Pearl Harbor - "Tiger, Tiger, Tiger"
by Gregory Karpicky
After much argument the leaders of the army, navy and the Japanese cabinet had
finally made their decision. They met with the Emperor on December 2nd and led
by General Tojo, made their case for war:
"At the moment our Empire stands at the threshold of glory or oblivion…Once His
Majesty reaches a decision to commence hostilities, we will all strive to repay
our obligations to him, bring the Government and the military ever closer
together, resolve that the nation united will go on to victory, make an all-out
effort to achieve our war aims, and set His Majesty's mind at ease."
At an earlier conference on September 6th, the Emperor had expressed his desire
to explore all avenues of peaceful resolution. He had chastised the army for
trying to drag Japan into war in the pacific when they couldn't resolve the
China conflict. But by this time he had resolved himself to the fact that the
Japanese military wanted war, and was prepared at any cost to pursue that goal.
When the conference was finished, Hirohito merely nodded, rose and left the
room. The war was to begin.
By November 21st, all thirty-two ships involved in Operation Hawaii had
straggled into the cold, gray harbor of Hitokappu Bay, near Iturup in the
Southern Kuriles. Rear Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, in overall command of the
fleet, held a last conference on board AKAGI on the evening of the
23rd. On November 25th, Combined Fleet Operations Order No. 5 was received
aboard the flagship AKAGI .
"Order to: Carrier Striking Task Force:
The Carrier Striking Task Force will immediately complete taking on supplies
and depart with utmost secrecy from Hitokappu Bay on 26 November and advance to
the standby point (42 N, 170 W) by the evening of 3 December.
Commander-in-Chief, Combined Fleet
Yamamoto, Isoroku" 
On the 26th the Pearl Harbor Striking Force raised anchor and began it's voyage
into history. They were to take the stormy, cold northern route across the
pacific to avoid any chance of being detected on the way to their objective.
Radio silence was strictly observed, with crystals being removed from sets and
radio keys tied down so the rocking of the ships wouldn't accidentally send a
On December 1st 1941 Admiral Yamamoto received a message aboard the flagship NAGANO
anchored in Hasirajima Bay:
"1 December 1941
Order To: Yamamoto, C in C, Combined Fleet
Navy Order No. 9
Japan has decided to go to war against the United States, Great Britain and the
Netherlands early in December.
"The Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet will smash the enemy fleets and
air forces in the Orient and at the same time will intercept and annihilate
enemy fleets should they come to attack us. The Commander-in-Chief of the
Combined Fleet will occupy immediately the key bases of the United States,
Great Britain, and the Netherlands in East Asia in close cooperation with the
Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Army and will capture and secure the key
areas of the southern region.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet will cooperate with the operations
of the China Area Fleet, if necessary. The time of the start of operations
based on the aforementioned items will be made known later.
The Chief of the Naval General Staff will issue instructions concerning
By Imperial Order
Chief of the Naval General Staff
Thus, Yamamoto was directed to begin his final preparations for the war against
America. Things were now moving very quickly in Tokyo and when the Imperial
Council decided to go to war with the western powers on December 2nd all was
ready. The next day Yamamoto radioed Kido Butai, "Niitakayama nonore", (Climb
Mount Niitaka). This otherwise cryptic reference to the highest mountain on
Taiwan, (therefore the highest peak in the Japanese Empire) was the order to
proceed with the attack. A great wave of relief settled over the officers and
men now that the decision had finally been made. Later on the 3rd Nagumo
received another message:
"Combined Fleet Telegraphic Operations Order No. 021730
December 3, 1941
To: Commander-in-Chief, Carrier Striking Task Force
8th December designated as X day.
Commander-in-Chief, Combined Fleet
(December 8th local time would be December 7th in Hawaii).
By nightfall on December 6th local time the Japanese Pearl Harbor strike force,
Kido Butai, was some two hundred twenty nautical miles to the
northwest of Oahu and heading southward through heavy seas at twenty knots. The
Imperial Japanese Navy's First Air Fleet was under overall command of Vice
Admiral Cuhichi Nagumo. The First Carrier Division consisted of the flagship AKAGI
, "Red Castle", and the KAGA, "Increased Joy." The Second Carrier
Division was under command of RADM Tamon Yamaguchi and consisted of the younger
and smaller sisters, SORYU and HIRU, built in 1937 and 1939
respectively. Finally came the Fifth Carrier Division, consisting of the newly
commissioned fleet carriers, SHOKAKU, "Happy Crane," and ZUIKAKU,
"Lucky Crane." These were newly commissioned and still in their initial working
up stage and led by the flamboyant RADM Chuichi "King Kong" Hara.
The carriers were covered by two battleships, HIEI, and KIRISHIMA
, two heavy cruisers, TONE, and CHIKUMA, eight destroyers,
three submarines and one light cruiser, the ABUKUMA .
Before dawn the next morning, the deck crews were roused from sleep to check
their planes and then bring them up onto the flight deck. On the HIRU,
Commander Amagai carefully removed the pieces of paper he had slipped into each
planes wireless transmitter to keep it from being set off by accident. At
0530 the heavy cruisers CHIKUMA and TONE each launched a
single long-range Zero reconnaissance seaplane into the dark skies. These
planes were to scout ahead of the main striking force. One was assigned to
Pearl Harbor, to assess the situation and radio the latest target and weather
information. The second would perform the same mission at the alternate fleet
anchorage at Lahaina Anchorage.
This first group of carrier planes then took off just before dawn broke. The
seas were so rough that spray was breaking over the decks of the carriers and
they were rolling through 11 to 15 degrees. At 0610 the "Zero" A6M2 fighter of
Lt. Comdr. Shigeru Itaya, flight leader of the First Fighter Combat Unit, First
Division, rolled down the AKAGI 's deck and plunged into the predawn
darkness. The rest of the planes launched simultaneously from all six carriers
and within fifteen minutes the entire striking force was airborne.
Once all aircraft in the first wave had been launched and winged southward, the
carrier deck crews moved swiftly to arm and stage the second wave of planes for
takeoff. No torpedo planes would be included in this wave, as it was thought
that since the element of surprise had been lost casualties would be too high.
At 0715 Lt. Saburo Shindo led the first of a total of thirty-six "Zero"
fighters off the decks of the carriers. These would make up the combat air
cover for the second wave. They were followed in short succession by fifty-four
horizontal bombers, Aichi Type 99's, and seventy-eight dive-bombers. Once all
the aircraft had been launched and were on their way, the fleet again turned
south towards the recovery point.
Only a few hours before, at 0342, the minesweeper USS CONDOR, had
spotted something "about fifty yards ahead off the port bow." The duty officer
asked his quartermaster to have a look and after a look through the binoculars
said, "That's a periscope, sir, and there aren't supposed to be any subs in
this area." At 0357 Ensign McCloy sent a message to the Channel Entrance Patrol
duty destroyer. USS WARD was off the mouth of Pearl Harbor with Comdr.
William Outerbridge in command and he was keenly aware of the heightening
tensions between Japan and the United States. He tried twice to make sonar
contact with the reported sub, but was unable to on either occasion. What was
not realized at that time was that Outerbridge was assuming he was looking for
a full sized Japanese sub, not one of the special "midget" subs that were even
then trying to penetrate the harbor.
Just after dawn, the USS ANTARES, was making her way into the harbor
channel when her skipper Comdr. Grannis spotted something "about 1500 yards on
the starboard quarter." Grannis immediately informed WARD of the sighting.
Lt. Goepner of the WARD acknowledged the signal and called the
captain. Outerbridge immediately thought to himself; "she is going to follow
the ANTARES in, whatever it is." Within minutes, Outerbridge
had WARD on a new heading speeding towards the target. He rang General
Quarters and once they had drawn to within about one hundred yards the first
5-inch shot was fired. It splashed long, overshooting the periscope. Within
seconds the range was down to fifty yards and when gun number 3 fired, the shot
was observed to hit "at the waterline. . .. the junction of the hull and the
conning tower." The sub then rolled "over to starboard" and "appeared to slow
and sink." The WARD followed this gun volley with a full pattern of
depth charges set for 100 feet. "The submarine sank in 1200 feet of water…" No
further sonar contact was made and at 0706 a heavy slick of oil was observed on
the water's surface where the sub had submerged. Thus, the first blood spilt in
the Pacific Conflict was Japanese.
At about 07:02 A.M., two privates manning an Army radar station on the northern
tip of Hawaii noticed two main pulses appeared on the oscilloscope screen. Pvt.
Lockard thought at first that something might be wrong with the equipment, but
soon "decided that it must be a flight of some sort". To Lockard the contact
was enormous, "probably more than fifty" planes. He directed Pvt. Elliott to
call Ft. Shafter. The operator at Ft. Shafter took the information from Opana
Point, including a reference that it appeared to be generated by "an unusually
large number of planes," to Lt. Kermit Tyler, an Air Corps pilot who was on
duty at that time. Tyler later remembered that Lockard called the pulses "the
biggest sighting he had ever seen". He thought at the time it was a flight of
B-17's being ferried in from the mainland so he told them, "Well, don't worry
about it" and hung up. Thus yet another chance to alert Pearl Harbor to the
impending attack slipped by.
Meanwhile, Lt. Commander Mitsuo Fuchida (overall commander of the air strike)
had spotted the island of Oahu and ordered "Tenkai," (take attack
position ) The air fleet soon crossed the north coast of Oahu and was
over land for the first time. Heavy cloud cover over the mountains caused a
slight change in plan as Fuchida decided to lead his aircraft down the westward
side of the island and avoid any chance of a mid-air collision. The plan Genda
and he had eventually developed was for the torpedo planes to attack first if
surprise had been achieved. There were two good reasons for this. Both Genda
and Fuchida believed that due to the slow deliberate nature of a torpedo
attack, these aircraft would be the most vulnerable aircraft during their run
in. Additionally, Fuchida thought that if the dive-bombers and high-level
bombers were to attack first, the smoke and fire from the resulting bomb hits
would obscure the view for an accurate torpedo attack.
Seeing all peaceful at Pearl Harbor, at 0740 Hawaiian Standard Time, Fuchida
slid back the canopy and fired his flare pistol. Total surprise had been
achieved and at 0749, while over a spot "somewhat off Lahilahi Point," he
instructed his radio operator Tokunobu Mizuki to send the coded signal to his
planes, To, To, To, (Totsugeskiseyo, or charge). Moments
later, at 0753, Fuchida ordered Mizuki to send the famous words "Tora, Tora,
Tora," (Tiger, Tiger, Tiger ). This prearranged signal
indicated that a successful surprise attack had been made.
On board AKAGI, Admiral Nagumo, Admiral Kusaka, Genda, Onishi and the
others heard the news. Neither Nagumo nor Kusaka could be said to be overly
emotional. But they had both labored under mind and body breaking stress over
the last months, and they had been driving themselves and their men almost to
the breaking point. Thus the news that surprise had been achieved was received
like a cool wind after the oppressive heat of a monsoon. Due to freak
atmospheric circumstances, the signal was picked up on Yamamto's flagship, the
battleship NAGATO , anchored at that time in the Hasirajima Bay. When
the aircraft's radio transmissions came in, directly and amazingly clearly,
Admiral Yamamoto, true to form, was playing shogi . As the officers
around him began to cheer, Yamamoto closed his eyes and appeared deep in
thought. He may have been reflecting on the apparent success of achieving
surprise in the skies over Hawaii. He may have been in silent prayer for the
men he had committed to battle and knew soon would be dying for the Japanese
Empire. Or he may have been silently observing that the very war he had fought
against for so long and so hard was here.
. Ibiblio.org ; Japanese Monograph No. 97
. National Geographic , Pearl Harbor Ships and Planes – Remembering
Pearl Harbor, p.2
. Day of Infamy ; Walter Lord, p. 32
. PHA, Part 37, p. 1299; log of Condor, Dec., 1941; Cabell Phillips, "Ten
Years ago This Friday," The New York Times Magazine (December 2, 1951,
. Interview with Capt. Lawrence C. Grannis by Gordon W. Prange, July 24,
1963; log of Antares , December 7, 1941
. PHA, Part 27, pp. 530-32: Part 10, p 5064
. Interview with Tyler by Gordon W. Prange, August 21, 1964: PHA Part 27,
p.569; Part 22, p. 342
. Japans War , Edwin P. Hoyt; p. 226
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Copyright © 2005 Gregory Karpicky.
Written by Gregory Karpicky. If you have questions or comments on
this article, please contact Gregory Karpicky at:
About the author:
My literary background has mostly been in writing for various businesses I have consulted for. My father was a career Army officer who earned the Legion of Merit, and the exposure I received at various postings around the world with this gave me a lifelong interest military history.
Published online: 12/17/2005.