PEARL HARBOR–EXECUTION OF THE ATTACK II

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Each shotai (for this attack, increased to four aircraft instead of the normal three) would normally remain together, but each plane commander (who could be the pilot, navigator, or radioman/gunner, depending upon who was senior) had the authority to alter the target. Some overruled the decision of their shotai leaders.

Matsumura and his radioman searched the northwest side of Ford Island with binoculars trying to identify targets. The rising sun made determining ship types impossible. Nagai, leading the Soryu eight, became impatient. Matsumura related that Nagai drew up alongside and “urged me by hand signal to quicken the attack pace.” Perhaps thinking it better to allow Nagai to get in his attack before the dive-bombers thoroughly woke up the island, Matsumura assented. Nagai banked left and, followed by the seven other Soryu torpedo bombers, descended to 150 feet and headed directly for the harbor.

Matsumura turned south, delaying his approach while trying to identify the ships at the carrier moorings. Six of the eight aircraft in his formation missed his turn and ended up orbiting Ewa Town trying to get their bearings.

Torpedo Attacks: Soryu and Hiryu Bombers

Nagai approached the carrier anchorages from the northwest. Nagai’s observer tried to classify targets using binoculars, but glare from the rising sun reflecting off the water interfered with his view. Nagai, however, was able to identify Utah, and rejected her as a target. He saw what he thought to be a battleship moored alongside 1010 Dock, where he had been briefed that the Pacific Fleet flagship Pennsylvania often moored. He turned to pass south of Ford Island to get into position for an attack run, followed by Petty Officer First Class Mori Juzo. But Lieutenant (junior grade) Nakajima Tatsumi, leading the trailing half of the formation, broke away, banked left, and led three others against Utah. Nakajima saw a battleship and went for it, not recognizing that the shapes over the barbettes were not turrets, but boxes covering empty holes.

Mori, following behind Nagai, could not see a target along the carrier moorings worth a torpedo. Observing Nakajima begin his attack, he thought, “How silly. Can’t they see that two of the ships are nothing but cruisers?” Then the two trailing torpedo bombers in his own group of four broke off to join Nakajima, leaving him to follow his leader alone of the eight Soryu torpedo bombers.

Six of the eight Soryu torpedo bombers went for Utah, flying closely past nests of destroyers to execute their attack against targets foreshortened by the angle of approach. They attacked while the American defenses still slept. Six torpedoes hit the water, but only two hit their target, slamming into Utah just before its colors were to be raised at 0800. One of the first torpedoes missed Utah so badly it hit the adjacent cruiser Raleigh, according to her executive officer, at about 0755.

The other ten torpedo bombers assigned to attack the carrier moorings, spurning further waste of ordnance against a target ship and aged small cruisers, went looking for battleships.

Nagai, followed by Mori, lined up to make his run against the ships berthed along 1010 Dock, only to discover there was no battleship. Pennsylvania was in drydock; her prestigious berth was occupied instead by the light cruiser Helena with the WWI minelayer Oglala, flagship of the Pacific Fleet Mine Force, moored outboard. In accordance with the attack prioritization scheme, Helena was a valid target, a modern 10,000-ton cruiser barely two years in commission. However, Nagai wasn’t after anything as small as a cruiser. He was deceived by the backlit superimposed silhouettes of the two ships and took the pair to be a battleship. His torpedo scored, passing under Oglala’s keel to slam into one of Helena’s engine rooms. Helena’s engine room clock stopped at 0757.

Mori, next behind him, was close to releasing his torpedo:

We had closed to less than 600 meters when it suddenly struck me that this was an odd-looking battleship. Then I realized that it wasn’t a battleship at all, but a cruiser. Nagai was as bad as Nakajima wasting his torpedo on such a small target.

Mori broke off his attack.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Kadono Hiroharu, who had missed Matsumura’s turn and ended up orbiting over Ewa, observed Nagai’s torpedo hit Helena. He decided to go for the same target. He led five other Hiryu torpedo bombers towards Helena.

When Kadono saw Mori abort his run he also pulled off, followed by Petty Officer First Class Sugimoto. But the other four pressed their attack. More ominously for the Japanese, the defenses awakened: they had to press their attacks into the face of AA fire from Helena, Oglala, and Shaw. AA fire caused at least one out-of-envelope drop. One torpedo missed, destroying a power transformer station on the pier next to Helena; the others buried themselves in the mud. Four torpedoes, no hits.

Kadono’s bomber was hit by AA—a bullet nicked a fuel line, spraying gasoline into the cockpit. Kadono’s navigator wrapped a rag around the leak and held it in place by hand until they regained the carrier.

As the Helena attackers came out of their runs they cut across the attack route of the Akagi and Kaga bombers going against Battleship Row.

Torpedo Attacks: Akagi and Kaga Bombers from the East

Matsumura, leading 24 torpedo bombers from Akagi and Kaga, passed Ewa, ten miles west of Pearl Harbor, heading southeast. The Akagi and Kaga torpedo bombers trailed him at 500 meters altitude, trying to attain a spacing of 500 meters between aircraft with 100 meters offset to the left rear. Their formation was ragged and they were obviously having difficulty establishing their assigned intervals. Smoke from a fire on the south tip of Ford Island blocked Matsumura’s view of the harbor. He turned east to gain a position to attack Battleship Row. The aircraft following him, distracted by Nagai’s attack, missed the turn. Thus, the leader of all the torpedo bombers found himself with no one to lead.

The bulk of the formations continued south until they were over the ocean, turned left to skirt the coast, then turned left again to approach Hickam Field from the southwest while dropping to 50 meters altitude. Past the field and the Naval Shipyard, they pulled a sharp left turn to head down the Southeast Loch past the Submarine Base, dropping to 20 meters. Murata, at the head of the line, was immediately greeted by machine gun fire.

The timing of the attack can be determined from testimony of the aviators and by time-and-distance calculations tracing their route. As they passed southwest of Pearl Harbor, their view of Battleship Row was blocked by the column of smoke rising from the first dive-bomber attacks, indicating they passed after the first bombs exploded and the smoke cloud had developed. They headed south to the ocean, turned left, passed Hickam Field, and then left again to line up with the Southeast Loch, a total distance of four to eight miles. Cruising at 140 knots, the first torpedo attack against Battleship Row was delivered four minutes after the first bomb hit, and four to eight minutes after the first torpedo was dropped against the carrier moorings. Nagai made his attack run almost the same time as Murata dropped the first torpedo against Oklahoma.

The times can be calculated using Helena’s engine room clock as a benchmark. Helena was hit at 0757. Using relative motion, speeds, and distances traveled by Nagai and Nakajima, Helena was attacked probably two minutes after the first attack against Utah and Raleigh, making Raleigh’s XO’s report of being hit at 0755 accurate. This would time the first torpedo hit on Battleship Row at just before colors (0800).

Of the Hiryu and Soryu torpedo bombers, Matsumura, Shira, Petty Officer Third Class Oku Yasumi, and Kadono and his wingman Sugimoto, all headed to join the attackers against Battleship Row, taking different routes. They intermixed with Akagi and Kaga bombers, disrupting approaches. Some of the Battleship Row attackers were forced to abort and go around for second attempts. The torpedo bombers’ attacks would last for 11 to 15 minutes, though the majority managed to release their weapons during the first ten minutes.

The first torpedo hit a battleship as early as 0757, possibly as late as 0759.12 The defenders took advantage of the precious minutes’ warning afforded by the Ford Island bomb blasts, so that when the first torpedo plane sped past the Navy Yard to hit Oklahoma, many AA gunners were ready. As related in the destroyer Bagley’s AR:

Immediately, general quarters was sounded. One of the forward machine guns was manned by the Chief Gunner’s Mate, SKINNER,… who started firing at the third torpedo plane, and hit the fourth plane to come in. This plane was seen to crash in the channel off the Officer’s Landing.

Machine gun fire on about the eighth plane was so heavy that it swerved to the left in front of the Bagley. This swerving caused the torpedo to drop and it exploded in the bank about thirty feet ahead of the Bagley. The plane crossed the bow of the Bagley and turned to recross. At this point JOHNSON… fired at the plane from No. 1 .50-caliber machine gun and downed it in the Navy Yard channel.

The third torpedo plane to be hit by the Bagley was shot down by PETERSON… who was not a machine gunner but who volunteered to assist at No. 3 machine gun. The plane, swerving under the fire of the forward machine guns, headed for the light cruisers, Honolulu and St. Louis, moored in the slip astern of the Bagley. As PETERSON’s shot hit it, it went out of control, dropped its torpedo and seemed to hit the L head crane in the Navy Yard. The machine gunner was seen to fall out. This was probably about the eleventh plane to come in.

WILLIAMS,… regular machine gunner on the after machine guns shot down the next plane to be hit by the Bagley. This plane came down over the dock, evidently thinking it would escape the Bagley’s fire which was very well placed. WILLIAMS, an excellent machine gunner, downed it with one short burst. The torpedo was dropped in the lumber pile on the dock and the plane is believed to have crashed on the dock.

The Bagley’s fifth plane was brought down by WILLIAMS and PETERSON together. This plane came down on the starboard side to the Bagley, having crossed over from the port side. As the bullets hit the plane smoke came out of the plane, it nosed directly up into the air and spun into a crash losing its torpedo.

Bagley’s four .50-caliber AA machine guns contributed to the destruction of four of the five B5N Kate torpedo bombers that were shot down. It is a measure of the fleet’s rapid initiation of AA fire that many other ships had a hand in their destruction—Arizona claimed two kills, Maryland two, and Nevada two. Most of the battleships’ reports acknowledged that multiple ships were firing on each kill. Nearly all of the torpedo bombers were hit, some suffering killed or wounded aircrew.

The third torpedo plane hit by Bagley was approximately the 11th plane to follow that same attack route. Perhaps 28 aircraft used this path to attack Battleship Row, avoiding the more technically challenging routes over the supply depot or over the main shipyard. Kaga’s string of 12 bombers lagged Akagi’s by three miles, a 70 second gap. Twenty-eight aircraft at approximately twenty to twenty-five second intervals comes out to nearly ten minutes, but this should be compared with some of the Japanese pilots’ estimates that the torpedo attack took fifteen to twenty minutes, reflecting the confusion of the attack and the degree to which torpedo bombers had to abort runs and go around. The decision to employ “one at a time” attacks turned the Southeast Lock into a shooting gallery.

One Japanese aerial photograph taken early in the attack gives a clue regarding their success in maintaining intervals. The photograph shows Battleship Row, with three torpedo plumes rising from hits on West Virginia and Oklahoma. The age of these plumes can be estimated by wind drift and height calculations. The oldest is 30 seconds, one six seconds, and the last, one second. Assuming no great variation in torpedo run times, that would make for an interval of 24 seconds between the first and the second hits, and five seconds between the second and the third.

Fuchida’s error with the flares provided precious minutes warning for the US gun crews to break out their ready service ammunition and prepare to receive the torpedo bombers. The smoke from the bomb hits interfered with the planned traffic pattern over the harbor, adding a further disruptive element.

But most significant was the response of the defenders. The Japanese, mirror-imaging the expected response, took from their contempt for the defensive and their estimation that the typical Japanese response to a surprise attack would be slow to develop, expected that their torpedo bombers could execute their attack before significant opposition could be mustered. Instead, defensive machine guns were firing within seconds after the first torpedo hits on Utah, and within minutes the approaches to Battleship Row would verge on impenetrable.

Crossing Routes for the Torpedo Bombers

The saga of Petty Officer First Class Mori, in Nagai’s group assigned to the carrier moorings, illustrates the lack of any semblance of control exerted by the strike leadership:

Mori, who had swept directly across Oahu, was still looking for a target [after rejecting an attack against Utah]. He hedgehopped over Ford Island, but finding only a cruiser on the other side [i.e. Helena], made a semicircle and came back just above the waves toward California at the southern end of Battleship Row. At the last moment a breakwater loomed between him and the target. He climbed, circling over Utah, which looked as if it had twisted in two, again went down to 15 feet and came at California from a different angle. His radioman-gunner took a picture of the torpedo explosion as Mori prepared to make his left circle to the assembly point. But his path was barred by a heavy pillar of smoke at the end of Ford Island and he was forced to bank right directly into the oncoming torpedo planes from Akagi and Kaga; he narrowly missed collision and his plane rocked from the turbulence.

Mori dropped against California. “It’s running straight!” screamed one of his crew. “It’s a hit! Banzai!”

Five B5N Kates from Soryu and Hiryu intermingled with the two dozen Akagi and Kaga torpedo bombers heading for Battleship Row. Intervals were irregular and extended. Petty Officer First Class Yasue Tomoe and Petty Officer First Class Katsuki Sadasuke lined up for attacks on Oklahoma. They were in what looked to be good runs when Katsuki veered into Yasue’s path. One of the bombers, likely Yasue’s, nearly lost control. To avoid crashing it jettisoned its torpedo.16

The Akagi aircraft heading for Oklahoma were interrupted by two Hiryu aircraft.

We cut in the row of an Akagi unit to release the torpedo. Then we were caught in heavy turbulence by the preceding attacker. Our plane bumped so wildly we could not aim at a target. Therefore we made a right turn to retry.

Two of the aircraft attempting runs against Helena, using the route that crossed those of the aircraft attacking Battleship Row, were forced to abort their runs and go around and make another approach.

Lieutenant Suzuki Mimori was heading for Battleship Row, down the Southeast Loch, when his B5N Kate took a hit that detonated his torpedo warhead. The blast knocked sailors at the Submarine Base off their feet. Nevada claimed this kill for her 5-inch battery, a direct hit that caused the “disintegration of the plane in midair.”

In spite of the increasingly heavy fire, the Japanese aviators bore in to their targets resolutely. Some of the bombers, taking damage as they passed the naval shipyard, went for the target that was most directly lined up with their approach path along the loch, Oklahoma or West Virginia, hoping to get their torpedo in the water before their aircraft became unmanageable. Many found the narrow release envelope too challenging. Torpedoes rammed into the harbor bottom and stuck, their motors sending a cascade of bubbles to the surface.

Most aviators wanted the honor of skewering a battleship—how else would a true samurai react but to go against the biggest and heaviest of their enemies? In the face of unexpectedly heavy AA fire, most picked the most prominent targets, Oklahoma or West Virginia.

The approach to the southern end of Battleship Row was a fairly long run that passed the shipyard, the easiest of the routes, one that gave the bombers a run of a thousand yards over the water to stabilize on their precise release parameters (airspeed, altitude, and attitude) before dropping their torpedoes. Still, this was only a 15-second run, and the pilot would have to be very skilled to get inside the launch envelop in such a short time after making a hard left turn on the deck. Given the choice between a difficult approach that might be unsuccessful, but against a battleship that was not damaged, or an easier approach that more likely ensured a hit, most of the Japanese pilots chose the easiest approach, much to the detriment of Oklahoma and West Virginia.

PEARL HARBOR–EXECUTION OF THE ATTACK III

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Success

The torpedo bombers quickly achieved the planners’ hopes to sink at least one battleship. Oklahoma capsized. West Virginia, with a more advanced internal torpedo defense system and benefiting from prompt counterflooding by alert junior officers and petty officers, was saved from a similar fate, eventually settling on the bottom on an even keel. California’s torpedo defense system resisted the torpedoes, but she was undone by ten or twelve access covers to her torpedo defense voids that had been removed for a material inspection, and another dozen that had their securing nuts loosened. Nevada was torpedoed on the forward port side, which should have been sustainable. However, the flooding of her forward magazine due to the proximity of a fire, the flooding of her after magazine due to a communications misunderstanding, and with additional damage forward from bomb hits, poor watertight integrity and a severe design flaw that contributed to progressive flooding, she was eventually intentionally grounded. With four sunken battleships just from the torpedo attacks, Yamamoto’s criterion for a successful attack was fulfilled.

Level Bombers’ Attack

The level bombers formed up in ten “V” formations of five aircraft each, with the lead bombardier at the point of the formation. One American observed, “The formation was perfect… and the timing on the dropping of the bombs was so perfect that I could follow them down in V formation right to the ground, right to impact.”

All ten formations lined up to pass over the targets one formation at a time. Even though they initiated their attack only minutes after the first torpedoes hit the water, they were surprised by a heavy volume of AA fire. Fuchida later remarked, “It was not wise to have deployed in this long single-column formation. The whole level bomber group could be destroyed like ducks in a shooting gallery.” Fuchida recognized too late the value of simultaneity.

The formation’s lead bombardier—again, curiously, not in Fuchida’s aircraft—had difficulty obtaining a clear sight picture due to smoke and clouds. Perfect alignment was a necessity—as examples of what errors could do, from 6,000 feet and 90 knots, a pitch error of 2 degrees would result in a 200-foot error in the impact point, and a roll error of 2 degrees from 10,000 feet would mean a 350-foot error—and the Japanese bombers were flying higher and faster, magnifying these potential errors.

Their initial target was Nevada, a curious choice since she was not double berthed and was accessible to torpedo attack. The run was aborted when Arizona’s powder magazine blew. Another run, and possibly two more, had to be aborted due to smoke. Eventually they lined up against Maryland.

One of the formation’s aircraft had prematurely lost its bomb due to a material failure caused by AA damage. Sometime between 0820 and 0840 Fuchida’s formation dropped their remaining four bombs. As Fuchida related:

Pilots, observers, and the radiomen all shouted, “Release!” on seeing the bomb drop from the lead plane, and all the others let go their bombs. I immediately lay flat on the floor to watch the fall of bombs through a peephole. Four bombs in perfect pattern plummeted like devils of doom. The target was so far away that I wondered for a moment if they would reach it. The bombs grew smaller and smaller until I was holding my breath for fear of losing them. I forgot everything in the thrill of watching the fall toward the target. They became small as poppy seeds and finally disappeared just as tiny white flashes of smoke appeared on and near the ship.

From a great altitude, near-misses are much more obvious than direct hits because they create wave rings in the water which are plain to see. Observing only two such rings plus two tiny flashes, I shouted, “Two hits!” and rose from the floor of the plane. These minute flashes were the only evidence we had of hits at that time, but I felt sure that they had done considerable damage.

David Aiken has determined that Fuchida’s formation did not score a hit. There were no “tiny flashes” on Maryland other than those from her AA battery. Apparently Fuchida inferred from the two misses that there were two hits, or his mind willed itself to see flashes. What he did not see—or chose not to report—or rejected as irrelevant—were two clouds of dirt from two bombs that drilled deep into Ford Island.

Of the ten groups of level bombers, two groups missed. Besides Fuchidas’, the other miss was an attack directed against California, who recorded that at 0825 a salvo of bombs hit the lagoon off her starboard bow.

Two of the formations attacking Arizona scored, each with a hit on the battleship and one on the repair ship Vestal moored alongside. The remaining six formations all apparently scored single hits.

Overall, the level bombers showed great coolness and precision. They were surprised by the fierce anti-aircraft fire, but were not deterred from making repeated runs until their sight picture was perfect.

Fighter Opposition Develops

The first wave attack arrived unopposed. The first defending fighters got aloft from Haleiwa Auxiliary Field at about 0830, and were directed to Ewa, where Japanese fighters continued to strafe the air station. The Japanese attackers were in a long line, breaking off into strafing attacks one at a time, totally fixated on the ground targets. Two American fighters jumped into the line and got two quick kills. Low on fuel and ammunition, they returned to Wheeler Field to replenish.

Four P-36 fighters got aloft from Wheeler Field at about 0850, just in advance of the arrival of the Japanese second wave. They engaged Japanese aircraft over Kaneohe, which was targeted by 18 B5N Kate level bombers and 18 A6M Zeros. In the fight the US fighters claimed three kills and one probable at the cost of one P-36.

Back at Wheeler, the two rearmed P-40s managed to get aloft during a lull in the second-wave attack. They claimed another kill and a probable over Wheeler, and a kill over Ewa.

At Bellows Field, two fighters attempted to take off but were shot down by A6M Zeros seconds after clearing the runway.

Other fighters took off from Haliewa and Wheeler and engaged Japanese aircraft as they joined up to return to their carriers.

Overall, during the attack fourteen American fighter sorties were able to get aloft. Two other aircraft attempted to take off, but were acquired by Zeros while in their takeoff roll and shot down seconds after they cleared the end of the runway before they could attain fighting airspeed or altitude.

Of the fourteen sorties, two American fighters were lost. The survivors submitted claims for ten kills and four probables. The AAF awarded official credit for nine kills; a close analysis indicated that the actual score might have been as low as eight kills and as high as eleven. That represents a four-to-one (or 5.5 to one) kill ratio in favor of the American fighters.

Just as significantly, twelve of the fourteen American fighters, outnumbered in the air by 36 of the vaunted A6M Zeros, survived and returned to their bases.

In spite of an overwhelming aerial superiority in numbers and aircraft performance, the Japanese fighters did not sweep the skies of defending fighters. This was a disappointing performance by the Japanese fighters, and certainly a failure to achieve their primary mission.

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The Second-Wave Dive-Bomber Attack

Before taking off, the dive-bomber aircrews were told there were no carriers in port. With their primary target absent, one aviator reported that they “were told to attack the same targets as the first wave,” meaning battleships. Another recorded they were to “finish off ships damaged in the first attack, preferably the battleships.”

These oral instructions contradicted the prioritization plans, which directed the dive-bombers to attack cruisers before hitting battleships. It meant using GP bombs against battleships, in spite of the fact that the Japanese recognized that these bombs could be expected to do only superficial damage. Why the targeting instructions were changed at this last minute is unknown.

The dive-bombers’ strike leader, Lieutenant Commander Shimazaki Shigekazu, signaled the attack at 0854 as they approached Kaneohe Naval Air Station on their path to Pearl Harbor. They were greeted by a tremendous volume of AA fire, something never before seen in their combat experience over China, a stunning development. A massive column of smoke rose from Battleships Row and drifted over Ford Island, obscuring any chances for an up-wind attack against the battleships. An almost solid layer of clouds covered the harbor at 3,500 to 5,000 foot altitude, interposing between their usual pitch-over altitude of 10,000 feet. Shimazaki could not have been happy with the conditions.

Fuchida, orbiting the harbor, watched as the dive-bombers approached. Nevada had slipped her moorings and was underway heading south between Ford Island and the shipyard. He saw this as a great opportunity to sink a ship in the channel and bottle up the entire Pacific Fleet. He had instructed his aviators in the pre-strike briefings to be alert for such a chance. He said that he considered assuming command of the dive-bombers, but demurred when he saw the leader of the dive-bombers lining up against the Nevada.

A large oiler backed into the channel as Nevada passed. The Neosho was nearly as massive as a battleship, 25,000 tons at full load. It would have been easier for the dive-bombers to sink her in the channel rather than a heavily armored battleship. The oiler was mostly ignored.

Lieutenant Makino Saburo, leader of Kaga’s dive-bombers, headed for Nevada. Other bombers moved into position. As Nevada pulled abreast of 1010 Dock they attacked from two directions, into the wind from the southwest and crosswind from the southeast.

The dive-bombers were handicapped by environmental conditions. When using their 55-degree dives initiated from 2,000 meters (6,561 feet) altitude, the planes had to start a half-mile from their target. However, huge pillars of smoke were rising from Ford Island, Battleship Row, and Hickam Field, and clouds had moved in creating a nearly solid cloud base from 2,000 to 3,500 feet, obscuring targets except for fleeting glances. It was hard to identify targets, and hard to establish a path to attack the targets.

About 14 dive-bombers attacked Nevada.

Many of the American ships had awnings mounted to shade their living compartments from the tropical sun. The awnings broke up the normal profiles on the ships’ identification cards with which the aviators had trained, making differentiating battleships from large auxiliaries difficult.

The attack dragged as the bombers sorted out targets. Bombers were metered into the airspace, as they customarily would attack in order of each shotai in each ship’s formation of bombers, with units waiting until the previous attackers had completed their dives.

American observers noted some strange behavior on the part of the dive-bombers. Sometimes they appeared to just dive through a hole in the smoke, and then set up to attack whatever they found below them. Some of the dive-bombers were observed on an attack path toward one target, only to divert in mid-dive to a different target. Some attacked in dives steeper than the customary 55 degrees, while others glide-bombed under the cloud cover at angles of 20 to 40 degrees, an attack technique outside their normal training and beyond the settings of their bomb telescopes. The customary tactical unit of a shotai, consisting of three bombers, was sometimes broken up, with perhaps a third of the planes attacking individually or in pairs. Some opted for easier targets away from the maelstrom over the harbor. There was no central command and little localized control, forcing individual decisions onto stressed shotai leaders and individual pilots.

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Defensive fire was intense. Of the 78 dive-bombers, 14 were shot down (18%) and another 14 so damaged they were written off on their return to the carriers.

While the 78 D3A Val dive bombers in the second wave gave their attentions to the ships in the harbor, 54 B5N Kate bombers loaded with 250kg GP bombs from the green aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku headed for Oahu’s airfields. Their primary targets were hangars and administrative areas. While it is impossible to separate out the damage that they inflicted from that of the previous wave’s dive bombers and strafing fighters, their attack was evidently effective. Only one salvo was a clear “miss,” a set of bombs that hit a baseball field near one of the air bases. This was a location that had been planned for an installation of underground fuel tanks, igniting a historical rumor that the Japanese had somehow obtained the Americans’ airbase building plans.

Of the 94 operational American fighters, only fourteen sorties got aloft, with two other aircraft shot down as they attempted to take off. Those fourteen sorties scored eight to eleven kills, some by interjecting themselves unnoticed into the holding patterns of Japanese aircraft waiting their turn to dive in on strafing runs against the airfields. None of the American fighters appeared over Pearl Harbor or contributed to the defense of the fleet, their primary mission.

The second wave attack began at 0854. The fleet’s defenders reckoned the attack was over around 0930.

Finally, over the harbor, the sky was clear of aircraft.

The attack left behind 2,403 people dead or dying and another 1,178 wounded. Of the dead, 1,177 were assigned to Arizona and 429 assigned to Oklahoma. Three battleships were sunk and two sinking. Two cruisers were torpedoed and three destroyers wrecked. The majority of the Army Air Force and Navy aircraft were either destroyed or damaged.

The Japanese left behind 29 aircraft with their crews, and five sunken midget submarines.

Pearl Harbor Japanese “The Re-attack Controversy”

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Many commentators have asserted that the Japanese missed a great opportunity by not launching follow-up attacks targeting the Navy Yard machine shops and repair facilities, the Submarine Base, and the fuel tank farm. Such criticism is part of the official US Navy account of the battle, where the Japanese are castigated as they “neglected to damage the shoreside facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, which played an important role in the Allied victory in World War II.” This view is echoed by most historical commentators, for example, Goldstein and Dillon (coauthors of At Dawn We Slept) and Wenger have asserted that

One stroke of luck for the Americans on 7 December was the fact that the Pearl Harbor attack plan contained no provision for destroying the Navy Yard. Had the Japanese done so, they would have put the US Pacific Fleet out of action far more effectively than by wrecking individual ships. The fleet would have had no choice but to return to the Pacific Coast. This withdrawal could have significantly altered the course of the war.

This assessment appears to have begun with none other than Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, who once remarked that destruction of the fuel storage tanks “would have prolonged the war for another two years.” The venerable Morison picked up the theme in the semi-official History of United States Naval Operations in World War II and made the idea well-known. He asserted:

There is some question, however, whether the aviators were directed to the right targets, even from the Japanese point of view. They knocked out the Battle Force and decimated the striking air power present; but they neglected permanent installations at Pearl Harbor, including the repair shops which were able to do an amazingly quick job on the less severely damaged ships. And they did not even attempt to hit the power plant or the large fuel oil “tank farm,” filled to capacity, whose loss (in the opinion of Admiral Hart) would have set back our advance across the Pacific much longer than did the damage to the fleet.

Morison later expressed his opinion on the issue:

Tactically speaking, the Japanese committed the blunder in the Pearl Harbor attack of concentrating their attacks only on warships instead of directing them on land installations and fuel tanks. Not only was it strategically a folly, but politically, too, it was an unredeemable blunder.

Prange, the great historian of the Pearl Harbor attack, added:

By failing to exploit the shock, bewilderment, and confusion on Oahu, by failing to take full advantage of its savage attack against Kimmel’s ships, by failing to pulverize the Pearl Harbor base, by failing to destroy Oahu’s vast fuel stores, and by failing to seek out and sink America’s carriers, Japan committed its first and probably its greatest strategical error of the entire Pacific conflict.

Goldstein, Dillon and Wenger frame the point in these terms:

One stroke of luck for the Americans on 7 December was the fact that the Pearl Harbor attack plan contained no provision for destroying the Navy Yard. Had the Japanese done so, they would have put the US Pacific Fleet out of action far more effectively than by wrecking individual ships. The fleet would have had no choice but to return to the Pacific Coast. This withdrawal could have significantly altered the course of the war.

Van der Vat claimed that the fuel tanks and “vital shoreside facilities” were to be the “prime target of wave number three” and that their destruction “would have rendered the base useless and forced the US Navy back to the West Coast, over two thousand miles to the east,” a claim repeated by Clarke and others. Captain Joseph Taussig, Jr. claimed that “One lucky hit would have sorely curtailed the fuel supplies in the Pacific and created a logistics nightmare….” Admiral Bloch, the Naval District Commander with local defense responsibility, testifying before a post-attack inquiry, said that if Japan had struck the shore installations “we would have been damaged infinitely more than we were.” Peattie makes the claim that “… there is little doubt that these targets could have been destroyed by Nagumo’s force.” Another claimed that destroying the shipyard would have delayed serious operations in the Pacific by at least a year.

These assessments have been absorbed into the popular consciousness: a television program on “The Myths of Pearl Harbor” asserted that “had the Japanese launched a third wave attack against the fuel tanks and naval shipyard, the United States would have been forced to pull their crippled fleet back to San Francisco… leaving Pearl Harbor defenseless.”

The tale of the argument on the carrier bridge where stodgy Nagumo turned his back on his aviator’s demands for a third strike has been related in many places, based on Fuchida’s version of the event:

On his return at midday, Fuchida had told Nagumo that there were still many significant targets worthy of attack. There was a complete infrastructure of dockyard installations, fuel storage tanks, power station and ship repair and maintenance facilities which supported the US Pacific Fleet and without which its rebuilding would have been impossible. There were also plenty of vessels not touched in the first assaults.

According to Toland, the encounter happened this way:

Fuchida returned about an hour later and was greeted by an exultant Genda; then he went to the bridge and reported to Nagumo and Kusaka that at least two battleships had been sunk and four seriously damaged. He begged the admirals to launch another attack at once and this time concentrate on the oil tanks…. Kaga’s captain, at the urging of Commander Sata, also recommended a strike against installations and fuel tanks…. “We should retire as planned,” Kusaka advised Nagumo, who nodded. A staff officer suggested that they try and locate and sink the American carriers. Opinion on the bridge was divided. “There will be no more attacks of any kind,” said Kusaka. We will withdraw.”

Toland added, in a footnote,

Some accounts state that Fuchida and Genda repeatedly pleaded with Nagumo to return. In an interview in 1966, Admiral Kusaka recalled that they merely suggested a second attack and that his words “We will withdraw” ended the discussion; thereafter no one expressed a forceful opinion.

Clearly, Kusaka, the First Air Fleet Chief of Staff, had a different perception of what happened on the Akagi’s bridge that critical afternoon.

Fuchida published an article in the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, which was reprinted in 1969 in an anthology, The Japanese Navy in World War II. This article was written as a first-person account.

My plane was just about the last one to get back to Akagi where refueled and rearmed planes were being lined up on the busy flight deck in preparation for yet another attack. I was called to the bridge as soon as the plane stopped, and could tell on arriving there that Admiral Nagumo’s staff had been engaged in heated discussions about the advisability of launching the next attack. They were waiting for my account of the battle. [After reporting the extent of the damage] I expressed my views saying, “All things considered we have achieved a great amount of destruction, but it would be unwise to assume that we have destroyed everything. There are still many targets remaining which should be hit. Therefore I recommend that another attack be launched.”… I had done all I could to urge another attack, but the decision rested entirely with Admiral Nagumo, and he chose to retire without launching the next attack.

In this account Fuchida mentions “heated discussions,” but only claims that he recommended an additional attack against the “many targets remaining,” implying targets from the original target set, ships and aircraft. No mention is made of attacking the shipyard or oil storage tanks. An approximation of this scene was included in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! Fuchida served as one of the principle Japanese advisors to the producers of that film.

There are two other accounts of Fuchida’s post-attack report, both by Fuchida as related to Prange, one in At Dawn We Slept published in 1981, and another in God’s Samurai, Prange’s biography of Fuchida, published in 1990. Both contain specific, line-by-line conversations, including quotations attributed to Nagumo, Kusaka, Genda, and other staff members.

On departing Pearl Harbor Fuchida claimed that he “mentally earmarked for destruction” the fuel tanks and the “vast repair and maintenance facilities” for the attention of a follow-on strike. Upon his return to Akagi, after collecting confirming information from other pilots, he went to the bridge to report to Nagumo. He claimed that “a fierce argument” ensued on the subject of a follow-on strike. In Dawn the exchange is related as follows (based on Fuchida’s testimony which Prange dramatizes in the third person):

Then Kusaka took up the questioning. “What do you think the next targets should be?” Fuchida drew a quick breath. The wording seemed to indicate an aggressive intent. He came back swiftly, “The next targets should be the dockyards, the fuel tanks, and an occasional ship.” He saw no need to attack the battleships again.

In God’s Samurai, Fuchida (again through Prange) gives the exchange a different flavor:

If we attack again, what should the targets be?” asked Kusaka.

Fuchida had no difficulty in answering, having thought of little else all the way back to the Akagi. “ The damaged battleships and the other vessels in the harbor, the dock yards, and the fuel tanks,” he informed them…. Nagumo made no immediate decision, dismissing Fuchida with a word of praise. As soon as he departed, Genda took up the battle…. However, Nagumo refused to attack Pearl Harbor again or to hunt for the elusive [American] flattops…. Akagi hoisted a signal flag indicating retirement to the northwest. Upset, Fuchida scrambled to the bridge.

What’s happened?” he asked Genda.

His classmate shrugged. “It can’t be helped.”

That wasn’t good enough for Fuchida. He turned to Nagumo, saluted, and asked bluntly, “Why aren’t we attacking again?”

Kusaka forestalled whatever reply Nagumo might have made. “The objective of the Pearl Harbor operation is achieved,” he said. “Now we must prepare for future operations.”

Silently, Fuchida saluted and stalked off the bridge. “I was a bitter and angry man,” he recalled, “for I was convinced that Nagumo should have attacked again.”

There are inconsistencies in these accounts that could be picked over at length. That is unnecessary, since the conversation, in whatever version, the “heated discussion,” Genda’s “begging,” stalking off the bridge after a second confrontation, re-striking the battleships or not re-striking the battleships—all, without a doubt, did not occur as related.

Kusaka stated in an interview that he had dismissed the subject of a follow-on attack from the outset. There was a one-question exchange on the subject initiated by a staff officer, not Fuchida or Genda; he did not consider the exchange to be sufficiently important to mention it in his account of the attack.

Nagumo and Kusaka had possibly discussed the question before Fuchida landed. In Dull’s account, intercepted radio traffic inferred to the Japanese that an estimated fifty land-based bombers were still operational, and they were still concerned over the unlocated American carriers. Nagumo and Kusaka decided that Kido Butai should quickly clear the area. Dull’s account did not mention a confrontation with Fuchida.

Genda categorically denied that any confrontation took place or that a proposal for an additional strike arose. He did not “take up the battle” for an additional strike, having realized long before that Nagumo had his mind set against such an attack. Genda believed bringing it up would be of no use. He stated in his memoirs that he was aware of the scene in Tora! Tora! Tora!, but explicitly denied that any such exchange took place or that a follow-on strike was proposed by Fuchida at all.

Fuchida apparently noted American post-war statements regarding the supposed importance of a third strike against fuel and shipyard facilities and created fictional conversations that raised his perspicacity to heroic stature.

The executive secretary of the US Naval Institute asked Genda why the Japanese did not bomb the fuel tanks. “He replied ingenuously that nobody had thought of this target.” When interviewed in 1945 immediately after the war, before all the American comments about striking the shipyard or the oil tanks were available in Japan, Fuchida was asked why there had been no third wave strike against Pearl Harbor. Fuchida made no mention of proposals to further attack the shipyard or the fuel tanks.

Infrastructure targets had been briefly considered by the Japanese planners. Genda rejected them in his initial estimates because there wasn’t enough ordnance to spare (recall his dictum that hitting a few critical targets decisively was better than hitting many targets with only minor damage). There wasn’t sufficient ordnance to thoroughly attack fleet and OCA targets as it was, and a few odd bombs directed against the shipyard or the oil tank farms during the first or second waves would have been a wasteful half-measure—more like a hundreth-measure.

Thousands of miles away, members of the Combined Fleet staff, including the Chief of Staff Ugaki and Yamamoto, considered follow-on strikes. These officers appear to have been looking towards a more complete annihilation of the Pacific Fleet, and were not considering infrastructure targets.

Genda considered remaining in the Pearl Harbor area for days and dispatching repeated attacks but, as Willmott has noted:

[Genda] was not necessarily thinking in terms of attacks on port facilities, shore installations and the like. He was thinking primarily in terms of inflicting crippling losses upon the US Pacific Fleet. Indeed, on the morning of the attack Genda limited himself to the proposal that returning Kates should be armed with torpedoes to meet any American forces which tried to mount a counter-attack, but that if none materialized, the Kates should be armed for the normal bombing role. Such deliberation amounted to no more than normal staff procedure, and there seems to be little evidence to suggest that Genda believed a follow-up attack would be necessary and on his own admission he made no representation to his superiors which suggested he was convinced of the need for such an operation.

Some, particularly the more junior staff officers assigned to the Combined Fleet, were inflamed with fighting spirit, stoked by relief that great things had been accomplished at little cost, and were ready for a repeat performance; some felt that Kido Butai was still in dangerous waters, and the additional gains were not worth the additional risk.

One man staunchly against such an attack was Nagumo. He had doubts about the raid from the outset, and had shouldered for weeks the worry that his fragile carriers could be hit while thousands of miles from the nearest friendly port. When the attack met its objectives, he was more than happy to accept an unexpectedly one-sided victory and depart.

The idea that others would suddenly want to champion a return attack to hit shipyard and fuel facilities does not fit with the logistics-blind worldview of Japanese naval officers.

Realizing that the Japanese would likely not have gone after the shipyard and docks and fuel farms does not finalize the debate. Would a third wave attack against those targets been as destructive and as debilitating as so many maintain?

Composition of a Third-Wave Strike

Three hundred fifty aircraft were sent in the two waves of the attack. Of them, 29 (8%) were shot down and another 111 damaged,52 of which 10 to 15 (perhaps as many as 20) were damaged so severely they were jettisoned. Others were written off as unsalvageable. Of the other damaged aircraft, it is not known how many could not be flown until they were repaired by the ships’ maintenance force. Willmott reports that once all the aircraft had returned to the carriers the Japanese had 265 aircraft available for operations.

The Japanese would not have launched another two-wave attack with all available bombers. They were concerned that the US carriers, so far unlocated, would appear and attack. A duplicate two-wave attack would not leave aircraft to search for or strike American carriers. They undoubtedly would have held ready a strike armed with counter-shipping munitions.

If another strike was to be launched, the first order of business would be to launch reconnaissance to ensure the American carriers would not interfere. They could be almost anywhere, to the northeast between Hawaii and San Francisco, east (San Diego), northwest (Midway), west (Johnston Island), or south (Palmyra and the southern training operational areas). Because the Japanese had made a high-speed night transit, they could not even be sure that carriers were not to the north. A 360-degree search out to 250nm would be prudent. If the Japanese used 10-degree search intervals with a single aircraft on each track, 35 aircraft would be required.

The aircraft for this search could come from several sources. First, there were two cruisers accompanying the force, Tone and Chikuma, specially designed to handle six reconnaissance floatplanes apiece. If they contributed ten aircraft, the balance of 25 would come out of the carriers’ complements. These would be B5N Kate carrier attack bombers on the carriers, which had the dual mission of reconnaissance as well as attack. There were the aircraft carried by the two fast battleships that accompanied the carriers, but these aircraft were usually employed in the inner anti-submarine patrol.

The Japanese carriers started with 144 B5N Kate carrier attack planes and 135 D3A Val dive-bombers. 16 Kates were lost or written off after the attack along with 31 Vals, leaving 128 Kates and 104 Vals. The crated spare aircraft would require at least 24 hours to assemble.

If one-third of the remaining aircraft were retained as an anti-shipping reserve, 70 B5N Kate carrier attack bombers (with two or three 250kg bombs each) and 70 D3A Val dive bombers (with one 250kg bomb each) could be employed in a third wave attack. They could deliver 210 to 280 250kg bombs.

This is a high estimate. It is more likely that the Japanese would have retained at least half their aircraft as insurance against enemy carriers, and, as they viewed the B5N Kate as their real ship-killer, they would have retained a greater proportion of them for the anti-shipping strike. 100 of the modified “shallow water” torpedoes were delivered for this operation, and 40 expended in the attack. That might have limited the number of B5N Kates in the anti-shipping strike to 60. However, there may also have been unmodified torpedoes aboard.

Two hundred eighty 250kg bombs can be used as an upper estimate of the ordnance a third wave attack might deliver.

A Cold December Morning

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On the morning of November 26th 1941, six aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy set sail from Northern Japan to the seas to the North West of Hawaii. Their combined payload was 408 aircraft and these comprised the Strike Force intended for the attack on Pearl Harbor. The six carriers were: Akagi, Kaga, Zuikaku, Hiryu, Soryu and Shokaku. Of the 408 aircraft borne by these carriers, 360 were destined for the actual attack while the other 48 were meant to provide defense as Combat Air Patrol (CAP).

The attack was planned in two waves. The first and primary wave carried instructions to attack all the major capital ships of the Pacific Fleet, while the second wave had express intentions to carry out an attack in three tiers. The primary target was aircraft carriers, with cruisers being the secondary targets, and the battleships being the tertiary target. The Japanese military engineers had retrofitted the bombs and aircrafts with modifications that increased their lethal power.

The crews of the Japanese fighter planes were given specific orders to select and hit the targets that were of maximum value.  That meant they were to try hitting all the battleships and carriers in the area and then the destroyers and cruisers.  The first wave of dive bombers were to concentrate their fire power on the targets on the ground. The fighters in this group were tasked with attacking the airplanes on the airfields by the means of large scale strafing. The intention was to render the American aircraft on the ground as non-airworthy as possible so that an immediate air-defense could not be mounted against the Japanese bombers.  The fuel consumption of the aircrafts was a major problem, to deal with it, the aircrafts were given strict orders to return to the carriers and refuel before mounting further attacks.

What was conspicuously absent before the attack was the near absence of reconnaissance aircraft anywhere in the region. The Japanese did not want to take the huge risk of being spotted and drawing attention by way of speculation that they were up to a major mission in the West Pacific.  However, shortly before the attack began, two reconnaissance aircraft took flight from the Japanese cruisers Chikuma and Tone. These didn’t fly over Pearl Harbor but went toward Maui and Oahu.

Commander Mitsuo Fuchida was the man associated with leading the main charge of the attack. In the subsequent years to come, he would be hailed as a Japanese hero. He was only later bought down by a group of people that argued that the attack on Pearl Harbor triggered the devastation that resulted in Japan. They believed that if it was not for him, the Japanese would not have had to face the nuclear wrath of the Americans. Commander Mitsuo Fuchida recounted his experience in a published book in 1951. It was originally written in Japanese and sold in Japan only and later was translated to English in 1955. Below is an excerpt from his book.

It was a pleasant Japanese morning. The shores were as aggressive as any average day and the mountains spoke little of the weather. The skies were as clear as Bahamas waters and the sun shone with brightly. Little did the Japanese common folk have any idea that their administrators had been preparing for an assault that would backfire on them in the immediate future. On the other side of the world, the shore of Pearl Harbor looked pleasant from a distance. There was nothing-abnormal going on except the sound of violent waves crashing on the rocks. Lieutenants and Admirals could be seen relaxing on the docks, dressed in uniform, and sipping coffee. They, like the Japanese public, had little idea of what was to come.  

Commander Mitsuo recalls vividly the first glimpses of land he and his party sighted. It had been a nervously spent one hundred and forty minutes of flying. There had been little disturbance on the way, having not flown the much longer route of flying over the Asian continent. It had been a wise decision, not to mention an obvious one.  Among the scores of pilots that had joined the party, it was their leader, Commander Mitsuo that had the fortune of sighting land. It was the breaking surf of the northern shore of Oahu.

Mitsuo Fuchida and his men peered out of the plane and they saw the Harbor stretching out across the Oahu plain. The skies were clear, with a light mist hanging on the air. Nobody would expect that by the end of the day, widespread devastation would destroy the utter peace that hung quietly overhead. Fuchida and his men took to their work. Through his binoculars, the Japanese bomber counted the eight battleships that were stationed at the harbor, but he found that all the carriers were gone – not a single one remained.

Shortly after this Commander Fuchida received the order to open the attack. Takahashi’s dive-bomber group had already climbed high up into the air, far enough that they were not even visible to those on the ground.

Fuchida and his men made a circuit toward Barbers Point; there was an attack schedule and they had to stick to it. According to the Lieutenant Commander, there were no enemy fighters in sight; not in the air or on the ground. Everything was peaceful, which perhaps, was how the Japanese bombers knew without a doubt that they were going to be successful.

Fuchida further spoke about how the actual attack commenced. Much like a horror movie, the first act of the attack opened with the first bomb falling on Wheeler Field. According to Fuchida, it was followed by a number of dive-bomb attacks that took place on Hickam Field and the bases at Ford Island. Lieutenant Commander Murata had the torpedo bombers and was worried that the smoke released from the attacks would obscure his vision and his ability to hit his targets. He cut his group’s approach short and launched the torpedoes from wherever they were.

From far away, the scene may like beautiful, almost artistic, the waterspouts looking rather majestic and powerful. But there was nothing beautiful about their effects.

The commander then describes in a execution of the most significant event at Pearl Harbor; the bombing and consequent sinking of USS Arizona. Fuchida’s group entered its bombing run towards the eight battleships that were moored to the cast of Ford Island. They were still in the plane. When they reached an altitude of 3,000 meters, Fuchida ordered the sighting bomber to get into position. They were closing in on the harbor when finally, there was retaliation from the American side.

THE THIRD WAVE THAT NEVER CAME

The Pearl Harbor attack took place in two waves of quick succession. However, many junior Japanese officers, including the captains of five carriers, wanted to launch a third wave of attack. Their intention was to demolish the auxiliary structures of Pearl Harbor such as the fuel storage, officer’s quarters, submarine dock etc.

This group of officers included Genda as well. He believed that in the absence of an outright invasion of Hawaii, the number of air strikes should not be restricted to just two waves. The captains of the other five carriers supported his idea. The only high ranking official who opposed the idea of a third strike was Vice Admiral Nagumo. There were many reasons Nagumo vehemently argued against the proposal of a third strike.

By the end of the second wave of attacks, Japan had almost completely lost its surprise advantage. This was further proved by the numbers of aircrafts that were shot down during the second strike. More than two thirds of the casualties incurred by Japan were during the second wave of attacks. Vice Admiral Nagumo reasoned that mounting a third wave to destroy the auxiliary targets was simply too risky to undertake.

The Japanese knew that the aircraft carriers of the American Pacific Fleet were not in Pearl Harbor, but their location was unknown. Vice Admiral Nagumo was deeply disconcerted by this fact. He wasn’t sure whether the Japanese aircraft carriers were within striking range of the American planes and land based bombers.

One of the biggest causes of apprehension for Nagumo was the time factor. The two waves had taken a considerable amount of time and a third wave of attacks would mean that the fighters flying back to the carriers would have to make the landing at night, which was a huge risk in those times.

Compounding the time factor was the weather. The tropical weather had become much worse than it was in the morning and the Vice Admiral was not really keen on flying the planes and fighters in such inclement weather.

Fuel was also major issue. The fuel levels of the entire task force were alarmingly low and a third wave of attack would consume so much fuel that the logistical setup would be very difficult during the return journey. This meant that the fleet may even have to abandon some vessels on the way back home.

At the base of it all was the conviction that Vice Admiral Nagumo had as to the efficacy of the mission. He believed that the Japanese attack had already achieved what it had set out to do. The Pacific fleet was virtually decapitated in the eyes of the Japanese. Nagumo did not intend to incur any more losses in order to simply land a few more blows when they had already done what they set out to do.

In a conference held after the day of the attack, Vice Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was extremely vocal in supporting and upholding the prudent and judicial decisions taken by Vice Admiral Nagumo. But within a few months, it became obvious that the decision to not attack the docks and oil depots was proving to be fatal to Japan. The United States was able to bounce back due to the low depth of the harbor permitting salvaging of the partly destroyed vessels and the close proximity to the mainland, making rescue of the ships and the men possible.

Once this was discovered, Vice Admiral Nagumo came under heavy criticism by Yamamoto himself who specifically stated that the decision by Nagumo to not order a third strike was a completely flawed one.

The immediate collateral of this war for Japan was the death of 55 Japanese airmen and 9 submariners. 29 aircraft were lost to American fire while 74 were damaged.

But the real repercussion, came later when the United States decided to retaliate and declared war on Japan.

JAPAN’S MARITIME STRATEGY

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JS Izumo (DDH-183) just after her launch.

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PEARL HARBOR (Nov. 3, 2008) The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force guided-missile destroyer JS Ashigara, DDG-178, makes her way pierside at Naval Station Pearl Harbor.

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The current Japanese defense strategy is addressed in the 2005 National Defense Program Guidelines, which affirm that the country’s security depends on its defense forces and its alliance with the United States. Of Japan’s armed services, the maritime self-defense force is the most important, because it is responsible for safeguarding the sea lines of communication upon which the nation depends for its economic well-being.

Any question about this priority was settled by the 1973 oil crisis, an event that conclusively demonstrated Japan’s dependence on the SLOCs. Their defense was confirmed as a strategic priority beyond naval circles.

The mid-1970s Soviet emphasis on strengthening its Pacific Fleet emphasized this priority on a national level.

Tokyo reassessed its maritime priorities following the end of the Cold War. Both the 1995 NDPO and the 2004 Defense Program Guidelines (DPG) sought to delineate capabilities to confront a potential military problem in Northeast Asia. Of particular concern were, and remain, China’s naval modernization, exacerbated by forward-leaning activities in the East China Sea, and North Korea’s nuclear threats.

By the beginning of 2009, the JMSDF had reassessed its growth of the preceding two decades, as part of the drafting of a maritime strategy for the new century. Japanese maritime strategy had been understood and prominent during the Cold War. It is striking that it was only a short two decades after the Cold War’s end that the situation in Northeast Asia developed to the point where Tokyo recognized a need for a new, formal maritime strategy.

The essence of the new maritime strategy is twofold. The first aspect is defense of regional SLOCs, perhaps best defined by a triangle, the points of which are Tokyo, Guam, and Taiwan. This area is not dissimilar to that for which the JMSDF took ASW responsibility during the Cold War. It is not an easily managed responsibility, because it requires proficiency across the spectrum of both coast-guard and naval missions, from surveillance to defense against ballistic missiles.

Second, the JMSDF is tasked with fulfilling responsibilities under the mutual defense treaty with the United States. This relationship continues to provide the basis for Japan’s maritime defense efforts. In addition to expressing support for the U.S. policy reorientation, or “rebalancing,” toward East Asia announced by Washington in 2011, Tokyo’s policy is characterized by “enhancement of its defense posture in areas including the Southwestern Islands.” Japan has expressed concern about the “increasingly uncertain security environment in the Asia-Pacific region,” advocating strengthening “engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Tokyo’s primary national security focus was directed against possible Soviet aggression during the Cold War but now is focused on North Korea and China, the most likely maritime threats to Japanese interests. Cooperation with friendly third nations is being pursued; Tokyo invited Australia and the United States to the Sixth Pacific Island Leaders Meeting in Naga, on Okinawa, in May 2012.20 Such increased international cooperation is envisioned further in the possible defense of common interests with the Republic of South Korea (ROK) and India. Officially unspoken is the possibility of support for operations in support of Taiwan.

The 2011 DPG thus has long been under development and has led to increased, more open Japanese interest in security arrangements with other Asian nations, from South Korea to India. Interacting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been an objective of Tokyo since the 1977 Fukuda Initiative, whereby the then–prime minister announced a policy of increasing ties with Southeast Asia. By 2008 Japan was ASEAN’s second-largest trading partner.

Closer relations with India in the maritime security sphere were signaled in 2009, when an Indian navy task group conducted an exercise with the JMSDF in Japanese waters. In late 2011 the Japanese and Indian defense ministers agreed on further cooperation between their two navies.

Japan is pursuing similar, closer security relationships with both Vietnam and Australia. Tokyo and Hanoi signed a Memorandum on Defense Cooperation Enhancement in 2011. This agreement is aimed specifically at keeping “in check China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and East China Sea.”

Prime Ministers John Howard of Australia and Shinzo Abe signed a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in March 2007; this was reinforced in 2010, when the two governments signed an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, which pledged closer military cooperation and provided for the “reciprocal provision of supplies and services between the Self-Defense Forces of Japan (JSDF) and the Australian Defense Force (ADF).” These agreements with Hanoi and Canberra demonstrate Tokyo’s increasingly active foreign policy. This development reflects Japan’s attempts to overcome further the still-present memories of World War II, concern about Chinese and North Korean activities, and perhaps a perceived weakening of U.S. military capability in East Asia.

These foreign-policy initiatives and the new defense guidelines will become effective only if the JMSDF is funded for the modernization and expansion required if the nation is to maintain its status as a major Asian maritime power. This funding is at issue, particularly for two reasons.

First, the 2011 Fukushima disaster is leading Japan rapidly away from reliance on nuclear power, a change that will increase the nation’s reliance on the seaborne import of fossil fuels from the Middle East. Second, Japan faces growing naval prowess on the part of South Korea and China, two countries with which it has sovereignty and maritime-resource disputes. A corollary to this second reason may be the shrinking U.S. fleet, with attendant major defense-budget reductions looming in Washington, a popular focus on economic problems, and the strong links between the U.S. and Chinese economies. This situation has the potential to turn American public support away from a Cold War–era defense treaty seen as no longer necessary.

Tokyo has set out in the DPG three security objectives: (1) to prevent external threats from harming Japan; (2) to contribute to improving international security so as to prevent threats from emerging; and (3) to contribute to global peace and stability and to human security.

The guidelines lay out steps to reach these objectives, including cooperation with the United States and with the international community. Defense will continue to form “the basic principles of defense policy,” as will the “three non-nuclear principles.” These were stated by Prime Minister Sato in 1967 and formally endorsed by the Diet in 1971; they are that Japan will neither possess nor manufacture nuclear weapons and will not permit their presence in Japanese territory. The objective of more participation in international peace cooperation activities is stated, as is an active role in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation efforts.

The “security environment surrounding Japan” is described as comprising a “number of so-called ‘gray zone’ disputes,” which are characterized as “confrontations over territory, sovereignty and economic interests” that do not pose a danger of escalation into wars but that are “on the increase.” The security environment is further marked by a “global shift in the balance of power,” as a result of “the rise of emerging powers and the relative change” of U.S. influence.

Although invasion of Japan’s home islands is not considered a viable threat, the guidelines identify issues of concern. These are “sustained access to cyberspace,” terrorism, piracy, North Korean nuclear and missile threats, China’s military modernization and lack of transparency, and increased Russian military activities.

The guidelines’ section on issues of concern is followed by a discussion of four “basic policies to ensure Japan’s security.” First are the nation’s own efforts, including improved capability “to collect and analyze information, while strengthening the information security system.” Second is the effort to enhance rapidity in decision making, to ensure a “coordinated and integrated response to contingencies.”

Establishment of an organization similar to the U.S. National Security Council is a third issue; the fourth is participation in international peacekeeping activities “in a more efficient and effective manner,” with “consideration of the actual situations of UN peace-keeping operations.” This caveat indicates the ongoing domestic political discussion about the depth of Japan’s participation in international security affairs. Most interesting of all is the shift in basic defense philosophy expressed in the resolution that Japan will build a “dynamic defense force,” superseding the current “basic defense force concept.” The decision means deploying military capability for purposes beyond the needs of deterrence, enabling the country to play “a more active role” in international security activities.

“Cooperation with its ally” is then emphasized, because the alliance with the United States is “indispensable in ensuring Japan’s peace and security.” Cooperation will include continuing strategic dialogue and collaboration, with a new emphasis on cyberspace security. Increased regional cooperation is noted, with specific mention of South Korea, Australia, India, and the ASEAN nations, as part of creating “a security network” in the Asia-Pacific region.

China, the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and other European countries—even Russia—are mentioned as possible partners in addressing “global security issues.” This broadening of intended international cooperation seems to reflect two decisions: first that a more proactive posture is required to ensure Japan’s security, and second that U.S. military capabilities, especially in the maritime realm, are in decline. The first point reflects loosening of constitutional and psychological limits imposed in the post–World War II period.

Domestic political concerns are again addressed, in the point that “Japan will reduce the burden on local communities where U.S. military bases are located.” This step is couched in terms of maintaining the U.S. contribution to deterrence, the subject of the fourth major point. This is deterrence to ensure “security in the sea and air space surrounding Japan,” to include “responding to attacks on Japan’s offshore islands,” while trying to increase a stable security environment in the Asia-Pacific and globally.

The guidelines discuss the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF), but not in detail. They note the importance of enhancing capability but acknowledge a “drastic review” of the defense budget. This has meant a continued stagnation of that budget, just as the nation is trying to improve military efficiency through increased joint capability and focusing on defense of offshore islands. A list of steps to increase efficiency—to “maximize defense capability”—is provided, but even if such general measures are taken, the thrust of Tokyo’s determination to reduce military expenditures cannot be overcome by more verbiage.

In sum, Japan’s 2010 DPG and 2011 DPG reflect a perception that the nuclear threat that was the focus of the Cold War has ended, replaced by conventional security threats. China is the center of this concern, with North Korea its acolyte. The latter’s ballistic-missile tests in 1998, 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2013 have reinforced this perception of Pyongyang. The guidelines’ emphasis on building a dynamic instead of a defensive force indicate an intention to enhance the JSDF’s proactive capability, especially with respect to the Senkakus and Takeshima; this capability is also reflected in the aim to exercise a greater international role, a notable change from the 2004 DPG’s focus on deterring external threats from reaching Japan.

Tokyo’s concerns about China as a military threat to Japanese security interests are clear. They are most evident in the goal of increasing the ability to defend the Senkakus, but they are also notable in the complaint about Beijing’s lack of transparency regarding the composition and missions of its military. Tokyo’s concerns are based on experience, such as the fact that in fiscal year 2010, 80 percent of the emergent flights by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) were in reaction to Russian or Chinese incursions into the nation’s airspace.

Concerns with China’s growing military strength and naval operations have increased in recent years. In mid-2011 the Japanese government expressed its unease with “China’s growing assertiveness and widening naval reach in nearby waters.” This sentiment was repeated in Japan’s 2011 defense guidelines and has been followed by direct actions.

Japan is renaming many of the privately owned and other, previously unnamed, land features in the East China Sea, sovereignty over much of which is disputed by Beijing. Also, additional monitoring facilities are reportedly planned. This move is intended to strengthen Tokyo’s sovereignty claims over not just the Senkakus but also the Shirakaba/Chunxiao gas fields in the area.

North Korea’s threatened development of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching Japan certainly concerns Tokyo, but China’s increased military capability and pugnacious attitude is viewed as even more threatening. A third, if less intense, threat is perceived from Russia, with the considerable reduction of Moscow’s military forces in Asia offset by its refusal to discuss returning to Japan control of the southern Kurile Islands it occupied at the end of World War II.

These various threats are not simply perceptions. North Korea in the past few years has engaged in hostile activities, including sinking the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March 2010 and shelling the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong six months later. Numerous incidents involving North Korean and Chinese fishing boats have also occurred, during which neither Pyongyang nor Beijing has evinced interest in compromise.

onna-bugeisha and kunoichi

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While it was considered inappropriate for women born into Samurai clans to train in the martial arts, such things were not impossible, especially when weaker clans needed every warrior they could muster. Onna-bugeisha, sometimes erroneously called female Samurai, protected their household from soldiers, bandits and brigands. Some would trained in the yari, others the naginata, sometimes at an expert level, in order to protect their household. Some seemed to be ordinary women but were in fact fearsome martial artists.

Onna-bugeisha were not as common as samurai, with most upper-class women traditionally responsible for running their husband’s households. However, recent research shows women did fight in battles, with DNA remains from the site of the Battle of Senbon Matsubaru in 1580 showing that 35 out of 105 bodies were female.

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Not all ninja were men. The female onna-bugeisha were warriors belonging to Japanese nobility, and there were also female ninja, or kunoichi. Women were well suited to the clandestine role of the ninja and were uniquely able to infiltrate enemy strongholds in the guise of servants, dancers, concubines and geisha. The kunoichi also sometimes acted as assassins.

The most famous female ninja was Mochizuki Chiyome, who was descended from Kōga ninja and the wife of a samurai lord. When her husband was killed in battle, she came under the protection of her late husband’s uncle, Takeda Shingen, the leader of the Takeda clan. Shingen asked Mochizuki to form a network of kunoichi to spy on rival clans and daimyo. Mochizuki recruited a band of female orphans, refugees and prostitutes, who she trained in the clandestine arts of the ninja. Mochizuki’s kunoichi gathered information and acted as messengers, often travelling as miko (priestesses) to avoid suspicion. Posing as geisha, prostitutes and servants, the kunoichi could gain access to the most heavily guarded strongholds. Like their male counterparts, they were also trained assassins. The network grew to be several hundred strong before Shingen’s death in 1573, after which Mochizuki vanishes from the historical record.

The Role of the Arms-Bearing Women in Japanese History

North to Seoul – Imjin War

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Drawing of a Panokseon, the backbone of Joseon (Korea) Navy during its conflict with Japan in late 16th century.

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The Japanese landing on Busan

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It began on May 23, 1592. A dense mist hung over the sea off Pusan early that morning, obscuring any sign of activity offshore. Chong Pal, the sixty-year-old commander of the Pusan garrison, left the port early for a day of hunting on Cholyong-do, a forested island at the mouth of the harbor so named for its population of deer. Emerging from the trees some time in the afternoon, he was one of the first to spy the armada, “covering all of the sea,” approaching from the direction of Daema-do, as Tsushima was known to the Koreans. Suspecting that this could be the Japanese invasion that everyone was expecting and yet did not expect, Chong rushed back to Pusan to raise the alarm and prepare for the worst. Any doubts as to what he had seen were soon dispelled by corroborative reports from a lighthouse keeper farther along the coast and from a beacon-fire tender on a hill behind Pusan: a long battle line of ships, ninety in number, approaching from the south.

The lead ships of the Japanese armada soon reached the waters off Pusan harbor and dropped anchor. Kyongsang Left Navy Commander Pak Hong observed their arrival from his nearby base at Kijang and began to tally the numbers for himself. There were easily ninety, as reported. Then one hundred. Then one hundred and fifty. The afternoon waned, and the ships kept coming. Two hundred. Two hundred and fifty. Three hundred. The sun eased below the horizon, and still the number continued to climb. And Pak’s nerves began to fray.

Word of the Japanese arrival reached Kyongsang Right Navy Commander Won Kyun at his base on Koje Island to the west of Pusan that same afternoon. He could not at first bring himself to believe what was happening. In a dispatch to his colleague Yi Sun-sin, commander of the Cholla Left Navy based at Yosu farther to the west, Won reported that the approaching mass of ships was perhaps some sort of exceptionally large trade mission from Tsushima. As the afternoon progressed, however, and the number of ships crowding the bay off Pusan climbed to one hundred and fifty and beyond, Won was forced to the conclusion that an invasion was indeed under way and a disaster about to befall them.

Neither he nor Pak Hong, however, made any attempt that day or the next to attack the Japanese armada with the approximately one hundred and fifty heavy panokson battleships under their command, representing the bulk of the entire Korean navy. The two men simply watched and waited and sent off frantic dispatches, while the ships under their command, the most formidable weapons in the Korean arsenal and the first and most effective line in the nation’s defenses, sat idle in their ports.

For the Koreans, this frozen inaction on the part of Won and Pak was the first of many strategic errors that would be made in the early days of the Imjin War. For although the two naval commanders did not know it, the gathering armada, while numerically daunting, was in fact vulnerable to seaborne attack and could have been dealt a heavy blow before it ever had a chance to send a single man ashore.

In the order of battle he had signed two months before, Hideyoshi urged his daimyo to be particularly careful to get their troops safely across the sea to Pusan, warning them that “the loss of one man or one horse through bad judgment will be regarded as a grave offense.” To ensure their safety, the invasion plan had called for a force of battleships to travel in convoy with the transports to protect them from the very ships that now sat idle in the Korean naval bases of Kyongsang Province. But such convoying had not occurred. When the first contingents of the invasion force were leaving Nagoya for their forward staging areas on Tsushima, the navy was still assembling on the Inland Sea. When the transports were at sea between Tsushima and Pusan, the navy was only just arriving at Nagoya. In fact, it would be more than a week before Hideyoshi’s battleships would arrive at Pusan. Konishi had gambled that he could land his forces without their protection and was now in Korean waters with a fleet of light and largely unprotected transports—fishing boats really—that would have been no match for Korea’s panokson if the challenge had been made. Had a different admiral been in command of either Kyongsang fleet, one willing to put his ships to sea and strike at the enemy, the outcome of these first few days might have been very different indeed.

By nightfall on May 23 some four hundred ships bearing Konishi Yukinaga’s first contingent had successfully traversed the seventy kilometers from Tsushima’s northern tip and were crowding the waters off Pusan. At seven thirty in the evening a single vessel separated from this force and advanced into the harbor. Aboard was So Yoshitoshi, the Christian daimyo of Tsushima, also known as Dario, who had served as Hideyoshi’s emissary to the Koreans since 1589. Accompanying him was the scholar monk Genso, a member of the Tsushima mission to Seoul in 1589. The two men sent a letter to the commander of Pusan, Chong Pal, asking one last time that the way be cleared to China for the armies of Japan. They received no answer, and eventually returned in their ship and rejoined the armada.

The die was now cast for a war with Korea. So Yoshitoshi and his father-in-law Konishi Yukinaga may have come to Pusan hoping that a show of force would cow the Koreans into acceding to Hideyoshi’s demands, thereby avoiding the necessity of a fight. Chong Pal’s rebuff ensured that this was not to be. With a huge invasion army waiting behind them on Tsushima, there was tremendous pressure on these two daimyo commanders not to spend time trying to arrange a settlement with the Koreans. It was, thought Konishi, “the will of Christ” that they now go ahead and use armed force.

For the next several hours the Japanese armada sat motionless offshore as the Koreans watched anxiously from behind the walls of Pusan Castle. Then, at four o’clock the next morning, May 24, the landings began. First ashore were the five thousand men under So Yoshitoshi. He was the logical choice to lead the way, for having visited Pusan several times in the past he knew the lay of the land and the nature of the defenses better than any of Hideyoshi’s commanders. The arrival of this familiar and formerly friendly face may also have been intended to cause the Koreans at least momentary confusion. If so, it could not have lasted long. So and his men clearly had not come this time to conduct diplomacy or trade; they had come for war. They came ashore clad in armor of iron plates and leather shingles tied together to form a flexible yet nearly impenetrable shell. It covered their torsos and arms and formed an apron in the front. They wore flaring iron helmets, some with stylized buffalo horns and antlers screwed to the front, all with a jointed cowling affixed to the sides and back to protect the neck. High-ranking samurai rode horses. They wore grotesque war masks with fierce, grimacing faces, and were armed with two swords: a long katana and a shorter wakizashi, finely crafted, very expensive, and highly valued by their owner. Some may have carried bows as well, and a lesser number spears. They did not carry muskets. These effective but fundamentally dishonorable weapons went to the ashigaru foot soldiers, along with one “loan sword.”

Next ashore was So Yoshitoshi’s father-in-law, Konishi Yukinaga, at the head of seven thousand men. They followed an unusual banner featuring a huge, stuffed rendering of the white paper bags used by Japanese druggists to dispense medicine, a reference to the Konishi family’s traditional involvement in that trade. There were very likely crucifixes in evidence as well, for Konishi and his men, like So’s company, were all Christians. Konishi himself rode a fine horse that Hideyoshi had presented to him at Nagoya before his departure, with the exhortation that he use it to “gallop over the heads of the bearded savages.”

After Konishi came Matsuura, lord of Hirado, the sole nonbeliever in the group. Then Arima. Omura. Goto. A total of 18,700 men in all, dressed for combat, ready to kill. The predominant colors were black and red: black armor and helmets, red banners and brocade. The multitude formed up in ranks, then split in two. Konishi led a portion of the men a few kilometers southwest along the harbor front to the fort at Tadaepo at the mouth of the Naktong River. The fort’s defenders, under garrison commander Yun Hung-sin, managed to repel the first assault but were overwhelmed by the second and all put to the sword. So Yoshitoshi meanwhile led the advance on Pusan Castle itself. He formally called upon garrison commander Chong Pal one last time to surrender, asserting yet again that they were on their way to China and would not harm the Koreans if they would only step aside. Chong refused. Until he received orders to the contrary, he replied, he was duty bound to resist the Japanese advance.

The aging officer then turned to his men and made his orders clear. “I expect you all,” he cried out, “to fight and die like brave men! If any man attempts to turn and flee, I will personally cut off his head!”

The day was just dawning when the Japanese sounded their conch-shell trumpets to signal the attack. The ensuing battle was fierce but short, providing the beleaguered Koreans with their first taste of the stunning power of the arquebus. Their arrows and spears were no match for them. The defenders of Pusan Castle were felled by the hundreds by the flying slugs of lead that these strange “dog legs” spit out, a deluge of death that “fell like rain.” The garrison fought until all their arrows were gone. Then Chong Pal himself was killed, and with that, at around nine o’clock in the morning, all resistance ceased.

Once over the walls, “We found people running all over the place and trying to hide in the gaps between the houses,” samurai chronicler Yoshino Jingozaemon would later record. “Those who could not conceal themselves went off toward the East Gate, where they clasped their hands together, and there came to our ears the Chinese expression, ‘Manō! Manō!’ which was probably them asking for mercy. Taking no notice of what they heard our troops rushed forward and cut them down, slaughtering them as a blood sacrifice to the god of war. Both men, women, and even dogs and cats were beheaded.” That it was assumed the Koreans spoke Chinese is an indication of how little the Japanese knew of their foe.

According to Japanese records, 8,500 Koreans were killed in the fall of Pusan and 200 prisoners were taken. Among the dead was Chong Pal’s eighteen-year-old concubine, Ae-hyang. Her body was found lying beside the fallen commander. She had taken her own life.

Kyongsang Left Navy Commander Pak Hong, based at Kijang a short distance to the east, witnessed this battle from the top of a nearby hill. His nerve had been badly shaken the previous day, watching the arrival of the hundreds of ships comprising the Japanese armada. Now, as he witnessed the seemingly indomitable enemy take Pusan Castle and slaughter the defenders within, it broke entirely. He did not rush to his ships to fight the Japanese, whose intentions now were clear. Nor did he attempt to move his vessels to safer waters. Instead he ordered his entire fleet scuttled, a total of one hundred vessels, including fifty or more panokson battleships. He also had all his weapons destroyed and provisions burned so they would not fall into enemy hands. He then deserted his post and fled north all the way to Seoul, leaving behind thousands of bewildered soldiers and sailors who naturally followed his example and drifted away.

So it was that the Kyongsang Left Navy, the strong left arm of the Korean navy and the first line of defense on the nation’s south coast, self-destructed on the second day of the war. Pak Hong’s ships did not sail a mile or fire a shot. They simply disappeared quietly beneath the waves. It was a tremendous gift to the Japanese, particularly to first contingent leader Konishi Yukinaga, who had taken a considerable gamble in coming to Pusan without the protection of warships. The sight of all those Korean ships wrecked in the harbor must have been heartwarming indeed for the ambitious Christian daimyo, visual confirmation that bold, swift action was what was needed to quell the Koreans, who were clearly unprepared for war.

The day after taking Pusan Castle and the garrison fort at Tadaepo, Konishi recombined his forces and marched on the fortress at Tongnae ten kilometers to the northeast on the main road to Seoul. This was the strongest fortification in the area, a stoutly walled citadel on a hilltop in front of Mt. Kumjong. It was by this time bursting with twenty thousand Koreans, a crush of ill-equipped soldiers, untrained conscripts, and a mass of panicked civilians. In overall command was Tongnae prefect Song Sang-hyon, a forty-one-year-old government official who in the coming hours would provide the Japanese with another lesson in just how badly Hideyoshi had miscalculated in thinking that the Koreans would ever willingly give passage to his armies and “lead the way to Ming.”

As they had at Pusan, the Japanese gave Song Sang-hyon and the defenders of Tongnae one last chance to surrender before launching their attack, erecting a large sign outside the castle’s south gate that read, “Fight if you want to fight. Or lay down your arms and let us pass.” Song Sang-hyon wrote an unequivocal reply on a piece of wood and threw it over the wall: “Fighting and dying are easy,” it read. “But letting you pass I cannot do.”

Song knew the situation was hopeless, that the Japanese would inevitably breech the wall and take the fort just as they had at Pusan. His servant told him of a gap he had spied in the Japanese lines and urged him to flee before it was too late. Song refused. He would do his duty and die at Tongnae. His only regret was the pain this would cause his parents, so in the lull before the attack he sat down to write a final note to his father; one account adds the dramatic flourish that he bit the end of his finger and wrote the message in blood. “Our fortress is now under siege,” it said, “surrounded by a multitude of enemy soldiers. There is no chance of rescue. The other garrisons are sleeping peacefully, oblivious to the danger we face. It grieves me to leave you, but a subject’s duty to his king must come before a son’s devotion to his father.”

Song then turned to his servant. “When the fighting is over the bodies will be piled high. I have a mole the size of a small bean on my lower back. Remember that when you’re looking for my corpse.”

The Battle of Tongnae began at eight o’clock in the morning. According to Korean accounts it lasted twelve hours; the Japanese say it was over in four. The besieged Koreans, women included, fought with desperate ferocity, flinging arrows and spears and then stones at the attacking Japanese as Song Sang-hyon beat the great drum from an upper pavilion of the castle to urge his soldiers on. But once again the backward weapons the Koreans possessed proved no match for Japanese muskets. One by one the defenders were picked off by the deadly fire of the ashigaru. When resistance began to falter, the Japanese threw bamboo ladders against the fort’s high walls and swarmed over the top, Konishi at the fore, sword in hand. A final crescendo of hand-to-hand fighting followed. And then it was over. Song himself was captured alive by a group of soldiers who tried to force him to bow before them. When he resisted they hacked him to death.

The Japanese suffered one hundred killed and four hundred wounded in the Battle of Tongnae. Korean deaths totaled five thousand. Upon hearing that Song Sang-hyon was among the fallen, So Yoshitoshi, who had been hospitably treated by the prefect during his prewar missions to Korea and was thus anxious to see him spared, ordered a funeral held and wrote a epitaph for his grave mound: “A Loyal Subject.” Song was buried on the mountain behind Tongnae, in a grove of chestnut trees. His final letter eventually found its way north to his parents. Two years later, in 1594, a family member went to Tongnae to claim his body and carry it home.

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Kyongsang Right Navy Commander Won Kyun was approaching a state of panic at his base on Koje Island. The initial reports he had received of the appearance of the Japanese armada at Pusan to the east were followed in quick succession by news of the fall of Pusan Castle, then word of the events at Tongnae. Finally, in what was undoubtedly a confusing welter of facts and rumors, Won learned of the desertion of his colleague Pak Hong and the self-destruction of the Kyongsang Left Navy. With that any thoughts he may have had of resisting the invaders disappeared entirely. His only concern now was to flee. His retreat appears to have begun in an orderly fashion, with Won attempting to lead his fleet west to safety. But he soon panicked at the sight of a group of fishing boats in the distance that he mistook for the Japanese navy and, just like Pak Hong, ordered his ships scuttled and his weapons destroyed. He was himself preparing to abandon his flagship and run into the hills when two of his more stalwart subordinates reminded him of the consequences of flight. How would he be able to justify his actions, they asked, if he were to be accused of deserting his post? It would be better to stand his ground and send for reinforcements from Cholla Left Navy Commander Yi Sun-Sin. In the end a chastened Won decided to stay and fight. But there was little good he could do now. Of his original fleet of more than one hundred vessels, he had only four ships left.

The fleets of both the Kyongsang Left and Right Navies were now gone, a total of some two hundred ships, two-thirds of the entire Korean navy, destroyed by their own commanders. All that remained in the south to resist the Japanese at sea were the fewer than one hundred ships of the Left and Right Navies of Cholla Province to the west. Fortunately for Korea, the commanders of these two navies, Yi Sun-sin and Yi Ok-ki, were made of sterner stuff than their Kyongsang counterparts.