Dec 4

Impact of Japanese Source Materials on “No One Avoided Danger”: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attacks of 7 December 1941

Friday, December 4, 2015 12:01 AM

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Upon the publication of “No One Avoided Danger”: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attacks of 7 December 1941, Naval Institute Press invited me to share some of the observations that my co-authors, Robert J. Cressman and John F. Di Virgilio, and I faced when we researched American and Japanese source materials for our book. This post is intended to illustrate the impact Japanese source materials had on the compilation of “No One Avoided Danger.”

Nowhere are the difficulties of writing military history more apparent than in presenting the history of World War II in the Pacific using Japanese source materials. Use of these documents can be an overwhelming undertaking. Gaining access to World War II materials in Japan is a daunting task and presents logistical and financial issues, not including the barriers of language and culture. After overcoming these problems, one must interleave American and Japanese material into a seamless narrative—seldom a straightforward task. By facing these issues head on, the authors—while certainly not arriving at a perfect result—strove to deliver a manuscript more authentic in its presentation and far more satisfying in its universal appeal. Our efforts are best illustrated in two specific areas.

Japanese Aircraft Group Battle Reports (Hikōkitai no Sentō Kōdōchōshos)

One of the thorniest issues in compiling Japanese combat narratives is establishment of authoritative timelines that can be layered with, or at least compared to, their American equivalents. Regarding the attacks on Hawai‘i on 7 December 1941, timelines are particularly vexing given the problems and inaccuracies with respect to the timing given in American accounts. In particular, while the U.S. Navy’s action reports and accounts from the attacks on NAS Kaneohe Bay were fairly accurate as to what happened on the ground, the Japanese picture of events remained muddled at best. In a historiographical stroke of good fortune, virtually all of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s air group reports, or kōdōchōshos, survived World War II, in contrast to their aircraft carrier action reports, of which very few have survived.

A kōdōchōsho was an air group‒level report documenting the action described, with a complete tactical roster of aircrews, weather, statistical data regarding damage inflicted on the enemy, and losses among friendly aircraft and crews. Most importantly, the form (generally two pages for a large strike group) incorporated a carefully maintained timeline that detailed takeoffs, landings, air-to-air actions, and attacks on enemy objectives. The authors made heavy use of these reports from the carriers Shōkaku, Zuikaku, and Sōryū, whose units struck the naval air station at Kaneohe.

The American accounts varied so widely with respect to timing that it was almost impossible to reconstruct a flow of events without the meticulous Japanese air group records. This was particularly true in establishing a valid chronology for the Japanese high-level bombing of the second attack wave. The Japanese accounts served as the principal foundation onto which the American accounts could be set. Ironically, in many cases the Japanese material actually validated American observations that, on the surface, appeared to be totally incorrect.

Official Photography of the Japanese Navy

In an act of wanton destruction, the Imperial Navy destroyed nearly all of its photographic archives near the end of World War II. What survived remained in the hands of Japanese veterans who, along with their personal papers, survived the conflict. Eventually many of these images came into the possession of Japanese publishing concerns. Virtually all motion-picture film to survive the war was in the form of newsreel footage. Again, we mined these resources in an effort to properly interpret Japanese air actions during the horizontal bombing of NAS Kaneohe Bay. The direction of these attacks and the altitude from which they were executed had long remained a mystery. Two specific photographs showed, however, that the Japanese were unable to bomb from the prescribed altitude of six thousand feet, being forced by cloud cover to spiral down to fifteen hundred feet. According to our interview with one Japanese bombardier, the Navy’s bombsights would not even function at such a height. This revelation, along with other data, explained the rather miserable bombing results on the station and the odd appearance of Japanese motion-picture footage from the attacks that could not have been accounted for otherwise.

During their descent and final deployment, the Shōkaku’s Nakajima Type 97 attack bombers under the command of Lt. Ichihara Tatsuo fly east at about 2,000 feet, just above the heavy cloud cover over the He‘eia fish pond along the southern shore of Kāne‘ohe Bay, Winter rains have inundated the area south of the fish pond, Note the armament of two 250 kilogram bombs under aircraft EI 325 at center, and under EI 329 at right. (Maru magazine)

During their descent and final deployment, the Shōkaku’s Nakajima Type 97 attack bombers under the command of Lt. Ichihara Tatsuo fly east at about 2,000 feet, just above the heavy cloud cover over the He‘eia fish pond along the southern shore of Kāne‘ohe Bay, Winter rains have inundated the area south of the fish pond, Note the armament of two 250 kilogram bombs under aircraft EI 325 at center, and under EI 329 at right. (Maru magazine)

Rather than providing any validation for the authors, however, the discovery and effective use of the Japanese sources illustrated a more general wisdom. In order to arrive at the “truth” regarding air combat of the Pacific War, it will always be necessary to incorporate the source material from both sides. Historians must be prepared to make the required sacrifices to bring this about.

 

wenger5.indd To hear more about “No One Avoided Danger,” J. Michael Wenger will speak at the following venues, which are open to the public.

7 December, noon, “Pearl Harbor Day,”U.S. Navy Memorial, 701 Pennsylvania Ave NW, #123, Washington, DC

10 December, 2:00-3:30pm, “Colloquium Lecture” JHU’s Applied Physics Laboratory, Parson’s Auditorium, 11100 Johns Hopkins Rd., Laurel, MD 20723

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