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War Alert in the Tropical Dawn at Pearl

By Pam Ribbey, Washington, DC: Opus Self-Publishing, Politics and Prose Bookstore (2022)

Reviewed by Charles C. Kolb, Ph.D.

This self-published booklet is, in the main, a biography of Pam Ribbey’s grandfather, focuses on her own research and discussions with him on his is role before, during, and immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Capt. Charles Hamilton Maddox, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1909, served as a United States naval officer and was a veteran of both World Wars. He had also attended the Harvard Graduate School of Applied Science and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Captain Maddox retired in 1946 and passed away unexpectedly in1964. He had been” in charge” of the British Empire Section for the Office of U.S. Naval Intelligence in Washington, DC in the 1930s. He was a pioneer in naval radio communication and pre-World War II Naval War College faculty member, and, in November and December 1941, commanded a “secret” Task Group in the South Pacific.

She writes (“Note” p.3): “There is an ‘Official Past’ about the Pearl Harbor Attack of 7 December 1941, and there is what really happened.” She also mentions the November 2018 “avoidable” Woolsey Fire that swept through 100,000 acres of dry chaparral in the Malibu Mountains of southern California in which she lost fifteen years of archival research and interviews along with her Pearl Harbor library of books and photographs. The story she tells in her publication derives “from a few notes evacuated that night.”

Her narrative begins with the flagship USS Antares (AKS-3) and destroyer USS Selfridge (DD-357) of Task Group 15.2, Base Force Squadron 8, of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, under the command of Captain Maddox serving as the commodore. (For more on Antares and Selfridge see the reviewer’s write-ups at the end of the review) In late November, Maddox conferred in a “secret meeting” with Sir Harry Luke, British Western Pacific High Commissioner (WPHC), on his yacht at Canton Island (p. 42). The Task Group returned to Pearl Harbor departing in late November from Canton and Palmyra Islands but “shadowed” by an IJN fleet submarine seen 28 November and 5 December. On 6 December, the Task Group spotted a hostile submarine (confirmed by sonar on Selfridge) near the entrance to Pearl Harbor and Maddox ordered the USS Ward (DD-139) and a PBY-5 Catalina (14-P-1) piloted by Ens. William Tanner to attack and sink the Japanese midget submarine. Ward attacked and sank it, thus firing the first shots of the Pacific War.

Some of what Maddox saw and did 5-7 December was written in a letter, dated 16 December, to his wife Isabel who was living in Washington, DC. At this point Ribbey inserts material from Layton’s 1985 book (no citation) and cites a Layton archives letter (2-CL-41, revised) dated 14 October 1941 concerning US Pacific Fleet security at Pearl Harbor. She refers to War Plan Orange exercises at the Naval War College in the 1930s, when Maddox took the role of “Japanese Admiral.” In 1937, he was detached from ONI and took command of the light cruiser USS Raleigh (CL-7), flagship of Squadron 40-T, but then assumed command of USS Porter (DD-356) flagship of Destroyer Squadron 5, and then Task Group 15.8. in October 1941.

The author then reviews materials on the German armed merchant cruiser Atlantis and IJN submarines in the Indian Ocean, and July and August 1940 secret British documents about the British Far East Fleet and Far East Situation, and reports that Canton and Palmyra Islands were preparing for war (pp. 14-15). She also notes that station HYPO was tracking Japanese merchant and war ships, and the stations in the Pacific that had DF equipment (Canton and Palmyra are on her list that had DF since 1940 but may have lacked trained operators according to Layton). German raiders in the central Pacific are identified (Orion and Komet) as sinking Allied shipping, and the sinking of HMAS Sydney by Raider G/Schiff 41 (HSK Kormoran on 24 November 1941 is also mentioned.

Antares departed with Selfridge from Canton via Palmyra on 26 November and from Palmyra for Pearl Harbor four days later (p. 52) and a sailor in Antares “certainly saw” an IJN submarine following (p. 60). Selfridge, low on fuel, would depart the Task Group at 2015 on 6 December before Antares saw a midget submarine at 0600 outside of Pearl Harbor on 7 December (pp. 61-62). The author next interjects a HYPO alert about a concentration of Japanese submarines in the Marshalls and Rochfort’s priority alert to Op-20-6 resulting in the war warnings of 27 and 28 November. Next, Captain Maddox ordered the sinking of the midget submarine and we learn that thirty IJN fleet submarines were “arrayed in a fan formation” outside the mouth of Pearl Harbor” (pp. 61-62). The deck log of the destroyer USS Ward indicates an exchange of messages with Antares, but the latter’s deck log does not mention this. The Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings vol. 36 (1945) concluded that the minesweeper USS Condor (AMC-14) sighted the periscope of a midget submarine at 0350 and reported this to Ward but the message was not passed along to higher authorities (i.e. Admiral Kimmel).

Ribbey writes that “It is difficult determining the exact time to any of these events because they fluctuated between testimony and Deck Logs.” She comments that the 14th Naval District Communications Office kept “several different types of logs,” why were they never presented in evidence?” (pp. 69-70). She concludes that there is missing testimony and missing coded radio messages and states that “ The Imperial Japanese Submarine Force was discovered through sight contact and sound contact by my grandfather Commodore Maddox, ConTrainRon 8 of Task Group 15.2 when he sighted the ocean-cruising Japanese Fleet Submarine following USS Antares from Canton Island through the 5 December sonar contact by destroyer USS Selfridge, then the hostile Japanese midget submarine sighted and ordered sunk by Senior Office Present Afloat (SOPA), Captain Charles H. Maddox, USN on the bridge of Antares that 7 December 1941 dawn” (pp. 70-71). She cites the Antares Log Book for 7 December 0-4 and 4-8 and the locations of the Antares, destroyer Ward, tow-boat Keosanqua, and other vessels through 0930 after the second Japanese attack wave departed.

In the next part of the narrative, she draws together information from a variety of sources noting that “the true story needs to be told” (p. 76). These sources include members of the Antares crew whom she interviewed by telephone. Maddox was not promoted to Rear Admiral by Admiral Nimitz on 10 October 1942; he retired in 1946 and died on 23 October 1964. She states that his service record being sent to him was “undeliverable” and had been destroyed by burning on 22 September 1964 by the Officer Records Branch.

Ribbey writes that a copy of “Secret Operations Order 13-41” delivered to Maddox by USS Selfridge on 18 November, had been removed from the dossier prior to its transfer to the National Archives and Records Administration files in College Park, Maryland, when she sought the document in October 2019 (p. 37). There is no mention of the Luke-Maddox meeting in Sir Harry Luke’s From a South Seas Diary 1938-1942 (London: Nicholson & Watson, 1945) or in the Antares log (p. 49). This is likely true because British documents were embargoed after the war (and many still are until 2041) and the meeting took place on Luke’s yacht, so no record would have appeared in the Antares log. She also reports (pp. 81-82) that a briefcase containing Pearl Harbor documents and photographs being sent to Ribbey’s home in California had “disappeared from my grandmother’s home in Washington, DC in the early 1970s.” And (p. 95) “Priority despatches from his [Captain Maddox’s] command to Headquarters of the 14th Naval District and CINCPAC, along with files from his career with the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) are missing.” “Huge swaths of other 1941 U.S. and Allied Naval Intelligence files are also still ‘missing’ from archives worldwide ….”(p. 95).

As we approach the 81st anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attack, a new round of publications and inferences about the period leading up to the event and the event itself are being issued. For example, these include recently released documents from Japanese, British, and American archives clarifying that radio silence had not been maintained by the Kido Butai enroute from Hitokappu Bay to the Hawaiian Islands (See James M. D’Angelo in Pearl Harbor Declassified: The Evidence of American Foreknowledge of the Attack (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2021) pp. 78-103). Ribbey claims radio silence was maintained (p. 102). D’Angelo notes that there is missing correspondence between Churchill and Roosevelt in late November 1941 (p. 65) but also reports that the JN-25B Japanese code had been broken by the British at Bletchley Park in November 1941 (p. 188). Was this reported to the Americans?

Nonetheless, Pam Ribbey has attempted to resurrect and justify her grandfather’s actions in late November and early December 1941. However, the troublesome issues of missing, stolen (?), burned, and destroyed documents during and after World War II, coupled with the November 2018 “avoidable” Woolsey Fire in southern California which destroyed her collection of documents and photographs is lamentable and might have strengthened her case. She does not use the word “conspiracy” in her narrative but her writings lend credence to strange happenings and the evidence presented does not fully convince this reader and raises more questions than answers.

Parting observations: There was no “Table of Contents,” “Bibliography,” “Notes,” or “Index.” Your reviewer counted 15 incomplete citations in the narrative text ranging from Edwin T. Layton, with Roger Pineau and John Costello, And I Was There (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1985) and Layton’s Papers at the U.S. Naval War College, to the Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings, and various committee inquiries such as those chaired by Hart, Hewitt, and Clausen. The author utilizes some available archive documents (other documents remain classified) and survivor’s stories about her grandfather, Captain Charles Hamilton Maddox (b. February 23, 1886, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada – d. September 21, 1964, Bethesda, Maryland). No biographical files for Maddox exist at the Naval History and Heritage Command’s “Modern Biographical Files in the Navy Department Library” or U.S. Naval Institute “Oral Histories” (launched in 1969): and Ribby’s narrative runs continuously from pages 5 through 106 without chapters, headings, subheadings or other breaks. The “Photos” (both portraits and copies of documents) are not correlated with the narrative.

Dr. Kolb is a United States Naval Institute Golden Life Member.

Background on the two ships not found in the Ribbey narrative:

USS Antares was laid down in July 1918 as the steel-hulled freighter Nedmac, completed one year later, and acquired by the U.S. Navy on 30 November 1940 to be renamed as an Antares-class cargo ship (AG-10). Serving initially in the Atlantic Fleet as target repair and photographic ship, she was reclassified as a general stores issue ship (AKS-3) and transferred to the Pacific Fleet, operating between the West Coast (San Pedro, Mare Island Navy Yard, and San Francisco) and Pearl Harbor and Pacific islands atolls. These included Palmyra Island Naval Air Station (established in August 1941) situated directly south of the Hawaiian Islands, and Canton Island (originally called Kanton Island) located approximately halfway between Hawaii and Fiji, where, beginning in May 1939, Pan American World Airways had developed, a refueling base for their Clippers flying to New Zealand by May 1940. Antares was assigned to the Hawaiian Department, U.S. Army, during the critical program to develop an air ferry route through the southern Pacific to the Philippines that would avoid the Japanese mandated islands of the central Pacific. On 3 November 1941, Antares left Oahu for Canton Island with 308 military (elements of the 804th Engineer Battalion) and civilian personnel, and towing a 500-ton barge with the Battalion’s construction equipment and two smaller barges that foundered en route (for details, see Kathleen Williams’ Development of the South Pacific Air Route, USAAF Historical Studies 45, Army Air Force Historical Office, 1946).

USS Selfridge was a Porter-class destroyer laid down in 1933, assigned to Pearl Harbor in 1940, and served as an escort for Antares to and from Palmyra Island arriving at Pearl Harbor berth X-9 only minutes before the Japanese attack. USS Ward (DD-139) was laid down during World War I as a Wickes-class destroyer in 1918 and on 7 December was under the command of Lt. Commander William W. Outerbridge, conducting a precautionary patrol off the entrance to Pearl Harbor when she encountered and sank a Japanese midget submarine. Marine scientists located the wreck of the midget submarine on 28 August 2002 about 3 nmi. (5.5 km) in American waters at a depth of 1,200 ft., verifying that the Ward’s number-three gun crew had hit the conning tower of the Ko-hyoteki-class two-man submarine with one shot and sunk it. USS Condor (AMc-14) was a coastal minesweeper of the United States Navy constructed as the wooden-hulled purse seiner New Example in 1937 then acquired by the U.S. Navy on 28 October 1940, and wan war the entrance to Pearl Harbor on the morning of 7 December. (For additional details, see several volumes of James Mooney’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, 1969-1991).

War Alert in the Tropical Dawn at Pearl. By Pam Ribbey (Washington, D.C.: 2022)

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