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Aces of Aviation

Nakajima B5N2 of Mitsuo Fuchida

Nakajima B5N2 of Mitsuo Fuchida

Nakajima B5N2 piloted by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida during the attack to Pearl Harbor, the 7th December 1941.

Wingspan: 15.52 meters.

Length: 10.30 meters.

Height: 3.70 meters.

Engine[s]: Nakajima Sakai 11 of 1000 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 378 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 8260 meters.

Range: 1990 kilometers.

Armament: One Type 92 7.7-millimeter machine gun; maximum bomb load of 800 kilograms.

Commander Mitsuo Fuchida of the Japanese Imperial Navy achieved fame when leading the devastating aerial attack upon the flaships of the United States Pacific Fleet, in Pearl Harbor, the 7th December 1941, precipitating so the entry of United States into the Second World War. However, despite being a well qualified pilot, Fuchida flew in the observation post of the Nakajima B5N2 flagship aircraft.

After studying the attack performed by the Royal Navy upon the Italian naval base of Taranto in November 1940, in which the British made use of Swordfish torpedo planes and sank three battleships while suffering the loss of only two own aircraft, Commander Minoru Genda, who until then was a Japanese naval aggregate in London, was called to return to his country, where Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto ordered him to plan from the High Staff a similar surprise attack upon Pearl Harbor, to be executed in the case that war against United States were unavoidable.

In the opportune moment, an assault force led by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, comprising about 370 aircraft, was concentrated south of Kyushu and embarked in the aircraft carriers Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga, Zuikaku, Shokaku and Soryu. The 26th November 1941 this fleet weighed anchors to depart toward Hawaii and, in the darkness which preceded the dawn of the 7th December, 353 aircraft took off to attack the Pearl Harbor base located in Oahu.

At the lead of the first wave of ninety Nakajima B5N2 bombers flew Fuchida's aircraft. This first wave included fifty aircraft, led by Commander Shigaharu Murata, which carried an 800-kilogram bomb each. These bombers were followed by another forty aircraft which carried a torpedo each, whose rear fins had been specially designed to allow them to travel across low-depth waters. There were as well forty-three Mitsubishi A6M2 fighters and fifty-one Aichi D3A1 dive bombers.

At 7:49 o'clock on the morning, Fuchida arrived to Pearl Harbor and gave the signal "Tora, tora, tora" to let the attack begin. The first bomb fell at 7:55 o'clock upon Ford isle, and it is believed that it destroyed a whole flight of seaplanes. Surprise was almost total and twenty minutes later the second wave of fifty-four bombers, seventy-eight dive bombers and thirty-five fighters, led by Commander Shigekazu Shimazaki, began its assault. At 8:30 o'clock the attack had ended. The Americans had downed 29 aircraft (a balance of losses smaller than that of Taranto) but the Japanese had sunk four battleships and damaged another four, destroyed almost 200 aircraft and killed over 2300 Americans.

Mitsuo Fuchida returned safe and sound and, despite of his begs to be allowed to lead another attack upon Pearl Harbor, he was called by the Emperor himself so this one could receive the report of the attack personally from him. The 19th February 1942 Fuchida commanded an attack performed by 188 aircraft against Darwin, in Australia, which devastated the town, sank a dozen of ships and destroyed eighteen aircraft. Between the 5th and 9th March he led a series of bombings against British naval targets in the area of Ceylon and sank five ships, including the heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall.

Fuchida suffered an attack of appendicitis shortly before the large Battle of Midway, which prevented him from commanding the aerial attacks from the Akagi aircraft carrier, one of the Japanese ships lost during the battle. Later, in June 1944, he was appointed High Staff Chief of the Japanese Combined Air Fleet during the Battle of the Marianas, the largest and last battle in the Pacific, which put an end to the Japanese air dominance.