Truth about Pearl Harbor - John T. Flynn

Did Kimmel and Short Disobey Orders?

We have seen what Washington told Kimmel and Short about the nature of the crisis and what Washington looked for as to the time and place of attack. Let us now see what Kimmel and Short did about all this and whether or not they obeyed any orders or neglected anything that Washington expected them to do which might have averted the disaster.

Early in 1941 Kimmel and Short made a survey of the situation with reference to the defense of Pearl Harbor and made a plan of defense. This plan, the Roberts Report, held to be adequate had it been put into execution. Under this plan General Short was responsible for the defense of the Island and for reconnaissance on the island of Oahu and for patrolling the coast to a distance of twenty miles from the shore. If planes penetrated an area twenty miles from the shore it was his duty to detect them. Of course a plane arriving at a point twenty miles from the shore of the island would be over Pearl Harbor in ten minutes, so that Short could not be held responsible on this score. Admiral Kimmel was not responsible for the defense of the island from attack save that, if the fleet were present, it would aid with its equipment to whatever extent necessary. But Admiral Kimmel was responsible for distance reconnaissance covering an area around the island of seven or eight hundred miles.

In the event of danger the plans called for three types of readiness, known as Alert No. 1, Alert No. 2 and Alert No. 3.

Alert No. 1 is "an alert against sabotage and uprising within the islands with no threat from without."

Alert No. 2 is "applicable to a condition more serious than condition No. 1. Security against attacks from hostile subsurface, surface and aircraft, in addition to defense against acts of sabotage and uprising is provided."

Alert No. 3 "requires occupation of all field positions by all units, prepared for maximum defense of Oahu and the Army installations on outlying islands."

When Short received his first warning of coming danger, November 24, he put into effect Alert No. 1 "against sabotage and uprising within the island with no threat from without." Since all the messages, as we have already seen, related to possible movements against places in Asia from three to four thousand miles away from Hawaii, General Short considered that the emergency called for Alert No. 1. Hawaii had a very large Japanese population and the possibility of sabotage against American installations in the event of war with Japan even on some distant scene was a serious one. General Short notified his superiors in Washington that he had put into effect Alert No. 1.

On November 27 Admiral Kimmel got a message from the Navy warning him, as well as commanders at other bases, to take appropriate measures against sabotage. This was shown to General Short. The same day, General Short, who had been ordered to report what measures he was taking, wired Washington describing everything he had done, including the ordering of Alert No. 1. He specifically stated that he had "alerted his command against sabotage" and that he was maintaining liaison with the Navy. He got no reply to this, and at the Roberts Commission hearing he testified that he considered the failure of his superiors in Washington to order a change as an approval of what he was doing. They understood, thoroughly what that was.

While the Army did not specifically reply to his report on his dispositions, General Short the next day (November 28) got a message from the Adutant General in Washington warning that the situation was critical and requiring him to:

"Take at once every precaution against subversive activities, within the scope of the Army's responsibility; that all necessary measures be taken to protect military establishments, property and equipment against sabotage, against propaganda affecting army personnel and against all espionage."

This was precisely what he was doing. The following day, November 29, General Short replied to the foregoing message outlining at length and in detail all the measures taken to prevent sabotage of military property and installations, etc. No reply to this was sent from Washington and the General testified that he believed this series of messages indicated clearly to him that he was doing precisely what his superiors wanted.

Referring to all this, the Roberts Report says:

"These messages from Washington—warnings about attacks on Siam, the Kraw Peninsula, Malay and perhaps Guam or the Philippines, along with the orders to alert against sabotage and the failure to reply to or criticize the measures adopted by Short and fully reported to Washington "did not create in the mind of the responsible officers in the Hawaii area apprehension as to probable imminence of air raids. On the contrary they only served to emphasize in their minds the danger from sabotage and surprise submarine attack. The necessity for taking a state-of-war readiness which would have been required to avert or meet an air attack was not considered."

From all this the following is perfectly clear:

  1. That while General Short and Admiral Kimmel believed there was no possibility of an air raid or any other kind of attack on Pearl Harbor, that belief was created in their minds by the advices they received from their superiors in Washington, who believed precisely the same thing. For some strange reason the Roberts Report holds that Kimmel and Short "did not properly evaluate the seriousness of the situation." If that is true of them, was it not equally true of their superiors from whom they received all their information and who were equally certain that there would be no attack on Hawaii? The responsibility begins in Washington, which was the source of all the information Kimmel and Short got.
  2. General Short ordered Alert No. 1 which set in motion a variety of precautions against sabotage, internal propaganda and damage to military and government installations on the island of Oahu. He did this 13 days prior to Pearl Harbor. Twice he wired to his superiors a complete and detailed report of what he was doing. At no time in those 13 days did they reply ordering anything more serious. On the contrary, all of the dispatches to him and to Admiral Kimmel directed them to take precautions against sabotage and internal disorders and never once against external attack.

The Roberts Report practically sustains this opinion. Paragraph 16 of its Conclusions, referring to the alleged failure of Kimmel and Short to confer with respect to the meaning of the warnings received, said that this

". . . resulted largely from a sense of security due to the opinion prevalent in diplomatic, military and naval circles and in the public press that any immediate attack by Japan would be in the Far East."

However, the Roberts Report added this sentence:

"The existence of such a view, however prevalent, did not relieve the commanders of the responsibility for the security of the Pacific fleet and our most important outpost."

This brings us to the most important feature of the whole situation. The question arises: Even though Kimmel and Short did not expect an attack, why did they not, in view of the imminence of war, take the necessary measures to meet it upon the assumption that they might be wrong in their estimate of the situation? The answer to that helps us to fix finally the true responsibility for the whole tragic episode.

The President expected an attack, but he believed it would be on Thailand or Malay or possibly the Philippines, thousands of miles away from Hawaii. That is the way he had played his cards. He wanted an overt act by Japan. This was necessary to him for political reasons. He had pledged to the people of the United States that he would not take them into a foreign war. He was at the moment head over heels in a foreign war, but would not admit it to the people. An attack somewhere in Asia, on Guam or the Philippines, would change the situation. That would be an attack on the United States. Japan would be making war on us and we, of course, would have to make war on Japan. In all that happened, he warned continually that nothing must he done that could by any stretch of the imagination be construed as an overt or aggressive or hostile act by us.

Besides this, the Army and Navy necessarily had a plan in the event that war should actually come. That plan was based on the assumption that the attack would begin in the Par East and so far as we were concerned, on the Philippines or Guam. The position of our planes, our troops and of our ships at that moment was in accordance with the plans in Washington.

The battle fleet was in Pearl Harbor. The question has been asked why Kimmel did not move the battle fleet. No order can be found anywhere to move the battle fleet out of Pearl Harbor. That was because the position of the fleet there was in accordance with the plans of the Washington government.

None of this is a matter of surmise. Fortunately the records make it all perfectly clear. These messages imposed upon General Short and Admiral Kimmel repeated injunctions to do nothing, to make no move that could possibly be construed as the beginning of a hostile action. On November 24 a message was sent advising of a possible attack on the Philippines or Guam and that message, according to the Roberts Report "enjoined secrecy to prevent complication of the tense existing situation." On November 27 General Short was informed of the possible end of negotiations in Washington and the message added "that in the event hostilities could not be avoided the United States desired that this nation should not commit the first overt act."

So keen was Washington about this that the message directed him "even prior to hostile action, to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as he deemed necessary, but to carry them out in such a way as not to alarm the civil population or disclose his intent; he was directed to restrict the information in the message to the minimum of essential officers and to report to the Chief of Staff the measures taken." Short communicated this message to Kimmel. Whatever Short did and whatever Kimmel did they were to do in such a way that not even their own officers, save the inner circle, would have any suspicion that they were preparing for hostile operations.

On November 29 Short got another message warning him to take measures against sabotage and espionage and destruction of government property. Appended to that message were a few brief sentences which have been the subject of a great deal of curiosity and comment in military and naval circles. The precise words are not given in the Roberts Report for some undisclosed reason. The Report summarizes it this way:

"The message (to Short) disclaimed ordering any illegal measures (meaning war-like measures) and warned that protective measures should be confined to those essential to security so as to avoid unnecessary publicity and alarm."

It is generally believed that these many directions about caution and secrecy originated from the civil authorities in Washington, either the President or the Secretary of State.

Here is the key to the whole behavior of the military and naval authorities in Hawaii. The President had been maneuvering for an overt act by Japan for many months. He now felt he had played his hand with skill and that it (the overt act) was about to come. If it struck Malay, then the question would arise whether he should seek a declaration of war or limit himself to tightening sanctions and to blockading the Far eastern ports with the American and British navies. If the Philippines or Guam were hit it meant the Japanese navy would be out at sea and the American and British navies would then engage it. But under no circumstances should there be any move by the American navy or air force or Army anywhere that could be construed as a provocative act or the first stage in an aggressive move by the United States. The political significance of this was essential to the President. And thus he and he alone, upon political considerations, was responsible for holding the military and naval proceedings in Hawaii and in the Philippines to such precautions as they could carry out with secrecy and without exciting any publicity or alarm.

Will anyone suppose that the huge naval force assembled in Pearl Harbor could have been set in motion and moved away without exciting "publicity or alarm?" Kimmel and Short were told even in their reconnaissance to be careful, to be prudent, to be secret. And that is why Alert No. 1 was instituted and that is why Washington approved Alert No. 1. That is why, had General Short gone further than Alert No. 1, he would have exceeded his orders from Washington and would undoubtedly have been reprimanded. And that is why, had Admiral Kimmel taken his naval force outside of Pearl Harbor, he would probably have been court-martialed for violating the orders of the government.

All that was done was done in complete compliance with the arrangements of the Washington government and of the President. One I think would search the annals of our military and naval history for an instance where two reputable American officers, obeying the orders of their President and coming upon disaster as a result, have been singled out by that President to bear the guilt of his own blundering.

There are a number of minor complaints against Kimmel and Short, such as that they did not operate the patrols and reconnaissance required by their plan, that they did not confer, that there had been a great deal of drinking in Pearl Harbor the night before, that men were not at their posts, that Short did not operate adequately the warning system, that the submarine net was not down.

The charge that these men did not confer, repeated recently by Senator Truman, is a shameful repetition of a story which the Roberts Report itself disclaims. The men held innumerable conferences and exchanged with each other the several warnings which they received from their respective departments. The Report has declared also that the Army and Navy each had on duty a force of officers and men completely sufficient to service the No. 1 Alert and that they were fit for duty. The failure to operate the warning system I shall deal with in the next brief section.