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MYTHS OF THE PEARL HARBOR ATTACK EXPLODED

Discussion in 'Pearl Harbor' started by Volga Boatman, Nov 18, 2009.

  1. Volga Boatman

    Volga Boatman Dishonorably Discharged

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    Hello and thanks for tuning in.:)

    The article you are about to read appeared for a wargamers magazine called "The Avalon Hill General" (Vol 29 No. 5, Page 15) and was written by David W. Richman, a man whose credentials are explained in the opening paragraphs of the text. So, without any more ado, on with the show!




    MYTHS OF THE PEARL HARBOUR ATTACK EXPLODED.......by David W. Richman


    The surprise attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor has resulted in a whole shelf of books giving reasons why and who to blame. The books are still coming, and there probably will be more on the way.
    While some have added to our understanding, most of the authors have had an axe to grind; they set out to defend one or more of those involved, or, they set out to fix the blame on some person, usually President Roosevelt. There is even a recent book that seeks to blame Winston Churchill. Because of the shock of the surprise attack, many people jumped to conclusions as why we were caught by surprise, and who was to blame.
    Some of these conclusions are myths, and a lot of what has been written over the last 60 odd years has helped strengthen and perpetuate those myths.

    I want to highlight and hopefully dispose of several of them.

    First, let me remind you of the principal actors. President Roosevelt and his Secretary of War Colonel Stimson. Colonel Knox as Secretary of the Navy, Cordell Hull as Secretary of State, George Marshall as Chief of the Army, and Admiral Stark was Chief of Naval Ops. These people were all in Washington. Major General Short commanded the Hawaiian Department of the Army, Admiral Kimmel the Pacific Fleet at Pearl, Admiral Hart the Asiatic Fleet Commander at Manila.
    A word as to my (the author's) involvement. In early 1942, Adm. Stark became commander, U.S Naval Forces, Europe, stationed in London; he was succeeded as CNO by Admiral King. During 1942 and 1943, the political pressure built up for an investigation of the Pearl Harbor attack which would fix the blame for the surprise. In response to this pressure, in July 1944, the Navy convened the inquiry. This is like a Grand Jury in civilian proceedure. This was about the time the Navy's responsibilities in Normandy were winding down, and Adm. Stark was called to Washington to testify before the Court of Inquiry. I was on his staff in London; when it was suggested to have someone with a little legal background, I got the nod. When Stark arrived in Washington, he made Adm. Hart his counsel, and I was Hart's assistant. Admiral Hart didn't enjoy cross-examination, so he allowed me to do most of that. You might wonder just how effective a young Lieutenant could be in the cross-examination of Admirals and Generals. I wondered about it too. Admiral Hart reminded me that he had 4 stars, and that I was asking questions on his behalf. We proceeded on that basis and had no trouble. The Court of Inquiry was a closed door proceeding wth elaborate provision for security. The Army had a similar investigation. Reports were issued by the Army Board and Navy Court when their proceedings were ended. These reports did not satisfy the public and in September 1945, Congress convened it's own investigation. By this time, Adm. Stark had retired, but I continued as his Naval Council during the Congressional Investigation.

    So much for the background. Now, to some of the myths that still exist after all these years.......


    DESTRUCTION OF THE PACIFIC FLEET MYTH


    Even historians help make myths and keep them alive. Samuel E. Morrison was a high profile Harvard historian. Roosevelt brought him into the Navy and gave him a staff so that a contemporanious history of naval actions during World War Two could be recorded. They produced some 20 volumes. Of the Pearl Harbor attack, Morrison writes;

    "Thus, in half an hour, the Japanese bombers accomplished their most important objective, wrecking the battle force of the Pacific Fleet beyond the possibility of offensive action within a year."

    This is not only a myth, but a BIG myth. Certainly one that a naval historian should not have fostered.

    True, the attack sank or put out of commission 8 of 9 Battleships.....but it damaged none of the aircraft carriers, none of the 12 heavy cruisers, only 3 of the 10 light cruisers, and only 3 of 54 destroyers. War plans called for attacks by our Navy on the Marshall Islands within 60 days after commencement of the war with Japan. The Marshalls were attacked by carrier task forces operating from Pearl on 1st of February 1942. Thus, the Navy was right on schedule..... When Roosevelt decided an air-raid on Tokyo would be a great psychological lift for the American people in April 1942, Doolittle's planes were put into action by Halsey's task force.....operating from Pearl Harbor.
    The Japanese were understandably delighted that they had so completely surprised our forces and that the battleships were such beautiful targets. The young pilots went for the 'wagons'....but that was probably a strategic mistake.
    In order for Pearl to support the fleet, it had to have enormous fuel supplies. The Navy had only 2 ocean going tankers which had been busy since mid-1940 bringing fuel supplies from the west coast to fill storage facilities at Pearl. There were also drydocks, heavy cranes and other equipment essential to an efficient base.
    The Japanese didn't hit the fuel storage, the drydock, cranes or other equipment. HAD they done so, it would have forced the fleet to retire to San Diego! What a setback that would have been. Instead, as soon as the damage from the attack was cleared away, Pearl was again ready.

    So much for the myth that the attacks destroyed the ability of the fleet to take offensive action......


    THE BATTLESHIP BAIT MYTH


    There are those that believe that Adm. Kimmel lined up all his battleships in a row to encourage Japanese attack and thus draw America into the war. They believe he was directed to do this on instructions from Washington, or perhaps did it on his own initiative. Otherwise, they say, why else would all the 'wagons' be so conveniantly arranged for damage?

    This is a myth that can't withstand the facts.......

    The battleships were all old and badly in need of modernization. The newest, WEST VIRGINIA, was 18 years old. While they could exercise with other forces engaged in Hawaiian waters, they were not fast enough to be part of a carrier task force engaged in operations.
    Admiral Kimmel had 2 CVs based at Pearl...LEXINGTON and ENTERPRISE. On the morning of December 7th, 'Lex' was enroute to Midway to reinforce the defence of that island with additional Marine Corps aircraft. 'Big E' was returning from Wake Island after carrying out a similar mission. The 'BBs' were in Pearl Harbor because they didn't have enough speed to be part of the 'fast' carrier TFs....simple as that.


    THE NAVY WAS DRUNK OR ASLEEP OR BOTH MYTH


    There are those that say that the damage would not have been as great had the crews of the ships not been sleeping off the results of Saturday night shore leave. Regardless of hangovers, within 5 to 7 minutes after the first bomb fell, practically ALL the AAA batteries on battleships were firing. Within 10 minutes, other ships in the harbor were firing. It was this barrage that minimized the effect of the second wave. The Japanese lost 28 aircraft to Navy AAA fire. Navy response was prompt and as effective as could be expected in view of the complete surprise. And a surprise it was. The IJN plan for the attack and it's execution was one of the best kept secrets in military history. The Navy, and the Army, took a beating, but not because the Navy was drunk or asleep.

    So much for that one......


    THE NAVAL DISASTER MYTH


    Everyone recalls the pictures of the damaged ships at Pearl. Damage to Army installations was less spectacular. As a result, many consider it a great naval disaster, jumping to the conclusion the Navy was to blame. Obviously, there was plenty of blame to go around. The Army got off too easily.
    The Navy was not responsible for defending Pearl Harbor. For the fleet to have freedom of action, good doctrine dictates that someone else has to defend it's base. The ONLY mission of the Army's Hawaiian Department was the defense of that base.
    The Army had 32 AAA units, but only 3 fired and one of those was confined to small arms. In fairness to General Short, I must add that one reason for this was that the Dole people would not let him put Army units in the fields because they interfeared with the pineapple harvest! The Army also had 6 mobile radar units available. Only one was in operation on the morning of the attack and it had recieved permission to shut down at 7am. Two operators continued on to practice after the plotters left at 7am....they spotted the attacking wave at 7:02am at a distance of 132 miles from the base.
    One of the operators called his info center at 7:20am to report. Duty Officer at the Center, who was there that morning for training and observation told him to "forget it." He assumed the operators had picked up our B-17s due to arrive from Hickam....so no report of the sighting was made. When you consider that the Army's sole mission was the defense of the base, it can hardly be said that the Navy bears the blame for the surprise and damage.

    And thats another myth gone.


    THE CONSPIRACY MYTH


    There are a number of writers on the subject of Pearl Harbor who suggest and urge the view that President Roosevelt knew of Japanese plans and deliberatly kept this information from the commanders at Pearl in order to 'draw' the U.S. into the war.
    I think there is little doubt that Roosevelt wanted the United States in the war to support Britain directly. Britain could not succeed. I think that view was shared by the White House and the State Department, and the Secretaries of War and Navy.
    But that does not support the myth that Roosevelt conspired with Marshall and Stark to encourage Japan to attack Pearl, and to keep any indicatations of this attack from commanders in Hawaii.
    The Navy Court of Inquiry, and the Army Pearl Harbor Board held their inquiries, in mid-1944, an election year. Republicans would have been delighted to pin responsibility for Pearl on Roosevelt. So would Kimmel and Short. You can be sure there were a lot of people doing their best to find evidence to support a conspiracy theory.
    When the Congressional Investigation came along in 1945, Roosevelt was dead, but the Republicans, among others, were still intent on finding him guilty. There were 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans on the Committee. They held hearings on 70 days, heard 43 witnesses, took 15,000 pages of testimony, supplemented with 183 exhibits. Senators Brewster and Ferguson were particularly vigorous in pursuit of any evidence of a conspiracy. But the evidence just won't support the conspiracy theory.
    The facts are these. During 1941 there were numerous messages sent from Washington to Pacific commanders indicating the continued deterioration in the relationship between Japan and the U.S. Washington not only knew this from the conversations and exchanges of diplomatic notes at the State Department, but by this time, were reading intercepted messages between Tokyo and it's Washington embassy. The Japanese Diplomatic Code had been broken and information from these intercepts was available to the White House, and the State, War and Navy departments. The fact that the code HAD been broken was a carefully guarded secret and distribution of messages was kept to a bare minimum. But the information was available to advise fleet commanders and the Army commander in Hawaii.
    By mid-November, it appeared that Japan was ready to move. There were indications of a move into SE Asia but no clear indication of the direction of the other possible moves. Certainly there was nothing to indicate that Pearl Harbor was an immediate target.
    On November 24, Adm.Stark sent a dispatch to Kimmel at Pearl and to Adm.Hart at Manila. It reads in part,

    "Chances of a favourable outcome of negotiations with Japan doubtful. This situation, coupled with statements of the Japanese government and movements of their naval and military forces indicate, in our opinion, that a surprise aggressive movement in any direction, including an attack on Phillippines and Guam is a possibility."

    The movement of the naval forces referred to to movements south toward the China Sea and the Kra Peninsula. It must be remembered that IJN forces landed on the Kra at about the same time as Pearl was attacked.
    Then, on November 27th, Stark sent a second despatch to Kimmel at Pearl and to Hart at Manila which begins......

    "THIS DESPATCH IS CONSIDERED TO BE A WAR WARNING"....

    Then....

    "Negotiations with Japan looking toward stabilization of conditions in the Pacific have ceased. An aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days. Execute an appropriate defensive deployment prepatory to carrying out the tasks assigned in War Plan 46."

    A similar message was sent by the Army to General Short. On December 3rd, Adm. Stark sent a message to Kimmel and Hart and other naval commands, stating.....

    "Highly reliable information has been recieved that catagoric and urgent instructions were sent yesterday to Japanese diplomatic and consular posts at Hong Kong, Singapore, Tabavia, Manila, Washington and London to destroy most of their codes and ciphers at once, and to burn all other important confidential and secret documents."

    The November 27th despatch was the first despatch in American naval history that HAD stated "....considered a WAR warning." Burnings of codes and papers are actions usually associated with the start of hostilities.
    These were three important indications of the knowledge Mr. Roosevelt and his senior advisors and the deductions drawn from this knowledge. They were all sent to Pacific commanders. You will recall that Japan had sent a special envoy, Ambassador Kurusu, to Washington on November 15th to assist Ambassador Nomura in negotiations with the State Department. During the period November 17 - 26th, the ambassadors conferred with Secretary Hull and notes were exchanged. The notes indicated that the parties were about as far from agreement as they could be.
    Although there was an apparent impasse, on December 6th, the President sent an earnest appeal to Emporer Hirohito for the preservation of peace in the Pacific.
    On the morning of December 6th, a message from Tokyo to Kurusu and Nomura was intercepted, telling them that an important memorandum would be sent in 14 parts. It was kept secret until later, when a message told them when to deliver it to the State Department. The first 13 parts were recieved and distributed to the President and to the military commanders on the evening of December 6th.
    The 14th part was recieved and distributed at 8am, December 7th. Nowhere in the memo was there any indication or intimation of an intention to attack the United States, nor that formal diplomatic relations were to be severed. The memo only indicated that Japan considered it impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.
    Much has been made of the fact that the 14 point message was not sent to field commanders. It was not sent because it was considered as adding nothing to the November 27 warning that "...negotiations with Japan looking toward stabilization of conditions in Pacific have ceased and an aggressive move...expected in the next few days."
    The 1pm message was intriguing. But it is too easy to say that 1pm Washington is 7:30am in Pearl Harbor and that this should have sounded the alarm. The officer who distributed the message also noted that it is 2 or 3 hours before dawn at Kota Bharu in SE Asia. This would be 'normal' time for the beginning of amphibious operations by a fleet moving south from Japan.
    Unfortunately, none of those who saw the message read into it the imminence of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
    A number of people, including some determined Republicans, spent many hours trying to find support for the theory that President Roosevelt 'knew' before December 7th that Japan was about to attack Pearl Harbor.

    The evidence indicates that he was as surprised as anybody else......

    So much for the conspiracy myth.

    There are many facinating aspects of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to be written about and to read about........

    But it IS time to put the myths to rest.




    The article you have just read caused a veritable STORM OF RESPONSES, good and bad, from the readership of "The General", and it topped their rating list for the 'most read' article of the issue, as well as carrying off their editors choice award for contributions for that year!....Not a bad little performance from an article that only ran for two and one third pages!!!

    I hope you've enjoyed reading this and have, hopefully, gained some insight into this contentious subject matter. Thanks to the moderators for letting me post it.

    Cheers!!:cool:........(Volga boatman, 2009)
     
  2. Volga Boatman

    Volga Boatman Dishonorably Discharged

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    Any comments from other posters, good, bad, or indifferent, are most welcome!
     
  3. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    Good capsule summary of the events, pre- and post-. I'll go over it again and flesh out some details.
     
  4. greglewis

    greglewis Member

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    Very interesting article. Len Deighton's "Blood, Tears and Folly" also does a very readable analysis of the myth that President Roosevelt knew in advance about the attack. He concludes as you do that it is entirely unsupported by the evidence.
     
  5. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    This one came from rumors that the Japanese on Hawaii were buying soldiers and sailors all they could drink on Saturday night. A check of the Shore Patrol and MP logs shows no significant difference between that night and any other Saturday night with the same number of men on liberty.
     
  6. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    If FDR had wanted to get rid of the battleships he would have had them anchor at Lahaina, so they could be sunk in deep water. Instead they sank in water that in some cases didn't cover their main deck. And the recovery efforts for ships like Oklahoma clearly show that the US thought them worth the effort.
     

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