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Edwin Layton file photo [33026]

Edwin Layton

Given NameEdwin
Born7 Apr 1903
Died12 Apr 1984
CountryUnited States


ww2dbaseEdwin Thomas Layton was born in Nauvoo, Illinois, United States and grew up in nearby Galesburg. In 1924, he graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in the upper half of a graduating class of 522 midshipmen. He then spent five years at sea aboard the battleship USS West Virginia and destroyer USS Chase. One of his early duties aboard the battleship in 1925 was to host a group of cadets from the Japanese naval academy on their midshipman's cruise to San Francisco. Layton was impressed with how conversant nearly all them were in English while no one within his own command spoke any Japanese at all - or cared to. Seeing this as a deficiency, Layton became determined to enter the Navy's meager Japanese language program. Entry qualifications required five years of service so it was not until 1929 that Layton was chosen as one of only two naval officers selected that year for the three-year assignment. The other officer selected was Lieutenant (junior grade) Joseph Rochefort. Soon after the two met aboard the ship to Japan, they started a friendship that would last a lifetime.

ww2dbaseAt the end of his language studies in Japan, Layton was looking forward to returning to the United States but on short notice he was reassigned to the American legation in Beiping (Postal Map: Peiping; now Beijing), China. That lasted five months before he was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, DC. This placed him at the center of the Navy's internal feud between the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Office of Naval Communications. The communications office was responsible for the Navy's code-breaking efforts so the fact that intelligence and communications did not speak to each other made for a barely functional intelligence team. The few officers who could cross this self-imposed boundary were those with foreign language skills, especially Japanese. This allowed Layton to gain some experience that was actually useful out of the conflict and also afforded him his first, although brief, hands-on involvement with cryptanalysis.

ww2dbaseAfter four months in Washington, Layton boarded the battleship USS Pennsylvania as a gunnery officer. Gunnery was Layton's primary duty but two officers he knew from the Office of Naval Intelligence were also aboard as gunnery officers. Except for those assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, intelligence responsibilities had always been ancillary duties rather than a primary assignment. When Pennsylvania was named flagship of the Pacific Fleet and the Admiral's staff came aboard, Layton was reunited with Joe Rochefort. Rochefort was the Admiral's assistant operations officer, with an ancillary duty as staff intelligence chief. In practice, Rochefort directed most of his energy toward intelligence matters and had a way of drawing in just the right people from those around him, like Layton and the two other officers with intelligence experience.

ww2dbaseIn 1936, Layton returned to the Office of Naval Intelligence for a year as head of the Japanese translation section before heading back to Japan for two years as an assistant naval attaché. In Japan, Layton met and socialized with many Japanese naval officers whose names would come to prominence some years later; most notably Isoroku Yamamoto, who was then naval vice-minister. Layton then commanded the destroyer USS Boggs for one year and in Dec 1940, he was named to the staff of Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral James O. Richardson. Layton's assignment was as Fleet Intelligence Officer, the first time the fleet had ever had a staff officer whose primary responsibility was intelligence.

ww2dbaseUpon taking up his assignment, Layton quickly reached out to his counterpart at Hawaii's Fourteenth Naval District, Lieutenant Commander Thomas Birtley, with whom Layton had served at the Office of Naval Intelligence. One cryptanalyst on Birtley's limited staff was Lieutenant Commander Thomas Dyer. Tommy Dyer had been one of Layton's academy classmates and was also one of the cadre-of-three "gunnery" officers aboard USS Pennsylvania. Dyer left the Pennsylvania in 1936 to establish the cryptanalysis station on Oahu, Hawaii. At the time, this was one of only three such Navy stations worldwide with the others in Washington DC and Cavite in the Philippines (later relocated to Corregidor and then to Melbourne, Australia). Based on the Navy's 1930s phonetic alphabet, Hawaii's station was codenamed Station Hypo ("H" not for Hawaii but for He'eia, the location of Hypo's radio receivers east of Pearl Harbor). By the time Layton arrived in Hawaii, the staff at Hypo had grown to include not only Birtley but another Pennsylvania shipmate, Lieutenant Commander Wesley "Ham" Wright, plus some others. In May 1941, five months after Layton's arrival, Joe Rochefort arrived as Birtley's relief in command of Station Hypo and the Pennsylvania dream team was together again. Dyer remained as the unit's executive officer and headed the code and cipher section, a field in which he was truly gifted.

ww2dbaseWhile the code and cipher section did not talk to the intelligence analysis section within the Navy Department in Washington, Hawaii was a long way from Washington. Layton, Rochefort, Dyer, and Wright all got along well and understood their overarching mission enough to know that they had much to gain by working together. Together, Layton's staff and Rochefort's staff were driven to provide the fleet commander with timely and useful information upon which he could make reasonably well-informed decisions about how to best deploy the fleet. This seems like an obvious purpose with little reason to have to state it, but in the dysfunctional intelligence network of the pre-war Navy, such clarity of purpose was unusual indeed.

ww2dbaseBy Dec 1940 when Layton arrived at the fleet, it had been clear for some time that Japan posed the only credible threat to United States interests in the Pacific. Thus, the object of all American intelligence efforts in the region was to find out what Japan was up to. Hostilities seemed probable sooner or later but it was not known how or when they might begin. Japan circulated messages within its empire using a wide array of codes and ciphers that the Americans had only very limited ability to understand. Part of this was due to the complexity of the codes; part of it was because the Japanese changed codes and/or code-keys with some regularity; part of it was because the Americans devoted more resources to breaking German codes than Japanese; but mostly it was because the United States generally maintained a disorganized, half-hearted approach to code-breaking and decryption that went back to the end of the First World War. From the end of 1940 and into 1941, the Japanese codes the Americans had the most success with were the diplomatic codes used between Tokyo and its embassies around the world. The Japanese Army and Navy codes were as yet unbroken so the Americans translated and distributed many diplomatic messages while a vast number of vital military signals slipped by. The Japanese also used consular codes to communicate between Tokyo and the Japanese consulates around the world, including the consulate in Honolulu. Priorities set in Washington placed a low priority on reading consular traffic because the Americans were reading the higher-level diplomatic messages between the embassies. Had the signals from the Honolulu consulate been decoded and read, they would have pointed unmistakably to a looming attack on shipping inside Pearl Harbor. As it was, these messages were intercepted by the Americans but not decoded and read until after the war.

ww2dbaseOf principal interest to Layton, Rochefort, and their teams in 1941 were the Japanese naval codes. The Imperial Japanese Navy employed several codes, none of which could be read meaningfully by the Americans or the British. Allied codebreakers were most interested in cracking the Japanese Navy's strategic code, identified by the United States as JN-25. Washington had ordered Station Hypo to ignore JN-25, however, and instead focus on one of the lesser naval codes. A year earlier, Layton himself had had some success with a lower-level Japanese naval cipher from which he was able to deduce for the first time that Japan was quietly and unlawfully building up a military presence in the Mandate Islands of the Central Pacific (the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshalls).

ww2dbaseBy the end of Nov 1941, the best assessment Layton was able to present to Admiral Kimmel based on all sources was that hostilities with Japan would likely commence within days or weeks; that hostilities would probably begin in the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, the Philippines or some combination of those; but if Japan were to initiate hostilities in Hawaii, the threat should be expected to approach from bases in the Mandates, the closest being Jaluit in the Marshall Islands 2,400 miles to the southwest. The events of 7 Dec 1941 showed that Layton had been more than half right but, by no fault of the analysis, badly short where it counted. Japanese surprise at Pearl Harbor was accomplished almost entirely because of the strict radio silence maintained by the Pearl Harbor striking force.

ww2dbaseFollowing the Pearl Harbor Attack, Layton and Rochefort had little time to look for where their intelligence had gone awry; the Navy had a war to fight against an enemy with a formidable fleet. Kimmel was quickly replaced and Layton assumed he would be as well. When the new fleet commander arrived, however, Admiral Nimitz made it clear that he wanted all of Kimmel's staff to remain. Specifically, Chester Nimitz told Layton that he wanted Layton to be his Admiral Chuichi Nagumo; Layton was tasked with telling Nimitz everything Nagumo was thinking before he thought it and everything Nagumo was doing before he did it. Layton knew this was asking a lot but set about doing his best to live up to Nimitz' confidence in him. Layton was also the only staff officer, other than the flag secretary, with standing permission to enter Nimitz' office at any time.

ww2dbaseWith the Pacific Fleet's battleship force shattered by the attack on Pearl Harbor, Layton's intelligence picture did not always focus on where the Japanese resources were, but often on where they were not. These vacancies allowed the depleted United States forces to strike Japanese targets without encountering strong resistance. Thus, eight weeks to the day after the Pearl Harbor Attack, Nimitz was able to execute the first coordinated offensive strikes of the war with carrier raids against Japanese installations in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands at Kwajalein, Wotje, Maleolap, Jaluit, Makin, and Mili. Later events would reveal that these raids, and the ones that followed, caused considerable consternation at the upper levels of the Japanese naval leadership.

ww2dbaseFinally officially permitted to exploit JN-25, Hypo began generating useful intelligence from the Japanese naval code. Beginning in early 1942, message analysis revealed many details of upcoming Japanese fleet movements from Rabaul and Truk toward Port Moresby in New Guinea. In the middle of these preparations, however, Nimitz' resources were stretched dangerously thin on orders from Washington to support the Doolittle Raid of Apr 1942. The intelligence staff around Pearl Harbor saw the Doolittle Raid as a grandstand mission with a substantial risk of losing two aircraft carriers. However, both carriers survived and the surprising flurry of Japanese naval messages that followed the raid unexpectedly helped the intelligence effort. With more coded traffic being intercepted and analyzed, the better and faster the decryption became. The intelligence picture surrounding the Japanese movements toward Port Moresby still had some gaps but it was solid enough that Admiral Jack Fletcher was able to successfully engage the Japanese fleet in the Battle of the Coral Sea and turn back their invasion force.

ww2dbaseAs a result of the increased readability of Japanese coded messages, details of another Japanese offensive somewhere in the Pacific also began to emerge to codebreakers in both Washington and Hawaii. In an effort to give Nimitz the best estimate of Japanese intentions, Layton scoured the Japanese communications traffic for any clues about where and when this offensive would strike. Washington was refining their estimates as well, but in a different direction. Assessments by Layton and Rochefort pointed more and more conclusively toward an offensive in the first week of June 1942 against the Midway Islands coupled with a diversionary attack on the Aleutian Islands. Washington's assessment was that the Japanese offensive would focus primarily on the Aleutian Islands, or possibly California or New Caledonia, and would take place in the second or third week of June 1942. The Japanese traffic had identified their objective with the code letters ‘AF' but there was disagreement between Hawaii and Washington about what AF stood for. Layton and Rochefort had already deduced with some certainty that the Japanese were targeting Midway but Washington was unconvinced. In an attempt to settle the matter, a member of Rochefort's staff suggested that Midway broadcast some message that the Japanese would be sure to pick up and pass along. After getting approval from Nimitz, Midway broadcast a (false) emergency message that they were having trouble producing fresh water. Almost immediately, the Japanese listening station on Wake dutifully relayed to Tokyo that "AF reports trouble with its fresh water supply." The Japanese signal was intercepted and decoded in Hawaii but Rochefort, diplomatically, paused before passing the decrypt on to Washington. The message was also picked up and decoded in Australia and Rochefort allowed the Australian station to alert Washington that AF was the code for Midway. With faith in his Pearl Harbor intelligence team following their work leading up to the Battle of the Coral Sea, Nimitz was more comfortable relying on Layton's assessment than Washington's and his ships scored a decisive victory at Midway.

ww2dbaseShortly after the smoke cleared around Midway, however, word filtered back to Hawaii that Naval Intelligence in Washington was claiming they had been the ones who made the correct assessment about Midway while Station Hypo in Hawaii had flubbed it. After the war when the files in Washington became available, they held mysterious blank pages where Washington's copies of their May 1942 messages alerting Nimitz to a mid-June attack in the Aleutians were supposed to have been. Nimitz' recommendation for an award for Rochefort for his Midway intelligence assessment was summarily rejected by Admiral King in Washington and Rochefort was recalled to the United States, never to return to Hypo. Nimitz then started getting quiet pressure to rid himself of Layton as well. With Washington content to play politics with the careers of junior officers, Nimitz felt it was more important to win the war so Layton stayed.

ww2dbaseThe ability for Layton and his team to glean useful intelligence from Japanese messages was very useful to Nimitz but also very secret. Several of the moves Nimitz made based on communications intelligence were often attributed to other sources to protect the secret. In April 1943, code decrypts revealed specific details of travel plans for the Japanese Combined Fleet commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto during an inspection tour in the forward areas. Layton took the information to Nimitz who authorized a mission to attack Yamamoto's aircraft formation. To hide the source of the information, a cover story was created that the information had come from Australian coast watchers near Rabaul.

ww2dbaseLayton was conflicted by his role in the Yamamoto mission, however. Layton had known Yamamoto personally, he had gone to the theater and played bridge with Yamamoto, and he liked Yamamoto. But Yamamoto was a superb leader and their two nations were at war. Layton understood how much the Japanese Navy would be thrown into disarray by eliminating Yamamoto and there was no doubt that such a leader was a legitimate military target. Conflicted or not, Layton worked as hard to ensure the success of the mission as he had on anything else.

ww2dbaseIn June 1944, United States forces moved on to the Mariana Islands. While the role of Layton's intelligence team remained in the background, a portion of the apparatus he set up played a very prominent part. Japanese linguists with the radio intelligence team aboard Admiral Mitscher's aircraft carriers were able to tune in to the radio channel used by the Japanese airborne strike coordinator and they heard the instructions being given to the nearly three hundred airplanes attacking Mitscher's fleet. The result was that the attacking waves of planes were intercepted long before they reached the fleet and the fate of the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot was sealed.

ww2dbaseThroughout the war, the United States submarine program also benefited greatly from the signal decrypts coming from Station Hypo. Many messages sent to submarines on patrol alerting them to Japanese shipping in their areas were prefaced with the words, "Based on long range reconnaissance, ..." but this was not always true.

ww2dbaseIn Jan 1945, Nimitz moved his headquarters to Guam. A special headquarters compound was built on a hill 850 feet above sea level and above the stifling tropical heat. The compound had a horseshoe pit and tennis courts as well as a pistol range, three of the admiral's favorite pastimes. Layton and Nimitz continued their daily sessions on the pistol range as they had in Hawaii while Layton also continued doing his best to be the admiral's Nagumo.

ww2dbaseUpon the Japanese surrender in Aug 1945, Layton was among Nimitz' special guests at the surrender ceremony aboard USS Missouri. Besides wishing to allow Layton to see the end result of his hard work throughout the war, Nimitz also directed Layton to carry a sidearm and act as the admiral's bodyguard during their visit to Japan. The afternoon following the ceremony, Nimitz put ashore a Chevrolet staff car he had brought with him and Layton served as tour guide for the admiral. They visited the town of Kamakura, an ancient capital of Japan that was literally just over the hill from Yokohama. Kamakura had been untouched by the war and was home to grand temples dating to the twelfth century and also a 40-foot-tall bronze Great Buddha statue.

ww2dbaseIn Nov 1945, Nimitz left the fleet for Washington and Layton was detached in Feb 1946. For three years, Layton commanded the Tiburon Naval Net Depot in California before being assigned as the first director of the newly formed Naval Intelligence School, a post he held for two years. In 1950 with the outbreak of the conflict in Korea, Layton returned to Hawaii as Intelligence Officer for the Fourteenth Naval District (somewhat ironically, this post was a direct descendant of the post Joseph Rochefort held in the early days of World War II). After only six months, however, Layton was reassigned to Japan as intelligence officer on the staff of Vice-Admiral C. Turner Joy, Commander of Naval Forces, Far East. In 1953 with the Korean War over, Layton was assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff as Assistant Director for Intelligence and then Deputy Director. At the end of another tour as the Director of the Naval Intelligence School, Layton retired from the Navy in 1959 at the rank of Rear Admiral. Four months before he retired, Layton married Miriam Harwood.

ww2dbaseFrom 1959 to 1963, Layton served in Tokyo as the Director of Far East Operations for the Northrop Corporation. Retiring again in 1964, Layton and his wife settled in Carmel, California. With the declassification of many World War II documents in 1980, and with strong encouragement from his wife, Layton began gathering material for a book about his work during the war. For assistance sifting through the mountain of recently released records, Layton enlisted the help of retired Navy Captain Roger Pineau, a former researcher for Samuel Eliot Morrison. He also drew on friend and author John Costello. Before the book could be completed, however, Layton died on 12 Apr 1984. Pineau and Costello, along with Miriam Layton, completed the final manuscript and And I Was There was published in 1985.

ww2dbaseAdmiral Layton received many awards and accolades over the course of his career. Among his decorations were the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Navy Unit Commendation, five battle stars for World War II, and four battle stars for Korea. The Navy Distinguished Service Medal is the Navy's highest award not involving combat and Layton's medal was specifically for his intelligence assessments leading up to the Battle of Midway, a companion award to the one Rochefort never got during his lifetime. Layton's citation commends him for having "analyzed and precisely evaluated the capabilities and intentions of the enemy's air, sea and ground forces." It also says Layton's "timely and accurate intelligence information, vital to the security of our fighting forces and essential to their successful operations, contributed inestimably to our victory over the enemy."

ww2dbaseIn the 1960s the Layton Chair of Naval Intelligence at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island was created in Layton's honor and the Navy/Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center in Dam Neck, Virginia is named Layton Hall. In 2001, the Director of Naval Intelligence established the Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton Leadership Award to recognize outstanding leadership and mentorship in the furtherance of naval intelligence performance.

Edwin Layton; And I Was There (William Morrow & Company, 1985)
United States Navy
United States Naval Institute
United States National Security Agency
Station Hypo Blog
National Cryptologic Museum Foundation
Elliot Carlson; Presentation to the National WWII Museum, 2013
United States Naval Academy
United States Naval Academy Virtual Memorial Hall
Find A Grave
Andy Werback
Military Times - Hall of Valor

Last Major Revision: Apr 2024

Edwin Layton Interactive Map


Chester Nimitz, William Halsey, Oscar Badger, and Edwin Layton listening to Japanese doctor Y. Kimura during a tour of Yokosuka naval hospital, 30 Aug 1945. The hospital had been converted to treat Allied POWs.One page from the USS Missouri deck log for 2 Sep 1945 listing many of the dignitaries who came aboard for the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, Japan.
See all 4 photographs of Edwin Layton

Edwin Layton Timeline

7 Apr 1903 Edwin Layton was born in Nauvoo, Illinois, United States.
28 Apr 1939 Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton assumed command of Wickes-class destroyer USS Boggs.
1 Apr 1940 Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton was relieved of command of Wickes-class destroyer USS Boggs.
7 Dec 1940 Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton was appointed to the staff of Admiral James O. Richardson, commander of the Pacific Fleet, as the Fleet Intelligence Officer.
6 Dec 1941 Japanese carrier fleet reached the rendezvous point at 34 degrees north, 158 degrees west, and then began a high speed approach for Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii. At the same time, the 30 Japanese submarines in the Hawaii area began to tighten the ring around the islands; I-74 spotted USS Lexington, but no action was taken. At Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Kimmel told a reporter from the news agency Christian Science Monitor that the chance of a war in the Pacific Ocean involving the United States was slim. Nearby, Vice Admiral William Pye told Kimmel (via intelligence officer Edwin Layton) that war with Japan was inevitable, although Pearl Harbor was not a likely target, thus there was no need to send the battleships out to sea as a precaution. Finally, at Honolulu, Hawaii, Consul-General Nagao Kita sent a cable to Japan that he observed no barrage balloons over Pearl Harbor and he did not believe there were torpedo nets around the battleships.
18 Jan 1942 Joseph Rochefort's cryptanalytic team in US Territory of Hawaii intercepted Japanese Navy radio messages that mentioned an invasion or occupation force against a target code named "R", which Rochefort guessed was Rabaul, New Britain. He would pass this information to Chester Nimitz via Edwin Layton.
18 May 1942 At Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii, Edwin Layton informed Joseph Rochefort that while Chester Nimitz would like to receive further evidence that Midway Atoll was indeed the next Japanese target. Meanwhile, Chester Nimitz ordered William Halsey to bring his carrier group back to the Hawaiian Islands as a precaution.
1 Nov 1959 [date appx.] Rear Admiral Edwin Layton retired from active duty with the United States Navy.
19 Mar 1971 The Edwin T Layton Chair of Naval Intelligence was established at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island to honor Rear Admiral Edwin Layton.
12 Apr 1984 Retired Rear Admiral Edwin Layton passed away at the Army hospital at Fort Ord, California after a series of strokes.

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Event(s) Participated:
» Attack on Pearl Harbor
» Battle of Coral Sea
» Battle of Midway and the Aleutian Islands
» Operation Vengeance
» Mariana Islands Campaign and the Great Turkey Shoot

Edwin Layton Photo Gallery
Chester Nimitz, William Halsey, Oscar Badger, and Edwin Layton listening to Japanese doctor Y. Kimura during a tour of Yokosuka naval hospital, 30 Aug 1945. The hospital had been converted to treat Allied POWs.One page from the USS Missouri deck log for 2 Sep 1945 listing many of the dignitaries who came aboard for the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, Japan.
See all 4 photographs of Edwin Layton

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Thomas Dodd, late 1945

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