Thursday, December 7, 2017

Climb Mount Niitaka*

Jack looked up from his place in the formation just as the band struck up the National Anthem. Were those our birds from Enterprise, Lexington, or Saratoga coming in? Maybe it was the Army, sure were a lot of aircraft in the air for a Sunday. Paying no further attention, his eyes watched the Colors go up into the bright Hawaiian sun aboard USS Nevada.

Lieutenant, Junior Grade Saito Hiroto was focused on staying in formation on his lead. He didn't want to give Lieutenant Commander Watanabe anything to complain about, which the aircraft commander loved to do. His Kanko was a little heavy with its big Long Lance torpedo slung underneath and the morning air over the mountains was a bit unstable. But there, dead ahead, lay Pearl Harbor. No time to fret now, the attack would be pressed home.

At 0755 hours...
At the Command Center on Ford Island, Comdr. Logan C. Ramsey looks out a window to see a low-flying plane. A reckless U.S. pilot, he thinks. Then he sees “something black fall out of that plane” and realizes it’s a bomb.

Ramsey runs to a radio room and orders the telegraph operators to send out an uncoded message to every ship and base: AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL

The coordinated attack begins as dive-bombers strike the Army Air Forces’ Wheeler Field, north of Pearl Harbor, and Hickam Field, near Ford Island’s Battleship Row. The Japanese, wanting control of the air, hope to destroy American warplanes on the ground.

Most U.S. planes have been parked wingtip-to-wingtip in neat rows to make it easy to guard them against sabotage. Most are destroyed. (Source)

Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Jack Nowicki staggered momentarily as he ran to his battle station. He was still marveling how quickly the Nevada's band got through the anthem, but the nearby bomb explosion refocused him on the task at hand. They needed to start fighting back.

LCDR Watanabe released the weapon, reminding himself to compliment Saito on his flying, he had never held the aircraft so steady in training. Perhaps the pilot's given name** was more apt than he originally thought. As the big torpedo fell away, Watanabe could feel the aircraft lift slightly. Smoothly, LT(JG) Saito used the momentum as part of his pull up, easing the stick back to pull the big Nakajima B5N up and over the American battleship they'd dropped on.

Easily clearing the mast head of what he had misidentified as the Nevada (they had actually dropped on Nevada's sister ship, Oklahoma), Saito could hear the chatter of his gunner's (Petty Officer 3rd Class Nakano Kenji) machine gun opening up on targets of opportunity as they overflew their target.

For his part, PO3 Nakano actually saw their bird's torpedo strike the side of the American ship. He had just started to shout "Banzai" when the first .50 caliber rounds struck the aircraft.

BM3 Nowicki saw the tracer rounds from his .50 falling just aft of the Japanese torpedo bomber as it flew over the Oklahoma. Adjusting his fire he had the satisfaction of seeing his rounds intersecting the fuselage of the "Kate." As smoke started to pour from the target, Jack shifted his fire to another enemy aircraft.

LCDR Watanabe Jirou was killed instantly as Jack Nowicki adjusted his aim. The first two rounds went through the Japanese bombardier/navigator's equipment, the third went through him. He never knew what hit him.

PO3 Nakano knew something was wrong when the aircraft commander's blood sprayed back over him. There was a lot of blood. He felt the aircraft shudder then falter as more rounds struck further forward. Realizing that there was nothing he could do, he went back to his duty, firing his machine gun whenever a target presented itself.

LT(JG) Saito felt something tug at his leg as something struck the engine. Smoke started to pour back, making it difficult to see. He looked down to his left, wondering why the throttle was not responding. There was his hand, still on the throttle. He felt sick, his forearm was no longer attached to his body. Why did he feel so sleepy?

Femoral artery severed, Saito died within seconds of being hit. As he sagged forward in his seat, his right hand fell from the control stick, the big Nakajima went into a shallow dive, no one at the controls, the engine faltering. In the chaos of the attack, in the billowing smoke from the dying ships and the devastation on Ford Island, only one man was aware of what was going on inside aircraft number 318, from the carrier Akagi.

Model of the B5N's crew compartment.
Pilot's seat is to the left, the bombardier/navigator's position is in the middle, the gunner's seat is on the right.


PO3 Nakano tried to look forward to see what was wrong with his pilot. There was too much smoke, he couldn't see LT (JG) Saito, he couldn't see LCDR Watanabe either. Neither responded to his shouting over the voice tube between the cockpits. Looking outside, he noticed that they were low, too low, and the aircraft seemed to be in a lazy uncoordinated turn to the left.

 The aircraft's left wingtip touched the waters of the Middle Loch at a very shallow angle, but it was enough of an impact to tear off the left wingtip and turn the aircraft violently to the left. Pieces of the Nakajima spun over the water and splashed down as the main body of the fuselage, intact, slid beneath the waves. Carrying its dead crew with it to the bottom of the harbor.

BM3 Nowicki was exhausted, his uniform was filthy, more gray than white. He was taking a breather before the Chief came back to let them know what was next. His ship was aground, who knows if his berthing space was still intact, all he had at the moment were the clothes on his back. Sometime during the attack he'd lost his dixie cup somewhere, Lord knows where. But he was alive and as he looked around the harbor, he realized that there were a lot of guys who weren't.

Dixie Cup
Transcript of Joint Address to Congress Leading to a Declaration of War Against Japan (1941)

Mr. Vice President, and Mr. Speaker, and Members of the Senate and House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that Nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American Island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our Nation.

As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

But always will our whole Nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph- so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire. (Source)

Total number of American military personnel killed: 2,335
  • 2,008 Sailors
  • 109 Marines
  • 218 Soldiers
68 civilians were killed, making the total 2403 people dead.

1,177 of the dead were from USS Arizona.

Total number of wounded: 1,143
  • 710 Sailors
  • 69 Marines
  • 364 Soldiers
  • 103 Civilians
The Japanese Navy lost 55 men. (Source)

* "Climb Mount Niitaka" (Niitakayama nobore 新高山登れ) = The signal sent by the Japanese government to Admiral Nagumo indicating that the attack on Pearl harbor should proceed.
** HIROTO - 大翔  - 大 (hiro) meaning "big, great" combined with 翔 (to) meaning "soar, glide."


  1. Remember Pearl Harbor! was the rallying cry for Americans after December 7, 1941. God bless those lost that day and during the rest of the war. Thanks Sarge.

  2. They may have climbed Mount Niitaka, but that mountain crashed down on then soon after.

  3. That Japan attacked the USN pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor rather than luring it out to sea was a good thing for the United States. If the fleet had been anywhere except in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor, the loss of lives and the total loss of ships ( many of which were repaired and later fought in the war ) would have been much more devastating. Also, although many ( obsolescent ) aircraft were destroyed, most of their aircrew were not killed.

    I have long maintained that the attack at Pearl Harbor could not have gone better for the U.S. than if the attack had been planned by us.

    Thanks for the post.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. It was a strategic blunder by Japan and tactically not much of a success.

      They stayed away from the fuel depot, the drydocks and other targets that would have left us with huge headaches.

      It was also fortunate that Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga were all at sea.

    2. And yet, they are now one of our most important Pacific Allies. Strange how things work out, ain't it?

    3. Well, the French and the English were enemies for hundreds of years, they learned to play nice together.

      "No nation has friends only interests." - Charles de Gaulle

      But yeah, we were bitter enemies in WWII, not now.

  4. Yamamoto foresaw the outcome. He knew that Japan had one chance to defeat the United States and that chance, a long shot, was to inflict a heavy enough blow at the start to drain our political will to fight. Didn't work.

    But, in the long run, in an odd way, it did work. Look at Japan now.

    1. You have a point there Joe. A pretty good one too.

  5. I think that B5N is the only military plane with tandem seating for 3?

    Always remembered a guide at pearl Harbor saying the biggest blunder they made was not hitting the fuel storage facilities at Ford Island. With that out things would have ground to a halt.

    Wasn't it fortuitous that the carriers were out?

    One of the most interesting books I read was by Robert Stinnet - Day of Deceit - through FOIA Navy documents he builds a case that Roosevelt knew the attack was coming.

    I don't know if I would go that far - to allow the sacrifice of 1000s and capital ships?

    But it is a compelling read.

    1. You might be right about the Kate.

      I personally think that Roosevelt suspected the attack was coming. There were many in the military who should have known, based on the evidence. While I'm not a big fan of FDR, I just can't go that far.

    2. What's your take on the McCollum memo?

    3. The TBD Devastator also was three in a row.

    4. Mike - I was unaware of the McCollum Memo until I read your comment.

      Apparently McCollum repudiated the claim that his position was to incite Japan into attacking the U.S.

      An interesting sidelight though.

    5. Scott - and so it did. Oddly enough, the crew positions for the Kate and the Devastator were the same: pilot - bombardier - gunner. However, in the Devastator the bombardier crawled under the pilot's position to aim their load.

      Odd that, glad you pointed me in that direction.

  6. The Japanese reaped a bitter harvest for that adventure. The present day Japanese are concerned that the fat kid with the bad haircut in North Korea might drop a nuke or three on them and the pacifist posture of so many post war years is now changing there as they confront both North Korea and China (with the US behind them). What change was wrought in Japan because of TORA TORA TORA.

    1. I don't like that MacArthur was pretty much given a free hand in Japan after the war. I am most emphatically NOT a MacArthur fan. Why we so enamored of the man baffles me.

      He's also partly responsible for the mess we have in Korea now. The man was a strutting prima donna, he had some talent yes, but I rate him far below some of our other leaders in history.

      But you're right LL, the 7th of December 1941 changed Japan.

  7. It would seem ARIZONA was supposed to get a CXAM in the near future. Note the mount on the foremast.

    1. I'll take your word for that Scott, bowing to your superior knowledge of battleships. I did see where that radar system had already been installed on Texas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Washington. Stands to reason that Arizona would be slated for that installation.

      Once again, you add to my knowledge, thanks.


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