Patton's 1937 itemized intelligence memo on Japanese attack plans: impact? who read it?

This article, Patton warned of Pearl Harbor attack was published in an Army website December 7, 2012.

As we all aware today is the 75th anniversary of the attack.

Where did this memo of Patton go/get filed away by? How have the good historians of the Pacific War understood the impact or lack thereof of this memo?

Frankly, the first thing to answer, since the Army source does not provide it, is does anyone know a proper cite to confirm the basic text. Anyone?

From the Army news item:

Patton was the intelligence officer of the Hawaiian Division, as it was then known. In his 1937 report dated, June 3, he concluded Japan was willing and possibly able to attack Hawaii. His report detailed the following:

  1. This study is based on the inescapable assumption that complete surprise offers the greatest opportunity for the successful capture of these islands.

  2. Some of the Mandate Islands [noted above as the Carolines, Gilberts and Marianas], about which absolutely nothing is known, are only 2,500 miles distant, seven days’ steaming over the loneliest sea lanes in the world. Who can say that an expeditionary force is not in these islands now.

  3. Since becoming modernized, Japan has never declared war.

  4. To facilitate the capture and occupation of an advance base, the air and submarine forces on Oahu must be destroyed or neutralized.

  5. A consideration of the foregoing impels the thought that when and if circumstances impel Japan to attempt the capture of these islands, the following method of procedure on her part is fraught with the gravest danger to us.

a. The unheralded arrival during a period of profound peace of a Japanese expeditionary force within 200 miles of Oahu during darkness. This force to be proceeded by submarines [that] will be in the immediate vicinity of Pearl Harbor.

  1. The vital necessity to Japan of a short war and of the possession at its termination of land areas for bargaining purposes may impel her to take drastic measures. It is the duty of the military forces to prepare against the worst possible eventualities

Fascinating and, needless to say, prescient. The interwar years (1919-39) was a period of widespread pacifism and, in America, of isolationism. A military man of Patton’s extreme views on at times what seemed just about everything was in a good position to judge the “enemy” even before that enemy took action, as he was more than capable of thinking like one (sic), thus he could read “the mind of Japan” better than most. That Patton was also an ultra-conservative freed him from the inhibitions (so to speak) of men more to the left, thus enabling him to “call it as he sees it”, and to be spot on as to the it that he called.

No idea who in fact read it, or ignored it. But although it is, with the benefit of hindsight, remarkably prescient, it is all about theoretical potentials, not intelligence of what is actually happening: doesn’t provide much of a basis for any top brass asking for money (how much?) to be spent on deploying resources (how? where?) on preparing to repel a surprise attack that might come from nowhere knows where, no-one knows when.

Well, outside of predicting an attack of some sort on Hawaii, which after all was his job, it doesn’t look like much of his prediction was accurate. Japan didn’t attack from the Mandate Islands, they didn’t invade, and aside from a couple of failed miniature subs, they didn’t use submarines. He did succeed is saying that the only power in the Pacific besides the US might someday attack Hawaii, so he has that going for him I guess.

Patton guessed wrong.

If you read the memo closely, you realize he’s not predicting a Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor. He’s predicting a Japanese invasion of Hawaii. Which didn’t happen and which Japan would have found almost impossible to support.

Echoing PatrickLondon, while it does seem prescient, there wasn’t really a threat assessment and it’s really off base in that he’s warning against a sneak attack on the navy, rather he’s talking about an invasion fleet. That was actually pretty much damn near impossible. Hawaii was actually pretty well defended against a possible invasion. There were 45,000 troops stationed there, IIRC, as well as a really good number of coastal batteries.

I don’t recall any significant difference between conservatives and liberals on the war issue. The peace movement was lead by Republican businessmen and of course Roosevelt was much more hawkish than most of the Republicans.

So, cite?

I thought that every hawk and anti-Japanese chauvinist in and out of the military made predictions that Japan was our enemy and had plans to attack us. Anybody with the slightest interest in the subject could have and would have read these. What do you think was special to Patten’s contribution, other than being factually unpredictive just like all the others?

In addition, when Lt. Col. Patton wrote this in 1937 the US Pacific Fleet wasn’t based in Hawaii. So when he speaks of this potential attack he’s is, as TokyoBayer points out, speaking of an assault on Oahu as a goal to securing a base and not specifically targeting the fleet. Japan’s attack, when it did eventually some, was specifically against the fleet and they had no interest in invading or trying to oust the American presence on Oahu.

Yes, I realized that the headline of Army news post from 2012 was wrong, borderline clickbait, but just slammed the title/article down, interested to see the responses as much as anything.

FWIW, heds are ordinarily written not by the article writer but by someone else who might have spent all of three seconds scanning the piece.

This conventional wisdom was part of the reason the Japanese succeeded in achieving such surprise. Pre war thinking including this example believed a Japanese force would approach from the direction of the Marshalls/Gilberts, ie generally from the south, rather than directly from Japan on a great circle route from the north, as the Japanese carrier force did. There were some air patrols to the south.

And as mentioned Patton’s theorizing seems to be of an invasion rather than a carrier raid, though to be fair an invasion force would indeed more probably have been coming from the nearest Japanese bases, to the south. What iffing a Japanese 1941 invasion of Hawaii rather than raid is or was, seems to be dying down, a cottage industry on military history web boards for years, besides some books. Some of the web people semi-obsessed this have done a lot of specific research on the technicalities.

The flaw in their reasoning isn’t so much technical impossibly, but implausible degree of risk tolerance by the Japanese, including convincing themselves it made sense to abandon their direct goal of conquest in SE Asia to break the US-British-Dutch oil embargo (and of the Philippines to secure the sea lane to that oil), in order to conquer Hawaii first: they couldn’t have done both at once. The simplest way to get those oil fields was take them directly, and insure mobility of the Japanese fleet beyond the oil stocks held in Japan.

Ca. 1937 neither US or Japanese planners were thinking in terms of a Japanese military move specifically to seize SE Asian oil fields. They were thinking of a more general war with unknown cause. But even in that case the Japanese doctrine was definitely not to take the war to the USN, but rather to adopt the strategic defensive against the US fleet, causing it losses as it advanced west across the Pacific, and defeating that weakened fleet somewhere much closer to Japan. This was the theme of Japanese anti-USN plans ever since they came to exist in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War when the USN became the most plausible adversary to plan against. That was also a reason Yamamoto’s plan for even a carrier raid against Hawaii was as hard to sell as it was in 1941: it went against the time honored plan to fight the US fleet far from its bases, even before the perceived need in 1941 to quickly seize the British-Dutch oil fields.

Plan Orange. The War Department had a literal rainbow of war plans for every potential adversary. Japan fit the bill because of their rather sudden rise in prominence, what with defeating Russia and China in quick succession and gaining a lot of resources and territory in consequence, as well as their ambition (to master the western Pacific and dominate a significant territorial domain in eastern Asia).

Japan was an acknowledged major power. Just look at who participated in all major inter-war diplomatic efforts regarding military power. For instance the signatories of the Washington Naval Treaty were the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy. World power was sea power, and Japan was working on a Pacific-girdling naval presence. They were a logical candidate for “next war opponent”. But just one of several – we had Plan Red for going to war with the United Kingdom, even. Inconceivable now after 60 years of “special relationship” but quite logical in the 1920s and 1930s.

Hell, we even had a plan for going to war with Canada. And we all know how nice they are.

Being impressed by pre-war navel-gazing about possible war with Japan is just one step away from being impressed by Nostradamus.

Who succeeded Patton as “intelligence officer, Hawaii division?”

Clearly he’d been raked over the coals post-attack, and minutely examined in the decades since?

I ask because it’s interesting that (naturally enough) Patton is [famously] Patton because of his later career. Guess he wasn’t cut out for intelligence.

By way of analogy, Winston Churchill’s tenure as First Lord of the Admiralty–and the fuck-up laid at his feet. Of course, Gallipoli was of huge importance, but not ranking with Pearl Harbor (as if anything could, besides 9/11)–except for the Turks.
Patton was Army. Who was the Navy intelligence officer?

The general point, yes, possibility of war with Japan was commonly recognized. But ‘hawk and anti-Japanese chauvinist’, really? As opposed to the flower power children of the '30’s who said ‘give peace a chance, man’? :slight_smile:

By June 1937 Japan had been embarked on gradual aggression in China for some years, though that was slightly before the expansion to full scale war with the Marco Polo Bridge incident that summer. It was altogether plausible Japan’s policy there and US reaction might lead to a war, which it eventually did. And the Japanese had plenty of plans for war with the US. As mentioned that started pretty soon after defeating the Russian fleet in 1905. By the 1930’s every Japanese naval development and system was for a particular role in fighting the USN. Ending up fighting the Royal Navy in 1941 was more of a surprise. The USN was the actively planned for opponent during almost the whole career of senior IJN officers by 1941 and whole careers of everyone more junior. It was much more of a focus than the US military one on Japan.

Who succeeded Patton as “intelligence officer, Hawaii division?” And what were his intelligence memos like?

Clearly he’d been raked over the coals post-attack, and minutely examined in the decades since?

I ask because it’s interesting that (naturally enough) Patton is Patton because of his later career. Guess he wasn’t cut out for intelligence.

By way of analogy, Winston Churchill’s tenure as First Lord of the Admiralty–and the fuck-up laid at his feet. His career eventually made it back. Of course, Gallipoli was of huge importance, but not ranking with Pearl Harbor (as if anything could, besides 9/11)–except for the Turks–and Patton’s role (the OP) was less than critical at the time or in retrospect.
Patton was Army. Who was the Navy intelligence officer?

A much more significant warning (also roundly ignored) came not from Patton but from American Rear Admiral Harry Yarnell, who organized an entirely successful (although mock) carrier attack on Oahu in 1932.

I don’t know if he directly succeeded Patton, but Lt. Col. Kendall Fielder was the head of Army intelligence in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. Col. Edward Raley was in charge of Army Air Force intelligence and Capt. Irving Mayfield was in charge of Naval intelligence.

Isolationism was the unspoken official policy of the U.S. throughout the 30s. Conservatives of both parties - then a majority in foreign policy - took the lessons of WWI to heart and refused to enter another war to save the world for Democracy. That included younger ones. “The America First Committee (AFC) was the foremost non-interventionist pressure group against the American entry into World War II.”

Yep. “Give peace a chance” flower children one and all.

Of course, for the vast majority, foreign policy meant simply Europe. More than half the nation lived on or near the Atlantic and virtually the entirety of opinion shapers lived along the coast. Those who concentrated on the Japanese threat were small in number and largely based in California, then so separated from the power corridor from Washington to Boston as to almost be a separate country.

As gnoitall wrote, we did have war plans against Japan, but we had war plans against everybody. I don’t know of any good evidence that the War Department took an attack by Japan of any kind seriously. My evidence is the series of events, or non-events, leading up to Pearl Harbor.

Certainly, historians have dug out every mention of Japan prior to 1941 and cherrypicked them for significance. If you go back and try to reconstruct what the current thinking was in 1932 or 1937 or even 1940 you see an almost total focus on Europe or on isolation. Japan was a footnote until it suddenly became the headline.

There were 85,000 troops stationed at Singapore, as well as a really good number of coastal batteries. It fell in a week.

I was mainly just amused by the anachronism of ‘hawks and chauvinists’, and now by ‘conservatives’. Isolationism was the general feeling of the public and therefore politicians. It was not a left-right divide nor were their ‘hawks/doves’ per se like in the post Vietnam Cold War.

But as you go on from general isolationism to claiming the US military didn’t pay attention to Japan, you’re clearly mistaken. The War Department governed the Army. The Navy Department was always a lot more focused on Japan, because it was by far the most plausible enemy, certainly by 1937. This was somewhat reflected on the other side. The Imperial Army wasn’t particularly focused on the US Army, but the IJN was pretty much obsessed with the USN. USN planning, exercises and deployments over the 30’s were more and more focused on Japan as the plausible enemy, though not the same virtually singular focus of the IJN on the USN.

And when it came to Army commands in the Pacific, in Hawaii and the Philippines, what’s being quoted here is Patton’s view as G-2 of the Hawaii Department*, were also naturally focused on Japan. Who else was going to attack either place? (threats from other powers were plausible in the early days of US control of HI and PI in the 1890’s but not by the 1930’s). The buildup of a large Philippine Army from 1937 (though still unready as of 1941) to augment the small US Army infantry force there was expressly to meet the Japanese threat. Likewise the hurried reinforcement of US Army air units there especially in 1941.

And without clarifying by date, you risk being absurdly wrong on the statement ‘[US military didn’t take] an attack by Japan of any kind seriously.’ In 1937 the Japanese threat was only the subject of general planning, but by the fall of 1941 an attack by Japan within months was viewed as highly likely. By early December it was viewed as a virtual certainty. There was reasonably good intelligence about the Japanese forces assembling for what turned out to be the Malaya and PI operations, IJA fighters covering the Malaya convoy shot down a British patrol plane a whole day before the PH attack though unluckily for the British the doomed plane didn’t get off a contact report. The Japanese force opened its pre-landing bombardment off Khota Baru a little less than an hour before the first planes reached PH. But the Mobile Force carrier group had fallen silent, whereabouts unknown. The US didn’t expect an immediate Japanese attack directly against Hawaii, especially from the north.

*to clarify, the OP article is wrong in saying Patton was chief of intel of the Hawaiian Division. He served in that subordinate command, the main infantry combat force in Hawaii, in the 1920’s but in 1937 was G-2, Intel Officer, of the overall Army command there, the Hawaii Department. The four regiment Hawaiian Division was split and grown into a pair of three regiment divisions, the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions, in the summer of 1941.

As I said not impossible to do either thing, but the Japanese probably could not have done all three, as in invade Malaya and the Hawaiian Islands immediately and the Philippines within days after (different forces and shipping mainly than used in Malaya). Invading Malaya and PI was the direct route to the immediate goal, oil fields of British Borneo and DEI to stop the clock ticking on IJN running down its fuel stockpile after the embargo.

It’s easy to second guess Japanese planning because it resulted eventually in complete failure and defeat. How much worse could a Rube Goldberg scheme like invading Hawaii and not Malaya and/or PI, to get the oil, have worked out? But it’s still a double bank shot compared to just getting the oil, thus securing the mobility of the fleet, and going from there.

That’s just strategically, before getting into any operational/tactical details. But in that respect the upper part of the Malayan peninsula was only a few 100 miles from Japanese controlled territory in Indochina, and Japan coerced bordering Thailand into an alliance as the war began. And likewise the British ground force had to defeat, or stalemate, the Japanese far enough up the peninsula for Singapore itself to be defensible. When they failed and the Japanese reached Johore Strait bringing the whole island within land artillery range, and with the British force morally beaten as well by then, it was over. The numerical preponderance of the British force, much of it non-infantry, over the attacking Japanese was be then not so relevant.

That’s pretty different than launching and sustaining a campaign against islands from 2,500+ miles away (the Marshalls), or even the distance from other Hawaiian islands to Oahu if the Japanese took one first as a staging point. Oahu was not impregnable though, I agree.