Thursday, February 26, 2015

Memories of a Pearl Harbor and Midway IJN Veteran

Mori Juzo's autobiography, The Miraculous Torpedo Squadron is a rare first-hand account of Japanese Navy carrier operations at Midway in the Second World War.

By Mori Juzo, translated by Nick Voge
Mori Juzo was a torpedo bomber pilot of the Imperial Japanese Navy and one of the aviators who participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor as well as the attack on the Midway Atoll some six months later. In 1973, Juzo wrote his autobiography, entitled Kiseki no Raigekitai (The Miraculous Torpedo Squadron). This book has, until now, never been translated into English. But one of Vintage Wings readers, Nicholas (Nick) Voge, an American pilot with Oahu’s Makani Kai Air, is also a long-time translator and has been working on an English translation of Mori Juzo’s work. Here, for the first time in English, excerpted from Mori Juzo’s The Miraculous Torpedo Squadron, is his description of the high point for the Japanese attackers at Midway. By the end of the next three days, all four of the participating Japanese fleet aircraft carriers (Akagi, Hiryu, Soryu and Kaga) would be sunk for one American carrier (Yorktown). In addition to the carriers, the Japanese suffered the loss of a heavy cruiser, nearly 250 aircraft, and as many as 3,000 men, many of them seasoned aircrews. It was a violent, all-out pitched battle between two naval air forces and was the first major defeat of the Japanese Imperial Navy. 
The opening blows from the Japanese – excerpted from The Miraculous Torpedo Squadron

I’d been away from the front for some time and was tensed up and ready for battle. As usual though, I felt that while others might die, I would not. Human nature is funny that way.
On we went, our engines purring contentedly. After about fifty minutes the island of Midway began to take shape on the horizon ahead of us. The Zeros dropped their external fuel tanks to ready themselves for action. Suddenly, one of the dive-bombers in front of me burst into flames and fell from formation. An enemy fighter had nailed him. Shit! They were up there waiting for us! Six of the Zeros behind us immediately shot to the front of the formation. In another ten minutes we would be over the island. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a vicious dogfight underway, but we kept right on going.


The tiny twin-island speck of Midway Atoll, sometimes referred to as Midway Island or the Midway Islands, stands, as the name suggests, at a point halfway between the land masses of North America and Asia. The 6.2 square kilometers was, in 1941 when this photograph was taken, home to two airfields under the name of Naval Air Facility Midway. Control of the islands has always been in the hands of the United States, but on June 4-6 of 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy and its aircraft carriers made a play to attack the islands, rendering the Americans another humiliating defeat and giving them an excellent base from which to launch attacks against the Hawaiian Islands. Photo: US Navy

Midway Atoll is part of a long chain of atolls, volcanic islands and seamounts extending from the Hawaiian group in a general northwest line ending near the western tip of the Aleutian Archipelago. This formation is called the Hawaii-Emperor Chain There are several smaller sand bar islands, but the two main islands are Sand Island and Eastern Island. The former US Navy airfield on Eastern Island is now long abandoned while Sand Island now houses a closed airfield and harbour. The coral reef which surrounds the lagoon traces the outline of the volcanic island which once rose from this spot. Photomap via wikipedia
Looking over my shoulder I could see that Hosoda had a death-grip on his 7.7mm machine gun, ready to ward off enemy fighters.
“Here comes a Grumman!” he yelled. I looked back to see flame spitting from the fighter’s six guns. It looked like the leading edge of his wing was on fire. The Grumman seemed like a very small machine to be crossing swords with our imposing and stately attack planes. We tightened up our formation so as to be able to better concentrate our fire. Then all we could do was wait for the Zeros to come to our rescue. For some reason, none of them did. Hell, we still had to carry out our attack. If we got shot down now it would all be for nothing.

In this diorama, the first wave of attacking Japanese Navy level bombers (the Kates of Mori Juzo and his squadron) and dive bombers are intercepted by the Grumman Wildcats of Marine fighter squadron VMF-221, based at Midway.  In this “Vee of Vees”, Juzo's Kates took the lead. The Fighting Falcons of VMF-221 were scrambled after radar picked up that attackers. They paid a very heavy price taking on the 36 highly experienced Japanese Zero pilots who flew cover for the bombers. The Zero fighter escort was "stepped up" behind the dive bombers; this disposition gave the pilots of VMF-221 a clear shot at the bombers for the first few passes as corroborated by Juzo's description. Once the Zeros were able to engage the Marine fighters, the tables were effectively and terribly turned. Fourteen of the Squadron's pilots had been killed in action, four others had been wounded and only two of the remaining Wildcats were serviceable. Diorama by Norman Geddes 

Suddenly a Grumman appeared in front of our formation. Crap, now we’re done for, was all I could think. They knew we didn’t have any forward-firing guns, so they made frontal attacks. When they couldn’t knock us down from the front they came at us from below. Before I knew it there was another one shooting at me from the left. Damn, I hated their guts but I had to give them credit, they came to fight. Now we’re finished, was all I could think.
That thought had no sooner formed than a Zero flashed over the top of us like a bullet. Yaré! Go get ‘em!
We watched with bated breath as the Zeros latched on the tails of the enemy planes. A few seconds later one of the Grummans suddenly pitched forward and went spinning down towards the ocean. Thank you Zeros! We only needed three more minutes before we could drop our bombs. Just then another Grumman came diving down at us from the upper right. “He’s gonna nail us,” I yelled. But yelling was all I could do, as I had to maintain formation at all costs. Strangely enough, I wasn’t afraid or worried about dying, and since there was nothing I could do about it I just tried to ignore him. In the next instant he too went spinning down trailing smoke and flame, another victim of our skillful Zero pilots.
My number three had apparently been shot up. His left wing was down, but he soon straightened out and rejoined our formation. Hang in there!
Our fighters had already knocked down two enemy fighters and they now climbed up after a third. By now I’d completely forgotten about my own danger and found myself wildly cheering on the Zeros. They got him! They got another one! “Hey look,” I shouted. “The pilot bailed out!” A few seconds later a white parachute blossomed above him like a flower and he floated gently down to the sea. Lucky guy, I thought. He escaped with his life.
It was, in fact, a brilliant escape. However, unlike the enemy, those of us in the attack groups wore no parachutes. This was to avoid the life-long shame of saving ourselves only to be captured by the enemy.
We now peeled off in our dive. There was a lot of anti-aircraft fire coming up at us but the shells were all exploding away from us. You’re never going to hit us with that lousy shooting, I thought.
At the center of the island was a single runway running east and west. To its right, on the island’s north side, were three hangars; to the left was a lot of greenery that looked like a pine forest. That’s where the AA emplacements seemed to be, as I could see the flash of gunfire between the trees.
Our six planes in the third section dove down from the east side of the island from an altitude of 12,000’. The dive bombers were dropping their 500-pounders on the hangars, causing huge fires to erupt.
Ichiro Tada, the rear gunner in the flight leader’s plane, raised his right hand straight up in the air. We were on our bomb run. It seemed to be taking forever but we only had about ten seconds to go before release.
“Ready!”
On the signal from the lead plane we all released our bombs at once. Freed of the heavy load the engine suddenly began to run more easily. Looking down to see how we did I could see the first four bombs detonate in quick succession right on the runway. Number five went into the pine forest next to the runway, as did six and seven. Nuts, I thought, they missed. Just then a huge explosion erupted from the forest and all the AA fire stopped. Luck of the draw — sometimes you screw up and it works out in your favor.
It looked like we made direct hit not just on their AA emplacements but on an ammo dump as well. Secondary explosions were still going off and flame and debris were flying in all directions. Looking down on the fireworks I felt a great sense of relief at having successfully done my duty. As we came off the run we made a big sweeping turn to the west, joined up with the other planes and headed back to our ships.


Mori Juzo and his squadron mates aboard Soryū flew the Nakajima B5N (Allied reporting name “Kate”), the standard torpedo bomber of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) for much of the Second World War. At Pearl Harbor, Juzo flew the aircraft as a torpedo bomber which was its primary role. At Midway, torpedos would not be needed in this attack on the island's airfield and so the Kates were armed with 1x 1,760lb bomb or 2 × 550 lb bombs or 6 × 293 lb bombs.  Primarily a carrier-based aircraft, it was also occasionally used as a land-based bomber. The B5N carried a crew of three: pilot, navigator/bombardier/observer, and radio operator/gunner. By 1944, the Kate had been replaced by the Nakajima B6N (Jill) torpedo bomber but a few Kates stayed in service until the end of the war as trainers and target towing. Photo: IJN

After about an hour I was able to make out our fleet steaming grandly along ahead of us. The sight filled me with relief — home at last! It felt great to see the fleet there on the horizon after the successful completion of our mission. Before I knew it I was humming a popular melody. Yep, there’s no place like home!
In this relaxed state of mind I aimed my plane towards our carrier and flew along enjoying the view. Still, I thought, those Grumman put up quite a fight. This was the first time since the start of the Greater East Asian War that we had faced this enemy plane so I suppose that’s to be expected. Those American pilots were pretty good.
Suddenly, one of our destroyers started belching black smoke, the signal that enemy planes had been sighted. Looks like they were out for revenge. Seeing the smoke I immediately tensed up.
Okay, let’s fight! I thought to myself. I became very excited.
We dropped down to 600’ and got inside our fleet’s protective ring. I figured they must be carrier planes, but when I looked up I saw five B-17’s flying over our ships. At that instant at least ten huge geysers of water shot up from the right side of Hiryū. This happened right in front of us and the columns of water completely obscured the carrier from sight.

Shortly after 8 AM on 4 June, the Japanese aircraft carrier IJN Hiryu zig zags under high speed to escape bombs from US Army Boeing B-17s which fall aft and to starboard of her course. It's possible that this is at the moment described above by Mori Juzo. Photo: USAAC 

“Damn! They got her,” I yelled to the guys behind me. But when the water subsided, there was, steaming along at full speed as majestically as ever.
Thank goodness, I thought with relief. But where were the Zeros that were supposed to be providing cover? They could at least have knocked a couple down by ramming them. What the hell were they doing?

Juzo's IJN Soryu scribes a near perfect circle as she attempts to avoid falling bombs (centre) from Midway-based B-17s. Attempting to hit a moving target from a high altitude bomber was, at the best of times, a poor strategy. To sink a carrier, smaller dive bombers and torpedo bombers would have to get in much closer. Photo: USAAC

I had no sooner finished this thought then one of the destroyers at the edge of the fleet starting pumping out black smoke. Looking off to the east I saw what looked like a bunch of baby spiders crawling along the surface of the sea. It was a formation of enemy torpedo planes spread out and flying low over the water. They were headed straight for the fleet. Our fighters were chasing after them and gaining fast.
What follows in The Miraculous Torpedo Sqaudron is a dramatic account of Soryu's sinking and Mori's escape from her. There is also an eyewitness account of the death of Soryu's Captain Yanagimoto, including the last hours of the carriers (Mori's account differs in some respects from the official U.S. histories). This is followed by the virtual house arrest of Mori and his shipmates on their return to Japan. To download the full digital book, a rare account of the Midway misadventure of the Imperial Japanese Navy, visit here

The carrier Soryu under heavy attck during the battle. The Battle of Midway did irrevocable damage to the strength of the Imperial Japanese Navy, gutting much of its carrier force capability – something the IJN would never recover from.  Emboldened by the heavy losses of the Japanese, the Americans began in earnest their extremely costly, but ultimately successful, island hopping campaign to push back the Japanese to their homeland. Just two months after Midway, the Marines started by landing on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, some 3,000 miles to the southwest. Three years later, they would force an end to the war by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.



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