The innocent-sounding “Kate” of World War II was anything but sweet. It was a warplane designed to lay waste to its targets through the bombs it dropped from higher altitudes. Officially known as the Nakajima B5N bomber, the “Kate” (the Allies’ name for the aircraft) was a fearsome tool of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Air Service.
First flown in 1937, within four years a fleet of these fast-moving aircraft was making its way across the Pacific aboard Japanese aircraft carriers. The ships and the planes they carried were on their way to carry out one of the most devastating attacks ever carried out on American soil. On December 7, 1941, two attack waves consisting of more than 190 Nakajima B5N bombers flew into Oahu to attack the US naval base at Pearl Harbor and the warships lined up at Battleship Row on Ford Island.
The first wave of the attack, which dropped the first bombs at 0755 that Sunday morning, was led by Mitsuo Fuchida, who piloted a Nakajima B5N bomber. Once the first wave of the attack was completed, the second wave was launched, led by Shigekazu Shimazaki, who also piloted a “Kate” bomber.
The bombers were equipped with a variety of weaponry, including the infamous Type 91 Thunder Fish torpedo, which was modified to work more in the shallow waters surrounding Ford Island.
The Nakajima B5N and the War in the Pacific
Though the Nakajima B5N was becoming obsolete in late 1941, its successor, the B6N, had hit delays in development. Still, the B5N was a quick bomber that, early in the war, had no issues outmaneuvering American fighters.
Beyond its successes at Pearl Harbor, including the sinking of the USS Arizona (BB-39), the B5N was also responsible for sinking the aircraft carriers USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Hornet (CV-8). The B5N “Kate” was also responsible for disabling the USS Yorktown (CV-5), which was subsequently sunk by the Japanese submarine I-168.
There were three variants of the Nakajima B5N (not counting the prototype), and it was the third, the B5N2, that was most common in World War II. When the B6N was introduced, its predecessor wasn’t phased out entirely. Besides training and anti-submarine warfare, some B5Ns were deployed as kamikaze planes.
See the “Kate”
In 2016, the Pacific Aviation Museum added a Nakajima B5N to its collection. The “Kate” was damaged when it was recovered but the museum has initiated restoration of the craft. The five-year, $1 million project will, when completed, make it the only restored Nakajima B5N in the world.