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J. ARNOLD, S. SINTON, illustrated by DARKO PAVLOVIC
The Constitution of the United States gave the president supreme control over all armed forces. Before and during World War Two, President Franklin D. Roosevelt served as president and commander-in-chief. A civilian served as Secretary' of the Navy and exercised control of the navy and marines through the Navy Department and its bureaus. A navy board provided expert military advice to the secretary. At the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the highest post in the navy, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), was held by Admiral Harold Stark.
The outbreak of global war revealed the pressing need for a stronger civilian-military command structure and army-navy cooperation. Consequently, in February 1942, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) replaced the Joint Board as the highest military authority. Among the four original members of the JCS were Admirals Ernest King (Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet) and Harold Stark. When Stark was reassigned in March, the position of Chief of Naval Operations was merged with King's position. In July, the balance on the JCS of two admirals and two army officers was restored when Roosevelt appointed Admiral William Leahy to become JCS chairman as well as chief of staff for the president. Leahy's excellent relations with Roosevelt ensured that the JCS became the dominant military planning organization. The JCS both controlled the nation's armed forces and advised the president on everything from strategy to industrial policy.
A Japanese pilot's view of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 shows the US fleet at anchor with smoke rising from Hickam Field in the distance. (National Archives)
In 1939, the US Navy had 15 capital ships, five carriers, 18 heavy cruisers, and 19 light cruisers. It held its own aviation assets, which included carrier planes and land-based sea patrol planes. In February 1941, planners established both an Atlantic and a Pacific Command in order to conduct naval warfare simultaneously in both oceans. Admiral King commanded in the Atlantic while Admiral Husband Kimmel took command of the Pearl Harbor-based Pacific Fleet. The surprise strike against Pearl Harbor led to changes in the naval command structure. Most importantly, Admiral Chester Nimitz succeeded Kimmel as Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC). He reorganized his command into three geographic zones: North Pacific, Central Pacific, and South Pacific. Because Nimitz's Central Pacific offensive diverged from MacArthur's drive toward the Philippines, the Joint Chiefs of Staff provided the necessary coordination. Leading the offensive were the numbered fleets such as Halsey's famous 3d Fleet. Thev had varying strengths, with their offensive strength organized into task groups and task forces. In the Pacific, fast carrier task forces provided the dominant striking force. Consequently, carrier admirals quickly became the key naval leaders. Statistics clearly show the colossal expansion of naval aviation. Between June 1940 and the end of the war, the number of naval air personnel rose from 10,923 including 2,965 pilots, to 437,524 including 60,747 pilots.
The US Marine Corps (USMC) was a separate service under the Navy Department. Unique among marine forces, the USMC also operated its own aviation force. The Corps Commandant was the highest-ranking active marine officer, with his own headquarters and staff. September 1939 found the 20,000-strong Marine Corps with two Fleet Marine Forces. These forces were specially trained in amphibious landings and each was supported by an aviation group. One of these brigade-sized forces was stationed on the Atlantic coast and one on the Pacific. In February 1941, they were expanded to become full-sized divisions, each with an associated Marine Aircraft Wing. A corps headquarters provided administrative support. Later in the war, such headquarters were redesignated as Amphibious Corps and became the planning headquarters for amphibious operations. The Marine Corps expanded to six marine divisions during the war. The corps' aviation group grew from 641 pilots and 13 squadrons to 10,049 pilots and 128 squadrons.
Husband Edward Kimmel was the son of a West Point graduate who had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Born in Henderson, Kentucky, in 1882, Kimmel graduated from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1904. He served as an ensign at sea and then did postgraduate study in gunnery. During the decade before World War One, Kimmel earned a solid reputation as a gunnery and ordnance expert. He served primarily aboard American battleships. Kimmel received a wound during the Vera Cruz occupation in 1914. The next year, he served as an aide to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Roosevelt. When the United States entered the war, Kimmel went to Great Britain to advise the British about new methods for gun spotting. He then served as staff gunnery officer for the American battleship force that operated with the Royal Navy.
During the interwar years, Kimmel steadily climbed in rank while serving in a variety of staff and ship commands. He burnished his reputation as a professional sailor who displayed energy and drive. Between 1939 and 1941, he commanded first a cruiser division and then all of the cruisers assigned to the Pacific Fleet's Battle Force. His outstanding performance led to his promotion, over the heads of many senior (lag officers, to full admiral in February 1941 and commander of the Pacific Fleet. Admiral Stark told Kimmel around this time that "the question of our entry into the war now seems to be when, not whether." In the months before Pearl Harbor, Kimmel prepared the fleet for war with Japan through a series of rigorous training exercises.
Kimmel expected war with Japan but believed it would begin elsewhere, probably in the Philippines. The Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor totally surprised him. Recovering quickly, he planned to use his three carriers to relieve the beleaguered garrison on Wake Island. Instead, he himself was relieved of command on December 17, 1941. The special commission that investigated Pearl Harbor found Kimmel guilty of "dereliction of duty." The finding compelled Kimmel to resign in disgrace. A navy court of inquiry in 1944 found Kimmel not guilty, but Admiral King reversed the verdict. King ruled that he had made serious mistakes by not ordering sufficient air patrols and had shown that he "lacked superior judgment necessary for his post." Modern critics assert that Kimmel should have realized that war could come at any time and that he failed to take the steps to keep his command alert. Kimmel's defenders argued that Washington had withheld important information and then used him as a scapegoat to cover up the failings of his superiors. More recently, some historians have alleged that Roosevelt deliberately withheld information from Kimmel in order to facilitate the Japanese strike and thus drag the United States into war. This controversy continues, although most serious historians find the evidence of Roosevelt's duplicity unpersuasive.
Kimmel had the great personal misfortune to be the commander on the spot on December 7, 1941. He must, therefore, assume responsibility. As one historian wrote, "While he was not always well served by authorities in Washington, he was not prepared for war when it came." Kimmel died in 1968.