The Japanese Navy in World War II, ed. David C. Evans

The Japanese Navy in World War II, ed. David C. Evans

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The Japanese Navy in World War II, ed. Evans

The Japanese Navy in World War II, ed. Evans

In the Words of Former Japanese Naval Officers

This fascinating book consists of seventeen articles written by former Japanese naval officers, examining some of the main events of the Pacific War from the point of view the people who were involved on the Japanese side. Almost all of these articles were written by fairly junior officers (the senior admirals tended not to survive their defeats), but also by men who were very close to the action - either the planning, or actually present at the battle in question (including an eyewitness account of the loss of the Yamato).

One of the more fascinating aspects of the book was the willingness of the Japanese authors to make sweeping generalizations that no western author would feel able to make (and that don’t always ring true - in particular the idea that the Japanese were bad at defensive warfare, which doesn't really match the determination with which so many isolated garrisons fought, and sometimes looks like an attempt to excuse a lack of planning).

The various accounts pick out a series of weaknesses in the Japanese war effort. These included a general lack of a realistic war plan after the first period of conquest, a tendency to adopt over-complex plans (as seen most famously at Leyte Gulf, where task forces coming from all across the remains of the Japanese Empire were meant to operate together, but also seen at the battle of the Philippine Sea, where General Ozawa planned to attack from outside the range of American carrier aircraft, using the airfields on the Marianas Islands to retrieve his aircraft, a plan that failed because his aircrews weren't able to navigate accurately over such long distances, and thus mainly missed the American fleet, and also because the airfields were under constant American attack), a chronic over-reporting of success (and a general unwilling to investigate claims too closely), which then fed back into new plans that were based on the believed successes in earlier battles and a tendency to be rather too touchy about criticism (on one occasion an Admiral who wasn't happy with his lookouts working with their windows closed because he believed that it distorted their views couldn't just tell the responsible officer, because he would have taken it as a stain on his honour, and instead told a junior officer to investigate how glass was made, so he could work it out for himself!).

This is an utterly fascinating series of eyewitness accounts of the Pacific War as seen from within the Japanese Navy, and provides a very different view of many of the most famous battles of the war.

1 - The Hawaii Operation - Shigeru Fukudome
2 - The Air Attack on Pearl Harbor - Mitsuo Fuchida
3 - The Opening Air Offensive Against the Philippines - Koichi Shimada
4 - Japanese Operations in the Indian Ocean - Toshikazu Ohmae
5 - The Battle of Midway - Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Okumiya
6 - The Struggle for Guadalcanal - Raizo Tanaka
7 - The Battle of Savo Island - Toshikazu Ohmae
8 - The Withdrawal from Kiska - Masataka Chihaya
9 - Ozawa in the Pacific: A Junior Officer's Experience, Minoru Nomura
10 - The Air Battle off Taiwan - Shigeru Fukudome
11 - The Battle of Leyte Gulf - Tomiji Koyanagi
12 - Why Japan's Antisubmarine Warfare Failed - Atsushi Oi
13 - The Kamikaze Attack Corps - Rikihei Inoguchi and Tadashi Nakajima
14 - Japanese Submarine Tactics and the Kaiten, Kennosuke Torisu, assisted by Masataka Chihaya
15 - Kamikazes in the Okinawa Campaign, Toshiyuki Yokoi
16 - The Sinking of the Yamato - Mitsuru Yoshida
17 - Thoughts on Japan's Naval Defeat - Toshiyuki Yokoi

Author: Various
Editor: David C. Evans
Edition: Paperback (2nd Edition)
Pages: 568
Publisher: Naval Institute Press/ Seaforth
Year: Modern edition of 1969 original

Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II

The Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II, at the beginning of the Pacific War in December 1941, was the third most powerful navy in the world, [3] and the naval air service was one of the most potent air forces in the world. During the first six months of the war, the Imperial Japanese Navy enjoyed spectacular success inflicting heavy defeats on Allied forces, being undefeated in every battle. [4] The attack on Pearl Harbor crippled the battleships of the US Pacific Fleet, [5] while Allied navies were devastated during Japan's conquest of Southeast Asia. [6] Japanese naval aircraft were also responsible for the sinkings of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse which was the first time that capital ships were sunk by aerial attack while underway. [7] In April 1942, the Indian Ocean raid drove the Royal Navy from South East Asia. [8] After these successes, the Japanese now concentrated on the elimination and neutralization of strategic points from where the Allies could launch counteroffensives against Japan's conquests. [6] However, at Coral Sea the Japanese were forced to abandon their attempts to isolate Australia [6] while the defeat at Midway saw them forced on the defensive. The campaign in the Solomon Islands, in which the Japanese lost the war of attrition, was the most decisive they had failed to commit enough forces in sufficient time. [9]

During 1943 the Allies were able to reorganize their forces and American industrial strength began to turn the tide of the war. [10] American forces ultimately managed to gain the upper hand through a vastly greater industrial output and a modernization of its air and naval forces. [10] In 1943, the Japanese also turned their attention to the defensive perimeters of their previous conquests. Forces on Japanese held islands in Micronesia were to absorb and wear down an expected American counteroffensive. [10] However, American industrial power became apparent and the military forces that faced the Japanese in 1943 were so overwhelming in firepower and equipment, [10] that from the end of 1943 to 1944 Japan's defensive perimeter failed to hold. [10] Defeat at the Philippine Sea was a disaster for Japanese naval air power with American pilots terming it, the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, [11] while the battle of Leyte Gulf led to the destruction of a large part of the surface fleet. [12] Consequently, the Japanese lost control of the Western Pacific. During the last phase of the war, the Japanese resorted to a series of desperate measures, including a variety of Special Attack Units which were popularly called kamikaze. [13] By May 1945, most of the Imperial Japanese Navy had been sunk and the remnants had taken refuge in Japan's harbors. [12] By July 1945, all but one of its capital ships had been sunk in raids by the United States Navy. By the end of the war, the IJN had lost 334 warships and 300,386 officers and men. [12]

Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel

Established: In the Department of the Navy by an act of May 13, 1942 (56 Stat. 276).

Predecessor Agencies:

In the War Department:

In the Department of the Navy:

  • Office of the Secretary of the Navy (personnel functions, 1798-1862)
  • Board of Navy Commissioners (personnel functions, 1815-42)
  • Office of Detail (1861-89)
  • Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting (personnel functions, 1862-89)
  • Bureau of Navigation (personnel functions, 1889-1942)

Functions: Exercises oversight responsibility for the Naval Military Personnel Command, Navy Recruiting Command, and Naval Civilian Personnel Center. Administers all personnel matters for the U.S. Navy.

Finding Aids: Virgil E. Baugh, comp., Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, PI 123 (1960) Lee D. Saegesser and Harry Schwartz, comps., "Supplement to Preliminary Inventory No. 123, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel," NM 74 (Jan. 1967) supplement in National Archives microfiche edition of preliminary inventories.

Security-Classified Records: This record group may include material that is security-classified.

Related Records: Record copies of publications of the Bureau of Naval Personnel in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.


History: War Department, established by act of August 7, 1789 (1 Stat. 49), handled personnel functions for the U.S. Navy until a separate Department of the Navy was established by act of April 30, 1798 (1 Stat. 553). Personnel duties centralized in the immediate office of the Secretary of the Navy, 1798-1862, assisted by the Board of Navy Commissioners, established by act of February 7, 1815 (3 Stat. 202), and abolished by act of August 31, 1842 (5 Stat. 579). Responsibility for detailing (assigning) officers delegated to Office of Detail, 1861 (SEE 24.4). Responsibility for enlisting and recruiting navy personnel assigned to Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting, 1862 (SEE 24.5). Personnel functions of Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting transferred to Bureau of Navigation, 1889. Bureau of Navigation redesignated Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1942. SEE 24.1.

24.2.1 Correspondence

Textual Records: Letters sent to the President, Congressmen, and Executive departments, 1877-1911 the Secretary of the Navy, naval establishments, and officers, 1850-1911 commandants, 1862- 1911 and enlisted personnel and apprentices, 1864-1911. Letters sent concerning civilian personnel, 1903-9 and aviation, 1911- 12. General letters sent, 1885-96. Miscellaneous letters sent, 1862-1911. Letters received, 1862-89. General correspondence (6,043 ft.), 1889-1945, with record cards, 1903-25 subject cards, 1903-45 and history cards, 1925-42. Indexes and registers of letters sent and received, and of general correspondence, 1862-1903. Correspondence relating to vessels, personnel, and naval activities, 1885-1921.

Textual Records: Logs of U.S. naval ships and stations, 1801-1946 (72,500 vols., 8,060 ft.), and 1945-61 (12,000 vols., 6,980 ft.) with indexes and lists, 1801-1940. Microfilm copy of log of U.S.S. Constitution, 1813-15 (1 roll). Logs of the German merchant vessels Prinz Waldemar and Prinz Sigismund, 1903-14. Communication logs and signal record books, 1897-1922. Signal logs and codebooks, 1917-19. Operational and signal logs of U.S. Navy armed guard units aboard merchant vessels, 1943-45. Manuscript ("rough") log and night order book of the U.S.S. Missouri, 1944-45.

Microfilm Publications: M1030.

Finding Aids: Claudia Bradley, Michael Kurtz, Rebecca Livingston, Timothy Mulligan, Muriel Parseghian, Paul Vanderveer, and James Yale, comps., List of Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Miscellaneous Units, 1801-1947, SL 44 (1978).

24.2.3 Muster rolls

Textual Records: Muster rolls of ships, 1860-1900 and ships and stations, 1891-1900. Muster rolls of ships and shore establishments, 1898-1939. Civil War muster rolls, 1861, 1863. Microfilm copies of muster rolls of ships, stations, and other naval activities, 1939-71 (25,279 rolls), with indexes.

24.2.4 Records of units attached to the Bureau of Navigation

Textual Records: Letters sent by the Signal Office, 1869-86. Records of the Coast Signal Service, 1898, consisting of correspondence regarding the establishment of signal stations headquarters correspondence correspondence of district headquarters with signal stations letters sent and correspondence of the First District Office, Boston, MA (in Boston), Second District Office, New York, NY (in New York), Third District Office, Norfolk, VA (in Philadelphia), Fourth District Office, Charleston, SC (in Atlanta), Fifth District Office, Jacksonville, FL (in Atlanta), Sixth District Office, Pensacola, FL (in Atlanta), and Seventh District Office, New Orleans, LA (in Fort Worth) and vessel movement telegrams. Personnel jackets of applicants for and appointees to the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Naval Academy, 1910-13.

24.2.5 Other records

Textual Records: Annual reports of the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, 1897-1904. Naval militia bills, 1909-10. Applications and registers of employees, 1861-1915. Records showing complements of ships and shore units, 1891-1913. Watch, quarter, and station billbooks, 1887-1911.


24.3.1 Records relating to naval officers

Textual Records: Application, examination, and appointment records, 1838-1940. Commissions and warrants, 1844-1936. Orders and related records, 1883-1903. Identification, 1917-21, and age, 1862-63, certificates. Registers, rosters, and records showing complements, 1799-1909. Personnel jackets and other records, 1900-25, including a microfilm copy of index to officers' jackets (2 rolls). Service records, 1798-1924. Miscellaneous records, 1863-92.

Microfilm Publications: M330, T1102.

Photographs (5,483 images): Navy and Marine Corps commissioned and non-commissioned officers and their families, 1904-38 (P, PP, PA, PB, PC, PD). SEE ALSO 24.12.

24.3.2 Records relating to enlisted men

Textual Records: Records, 1885-1941, relating to enlisted men who served between 1842 and 1885 (340 ft.). Correspondence jackets for enlisted men, 1904-43. Microfilm copy of an index to rendezvous reports, muster rolls, and other personnel records, 1846-84 (67 rolls). Registers and lists of recruits, 1861-73. Enlistment returns, changes, and reports, 1846-1942. Continuous service certificates, 1865-99. Records concerning discharges and desertions, 1882-1920.

Microfilm Publications: T1098, T1099, T1100, T1101.

24.3.3 Records relating to naval apprentices

Textual Records: Certificates of consent for minors, 1838-67. "Apprentice papers," 1864-89. Journal of enlistments, U.S.S. Allegheny, 1865-68. General record of apprentices, U.S.S. Portsmouth, 1867-68. Records relating to apprentices and apprentice training methods, U.S.S. Sabine, 1864-68. Register of enlistments, 1864-75.


History: Established in Office of the Secretary of the Navy, March 1861, to handle assignment and detailing of officers. Placed under Bureau of Navigation, April 28, 1865. Reverted to Office of the Secretary by General Order 322, Department of the Navy, October 1, 1884. Restored to Bureau of Navigation by General Order 337, Department of the Navy, May 22, 1885. Absorbed by Bureau of Navigation and superseded by Division of Officers and Fleet (SEE 24.6.4) pursuant to Navy Department reorganization, effective June 30, 1889, by General Order 372, Department of the Navy, June 25, 1889.

Textual Records: Letters sent, 1865-90. Letters received, 1865- 86, with registers, 1865-90.

1856-1928 (bulk 1862-89)

History: Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting established by an act of July 5, 1862 (12 Stat. 510), as one of three bureaus created to supersede the Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair, one of the original Navy Department bureaus established by the act abolishing the Board of Navy Commissioners (5 Stat. 579), August 31, 1842. Initially responsible for recruiting and equipping officers, managing naval enlisted personnel and, after 1875, directing the apprentice training system. Acquired responsibility for supervision of the Naval Observatory, Nautical Almanac Office, Office of the Superintendent of Compasses, and Office of the Inspector of Electrical Appliances in an exchange of functions with the Bureau of Navigation (SEE 24.6) in the Navy Department reorganization of June 30, 1889, by General Order 372, Navy Department, June 25, 1889. Acquired Hydrographic Office from Bureau of Navigation by General Order 72, Department of the Navy, May 9, 1898, implementing an act of May 4, 1898 (30 Stat. 374). Redesignated Bureau of Equipment by the Naval Services Appropriation Act (26 Stat. 192), June 30, 1890. Functionally abolished by redistribution of responsibilities pursuant to an act of June 24, 1910 (36 Stat. 613), effective June 30, 1910. Formally abolished by act of June 30, 1914 (38 Stat. 408).

Textual Records: Letters sent to the Secretary of the Navy, 1862- 85 the Fourth Auditor of the Treasury, 1865-85 the Commissioner of Pensions, 1871-85 the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, 1865-83 and china, glass, and plated ware manufacturers, 1869-82. General letters sent, 1865-89. Letters sent to commanders of squadrons and naval forces, 1865-83 and commandants of navy yards and stations and other officers, 1862- 85. Letters received from the Secretary of the Navy, 1862-85 the Fourth Auditor and Second Comptroller of the Treasury, 1865-86 and the Commissioner of Pensions, 1882-85. Letters received from officers, 1862-85 and commandants of navy yards, 1862-85. Miscellaneous letters received, 1862-85, 1889-92. Indexes and registers of letters sent and received, 1862-90. Conduct reports and shipping articles, 1857-1910. Records of discharges and desertions, 1856-89. Continuous service certificates and records of merit awards, 1863-1928. Records relating to naval apprentices, 1880-86. Record of vessel complements, n.d.

Related Records: Records of the Bureau of Equipment in RG 19, Records of the Bureau of Ships.


History: Established in the reorganization of the Navy Department under authority of an act of July 5, 1862 (12 Stat. 510), as one of three bureaus created to supersede the Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair, one of the original Navy Department bureaus established by the act abolishing the Board of Navy Commissioners (5 Stat. 579), August 31, 1842. Initially responsible for providing nautical charts and instruments and for supervising the Naval Observatory, Hydrographic Office, and Nautical Almanac Office. Acquired personnel responsibilities in an exchange of functions with the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting (SEE 24.5) in the Navy Department reorganization of June 30, 1889, by General Order 372, Navy Department, June 25, 1889.

Assigned to newly established Division of Personnel in Navy Department reorganization pursuant to Changes in Navy Regulations No. 6, November 18, 1909. Restored to autonomous bureau status upon abolishment of Division of Personnel by Changes in Navy Regulations and Navy Instructions No. 1, April 25, 1913. Renamed Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1942. SEE 24.1.

Hydrographic Office formally transferred to Bureau of Equipment, successor to Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting, by General Order 72, Department of the Navy, May 9, 1898, implementing an act of May 4, 1898 (30 Stat. 374). Hydrographic Office and Naval Observatory (which had absorbed the Nautical Almanac Office, 1894, and the Office of the Superintendent of Compasses, 1906) returned to Bureau of Navigation, July 1, 1910, pursuant to an act of June 24, 1910 (36 Stat. 613), dispersing the functions of the Bureau of Equipment (SEE 24.5). Transferred to Office of the Chief of Naval Operations by EO 9126, April 8, 1942.

24.6.1 Records of the Chaplains Division

History: Established 1917 to centralize administration of expanded force of navy chaplains.

Textual Records: Correspondence, 1916-40. Biographical data about chaplains, 1804-1923. Miscellaneous records, 1898-1946.

Sound Recordings (1 item): "The Peacemakers," Memorial Day Navy Department broadcast on National Broadcasting Company, commemorating war dead of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps, May 30, 1945.

Photographs (648 images): Of paintings and other graphic media relating to navy events, 1917-45 (FP, 64 images). Navy chaplains who served between 1799 and 1941, n.d. (PNC, NCP 572 images). Navy religious facilities, 1930-40 (NRF, 12 images). SEE ALSO 24.12.

24.6.2 Records of the Division of Naval Militia Affairs

History: Supervision of state naval militias vested in Assistant Secretary of War, 1891-1909. Transferred to Personnel Division, December 1, 1909, where Office of Naval Militia established, 1911. Functions assigned to Bureau of Navigation, 1912, where Division of Naval Militia Affairs established by General Order 93, Department of the Navy, April 12, 1914. State naval militias enrolled in National Naval Volunteers (NNV) during World War I. Federal laws respecting naval militias and NNV repealed, July 1, 1918, and Division of Naval Militia Affairs subsequently discontinued.

Textual Records: General records, 1891-1918. Index to correspondence, 1903-10. Letters sent, 1891-1911. Organization reports, 1913-15. Summaries of units' enrolled forces, 1915-16. Naval militia ratings' qualification certificates, July-December 1916. Allowance books, 1912-17.

24.6.3 Records of the Naval Reserve Division

Textual Records: Inspection reports of organized naval reserve units, 1st and 9th Naval Districts, 1928-40.

24.6.4 Records of the Division of Officers and Fleet

History: Successor in the Bureau of Navigation to the Office of Detail, 1889.

Textual Records: Letters received, 1887-90. Correspondence, 1891- 96. Registers of correspondence, 1891-96. Appointments of paymaster clerks, 1889-91 and acceptances of appointments, 1891- 98. Lists of naval and marine officers, and civilian officials at yards and stations, 1890-94.

24.6.5 Records of the Naval Academy Division

History: Bureau of Navigation, upon its establishment in 1862, assumed supervision of the U.S. Naval Academy from the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography. Responsibility delegated to Naval Academy Division, or Naval Academy Section, at an undetermined date.

Textual Records: General correspondence of the Academy Superintendent, 1851-58. Appointment letters, 1894-1940. Personnel files (jackets) of naval cadets, principally those who failed to graduate, 1862-1910. Registers of midshipmen, 1869-96.

Related Records: Records of the U.S. Naval Academy, RG 405.

24.6.6 Records of the Morale Division

History: Established as the Sixth Division by Bureau of Navigation Circular Letter 33-19, March 11, 1919, upon recommendation of the Navy Department Commission on Training Camp Activities, to maintain morale of naval personnel. Redesignated Morale Division, 1921. Transferred to the Training Division as the Welfare and Recreation Section, 1923.

Textual Records: General correspondence, 1918-24. Correspondence of the Commission on Training Camp Activities, 1918-20. Correspondence with foreign stations, 1920 and relating to ports, 1918-20. Recreation expenditure reports, 1920-22.

24.6.7 Records of the Training Division

History: Established April 19, 1917, to administer training programs for enlisted men in World War I. Reduced to section status in Enlisted Personnel Division, 1919. Restored to division status, March 1, 1923.

Textual Records: General correspondence, 1918-23. Administrative correspondence relating to training units, 1917-22. Records of the Welfare and Recreation Section, 1923-40. Morale reports, 1924-25. Reports on Naval Reserve training activities in Missouri (in Kansas City) and Indiana (in Chicago), 1923-25.


Textual Records: Regulations maintained in the Office of the Chief of Naval Personnel relating to women accepted for volunteer emergency service, 1942-45. Records of the Administrative and Management Division, consisting of Bureau general correspondence, 1946-60 Bureau secret general correspondence, 1957-60 Bureau confidential general correspondence, 1925-60 case files of Bureau of Personnel instructions, 1950-86 and the document collection of the Technical Library, 1900-85. World War II administrative history of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, prepared by the Planning and Control Activity, n.d. Records of the Personnel Diary Section, consisting of microfilm copies of muster rolls, 1948-59. Records of the Training Division, consisting of historical files of Navy training activities, 1940-45 program files relating to the V-12 program, 1942-48 program files relating to officer training, 1928-46 records relating to U.S. Naval Academy expansion, 1962-63 and program files relating to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, 1964-68. Records of the Assistant Chief of Naval personnel for Reserve and Naval District Affairs, consisting of Naval Reserve program files, 1946-56. General records of the Physical Fitness Section, 1942-46, and the Recreation Services Section, 1943-46, of the Special Services Division. Records of the Publicity and Advertising Section, Recruiting and Induction Division, relating to the navy recruiting program, 1940-45. Records of the Recruiting Division, consisting of issuances relating to recruiting, 1955-68. Records of the Corrections Division, consisting of program files relating to naval corrections policies and facilities, 1944-51. Records of the Policy Division, consisting of case files on changes to the Bureau of Personnel manual, 1948-68 administrative records, 1956-69 daily reports of enlisted personnel, 1914-46 summary periodic statistical reports on military personnel, 1943-71 and operating force plans for the US fleet, 1928-43. Records of the Plans Division, consisting of correspondence relating to mobilization and Naval Reserves planning, 1950-64 and chronological file, 1950-60. Records of the Navy Occupational Classification Systems Management Division, consisting of case files relating to Navy ratings, 1945-78 and board, committee, and other reports relating to Navy ratings and grades, 1945-78. Casualty Branch records relating to casualties, prisoners of war, awards, and administrative matters, 1917-53. Records of the Casualty Assistance Branch of the Personal Affairs Division, consisting of ships, stations, units, and incidents casualty information files, 1941-60 casualty notification case files for Korean War and post-Korean War era Navy POWs/MIAs, 1963-86 alphabetical listing of casualties, 1941-53 casualty lists for World War II battles ("Battle Books"), 1941-45 records relating to the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, 1945 and VIP and group funeral files, 1940-67. Records of the Decorations and Medals Branch of the Personal Affairs Division, consisting of correspondence relating to US Navy awards to members of armed forces of foreign nations, 1942-63 eligibility lists for service medals and engagement stars, 1942-61 case files for Navy unit commendations and presidential unit citations, 1903-53 case files of World War II awards by delegated authority, 1941-48 Bureau of Navigation file of Navy Department Board of Awards correspondence and recommendations, 1917-20 and decorations and awards records from the Bureau of Personnel central files, 1946-73. Records of the Chief of Navy Chaplains, consisting of correspondence with chaplains, 1941-59 and annual, activity, and trip reports, 1949-57. Records of the Inspector General, consisting of inspection reports of Bureau of Personnel activities, 1959-80. Records of boards and committees, consisting of records of the Navy and Marine Corps Policy Board on Personnel Retention, 1966-69 and records of naval aviator evaluation boards, 1970-80. General records of the Naval Research Personnel Board, 1944-45.

1838-1970 (bulk 1838-1946)

24.8.1 Records of the U.S. Naval Home, Philadelphia, PA

Textual Records (in Philadelphia): Letters sent, 1838-1911. Letters received, 1845-1909. General correspondence, 1910-40. Regulations governing the Naval Home, 1900, 1916. Station logs, 1842-1942.

24.8.2 Records of the Naval Hospital, Philadelphia, PA

Textual Records (in Philadelphia): Letters sent and received, 1855-63. Journal of activities, 1870-71. Admission and discharge registers, 1867-1917.

24.8.3 Records of the Indoctrination School for Officers, Fort
Schuyler, NY

Textual Records (in New York): General correspondence, 1941-46. Subject files, 1941-46. Muster cards, 1942-46.

24.8.4 Records of the Enlisted Naval Training School (Radio),
Bedford Springs, PA

Textual Records (in Philadelphia): General correspondence, 1942- 45. Subject files, 1942-45. Muster cards, 1942-44.

24.8.5 Records of the V-12 Unit, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

Textual Records (in Boston): General correspondence, 1942-46. Subject files, 1942-46.

24.8.6 Records of the Naval Midshipmen's School, Northwestern
University, Evanston, IL

Textual Records (in Chicago): General correspondence, 1941-45. Records of the supply officer, 1941-45.

24.8.7 Records of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, Yale
University, New Haven, CT

Textual Records (in Boston): Administrative files of the commanding officer, 1941-70 and the Professor of Naval Science and Tactics, 1926-38.


Maps: Manuscript maps showing American and Spanish naval operations in Cuban waters during the Spanish-American War, 1898 (4 items). Strategic charts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and world oceans, showing distances between major ports, 1912-13 (4 items). Published maps of the United States, showing naval administrative districts and headquarters, 1919, 1935 (2 items). Pictorial wall map of the South China Sea, showing naval battles (1941-42), Japanese invasion routes, and location of economic products of interest to Japan, such as oil, rubber, and tin, 1944 (1 item).


World War I naval operations and activities, including anti- submarine patrols, minelaying, convoy and escort duty, submarine maneuvers, and training ship launching and maintenance torpedo production and firing Liberty Loan promotions and patriotic celebrations Armistice celebrations captured German equipment U.S. and foreign political and military leaders foreign naval vessels President Woodrow Wilson's second inauguration the airship Los Angeles (ZRS-3) over New York and lighter-than-air craft rescuing fishermen, 1917-18 (44 reels). Naval activities after World War I, including aerial mapping techniques, rescue of Armenian refugees from Turkey, evacuation of personnel from grounded and burning ships, escort duty, and training, 1918-27 (57 reels).



Photographs (483 images): Artwork on navy subjects, portraits of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a bronze relief of George Washington at Valley Forge, 1917-45 (PNCP, 13 images). Designs for medals and awards, views of navy ships and personnel, Egyptian scenes, and portrait and statue of John Paul Jones, 1892-1935 (PM, 70 images). Ships, aircraft, recruiting posters, and navy personnel, including the members of the Naval Aeronautical Expedition (1917), 1917-19 (PNA, 400 images).

Photographic Prints (4,745 images): President Herbert Hoover and crews of U.S.S. Saratoga and U.S.S. Mississippi, 1930 (H, 1 image). U.S. Navy enlisted personnel who were commended or who died during World War I, reserve officers, and officers of U.S.S. Arethusa, 1915-19 (CD, RP, RPA 4,096 images). Aircraft NC-2 and crew following transatlantic flight, 1919 (GC, 5 images). Navy training camps and schools, ca. 1916-20 (PAN, TC 579 images). Spanish naval vessels and damage to ships during the Spanish- American War, 1895-98 (FS, 64 images).

Lantern Slides (78 images): Humorous views of navy life used by the Navy Recruiting Bureau, New York City, 1925 (RS).

Color Slides: ca. 1860-ca. 1985 Navy recruiting posters, 1985 (NP, 47 images).

Posters (167 images): Recruiting for service in the U.S. Coast Guard, WAVES, Seabees, and other navy units and programs, 1917-87 (bulk 1941-45, 1970-87) (DP, PO).

SEE Photographs UNDER 24.3.1 and 24.6.1.


Navy Military Personnel Command officers master file, FY 1990 (1 data set) officer history file, FY 1991-92 (2 data sets) and officer attrition file, ca. 1977-92 (2 data sets).

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
3 volumes, 2428 pages.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1995.

The Japanese Navy in World War II, ed. David C. Evans - History

Imperial Japanese Navy Page

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Japanese Navy (or, in the Japanese language, Nihon Kaigun , or even Teikoku Kaigun , the Imperial Navy) was arguably the most powerful navy in the world. Its naval aviation corps, consisting of 10 aircraft carriers and 1500 topnotch aviators, was the most highly trained and proficient force of its kind. Its 11 (soon to be 12) battleships were among the most powerful in the world. And its surface forces, armed with the superb 24" Type 93 (Long Lance) torpedo, were incomparable night fighters. How and why this impressive force was eventually crushed by the U.S. Navy is a subject that has fascinated me practically forever. Maybe I'm just intrigued by the underdog. In any case, this page is devoted to the proud navy that lost the Pacific War.

New to this site? Feel free to start with pictures of Japanese warships, their detailed information, their guns, torpedoes, sensors, their names, and the officers who led them in combat. On this site, you can also find out more about Imperial Navy's Airforce?. Or, if you want to get more in-depth, try Tony Tully's Untold Tales of the Imperial Japanese Navy, or my Special Features section, which has some really neat stuff as well. You can also check out the bibliography, the wargames page, the links page, and what's new on the site. Finally, you can learn a little about us.

New Book on Battle of Surigao Strait Published!'s Tony Tully's Battle of Surigao Strait is now available. Please see Battle of Surigao Strait's website for more about the book and purchase information.

See also Jon Parshall and Tony Tully's Shattered Sword on Battle of Midway!

How the Japanese Did It

Pearl Harbor. Of all the aspects of the attack on that 7 December 1941 Sunday morning-including its treachery, swiftness, daring, and skillful execution-none seems more compelling than the assault's total surprise. This element is even more striking, knowing that just prior to the attack, a U.S. Army radar site at Opana Point, on Oahu, tracked incoming aircraft, and the Navy discovered a foreign submarine at the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Add to this mixture that American code-breakers were reading Japanese diplomatic messages of all types, and it seems simply incredible that Japan could pull off a thorough surprise attack.

Yet it did precisely that. How Japan could do so has intrigued Americans ever since. Vast literature, written mostly from an American perspective, has poured out in the last six decades pursuing answers to the same questions: How did the Japanese arrive in secret, and why were the Americans caught so off guard? Not unexpectedly, these writings mostly dwell on American errors and shortcomings and usually treat Japanese planning and preparations for the strike in an abbreviated, sometimes dismissive manner. Even a standard history such as Gordon Prange's At Dawn We Slept concludes with 11 pages recounting American failures, while giving Japanese efforts three paragraphs, one of which attributes a major place to "unadulterated luck." 1 Proponents of the Pearl Harbor conspiratorial thesis reduce the Japanese to mere puppets, acting unconsciously to the whims of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and, according to a few, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill). 2

While the air assault that morning was, in the words of Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, a "beautifully planned and executed military maneuver," it was the Japanese preparations that allowed the Pearl Harbor Task Force, the Kido Butai, to approach Hawaii undetected. 3 Without the detailed planning and nearly flawless execution of the preliminaries, the attack would have never succeeded.

Comprehending Japan's prewar change in naval strategy and how the Japanese combined four major parts of the assault plan-denial and deception (D&D), radio intelligence (RI), cryptology, and operations security-is critical to understanding how the Japanese were able to pull off the attack. These components often complemented each other. One part would lead, reinforce, or extend another, and lessons learned during training and exercises sorted out which techniques worked. Simply put, how the Japanese prepared for the attack is what assured their success that morning, and it is likely the Americans could have done nothing to alter significantly the outcome of the attack.

Switching from Defense to Offense

Strategy is the script nations write for themselves that dictates subsequent policy and plans. Japan's pre-eminent interest after World War I was to expand and preserve economic hegemony in East Asia, principally China. But to fulfill that strategic aim, Japan would face opposition from colonial powers in the region and from the United States, which sought to maintain an economic "Open Door" in China and protect its island possessions. In the years prior to Pearl Harbor, Japanese-American relations were marked by confrontations over Japanese expansion into China, the seizure of Manchuria, and a buildup of naval forces and facilities in the Pacific.

Japan's naval strategy closely followed its national aims. It envisioned a two-part mission: support operations to expand to the south into Southeast Asia and the Netherlands East Indies, while protecting the Home Islands from an expected attack by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which might threaten Japan directly or its commercial supply routes.

The effective spearheads for the Western Pacific foreign policies of both nations were their respective navies: the Pacific Fleet and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Both countries expected and trained for eventual conflict. For the Japanese, though, the naval strategy it adopted for most of the two decades prior to 1941 was essentially defensive in nature. While elements of the IJN would be engaged elsewhere to the south, the majority of the battle line-its battleships, supplemented with carriers-would remain in the home waters around the Japanese archipelago and await the expected riposte by the reinforced Pacific Fleet. Once the American ships deployed, the Japanese fleet would sortie out and seek a "decisive battle" somewhere in the mid-Pacific region. 4

As ship technology advanced and Japanese carriers acquired more punch from more capable aircraft, the location of the climactic clash moved eastward until, by the late 1930s, the Japanese Naval General Staff (NGS) planned for it to occur near the Mariana Islands, some 1,400 miles southeast of Japan. Ironically, and with implications for Pearl Harbor, American plans fit neatly together with the Japanese expectations. American naval planners, in War Plan Orange and its various permutations, would send the reinforced Pacific Fleet across the Central Pacific to meet the Japanese Combined Fleet somewhere near the Marshall or Caroline Islands and destroy it before moving on to the Philippines and the eventual investment of the Japanese Home Islands. 5

The Japanese strategic defense scenario remained a fixture in their fleet exercises throughout the years before World War II. American intelligence, mostly through radio intelligence and reports by naval attach?

s, was aware of this plan. As early as 1927, American radio monitors and traffic analysts had plotted the IJN annual grand maneuvers and determined that the Japanese strategic posture was largely defensive. 6 This intelligence estimate, which continued into 1941, convinced the U.S. Navy's leadership that Japan's main battle force would remain in home waters and await the U.S. Pacific Fleet's move west. American naval war planning, epitomized in WPAC-46 under Admiral Kimmel, counted on this inaction and called for an advance across the Central Pacific once hostilities began. 7

In January 1941, however, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto proposed the idea of a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. In essence, he overturned more than two decades of Japanese naval strategic thinking. The Japanese NGS opposed this idea for nearly nine months before yielding to Yamamoto. Planning, training, and war games in September 1941 revealed technical and operational shortcomings that needed to be fixed if his plan was to work. Significantly, U.S. naval intelligence did not detect the shift in thinking. American radio intelligence continued to analyze Japanese naval activity in 1941 within the context of the old defensive strategy. U.S. analysts assumed the carriers and most of the battle line would remain in Japanese home waters. All Yamamoto needed was some way to convince the Americans to continue to think that way.

Covering Up the Strategic Change

The key to the success of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor-specifically, what enabled the Pearl Harbor Striking Force to reach its launch point undetected (and totally unsuspected) by the Americans-was Tokyo's radio denial-and-deception actions. Significantly, these activities simply were not just a "bag of tricks" meant to bemuse U.S. naval radio intelligence. Rather, they constituted a function of the change in Japanese strategy and were meant to convince the Americans that there had been no change from defensive to offensive intentions.

Two observations about Japanese D&D further explain its success. First, the impetus for the IJN's elaborate radio ruse was its awareness of the ability of enemy radio intelligence to identify and locate Japanese carriers. Earlier, in March and June 1941, when carriers had been dispatched south to support Tokyo's policy toward occupied French Indochina, Japanese radio intelligence discovered that the British monitoring site in Hong Kong had identified and tracked the large ships. (It is not known if the Japanese realized that American naval radio intelligence had done so as well.) Alerted to the vulnerability of its communications to foreign RI, the Japanese naval command was compelled to devise a counterplan. 8

Second, the radio D&D program began in mid-November 1941 on the heels of a weeklong communications drill-a series of scheduled radio contacts between selected ships and stations. 9 The deception was intended to appear to American radio monitors in the Philippines and Hawaii as a continuation of the same communications exercise. The drill had begun as the ships of the Kido Butai moved to a rendezvous point in the Inland Sea of Japan. The deception phase kicked in as the ships of the task force "buttoned up" on their way to the Kuriles on 17 November.

Beginning in mid-November, the American stations in Hawaii and the Philippines intercepted about a dozen transmissions-no messages, just calls and radio "chatter"-seemingly from the IJN carriers. This paucity of monitored emissions worked to Japan's advantage since it reinforced an American perception that Tokyo's carriers were in home waters and largely inactive, which was reported in Communications Intelligence Unit summaries to Admiral Kimmel as "nothing on the carriers" or "no information." Kimmel would report to various hearings that these periods of silence or inactivity were nothing new at least eight times in the previous six months it was uncertain where the ships were because of few or no transmissions. 10

As the carriers' apparent transmissions were picked up by the U.S. Navy monitoring station at Corregidor, the Philippines, direction-finding (DF) gear was used to plot lines of bearing on the their call signs. 11 The resulting lines crossed over the Japanese naval bases of Sasebo, Kure, or Yokosuka, which suggested the carriers were at these bases. For American naval intelligence analysts in Washington, Hawaii, and the Philippines, the congruence of the lines verified the conclusion that the carriers were still in home waters as expected, refitting, training, or preparing for the expected emergence of the Pacific Fleet from Pearl Harbor. 12 More important, these lines of bearing also coincided with results obtained on the carriers' transmissions from August through November 1941, as the IJN operated in the waters around the southern Home Island of Kyushu. 13

Whatever projections U.S. naval authorities had about the activities of the IJN in late 1941, they included no sense of an immediate threat to Pearl Harbor by Japanese carriers. Their own radio intelligence confirmed this.

Monitoring American Radio Traffic

The role of Japanese radio intelligence, primarily by the IJN, but also the small part played by Japan's Post, Telegraph, and Telephone (PT&T) Ministry, has remained largely unknown to Americans. Most narratives mention a small team on board the Kido Butai's flagship, the carrier Akagi, which listened to Hawaiian commercial stations for any alert. But that is a mere fraction of the story.

Briefly, radio intelligence is information that can be gleaned from communications excluding cryptanalysis. RI is derived from the "externals" of messages and the transmission of such traffic, such as message priority, call signs, and radio direction finding. In a useful analogy, radio intelligence is like studying the envelope and delivery method of a letter. We can learn who sent it, the date, relative size, and the delivery system. But any conclusion based on RI is largely inferential and can be misleading without corroborative intelligence.

For years before the Japanese Navy began to grapple with Yamamoto's idea for a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the IJN's radio intelligence section had monitored U.S. Pacific Fleet exercises and activities. While the Japanese intercepted and studied the communications of other fleets in the Pacific, such as the Royal Navy and Soviet Pacific Squadron, the Pacific Fleet was its priority target. Like most major navies, Japan had established an RI capability early in the 1920s. Radio intelligence was handled in the "Special Section" of the Communications Department of the Navy General Staff, which used listening posts on various Japanese-held islands. Tokyo also dispatched merchant ships with special monitoring teams on board to track annual U.S. fleet exercises. 14

In late May 1940, President Roosevelt ordered the Pacific Fleet to remain in Pearl Harbor after the completion of Fleet Problem XXI. (The fleet had been based in San Diego, California, with Pearl Harbor serving as an advanced deployment base.) Roosevelt hoped it would act as some sort of deterrent. 15 An unexpected result of the move, however, was that the Pacific Fleet's communications were now within range of the Japanese RI station on Kwajalein. Listening in on Pearl Harbor, this unit, the First Detachment of the Sixth Communications Unit, was able to gather much more intelligence than before the transfer. Additional information came from Japan's PT&T Ministry, which monitored commercial telegrams and radio telephone calls by Pacific Fleet Sailors to their families on the mainland. Sailing schedules, supply-train arrivals, unit manning, and ship locations were available in open communications. 16 The Japanese also copied Pacific Fleet headquarters communications with Navy outposts on Midway, Guam, Samoa, and Johnston Island.

Into the summer of 1941, as plans for the attack on Pearl Harbor advanced, the IJN beefed up its radio-intelligence coverage of the American military presence in Hawaii. Two more stations, on Saipan and near Tokyo, now covered the communications of the Pacific Fleet and the U.S. Army Air Corps in Hawaii. A new RI command structure in Tokyo organized the effort with a greater emphasis on ship identification and direction finding. Daily reports from Kwajalein, which included listings of U.S. Navy call signs for its ships and shore stations, were passed to Tokyo. Call signs for ships such as the USS Arizona (BB-39), Enterprise (CV-6), and Astoria (CA-34) were noted. 17 The Kwajalein DF station tracked the routes of American aircraft flying among the U.S. Pacific bases, but more important, it tracked reconnaissance flights around the Hawaiian Islands. The results revealed that the flights were almost exclusively to the west and south of the island chain. The north, the direction from which the Kido Butai would approach, remained uncovered.

Radio intelligence supplemented reports from Japanese agent Takeo Yoshikawa, who operated out of the consulate in Honolulu. His information was the primary intelligence source for the IJN on Pearl Harbor, but his tenure was precarious. At any time he could be compromised and shut down. Also, his reports were limited. He provided little information on U.S. air activity around Hawaii, his intelligence could take up to two days to reach the Kido Butai, and he had no way of monitoring radio communications. When the attack came, his role would end. Japanese RI, however, could compensate for all the shortcomings.

The U.S. Pacific command did not miss the spike in Japanese DF activity. A daily Traffic Intelligence Summary presented to Admiral Kimmel noted that since October Japanese DF nets were extremely active. The 28 November edition carried an assessment by Commander Edward Layton, Kimmel's fleet intelligence officer, that the Japanese DF was "getting results." 18 Because U.S. naval intelligence could not read the DF messages encrypted in a special cipher, Layton could not have known that they contained information on the critical holes in the American aerial reconnaissance around Hawaii.

One further aspect of Japanese RI against Hawaii occurred in late 1940 as the U.S. Army Signal Corps was testing a new speech-scrambler system for radio telephone calls between Honolulu and San Francisco. Designed by AT&T, this A-3 device was already in use between Washington and U.S. embassies in Europe. When the scrambler was turned on for the test, an operator in Japan broke in and asked if something was wrong with the channel, because Tokyo could not understand the voice transmission between the two American terminals. This indicated that the Japanese PT&T Ministry was monitoring calls between Honolulu and the United States. 19

As the Japanese strike force approached the Hawaiian Islands, it was receiving current radio intelligence via a Tokyo naval broadcast (which it did not need to acknowledge by radio), from monitoring and DF units at three land sites, as well as from an RI team on board the Akagi, which listened not just to commercial broadcasts from Honolulu but naval and air communications as well. Additionally, numerous Japanese Sixth Fleet submarines dispatched earlier to scout the area and attack U.S. ships carried small radio-intercept teams, whose mission was to provide intelligence to the submarines. 20

The Japanese RI effort would keep the Kido Butai informed of any changes to the status of U.S. forces in Hawaii and warn the task force if its presence was known.

Breaking the Japanese Codes

Japanese cryptology, like its radio-intelligence program, began in earnest after World War I. The IJN opted for codebooks and charts. It further encrypted messages by using auxiliary systems such as transposition ciphers, which scrambled the code groups according to a key. Thanks to a combination of good cryptanalysis and the purloining of copies of these early codes, American code-breakers from the Navy's OP-20-G broke and exploited the encrypted messages for about 15 years.

In mid-1939, the IJN brought in a new general purpose operational code, designated AN by the Americans. Its codebook contained more than 35,000 five-digit code groups and a digital cipher to encrypt them. American naval code-breakers had made limited progress on this system when the Japanese replaced it in December 1940 with a new code, designated AN-1, with more than 50,000 code groups.

The mistaken claim that the AN-1 code was being "read" or exploited at the time of Pearl Harbor is based on out-of-context quotes and numerous technical misunderstandings of the U.S. code-breaking process. A review of the monthly progress statements of the U.S. Navy's code-breaking section, OP-20-GYP-1, shows minimal recovery of the code-only about 8 percent of the 50,000 code groups had been recovered. The U.S. Navy could not glean intelligence from messages encrypted with AN-1 until early 1942, and even then, the results were fragmentary at best. 21 No intelligence about Pearl Harbor could come from this source.

The Americans, however, could exploit encrypted Japanese diplomatic messages to a great degree, though not quite as much as imagined by later historians. From late 1939 to mid-1940, Japan introduced new diplomatic ciphers to protect their communications. These included the iconic Purple cipher device and several manual systems, including the J-19 enciphered code. Within 1.5 years, these systems had largely succumbed to American Army and Navy code-breaking elements. Still, the rates for exploitation of these messages were not that high. From 1 November to 7 December 1941, 59 percent of all Purple messages between Tokyo and Washington and 16 percent of J-19 were translated. 22

Japan's own code-breaking effort was another story. While Japanese naval cryptanalysts could make no headway into the primary U.S. naval systems, Tokyo could read American diplomatic systems, including old codes such as the Brown and Grey series. Unknown to the Americans, however, Tokyo also could read the high-level system M-138 strip cipher. Considered secure by the Americans, the system had been compromised in 1940, and the Japanese Foreign Ministry was able to read many significant American diplomatic dispatches prior to hostilities. 23 It is still unclear what advantage the Japanese gained from this ability.

Keeping the Secret

Operations Security (OPSEC) consists of all measures taken to ensure that intelligence about operations, activities, etc., is denied to an enemy. Although defensive in nature, certain OPSEC techniques, such as quarantine, can be proactive.

For the Japanese, securing the secret of the Pearl Harbor operation meant instituting security measures to restrict access to knowledge of the attack to only those who had "the need to know" as well as to keep anyone-foreign or domestic-away from Kido Butai training areas, facilities, or personnel.

From the beginning of the planning for the Hawaii operation in early January 1941 until the summer of that year, the IJN kept information about the plan limited to small groups of officers within the operations and command staffs of the Combined Fleet, the Naval General Staff, and the First Air Fleet. By August and September, as preparations intensified, more people within the IJN learned of the plan. Army and civilian leaders were alerted to the plan late in 1941. It is possible that the senior Army leadership learned of the plan by August and cabinet officers in early November, but details were only forthcoming in late November. 24 The Japanese diplomats in Washington and Honolulu were not informed of the attack, which was the best way to ensure they sincerely relayed Tokyo's insincere negotiating points.

Within the IJN, the 700 printed copies of Yamamoto's Combined Fleet Top Secret Operations Order No. 1 of 5 November 1941 to the IJN did not carry the annex for the Hawaiian operations. The majority of senior officers of the Kido Butai were not officially notified of the plan until 17 November, when Yamamoto held his last conference with the task force commanders. The rest of the crews were not told of the attack until the ships reached the anchorage at Tankan Bay in the Kuriles on 23 November. There, all mail and communications between the sailors and Japan were curtailed. 25

Interestingly, Japanese OPSEC around the plan extended to their enciphered diplomatic and naval messages. Tokyo's diplomatic traffic included references to activity in Southeast Asia and a probable starting date for the campaign, 8 December (Tokyo time) as "X-day," but these only tipped off Japanese movements toward Southeast Asia. Yoshikawa's reports from Honolulu were no different than those from other sites such as Manila and the Panama Canal-detailed intelligence but no mention of an attack. Encrypted operational, weather, and training messages meant for the Kido Butai never openly mentioned Pearl Harbor the plan and target could only be inferred from the postwar decrypts.

Japanese restrictions against prying attaches and diplomats proved effective. Areas around Kyushu as well as the southern island's navy yard and training areas had been closed off to foreign observation. By 17 November, the American ambassador to Tokyo, Joseph Grew, informed Washington that security was so tight in Japan that the embassy could no longer be counted on to provide an effective war warning. 26 Japanese newspaper stories about the navy had been censored. Foreign ships approaching training areas near Kyushu had been stopped. Potential adversaries' ships were escorted out of the area, while one, a Filipino freighter, was boarded, its radio sealed and seized, and the ship sailed to Naha, Okinawa. 27

This OPSEC blanket over the operations was not perfect. In at least one case in September, aircraft from the Hiryu spotted a small foreign combatant near one of the Kido Butai training areas. Still, overall, knowledge of the attack was held closely within Japan and away from foreigners.

And on the Morning of the Attack . . .

On 7 December, naval and military commands in Hawaii did not suspect an attack would happen, though in previous years, studies and exercises had imagined such an event. In Washington, the same frame of mind existed among the political, naval, and military leadership. Washington and Honolulu were aware of the Japanese threat to attack areas in Southeast Asia. Reports had come in of Japanese troopships and escorts moving south toward Malaya and of aerial reconnaissance over the Philippines, developments indicating plans in that region. But Pearl Harbor? A surprise attack was not part of the calculations in Honolulu or Washington.

This unpreparedness had nothing to do with an imaginary conspiracy high within the U.S. government. The reason was that the commands in Washington and Honolulu acted according to the intelligence they had received, almost exclusively, from U.S. radio intelligence and diplomatic code-breaking. The intelligence told them the Japanese were moving south and hostilities were likely to begin soon, but Pearl Harbor was not in danger. The best available intelligence on the only real threat to the Pacific Fleet, the Japanese carriers, indicated they were in home waters. This is what Admiral Kimmel reported to the Roberts Commission soon after the attack. So certain was he that there was no threat, he had held back patrol planes to have them ready for the expected order to execute an offensive plan, WPAC-46. 28

In Washington just a few hours before the attack, the Office of Naval Intelligence handed its estimate of Japanese naval forces to the secretaries of State, War, and the Navy. It placed all of the IJN's fleet carriers at home. The Japanese radio deception had spread like a virus, infecting the intelligence assessments in Hawaii and Washington. 29 Japan had successfully hid its polar change in strategy and now had the Combined Fleet, including its attack carriers, ready to hurl its aircraft at Hawaii. Japanese radio intelligence listened in on an unsuspecting Pacific command, while Tokyo's cryptology and OPSEC kept foreign intelligence at arm's length. In a telling detail, that morning Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall decided not to phone Honolulu with news the Japanese would that day present "what amounts to an ultimatum." Likely recalling the incident of the Japanese listening in on the A-3 scrambler tests, he instead chose to send the information in a telegram. 30

All of this is not to say the Japanese did not make mistakes or tempt chance. They did. The part of the attack plan that called for midget submarines to infiltrate Pearl Harbor nearly ruined the surprise. The carrier task force sailed east "blind." Submarines meant to scout ahead were pulled back because of high seas, and the Kido Butai's air chief, Commander Genda Minoru, decided against air reconnaissance because the planes could get lost, ask for a navigational beacon, and possibly compromise the force's location. 31

Still, the Americans never pierced the shroud the Japanese Navy draped over the Pearl Harbor attack. Due to the sparse information, intelligence officers like Edwin Layton may have occasionally been uncertain of the carriers' location, but at no time did he or others have any indication of the approaching Kido Butai. The Japanese completely fooled U.S. intelligence.

The implication of that is a far more sobering conclusion than any imagined conspiracy, for it revealed that a knowledgeable and technically adept opponent could effectively negate apparent advantages held by the American intelligence community. So effective was the Japanese denial-and-deception campaign that, when asked during a Pearl Harbor investigation when he finally again heard from the carriers, the chief of the Communications Intelligence Unit in Hawaii, Commander Joseph Rochefort, could only reply, "The 7th of December." 32

1. Gordon W. Prange, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981), pp. 725–737.

2. Principally, Robert B. Stinnett, Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor (New York: Free Press, 1999) and James Rusbridger and Eric Nave, Betrayed at Pearl Harbor: How Churchill Lured Roosevelt into World War II (New York: Summit Books, 1991).

3. U.S. Congress, Hearings before the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, 79th Congress . (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946) (cited hereinafter as PHH), Part 22: p. 388.

5. American naval planning was sometimes more aggressive in its timetable, but its objectives remained constant. See Edward S. Miller, War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897–1945 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991), pp. 286-315.

6. For example, see Various Reports on Japanese Grand Fleet Maneuvers (July-September 1935), SRH-225. (Fort Meade, MD: National Security Agency, 1983).

7. PHH, Part 22: p. 328 Miller, pp. 282–285, 294–5, 317–8.

8. Ishiguro Interview No. 8, 1 May 1948. University of MD, Prange Collection, Box 19, Folder: "Ishiguro Aboard Soryu."

9. Japanese Naval Translation (SRN) 116602. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD (cited hereinafter as NARA), RG 457, Entry 9014.

10. PHH Part 24: pp. 1,385-6 Robert J. Hanyok, "Catching the Fox Unaware. Japanese Radio Denial and Deception and the Attack on Pearl Harbor," Naval War College Review (Vol. 61, No. 4, Autumn 2008) pp. 99-124.

11. The USN monitoring station in the Philippines, along with the analytic section, often referred to as CAST, had moved from Cavite to Corregidor in October 1940.

13. "Translations of Intercepted Enemy Radio Traffic and Miscellaneous World War II Documentation," NARA, RG 38, Entry 344, Box 1356, "Akagai."

14. A good example of Japanese merchant ship as a radio monitoring platform, the tanker Ondo Maru , which monitored the Pacific Fleet Fleet Problem of 1937. See "JN Tanker Activity against USN Maneuvers (1937)," NARA, RG 38, Inactive Stations, Box 18, Folder 3222/12.

16. Yokoi Tishiyuji, Rear Admiral, The Black Chamber of the Imperial Japanese Navy (July 1953), pp.15–16.

17. "Japanese Analysis of U.S. Navy Message Headings," November 1941, RG 457, Entry 9032, Box 151, Folder 646.

18. SRMN-012, "Combat Intelligence Unit, 14th Naval District Traffic Intelligence Summaries with Comments by CINCPAC, War Plans, Fleet Intelligence Sections, 16 July 1941-30 June 1942" (Fort George G. Meade, MD: NSA/CSS, 6 September 1985), pp. 205-230.

20. PHH, Part 13: p. 414 "Translations of Intercepted Enemy Radio Traffic and Miscellaneous World War II Documents," NARA, RG 38, Entry 344, Box 221.

21. NARA, RG 38, Entry 1040, Box 116, Folder 5750/202, "History of GYP-1 RG 38, CNSG Library, Box 22, Folder 3222/82 for first translation from JN-25B (then AN-1) completed on 8 January 1942.

22. PHH, Part 37: pp. 1081-3 "Worksheets for Japanese Diplomatic Traffic, 1941," RG 38, Entry 1030, Box 165, Folder 5830/62, "Pearl Harbor Investigations."

23. "Survey of Cryptographic Security at the Department of State," RG 457, Entry 9032, Box 1384, Folder 4400 Cryptanalytic Section of the Japanese Foreign Office," DF-169, CSGAS-14, July 1949 NSA Memorandum, FM D33, 3 January 1968, "State Department Messages," NSA MDR 52717. The existing set of Japanese decrypts can be found in the Diplomatic records Office, Tokyo, "U.S.-Japan Relations, Miscellaneous Diplomatic Correspondence-Special Information File." (A-1-3-1, 1-3-2).

24. Robert Butow, Tojo and the Coming of the War (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1961), p. 375 Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, The Pearl Harbor Papers (Dulles, VA: Brassey's, 2000), p. 142.

25. NARA, RG 457, Entry 9014, SRN 115678 and 117814.

26. PHH, Part 14: pp.1058-60, "Tokyo to Washington," 17 November 1941, Serial 711.94/2447.

27. NARA, RG 457, Entry 9014, SRN 116763 and SRN 117693.

29. "Locations of U.S. Naval Force in the Atlantic, Pacific and Far East Also Foreign Naval Forces in the Pacific and Far East: as of 7 December 1941," PHH, Part 20, pp. 4121-31.

30. PHH. Part 3: pp. 1211-1214 Michael Gannon, Pearl Harbor Betrayed (New York: John Macrae, 2001), pp. 233–4.

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Codebreakers Set a Trap to Confirm Japanese Attack

Rather than accept Midway as the target, Redman and others in Washington suspected the Japanese might be preparing another attack in the South Pacific, against Port Moseby, New Caledonia or Fiji, or even an attack on Hawaii or the U.S. West Coast.

Determined to dispel such doubts, Rochefort’s team famously devised a ruse. Via submarine, they sent a message to the base on Midway instructing personnel there to radio Pearl Harbor that the salt-water evaporators on the base had broken down. Two days later, a Japanese message was intercepted that reported �” was running out of fresh drinking water.

“That&aposs not how we found out Midway was the target, [though] it’s often interpreted that way,” Symonds clarifies. “We knew. or Rochefort knew, anyway. Rochefort did it to help convince Washington that he knew what he was talking about.”

By the end of May, Navy cryptanalysts had figured out more details about Yamamoto’s plans, including almost the entire order of battle of the Imperial Navy. With this information, Nimitz was able to plot a strategy that would take the Japanese by surprise, assembling three U.S. aircraft carriers at a spot some 300 miles north of Midway, which they called “Point Luck.” This included the USS Yorktown, which had sustained serious damage during the Battle of the Coral Sea, but was repaired in just two days in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard.


Albert Andrew Schmid was born in the Burholme neighborhood of Philadelphia, the second son and third child of Adolph and Marian Schmid who both came from Germany to Philadelphia in the early 1880s. His father worked as a truck driver and baker. His mother died around 1932, and his father remarried in 1934. Albert (Al) moved out around 1938, eventually becoming an apprentice steel burner at the Dodge Steel Company in Philadelphia in 1940.

Schmid enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on 9 December 1941 after hearing on the radio of the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor. He received recruit training at Parris Island South Carolina, and further training at New River North Carolina where he was assigned to the 11th Machine Gun Squad, Company H, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. While on leave, he used a $60 bonus (equivalent to $950 in 2020) from his employer to purchase an engagement ring for his girlfriend Ruth Hartley, a salesgirl he first met in May 1941.

The 1st Marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, the largest Marine force ever engaged in landing operations up to that time and first American offensive against the Japanese. Schmid, a private, was assigned as an assistant gunner/loader of a three-man crew manning a M1917A1 Browning heavy machine gun (water cooled, 30 caliber) [2] led by the crew's commander Corporal Leroy Diamond, with Private First Class Johnny Rivers as gunner. [1] Schmid refused medical treatment for a serious foot infection in order to remain in combat with his team and fellow Marines. [3]

On the night of 21 August, an assault force of 800 Japanese crack infantry troops sent from Rabaul on August 18 under the command of Japanese Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki attempted to break through the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines's perimeter and recapture the hotly contested Henderson Field airstrip. To reach it, Ichiki's infantry regiment had to cross the Ilu River. Cpl. Diamond's team was entrenched and posted on its west bank.

The Japanese attack began under the light of flares at 03:00 am. Part way into the assault, Pfc. Rivers was killed. Pvt. Schmid took over the gun and fired it for over four hours. As the assault progressed, Diamond was seriously wounded in the arm, and several bullets hit and shredded the Browning's water jacket. Guided by Cpl. Diamond's fire direction, Schmid kept shooting the gun by himself and loading 250-round belts of ammunition with and without help. Utilizing short bursts to avoid overheating and jamming, Schmid kept firing the machine gun even though it glowed red hot. [1] Ultimately, a crawling Japanese soldier threw a grenade into their machine gun position, wounding Schmid in the shoulder, arm, hand, and face.

In spite of being blinded by the blast, Schmid resumed manning the gun, both firing and replacing ammunition belts in response to physical and verbal cues from Diamond as the Japanese continued to pour across the Ilu firing their weapons at the gun emplacement covered by a sniper firing from a tree across the river.

The next morning, over 200 dead Japanese were counted in front of Schmid's position. [4] Only 15 of the original attackers survived the assault, a solitary soldier among the 800 escaping unwounded. Colonel Ichiki committed suicide.

Schmid subsequently returned stateside for treatment of his wounds at the San Diego Naval Hospital. On January 18, 1943, he arrived home in Philadelphia. [5] On April 10, 1943, the city turned out in a massive parade to honor their hometown hero. [6]

Navy Cross Edit

All three Marines—Rivers, Diamond, and Schmid—were awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism, Schmid receiving his medal at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 18 February 1943. He was also promoted to corporal (he was later promoted to sergeant). [1]

  • Service: Marine Corps
  • Rank: Private
  • Battalion: 2d Battalion
  • Division: 1st Marine Division

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Private Albert Andrew Schmid (MCSN: 350951), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and conspicuous devotion to duty while serving as a Machine Gunner of the Eleventh Machine Gun Squad, Company H, Second Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese armed forces at the Tenaru River, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 21 August 1942. Lacking the protection of riflemen, Private Schmid's machine gun squad was forced to tear down its frontal protection to meet the oncoming strong Japanese landing force. In spite of tremendous difficulties, the enemy attack was courageously met and repulsed by fierce and determined fighting during which Private Schmid was seriously wounded. His personal valor and loyal devotion to duty contributed to the defeat of the enemy. [7]

In June 1946, Schmid was named Father of the Year in Pennsylvania, and the Democratic Party nominated Schmid as a candidate for the Pennsylvania Secretary of Internal Affairs, but he lost the election. [8]

Schmid eventually recovered partial sight in one eye, but problems with his leg during the cold winters led him to retire in 1957 and move to St. Petersburg, Florida with his wife and two sons.

Schmid married Ruth Hartley on April 4, 1943. They had a son, Al Schmid, Jr., in June 1944. Schmid spoke at war bond rallies across the nation before being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on December 9, 1944. He remained in the public's eye throughout the war largely through Roger Butterfield's book, Al Schmid, Marine and the Warner Bros.' film released in August 1945, Pride of the Marines.

Al Schmid died of bone cancer on 1 December 1982. On December 6, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His wife Ruth was also buried in Arlington National Cemetery on September 12, 2002 (died August 15, 2002).

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The Miracle Men of Midway

Torpedo bombers of the USS Enterprise’s VT-6 squadron prepare to take on the enemy at Midway on June 4, 1942. Only four of the unit’s aircraft returned from the strike.

Craig L. Symonds
February 2012

The American victory at Midway had more to do with bold leaders than lucky breaks

C arved into the marble walls of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., in letters six inches high, is a sentence from Walter Lord’s 1967 prize-winning book on the Battle of Midway: they had no right to win, yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war. What Lord meant is that the odds against the Americans at Midway were so great that their eventual success was no less than incredible—hence the title of his book: Incredible Victory. Fifteen years later, Gordon Prange continued that theme in his book Miracle at Midway. Embedded in these book titles, and in their conclusions as well, is the implication that the American victory in the Battle of Midway was largely the product of fate, or chance, or luck, or some other unworldly force—that it was a miracle after all.

That the Americans at Midway changed the course of World War II is indisputable. At 10 o’clock on the morning of June 4, 1942, the Japanese were winning the Pacific War an hour later, three Japanese aircraft carriers were on fire and sinking. The fate of nations and the course of history had changed in an astonishing five-minute flurry of American bombs.

To be sure, chance played a role at Midway, as it has in every military engagement throughout history. But to attribute the American victory predominately to luck is a disservice to the principal players. A look at the actions of four Americans across the command chain at Midway—Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, task force commander Raymond Spruance, air group leader Clarence Wade McClusky, and dive-bomber pilot Richard “Dick” Best—shows how courageous leadership and sound decision-making, not just fate and chance, determined the crucial American victory at Midway.

C hester Nimitz was easy to underestimate. At age 56, with snow-white hair and piercing light-blue eyes, he was a quiet man who seldom betrayed his emotions. Undemonstrative and restrained, he rarely swore or even raised his voice. When exasperated, his most confrontational declaration was: “Now see here!” He was not impersonal or cold—he was a gifted teller of stories and particularly fond of elegant puns—but his German heritage and his Texas Hill Country upbringing had bred in him a calm reserve that allowed him to remain apparently undisturbed in the midst of crisis. That was exactly the kind of man that President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted in command at Pearl Harbor after the disastrous Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox remembered the president saying, “Tell Nimitz to get the hell out to Pearl Harbor and stay there till the war is won.”

It wasn’t much of a command when Nimitz took over on the last day of the year. America’s vaunted battleships were either in repair facilities stateside or resting on the bottom of the harbor. To be sure, the Japanese had clearly demonstrated at Pearl Harbor that aircraft carriers had supplanted battleships as the principal offensive weapons of modern navies. But by late spring of 1942, both of America’s two big carriers had been lost. The 36,000-ton Saratoga had been victimized by a Japanese submarine in January and sent back to Puget Sound, Washington, for a full refit the 37,000-ton Lexington was sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May. The Americans had very nearly lost the Yorktown in that same engagement. The carrier came limping into Pearl Harbor on May 27, trailing a 10-mile-long oil slick, leaving Nimitz with only two fully operational aircraft carriers: the Enterprise and the brand-new Hornet.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, with Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, on board the USS New Jersey in April, 1944, off Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands. (U.S. Navy)

This was the state of things when Nimitz learned that the Japanese were sending their so-far-undefeated—indeed not yet seriously challenged—Kido Butai, the Imperial Navy’s mobile strike force, to attack Midway Atoll, an American-held territory 1,100 miles northwest of Hawaii. He knew about the impending attack thanks to the work of a dedicated group of code breakers that had predicted it would come toward the end of May or early June, with four or possibly five carriers.

If the crippled Yorktown could be repaired in time—which was problematic—Nimitz would have three carriers. But the Japanese force included at least two battleships (Nimitz had none), its strike aircraft had a greater range than the American planes, and its Zero fighters were superior in both range and maneuverability to the U.S. Navy’s F4F Wildcats. If Nimitz decided to oppose the Japanese attack, all he could count on for sure were the two carriers of Rear Admiral William F. Halsey’s Task Force 16.

Then it turned out he didn’t have Halsey himself. When “Bull” Halsey brought his two carriers into Pearl Harbor on May 26, he was suffering from a severe psoriasis flare-up and had to be hospitalized. Asked to recommend someone to replace him for the coming fight, he named Raymond Spruance, the rear admiral who commanded the vessels of his cruiser-destroyer screen. (If the Yorktown became available, then Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, the commander of Task Force 17 and Spruance’s senior, would command the fleet.) While Spruance was a reliable professional, however, he was a specialist in surface warfare, with no experience commanding naval aviation forces Fletcher, too, was a surface officer.

In addition to the superiority of the Japanese carrier force, Nimitz had to take into consideration the fact that the Allied grand strategy, crafted even before hostilities began and confirmed at least twice since, was to defeat Germany first. According to this plan, the United States was to avoid “decisive action” against major elements of the Japanese fleet in the Pacific in order to concentrate on the European theater.

Given all that, Nimitz had to ask himself if Midway was of such strategic importance that it justified risking his remaining aircraft carriers in an unequal fight with the Kido Butai. To be sure, Midway was a valuable mid-ocean outpost for the Americans, and Japanese occupation of it would have been a serious nuisance. But was it of greater strategic importance than the nation’s few aircraft carriers? One option for Nimitz was to avoid battle altogether and wait for the Saratoga and Yorktown to return to the fleet, when he would again have four carriers. By then the Japanese might well have seized Midway, but their grip—at the end of a 2,500-mile supply line from Japan—would be very tenuous, and the Americans could take it back rather easily. This was the conservative—and arguably the responsible—alternative.

Nimitz’s other option, of course, was to fight for Midway. His advance knowledge of the Japanese navy’s approach, thanks to the code breakers, transferred the invaluable element of surprise from the Japanese to the Americans, and gave Nimitz time to greatly reinforce Midway itself—especially with aircraft. If the Yorktown could join the Enterprise and Hornet, the Americans would have four airplane platforms, including Midway—the same number as the Japanese.

Given the circumstances, few would have faulted Nimitz if he had chosen the first option and avoided battle with the approaching Kido Butai. The American chief of naval operations, Admiral Ernest J. King—who was no shrinking violet—implied as much when he suggested that Nimitz should send the Yorktown to Puget Sound to keep it out of harm’s way, and transfer the carrier’s surviving airplanes to the airfields on Oahu as a defensive force.

The choice belonged to Nimitz: his was the burden of command. He was certainly cognizant of the risks, but in his mind the decision to fight for Midway was no gamble. He calculated the odds coolly and rationally, and believed that he held a winning hand. Walter Lord stated that the Americans had no right to win, but Nimitz fully expected to. His decision to meet the Japanese north of Midway now seems fore­ordained, but at the time it was a bold stroke, and if someone besides Chester Nimitz had been in command at Pearl Harbor, the battle might not have happened at all.

R ear Admiral Raymond Spruance was a man very much in the same mold as Nimitz: calm in his demeanor and courtly in his manners, reminding one interviewer of “a soft-spoken university professor.” A lean 55-year-old, Spruance was a 1907 Academy graduate who had served in destroyers and cruisers his entire career. When Bull Halsey realized his illness meant he could not possibly command Task Force 16 in the forthcoming operation, he did not hesitate to recommend Spruance for the job.

Along with the assignment, Spruance also inherited Halsey’s chief of staff, 45-year-old Captain Miles Browning. Tall and ruggedly handsome, with a bad-boy allure that made him attractive to women, Browning was something of an eccentric in the aviation community. He was an excellent pilot and an imaginative tactician, but he was also cocky and dismissive of others—characteristics that did not endear him to subordinates. The ebullient Halsey had gotten along well with Browning, and had recommended him for his promotion to captain. Before Halsey left for the hospital, he urged Spruance to rely heavily on Browning and his expertise in air operations during the coming fight. Browning, for his part, clearly expected Spruance to defer to him in the management of the air assets of Task Force 16.

As it happened, the yard workers at Pearl Harbor did manage to patch up the Yorktown in time to send it out to join Spruance’s Task Force 16, at a rendezvous point the Americans had somewhat hopefully dubbed “Point Luck,” 325 miles north of Midway. All three American carriers were there at a few minutes past 6 a.m. on June 4 when a PBY Catalina out of Midway reported seeing two Japanese carriers and two battleships about 170 miles to the southwest—a position at the extreme range of the American torpedo bombers and fighters. At 6:07, Admiral Fletcher—aboard Yorktown, waiting for a group of aircraft to return—radioed an order to Spruance, aboard the Enterprise: “Proceed southwesterly and attack enemy carriers when definitely located. I will follow as soon as planes recovered.”

The wind that day was very light—only about five knots—and it was coming out of the east. For their aircraft to launch, the Hornet and the Enterprise would have to turn into the wind, away from the target, and build up speed to at least 25 knots (nearly 29 mph). Since it would take most of an hour to launch air groups from two carriers, which would add another 20 miles to the flight by the time all planes were up and in their formations, Spruance decided to continue steaming toward the target for another 45 minutes before launching. It would still be a long flight to the target, but the later launch should allow the attack planes sufficient time to get the job done and get back safely. Under Browning’s management, the first planes began launching at 7:05.

Wade McClusky with an F4F Wildcat. A fighter pilot for most of his career, by the time of the battle, he found himself the commander of the bomb group aboard the USS Enterprise. (U.S. Navy)

T he air group aboard the Enterprise was under the command of Wade McClusky. Having turned 40 only days before, he was the oldest pilot on board. McClusky had spent most of his career as a fighter pilot, but by virtue of his seniority he now found himself in command of a bomber group. The bomber group was composed of the SBD dive-bombers of Scouting Squadron VS-6 and Bombing Squadron VB-6, as well as the TDB-1 torpedo bombers of VT-6.

Launch delays cropped up almost from the start. The planes had been lined up on the flight deck for launch since well before dawn, but a number of them developed engine problems during the launch and had to be manhandled up to the forward elevator and lowered back down to the hangar deck in order to clear the flight deck. All of that took time.

There were other delays. Ordinarily, the crew would have started bringing up the planes of the second deck load via the carrier’s rear elevator while the last of the dive-bombers were launching forward. But VB-6’s bombers, each lugging a 1,000-pound bomb, needed a full deck run to get aloft, so the crew did not start bringing up the 10 Wildcats of the Enterprise’s fighter group, VF-6, and VT-6’s 14 Devastator torpedo bombers from the hangar deck until after the last of the dive-bombers were aloft. It took another 20 minutes to bring up the Wildcats via the forward elevator and the Devastators via the rear elevator. The Wildcats launched without mishap, but then one of the torpedo bombers had engine trouble. It was fixed but that, too, ate up time.

Meanwhile, McClusky’s bombers were circling over the task force, burning up precious fuel. By 7:45, Spruance had run out of patience. Five minutes earlier his radio intelligence officer reported that he had intercepted a contact report from a Japanese scout plane. Soon the enemy would know where the Americans were and the opportunity for surprise would be lost. Time was running out.

So far, Spruance had declined to interfere with Browning’s management of air operations but, deciding that enough was enough, he ordered that McClusky be sent a message by flashing light to “proceed on mission assigned” without waiting for the torpedo bombers. Instead of a coordinated attack by bombers and torpedo planes, McClusky would have to do his best with dive-bombers only.

R eleased by Spruance, McClusky’s group of 32 dive-bombers flew southwest toward the coordinates McClusky had calculated that morning. It was a long flight, and the wait over the task force and the climb to altitude had burned up a large amount of fuel. Ensign Lew Hopkins looked at his fuel gauge and concluded that it was going to be a one-way flight. “I knew, and most everybody else knew,” he later recalled, “that we didn’t have enough fuel to get back.” But when McClusky arrived at 9:20 in the general area where he had expected to find the Kido Butai, he saw nothing below him but empty ocean.

Although low on fuel, McClusky continued the search. He turned the formation slightly to the right and flew due west for 35 miles, then he turned right again to the northwest, intending to conduct a standard box search. He scanned the horizon eagerly for the sign of any surface ships, his binoculars “practically glued,” as he put it, to his eyes. Two of his bomber pilots ran out of fuel and ditched in the water. Finally, at 9:55, well north of the plotted intercept position, McClusky spotted a single ship, all by itself, proceeding northward at great speed, its bow wave making a broad wake that looked for all the world like a white arrow painted on the surface of the sea. McClusky guessed at once that it was a laggard from the Kido Butai and, using that V-shaped bow wave as a guide, he altered course to follow the arrow just east of due north. Ten minutes later, at 10:05, he saw dark specks on the horizon ahead of him. As he flew closer, the specks resolved themselves into surface ships. He had found the Kido Butai.

O ne of the 32 pilots flying that perilous course with McClusky was Lieutenant Dick Best, the commanding officer of VB-6. At age 32, Best was younger than most of the squadron commanders, and looked younger still. Out of uniform he might have had trouble getting a Honolulu bartender to serve him a beer. A New Jersey native, he was whippet thin with an aquiline nose and prominent ears. But he was a great pilot. Before assuming command of VB-6, he had been a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Pensacola. He often had to endure some good-natured banter because his middle name was Halsey and, indeed, he claimed a distant relationship with the admiral.

As McClusky, Best, and the commander of VS-6, Lieutenant Earl Gallaher, approached the Kido Butai that morning, they saw so many valuable targets below them that there was confusion about which to attack. The nearest target was the big carrier Kaga five miles to its right and a few miles ahead of it was the Japanese flagship Akagi.

According to doctrine, Gallaher and Best were to lead their two squadrons against different ships. To do that, the lead squadron—Gallaher’s—should fly past the first carrier and attack the more distant one, while the trailing squadron—Best’s—attacked the near target.

But McClusky, who had spent most of his career as a fighter pilot and had not internalized bombing doctrine, approached the situation with typical American straight­forwardness. He saw the two carriers not as near and far, but as left and right. McClusky could not give hand signals to Best, who was 5,000 feet below him, so he broke radio silence to order Gallaher to take the carrier “on the left” and Best to take the carrier “on the right.”

Best never heard the order. He later speculated that his radio didn’t work, which is possible another probable explanation is that Best and McClusky sent their reports of the ship sightings to each other simultaneously, which meant neither would have heard the other. In any event, both squadrons under McClusky’s command prepared to dive on the Kaga. The Americans had gained a crucial advantage by arriving over the Kido Butai at a critical moment now the confusion in assigning targets threatened to waste it.

A dive-bomber from Dick Best’s VB-6 squadron lands on the Yorktown after taking a hit in the assault on the carrier Kaga. (National Archives)

Best used hand signals to prepare the pilots of his squadron to dive on the target. Then, just as he was about to push over into the dive, the 16 bombers of Gallaher’s VS-6, plus McClusky, all came flashing down directly in front of him. Best later recalled that his first thought was, “They had jumped my target!” But thinking fast, he closed his flaps and waggled his ailerons as a signal to the rest of his squadron to hold back. Too late. Already committed to the dive, 10 of the VB-6 pilots joined the onslaught on the Kaga. Only Best’s two wingmen, Ed Kroeger and Fred Weber, were close enough to see his frantic signals and hold up.

Twenty-seven American planes dove on the Kaga. They plastered it with bombs, and within minutes it was a smoking wreck. But this left only three planes for the attack on the Akagi. Best gathered his two wingmen, one on each side, and the three American planes flew toward the Akagi in a shallow V formation. It was “a calm placid morning,” Best recalled, and he remembered thinking that it felt just like a “regular individual battle practice drill.” As they dove from 14,000 feet, Best put his bomb sight in the middle of the Akagi’s flight deck, just forward of its small island, and released his bomb at about 1,500 feet. Kroeger and Weber released their bombs at almost the same moment.

Best’s 1,000-pound bomb struck square on the Akagi’s flight deck and penetrated to its crowded hangar deck. The immediate damage was extensive, but the secondary damage was catastrophic. The Akagi’s hangar deck was crowded with 18 big “Kate” torpedo bombers, all of them with fuel tanks filled to the top and armed with 1,870-pound Type 91 torpedoes. Other ordnance lay on the carts and on the racks along the bulkhead. Within minutes, that ordnance began to cook off, and once the explosions started, the aviation fuel from the wrecked planes fed the fires. The error that sent 27 of McClusky’s 30 planes against the same carrier turned out not to matter: by 10:25, both the Kaga and Akagi were burning out of control.

Meanwhile, approximately 10 miles to the north, Yorktown planes were hitting the carrier Soryu. In an electrifying five-minute period, three-quarters of the Kido Butai was destroyed. This history-changing strike had been made possible because:

• Chester Nimitz made the bold decision to meet the Japanese challengers, despite the apparent mismatch.
• Raymond Spruance overruled Miles Browning, and ordered Wade McClusky to “proceed on mission assigned.” Had he instead waited for the torpedo planes to launch so that the whole air group could fly to the target together, McClusky would not have had enough fuel to conduct his decisive search.
• Wade McClusky continued searching when his fuel gauge read half empty, a bold choice that led him to the Kido Butai.
• Dick Best reacted instantly when he realized an entire air group was diving on the same target.

This is not to imply that these four men were the only ones whose actions mattered. Hundreds of others, from flag officers to plane pushers, played crucial roles as well in the victory that turned the tide in the Pacific War and triggered the American counteroffensive in the Solomon Islands. Two months after Midway, 10,000 Marines went ashore on Guadalcanal, and the American offensive did not stop until August of 1945. There was luck involved, to be sure—but sometimes bold and courageous men make their own luck.

Craig L. Symonds is the Class of 1957 Distinguished Professor of American Naval History at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and the author or editor of 25 books on Civil War and naval history. His book The Battle of Midway was published by Oxford University Press in October 2011.

Miracle Men appeared in the January/February 2012 issue of World War II Magazine. Subscribe today!

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