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Naval Court of Inquiry - Opinion on Pearl Harbor

A Naval Court of Inquiry was convened to determine whether the United States Navy, or any of its members, were responsible for America's failure to prevent the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

After taking testimony, and reviewing relevant materials, the court concluded that neither the Navy generally, nor any of its officers specifically, were responsible for the Pearl Harbor bombings. 

The court issued its opinion on October 19, 1944.  It follows hereafter.

Report of Navy Court of Inquiry [October 19, 1944].

From Pearl Harbor Attack, Part 39, pp. 297-322.

OPINION

Based on Finding II, the Court is of the opinion that the presence of a
large number of combatant vessels of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor
on 7 December, 1941, was necessary, and that the information available
to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, did not require any departure
from his operating and maintenance schedules.

Based on Finding III, the Court is of the opinion that the
Constitutional requirement that, prior to a declaration of war by the
Congress, no blow may be struck until after a hostile attack has been
delivered. Prevented the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, from taking
offensive action as a means of defense in the event of Japanese vessels
or planes appearing [in] the Hawaiian area, and that it imposed upon him
the responsibility of avoiding taking any action which might be
construed as an overt act.
 
Based on Finding V, the Court is of the opinion that the relations
between Admiral Husband E Kimmel, USN, and Lieut. General Walter C.
Short, U S Army, were friendly, cordial and cooperative, that there was
no lack of interest, no lack of appreciation of responsibility, and no
failure to cooperate on the part of either. And that each was cognizant
of the measures being undertaken by the other for the defense of the
Pearl Harbor Naval Base to the degree required by the common interest.
 
Based on Finding VI, the Court is of the opinion that the deficiencies
in personnel and material which existed during 1941, had a direct
adverse bearing upon the effectiveness of the defense of Pearl Harbor on
and prior to 7 December.

Based on Finding VII, the Court is of the opinion that the superiority
of the Japanese Fleet over the U.S. Pacific Fleet during the year 1941,
and the ability of Japan to obtain military and naval information gave
her an initial advantage not attainable by the United States up to 7 
December, 1941.
 
Based on Finding VIII, the Court is of the opinion that the defense of
the Pearl Harbor Naval Base was the direct responsibility of the Army,
that the Navy was to assist only with the means provided the 14th Naval
District, and that the defense of the base was a joint operation only to
this extent. The Court is further of the opinion that the defense should
have been such as to function effectively independently of the Fleet, in
view of the fundamental requirement that the strategic freedom of action
of the Fleet must be assured demands that the defense of a permanent
naval base be so effectively provided for and conducted as to remove any
anxiety of the Fleet in regard to the security of the base, or for that
of the vessels within its limits. Based on Findings IV, VIII and IX, the
Court is of the opinion that the duties of Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch,
U.S.N., in connection with the defense of Pearl Harbor, were performed
satisfactorily.

Based on Finding IX, the Court is of the opinion that the detailed Naval
Participation Air Defense plans drawn up and jointly agreed upon were
complete and sound in concept, but that they contained a basic defect in
that naval participation depended entirely upon the availability of
aircraft belonging to and being employed by the Fleet, and that on the
morning of 7 December these plans were ineffective because they
necessarily were drawn on the premise that there would be advance
knowledge that an attack was to be expected within narrow limits of
time, which was not the case on that morning.

The Court is further of the opinion that it was not possible for the
Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, to make his Fleet planes permanently
available to the Naval Base Defense Officer in view of the need for
their employment with the Fleet.
 
Based on Finding X, the Court is of the opinion that Admiral Kimmel's
action, taken immediately after assuming command, in placing in effect
comprehensive instructions for the security of the Pacific Fleet at sea
and in the operating areas, is indicative of his appreciation of his
responsibility for the security of the Fleet, and that the steps taken
were adequate and effective.
 
Based on Finding XI, the Court is of the opinion that, by virtue of the
information that Admiral Kimmel had at hand which indicated neither the
probability nor the imminence of an air attack on Pearl Harbor, and
bearing in mind that he had not knowledge of the State Department's note
of 26 November, the Navy's condition of readiness on the morning of 7
December, 1941, which resulted in the hostile planes being brought under
heavy fire of the ships' antiaircraft batteries as they came within
range, was that best suited to the circumstances, although had all anti-
aircraft batteries been manned in advance, the total damage inflicted on
ships would have been lessened to a minor extent and to a degree which
is problematical; and, that, had the Fleet patrol planes, slow and
unsuited for aerial combat, been in the air, they might have escaped and
the number of these planes lost might thus have been reduced.
 
The Court is of the opinion, however, that only had it been known in
advance that the attack would take place on 7 December, could there now
be any basis for a conclusion as to the steps that might have been taken
to lessen its ill effects, and that, beyond the fact that conditions
were unsettled and that, therefore, anything might happen, there was
nothing to distinguish one day from another in so far as expectation of
attack is concerned.
 
It has been suggested that each day all naval planes should have been in
the air, all naval personnel at their stations, and all antiaircraft
guns manned. The Court is of the opinion that the wisdom of this is
questionable when it is considered that it could not be known when an
attack would take place and that, to make sure, it would have been
necessary to impose a state of tension on the personnel day after day,
and to disrupt the maintenance and operating schedules of ships and
planes beginning at an indefinite date between 16 October and 7
December.
 
Based on Finding XII, the Court is of the opinion that, as no
information of any sort was at any time either forwarded or received
from any source which would indicate that Japanese carriers or other
Japanese ships were on their way to Hawaii during November or December,
1941, the attack of 7 December at Pearl Harbor, delivered under the
circumstances then existing, was unpreventable and that when it would
take place was unpredictable.
 
Based on Finding XIII, the Court is of the opinion that the action of
the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, in ordering that no routine,
long-range reconnaissance be undertaken was sound and that the use of
Fleet patrol planes for daily, long-range, all-around reconnaissance was
not possible with the inadequate number of Fleet planes available, and
was not justified in the absence of any information indicating that an
attack was to be expected in the Hawaiian area within narrow limits of
time.

Based on Finding XIV, the Court is of the opinion that the shore-based
air warning system, an Army service under the direct control of the
Army, was ineffective on the morning of 7 December, in that there was no
provision for keeping track of planes in the air near and over Oahu, and
for distinguishing between those friendly and those hostile and that,
because of this deficiency, a flight of planes which appeared on the
radar screen shortly after 0700 was confused with a flight of Army B-17s
en route from California, and that the information obtained by Army
radar was valueless as a warning, because the planes could not be
identified as hostile until the Japanese markings on their wings came
into view.

Based on Finding XV, the Court is of the opinion that by far the
greatest portion of the damage inflicted by the Japanese on ships in
Pearl Harbor was due to specially designed Japanese torpedoes, the
development and existence of which was unknown to the United States.
 
Based on Finding XVI. And particularly in view of the Chief of Naval
Operations' approval of the precautions taken and the deployments made
by Admiral Kimmel in accordance with the directive contained in the
dispatch of 16 October, 1941, the Court is of the opinion that Admiral
Kimmel's decision, made after receiving the dispatch of 24 November, to
continue preparations of the Pacific Fleet for war, was sound in the
light of the information then available to him.
 
Based on Finding XVII, the Court is of the opinion that, although the
attack of 7 December came as a surprise, there were good grounds for the
belief on the part of high officials in the State, War, and Navy
Departments, and on the part of the Army and Navy in the Hawaiian area,
that hostilities would begin in the Far East rather than elsewhere, and
that the same considerations which influenced the sentiment of the
authorities in Washington in this respect, support the interpretation
which Admiral Kimmel placed upon the "war warning message" of 27
November, to the effect that this message directed attention away from
Pearl Harbor rather than toward it.
 
Based on Findings XVIII and XIX, the Court is of the opinion that
Admiral Harold R. Stark, U.S.N., Chief of Naval Operations and
responsible for the operations of the Fleet, failed to display the sound
judgment expected of him in that he did not transmit to Admiral Kimmel,
Commander-in-Chief, Pacific fleet, during the very critical period 26
November to 7 December, important information which he had regarding the
Japanese situation and, especially, in that, on the morning of 7
December, 1941, he did not transmit immediately the fact that a message
had been received which appeared to indicate that a break in diplomatic
relations was imminent, and that an attack in the Hawaiian area might be
expected soon.
 
The Court is further of the opinion that, had this important information
been conveyed to Admiral Kimmel, it is a matter of conjecture as to what
action he would have taken.
 
Finally, based upon the facts established, the Court is of the opinion
that no offenses have been committed nor serious blame incurred on the
part of any person or persons in the naval service.

RECOMMENDATION

The Court recommends that no further proceedings be had in the matter.

ORIN G. MURFIN,
Admiral, U. S. Navy (Ret.),
President.

EDWARD C. KALBFUS,
Admiral, U. S. Navy (Ret.),
Member.

ADOLPHUS ANDREWS,
Vice Admiral, U. S. Navy (Ret.),
Member



Media Credits

Above material transcribed and placed on line, courtesy Larry W. Jewell, Purdue University.

 

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