Letter from
Admiral H.R. Stark
to
Senate Naval Affairs Committee

November 10, 1941

My dear Senator Walsh:

In reply to your letter of October 29, 1941, in which you requested certain data with reference to the torpedoing of the USS KEARNY, I submit herewith answers to the questions which you propounded. Certain facts of military value in connection with this incident have been necessarily withheld in the light of your parascript which stated, in part, that "it has become impossible to keep secret . . . the proceedings of the Committee of the Senate." For convenience, I quote the questions and follow them with the answer:

Q). When was the Navy given orders to "shoot on sight" Axis vessels? does this order include Axis planes? By whom were these orders issued?
A). The Navy was given orders by the President at the time of and as set forth in his radio address of 11 September 1941.

Q). Is this order to "shoot on sight" limited to any given area or are American naval vessels and planes ordered to shoot whenever and wherever they meet an Axis vessel or plane of any kind?
A). The order is limited to action within American Defensive Waters.

Q). Are American naval vessels and planes now escorting or convoying merchant ships?
A). Yes.

Q). Are vessels other than American merchant ships in the convoy?
A). Yes.

Q). Are other than American Warships and planes assisting our naval vessels and planes?
A). Yes, at times within American Defensive Waters.

Q). Do American naval vessels now escort merchat ships to their final destinations? If so, what are these destinations; if not, how far do they escort them?
A). Since a categorical reply or a discussion on this question might jeopardize the safety of a great many ships, no answer can be given.

Q). What, in general terms were the orders issued to the commanding officer of the KEARNY? By whom were such orders issued?
A). The orders were in general accord with the President's policy. They were issued by the Commander in Chief Atlantic Fleet, with the full cognizance of the Navy Department.

Q). Was the KEARNY "escorting" or "convoying" merchant ships?
A). Yes.

Where in the Atlantic, and for how many hours and days?
A). For reasons of security no reply to this question can be given.

Q). What were the nationalities of the vessels being escorted or convoyed?
A). For military reasons, a complete answer cannot be given to this question. There were U.S. vessels in the convoy.

Q). What were the final destinations of these vessels being escorted or convoyed?
A). For reasons of security this question cannot be answered.

Q). Did any of these vessels carry contraband; if so - what were the natures of the cargos?
A). Yes, since all belligerents in the present war apparently consider as contraband any sort of material which is consigned to enemy destinations. For military reasons, no information can be given in regard to the nature of the cargos.

Q). Were other men-of-war also in the escort; if so, what were the nationalities?
A). For military reasons, no complete answer can be given. There is nothing in our orders to prevent collaboration within American Defensive Waters of American escorts and the escorts of the anti-Axis belligerents.

Q). Were any aircraft also escorting or convoying these merchant vessels: If so, what were their nationalities?
A). For reasons of security, no complete answer can be given. There were no aircraft present at the time of the torpedoing.

Q). How far did the KEARNY have orders to proceed with this convoy?
A). For reasons of security, this question cannot be answered in full. The orders to the KEARNY did not require her to proceed beyond the limits of American Defensive Waters.

Q). Were any of the merchant vessels in the convoy attacked? If so, how many, and what were their nationalities?
A). Yes, all the merchant ships in the convoy may be considered to have been attacked. For military reasons, the number and nationalities of these ships cannot be given.

Q). Were any merchant vessels of the convoy damaged during this engagement; if so, how many and what were their nationalities?
A). Yes, a number of merchant ships were damaged and some of them sunk. The number and nationalities of these ships, however, cannot be given for military reasons. It may be stated, however, that no U.S. flag merchant ship was sunk at this time.

Q). Were any other men-of-war attacked or damaged during this engagement; if so, how many and what were their nationalities?
A). Yes, all escort men-of-war may be considered to have been attacked. For military reasons the number and nationalities cannot be given.

Q). Did the KEARNY sight the submarine before she was torpedoed or did she locate the submarine through her listening device before she was torpedoed? Was she aware that submarines were in the immediate vicinity?
A). The Kearny was aware that submarines were in the immediate vicinity. The method by which she became aware of this cannot be divulged.

Q). Did the KEARNY or any other war or merchant vessel or warplane fire at or drop depth charges upon the submarine or submarines before the KEARNY was torpedoed?
A). The KEARNY and other war vessels dropped a number of depth charges prior to the torpedoing.

Q). How long before the KEARNY was torpedoed was it known that Axis submarines were in the vicinity/
A). For military reasons, this question cannot be answered.

Q). How long did the engagement, during which the KEARNY was torpedoed, last?
A). Two hours, 53 minutes.

Q). Was more than one submarine known to be in the vicinity at the time?
A). Yes.

Q). How many torpedos were fired at the KEARNY? How many hit the Kearny?
A). Three were observed; one hit. Possibly there might have been others which were not observed.

Q). Was the submarine which torpedoed the KEARNY fired upon? If so, by whom and is it probable that the submarine was sunk or damaged?
A). In accordance with the announced policy of the Navy Department, questions of this nature are not answered.

Q). If other Axis submarines were in the vicinity at the time, were any of them fired upon? If so, by whom and is it probable that any were sunk or damaged?
A). In accordance with the announced policy of the Navy Department, questions of this nature are not answered.

Q). Has the commanding officer of the KEARNY filed an official report; if so, is it available for the Committee on Naval Affairs for it's information?
A). Yes, but for reasons of security it cannot be made available.

I trust that the foregoing information will serve your purposes.

Sincerely yours,

HAROLD R. STARK
Admiral, U.S. Navy
Chief of Navy Operations

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