3-013 To the Chief of Naval Operations, December 12, 1941

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 12, 1941

Subject: World War II

To the Chief of Naval Operations

December 12, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]


Subject: Defense of Oahu.

The recommendations contained in your letter of December 11, 1941, have been carefully studied.1 The War Department concurs in the view of the Navy Department as to the strategic importance of Oahu. However, the present situation also makes mandatory dispositions that will insure protection of the Panama Canal and of certain critical establishments and regions in Continental United States that are now exposed to the possibility of immediate air raids.

Your recommendations contemplate immediate dispatch of strong garrisons—air and ground—to Molokai, Maui, and Hawaii as well as Oahu. Troops are readily available, but the armament required could not be provided without seriously depleting and in some critical areas practically denuding our defensive arrangements elsewhere. The Pacific Coast and Panama are now open to Japanese naval and air raids exposing our three great heavy and medium bomber industries to possible destruction—a fatal blow to future action in the Pacific. Similar attacks by Germany and Italy are possibilities in the Atlantic.

A rough estimate of the reinforcements involved in the Navy proposal is 100,000 men. At least 500,000 gross tons of maritime shipping will be needed for movement and maintenance. Even if equipment were available, your estimate of the naval situation in the Pacific leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Navy cannot transport and escort such large forces to the islands in question and maintain them with any degree of certainty.

The War Department proposes as the first immediate measure that all possible steps, short of jeopardizing the security of the Panama Canal and Continental United States, be taken at the earliest possible moment by the Army and Navy to reinforce the defenses of Oahu. If this can be accomplished, air and naval forces operating from Oahu would make the establishment of Japanese operating bases on adjacent islands a difficult and hazardous undertaking. The decision as to setting up a military garrison on an additional island can be taken after the commitments for the reestablishment of the defenses of Oahu have been settled.

The War Department has a complete report of Army requirements from Oahu. A considerable portion of the personnel and equipment to meet those requirements are now at the Port of San Francisco ready for immediate dispatch to Oahu whenever the Navy directs the movement. Speed in executing this movement is essential. I am in complete agreement with you that immediate decisions must be made and the situation not allowed to drift. Incidentally, the principal army resources in air and antiaircraft units and materiel, and in ammunition are now in movement to the Pacific Coast or have already arrived there.

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Record of the War Plans Division (WPD), 4544-29, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. Admiral Harold R. Stark had sent Marshall a lengthy memorandum asserting that “the Hawaiian Islands are in terrible danger of early capture by Japan.” The Japanese had large forces available to them in the mid-Pacific which could operate against the Hawaiian Islands, he noted, and while United States forces on Oahu could probably prevent a successful enemy landing, the Japanese had the power to seize the other undefended islands and to create bases from which to reduce Oahu by blockade and air attack. Thus it was essential that the army immediately send food, materiel, aircraft, and troops to garrison the major undefended islands. (Chief of Naval Operations to the Chief of Staff, December 11, 1941, NA/RG 165 [OPD, Exec. 4, Envelope 22].)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 15-16.

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