February 1941- Ten Months to Infamy
Husband Kimmel will certainly be remembered in American Naval History as long as any other figure. Admiral Kimmel was the man who was in charge of the Pacific Fleet on December 7th 1941.
Admiral James O. Richardson was his predecessor in the position. Richardson was relieved of command in February 1, 1941 (in part for protesting that the Pacific Fleet would be the logical first target in the event of war with Japan). Admiral Kimmel was appointed in his place as Commander in Chief, United States Fleet (CINCUS).
Kimmel was also appointed Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT), a position reestablished on 1 February 1941 when General Order 143 was issued, and Kimmel assumed command with the temporary rank of admiral starting on that date. Kimmel earned a reputation as a hard worker who inspired subordinates, but some later criticized him for over-attention to detail, claiming it betrayed a lack of self-confidence. These critics asserted that Kimmel constantly revisited minute tasks he had done previously when he could have delegated the work to others.
On the other hand, Kimmel’s Fleet gunnery officer Willard Kitts later testified that under Kimmel’s leadership, “the efficiency and training of the Fleet was at its highest level.” William “Bull” Halsey, who in 1941 commanded one of the Pacific Fleet’s carrier task forces and rose during the war to five-star fleet admiral, described Kimmel as “the ideal man for the job”.
The base for the fleet had been moved from its traditional home at San Diego, California, to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in May 1940. Richardson had been relieved of command for his vocal opposition to this move and concerns about the fleet’s vulnerability. On 18 February 1941, Kimmel wrote to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Harold Rainsford Stark:
“I feel that a surprise attack (submarine, air, or combined) on Pearl Harbor is a possibility, and we are taking immediate practical steps to minimize the damage inflicted and to ensure that the attacking force will pay.”
Sadly, Richardson’s concerns proved justified during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor only ten months later. History will always hold differing views of Admiral Kimmel’s role in the disaster that occurred on that December day. Emotions and the public’s revulsion to the “surprise” attack demanded that a price be paid. Kimmel and his Army counterpart were swiftly removed and the investigations were held in a time of overbearing prejudice. Sadly, the real truth may never be fully known.