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Memorandum for the Commander in Chief,
United States Fleet [King]
June 7, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]
Subject: Publicity on Pacific Operations.
I have just read your memorandum reply to my note on the above subject,1 and I want to make a very frank proposal.
I think the way to handle this thing is for you to have an immediate press conference. It should be immediate particularly in view of the article in column 1 on page 4A of the Washington Times-Herald.2
I think your conference should follow the course of giving information which would add materially to the build up on the operation, covering a point which Nimitz did not touch on and which it seems to me there is no good reason for our not bringing out into the open.3 I refer to the nature of the approach of the Japanese to Midway. They know what they did and they know that our planes were over their forces. Therefore there seems no good reason to me that publicity cannot be given to this which would be big news. In other words, I think that you might well describe the approach of the two forces, one from Wake towards Midway and the general character of that force, without going into sufficient details to permit the Japanese to know where we missed out, and more of detail regarding the force to the north which included the airplane carriers. This would all be big news and would justify the conference and I think you would be on safe grounds.
You possibly could comment with a few details on the vicious character of the air fighting, their attempt to surprise the Midway garrison on the ground and their failure, which was followed by the general lambasting of their surface craft as well as planes in the air.
The purpose of the conference would be to give you an opportunity, in a seemingly casual impromptu fashion, to offset the possibility of the Japanese suspicioning that we had broken their code. It would be a simple matter to plant the question, following your general statement referred to above, “You weren’t caught by surprise this time, were you?” Your answer, I think, might well be somewhat as follows:
“No, and for a very good reason. We were morally certain that after the surprise raid on Japan proper we would be subjected to some sort of reprisal operations. This belief, coupled with the fact that after the fighting in the Coral Sea we lost the location of the Japanese task forces, made us extremely watchful. Accordingly, ever since the raid on Japan we have materially reenforced our outposts at Midway and Dutch Harbor and instituted a system of extensive patrol. It was this estimate and this action that enabled us to detect this latest movement of the Japanese fleet and to deal with it effectively.”
I am strongly of the opinion that this should be done today.4
If you have such a press conference I would appreciate your covering another matter stating it is entirely “off the record.”
Tomorrow, Monday, the British Broadcasting Corporation will broadcast in French urging the immediate evacuation by the French of the coastal regions so as to clear the ground for coming operations. They are anxious that this warning should not be taken as an indication that a second front in Europe is imminent. They fear that the more excitable elements of the press and radio will draw such conclusions, and therefore it would be very helpful to have you explain this confidentially in the event that you hold such a conference. The British intent has to do both with air bombings in prospect and a war of nerves that they are carefully following out.
Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the Office of the Chief of Staff (OCS), 000.7 [6-6-42], National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
Document Format: Typed memorandum.
1. Navy cryptanalysts’ breaking of the Japanese Navy’s key operational code in May 1942 had provided intelligence crucial to the United States victory at the battle of Midway. Marshall was concerned that the Japanese might conclude that their codes were compromised and change them. On June 6 Marshall told King that the publicity resulting from the Midway operation was “likely to have a very important effect on future operations. I strongly recommend that this publicity treat the operation as a normal rather than an extraordinary effort on our part. In other words, we should strive to create the impression that the enemy attempted a surprise attack on a large scale, but found our forces on the alert in all sectors and as a result, sustained losses entirely disproportionate to ours.” (Marshall Memorandum for Admiral King, June 6, 1942, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected]. This document was taken from a memorandum drafted by Eisenhower; see Papers of DDE, 1: 328-29.)
King replied that he doubted that “communiques along this line will be sufficient to explain away obvious facts to the satisfaction of the Japanese. I think it will be necessary to plant explanations of our preparation in the form of surmises by the Press.” (King Memorandum to the Chief of Staff, June 6, 1942, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 000.7].)
2. On June 7 the Washington Times-Herald published an article entitled “U.S. Navy Knew in Advance All About Jap Fleet,” which revealed that according to reliable sources in the Naval Intelligence, the strength of the Japanese forces which the United States Navy was battling west of Midway Island had been well known in American naval circles. “The information in the hands of the Navy Department was so definite that a feint at some American base, to be accompanied by a serious effort to invade and occupy another base, was predicted. Guesses were even made that Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians and Midway Island in the Hawaiian group might be targets. . . By last Tuesday [June 2] the Americans were able to conclude that a feint was to be made at Dutch Harbor.” (Washington Times-Herald, June 7, 1942, p. 4-A.)
3. “Pearl Harbor now has been partially avenged,” Admiral Chester W. Nimitz reported on June 6. In his third communiqu