Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa (1886–1966)


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

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

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

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

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

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

He died in 1966 at the age of eighty.

Mariana Islands Campaign and the Great Turkey Shoot



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japanese Midget Submarine Operations 1942-45 I


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japanese Midget Submarine Operations 1942-45 II


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

Midget Submarines

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fuchida’s Fumble with the Flares

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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.





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.


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.


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.