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Report of Navy Court of Inquiry - October 19, 1944

The following is the Opinion of the Naval Court of Inquiry which examined whether Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter C. Short were in dereliction of duty on (and before) December 7, 1941. 

The court took testimony, examined exhibits and allowed both officers to have counsel.  No dereliction of duty was found.

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

Transcription of the Naval Court of Inquiry's October 19, 1944 online, courtesy Larry W. Jewell, Purdue University.

PD

 

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