Where does blame lie?
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel (Kimmel, Husband E.) - Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet -and General Walter C. Short (Short, Walter C.) - the Army commander on Oahu were relieved of duty and demoted.
During the raid itself, Kimmel had replaced the shoulder boards of a full admiral he wore as CinCPac with those of a rear admiral, his permanent rank. Both Kimmel and Short retired in 1942.
A commission of inquiry hurriedly set up under Associate Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts and seven subsequent inquiries blamed Kimmel and Short for the catastrophe at Pearl Harbor. However, the Navy Court of Inquiry and the Army Pearl Harbor Board partially exonerated them, though their ranks were not restored to them. Neither man was granted the court martial they requested to clear their names. In 1941, they had agreed to sign a waiver to speed the investigation and the government held them to it.
Short died in 1949, it is said, due to the stress cause by the humiliation of Pearl Harbor. During the attack on Pearl, a spent bullet broke the window of Kimmel's office. 'It would have been more merciful if it had killed me,' he said. Kimmel died in 1968, still protesting that the Pearl Harbor debacle - America's worst wartime defeat - was not his fault.
But there was plenty to blame Kimmel and Short for. Although, for security reasons, they were not supplied with raw intelligence data, they were give 'war warnings' that told them to prepare for a Japanese attack. A surprise attack by submarines, planes, possibly both, was a 'definite possibility,' they were told on 18 February. However, like most other people, neither Kimmel nor Short expected the Japanese to attack at Pearl Harbor. They assumed that the enemy's first target would be far to the west. The crucial information that the Japanese consulate was sending Tokyo - details of the Pacific Fleet's moorings in Pearl Harbor in preparation for an attack - was denied to them.
Nevertheless, Kimmel failed to organize long-range reconnaissance flights. He had flying boats that could have patrolled out to 800 miles from Hawaii - the Japanese attack was launched from only 250 miles. (Although, to have covered the area effectively, Kimmel would have needed 250 flying boats, not the 49 he had.) Meanwhile, Short, who thought Kimmel had long-range reconnaissance in place, only deployed his radar equipment for three hours a day. It was operated by inadequately trained men who had no proper way of communicating with headquarters.
Neither Kimmel nor Short had any experience with aviation and Kimmel had been leap-frogged over 46 senior officers to take command in the Pacific. When the war warnings came, Kimmel saw his duty to follow the long-established US Navy battle plan, which was to divert the Japanese from attacking Singapore, until the Royal Navy had time to reinforce it. However, he had more ambitious plans of his own. He aimed to lure the enemy out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean and engage them in an old-fashioned engagement between battleships. This kind of battle never took place during the Pacific war; all naval engagements took place between carrier-borne aircraft. So Kimmel's preparation for war was to ready his fleet for aggressive action. The defense of Pearl Harbor, he thought, was in the hands of the Army and he complained bitterly to Washington at Short's lack of equipment.
Short, however, believed that the Japanese would not attack the military installations on Oahu while the Navy was there. An infantry officer, he admitted that he had no idea of how to protect the base against air attack. He made preparations to defend to the island against an amphibious assault. When the attack came, he retreated to his bunker and prepared to defend the beaches.
Although Kimmel and Short played golf together, they had set up no effective Navy-Army liaison. Kimmel did not pass on intelligence reports he received from Washington and failed to inform Short that he had not instituted reconnaissance flights. He did not even inform the Army when an enemy submarine was spotted at the entrance to Pearl Harbor on the morning of 7 December, even though intelligence analysts had long said that this would herald an aerial assault.
In turn, Short, who believed that the Navy had deployed reconnaissance aircraft, failed to inform Kimmel that he was limiting the use of radar to three hours a day, due to a shortage of spare parts. It is clear that he thought that the Navy was in Pearl Harbor to defend the Army installations, rather than the other way around. With the fleet in port, he believed that the major threat to his aircraft was sabotage, so he bunched the planes together on the airbase. That way they were easy to guard against saboteurs, but it made them sitting targets to air attack.
On instructions from Washington, Short had not instituted an all-out alert for fear of alarming the civilian population. When he informed Washington that he was calling a low-level alert against sabotage only, they made no response, so he assumed they concurred. The Navy was also informed of his state of preparedness, which was Level 1, the lowest state, in Army parlance. The Navy assumed that Level 1 was the highest.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor finally came, neither Kimmel nor Short had serious defense plans to put into action. Kimmel said that, if he had received the raw intelligence that had been denied to him, he would have ordered the aircraft carrier Saratoga back from the West Coast and would have sent the Pacific Fleet to sea to intercept the enemy. His successor, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (Nimitz, Chester), pointed out that this would have been a disaster:
'It was God's mercy that Admiral Kimmel didn't have warning that the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbor,' he said. 'If we had been warned, our fleet would have gone out to sea. All our ships would have been destroyed one by one in deep water+ We would have lost the entire Pacific Fleet and eighteen to nineteen thousand men, instead of the ships and 3,300 men we did lose.'
Kimmel, a 1991 report concluded, fancied himself 'the American Nelson' and neglected his defenses while preparing for attack. He had already had a falling out with Short over the defense of Wake Island. Short wanted command if the Army was deployed there. Kimmel refused, and deployed the Marines instead. This falling out explained why vital intelligence was not forwarded from Kimmel to Short.
Kimmel and Short must bear some of the responsibility for the losses at Pearl Harbor. Despite the warnings they had been given, they were not ready for war. But they were not the only commanders to be unprepared. General Douglas MacArthur on the Philippines, for example, had seven hours' warning after the attack on Pearl Harbor and his aircraft were also caught on the ground. He eventually conceded the Philippines with over 70,000 killed or taken prisoner, yet he went on to become a war hero.
If there was a conspiracy at the highest level to invite a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to get America into the war in Europe on the British side then, it is argued, Kimmel and Short were merely scapegoats. Since their deaths their families and friends have tried to clear their names on the grounds that Washington had not provided them with all the intelligence indicating an impending attack. On those grounds the US Congress exonerated the two men in 2001. They have subsequently been returned to the ranks they held before Pearl Harbor. Now, it seems, America must find someone else to blame.