In September of 1941, 33-year-old Lt. Cmdr. Shigekazu Shimazaki was assigned to be the equipping officer of the aircraft carrier Zuikaku, which had been commissioned into the Imperial Japanese Navy just days prior. It was in this capacity that he and his ship, together with the rest of Japan’s First Air Fleet, set sail towards the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. Shimazaki wouldn’t just be a participant in the planned attack, he would lead a portion of it.
While Mitsuo Fuchida led the first wave of fighters and bombers that launched on the morning of December 7, 1941, Shimazaki waited patiently for his turn. At the helm of a Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” bomber, the minutes ticked by as the moment neared when he’d be cleared to take off and launch the second attack wave against Pearl Harbor. And when he did launch, he did so with more than 50 high-level bombers and 78 dive bombers behind him.
Prior to the Second World War, Shimazaki had also fought in the Second Sino-Japanese War. In 1938, he transferred to the aircraft carrier Soryu. He later saw action aboard Akagi. Within a year, he was promoted to lieutenant commander, leading to his role in the Pearl Harbor attack at the end of 1941.
For his part in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Shimazaki was hailed as a hero by the Japanese, a man praised for his aviation prowess and ability to lead the wave of bombers. Alongside Fuchida, he earned an audience with Emperor Hirohito on December 25, 1941. But Pearl Harbor was only his first wartime victory against the Allied forces. It was major, but Shimazaki pressed on to cause further damage to the US Pacific Fleet.
After Pearl Harbor
During the Battle of the Coral Sea, the commander delivered another crippling blow to the Americans and their allies. As the battle raged, Shimazaki and his bombers attacked the USS Lexington (CV-2). The American aircraft carrier was responsible for sinking the Imperial Japanese Navy carrier Shoho, and Shimazaki’s explosive delivery was his revenge.
The sinking of Lexington was followed by that of the destroyer USS Sims (DD-409), which proved to be his last great effort as a pilot. In July of 1942, when he was transferred to Kure Naval District and reassigned as a ground-based air officer. In October, 1944, he was promoted to commander.
Shimazaki Meets His End
On January 9, 1945, while serving as a staff officer of the IJN’s 3rd Air Fleet, Shimazaki was killed in action. For his dedicated service to the Imperial Japanese Navy and his country, the commander was posthumously promoted two ranks, to rear admiral.