SAN JOSE, December 7, 2014 — On December 7, 1941, the calm of a peaceful Hawaiian Sunday morning was shattered at 7:55 a.m. Bombs and torpedoes began to fall and explode into military targets at Pearl Harbor. By the time the attacks ceased just before 10:00 a.m., the dead and wounded were strewn all around the U.S. Naval installation and sunken within a watery tomb, and dark smoke from destroyed ships, military machines, and buildings spewed into the December sky.
This attack upon the U.S. military installation at Pearl Harbor by Japan’s Imperial military is recognized by historians as one of the most successful surprise attacks in military history. It was a shock to America and to people throughout the world. But a little known component of this incredibly successful attack is that the Japanese Empire had contracted with a Nazi and his German family to spy on the American military operations at Pearl Harbor from 1935.
Unfortunately, little is remembered about any prior intelligence the Japanese required in order to successfully execute such a blatant and brutal attack upon America.
It is not well known that a family of German spies helped set up the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and made it much simpler and much more deadly. A German Nazi named Bernard Julius Otto Kuhn (Kuehn) moved his wife and two children to Hawaii in August of 1935 with the mission to spy upon the Americans at their military installation in Pearl Harbor.
The family had been contracted as agents of the Japanese government with the assistance of the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. The arrangement was promoted and negotiated by Goebbels as a by product of his relationship with Kuhn’s attractive 17 year old daughter, Susie Ruth. At the tender age of 17, Susie Ruth had been Goebbels’ mistress in Berlin. When he learned that the Japanese government sought Caucasian spies from Germany to work in Hawaii, Goebbels recommended Susie Ruth and her family.
Bernard Kuhn, Susie Ruth’s father had served as a midshipman in the German Navy during WWI and eventually became a physician after the war. Dr. Kuhn had become a minor official of the Gestapo and had developed close ties to Heinrich Himmler, the head of the dreaded secret police, or Gestapo.
Kuhn, his wife Friedel, their daughter, and their son, Hans Joachim, were virtually inconspicuous as a white family that no one seriously suspected of carrying on espionage for the Empire of Japan. In exchange, they were paid quite well for the valuable intelligence they provided about the U.S. military presence in Oahu.
Every member of this family contributed towards collecting and documenting military activities at Pearl Harbor from 1935 right up to the day the bombs fell from Japanese aircraft. Susie Ruth dated U.S. servicemen stationed at Pearl Harbor and ultimately opened a local beauty parlor which proved to be quite a valuable source of gossip and random information from wives and girlfriends of the military men stationed at Pearl Harbor.
The beauty parlor proved to be a valuable effort as the wives of high-ranking military officers reportedly spent much time gossiping about their husbands’ activities. Dr. Kuhn’s wife helped to monitor the conversations of the various ladies in the beauty salon. Friedel’s specific job was to take note of all intelligence that originated from the beauty parlor.
No suspicion was aroused when Friedel travelled to Japan twice during this period leading up to the attack. She managed to successfully bring back $16,000 when she returned from her second visit and deposited it into their bank account.
In addition, the Kuhns even dressed up little Hans (only six years old when they moved to Hawaii) in a little sailor suit and his father would walk with him down near the docks to the ships lying idle and vulnerable. Many of the sailors thought the little guy was quite cute and some gave him unofficial “tours” of their ships. Having been coached by his father, he would ask specific questions and keenly observe everything he saw. Later he would be systematically debriefed by his parents.
Dr. Kuhn worked in tandem with spies attached to the Japanese consulate, most notably Takeo Yoshikawa. They had an apparently innocuous, yet extensive signal system worked out as Kuhn would flash coded messages to the nearby Japanese consulate. For example, a light shining from the dormer window of his Oahu house from 9 to 10 p.m., meant that U.S. aircraft carriers had sailed out to sea.
Another signal used was a linen sheet hanging on a clothes line at the Kuhn beach home between 10 to 11 a.m. meant the battle group had left the harbor. Eight codes were eventually known to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they were used in varying combinations with the different signal messages.
Although the Japanese later tried to dismiss the information as ineffectual, the intelligence was invaluable. Actually, five days before the attack, the Kuhn’s transmitted to the Japanese information describing every American ship in Honolulu. This system of espionage went undetected right up to the day of the insideous attack. Military intelligence finally noticed the blinking lights from the Kuhn cottage overlooking the harbor and put two and two together and ultimately arrested the family.
In retrospect, Pearl Harbor may not have been such a “day of infamy” or quite as deadly had it not been for the intelligence gathering efforts of the Kuhn family. Dr. Kuhn was sentenced after the attack to be executed, but because of his cooperation with American intelligence personnel, his sentence was reduced to 50 years in prison, of which he only served four years before he was deported to Germany.
All except Hans went to prison, but eventually the whole family was deported to Germany.
Sadly, this attack upon the U.S. military was an extremely effective and deadly act of war and one of the worst “man-made disasters” in history. It took a long time for the people of this country to get over it. But in a different time and with a different quality of men in the positions of responsibility, the United States responded in an appropriate and decisive manner.
Regardless of what people think of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s political persuasions, he went before Congress the very next day and asked Congress to declare war on the Empire of Japan. To do nothing or to play word games without a serious response would have sent a government signal to the nation that attacked America.
Such a signal would have been far more devastating than those the Kuhn family transmitted to America’s enemy.
This article originally published December 7, 2012