The Epoch Of The Samurai





Japan is a mountainous country with a wide range of climate differences, from extremely cold in the northern parts to the hot climates of the islands of the south. A high percentage of the country is clad in mountains and forests, and much of the population dwell on the fertile plans and coastlines. The history of Japan can be divided into different eras, yet the world is primarily interested in a single thousand-year period—the epoch of the samurai. Before the samurai, Japan was a land heavily influenced by Chinese culture. This influence soaked into all areas of life. Much earlier, Japan moved through early “civilized” culture. It passed through its own stone ages, all of which were sophisticated in their own way. Around 800–900 AD—and taking a few hundred years to develop—the samurai started to form, adapting to a changing socio-political environment. Fast forward, they evolved into the now famous warrior culture known across the world, a culture that came to an end around the 1860s and 1870s.

Ignoring the rest of Japanese history, but without forgetting its existence, the age of the samurai can be broken up into sections. These are classifications that only exist here and are theoretical; their only purpose is to help form a visual understanding of the progress of samurai history. This timeline has been simplified for ease. Japanese history can be divided into many individual ages; however, this aid focuses on the samurai’s development and the major changes that occurred.


In the ninth and tenth centuries of the first millennium—that is, before 1000 AD—the samurai began to develop, moving from an obviously pre-samurai warrior template into a more identifiably Japanese form, the birth of the samurai.

The First Great Samurai

From around 1000 AD to 1450 AD comes the classical age of the samurai. This is the age of the samurai as the mounted warrior. His principle weapons include the bow and arrow; warfare is wider and more open. The Genpei War (1180–85) rages and the Kemmu Restoration (1333–1336) takes place. The land is at times in turmoil, heroes are created, and iconic images are crafted for future samurai to adore.

The Age of War

From around the 1400s to the early 1600s, Japan enters a fierce and bloody part of its history. The country is changed from collections of practically self-governing societies, under diffident warlords, to a unified country. A change achieved through consistent campaigning, in which military tactics are developed, classical samurai ideals are giving way to well-structured and formulated “modern” war-craft; gunnery is introduced and explosives gain a more solid foothold while warrior knights are supported by masses of foot soldiers. In a climactic clash at the battle of Sekigahara and the victories at the sieges of Osaka Castle, the Tokugawa family take control of the country and “peace” is restored to Japan.

The Age of Peace

From the early 1600s, “peace” was established in the country. “Peace” has been placed in quotation marks because it is wrongly considered a “peaceful” time. The start of the seventeenth century was full of rebellion and attempted coups, including the siege of Osaka Castle, the slaughter of the last Toyotomi members, the brutal murder of the Christian horde at the siege of Shimabara, and the attempted take-over led by Yui Shosetsu—possibly ordered by the Kishu domain. These are only a few examples of this bloody “peace.” By 1650 the country had “calmed down” and the Tokugawa clan held an iron grip. “Peace” is provided through a feudal dictatorship and true power is held by the Shogun. All of the other clans are placed under the Sankin Kotai system, which means that each clan has to biannually move its chief personnel to the capital—at great cost. This was a measure designed to prevent anyone from rising in rebellion against the Tokugawa family. With the country under dictatorship and war at an end, the samurai class—in the main—moved towards bureaucracy, with less importance placed on combat efficiency. Armor and weapons become more decorative, ethics and the ideals of Confucianism take a stronger hold. Our idea of the perfectly honorable knight is shaped in this age, but in truth, the samurai declined in power and ability.*

The Modern Age

In the 1860s Japan once again became a land of war as the Meiji Restoration developed. The now weakened samurai class were outdated as a product of the old world. Modern society crashed into Japanese life. The samurai were disbanded, ending a thousand year rule of the shoguns, restoring the emperor to “power” under the guidance of a modern government.

The importance of a basic understanding of the above cannot be underestimated. Often these major divisions of the samurai age are mixed together and placed over each other. The ideas of honor, and a spiritual life that gained popularity in the “age of peace,” are attached to the classical age—the “first great samurai.” The warfare strategies of the “first great samurai” are mistakenly used to explain the “age of war.” As a modern reader you must understand that these ages were divided by change—yet connected by the identity of the samurai. The role itself of these Eastern knights is a golden thread that runs through a millennium of change. However, remember that although the samurai were always samurai, they did change with time.

The epoch of the samurai can be expressed as a thousand year rule that starts with the emergence of a warrior class. This then moves from classical warfare, through the bloody years of unification, to the decline of practicality—the eventual fall of the warrior. Each part has its place in Japanese history and should not be mixed together nor mistaken as a single, continuous form.

History as the Samurai Saw It

History is ever changing. A modern understanding of history may not be the understanding that the samurai had. To the samurai and the shinobi, history, folklore, and legend existed in the same space. The Japanese considered their world created from the great Japanese gods in the Age of the Gods. They knew that China influenced Japanese culture. Yet they also knew that the ancestors had a hand in the making of their own history. Often a samurai school of war may have a divine origin and inspiration, meaning that their gods blessed their school. Most origin stories for samurai schools start with the founder leaving to undertake an episode of training in remote mountains. Here, after months of intense study, a god comes to them in the form of a spiritual or earthly creature that then gives the holy swords-man the secrets of the martial arts. This became the storied birth of their style. The origins and histories of samurai (and shinobi) schools can be put into three categories. Sometimes they include all three, and sometimes they only contain one or two of these elements:

1. The mythological element—A god or supernatural creature is the initial inspiration for the school and has conveyed divine wisdom and skills to that school.

2. The legendary element—A hero figure that may or may not have existed is factored into the school’s history. The King Arthur or Robin Hood types of Japan include Kumasaka the famous thief, Yoshitsune the child warrior, and even Kusunoki Masashige, the famed but doomed hero figure; Real historical figures pushed into legend.

3. The historical element—A historical figure, episode, or fact that is without a doubt correct and that is considered true history.

The third is the only element that we now consider as proper history. However, it was not improper for a samurai to pass on the idea of the first two. As observers of history, we should not condemn samurai for taking this angle. Their schools were historically correct even with their origins being a mix of truth and legend, sometimes even claiming historical figures that had become famous.

Society in Japan

The concept of Shi-no-ko-sho—the four classes of feudal Japan—is well understood in the realm of samurai history. Below are some of the lesser-known aspects highlighted to create a balanced view.

The four main tiers:

1. 士 – Shi: The gentry or warrior class

2. 農 – Nojin or Nofu: The farmer

3. 工 – Ko or Shokunin: The artisan or craftsman

4. 商 – Shonin: The merchant

The above system is inherited from Chinese doctrine and influenced by Confucianism. It was not a solid practice until the beginning of the Edo Period, in the early seventeenth century. Most people are interested in periods of warfare when they contemplate samurai history. They tend to overlay this idea onto earlier times. Before the times of peace that came with the control of the Tokugawa family (after 1600), social mobility was more fluid. Lines between the classes were blurred—yet they still existed. The samurai were a social class with clearly developed identities; yet movement between or living on the border of two social classes was more common. A reader of history has to constantly avoid the “Disney Trap.” This is the belief that a peasant is a poor creature who lives in a leaking hovel, a toothless grin reflecting the orange of a crackling fire. The lord is the opulent, fat, cruel dictator on a throne. The knight is the hero on the horse. The merchant is the jewel-encrusted, slimy fellow who rubs his hands together in anticipation of gold. The embedding of these images from childhood by countless mediums creates a thick coat of obscurity. It is paint that needs to be removed from an analytical mind. Peasants are not the lowest creatures. In most cases, slaves, outcasts, and the unseemly came below peasants. They weren’t always poor. The merchant is not always affluent, and the ruler is not always all-powerful. Of course the knight is not always the hero. It is of great importance to identify your own cultural, opinionated distortions of class. Once they are identified, do the utmost to eradicate these falsely formulated ideas. Consider social class and the effects it has on the individual; see it as something fluid and in motion. From the standpoint of the person in history these things were fixed. From the standpoint of the historian these move with time—and for a historian, time can pass instantaneously. As students of history we can pass over 400 years in a moment, seeing an image of a nation change from static to fluid. Therefore, erase these social stereotypes, understand the basic principle: chronology and geography are factors that will determine the outcome of the image you create.

To paint a portrait in your mind: imagine that a given domain has a fair lord, who governs well. The state has satisfactory resources; a peasant may own two slaves and a small cottage in a rural area. A warrior family that rules fairly protects this area, yet they have a strict attitude. The cottage may be an extensive compound on the edge of the farmland that the occupants work, either for another or under their own control. They farm and spend surplus on luxury goods that are sold by the merchant class—an idyllic picture. This picture may be idyllic, yet it can also be realistic to a degree. On the other hand: another province may come under the control of a tyrant, taxes may be levied to unfair levels and the peasants may not even produce enough crops to feed themselves—let alone purchase luxury items. When civil war breaks out, the peasants (in classic horror movie fashion) march against the dictator with firebrands and pitchforks. Again, this is stylistic, yet realistic to a degree. In reality, most historical situations are somewhere between these two extreme examples. That does not mean that these two examples were never realities. Simple factors easily show truths of history. For example, if peasants—in the Japanese case, farmers—were hovel dwelling, disease ridden, skulking figures, then the merchant class would not exist. A merchant needs a customer base, and most of the population were peasant-farmers. Peasant-farmers fed the country, samurai ruled and defended the land, artisans crafted products, and merchants sold them across the islands. Finally, the outcasts perform the duties that the aforementioned will not undertake. Here, again, when imagining the social systems of Japan, do not fall into the “Disney Trap”—or have a blanket outlook. The blanket approach is filled with stereotypes and associated connotations. Instead, adopt the balanced approach of looking at Japanese history as a whole. Consider the merchant to be a hardworking shopkeeper, the craftsman to be the busy woodcarver or blacksmith. Consider the peasant to be a healthy farmer in the field. Consider the samurai a militarily trained landowner; a local power. Then, with this level playing field in place, investigate times and place. Learn how that at times the population became wealthier and life was easier; while at other times existence was harsh. Discover how these harsh times caused rebellion. It is not until a date and a place is identified that a correct understanding can be achieved—make sure to remember this.

Japanese Banzai on Okinawa





On April 29, Emperor Hirohito’s birthday and the most important holiday in Japan, Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima summoned his top commanders to his headquarters in a tunnel underneath Shuri Castle. For days they had been privately arguing over Isamu Cho’s proposal for a massive counter-stroke against the Americans. Now Ushijima wished them to discuss whether or not his strategy for defending Okinawa should be changed. Some historians say Ushijima was not present, others insist that he was. It does not seem likely, however, that the Thirty-second Army commander—even though it was not his custom to attend staff discussions—would ignore such a momentous meeting called by himself.

Ushijima’s chiefs sat on canvas camp chairs at a rough flat table covered with maps. Around them the stones of the tunnel glistened with sweat. Water from the moat surrounding medieval Shuri seeped through crevices in the wall or dripped incessantly on the floor of beaten earth. Dim light glinted weakly off the glasses worn by most of the officers in attendance or winked on the stars of the numerous generals present.

Isamu Cho sat close to Ushijima, staring arrogantly into the questioning gaze of his arch rival, Colonel Hiromichi Yahara. Just as he had predicted the debacle of General Cho’s abortive counter-attack of April 12-13, the rigidly rational Yahara was now prepared to oppose what he knew would be a plan for an even greater and more disastrous counter-stroke. By his patrician bearing he made it clear that he could not be bullied by either the rank or the fiery rhetoric of the burly general now rising to address the meeting.

Cho began with an incredible untruth: that the Japanese soldier—in the main from four to six inches shorter than his American enemies and from thirty to fifty pounds lighter—was a superb hand-to-hand fighter who could easily overpower the soft, effete American devils. A general clearing of throats and grunts of approval followed this absurd remark, either born of the School of the Rosy Report or emanating from the sake bottles being passed freely around. Very quickly most of the commanders present supported Cho’s plan: Lieutenant General Takeo Fujioka, commander of the Sixty-second Division, and also the plan’s coauthor; Lieutenant General Tatsumi Amamiya, swallowing his detestation of the boastful Fujioka in his eagerness to lead his untested Twenty-fourth Division into battle at last; and Major General Kosuke Wada, chief of the Fifth Artillery Command. Wada agreed with the others that the Thirty-second Army had made an achievement unprecedented in Pacific warfare: it had preserved its main body intact after a month of fighting.

This, Yahara bluntly interjected, happened only because the Americans had not yet hurled their full strength against the Naha-Shuri-Yonabaru line. But now that the outer defenses had fallen, because of the April 12-13 fiasco, the American commander was strengthening his assault forces, according to intelligence reports. An even bigger disaster would ensue if Cho’s massive counter-offensive were approved, he warned. And to speak of the valor of the troops was foolish, because even now, since there had been no issue of sweet-potato brandy on the emperor’s birthday, the men were discontented. For thirty days these gallant men had risen every morning to look down upon a Hagushi Anchorage still choked with enemy ships. The Divine Winds had not blown them away. It was difficult for even Japanese soldiers to believe that the Navy would come to their rescue—nor could they be blamed for complaining about being asked to fight alone one day’s sail from the homeland.

It was true, Isamu Cho replied slowly, that the Americans had not thrown in all their strength. But they were doing so now. There was a new Marine division in the enemy’s assault line, the First, the hated butchers of Guadalcanal. Another—the Sixth—was due to join them. This was the moment to destroy the Americans’ fresh power. But, Cho continued, the Thirty-second Army had also been reinforced. Had not our chief General Ushijima in his wisdom concluded that the enemy was not interested in storming the Minatoga Beaches, and so had ordered our comrades of the Twenty-fourth Division and Forty-fourth Brigade to join us here? Now it is we who are at full strength. Let us strike the enemy immediately and annihilate them before they can grind down to our main line.

Careful, full-scale counter-attack, not the foolish glory of the Banzai, would crush the Americans. There must be help from the kamikaze, then massed artillery fire with the troops attacking all along the line. The fresh Twenty-fourth Division would be hurled at the center and open a hole through which the Forty-fourth Brigade would pour in a thrust to the west coast. The Forty-fourth would then wheel south and the First Marine Division would be isolated and annihilated. The American Twenty-fourth Corps would be rolled up. There should also be counter-landings on both flanks. The Twenty-sixth Shipping Engineer Regiment would embark from Naha in barges, small boats, and native canoes to strike the rear of the Marine division. Later, the youths of the Twenty-sixth, Twenty-eighth, and Twenty-ninth Sea Raiding Squadrons would cross the reef and wade ashore to help the engineers. A similar counter-landing would strike the rear of the Seventh Infantry Division on the east.

It would be difficult to conceive a more complicated plan of attack, and Cho’s proposal calling for so many disconnected and disparate sallies—a montage of uncoordinated sorties if ever there was one—paid absolutely no heed to what the enemy’s reaction might be. Moreover, it was made doubly difficult by the Japanese unfailing reliance on a night attack to cancel out the American superiority in artillery, even if this meant confusing their own troops. Yet, when Colonel Yahara arose to criticize the operation, he praised it as tactically excellent, probably because he was about to demolish it as a strategic monstrosity and did not want to alienate Cho entirely. Yahara said:

“To take the offensive with inferior forces against absolutely superior enemy forces is reckless and will only lead to certain defeat. We must continue the current operation, calmly recognizing its final destiny—for annihilation is inevitable no matter what is done—and maintain to the bitter end the principle of a strategic holding action. If we should fail, the period of maintaining a strategic holding action, as well as the holding action for the decisive battle for the homeland, will be shortened. Moreover, our forces will inflict but small losses on the enemy, while on the other hand, scores of thousands of our troops will have been sacrificed in vain as victims of the offensive.”

Yahara sat down.

It was now up to Ushijima.

He nodded to Cho.

The attack would begin at dawn on May 4. Before that, the flank counter-landings would be launched. Before them the artillery would commence, and before everything would come the kamikaze.

The Japanese aerial assaults began at six o’clock on the night of May 3. Once again, the bombers sought to get at the rich pickings in the Hagushi Anchorage, but thirty-six of them were shot down and the rest forced to unload at high altitude, with little damage. Only the suicide-diving kamikaze broke through. They sank destroyer Little and an LSM, while damaging two mine layers and an LCS. After midnight, sixty bombers struck Tenth Army rear areas, coming in scattering window. Terrible antiaircraft fire rose in crisscrossing streams of light, as though a million narrow-beamed searchlights were aimed into the night, and the bombers dropped their loads aimlessly—though some of them landed in a Marine evacuation hospital.

An hour later Marine amtanks guarding Machinato Airfield on the west coast fired at voices on the beach. American cruisers, destroyers, and gunboats on “flycatcher” patrol shot at squat Japanese barges sliding darkly upcoast from Naha. The barges lost their way. Instead of landing far enough north to take the Marines in their rear, they veered inshore and blundered into the outposts of B Company, First Marines.

The Japanese sent up a screeching and gobbling of battle cries and the surprised Marines sprang to their guns. All up and down the sea wall the battle raged, with Marine amtracks moving out to sea and coming in again to grind the Japs to pieces between two fires. Some five hundred Japanese died in this futile west-flank landing.

The east-flank landings came to the same annihilating end. Navy patrol boats sighted the Japanese craft. They fired at them and turned night into day with star-shells. Soldiers of the Seventh Division’s Reconnaissance Troops joined the sailors to complete the destruction of four hundred men.

At dawn, the main attack began.

It went straight to the doom that Colonel Yahara had predicted. Wave after wave of the Twenty-fourth Division’s men shuffled forward to death in that gray dawn, moving among their own artillery shells, taking this risk in hopes of getting in on the Americans. But the soldiers of the Seventh and Seventy-seventh Divisions held firm—while American warships, sixteen battalions of division artillery, and twelve battalions of heavier corps artillery, plus 134 airplanes, smothered the enemy in a wrathful blanket of steel and explosive. Ships as big as the fourteen-inch-gunned New York and Colorado, as small as gunboats with 20 mm cannons, ranged up and down the east coast firing at the Japanese on call.

Across the island, the kamikaze dove again on ships in the Hagushi Anchorage, again falling on the luckless small vessels of the radar picket screen. With them were the baka bombs. This May 4 one of the baka hit the light mine-layer Shea and set it temporarily on fire. The kamikaze also sank two more destroyers, Luce and Morrison, as well as two LSMs, while damaging the carrier Sangamon, the cruiser Birmingham, another pair of destroyers, a minesweeper, and an LCS. Again, they failed to get at the cargo and transport ships. And they lost 95 planes.

Ashore, Isamu Cho’s massive counterthrust was being broken by that material power for which Mitsuru Ushijima had shown such profound respect. Much of the Japanese assault died aborning. Sometimes the Japanese closed, but rarely. There were seesaw battles up and down some of the ridges held by the Seventy-seventh, but they ended with the GIs either in command of their previous position or holding new ground farther inside the Japanese territory. One battalion of the Japanese Twenty-fourth Division got behind the Seventy-seventh on the left, but it was annihilated by a reserve battalion of the Seventh Division in a three-day fight. Otherwise the Twenty-fourth Division never punched that hole through which the Forty-fourth Brigade was to race and isolate the First Marine Division.

And the First began attacking on the morning of May 4. Even as the GIs on their left bore the brunt of Cho’s big sally, these Marines were battling southeast toward the key bastion of Shuri. They scored gains of up to four hundred yards. The next day they attacked again, once more pushing the Japanese back—even though their advance was made more costly by the fact that they were up against rested battalions of the Japanese Sixty-second Division. By the night of May 5 the Marines had picked up another three hundred yards. By that time Lieutenant General Isamu Cho’s massive stroke had been completely shattered. Those two days of fighting had cost the Japanese 6,227 dead. The Seventh and Seventy-seventh Divisions had lost 714 men killed or wounded while holding the line, the First Marine Division had taken losses of 649 men in the more costly business of attack. The next day the First gained another three hundred yards, and added a fourth Medal of Honor winner to its rolls since coming into the line on May 1. That day Corporal John Fardy smothered a grenade with his life, as had Pfc. William Foster. Sergeant Elbert Kinser did it on May 4. Two days before that, Corpsman Robert Bush had risked his life to give plasma to a wounded officer, driving off a Japanese rush with pistol and carbine, killing six of the enemy and refusing evacuation though badly wounded.

There would be more Medals of Honor won in the days to come. The First Division by May 5 had come against Ushijima’s main line, as had the GIs on their left. In front of the First was the western half of the Shuri bastion. To their right was Naha, and this would be assigned to the Sixth Marine Division the next day. In the sector of both these Marine divisions were systems of interlocking fortified ridges such as those encountered on Iwo Jima. Nor would the way be made easy here by further counter-attack.

A change had taken place at Shuri Castle. In tears, Lieutenant General Ushijima had promised Colonel Yahara that from now on he would listen to no one but him. The Ushijima-Cho relationship had ended in the recrimination of a red and useless defeat. Isamu Cho argued no longer. He became silent and stoical, convinced now that only time stood between the Thirty-second Army and ultimate destruction.

Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa (1886–1966)


Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa (October 2, 1886 – November 9, 1966) was an admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. He is most notable for commanding the Japanese fleet during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Japanese “Decoy” Force during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He also served as the final Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Ozawa was nicknamed the “Gargoyle” because he was extremely tall (6’7 , 2 m) and was commonly regarded as one of the three ugliest admirals in the Imperial Japanese Navy. He also had a reputation for being both courageous and compassionate towards his men. Many historians regard Ozawa as one of the most capable Japanese flag officers.

Jisaburo Ozawa had a distinguished naval career and succeeded Toyoda as the last Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet in May 1945, when the end of the fleet and surrender of his country was simply a matter of time. A modest man, he refused promotion to admiral because he believed that serving his country was more important than rank.

He was born on 2 October 1886, in rural Koyu County on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Like his contemporaries at the head of the Imperial Japanese Navy, he attended the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, which he left in 1909, not especially highly placed amongst that year’s graduates. He served as a midshipman on the cruisers Soya and Kasuga and battleship Mikasa. Promoted to ensign, Ozawa served on the destroyer Arare, battleship Hiei and cruiser Chitose, and as a lieutenant, on Kawachi and Hinoki. He specialized in torpedo warfare. He attended the Japanese Naval War College in 1919, afterwards being promoted to lieutenant commander, and was given his first command, the destroyer Take. He subsequently commanded Shimakaze and Asakaze. He served as chief torpedo officer on Kongo in 1925.

Except for a twelve-month visit to the United States and Europe in 1930, he served in staff positions from 1925 until 1933. On 15 November 1934, he was given command of the Maya and of the Haruna in 1935. On 1 December 1936, he was promoted to rear admiral. He continued to serve in various staff positions, including Chief of Staff of the Combined Fleet in 1937 and Commandant of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy. He was promoted to vice admiral on 15 November 1940.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ozawa became responsible for Japan’s naval operations in the South China Sea as Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Expeditionary Fleet, providing support for the invasion of Malaya. Between January and March 1942, his fleet was involved in the invasions of Java and Sumatra. Despite his conventional naval background, Ozawa was one of the leading advocates of naval aviation in the Imperial Japanese Navy – he was the first high-ranking officer to recommend that the Japanese aircraft carrier forces be organized into an air fleet so that they could train and fight together. No doubt if he had commanded the attack on Pearl Harbor, the outcome would have been different, but he did not replace Chuichi Nagumo as commander of Japan’s carrier forces until 11 November 1942. It was too late, for while Ozawa proved an aggressive and skilled commander, he was overwhelmed by the numerical and technological superiority of the United States at the Battle of the Philippine Sea. After the battle, he offered his resignation, but it was was not accepted.

The remnants of his fleet were present at the Battle of Leyte Gulf against the forces of Admiral William Halsey. Despite being the senior admiral there, the overall Japanese battle plan was to sacrifice his force as a decoy so that Kurita’s Centre Force could attack MacArthur’s invasion forces on the Leyte beaches. Nevertheless, Ozawa commanded his forces well and many believe that he was the foremost amongst Japan’s wartime admirals. Despite this, his fleet ended its career off of the Philippines with flight decks empty for lack of aircraft and pilots. Afterwards, he succeeded Toyoda as the last Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy from 29 May 1945. He refused promotion to full admiral and remained as vice admiral until the final dissolution of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

He died in 1966 at the age of eighty.

Mariana Islands Campaign and the Great Turkey Shoot


Japan had been indispensable to the building of this prosperity. The rapidity with which she, like China, recovered her former status as a power (and economically surpassed it) had obvious implications for her place both in the Asian and the world balance. By 1970 the Japanese enjoyed the second highest GDP in the non-communist world. They had renewed their industrial base and had moved with great success into new areas of manufacture. Only in 1951 had a Japanese yard launched the first Japanese ship built for export, yet within twenty years Japan had the largest shipbuilding industry in the world. At the same time she had won a commanding position in consumer industries such as electronics and motor-cars, of which the Japanese came to make more than any country except the United States (to the resentment of American manufacturers who sought protection from their government, a sincere compliment). In 1979 it was agreed that Japanese cars should be made in England, a step taken with an eye to penetration of the EC market. The debit side of such advances was provided by the ample evidence of the cost of economic growth in the destruction of the Japanese environment and the wear and tear of Japanese urban life.

Japan had been specially favoured by circumstances in her advance to the status of a world economic power since the disaster of 1945. An American enforcement of a bias towards investment rather than consumption during the occupation years had helped. The war in Vietnam, like that in Korea, had been a stroke of luck for her, another boost to an already thriving economy. Yet human beings have to seize opportunities and to take advantage of favourable circumstances, and unusually positive social attitudes appear to have been crucial in Japan. Even in the immediate aftermath of defeat, her people were able to deploy their intense national pride and showed an unrivalled capacity for collective effort. In the next decades of recovery and growth, they continued to display the deep cohesiveness and readiness to subordinate the individual to collective purposes that had always marked Japanese society. Strangely, such pre-modern attitudes seemed to survive the coming of political democracy, just as old hierarchical forms and assumptions of obligation and dependence survived acceptance of market economics.

Other survivals of the past were visible in the successful careers of many politicians whose earlier successes had been won under the wartime regime (sometimes in circumstances by no means always wholly savoury). In 1955 the Liberal Democratic Party was formed, a union of conservative and bureaucratic forces which was to monopolize power for nearly forty years. In 1958 there took office as prime minister a man who had been serving a sentence of imprisonment as a war criminal ten years earlier, and who had only been officially ‘purged’ in 1952 of his undertakings during the war. It may be too early to judge how deeply democratic institutions are rooted in Japanese society; after 1951, though there soon appeared something like a consensus for one-party rule, there were also strong opposition campaigns over particular issues. More alarmingly, there were also disquieting signs in the emergence of more extreme groupings, some of which were anti-liberal, even quasi-fascist. Mounting uneasiness was felt, too, over what was happening to traditional values and institutions. The costs of economic growth loomed up not only in huge conurbations and pollution, but also in social problems straining even Japanese custom. Great firms still operated with success on the basis of group loyalties buttressed by traditional attitudes and institutions. At a different level, even the deeply conservative Japanese family sometimes seemed to be under strain.

Yet the material recovery was remarkable. Japan’s exports reached pre-war levels again in 1959, GNP having doubled in the previous five years. In 1960 the prime minister announced a plan to double national income by 1970; the period of economic growth which followed was so successful that by 1973 straight line growth since 1960 had been at a rate of 10 per cent per year. This had been achieved by major political interventions. A deliberate policy of running down dependence on coal as a source of primary energy had been by no means unquestioningly received but in ten years it reduced the country’s dependence on this relatively expensive fuel as an energy source from 31.3 per cent to 6.1 per cent of its needs. National plans in the 1960s for the rationalization of the steel industry, the development of electricity supply and the petrochemical industry were all based on the assumption that cheap oil imports would continue to be available. From such interventions flowed substantial real wage increases and benefits to Japanese consumers, which underpinned social support for them.

Economic progress helped to change the context of Japanese foreign policy, which moved more clearly away in the 1960s from the somewhat stark Cold War simplicities of the preceding decade. Economic strength had made the yen internationally important and had drawn Japan into the world’s monetary diplomacy. Prosperity involved her in the affairs of almost every part of the globe. In the Pacific basin, she became a major consumer of other countries’ primary produce, in the Middle East a large buyer of oil. Japan’s investment in Europe was soon thought alarming by some Europeans (even though her aggregate share was not large), while imports of her manufactured goods threatened European producers. Even the eating habits of the Japanese raised international questions. In the 1960s 90 per cent of their protein requirements were met by fishing and this led to alarm lest they be over-fishing some areas.

Japan had entered the United Nations in 1956. By then, she was already evidently on the road to resuming her great power status. The heart of the conduct of her foreign relations was the maintenance of Japan as a key factor in the United States security system. The rearmament of the former enemy, which had begun with MacArthur’s innocent-looking authorization of a ‘national police reserve’ (which enabled four American divisions to be withdrawn from garrison duties in Japan and to be sent to serve in Korea), proceeded even more rapidly after his dismissal in 1951. Ironically, he had begun the process of undermining his own dream of a neutralized, non-nationalist, democratic Japan. By 1958 Japan had a ‘Land Self-defence Force’ of 180,000 men, and 1,300 aircraft.

As these and other matters changed the atmosphere and content of foreign relations, so did the behaviour of other powers, especially in the Pacific area. As Japan became the world’s largest importer of primary resources, she increasingly assumed in the 1960s an economic position in relation to other Pacific countries not unlike that of Germany in central and eastern Europe before 1914. New Zealand and Australia found their economies increasingly and profitably tied to Japan rather than to the old British market; their embassies in Japan began to matter to them as much as their High Commissions in London. Both of them supplied Japan with farm produce (particularly meat) and Australia minerals, notably coal and iron ore. The Russians and the South Koreans meanwhile complained about Japanese fishing, thus adding new complications to the old story of involvement with Korea which helped to keep alive that country’s distrust of Japanese motives. South Korea was Japan’s second biggest market (after the United States) and Japanese investment had begun again there soon after 1951. South Korean nationalism always had a strongly anti-Japanese tone, and in 1959 the president of South Korea could be heard urging his countrymen to unite ‘as one man’ not against their northern communist neighbour, but against Japan. Within twenty years, too, Japanese car manufacturers were looking askance at the vigorous rival they had helped create. As in Taiwan, so in South Korea industrial growth was built on technology diffused by Japan.

Japan’s dependence on imported energy meant a nasty shock when oil prices shot up in the 1970s. There was a sharp decline in manufacturing output 1973 – 5 and a similar, though less violent, fall in 1979 when the suspension of Iranian production during the revolutionary crisis sent up prices again.4 Yet this was not to be the end of the Japanese success story. Growth continued overall and such valid grounds for concern as higher inflation and speculative booms in land investment for a long time seemed hardly to affect overall progress. Japanese exports to the United States grew tenfold between 1971 and 1984. In the 1980s GDP was less only than those of the USA and USSR. As her industrialists turned to advanced information technology and biotechnology, and talked of running down car manufacturing, there was no sign that she had lost her power of disciplined self-adaptation. Altogether, the Japanese economy had the potential to develop in various directions; in 1978, when the Chinese vice-president visited Tokyo, trade between China and Japan was already worth as much as China’s trade with the United States and West Germany combined.

Growing strength brought greater responsibilities. The withdrawal of American direction was acknowledged openly when it was agreed in 1971 that Okinawa should be handed back to Japanese administration. Though the Americans retained control of their military bases there, this was the first of Japan’s former overseas possessions to be reacquired since the war ended. There remained question marks over the main three islands of the Kuriles, still in Russian hands. Taiwan, in the possession of the Chinese nationalists and claimed by the Chinese communists, posed diplomatic problems, too, but Japanese attitudes on all these matters remained – no doubt prudently – reserved and there was at least no question of the resumption of old imperial conquests there. There was also the possibility that the question of Sakhalin, the whole of which had been consigned to the USSR at Yalta, might be reopened.

All such issues began of course to look much more susceptible to revisions or at least reconsideration in the wake of other changes in the Asian scene, not all of which stemmed from Chinese and Japanese resurgence. Sino-Soviet bickering gave Japan much greater freedom for manoeuvre towards the United States, her erstwhile patron, as well as towards China and the USSR. The embarrassment that too close a tie with the Americans might bring became clearer as the Vietnam war unrolled and political opposition to it grew in Japan. Her freedom of action was ultimately limited, in the sense that the three greatest powers in the region were by 1970 equipped with nuclear weapons and Japan was not, though she of all nations had most reason to know their effect, but there was little doubt that her industry could produce them within a relatively brief time if needed. Indisputably, Japan was once more by 1990 a world power.

Japanese Midget Submarine Operations 1942-45 I


“Ko-Hyoteki” midget submarines. One of the scuttled and abandoned kō-hyōteki in the shallows in the Solomons, 1942.

As the I-boats and midget submarines of the second special attack flotilla sortied to the Indian ocean and Australia, Japanese naval planners were hard at work assessing the next major fleet operation, a massive naval strike at Midway and the Aleutians, to seize the islands and establish an eastern defensive perimeter for japan, as well as provide a base for closer strikes at Hawaii. As part of the planning for Midway, both Chiyoda and Nisshin, each loaded with twelve kō-hyōteki, steamed behind the strike force to establish a midget submarine base at Kure Atoll (Parshall and Tully 2007:48–49, 453; Spennemann 2013). Defeat at Midway scuttled those plans, and the unscathed tenders returned to Japan with their midgets.

While Midway was an unmitigated failure, the feint to the north and the seizure of the western end of the Aleutian chain established garrisons on the islands of Attu and Kiska. Japanese troops waded ashore on Kiska on June 7, 1942, quickly capturing the island’s two-man radio station crew. Attu was also quickly taken with no resistance. In the aftermath of the Midway disaster, the Japanese decided to hold their tenuous position in these barren, windswept islands. It was not necessarily a tactical advantage, but it posed a psychologically strategic value. Thousands of troops, materiel, and additional weapons were shipped to Attu and Kiska, each respectively 650 and 800 miles from Japan’s northern shores. In the months that followed the seizure of the islands, the Japanese constructed coastal and antiaircraft defenses, a seaplane base, camps, roads, and an airfield (Chandonnet 2008; Garfield 1995).

As part of the fortification program, the navy sent Chiyoda to Kiska. The ship carried six kō-hyōteki and landed them on the island on July 4, 1942. The midgets augmented Kiska’s defenses, which now included a large garrison, five hundred civilian laborers, seacoast guns, and the support of twelve I-class submarines. Naval engineers built a 30-foot-wide, 200-foot-long submarine pen and launching facility for the midgets on the edge of Kiska harbor. It included several buildings—a machine shop, a battery repair shop, an acid storage building (for the batteries), an equipment storage building, and a powerhouse with a diesel generator. The sub pen was set inside a concrete-lined excavation cut into the shore, with two sets of 6-foot-wide narrow gauge track. Steel cradles held the subs, which were winched ashore. The pen was covered by a large wooden truss roof (Payne 1943:34). The first midget base outside of Japan, the new facility represented the navy’s return to the original concept of the midgets as shore-based, coastal defense weapons.

However, the kō-hyōteki were never used in Aleutian combat. The occupation of the islands resulted in a furious response from the United States, which began a year-long campaign to oust the Japanese. Aerial bombardment and harassment was followed by a naval campaign to interdict the flow of supplies by sea. The midget base was damaged in a September 14, 1942, air raid launched from Adak Island that sank vessels in the harbor and strafed the submarines. Later raids bombed the base, destroying the power plant, and one of the midgets was put out of commission by a fragmentation bomb that peppered and pierced the aft hull. Attu was taken by a joint American and Canadian invasion force in May 1943, and most of the occupation force died in the battle and a last-ditch suicidal banzai charge that saw nearly a thousand Japanese die. In the aftermath of the retaking of Attu, Japan gave the order to evacuate Kiska, and on July 28, under the cover of weather, ships loaded 5,183 men and headed home. The midget corps, before departing, set off the scuttling charges in their last three, relatively undamaged kō-hyōteki. When the allied invasion force landed on Kiska on August 15, they found a deserted island filled with abandoned buildings and destroyed equipment, including the wrecked midgets (Coyle 2014:101–10).


After the defeat at Midway and the ill-fated Aleutians venture, the Imperial Japanese Navy still hoped that the kō-hyōteki could play an important role in the war. In late 1942, the number of kō-hyōteki constructed stood at forty-four; of these, at least a third had been lost along with most of the original class of midget submariners. The corps was about to lose more.

In response to the ongoing struggle in the Solomon Islands, where Japanese and Allied forces continued to wage air, land, and sea battles, the navy decided to deploy some of the kō-hyōteki to that theater. Admiral Ugaki, while an early proponent of the midget program, was uneasy with the decision, noting in his diary on September 30, 1942, that Chiyoda had arrived at Truk from Kure with eleven submarines on board: “According to the skipper who came to report, training and readiness of the craft were still insufficient. I can’t help but feeling we called them down too soon, disregarding these points. We shouldn’t use them unless success is believed certain. Otherwise, judging from past experiences, sacrifices would only be increased for nothing. I warned the staff accordingly and told them to keep on with their training for the time being” (Chihaya 1991:220–21).

By October, the crews were apparently ready, and Chiyoda sailed to the Solomons with six kō-hyōteki designated as the Third Special Attack Unit. The commander of the Third Destroyer Squadron argued for placing the midgets at Lunga or Tulagi, while Combined Fleet staff argued for operating the subs between Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands. Ugaki decided to land the midgets at Guadalcanal, where a base was established for them at the island’s northwest tip, near Cape Esperance, at Kamimbo Bay.

A “Tokyo Express” run on October 11 brought the necessary materials for the base in the destroyer Shirayuki along with 1,100 soldiers (Frank 1990:321–22). Ugaki remained distressed, because although “consideration to giving them a chance to participate in a battle since they were brought down here can be appreciated, what I am afraid of most is that it will only result in belittling human lives and arms, and sending them to certain death, yet bringing no contribution to the outcome of the operation” (Chihaya 1991:234). Nonetheless, Chiyoda delivered eight more submarines in October to Shortland, Bougainville.

A document recovered from a sunken kō-hyōteki in June 1943 outlined the strategy for the midgets: “Plan of Attack against Anchored Enemy Warships for the Kō-hyōteki Based at Guadalcanal: The Time for Resolute Action.” Resolute action meant acting quickly and decisively: “Upon receiving a report that the enemy has been discovered, the attack will be carried out with the least possible delay. Do not lose your opportunity because you vainly delayed and thereby allowed the enemy to escape into a strongly defended harbor” (Plan of Attack 1943). The orders stressed that two midget submarines were to be deployed against a “powerful” enemy ship and that “four or more will not be ordinarily be used simultaneously at one spot,” perhaps because of the possibility of complete loss, as seen in Pearl Harbor, Diego Suarez, and Sydney.

The kō-hyōteki were ordered to remain submerged daily from 30 minutes before sunrise until dusk and then make evening attacks. While exhorted to pick out “the most powerful ship or transport” as a target, midget submariners were given the discretion to expend a torpedo on patrol craft. After attacking, commanders were to take a “suitably circuitous route.” If disabled or out of power, the subs were to be towed to Japanese-occupied islands; if this was impossible, the subs could be scuttled, but the crews were not to commit suicide. These orders saved the lives of five midget crews at Guadalcanal, who were the first members of the kō-hyōteki corps sent into combat who lived to fight another day.

The setting for midget submarine operations in the Solomon Islands was Indispensable Strait between Florida and Malaita islands and Savo Sound between Guadalcanal and Florida islands, with tiny Savo island between them. There, as part of a Japanese plan that deployed RO and I-class submarines to ambush American shipping going up the slot to Guadalcanal, the Imperial Japanese Navy sent I-16, I-20, and I-24, each with a kō-hyōteki, to attack American ships anchored off Guadalcanal in early November 1942.

From a position 5 miles off Cape Esperance, I-20 launched a midget commanded by Sublieutenant Nobuharu Kunihiro and crewed by Petty Officer First Class Goro Inoue at 02:22 on November 7. Two hours later, while patrolling the Lunga anchorage off the southern end of Savo island, Kunahiro avoided destroyers screening the area and continued to Lunga Point. Just before 09:30, Kunihiro and Inoue fired one of their torpedoes at the destroyer USS Lansdowne (DD-486), which was busy unloading mortar ammunition. The torpedo passed astern of Lansdowne, which went into action just as the torpedo struck the nearby transport Majaba (AG-43) “cleanly amidships on the starboard side” (Commanding Officer, USS Lansdowne 1942). Badly damaged, Majaba did not sink, as its crew beached it. Lansdowne, meanwhile, “slipped her chain and swing around with full rudder and emergency full ahead” and pursued an aggressive depth charge attack on the midget, dropping a total of twenty-two depth charges over the next half hour (Commanding Officer, USS Lansdowne 1942). I-20 tou, undamaged, retreated, but a faulty gyrocompass led Kunahiro to strand his sub in shallow water off the beach at Malvovo. After flooding their sub, the two midget submariners escaped—the first in the program to do so (Warner and Seno 1986:165).

Over the course of little more than a month, from November 11 to December 13, seven other sorties resulted in the loss of all seven of the midgets. The first was that launched from I-16 and commanded by Lieutenant (j.g.) Teiji Yamaki and crewed by Petty Officer First Class Ryoichi Hashimoto. Yamaki, a veteran of the first training class, had been scheduled to participate in the Sydney attack, but a battery explosion in his kō-hyōteki killed his crew member and badly burned him. Now recovered, he was back in action, but his mission was cut short when during the launch from the mother sub, his rudder struck the launch cradle and was disabled. Unable to steer, Yamaki surfaced and scuttled his craft but escaped alive, as did Hashimoto, by swimming ashore (Warner and Seno 1986:165). Another midget, launched from I-20 on November 19, developed an oil leak and was scuttled, but its crew, Sublieutenant Yoshiaki Miyoshi and Petty Officer Kiyoshi Umeda, escaped and swam ashore. Their craft may have been one later raised from some 10 meters (30 feet) of water off Cape Esperance on January 4, 1945, by the coast guard buoy tender Ironwood (WAGL-297), which raised and loaded the wreck onto a crane barge and beached it near Hutchinson Creek on Florida island for examination and disarmament by attempting to remove the torpedoes. After what was reported as a “thorough search,” with the torpedoes still stuck in their tubes, the sub was scuttled off to Gavutu island (Commanding Officer, USCG Ironwood 1945).

The next midget loss was commanded by Lieutenant Yasuki Mukai and crewed by Petty Officer First Class Kyugoro Sano. Launched by I-24 on November 22, 1942, 14 miles off Cape Esperance, it was never seen again. The fifth loss was I-16 tou, launched on November 28 from just 3,000 yards off Lunga Point. Sublieutenant Hiroshi Hoka and Petty Officer Shinsaku Inokuma managed a daring feat, firing through a screen of five destroyers to hit the 6,200 ton freighter USS Alchiba (AKA-6). The torpedo tore into the hold, igniting Alchiba’s cargo of aviation fuel, bombs, and ammunition. “The impact was followed immediately by an explosion throwing a column of flame and smoke approximately one hundred and fifty feet into the air. Fire immediately seemed to fill number two hold and to spread to number one hold” (Commanding Officer, USS Alchiba 1942). The crew managed to beach the burning ship at Lunga Point, where they hastily unloaded ammunition and fought the fire as small arms and ammunition overheated and exploded. The fire burned for days as the heroic crew of Alchiba, joined by volunteers from other ships, successfully fought to save the ship. After a month of resting half sunk as a “sitting duck,” Alchiba was refloated and moved to repair facilities (Tibbets 1996:49–50). Alchiba would live to fight another day, but I-16 tou and its crew did not return from the mission (Warner and Seno 1986:166).

On December 2, I-20 launched Lieutenant (j.g.) Chiaka Tanaka and Chief Petty Officer Mamoru Mitani. They attacked but missed the freighter SS Joseph Teal and then fled, pursued by depth charges. They nearly made it back to base but abandoned their craft and swam ashore. The attack was noted by Admiral Ugaki in his diary on December 3, who wrote that he had received a report that one of the midgets had “penetrated Lunga Roads and attacked an enemy transport between capes Lunga and Cori. After confirming two torpedoes [had] hit, it withdrew, submerging deep, and eventually came back to the base at Kamimbo, detouring Cape Esperance, after being attacked with depth charges for one and a half hours. Its crew was all safe, but the boat sank from leaking at 1430” (Chihaya 1991:292).

The seventh loss was crewed by Lieutenant (j.g.) Tomio Tsuji and Petty Officer First Class Daiseiki Tsubokura, who launched from I-24 on December 7. They torpedoed Alchiba, still stranded on the beach from the earlier attack, and flooded its engineering spaces. Two of the crew were killed and six injured, but as noted earlier, Alchiba survived (Commanding Officer, USS Alchiba 1942). The midget submarine crew did not. They were attacked by a SBD Dauntless dive bomber in an attack coordinated with PC-477 as they withdrew from Alchiba. The damaged sub and its crew sank in more than 2,000 feet of water. The last loss was on December 13, when I-16 launched Lieutenant (j.g.) Yoshimi Kado and Petty Officer Second Class Toshio Yahagi. They claimed to have engaged a destroyer before withdrawing and scuttling their sub near Kamimbo. Guadalcanal, like Diego Suarez, proved ultimately to be the finest hours for the kō-hyōteki corps, stirring feats of bravery and death at Pearl Harbor and Sydney notwithstanding. Two vessels had been damaged in each attack, although not taken out of the war. Ramillies, British Loyalty, Majaba, and Alchiba were all returned to service. The price was eight subs and six trained crew—and the gains purchased by their loss had no real effect. Despite their limited success, the midgets had failed to achieve even a tactical victory. The war had turned against Japan, which after Midway, now lost Guadalcanal.

Japanese Midget Submarine Operations 1942-45 II


HA69 “Hei-Hyoteki C” midget submarine on board of landing ship 5-go 8/1944.


By the end of 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy worked to redesign and redeploy the kō-hyōteki. Unfortunately for Japan, this effort focused on the technical deficiencies of the submarines instead of focusing on the misuse of the craft and crews on ill-suited missions. Private doubts plagued naval leaders and doubtless some of the veterans of the corps, but the program pushed on. As the last group of Type A submarines was completed, a new sub, numbered HA-53, was designed and laid down in October 1942 and completed in February 1943 with a major difference. Less than a third of a meter (1 foot longer than the Type A boats), its extra space accommodated a 40 hp, 25 kilowatt diesel generator to recharge the sub’s batteries, thus correcting the major design inefficiency of the earlier midgets. From this prototype, called an otsu-gata (Type B), a new group of hei-gata (Type C) boats emerged (Itani et al. 1993:127). These 81-foot-long, 49 ton craft carried a crew of three, the third man serving as the engineer. More complex than their predecessors, the hei-gata began to emerge from the factory in the summer of 1943, with five modified kō-hyōteki, HA-49, HA-50, HA-51, HA-52, and HA-53 rebuilt as Type C boats.

The Imperial Japanese Navy decided to ship these five submarines to the Bismarck Archipelago (now in Papua New Guinea) to be based at the former Australian base at Rabaul, which was now a heavily built up and fortified Japanese bastion after its January 1942 capture. As supply convoys ferried supplies and personnel and towed a supply and support vessel for the midget submarines, the submarines were readied for towing across the Pacific. Only two of the five would arrive, the first being HA-53, which reached Rabaul on December 16, 1943, under tow of the merchant ship Hidaka Maru. HA-52 arrived under tow of the support ship Sanko Maru, which steamed from Palau with the sub on February 12, 1944. Diverted to Kavieng, New Ireland, Sanko Maru and HA-52 arrived at Three Islands Harbor, New Hanover, in time for a US aerial assault on February 16 that sent the ship to the bottom. Strafed and straddled by near misses from bombs, HA-52 was scuttled by the crew after the second day of attacks on February 17. The other midgets fared no better. The submarine USS Seawolf sank the tanker Yamazuru Maru, towing HA-50, on January 14, 1944. The submarine USS Whale sank Tarushima Maru, towing HA-51, on January 17, 1944. Finally, the ship Neikai Maru, towing HA-49, was sunk by aircraft January 28, 1944 (Cressman 2000:205, 208). With only HA-53 at Rabaul, there was to be no effective midget submarine force in the Bismarcks. The base itself, heavily bombed and strafed throughout the first months of 1944, was left cutoff and mauled until the end of the war. When surviving Japanese forces surrendered on September 6, 1945, they scuttled HA-53 in shallow water.

Japan was withdrawing from the South Pacific. A lack of fuel led the Sixth Submarine Fleet to withdraw from Truk in the spring of 1944. The navy sent the beleaguered garrison at Saipan some of the new kō-hyōteki. Again, they made no appreciable difference. Two boats out of five towed there were lost at sea, and the other three and their crews vanished in the destruction of Japanese forces who massed for one last banzai charge during the island’s invasion. In the aftermath of the battle for Saipan, one of the submarines was discovered in 60 feet of water, raised for inspection, and then scuttled (Commander Surface Squadron Twelve 1944:12). The sad legacy of the midget submariners, begun at Pearl Harbor, continued to be one of needless sacrifice.

Ten of the new Type C boats were sent to the Philippines on D-type destroyer transports in 1944. Based in the southern Visayas at Davao, Cebu, and Zamboanga, the midgets were commanded by Captain Kaku Harada, one-time skipper of Chiyoda and the “father” of the program. Hammered by American attacks, the bases were abandoned in favor of Cebu, where Harada was located at the end of the war at the 33rd Naval Special Base (Smith 1991:609). There the last of the midgets fought to the close of the Philippine campaign from an advance base at Dumaguete at the southern side of Negros Island, where they sortied to ambush US forces coming through Surigao Strait into the Mindanao Sea.

While the Japanese claimed to have sunk a destroyer with a midget attack on December 8 and two transports on December 18 in Ormoc Bay, the reports were false. Another Japanese claim that a later, newly developed Type D sub sank a cruiser and four cargo ships in early 1945 likewise is not supported by either Japanese or US records. The United States, however, did sink a submarine in Ormoc Bay on November 28, 1944, and while the target was listed as a possible I-boat, it may well have been a midget. Another of the Cebu-based midgets was definitely lost when it was stranded in December (Holmes 1966:398). The Cebu midgets were the last Japanese submarine forces left in the Philippines by February 1945. A plan to send the larger submarine RO-43 to Cebu with torpedoes and supplies for the midgets was called off by naval headquarters; the midgets, as always, were expendable.

An attack on USS Boise (CL-47) on January 5, 1945, as it approached Luzon by three midgets was met by the destroyers USS Nicholas (DD-449) and Taylor (DD-468). Boise executed an emergency turn and evaded a torpedo by maneuvering “radically at high speeds” (Commanding Officer, USS Boise 1945). An escorting TBF aircraft from a nearby carrier spotted one sub, and a well-placed bomb drove it to the surface, where Taylor rammed and depth charged it, sending the kō-hyōteki and its crew to the bottom (Commanding Officer, USS Boise 1945). The other two midgets escaped, reporting back in Cebu they had sunk an American destroyer and one other warship (Rohwer 1983:287). The midgets based at Dumaguete waged a bitter war against the US Navy through March, reporting various unverified successes and one successful attack. In what was likely an attack by a Dama-guete-based midget on February 21, the destroyer USS Renshaw (DD-499) was hit with a single torpedo while escorting landing ships and craft through Surigao Strait. The torpedo tore into the destroyer, killing nineteen of the crew. The ship’s log reported: “Ship is dead in the water. Examination shows that forward engine room and the after fire room are completely flooded and open to the sea. The bulkhead between the after fire room and after engine room is intact but bulging aft about one foot. There are numerous leaks from bulkhead ruptures where cable pass through the bulkhead that are slowly leaking and flooding the after engine room” (Renshaw Log, February 21, 1945).

Drifting without power, Renshaw engaged the midget with a 40 mm antiaircraft gun. The midget escaped, and after starting an emergency generator, and with assistance of other ships, Renshaw survived.

In March, as troops landed at Cebu, the destroyers USS Conyngham (DD-371) and Flusser (DD-368) encountered another midget and bracketed it with shells, but it escaped. The next morning, however, the destroyer Newman (DE-205) spotted a midget some 7 miles south of the previous day’s encounter. Approaching the sub, Newman’s crew opened fire with automatic weapons, reporting they had struck the conning tower and possibly sank it (Morison 1963:236). It was the end of the kō-hyōteki force at Cebu; the remaining three subs were scuttled, and the base and sub crews joined land forces defending Cebu (Willoughby and Prange 1994:548, n. 72; Vego 2006:298). When the battle ended, the Japanese lost 5,500 men, and another 8,500 troops surrendered (Smith 1991:617).

The summer of 1944 also saw the Japanese send a force of eleven Type C boats to Okinawa. A base at Unten Ko, a small village on the north shore of the Motubu Peninsula, on the northwest shore of the island, housed them in a tiny harbor in the lee of two small offshore islets, Kouri and Yaguchi (Appleman et al. 1948:142–43). The base also housed a torpedo depot and four squadrons of explosive-packed Shinyo suicide boats. The base’s presence was known to US forces, and an aircraft carrier strike on October 10, 1944, hit it and sank at least two midgets and the depot ship, the 5,160 ton Jingei. A later report claimed that four midgets were sunk in the attack (Appleman et al. 1948:45). This may be true, for by March 1945, only six operational midgets remained, three of which sortied on March 25 to attack TF 54, the Okinawa bombardment force. Only one of the kō-hyōteki, HA-67, returned, its crew claiming their torpedoes hit an “enemy battleship.” The attack may have been on the destroyer USS Halligan (DD-584). On March 26, while patrolling off Okinawa, the bow of the destroyer exploded, with the forward half of the ship literally disintegrating, killing 160 of the 327-man crew. The badly damaged ship drifted ashore and was a total loss. US Navy accounts state Halligan struck a mine, but the commander of HA-67 reported he fired two torpedoes at a ship that exploded on that date. If true, it was the only midget submarine success at that stage of the war (Stille 2014:44). On the same day, however, the minesweeper USS Strength (AM-309) reported it came under attack from a partially submerged midget submarine, which fired its torpedoes but missed. In the confusion of the battle and the loss of most of the Japanese contingent and records, the reality of the role of the midget submarines in the battle for Okinawa will likely never be known.

On that same day, the cruisers USS Wichita (CA-45), Biloxi (CL-80), and St. Louis (CL-49) reported spotting torpedo tracks in the morning. USS Callaghan (DD-792) definitely accounted for one of the midgets that day. While screening the battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40), the destroyer’s crew noticed “a small periscope . . . about 35 yards to port and abreast the bridge” (Commanding Officer, USS Callaghan 1945). The destroyer went hard to port and depth charged the area, blowing the sub to the surface. Rolling on its side, the sub sank. Callaghan kept depth charging until an oil slick and pieces of wood from the midget’s interior rewarded their efforts (Commanding Officer, USS Callaghan 1945).

Another midget attacked the transport USS Catron (APA-71) on April 5, but the torpedo missed the ship and exploded on the reef. The following day, the last operational submarine at Okinawa was scuttled, and the base and sub crews joined the naval forces of Rear Admiral Minoru Ota and the land forces of General Mitsuri Ushijima’s 32nd Army for a last-ditch fight to the death with the invading US forces. The base at Unten Ko was cut off and isolated on April 7, when the 29th Marines reached Nago and isolated the Motobo Peninsula. The Marines discovered twenty-one sub pens and six destroyed midgets when they reached the base, another tangible reminder of the failure of a once-vaunted program and its craft (Dyer 1972:1100).

After the fall of the island, and the death of most of its defenders, a small group of seven of the kō-hyōteki corps joined fifteen infantry soldiers in an attempt to escape to Japan. Pushing off from Okinawa in a small barge in early August, they drifted through the islands without food and water for 3 weeks, strafed on occasion by American planes. Eight survivors were reportedly rescued on August 18 by an unnamed US submarine (Warner and Seno 1986:194–95).




In December 1939, the U.S. military established an Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) using radar to defend American territory. It employed the SCR-270 radar, the first United States long-range search radar created at the Signal Corps laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, circa 1937. The radar’s operating frequency was 106 megahertz and it had a maximum range of 150 miles, or greater if the equipment was at an elevated site.
Under the command of Col. Wilfred H. Tetley the AWS established six mobile radar detector sites on O’ahu at Kawaiola, Wainaae, Ka’a’awa, Koko Head, Schofield Barracks, and Fort Shafter. On Thanksgiving Day in 1941, the Schofield Barracks radar set was moved to the Opana Radar Site, a location 532 feet above sea level with an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. The set comprised four trucks carrying the transmitter, modulator, water cooler, receiver, oscilloscope, operator, generator and antenna.

On December 7, 1941, the Opana Radar Site was manned by Private Joseph L. Lockard and Private George Elliot, who detected approaching aircraft at 7:02 am (past the end of the site’s scheduled operating day). Since the truck to take them to breakfast was late, the pair continued to practice with the radar equipment.
The men reported their findings to the temporary information center at Fort Shafter.  Pvt Joseph McDonald took the call. Private McDonald found Lt Kermit Tyler when he entered the plotting room when he timed the message. Tyler told him that it was nothing. McDonald called back the Opana Radar site and spoke to Pvt Joseph Lockard. Lockard was excited , he had never seen so many planes.Infected with Lockard’s excitement, McDonald returned to Tyler. McDonald suggested to Tyler to call back the plotters and notify Wheeler Field of the sighting. When Tyler again indicated that it was nothing , McDonald insisted that Tyler talk to Lockard.The information center staff had gone to breakfast and Lt. Kermit Tyler received the report. Tyler reasoned that the activity was a flight of Army B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, and advised the radar crew not to worry. Tyler told investigators that a friend in the Bomber group advised him that whenever the radio station played Hawaiian music all night, a flight from the mainland was arriving, and using that for navigation homing.McDonald was relieved at about 7:40 and returned to his tent waking his tent mate up by saying “Shim the Japs are coming”.Elliot and Lockard continued plotting the incoming planes until 7:40 when contact was lost. Shortly before 8:00 am they headed to Kawailoa for breakfast and only learned about the attack when they arrived. Elliot and Lockard rushed back to Opana and operated the radar until the attack ended.

In the dark of night Kido Butai, a flock of knife-edged hulls cutting through troubled seas, turned their bows south and worked up to 24 knots. They would make their final run to the launch point sheltered by darkness and unseen by enemy patrols.

This night was the culmination of a massive movement. Over 90% of the Japanese fleet was underway, positioning for attacks spread over a 6,000 nm front. The movement of ships directed against Pearl Harbor had begun as early as 11 November, when nine long-range submarines departed the Empire from Saeki Bay en route a refueling stop at Kwajalein, then on to Hawaiian waters. Now, 23 Japanese fleet submarines, five of which carried midget submarines clamped to their decks, patrolled the waters around Oahu, performed reconnaissance, and awaited the air strike, expecting an opportunity to sink the remnants of the American Pacific Fleet as it bolted out of Pearl Harbor to escape the aviators’ bombs.

To the submariners, not the aviators, was given the honor of making the initial moves in the actual attack.

Midget Submarines

Japan’s midget submarines, commanded by young officers none more senior than lieutenant, were released from their transport submarines in the hours of darkness before the aviators’ attack. They attempted first to find and then to penetrate past the submarine net guarding the entrance to the harbor.

One or more were detected outside the harbor by patrolling destroyers and aircraft. One submarine, surprisingly, did make it past the entrance, only to be detected inside the harbor during the attack. It fired its torpedoes at a tender and a destroyer. Both missed and exploded against the shore. The destroyer Monaghan rammed and sank the submarine.

Three of the submarines definitely did not penetrate the harbor. One was sunk by the destroyer Ward a few hours before the arrival of the bombers. The surprise of the main Japanese attack was saved by a small miracle of US Navy bureaucratic indecisiveness. Blending into the background “noise” of the many false alarms and submarine alerts of the previous weeks, the new warning was not assessed as anything particularly unusual or threatening. Instead of issuing an alert, an order was sent for the stand-by destroyer to sortie.

Considering that a submarine had been detected trying to enter the harbor, and considering the history of the British battleship Royal Oak (which was sunk in October 1939 by a German submarine that penetrated into Scapa Flow), the harbor should have been placed on alert to a submarine threat. All ships should have been required to set material condition Zed, their maximum state of watertight integrity (today called material condition Zebra). Had Zed been set before the bombers arrived, California would have remained afloat and Oklahoma might not have capsized.

Two submarines ran out of battery power and did not deliver any attacks. Both were eventually discovered by the Americans with their torpedoes aboard. One was found beached off Bellows Field, the second 15 years later in a small cove.

The attack by the midget submarines could be seen as an allegory for the entire concept, execution, and spirituality of the attack. A flawed strategic concept was executed with incredibly bravery by men who certainly knew that the odds of their success was slim; warning that should have giving the defenders sufficient time to man their defenses and prepare their ships for attack instead became another instantiation of Yamamoto’s life-long string of incredible good fortune. The fleet and its defenders continued to sleep.


Yoshikawa Takeo, the Japanese intelligence officer working out of Japan’s Pearl Harbor legation, kept a stream of information on its way to Kido Butai. The striking force received intelligence communiqués on 3, 4, and 7 December (Tokyo time) updating the situation through 6 December. He reported that no balloons or torpedo defense nets were protecting the battleships. In a message received on 4 December, six battleships, eleven cruisers, and one aircraft carrier were in harbor. Updates reported the departure of Lexington. The day before the strike, the Naval General Staff transmitted to Nagumo that the harbor contained nine battleships, three light cruisers and seventeen destroyers, with four light cruisers and three destroyers in drydock. There were no carriers in port, but that disappointment was balanced by the information that the US military on Oahu was not in any unusual state of alert.

As Kido Butai steamed south at high speed en route to the launch point, the fleet submarine I-72 nosed into Lahaina Roads off Maui. She transmitted, “The enemy is not in Lahaina anchorage.”

In the pre-dawn darkness, the cruisers Chikuma and Tone launched reconnaissance floatplanes. One headed to Lahaina Roads and one to Pearl Harbor, scheduled to arrive after first light.

The first wave was launched. Of the 189 total aircraft planned, there were 6 aborts: one B5N Kate carrying an AP bomb, three D3A Vals, and two A6M Zeros. One hundred and eighty-three aircraft executed the attack.

Chikuma’s scout radioed that nine battleships, one heavy cruiser and six light cruisers were in the harbor, and excellent weather conditions existed for the attack. No carriers were observed. This information was received before the second wave was launched. It is not known if the message was copied by the first-wave aircraft; Fuchida, the strike commander, does not mention it in his accounts of the attack.

Due to remarkably speedy aircraft handling, the second wave was ready 15 minutes ahead of schedule. With the first wave still north of Oahu, the second wave launched. One A6M Zero and three D3A Vals aborted. One hundred and sixty-seven aircraft formed for the attack, of which 78 were D3A Vals allocated to go against warships.

As they droned on their nervous course to Pearl Harbor, the aircrews watched a spectacular sunrise, prophetically similar in appearance to Japan’s national symbol, radiating beams from a rising sun, an apparent mark of favor of the gods that raised the spirits of many of the approaching aviators. With careful tuning they could pick up an Oahu radio station playing Hawaiian music, welcoming visitors to the islands. The radio station provided a local weather forecast: visibility clear, a steady tropical breeze out of the northeast, and a heavy cloud layer floating in at 3,500 feet.



Fuchida claimed that the torpedo bombers were to attack “at almost the same instant.” As Gordon Prange related:

According to this scheme, on receiving Fuchida’s deployment order, Murata would lead his planes in a sweep over the western side of Oahu. Just as they reached a point almost due west of Pearl Harbor, they would divide into two sections and strike the target from two directions at once.

This statement is very deceptive. It implies that the movement down the western side of Oahu was planned, and that the point where the torpedo bombers would separate into two groups was planned to occur west of Pearl Harbor.

The planned route was actually down the center of the island, not “the western side of Oahu.” The separation of the torpedo bombers into two groups was also logically planned to occur north of Pearl Harbor, so as the two groups swung around to attack from the east and the west each would have to travel approximately the same distance to reach their attack IP, allowing for a “nearly simultaneous” attack.

However, upon landfall, Fuchida noted heavy clouds over the Ko’olau Mountains. He decided to skirt the cloud bank, turning the formation to fly in clear air down the western coast. Fuchida’s statement about reaching a point “due west of Pearl Harbor” reflected what actually occurred and not what was planned.

Fuchida’s chosen track effectively eliminated any possibility that the two torpedo bomber groups would attack simultaneously. The Battleship Row attackers would now have to fly south of the harbor, turn east over the ocean, turn inland, and skirt Hickam Field before reaching their IP for the turn to their attack course, while those attacking the carrier moorings would have a straight run in to their targets. Battleship Row would have perhaps five minutes advance warning before Akagi’s and Kaga’s torpedo bombers were in position to attack.

This problem had not been anticipated by the planners. There was no provision to coordinate the two attacks in the event that a different approach course was required. Evidently Fuchida did not see this as a problem, as he took no action as Strike Commander to address it; alternately, he saw the problem, but did not have the means to exert any control.


Fuchida’s Fumble with the Flares

Fuchida was responsible for determining which attack plan would be used and communicating his decision to the attack force, firing one flare for “surprise achieved” or two for “surprise not achieved.” At 0740, off the northwest coast of Oahu, Fuchida made his decision. An account based on interviews with Fuchida related:

Almost sure that the strike would come as a surprise, he fired a single Black Dragon rocket. Murata saw it and swung low toward the target [with his torpedo bombers]. But Lieutenant Masaharu Suginami, a fighter group leader, kept his aircraft in cruise position. Thinking he had missed the first rocket, Fuchida fired another. Then he groaned—Takahashi, mistaking the second rocket for the double signal meaning the enemy was on the alert, swooped in with his dive-bombers. Fuchida ground his teeth in rage. Soon, however, he realized that the error made no practical difference.

Takahashi, the leader of the dive-bomber formation—Fuchida characterized him as “that fool Takahashi, he was a bit soft in the head”—firewalled his throttles and put his nose down, picking up speed. Assuming that it was now his role to immediately attack and distract the enemy defenses, the dive-bombers forged ahead without climbing to their normal bombing altitude. Murata, confronted by this unexpected development, had his torpedo bombers accelerate, trying to get in his attack before the defenses were fully aroused, but his heavily-laden torpedo bombers inexorably were left further and further behind.



Out of position and at cross purposes, the first-wave formation broke up as the subordinate formations scattered to their assigned targets. There was no attempt to attack the various bases with any simultaneity, and no concern that an attack by one group might prematurely announce the attack to other locations. The attacker’s first shots were fired by a Soryu B5N Kate gunner. Lieutenant Nagai Tsuyoshi, anxious to quicken the attack pace, forged ahead of the Hiryu torpedo bombers and cut across the island, passing so close by Wheeler Field that his gunner cut loose on some parked P-40 fighters.

The Japanese fighters searched the skies for defending fighters. They saw none. Then they looked for anything flying, anything to kill. A US Navy patrol plane spotted the incoming marauders and transmitted a warned, which went unheeded—unable to do more, the aircraft found the clouds and slipped away. But there were other aircraft aloft, mostly civilian pleasure aircraft and private pilot instructors with their students. Some of the more alert fighter pilots recognized these aircraft as a waste of ammunition, but others, anxious for an air-to-air kill befitting a true samurai, broke formation and went for the kills. Several civilian aircraft were shot out of the sky, a few winged away to safety.

The first bombs hit Wheeler at 0751, six minutes before the first torpedo was dropped into Pearl Harbor. The bulk of the defenders’ fighters, modern P-40s and P-36s leavened with obsolete P-26s, were lined up next to the hangars. The base commander had requested permission to keeps the fighters in their revetments, but he was told that would alarm civilians.

Twenty-five D3A Vals hit the base hard. Bombs accurately hit among the lines of densely-packed parked aircraft, smashing many, and igniting tremendous fires fed by aviation gasoline from leaking fuel tanks. Bombs exploded within hangars, which burned gushing dense clouds of smoke. The fire house went up in flames, along with administrative buildings and the Post Exchange. The smoke angled off in the steady breeze, obscuring parts of the flight light and much of the ground facilities, but after the dive bombers’ 550-kg bombs were expended there still were aircraft undamaged, at least 22 that were unobscured by smoke at the upwind end of the fight line. Then, nine A6M Zeros, accompanied by many of the D3A Vals, began to methodically strafe the undamaged aircraft. Wheeler was out of the fight.

Kaneohe was attacked at 0748 (or possibly 0753—in a world without digital clocks absolute precision is not possible). Attempts to warn Bellows and Hickam fields by telephone were disbelieved. Eleven A6M Zeros delivered an eight-minute attack against the base and her 33 PBY-5 patrol planes. The initial slashing attack caused considerable damage and confusion, but the damage was not complete—a movie taken from a second-wave B5N Kate shows many of the PBY-5s by the hangars apparently undamaged. A second wave of level bombers completed the job—in the end, all the American aircraft were either damaged or destroyed.

At Hickam, home of the AAF’s B-17, B-18, and A-20 bombers, nine dive bombers attacked the hangars and administrative buildings while eight others hit the hangars. Nine A6M Zeros strafed the parked planes. Personnel casualties were particularly heavy, with 35 killed when a bomb exploded among the men breakfasting in the mess hall.

As the dive and torpedo bombers approached Pearl Harbor, the fighters that accompanied them peeled off to attack Ewa Marine Corps Air Station, ten miles short of the harbor. Additional fighters, looking for targets for their remaining ammunition before heading for their rallying point, took Ewa as a target of opportunity. By 0815 over two-thirds of Ewa’s aircraft were destroyed or damaged.

The fighters searched for their primary target, enemy defensive fighters in the air. After fifteen minutes of futile search most had given up hope of aerial opposition and instead transitioned into strafing attacks on any reasonable ground target, and some unreasonable ones. While there were some reports of inexpert pilots and inaccurate machine gun attacks, on the aggregate they were highly effective. Considering that many of the bombers were assigned to hit hangars and administrative buildings, it is likely that most of the American aircraft were actually destroyed and damaged by strafing fighters. Inexpert or not, the American aircraft parked in orderly, compact rows were targets that could hardly be missed.

The dive-bombers beat the torpedo bombers to Pearl Harbor. The first bomb was aimed at the southern tip of Ford Island, where there was an amphibious seaplane ramp, an aircraft hangar, and parked aircraft. Various accounts claim that it either destroyed a PBY-5 Catalina seaplane or missed the island entirely. Additional bombs followed, blasting the seaplane and the hangars, and generating a black column of smoke visible for twenty miles. Some ships immediately called away General Quarters. One, still very much in a peacetime mindset, called away their Rescue and Assistance Party thinking that a terrible accident had occurred.

The torpedo bombers were in two groups of two formations each. Murata, commander of Akagi’s air group, led 12 Kaga and 12 Akagi Kates assigned to attack the battleships moored on the east side of Ford Island. Second in overall command was Lieutenant Matsumara Hirata, the torpedo squadron leader off Hiryu, who led eight Soryu and eight Hiryu torpedo bombers against the carrier moorings. As the torpedo bombers approached Oahu, Murata wagged his wings to signal the shift into attack formation.

The two forces separated, with Matsumara flying down the east side of the Waianae Range and Murata down the west side. The Hiryu and Soryu carrier attack planes moved into two strings of eight, while the Akagi and Kaga torpedo bombers tried to form into a single long line of 24 aircraft at 400-meter intervals.

The formation change was poorly executed. Contributing factors were the speed change, the confusion over the flares, and the unplanned location of the formation change, all coupled with the lack of a meaningful rehearsal. Some intervals between aircraft opened out to 1,500 to 1,800 meters, about 25 seconds between aircraft. Followers could not keep track of their leaders, and it was impossible for leaders to exert control over their formations. Some aircraft missed turns and ended up orbiting, searching for their comrades, and falling behind the rest of the attack groups.

The distances prevented communication with hand signals, and radio silence was maintained, even well after it made sense to do so–the Japanese totally ignored the potential of the voice radios that had been installed over the previous year. Japanese aviators later remarked that their radios were unreliable, and considered them of little use. Only the most basic “follow me” leadership was possible in the approach, none for the attack.