Tora Tora Tora

The lives of these sailors, some as young as 17 could have been saved had the US radar control based at Oahu intercepted the huge plot on their screen correctly.

What they took as a fleet of American bombers expected that morning from the mainland and as two formations from their own aircraft carriers Lexington and Enterprise then at sea was actually a Kamikaze strike force under Commander Mitsuo Fuchida.

The story of the attack began long back when imperialist think tanks in Tokyo came into an understanding with the German and Italian head of states on re-dividing the world. While the later captured countries in Europe and Africa, Japan wanted its hold over the Far East and Pacific island rich in oil deposits and other raw materials to power its industrial revolution.

The Japanese conquest could have become unstoppable had it not been the Americans who bravely fought back on sea after the very first causality. In the early 1939 none of the admirals based in Singapore, Manila and Pearl Harbor and even their Japanese counterparts wanted an all out war in the Pacific. The American government also was not contemplating an all-out war. But the decision makers in Tokyo had other plans in their minds which took shape the next winter.

The US and Japanese fleet of the time were having some of the best fighters and long- range bombers of the Second World War like, Douglas SBD Dauntless and Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero Sen, code named Zake. Both also possessed an impressive naval fleet with large destroyers, subs and carriers like Arizona and Kaga. So what the Japanese planned was a surprise attack with maximum damage on the Americans to get some time for conquering the Pacific without much damage.

America's main worry in the Pacific was the Philippines, which was under its patronage. As Washington was not looking for an all-out war it took defensive positions here with ground troops and aircraft. While naval bases in Pearl Harbor, Oahu in the Hawaiian island took care of the sea waters. In case of an attack the US planned to hold back Philippines with the ground troops and land based air support until reinforcements came from American Pacific Fleet.

What made the Americans plan this strategy was the wrong assumption that no Japanese plane could cover such a long distance to Philippines from ground. They assumed that if at all Philippines was attacked it would be through the fleet of Japanese Imperial Navy. However, Japan with its eyes well set on the oil fields in the Dutch East, the rubber plantations of Malaya and Philippines were to prove them wrong. They not only knew the US plans but were to give two big surprises.

The first an attack on Pearl Harbor and the other backing the Philippines attack force with land-based fighters and bombers directly from Formosa. The Americans had no idea that with help from crack-pilot Saburo Sakai the Zero fighters had drastically brought down fuel consumption rate to 17 gallons per hour from the usual 35 gallons making it possible for them to attack Luzon base in Philippines almost 1,200 miles away at one go.

On May 26, 1941, Commander of the Japanese combined fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sent his six best carriers on sail east of Hittokapu Bay towards Oahu and take position for the D-Day. On command of this fleet was Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo with the carriers, Kaga, Akagi, Hiryu, Soryu, Zui-kaku and Shokaku with 493 planes, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, 9 destroyers, 3 submarines and 8 tankers. Another fleet consisting of carriers Ryujo, Zuiho and Taiho sailed towards south for action in Philippines. The confirmation of attack was given midway on December 2 and the fleet turned directly towards Oahu on December 6.

Exactly at 0615 hours on December 7, Vice Admiral Nagumo saw the first wave of fighters take off from about 230 miles north of Pearl Harbor under the command of Air Group Commander Mitsuo Fushida. The fleet consisted of 50 bomb-carrying Kates, 40 torpedo carrying Kates, 51 Val dive bombers and 43 fighter escort Zeros. This was followed an hour later by a second wave of 54 Kate bombers, 80 Vals, and 36 Zeros under the command of Lieutenant Commander Shimazaki from the Zuikaku.

In another frontier Saburo Sakai and his fellow Zero pilots took off towards Luzon base of the US Airforce crushing at 180 knots at 12,000 feet.

That morning, at the ‘safe’ and ‘protected’ harbor anchored as scapegoats were approximately 100 ships of the US Navy consisting of battleships, destroyers, cruisers and various support ships. When the first wave of Kates and Zeros approached Pearl Harbor, the Oahu based radar station did discover them at rage of about 160 miles, but casually ignored the fleet as American bombers from the mainland.

The first bomb was dropped at 0750 hours local time and went on virtually unchecked up to 0825 hours. Fortunately the best American carriers, Lexington and Enterprise were at sea but Utah, California, Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Tennesse were totally destroyed. Nevada, Pennsylvania and Maryland were severely damaged in the second wave.
Ground attacks completely wiped out the effective strength of US Navy scout planes and flaying boats. It all finally came to an end at 1000 hours costing the Japanese 9 Zeros, 15 Vals and 5 Kates out of the 354 that took part in the operation. The American human toll was however huge, more than 2,400 servicemen were killed within that 3 black hours. About 1,102 of those killed were from the U.S.S. Arizona alone.

Five hours later, miles west in the Philippines, the Sakai’s team surprisingly met no resistance. As planned the Zeros did not find any American planes waiting for them in the sky. The day long massive attack the air power of Philippines ceased to exist as a serious threat to the Japanese aspirations. Two days later Nell, bombers from Indo-China airfields pounded upon the Britons Singapore based fleet, sending battleship Prince of Wales and battle-cruiser Repulse to the sea-bed.

It seems that Gods were with the Japanese for the time being. But Admiral’s Nagumo’s decision of not to seek and destroy the US carriers, Lexington and Enterprise proved fatal in the future course of war. The US were unable to make major foray for a few weeks but within two years the Japanese were pushed into a position when they fought a defensive war.

PERSONNEL KILLED:

Navy 2001
Marine Corps 109
Army 231
Civilian 54
PERSONNEL WOUNDED
Navy 710
Marine Corps 69
Army 364
Civilian 35
SHIPS
Sunk or beached 12
Damaged 9
AIRCRAFT
Destroyed 164
Damaged 159

- by Santanu Buragohain