Admiral Husband E. Kimmel: Bungler or Fall Guy?

The Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, was one of the most unforgettable events in U.S. history. It catapulted the country into World War II.

Pearl Harbor aftermath

Aftermath of Pearl Harbor attack (photo courtesy Atomic Heritage Foundation)

The need to understand events and point the finger of blame led to nine investigations between 1944 and 1946. A central figure throughout was Admiral Husband Kimmel. Kimmel had been a rising star in the U.S. Navy since 1915. By 1941 he was commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

But on that fateful December day, his stellar career collapsed. He was relieved of his Pacific Fleet command ten days after the attack.

Kimmel argued that intercepted Japanese cables suggesting an imminent attack were in Washington, DC, and not shared with him. In his eyes, he was a scapegoat for incompetence at higher levels. Kimmel’s critics pointed to tactical failures that had little to do with whether he knew the attack was coming.

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Circa 1946: Adm. Husband E. Kimmel at Pearl Harbor Hearing. (Photo by George Skadding/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)   (Photo: George Skadding, Time & Life Pictures)

Historians still debate Kimmel’s role in the Pearl Harbor attack. Was he responsible for one of the worst disasters in American military history or did he simply get the unluckiest promotion of all time?

Husband Kimmel’s papers at the American Heritage Center contain his defense and materials for his book, Admiral Kimmel’s Story, published in 1955.

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