerow explained that he had shown Mr. Stimson a copy of the Stark-Marshall message of three days earlier, but that this apparently did not wholly satisfy the Secretary. "The President wanted a warning message sent to the Philippines." General Gerow withdrew to prepare such a message in company with Admiral Stark, and later that day conferred with Secretary Stimson, Secretary of the Navy Knox, and the Chief of Naval Operations.33 As a result such a "war warning" as the President apparently wished was sent out by Navy wireless (for exhibition to Army authorities as well). This went, however, only after a much milder report of "hostile action possible at any moment" had been sent over General Marshall's signature to General MacArthur and duplicated, with certain modifications, to Hawaii, the Caribbean, and San Francisco.34  The milder message to General Short contained this passage:


. . . Japanese future action unpredictable but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot be avoided, the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act. This policy should not be construed as restricting you to a course of action that might jeopardize your defense. Prior to hostile Japanese action you are directed to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary but these measures should be carried out so as not to alarm civil population or disclose intent. Report measures taken. Should hostilities occur you will carry out the tasks assigned in Rainbow 5 . . . .

The sharper message, as sent out by the Navy, began:

This dispatch is to be considered a war warning. Negotiations with Japan looking toward stabilization of conditions in the Pacific have ceased and an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days. The . . . [Japanese preparation] indicates an amphibious operation against either the Philippines or Kra peninsula or possibly Borneo. Execute an appropriate defensive deployment preparatory to carry out the tasks assigned in WPL 46 x. Inform District and Army authorities. A similar warning is being sent by the War Department.

In addition to these, G-2 of the War Department sent to the G-2 of the Hawaiian Department, the Caribbean, and each corps area, a brief message stating that "Japanese negotiations have come to practical stalemate. Hostilities may ensue. Subversive activities may be expected. Inform Commanding General and Chief of Staff only." 35 This was Message 473; the far more significant one signed with General Marshall's name (but sent by WPD) was Message 472. In the circumstance that the two messages arrived at about the same time lay the seed of trouble, for General Short's response of that night was simply "Report Department alerted to prevent sabotage. Liaison with Navy reurad [i.e., "re: your radio"] 472 27th." 36 From this circumstance the Pearl Harbor investigators of 1946 concluded that General Short regarded Washington's instructions to him as calling for liaison with Navy and for action against sabotage only, and not for the much larger defense against "hostile action possible at any moment" or against the "aggressive move by Japan" specified in general terms in the far more important messages sent out the same day. It should be remembered that much of the Hawaiian population was of Japanese birth or descent, so that expectation of sabotage by disloyal individuals was not unreasonable-although in fact it


was not fulfilled when the emergency came. In his postwar explanation General Marshall himself remarked that specific warnings against subversion were justified, provided other warnings were acted upon.37 Months earlier an aide-mémoire prepared in the Office of the Chief of Staff for the Secretary's use had expressed the view that against Oahu's defenses a major attack would be "impracticable." Sabotage, in this view, was "first to be expected." 38

That General Short was confused by the second of the two messages was unfortunate, but this was not all. His error was compounded by the fact that his superiors in Washington failed to observe that he was confused. They paid only passing attention to his patently inadequate response that his establishment now was "alerted to prevent sabotage" (as encouraged by the ill-timed Message 473) rather than to resist the "hostile action possible at any moment," as ordered by Message 472. At subsequent inquiries General Gerow soberly acknowledged his share in that particular responsibility. "I did not connect the two messages when this short message of General Short's came . . . . In that I was in error" he told the Army Board, and to the Congressional inquiry he said ". . . if there was any responsibility to be attached to the War Department for any failure to send an inquiry to General Short, the responsibility must rest on the War Plans Division, and I accept that responsibility as the Chief of War Plans Division." In much the same way General Marshall said that General Gerow "had a direct responsibility and I had the full responsibility," on the principle that the Chief of Staff was "responsible for what the General Staff did or did not do." General Short's declaration on this matter was: ". . . when I reported action and there was no comment that my action was too little or too much, I was 100 percent convinced that they agreed with it. They had a lot more information than I had." 39

Attention Is Again Diverted

Even so, the exaggerated attention to subversion was not the sole evidence of miscalculation. In the studied judgment of War and Navy Department alike in November 1941, the expectation clearly was that when Japan's aggressive


action came it would be far to the west of Hawaii. It was explicit in the memorandum for the President, likewise dated 27 November 1941, which Admiral Stark and General Marshall signed jointly. This estimate of the perilous prospect opened with the declaration: "If the current negotiations end without agreement, Japan may attack: the Burma Road; Thailand; Malaya; the Netherlands East Indies; the Philippines; the Russian Maritime Provinces." Further discussion all but eliminated the last-named area as an objective, owing to Russia's strength in Siberia, and attack on Malaya and the Indies was ruled unlikely "until the threat exercised by United States forces in Luzon is removed." Japan would find less risk in attacking the Burma Road or Thailand, but "whether the offensive will be made against the Burma Road, Thailand or the Philippines can not now be forecast." The most essential thing, from the American viewpoint then expressed by the two Chiefs, was to gain time, not only to safeguard an Army convoy then near Guam and the Marine convoy then pulling out of Shanghai, but to allow a 21,000-man force then in the United States to make its way to Manila. In the military Chiefs' judgment, expressed in this memorandum, Japanese involvement in Thailand or Yunnan might even be advantageous, as leading to further dispersion, provided Japan did not drive into Thailand west of long. 100° E or south of lat. 10° N, or threaten territory of the United States, the British Commonwealth, the Dutch, or such strategic areas as New Caledonia, Timor, and the Loyalty Islands. General Marshall and Admiral Stark therefore recommended that prior to completion of the Philippine reinforcement there be no military action, unless Japan pressed these threats; that if Thailand was invaded, the warning be only against passing the point mentioned; that steps be taken to associate the British and Dutch in such a warning.40

The next day, with a persistence which seemed to stress the odd view that subversion and sabotage were the sum of anxieties about Hawaii (despite the fact that General Gerow had struck the matter out of Message 472) the War Department sent yet another warning, to Hawaii among other places, stating that the situation demanded that "all precautions be taken immediately against subversive activities within field of investigative responsibility of War Department . . . ." It desired that the recipient initiate additional necessary measures to afford protection against "sabotage," against "subversive propaganda," and against "espionage," and cautiously warned against "illegal measures" to effect


these purposes. The memorandum bore the typed comment that it had been noted by the Chief of Staff. Almost a duplicate message went direct to the Air commander in Hawaii. 41 Again General Short made acknowledgment, his reply once more mentioning his precautions "against subversive activities" and his problems of protecting "vital installations outside of military reservations." Most significant, it was only Alert No. 1 which General Short on 27 November directed, "due to the seriousness of the situation reported by the Chief of Staff from Washington," as he explained in his formal report on the Pearl Harbor raid five days after that event.42 Alert No. 1, as set forth in the Standing Operating Procedure of the Hawaiian Department, required "all vital installations to be protected against sabotage throughout Oahu." Not until the attack, at 7:55 A.M. on 7 December, was actually on, and General Short in his quarters was informed of it ("I could scarcely believe it''), did he direct the turning out of troops under Alert No. 3, which "required all troops to occupy their battle positions in the shortest possible time and defend Oahu as their mission." In this chain of circumstances is impressive evidence that-despite premonitions of a surprise raid expressed in January 1941 by Secretary Knox, despite long discussions, despite the war-games' presumption of attack, despite the clamor for the air warning service, despite the 24 and 27 November warnings-General Short's conclusion was that he was being warned against the relatively minor perils of local sabotage and subversion. In some measure this must explain the limited alertness of the Oahu command on the fatal morning of 7 December.

Two other items of evidence in the vast amount adduced were singled out by the joint Committee for special mention-(1) General Short assumed that the Navy was conducting a distant reconnaissance such as was contemplated in the joint defense plan (actually, the fleet had insufficient equipment to make the continuous and complete reconnaissance that alone would serve the purpose, but does not appear to have made this clear to Army authorities); (2) Admiral Kimmel, on his side, assumed that the Army was on a sharper alert than one for sabotage only, and hence that the radar search entrusted to the Army under the defense plan was in full operation instead of terminating at


7 A.M. In pursuit of their co-ordination of effort-paid more attention than was the case elsewhere-these two held their routine conferences on 1, 2, and 3 December, but at them failed to correct these fatally faulty assumptions.43

General Marshall's recollection, long afterward, of his own attitude upon the supposed security of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was that

. . . [it] was the only installation we had anywhere that was reasonably well equipped. Therefore we were not worried about it. In our opinion the commanders had been alerted. In our opinion there was nothing more we could give them at the time for the purpose of defense. In our opinion that was one place that had enough within itself to put up a reasonable defense . . . . The only place we had any assurance about was Hawaii, and for that reason we had less concern about Hawaii because we had worked on it very industriously, we had a tremendous amount of correspondence about it, and we felt reasonably secure at that one point.44

On the Eve of Pearl Harbor

The Japanese plan for the attack on Pearl Harbor, with a maximum of the U. S. Fleet present, was advanced in January 1941, at which time Admiral Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, ordered a staff study of the operation. The course of events from that time on is treated at length in numerous publications generally available and is summarized in the Congressional Joint Committee Report previously referred to.45  The extent of the Chief of Staff's surmises on war prospects in the Pacific, specifically on the imperilment of Pearl Harbor, and of his safeguarding activities and intentions has already been indicated. It is clear that by late November 1941 responsible chiefs of the State, War, and Navy Departments had a mounting realization of war's approach. All recognized that Mr. Hull's diplomatic effort to prolong the peace could not be effective much longer, and that the military action that the United States sought to delay, certainly until the Philippine rearming could be completed, might be forced by Japan at any moment. 46 The


questions in American minds were two-where Japan would strike, and when. To the first the answer seemed fairly clear, and unfortunately so, for the well-founded belief that a strike would take place in the Far East and probably in Thailand (which was indeed a part of the project) appears to have driven from most minds all active awareness that an earlier and much more important strike might take place at Pearl Harbor. To the second question American planners found no answer, but so expectant of attack at any time were the civilian heads of the State, War, and Navy Departments that when they met on Sunday morning, 7 December (Sunday work was a commonplace in War and Navy Departments at this time), in the words of Mr. Stimson's diary notation, ". . . we talked the whole matter over. Hull is very certain that the Japs are planning some deviltry, and we are all wondering where the blow will strike." In later recollections Mr. Stimson confessed his "astonishment at the Japanese choice of the greatest American base as a point of attack." 47

At this Sunday meeting there was no consciousness that on the previous day to both Navy and War Departments had already come an interception of the so-called "pilot message" of 6 December. In it Tokyo warned the Japanese Embassy in Washington of a "very long" 14-part message which would come the next day for presentation to the United States Government at a time later to be announced. The pilot message does not appear to have been decoded in the Navy until Sunday morning, but, according to a G-2 assistant's testimony, to have been made available to the War Department on Saturday afternoon.48 Of the 14-part message, it was variously testified that thirteen parts were decoded Saturday afternoon and read that night by the President, Secretary Knox, several Navy officers, and General Miles of Army G-2, and that these first thirteen parts were not delivered until Sunday forenoon when Colonel Handy of WPD promptly commented that "this means war." Even this was not in itself too serious, for within these thirteen parts there was no indication of when or where the war would start. Nor was there any such precise indication in


Part 14, which followed separately and which reached the War Department as early as 9 A.M., although there was ominous finality in the closing declaration that Japan "cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations." The real warning was in two additional messages which came at about the same time, one instructing the Japanese Embassy to destroy at once its cipher machine and secret documents, the other directing the embassy to deliver the 14-part message at 1 P.M. 7 December, Washington time. This was the hour of dawn in Hawaii. The two critical messages were delivered to War and Navy Departments in translation before 10 A.M. and thereafter sent to White House and State Department. To General Marshall, then taking his usual Sunday morning horseback ride, went a telephone warning that an important message had been received. At 11:15 or thereabouts he reached his office. He perused the 14-part message, and then came to the 1 o'clock note. In this he immediately sensed some significance, and telephoned Admiral Stark a suggestion that new warnings be sent to Pacific commanders. Although the Navy Chief thought that previous alerts were sufficient and that a new one would be merely confusing, General Marshall wrote out in longhand a warning message in his own behalf to the Army's Western Defense Command at San Francisco, to Panama, the Philippines, and Hawaii:

The Japanese are presenting at 1 P.M. Eastern Standard Time today what amounts to an ultimatum. Also they are under orders to destroy their code machine immediately. Just what significance the hour set may have we do not know, but be on alert accordingly. 49

On reconsideration Admiral Stark called back to offer the Navy's transmission facilities (which were declined in General Marshall's belief that the Army's would suffice) and to ask that the Army's warning message include instructions for delivery to Navy commanders at each of the four points. It will be noted that neither officer expressed a view that Hawaii should receive earlier attention than the other three. By a grotesque circumstance of which General Marshall was not informed (and which to a Greek dramatist would have demonstrated the unconquerable power of the Fates) Hawaii, which was first in importance, was in fact the last of the four to receive the message. So concerned was the Chief of Staff with its rapid delivery that he sent officers three times to make sure that the radio message would be expedited, and he was given assurance that it would be delivered within thirty minutes. What he did not learn was that the Army radio service was then out of contact with Honolulu;


the well-meaning Signal officer, seeking a substitute method and failing to grasp the vital necessity of top speed, which Navy probably could have supplied, employed commercial wires to San Francisco and commercial radio relay to Honolulu; at that point by tragicomic turn the final delivery was entrusted to a bicycle messenger, who on the long trip to distant Fort Shafter encountered the bombing attack; he delivered his message four hours late past a shattered and smoking base. The message, not marked as urgent, was still to be decoded. A post-factum inquiry of General Marshall, as to why he had not also used telephone, made public this series of unpredictable misfortunes, plus General Marshall's explanation that security forbade use of the telephone which, easily intercepted, could have warned Japanese agents that their code was broken. Significantly and with whole candor, he added that if he had employed the telephone, it would have been used first to reach General MacArthur in Manila, and second to reach the commander at the Panama Canal.50

It was while the ill-fated message to General Short was thus making its sluggish way from Washington to Fort Shafter that Japan's first blow fell upon Pearl Harbor and the near-by airfields. To say that the falling of the first bombs and aerial torpedoes was Hawaii's initial warning would be inaccurate. Apart from the general intimations of danger in the carefully considered Coastal Frontier Defense plan and in the several warnings referred to, there were two specific events of early 7 December which to a more alert establishment would have carried their own warnings. One was the Navy's detection at 3:50 A.M. of a submerged submarine near the Pearl Harbor entrance buoys (where American submarines were forbidden to operate submerged); the vessel was pursued and sunk soon after 6:45 A.M. and the net gate closed, but the submarine's presence was not interpreted as heralding an attack in the harbor. The other episode was the actual discovery by radar, at 7:02 A.M. of a large number of planes approaching Oahu from the north at 132 miles distance. The cloud of planes (which were the first Japanese attack force) was detected by a mobile radar unit and at 7:20 reported by telephone to the Aircraft Warning Service. Instead of remaining constantly open, the AWS closed at 7 A.M. The warning therefore reached only an Army lieutenant who was attached to the office for training and observation rather than for operation; he assumed the flight to be a naval patrol, a flight of friendly bombers in training, or possibly a flight of B-17's which were due that morning from the mainland


(and which did arrive, unsuspecting and even unarmed, while the raid was on). His advice to the enlisted man at the mobile unit therefore discouraged that observer from continuing his alert, and he himself did nothing to bring the fateful circumstance to the immediate attention of higher authority. The mobile unit, however, continued to function, plotting -the attacking flight over Oahu and back to the north, but its information was not used by either Army or Navy even for pursuit purposes.51

The first wave of Japanese bombers therefore sped over the well-marked objectives of harbor, warships, and airfields and opened the attack wholly undisturbed by intercepting planes or gunfire from the ground, with consequently unhurried aim and extraordinarily precise hits by explosive bombs, torpedoes, and incendiaries alike. The Navy force-being on a first-class, rather than a second-class alert-had about one-fourth of its 780 ship-based antiaircraft guns manned, and accordingly it rallied from the first stunning shock with commendable but insufficient alacrity. Ready machine guns responded "immediately" (in the joint Committee findings), and all heavier antiaircraft batteries picked up, in four minutes in the case of the cruisers, in less than five in the case of the battleships, and in an average of seven in the case of the destroyers. The Army-being alerted primarily against sabotage rather than attack, as previously noted-was in much worse state. Not only were the defending planes carefully assembled for their own protection against sabotage, instead of being widely dispersed for protection against attack, but of the 31 antiaircraft batteries 27 were not in position and hence were unable to fire during the first attack and, in some cases, unable to fire until as much as six hours later.52  As to aircraft, seven of the Navy's patrol flying boats were in the air but far away and in a different direction from that in which the Japanese carriers were awaiting their planes' return. Eight scout bombers of the distant carrier U. S. S. Enterprise that were in the air sped on to aid the defense; three landed safely and five were lost. Army planes were on 4-hour notice, but approximately thirty fighters took to the air during the attack. They were too few to serve any large purpose. No plane, from either service, reported convincingly the course of the retreating Japanese planes (the mobile radar unit's clear charting not being employed) and as a result such later efforts at pursuit as were made were fruitless, owing both to the confusion and to an inaccurate report that sent most


of the pursuing naval forces off to the southwest on a false chase. Instead, off to the north the waiting Japanese carriers were able to rescue their returning planes without difficulty, and then push toward Japan through the foggy north Pacific, as undisturbed by interception as on their way in.

The attack force, it is apparent, had two large advantages. First, it started the initial assault with an enjoyment of complete surprise, with the result that it suffered no interference or injury at that stage. Second, the enormous success of the initial assault crippled the defenders in two respects; it eliminated much of the potential defense altogether, and it confused the remainder. Thus an attacking force of great efficiency and very considerable size (811 fighters, 135 dive bombers, 104 horizontal bombers, and 40 torpedo planes) operated so efficiently that it lost a total of only 29 planes to the belated resistance of the defenders. The defending forces (by the computation used at the Congressional hearing of 1945) had available for flight 108 fighters (30 obsolescent) and 140 Army and Navy bombers of various categories (21 obsolescent), but they lost a total of 188 planes (including some of the 98 unavailable for flight), most of them so riddled in their ground locations that they never took to the air. As to lives, the Japanese lost fewer than 100, for the same reason; American dead were 2,403, most of them in the sinking of a few great warships. The only Japanese ship losses were 5 midget submarines whose lack of success on this occasion discouraged use of this type. American ship losses (sunk or crippled) were staggering, including 8 battleships, 3 cruisers, 3 destroyers, and 4 other vessels.53  Most of these 18 vessels were ultimately refloated and repaired and they lived to perform useful service in the long war which followed, but they and the fleet as such were hors de combat for many months after Pearl Harbor. Thereby the primary Japanese purpose, so obvious in retrospect but so elusive before the event, was attained completely - the U. S. Fleet was gone. The main Pacific instrument of Rainbow Plan and inter-Allied power was paralyzed for months, and Japan was relatively free to pursue its whole Far East program. Only then could Japan's assaults upon Indo-China, Thailand, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines as well, be undertaken with increased confidence. All these assaults had been accurately forecast by Army and Navy observ-


ers and planners; American failure had been in the timely predicting, not of those assaults which were foreseen, but of the all-necessary first assault upon Pearl Harbor and the U. S. Fleet.

The disaster to Pearl Harbor carried its own dire warning to the whole Far East, but too late for profit, since the prime instrument for defense of that area from Japanese encroachment now was shattered. Accordingly the Philippines and the installations to the south now were dependent only upon such defensive resources as they already had in hand, and these resources were to prove tragically insufficient. The prized B-17 bombers, already installed near Manila, themselves were caught in two massive raids and in a few piecemeal operations, and soon eliminated; the few effective surface elements of the Asiatic Fleet were withdrawn to the south for fusion with the ill-fated British and Dutch vessels there based, while the submarines took over most of the Navy's offensive labors in the Philippines area; the main resistance to the conquering Japanese was that provided by the small ground forces trained for serious warfare, ill supplied for so huge a task, and hence foredoomed to the total surrender that came a few months later. Of these events, or rather of the role of the Chief of Staff in them, the record is found in a later volume.

A Fateful Series of Mischances

War had come, not merely the "active hostilities" in China where an American volunteer group of individuals in China's services was already pitted against Japan, nor a "shoot-on-sight" directive in the Atlantic in which General Marshall himself had cynically observed a deceptive resemblance to actual warfare, but at last open and declared war. For over two years World War II had been under way in Europe and for over a year the United States had been sending from its own military supplies allegedly surplus materiel to the aid of the forces fighting the Axis. War now had come, however, not in the Atlantic but in the Pacific, and in its first explosions not in the Far East where Army and Navy had confidently expected it, but in the mid-Pacific where the watch was poorly kept. The succession of errors and mischances that brought to Pearl Harbor something close to total disaster rivals the succession that Hugo recites in the memorable apostrophe of Les Miserables to explain Waterloo. Had the planners, in discerning Japan's several intentions in the Far East, only reasoned that none of these intentions would be undertaken until the U. S. Fleet was immobilized, Pearl Harbor must automatically have been recognized as the certain first target


of Japanese attack. Had that been fully recognized, surely the defenses at that point would have been built up to a maximum, regardless of perils elsewhere; Army and Navy commanders would have been freed of the training responsibilities that diverted much of their attention and their resources from defense tasks. Had the implications of Frontier Defense needs been fully grasped, the shortage of patrol planes required for a continuous 360° patrol would have been remedied, at whatever sacrifice. Had the imperative character of the 27 November "war-warning" message been grasped, General Short would not have believed that his first concern was with sabotage. Had Message 473 never been sent, he would not have been thus encouraged to do so. Had his odd and inadequate acknowledgment of the warning been scrutinized carefully in WPD -or elsewhere- it would have been instantly recognized as inadequate, and new and imperative orders issued. Had General Short and Admiral Kimmel, granting the insufficiency of their resources, employed those resources to their maximum for defense purposes, or acted with full enlightenment on the information that actually was supplied them, they must have prepared a much more alert front than was actually in operation on 7 December. Had the "1 o'clock message" of 7 December impressed itself upon other minds as surely and as swiftly as it did upon General Marshall's mind once he saw it, there would have been an earlier dispatch of the final warning message that arrived hours too late. Had the radio officer at the War Department given a hint of the temporary break in direct Army communications, either telephone or Navy facilities could have been used instead: there was still time for a belated manning of all defenses in Oahu. Had all of these circumstances, many of them wholly adventitious, taken the opposite course, a magnificent defense could have been interposed, sufficient to inflict on the raiders a proper penalty. Had any one of them taken the opposite course, the appalling extent of the disaster could have been greatly reduced. Because not one of all these chances fell aright, the attack was a resounding success for Japan and a staggering blow not only to America but to the whole Allied cause.

The End of Prewar Planning

The War Department's long work of peacetime preparation for this war was over, not by American design but by enemy action. The building up of the Army's personnel, conducted with so many changes of plan and even of direction, was still under way rather than completed. The draft was functioning.


The training methods were well laid down. The inflow of weapons was constantly increasing, but the sum of all equipment desired was still immense and its delivery still far in the future. The basis of co-ordinated action with Britain was laid down but subject to large alterations-many by reason of this disaster at Pearl Harbor which at one blow had destroyed the largest existing implement of American strategic planning in the Pacific. In the course of a short time it would be followed by other blows destroying much of America's remaining offensive strength in the Far East. A great deal of what had been so carefully and methodically done by the War Department since 1939, as guided by the Office of the Chief of Staff, seemed on the night of 7 December to be lying in ruins. How small the ruin was in relation to the work that was unaffected by Pearl Harbor, and in relation to that to be performed in the forty-five months following, the subsequent record will reveal.


page created 12 December 2002


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