THE "WAR HERO"
L. RON HUBBARD AND THE U.S. NAVY, 1941-50
3.3 Naval Intelligence
This officer is not satisfactory for independent duty assignment. He is garrulous and tries to give impressions of his importance. He also seems to think that he has unusual ability in most lines.
- US Naval Attaché to Australia, February 14, 1942
A common theme of Scientology's accounts of Hubbard's war years is his covert work for the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). His duties apparently "included counter-intelligence and the organization of relief for beleaguered American forces on Bataan". 1 The version reported in his US Navy file is considerably more modest.
From the outset, Hubbard had wished to join ONI. His old professor at George Washington University, had written (undoubtedly at Hubbard's prompting) to "recommend Mr. Hubbard for a commission in the United States Naval Reserve, for duty in Naval Intelligence." This did not mean covert undercover work, however, as is quite clear from various pieces of correspondence. On April 21, 1941 the Navy Department notified ONI that "Mr. L. Ron Hubbard is applying at Navy Yard, Washington, for a commission in the Naval Reserve, I-V(S), for assignment to duty in the Public Relations Office." The designation "I-V(S)" stood for "Intelligence Volunteer (Specialist)" and is defined in the Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Naval Reserve (July 31, 1944) as denoting "Commissioned Intelligence officers qualified for specialist duties."
The nature of these "specialist duties" was apparent from the outset. On June 4, the Intelligence Officer at the Navy Yard informed the Yard's Commandant that
The subject Applicant appears to possess qualifications for assignment to the Public Relations Branch, or Foreign Intelligence Branch with particular reference to his familiarity with countries of the Caribbean Area.
(Source: Memo from Cdr. Lucius C. Dunn, June 4, 1941) (DOCUMENT A)
A month later, Hubbard received his commission as a Lieutenant (jg) in the United States Naval Reserve. On July 5, 1941, three days after commissioning, he was assigned to the Volunteer Reserve for Special Service (Intelligence duties). All very promising. Hubbard was not immediately assigned to active duty but was sent a correspondence course to familiarise himself with Naval protocols. At the same time, though he was not formally assigned anywhere, he appears to done some work for the US Navy's Public Relations operation.
Hubbard wrote on July 21 to his sponsor, Congressman Magnuson, thanking him for his help in obtaining a commission and mentioning that he had already submitted three ideas to accelerate recruiting, all of which were "going into effect". Magnuson replied; "Glad to hear your commission went through. Know you will be right at home in your work with Navy Press Relations." Hubbard followed up his letter with another a week later, explaining to the Senator that "as Press Relations was getting along well enough" he had offered to write two articles every week for national magazines, with the aim of selling the "American bluejacket" to the public. He had, he said, been given a "free helm" and "because this program will net about three times as much as Navy pay I think it no more than right that I return anything above pay and expenses to Navy Relief. So all goes along swimmingly."
This was overoptimistic, as it turned out, for not a single article was published. On September 22, he was activated and sent to the Hydrographic Office "for the purpose of completing the data on some photographs which he had previously voluntarily submitted to this Office before his commissioning in the Naval Reserve" - a reference to the images he had produced during a 1940 yacht cruise along the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska. He stayed there for two weeks. The Officer-in-Charge described Hubbard's duties:
During this period he examined the prints of several hundred photographs and selected from them several dozen that were fairly clear possessing some navigational interest. These he mounted and annotated. He also indicated on several charts the position from which the pictures were taken.
He also examined the text of the Sailing Directions - H.O. Nos. 175 and 176, British Columbia, Vols. I and II - for the places with which he was familiar as a result of his recent yacht cruise in these waters, and submitted several suggested changes or amplifications. These items are all brief, and some are unimportant, but in the aggregate they represent a very definite contribution.
(Source: Memorandum for the Assistant Hydrographer, October 22, 1941) (DOCUMENT B)
Hubbard himself referred to this posting in later years, though by 1972 his "brief" and "unimportant" contributions had been transformed in his mind into a recollection that "I rewrote the Hydrographic Office Publications for the US Navy". 2
Having completed what must have been a fairly mundane tour, Hubbard was released from active duty until November 23, 1941 - in effect, a six-week leave. Upon resuming active duties, he spent three weeks under instruction at the Headquarters of the Third Naval District in New York. One week after the momentous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Hubbard was sent to the District Intelligence Office of the Twelfth Naval District in San Francisco. (He claimed later that on December 7 he had been landed on Japanese-occupied Java from the USS Edsall, which had been sunk with all hands shortly thereafter; in fact it was not sunk until March 1, 1942 and Java did not surrender to the Japanese until February 1942 3).
Hubbard was now caught up in one of the great movements of men and materiel which so characterised the Second World War. In the days immediately after Pearl Harbor, American, British and Dutch garrisons in the Far East and western Pacific were thrown into confusion by wave after wave of Japanese attacks. In a series of startling advances during December, the Japanese won air and naval superiority in the western Pacific, landed large numbers of troops in the Philippines, took Guam and Wake, overran Hong Kong, invaded Malaya and cut the Dutch East Indies in two, threatening Australia for the first time in that country's history.
At the very start of the war the US military authorities in Washington had accepted that the Philippines would most likely be lost. This did not mean that they were to be abandoned; failure was forgivable, abandonment never. A convoy led by the USS Pensacola, carrying much-needed equipment including dive bombers and two regiments of artillery, was already on its way when the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor on December 7. The convoy was diverted to Brisbane, Australia, where the aircraft were to be assembled and flown to the Philippines. The remainder of the equipment was to be transferred by sea to the Philippines with a US-Australian-Dutch escort. President Roosevelt ordered on December 15 that further fighters and bombers would be rushed to the Philippines as soon as possible. The transports President Polk and President Coolidge were ordered to San Francisco to be loaded with pursuit planes and ammunition for transport to Australia. Their arrival would place in Australia 230 aircraft - and, aboard the Polk, L. Ron Hubbard.
It had originally been intended that the Polk and Coolidge would rendezvous with the Pensacola en route for the Philippines. However, the Japanese advance was so rapid that the Australia-Philippines sea route was effectively blockaded by Christmas 1941. The ships' destination was altered en route and by January 11, 1942, Hubbard had ended up in Brisbane, Australia, along with the rest of the Pensacola convoy. He remained there temporarily while waiting for a vessel to Manila, in the meantime serving on temporary detachment to the Office of the US Naval Attaché to Australia. Within a few weeks, he was in trouble with his Navy superiors. There had been a mix-up over the routing of a ship, and a copy of a secret dispatch had gone astray. While Hubbard may not have been to blame, he took the undiplomatic course of writing a report about the incident which was openly hostile of his senior officers, including the Naval Attaché. (DOCUMENT C)
Scientology has distributed a document purportedly written by US Army Colonel Alexander L. P. Johnson to the Commander of the Base Force, Darwin, Australia, dated February 13, 1942. The document describes Hubbard as "an intelligent, resourceful and dependable officer" and recommends that an earlier request (whatever that might have been) be granted. What connection could Hubbard have had with the US Army or its outpost at Darwin? The most likely answer is that the connection was the equipment brought to Australia by the Pensacola convoy and his own ship President Polk. (In the event none of the equipment unloaded at Brisbane and Darwin ever reached the Philippines). Col L. Fletcher Prouty, a former US Air Force officer retained by Scientology as an "expert witness", refers in a November 1985 letter to records which
link [Hubbard] directly with the operation of the Navy's long-range reconnaissance and patrol aircraft, the old PBY, and operations off the coast of [Australia]. In these recorded activities LRH was working under the command of the senior US Army officer in Brisbane and in coordination with the Royal Australian Air Force.
(Source: L. Fletcher Prouty letter to CBS 60 Minutes, November 21, 1985)
Hubbard seems to have somewhat exceeded his brief by taking orders from the senior US Army officer in Brisbane, presumably the Col Johnson quoted above. This evidently caused some tension. In Hubbard's report of February 5 he quotes Commander L. D. Causey, the US Naval Attaché to Australia, as saying
I have sent a message to the CinC Asiatic as of this morning stating that I wish you to be removed from Brisbane, stating that you are making a nuisance of yourself. You have never been under my orders and I consider you as having nothing to do with me. If you wish to serve with Johnson, that is up to you.
The Commander in Chief Asiatic Fleet evidently granted Causey's request. Hubbard was abruptly ejected from Australia and sent home in disgrace. On February 14, 1942, Causey sent an explanation of the circumstances to the Commandant of the Twelfth Naval District in southern California:
The subject officer arrived in Brisbane via SS President Polk. He reported to me that he was ordered to Manila for duty and asked for permission to leave the SS President Polk until a vessel offering a more direct route to his destination was available. I authorized him to remain in Brisbane for future transportation to his destination. By assuming unauthorized authority and attempting to perform duties for which he has no qualifications, he became the source of much trouble. This, however, was made possible by the representative of the U.S. Army at Brisbane ...
On February 11, 1942 I sent him dispatch orders to report to the Commanding Officer USS Chaumont for passage to the United States. And upon arrival report to the Commandant 12th Naval District for future assignment. This officer is not satisfactory for independent duty assignment. He is garrulous and tries to give impressions of his importance. He also seems to think that he has unusual ability in most lines. These characteristics indicate that he will require close supervision for satisfactory performance of any intelligence duty.
(Source: Memo from US Naval Attaché to Australia, February 14, 1942) (DOCUMENT D)
Three days later, the Naval Attaché cabled the Bureau of Naval Personnel to inform them that Hubbard was being sent home:
LIEUT. (JG) L.R. HUBBARD IVS USNR ORDERED RETURN US VIA [USS] CHAUMONT AND REPORT TO COM 12 [the 12th Naval District, San Francisco]. HE IS UNSATISFACTORY FOR ANY AVAILABLE ASSIGNMENT HERE. VIA PRESIDENT COOLIDGE, A REPORT MAILED.(Source: Telegram from US Naval Attaché Australia, February 17, 1942) (DOCUMENT E)
Hubbard was lucky to avoid disciplinary action; his superiors probably put the episode down to an unfortunate personality clash. In a dispatch dated April 22, 1942, the Chief Cable Censor in Washington recommended that no disciplinary action be taken following the report from Melbourne "as it is thought that the Subject's qualifications may find a useful outlet in the Office of the Cable Censor, New York." There was a short delay while Hubbard was briefly hospitalised at Vallejo, California with a case of conjunctivitis. He later claimed to have been "[flown] in from the South Pacific in the Secretary of the Navy's [personal] plane ... I was the first [US] casualty returned from the South Pacific," having apparently suffered a broken ankle. 4 This is not corroborated in any of his medical reports.
Hubbard arrived back on the East Coast on May 1. Four days later he was transferred out of the world of Naval Intelligence, his class designation changing from Intelligence Volunteer (Specialist) (I-V(S)) to Deck Volunteer (Specialist) (D-V(S)), "in view of the fact that the Office of Cable Censorship, to which you are attached, is now under the cognizance of the Chief Cable Censor" rather than the Office of Naval Intelligence, as before. He had been an active intelligence officer for only four and a half months.
As predicted, he was indeed better suited to this job with the Chief Cable Censor's Investigations Department and received a positive report (but only average marks) from his superior, Commander Andrew Cruise:
Since reporting to this activity this officer has shown a full realization of the seriousness of an assignment to duty. He has shown an increasing sense of responsibility and displayed a marked improvement in his work. While the period of observation has been short, his work has been entirely satisfactory.
(Source: Report on the Fitness of Officers, L. Ron Hubbard #113392, May 11 1942 - June 24 1942)
His tour in the Investigations Department may have had important long-term consequences. 20 years later, on the basis of his own supposed counterintelligence experience, Hubbard established his own intelligence agency, the Guardian's Office. Its campaign of espionage against the US Government during the 1970s led to him being named an "unindicted co-conspirator" and his wife being imprisoned. At the time, however, Hubbard evidently was not satisfied with his undemanding work. On the same reporting form he stated his preference for next duty as "Sea - Patrol" and "Fleet - Pacific (or Caribbean) (Alaska)". He also sent a memo on June 10 to the Chief Censor concerning "Sea duty, request for", citing the various qualifications which he felt that he possessed. He concluded his request:
I hereby volunteer for patrol torpedo boats or general patrol craft, particularly in the Caribbean Area, the peoples, language and customs of which I know and of which I possess piloting knowledge. (DOCUMENT F)
While still at the Office of the Chief Cable Censor, Hubbard's file records the first of a steady flow of demands from creditors over unpaid bills. While in Brisbane, he had somehow forgotten to pay the money owed to Ryders (Employees) Pty. Ltd. of 233a Adelaide Street, a tailor's. The US Naval Liaison Office had not forgotten him, however, and forwarded their complaints to his current post in New York, where Hubbard received them on May 30, 1942. The story was much the same when, in October 1942, Hubbard received an angry letter sent to his superiors by the First National Bank of Ketchikan, Alaska:
We are appealing to you, believing that your office might assist us in collecting a promissory note in the amount of $250.00 signed by the above captioned Naval Officer . . .
Mr. Hubbard has been notified regularly and often, and he has promised to make good the note, always in the near future. We feel that we have been very lienient [sic] with him, giving him the opportunity to get his affairs in shape, but in our last letter to him addressed care of the Explorers Club, apparently his permanent address, we informed him that we must appeal to his superiors. This notice was on July 10th. 1942, since which time we have heard nothing . . .
We are sorry to have to take this step and it is difficult to believe that he would put us in this position.
(Source: Letter from First National Bank of Ketchikan to US Navy, August 20, 1942) (DOCUMENT G)
Hubbard's somewhat niggardly response was to pay the $15 interest owed on his debt and inform the bank that
the reason of non-payment of this note is the sharp decrease in pay which I was willing to take to help my country. Until this war is ended and I can resume my former profession [i.e. writing] I can make only small and irregular payments.
(Source: Letter from Hubbard to First National Bank of Ketchikan, October 28, 1942) (DOCUMENT G)
In fact, like many of the other pulp fiction writers of the time, Hubbard had eked a frugal existence in cheap hotels and down-at-heel boarding houses; writing penny-a-word fiction was not an effective road to riches. During his 1940 yachting trip, he and his wife had been stranded for several months in Ketchikan after an expensive mechanical breakdown. He had had to borrow $250 from the First National Bank to pay for supplies and repairs; this loan was the original cause of the complaints he later received.
It was around this time, too, that Hubbard began receiving a lengthy series of memoranda and telegrams from Australia about "Loan of a Thompson sub-machine gun". The correspondence about this continued well into the spring of 1944. It is not entirely clear what this related to, as only his superiors' endorsement chits are preserved, rather than the original memos and his replies. A speculative but possible scenario is that he borrowed a Tommy gun during his stay in Brisbane, where he apparently underwent weapons familiarisation, but had forgotten to return it (a rather substantial item, one might think, to carry absently-mindedly across the Pacific Ocean). His estranged son Ron Jr. alleged in 1982 that his father had "stolen" the weapon until he was forced to give it back, though this is unproven. Whatever the truth, years later he was to claim:
"My acquaintance with Australia goes back to being the only anti-aircraft battery in Australia in 1941-42 ... I was up in Brisbane. There was me and a Thompson sub-machine gun ... I think that was all that was there.
(Source: "An interview granted to the Australian Press on January 10th 1963 at Saint Hill Manor ... by L. Ron Hubbard")
By the summer of 1942, the US Navy was fully engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic. There was an urgent need to rectify a critical shortage of anti-submarine vessels to combat the threat of German U-Boats off the East Coast of the United States. Soon after submitting his request for sea duty he received a signal approving his request in part:
LTJG LAFAYETTE R HUBBARD DVS USNR HEREBY DETACHED PROCEED IMMEDIATELY NEPONSET MASS . . . DUTY CONNECTION CONVERSION YP422 AT GEORGE LAWLEY AND SONS AND AS CO OF THAT VESSEL WHEN PLACED IN FULL COMMISSION.
Neponset, Massachusetts is a suburb of Boston - rather a long way from the Caribbean; but Hubbard would not only get his patrol craft, he would be its Commanding Officer. He was also promoted to full Lieutenant. For the first time, he would command his very own warship.
1 Ron The Poet/Lyricist (1997) - see http://www.ronthepoet.org/p_jpg/thewar1.htm
2 Hubbard, "Autobiographical notes for Peter Tompkins", June 6, 1972.
3 The USS Edsall operated out of Darwin during January 1942, before her sinking on March 1. This means that Hubbard and the Edsall were present in the same country at the same time, though there is no evidence that he ever went anywhere near her.
4 Hubbard, lecture of 1958, The Story of Dianetics and Scientology. (Extract from lecture - RealAudio, 68 Kb)
|C. Report by L. Ron Hubbard, February 5, 1942|
|G. Letter from First National Bank, Ketchikan and replies from L. Ron Hubbard: August-November 1942|