Thursday, July 16, 2015

THE PERFECT ATTACK - Alternative Pearl Harbor I

The following vignette offers a scenario of what a “perfect attack” might well have looked like, written from the viewpoint of an idealized Commander Fuchida, the Strike Commander.

Commander Fuchida sat in the wardroom of the Akagi, tapping his feet impatiently, drinking his tea with the air of a man who really would rather be away doing something else. He had told the communications watch officer where he would be; what was taking those sluggards in Tokyo so long? It was not as if they had anything to do other than retransmit the report.

A sailor opened the door to the wardroom, bowed respectfully, and cast his eyes over the officers scattered about the large compartment. Fuchida assumed a look of calm disregard. It was important to set an example.

The sailor’s eyes lit on to Fuchida, and he skipped forward with an excited glint in his eye. He came to attention, bowed quickly, and proffered a flimsy piece of paper to Fuchida.

Fuchida looked it over quickly, and could not repress a smile. He rose and hurried out of the wardroom en route to Genda’s stateroom, ordering the messenger to follow.

A quick rap of the knuckles on the door, and Fuchida entered. Genda looked up from behind the tiny desk that folded out from the bulkhead.

Fuchida grinned. “No barrage balloons. No torpedo nets!”

“Ah,” replied Genda. “Very good. So, no level bombers.”

“Three battleships double-berthed,” Fuchida responded. “Two behind battleships, one behind a repair ship. One in drydock”

“So. Some level bombers.” He offered a slight smile to Fuchida. “Carriers?”

“No carriers.”

“So. They have been out of port for quite a while. Perhaps they’ll come in today. We’ll leave a reserve for them, should it happen.”

The two planners pulled out the chart of Pearl Harbor and revisited the calculations first made so many months ago. They marked the latest information from the message. There were four battleships inaccessible to torpedoes. Previously they had decided to try for two AP bomb hits on each inaccessible battleship along Battleship Row, hoping for an engine room or magazine hit to put the ship out of action for the months needed to complete the Southern Advance. Eight formations of five bombers each would do the trick, leaving fifty with torpedoes. The battleship in drydock they decided to leave alone, since if the bombs were successful there would be no water to flood into the ship and magnify the damage. Better to save the bombs for where they could do the most damage.

They decided on the aircrews for each payload, checking them off on a previously prepared message form.

Genda thrust a finger at the chart where the battleship was double berthed behind the repair ship. “Do you think we could slip a torpedo or two past this auxiliary?”

Fuchida pulled out a copy of the venerable Jane’s Fighting Ships, and flipped through the pages. “Their repair ships are just under 500 feet long. That pretty much covers the length of the battleship. But its draft is under 20 feet. Maybe we go under. Set five torpedoes for eight meters, and assign those crews to hit those ships in particular.”

The initial assignments and targeting was worked out. The initial torpedo attack would go down the Southeast Loch. The attack would be delivered in waves of five aircraft in an echelon-left formation with about 50 yards between aircraft. The leader would attack the leftmost battleships, the next torpedo bomber the next to the right of the leader’s target, and so on until the entire wave was lined up with a target. The most difficult attack paths went to the trailing aircraft in each group. They would have to pass the supply depot and immediately rack around into a nearly 60-degree turn in order to line up their torpedo.

Five groups of five torpedo bombers would make the initial attack. The second through fifth groups would bore in to their targets regardless of the results of previous attacks; hit or miss, they were to concentrate their lives on their one torpedo and their one target. With steady crews, that would mean five torpedoes per battleship, likely four hits per battleship, enough to sink them all.

Fuchida and Genda allocated another four shotai of torpedo bombers, twelve B5N Kates in all, to seek out and destroy the cruisers reported to be to the north and northwest of Ford Island. That totaled 37 torpedo bombers for the initial charge. Thirteen would remain with Fuchida as an attack reserve, to be assigned after the results of the first charge were ascertained. Their task would be most dangerous, going into the teeth of the awakened American defenses.

Genda handed the message to the communications messenger. “Take this to the Chief of Staff. He is expecting it. It is to go out immediately by flashing light.” The messenger saluted and left, clearly excited.

Fuchida himself would command the strike from a B5N Kate loaded only with two 250kg GP bombs. His first responsibility was to ensure that the torpedo attack went in successfully, and then assign targets for the second wave dive-bombers based on the damage inflicted by the torpedo bombers. His command responsibilities were more important than any damage he might inflict.

But the B5N Kate carrier attack bomber had a range far in excess of what was needed, and his pilot was skilled in fuel conservation. He had enough endurance to carry a few bombs. Between the attack waves, he would allow his pilot, Ohno, and their bombardier to join in with the true samurai spirit of the attack—Fuchida did not have the heart to ask them to go up unarmed as just a command platform, and he did not want to go up unarmed himself, either. His crew had smiled happily when he told them of the bombs.

During the evening meal, in the company of all of the carrier’s aviators, Ohno announced to all his ambition to sink Pearl Harbor’s garbage scow. Without that boat to remove their garbage the rich American ships would soon all sink from the weight of their own trash, he proclaimed, thus winning the war for Japan in a single, sublime blow.

His companions in the aviators’ mess hooted in derision. What if the rich Americans had two garbage scows?

But this only caused him to sit proudly, with a coy glint in his eye.

“From Sun Tzu we know, ‘To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence,’” Ohno recited with an academic air. He ended with a snort, his eyes scanning the common herd around him.

“He quotes a Chinaman!” someone cried. The laughter was general.

A short day later, Fuchida was in the observer’s seat of his B5N Kate as the first wave of Kido Butai’s strike turned toward Oahu. The sun was just beginning to peek above the horizon, a glorious visage illuminating the heavens with rays of red and gold. As the aircraft droned south, they sorted themselves out into the attack groupings, one formation for each of the target areas, each a mix of aircraft types. Around Fuchida formed up the fifty torpedo bombers destined for the harbor, along with three chutai of fighters, 27 in all, that were to be their cover and SEAD support. One chutai of D3A Val dive-bombers would attack the AA positions on the ships. Thirty-nine B5N Kates carrying 800kg AP bombs followed.

Ahead, Fuchida saw Oahu forming up out of the misty sky. He adjusted their course to pass over Kahuku Point, the northernmost tip of Oahu. There was no evidence of the enemy, so he allowed the default plan, which assumed that they had achieved surprise, to remain operative.

As his B5N Kate passed over the Point, he shouted “Mark time!” and his bombardier-radioman began to broadcast, “To, To, To,” marking the first time tick to synchronize the attack. He looked around, and saw that all the bomber formation leaders were waggling their wings, indicating they had received the message. The fighter leaders did not all respond, but that did not make any difference, as their initial job was to follow the bombers and cover their movements.

The formation turned south to pass along the Koolau Range, mountains more spectacular for their beauty than their elevation, which did not top 600 meters. This course would lead them inland to pass to the east of Pearl Harbor. As the hands on Fuchida’s stopwatch clicked the time, groups pulled away from the main formation on schedule and orbited in racetrack patterns. First to depart were the attackers destined for Wheeler Field, then the Ewa Field attack group departed, then the Kaneohe attack group, the Bellows attack group, and at last the Hickam group. They all would watch their clocks and at the pre-calculated times turn toward their objectives. It was a simple “time and distance” method to ensure that all the attacks were delivered simultaneously.

On schedule, Ohno banked to the right, and the formation headed west toward Pearl Harbor. With the sun at his back Fuchida could easily recognize the ships in the harbor. The scene looked just like that picture post card of the harbor that naval intelligence had given to all the bomber pilots. They had numbered all the mooring locations on it. It was faintly ridiculous that the blow-ups provided to his pilots should have “Souvenir of Hawa’ii” printed across the bottom. But then again, what self-respecting samurai went into Intelligence?

He scanned the harbor. No carriers. Too, too bad.

He looked at Battleship Row. The intelligence was correct—there was a line five battleships long, with three sets double berthed. An oiler could be ignored. They would proceed as planned.

As they passed Hickam Field, the formation broke apart. The first 25 torpedo bombers, five groups of five, formed up in their echeloned lines with 500 meters between groups. They pushed their noses down to drop to low altitude to begin their runs. The dive-bombers accelerated, pushing ahead with one chutai of fighters in support. Fuchida’s B5N Kate, accompanied by the remaining reserve of torpedo bombers and a chutai of fighters, angled to the south to where the action could best be observed.

First in were five A6M Zero fighters. Fuchida could see the tracers from their 7.7mm machine guns, one tracer for every four rounds of armor piercing, as they searched out the machine gun positions on the high fighting tops of the battleships. They gracefully turned away. No fire came from the battleships.

Fuchida saw the D3A Vals pitch over to the attack in three chains of three, not enough for all five of the battleships, but doctrine had the shotais attack as a team, and three shotais were all that could be spared. The leaders released their bombs—Fuchida groaned as all three missed, long and to the left. The leaders had not recognized the strength of the wind. He squeezed his fist around his pencil.

The second and third bombers in each team, as they were trained, adjusted their aim points based on the results of their leader’s bomb. Then, in rapid succession, three, no, four hits erupted on three battleships in the middle of Battleship Row. Two hits were squarely on the AA gun decks on different battleships. Fires blossomed.

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