U.S. Naval Intelligence Operations in the Pacific
during World War II
by W. J. Holmes
In the foreword to this book, first published
in 1978, Sen. Daniel Inouye describes the story as "the raw
material of adventure fiction-but this is all true and told in a
manner that is at the same time fascinating and professional."
Despite the passage of twenty years and the appearance of several
studies of code breaking, this inside look at naval intelligence
in the Pacific is as powerful as ever. This book provides a compassionate
and unique understanding of the war and the business of intelligence
Assigned to the combat
intelligence unit in Honolulu from June 1941 to the end of the war,
W. J. Holmes shares his history-making experiences as part of an
organization that collected, analyzed, and disseminated naval intelligence
throughout World War II. His book not only captures the mood of
the period but gives rare insight into the problems and personalities
involved, allowing the reader to fully appreciate the painful moral
dilemma faced daily by commanders in the Pacific once the Japanese
naval codes were broken. Every time the Americans made use of the
enemy messages they had decoded, they increased the probability
of the Japanese realizing what had happened and changing their codes.
And such a change would cause the U.S. Pacific Fleet to lose a vital
edge. On the other hand, withholding the information could-and sometimes
did-result in the loss of U.S. lives and ships. This revealing study
illuminates the difficulties in both collecting intelligence and
deciding when to use it.
W. J. Holmes, an engineering professor at the
University of Hawaii where a building was named in his honor at
the time of his death, wrote short stories for The Saturday Evening
Post under the pen name of Alec Hudson.
256 pages. 25 Photographs.
Line drawing. 9 maps. Index. 6” x 9”
Jasper Holmes could have chosen as his title the phrase his colleague
Edwin T. Layton used for his memoirs: 'And I Was There.' As a USN
reservist returned to active duty at Pearl Harbor just months before
the attack, Holmes was there at the start of the war. And he remained
near the center of naval intelligence activities in the Pacific
until the end.
My bigggest criticism of this book has nothing to do (directly)
with Holmes himself. Like many memoirs written in the decades immediately
after the war, this book is limited by the fact that much of the
information Holmes would otherwise have been able to share was still
officially secret. It would be for later researchers to say what
The other complaint I have is that, based on what I've read elsewhere,
Holmes modestly understates the important role he played in the
events he describes. It's to his credit that he's eager to praise
talented and dedicated cryptologists and analysts. But Holmes frequently
makes himself sound like someone standing on the sidelines watching
the varsity team play. In fact, he was one of the team's key players.
What could be a highly technical memoir is leavened by a light
tone and entertaining asides, like his tales of trying to drive
through Honolulu with darkened headlights (a feat he describes as
probably a greater danger to the citizens of Honolulu than the Japanese
Any student of the war in the Pacific, and particularly of Naval
Intelligence operations or the attack on Pearl Harbor, will find
this an interesting and entertaining memoir.