The Miraculous Torpedo Squadron


Mori Juzo was a torpedo bomber pilot of the Imperial Japanese Navy and one of the aviators who participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1973, Juzo wrote his autobiography, entitled Kiseki no Raigekitai (The Miraculous Torpedo Squadron). This book has, until now, never been translated into English. But one of Vintage Wings readers, Nicholas (Nick) Voge, an American pilot with Oahu’s Makani Kai Air, is also a long-time translator and has been working on an English translation of Mori’s work.

In addition to flying for the small Hawaiian airline, Voge spent many years working as a translator for companies in Japan. His passion is to translate aviation-related articles, documents and books from Japanese into English. Some of his works have appeared in Harper’s (Jan. 2012, Into the Rising Sun, Letters of the Kamikaze Pilots), and in Manoa, published by the University of Hawaii (Last Letters of the Kamikaze Pilots), and elsewhere.

Here, for the first time in English, from Mori Juzo’s The Miraculous Torpedo Squadron, are two chapters dealing with his preparations for and participation in the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, with kind permission from Kojin Publishing.

The View From the Other Side of the Mirror: A Japanese Pilot’s Account of Pearl Harbor

By Mori Juzo, translated by Nick Voge

One day, shortly after I was transferred to the Omura Squadron, I was shocked to receive a telegram ordering me to report immediately to the carrier Soryu. This was highly unusual because it was navy policy to always send transfer orders to petty officers by written letter. Something’s up, I said to myself. I was filled with a sense of anticipation and foreboding. This was partly because much as I wanted to go to the Soryu, I still hadn’t yet landed on the deck of a carrier!

Training was soon arranged and, a few days later, there I was, looking down at the deck of a carrier and thinking: We’re going to land on that? It looked way too small. As I descended for my first approach, I noticed that the deck was not only tiny, it was moving up, down and sideways! Okay, calm down, breathe deeply and don’t do anything dumb, I thought. One hundred feet, fifty feet, thirty feet, then ka-chunk as the wheels touched down and the arresting hook jerked me to a stop. It was only then that I noticed that I was completely soaked with sweat.

While I was overjoyed to finally be carrier qualified and assigned to the Soryu, I was also acutely aware that this meant I would probably be going back to war.

With our carrier quals behind us we began special torpedo training in Kagoshima Harbor. Until then, our torpedo training had been quite orthodox: maintain an altitude of 150 feet and drop the torpedo at a distance of 1,000 yards. At Kagoshima, we were trained to come in at fifteen feet and drop at a distance of only 200 yards.

Although the navy prohibited low-level flying, we were now turned loose to take our ships right down on the deck, and we loved it! The hard part wasn’t flying low—that was pure fun—but estimating the distance to target of 200 yards. Day after day, we formed up over Mt. Kirishima at 12,000’ in nine-plane formations, then dove down in trail formation straight at the harbour. This put us at about 100’ as we came thundering over Kagoshima Station. What the frightened citizens of Kagoshima made of our antics I can only imagine. A few seconds later, we were screaming along at 130 kts., a mere fifteen feet above the water. Because our altimeters were useless at such low level, in our free time we climbed up on something to put our eyes at exactly fifteen feet above ground to get used to the sight picture.

For lack of better targets we took to lining up our runs on the fishing boats in the harbour. Boats with their sails up were often knocked flat by our wind blast. Before long, they were all jerking down their sails as soon as they saw us coming.

Juzo and his squadron mates aboard Soryu flew the Nakajima B5N (Allied reporting name “Kate”), the standard torpedo bomber of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) for much of the Second World War. Primarily a carrier-based aircraft, it was also occasionally used as a land-based bomber. The B5N carried a crew of three: pilot, navigator/bombardier/observer, and radio operator/gunner. By 1944, the Kate had been replaced by the Nakajima B6N (Jill) torpedo bomber but a few Kates stayed in service until the end of the war as trainers and target towing aircraft, and many that remained in flying condition were used as Kamikaze aircraft in 1945. Image via Finnish Wikipedia

The Nakajima “Kate” was a substantial aircraft as witnessed by these Japanese ground crew handling one. Image: Imperial Japanese Navy

Training began every morning at 8:00 a.m. We flew two three-hour sessions during the day followed by night training, and didn’t get back to our bunks until after midnight. The training was brutal, and the only days off we got were courtesy of bad weather.

It must have been sometime in October, as our training was winding down that a rumour began to circulate: “We’re going to war with America.”

We knew from the newspapers that tensions were rising between Japan and America but we had no idea what the actual situation was. When we asked flight leader Nagai, he just scoffed and said, “War with America?! That’ll never happen.”

But, as the saying goes, where there’s smoke there’s fire. A few days later, the battleship Yamato joined the fleet, and throughout the Inland Sea, our planes were carrying out intense mock attacks on our warships. Something was definitely up. Then, towards the end of October, our mechanics began smearing the elevators, horizontal stabs and rudders with cold-weather grease. What the hell was going on?

Unable to contain my curiosity, I paid a visit to Commander Murata. We’d served together in China and I knew he trusted me. However, when I asked him what was up, he simply said: “Be sure to take very good care of yourself.” But the hidden meaning in his words was very clear.

On 18 November, we sailed out of Hashirajima Strait for where, we knew not. Never before had the sea looked so black, so cold and so infinitely deep.

The next morning, we were rudely awakened by the loudspeaker blaring: “All hands on deck.” When we got up there, we were surprised to see Captain Yanagimoto and all the other big shots on the bridge. Must be some special anniversary, I thought.

Then the captain spoke: “In a few moments, our ship will pass directly south of the Ise Shrine. Everyone face north and pay their respects!” Man, this is getting stranger all the time, I mumbled. This is definitely not a training cruise. It was then that I recalled the rumour of war with America.

The signalman called out when we were ten seconds away from the line and we remained silent for a full minute to show our respect.

A few days later, we steamed into Hitokappu harbour, where we joined the carrier Akagi. The next morning, all flight crew were ordered to the Akagi for a special meeting. There were 600 of us all together. “Henceforth,” our commander said, “the ships here at Hitokappu will be known as the ‘carrier force.’ On 8 December, we will attack and destroy the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor.”

The task force of six aircraft carriers and 18 surface vessels which made the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor first assembled in the protected waters of Hitokappu Bay in the island of Iturup, the southernmost of Kuril Islands north of Japan. Assembled there were Mori Juzo’s Soryu as well as Agaki, Kaga, Shōkaku, Zuikaku, and Hiryu. This photograph shows Soryu at the far right. After the war, the Soviet Union took over administration of the islands and kicked out all the Japanese inhabitants. Photo: Imperial Japanese Navy via Wikipedia

The Imperial Japanese Navy’s carrier Soryu (Blue Dragon) rests in the pale November sunlight of the Kurile Islands in Hitokappu Bay, just days before departing with the task force for Pearl Harbor. Aboard, torpedo bomber pilot Mori Juzo finally learns of the specifics of his mission. Photo: Imperial Japanese Navy

I’d read in the papers how the ABCD gang, America, Britain, the Chinese and the Dutch, had Japan surrounded. They’d broken their trade agreements, frozen Japan’s assets and were demanding our withdrawal from China. I didn’t really understand any of this, but one thing was now certain: we were in fact going to war with America.

Next up was Admiral Nagumo, who gave a long speech as to why the war was necessary and urged us to do our patriotic duty. One thing I understood very clearly, though, was that every war has a winner and a loser, and that if Japan lost the war, the Japanese people would be finished.

After the speeches, we were taken to a large room with a highly detailed diorama of Pearl Harbor. The model showed where each ship was moored and all military facilities. We then returned to our respective ships for mission planning.

Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, aboard the carrier Agaki, addressed the 600 or more pilots and aircrew who would take part in the surprise attack. Photo: Wikipedia

We torpedo planes were to go in first and drop our torpedoes from an altitude of fifteen feet. After us came the dive bombers from 14,000’. They would be dropping their 1,600 lb armour piercing bombs on those ships we couldn’t get at with torpedoes. Problem was, at fifteen feet, we were going to be sitting ducks, plus we had to worry about getting blown to bits by those 1,600 pounders. Either way, our lives were on the line.

“I don’t care if I get killed,” said someone. “I just want to slam a torpedo into one of those ships. We gotta die sooner or later anyway.” There was lots of this sort of talk going on. But all the bravado in the world wouldn’t help us if we got shot down before we could even launch our fish. I went up on the fantail for a smoke and tried to organize my thoughts. But the cigarette tasted lousy and my mouth was dry as cotton. We torpedo planes are probably all going to be shot down, I thought. We’re going to be the first to arrive at Yasukuni Shrine.

Just before leaving Hitokappu, we received a shipment of special new torpedoes. We were told that these were the most sophisticated torpedoes in the world. Because of the breakwaters in Pearl Harbor, there was only about 300 yards in which to line up our attack runs. This meant we would be dropping at a range of only 200 yards. Pearl Harbor was also very shallow, so even if we dropped from the ideal altitude of fifteen feet, the torpedo would still sink to a depth of about thirty feet or more and might get stuck in the mud. To prevent this, in addition to the standard metal fins, the torpedoes were fitted with breakaway plywood fins. These fins were designed to rip apart when the torpedo hit the water, and in so doing, create enough drag to prevent the torpedo from sinking too deeply.

While final instructions were given, last minute training carried out and plans finalized, the torpedo squadrons aboard the carriers were issued brand new 18-foot-long Type 91 Kai 2 “Thunderfish” shallow water torpedoes, which featured wooden attachments on the tail fins that acted as aerodynamic stabilizers, and which were shed upon water entry. These Thunderfish were photographed on the deck of Akagi with Hiryu in the distance at HitoKappu Bay. Photo: Japanese Imperial Navy via Wikipedia

As our eastward cruise continued, I spent the days helping our maintenance guys get my plane ready and studying photos of the American ships. I also spent hours in the cockpit mentally rehearsing the coming attack.

The night before we were to launch, an announcement from Admiral Nagumo was read over the loudspeaker. It listed the various battleships and cruisers moored in Pearl, noted that there were no signs that our attack was anticipated and ended with the information that none of the U.S. carriers were in port. This was a major disappointment, as I had really wanted to slam a torpedo into either the Saratoga or the Lexington. Those are some lucky carriers, I said to myself as I clambered into my bunk.

We were awakened at 12:30 the next morning. I changed into a new set of underwear, put on my flight suit and, after breakfast, went up on the flight deck and stepped into one of the wildest sights I’d ever seen. The night was pitch black. A waning moon was playing peekaboo behind shreds of tattered cloud. The seas were huge, and from time to time, Soryu buried her nose into a monster wave that sent sheets of seawater shooting up over the bow. The deck was crammed with airplanes, and the flight crews and maintenance personnel were swarming over the planes. I climbed into my plane and fired up the engine for the first time in almost three weeks and ran a mag check. She felt and sounded great. I then shut ’er down, tested the torpedo release mechanism and watched as my radioman and rear gunner checked their gear.

En route to attack Pearl Harbor, Japanese aircraft carriers encountered heavy seas, which though unpleasant, helped to hide their approach to the attack point. Here, in a screen shot from Japanese newsreel footage, the carrier Kaga makes steady progress through rough seas, followed by Carrier Zuikaku. The film footage was taken from the deck of Akagi. Photo: Imperial Japanese Navy

On every carrier en route, groups of pilots and aircrew were briefed thoroughly. Here, chalking the plan on the carrier’s deck, Lieutenant Ichiro Kitajima, group leader of the Kaga’s Nakajima B5N group, briefs his flight crews on the details of the attack which will take place the next day. Photo: Imperial Japanese Navy

Looking over towards the Akagi, I noticed that she was light signalling furiously. “The torpedo planes are not to launch!” came the message.

     “What!?” I yelled, “They must be nuts!” Nagai called all torpedo pilots together.

     “They say it’s too dangerous to launch you guys in the dark with this heavy sea running.”

     “They’re full of shit,” we told him. “We didn’t train our balls off to be scared by some rough weather!”

     “Okay, okay,” said Nagai, “I’ll go tell them you think you can launch.”

A few minutes later, a second signal came from the Akagi: “All planes prepare to launch!”

We all breathed a huge sigh of relief and went back to our preparations.

“All hands not on duty line up before the bridge,” blared the loudspeaker. We all ran up and lined up on the flight deck. It was so dark that you couldn’t even see who was standing next to you. The captain came on and said a prayer for the mission’s success. I promised myself to do my best. We then turned and faced in the direction of our homeland and said a final prayer. From the bridge of the nearby flagship, Akagi was flying the “Z” flag that read: “The fate of Imperial Japan depends on this battle, all hands do your duty to the best of your ability.” This was the same flag that flew during the Battle of Tsushima Strait in 1905, where our navy annihilated the Russian fleet. Gazing at that same flag fluttering proudly in the breeze stirred my heart with powerful emotion.

We then exchanged heartfelt farewells with our maintenance men and climbed into our planes. After strapping in, I closed my eyes, took two or three deep breaths and tried to calm myself. Just relax and do as you’ve been trained, I told myself.

“Prepare To Launch Planes!”

As soon as we saw the signal to launch from the flagship Akagi, we started launching from Soryu. Nine Zeros took off first. Each time the launch officer raised his white flag, a Zero launched. Alongside the deck, crew members waved their hats in the air and cheered us on. The Zeros were followed by the dive bombers, then ten horizontal bombers loaded with 1,600lb bombs took off, followed by us, the torpedo planes. I was second after our flight leader, lieutenant Nagai. My back was wet with sweat. When the launch officer raised his flag, I slammed the throttle wide open and we thundered off the deck into the inky black sky. Looking back at the ship, I could just make out the sailors’ waving caps and the other planes taking to the air. On the bridge, I could see the captain and his officers, their caps waving over their heads. You can depend on us, I said to myself.

Japanese Navy Aichi Type 99 “Val” dive bombers warm up on the deck of the aircraft carrier Akagi in the morning of 7 December 1941.  Trailing her is Juzo’s Soryu.  Contrary to the general impression, these photos of the preparation and launch from the Japanese aircraft carriers were actually taken during the 2nd wave of the attack instead of the first wave.  The first wave from Akagi consisted of 27 Nikajima Type 97 “Kate” torpedo/level bombers and 9 Zeros.  They took off in the darkness at 6:00AM local time, about 55 minutes before sunrise.  The second wave from Akagi consisted of 18 Vals and 9 Zeros and launched around 7:15AM local time, about 20 minutes after sunrise. Photo: Imperial Japanese Navy via Wikipedia

In this famous photograph of a Nakajima Kate rolling down the deck of Zuikaku with deck crew cheering them on to Pearl Harbor is actually a still from a Japanese film later captured by American forces. Zuikaku launched 27 Vals and 6 Zeros in the pre-dawn first wave attack and 27 Kates and no Zeros in the 2nd wave.  Photo: Imperial Japanese Navy via USN.

A Japanese carrier attack plane Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” takes off from the aircraft carrier Shokaku, en route to attack Pearl Harbor, during the morning of 7 December 1941.  Same as her sister ship Zuikaku, she launched 27 Vals and 6 Zeros for the first wave and 27 Kates for the 2nd wave.  Photo: Imperial Japanese Navy via Wikipedia

The moment we left the deck I felt my plane sink with the weight of the heavy torpedo. The wave tops loomed ominously close. But we soon started climbing and formed up over the Soryu. We then formed up at 1,000’ with the other squadrons over the Akagi.

There were forty of us torpedo planes, twelve each from the Akagi and Kaga, and eight each from Soryu and Hiryu. Since it was still pitch dark, we were following the light signals from our respective flight leaders. The sky seemed filled with fireflies and it was actually quite pretty.

After about thirty minutes, the eastern horizon began to lighten. The leaders switched off their guide lights and we all sat back to enjoy the sunrise from our cruising altitude of 12,000’. This was the first time I’d seen a sunrise from this altitude and the sight was moving beyond words. The air was completely calm and we seemed to float along among the puffy trade-wind clouds. It felt like just another relaxing training flight. There was no sense of foreboding that we were heading to a battleground.

Due to the weight of the torpedo, I could feel and hear the engine working harder and I noticed drops of oil on my windscreen. But there was no point in worrying about it now.

Looking out ahead of us, I could see the horizontal bombers, with the dive bombers to our left. The Zeros were all around us. Seen from below, we must have made an impressive sight. An hour had now passed since our launch and the sun was high in the sky. Cruising along in the warm sunshine in company with the puffy clouds was very relaxing.

We’ve come this far, I thought to myself, so there’s nothing more to do now. It occurred to me that we human beings are actually rather simple creatures.

After about an hour and twenty minutes of flying, we saw a dark form take shape on the horizon ahead of us.

     “Hey, there’s Hawaii!” I said to Kato, my back seater. “Look out Mr. Enemy, your blue eyeballs will soon be spinning!”

The Zeros dropped their external tanks and surged out ahead of us. They were tasked with hitting the enemy airfields and destroying as many planes on the ground as possible.

We were now approaching the northwest tip of Oahu. I was acutely aware that the torpedo I was carrying would help decide the fate of my country and I was determined to make a direct hit. We’ll show you what the Japanese military can do!, I said to myself. Just then we received the signal: Attack!

Our squadron came screaming in from the northwest, aiming for Pearl Harbor. Down through passes in the Waianae Mountains we hurtled, zigzagging all the way. Flying low through the mountains is very dangerous and we had to be especially careful. One mistake here and it would be all over. Soon we were screaming along the deck at 150’. Wheeler Field was right in front of us, just as our maps had shown. I could see what looked like 200 fighters lined up in front of their revetments.

Damn, I thought, if they get those fighters up they’ll make short work of our torpedo planes. Still, I was impressed. I’d never seen so many fighters in one place on any of our army or navy fields. It occurred to me that there must be a big difference between a country that had so many planes and one that did not. But this was neither the time nor place for such ruminations. Looking up, I was relieved to see that our fighters and dive bombers were just waiting for us to clear the area so they could pounce. Still, it seemed like too good a chance to pass up. “Hey, Hayakawa,” I yelled at my gunner. “Start shooting!” As if anticipating my command, Hayakawa immediately cut loose with his rear gun. Those 7.7mm slugs were the first fired in the Pearl Harbor attack.

Hayakawa seemed to be having a great time spraying away with his machine gun, but I didn’t see any planes catch fire. Strange, I thought, maybe he’s missing. While thus musing, I was careful to keep an eye on flight leader Nagai’s plane. I wanted to be sure we were in the perfect position to make a successful attack. I couldn’t let myself be distracted. I had to concentrate totally on our main target. Still, I wondered why those fighters weren’t burning. He couldn’t miss. But in a matter of seconds, Wheeler was behind us.

Looking down, I noticed a car speeding towards the airfield along the long road leading from Pearl Harbor to Wheeler. Suddenly, the car flipped upside down and ended up with its wheels in the air. Man, what a lousy driver, I thought. I couldn’t imagine anyone wasting precious machine gun bullets on a car.

The road was lined with pineapple fields. I remembered looking at pictures of this area on board the ship and thinking that if we had a forced landing in a pineapple field at least we wouldn’t starve to death! Ahead of us lay Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday and the battleships and cruisers of the American Pacific Fleet were floating peacefully at anchor in the morning mist.

The targets for our torpedo planes from the Soryu were the battleships and carriers moored to the wharves. We were surprised to find that the carriers, our main targets, were gone. They had left the harbour the day before. I was bitterly disappointed because I really wanted to slam a torpedo into the Saratoga or the Lexington. Well, I thought, we’ll just sink every one of those battleships instead.

As we closed on Pearl, the ship types became distinctly visible. However, although we had studied photos and diagrams of the ships for hours on end, the actual ships looked altogether different. It now seemed hard to believe that we were actually here to sink them.

The battleships were moored together in pairs, and if they had placed torpedo nets on their exposed sides we could never have torpedoed them. No doubt, the U.S. Navy had never in their wildest dreams imagined that our torpedo planes could manoeuvre and attack in such a confined space. Now, the unimaginable was about to occur. In a few hours, the attack would be headline news in every corner of the globe and people around the world would be in awe at our stupendous victory.

While keeping an eye on Nagai’s plane, I tried to confirm our target. From Wheeler to Pearl was a straight line, so the flying was easy. My altimeter was reading almost zero, but it looked like we were about fifteen feet above the ground. I started breathing deeply and tried to calm my nerves. There was no time to think of anything other than the job at hand. My only thought was putting my torpedo into a battleship.

As we reached our release point, I saw Nagai drop his torpedo. It was my turn next. As I aimed my aircraft at the ship, I saw a huge column of water rise up where Nagai’s torpedo had impacted.

“Get ready to drop,” I yelled at Kato. But just as I was about to pull the release, something didn’t look right. That’s no battleship, I thought. We were zooming along at 130 kts. and the distance to the ship was closing rapidly. At 200 yards, it was time to let my fish go. Then I realized it was much too short and narrow to be a battleship. It was a cruiser! Probably the Chicago.

Nagai blew it! He came all this way only to torpedo the wrong ship! He has to apologize to our country for that mistake. We, torpedo pilots, were ordered to hit only carriers or battleships. I immediately shifted my sights to the battleship to the left. I had to make a steep turn at low level and my left wingtip seemed only inches above the water. It was dangerous as hell but it was the only way to get into position for an attack.

“We’re going around!” I yelled into the speaking tube to Kato as I gunned the engine. During training, they never mentioned the embankments, but there they were, in the way. Didn’t matter, I had to make up for Nagai’s mistake. I’m gonna sink one of those big boys, I said to myself as I zoomed over the top of a battleship protected by a breakwater. It sounds easy, but my plane was heavy with the torpedo and the masts of the ship were sixty feet high. It took all my skill to pull off that manoeuvre.

The torpedo squadrons from the Akagi and Kaga were dropping their torpedoes and every time one struck home, a huge column of water shot up in the air. It was truly a magnificent sight. As I zoomed over the ship, I could see the American sailors staring up at us. It seemed like they still didn’t realize they were being attacked. Sorry boys, but this is war.

As I was flying over Ford Island, I looked to the north and I could see torpedoes from Nakajima’s squadron hitting home. That looks like the Utah, I thought. I gasped involuntarily as two or three columns of water rose up around the ship. Then, when the fourth torpedo hit, the Utah broke in half and turned on its side. From where I was sitting, it was an awe-inspiring sight. But it seemed like a waste of torpedoes. Our pilots had been so thoroughly trained to hit their targets that they put four fish into the Utah and ignored the valuable seaplane tender moored adjacent to it. Soldiers have to follow orders, but in the heat of battle, pilots have to be allowed to make decisions on their own.

I made a wide, slow turn and lined up on my target. This would be a piece of cake. I was probably the only torpedo pilot making a second pass. Don’t rush it, I told myself. Looking at the ship’s superstructure, she looked like the California. The only problem was the breakwater about 300 yards away from the ship. If I didn’t drop the torpedo just right, it would hit the breakwater. I had to fly a very precise attack pattern.

     “Okay, Kato! This time, it’s for real.”

Looking back, I could see that Hayakawa had a death grip on his machine gun, ready to ward off any attacking planes. This was his first combat sortie and I wondered what he was thinking. He’s either scared stiff or totally relaxed and treating it like a training mission. By now, the sky was filled with anti-aircraft fire. Seems like they finally figured out they were being attacked.

Despite being caught completely by surprise, the Americans at Pearl put up some stiff resistance, as witnessed by the flak bursts in this photo. The Imperial Japanese Naval Air Forces lost 29 aircraft in their attack on Pearl Harbor—9 Zero fighters, 15 Val dive bombers and 5 Kate torpedo bombers. Photo: US Navy

The seven flying boats at the west end of Ford Island had been blown up by our dive bombers and were burning fiercely. A towering column of black smoke filled with red flames rose from the area. Buildings and other structures on the wharf made it hard for me to get down low, but I eventually cleared the obstacles and dropped down to about 15 feet over the water. I got the plane completely stabilized and horizontal. At a speed of 130 kts., I closed to within 250 yards of the California, held my breath and aimed just below and to the right of the ship’s bridge.

     “Ready! Let it go!”

Kato raised his hand and I felt the plane leap skywards as the heavy torpedo dropped away. The torpedo attack was now over. The planes were all arcing away to the left and leaving the area. However, if I went left it would mean flying through all the smoke and fire over the airfield on Ford Island, so I banked off to the right.

     “Hey, Kato. Don’t forget to take photos.”

When we got back to the carrier, the photos would tell the true story. I didn’t mind dying in order to fulfill our duty, but if we survived the attack, I wanted to get back in one piece.

“Hey, Mori. We got ’er!” yelled Kato. Looking back, I could see a huge pillar of water shooting up from the California. A direct hit, I thought thankfully. A tremendous feeling of relief came over me as I knew I had made the right decision in not following Nagai.

The aftermath of Juzo’s attack on the USS California (BB-44). She sits on the muddy bottom. She was re-floated three months later and would not be ready for combat until January 1944. Photo: US Navy

A hand-tinted photograph of tenders attempting to rescue sailors from USS California. Photo: US Navy

As I was flying along, filled with a sense of accomplishment, I looked off my right wingtip just in time to see one of our torpedo planes burst into flames and arc down towards the harbour. He still had his torpedo and seemed to be trying to crash his plane into a battleship. I wanted to reach out and grab the crew from their doomed plane. When I looked down to see what happened to them, I saw a huge explosion where the plane impacted the bridge of a battleship. It was a perfectly executed suicide dive. Probably one of the Akagi or Kaga pilots. If I had seen the plane’s number I would have been able to find out the crews’ names.

Though Mori Juzo remembers that the dying torpedo plane from either Akagi or Kaga made a Kamikaze-style last crash into the bridge of a battleship, it was likely that this was the well-documented last-gasp crash of a Kate bomber into the crane (seen at stern) of the large seaplane-tender USS Curtiss (AV-4). If one looks at the displacement of ships in Pearl Harbor, Curtiss was just to the right of the line Juzo would have taken after he released his “fish.” The fire and smoke seen here was from another bomb that hit Curtiss later in the attack. Photo: US Navy

A famous shot of torpedo hits on Battleship Row in the opening minutes of the attack. Massive geysers of water soar skyward as torpedoes find their marks on Oklahoma and West Virginia. At the far right of Battleship Row is California, Juzo’s eventual victim. In the foreground, on this side of Ford Island, just below the right hand torpedo geyser, is the seaplane tender USS Curtiss. One can see from here that she is right in line with Juzo’s exit from the attack. Image: Imperial Japanese Navy 

Looking north, I could see that Wheeler Field was covered by a huge pall of black smoke. Bright flashes marked the spots where our bombs were hitting home. Go get ’em! I thought to myself with relief. I doubted that even one of the 200 fighters lined up there would get off the ground.

Then, as I was egressing the area at a height of about thirty feet, kang, kang, kang! It sounded like a hammer pounding on my plane and I felt the control stick vibrate in my hand. “Yeow!” screamed Hayakawa from the back seat. Crap! I thought, a fighter must’ve got us. I looked out and saw that both wings were full of holes and that the slugs had come from below. Anti-aircraft fire! In panic, I looked at our fuel tanks, but they were okay, and the engine was still purring along. But I could smell something burning in the back seat.

     “Hey, Kato, what’s burning back there?”

     “My seat cushion’s on fire!”

     “Well, get rid of it!”

Wondering where the shooting had come from, I looked down and almost fainted. We were flying right over a group of about ten destroyers and cruisers and they were all shooting at us! We’d flown right through their wall of fire. It’s a miracle we weren’t shot down. That’s what must have knocked down the other torpedo plane. And all we got out of it was a burned seat cushion—the luck of the draw. Someone up there must have been looking over us. As we continued our escape, we flew right over some huge fuel storage tanks. Hayakawa started blasting away at them with his machine gun, but even if he hit them, there was not much his 7.7mm slugs would do to those big tanks. Still, I let him keep firing because it seemed like a fitting way to get even with them for shooting at us and I’m sure it made him feel good. Hickam Field was also in flames. Our boys had worked it over pretty good.

A heavily touched-up photo of an Imperial Japanese Navy Nakajima B5N “Kate” exiting the Pearl Harbor destruction. This particular aircraft was, according to the Japanese caption, from Zuikaku. The Japanese caption also reads: “Pearl Harbor in flame and smoke, gasping helplessly under the severe pounding of our Sea Eagles.” We can just see USS California near the centre of the photo, yet to be struck by Juzo’s torpedo. Photo:

Our rendezvous point was twenty miles out to sea on a heading of 180° from the mouth of the harbour and an altitude of thirty feet. So as each plane finished its attack, it headed south at low level. We knew about the anti-aircraft guns at the harbour entrance and we were careful to avoid that area.

Screaming out of there at 160 kts. right on the deck the phone poles and buildings whipped by on each side. Still, it wasn’t fast enough for me; I just wanted to get the hell outta there! We didn’t have anything against the local citizenry so we tried to avoid flying over Honolulu. Nevertheless, we somehow ended up over the city.

Finally, we got out over the water again and I was able to catch my breath. We’d made it!

I felt very keenly that we had done our duty and survived, and that we would live to fight another battle.

By any tactical standards, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a massive success, but the crippling of the US Pacific Fleet was only temporary. The full payment for the surprise attack would be paid out by August of 1945 with the utter destruction of the Japanese Empire, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the deaths of millions of Japanese. Photo: US Navy

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Juzo Mori fought in the Battle of Midway—where he saved himself by jumping from the deck of the sinking carrier Akagi—and got his right hand shot off in an air battle over Guadalcanal, an injury which almost certainly saved his life by keeping him grounded during most of the final air battles of the war.

Translation by Nicholas Voge

Aviator and a passionate translator of rare aviation-related Japanese works, Nick Voge poses with an L-19 Bird Dog at Dillingham Airfield, the former Second World War training field on the North Shore of Oahu. He flashes us the Hawaiian “shaka” sign, offering us the “hang loose” interpretation of the “Aloha Spirit.” Photo via Nick Voge

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