William A. Barr
William Barr was an aviator with the U.S. Naval Air Corps during W.W. II, and flew in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Pacific regions.
William Barr reminds us of a time when we unambiguously exploited our resources and skills, were self-confident, and so were respected and admired around the world.
The Saumrai's Achilles' Heel
According to traditions and legends that reach back three thousand years, Japan as a nation and its people thought themselves superior in culture, invincible in warfare, and impregnable against all invaders. In 1274 AD, Kublai Kahn, the mighty Mongol conqueror, launched a fleet of ships to invade Japan. A typhoon struck his armada and destroyed it. The Japanese called that typhoon Kamikaze, or Divine Wind. Kublai Kahn tried to invade Japan again in 1281 but failed once more. The warrior ruling class, the Saumrai, built on this tradition, elevating it to a national model of strength and a personal code to be proudly demonstrated before the Japanese people at all times. Honor is noble, but humiliation and defeat are so repugnant as to invite hari kari. This deep-rooted culture was inculcated into the hearts and minds of all Japanese warriors and accounts for the tenacity and ferocity Japan's enemies have encountered through the ages.
The first Saumrai were legendary warriors who lived noble and dangerous lives marked by honor, integrity, and loyalty. Such ideals were always evident in the Saumrai in their service to their feudal lords. The Saumrai warrior's service found its ultimate expression in self-sacrifice, even heroic death.
Strangely, Japan and Great Britain have similarities in certain ways. Each nation is a large group of islands offshore from a huge continental land mass. Their isolations fostered in each such common traits as self-sufficiency, unique languages and cultures, naval strength, empire aspirations, and national pride. For instance, each culture has its legendary heroic figures - for the Japanese, their Saumrai heroes; for the Englishman, their famous Knights, such as Richard the Lion-Hearted and King Arthur.
Parallel as Japan and Britain are to this point, further examination reveals contrasts which are stark, differences in the uses made of these noble orders and the roles they played in their respective cultures. The Japanese military elite has consistently inculcated the Saumrai codes into the minds and disciplines of the Japanese by every device to mould their reverence toward ancient warriors and to seriously emulate them. This is in contrast to Knighthood in Britain where ever since the Middle Ages, heroes of the Crusades, for example, were lauded. Orders of Knighthood in Britain were formed involving holy vows of loyalty, such as the Order of the Bath, Order of St. Michael and St. George, and Order of the Thistle, among others. British author, Sir Walter Scott, who wrote extensively concerning Knighthood portrayed Ivanhoe, Sir Lancelot, and Sir Galahad, etc. as fictional heroes to be appreciated as literary entertainment, not warlike inspiration. Scott's writing, however, is merely a lesser part of a huge pantheon of British literary giants from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Dickens and Kipling, all part a rich cultural endowment not equaled nor even approached by Japan's culture through the centuries. What is more, the British never deified their Monarch in the manner of Hirohito to further inspire fanaticism.
[We digress to see the irony in that Jimmy Doolittle's heroism as leader of his Raiders on Japan in April 1942 exemplified and demonstrated the heroic virtues called for by the Saumrai code, but, in contrast, James H. Doolittle was knighted by King George VI and accorded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, neither in keeping with Saumrai elitism.]
[We digress further. For centuries the common Chinese have used a slang term for all Japanese people that translates into our language as "little folk." This usage stems from the fact that, on average, Japanese were about two inches shorter in stature than mainland Orientals (and all Occidentals, for that matter). This disparity lends all the more irony to our subject when we take note of the height of the man who attacked the vulnerable Achilles' heel of the Saumrai when he led his band of Raiders out of Shangri La in April 1942. We speak of the same James H. Doolittle who was, in fact, little. When he stood erect, he measured 5 feet 6 inches!]
Until the middle of the 19th Century, Japan was isolated from Western civilization, ruled by feudal warlords called Shoguns (literally, "Great Generals"). In 1854 Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. carried out missions to Japan to open commercial relations, leading to concessions from the weak Japanese government of the Tokugawa family. The feudal lords of Western Japan reacted to this by making an alliance with Emperor Mutsuhito and by winning a civil war, opening the door to Western technology. By portraying the Emperor as a divine figure and by introducing universal education that glorified his empire, the hearts and minds of the people were universally conditioned to hold their Emperor in awe, he being the 122nd direct descendent of Jimmu Tenno, Japan's legendary founder.
[We add one more ironic flower to our bouquet of oddities by noting that Japan's legendary founder was Jimmu Tenno, while the leader of the Tokyo Raiders in April 1942 was known widely as "Jimmy"!]
The militarists made the Emperor's ministers responsible for modernizing Japan's army and navy. Development began under the control of eight powerful industrial families such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, and Sumitomo. Western experts were invited to modernize Japan's mining, manufacturing, ship building, and transportation industries, as well as their financial structure. All this was a plan spanning generations, and a promotion of the medieval Saumrai elites, a Japanese social class composed of what recent Americans have applied to their own "military-industrial complex."
It became evident to these powerful families that Japan lacked such essentials as iron ore, coal, oil, timber, and other critical items for its industrial development, so armed invasions were carried out into Korea and Manchuria. Thus by the start of the 20th century Japan began to reach for empire status in the Orient. Their aggression in Siberia in 1904 led to the Russo-Japanese war in which the Czar's Russian fleet was badly defeated. In the Treaty of Portsmouth, conducted by President Theodore Roosevelt, Russia was forced to make generous concessions to Japan in Manchuria and offshore Islands.
In World War I Japan made itself a token enemy of Germany. By not firing a shot they benefitted from the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations by gaining mandates over Marshall, Caroline, and Mariana Islands and special privileges in China. In the Washington Naval Conference in 1921-1922, Japan acquiesced to a 3-5-5 ratio of battleships among herself, the USA, and Great Britain, having no intention of holding to such limitations although we and Britain would naively do so.
By this time a consortium of the Saumrai militarists and the eight industrial families had taken control of Japanese affairs by keeping Emperor Hirohito hostage in his own palace and setting all policies in his name and outside of legislative processes. Accordingly in 1931 they provoked a war in Manchuria, overran it, and renamed it Manchukuo. By this time the militarists saw a special destiny for Japan as masters of the Orient and the vast Pacific Ocean. Their propaganda in the schools and the media and the use of the Emperor as an Imperial deity implanted a sense of superiority and invincibility among the Japanese people. On July 7, 1937, a minor incident in Peiping was all the militarists needed to wage full war on China that led to an occupation of all seaboard cities and other key locations. The rape of Nanking in December 1937 was an atrocity amounting to one of the largest human massacres in history and betrays the warped ruthlessness of the military leadership. Japan was limited only by its ability to stretch its army manpower for the occupation of both Manchukuo and all of huge China.
Diplomatically, Japan joined the German-Italian Axis as a partner as World War II developed, recognizing that European entanglement was their great chance. When France fell in May 1940, Japan was quick to invade and occupy French Indochina. After this aggression in Asia in 1940 the U.S. placed an embargo on all oil, scrap iron, and timber going to Japan. On October 17, 1941, Prince Fumimaro Konoye's coalition cabinet was forced out by the aggressive leader of the militarists, General Hideki Tojo, who took control of all affairs and put Japan on a wartime footing with rigid control of industry, agriculture, and the economy.
Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor was a consequence of Japan's vast Asian ambitions and its great need for raw materials such as oil for fuel from the Dutch colonial islands of Borneo and Sumatra while the American-occupied Philippine Islands were positioned to choke off this vital trade route. Their bold attack on Pearl Harbor might well have worked for them had our three aircraft carriers been in port that Sunday morning. We lost battleships but the Pacific naval war was soon to be fought by carriers and their warplanes.
After December 7, 1941, Japan's might was manifest, indeed, with a procession of Japanese conquests such as the Philippines, Guam, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, and Burma. Japan became the lord of all lands and seas stretching from the Aleutians 4,500 miles south to the Solomon Islands, and from Wake Island west 5,000 miles to Burma. We must ask ourselves: What if our three carriers had been in port that Sunday morning? Tojo's regime came so close to accomplishing their destiny - their realization of Japan as the unquestioned master of the entire Eastern world!
Did this Achilles have a weakness?
Listed above is a long list of glorious military conquests that fed assurances to the Japanese. Who was left on that island nation to question policy or practice? All Japan was proud and ready to wear the mantle of power and prestige. Tojo and his military/industrial complex were delivering glory and the people were convinced of their magnificence and superiority. Their control of the Japanese media permitted the Saumrai to condition the minds and hearts of the Japanese by their propaganda, and in their schoolroom textbooks. It was especially easy for those rulers to reinforce existing national pride by reporting conquest after conquest-victory over Russia in 1904, the Pacific island mandates in 1920, Korea and Manchukuo in 1934, subduing China in 1935, occupying French Indo-China in 1940, and all their victories and occupations in late 1941 after Pearl Harbor - the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, Singapore, and the glorious sinking of the British battleships Repulse and King George V. What could shake the confidence the common people of Japan had in their leaders and Saumrai at this point in 1942? All Japanese believed themselves to be superior and impregnable, rightful masters of East Asia and the vast Pacific. Where might be their vulnerability? After countless generations and 122 successions since Jimmu Tenno, their ancient founder, how could their divine Emperor, Hirohito, be anything but all-knowing and just? They felt secure in their homeland after these thousands of years of isolation and invincibility. What could shake their trust in their leadership?
This is the story of the beginning of the end of the Saumrai and the Japanese Empire. This is how it was possible. This is what was done.
A Spark of Light at the Far End of a Long, Dark Tunnel
Almost in desperation in the wake of Japan's parade of conquests, which were at the same time a succession of Allied disasters culminating in the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt asked Chiefs of Staff George P. Marshall and Ernest J. King: What can we do to retaliate for Pearl Harbor so that the morale and confidence of our people and our Allies do not deteriorate? We need to know where is our hope? We must not sink into despair.
As if by the hand of fate, an obscure suggestion came up through channels that on the surface seemed absurd, but this thought eventually worked its way to Adm. Ernest J. King and then to Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold. Could a long-range bomber take off from an American carrier?
It is miraculous that this question wasn't crumpled and tossed into the nearest wastebasket. Nevertheless, Capt. Francis Low, a USN submariner, hat in hand, approached Adm. King, known to be stern and somewhat haughty, and said, "Sir, I've got an idea for bombing Japan." Ernest King's patience was normally short but on this thought he willingly listened. "Suppose some long-range bombers could take off from a carrier deck and bomb Japan." That led Adm. King to urge Capt. Low to contact Capt. Donald Duncan who took the idea seriously and studied it for five days. Duncan came up with a thirty-page, long-hand analysis which narrowed down to the B-25 as the aircraft and the Hornet as the launching carrier - a very fortuitous arrangement.
When this analysis reached Gen. Hap Arnolds's hands, he called for more information. Hap had a special aerial friendship with the famous aviation pioneer, Jimmy Doolittle, going all the way back to San Diego flight training in 1918. Hap had called Jimmy back into the Air Force in 1940. Now he wanted advice on a significant question: "Jim, what bomber do we have that will get off in 500 feet with a two-thousand bomb load and fly two thousand miles?"
Finally, the right question was put to the right person. Jimmy Doolittle responded the next day to conclude that the B-25 Mitchell bomber could be modified to carry out such a mission and quickly volunteered to lead it. Hap Arnold replied that Jimmy was too valuable for such risk.
At that time it was fortunate that the new carrier, the Hornet, had just been commissioned and was ready for a shakedown cruise off of Norfolk. To be safe, the navy arranged to have three B-25 bombers fly to Norfolk and carry out actual takeoffs at sea from the deck of the Hornet. Then and there it was found that the relative wind plus the carrier's speed forward made shorter takeoffs more feasible.
Doolittle was swift to get twenty-four B-25s modified for this exacting purpose: Stripped of defensive armament, certain radio equipment, and any other heavy and unnecessary items; enlarged fuel capacities designed, built and installed. Secrecy of the project was also paramount for the sake of the priceless end result, the safety of the precious aircraft carriers, and the raiders themselves. Time and again Doolittle had to expedite against ho-hum, routine attitudes among ground personnel to get needed things done fast and right. Hap Arnold's "green light" had to be resorted to often.
The selection of the most qualified and available B-25 group was soon settled. Four squadrons from the Seventeenth Bombardment Group flying out of Pendleton, Oregon, were given orders for " voluntary and hazardous duty" and so to fly to Columbia AAFB in South Carolina. Each bomber crew consisted of the pilot, co-pilot, bombardier-navigator, radio operator, and gunner-mechanic; five-man teams to be screened for experience and training. Capt. E. J. "Ski" York, a West Point graduate, was told in confidence the nature of the mission so that he could single out the best qualified men from the Groups. Each one was told that it was a volunteer, risky mission involving short takeoffs, but nothing more.
On March 3, Doolittle met this group of about 140 men at the USAAF training base at Eglin Field in the Florida panhandle where short takeoffs were perfected. He stressed volunteers only, the importance of secrecy, and teamwork. During the three weeks of intensive training at Eglin, preparation came in many forms. Lacking tail guns in the early B-25 models, two broomstick handles painted black were fitted to the tail to deter enemy pursuit. Capt. Ross Greening fashioned twenty-cent "Mark Twain" bombsights that would work better at treetop levels than the top secret Norden bombsight. Anything and everything that Doolittle and his squadron needed to get ready was cleared through Hap Arnold and done promptly. On one weekend Lts. Tom Griffin and Davey Jones were sent to Washington for briefings by USAAF Intelligence on the bombing targets, Chinese landing sites; they were given necessary maps and data folders for all twenty-four bombers.
Late in March Doolittle received this coded message from Hap Arnold: TELL JIMMY TO GET ON HIS HORSE. Training was over. It was time for the squadron to fly out of Eglin Field and proceed separately to McClelland Field in Sacramento, California, which they did by flat-hatting across the U.S., practicing for their low-level kind of Tokyo mission. On April 1, after all the planes were given a complete maintenance check, they were then flown to Alameda NAS to be hoisted aboard the waiting Hornet. When it was determined that only sixteen B-25s could be squeezed onto the flight deck and still permit takeoffs, the rest of the planes were left behind but all personnel were brought aboard as reserves and also to avoid security breaches.
Jimmy considered the strain of recent training when he gave liberty to the pilots and crews that evening. A night on the town in San Francisco for seventy-nine flyboys would seem risky but they were all present and accounted for on the next morning when the motor launch picked them up and delivered them to the Hornet on schedule. On that April day a convoy force of seven ships escorted the Hornet with its sixteen USAAF bombers in full display on its flight deck. As this task force sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge it prompted much speculation as to its purpose. Stories were leaked that the bombers were being ferried to the Pacific to give a plausible spin to the spectacle.
Once out to sea, Hornet Captain Marc Mitscher announced over the ship speaker, "Now hear this! The Hornet will take the Army bombers to a launching site near Japan to bomb Tokyo." This news finally put to bed all speculation concerning such unique circumstances. Wariness and doubt, army-navy rivalry, crowding, and inconveniences gave way immediately to comradeship, cooperation, and the collective delight to be part of such a brilliant operation.
Now there would be sixteen days of mellow-fellow aboard during which Doolittle would brief his men on the details of their mission such as escape, evasion tactics, expected enemy defenses, fuel conservation measures, and the five target cities: Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Yokohama, and Kobe. At this point, all believed that Chinese airfields were prepared for their landings, refueling, and further flight on to Chungking. They were also briefed on first aid by Lt. Thomas R. White, a physician who volunteered for the mission as a gunner on bomber number 15.
There was one prohibition made clear to all crews. From the start, when Davey Jones and Tom Griffin were briefed in Washington by AAF Intelligence back in February, they were instructed: THOU SHALT NOT BOMB THE JAPANESE EMPEROR'S PALACE. Now on the Hornet, about to carry out their mission, that instruction was stressed over and over to one and all. There was no confusion on this.
When the eight-ship task force reached the 180th meridian sailing west, they were joined by another eight ships including the carrier Enterprise with Adm. William E. "Bull" Halsey aboard. Since the Hornet's deck was crammed with army bombers and thus unable to use its own planes below in the hanger deck, a second carrier, the Enterprise, was there to provide air cover and scouting surveillance.
Improvised accommodations were necessary for the army guests on the Hornet. Folding cots were added to the normal quarters for officers and men. Inevitably the poker playing skills of the navy and army were put to the test. Scuttlebutt had it that navy sharks tasted much army blood, not that money mattered much when a deadly and dangerous mission lay ahead.
As the expanded task force approached Japan, Jimmy Doolittle had the presence of mind to bring along medals that had been bestowed on him previously by the Japanese for his aviation pioneering. Photographers were on hand to picture Jimmy's grin of satisfaction while wiring one of his medals to the fin of a 500-pound bomb destined for a Tokyo tank factory.
By mid-April task force refueling was completed so that oil tankers and some destroyers could turn back, four days before the scheduled takeoffs. Heavy seas and brisk winds tested the nausea tolerance of the army "landlubbers" aboard.
Taking Flight from a Moving See-Saw
At dawn on April 18, 1942, Admiral Halsey's task force found itself bucking forty-knot headwinds and thirty-foot swells that made each ship ride like a bucking bronco. Soon they would be on their way toward Japan to retaliate for the Japanese "dastardly" bombing of Pearl Harbor four months before, that "day of infamy" as expressed so eloquently by our President in his summary to a joint session of Congress. Now the Hornet carried on its pitching flight deck sixteen USAAF B-25 twin-engine bombers lashed down against the fury of a Pacific storm while eighty raiders were hunkered down waiting to reach their launching site still hundreds of miles toward Japan.
But the unexpected suddenly happened. The Japanese positioned a screen of fishing trawlers strung out 800 miles off shore to the east that also served as pickets and one of them was discovered at 05:58 by Lt. O. B. Wiseman flying on patrol in an SBD airplane off the Enterprise. With radio silence invoked, Wiseman scribbled his reckoned position on paper and handed it down to his gunner to put in a waterproof pouch. They dove through clouds, flew over the Enterprise, lowered flaps, and dropped the pouch on the flight deck. When Halsey read the note, his chief concern was to remove the navy's two precious carriers from danger now that the enemy had seen and reported them. Halsey immediately dispatched the cruiser Nashville to sink the picket with its main salvo at 900 yards but the rolling seas made accurate fire impossible. Finally, after forty minutes and 938 rounds of 6" shells, down went the trawler, radio and all.
Meantime, here was Halsey's predicament: their mission called for the task force to deliver the raiding bombers to a point five hundred miles from Japan, but instead they were still eight or nine hours sailing time (or 250 extra miles) away from the planned launching site. The Admiral was compelled to protect the carriers above all else, little knowing the exact consequences to the Raiders who would be forced to expend 250 extra miles worth of their precious fuel and thus be unable to reach the planned Chinese landing sites. Now where would they land? Any delay in launching would increase the danger of the loss of two of his carriers when at that time our navy was down to only four carriers in all the vast Pacific theater.
So at 08:00 Adm. Halsey gave this order: LAUNCH PLANES X TO COL. DOOLITTLE AND GALLANT COMMAND GOOD LUCK AND GOD BLESS YOU.
Try to imagine the immediate scurry on the Hornet flight deck of army and navy personnel on short notice at such an unexpected command. No time for breakfast, or to pack belongings, or get seasick. The CV-6 Hornet ship and crew were fresh from commissioning and without cruise, much less combat experience. (Not "salty" in navy lingo). Try to visualize the pitch and roll of the ship and the saltwater spray of the storm as well. Also, attempts were made at the last minute to fill and stow five-gallon tins of extra aviation fuel in each bomber. All of the chocks and tie down ropes had to be released, engine and turret covers removed and stowed, all these measures plane-by-plane amid engine start-ups and revving. Simultaneously, sixteen crews were reviewing check lists, stowing loose items such as flight gear, parachutes, navigation instruments, life rafts, ammo, survival gear, etc., all done frantically rather than by deliberate procedure.
Please also appreciate that none of these pilots, Doolittle himself included, (nor anyone anywhere) had ever taken off in this situation, that is, a two-engine army bomber from a partial deck of a naval carrier, much less on a heaving see-saw flight deck in a storm, and all this on sudden notice. As practiced, the LSO (landing signal officer Lt. Edgar Osbourne, waved instructions by flag signals, revving up, more revs, etc. and then, at the exact moment, releasing the footbrakes for the start of the takeoff run. That moment must be at the precise time the plane reaches the bow of the ship, as the bow lifts in the wave cycle. The boost of the rising deck proved as beneficial as a lowering deck would be disastrous by launching the bomber down into the oncoming wave. Such intuitive coordination comes by uncommon savvy, not to be found in instruction manuals.
The takeoff path of a mere 467 feet to the bow was to follow two critical lines painted on the Hornet flight deck; the inboard white line was to guide the nose wheel and the yellow line was for the left wheel which runs a mere sixty inches from the starboard edge of the flight deck, and in so doing, assures that the right wingtip will clear the superstructure of the conning tower by the same snug margin. Obviously, the B-25 and the Essex-class carrier were not designed for each other. Here was classic improvisation, often the key difference in the annals of warfare between victories and defeats.
Col. Doolittle in plane one took to the air at 08:20. His climb tended to "hang on his props," close to a stall. Travis Hoover in plane two followed in five minutes and also came near to stalling in his steep climb. It was then that the conning tower blackboard was changed to: "STABLIZER IN NEUTRAL" so that the rest of the planes were launched without incident except plane seven. Lt. Ted Lawson's plane somehow took off with flaps up and came dangerously close to being swallowed up by an oncoming wave but somehow it eventually managed to clear the whitecaps and struggle into the air.
The last plane on the deck, piloted by Lt. Bill Farrow, also proved to be a special case. Plane sixteen's rear half extended way over the flight deck stern. Loading its rear compartment could not be done until the other planes were out of the way. Six deck handlers held down Farrow's nose wheel while he revved up his engines to inch his plane forward. Just then the Hornet rocked and sea foam streaked across the deck making deck work all the more dangerous. One of the six deck handlers, Mechanics Mate Bob Wall, lost his footing as the Hornet lurched and he slid into plane sixteen's left propeller sweep, amputating Wall's left arm. Amazingly, this was the only severe casualty among the Hornet crew despite the wild conditions and confusing circumstances of that fateful morning.
Farrow's bomber finally took off at 09:20, exactly one hour after Doolittle's rise into the air at which point Adm. Halsey wasted no time in ordering the task force out of harm's way on a course headed back to Pearl Harbor. With the Hornet deck clear of bombers, its own complement of warplanes were lifted on the elevators and resumed flying along with the planes from the Enterprise. Their search and patrol flights found no enemy in pursuit. Mission accomplished. Meantime Doolittle's Raiders were giving Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe a taste of their own medicine and the fortunes of war began to shift our way.
Divine Wind vs. The Divine Hand of Fate
What to say about Imperial Japan's invincibility, superiority and destiny as the master nation of the Far East and the vast Pacific Ocean? What had been the ingrained assurance in the minds and souls of all Japanese for countless generations, and confirmed by military victory after victory since 1904, was brought to question for the first time by the 32 bombs dropped on five Japanese cities by the sixteen Doolittle Raider bombers on April 18, 1942, 132 days after the Pearl Harbor abomination!
Who could deny what was there to see and hear and suffer from those bombs? Premier Tojo, the leader of the Saumrai elites was caught in seeming disgrace and embarrassment after having assured the Japanese public that retaliation for the Pearl Harbor attack would never bring harm to the Japanese homeland. No doubt, an emergency meeting of the Saumrai elites took place immediately to deal with this sudden loss of face, this threat to their political ascendency, this subversion of their sacred code.
There had always been factions, even within the Japanese ruling class. The army contended with the navy for appropriations and for strategic control. There were hot heads vs. cool cucumbers. After the bombs fell there came a call for unity and resolve among these powerful groups to deal with this new crisis - the Saumrai's problem of exposed vulnerability. The raid also made a statement: that the United States of America was not ready to sue for peace nor call for negotiations, but rather, was resolved to unleash furious retaliation with the exercise of its military and industrial power.
In the face of this crisis, the Saumrai unified on a solution proposed by one of their leading elites, Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. He proposed that a smashing naval victory would erase the disgrace at home and also persuade the U.S. to conciliate for the conclusion of a shortened war with Japan, permitting the U.S. to concentrate on the war in Europe already under way. Yamamoto envisioned that the Far East and the vast Pacific would become "a Japanese lake." He proceeded to assemble a massive armada for the invasion of Midway Island that included a diversionary feint toward the Aleutians.
By early June, six short weeks after the Doolittle raid, the Japanese fleet was bearing down on Midway with more than 160 warships not counting patrol, landing craft, and the diversionary group attacking Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. Yamamoto's intention was to obliterate the U.S. fleet at its weakest moment and remove it as the last threat to Japan's fulfillment of its ultimate destiny.
Central to this armada were the same four aircraft carriers, pilots, and airplanes that had rained death and destruction on Pearl Harbor only six months before. All that Adm. Nimitz could muster to resist this invasion force were his remaining two carriers, the Hornet and the Enterprise, the same two of the Doolittle raid, plus a limping and late Yorktown, which was still under frantic repair.
One small advantage favored Adm. Nimitz at the moment. U.S. intelligence had broken the Japanese code and had advance indications of Yamamoto's intensions. Nimitz deployed his two carriers to a rendezvous at a location known on the map as "Point luck," north and west of Midway, with bushwhacking enemy carriers in mind. Once the enemy fleet was spotted by PBY search planes, U.S. B-17 bombers from Midway and Hornet torpedo planes went hitless in the futile first phase. Meantime, Japanese carrier planes devastated Midway and were returning to their carriers for refueling and rearming for a second strike. Five other groups of planes from the American carriers launched and were having trouble finding each other. Hornet dive bombers reached their range limit and had to return in frustration. Up to this point in the battle, nothing had gone as planned nor had the enemy been damaged. All this indicated poor surveillance, inept coordination, and futile execution.
Suddenly, in a fateful five minutes, the fortunes of the Pacific war were reversed, not by the Divine Wind that destroyed Kublai Khan's invasion fleet in 1281, but rather by the Divine Hand of Fate that set the table for Uncle Sam's hungry aviators. Enterprise dive bombers finally sighted three of the four Japanese carriers when their decks were strewn with bombs, gasoline and crowded planes - at the very time of their greatest peril, when they were getting ready for a second strike against Midway. While enemy fighters were busy at sea level shooting down our torpedo bombers, the skies above were unprotected. Dive bombers of the Enterprise dropped their eggs on the crowded decks below without resistance. The Kaga and the Akagi became instant infernos as explosions of their own torpedoes ripped them apart. As if by more divine guidance, dive bombers from the Yorktown then arrived to share in the feast. They sealed the fate of the Soryu in similar fashion, but Japanese torpedo planes from the fourth enemy carrier, the Hiryu, happened by and were able to locate the Yorktown by following Yorktown's own dive bombers as they returned home from their feast, and in so doing the Hiryu planes torpedoed and crippled it, forcing all Yorktown planes still in the air to be orphans on the two remaining American carriers. With great zeal, those same planes took off the next day, tracked down the Hiryu, and sank it to complete the extermination of all four of the Japan's prize carriers.
Without his carriers, Yamamoto was obliged to cancel the invasion of Midway Island, turn tail and return with his armada to his homeland in humiliation, ironically, a disgrace to be avoided at all costs by devout Saumrai warriors.
The battle of Midway suddenly turned out to be a spectacular and fateful victory. All four Japanese carriers were sunk with all 332 of their planes and all their seasoned pilots as well.
The hand of fate that kept our aircraft carriers at sea at Pearl Harbor in December reappeared on our behalf again in June at Midway, the turning point of the Pacific war. It prolonged the war long enough for America's war production to build to overwhelming proportions that Japan could not match, with or without the Saumrai.
The Winds of War
Since the Mariana Turkey Shoot in June 1944, in which USN pilots in their new Hellcat and Corsair fighters flying from the new Essex-Class carriers proved their superiority by sweeping skies of Japanese pilots and airplanes, Japanese military leaders were compelled to resort to desperate measures. Following the June disaster in the Marianas, but before he was forced to step down as Prime Minister, Saumrai Shogun Hideki Tojo set forth a desperate fall-back plan for Japan's eventual survival. The first measure was to round up youthful, idealistic zealots - those ready to give their lives in keeping with the ancient Saumrai codes - to be trained just enough to fly land-based bombers on suicide runs against American ships. Tojo assigned Rear Admiral Arima to plan and execute an ongoing tactical unit called Special Attack Force that was ready to trade the loss of Japanese planes and pilots for the destruction of enemy warships. The Saumrai remnant reached back to medieval history for the symbol of Japan's invincibility and named it Kamikaze (literally, Divine Wind, or "Wind of the Gods"), harking back to Kublai Kahn's tempest-tossed invasion fleets that foundered off Japan in the 13th century.
The Japanese war cabinet grew even more desperate after their failure to thwart the Leyte Gulf landings in the Philippines in October 1944. It was time to unleash Kamikaze with all of its Saumrai implications of traditional heroic courage, duty, and loyalty. Flying from Mindanao and Clark Fields, a squadron of Zeke fighters armed with improvised bombs attacked Rear Admiral Sprague's Taffy 3 task force just after their miraculous survival in the Battle off Samar. Using dive bombing tactics, suicide strikes hit the jeep carriers Kitkun Bay, Kalinin Bay, and St. Lo. The first two carriers were severely damaged but saved by damage control, but the St. Lo became the first of many Kamikaze fatalities when its gasoline and torpedo stores were set on fire, blowing the unfortunate jeep carrier apart on October 25.
From that start, Kamikaze tactics grew to be the last hope of Japan's war council. In the Allied invasions of Mindoro Island (Dec. 1944) and Lingayen Gulf on Luzon (Jan. 1945), the use of suicide attacks increased so that by the invasion of Okinawa (April 1945), Japan flew more than 6,000 Kamikaze missions against U.S. ships causing great damage and many deaths, but not enough damage to prevent our support of invasions one after another. It is significant to note that in spite of the considerable damage Kamikaze caused, not one of the eleven Essex-class carriers went to the bottom of the sea in all of World War II.
Japan's Divine Wind vs. Our Divine Hand of Fate
The other serious threat to our landing forces and naval operations in the Pacific theater was the power of nature. While our Third Fleet was beginning to store up for the next phase of landings on December 18, stormy seas caused refueling lines to break, and refueling to cease. A typhoon hit the China Seas so severely that three destroyers capsized, and seven other ships were heavily damaged, 186 airplanes were lost, and over 800 officers and crewmen were swept overboard. How ironic that such a tempest had ruined Kublai Kahn's invasion fleet in the year 1274, and that such a typhoon loomed to threaten Japan's mortal enemy once more, and at such a critical moment!
Wind force 26 knots; barometer, 29.74. By morning the Third Fleet found itself at sea, low on fuel, and in the center of a convulsive, diabolic, furious tropical typhoon. Destroyers needing ballast, escort carriers, and mine sweepers all struggled to survive as they danced on the wave crests. When their sterns would not answer to the helms, each skipper prayed to avert the maw of the typhoon's vortex.
As we ponder the matter of Divine intervention in momentous conflicts, we are prone to see the Hand of God in the fact that our only three Pacific-based aircraft carriers were at sea on separate missions on that day of infamy and so realized no damage at Pearl Harbor, for if they had been destroyed also, the war would have been short and tragic.
We are prone to realize that the heavy seas and strong headwinds out turned to be beneficial to Col. Doolittle's Raiders as they took to the air on short notice in a tight 475-foot-long runway, all sixteen bombers being launched upward into the strong headwind.
When the Doolittle Raiders were scattered all over vast China, many Americans were miraculously herded together and saved from the Japanese by a bi-lingual helper, a Christian missionary named John Birch, who later served on Gen. Chennault's 14th Air Force staff until killed in 1945.
We are quick to appreciate that in the Battle of Midway we did everything wrong at the start but suddenly, in a matter of five minutes - at the moment of their extreme vulnerability, with bombs and gasoline scattered on deck for a second mission -four Japanese carriers were blown out of the water, requiring Adm. Yamamoto to retreat with his fleet and invasion armada to his Japanese homeland in utter disgrace.
We soon recognize that Adm. Kurita had our forces overwhelmed off of Samar Island and could have destroyed our invasion operations on our Leyte beachhead were it not for Adm. Sprague's Taffy 3 baby flattops dodging in and out of rainsqualls and smokescreens and for his intrepid tin cans charging full tilt in the face of certain destruction. Kurita unexpectedly turned tail and returned home, also in disgrace.
General Patton ordered his Chaplain to compose a prayer petitioning for clear skies over Bastogne. That prayer was met and our air power came to the rescue of "the bulge."
We are compelled to consider the Saumrai's own ideology that a divine hand (Kami means God), that the Mongols of Kublai Kahn were swept away in their invasion attempt, inferring that their Kami has been a divine patron of that chosen Island nation ever since the 13th century.
We recall that Doolittle and his seventy-nine brave airmen were emphatically briefed not to damage Emperor Hirohito or his palace due to the reverence Japanese have for him as their Divine Ruler.
When the Doolittle Raiders dropped all thirty-two of their 500-pound bombs on Tokyo and four other Japanese cities in April 1942, the first seeds of doubt in Saumrai invincibility were planted.
When Adm. Yamamoto was forced to retreat from Midway in June 1942, those seeds were cultivated.
When we were victorious in the Marianas in June 1944, thereby bringing the homeland of Japan within bombing range of our B-29 bombers, those seeds grew enough to expel Tojo as Premier.
When Adm. Kurita's armada was unable to prevent the Leyte Island landings in the Philippines in October 1944, Japan's lifeline of critical fuel was cut and the seeds of doubt flourished.
When the all-too-true typhoon of December 1944 failed to founder our Third Fleet as did the legendary tempest that saved Japan from the invading Mongols in 1274, the Saumrai sense of invincibility was gone with the wind.
Fair is fair. Were we blessed by a Divine Hand at critical times? Yes, indeed! Many times.
But were the Japanese blessed by their Kami in World War II?
In late 1945, Emperor Hirohito felt compelled to respectfully request an appointment to visit Gen. MacArthur to pay his respects early in our occupation of his once-proud nation. Humiliation is an abomination to the Saumrai code of honor. At last, after countless generations, and after utter defeat, the Saumrai traditions were laid to rest amid the smoldering ashes of a once-invincible nation.
Historical note. After World War II, Hideki Tojo, the preeminent Saumrai exponent and perpetrator, was tried and convicted of countless crimes against humanity. He was hung along with the cruelest of his infamous Generals, spurning hara kiri and suffering shame and defeat at the end of a rope, thus taking with them the last vestiges of Japan's Saumrai military traditions.
Adieu and Amen. *