Harbour (Japanese view)
The Japanese attack fleet left
its home waters on November 26 steaming a circuitous route
towards Pearl Harbour. Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Nagumo,
received his final orders on December 1 and on the morning
of December 7 the battle group was in position 275 miles
north of Hawaii. At 6:00 AM the first elements of the air
attack consisting of fighter aircraft, torpedo bombers,
high-level bombers and dive-bombers were aloft and
assembling in the pre-dawn gloom.
"Surprise Attack Successful"
Commander Mitsuo Fuchida led the first wave of the air
attack and published his recollections in 1951. These were
later published in English in 1955. We join his story as he
approaches the Hawaiian coast:
Japanese attackers prepare for take off
"One hour and forty minutes
after leaving the carriers I knew that we should be nearing
our goal. Small openings in the thick cloud cover afforded
occasional glimpses of the ocean, as I strained my eyes for
the first sight of land. Suddenly a long white line of
breaking surf appeared directly beneath my plane. It was the
northern shore of Oahu.
Veering right toward the west coast of the island, we could
see that the sky over Pearl Harbour was clear. Presently the
harbour itself became visible across the central Oahu plain,
a film of morning mist hovering over it. I peered intently
through my binoculars at the ships riding peacefully at
anchor. One by one I counted them. Yes, the battleships were
there all right, eight of them! But our last lingering hope
of finding any carriers present was now gone. Not one was to
It was 0749 when I ordered my radioman to send the command,
'Attack!' He immediately began tapping out the pre-arranged
code signal: 'TO, TO, TO...'
Leading the whole group, Lieutenant Commander Murata's
torpedo bombers headed downward to launch their torpedoes,
while Lieutenant Commander Itayay's fighters raced forward
to sweep enemy fighters from the air. Takahashi's
dive-bomber group had climbed for altitude and was out of
sight. My bombers, meanwhile, made a circuit toward Barbers
Point to keep pace with the attack schedule. No enemy
fighters were in the air, nor were there any gun flashes
from the ground.
reproduction of a photograph taken from a Japanese plane
during the torpedo attack on the ships moored on both sides
of Ford Island. View looks about southeast, with Honolulu
and Diamond Head in the right distance. Torpedoes have just
struck USS West Virginia and USS Oklahoma on the far side of
Ford Island. On the near side of the island, toward the
left, USS Utah and USS Raleigh have already been torpedoed.
Fires are burning at the seaplane base, at the right end of
Ford Island. Across the channel from the seaplane base,
smoke along 1010 Dock indicates that USS Helena has also
The effectiveness of our attack
was now certain, and a message, 'Surprise attack
successful!' was accordingly sent to Akagi (Flagship of the
Japanese attack fleet) at 0753. The message was received by
the carrier and duly relayed to the homeland, ...
photograph taken during the December 7, 1941, attack on
Pearl Harbour. In the distance, the smoke rises from Hickam
The attack was opened with the
first bomb falling on Wheeler Field, followed shortly by
dive-bombing attacks upon Hickam Field and the bases at Ford
Island. Fearful that smoke from these attacks might obscure
his targets, Lieutenant Commander Murata cut short his
group's approach toward the battleships anchored east of
Ford Island and released torpedoes. A series of white
waterspouts soon rose in the harbour.
Lieutenant Commander Itaya's fighters, meanwhile, had full
command of the air over Pearl Harbor. About four enemy
fighters which took off were promptly shot down. By 0800
there were no enemy planes in the air, and our fighters
began strafing the airfields.
My level-bombing group had entered on its bombing run toward
the battleships moored to the cast of Ford Island. On
reaching an altitude of 3,000 meters, I had the sighting
bomber take position in front of my plane.
As we closed in, enemy antiaircraft fire began to
concentrate on us. Dark gray puffs burst all around. Most of
them came from ships' batteries, but land batteries were
also active. Suddenly my plane bounced as if struck by a
club. When I looked back to see what had happened, the
radioman said: 'The fuselage is holed and the rudder wire
damaged.' We were fortunate that the plane was still under
control, for it was imperative to fly a steady course as we
approached the target. Now it was nearly time for 'Ready to
release,' and I concentrated my attention on the lead plane
to note the instant his bomb was dropped. Suddenly a cloud
came between the bombsight and the target, and just as I was
thinking that we had already overshot, the lead plane banked
slightly and turned right toward Honolulu. We had missed the
release point because of the cloud and would have to try
USS SHAW exploding during the Japanese raid on Pearl
Harbour." December 7, 1941
While my group circled for
another attempt, others made their runs, some trying as many
as three before succeeding. We were about to begin our
second bombing run when there was a colossal explosion in
battleship row. A huge column of dark red smoke rose to 1000
meters. It must have been the explosion of a ship's powder
magazine. (This was the Battleship Arizona) The shock wave
was felt even in my plane, several miles away from the
The USS Arizona in flames
We began our run and met with
fierce antiaircraft concentrations. This time the lead
bomber was successful, and the other planes of the group
followed suit promptly upon seeing the leader's bombs fall.
I immediately lay flat on the cockpit floor and slid open a
peephole cover in order to observe the fall of the bombs. I
watched four bombs plummet toward the earth. The target -
two battleships moored side by side - lay ahead. The bombs
became smaller and smaller and finally disappeared. I held
my breath until two tiny puffs of smoke flashed suddenly on
the ship to the left, and I shouted, 'Two hits!'
When an armour-piercing bomb with a time fuse hits the
target, the result is almost unnoticeable from a great
altitude. On the other hand, those which miss are quite
obvious because they leave concentric waves to ripple out
from the point of contact, and I saw two of these below. I
presumed that it was battleship Maryland we had hit.'
As the bombers completed their runs they headed north to
return to the carriers. Pearl Harbour and the air bases had
been pretty well wrecked by the fierce strafing and
bombings. The imposing naval array of an hour before was
gone. Antiaircraft fire had become greatly intensified, but
in my continued observations I saw no enemy fighter planes.
Our command of the air was unchallenged."
As the first wave of the attack made its way back to its
carriers, Commander Fuchida remained over the target in
order to assess damage and to observe the second wave
attack. He returned to his carrier after the second wave
successfully completed its mission.