Admiral Kimmel, Husband E.


By: J. Owen

In February of 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel became the commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Fleet. The Pacific Fleet had been moved to Pearl Harbor in 1940. Admiral Kimmel, shortly after being placed in this command expressed his concern about a surprise attack. He did not, however, make any apparent changes to prepare for such an attack.

His army counterpart, General Walter Short also arrive in Hawaii in February 1941. Defense of Oahu was the responsibility of the Army.

Warnings of an Attack

Admiral Kimmel and General Short were given numerous warnings about the potential of an attack.  In late November, Admiral Harold Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, warned Kimmel of a surprise attack in the Pacific. No Action was taken.

One day later,  General Marshall sent the below warning to the commanders by telegram to expect enemy action ‘at any moment’ and advised them to carry out ‘such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary’. Again no action was taken.

Negotiations with Japan appear to be terminated to all practical purposes with only the barest possibilities that the Japanese Government might come back and offer to continue. Japanese future action unpredictable but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act. This policy should not, repeat not, be construed as restricting you to a course of action that might jeopardize your defense. Prior to hostile Japanese action you are directed to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary but these measures should be carried out so as not, repeat not, to alarm civil population or disclose intent. Report measures taken. Should hostilities occur you will carry out the tasks assigned in Rainbow Five [the Army’s basic war plan] so far as they pertain to Japan. Limit dissemination of this highly secret information to minimum essential officers.

Around the same time Kimmel recieved a another warning, this time even more specific from the Navy Department. It was ‘‘to be considered as a war warning’ and to expect ‘an aggressive move by Japan’ in a few days. Short received a similar message from the War Department.  Again, neither man took any actions.

On December 3, 1941, Admiral Kimmel was informed that the Japanese embassies around the world were destroying their codes and ciphers and burning their secret documents. It was clear that there would be an immediate outbreak of war. However, Kimmel read the warning and filed it away, again without any action.

Asked later why he did not heed the warnings, Kimmel said that the fact that the War and Navy Departments had authorized sending 50 percent of Hawaii’s P-40s to Wake and Midway indicated to him authorities in Washington “did not consider hostile action on Pearl Harbor imminent or probable.”

On December 7th, Admiral Kimmel and General Short had a golf game scheduled. Kimmel had arisen at about 7am and immediately was advised that the USS ward had fired on an unidentified submarine a mile south of the mouth of Pearl Harbor.  The observation planes flying above aslo reported that they saw the oil slick from the submarine.  Kimmel was frustrated that he was not advised sooner. He canceled his golf game with General Short and decided to make his way to the command center.

From his office, the first message was sent out at 7:58, after the air attack had begun, “AIR RAID PEARL HARBOR. THIS IS NO DRILL”. At 8:05 Kimmel was in his office and a stray bullet smashed through his window and hit him on the chest. He is quoted as telling the officer next to him, “It would have been more merciful had it killed me.”

After the Attack

The Pearl Harbor Attack was devastating. Following the attack, Both Kimmel and Short admitted that they had not expected an air attack and the Japanese caught them unprepared and unawares.

On December 17th, Kimmel and Short were relieved of Duty. Admiral Kimmel was relieved by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. The ordeal was humiliating and both Kimmel and Short were pressured into early retirement. Both endured numerous investigations and enquiries over the “naval debacle”. Finally in 1999, the Senate exonerated both General Short and Admiral Kimmel.

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