by Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton, USN (Ret.), with Captain Roger Pineau, USNR (Ret.) and John Costello
New York: William Morrow Quill, 1985. Pp. 596.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. 10.95. ISBN:0-688-06968-1
Edwin T. Layton was probably the biggest unsung hero of the Pacific Theater of World War II. He was an intelligence officer for Admirals Husband E. Kimmel and Chester W. Nimitz during the war, and he was deeply involved with the high-ranking officers from the unprovoked sneak attack on December 7, 1941, to Japan’s unconditional surrender on September 2, 1945.
Layton’s memoirs are an inside story, which he began writing thirty years after the end of World War II, when enough materials had been declassified. Layton’s views are intriguing, particularly where he lays blame for Pearl Harbor. In one of the major bombshells, Layton lays the blame upon then-Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, who was director of war plans. At his best, Turner was much like George S. Patton. However, in 1941, he began micro-managing other areas. The result was that resources that could have provided warnings were squandered.
Layton also shows how close the victory at Midway was nearly prevented by the actions of Admiral Ernest J. King. King and the Redman brothers (John and Joseph) were convinced that the attack was coming elsewhere. During the time beforehand, Nimitz at one point had to order Admiral William F. Halsey to disregard directions from King. Layton’s dislike for Washington bureaucracy is highlighted.
Layton also comments on some of the field commanders. One of those who is the target of his scorn is Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. Layton recounts one experience where Fletcher exploded at a radio intelligence officer. He also cites those who felt Fletcher showed a “yellow streak” during the Wake Relief Expedition, and makes no real effort to refute it. Also in for scorn is Kelly Turner as a field commander – Layton seems to lay most of the blame on Savo Island on Turner (with a fair amount of the rest going on Fletcher).
At the same time, Layton is also frank about his missteps, including the failure of radio intelligence to accurately predict the arrival of Yamamoto’s main force. He also provides inside details of the decision to take down Yamamoto in 1943, one that caused him some personal agony. In addition, Layton recounts how radio intelligence helped uncover some of the problems with the American torpedoes and how it was used to locate Japanese merchant traffic, furthering the devastatingly effective submarine offensive in the Pacific.
Layton’s memoirs are a superb resource for those who wish to learn more about not just World War II, but also for intelligence in general. Layton’s memoirs, while published twenty years ago, are probably vital reading for today – since America is again fighting a war in which intelligence is vital.