June 2010

On December 7, 1941 the surprise attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor failed to destroy or even locate the US aircraft carriers. Mr. Kaname Harada was aboard the aircraft carrier Soryu and took to the air that day flying a Type 21 Zero fighter, assigned to combat air patrol (CAP) over the Japanese fleet. He never saw Hawaii that day and was, at the time, frustrated at being relegated to ‘babysitting' duties over the fleet while others attacked the enemy in Hawaii. The very nature of a Harada as a fighter pilot was to aggressively attack and not defend. Harada had been credited with downing 5 British fighters in the battle for Ceylon in the April 5 1942 Colombo air raid.

Mr. Harada, six months later at the battle of Midway, he was again frustrated at being assigned to CAP, a duty that almost guaranteed never getting the chance to shoot at, let alone encounter, an enemy aircraft.

The Japanese plan at Midway

Phase 1 – Pre-dawn destruction aerial raid on US aircraft on the ground on Midway atoll's Eastern Island. The Japanese aircraft carriers participating in the attack would be the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and the Hiryu; all were veterans of the attack on Pearl Harbor whose pilots and crews expected a similar victorious outcome.

Phase 2 – Land Army troops to assault and hold the two major islands; Sand and Eastern.

Phase 3 – Attack the US Pacific Fleet as it rushed to Midway's defense sinking the carriers in the open ocean.

Phase 4 – Sue for peace and maintain the islands west of Midway to form a buffer zone between the two Pacific Powers.

Although the Japanese had won a great morale-boosting victory at Pearl Harbor they knew it was a hollow one without the destruction of the US Fleet carriers. In an attempt to lure the US Pacific Fleet into the open sea and destroy it, the Japanese prepared a complicated plan to simultaneously attack US held Attu and Kiska islands, and the Midway atoll. The Alaska campaign was a ruse to confuse the US as to the true objective of the airfield on Midway atoll. The islands of Kiska and Attu were taken by the Japanese Naval Landing Forces on June 6 and June 7 1942. The Japanese Army managed to hold them successfully for almost an entire year but turned out to be a minor footnote in the war of little tactical importance.

The Midway plan called for a pre-dawn surprise attack similar to the one used against Wake Island 6 months prior; air raids then the landing of troops.

The Japanese plan fell apart when their Naval code JN25 had been partially decrypted giving the US Navy a glimpse into their plan. The US Navy set a trap for the Japanese Midway that many believe, succeeded due to sheer luck and. On June 4, 1942 Dive Bombers from the USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown caught the Japanese Air Fleet carriers by surprise with planes and ordnance on deck. By the end of the day, three of Japan's carriers were sunk and the fourth was barely afloat and later torpedoed by the Japanese to prevent it from falling into American hands. Harada not only survived the battle of Midway but also is credited with shooting down 5 US torpedo bombers. He himself was badly shot up and made an emergency landing on the Hiryu, obtained a new fighter then ran out of fuel during the battle making an emergency water landing. A Japanese destroyer searching for survivors picked him up later that night.

The result of the Midway campaign was the loss of Japan's irreplaceable, experienced highly trained pilots, airmen, maintenance and ship's crews.

The battle is called the turning point of the Pacific War.

Mr. Kaname Harada's story will be told in depth in Dan King's upcoming book by Spencer House Press LLC consisting entirely of his invaluable firsthand interviews done with Japanese WWII Naval aviators, conducted for the first time in their own language and in their own words.