The planning of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was headed by Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku. Though he was the idea man who determined when and how the attack would take place, Yamamoto had no part in the actual attack, instead selecting another notable naval aviator to lead the Japanese Striking Force in its charge on Pearl Harbor.
Within nine years after joining the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1921, Mitsuo Fuchida was promoted to lieutenant where he became a specialist in horizontal bombings. In 1936, he became an instructor on the technique before being thrust into the Second Sino-Japanese War for his first taste of combat. After serving aboard the Kaga aircraft carrier, Fuchida was promoted to lieutenant commander until 1941, when he rose to the rank of commander just two months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Despite a successful military career, it wasn’t until December 7th, 1941 that Fuchida became a name forever ingrained in world history as the lead pilot of the attack at Pearl Harbor.
Across the Pacific
Proudly serving his nation’s navy, Fuchida led the Japanese Striking Force in a Nakajima B5N2 torpedo bomber. Equipped with a modified Type 91 torpedo, which was fitted with an altered tail to accommodate the shallower waters of the Pearl Harbor, Fuchida’s targets were the battleships lined up at Battleship Row.
But first, he and his fleet had to reach Pearl Harbor, and do so undiscovered. To determine how well they would be able to pull off a surprise attack, Fuchida’s craft flew ahead of the fleet, down towards the eastern coast of Oahu and toward the harbor. The Americans didn’t respond, completely oblivious to his presence.
To alert the Japanese fleet of their success in approaching unnoticed, Fuchida set off a flair and ordered his radio man Norinobu Mizuki to radio back to the lead aircraft carrier, the Akagi. At 0753, the iconic cry “Tora! Tora! Tora!”—meaning that complete surprise had been achieved—was heard all the way to Japan.
Fujida remained at Pearl Harbor until the end of the second wave. As the lead of the attack, Fuchida thought it best to remain behind and monitor the damage being done by the Japanese Striking Force.
After the attack, Fuchida remained a part of the Imperial Japanese Navy, organizing several attacks in the Pacific until everything fell apart for Japan. The leader of the Pearl Harbor attackers survived the war, and his life took an unexpected turn shortly afterward.
After the War
A central participant in the Pearl Harbor attack, Fuchida testified at the war-crimes trials of several Japanese officials. Later, Fuchida transformed from a celebrated war veteran to a Christian evangelist living in Seattle, WA. The nation against which he had helped commit a terrible atrocity welcomed him in not long after the war’s end. Even more surprising, he lived a very public life, traveling the United States as a member of the Worldwide Christian Missionary Army of Sky Pilots.
With the war long behind him, Fuchida lived a fruitful life until 1976, when he passed away from diabetes.