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   Tiger, Tiger, Tiger <<<
   "No, sir. This is Pearl."
   "The results…what are they."

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Japan Surrenders
Pearl Harbor - "Tiger, Tiger, Tiger"
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" [1]

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 signal.

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 particulars.

By Imperial Order

Chief of the Naval General Staff

Nagano, Osami"

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

Yamamoto, Isoroku"

(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.[2] 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.[3] 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,[4] 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.[5] 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".[6] 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"[7] 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 .[8] 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.


[1]. ; Japanese Monograph No. 97

[2]. National Geographic , Pearl Harbor Ships and Planes – Remembering Pearl Harbor, p.2

[3]. Day of Infamy ; Walter Lord, p. 32

[4]. 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, p. 9)

[5]. Interview with Capt. Lawrence C. Grannis by Gordon W. Prange, July 24, 1963; log of Antares , December 7, 1941

[6]. PHA, Part 27, pp. 530-32: Part 10, p 5064

[7]. Interview with Tyler by Gordon W. Prange, August 21, 1964: PHA Part 27, p.569; Part 22, p. 342

[8]. Japans War , Edwin P. Hoyt; p. 226

- - -

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.
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