The Propagander ™ FAQ

Did Hitler Have Foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor?

The documentation on this question is very clear; No, Hitler did not know about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor until the news broke in the press.

1. Initially, the pact between Germany and Japan was meant to discourage the US [and the USSR] from entering the war against Germany. Here is how Hitler's foreign minister explained the pact to the Soviets:

September 25, 1940: Ribbentrop to Molotov:

This alliance [a proposed German-Japanese Pact] is directed exclusively against the American warmongers. To be sure that is, as usual, not expressly stated in the treaty, but can be unmistakably inferred from its terms. Its exclusive purpose is to bring the elements pressing for America's entry into the war to their senses by conclusively demonstrating to them if they enter the present struggle they will automatically have to deal with the three great powers as adversaries.

Of course, the Soviets were an ally of Germany at the time that Reich Foreign Minister
Joachim von Ribbentrop wrote the above to Molotov, but the exact same principle applied as regards Soviet entry against Germany. The Soviets had recently been engaged in a conflict with Japan, and were rightfully concerned that, if hostilities broke out between herself and Germany, the Japanese would attack in Manchuria, thus opening up a second front against them.

2. Hitler had no desire to expand the conflict in Europe to include the US, but aggressive actions by America, especially on the high seas in conjunction with Britain, had made the situation much more difficult. While Hitler was hearing from his naval commanders that US help to Britain was hurting the German war effort, Hitler continued to resist their calls to declare hostilities against the US, thus giving his U-boats free reign to attack American shipping. Hitler addressed this conundrum in the speech below:

January 30, 1941: Hitler speaks in Berlin:

That the German nation has no quarrel with the Americans is evident to everybody who does not consciously wish to falsify truth. At no time has Germany had interests on the American Continent except perhaps that she helped that Continent in its struggle for liberty. If states on this continent now attempt to interfere in the European conflict, then the aim will only be changed more quickly. Europe will then defend herself. And do not let people deceive themselves. Those who believe they can help England must take note of one thing: every ship, whether with or without convoy which appears before our torpedo tubes is going to be torpedoed...

3. Behind the scenes, Hitler and his military advisors were trying to get the Japanese to attack British interests in the Pacific:

March 5, 1941: Basic Order Number 24:

The Fuehrer had issued the following order regarding collaboration with Japan: ... It must be the aim of the collaboration based on the Three-Power Pact, to induce Japan, as soon as possible, to take active measures in the Fast East. Strong British forces will thereby be tied down, and the center of gravity of the interests of the United States of America will be diverted to the Pacific. The sooner she intervenes, the greater will be the prospects of success for Japan in view of the still undeveloped preparedness for war, on the part of her adversaries. The "Barbarossa" operation will create particularly favorable political and military prerequisites for this . . . .

(a) The common aim of the conduct of war is to be stressed as forcing England to the ground quickly, thereby keeping the United States out of the war. Beyond this, Germany has no political, military, or economic interests in the Far East which would give occasion for any reservations with regard to Japanese intentions . . . .

(d) The seizure of Singapore as the key British position in the Far East would mean a decisive success for the entire conduct of war of the Three Powers.

In addition, attacks on other systems of bases of British naval power--extending to those of American naval power only if the entry of the United States into the war cannot be prevented--will result in weakening the enemy's system of power in that region ... The Japanese must not be given any intimation of the "Barbarossa" operations...

From Grand Admiral
Erich Raeder's IMT testimony:

First of all, the political decision by Hitler, the head of the State; then the directive of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces to the Armed Forces; then the conclusions drawn by the commanders-in-chief of the separate branches of the Wehrmacht. So, after I received the directive of 5 March, I had to contemplate how Japan, after entering the war, could strategically be used with the best results. And that depended on how we could most effectively wound our main opponent, England, on the sea. In this connection I had to insist most urgently that Japan move against Singapore since there were also circles who were of the opinion that Japan should attack Vladivostok, which would have been a grave mistake. England's power center in East Asia had to be attacked. But the very fact that I believed that the capture of Singapore would cause the United States of America to shy away from the war occasioned this proposal of mine, and not the opposite.

4. Hitler and his advisors continued to encourage the Japanese to attack the British in the Pacific, while never encouraging them to do anything to bring the US into the war. Meanwhile, US hostility in the Atlantic continued:

March 18, 1941: Notes from a meeting between Raeder and Hitler:

Japan must take steps to seize Singapore as soon as possible, since the opportunity will never again be as favorable (whole English fleet contained; unpreparedness of USA for war against Japan; inferiority of US fleet vis-a-vis the Japanese). Japan is indeed making preparations for this action, but according to all declarations made by Japanese officers she will carry it out only if Germany proceeds to land in England. Germany must therefore concentrate all her efforts on spurring Japan to act immediately. If Japan has Singapore all other East Asiatic questions regarding the USA and England are thereby solved (Guam, Philippines, Borneo, Dutch East Indies). Japan wishes, if possible, to avoid war against the USA. She can do so if she determinedly takes Singapore as soon as possible.

From Raeder's IMT testimony:

It is entirely clear that, since I was involved in a naval war with England with my small German Navy, I did not want, under any circumstances, to have America on my neck as well; and it has been discussed here repeatedly that my most urgent effort during the entire first few years of the war was to avoid, under all circumstances, being involved with the United States . . . . On the other hand, the United States from the end of 1940 on, at the latest, and during the entire year of 1941, exerted pressure on us in our naval warfare wherever possible and committed actions which could be interpreted as definitely not neutral. I remind you merely of the repairing of British warships in the United States, something which up until that time was completely impossible and unheard of; and Roosevelt's orders to shoot given in July and in September 1941; attacks by the American destroyers Greer and Kearney in the Atlantic on our U-boats. In two cases U-boats were pursued with depth charges for 2 hours until finally they surfaced and fired, in one case damaging one destroyer.

Despite all this, in June 1941 I reported to Hitler that we were continuing not to disturb the merchantmen of the United States in any way-with the result that United States merchantmen were crossing the Atlantic completely unmolested on sea lanes of their own choosing, were in a position to give reports about our U-boats and our sea warfare without our preventing them from doing so; because of this the British were in a position to camouflage their ships as American ships. That they did. The first time our pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, while crossing the Atlantic, searched a ship flying the American flag it turned out to be the British ship Canadian Cruiser. Despite all this I recommended to the Fuehrer, and he fully approved my suggestion, that we should take no measures against American ships. That we did not go to Halifax to lay mines Admiral Wagner has already mentioned. I need not mention that any further . . . .

I should like to picture very briefly the development which led to this proposal. This was not anything that I did on my own initiative, but rather at the beginning of the year 1941 political negotiations were carried on with Japan partly by the Fuehrer and partly by the Foreign Minister. I was not even called into these negotiations, and I must say regrettably so, for at these negotiations many things were discussed which were not correct. However on the other hand this shows again that there can be no talk about a conspiracy. Contact was made, and then the visit of the Foreign Minister Matsuoka took place, I believe, in March. On the basis of this entire development the Fuehrer, on 5 March 1941, issued Directive Number 24.

5. Hitler allowed his advisors to assure the Japanese that they could count on German support should hostilities break out between the Soviets and the Japanese:

March 29, 1941: From notes of a meeting between Ribbentrop and the Japanese Foreign Minister, Matsuoka, in Berlin:

Ribbentrop did not know how the situation would develop. One thing was certain, however, namely that Germany would strike immediately, should Russia ever attack Japan. He was ready to give Matsuoka this positive assurance so that Japan could push forward to the South on Singapore without fear of possible complications with Russia. The largest part of the German Army was on the Eastern frontiers of the Reich anyway and fully prepared to open the attack at any time. He (the RAM), however, believed that Russia would try to avoid developments leading to war. Should Germany, however, enter into a conflict with Russia, the USSR would be finished off within a few months. In this case Japan would have, of course, even less reason to be afraid than ever, if she wants to advance on Singapore.

6. Hitler further promised the Japanese that should war break out between Japan and the US, Germany would join in on the side of Japan:

From The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer:

Adolf Hitler's reckless promise to Japan had been made during a series of talks in Berlin with Yosuke Matsuoka, the pro-Axis Japanese Foreign Minister, in the spring of 1941 just before the German attack on Russia. The captured German minutes of the meeting enable us to trace the development of another of Hitler's monumental miscalculations. They and other Nazi documents of the period show the Fuehrer too ignorant, Goering too arrogant and Ribbentrop too stupid to comprehend the potential military strength of the United States--a blunder which had been made in Germany during the First World War by Wilhelm II, Hindenburg, and Ludendorff.

There was a basic contradiction from the beginning in Hitler's policy toward America. Though he had only contempt for her military prowess he endeavored during the first two years of the conflict to keep her out of the war. This...was the main task of the German Embassy in Washington, which went to great lengths, including the bribing of Congressmen, attempting to subsidize writers and aiding the America First Committee, to support the American isolationists and thus help to keep America from joining Germany's enemies in the war.

That the United States, as long as it was led by President Roosevelt, stood in the way of Hitler's grandiose plans for world conquest and the dividing up of the planet among the Tripartite powers the Nazi dictator fully understood, as his various private utterances make clear. The American Republic, he saw, would have to be dealt with eventually and, as he said, "severely." But one nation at a time. That had been the secret of his successful strategy thus far. The turn of America would come, but only after Great Britain and the Soviet Union had been struck down. Then, with the aid of Japan and Italy, he would deal with the upstart Americans, who, isolated and alone, would easily succumb to the power of the victorious Axis. Japan was the key to Hitler's efforts to keep America out of the war until Germany was ready to take her on.

7. Hitler's promise to join Japan should hostilities break out between her and the US was made without any knowledge that Japan planned to attack the US. Specific information was kept from the Germans, while the Japanese hinted that 'something' was liable to happen:

November 30, 1941: Tokyo to Berlin (Part 1 of 3):

The conversation begun between Tokyo and Washington last April during the administration of the former cabinet, in spite of the sincere efforts of the Imperial Government, now stand ruptured-broken. (I am sending you an outline of developments in separate message) In the face of this, our Empire faces a grave situation and must act with determination. Will Your Honor, therefore, immediately interview Chancellor HITLER and Foreign Minister RIBBENTROP and confidentially communicate to them a summary of the developments. Say to them that lately England and the United States have taken a provocative attitude, both of them. Say that they are planning to move military forces into various places in East Asia and that we will inevitably have to counter by also moving troops. Say very secretly to them that there is extreme danger that war may suddenly break out between the Anglo-Saxon nations and Japan through some clash of arms and add that the time of the breaking out of this war may come quicker than anyone dreams.

8. While the Germans considered that war between Japan and the US was bound to break out at some point, they by no means desired it to occur soon. They also considered that the target would not be a US base, but British colonies:

December 4, 1941: From the diary of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Foreign Minister of Italy:

Berlin's reaction to the Japanese move is extremely cautious. Perhaps they will accept because they cannot get out of it, but the idea of provoking America's intervention pleases the Germans less and less. Mussolini, on the other hand, is pleased about it.

December 6, 1941: From the war diary of the German naval attache in Tokyo:

Conversation with Fregattenkapitaen Shiba.

1. Last week America offered a non-aggression pact between the United States, England, Russia and Japan. In view of the Tripartite Pact and the high counter-demands, Japan rejected this offer. Negotiations have therefore completely broken down.

2. The Armed Forces foresaw this development and consented to Kurusu's being sent only to impress the people with the fact that all means had been exhausted.

3. The Armed Forces have already decided 3 weeks ago that war is inevitable, even if the United States at the last minute should make substantial concessions. Appropriate measures are under way. ....

No exact details are available as to the zero hour for the commencement of the southern offensive. All the evidence, however, indicates that it may be expected to start within 3 weeks, with simultaneous attacks on Siam, the Philippines and Borneo.

6. The Ambassador has no knowledge of the transmission of the telegram, but is acquainted with its contents . . . . A state of war with Britain and America would certainly exist by Christmas.

From German Admiral Schulte-Monting's IMT testimony:

... we had no contact with the Japanese experts or attaches in Berlin. I asserted that we first learned of the Pearl Harbor incident by radio, and I cannot quite see what difference it makes whether on 6 December the attache in Tokyo told us his predictions, or whether he was drawing conclusions about a future conflict from information sources which we could not control. That has nothing to do with our having advised the Japanese in Berlin to attack America . . . .

To my knowledge there were no official conferences between the two admiralty staffs, that is, official operational conferences between the Naval Operations Staff and the Japanese admiralty staff . . . . 2 days before the attack on Pearl Harbor we received a telegram from Tokyo to the effect that a conflict was to be counted on. I was asked whether we had known of the fact of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and to that I said: "No." I said that we had had no conferences in Berlin between the Naval Operations Staff and the Japanese admiralty staff.

9. When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, the Germans were as surprised as anyone:

From Raeder's IMT testimony:

It was a complete surprise for me and the Naval Operations Staff that this attack [on Pearl Harbor] took place; and it is a complete mistake in judging the mentality of the Japanese to assume that they would have spoken of such a plan to anyone, even inside Japan, who was not directly connected with it. In 1904 they likewise attacked Russian ships "out of the blue" without anyone suspecting anything at all.

From Schulte-Monting's IMT testimony:

We never had any military discussions with Japan at all before her entry into the war. Quite on the contrary, he [Raeder] warned Hitler against war with America in view of England's naval superiority and her co-operation with America . . . .

First of all, for the reasons which I outlined before, reasons of over-all strategy which motivated Raeder during the entire course of the war. Raeder considered the enemy on the sea primarily, and not on land. If the largest sea power in the world were added to England, which was already superior, then the war would have taken on unbearable proportions for us. Besides, through the reports of our naval attache in Washington, Vice Admiral Witthoft, Raeder was very well informed about the tremendous potential at the disposal of the United States.

I might also say with reference to the conversion of the normal economy into a war economy, that the tremendous outlay of shipyards and installations, as Witthoft stated a few months before the war, permitted the construction of a million tons of shipping each month. These figures were very eloquent and were naturally at the same time a terrible warning to us not to underestimate the armament potential of the United States . . . .

In my opinion, that was an absolutely correct measure (to proposed [sic] that Japan should attack Singapore) and a correct proposal, which was in line with Raeder's reasoning. He was interested in dealing blows to England's important strategic centers. That he tried to ease our situation is understandable and self-evident. But at no time did he propose that Japan should enter into a war against America, but rather against England . . . . I have already stated that before Japan's entry into the war no military discussions with Japan had ever taken place. The . . . . Japanese attitude was very reserved . . . . We heard about this [Pearl Harbor] for the first time over the radio.

December 7, 1941: Berlin to Tokyo:

At 11PM today, the 7th, I received a radio report that hostilities had broken out between JAPAN and AMERICA, and at once called RIBBENTROP. He said from reports he too had received he thought this was true, and that, therefore, although he had not yet secured HITLER's sanction, the immediate participation in the war by GERMANY and ITALY was a matter of course … RIBBENTROP said he would discuss with me tomorrow, the 8th, about the time of publication of this declaration and so on. RIBBENTROP rang up CIANO then and there and notified him of the foregoing.

From Ribbentrop's IMT testimony:

At the time I tried to induce Japan to attack Singapore, because it was impossible to make peace with England and I did not know what military measures we could take to achieve this end. In any case, the Fuehrer directed me to do everything I could in the diplomatic field to weaken England's position and thus achieve peace. We believed that this could best be done through an attack by Japan on England's strong position in East Asia. For that reason I tried to induce Japan, at that time, to attack Singapore. After the outbreak of the Russo-German war, I also tried to make Japan attack Russia, for I thought that in this way the war could be ended most speedily.

Japan, however, did not do that. She did the--she did neither of the things we wanted her to do, but instead, she did a third. She attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. This attack came as a complete surprise to us. We had considered the possibility of Japan's attacking Singapore, that is England, or perhaps Hong Kong, but we never considered an attack on the United States as being to our advantage. We knew that in the case of an attack on England, there was a possibility that the United States might intervene; that was a question which, naturally, we had often considered. We hoped very much, however, that this would not happen and that America would not intervene. The first news I received of the attack on Pearl Harbor was through the Berlin press, and then from the Japanese Ambassador Oshima. I should like to say under oath that all other reports, versions, or documentary evidence are entirely false. I would like to go even further to state that the attack came as a surprise even to the Japanese Ambassador--at least he told me that.

From The Devil's Disciples by Anthony Read:

The attack on Pearl Harbor came as a shock to Hitler, and to Ribbentrop, who had spent much of the previous year vainly trying to persuade the Japanese to attack the Soviet Union . . . . Ribbentrop had become convinced that war with the United States was inevitable, and had begun urging the Japanese to move against the Americans instead...after telling Ambassador Oshima that 'he did not believe that Japan could avoid a showdown with the United States, and that the situation could hardly ever turn more favorable to Japan than it did now,' he assured him that Germany would join in immediately should Japan go to war with America. He had no idea that the Japanese fleet had already sailed from the isolated Tankan Bay in the Kurile Islands heading for Hawaii--the Germans were being kept in the dark, just as they had always kept their allies in the dark over their own invasions . . . .

Drawing on an understanding of "the American soul" which he claimed to have gained during the four years he had lived there, Ribbentrop was scathing about the United States' military potential. Repeating the grave miscalculations he had made of Britain's will to fight, he now wrote off the Americans--their weapons, he claimed, were 'junk,' and they would never be able to fight in Europe--and encouraged Hitler to declare war on them at once, to pre-empt America getting in first. "A great power doesn't let itself have war declared on it, it declares war itself," he told Ernst Weizacker.

At noon on 11 December, he had the pleasure of doing so. He summoned the American Charge d'Affairs, Leland Morris, and, keeping him standing, read out a formal statement accusing President Roosevelt of inciting war through repeated violations of neutrality, belligerent attacks on German U-boats, and overt acts of war. Then, with a "sweeping gesture" he handed over the document and dismissed Morris, "who obviously felt his position keenly," with a swift bow. Immediately after Morris had left, Ribbentrop welcomed the Japanese and Italian Ambassador's, to sign an extension of the Tripartite Pact stating that none of them would make a unilateral peace with Britain or the USA. For Ribbentrop, this was the apogee of his career to date, now that the Nazi-Soviet Pact was buried and forgotten: his brainchild had become a full-scale military alliance. It was also his last significant diplomatic success.

From Hitler, A Study In Tyranny by Alan Bullock:

After the invasion of the Soviet Union Ribbentrop made persistent attempts through the German Ambassador in Tokyo to persuade the Japanese to take the Germans in the rear. The one course, however, which Hitler had never recommended to the Japanese had been to attack the USA: indeed, he had constantly repeated to Matsuoka in the spring that one of the beneficial results of seizing Singapore would be to deter the Americans from entering the war. It might be expected therefore that the Fuehrer would show some irritation at the independent course adopted by the Tokyo Government in face of his advice.

On the contrary, he agreed to give the formal guarantee for which the Japanese asked and appears to have been delighted with the news of Pearl Harbor. The Japanese tactics appealed to him and he tells Oshima: 'You gave the right declaration of war. This method is the only proper one ... one should strike--as hard as possible--and not waste time declaring war.' He rapidly decided to follow the Japanese example by declaring war on the United States himself. When Ribbentrop pointed out that the Tripartite Pact only bound Germany to assist Japan in the event of an attack on her by some other Power, and that to declare war on the USA would be to add to the number of Germany's opponents, Hitler dismissed these as unimportant considerations. He seems never to have weighed the possible advantages of deferring an open breach with America as long as possible and allowing the USA to become involved in a war in the Pacific which would reduce the support she was able to give Great Britain.

Hitherto, Hitler had shown considerable patience in face of the growing aid given by the US Government to the British. But he was coming to the conclusion that a virtual state of war already existed with the USA and that there was no point in delaying the clash which he regarded as inevitable. The violence of Hitler's attack on President Roosevelt in his speech of 11 December suggests the force of the resentment accumulating under the restraint he had so far practiced in his relations with America. Two other factors affected Hitler's decision. The first was his disastrous underestimate of American strength . . . . The second factor is more difficult to assess. When Mussolini learned of the possibility of war between Japan and the United States, in expressing his satisfaction he made the remark: "Thus we arrive at war between the continents which I have foreseen since September 1939." The prospect of such a war embracing the whole world excited Hitler's imagination with its taste for the grandiose and stimulated that sense of historic destiny which was the drug on which he fed.

10. It is poetic justice that Hitler, who had so often surprised his allies, was himself surprised by the Japanese. His reaction to the Japanese moves would prove to be one of his biggest blunders:

From Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham:

Why did Hitler do it? Partly because he misjudged Roosevelt and America. "I don't see much future for the Americans," Hitler said in January 1942. "It's a decayed country. And they have their racial problem, and the problem of social inequities . . . . My feelings against Americanism are feelings of hatred and deep repugnance . . . . Everything about the behavior of American society reveal that it is half Judaized, and the other half Negrified. How can one expect a state like that to hold together--a country where everything is built on the dollar."

He had not counted on Churchill's stalwart defense of Britain in 1940; now, as 1941 drew to a close, he did not count on Roosevelt's strength and determination. It was one of Hitler's many mistakes, and one from which he could never recover. "The Great Republic" was at war at last. Through the ensuing decades of what Henry Luce, founder of the Time-Life magazine empire, would call "the American Century," a national myth took shape about World War II; that she fought to defeat Hitler and to preserve democracy. And America did--ultimately. Yet the United States hit back only when it was, as Roosevelt said on December 8, "suddenly and deliberately attacked by ... the Empire of Japan" and entered the war against Germany only when it was clear that Hitler would join Tokyo's fight.

Conclusion: The weight of the evidence is overwhelming. Hitler did not have any foreknowledge whatsoever of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and even the Prosecutors at Nuremberg were unable to demonstrate otherwise.

The full story behind Pearl Harbor can be found here:
Countdown to Infamy: Timeline to Pearl Harbor
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