On photograph taken in Washington, D.C. in February 1927 are seated from the left: new
Naval Attaché, Capt. Isoroku Yamamoto, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur, former
Naval Attaché Capt. Kiyoshi Hasegawa, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Edward
Walter Eberle. Thanks to Eberle, completion of the aircraft carriers USS Lexington and
Saratoga was hurried. He also contributed to the retention of aviation units within the U.S.
Navy after World War I.
whose rivalry was well known.
Individual naval aviators took different approaches to the attack on the
US. Some welcomed the attack with enthusiasm, others saw it as an obligation. There were also airmen who were seriously concerned about a
war against the US or expressed resentment that the enemy would be
attacked unexpectedly and that a conventional naval battle would not
occur. Most airmen considered Pearl Harbor a heavily defended target
and assumed they would not return from the raid.
The Striking Force is setting sail
The core of the Striking Force, which was to attack Pearl Harbor, were six
aircraft carriers divided into three divisions: 1. Kōkū Sentai with Akagi and
Kaga, 2. Kōkū Sentai with Soryū and Hiryū and 5. Kōkū Sentai with Shókaku and Zuikaku. They belonged to the so-called Kidō Butai (Mobile Force)
commanded by Vice-Admiral Chūichi Nagumo. At the same time, he was
the commander of the 1st Kōkū Kantai (Air Fleet), under which the air units
aboard a total of six aircraft carriers fell organizationally.
Such a large carrier group has never been deployed in combat in the history of naval operations. Two of the ships, Shōkaku and Zuikaku, were
completed just a few months ago. The battleships Hiei and Kirishima and
the heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma were part of the group. The cruiser
Abukuma cruiser, with nine modern destroyers, provided escort for the
Striking Force. Seven tankers provided fuel and the submarines I-19, I-21,
and I-23 sailed in the vanguard to Hawaii.
The aircraft of the 1st and 2nd Kōkū Sentai were divided into four specializations: fighter escort, torpedo attack, dive bombing, and horizontal flight
bombing. The crews of the 5th Kōkū Sentai were ordered to prepare for
only the first three tasks. If no enemy aircraft were in the air, the escort
fighters were to engage in strafing ground targets, preferably attacking as
low as possible over the terrain.
The leader of the air attack was Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who simultaneously commanded the first attack wave. The fighter escort during the
first wave was led by Lt. Shigeru Itaya, who had participated in the development of the Zero for the Navy in the late 1930s. In the second wave, Lt.
Saburō Shindō, who led Zer pilots into the first successful combat in China
in 1940. All three officers served aboard the Akagi. The commander of the
second attack wave was another veteran of fighting in China, Lieutenant
Commander Shigekazu Shimazaki.
Vessels began to depart their ports gradually starting on November 16 and
gathered in Hitokappu Bay on the remote island of Etorofu in the South
Kurils. Toward its destination in Hawaii, the Striking Force sailed in the
evening of November 26. The Japanese decided to attack the target in two
waves and were prepared to send a third. The reason for dividing the air
units into several waves was primarily the long time required for logistics
and launching all the machines from the decks. Nagumo received a coded message on December 2, “Niitaka-yama nobore 1208” (Climb Mount
Niitaka 1208)”, meaning that the date of the attack was confirmed for December 8 of Japanese time.
After refueling northerly of Midway Atoll on December 4, the convoy
headed southeast. The voyage was conducted at constant risk of discovery of the Striking Force. If detection occurred within two days before the
INFO Eduard - December 2021
At 1 hour 30 minutes (Japanese Standard Time) the order was given to
start the engines. The first to take to the air from each ship were 43 Zero
fighters, needing the shortest run-up to take off. They were followed by
140 Nakajima B5N bombers and Aichi D3A dive bombers. Mitsuo Fuchida
assisted his navigation to the target by tuning in an American radio from
Hawaii, which, in addition to jazz music for a relaxing Sunday morning,
provided an accurate report of the weather over the target, including cloud
height and wind strength and direction. As a result, Fuchida changed his
direction of attack. At 3 o'clock, the Japanese crews spotted Kahuku Point
on northern part of Oahu. After ten minutes, Fuchida gave the order to
attack with one flare, but the fighter escort did not notice the signal. Fuchida then fired a second flare, but this caused a misunderstanding among
the bomber crews. The two flares were a signal that the formation was
under attack. As a result, the leader of the dive bombers, Lt. Cdr. Kakuichi
Takahashi understood that he should attack first, but the leader of the
torpedo bomber formation Lt. Cdr. Shigeharu Murata believed that he was
the one to launch the raid according to the original plan.
At 3 hours 17 minutes Fuchida, after visual contact with the target, sent
the signal “to, to, to, to”, which meant that the aircraft were launching the
attack in full force. After another three minutes, he sent the signal “tora,
tora, tora” (tora = tiger), confirming that the enemy had been surprised.
The message was immediately relayed by Nagumo to Tokyo.
Dive bombers due to a misunderstanding launched a raid on the ships
in the harbor first, which forced the commander of the torpedo bombers
to attack under a different course and faster than planned. Some of the
bombers attacked Ford Island, Hickam Field, and Wheeler, Ewa, and Kaneohe airfields. Mitsuo Fuchida's B5N bomber formation dropped bombs
Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command
Photo: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
attack, Nagumo would return to Japan. On the eve of the attack, Japanese
naval command received word from agents in Hawaii of vessels in port,
but no American aircraft carriers were present. Nevertheless, excitement
about the coming action prevailed among the crews of the Kidō Butai.
After another refueling about six hundred miles north of Oahu, only the
combat vessels made their way to the target. On the mast of the Akagi
flew the historic flag used by Admiral Tōgō at the Battle of Tsushima.
The heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma sent reconnaissance float planes
to the area of Hawaii, and crews upon their return, confirmed previous
information about enemy ships in the harbor.
Imperial Japanese Navy Portrait photograph of Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo taken circa
1941-42, when he was commander of the 1st Air Fleet.