Richardson, James Otto (1879–1974)

By: Christopher Long

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

James Otto Richardson, commander of the United States naval fleet on the eve of World War II, was born in Paris, Texas, on September 18, 1879, son of John James and Fannie Goodlet (Foster) Richardson. After attending public schools in Paris, he entered the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, in 1898. He graduated fifth in a class of eighty-five in 1902 and served in the Asiatic Station, where he took part in the Philippine campaign. He returned to the Naval Academy in 1909 and during the next two years attended a postgraduate course in mechanical engineering. During World War I he was assigned to the U.S.S. Nevada in the Atlantic fleet. After the war Richardson gradually rose through the ranks and was promoted to the temporary rank of admiral in 1939. In 1940 he was made commander in chief of the United States fleet and was charged with overseeing the transfer of the Pacific fleet from the mainland to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He opposed the move, contending that Japanese expansion in the Pacific was of little concern to the United States and that the fleet could be kept in a better state of readiness in mainland ports. He also believed that the fleet should not be kept in Hawaii because it was not ready for war with Japan. He pushed construction of facilities in Pearl Harbor but returned to Washington twice to urge President Roosevelt and the Navy Department to return the fleet. Though Richardson had urged that Pearl Harbor defenses be bolstered and strongly believed in air patrols, he had not pursued the idea of protective torpedo netting at Pearl. After the war he stated that he had not thought that the fleet would be attacked by a carrier raid. Roosevelt, annoyed by Richardson's persistent requests, relieved him of command on January 5, 1941, and offered the position to Chester W. Nimitz, who declined. Richardson reverted to his permanent rank of rear admiral and served as a member of the General Board, Navy Department, and in the office of the secretary of the navy prior to his retirement on October 1, 1942. He was executive vice president of the Navy Relief Society from June 1942 to May 1945 and was released from active duty in January 1947. Richardson married May Dickens Fennet of Paris, Texas, in 1911; the couple had one son. Richardson died in Washington, D.C., on May 2, 1974.

Gordon W. Prange, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981). James O. Richardson, On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor: The Memoirs of Admiral James O. Richardson as Told to George C. Dyer (Washington: Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, 1973). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Time Periods:

  • World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Christopher Long, “Richardson, James Otto,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 21, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995