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Who was in command when Pearl Harbor was attacked?

a close up of smoke

who was in command pearl harbor attackEver ask yourself who was in command when Pearl Harbor was attacked?

That commander was Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, who was placed in command just 11 months before the attack in January of 1941 after Admiral James O. Richardson was removed as Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet and Pacific Fleet. The move to command came with the temporary rank of admiral for Kimmel. One of the first things Kimmel noticed after assuming command was how vulnerable Pearl Harbor was to an attack.

On February 18, 1941, Kimmel wrote to the Chief of Naval Operations:

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.

Since the base for the U.S. Pacific Fleet had been moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in May 1940, Kimmel’s observation would foreshadow the future.

In the book, The World at War, a naval serviceman who had been alongside Admiral Kimmel during the attack recalled that as Kimmel watched the destruction of the fleet, he tore off his four-star shoulder boards, in apparent recognition of the impending end of his command. The attack resulted in the deaths of 2,403 Americans and prompted the U.S. to join the World War.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kimmel was relived of his command on December 17, 1941 – ten days after the attack. He was reduced to the two-star rank of rear admiral after the attack and retired from the Navy in early 1942 with that rank.

Historians agree that the United States was unprepared for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and as a result, suffered major casualties and damage. The extent to which Kimmel himself bore responsibility for the unreadiness of his Pacific Fleet has thus been a matter of debate.

Husband E. Kimmel passed away on May 14, 1968. In 1994 Kimmel’s family attempted to have Kimmel’s four star admiral rank re-instated. President Bill Clinton turned down the request, following the same actions as President Richard Nixon and President Ronald Regan. On May 25, 1999, the United States Senate, by a vote of 52–47, passed a non-binding resolution to exonerate Kimmel and requested that the President of the United States posthumously restore him to full rank. Neither President Clinton nor Presidents Bush or Obama after him did so. The Senate enquiry in 2000 issued a lengthy exoneration of Kimmel’s conduct.

It’s up for debate how much accountability Kimmel really should assume for the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some are more sympathetic, while others are more forgiving. The end result though, is that Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was in command when Pearl Harbor was attacked.