Mitsuo Fuchida

Mitsuo Fuchida

Captain Mitsuo Fuchida
Born 3 December 1902
Nara Prefecture, Japan
Died 30 May 1976 (1976-05-31) (aged 73)
Kashiwara, near Osaka, Japan
Allegiance Empire of Japan
Service/branch  Imperial Japanese Navy
Rank Captain
Unit 1st Air Fleet
Commands held Akagi: 1st (flag), 2nd and 3rd air squadrons
Battles/wars World War II
(China, Attack on Pearl Harbor, Attack on Darwin, Indian Ocean raid, Battle of Midway)
Other work Christian Missionary
Fuchida in training for attack on Pearl Harbor

Mitsuo Fuchida (淵田 美津雄 Fuchida Mitsuo?, 3 December 1902 – 30 May 1976) was a Japanese Captain[1] in the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service and a bomber pilot in the Imperial Japanese Navy before and during World War II. He is perhaps best known for leading the first air wave attacks on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Fuchida was responsible for the coordination of the entire aerial attack working under the overall fleet commander Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo.

After World War II ended, Fuchida became an evangelist Christian preacher and frequently travelled to the United States to minister to the Japanese expatriate community. He became a United States citizen in 1966.[2]


Early life

Mitsuo Fuchida was born in what is now part of Katsuragi, Nara Prefecture, Japan. He entered the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy at Etajima, Hiroshima in 1921 where he met and befriended classmate Minoru Genda and discovered the interest of flying airplanes. Specializing in horizontal bombing, Fuchida gained such prowess that he was made an instructor. Assigned to the aircraft carrier Kaga in 1929, followed by the Sasebo Air Group, he gained combat experience during air operations in the Second Sino-Japanese War in the late 1930s and was considered one of Japan’s most skillful fliers. He was promoted to lieutenant commander and was accepted into the Naval Staff College. Fuchida joined the aircraft carrier Akagi in 1939 as a flight commander. By that time he was an experienced pilot with over 3,000 hours of flight experience.[3]

Service in World War II

On Sunday, 7 December 1941, a Japanese attack force under the command of Admiral Chūichi Nagumo consisting of six carriers with 423 aircraft was poised to attack the United States base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu. At 06:00, the first wave of 183 Japanese dive bombers, torpedo bombers and fighters took off from the carriers located 370 km (230 mi) north of Oahu, and headed for the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

At 07:20, Fuchida, commanding the air group, led the way down the island's eastern side then banked west and flew along the southern coast past the city of Honolulu. He believed his approach had not been detected by the U.S. Army radar station on Oahu. However, two U.S. soldiers manning the radar installation notified a superior officer of the discovery of a large incoming air formation, but the officer chose to ignore it believing the blips to be USAAF bombers arriving from California.

Meanwhile Fuchida had ordered "Tenkai" ("take attack position"). At 07:40 Hawaiian Standard Time, seeing all peaceful at Pearl Harbor, Fuchida slid back the canopy of his Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 Model 3 "Kate" torpedo bomber and fired a green flare, the signal to attack.

At 07:49, Fuchida instructed his radio operator, Petty Officer 1st Class Norinobu Mizuki, to send the coded signal "To, To, To" (Totsugeskiseyo, or "charge!") to his aircraft. Fuchida’s pilot Lieutenant Mitsuo Matsuzaki guided the B5N in a sweep around Barber’s Point, Oahu.

At 07:53, Fuchida ordered Mizuki to send back to the carrier Akagi, the flagship of 1st Air Fleet, the code words "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (虎 tora is Japanese for "tiger" but in this case "To" is the initial syllable of the Japanese word 突撃 totsugeki meaning "charge" or "attack" and "ra" is the initial syllable of 雷撃 raigeki meaning "torpedo attack". The three word message meant that complete surprise had been achieved in the attack.[4] Due to favorable atmospheric conditions the transmission of the 'Tora Tora Tora' code words from the moderately powered transmitter were heard over the ship's radio in Japan by Admiral Yamamoto and his staff, who were sitting up through the night awaiting word on the attack.[5]

The first Japanese assault wave, with 51 Aichi D3A "Val" dive bombers, 40 "Kate" carrying torpedoes, 50 "Kates" carrying bombs for high-level attacks and 43 A6M Zero fighters, commenced the attack.

As the first wave of the attack made its way back to its carriers, Fuchida remained over the target in order to assess damage and to observe the second wave attack. He returned to his carrier after the second wave successfully completed its mission. With great pride, he announced that the U.S. battleship fleet had been destroyed; USS Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, California and Nevada were sunk. Upon returning from Pearl Harbor Fuchida inspected his "Kate" and found 21 large anti-aircraft holes and the main control wire barely held together by a thread. The successful attack against the United States made Fuchida a national hero earning him an audience with Emperor Hirohito himself.

On 19 February 1942, Fuchida led the first of two waves of 188 aircraft in a devastating air raid on Darwin, Australia. On 5 April, he led another series of air attacks by carrier-based Japanese aircraft against Royal Navy bases in Ceylon, which was the headquarters of the British Eastern Fleet, in what Winston Churchill described as "the most dangerous moment" of World War II.

In "the most dangerous moment" of World War II, HMS Cornwall is attacked and sunk by Japanese dive bombers in the Indian Ocean on 5 April 1942.

In June, Fuchida was wounded at the Battle of Midway while onboard Akagi. Unable to fly while recovering from an emergency shipboard appendectomy a few days before the battle, he was present on the ship's bridge during the morning attacks. After Akagi was hit by U.S. bombers, a chain reaction from burning fuel and live bombs began the self-destruction of the ship. When flames blocked the doorway out of the bridge, the officers evacuated down a rope and as Fuchida climbed down, an explosion threw him to the deck breaking both of his ankles.

After recuperation, he spent the rest of the war as a staff officer. Fuchida was in Hiroshima the day before the atom bomb was dropped, attending a week-long military conference with the Imperial Japanese Army. He had received a long distance call from Navy Headquarters asking him to return to Tokyo and returned to Hiroshima the day after the bombing on a party sent to examine and assess the damage of the bomb. Later, all members of Fuchida's search party died from radiation poisoning but Fuchida suffered no symptoms.[6]

Postwar activities

After the war, Fuchida was called on to testify at the trials of some of the Japanese military for Japanese war crimes. This infuriated him as he believed this was little more than "victor's justice". Convinced that the Americans had treated the Japanese the same way and determined to bring that evidence to the next trial, in the spring of 1947, Fuchida went to Uraga Harbor near Yokosuka to meet a group of returning Japanese prisoners of war. He was surprised to find his former flight engineer, Kazuo Kanegasaki, who all had believed had died in the Battle of Midway. When questioned, Kanegasaki told Fuchida that they were not tortured or abused, much to Fuchida's disappointment, then went on to tell him of a young lady who served them with the deepest love and respect, but whose parents, missionaries, had been killed by Japanese soldiers on the island of Panay in the Philippines.

For Fuchida, this was inexplicable, as in the Bushido code revenge was not only permitted, it was a responsibility for an offended party to carry out revenge to restore honor. The murderer of one's parents would be a sworn enemy for life. He became almost obsessed trying to understand why anyone would treat their enemies with love and forgiveness.

In the fall of 1948, Fuchida was passing by the bronze statue of Hachiko at the Shibuya Station when he was handed a pamphlet about the life of Jacob DeShazer, a member of the Doolittle Raid who was captured by the Japanese after his B-25 Mitchell ran out of fuel over occupied China. In the pamphlet "I Was a Prisoner of Japan"[7] DeShazer, himself a former U.S. Army Air Force Staff Sergeant and bombardier, told his story of imprisonment, torture and his account of an "awakening to God". It was from this experience that Fuchida reportedly decided to pursue a post-wartime role as a Christian missionary.

In 1951, he, along with a colleague, published an account of the Battle of Midway from the Japanese side. In 1952, Fuchida toured the United States as a member of the Worldwide Christian Missionary Army of Sky Pilots. Fuchida remained dedicated to a similar initiative as the group for the remainder of his life.

In February 1954, Reader's Digest published Fuchida's story of the attack on Pearl Harbor.[8] Fuchida also wrote and co-wrote books including, From Pearl Harbor to Golgotha (aka From Pearl Harbor to Calvary) and a 1955 expansion of his 1951 book Midway (aka Midway: The Battle that Doomed Japan, the Japanese Navy's Story). Fuchida's story is also recounted in God's Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor (The Warriors) by Donald Goldstein, Katherine V. Dillon and Gordon W. Prange.

Fuchida died of complications caused by diabetes in Kashiwara, near Osaka on 30 May 1976 at the age of 73.

A reappraisal

Fuchida's place in history requires careful consideration. He was undoubtedly an important figure in the early portion of the Pacific War. Likewise, his written accounts form an equally important component of the first generation of translated Japanese literature regarding that phase of the Pacific conflict. However, as more Japanese source works have been translated into English, the veracity of some of Fuchida's statements have been called into question. These include his account of the Pearl Harbor attack (particularly the hypothetical third-wave attack against Pearl Harbor's fuel tanks); several facets of the Battle of Midway (most prominently the readiness of Japan's aircraft carriers to launch a counterattack when they were themselves bombed during the morning of 4 June, 1942); and the details of Fuchida's alleged attendance on the battleship U.S.S. Missouri during the Japanese Surrender Ceremony in 1945. These issues are considered in detail in Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully's book, Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway[9] as well as an article Parshall subsequently published in the U.S. Naval War College Review. In the latter, Parshall asserts that "it is doubtful that any one person has had a more deleterious long term impact on the study of the Pacific War than Mitsuo Fuchida."[10]

In popular culture

In the 1970 film Tora, Tora, Tora, Fuchida was portrayed by Japanese actor Takahiro Tamura.


  1. ^ "Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida (1902-1976." Retrieved: 16 July 2011.
  2. ^ Wright 1998, p. 141.
  3. ^ Goldstein et al. 1990, p. 5.
  4. ^ Agawa 2000, p. 267.
  5. ^ Prange 1982, p. 515.
  6. ^ Goldstein et al. 1990, pp. 178–179.
  7. ^ "Jacob DeShazer: Member of the Doolittle Raid and a prisoner of Japan." Retrieved: 16 July 2011.
  8. ^ Fuchida, Capt. Mitsuo. "I Led the Attack on Pearl Harbor". Reader's Digest, Vol. 64, No. 382, February 1954.
  9. ^ Parshall and Tully 2005, pp. 437–442.
  10. ^ Parshall, Jonathan. "Reflecting on Fuchida, or A Tale of Three Whoppers." Naval War College Review, Spring 2010, pp. 127–138.
  • Agawa, Hiroyuki. The Reluctant Admiral: Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2000. ISBN 4-7700-2539-4.
  • Fuchida, Mitsuo and Masatake Okumiya, Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan, the Japanese Navy's Story, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis Maryland, 1955, Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 55-9027.
  • Goldstein, Donald, Katherine V. Dillon and Gordon W. Prange. God's Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor (The Warriors). Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2003. ISBN 1-57488-695-9.
  • "Pearl Harbor." Military History
  • Parshall, Jonathan and Anthony Tully. Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2005. ISBN 978-1574889246.
  • Peattie, Mark R., Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power 1909-1941, Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2001, ISBN 1-55750-432-6.
  • Prange, Gordon W. At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. New York: Penguin Books, 1982. ISBN 978-0140157345.
  • Wright, Mike. What They Didn't Teach You About World War II. New York: Presidio Press, 1998. ISBN 0-89141-649-8.

External links

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