Mitsuo Fuchida's Story page 3
On 6 December after fueling Cardiv 2 and the Screening Force, the 2nd Tanker Train broke off from the task force. On the next day the 1st Tanker Train fueled the Screen again and departed. Our force then increased speed to 24 knots and raced toward Pearl Harbor. On the carrier decks planes were lined up wing to wing for their final check. Maintenance crews and flying crews worked assiduously to complete final preparation of their planes.
About this time we received Admiral Yamamoto's message for going to war: "The rise or fall of the Empire depends upon this battle; everyone will do his duty with utmost efforts." The message was immediately relayed to all hands, and the "z" flag was hoisted on Akagi's mast. This was the same signal flag that was run up in Mikasa almost thirty years before in the Straits of Tsushima.
At 1225 on the 7th (1725, 6 December in Honolulu) a message came in from submarine 1-72: "American Fleet is not in Lahaina Anchorage."
This anchorage was used for training because it was open and deep. If the Pacific Fleet was there, it would have offered our best chance for success, and we had hoped accordingly. Receipt of the negative information, however, blasted our hopes for such an opportunity.
It was now obvious that the warships were either in Pearl Harbor or at sea. Admiral Nagumo was thumbing through the message log to check on battleships reported to be in Pearl Harbor. Completing the count, he looked up and said to the staff members, "All of their battleships are now in. Will any of them leave today?"
The Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Commander Ono, was first to reply: "Since five of their eight battleships reached port on the 29th, and two others left that day returning on the 6th, there is one more which has remained in harbor all this time, supposedly under repair, or perhaps in dry dock. The five ships which arrived on the 29th have been there eight days, and it is time for them to leave. I suspect they may go out today."
"Today is Saturday, 6 December," said Chief of Staff Kusaka. "Their general practice is to leave on Tuesday, which would be the 9th."
"It is most regrettable," said Genda, the Operations Officer, "that no carriers are in."
"On 29 November," Ono explained, "Enterprise left harbor accompanied by two battleships, two heavy cruisers and twelve destroyers. The two battleships returned on the 6th, but the rest have not yet come back. Lexington came in on the 29th and left with five heavy cruisers on the 6th. Thus, Enterprise ought to return today. Saratoga is under repair at San Diego, and Wasp is in the Atlantic. But Yorktown and Hornet belonging to the Pacific Fleet must be out here. They may have arrived with Enterprise today."
"If that happens," said Genda, "I don't care if all eight of the battleships are away."
"As an air man," remarked Oishi, "you naturally place much importance on carriers. Of course it would be good if we could get three of them, but I think it would be better if we get all eight of the battleships."
Chief of Staff Kusaka, who had always been strong for statistical studies of the U. S. Pacific Fleet, now spoke, "There is only a slight chance that carriers may enter the harbor on Saturday, and it seems unlikely that the battleships would leave on Saturday or Sunday. We may take it for granted that all eight battleships will be in the harbor tomorrow. We can't do anything about carriers that are not there. I think we should attack Pearl Harbor tomorrow."
Thus he set the stage for the decision of the task force commander, which was made known in the evening of the 7th when Admiral Nagumo gave his appraisal of the enemy situation:
At 0530, 7 December, Chikuma and Tone each catapulted a "Zero" float plane for a pre-attack reconnaissance 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 pre-dawn blackness of the water. At times wave spray 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 operation room and reported to the Commander in Chief, "I am ready for the mission." Nagumo stood up, grasped my hand firmly and said, "I have confidence in you." He followed me to the dimly lit briefing room where 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 ships in Pearl Harbor as of 0600, 7 December. We were 230 miles due north of Oahu.
Calling the men to attention, I saluted Captain 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 where Genda put his hand on my shoulder. We smiled without speaking, knowing well each other's thoughts.
Turning to me, Air Officer Masuda said, "There is a heavy pitch and roll. What do you think about taking off in the dark?" The sea was rough, and there was a strong wind blowing. The sky was completely dark, and as yet the horizon was not visible.
"The pitch is greater than the roll," I replied. "Were this a training flight, the take-off would be delayed until dawn. But if we coordinate the take-offs with the pitching we can launch successfully." I saluted the officers and went to my plane, the tail of which was striped with red and yellow to distinguish it as the commander's.
The senior petty officer of the maintenance gang handed me a white hachimaki (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.
The carrier turned to port and headed into the northerly wind. The battle flag was now added to the "z" flag flying at the masthead. Lighted flying lamps shivered with the vibration of engines as planes completed their warm-up.
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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 plane 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 fifteen minutes they had all been launched and were forming up in the still-dark sky, guided only by 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 0615.
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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 Lieutenant Commanders Murata, Takahashi, and Itaya, respectively.
We flew through and over the thick clouds which were at 2000 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 eastern 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 0700 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 the 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 3500 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 1000 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 1030 we had been in the air for about an hour and a half. It was time that we were seeing 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 planes were to strike first, followed by the level bombers and then the dive bombers, which were to attack the air bases including Hickam 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 planes 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 0740.
With this order dive bombers rose to 4000 meters, torpedo bombers went down almost to sea level, and 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 non-surprise 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 Chikuma's plane giving the locations of ten battleships, one heavy cruiser, and ten light cruisers in the harbor. It also reported a 14-meter wind from bearing 080, and clouds over the U. S. Fleet at 1700 meters with a scale 7 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 radio man who immediately began tapping the key. The order went in plain code; "To, to, to, to…" The time was 0749.
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