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War stories IIHeroism in the Pacific
By Oliver L. North
Regnery Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Oliver L. North and FOX News Network, LLC
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHO FIRED FIRST? (7-8 DECEMBER 1941)
* PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII SUNDAY, 7 DECEMBER 1941 0755 HOURS LOCAL
The first planes came in high, well above the ships and their sleeping crews in the anchorage. Some of the few sailors who were on deck actually waved, marveling at the sight of so many warplanes in the air that early on a Sunday. Then, across the water, came the sounds of explosions and firing from Ford Island and Hickam Field.
Just two minutes later, more aircraft, coming in low and fast, headed straight for the rows of battleships alongside Ford Island. The planes pulled up just in time to clear the masts of the assembled armada, but not before dropping aerial torpedoes from their bellies. The wakes of the torpedoes pointed like fingers toward the largest vessels of America's Pacific Fleet. As the 550-pound warheads detonated against the hulls beneath the water, those on deck could see the bright insignia on the wings of the green and silver aircraft as they swept overhead: a red circle representing the rising sun of Japan. Many of those sleeping or working below decks never even knew who killed them.
Within minutes of the first bombs and torpedoes, radio operators at shore stations and aboard several of the ships under attack sent out the message "AIR RAID PEARL HARBOR THIS IS NO DRILL." Weeks later, intelligence officers found a recording of another radio transmission. At 0753 hours that morning, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, leader of the airborne assault, had sent a coded signal to Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, commander in chief of the Japanese navy's First Carrier Strike Force and the forty-nine Kate bombers, forty Kate torpedo bombers, fifty-one Val dive-bombers, and forty-three "Zeke" fighter attack planes accompanying him on the first wave of the raid. The message confirming that they had achieved complete surprise was one word, repeated three times: "Tora, Tora, Tora!"
* * *
Fuchida's message was accurate. The Japanese air attack caught the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines in Hawaii incredibly unprepared. By 0945, a second wave of 167 attack aircraft had added to the devastation, then wheeled north to return to their six carriers: the Akagi, the Kaga, the Soryu, the Zuikaku, the Hiryu, and the Shokaku. Pearl Harbor, the largest naval anchorage in the Pacific, was littered with sunken and burning American warships; the best dry-dock and ship repair facilities west of California were in shambles; only 25 percent of the aircraft based in Hawaii were still in operation; and there were 3,581 American casualties.
It was a disaster of historic proportions. Yet it failed in its principal goal: keeping the U.S. Navy from launching a westward offensive against Japan until the emperor's armed forces had seized sufficient territory to secure the Home Islands and their "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere."
Conceived by Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the brilliant, fifty-seven-year-old commander of Japan's Imperial Combined Fleet, the surprise attack was code-named Operation Z-after Admiral Togo's famous "Z" signal before the Japanese victory against the Russian navy at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.
Yamamoto, Harvard-educated and highly regarded in the United States, where he had served as a naval attaché, had initially urged his colleagues to avoid war with the Americans. Overruled by the Imperial General Staff, he set to work on a plan to do even greater damage to the Americans.
Yamamoto was a lifelong gambler, and he drafted a war plan that was bold and brilliant, but risky. He told the Japanese military planners, "If we are to have a war with America, we will have no hope of winning unless the U.S. fleet in Hawaiian waters can be destroyed." It meant annihilating America's Pacific Fleet before it could sortie toward Japan, and it required that the Imperial Army seize key bases in the Philippines and Guam, with near simultaneous strikes against the British in Hong Kong and against Dutch possessions in Indonesia.
He told the Imperial General Staff that "if successful," the raid would enable them to hope for a short, limited war, after which Japan would quickly sue for peace on its own terms. The overall concept was approved by the General Staff by June 1941. Yamamoto then set his best naval planners to the most difficult part of the task: a surprise air assault of unprecedented size against Pearl Harbor, 4,000 miles from Japan. By August, working around the clock in absolute secrecy, Rear Admiral Takajiro Onishi and his fellow naval aviators Minoru Genda and Mitsuo Fuchida were able to deliver a final attack plan requiring six aircraft carriers and more than 350 aircraft.
In early September 1941, the Japanese Imperial General Staff approved Yamamoto's daring war plan, and fleet units commenced a rigorous period of pre-attack training, though they were not told their target. By early November, the six carriers, two battleships, three cruisers, nine destroyers, thirty submarines, and eight tankers-constituting Nagumo's First Carrier Strike Force-began to assemble at Tankan Bay in the Kurile Islands, Japan's northernmost and remotest naval base. On the night of 26 November, this armada, the mightiest battle fleet ever assembled in the Pacific, was ordered to sortie into the frigid waters of the north Pacific and head east. Once out of port and sailing without lights under strict radio silence, the captains of the fifty-eight ships opened envelopes containing their secret orders and learned their target: Pearl Harbor.
* * *
Meanwhile, as Nagumo's force steamed undetected toward its objective, the Americans at Pearl Harbor were woefully unprepared for the coming onslaught. Some, including Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, and Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, commanding general of the U.S. Army's Hawaiian Department, believed that they would have sufficient advance knowledge of any Japanese attack.
Both Kimmel and Short knew that American cryptographers had broken the Japanese Purple code, giving senior U.S. officials access to Tokyo's diplomatic messages. Using intercepts of cables sent from Tokyo to the Japanese ambassadors in Washington, the Department of the Navy issued a "war warning" to the Pacific Fleet headquarters on 27 November-the day after Nagumo's battle group departed Japanese waters.
On 2 December, the U.S. code-breakers intercepted a message to all Japanese diplomatic and consular posts to destroy their code and cipher material and burn all classified documents. Based on this intercept and one directing the Japanese consulate in Honolulu to continue reporting on U.S. fleet activities at Pearl Harbor, another "war warning" message to all units in Hawaii was issued by the War and Navy Departments. Still, both commanders and their staffs believed that they had several weeks-if not a month or more-to prepare.
They had not ignored the situation. Ever since President Roosevelt had "indefinitely" stationed the entire Pacific Fleet in Hawaii in May 1940, naval officials had been complaining about the risk from Japan. In October 1940, the fleet commander, Admiral James O. Richardson, visited Washington to personally point out their deficiencies to Navy Secretary Frank Knox. Shortly after Richardson turned command over to Admiral Kimmel on 1 February 1941, almost one-quarter of the Pacific Fleet was transferred to the Atlantic to help contend with the German submarines wreaking havoc on Lend-Lease shipments to England. Though his organizational tables called for six twelve-plane squadrons of patrol aircraft, Kimmel had only forty-nine operational patrol planes available.
Because the Army was responsible for defending Hawaii, General Short's requests for men and matériel were equally severe. He had requested 180 B-17 bombers, but had only six that were flyable, and all his fighters were obsolete. Though the Army had only 102 out of the 233 anti-aircraft guns that were deemed necessary, thousands of them were being shipped to our struggling British and Soviet allies. And while five of the new, highly secret mobile radar units had been delivered to Hawaii in November, few operators had been trained. Worse still, because the Army and Navy in Hawaii operated independently, with no unified command structure, even if a radar operator detected an incoming attack, the Army had no other means of alerting the Navy besides a phone call to the Fleet headquarters.
Uppermost in the mind of Admiral Husband Kimmel was the security of his ships, oil storage tanks, and naval aircraft. His long-range reconnaissance aircraft could fly 750 miles on patrol and sink any submarines in sensitive areas, especially at the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Kimmel regarded enemy submarines as the most serious threat to his fleet. Across the mouth of the harbor, the Americans had installed an anti-sub, anti-mine, and anti-torpedo net that extended almost to the bottom of the harbor floor, only forty-five feet deep. Though the anti-submarine net was highly classified, and the area around it designated as a restricted zone that was off-limits to civilian or foreign vessels, the Japanese were fully aware of it. German agents and Japanese spies routinely gathered remarkably detailed intelligence on our installations, ships, and aircraft. More than half a dozen reports provided data on the net at the harbor entrance.
Unaware of the magnitude and accuracy of the Japanese espionage but concerned about the inadequacies they had reported back to Washington, both Admiral Kimmel and General Short believed that they had done all they could to prepare for war. Warned of possible sabotage to his aircraft, General Short ordered them to be grouped close together so that they could be more easily guarded at Hickam and Wheeler Fields.
All combatant ships in port were ordered to maintain Readiness Condition Three, allowing for a 25 percent watch set on the guns and an ability to get under way in twelve hours. In the early morning of 7 December, Admiral Kimmel, trying to save on spare parts and aircrews, dispatched only three of his scarce long-range PBYs out on patrol-but none of them were sent north of Oahu, where Nagumo launched his air strikes. Both Kimmel and Short went to bed on Saturday 6 December believing that they had plenty of time before Japan launched an attack. They were, of course, dead wrong.
* * *
It might appear from the results that all went exactly according to Yamamoto's plan, but that wasn't so. In Tokyo, at the last minute, Prince Hiroyasu Fushimi insisted that the attack include some special weapons that were hidden away at the top-secret Kure Naval Base. These weapons-so secret that only a handful of Japanese military officers knew about them-were midget submarines. The Japanese had been quietly working on these specialized subs for years. Fushimi was convinced that they could penetrate the highly secure Pearl Harbor. He wanted five of them to be included on the mission so that by attacking U.S. ships right at their docks, the submarine service would be part of the great victory over the American fleet.
The undersized subs, seventy-eight feet long and six feet high, were significantly smaller than conventional submarines. Displacing only forty-six tons, they had room for just two crewmen, specially trained for this mission.
Yamamoto was at first reluctant to include the unproven submarines in the attack, fearing that they could cost him the advantage of surprise if they were detected before his aircraft were over the target. Fushimi's tiny subs would have to be moved into position hours ahead of the planned attack, risking the possibility of detection and thereby alerting the American military to the impending air strike.
The midget subs, officially called Special Purpose Submarines (SPS), had been under development since the late 1930s and had been subjected to intensive testing by the Imperial Navy at the secret base in Kure. But they were a new weapon, dependent on unproven tactics. Yamamoto, not only skilled in the art of war but also wise to political realities, understood that Prince Fushimi had powerful allies in the emperor's household, so he reluctantly modified his plan of attack to include the midget subs.
Five I-Class submarines, Japan's largest, were fitted with special cradles enabling each "mother sub" to carry an SPS behind the conning tower. Yamamoto designated the group as the Special Attack Unit.
The 600-horsepower, battery-powered mini-subs were capable of twenty-three knots surfaced and nineteen knots submerged, but only for two hours. At two knots they could run for nearly ten hours submerged, if the two-man crew didn't run out of air first. Because of these limitations, Yamamoto ordered the Special Attack Unit I-boats to approach within ten miles of Pearl Harbor early on the morning of 7 December, fan out around the entrance, and launch their midget submarines. The mother subs would then retreat to a rendezvous point off Oahu and await the return of the SPSs after the attack.
Each SPS was outfitted with two Type 97, eighteen-inch-diameter torpedoes. There was nothing "midget" about these weapons-each had a 772-pound warhead. When fired from the vertical tubes at the bow of the subs, they could run up to three miles at fifty miles per hour. The midget subs were also packed with high-explosive charges that could be detonated by the crew, effectively making the subs suicide bombs.
Once released by their mother subs, each SPS was to make its way through the anti-submarine nets and into the harbor to launch its torpedoes at the U.S. ships moored around Ford Island.
Ten men had been chosen and trained for the two-man crew of each midget sub. They had to be able to tolerate confinement in a tiny space for long periods of time; be able to withstand extreme cold and heat; and be able to endure the foul air and the buildup of sulfuric acid gases given off by the sub's lead-acid batteries. Those serving on Japanese midget subs had to have not only no fear of death, they had to expect to die.
Early on the morning of 7 December, while Nagumo's six carriers were preparing to launch aircraft 230 miles north of Oahu, the five mother subs of the Special Attack Unit arrived on station off the mouth of Pearl Harbor. Navy Lieutenant Kichiji Dewa was aboard the mother ship for SPS I-16TOU, one of the midget subs. (The midget subs didn't have individual names like all of the large ships. Instead, they were referred to by the designation of their mother ships, followed by the suffix TOU.)
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