Nimitz on the Advantage of What Happened at Pearl Harbor

  • On Husband Kimmel’s wikipedia page there is a very interesting remark attributed to Chester Nimitz, regarding what happened at Pearl Harbor under Kimmel before Nimitz took over. Wikipedia not being the last word on history, one should take this with an eye to seeing if over time the remark is borne out as fully accurate and made with sufficient context to be totally reliable. But I point it out, because so far as I have read on Nimitz, and other military leaders and strategists, disaster is not always a one way street in a bad way. If it were all those suffering disasters would never reverse them and prevail, which in fact happens not infrequently in not only war, but most competitive activities.

    “In a 1964 interview Admiral Chester Nimitz, who took over as commander of the Pacific Fleet three weeks after the attack, concluded that “it was God’s mercy that our fleet was in Pearl Harbor on December 7.”[10] If Kimmel had “had advance notice that the Japanese were coming, he most probably would have tried to intercept them. With the difference in speed between Kimmel’s battleships and the faster Japanese carriers, the former could not have come within rifle range of the enemy’s flattops. As a result, we would have lost many ships in deep water and also thousands more in lives.”[10] Instead, at Pearl Harbor, the crews were easily rescued, and six battleships ultimately raised.[11] This was also the assessment of Joseph Rochefort, head of Station HYPO, who remarked the attack was cheap at the price.[12]”

    Now, this quote conspicuously leaves out mention of where the aircraft carriers were that eventually gave Nimitz his edge. And it turned out it was probably not entirely god’s mercy, but IMHO Husband Kimmel’s decisions in the months and weeks before Pearl Harbor that in fact the best place for most of the fleet, in case of a surprise attack, was precisely Pearl Harbor precisely for the reasons given by Nimitz as god’s grace. IMHO Kimmel had decided that in a world of imminent threat of attack from an overwhelmingly superior fleet possessed of aircraft carrier attack force that the only ships of his that should be at sea, or on mainland refit, were his carriers, because they were the only ones with a limited chance of defending themselves against a surprise attack at sea and retaliating against a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor or Wake Island, or Midway in its aftermath. To this end, Kimmel made sure Wake Island was kept supplied with fuel for B17s and other reconnaisance flights, and the carriers were at sea, or at refit, as much as possible, while the battleships and heavy cruisers were kept in Pearl Harbor to enable god’s grace, so to speak.

    Kimmel has IMHO never been given the credit he deserved for what he actually did. The debate has always centered on the wrong issues of incomplete intelligence (and the possibility of intrigue and conspiracy) and of him not anticipating a surprise attack.

    Fact: Kimmel had been anticipating a surprise attack since February of 1941, while others had long planned for one. He just knew the Pacific was big, and he was not entirely in control of the timing of receipt of his SigInt, and that he was facing a Naval attack fleet vastly out numbering his in every classification of ship. His decision was the smart one. Keep the least defensible portions of his fleet at Pearl Harbor where a land based Army Air Force could provide some air cover in the event of a surprise, and keep his carriers beyond reach of the surprise. This is the part that most histories and movies and novels that always need a scapegoat to make the story easier to tell, and so usher in the heroes, leave out, or grossly oversimplify.

    Where Kimmel guessed flat wrong was that there would likely be a sabotage attack from persons on Oahu, and that his movement of B-17s and fighters to Wake Island to fly reconnaissance would alert him to the surprise attack in time for the Army to get the tightly gathered planes airborne long before being caught on the ground. I have looked at this many times from any angles and, while he bet wrong, it was a very sound strategy, tactic and bet. If it failed, he would still have his carrier planes to fall back on. So, IMHO, Kimmel did exactly the right thing with his forces for that entire year, given what little he had to work with, and the overwhelming opponent he faced, and the problematic SigInt procedures involved. To survive a surprise attack with out the loss of his carriers, and to have several of his capital ships salvageable was frankly the best one could have hoped for, when America was not committed to defending itself by putting overwhelming force structure in place, and when part of one’s SigInt was held up in Washington, and other parts of it were being dispensed subject to the biased self-interest of an ally, Great Britain, still needing the USA to enter the war, and never sure when it might. And this is so regardless, of whether one says the untimely communication of intelligence was accidental, or intentional.

    But the gist of this quote regarding Nimitz is that effective leadership dare not stop trying to understand adverse situations either in the moment, or in forensics after disasters. Disasters teach many lessons. And these lessons, if we analyse them with the kind of mind possessed by a Nimitz, are not just what went wrong, but what the errors triggered in a positive direction also were. We need both kinds of lessons to deal with the cascading effects of disaster in the moment and with dealing with future disasters that will befall us, not just in avoiding disasters. There is nothing better than avoiding disaster. But there is nothing more naive, and dangerous, than believing disasters can be indefinitely prevented. The goal should always be to learn from disaster not only how to prevent the next one, but just as importantly how to respond and capitalize on the next one that we fail to prevent.

    The only total disaster is the disaster you and your organization do NOT survive, at all.

    Our losses this season, from Kentucky, to Temple, to first ISU, to OSU, to WVU to KSU, point the way to a title and to a championship, if leadership listens, and can distinguish between random error, and systemic error, and can find fitting fixes to the systemic error.

    It takes courageous leadership to look into the maw of disaster and see it for what it REALLY is, and then move ahead with all deliberate speed and commitment to adapt and resume attack.

    We needed these losses to show us how and what change.

    Self has invested heavily in building an inside out game, because of the necessity of one, if one is ever going to be allowed to attack outside in from a reasonable position on the perimeter.

    The work the team has put in has paid dividends with Perry.

    Texas will have to focus more on shutting down Perry Ellis after the last few games and not stay quite so fully committed to stopping our perimeter play.

    Self dealt with Snacks sooner rather than later, and shortly we are going to have the benefit of his return to duty.

    Self first grabbed a conference lead that built to two game.

    Then he has spent it for three weeks shoring up the team’s weakest point–its inside game. He has succeeded with Perry. The five has shown no progress, except that Landen is able to play a few more minutes now. Jamari was supposed to have gotten a lot of work to develop as a Mobile Big Man Attack Platform, but the hip flexor injury has stopped that progress. Cliff has declined in effectiveness, especially in the absence of Snacks. But Cliff’s scoring, rebounding and blocking stats are still the better than Jamari’s and Landen’s. Cliff is not useless even now. Cliff is going to benefit from Self pulling way back on the learning lever for the team and pushing forward on the “now play” lever.

    The team may seem in disarray, may in fact even be in some disarray, but the team is now clearly Perry’s team, which I believe Self wanted it finally to become. And now what the team becomes will be slightly more Perry centric than the one that played so well against Texas.

    Self saw how good this team could be in the first Texas game that he took the team back into shop and took it appart in order to strengthen some of the pieces, and then he reassembled it and it has run roughly, as it tried out its altered capabilities, and now we enter a period of fine tuning.

    Nothing worth doing is easy.

    Nothing worth accomplishing comes with out paying a price and enduring some failure.

    Right now is the time for this team to begin “finding itself” again after the rebuild.

    The only variable is that a lot of injuries appear to be hampering return to full smooth operation.

    But that is the nature of competition.

    Injury can gum up the works.

    But this is when we must fall back on the toughness training.

    We can learn much from great strategists like Nimitz.

    But there is a part of all competition that at certain moments defaults to toughness–will to go on against great obstacles–at least when one can reason a feasible, if risky, way to an objective.

    In this regard…

    Myitkina isn’t going anywhere.

    We are going to Myitkina.

    And Self is working his way along the path without a center with a back to the basket game, without a rim protector, without a lot of players on the perimeter that can create shots, without a lot of experience.

    The next three games are going to require great toughness.

    If we can survive them, we have the tools, and the strategy, to attack in March.

    But I ain’t lying, board rats.

    This is a job only for those willing to go on through anything.

  • @jaybate-1.0 JB you certainly have a knack for getting me into your bb analysis. Here I thought I was getting another one of your fantastic war history lessons and before I know it, BAM!, I’m learning more of the HCBS thought processes. Good post.

  • @brooksmd

    Thx. That means something coming from “an old military guy.” Rock Chalk!

  • @jaybate-1.0 Appreciate the analogy about finding the silver lining out of seemingly disastrous situations.

    But interesting to this ww2 historian is the angle that Kimmel was not blissfully ignorant, as has often been characterized. Planning ahead for “selected asset survivability” takes quite a bit of genius…

    What is your opinion of Ike? Master strategist or master delegator?

  • @jaybate-1.0 I like your references to WWII and Japan with ties to KU Basketball. Flawless logic.
    If I may bridge the subject once more with a photo.
    Godzilla 1954.jpg

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