In the recent thread regarding turret top colors (thank you, Tracy White!) there was quite a bit said regarding target selection by the Japanese aircrews, and at the risk revealing the content of a yet-unpublished project from our Pearl Harbor series with Naval Institute Press (or getting in trouble with my co-authors), I thought that I would chime-in with a separate posting.
In the course of the last 20 or so years, I have collected every Japanese source relating to the attacks on Hawaii that I could get my mitts on. Among the most important of these sources are interviews and written accounts from the Japanese aircrews. There are three principle areas from which this material came.
1. crew interviews in the Lord and Prange Collections.
2. other interviews conducted by myself, John Di Virgilio, and Ron Werneth.
3. post-war articles written by the crews for Maru , Rekishi-to Jinbutsu , Kōkū-Fan , and other publications.
I found that, with certain exceptions, none of the individual sources by themselves provided authoritative, satisfying views of the entire attack. But each of them provides at least one unique tidbit that has forced us to change our interpretation of the attacks, most to a minor extent, but others to a quite significant extent.
Now, regarding the torpedo attacks…
The crews from the Akagi , Kaga , Sōryū , and Hiryū were not given instructions to attack specific ships, but rather to attack targets of opportunity in their respective quadrants of the harbor. This plan (and I don’t recall seeing this discussed elsewhere) broke apart primarily because of the weather.
Without getting into too much trouble with my co-authors (sorry, Bob and John!), even with the most popular assumptions regarding how the attack unfolded, it should be clear that the Akagi and Kaga boys had the advantage of seeing their targets, and many of them. The Sōryū and Hiryū crews were disadvantaged by backlit targets, and the glare of the morning sun, which was relatively low at the time of the attack.
In the case of the Utah , she NOT mistaken as an aircraft carrier, but she WAS lost in the glare. One of the pilots misinterpreted movements by the aircraft ahead as having attacked the Utah and retreated after release. One of the crews mentions seeing the “basket mast” on the Utah , and thus assumed that it was a battleship. These two factors, combined with strict orders to follow the target selection of the element leader, led to the Utah being attacked.
I have admired David Aiken’s article, “Torpedoing Pearl,” for many years. For the most part, our interpretations paralleled his, but where we substantially parted ways was the narrative of the attacks west of Ford Island, which have been the most difficult to resolve. We have laid out those attacks (correctly, I feel), benefiting from some very critical sources that Dave simply did not have 23 years ago. I have had the best time in my life putting together this narrative of the Japanese attacks on the harbor into one big book. What will be most fun, however, will be the debates and haggling to come on message boards such as this one. It will be great fun!