At 5:30 a.m. Dec. 7 the cruisers Chikuma and Tone each catapulted a Zero float plane for a preattack reconnaisance of Pearl Harbor. On carrier flight decks, readied fighter and attack planes were lined up. The flying crews, also primed for the operation, were gathered in the briefing room. The ships pitched and rolled in the rough sea, kicking up white surf from the predawn blackness of the water. At times waves came over the flight deck, and crews clung desperately to their planes to keep them from going into the sea.
In my flying togs, I entered the operations room and reported to the commander in chief, "I am ready for the mission." Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo stood up, grasped my hand firmly, and said, "I have confidence in you." He followed me to the briefing room where the carrier Akagi's captain was waiting with the pilots. The room was not large enough for all of the men, some of whom had to stand out in the passageway. On a blackboard were written the positions of ship in Pearl Harbor as of 6 a.m. Dec. 7. We were 230 miles due north of Oahu.
Calling the men to attention, I saluted Capt. Kiichi Hasegawa, who spoke a brief final order, "Take off according to plan."
The crews went out hurriedly to their waiting planes. Last to leave, I climbed to the flight deck command post.
The senior petty officer of the maintenance gang handed me a white hachimaki (a cloth headband) saying, "This is a present from the maintenance crews. May I ask that you take it along to Pearl Harbor?" I nodded and fastened the gift to my flying cap.
On the flight deck a green lamp was waved in a circle to signal "Take off!" The engine of the foremost fighter plane began to roar. With the ship still pitching and rolling, the plane started its run, slowly at first but with steadily increasing speed. Men lining the flight deck held their breath as the first plan took off successfully just before the ship took a downward pitch. The next plane was already moving forward. There were loud cheers as each plane rose into the air.
Thus did the first wave of 183 fighters, bombers and torpedo planes take off from the six carriers. Within 15 minutes, they had all been launched and were forming up in the still-dark sky, guided only by the signal lights of the lead planes. After one great circling over the fleet formation, the planes set course due south for Oahu island and Pearl Harbor. It was 6:15.
Under my direct command were 49 level bombers. About 500 meters to my right and slightly below me were 40 torpedo planes. The same distance to my left, but about 200 meters above me, were 51 dive bombers, and flying cover for the formation there were 43 fighters. These other three groups were led by Lt. Cdrs. Shigeharu Murata, Kakuichi Takahashi and Shieru Itaya, respectively.
We flew through and over the thick clouds which were at 2,000 meters, up to where day was ready to dawn. And the clouds began gradually to brighten below us after the brilliant sun burst into the western sky. I opened the cockpit canopy and looked back at the large formation of planes. The wings glittered in the bright morning sunlight.
The speedometer indicated 125 knots and we were favored by a tail wind. At 7 o'clock, I figured that we should reach Oahu in less than an hour. But flying over the clouds we could not see the surface of the water, and, consequently, had no check on our drift. I switched on the radio direction finder to tune in a Honolulu radio station and soon picked up some light music. By turning the antenna, I found the exact direction from which the broadcast was coming and corrected our course, which had been five degrees off.
Continuing to listen to the program, I was wondering how to get below the clouds after reaching Oahu. If the island was covered by thick clouds like those below us, the level bombing would be difficult; and we had not yet had reports from the reconnaissance planes.
In tuning the radio a little finer, I heard, along with the music, what seemed to be a weather report. Holding my breath, I adjusted the dial and listened intently. Then I heard it come through a second time, slowly and distinctly: "Averaging partly cloudy, with clouds mostly over the mountains. Cloud base at 3,500 feet. Visibility good. Wind north, 10 knots."
What a windfall for us! No matter how careful the planning, a more favorable situation could not have been imagined. Weather conditions over Pearl Harbor had been worrying me greatly, but now with this information I could turn my attention to other problems. Since Honolulu was only partly cloudy, there must be breaks in the clouds over the island. But since the clouds over the mountains were at 1,000 meters altitude, it would not be wise to attack from the northeast, flying over the eastern mountains, as previously planned. The wind was north and visibility good. It would be better to pass to the west of the island and make our approach from the south.
At 7:30, we had been in the air for about an hour and a half. It was time that we were seeing the land, but there was only a solid layer of clouds below. All of a sudden, the clouds broke, and a long white line of coast appeared. We were over Kahuku Point, the northern tip of the island, and now it was time for our deployment.
There were alternate plans for the attack: If we had surprise, the torpedo plans were to strike first, followed by the level bombers and then the dive bombers, which were to attack the air bases, including Hickam Field and Ford Island, near the anchorage. If these bases were first hit by the dive bombers, it was feared that the resultant smoke might hinder torpedo and level bombing attacks on the ships.
On the other hand, if enemy resistance was expected, the dive bombers would attack first to cause confusion and attract enemy fire. Level bombers, coming next, were to bomb and destroy enemy antiaircraft guns, followed by the torpedo plane which would attack the ships.
The selection of attack method was for my decision, to be indicated by signal pistol: one "black dragon" for a surprise attack, two "black dragons" if it appeared that surprise was lost. Upon either order the fighters were immediately to dash in as cover.
There was still no news from the reconnaissance planes, but I had made up my mind that we could make a surprise attack, and thereupon ordered the deployment by raising my signal pistol outside the canopy and firing one "black dragon." The time was 7:40.
With this order, the dive bombers rose to 4,000 meters, the torpedo bombers went down almost to sea level, and the level bombers came down just under the clouds. The only group that failed to deploy was the fighters. Flying above the rest of the formation, they seemed to have missed the signal because of the clouds. Realizing this, I fired another shot toward the fighter group. This time they noticed the signal immediately and sped toward Oahu.
This second shot, however, was taken by the commander of the dive bomber group as the second of two "black dragons," signifying a nonsurprise attack which would mean that his group should attack first, and this error served to confuse some of the pilots who had understood the original signal.
Meanwhile a reconnaissance report came in from the Chikuma's plane giving the locations of 10 battleships, one heavy cruiser and 10 light cruisers in the harbor. It also reported a wind of 14 meters per second from bearing 080, and clouds over the U.S. fleet at 1,700 meters with a scale seven density. The Tone plane also reported that "the enemy fleet is not in Lahaina anchorage." Now I knew for sure that there were no carriers in the harbor. The sky cleared as we moved in on the target, and Pearl Harbor was plainly visible from the northwest valley of the island. I studied our objective through binoculars. They were there all right, all eight of them. "Notify all planes to launch attacks," I ordered my radioman, who immediately began tapping the key. The order went in plain code: "To , to, to, to . . ." The time was 7:49.
When Lt. Cdr. Takahaski and his dive-bombing group mistook my signal and thought we were making a nonsurprise attack, his 53 planes lost no time in dashing forward. His command was divided into two groups, one led by himself, which headed for Ford Island and Hickam Field, the other, led by Lt. Akira Sakamoto, headed for Wheeler Field.
The dive bombers over Hickam Field saw heavy bombers lined up on the apron. Takahaski rolled his plane sharply and went into a dive, followed immediately by the rest of his planes, and the first bombs fell at Hickam. The next places hit were Ford Island and Wheeler Field. In a very short time, huge billow of black smoke were rising from these bases. The lead torpedo planes were to have started their run to the navy yard from over Hickam, coming from south of the bay entrance. But the sudden burst of bombs at Hickam surprised Lt. Cdr. Murata, who had understood that his torpedo planes were to have attacked first. Hence he took a shortcut lest the smoke from those bases cover up his targets. Thus, the first torpedo was actually launched some five minutes ahead of the scheduled 8 o'clock.
After issuance of the attack order, my level bomber group kept east of Oahu, going past the southern tip of the island. On our left was the Barbers Point airfield, but, as we had been informed, there were no planes. Our information indicated that a powerful antiaircraft battery was stationed there, but we saw no evidence of it.
I continued to watch the sky over the harbor and activities on the ground. None but Japanese planes were in the air, and there were no indications of air combat. Ships in the harbor still appeared to be asleep, and the Honolulu radio broadcast continued normally. I felt that surprise was now assured, and that my men would succeed in their missions.
Knowing that Adms. Nagumo and Yamamoto and the general staff were anxious about the attack, I decided that they should be informed. I order the following message sent to the fleet: "We have succeeded in making a surprise attack. Request you relay this report to Tokyo." The radioman reported shortly that the message had been received by the Akagi.
The code for a successful surprise attack was "Tora, tora, tora . . ." Before the Akagi's relay of this message reached Japan, it was received by the Nagota in Hiroshima Bay and the general staff in Tokyo, directly from my plane! This was surely a long-distance record for such a lowpowered transmission from an airplane, and might be attributed to the use of the word "Tora" as our code. There is a Japanese saying, "A tiger [tora] goes out 1,000 ri [2,000 miles] and returns without fail."
I saw clouds of black smoke rising from Hickam and soon thereafter from Ford Island.This bothered me, and I wondered what had happened. It was not long before I saw waterspouts rising alongside the battleships, followed by more and more waterspouts. It was time to launch our level bombing attacks, so I ordered my pilot to bank sharply, which was the attack signal for the planes following us. All 10 of my squadrons then formed into a single column with intervals of 200 meters. It was indeed a gorgeous formation.
The lead plane in each squadron was manned by a specially trained pilot and bombardier. The pilot and bombardier of my squadron had won numerous fleet contests and were considered the best in the Japanese Navy. I approved when my pilot, Lt. Mitsuo Matsuzaki, asked if the lead plane should trade positions with us, and he lifted our plane a little as a signal. The new leader came forward quickly, and I could see the smiling round face of the bombardier when he saluted. In returning the salute I entrusted the command to them for the bombing mission.
As my group made its bomb run, enemy antiaircraft suddenly came to life. Dark gray bursts blossomed here and there until the sky was clouded with shattering nearmisses which made our plane tremble.Shipboard guns seemed to open fire before the shore batteries. I was startled by the rapidity of the counterattack which came less than five minutes after the first bomb had fallen. Were it the Japanese fleet, the reaction would not have been so quick, because although the Japanese character is suitable for offensives, it does not readily adjust to the defensive.
Suddenly the plane bounced as if struck by a huge club. "The fuselage is holed to port," reported the radioman behind me, "and a steering-control wire is damaged." I asked hurriedly if the plan was under control, and the pilot assured me that it was.
No sooner were we feeling relieved than another burst shook the plane. My squadron was headed for the Nevada's mooring at the northern end of battleship row, on the east side of Ford Island. We were just passing over the bay entrance, and it was almost time to relase our bombs. It was not easy to pass through the concentrated antiaircraft fire. Flying at only 3,000 meters, it seemed that this might well be a date with eternity.
I further saw that 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. It would also have been better if we had approached the targets from the direction of Diamond Head. But here we were at our targets and there was a job to be done.
It was now a matter of utmost importance to stay on course, and the lead plane kept to its line of flight like a homing pigeon. Ignoring the barrage of shells bursting around us, I concentrated on the bomb loaded under the lead plane, pulled the safety bolt from the bomb-release lever and grasped the handle. It seemed as if time was standing still.
Again we were shaken terrifically and our planes were buffeted about. When I looked out, the third plane of my group was abeam of us, and I saw its bomb fall! That pilot had a reputation for being careless. In training his bomb releases were poorly timed, and he had often been cautioned.
I thought, "That damn fellow has done it again!" and shook my fist in his direction. But I soon realized that there was something wrong with his plane and he was losing gasoline. I wrote on a small blackboard, "What happened?" and held it toward his plane. He explained, "Underside of fuselage hit."
Now I saw his bomb-cinch lines fluttering wildly and, sorry for having scolded him, I ordered that he return to the carrier. He answered, "Fuel tank destroyed, will follow you," asking permission to stay with the group. Knowing the feelings of the pilot and crew, I gave the permission, although I knew it was useless to try taking that crippled and bombless plane through the enemy fire. It was nearly time for bomb release when we ran into clouds which obscured the target, and I made out the round face of the lead bombardier who was waving his hands back and forth to indicate that we had passed the release point. Banking slightly we turned right toward Honolulu, and I studied the antiaircraft fire, knowing that we would have to run through it again. It was now concentrated on the second squadron.
While my group was circling over Honolulu for another bombing attempt, other groups made their runs, some making three tries before succeeding. Suddenly a colossal explosion occurred in battleship row. A huge column of dark red smoke rose to 1,000 feet and a stiff shock wave reached our plane. I called the pilot's attention to the spectacle, and he observed, "Yes, commander, the powder magazine must have exploded. Terrible indeed!" The attack was in full swing, and smoke from fires and explosions filled most of the sky over Pearl Harbor.
My group now entered on a bombing course again. Studying battleship row through binoculars, I saw that the big explosion had been on the Arizona. She was still flaming fiercely and her smoke was covering the Nevada, the target of my group. Since the heavy smoke would hinder our bomber accuracy, I looked for some other ship to attack. The Tennessee, third in the left row, was already on fire; but next in the row was the Maryland, which had not yet been attacked. I gave an order changing our target to this ship, and once again we headed into the antiaircraft fire. Then came the "ready" signal and I took a firm grip on the bomb release handle, holding my breath and staring at the bomb of the lead plane.
Pilots, observers, and 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. I ordered the bombers which had completed their runs to return to the carriers, but my own plane remained over Pearl Harbor to observe our successes and conduct operations still in progress.
After our bomb run, I ordered my pilot to fly over each of the air bases, where our fighters were strafing, before returning over Pearl Harbor to observe the result of our attacks on the warships. Pearl Harbor and vicinity had been turned into complete chaos in a very short time.
The target ship Utah, on the western side of Ford Island, had already capsized. On the other side of the island, the West Virginia and Oklahoma had received concentrated torpedo attacks as a result of their exposed positions in the outer row. Their sides were almost blasted off, and they listed steeply in a flood of heavy oil. The Arizona was in miserable shape; her magazine apparently having blown up, she was listing badly and burning furiously.
Two other battleships, the Maryland and Tennessee, were on fire; especially the latter, whose smoke emerged in a heavy black column which towered into the sky. The Pennsylvania, unscathed in the dry dock, seemed to be the only battleship that had not been attacked.
Most of our torpedo planes, under Lt. Cdr. Murata, flew around the Navy Yard area and concentrated their attacks on the ships moored east of Ford Island. A summary of their reports, made upon return to our carriers, indicated the following hits: one on the Nevada, nine on the West Virginia, twelve on the Oklahoma, and three on the California.
Elements of the torpedo bombers attacked ships west of the island, but they found only the Utah and attacked her, claiming six hits. Other torpedo planes headed for the Pennsylvania, but seeing that she was in dry dock they shifted their attack to a cruiser and destroyer tied up at Ten Ten Dock. Five torpedo hits were claimed on these targets, which were the Helena and Oglala.
As I observed the damage done by the first attack wave, the effectiveness of the torpedoes seemed remarkable, and I was struck with the shortsightedness of the United States in being so generally unprepared and in not using torpedo nets. I also thought of our long hard training in Kagoshima Bay and the efforts of those who had labored to accomplish a seemingly impossible task. A warm feeling came with the realization that the reward of those efforts was unfolded here before my eyes.
During the attack, many of our pilots noted the brave efforts of the American fliers able to take off who, though greatly outnumbered, flew straight in to engage our planes. There effect was negligible, but their courage commanded the admiration and respect of our pilots.
It took the planes of the first attack wave about one hour to complete their mission. By the time there were headed back to our carriers, having lost three fighters, one dive bomber, and five torpedo planes, the second wave of 171 planes commanded by Lt. Cdr. Shigekazu Shimazaki was over the target area. Arriving off Kahuku Point at 8:40 a.m., the attack run was ordered 14 minutes later and they swept in, making every effort to avoid the billowing clouds of smoke as well as the now-intensified antiaircraft fire.
In this second wave there were 36 fighters to control the air over Pearl Harbor, 54 high-level bombers led by Shimazaki to attack Hickam Field and the naval air station at Kaneohe, while 81 dive bombers led by Lt. Cdr. Takashige Egusa flew over the mountains to the east and dashed in to hit the warships.
By the time these last arrived, the sky was so covered with clouds and smoke that planes had difficulty in locating their targets. To further complicate the problems of this attack, the ship and ground antiaircraft fire was now very heavy. But Egusa was undaunted in leading his dive bombers through the fierce barrage. The planes chose as their targets the ships which were putting up the stiffest repelling fire. This choice proved effective, since these ships had suffered least from the first attack. Thus, the second attack achieved a nice spread, hitting the least-damaged battleships as well as previously undamaged cruisers and destroyers. This attack also lasted about one hour, but due to the increased return fire, it suffered higher casualties, six fighters and 14 dive bombers being lost.
After the second wave was headed back to the carriers, I circled Pearl Harbor once more to observe and photograph the results. I counted four battleships definitely sunk and three severly damaged. Still another battleship appeared to be slightly damaged and extensive damage had also been inflicted upon other types of ships. The seaplane base at Ford Island was all in flames, as were the airfields, especially Wheeler Field.
My plane was just about the last one to get back to the Akagi, where refueled and rearmed planes were being lined up on the busy flight deck in preparation for yet another attack. I was called to the bridge as soon as the plane stopped, and could tell on arriving there that Adm. Nagumo's staff had been engaged in heated discussions about the advisability of launching the next attack. They were waiting for my account of the battle.
"Four battleships definitely sunk," I reported. "One sank instantly, another capsized, the other two settled to the bottom of the bay and may have capsized." This seemed to please Adm. Nagumo who observed, "We may then condlude that anticipated results have been achieved."
Discussion next centered upon the extent of damage inflicted at airfields and air bases; and I expressed my views saying, "All things considered, we have achieved a great amount of destruction, but it would be unwise to assume that we have destroyed everything. There are still many targets remaining which should be hit. Therefore, I recommend that another attack be launched."
The factors which influenced Adm. Nagumo's decision -- the target of much criticism by naval experts, and an interesting subject for naval historians -- have long been unknown, since the man who made it died in the summer of 1944 when U.S. forces invaded the Marianas. I know of only one document in which Adm. Nagumo's reasons are set forth, and there they are given as follows:
1. The first attack had inflicted all the damage we had hoped for, and another attack could not be expected to greatly increase the extent of that damage.
2. Enemy return fire had been surprisingly prompt even though we took them by surprise; another attack would meet stronger opposition and our losses would certainly be disproportionate to the additional destruction which might be inflicted.
3. Intercepted enemy messages indicated at least 50 large planes still operational; and we did not know the whereabouts of the enemy's carriers, cruisers and submarines.
4. To remain within range of enemy land-based planes was distinctly to our disadvantage, especially since the effectiveness of our air reconnaisance was extremely limited.
I had done all I could to urge another attack, but the decision rested entirely with Adm. Nagumo, and he chose to retire without launching the next attack. Immediately flag signals were hoisted ordering the course change, and our ships headed northward at high speed.