FDR: Guilty Short & Kimmel Were Scapegoats


What might have happened had Kimmel been fully informed as events developed subsequent to the war warning he received on November 27 is purely conjectural. The message itself stated, “This dispatch is to be considered a war warning.” It went on to indicate an expected move by Japan against “either the Philippines, or Kra Peninsula, or possibly Borneo” and directed Admiral Kimmel to assume “an appropriate defensive deployment preparatory to carrying out the tasks assigned in WP [war plan] 46,” which called for an immediate raid against the Marshall Islands. Kimmel was known for his vigorous, aggressive leadership.

General Short also got a war warning, which stated, “The United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act.” This same desire was expressed to Kimmel in a message sent to him two days after he had received his war warning of the twentyseventh. We can only wonder what the commanders in Hawaii might have attempted offensively without that stricture or even what Washington had in mind. If Kimmel redeployed his two carrier task forces, the Japanese advantage still exceeded three to one. This we do know: If the Japanese messages that had been deciphered and distributed in Washington had been forwarded to Kimmel and Short, it would have entitled them to initiate whatever action they deemed necessary, from departing Pearl to employing a pre-emptive attack. When a senior commander assigns forces and a mission to a subordinate, then fails to provide pertinent information that he holds, he retains force control—and in so doing denies that subordinate the right to discharge a fundamental responsibility, which is to do whatever the subordinate deems necessary to preserve the integrity of his force.


The stage was set for the disaster in April 1941 by two actions. One was foolish: Adm. Kelly Turner, director of war plans, with the support of Admiral Stark, took control of intelligence distribution away from the director of naval intelligence, in hopes of preventing some unwanted initiative by a fleet commander on the basis of the intelligence he received. But the second action was taken for sound strategic reasons. The President transferred the carrier Yorktown and three battleships to the Atlantic to aid in getting supplies to Britain. This gave Japan a two to one advantage in naval strength.

So, what information was denied? Of course the aggressor in surprise attacks benefits from a full knowledge of the location and identity of potential targets, constraints imposed, and defensive measures in place. Tokyo planners divided Pearl Harbor into five sectors and on September 24, in J-19 code, directed their consul general to make periodic reports on the identity of warships in those areas. On November 15 and 18, Japan advised that relations with the United States were most critical and directed its spies on Oahu to report ship locations at least twice weekly. A fourth intercept, sent on November 29, directed, “Now, report even when ships not moving.” The response named the ships and also stated there were no protective balloons in use. This last message was deciphered and circulated on December 5, the others on December 3 and 6. Also on December 4, the Japanese plain text message “East wind rain,” which was known to mean war with the United States and Britain, was received and circulated in Washington. Long denied, receipt of “East wind rain” is now thoroughly corroborated.

The director of war plans also neglected to give Kimmel information learned from our decryption of diplomatic instructions sent to the Japanese ambassador, Adm. Kichisaburo Nomura, in the Purple Code—nor did Army staff tell General Short. Extracts from these messages reveal the flavor of their contents. Purple No. 736: “absolutely necessary agreement be reached by the 25th [November].” Another: “you see how short time is. Do not allow the United States to delay negotiations.” No. 812: “Very difficult to change date, but if you can achieve desired results, new deadline is w/in the next three or four days.” This message cites a reason “beyond your ability to guess” why the dates are critical. No. 985 informs Berlin of the gravity of the situation and says that “war may come quicker than anyone dreams.” No. 865, deciphered on December 4, states that to prevent the United States from being unduly suspicious, “we are advising press and others in Japan that negotiations are continuing.” No. 867 directed the destruction of specific codes. No. 901, deciphered and distributed on December 6, advised Nomura that an extremely sensitive message of 14 parts was coming, together with delivery instructions. No. 902, the first 13 parts, was read by Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins, who was with the President, early in the evening of the sixth. The President remarked that this meant war, then shortly thereafter told his family at dinner, “We will be at war tomorrow.”