[From the Times-Herald, Washington, D. C., Thursday, September 28, 1944]






By Basil Brewer, Publisher, The New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times



Should the Pacific battle fleet have been at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7?

And, if it should not, why was it there, and by whose orders?


(Reprinted in PROCEEDINGS OF CLARKE INVESTIGATION, p. 141 (Clarke)[1])


Proof of a conspiracy by person or persons in the United States is frequently provided by the comment, "Well, it's a fact that the carriers were hustled out of Pearl just hours before the attack, and the old battleships were jammed in to become targets."  To examine the facts surrounding the mystery of the missing carriers and the presence of so many battleships, we need to review the original documents and have the principle players tell the story themselves. 

On Nov. 26th, 1941, Adm. Kimmel received a message from the Navy Dept.  It advised that an agreement had been reached with the War Dept. concerning reinforcement of Wake and Midway.

The message started off, “In order to keep the planes of the Second Marine Aircraft Wing available for expeditionary use OPNAV has requested and Army has agreed to station twenty five Army pursuit planes at Midway and a similar number at Wake provided you consider this feasible and desirable. It will be necessary for you to transport these planes and ground crews from Oahu to these stations on an aircraft carrier.” (Navy Court of Inquiry, p. 1177 (Navy)) Adm. Kimmel, upon learning that the Army planes were allowed to fly no more than 15 miles from land, decided to reinforce the two islands with naval aircraft.

Notice the phrase “provided you consider this feasible and desirable” is included.  The trips would be made only if Kimmel thought them possible.  When Adm. Kimmel was asked if he considered this message “a directive or a suggestion”, he replied, “I considered it as a suggestion, …” (Navy, p. 238)  He reiterated that thought in Admiral Kimmel's Story, stating "...I would have rejected the Navy Department's suggestion to send carrier to Wake and Midway..."[2]

When asked about this Adm. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, testified, “The dispatch was not a directive of execution.  It distinctly puts up a proposition and states, ‘Provided you consider it feasible and desirable.’ ” (Navy, p.  32)

Adm. Kimmel responded to the Nov. 26th message on Nov. 28th.  “…in this letter I also stated the arrangements I had made for handling material for planes and ground crews at Wake and Midway and of the fact that I was sending the Enterprise  and the Lexington to Midway.” (Navy, p.  239-240)

The Navy Court asked Adm. Kimmel if he felt the Nov. 26th dispatch was an order:


“120. Q. Do you consider the matter of stationing these twenty-five pursuit planes at Midway and a considerable number at Wake to be a directive or a suggestion?  How do you consider that?

A. I considered it as a suggestion, and in my letter of December 2, 1941, to the Chief of Naval Operations, which I request be read to the court and placed in evidence, you will the steps that we took and that we recommended.


 “129. Q. About how many days would you estimate for the trip to Wake?

“A. My recollection is that Wake is some 2,000 miles from Pearl Harbor.  Midway is about 1,100 miles.  Halsey, in the ENTERPRISE, left on the 28th of November and would have arrived back in Pearl Harbor on 7 December.

(Navy, 239)


The timing of the trips depended on several factors, first being logistics.


"...We had very limited facilities on these islands to maintain the planes at that time.  And that was the reason we had delayed sending the planes out there until the last minute. ..." (Navy, 239)


Also of importance was the need to not telegraph the absence of the carriers.  Enterprise was not doing anything surprising by sailing on the 28th, this was her scheduled departure date as given in the quarterly employment schedules.  Those schedules had been promulgated in August and their accessibility by unauthorized persons was a question raised during the Investigations.   Copies of the schedules are printed in the Investigations and show that Enterprise was indeed due to be out Nov. 28th through Dec. 5th, then due for 10 days of Upkeep in Pearl. (Exhibits of the Joint Committee, p. 2517 (Exhibits))


36. Q. Admiral, do you feel that the dispatching of Marine planes to Wake was a consequence of this dispatch that you have had before you or had that been decided before the dispatch arrived?

A. I believe it was precipitated by this dispatch and the fact that the air fields were just ready at that time. In other words, it was a hurry-up move. One more reason for that was the fact that my task force was due to proceed to sea on the 28th of November and in order not to violate security, they wanted to make it appear a perfectly natural move.

36. Q. In other words, under the published employment schedules, you were due to go out on the 28th?

A. Exactly.

(Proceedings of the Hart Inquiry, page  323 (Hart))


Lexington was due to sail on the 5th, but still be in the immediate area.  Kimmel understood the principle of concentration of forces, but this was offset by the need to reinforce the outlaying bases.  Kimmel discussed the requirements of War Plan Rainbow 5 on his command:


72. Q. You mean that you were not to undertake offensive operations after a declaration of war or start of war?

A. To amplify: Our plan called for reconnaissance, including attacks in force, on Marshall positions. We felt that we should not move within easy striking distance where we might be sighted and possibly disturb any remote chance that still remained of averting war. As a consequence, our forces were held in close proximity to Hawaii where they could be kept fully fueled and ready to move toward the Marshalls. Two groups, each of which included a carrier that had been carrying aircraft reenforcements to Wake and to Midway, were exceptions. They were to return to Pearl Harbor as soon as possible after completing their assigned task. (Hart, 257)


Captain  Vincent R. Murphy, Assistant to the War Plans Officer on Admiral Kimmel's staff told the Hart Inquiry:


That idea, as well as I recall, was to get Admiral Halsey's forces, which had been at Wake and which were or would be, out of fuel, back into Pearl Harbor and get them fueled ready to conduct the first operation of the War Plans. Admiral Brown's force was then at Johnston Island, as I recall, getting ready to conduct a practice landing operation. Another force under Admiral Newton, I think it was a task group under Admiral Brown, was delivering planes, or on the way to deliver planes at Midway. The general plan was to get all those ships back and fueled and proceed with our War Plans. (Hart, p. 322)


With Saratoga coming out of overhaul at Seattle, and returning to Pearl via San Diego, was important was to cover the fact that the carriers on-hand were going somewhere with a load of fighters.  Unless they was going to Guam or the Philippines there were really only two places they would take those planes, Wake or Midway.  This bit of information was not something to hand to the (potential) enemy, if it could be avoided.

The need for secrecy in the movement of major units was known by the Task Force Commanders.  Adm. Halsey was questioned about the "mysterious" nature of his trip to Wake.  He stated that security was a consideration, as was the hazardous nature of his trip:


"The Marine planes were finally selected and for security reasons it was necessary to get those planes on board the ENTERPRISE at sea the next day without anyone knowing where they [298] were going. This required a tremendous amount of planning and subterfuge before we hit on a scheme for flying these people aboard. We told them they were going out for two or three days' maneuvers. At the same time, to show the Army that it was possible to fly Army fighter planes off carriers, it was arranged to take two Army fighter planes aboard from the dock and fly them of at sea to land in Honolulu. This again required much planning so as not to excite people and break the security."


 “Admiral Standley: You were asked a question in the beginning  of your statement as to why radio silence.  Would you please answer that, the reason for radio silence?

“Admiral Halsey: Because we were on a very secret mission, to land these Marine fighting planes on Wake with the then possible enemy learning of it.  I might say, the results—I saw a report the other day of what those 12 fighting planes accomplished on Wake, and despite the fact there was no Radar on Wake—it hadn’t been landed—it was little short of remarkable.”

“Admiral Standley: Then, then the reason for radio silence was that you suspected or you thought it possible that there might be a Japanese attack?

“Admiral Halsey: Exactly.” (Proceedings of the Roberts Commission, pp. 619-620 (Roberts))


Halsey also testified that he had given the orders that resulted in three of the eight battleships being in port that morning. “Immediately after clearing the channel, I diverted the battleships...( Nevada, Oklahoma, and Arizona)” (Hart, 323-324) and those ships returned to Pearl Harbor at the time Enterprise was originally due to return, Dec. 6th.  No Washington plan to have all the old and “expendable” battleships in port to be sacrificed would have been possible without Halsey’s cooperation. 

The carriers were thus “safely” out of port, but were they safe? According to Adm. Kimmel, no:


“236 Q. Would not the sending of a carrier over 2,000 miles to the westward, within 600 miles of a Japanese base as proposed by these dispatches from both CNO and the War Department, have been a rather dangerous operation if war was expected immediately?

“A. Yes, and when we sent Enterprise to the westward—this affected my estimate—that is, to Wake, we covered our advance by a couple of squadrons of patrol planes operating between Pearl, Johnston, Midway and Wake.” (Hart, 266-267)


Adm. Newton led the force to Midway, departing on Dec. 5th.  His orders were similar to Halsey's.   In his book on this topic Edwin P. Layton, Adm. Kimmel's Intelligence office, states:


"…Rear Admiral John H. Newton who sailed in the morning in Chicago to provide the heavy cruiser escort for carrier Lexington in Task Force 12.  The mission of this task force was to ferry the marine fighter reinforcements to Midway and carry out extensive reconnaissance sweeps of the northwestern approaches to the Hawaiian Islands…."


As the Kido Butai was approaching the Hawaiian Islands from the north and, it seems strange that anyone would send a carrier into that area to be safely out of the way of that fleet.  Testimony of Adm. Brown:


“30. Q. Do you recall having any particular concern over the fact that the mission was advancing your force over a thousand miles toward Japan?

“A. I considered that I was going into waters that had not been frequented by our ships for some time and, as there might be more danger from submarines than we had considered in the past, I set a speed of 17 knots in day light and zig-zagged.  Also, I had scouting flights made by planes to cover our advance.” (Roberts, p. 343)


The need for the undetected absence of the carriers is even clearer when we consider that Toshikawa Hideo was making regular reports to Japan regarding the ships in port, and dates of sailings and returns.  He made a "ships in port" report on the 6th, indicating no carriers in the harbor.  This message was in the PA-K2 code and translated on Dec. 8th by the Army.  We could speculate that, given the knowledge that Pearl Harbor was being watched, we could have "baited the trap" with the carriers, and actually hustled them out late on the 6th, rather than risking the enemy's calling the whole thing off because the carriers were gone.  This presupposes that someone would have known about the attack in the first place.


“The Chairman: In the event of a hostile air attack, the effort would be to sortie the battleships?

“Admiral Halsey: A great deal depends, sir.  We might have had a very much worse catastrophe here if these vessels had been in the process of sortieing when this happened.  For instance, my ship, my task force had planned to be off Pearl Harbor about seven o’clock in the morning, and by the grace of God we had bad weather out there that held us up and I could not have gotten in until about four o’clock in the afternoon.

“It might have happened that I would be in the middle of the channel when this thing happened, and that would have been very serious, because we would have been sunk, and then we would have had something.

“Admiral Reeves. What is your flagship, Admiral?

“Admiral Halsey. The USS ENTERPRISE.

“The Chairman. The USS ENTERPRISE, a carrier.

“Admiral Halsey. Yes.” (Roberts, p. )


The objection may still be made that it doesn’t matter why the carriers were out of port, they were still out of harm’s way.  For this to be true we would have to assume that the carriers were in no way going to be exposed to possible damage from enemy action.  Did the admirals think so?:


44. Q. As regards your own task force, upon putting to sea, did you institute any security measures advanced over those which had been in effect while at sea for some time previously?

A. Immediately on clearing the channel, I diverted the battleships, three in number, cruisers and destroyers, under Admirals Draemel and Kidd, and told them to carry out exercises in a certain area. I then headed West with the remainder of my task force. As soon as we were out of sight of the remainder of the task force, I sent a signal (324) to put war heads in all torpedoes; to regard any submarine seen as hostile and sink it; armed the planes with bombs; gave orders to shoot down any plane seen in the air that was not known to be one of our own. We went into Condition 3, as I remember it, and kept that the entire way out until we got close to Wake and then I went into Condition 2. In other words, I tried to make full preparations for combat. I also ordered ready ammunition for all guns. I might add one other thing. I carried out morning and afternoon searches to three hundred miles, as I remember it, for any sign of hostile shipping. I kept a combat patrol over the ships at certain times. (HART, 323 )


This would further require us to believe that Adm. William Halsey would have heard about the attacks on so many U.S., British and Netherlands’ territories and not wish to take any action.  It if far more likely that Halsey would have raised Caine about such orders during the several inquiries that followed.

What actually happened was that the carriers were ordered to seek out and engage the enemy, at odds of 1-to-6.  Adm. Brown testified:


About 1000 or 1100 that morning, I received a message from Admiral Halsey to the effect that I was to assume enemy carriers about 200 miles South of Oahu at that time and retiring on the Marshalls.  My orders were to intercept and destroy.  I, thereupon, changed course to take me to the east- (pg. 345) ward of Johnston Island and attempt, that afternoon, to contact enemy by planes and to make an attack by planes that afternoon in order to slow him down so that I could make physical contact during the night or the following day. (Navy, 344-345)


Adm. Halsey was closer to the Islands and thus in a better position to engage.  Unfortunately (or perhaps not unfortunately) Hawaiian naval staff analysts made an assumption based on radio direction finding data that the enemy forces were south of the Island, not north.  Therefore, Enterprise was directed to sail south by Adm. Kimmel.  Halsey thought they were actually to the north, but followed orders. 

Every pertinent log, message, or other document shows that Enterprise and Lexington were ordered to seek out and engage the enemy forces.  These carriers were separated by a considerable distance and unable to support each other.  They would have faced considerable opposition and in all likelihood would not have survived the encounters, but they were ordered to find the enemy and they made determined efforts to do so.

The accompanying map shows the course of the Kido Butai, Enterprise Group and Lexington Group.  It a big ocean and the relative locations of each US group would render it difficult, if not impossible to support the other if an emergency arose.  The carriers were escorted by a few cruisers and some destroyers. If one or both of these carriers had encountered the six carriers of the Japanese Striking Force the results would have been perfectly predictable.  The thought of loosing William Halsey in the first week of the fighting should send a chill through any serious student of the Pacific War.  No man is irreplaceable, but some men are priceless.

To recap the facts:  Enterprise and Lexington were out of port on Dec. 7th under orders of Adm. Kimmel, not anyone in Washington D.C.  Enterprise would have made it back into port on Dec. 5th if the weather hadn't delayed her.  No human being prevented her from being there on the 7th.   It was widely known that she was scheduled to be there on that date.   After the start of hostilities both carriers were directed to locate and engage the enemy, despite facing unknown odds.   It cannot be said, then that the carriers were "safely out of port" if they are just going to be sent to look for trouble when the shooting starts. 

Given the above information it is clear that there was no "grand strategy" to save the carriers by someone who "knew" that the next war would be dominated by flat-tops.  It is also clear that there were 8 "old and useless" battleships in Pearl that day because one of our most respected and talented admiral ordered three of them to proceed under normal schedule and return to harbor on the 6th.  And finally, it is also clear that the carriers, instead of being wrapped in cotton and stashed away in a box like fragile Christmas ornaments, were being used as warships with orders to seek, locate and destroy.  If there was any conspiracy surrounding Pearl Harbor it did not include carrier conservation in its plans.


[1] Sources will be cited by name and page number. After the first use they will be mentioned by the one word name in parentheses.


[2] "Admiral Kimmel's Story", Pearl Harbor: Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, Third Edition, Edited by George M. Waller, D. C. Heath and Co., Lexington, Massachusetts, 1976, p. 226.