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quotations from the Joint Committee on the PH attack

January 30 2012 at 9:12 AM
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Nelson  (no login)
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Response to Pensacola & Company

In previous posts, I wrote on the inclusion of MS Bloemfontein in the Pensacola convoy because she carried a priority war cargo: the 18 P-40Es we have discussed from time to time. Also I alluded to the mention of the preceding Boise convoy and its interaction with IJN naval units, by members of the congressional joint committee investigating why U.S. armed forces were taken entirely by surprise during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The formal name was the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, and its undertakings were published during the 2nd Session of the 79th Congress, late 1945-early 1946. Reflecting the political party in power, the committee consisted of five senators and five representatives, weighed accordingly with three Democrats and two Republicans in each house grouping. The committee chairman was Alben W. Barkley (D), Senator from Kentucky, who would become President Harry S Truman's vice president in 1949; its vice chairman was Jere Cooper (D), House Representative from Tennessee.

In the pages relevant to these matters, six of the ten men either speak or are alluded to. This cast of characters includes in addition to Chairman Barkley and Vice Chairman Cooper, Senator Scott W. Lucas (D) from Illinois, Senator R. Owen Brewster (R) from Maine, Senator Homer Ferguson (R) from Michigan, and Congressman Bertrand W. Gearhart (R) from California. Strongly challenging the conclusions reached by the majority, Senators Ferguson and Brewster would submit a dissenting minority report.

Speaking on behalf of the government is Gerhard A. Gesell, chief assistant counsel through January 14, 1946. The only witness appearing before the committee on these pages is Admiral Husband Kimmel, formerly commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPac), soon relieved after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the interest of space, I've omitted the instances where the chair either recognizes a committee member to speak or makes the usual overly polite and formal chat to engender comity among colleagues.

First, on Bloemfontein's inclusion in the Pensacola convoy.

Senator Ferguson asks Admiral Kimmel why on November 18, 1941, the Dutch ship Bloemfontein was included in the Pensacola convoy, then reads the then new routing protocol.
"In convoy with American flag vessels, placing of Bloemfontein is authorized. Until International conditions on and subsequent to 25 November become defined and clarified, however, any further direct or Great Circle routing between Hawaii and the Philippines should not be used. Until further advised by department, routes south of Mandates should be prescribed."
Senator Ferguson: Did you ever know that we had a message that we intercepted from the Japs showing that a deadline date was the 25th of November?
Admiral Kimmel: No sir, I never had anything like that.
Senator Ferguson: Do you think the fact that we put that [Dutch] ship into our convoy would indicate we were taking parallel action? Did you take it as such?
Admiral Kimmel: My memory is not entirely clear, but I think we had some materiel, or personnel, something on this ship that we wanted to get through, on the Bloemfontein.
Senator Ferguson: Did you think we had some soldiers on that ship?
Admiral Kimmel: I do not recall that, as to just what it was. On one of these Dutch ships that we used, we had some fliers that were going out to China.

Now to flash back to the Boise convoy:

The Chairman: The Chair understands counsel have some documents that they wish at this time to put in which have been received in response to request of various members of the committee.
Mr. Gesell: The first item that we wish to present has to do with the United States Ship Boise.
The committee will recall that Congressman Gearhart at pages 274 and 560 of the record asked for the log of the Boise and indicated that he had knowledge or information to the effect that the cruiser had sighted the Japanese task force on its way to attack Pearl Harbor. [Gesell indicates he has a photostatic copy of the entries in Boise's log between November 25 and December 7, 1941, inclusive.]
This log shows that on two occasions during that period, the Boise sighted a strange ship. The first occasion was on November 27 and I will read into the record the brief entry concerning that. On November 27, 1941, during the 18 to 20 watch, according to an entry of F.G. Dierman, lieutenant (jg), United States Navy, there was the following that occurred:
"Steaming as before. 1840 sighted darkened ship, bearing 240º T. estimated range 16,000 yards. Went to general quarters. 1845 set material condition affirm. 1851 challenged ship. Received no reply. 1852 changed speed to 20 knots. 1854 changed speed to 14 knots."
Senator Lucas inquired what time was 1840 and was informed that would be 6:40 p.m. Senator Ferguson inquired where Boise was at that time. The answer was deferred for the moment.
Mr. Gesell: On the 28th of November there is an entry by D.S. Edwards, lieutenant, United States Navy, in the 16 to 20 watch, Friday, November 28, 1941:
"Steaming as before, on various courses at various speeds.....1730 darkened ship. 1743 sighted ship bearing 325º T hull down. Changed course to 260º T, changed speed to 15 knots. Manned battle stations. 1750 cut in boilers No. 3 and No. 4 on main steam line. 1752 set condition affirm. On various courses and various speeds keeping between ship sighted at 1743 and convoy. Ship appeared to be HIJNS 'Atago' type, steaming darkened at 14 knots on various courses toward convoy. 1800 ship turned to course about 090º T. 1804 on various courses closing convoy. 1835 unset condition affirm."
Now, from the information presented by Admiral English [likely RAdm Robert English, who subsequently died in an air crash in January 1943], it appears that there were no cruisers of the Atago type in the Japanese striking force. [More recent research indicates both were of the Katori type training cruiser, en route from Japan to Truk.]
The Navy has plotted on the basis of the log, the positions of the USS Boise at the various times mentioned in the log.
With respect to the entries of November 27, 1941, the Boise at 1840 was at latitude 16º46'0.5" N., longitude 153º55' 1743 November 28, 1941, latitude 14º56'0.5" N, longitude 148º48' E; at 1920 November 28, 1941, latitude 14º49' N, longitude 148º26' E.
We asked the Navy to state in simple terms what that meant in terms of the position of the Boise in relation to Japanese forces, and were advised as follows:
"The position of the USS Boise with relation to the track of the Japanse striking force on the 27th and 28th of November, 1941, from the best information available appears that the USS Boise on those dates was not less than 1,400 miles from the Japanese striking force."
[Subsequently Senator Lucas inquired how far the Boise convoy was from the Hawaiian Islands, and Senator Ferguson inquired about where the convoy originated. Mr. Gesell replied near Guam and from the Hawaiian area, respectively. He repeated that the convoy was 1400 nm from the track of the IJN Pearl Harbor attack force, thus was impossible for Boise to have seen that task force.]

So, with the first incident involving the Boise convoy taking place east of Guam on November 27, 1941, it would appear to have had NO effect on the subsequent Pensacola convoy routing, the general protocol having been modified nine days before that date to avoid a direct sailing west through the Mandates.

And I've been informed that USAT Willard A. Holbrook's delay in Pearl Harbor was due to mechanical problems, rather than loading additional cargo, as I first declared.


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