Kanbaku War Notes
I had enlisted in the Japanese Navy air corps at Yokosuka in 1937, completed flight training, and, by early 1940, I had become a dive-bomber pilot. After getting some practical training at Usa and Ohmura air squadrons, I was dispatched to the battle theater squadron in Shanghai toward the end of 1940. At the time, I was still a green- horn. I was assigned to pilot an old Aichi Type 96 biplane dive-bomber. My duty was to be on the lookout for enemy movement at the front for our Army ground units preparing to advance.
In 1941, I received orders to return to Japan. I thought then that I could take it easy for a while. Upon arriving in Japan, however, I found myself posted to the aircraft carrier, Akagi and, in April, I reported for duty. As a flight-crew member of the Akagi I engaged in dive-bombing practices at Yokosuka and Kagoshima. The air groups of the various fleet carriers carried out training in consort. In mid-November we were all ordered to return to our carriers. Immediately after all the planes had landed our carriers began to leave port. When Saeki Bay passed out of sight, we were told for the first time that we were headed for a mission in the Hawaiian island area. Shortly after, the Akagi entered Hitokappu Bay of Etorofu Island and we joined up with the other five carriers, the Kirishima, our escort battleship, as well as other vessels. After departing Hitokappu Bay, we headed east and sailed in waters out of range of enemy scout planes based at Midway and Hawaii. En route we received instructions from the Combined Fleet to “climb Mt. Niitaka”.* It meant that US-Japan negotiations had broken down and, therefore, it was for us to “attack Pearl Harbor.” At last we felt the time for us had come to take the plunge.
On December 8 the wake-up call was made at 0 hours. We prayed in front of the Akagi Shrine as did the crewmen of the Kaga and the other carriers in front of their respective shrines. After lining up our planes on deck, we flew off the Akagi. My plane was in the Second Wave attack squadron, so it was only after the First Wave had taken off that we were able to take to the air. Originally, the attack would have been more effective if the first and second waves had gone together. However, due to the characteristics of our carriers, it was not possible to fly off all seventy planes on the Akagi and the other carriers at one time. So it was decided to attack in two waves.
At the time of take-off the weather was quite stormy. The carriers were rolling considerably, pitching, and yawing. Under such conditions it was very difficult to carry out take-off operations. On attack missions our planes carried full tank loads of fuel. Dive-bombers would each carry a 250 kg bomb while the attack planes each carried a torpedo weighing 800 kilograms or an equivalent bomb load. So the instant the plane left the flight deck, some would sink out of sight and then come up and fly away. Despite this stormy weather, however, all planes managed to leave the carriers and there was not one plane that plunged into the ocean on take-off.
Once in the air we assembled in a formation with fighter planes at the front, followed by the carrier attack planes and then the carrier bombers. In such a formation each group flew about twenty to thirty meters higher than the unit in front to avoid the propeller turbulence. Sitting in my plane flying at the very rear of the formation was like sitting in a seat at the rear of a staircase classroom and looking down. About one hour after takeoff, my observer, KAWAI, in the rear cockpit received a signal “all planes attack”. It was from the commander of the First Wave, Lt.Commander FUCHIDA Mitsuo. I felt then that this signal meant our attack was a success.
The flight to Hawaii took about two hours. At about that time, Oahu Island should have been seen, but heavy clouds had closed in and this made me worry a bit. Just then, there was a break in the clouds and I could see Oahu below. How can I express this moment in words? Good luck was coming our way, I felt. The standing order for dive-bomber squadrons was to go after enemy aircraft carriers only. That day, however, the American carriers were not there. So we proceeded to bomb the battleships instead. The 250 kg bombs carried by the dive-bombers could not cause any serious damage to battleships except, perhaps, we might be able to inflict some damage to the top structure. Piercing thirty-centimeter thick deck armor was asking for too much. So we were told to drop our bombs directly into the funnel, which proved to be a very difficult thing to do, perhaps an impossible task, I believe.
We knew from our intelligence, which vessels would be in the harbor, which vessels had left, and other movements up to about December 1. All this information was being gathered daily by a former graduate of the Naval Academy posted at our Consul General’s office in Hawaii. He had entrenched himself in a second floor room of an Oahu restaurant overlooking the harbor and reported daily on ship movements in the harbor, what ships departed, what ships entered, and so on, while sipping sake. And by observing U.S. naval exercises closely for many years we learned that Navy vessels tended to gather in the harbor in greatest numbers at this time. Thus the attack date was chosen. A considerable number of battleships and cruisers had gathered there. However, the two expected aircraft carriers could not be seen in the Harbor. Because of political tensions, we later learned, the two aircraft carriers had sailed out of Pearl Harbor to transfer airplanes to Wake and Midway islands.
When we arrived over Oahu the attack by the First Wave had already achieved very effective results. Warships in the harbor and aircraft on the airfields were fiercely burning, with smoke rising all over. Furthermore, when we arrived, enemy antiaircraft guns and machine guns had already opened fire on us. This was supposed to be a surprise attack, but to me it felt like a head-on assault! But, before takeoff for the mission, our approach route had already been decided on, as were the targets for the attack-bombers and dive-bombers.
I started my dive, aiming at the third battleship in the inner row of the battleships lined up in two rows. Those on the outer side of the two rows were for the torpedo planes to attack. Since the torpedoes could not reach the battleships in the inner row, it was the job for the bombers to undertake. As I mentioned earlier, while diving toward my target below, my bombsight became filled up with the red color of enemy machine gun fire aimed at my plane. It was like a stick of fireworks going off. Taking aim through my bombsight filled with the red fireworks, I dropped my bomb at an altitude of 400 meters and began my pull out. My bomb hit the target. It was recorded as a hit. But what battleship it was that I hit is not known. After all, this being my first battle, I had been wholly concentrated on getting my job done well and not these other fine details.
Incidentally, I would like to touch on a happening, which later became a humorous matter. The dive-bomber used at the time of the attack on Hawaii, was the two-seater Type 99 kanbaku. My observer, KAWAI Yu-u, from Kasama, Ibaragi Prefecture, was in the rear cockpit. As we made the steep dive toward our target, KAWAI read off the altitude and cried out “teh”, signifying “ release bomb”. When I pulled up KAWAI was still shouting “teh, teh, teh.” Later, I asked him why he had let out such a cry. He told me that the detachable ammo magazine dropped off from the machine gun due to the G-force at pull-up and hit him hard on the leg. He then thought for sure he had been hit by enemy fire and so he decided to cry out “Tennoheika (Emperor) Banzai!” But he could only cry out “teh, teh, teh,” repeating only the first syllable of the word for Emperor. As a matter of fact, I was also in a similar state of excitement as my comrade in the rear cockpit. It was our first combat experience and so we both must have been quite jittery. KAWAI was later lost in action in the air battle over the Solomons. A well-matched pilot and observer acting as one are ideal and such a pair makes a good team for dive-bombing missions. However, months later in the Solomons, KAWAI flew off in a plane with a different pilot and was killed.
Over Pearl we both must have been tense, but on the other hand, somewhat cool. After bombing the battleship in the harbor we looked down on Ford Island and strafed an airfield nearby as instructed.** After that, we retreated toward the sea off the Honolulu coast. There we circled and waited for the others to show up. We were followed and attacked by a enemy P-40 fighter plane. On Oahu there were several airfields such as Hickam and Wheeler and there were many fighter planes there. These planes were the first to be attacked by the First Wave so that no fighters could fly up to intercept us. The carrier bombers from the Shokaku and Zuikaku, which participated in the First Wave attack, had bombed the airfields. The carrier bombers of the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu of the First Air Fleet had received superior training so they were instructed to attack the vessels in the harbor. The training level of the crews on the carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku was somewhat less than the other four carriers therefore they had been assigned the airfields as targets. It turned out that one airfield, a small one near to Wheeler, was left untouched. So, when the Second Wave arrived, these P-40s, about ten undamaged ones, came up to intercept us.
Pilot GOTOH Gen, in the Akagi dive-bomber group and who had participated in the attack with us, engaged one of these P-40s in an air duel. Both ended up shooting each other down off Honolulu. The enemy plane went down and so did ours. Because we had observed this air duel, both were credited as having been shot down. About two years ago, a part of the plane piloted by GOTOH was salvaged out of the ocean. Author HENMI Jun wrote in her book that the piece found was identified as being from the GOTOH plane.
While continuing to circle, our shotai leader alerted us that fuel was spurting out from our wing tank. While engaged in the dive-bombing, I had heard a “knock” “knock” sound, which must have been the noise of enemy machine gun bullets hitting our plane. At the time we did not know of this, but we noticed the damage later. Looking at the spots where the bullets hit, they appeared to have been made by a 7.7 mm machine gun. If they had been from a 13 mm gun we probably would not have been able to fly. My wing petrol tank had taken three bullet hits. When I first noticed it, fuel was already leaking out in fairly big spurts. It had to be coped with just right! I thought of making an emergency landing at the pre-appointed place, however, we decided to fly back alone without waiting for the others to form up.
The Type 99 dive-bomber could keep flying for about eight hours after takeoff. In the case of the attack on Hawaii, the one-way flight had taken a bit longer than two hours. Given the thirty minutes used over Hawaii, it meant we could safely spend slightly less than five hours in order to return to our carrier. So we should have had at least two hours of fuel to spare. Therefore, as mentioned before, we had taken three machine gun bullet hits in the wing tank and the fuel was spurting out.*** So, what I did then was to open up the fuel valve to the leaking wing tank. By doing so, the engine sucked the fuel from the leaking tank to some extent, thus slowing the rate of leak. This procedure, I hoped, would also compensate for some of the fuel leaking by diverting some to be consumed by the engine. This proved to be an effective emergency measure.
Even under normal conditions, getting back to the carrier itself would have been no easy task. We would have been flying around four hours after takeoff. In the meantime the carriers themselves could have moved away over a hundred kilometers. Of course, for security reason, we could not use our wireless for help. So, in short, getting back depended, more or less, on guesswork. After flying off the carrier the first thing we had to do was to calculate the distance to Hawaii. By flying at cruising speed it would take close to two hours to get there. Before takeoff, we were briefed as to what direction, in degrees, the carriers will go after our takeoff. We did not take notes of this on our air chart so that the enemy would not be able to know the carriers’ position should we have been shot down and the maps recovered by the enemy.
We were then to make our own navigation calculations and determine the destination of our carriers six hours after flying us off. In doing this we always included the drift in our calculation. Unless we first calculated the wind speed at a certain height and at certain degrees, a big miscalculation could have been made. We also had to make a drift calculation by taking a look at the surface of the ocean in order to judge the strength and direction of the wind. This is common knowledge. When flying over land, the smoke from a chimney teaches us a very good lesson about the wind. In order to help us with our navigation, the fleet would have destroyers placed several kilometers apart. In our case, about fifty-kilometers away from the carrier, there was one of our submarines on the surface with a white cloth on it resembling an ordinary sail. This would show us the way back to the task force’s position. What a relief it was when we saw that submarine!
We were teenagers of nineteen then and had flown over five hours to return without losing our way. Even now I wonder how we ever made it back!
As I mentioned before, in the attack on Pearl Harbor twenty-nine planes of our side failed to return including the four dive-bombers from the Akagi. The GOTOH aircraft was confirmed as lost in a dogfight with an enemy plane, both planes having shot each other down. It is not known what happened to the other three dive-bombers and where they were lost. So, they were only reported missing. Perhaps they could not locate their carriers.
On our return to the Akagi we made an emergency landing. Landing on a carrier is hard to imagine. As each plane returns, one after another, it must be landed without delay. There were three elevators to lower the planes to their hangers below. While one plane was being lowered, but before it was stored in its hanger, the next plane landed. A barricade had to be set up on deck to prevent the plane that was landing from running into the plane in front of it. In my case, the wing hit this barricade and the body folded up, doglegged, at the spot where the hinomaru is painted. Both KAWAI and I got out without a scratch, but our plane was no longer usable. The fuselage must have also taken some bullet hits and it had weakened the part where the bullets had entered. This plane, nevertheless, was taken back to Iwakuni in as-is condition. The dive-bomber had proven to be a highly expendable airplane. Out of all the air losses at Pearl Harbor, there were a total of fourteen dive-bombers lost from our wave!
The Type 99 dive-bombers were designed to drop their bombs at a speed of 450 kilometers per hour (km/ph). This speed insured the highest degree of accuracy. As the dive begins the speed increases. The dive brakes under the wings are extended outward to adjust the speed. Later, as the war intensified, we sometimes dove at a speed of 500 km/ph. At such a speed the main wings of the Type 99 dive-bomber would begin to bend. When this happens crepe-like wrinkles will appear on the surface of the wings, a warning sign that it is one step from coming apart in mid-air. However, when chased by enemy fighter planes I usually escaped by going about 500 km/ph and I did not even bother to think of the danger of a midair breakup.
Sliding the aircraft while escaping requires considerable skill. For instance, let us say that I am in a dive-bomber being chased by a P-38. Most of the time P-38s would begin their pursuit from behind. When the distance closes to 500 meters or so the P-38 would open fire. So, I would have the observer in the rear cockpit measure and call out the distance, say, 1000, 800, 700 meters. At that point I would slide the plane and evade the enemy’s flight path. There is a reason for this. The enemy would commence firing far in front of my plane so the first two or three bursts would pass the front of the plane. The fourth or fifth bursts, however, would hit. The enemy would fire at me in such fashion. So, at the best timing, one kicks the rudder pedal hard to make the plane jump sideways and thus evade the enemy’s line of fire. When chased by an enemy plane, you are escaping at full power. So it is difficult to make this sort of sideway slip unless done just right. One can get by O.K. if chased by only one plane, but if chased by two it becomes a difficult operation.
Here, I will give another example of an evasion tactic. If I were flying a high performance Suisei dive-bomber while being chased by a P-38, I could escape by doing the opposite of what would be considered normal. Ordinarily, when chased by a fast fighter plane one thinks of fleeing by taking a nosedive to increase speed. But in this situation, I flew horizontally or kept the nose up slightly and circled upwards to escape. It is difficult to explain this in a few words but it can be done if one keeps in mind the performance of one’s own aircraft versus the enemy’s.
When the war began to get intense, Japan organized the so-called special
attack squads, or “kamikaze” units. The first such squad,
Shikishima-tai, was formed at an airbase in the Philippines. At that
time I was stationed at the Mabalacat Air Base in the Philippines as
a member of the Third Attack Air Group (Kohgeki Daisan Hikou Tai). ONISHI
Takijiro came to the base there and announced that a special attack group
would be organized, starting immediately! At the time on the Mabalacat
base there were only two commissioned officers who were pure fighter
pilots. Recently assigned was a Lt. Seki, with little experience
flying in a Zero fighter plane. It was concluded that it would not be
right if the special attack groups were made up only of non-commissioned
officers. So, they turned to Lt. Seki and told him “You, be the
leader!” We all felt very sad for him.
*Mt. Niitaka, located in Taiwan, was then Japan’s highest mountain,
seconded by Mt. Fuji. There was another code which provided for the event
of a successful agreement reached at the negotiation table in Washington,
D.C., thus necessitating the ordering of
***According to IIZUKA, two bullets hit the center part of the plane’s right wing; the third entered about 30 centimeters behind the observer’s cockpit.