E-mail received : I, too, have wondered about Hart, but just passed over it until now.
According to British Admiralty, Admiral Thomas C Hart, USN, resigned command.
But he was clearly fired. Why?
All the accounts have him simply relieved of command leaving the question open
with a presumption of unsatisfactory performance.
What is the real story? We find there is much more than first meets the eye.
I was able to reply :
I, too, have wondered about Hart, but just passed over it until now.
Admiral Thomas Charles Hart was not fired. His command was disbanded by the Joint Chiefs in Washington to allow uncooperative Dutch Vice Admiral Conrad.E.L. Helfrich assume responsibility for the coming disaster. After Java, the US took responsibility for the whole Pacific with the Southwest Pacific assigned to MacArthur.
Army and Navy always seem to be at odds. General Marshall had called for a Commander Far East to have supreme command of all Army, Navy and Air Forces. This was of course, rejected by the Chiefs of Naval Operations and Hart was the interface on the spot. He had already exchanged harsh words with MacArthur over responsibilities in the event of war. Hart wanted control over air operations against any Japanese invasion fleet. (Coast defense outside of the range of artillery was a Navy function.) The General replied the term "fleet" couldn't be applied to the two cruisers then in the western Pacific area. Meanwhile Gen Brereton (air force) made on the spot assessment of the inadequate state of the Philippine defense. Never the less, MacAuthur had expressed to British Admiral Phillips that he hoped the Japs attack the Philippines because he was ready for them. Phillips had come to Manila to seek American support for his Force Z foray and to base the future British Far East Fleet in Manila. Both men were childishly unrealistic.
Adm Hart knew he had only 3 cruisers, 13 destroyers, and 29 submarines to defend a coastline greater than the US. He had deployed his cruisers and destroyer divisions in readiness around East Indies and had a third of the subs stationed off China and Formosa, another third off the beaches of Philippines, and the final third under service as reserve as the war opened.
Hart participated, at the direction of the President, in an interesting sidelight of the last days before the war started. President Roosevelt made a secret agreement with Prime Minister Churchill that the US would come to aid of the British in the Pacific with military forces if certain areas were invaded. This allowed the British to avoid further drain of their fleets in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Because only the Congress of the United States has the power to wage war and secret agreements between heads of state are not constitutional, FDR came up with a strategy. He directed that three yachts be sent to observe the Japanese buildup in Indo-China. Japan had recently occupied North and South Vietnam, with the acquiescence of the Vichy French government, as a frontline base and staging area for troops for the invasion of other Southeast Asian areas. The three yachts were to be chartered, officered by Americans, crewed by natives, armed with a machine gun, and prominently fly the American flag. The expectation was that if the Japan fleet was ready to sail, they would attack any spy ships -- thus firing the first shot. An outraged President could then address Congress and say we cannot tolerate another sinking as with the Panay (PR-5). The Asiatic Fleet had a yacht, Isabel (PY-10). Admiral Hart had earlier moved his flag there to free Houston (CL-30) for action away from Manila. He sent Isabel to the coast of Indo-China on Dec 3 while chartering and equipping the other two yachts. When the Japanese did not take the bait, Hart recalled Isabel and the other two schooners were ready to sail when news came of Pearl Harbor and their suicide mission was not required.
War found Manila hit hard; Hart lost his torpedo warehouse needed for both subs and surface ships. The success of Japanese air force (MacArthur had not let his B-17's attack Formosa) forced Hart to evacuate his remaining ships and staff to Sarabaya, Java. MacAuthur considered the Navy behavior desertion and complained in his reports. Meanwhile MGen D.D. Eisenhower, Director of War Plans, said the Philippines could not be reinforced. A convoy was redirected to Australia. Hart tried to organize a fleet from ADBA forces. The Dutch directed their own submarines. Hart and his fleet commander, RAdm William A. Glassford wanted to attack the invasion fleets. Four US destroyers successfully attacked a Japanese landing force at Balikpapan on 24Jan41. VAdm Helfrich would not allow his Dutch ships to sail without air cover. At this point, the Joint Chiefs elected to let the Dutch have responsibility for the area. Helfrich relieved Hart and ordered his Dutch fleet commander, RAdm Doorman, to attack at Bandung Straight which should have massacred transports, but lost warships instead. The entire fleet was lost in the following days.
Hart took a position on the Chairman of Naval Awards Board until Oct'42 and retired. He wrote several articles critical of preparedness at Peal Harbor. He was recalled to head the Hart Inquiry (Feb-Jun'44) to take evidence pertaining to the Pearl Harbor attack so that information was not lost due to the exigencies of war. Hart's review was given to the Naval Court of Inquiry, established at the direction of Congress, which exonerated Adm. Kimmel and criticized Adm. Stark (CNO in 1941) for failing to keep Kimmel informed. After the war, a Joint Congressional Committee, Nov'45-May'46, blamed everybody from FDR on down.
Hart had retired again in Feb'45 to fill a vacancy as U.S. Senator from Connecticut. He died 4 July 1971 (colonial Independence Day) at age 94 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The U.S. Navy honored Admiral Hart by naming the USS Thomas C. Hart (FF-1092) in his honor in 1972.
As you can see, he was well respected.