Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


New Insights on December 7, 1944 and Relevance for Today’s Navy

This article is dedicated to the memory of Captain Ned Beach, USN (Rel.), a great submariner, a great naval officer, a great American, and a great human being.

Tony Wells

In the late 1960s the author was a Royal Navy Lieutenant working at one of the most sensitive UK facilities of the Cold War, Upper Lodge in Bushey Park near Teddington on the outskirts of London. Parallel to this work he was engaged on a special project in central London in conjunction with Professor Harry Hinsley (later Sir Harry Hinsley, President of St. John’s College, Cambridge and Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University)’. Harry Hinsley was also the Chainnan of the author’s Ph.D. Board. As a young man Harry Hinsley was one of the lead people at Bletchley Park that cracked the Enigma Codes and managed the ULTRA source material during the Second World War.

Of special relevance is that Hinsley was sent to the United States during the war to negotiate and organize the transfer of ULTRA data and the U.S. MAGICS data from and to the UK respectively. This was the true beginning of what became known as the Special Relationship. Of absolutely critical note is that the British acquired a precious MAGICS machine from the U.S., long before Peart Harbor. The prime objective from the United States’ perspective was for the British at Bletchley Park to work on breaking the Japanese Naval Codes. The U.S. was successfully exploiting the Japanese Diplomatic Codes. The latter U.S. story is very welt known and thoroughly documented in multiple reliable sources. However, of major importance is the fact that the British had listening posts in the Far East that could make Bletchley Park’s use of the single MAGICS machine absolutely invaluable. The British could potentially fill the gaps in U.S. MAGICS data. These facts are not well known .

In his Naval Institute Press book, Scapegoats, about the attack on Pearl Harbor, Captain Edward L. Beach, USN(Ret.) makes a case for the public rehabilitation of Admiral Husband Kimmel’s reputation, and restoration of his and the Kimmel family honor. The relevance of the British data from their single MAGICS machine material is critical for this reassessment.

What happened to the British MAGICS machine and the associated material? Bear in mind that at the time in the U.S. some within the magic circle objected to giving the British a precious MAGICS machine when it could have gone to either the Philip-pines for MacArthur’s G2 Staff or, more important, to Admiral Kimmel’s intelligence team at Pearl Harbor. What then did the Bletchley Park team produce in the critical year 1941, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor? Of equal importance is the question, who received the data, particularly in the U.S.?

In the 1970s the British government invited Professor Hinsley to edit the official, British Intelligence in the Second World War. This was a wise choice. No one was better placed than Harry Hinsley. He was now one of the grand old men of British Intelligence. In the official history, which released huge amounts of Enigma derived ULTRA data, there is no mention of the British MAGICS machine and output regarding Pearl Harbor. There is only one significant reference to Pearl Harbor in Volume Two. On Page 75 Hinsley writes, “As for the Japanese attack, an analysis of the intelligence that was available about Japan’s intentions after the middle of 1941 is beyond the scope of this volume”. Hinsley cites the 1946 Congressional Enquiry and Roberta Wohlstetter’s 1962 publication, Pearl Harbor; Warning and Decision. He cites British JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) reports of June through September 1941, indicating a likely attack on, “Thailand via the Kra Isthmus so as to put her (Japan) in a position to attack Malaya should she decide to resort to force against Great Britain”. (P.76, Volume Two, published 1981 by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office). Hinsley makes one critical statement on page 76: “In the British archives there is no intelligence of any importance that was not available to the Americans, who, indeed, had much that was not available in Whitehall, and the British appreciations do not call for any departure from the above conclusions”. The latter conclusions refer to Wohlstetter’s 1962 conclusions in her book. On 18 November the British JIC issued another warning that augured an attack on Thailand (page 77). Hinsley concludes by stating, ” And in a paper issued on 28 November (1941) the JIC implicitly excluded the prospect of direct Japanese attack on US possessions: it calculated that if Japan broke off the negotiations she would move against Thailand very early in 1942 in order to be ready for an attack on Malaya in the favorable spring weather” (he cites JIC ( 41) 449 of 28 November 1941 ). Finally Hinsley writes, “Except for a paper on December 5 which canvassed the advantages and disadvantages of Russia’s participation in a war with Japan, there was no further JIC appreciation of the situation in the Far East before the Japanese attack” (he cites JIC(41) 460 (0) of December 5, 1941).

Twenty years later after the publication of Volume Two these words are most significant. There is no reference to the British MAGICS machine and its material. This is the missing MAGICS machine material. The Official British History does not refer to material that was published in the U.S. in the famous Clausen Report. Clausen was a JAG officer specially selected and commis-sioned by Secretary of War Stimson to conduct a full enquiry into the Pearl Harbor tragedy. Stimson initiated this because of the well-known belief that several key people had perjured themselves in Congressional evidence. Stimson wanted a reliable report and he trusted Clausen implicitly. Stimson was a Democrat and, although Clausen had very well known and declared Republican affiliations, he was nonetheless trusted completely by Stimson because of his well-established integrity and brilliant legal skills as a prosecuting advocate in civilian life.

What Clausen revealed was that the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in South East Asia was collecting invaluable HUMINT (human intelligence collected by agents) that was passed to a secret British intelligence cell in Honolulu that was working with the U.S. On December 3, 1941 the SIS in Manila sent urgent dispatches to Hawaii, included was the statement, “Our considered opinion concludes that Japan envisages early hostilities with Britain and the U.S. Japan does not repeat not intend to attack Russia at present but will act in South ……. You may inform Chiefs of American and Naval Intelligence Honolulu”. This information was passed to senior Anny and Naval Intelligence officers on Oahu and also to FBI agent Shivers. (Pearl Harbor. Final Judgment. Henry C. Clausen and Bruce Lee, 1992. Page 113. See also Bruce Lee’s Preface to the latest edition, February, 2001.) December 3 was a key day for another reason. It was the day that Admiral Kimmel was informed that the Japanese had ordered their Purple (MA-GICS) machine and the codes destroyed in the Washington embassy (Clausen and Lee, page 261 ). The British agent in Honolulu destroyed key evidence after December 7, 1941 (Clausen and Lee, page 115). After the war there was much criticism that the British SIS had paid too much attention to protecting British commercial interests and not concentrating enough on the military situation (Clausen and Lee, page 116). These criticisms were probably unfounded because the SIS in Honolulu was passing on all key British HUMINT to the U.S. via their cover organization in Honolulu, a trading company (Clausen and Lee, page 119).

The British HUMINT could not compare with the pure gold from the MAGICS, and the British had the critical machine at Bletchley Park, the machine that Admiral Turner, the head of the War Plans Division in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, had traded with the British for one of their ENIGMA machines (Clause and Lee, page 122). Captain Beach’s book, which is a revisionist assessment, has put the whole Pearl Harbor investigation back in the dock. However, as now indicated, absolutely critical material is missing that will shift the balance of his and others interpretations. We need to make a diversion, and return to this issue.

The British have an Official Secrets Act, and rules regarding the release of official classified information. The Official Secrets Act is transgressed at the offender’s peril. It has been extremely effective. The author is a Naturalized U.S. citizen. He may be the only person who can claim to have served with both the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy, and also worked for both the British and U.S. intelligence communities. The author believes that he has a unique perspective. There is one critical aspect of Captain Beach’s thesis that needs to be explored and augmented. The British do not release all their official classified information, even after 50 years. World War II concluded 57 years ago. The British have released sensitive material after 50 years, that is material that has never appeared in any official history. For example, the British released their assessment and plan to assassinate Hitler well after fifty years. The issue centered not on any moral concerns about killing Hitler (the British were not peevish about killing the perpetrator of genocide), but more for very well thought through reasons of hard core pragmatic political expediency. Planning against the megalomaniac Hitler was more manageable than potentially dealing with the highly competent upper echelons of the extreme right of the W ehrmacht. The latter might well have organized a much more effective resistance strategy to the Allied invasion and the march on Germany than Hitler. This example reflects a political rather than a security dimension for why material may not be released, even fifty years later.

Other sensitive material may yet be released. One Canadian reviewer, John Ferris, of British Intelligence in the Second World War, made very telling comments in the April, 1993, Canadian Journal of History, “Most of the documents used in these volumes were freed before the series was complete; the remainder have been sentenced to end their natural days in the dungeons of Whitehall”, and, “And even more striking than the pattern of what has been written is the nature of what has not. If Her Majesty’s Government does have any secrets, the official history has not betrayed them.”

This leads to a pivotal question. Where is the missing material from the British MAGICS machine from Bletchley Park? Where is the material that may relate most specifically to the final weeks and days as the Japanese carrier battle group prepared to depart, via its initial circuitous route, for Pearl Harbor and denouement on December 7, 1941? At this point we have no choice but to speculate.

If the MAGICS machine at Bletchley Park produced high grade Japanese Naval intercepts what would have happened to them? Because of the enormous sensitivity only a very limited few people would have seen the data. It is unlikely that this data would have been a subject on the agenda of the British JIC. The data would have been that sensitive. There can be little doubt that Prime Minister Churchill would have decided personally on the fate of such data, just as he did the Coventry Enigma data.

The correspondence between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt has been published. However, what has not been published, and never will, is the content of Churchill’s and FDR’s very private and secure calls on their personal one-to-one transatlantic telephone link. This link ran from Mr. Churchill’s private room (his red phone) in his underground war bunker in Whitehall via a special switching facility in the basement of an Oxford Street store, Selfridges, to the undersea cable that went eventually to the President’s private secure room in the White House. Those secure, encrypted transatlantic calls between these two great men, will remain lost forever. If only we could listen to them now? Let us go one stage further in our speculation.

There seem to be three reasonable options. First, there is no British MAGICS material. This seems most unlikely, perhaps even preposterous. The acquisition by the British of the MAGICS machine was worth more than the Crown Jewels. Second, there was material, and Mr. Churchill decided not to share this with FDR, and have the material thoroughly buried. This is highly unlikely. He would have been most keen to secure his half of the bargain with FDR-ENIGMA material for MAGICS material. Winston Churchill was anxious to see the U.S. enter the war while FDR was shaping U.S. public opinion that there was no likely alternative to war. Churchill knew that passing material to the U.S. would not change the United States position to enter the war once Japanese belligerent intentions were made manifest. With-holding British data from FDR of MAGICS derived data makes no sense. Third, what if Bletchley Park gave Mr. Churchill and a very small, select few in Whitehall (the Foreign Secretary and the military leadership) the unvarnished, clear and unequivocal data that the Japanese were planning on attacking the United States Pacific Fleet at 0800 Hawaii time on Sunday, December 7, 1941? This data would be derived from British intercepts and decryptions of the Japanese Naval codes from key British stations. What would Winston Churchill have done? He would undoubtedly have called President Roosevelt on his secure private line. What would the President have done? Most likely he would have done what Mr. Churchill did when the Luftwaffe took off to destroy Coventry. Would calling Admiral Kimmel have been a good idea ………. ? “Admiral, this is the President, I have absolutely totally reliable information that the Japanese will execute a surprise attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor at 0800 your time Sunday, December 7th. I instruct you to immediately …….. ” Probably not?

It is likely therefore that the story, even in 2003, is not complete. Captain Beach may yet be right in his central thesis, though for reasons that he had neither anticipated nor about which he could have been aware when he researched his book.

There is one remaining piece of critical evidence that must be considered. The Japanese Navy’s operational cipher was named JN-25-B. Within this cipher lay the keys to the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the tragedy is that the United States prior to Pearl Harbor read no Japanese operational messages from JN-25-B. It still remains unresolved as to who prevented work being done on JN-25-B, the key to everything. It is most unlikely that the order to concentrate on the Japanese Diplomatic Codes rather than JN-25-B, or some combination, came from within the Navy. After Pearl Harbor the Navy worked on JN-25-B in earnest. The success at Midway in June 1942 was the first major result. When the war ended the JN-25-B intercepts for the three months prior to Pearl Harbor were decrypted. One reliable author has stated that, “25,581 naval messages were harvested, of which 2,413 were considered of sufficient interest for translation. And of that number 188 were discovered to contain clues to the Pearl Harbor attack plan.” (Michael Gannon, Pearl Harbor Betrayed, Henry Holt, 2001, P.207). Professor Gannon has made the extremely telling point that the evidence of the post war decryptions was not presented to the Joint Congressional Committee that investigated Pearl Harbor. Professor Gannon makes this significant comment, “The cover-up prevented the JCC and the general public from knowing that, prior to Pearl Harbor, the Navy was in possession of intercepts, that if decrypted, would likely have warned the country of Japan’s impending attack”. (Gannon, P. 209).

One further point should be added to Professor Gannon’s analysis and conclusions. JN-25-B was the very code that the British at Bletchley Park, via their stations in the Far East, would be collecting. The MAGICS machine at Bletchley that Sir Harry Hinsley had negotiated for with the U.S. was the means of decryp-tion. The postwar U.S. decryptions reveal a small window into what the British were decrypting in enonnous detail. Option one discussed above does appear therefore to have little merit, and the door is now wide open to speculate legitimately and reliably on what happened to the British pre-Pearl Harbor decryptions using their single MAGICS machine.

Let us now return to the present. Technology will permit the U.S. Navy and our forces in general, to both shape the battlespace and execute time critical strikes against all manner of targets. Whether at the Unified Command, Joint Task Force Commander, or tactical levels, we will have information that the National leadership may also possess. In fact the warfighter will have the benefit of tactical data, in addition to National and Theater data. We will all be looking at the same data. In fact the warfighter may have more complete data in the future. The United States military has learned hard lessons about remote controllers in Washington attempting to fight a front-line war. No one wants a MacArthur syndrome repeated. Similarly, no one wants a MacNamara syndrome either-The SecDef whiz kid from the Ford Motor Company, the ultimate analyst, who truly did not know the realities of a front-line war in Vietnam. The point is that we will have to work out how to use the new technology and information flow so that political control is always present but, and this is a huge but, the tactical warfighter and his/her higher echelon command authority cannot be constrained when U.S. lives are on the line in time critical events. Technology will permit shaping and planning at the Unified Command and Theater levels, but when it comes down to the moment juste, when the warfighter has to engage, or maybe perish, he or she must be given unambiguous and unequivo-cal Rules of Engagement (ROE). The actual final engagement must remain with the warfighter. Similarly, at the higher level, no Unified Commander-in-Chief or JTF Commander can be con-strained in time critical planning events by a possibly wavering, slow and ponderous response from Washington. The latter must always be, ultimately, in charge, but they must never hamstring the warfighter.

Today we are able to give the warfighter data in real time. Admiral Husband Kimmel’s heirs and successors at Pearl Harbor are not in the blind. However, they will need full, direct and clear National leadership direction if the new information technologies that underpin our planned C4ISRT architecture are to be exploited fully. The case has been made for letting the Fleet work out the issues and TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) and working the command and control issues up the chain of command to the National leadership.

Admiral Husband Kimmel was effectively placed in the dock, though not formally court martialled, found guilty by default and not due process, reduced to his substantive rank (Rear Admiral), dismissed from his command, and summarily retired. Captain Beach has come to his defense. There is no question that Admiral Turner on the CNO’s staff, and the CNO himself, Admiral Stark, were culpable in December 1941. They were both lucky men. Stark went off to a comfortable job in London, buried from the limelight in Washington and the controversy while the new CNO, Admiral King, tried to re-build the Navy and Admiral Nimitz breathed new life into a shaken Pacific Command. Captain Beach’s book demands both Stark’s and Turner’s moral impeach-ment. Captain Beach did not record in his book the key fact that the Clausen Enquiry and Report to Secretary of War Stimson fully validated Beach’s conclusions over 50 years ago (see Clausen and Lee, Fjnal Judgment, pages 286-311 ). Clausen published all his evidentiary exhibits. However, what is missing is the crucial intercept material from the British MAGICS machine at Bletchley Park.

As a result, the very last chapter regarding Pearl Harbor has yet to be written. Maybe some day, even after the generation that was born during War World II has passed on, the British will release the material. Whatever that data may eventually reveal the author believes, without any doubt whatsoever, that Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt remain the two great bulwarks of the Twentieth Century. They are on a pedestal together, beyond all others, the two men who saved civilization as we know it from an abyss into which it would have sunk under Nazi and Japanese domination.

Pearl Harbor holds critical lessons for the present because of the enormous infonnation that technology can now provide in a secure environment. Above all, we need to examine and resolve the National leadership and C2 related issues and procedures. How-ever, one thing will not change-as at Pearl Harbor, the ultimate and final responsibility must always rest with one person and one person alone, our Commander-in-Chief, the President of the United States.

Whether the honor of Admiral Husband Kimmel and his family should be restored is not the intent of this article. However, the author will conclude with one firmly held personal belief, that Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill would want Admiral Kimmel’s honor and reputation publicly restored by none other than the President of the United States.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League