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Stanley Johnstons

Blunder

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Stanley Johnstons
Blunder
The Reporter Who Spilled the Secret behind the U.S. Navys Victory at Midway

Elliot Carlson

Naval Institute Press


Annapolis, Maryland

Uncorrected page proof. Copyright U.S. Naval Institute. Not for distribution.
Publicity Manager: Jacqline Barnes; jbarnes@usni.org; 410-295-1028
This book has been brought to publication with the generous assistance
of Edward S. and Joyce I. Miller.

Naval Institute Press


291 Wood Road
Annapolis, MD 21402

2017 by Elliot Carlson


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording,
or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


@DES: to come

Print editions meet the requirements of ANSI/NISO z39.48-1992 (Permanence


of Paper).
Printed in the United States of America.

25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First printing

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For Norma

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Contents

Authors Note ix

Introduction: Mystery in Washington 1


1 A Date with Lady Lex 7
2 Guts and Glory 28
3 A Room with a View 42
4 Hold the Presses! 56
5 Aid and Comfort to the Enemy 71
6 Moments of Truth 91
7 The Gathering Storm 106
8 A Beautiful Mess 122
9 Johnston and Seligman: Men in the Middle 141
10 Full Speed Ahead 152
11 McCormick and Knox: Showdown 164
12 The Grand Jury Decides 177
Epilogue: Fortunes of War 219
Coda: Did the Japanese Know? 231
Appendix A. The Chicago Tribunes 7 June 1942 front page, 243
showing Stanley Johnstons unsigned article,
preceded by a Washington dateline
Appendix B. The Chicago Tribunes 7 June 1942 article 244
(reprinted in Washington Times-Herald)
Appendix C. Admiral Nimitzs 31 May 1942 dispatch, 245
as sent from CINCPAC
Appendix D. Admiral Nimitzs 31 May 1942 dispatch, 246
as decrypted on Barnett
Appendix E. The Foreman 247

Notes 249
Bibliography 293
Index 299

vii

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A Date with Lady Lex 15

By the mid-1930s, Johnston was again getting restless. He was intrigued


by events in Europe; he thought there might be opportunities there. In
1936 he headed in that direction but traveled by way of America,
stopping for a time in New York City. Johnston liked the city, especially its
nightlife. While out on the town one evening at one of Manhattans lively
nightspots, a club called the Paradise Cabaret, he took an interest in one of
its dancers. She was Barbara Maria Beck, an attractive young woman nine
years his junior.27 They had much in common. Like Stanley, Barbara was a
traveler; she was born in Wurzburg, Bavaria, Germany, in 1909. She
emigrated to the United States in 1926. A talented dancer, she soon joined
the Broadway dance troupe George Whites Scandals. In 1934 she became
a naturalized U.S. citizen. When the two met at the Paradise Cabaret,
Stanley was single; he had divorced his first wife in 1935. Barbara was
married but separated from her husband, a musi-cian named Albert
Incagnoli. (He had apparently abandoned her in the early 1930s; she would
divorce him in 1941.)28
Stanley and Barbara would eventually join forces, but not right
away. Stanley proceeded alone to London, where he worked
approximately a year for a company building experimental gas turbines. He
returned to New York in late 1937 and reconnected with Barbara. On 30
July 1938, they boarded the ocean liner S.S. Washington bound for
Hamburg. Traveling falsely as man and wife, they settled for a time in
Germany, where Barbaras parents still lived. (Stanley told U.S.
authorities later that they picked Germany because Barbaras mother was
dying and they wanted to see her.) Along the way, they met a German
banker who helped Stanley begin a small enterprise, to which Stanley gave
the name Ersinger and Company. It was headquartered at Muncher-
Gladbach, a city on the northern Rhine. There he manufactured and sold
plastic hair curlers.29 The business flourished, enabling Johnston to build
up a sizable bank account. Barred from exporting his earnings, he
invested in Germany. He acquired an estate that, he claimed, included a
castle on the Rhine. His prosperity did not last, however. Johnstons
property was confiscated as Germany moved closer to the world war it
would launch in

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16 chapter 1

September 1939.30 Stanley and Barbara thought they had better get out of
the countryfast.
Now on the move, the couple landed in Paris. Preternaturally self-
confident, Stanley introduced himself to Louis Huot, the European repre-
sentative of Press Wireless, Incorporated, a news and photo transmission
network headquartered in Chicago. Johnston had no previous experience in
that business, but he had a way with words. He was a gifted storyteller, a nat-
ural salesman. He could be very persuasive. He apparently also fibbed a little.
Wanting to burnish his military rsum, he gave Huot the impression that
during the European War he had served as an officer in the Australian army
and seen action in France.31 Huot was impressed by Johnstons background
in engineering as well as his training in Morse code. Huot hired him. In late
1939, he transferred Johnston to Amsterdam to supervise the opening of a
Press Wireless operation in that city.32 The job seemed ideal, but Johnston
soon found himself in trouble.

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