The WSJ published this article on the effort to restore Admiral Kimmel’s rank and exonerate him from the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The question of who was responsible for the intelligence failures that allowed the Japanese striking forces to get within striking distance of the base in Pearl Harbor on Oahu in Early December of 1941 will probably never be known. The fact is that it was not one intelligence or operational failure, but a string of them. First of all here’s the attack itself.
The National Archives has a great post.
From a tactical sense the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor was one the greatest military successes in history. The attack achieved seemingly all of it’s objectives with remarkably low losses and the attacking fleet retreated intact. Following the raid, the forces of Imperial Japan were able run rampant all over the Pacific and conquer most of the South Pacific. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that the raid was perfectly predictable from intelligence available to Naval operations, yet the surprise was complete.
The fact that the attack was more or less a complete surprise is generally seen as America’s greatest intelligence failure ever. How and why that failure happened is a story of the Washington bubble, the neglect of operational intelligence for strategic intelligence and peacetime myopia even as the rest of the world was cranking up to war. Here’s a short history of US naval intelligence between the wars up to Pearl Harbor.
Skipping a complete history of U.S. intelligence efforts, it is still helpful to get a feeling for where the U.S. Navy stood as to intelligence on 7 December 1941. At that time, the open intelligence agency responsible for providing intelligence to the U.S. fleet was the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). ONI basically consisted of a small administrative, analysis and reporting office in Washington D.C., Naval Attaché’s at many embassies and consulates, and District Intelligence Officers with very small staffs at all Naval Districts and some commands. Despite these efforts, the strict secrecy programs of the Japanese Navy contributed to the failure of ONI to fully appreciate the enormous war making capabilities of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Very little intelligence from prior decrypted IJN communications was distributed beyond the top ONI officers or was permitted in ONI reports
Beginning about January 1924 with limited funding, a naval capability to intercept, locate, analyze and decrypt communications of potential enemies was started in the offices of the Director of Naval Communications (DNC). This fledgling organization was eventually organized as OP-20-G and was located in the Navy Department offices in Washington D.C. It established intercept and High Frequency Direction Finder (HFDF) sites in the Pacific, Atlantic and continental U.S. as well as a Japanese telegraphic code school for radio operators in Washington D.C. Decryption and analysis units were established in the Pacific. In addition to intercepting naval communications from Japanese, German and Italian navies, the Navy also copied diplomatic messages of many foreign governments. The majority of effort was directed towards Japan and included breaking the early Japanese “Blue” book fleet code. Liaison was established with the Army’s counterpart, Signals Intelligence Service (SIS) through its Washington headquarters in the nearby Munitions Bldg. With the assistance provided by the Navy’s break into both the prior M-1 machine cipher used by Japanese naval attaches and other assistance, the Army was able to reconstruct a working cipher machine to produce immediate plain language texts of the new Purple diplomatic cipher used by the Japanese. Navy Lieutenant (j.g.) Francis A. Raven solved the Purple key system so that a key only had to be recovered every tenth day. The Navy constructed at least five of these machines. An interesting development was that the fifth Purple machine that was earmarked for the cryptanalysts at Station Hypo at Pearl Harbor was given to the British in addition to a machine previously provided to London. One wonders what the outcome of the Pearl Harbor attack would have been if this machine had not been diverted from Pearl Harbor and that unit was permitted to also decrypt the diplomatic messages leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
One ONI program that greatly assisted OP-20-G’s Japanese decrypting and translation efforts was the establishment of a resident language program in Japan for naval officers. Many of these language officers eventually found there way into OP-20-G billets in Washington, Pearl Harbor or the Far East. One drawback of this program was that since most of these language officers were naval academy graduates, they had to alternate their radio intelligence work with tours of duty at sea in order to be promoted within the Navy’s current policies. In fact, some of these officers were passed over for promotion for lack of suitable sea experience despite the incomparable value their work proved to be up to and throughout WWII.
In 1941, SIS was primarily involved in intercepting and decrypting diplomatic traffic with an emphasis on Japan and Germany. When the volume of Tokyo-Washington diplomatic traffic increased with the Nomura talks beginning in mid-1941, the decrypting of high level Japanese messages with the Purple cipher machines was shared on alternating days between the Army and Navy. While the output of all readable Japanese diplomatic decrypts was considerable, there were not enough cryptographic personnel available in either service to timely decrypt all Japanese diplomatic traffic in readable systems, even for sensitive locations like Honolulu.
At this time, SIS had a total of about 331 officers, men and civilians but not all were engaged in cryptanalysis. As opposed to Navy practice, relatively little effort was expended on the interception and decryption of Japanese Army messages. OP-20-G had about 730 personnel throughout the world for all purposes. Additional funds and the general military increases had recently achieved even these small figures since the draft was instituted in 1940. To get a perspective on the numbers required by war’s end to adequately exploit Japanese and German messages over a fraction of their former geographical areas, SIS had 7,000 personnel plus those in Australia and OP-20-G exceeded 8,000. In addition to its contribution of decrypting Japanese diplomatic traffic, OP-20-G and Station Cast at Cavite/Corregidor had succeeded in establishing the basic encryption method of JN-25, the code used by major IJN fleet units and commands. Washington had recovered a number of stereotyped messages in the second version, JN-25B but not on a timely basis. A JN-25B key change on 1 December was a setback to this cryptanalytic effort. The exclusive assignment of a little used IJN Admiral’s code to the Pearl Harbor unit proved to be a terrible waste of some of the best cryptanalysts the Navy had.
It is important to emphasize the lack of any formal distribution procedures to inform responsible fleet commanders of the intelligence information being gleaned from decrypts of Japanese communications. In the Navy, this was complicated by the self appointed intelligence expert of then Captain Richmond K. Turner known as “Terrible Turner”, the new head of the Navy’s War Plans department of CNO. The weakness of Admiral Stark as CNO let Turner completely usurp the functions of ONI and DNC to fulfill their responsibilities to properly warn fleet commanders of the impending Japanese actions based on the Purple diplomatic decrypts and other indicators. More serious war warning messages and a more accurate picture of the current situation as indicated by Japanese decrypts that were advocated by Captain Laurence Stafford as OP-20-G, Admiral Noyes DNC, and the acting Director of Intelligence (DNI), Captain Kirk, were forestalled or greatly watered down by Turner. One excuse Turner tried to give for such perfunctory warnings was that Pearl Harbor had all the Japanese diplomatic decrypts, which was false. Earlier, Captain Turner was convinced Japan would only attack Russia and just before Pearl Harbor he convinced Stark that Japan was not ready to attack the U.S. only the British. The new DNI Theodore S. Wilkinson refused to challenge Turner’s rebuff of a further specific war warning drafted by Captain Arthur H. McCollum on 5 December. Again on 6 December, Stafford tried again but was dismissed by Noyes so as not to antagonize Turner. On the Army side, General George G. Marshall and intermediaries vetoed similar requests made by Colonels Rufus S. Bratton and Otis K. Sadtler. Later, Marshall denied receiving the related decrypts. As Washington politics go, both Stafford, Bratton and Sadtler were relegated to rather minor posts and discredited, while Noyes and Turner were given prime advancement billets and promotions. Although General Marshall was held to have been derelict in his duties by the first Army board of inquiry on the Pearl Harbor attack, the subsequent congressional investigation only found Admiral Kimmel and General Short at fault for the Pearl Harbor disaster. Marshall had the backing of both Secretary of War Stimson and President Roosevelt. Stimson instigated a fierce campaign to reverse Marshall’s prior dereliction finding. During the latter hearings, none of Turner’s subordinates would break ranks and reveal Turner’s derelictions due to his great wartime achievements and rank as Vice Admiral. Only subsequent revelations have verified Turner’s and Marshall’s responsibility for impeding more appropriate and timely warnings urged by intelligence professionals based on Purple decrypts.
The facts are pretty clear that, for whatever reasons critical intelligence was kept from the people in position to evaluate and act on it. There has been much speculation that the Roosevelt Administration set up the navy as bait to propel the Japanese into war, but there is a distinct lack of evidence for that. Certainly the Roosevelt Administration was making provocative moves, indeed, keeping the fleet based at Pearl was part of that. Still I don’t think that the Administration was paying as much attention to Japan in light of the ongoing events in Europe as they should have. For one thing the Roosevelt Administration was loaded with people who thought very highly of the Soviet Union and were very concerned about the potential of the fact that the Soviets might lose the war. There have been hints, but frankly the case is weak that Roosevelt knew that Pearl harbor would be the point of attack.
For one thing I don’t think that anybody in Washington really understood the disruptions created by the rapidly advancing state of aviation technology that was going on. I think that the people in the White House, State and the Navy Dept. were thinking in terms of battleship speed, not aircraft carrier speed. The logistic needs of a battle fleet are different from those of a carrier battle group. Which creates limitations and makes a lot more radio traffic. Which would give you a clue that something was up. You have to coordinate the fleet rain with the fleet in order to keep it fed and moving. Also the need to keep the fleet near the home islands limited the operational sphere to the Western Pacific. Still the risks of Pearl Harbor should have been clear to anybody who paid attention. After all the Navy had been playing Pearl Harbor attacks in exercise for years. Exercises who’s results were fairly public and well known outside the offices in Washington. In Japan, for instance.
Fleet Problem XIII
1932 was an interesting year following the invasion of China by Japan. The scenario proposed that Hawaii had been taken over by an enemy and the U.S. Navy was dispatched to take it back. In a joint exercise the Army played the part of the Black occupying power and our Navy the Blue attacking force.
Captain John Towers, Chief of Staff, planned to use the carriers Lexington and Saratoga to launch a sneak attack on the Army in Hawaii prior to covering landings by the marines. On Saturday, February 5th, the two carriers and destroyers formed a separate Task Force and left the main battle fleet, making high speed runs in to a launch position 100 miles north of Oahu during the night. At dawn Sunday morning a surprised Army woke to the roar of fleets of aircraft attacking their installations. Captain Towers had timed the attack perfectly.
“The fact that Japan nearly duplicated this attack on Pearl on Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, was no accident. Early in the 1950s Towers dined in Tokyo with a Japanese vice admiral who had participated in the planning. “He told me they had simply taken a page out of our own book!”4
Fleet Problem XIV
“The 1933 problem was designed to simulate a war in the Pacific, one initiated by carrier operations. Anticipating that Japan would attack before formally declaring war (as she had done against Russia in 1904), the scenario envisioned the sortie of the Japanese fleet eastward across the Pacific. This fleet, its sinister designation Black, had ominously prescient orders: “To inflict maximum damage on the PEARL HARBOR NAVAL BASE in order to destroy or reduce its effectiveness.”
“The Army, (defending Blue force) had put their forces on full alert January 27th, and 24 hour air patrols were initiated out to 150 miles. Avoiding Blue air patrols, the Black carriers and their escorts arrived at a position north of Molakai around midnight on January 30th. The strike force arrived over Pearl Harbor around dawn and was ruled to have inflicted serious damage.” 4
Fleet Problem XVI
Held in 1935 it was the largest mock battle ever staged, conducted over an area of the sea covering five million square miles of the North Central Pacific between Midway, Hawaii, and the Aleutian Islands and involving 321 vessels and 70,000 men. Although four aircraft carriers participated, the major contribution to aviation was the experimentation with underway refueling of carriers that enabled carrier task forces to operate independently. Debate over the role of aircraft carriers continued, and reached its nadir in 1938 when Admiral Claude C. Bloch was appointed CINCUS. It came as a shock to the naval aviation contingent for Admiral Bloch regarded carriers as just another ship to serve as an auxiliary tied to the battle line.2
Fleet Problem XIX
However, in 1938 the Black Fleet again simulated an attack on Hawaii. Saratoga was commanded by Captain John Towers, who had earned his wings in 1911, and was the first of the Navy’s pioneer airmen to command a fleet carrier. Admiral Ernest King “decided to affect a surprise air raid on Pearl Harbor. He directed Saratoga to the northwest of Hawaii. Using a convenient weather front, at 0450 on March 29th King launched an attack from 100 miles that hit the Army’s Hickam and Wheeler airfields and Pearl Harbor Naval Air Station with “devastating effect.” 2
Douglas TBD-1, 1937 Torpedo Plane
Where was the intrepid Capt. Towers when the balloon went up? Procuring aircraft as the head of the Bureau Of Aviation. This was a result of the Navy’s prewar rotation of officers between sea and land commands. This was also probably a result of the shortage of air competent officers in the navy before the war. The fact that Towers was running the Bureau had some interesting consequences as the time he was running the bureau was when the US developed some of the classic carrier aircraft that helped win the war like F4F, F6F and SPD, but also the time that carrier operations went down the tubes at the worst possible time. The experience curve again.
One thing that the exercises made clear was that Pearl, unless extreme precautions were taken, was extremely vulnerable to a raiding attack by carriers approaching at night or behind a weather front and launching a strike. As a forward base for supporting active operations it was perfect. As a permanent station for the Pacific Fleet, not so much in 1941. Yet that is where Roosevelt insisted that the fleet be based.
One problem the Roosevelt Administration had was that it didn’t take opposition to it’s dictates lightly. You can see these bad habit throughout the Depression as time went forward. The Administration was filled with it’s brain trusters who never really listened to ideas outside the trust. They also were not responsive to feedback, which was a primary cause of much of the misery during the Depression. Roosevelt also had a habit of putting yes men in positions of authority. At the Navy Office, for instance.
. Over and over again you see that people who objected or dissented against the Administration paid a price for it. Especially in the Navy office. From the amount of stuff I’ve seen over the years, the infighting was endless and vicious, with ruined careers and stupidity all over the office. Even during fighting the biggest war in history, the infighting went on and indeed, some of the worst offenders went on to glory. Meanwhile the people who actually got things done tended to drop into obscurity.
As typical it all started at the top with Adm. Harald Stark, Chief of Naval Operations. If nothing else he allowed the infighting to go on and didn’t stomp on it, hard. He also allowed empire building and people like “Terrible Turner” to usurp functions outside the work that his office was supposed to be doing. This led to operational intelligence going through his office, rather than directly to the CNO’s. The consequences of this would be ugly for the sailors at Pearl.
As head of the War Plans Division of the Navy Department, Turner was subordinate only to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold R. Stark, at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Although in theory the Head of Naval Intelligence, Captain Theodore Wilkinson, reported directly to Stark, in practice he was answerable to Turner, and Turner made the important decisions about the handling of naval intelligence. It was therefore Turner who made the decision not to send the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, details of the intercepted Japanese diplomatic communications which pointed strongly to an imminent air or sea attack on the Pacific Fleet’s base at Pearl Harbor. Kimmel testified after the war that had he known of these communications, he would have maintained a much higher level of alert and that the Fleet would not have been taken by surprise by the Japanese attack. The leading historian of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Professor Gordon Prange, wrote in Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History that, even allowing for Kimmel’s desire to exculpate himself, this was correct. Prange wrote: “If Turner thought a Japanese raid on Hawaii… to be a 50-percent chance, it was his clear duty to say so plainly in his directive to Kimmel… He won the battle for dominance of War Plans over Intelligence, and had to abide by the consequences. If his estimates had enabled the U.S. to fend off… the Japanese threat at Pearl Harbor, Turner would deserve the appreciation of a grateful nation. By the same token, he could not justly avoid his share of the blame for failure.”
The deficiencies that led to Pearl can found directly in the weaknesses of Adm. Stark. Time and again you can see him bend to the will of the Administration when it came to things like deploying the fleet out at Pearl in the first place. The fact is that he left Adm. Richardson out in the cold in 1940, left Adm. Kimmel in the dark throughout 1940 and 1941 and as CNO did not do the job of ensuring that the Navy had the means to operate in war as required and the absolutely essential job of making sure that the distant commands were kept abreast of the information and actions being undertaken by the political people in Washington as the country was moving rapidly toward war.
As far as the Pacific Fleet goes, a large part of the experience curve was taken off the board with the removal of Adm. Richardson from his command.
Admiral Richardson was commander of the US Pacific Fleet in 1940 when it was based on the West Coast of America. The fleet used to spend time every year in Pearl Harbor, but return to the mainland after a month or so. In late March 1940 Richardson got a secret message from Admiral Harold R. Stark (Stark, Harold R.), Chief of Naval Operations, informing Richardson that he might have to remain in the Hawaiian Islands. Richardson protested that the facilities were inadequate and that as a base the position was excessively exposed to attack. These objections were in vain and in October the admiral went direct to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Roosevelt, Franklin D.) to whom he said that the Japanese would not be slow to see the fleet’s presence in Oahu as more of an opportunity than a threat. On 22 November Stark suggested to Richardson that torpedo nets be deployed in Pearl harbor, but the reply was that they were neither necessary not practicable. On 1 February 1941 Richardson was replaced by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel (Kimmel, Husband E.).
The big problem with the replacement of Richardson with Kimmel was that the change replaced a commander who was thoroughly knowledgeable of the ground and conditions in the Pacific and the probable opponent with a commander who was not. But at least Kimmel probably wouldn’t ask too many questions or push too hard for changes. Like the need for torpedo nets in light of events in Italy.
In light of the attitudes from the Navy Office it’s hard to see that Kimmel really had very many options.
The fact is that Adm. didn’t really have the resources to maintain a constant air search. here’s what was going on the morning of Dec. 7.
- On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, forces under my command were disposed as follows: Patrol Squadron TWENTY-ONE at Midway, Patrol Squadrons ELEVEN, TWELVE, FOURTEEN at Kaneohe, TWENTY-TWO, TWENTY-THREE and TWENTY-FOUR at pearl Harbor, all tenders except Wright at Pearl Harbor; Wright enroute to Pearl Harbor from Midway.
- The condition of readiness in force was Baker 5 (50% of assigned aircraft on 4 hours notice) with machine guns and ammunition in all planes not undergoing maintenance work. In addition to the above, three squadrons (VP-21 at Midway, VP-23 at Pearl, and VP-11 at Kaneohe) were in condition Afirm 5 (100% of assigned aircraft on 4 hours notice). This was augmented by specific duty assignments on December 7 which required six planes from Patrol Squadrons FOURTEEN, TWENTY-FOUR, and TWELVE to be ready for light on 30 minutes notice.The general orders listed above were modified by circumstances and planes actually ready for flight were as follows:
VP-21 7 planes – in the air conducting search 120° to 170° to 450 miles from Midway. 4 planes – on the surface at Midway armed each with 2 five hundred pound bombs and on 10 minutes notice. VP-11 12 planes – ready for flight on 4 hours notice. VP-12 6 planes – ready for flight on 30 minutes notice. 5 planes – ready for flight on 4 hours notice. VP-14 3 planes – in the air on morning security patrol armed with depth charges. 3 planes – ready for flight on 30 minutes notice. 4 planes – ready for flight on 4 hours notice. VP-22 12 planes – ready for flight on 4 hours notice. VP-23 11 planes – ready for flight on 4 hours notice. VP-24 4 planes – in the air conducting inter-type tactics with submarines. 1 plane – ready for flight on 30 minutes notice. Total 72 planes – in the air or ready for flight in 4 hours or less.
In this connection it may be stated that the 4 hours notice was primarily set to permit rest and recreation of personnel and was in no wise a criterion of material readiness. For example, one plane of VP-23, theoretically on 4 hours notice, was actually in the air 45 minutes after the first bomb dropped.
To summarize the foregoing, at the moment the first bomb dropped, aircraft of this command were in the following condition:
14 – in the air (7 on a search from Midway). 58 – on the surface ready for flight in four hours or less. 9 – undergoing repairs. 81 – Total.
Illustrative of the efforts made by personnel, one of the nine planes undergoing repairs took off for a search at 1356, local time, loaded with 4 one thousand pound bombs.
- A narrative of events of the day follows:
TIME (LOT) 0700 14-P-1 sank enemy submarine one mile off Pearl Harbor entrance. 0715 Message coded and transmitted to base. 0735 Message and decoded and information received by Staff Duty Officer. 0737 Message relayed to Operations Officer. 0740 Relayed by telephone to Staff Duty Officer of Commander-in-Chief. 0750 Search plan drafted by Operations Officer. 0757 First bomb dropped near VP-22 hangar. 0758 Message ordered broadcasted to all ships present quote “AIR RAID PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NO DRILL” unquote (An identical message was sent by CinCPac). 0800 Search plan transmitted by radio and telephone (Received by some of the planes in the air at 0805).From this time on an accurate chronological account is impracticable.
The Commander Patrol Wing TWO arrived at the Operations Office during the first attack and approved the orders that had been issued. Telephonic communication with the various squadrons at Pearl harbor was established in order to supplement and possibly accelerate the radio transmissions. As was usually the case, it was difficult to communicate with Kaneohe. The page printer had gone out of commission and it was quite difficult to obtain a telephonic connection. Immediately upon termination of the first attack, an endeavor was made to determine the sectors of the search actually being covered. it was determined, with some difficulty that, of all planes at the bases of Kaneohe and Pearl Harbor, only 3 were still in commission. These were dispatched to fill holidays in what appeared to be the most promising sectors for search. in addition, available planes from the Utility Wing were ordered out. The 2 planes still available for duty at Kaneohe were ordered by telephone to cover the sector between 280 and 300 degrees. The one plane still available at Pearl harbor had some difficulty in being launched due to the wreckage and fires of other planes in the way. Abut this time the second attack came in. Fire was opened by tenders of this command and from machine guns mounted in planes on the ground or removed from the planes to extemporized mountings with greater arcs of fire. As a result of this second attack, all communications, radio, telephone and page printer were knocked out of commission. Immediate steps to restore communications were taken while the second attack was still underway and communications personnel, who unfortunately have not yet been identified, proceeded to repair the radio antenna during the height of the attack. Before the end of the second attack, radio communications were established on the tenders of this command. Shortly thereafter, telephonic communication was reestablished and information was received that the 2 planes at Kaneohe previously reported as ready for service had been destroyed. Accordingly, orders were issued for the 1 plane at Pearl Harbor, which had somehow escaped uninjured during the second attack, to cover the sector from 280 to 300 degrees. The Commander Patrol Wing ONE at Kaneohe felt that the orders to cover the sector 280 to 300, which had been transmitted to him by telephone for the 2 planes on the ground, required his taking action and he accordingly diverted 14-P-1 and 14-P-3 from the sectors that they had been searching. Information of this action was not received by me.
A big problem is that the infighting at the Navy Dept sometimes created casualties that would later create huge losses of experience. For instance Laurance Safford and cryptography.
Safford promoted the effort throughout the Navy, attracting Agnes Meyer Driscoll, Joseph Rochefort, Joseph Wenger, and others who were to lead the business through World War II and into the postwar period. He was the first to begin organizing the worldwide Naval collection and direction finding effort, so that when the United States entered World War II it already had a system of intercept stations. Safford himself was wrenched out of the job in 1926, returning in 1929. He remained with the effort except for another sea tour from 1932 to 1936. Meanwhile, the effort that he headed broke Japanese naval codes, and began mechanizing its operations with the addition of IBM equipment. Safford himself was directly involved with building cryptographic machines, and collaborated with the Army’s Frank Rowlett in the invention of the Sigaba, a cipher machine not known to be broken by any country during World War II.
Safford did manage to get Joe Rochefort to Hawaii and in charge of station HYPO, though after the victory at Midway, a victory, that Rochefort was responsible for a huge contribution by decrypting and using traffic analysis to obtain the IJN’s intentions. A victory that managed to put Rochefort in charge of a floating drydock.
The fact is that the people closest to the problem were able to make correct assessments and typically had the best background for understanding the facts on the ground. For instance most of the Naval officers that were closest to the Japanese situation, like Pacific Fleet intelligence commander Edwin Layton were familiar not only with Japan, but the people in high command on the other side. When the death of Adm. Yamamoto was planned the loss would not be of an unknown enemy but an old friend and poker buddy.
It was in the Washington bubble where the incorrect assumptions tended to happen. The Navy Dept. assumed that HYPO had MAGIC. The CNO assumed that Adm. Kimmel going on. The War Dept. assumed that the Japanese would give at least some warning before actually starting war and most likely that the war would begin in the Philippines. Naval operations assumed that torpedoes would not run in the shallow depths of Pearl Harbor. All of these things were wrong
Perhaps no player in this sad scenario got the short end of the deal than Lieutenant General Walter Short. If there was an officer more or less unprepared for the storm that was coming, it was short. The defense of Pearl, Short’s responsibility required somebody with technical skill to understand fast evolving technologies and a good knowledge of things like long range aircraft patrols and heavy artillery. Short was an infantry officer of the old school. He handled the details of his command like a typical infantry command, which would be fine for a stateside base camp and utterly useless for a small island that needed to be protected from air or naval attack. So when the “war warning” came he defaulted to the threat that he understood, sabotage, and neglected the technologies against the threat he didn’t, attack by aircraft.
SCR-270 Early Warning Radar at Pearl Harbor
Radar Operators at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941
Left to right: Lt. Kermit Tyler, Pvt. George Elliot & Pvt. Joe Lockard. Photos on display at the National Electronics Museum.
Private George Elliot and Private Joe Lockard were the radar operators at the Opana Station on that day and at 7:00 A.M. were preparing to shut down the SCR-270 radar system. The truck had not arrived to return them to base so they kept the radar operating for additional training.
The radio operators detected a large echo on the SCR 270 radar oscilloscope at 7:02 A.M. on December 7, 1941, which later proved to be the Japanese attack force heading for Pearl Harbor.
Early Radar Warning Ignored
Model of a portable SCR-270 unit. U.S. Army photo
The blip was so large that Lockard thought the radar was malfunctioning, however, Elliot insisted on contacting the Aircraft Warning Information Center. The Center was virtually empty due to early morning training and monitoring exercies. The officer on duty, Lt. Kermit Tyler1 had been at the center for only two days, and had no training in radar.
He did know that a flight of US B-17 Flying Fortresses were expected that day and believed this is what the operators had detected. He relayed back to the radar operators, Don’t worry about it. Lockard and Elliot continued tracking the aircraft until they were about 22 miles from Oahu, when they planes disappeared behind the distortions caused by surrounding mountains. The two radio operators then returned to base.
At little after 8:00 A.M. Lockard and Elliott learned Japanese aircraft were attacking the base at Pearl Harbor and realized that what they had previously tracked with the radar, was the Japanese attack force.
General Short’s Views on Radar Prior to the Japanese Attack
* Radar Detection of Japanese Aircraft
7:00 am Radar operators at Opana Station prepare to shut down. 7:02 am Large echo detected on the SCR-270 radar. Aircraft Warning Information Center contacted. Return message was,
“Don’t worry about it.”
Shortly after 8:00 am Japanese planes attack Pearl Harbor. Radio operators Elliot and Lockard realize attack force detected by radar 12-07-41 First use of radar by U.S. forces in warfare. * Table based on information from signs at the National Electronics Museum.
General Short, who was in overall command of the U.S. Army units on Oahu at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, firmly believed in the value of the infantry – so much so that he required air force personnel to participate in six weeks of infantry training. And reflecting this thinking, he didn’t place much importance on the radar units, restricting training and operation times. Radar units were to be operated only between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. in the morning, so they would not interfere with normal army operations during the day.
This was not true when specific war exercises were conducted. So on November 12, 1941, during a major war game, (less than a month before the attack), the radar units were operated full time. One of the American carrier groups simulated an attack on Pearl Harbor and the radar units identified the incoming planes. The radar worked the way it was meant to work.
But when the war game was over, radar units went back to the curtailed schedule, being only used for training small numbers of soldiers in the early hours of the day and shut down during normal working hours. This schedule was designed to get all the important work done between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and allow the soldiers to have the weekends off. This whole system was really predicated on the United States being at peace and not at war. The overall defense plan for Hawaii reflected this as well.
Which is just another in Pearl Harbor’s long string of typical human foul ups. These are the kinds of foul ups that don’t matter in peacetime, but will be fatal in wartime. The biggest foul up was for whatever reason, essentially keeping the command at Pearl in the dark.
Here are two videos from Military History Illustrated that cover the Intelligence gathering between the wars.
Like most military intelligence failures the road to Pearl was paved in assumptions. ASS U ME has made fools of more commanders than just about anything in history. There’s a conspiracy theory going around that Roosevelt knew about the attack and did nothing to warn the people at Pearl. Yet the issues were bigger than the President somehow not letting the commands know that an attack was imminent. I’ve never seen any evidence, and I’ve seen about 100 books and some primary documents that would leave me to believe that Roosevelt deliberately denied the attack warning to Kimmel and Short. The fact is that things in Washington were so screwed up that he didn’t have to.
Could Kimmel or Short done more to provide better intelligence or information? Possibly, but it would have meant going outside the boundaries of their orders and doing things like keeping B17s at Pearl for patrols rather than sending them on to Clark. In order to do things like that both of the officers would have to have been certain that war was imminent. Which meant that they would have to have had access to the briefs on what was going on in Washington. Which was something that the various departments did not pass on to them. Without the key data, there was no way that either Kimmel or Short could know just what was really going on. For the people on Pearl the biggest intelligence failure was not collecting intelligence on their own government. Which is sad.