Author links Scots aristocrat to attack on Pearl Harbour
Lord implicated in selling secret intelligence that aided Japanese
IT WAS a humiliating failure of US intelligence, which overlooked preparations for one of the most devastating surprise attacks in military history – and it was apparently the fault of a Scots laird who went from selling planes to selling secrets to Japan.
A British author who specialises in writing “eccentric” travel books has pinned some of the blame for Pearl Harbour on Scottish aristocrat William Forbes-Sempill.
In a new book to mark the 75th anniversary of the December 1941 attack, which drew the US into the Second World War, Benedict le Vay says the Tory peer used his establishment links to obtain classified information for Japan and protect the belligerent nation’s spies in Britain.
Mr le Vay said: “He certainly did massive damage to Britain and the USA, helping causing untold suffering to millions by his equipping the enemy with the latest technology.”
Born in 1893, son of a Scots laird, Forbes-Sempill joined the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, then moved into the RAF when that was formed, then into naval aviation.
In 1920, he led a British civilian mission of former naval airmen to Japan, a First World War ally, to help it develop aircraft carriers.
Sempill stayed in contact with the foreign ministry in Tokyo after the conclusion of the AngloJapanese Alliance in 1921, and soon aroused the suspicions of the British authorities as a possible spy, according to Mr le Vay.
The author said: “In 1925, Japanese
‘‘ More government political secrets were being sent to Tokyo, and Churchill decided it must be Sempill
intelligence asked Sempill to obtain top secret technical data about the prototype of the Blackburn Iris seaplane. Sempill was called into the Foreign Office for questioning.
“It was argued not to put Sempill on trial as his father was aide-decamp to the King, and it would cause serious embarrassment to the Crown and the government.”
Mr le Vay continued: “Despite all this, on the outbreak of war in September 1939, Lord Sempill was given a position in the Department of Air Materiel, part of the Admiralty, which meant he could see sensitive and secret information about the latest British aircraft.
“In mid-1941, MI5 intercepted messages between London and Tokyo indicating that Sempill was being paid for information.
“Again it was recommended that he be arrested and charged, but again the Attorney General advised against prosecution.
“Three months later, more government political secrets were being sent to Tokyo, and Churchill decided it must be Sempill.
“Was he arrested and shot? No, in October 1941 – just two months before this enemy would attack us – Churchill simply wrote: ‘Clear him out while time remains’.”
Sempill was reassigned to the north of Scotland, where he was deprived of his access to official secrets and monitored by MI5. After the attack on Pearl Harbour Sempill’s office was searched.
Mr le Vay continued: “Secret documents were found that should not have been there. Two days later, Sempill was found to be telephoning the Japanese.
“He was asked to retire from public life, which he did with bad grace.
“He went on to live a comfortable life, becoming president of the British Gliding Association and the Institute of Advanced Motorists.” Pearl Harbor: Still Shocking 75 Years On: 37 Huge Surprises about History’s Biggest Surprise Attack is available on Amazon.
All profits from the book go to services charity the SSAFA.