The 75th anniversary of the Imperial Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor will soon be remembered again as a “Day of Infamy.” On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched over 350 aircraft from six carriers, flawlessly executing Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto’s strike plan “Z” and succeeded in crippling the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
How could the commanders in Hawaii be so unprepared when in Washington both the Army and Navy intelligence organizations had broken key Japanese diplomatic codes, including the high level “Purple” code in which Japan was conducting its peace negotiations with the United States? Whether the Japanese naval code “JN-25” was broken prior to the attack remains unknown.
In their new book, “A Matter of Honor,” by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, the authors provide information never before revealed. The authors make the case for restoring the personal reputation, honor and ranks of the two Pearl Harbor commanders who were unjustly made the scapegoats.
The second new book, “Into the Lion’s Mouth” by Larry Loftis, discusses the most successful British double agent, “Dusko Popov,” the real life inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Popov’s relationship to Pearl Harbor. In short, the Japanese were fascinated by the British surprise airstrike at Taranto, which destroyed the Italian Fleet primarily by dropping torpedoes in relatively shallow water. They prepared questions and passed them to Germany who in turn gave them to Popov. He turned them over to the FBI on his arrival in New York in August 1941. The U.K. raid on Taranto became the blueprint for the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Loftis contends that J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI Director, never turned over the questions to the military or to the president. Former CIA Director William Casey made the same charges in 1988 and blamed Hoover for failing to share the information with the military. However, according to Mr. Summers and Ms. Swan, Hoover did turn over paraphrased versions of the question to military intelligence who failed to recognize the significance of this information.
Of the eight official inquiries, the most biased conducted was by Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts shortly following the attack. Neither Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, or Lt. Gen. Walter Short, who was responsible for the defense of Hawaii, received any information from the decrypted codes which would have alerted them to the Japanese fleet’s intentions. Yet the Roberts commission declared Adm. Kimmel and Lt. Gen. Short derelict in carrying their duties and held them solely responsible for the Pearl Harbor disaster. None of the 10 Washington officials authorized to receive the decrypted information was held accountable. Cover up?
The Washington officials authorized to receive the decrypted “Purple” intelligence, referred to as “Magic,” included the Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall; Chief of Naval Operations Harold Stark; Chief of Navy War Plans RADM Richmond K. Turner; Brig. Gen. Gerow; head of Army War Plans; heads of both Army and Navy Intelligence, Secretary of War (Army) Stimson; Secretary of Navy Knox; the president and the Secretary of State Cordell Hull.
The president only saw brief summaries of “Magic” decoded information and at times only received verbal briefings. Further, Marshall and Stark at one point denied the president and secretary of State any “Magic” information for four months because they didn’t trust people around them. Of course, one person who did see Magic was Winston Churchill. The U.S. provided three “Purple” machines to the U.K. to facilitate their breaking of the code. Another machine went to the U.S. Army and two went to the Navy. Interesting, one “Purple” machine was sent to the naval station CAST at Cavite in the Philippines for use by Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. Harold Hart. Astonishingly, none were provided to the Hawaii Commanders Adm. Kimmel and Lt. Gen. Short. What use MacArthur made of the Purple intelligence is unknown. Further, he was unprepared for the Japanese attack that destroyed our FAREAST Air Force at Clark AFB nine hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was never held accountable.
One other aspect that is seldom mentioned is that the Dutch Army cryptanalysts had also broken the Japanese diplomatic code “Purple.” According to Brig. Gen. Elliot Thorpe, USA (ret.) when he was the army attache in Java, Gen. Tec Pooten, CINC of Far East Dutch Army, provided him a decrypted message from Tokyo to the Japanese Ambassador in Bangkok which told of the upcoming attack on Hawaii, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. After sending four messages about the upcoming attack, Thorpe as he recalled was directed by our War Department to send “no more on this subject.”
“Magic” decrypted information held a wealth of information. There was the “bomb plot” grid message #83 of Sept. 24, 1941, which divided the fleet anchorages in Pearl Harbor into bombing sectors. We also had the Nov. 30, 1941 message to designated Japanese Embassies to destroy their codes, files, etc. Washington cleared officials also had the 14-part message on Dec. 6 1941, the Japanese response to the secretary of State’s Nov. 26 ultimatum, ceasing all negotiations to which President Roosevelt remarked, “This means war.” Yet none of this critical intelligence was passed to the Hawaii Commanders. As an aside, Churchill was getting much of this information as well. We do know it was his goal to involve “isolationist” America in the war.
The three principals that should have been held accountable were Gen. Marshall, Adm. Stark and Adm. Turner, who assumed responsibility for distributing the decrypted information for the Navy. It clearly is time for Adm. Kimmel and Lt. Gen. Short to have their honor, reputations and ranks restored. It is a matter of honor for the Navy, Army, and country to correct this terrible injustice.