The British Security Co-Ordination and Pearl Harbor

The Japanese invaded Manchuria, in northeastern China on 18th September 1931. After six months of fighting, on 27th February 1932, General Ding Chao offered to cease hostilities, ending official Chinese resistance in Manchuria, although combat by guerrilla and irregular forces continued as Japan spent many years in their campaign to pacify the region. The conquest of this area, a land rich in natural resources, was widely seen as an economic "lifeline" to save Japan from the effects of the Great Depression. (1)

The League of Nations condemned the action, prompting Japan to leave the organization. Henry L. Stimson, who was the Secretary of State, in the Herbert Hoover administration, announced what became known as the Stimson Doctrine, the policy of non-recognition of states created as a result of aggression. They rejected this attempt to interfere in their foreign policy and compared their action to the Dutch in the East Indies, the French in Indochina, the British in Burma and Malaya, and the Americans in the Philippines. The Japanese saw themselves as colonizers rather than conquerors. They invested heavily in Manchuria (renamed Manchukuo) and immediately dispatched half a million citizens to settle there, with another 5 million expected to join them later." (2)

Foreign Policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt

In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt became president of the United States. He embraced the Stimson Doctrine despite warnings by two of his closest advisors, Raymond Moley and Rexford G. Tugwell that America's interests lay with Japan. Roosevelt responded with the comment: "How could you expect me to do otherwise, given my Delano ancestors?" (3) As Moley and Tugwell had warned, the Stimson Doctrine curdled U.S. relations with Japan but had little effect on the situation in the Far East. The historian, Herbert Feis, described the policy as purely rhetorical: "an attitude rather than a program". (4)

On 7th July, 1937, Japanese forces once again attacked China. This became the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Soviet Union, the United States, Britain and France assisted China with its loans for war supply contracts. Some of Roosevelt's advisors believed that he should keep the country out of the conflict. William Christian Bullitt, the US ambassador in Paris, urged him not to get involved: "We have large emotional interests in China, small economic interests, and no vital interests. The far-off bugaboo of complete Japanese domination of Asia and an eventual attack on us seems to me no basis whatsoever for present-day policy." (5)

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Tension between the two countries increased when six Japanese airplanes sank the United States gunboat Panay. It had two American flags, fourteen by eighteen feet in size, freshly painted on the top decks, was clearly deliberate. As the survivors headed for land, the planes strafed them, repeatedly flew over them after they reached shore, forcing them to take cover until dusk. Two Americans were killed and thirty wounded in the attack. Senator William Borah, summed up the majority view when he declared he was "not prepared to vote to send our boys into the Orient because a boat was sunk that was traveling in a dangerous zone." Roosevelt's response was to seek a quick settlement rather than to inflame the public, who did not know that the gunboat had been gathering intelligence. (6)

Only one member of the cabinet, Claude A. Swanson, the Secretary of the Navy, wanted war right away while Japan was vulnerable. Roosevelt explained that he wanted the same results as Swanson, "but that he didn't want to have to go to war to get it." He explained he favoured a new approach to dealing with Japan: "We don't call them economic sanctions; we call them quarantines. We want to develop a technique which will not lead to war. We want to develop a technique which will not lead to war. We want to be as smart as Japan and and Italy. We want to do it in a modern way." However, Roosevelt changed his mind and abandoned his proposed embargo. (7)

On 23rd December, 1937, Roosevelt asked Captain Royal E. Ingersoll, an expert on war planning, to go to London to speak to the British government about the possibility of a blockade of trade with Japan. The British responded favourably to Roosevelt's ideas, but nothing was fully agreed. The British government was disappointed that Roosevelt would not give them the commitment they most wanted, that the United States would join them in the event of war. Frank Freidel argues: "For them to have expected Roosevelt to do so was unrealistic. As it was, there were angry protests in Congress when news leaked of the Ingersoll conversations." (8)

The situation became much more complicated for President Roosevelt when the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, stated on 3rd September, 1939, that unless Adolf Hitler made a firm promise to withdraw his troops from Poland by 11.00 a.m. then Britain would declare war. (9) When his ultimatum was ignored Chamberlain went on radio to announce: "Britain is at war with Germany". (10)

Winston Churchill and the United States

Winston Churchill became prime minister in May 1940. He realized straight away that it would be vitally important to enlist the United States as Britain's ally. Randolph Churchill, on the morning of 18th May, 1940, claims that his father told him "I think I see my way through.... I mean we can beat them." When Randolph asked him how, he replied with great intensity: "I shall drag the United States in." Joseph P. Kennedy was the United States Ambassador to Britain. He soon came to the conclusion that the island was a lost cause and he considered aid to Britain fruitless. Kennedy, an isolationist, consistently warned Roosevelt "against holding the bag in a war in which the Allies expect to be beaten." Neville Chamberlain wrote in his diary in July 1940: "Saw Joe Kennedy who says everyone in the USA thinks we shall be beaten before the end of the month." (11)

Britain was in a very difficult situation. In 1939 Germany had a population of 80 million with a workforce of 41 million. Britain had a population of 46 million with less than half Germany's workforce. Germany's total income at market prices was £7,260 million compared to Britain's £5,242 million. More ominously, the Germans had spent five times what Britain had spent on armaments - £1,710 million versus £358 million. Churchill wrote: "It is obvious that we are in grave danger of our gold reserves being exhausted at a rate that will render us incapable of waging war if war is prolonged." (12)

British Security Co-ordination

Churchill had a meeting with Desmond Morton, the former head of the Secret Intelligence Service's Section V, and his personal intelligence adviser, to discuss the best way to obtain the help of the United States in defeating Hitler. Morton introduced him to William Stephenson, a successful businessman who had been providing important intelligence on Nazi Germany for many years. Stewart Menzies, the Director General MI6, who had interviewed him the previous year and afterwards wrote that he had "extensive connections in business and financial circles in this country and abroad." (13)

Churchill and Menzies agreed to send William Stephenson to the United States to make certain arrangements on intelligence matters. "I have appointed Mr W.S. Stephenson to take charge of my organization in the USA and Mexico. As I have explained to you, he has a good contact with an official who sees the President daily. I believe this may prove of great value to the Foreign Office in the future outside and beyond the matters on which that official will give assistance to Stephenson. Stephenson leaves this week. Officially he will go as Principal Passport Control Officer for the USA. I feel that he should have contact with the Ambassador, and should like him to have a personal letter from Cadogan to the effect that it may at times be desirable for the Ambassador to have personal contact with Mr Stephenson." (14)

Stephenson arrived in New York City on 21st June 1940. He later commented that Menzies "had handed him a list of certain essential supplies" which Britain needed. Menzies also laid down three primary concerns: "to investigate enemy activities, to institute adequate security measures against the threat of sabotage to British property and to organize American public opinion in favour of aid to Britain." His organization was called the British Security Co-ordination (BSC) and its headquarters was on the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth floors of the International Building in the Rockefeller Centre, 630 Fifth Avenue. (15)

As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase (British Security Coordination) is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention." (16)

Stephenson's main contact was Gene Tunney, a friend from the First World War, who had been World Heavyweight Champion. The two men became business partners and life-long friends. (17) Importantly, Tunney and was a close friend of J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. Tunney later recalled: "Quite to my surprise I received a confidential letter that was from Billy Stephenson, and he asked me to try and arrange for him to see J. Edgar Hoover... I found out that his mission was so important that the Ambassador from England could not be in on it, and no one in official government... It was my understanding that the thing went off extremely well." (18)

Stephenson later recalled: "Hoover is in no way anti-British, but in every way pro-FBI. His job is at once his pride and his vanity. These facts are emphasized because they are fundamental to an understanding of the course of BSC's relationship with the FBI, which did not run smoothly throughout... At the outset... Hoover could hardly have been more cooperative. Clearly our organization employing, as it did, not only its own intelligence agents but what amounted to its own police force represented an obvious threat to United States neutrality and could not have existed at all without the FBI's sanction. But Hoover was more than its licensor. He was, in a very real sense, its patron. He suggested its cover name. He placed at our disposal an FBI wireless channel which for a long while provided BSC with its only means of telegraphic communication with SIS headquarters... In short, he led his Bureau into a full-fledged alliance with British Intelligence, as the President had urged." (19)

Stephenson was also a friend of Ernest Cuneo, a US lawyer, with close intelligence and political connections. He worked unofficially for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and according to Stephenson was the leader of "Franklin's brain trust". Cuneo described Stephenson as a "top level operator", a "discreet and shadowy figure" with a "through wire" to Churchill. (20) According to Gill Bennett, the author of Churchill's Man of Mystery (2009): "By this he meant that he was the man to approach with an urgent message for the Prime Minister." (21)

William Donovan pinning the Medal of Merit on William Stephenson
William Donovan with William Stephenson

Colonel William Donovan had been a classmate of Roosevelt at Columbia Law School. Although a member of the Republican Party he was used by Roosevelt for fact-finding missions to Spain and came to oppose the USA's prevailing isolationist foreign policy. Roosevelt arranged for Donovan to meet Stephenson. (22) He was to be an extremely important ally. As William Stephenson told Stewart Menzies: "A Catholic, Irish American descent, Republican holding confidence of Democrats, with an exceptional war record, places him in his unique position to advance our aims here." (23)

Colonel Donovan was also close friends with the three most important figures in the Roosevelt Administration: Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, and the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox. "At the time the United States Government was debating two alternative courses of action. One was to endeavour to keep Britain in the war by supplying her with the material assistance of which she was desperately in need. The other was to give Britain up for lost and concentrate exclusively on American rearmament to offset the German threat. That the former course was eventually pursued is due in large measure to Donovan's tireless advocacy of it." (24)

Wendell Willkie was the Republican candidate in the 1940 Presidential Election. The question whether or not the United States would become involved in the war in Europe. During the campaign Roosevelt announced that he was willing to provide destroyers to help the British war effort in return for obtaining naval and air bases in Newfoundland, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua, Trinidad and British Guiana. Willkie described it as "the most arbitrary and dictatorial action ever taken by any President in the history of the United States." This now became the main factor in the election and the first public opinion poll in early August showed Willkie ahead in twenty-four states with a majority of the electoral votes. (25)

William Stephenson arranged to meet Willkie. According to a secret report published five years later of the meeting: "He (Stephenson) found that Mr Willkie had little of that liberal internationalism which later became his trademark, but on the contrary was both reactionary and sectarian in his outlook, believing, among other things, that, since Britain was likely to go 'red' after the war, it would probably serve American interests better in the long run to allow Britain to be defeated." (26)

Charles Howard Ellis was sent to New York City to work alongside William Stephenson as assistant-director. Together they recruited several businessmen, journalists, academics and writers into the British Security Coordination. This included Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Ian Fleming, Cedric Belfrage, Ivar Bryce, David Ogilvy, Isaiah Berlin, Eric Maschwitz, Giles Playfair, Benn Levy, Noël Coward and Gilbert Highet. (27)

BSC and the American Media

Stephenson pointed out that: "The cooperation of newspaper and radio men was of the utmost importance. Without it, as will became apparent later on, many of BSC's operations against the enemy would have been impossible." The most important people who were persuaded to help included journalists Walter Winchell, Freda Kirchwey, Raymond Gram Swing, Robert Sherwood, John Gunther, Edgar Ansel Mowrer, William L. Shirer, Ralph Ingersoll and Walter Lippmann. They also got support from the owners and publishers of various media companies: Roy Howard (Scripps-Howard newspapers), Helen Ogden Reid (New York Herald Tribune), Arthur Hays Sulzberger (New York Times), George Backer (New York Post) and Paul Patterson (Baltimore Sun). (28)

Roald Dahl was assigned to work with Drew Pearson, one of America's most influential journalist as the time. "Dahl described his main function with BSC as that of trying to 'oil the wheels' that often ground imperfectly between the British and American war efforts. Much of this involved dealing with journalists, something at which he was already skilled. His chief contact was the mustachioed political gossip columnist Drew Pearson, whose column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, was widely regarded as the most important of its kind in the United States." (29)

One of their most important recruits was Henry Luce, the publisher of Time Magazine and Life Magazine. In the past he had been a bitter opponent of President Roosevelt and so propaganda articles that appeared in his magazine were especially effective. BSC helped create several Pro-British groups. In July, 1040, they even persuaded Luce, C. D. Jackson, Ernest Angell and Carl Joachim Friedrich to establish the Council for Democracy. (30)

According to William Boyd: "BSC's media reach was extensive: it included such eminent American columnists as Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, and influenced coverage in newspapers such as the Herald Tribune, the New York Post and the Baltimore Sun. BSC effectively ran its own radio station, WRUL, and a press agency, the Overseas News Agency (ONA), feeding stories to the media as they required from foreign datelines to disguise their provenance. WRUL would broadcast a story from ONA and it thus became a US "source" suitable for further dissemination, even though it had arrived there via BSC agents. It would then be legitimately picked up by other radio stations and newspapers, and relayed to listeners and readers as fact. The story would spread exponentially and nobody suspected this was all emanating from three floors of the Rockefeller Centre. BSC took enormous pains to ensure its propaganda was circulated and consumed as bona fide news reporting. To this degree its operations were 100% successful: they were never rumbled." (31)

The BSC's main opponent was William Randolph Hearst, who in the 1930s was pro-Nazi and a staunch anti-Communist. These opinions were reflected in his 28 newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Examiner, the Boston American, the Atlanta Georgian, the Chicago Examiner, the Detroit Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Cosmopolitan and the Washington Herald. BSC became convinced he was beyond hope of conversion. However, in June 1941, Stephenson learned that the Hearst syndicate owed $10,500,000 to Canadian paper manufacturers - all in the form of demand notes which were renewable every six months. "Up to that time they had not pressed for payment, because their only hope of recovering the sums due to them was to keep the syndicate alive. On the other hand, if the Canadian paper supply had ceased or been interrupted, publication of all the Hearst newspapers would have become impossible within thirty days, since paper could not be obtained elsewhere. Had this been done, the buyer would have been able either to force the Hearst syndicate to suspend publication altogether or to bring about a radical change in its policy. The matter was referred to the Treasury but, after due consideration, the Treasury stated that it was unwilling to provide the necessary funds." (32)

America First Committee

The America First Committee (AFC) was established in September 1940. The America First National Committee included Robert E. Wood, John T. Flynn and Charles A. Lindbergh. Supporters of the organization included Elizabeth Dilling , Burton K. Wheeler, Robert R. McCormick, Hugh S. Johnson, Robert LaFollette Jr., Amos Pinchot, Hamilton Stuyvesan Fish, Harry Elmer Barnes and Gerald Nye. The AFC soon became the most powerful isolationist group in the United States. The AFC had four main principles: (i) The United States must build an impregnable defense for America; (ii) No foreign power, nor group of powers, can successfully attack a prepared America; (iii) American democracy can be preserved only by keeping out of the European War; (iv) "Aid short of war" weakens national defense at home and threatens to involve America in war abroad. (33)

Charles Lindbergh, who became a national hero when at the age of 25 in 1927, made a non-stop flight from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, to Paris, France (3,600 miles/5,800 km), became its most important member and during the Battle of Britain he said: "This war is lost. It is not within our power today to win the war for England, even though we throw the entire resources of our nation into the conflict." (34)

The British journalist and Labour Party politician, Tom Driberg, attended one of its meetings. he reported: "I attended an American First rally at Madison Square Garden - a frantic eleventh-hour demonstration by virulent pro-Nazis and many thousands of their dupes. The most famous speaker was Charles Lindbergh, once a pioneer translantic flyer... After the hysterical enthusiasm which had greeted him, his speech was an anti-climax. Unlike some of the other speeches, it contained no word of disapproval of any aspect of the Nazi regime: it merely expressed regret that Hitler hadn't had his way in Russia sooner." (35)

Another member, Hamilton Stuyvesan Fish later told Studs Terkel: "I'd led the fight for three years against Roosevelt getting us into war. I was on the radio every ten days.... That is the greatest thing I did do in my life.... We would have been fighting those Germans, plus probably the Russians, because they made a deal with them. Every American family owes an obligation to me because we would have lost a million or two million killed. That's the biggest thing I ever did, and nobody can take it away from me. In the 1940 campaign, he (Roosevelt) made a pledge to mothers and fathers that their sons would be sent to fight in any foreign wars. It was absolutely a dishonest, dishonorable, contemptible statement, because he had been planning to get us in all the time." (36)

Stephenson was very concerned with the growth of the American First Committee. By the spring of 1941, the British Security Coordination estimated that there were 700 chapters and nearly a million members of isolationist groups. Leading isolationists were monitored, targeted and harassed. When Gerald Nye spoke in Boston in September 1941, thousands of handbills were handed out attacking him as an appeaser and Nazi lover. Following a speech by Hamilton Fish, a member of a group set-up by the BSC, the Fight for Freedom, delivered him a card which said, "Der Fuhrer thanks you for your loyalty". A photographer was there to take "a picture, with the contents of Hitler's note upon the caption, made good copy for the newspapers". (37)

Public Opinion Polls

One of Stephenson's first recruits was David Ogilvy. This enabled the BSC to "penetrate" the Gallup organization. Ogilvy later recalled: "I had been moonlighting as advisor to the British government on American Public Opinion, but it was time I played a more active part... I could not have had a better boss than Dr. Gallup. His confidence in me was such that I do not recall his ever reading any of the reports I wrote in his name. Once he had worked out the methodology of the research, he lost interest and moved on to something new." (38)

He was helped in this task by Hadley Cantril, who was secretly working for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of his tasks was to persuade Gallup from publishing polls considered harmful to the British. As Richard W. Steele has pointed out: "public opinion polls had become a political weapon that could be used to inform the views of the doubtful, weaken the commitment of opponents, and strengthen the conviction of supporters." William Stephenson later admitted: "Great care was taken beforehand to make certain the poll results would turn out as desired. The questions were to steer opinion toward the support of Britain and the war... Public Opinion was manipulated through what seemed an objective poll." (39)

Michael Wheeler, the author of Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Manipulation of Public Opinion in America (2007): "Proving that a given poll is rigged is difficult because there are so many subtle ways to fake data... a clever pollster can just as easily favor one candidate or the other by making less conspicuous adjustments, such as allocating the undecided voters as suits his needs, throwing out certain interviews on the grounds that they were non-voters, or manipulating the sequence and context within which the questions are asked... Polls can even be rigged without the pollster knowing it.... Most major polling organizations keep their sampling lists under lock and key." (40)

United States and Japan

Until 1940 the conflict between Japan and China was purely a regional affair. Encouraged by Hitler's conquest of France and the Netherlands, as well as the onset of the Battle of Britain, Japan's new war minister, General Hideki Tojo said: "We should not miss the present opportunity or we shall be blamed by posterity." According to Jean Edward Smith: "Japan's pro-military government turned its eye to the colonial outposts in Southwest Asia: the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies, the rubber plantations of British Malaya, and the tin mines and rice paddies of French Indochina." (41)

MI6 was gathering information about Japan's war plans including the possibility that Japan intended to join forces with Germany and Italy. British Security Coordination was asked to communicate this information to the American people. However, it was important to show that this information didn't come from British sources. Therefore it was passed to C. N. Spinks, a journalist who had spent some time in Japan. His article appeared in the New York Herald Tribune. BSC then arranged for the material to published as a pamphlet and 160,000 copies were distributed free in the United States. (42)

On 27th September 1940, Japan, Germany and Italy signed the Tripartite Pact. This undertook to recognize each other's expansionist claims in Europe and Asia, and to come to each other's aid if attacked by a power not already involved in the war in Europe or the Pacific. The treaty aimed to prevent the United States from either joining Britain against Germany or directly opposing Japan's creation of an East Asian sphere. It also secured German approval for its drive to the south and help in settling differences with the Soviet Union . (43)

Allied secret services soon discovered that Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, had sent a telegram to Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister, where he pointed out that the alliance was to be directed towards the United States and not the Soviet Union. "Its exclusive purpose is to bring the elements pressing for America's entry into the war to their senses by conclusively demonstrating to them if they enter the present struggle they will automatically have to deal with the three great powers as adversaries." (44)

Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox and Secretary of Commerce, Harry Hopkins. urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to take action "which will show Japan that we mean business and that we are not in the least afraid of her." Specifically, they urged a prompt, comprehensive oil embargo. Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, Under Secretary of State, Sumner Welles and American military chiefs believed that an oil embargo would provoke an attack that would endanger unprepared American forces and distract the United States from effectively meeting the German threat. Navy chiefs also urged caution. Roosevelt decided against an oil embargo but he did make a speech where he argued that "no combination of dictator countries of Europe and Asia will halt us in the path we see ahead for ourselves and for democracy. No combination of dictator countries of Europe and Asia will stop the help we are giving to... those who resist aggression, and who now hold the aggressors far from our shores... The people of the United States reject the doctrine of appeasement." (45)

Over the next few months Stimson, Knox, Morgenthau, Ickes and Hopkins urged the president to take action. They pointed out that 80% of Japanese petroleum came from the United States. Hull favoured continued negotiations. Chief of Staff George Marshall argued that if Japan's oil supply were closed off she would be forced to seek other sources. The Dutch East Indies, Burma, Malaya and even the Philippines would be threatened. Marshall added that this was "as unfavorable a moment as you could choose for provoking trouble." (46)

David Low, The Salute with both hands now (3rd July, 1934)
Arthur Szyk, A Madman's Dream (1940)

On 23rd July, 1941, Japanese troops moved into the southern part of Indochina. This put them in a position to threaten Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines. Morenthau suggested that Roosevelt had to respond to this move. As he later recalled: Well, to my surprise the President gave us quite a lecture why we should not make any move because if we did, if we stopped all oil, it would simply drive the Japanese down to the Dutch East Indies, and it would mean war in the Pacific." (47)

Roosevelt finally announced the freeze of Japanese assets on 26th July and established an embargo on oil and gasoline exports to Japan on 1st August. Roosevelt then went to meet Winston Churchill in Newfoundland. Public opinion polls in early August indicated that 51% of Americans believed that Roosevelt should risk war rather than allow Japan to become more powerful. By September that number had risen to 67%. One Japanese official stated that the "nation was "like a fish in a pond from which the water was gradually being drained away." (48)

Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu, had been used by the US Navy since the early part of the twentieth century. In April, 1940, the US Fleet had been sent to Pearl Harbor to deter aggressive moves by Japan in the Pacific. The Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto began planning for a surprise attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbor early in 1941. Yamamoto feared that he did not have the resources to win a long war against the United States. He therefore advocated a surprise attack that would destroy the US Fleet in one crushing blow. Yamamoto's plan was eventually agreed by the Japanese Imperial Staff in the autumn and the strike force under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo sailed from the Kurile Islands on 26th November, 1941. (49)

In the autumn of 1941, Richard Sorge, a Soviet spy based in Japan, provided Joseph Stalin with the information that the Japanese were preparing to make war in the Pacific and were concentrating their main forces in that area in the belief that the Germans would defeat the Red Army. (50) According to Pravda, Sorge informed Soviet intelligence two months before Pearl Harbour "that the Japanese were getting ready for a war in the Pacific and would not attack the Soviet Far East, as the Russians feared." (51)

Military intelligence did intercept two cipher messages from Tokyo to Kichisaburo Normura, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, that suggested an imminent attack, but Captain Richmond Turner, in charge of evaluating and dissemination, did not pass on warnings of the proposed attack to Admiral Husband Kimmel. Later Kimmel testified after the war that had he known of these communications, he would have maintained a much higher level of alert and that the fleet would not have been taken by surprise by the Japanese attack. The historian, Gordon Prange has argued: "If Turner thought a Japanese raid on Hawaii... to be a 50-percent chance, it was his clear duty to say so plainly in his directive to Kimmel." (52)

James Rusbridger, the author of Betrayal at Pearl Harbor (1991) claims that Winston Churchill withheld important information in order to bring the United States into the war: "Churchill was aware that a task force had sailed from northern Japan in late November 1941, and that one of its likely targets was Pearl Harbor... Churchill deliberately kept this vital information from Roosevelt, because he realized an attack of this nature, whether on the U.S. Pacific Fleet or the Philippines, was a means of fulfilling his publicly proclaimed desire to get America into the war at any cost." (53) Patrick Renshaw disagrees: "Arguments that Churchill knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor, but did not warn FDR in order to get the United States into war, or that Roosevelt knew and did nothing for the same reason, have no merit. US naval intelligence was completely caught out because it was simply overwhelmed by the amount of conflicting incoming traffic." (54)

The American historian, Joseph E. Persico, has carried out a detailed investigation into the even: "It must be asked whether drawing the United States into a war with Japan was a logical way for Churchill to get FDR into the war in Europe. Churchill was certainly capable of manipulating intelligence to serve his country's ends. He had no qualms about Stephenson's BSC manufacturing stories to feed to Roosevelt that the Nazis were conspiring to invade South America and threaten the Panama Canal. He allowed Roosevelt to continue thinking that Hitler would invade Britain when his own Ultra interceptions made clear that this danger had passed. However, an attack that would have brought America into a war with the Japanese was a risky bet for Churchill. How he viewed his best interests is clear from a five-page report written on November 12, 1941, less than a month before Pearl Harbor, by the American ambassador to Britain, John Winant. Winant had spent three days with Churchill in the country. According to Winant's notes, forwarded to FDR, Churchill set out three positions in which Britain might find itself. The worst-case scenario, which Churchill considered unthinkable, was that Japan would come into the war against Britain and that America would stay out. The next best outcome would be for neither Japan nor America to enter the war. But Churchill's preference, the PM told Winant, was that 'the United States enter the war without Japan.' With this as his first choice, it hardly seems that Churchill would deliberately enable a Japanese attack on America by withholding intelligence from Roosevelt." (55)

Later, General Hideki Tojo claimed that Japan was acting in self defence: "The main American naval forces were shifted to the Pacific region and an American admiral made a strong declaration to the effect that if war were to break out between Japan and the United States, the Japanese navy could be sunk in a matter of weeks. Further, the British Prime Minister (Churchill) strongly declared his nation's intention to join the fight on the side of the United States within 24 hours should war break out between Japan and the United States. Japan therefore faced considerable military threats as well. Japan attempted to circumvent these dangerous circumstances by diplomatic negotiation, and though Japan heaped concession upon concession, in the hope of finding a solution through mutual compromise, there was no progress because the United States would not retreat from its original position. Finally, in the end, the United States repeated demands that, under the circumstances, Japan could not accept: complete withdrawal of troops from China, repudiation of the Nanking government, withdrawal from the Tripartite Pact (signed by Germany, Italy and Japan on September 27, 1940). At this point, Japan lost all hope of reaching a resolution through diplomatic negotiation." (56)

On Sunday, 7th December, 1941, 105 high-level bombers, 135 dive-bombers and 81 fighter aircraft attacked the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The damage caused was initially underestimated: "The Japanese, without any warning, yesterday afternoon began war on the United States with air attacks on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the adjacent city of Honolulu. Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo later announced that Japan had entered into a state of war with Britain and the United States in the Western Pacific from 6 a.m. today... As more than 150 planes took part in the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Honolulu, it is thought that there must be at least three Japanese aircraft-carriers, and probably more, engaged. Several planes were shot down. Considerable damage was done at Pearl Harbour and there were numerous casualties. It is officially announced that the Army casualties were 104 killed and 300 wounded. It is thought that these occurred when the airfield was hit. The civilian casualties are unknown." (57)

It was later confirmed that the Japanese sunk the Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia and California. Four further battleships were damaged and eleven other warships were sunk or disabled. Another 188 American aircraft were destroyed on the ground and 2,330 Americans were left dead or dying. The Japanese had lost twenty-nine aircraft and five midget submarines in the attack. "As the scale of the American losses became known, the shock in the United States was considerable; of the nine American battleships capable of offensive or defensive action in the Pacific earlier that morning, only two remained able to enter combat. Japan's ten battleships were masters of the Pacific." (58)

Admiral Gene La Rocque later recalled that the Americans were taken by surprise at Pearl Harbor. "At first I thought the U.S. Army Air Corps was accidentally bombing us. We were so proud, so vain, and so ignorant of Japanese capability. It never entered our consciousness that they'd have the temerity to attack us. We knew the Japanese didn't see well, especially at night - we knew this as a matter of fact. We knew they couldn't build good weapons, they made junky equipment, they just imitated us. All we had to do was get out there and sink them. It turns out they could see better than we could and their torpedoes, unlike ours, worked." (59)

Pearl Harbour
Pearl Harbour

Also on the 7th December, Japan attacked the Philippines, Hong Kong, Siam and Malaya, plus Wake and Midway islands. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a united US Congress declared war on Japan. On 11th December, Germany and Italy, in alliance with Japan, declared war on the United States while Japan sank the only two British battleships in the Pacific off Hong Kong. On 23rd December, Winston Churchill arrived in Washington to have talks with Roosevelt. While in America he became the first British prime minister to address Congress. (60)

Student Activities

The Middle Ages

The Normans

The Tudors

The English Civil War

Industrial Revolution

First World War

Russian Revolution

Nazi Germany

United States: 1920-1945


(1) Louise Young, Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism (1998) pages 83-93

(2) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 508

(3) Raymond Moley, After Seven Years (1939) page 95

(4) Herbert Feis, The Road to Pearl Harbor (1950) page 76

(5) Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Triumph (1956) page 290

(6) Robert Dallek, Roosevelt and Foreign Policy (1979) pages 153-155

(7) Stephen Pelz, Race to Pearl Harbour (1974) page 200

(8) Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Triumph (1956) page 293

(9) Cabinet minutes (2nd September, 1939)

(10) Neville Chamberlain, speech on BBC radio (3rd September, 1939)

(11) Neville Chamberlain, diary entry (July 1940)

(12) Clive Ponting, Winston Churchill (1994) page 410

(13) Gill Bennett, Churchill's Man of Mystery (2009) page 193

(14) Stewart Menzies to Gladwyn Jebb (3rd June 1940)

(15) Keith Jeffery, MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service: 1909-1949 (2010) page 441

(16) William Boyd, The Guardian (19th August, 2006)

(17) William Stevenson, A Man Called Intrepid (1976) page 11

(18) Bill Macdonald, The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents (2001) pages 61-62

(19) Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45 (1945) pages 3-4

(20) Thomas F. Troy, Wild Bill and Intrepid: Donovan, Stephenson and the Origin of the CIA (1996) page 185

(21) Gill Bennett, Churchill's Man of Mystery (2009) page 253

(22) Keith Jeffery, MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service: 1909-1949 (2010) page 442

(23) William Stephenson, memorandum to Stewart Menzies (December, 1940)

(24) Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45 (1945) page 8

(25) Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Triumph (1956) pages 352-353

(26) Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45 (1945) pages 17-18

(27) William Boyd, The Guardian (19th August, 2006)

(28) Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45 (1945) page 20

(29) Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl (2010) page 229

(30) Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45 (1945) pages 69-71

(31) William Boyd, The Guardian (19th August, 2006)

(32) Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45 (1945) pages 21-22

(33) Andrew Scott Berg, Charles Lindbergh (1998) page 411

(34) John Gunther, Roosevelt in Retrospect (1950) pages 341-342

(35) Tom Driberg, Ruling Passions (1978) page 167

(36) Studs Terkel interviewed Hamilton Stuyvesan Fish for his book, The Good War (1985) page 320

(37) Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45 (1945) page 74

(38) David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963)

(39) Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45 (1945) pages 222-223

(40) Michael Wheeler, Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Manipulation of Public Opinion in America (2007) page 131

(41) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 510

(42) Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet and Tom Hill, British Security Coordination: The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45 (1945) pages 91-92

(43) Robert Dallek, Roosevelt and Foreign Policy (1979) page 241

(44) Joachim von Ribbentrop, telegram to Vyacheslav Molotov about the proposed German-Japanese Pact on 25th September, 1940.

(45) Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech in San Diego (12th October, 1940)

(46) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 511

(47) James McGregor Burns, Roosevelt the Soldier of Freedom (1970) pages 231-232

(48) Robert Butlow, Tojo and the Coming of the War (1961) page 245

(49) Walter Lord, Day of Infamy (2012) page 14

(50) Richard Deacon, A History of the Russian Secret Service (1972) page 333

(51) New York Times (5th September, 1964)

(52) Gordon Prange, Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History (1986) pages 292-295

(53) James Rusbridger, Betrayal at Pearl Harbor (1991) page 177

(54) Patrick Renshaw, Franklin D. Roosevelt (2004) page 169

(55) Joseph E. Persico, Roosevelt's Secret War (2001) page 154

(56) General Hideki Tojo, prison diary, first published in The Journal of Historical Review (Volume 12, No. 1, 2002) pages 31-85

(57) The Manchester Guardian (8th December, 1941)

(58) Martin Gilbert, The Second World War (1989) page 272

(59) Admiral Gene La Rocque, interviewed by Studs Terkel, for hisbook, The Good War (1985) pages 189-193

(60) Patrick Renshaw, Franklin D. Roosevelt (2004) pages 168-169