Pearl Harbor Countdown
Although this book is not a great book in that it does not include all aspects of the Pearl Harbor story, it does cover new and overlooked ground that adds another dimension to the American command and political scene at the time. The book centers on the life of Admiral James Otto Richardson, a potential candidate for the office given to Admiral King before Pearl Harbor and the commander of the Pacific Fleet immediately before Admiral Kimmel. It is actually very much a biography of Richardson, but the truly interesting portion, and the author's area of concentration, is Richardson's involvement with the move to Pearl Harbor by the US Pacific Fleet and his actions and knowledge of the political and command situations that cast light on the Pearl Harbor attack.
Richardson was involved in the creation and updating of War Plan Orange, specifically the Rainbow series of Rainbow One, Two (never issued) and Three. At no time did Richardson feel the Rainbow plans were realistic -- a serious indictment of American civilian and military leadership and obviously something that could not be told to the American public. Nevertheless, Richardson tended to blame Congress for this situation due to the lack of funding for the Navy rather than the President. (So what else is new -- Congress has never possessed much moral courage or foresight.)
Richardson vehemently opposed the move of the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor in 1940 due to many well-founded factors (including its lack of training and supply facilities and unnecessary exposure), but Roosevelt wanted to move the fleet to Hawaii as an aggressive move towards the Central Pacific to place pressure on Japan. When the move became permanent Richardson opposed Roosevelt's edict in an overly frank manner. At a meeting with the President in October, 1940, Richardson told Roosevelt "that the senior officers of the Navy do not have the trust and confidence in the civilian leadership of this country that is essential for the sucessful prosecution of a war in the Pacific." The idea was to convince the President that more input should be received and considered from the Navy hierarchy when making decisions about fleet operations and its bases. Instead Roosevelt was angered and within twenty-four hours called Admiral Stark to have Richardson relieved. Roosevelt had two hobbies, stamp collecting and his Navy, and he was not about to be told what to do with either.
Worse was to come. Although the decision had already been made to fire Richardson, he then went on the record to state that the Pacific Fleet was not combat ready. This was too much for Roosevelt who was in a campaign for his third term. From that point on, Richardson had to remain silent for political reasons. Richardson did so, remaining out of the Pearl Harbor controversy and delaying the publication of his autobiography until after the death of Admiral Stark. Richardson's book clearly placed much of the blame on Roosevelt, Stark and Marshall for their feckless inattention to the Pacific Fleet's danger when they knew the Japanese were going to attack on the morning of December 7th. Although they did not know for certain that the attack would directed at Pearl Harbor, a large number of the senior officers in the Navy (including Stark and Richardson) knew Japanese history and expected an attack to be directed at Pearl since that was where the fleet was. The details and discussion of these events, along with Richardson's testimony at the Japanese war criminal trials take up a respectable part of this book.
President Roosevelt was playing a dangerous game that, for political reasons, depended on the Japanese firing the first shot. No doubt he believed that Pearl Harbor was on high alert and could weather a Japanese attack, but he refused to make certain the Hawaiian command was prepared by being alerted that morning concerning a possible imminent attack. Richardson believed the Roberts Commission was formed to divert the focus from Washington and the discussions that took place that morning. He believed that Admiral Stark was told not to pick up the phone and call Kimmel by scrambler since the President had decided that Marshall would be official dispatcher of the warnings to Hawaii. Marshall, however, totally failed, sending a cable by Western Union rather than talking to General Short by scrambler phone -- an almost unbelievable dereliction of duty. More amazingly, history has given Marshall a pass on his incredibly deficient performance.
With respect to Kimmel and Short, Richardson believed that they had to be relieved if for no other reason than as he states, "no armed force should remain under the command of a leader under whom it had suffered such a loss." He felt that military officers would understand this principle, even if the public in its hysteria wanted to affix blame by congressional and other inquiries. The rest of the details and the bureaucratic turf wars and lack of communication are also discussed at length in this book, but more as sideshows.
The work is not an easy read due to the author's organization of the immediate war years by activity rather than chronologically. The reader must go back and forth in the text to understand what was happening at what time. Ordinarily I would have reduced my rating to four stars due to this difficulty, but the book's importance required me to give it five. There are also a number of typographic errors, but that is to be expected in this day and age of minimal editing skills in many publishing houses.
If you are interested in the Pearl Harbor story and the US Navy from 1938 to 1942, purchase and read this book!