James O. Richardson

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James O. Richardson
James Richardson.jpg
Rear Admiral James O. Richardson
Birth name James Otto Richardson
Born 18 September 1878 (1878-09-18)
Paris, Texas
Died 2 May 1974(1974-05-02) (aged 95)
Bethesda, Maryland
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1902–1947
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg Admiral

James Otto Richardson (18 September 1878 – 2 May 1974) was an admiral in the United States Navy who served from 1902 to 1947. As Commander in Chief, United States Fleet (CinCUS), he protested against the redeployment of the Pacific portion of the fleet forward to Pearl Harbor, believing that a forward defense was neither practical nor useful, and that the Pacific Fleet would be the logical first target in the event of war with Japan. He was subsequently relieved of command in February 1941. His concerns were to be proved justified in December.

Early life and career[edit]

Richardson was born in Paris, Texas. He entered the Naval Academy in 1898 and graduated fifth in a class of eighty-five in 1902. His first duty assignments were in the Asiatic Squadron, where he took part in the Philippine campaign, and, after 1905, in the Atlantic Ocean. In 1907–09, Lieutenant Richardson commanded the torpedo boats Tingey and Stockton, and the Third Division, Atlantic Torpedo Flotilla. He was a member of the first class of the Navy's Post Graduate Engineering School in 1909–11, then served as an engineer in the battleship USS Delaware and on the staff of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. In 1914, Richardson was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and was attached to the Department of the Navy's Bureau of Steam Engineering, where he worked to assure the Navy's fuel supply.

World War I and interwar years[edit]

In 1917–19, Commander Richardson was navigator and executive officer of the battleship USS Nevada. Following a tour at the Naval Academy, he was given command of the gunboat USS Asheville in 1922 and took her out to Asiatic waters, where he also had command of the South China Patrol. Captain Richardson was Assistant to the Chief, Bureau of Ordnance, in 1924–27. In the later 1920s, he commanded a destroyer division, then returned to the U.S. for service with the Bureau of Navigation (BuNav).

In January 1931, Captain Richardson placed the new heavy cruiser Augusta in commission and commanded her for more than two years. After a tour as a Naval War College student in 1933–34, he was Budget Officer at the Navy Department, receiving promotion to rear admiral while in that position in December 1934. His early duties as a flag officer included command of a Scouting Force cruiser division, service as aide and Chief of Staff to Admiral J.M. "Bull" Reeves, and a tour as Commander Destroyers, Scouting Force. He became Assistant CNO to Admiral William Leahy in June 1937, handling the Washington end of the search for Amelia Earhart and the attack on the USS Panay. A year later became chief of the Bureau of Navigation. In early 1938 he assisted Army Colonel Stanley Embick with the compilation of more current military plans then called Orange. In June 1939, Richardson went back to sea as Commander, Battle Force (ComBatFor), U.S. Fleet, with the temporary rank of admiral.

Pearl Harbor and aftermath[edit]

Beginning in January 1940, he was Commander in Chief, United States Fleet (CinCUS). At the time of his appointment, Richardson "was one of the Navy's foremost figures. Since his earliest days, after leaving Annapolis, he had made the study of Japanese warfare his life's work. He was beyond question the Navy's outstanding authority on Pacific naval warfare and Japanese strategy."[1] He held this position during a stressful period marked by the fleet's Presidential orders to deploy to Pearl Harbor from its traditional base in San Diego, California.

Richardson protested this redeployment to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and to other politicians in Washington. [see Skipper Steely, Pearl Harbor Countdown, Pelican Publishing) He argued such a forward defense was not practical or useful, despite Japan's attack on China and whatever promises had been made to Britain to come to their aid if attacked. According to journalist John T. Flynn:.[1] The fleet had little in the way of housing, materials, or defensive mechanisms at Pearl Harbor. Richardson wanted to return to the west coast, prepare the fleet, and then perhaps return to Pearl Harbor.

It was Richardson's belief – and indeed generally supported by the Navy – that the Fleet should never be berthed inside Pearl Harbor where it would be a mark for attack. This was particularly true in such troubled times when the airways of the East were hot with rumors of approaching conflict. What is more, Richardson held the belief that Pearl Harbor was the logical first point of attack for the Japanese High Command, wedded as it was to the theory of undeclared and surprise warfare. For ten years the U.S. Navy held "attacks" on the Army defenses at Pearl Harbor, and were always successful. Defending the base was rather hopeless, in his mind.

After his early October visit to President Roosevelt and others in Washington, on October 26, 1940, a White House leak to the Washington-based Kiplinger Newsletter predicted Richardson would be removed as fleet commander. Most believed he might be promoted upwards to replace Harold Stark as CNO. But, he was simply "fired" as CinCUS. The Navy design was changed to include fleets in the Pacific and Atlantic. He was replaced by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel in February 1941.[1] Kimmell was to be Commander in Chief Pacific (CinCPac), and in case the two ocean fleets merged for any reason, he was then be the CinCUS.

Upon his relief by President Roosevelt, "Richardson reverted to his permanent rank of rear admiral and served as a member of the Navy General Board, and in the office of the Secretary of the Navy until his retirement on October 1, 1942."[2]

Transferred to the retired list with the rank of admiral in October 1942, he remained on active service with the Navy Relief Society, as senior member of a "Special Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee" on the reorganization of the national defense, as one of the first called before the Congressional Committee on Pearl Harbor, and as a witness before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Released from active duty in January 1947, he thereafter resided in Washington, D.C.

He and his friend, Admiral George C. Dyer, later produced a book called "On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor."

Richardson died on 2 May 1974 at his home on 35th Place NW in Washington D.C.

Awards and decorations[edit]

Richardson's decorations include: Navy Spanish Campaign Medal, Philippine Campaign Medal, World War I Victory Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal.

Gold star

See also[edit]

On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor, The Memoirs of Admiral J. O. Richardson; As told to George C. Dyer, Vice Admiral, USN (RET); Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, Washington, DC; 1973; Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 73-600198

Pearl Harbor Countdown: The Biography of Admiral James O. Richardson by Skipper Steely, published by Pelican Press, Gretna, Louisiana, 2008.

References[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Newly reactivated organization
Commander in Chief of the United States Fleet
1940–1941
Succeeded by
Husband E. Kimmel