Page II-1


This Section addresses three personnel actions affecting Admiral Kimmel 
and General Short: relief from their Pearl Harbor commands in December 
1941; their retirements in February and March 1942; and the decisions 
not to advance them on the retired list. 


On February 1, 1941, Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel succeeded Admiral J. 
O. Richardson as Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Commander in 
Chief, United States Fleet. [2] Incident to assuming these positions of 
command, Rear Admiral Kimmel also assumed the temporary rank of four-
star Admiral. [3] At the time, the highest permanent grade that officers 
of the armed forces could hold was Rear Admiral or Major General (O-8). 
[4] Immediately after the Japanese attack: on Pearl Harbor on December 
7, 1941, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox flew to Pearl Harbor on 
December 8 to conduct a preliminary investigation. Following Secretary 
Knox's report to the President on December 14, Admiral Kimmel was 
relieved of command and reverted to his permanent grade of Rear Admiral. 
Similarly, Major General Short replaced Major General Herron as 
Commander of the Army's Hawaiian Department, and assumed the temporary 
rank of Lieutenant General. General Short was also relieved of command 
on December 16, 1941, and reverted to his permanent grade of Major 
General. [6] 

[1] Typically, relief and retirement of the most senior officers from 
the highest commands are handled personally and orally, and confirmed by 
very brief memoranda which do not give the reasons for the actions.
[2] Franklin D. Roosevelt letter Nav-3-D of January 7, 1941 to Rear 
Admiral Husband E Kimmel: "In accordance with the provisions of an Act 
of Congress approved May 22, 1917, you are hereby designated as 
Commander in Chief, Pacific fleet, with additional duty as Commander in 
Chief, United Slates Fleet, with the rank of admiral, effective on the 
date of your taking over the command of the Pacific Fleet. In accordance 
with this designation you will assume the rank and hoist the flag of 
admiral on the above mentioned date." Documents in Rear Admiral Kimmel's 
service record indicate that he assumed duties as CincPac and CominCh on 
February 1, 1941.
[3] Rear Admiral Kimmel's temporary designation as a four star admiral 
was made under the provisions of existing law which allowed the 
President to designate six officers as Commanders of Fleets or 
subdivisions thereof with the rank of admiral or vice Admiral. Act of 
May 22, 1917, 65th Cong., 1st Sess., Ch. 20,  18, 40 Stat. 89. Such 
advancements to the rank of admiral or vice admiral were to be in effect 
only during the incumbency of the designated flag officer. Id. (". . . 
when an officer with the rank of admiral or vice admiral is detached 
from the command of a fleet or subdivision thereof . . . he shall return 
to his regular rank in the list of officers of the Navy ....").
[4] This had long been the case. For example, Admiral Charles Frederick 
Hughes, the Chief of Naval Operations from 1927-1930, retired in his 
permanent grade of rear admiral. William R. Braisted, 'Charles Frederick 
Hughes', in "The Chiefs of Naval Operations" (Robert William Love, Jr., 
ed. 1980), p. 66. It is still the case today that retirement in a higher 
grade than O-8 requires nomination by the President and confirmation by 
the Senate.
[5] Secretary of the Navy Knox directed the relief of Admiral Kimmel on 
l6 December 1941 (PHA 5:2430), confirmed by SECNAV ltr 14358 of 3 
January 1942.
[6] PHA, 3:1529. 

Page II-2

For reasons both legal and practical, command in the United States Armed 
Forces has a special character. That character is distinct from rank. 
The need to maintain good order and discipline at all levels of command 
when lives are at stake creates an environment unique to the command of 
military units. As the Supreme Court has noted, "no military 
organization can function without strict discipline and regulation that 
would be unacceptable in a civilian setting" [7] and that "the rights of 
men in the armed forces must perforce be conditioned to meet certain 
overriding demands of discipline and duty ..." [8] 

There is no entitlement or right to command. No one in the military has 
a right to any particular assignment or position, and any military 
member may be reassigned to a position of greater or lesser 
responsibility by senior officials in the chain of command at their 
discretion. [9] This authority flows from the President's constitutional 
powers as Commander-in-Chief, [10] and is so well established that no 
court has ever recognized a right to "due process" review of military 
personnel assignment decisions. The authority to make such changes 
remains a key constitutional prerogative of the President, and the 
practical necessity for such authority in the unique context of the 
military remains central to the accomplishment of the military mission. 

An officer may be relieved of command if a superior decides the officer 
has failed to exercise sound judgment. [11] Moreover, an officer may be 
relieved of command simply because of an entirely subjective loss of 
confidence by superiors in the chain of command. [12] The grounds for 
detachment of an officer in command reflect the critical importance of 
trust and confidence in the 

[7] Chappell v. Wallace. 462 U.S. 296, 300 (l983).
[8] Ibid., quoting Burns v. Wilson, 346 U S. 137, 140 (1953).
[9] Over the years many officer relieved of command have challenged the 
discretion of senior officials in the chain of command to relieve and 
reassign them. In such cases the relieved officer have claimed a right 
to "due process" under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, 
which states, in pertinent part, that "nor shall life, liberty or 
property be deprived without due process of law." The federal courts, 
however, have consistently refused to invade the unreviewable discretion 
of senior officials to assign and reassign military personnel, noting 
that service members have no protected "liberty" or "property" interest 
in their assignments. See, e. g., Orloff v. Willoughby, 345 U.S. 83 
(1953)(Army physician's assignment as laboratory technician not 
reviewable); Sebra v. Neville, 801 F.2d 1135, 1141 ("The policy behind 
the rule is clear, the military would grind to a halt if every transfer 
was open to legal challenge."); Covington v. Anderson, 487 F.2d 660, 665 
(9th Cir. 1973)(military duty assignments are unreviewable because 
"[a]ny attempt of the federal courts . . . to take over review of 
military duty assignments . . . would obviously be fraught with 
practical difficulties for both the armed faces and the courts." 
(quoting Arnheiter v. Ignatious, 292 F. Supp. 911, 921 (N. D. Cal. 
1968), aff'd, 435 F.2d 691 (9th Cir. 1970)). See also Crenshaw v. United 
States, 134 U.S. 99 (1890)(no right to appointment) and United States ex 
rel. Edwards v. Root, 22 App DC 419, aff'd 195 U.S. 626 (1903)(no right 
to promotion). The President and subordinate officials in the chain of 
command have primary authority to remove and replace subordinate 
commanders. See Mullan v. United States, 140 US. 240 (1891); Wallace v. 
United States, 257 U.S. 541 (1922). This authority is essential to the 
efficient functioning of a military organization.
[10] U. S. Constitution., Article II, Section 2.
[11] Naval Military Personnel Manual (MILPERSMAN) 3410105.7a
[12] MILPERSMAN 3410105.3. Other bases for detachment for cause of any 
officer include misconduct, unsatisfactory performance involving one or 
more significant events resulting from gross negligence or where 
complete disregard of duty is involved, and unsatisfactory performance 
of duty over an extended period of time. 

Page II-3

chain of command, and the highly discretionary nature of decisions to 
relieve officers in command. The guidance in 1941 was much like today's: 

"The unique position of trust and responsibility an officer in command 
possesses; his or her role in shaping morale, good order, and discipline 
within the command; and his or her influence on mission requirements and 
command readiness make it imperative that immediate superiors have full 
confidence in the officer's judgment and ability to command. [13]"

In sum, relief does not require a finding of misconduct or 
unsatisfactory performance -- merely of loss of confidence with regard 
to the specific command in question. Given the scope of the defeat at 
Pearl Harbor and the need to reform the forces in the Pacific for the 
conduct of the war, it follows that the relief of Admiral Kimmel and 
General Short was consistent with military practice. Their relief also 
was reasonable because the Roberts Commission investigation, which began 
at that time, would detract their time and attention from war activities 
The standard for relieving an officer in command is not whether he or 
she has objectively committed some misconduct that warrants such relief, 
but whether senior officials subjectively conclude that he or she can 
continue to command effectively under all circumstances. Service in 
positions of command is a privilege, not a right. Relief of an officer 
in command may cause embarrassment or injury to reputation, but that is 
a risk inherent in the nature of command itself, as should have been 
evident to Admiral Kimmel in particular when he succeeded Admiral 
Richardson, who had been summarily relieved by President Roosevelt. [15]
Concerns about "fairness" must yield to the needs of the country and the 
armed forces. Consequently, it is difficult to argue that relief of 
Admiral Kimmel and General Short was "unfair," given the magnitude of 
the disaster at Pearl Harbor and their positions in direct command of 
the defeated forces. Moreover, the Chief of Naval Operations was also 
relieved shortly thereafter, although he was reassigned to another four-
star position.

[13] MILPERSMAN 3410105.3d.
[14] Secretary Stimson explained that relief "avoids a situation where 
officials charged with the responsibility for the future security of the 
vital naval base would otherwise in this critical hour also be involved 
in the searching investigation ordered yesterday by the President," 
quoted in Prange, Gordon W., "At Dawn We Slept", New York, McGraw-Hill, 
1981, p. 588.
[15] Husband E. Kimmel, "Admiral Kimmel's Own Story of Pearl Harbor", 
U.S. News and World Report, Dec. 10, 1954, p. 69 ("His [Admiral 
Richardson's] summary removal was my first concern. I was informed that 
Richardson had been removed from command because he hurt Mr. Roosevelt's 
feelings by some forceful recommendations ....") . 

Page II-4


Following their relief from the Hawaiian commands, Admiral Kimmel and 
General Short reverted to their permanent ranks and were given temporary 
assignments. Both Admiral Kimmel and General Short sought new commands 
commensurate with their former ranks that would contribute to the war 
effort. [17] 

Such assignments were not immediately forthcoming. Eventually, General 
Short submitted retirement papers. Although he hoped that his 
application for retirement would not be accepted, [18] it was, and he 
retired on February 28, 1942. 

Admiral Kimmel learned that General Short had submitted his retirement 
papers, and interpreted that as a signal that he should do so as well. 
[19] He did, and retired on March 1, 1942. Under the laws in effect at 
the time, both officers retired at their permanent two-star grades. 

It has been asserted in several venues that Admiral Kimmel and General 
Short were "forced into retirement". There is no evidence to support 
that claim. Rather, it appears that new assignments were not immediately 
forthcoming, and General Short initiated a chain of events that were 
accepted at face value, to the disappointment of both him and Admiral 
Kimmel. These events give rise to two questions: (1) should Admiral 
Kimmel and General Short have been given new assignments, and (2) should 
the retirement offers have been accepted? 

Three- and four-star positions are lofty and few. In the Navy in 1941, 
for example, there were only six. [20] It is neither surprising nor 
inappropriate that leaders of the time, having relieved Admiral Kimmel 
and General Short of their Hawaiian commands and, faced with the Roberts 
report findings of dereliction of duty, [21] did not immediately find 
other positions of comparable rank for them.
It is important to remember that the state of the Allied cause in both 
the Atlantic and the Pacific was extremely perilous in the dark days of 
early 1942. The greatest national need at the time was to prosecute the 
global war against both Germany and Japan. Anything that distracted 
command energies from that cause could have been unwise. Under those 
circumstances, it would have been surprising indeed if the leaders of 
the time declined the opportunity to accept the retirement of the 
officers most visibly associated with the disaster at Pearl Harbor, and 
thus to put that debacle behind them. 

[16] In part as a courtesy to the officers, retirement of the most 
senior officers from lofty commands usually is handled personally and 
orally, and confirmed by very brief memoranda which do not give the 
reasons for the actions.
[17] Prange, p. 606-607
[18] Ibid 
[19] PHA, 17:2728.
[20] Act of May 22, 1917, 40 Stat. 89 (authorizing the appointment of 
six admirals and vice admirals).
[21] PHA, 7:3285-3300. 

Page II-5

Again, concerns about "fairness" must yield to the needs of the country 
and the armed forces. Nevertheless, it is difficult to conclude that 
accepting the offers of retirement was unfair at the time. Two-star rank 
is very prestigious; it is hardly ignominious. 

Although post-war legislative reforms eliminated the distinction between 
permanent and temporary grades at two-star levels and below, today 
three- and four-star ranks remain in a special category. Indeed, under 
current law [22] positions occupied by lieutenant generals, vice 
admirals, generals and admirals are positions of "importance and 
responsibility." An officer may be assigned to such a position only if 
nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The entire 
process must be repeated if a serving three- or four-star officer is 
transferred to another position at the same rank. Similarly, occupants 
of such positions may retire in those grades only if the President once 
again nominates them and the Senate confirms them to retire in those 
grades. Otherwise, an officer automatically retires at the permanent 
grade of two-star or below. In recent years, the Services have declined 
to seek nomination of several serving three-star officers for retirement 
at that grade, and the Senate has declined to confirm at least one 
other, all for what by most standards would be considered administrative 
oversights, personal indiscretions, or errors of judgment -- none 
involving loss of life.

The Armed Forces were governed throughout the war by laws which 
distinguished between permanent and temporary ranks. [23] The vast 
expansion of all ranks during the war created significant disparities 
between permanent ranks and those far higher ranks in which many 
officers had fought during much of the war. Recognizing that this 
disparity had a significant effect on retired ranks, Congress enacted 
the Officer Personnel Act of 1947, [24] intended among other things to 
permit officers to be advanced on the retired list to the highest rank 
held while on active service during the war. [25] 

Officers at other ranks, including one- and two-star generals and 
admirals (some of whom had been reduced in rank when relieved), were 
advanced under the provisions of that Act. However, 

[22] 10 USC 601.
[23] E.g., Act of May 22, 1917, 40 Stat. 89 (Navy); Act of Aug. 5, 1939, 
53 Stat. 1214 (Army).
[24] Officer Personnel Act of 1947, second 414, 61 Stat. 795.
[25] The rapid expansion of the Armed Forces in World War II led to the 
promotion of many officers to temporary grades, often significantly 
higher in rank than their permanent grades. Because of wartime 
exigencies, a large number of such promotions or "appointments" to a 
higher grade were made without the advice and consent of the Senate. 
Consequently, al the end of World War II, an officer might have a 
permanent rank of Captain, but be serving as a colonel because of a 
temporary appointment. Congress recognized that it was unjust to those 
who had served in a higher grade, albeit without the advice and consent 
of the Senate, not to be able to retire in that higher grade. This 
recognition was a principal reason behind the enactment of the Officer 
Personnel Act of 1947 provisions relating to advancement on the retired 
list to the highest rank held. 

Page II-6

leaders at the time declined to advance Admiral Kimmel and General Short 
under the Act. [26] There is little in the record to indicate why those 
decisions were reached. 

By the time of those decisions, the war was over and the full record of 
the Joint Congressional Committee hearings on the Pearl Harbor attack 
(including the decoded Japanese messages which have been the basis of 
much subsequent debate) was publicly available. It follows that those 
decisions must have been informed decisions. Clearly, the decisions were 
within the discretion of the decisionmakers at the time. Further, those 
decisions have been reviewed on numerous occasions at the highest levels 
in several Administrations, and in each case decisionmakers have 
declined to propose advancement. [27]

Presumably decisions not to advance Admiral Kimmel and General Short 
were based on review of their performance at Pearl Harbor. Thus, 
determining whether these decisions were fair requires examination of 
that performance. The final findings by the Services and by the Joint 
Congressional Committee on the Pearl Harbor Attack were that Admiral 
Kimmel and General Short were not guilty of offenses worthy of courts-
martial, but that they had committed "errors of judgment". Furthermore, 
the Secretary of the Navy made explicit his determination of the career 
implications of such errors in the case of Admiral Kimmel: that he had 
"failed to demonstrate the superior judgment necessary for exercising 
command commensurate with [his] rank and assigned duties" and therefore 
the Secretary considered that "appropriate action should be taken to 
insure that [Admiral Kimmel not] be recalled to active duty in the 
future for any position in which the exercise of superior judgment is 
necessary." [28]

Advancement is a privilege, not a right, and must be based on 
performance. Admiral Trost, then the Chief of Naval Operations, wrote in 
connection with this issue, "there is a vast difference between a degree 
of fault which does not warrant a punitive action and a level of 
performance which would warrant bestowal of a privilege." [29] Thus, if 
the findings of the JCC with regard to the performance of these officers 
were and remain valid, advancement is not warranted. The next Section of 
this review addresses those findings. 

[26] Notice that the 1947 Act does not provide for "restoration" of the 
highest grade or rank held, a term used by the Kimmel family. 
"Restoration" implies the resumption or a right or entitlement, an 
individualized "property" interest in a rank or grade that has been 
taken away. Service in three- or four-star grade had always been a 
temporary privilege. The 1947 law provided for the discretionary grant 
of that privileged status de novo to members of that class of officers 
who had enjoyed it previously, should the President and the Senate so 
[27] See, for example, letters from Secretary Richard Cheney, October 
23, 1989; President George Bush, December 2; 1991; Secretary William J. 
Perry, September 7, 1994, and from President William Clinton, December 
1, 1994.
[28] PHA 16:2429, SECNAV Forrestal's Fourth Endorsement of the 1944 
Court of Inquiry. (James Forrestal became Secretary of the Navy after 
the death of Secretary Knox in April, 1944.)
[29] CNO First Endorsement on DIRNAVHIST memo of 5 Jan 88, CNO Ser 
00/8U5000015 of 19 Jan 88, to SECNAV. Although he declined to do so in 
this January 1988 letter, Admiral Trost later recommended consideration 
of advancement of Admiral Kimmel on the retired list. His distinction 
between punitive action and privileges, however, is still apt. 

Page maintained by Larry W. Jewell, Created: 12/24/96 Updated: 12/24/96