And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway-Breaking the Secrets

ISBN-10: 1568523475
ISBN-13: 9781568523477
Review Date:

I picked up the book after it was highly recommended to me by a friend and colleague. The book's author is retired Rear Admiral Edwin Layton, United States Navy, although the final manuscript was completed after Layton's death by his associates, Retired Navy Captain Roger Pineau and John Costello, with substantial help and encouragement from Admiral Layton's widow, Miriam.

Edwin Layton was the United States Pacific Fleet's intelligence officer under three fleet commanders starting a year before the Pearl Harbor Attack and then through the rest of the war. Admiral Layton did not undertake writing a book any earlier because many of his wartime duties remained classified for decades. With the declassification of many World War II documents in 1980, Admiral Layton was finally free to tell the story he had been dying to tell since 1942. Primarily, he wished to set the historical record straight about Admiral Husband Kimmel's relationship to the intelligence failures leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His credentials for knowing what really happened in Admiral Kimmel's office are succinctly stated in the book's title: And I Was There.

Admiral Layton was not remotely bashful in naming names of the people he felt were most responsible for the intelligence failures in advance of the Pearl Harbor Attack and he placed all those names at the Navy Department in Washington, DC. The declassified records showed just what intelligence was available in Washington and also that excruciatingly little of it was shared with the Hawaiian commanders. Only slightly more information was shared with the Asiatic Fleet commander based in the Philippines, despite all intelligence sources believing at the time that the Philippines were a more likely American target for a Japanese first-strike than Hawaii.

After painstakingly describing the ways in which important intelligence was not shared with Pearl Harbor prior to the attack, Layton shifted to the intelligence runup to the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. With similar completeness, Layton laid bare the near-crippling deficiencies within the Navy's intelligence organization in Washington. Layton's treatment was very detailed, calling on specific documents when he could, and naming names of the principal obstructionists at every turn. In a very interesting twist, Layton describes for the first time (at least for me) what the true purpose was for sending the famous false message that Midway was having trouble with its fresh water supply. The classic story is that intercepting the Japanese message "AF reports trouble with its fresh water" confirmed to the intelligence staff at Pearl Harbor, principally Layton's associate Joseph Rochefort, that "AF" was the Japanese code for Midway. But Layton says he and Rochefort already knew AF was Midway, they were certain of it; the reason for the false message was to convince Washington that the Japanese objective was Midway, rather than the Aleutian Islands or California as they had been insisting.

The book then devotes several short chapters describing fleet intelligence matters for the rest of the war before closing with candid and detailed critiques of the various official inquiries into the Pearl Harbor Attack.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in either the Pearl Harbor Attack or the Battle of Midway. On those two topics, I would call And I Was There an essential book. For many years, Gordon Prange's At Dawn We Slept was considered the definitive work on the American side of the Pearl Harbor Attack; but as Layton points out, Prange's work was published just before the release of the same classified documents that Layton so relied upon in his book. Thus, And I Was There is perhaps the newer and better "definitive work" on the Pearl Harbor intelligence situation.

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