On this day, Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was relieved of his command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet as part of a shake-up of officers in the wake of the Pearl Harbor disaster.
Admiral Kimmel had enjoyed a successful military career, beginning in 1915 as an aide to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He served admirably on battleships in World War I, winning command of several in the interwar period. At the outbreak of World War II, Kimmel had already attained the rank of rear admiral and was commanding the cruiser forces at Pearl Harbor. In January 1941, he was promoted to commander of the Pacific Fleet, replacing James Richardson, who FDR relieved of duty after Richardson objected to basing the fleet at Pearl Harbor.
If Kimmel had a weakness, it was that he was a creature of habit, of routine. He knew only what had been done before, and lacked imagination—and therefore insight—regarding the unprecedented. So, even as word was out that Japan was likely to make a first strike against the United States as the negotiations in Washington floundered, Kimmel took no extraordinary actions at Pearl Harbor. In fact, he believed that a sneak attack was more likely at Wake Island or Midway Island, and requested from Lieutenant General Walter Short, Commander of the Army at Pearl Harbor, extra antiaircraft artillery for support there (none could be spared).
Kimmel’s predictability was extremely easy to read by Japanese military observers and made his fleet highly vulnerable. As a result, Kimmel was held accountable, to a certain degree, for the absolute devastation wrought on December 7. Although he had no more reason than anyone else to believe Pearl Harbor was a possible Japanese target, a scapegoat had to be found to appease public outrage. He avoided a probable court-martial when he requested early retirement. When Admiral Kimmel’s Story, an “as told to” autobiography, was published in 1955, Kimmel made it plain that he believed FDR sacrificed him—and his career—to take suspicion off himself; Kimmel believed Roosevelt knew Pearl Harbor was going to be bombed, although no evidence has ever been adduced to support his allegation.