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The Battleship Yamato, The Anchorage at Hashirajima, The Inland Sea, Japan, May 19, 1942
Lieutenant Commander Hiroshi Tanaka reached somewhat hesitantly across the chess board. With a gesture of apology, he removed the rook of the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. As the admiral remained passive, Commander Tanaka wondered idly whether anyone present remembered, or had ever known, that he, Hiroshi, had once been chess champion of his district. It seemed unlikely. Otherwise, the faces of the onlookers, Rear Admiral Ugaki and Lt. Commander Watanabe, would not have shown such concern. They thought him an amateur, and were afraid that he might get lucky and win. They needn't have worried.
The admiral had been playing chess with Hiroshi for some time now. At the beginning, the former had said,
"Tanaka, let's not have any of this traditional nonsense. If you can beat me, do so. I'll profit from the experience."
The younger man had never doubted the admiral's sincerity. He would certainly have lost graciously, and would have returned to the next game with redoubled energy. But Hiroshi knew that more was involved than that.
This was an extraordinary admiral, unique in the Imperial Japanese Navy. None of the others would have encouraged a subordinate to beat them at any game. Moreover, it was rumored that he had instituted another custom with a few trusted subordinates. When alone with the other man, the admiral would occasionally throw his cap on the deck. The other would also do so. Then, with both of them bare-headed, the junior could say things that couldn't ordinarily be said to a senior officer, much less one of flag rank.
Most of Hiroshi's colleagues regarded this story as too incredible to be true. But he believed it. This was an admiral who didn't have the usual background, and who had been educated abroad in large part. He could be spoken to honestly, and he could be beaten at chess.
It didn't, of course, follow that he, Tanaka, was the man to do such things. Of all the hundreds of games they had played, he had never won one. That, in itself, was a considerable accomplishment. The admiral was a good player. He would have known immediately if Hiroshi had made foolish moves. It took great skill to challenge the admiral and give him a good game, but to then lose in some plausible way.
Admiral Yamamoto's face was enveloped in total concentration as he bent over the board. He played chess, as he did everything, with an intensity that was rather frightening, even to an opponent who wanted to lose. Perhaps because of the other's formidable aspect, Hiroshi found himself looking away. He then caught himself. It would be a sign of disrespect to appear less intent on the game than his superior.
After another moment's restrained tension, Admiral Yamamoto's hand shot out to take a bishop. The face of Admiral Ugaki relaxed visibly. This was to be a game like the others. Hiroshi responded quickly and competently, in such a way as to blunt the admiral's attack without really mounting a counter-attack. As he did so, he stole a glance at Ugaki to see if his move met with approval.
Hiroshi didn't like Rear Admiral Ugaki. It wasn't just that he was rather prickly and inclined to discourtesy with his inferiors. Hiroshi was used to that. Rather, the cause of his displeasure was his growing suspicion that Ugaki was only a marginally competent strategist. His first question was always, not whether a given strategy would work, but whether it would please Admiral Yamamoto.
The latter, if left without any staff at all, would have produced workable plans which, while not exactly Nelsonian, would have shown imagination. Ugaki had a way of guessing more or less what his chief wanted, and then producing something along those lines which lacked the little insights. Ugaki's plans were just good enough to win his superior's grudging consent and keep him from producing his own. Admiral Yamamoto didn't have the ego to glory in ordering the world. A fatal modesty led lhim to suppose that he was no better than Ugaki, and that he couldn't improve on the latter's arrangements. It was exactly Ugaki's comfortable acceptance of that attitude that so incensed Commander Tanaka.
In the circumstances, Hiroshi took a certain misanthropic pleasure in causing Ugaki anxiety over the chess games without ever actually doing anything in the least objectionable. He knew as well as Ugaki that his naval career would effectively end if he ever did win, and that the attitude of Admiral Yamamoto wouldn't make any difference. The commander of the Combined Fleet didn't make any but the highest personnel decisions, leaving the rest to the navy bureaucracy. One word from Ugaki to the Navy Ministry that Tanaka wasn't sufficiently respectful to the revered admiral, and the former would be found a suitably obscure position. It might be in the northern Kurile Islands, or it might be deep in the ministry in Tokyo. Either way, he would never see the light of day again.
Indeed, even if Admiral Yamamoto did take notice of Tanaka's disappearance, his famed liberality had its limitations. He had been at Harvard, and had served in Washington, but he was still a Japanese admiral. He had never once asked how a man who had come so close to winning so many chess games had never actually won one.
As they drifted toward the end game, Hiroshi could relax. The admiral knew how to press an advantage, and it was now possible to play without holding back. Indeed, it was possible to play almost automatically. There must, of course, still be an appearance of weighing possibilities and making decisions. As Hiroshi, yet again, acted the part of an overmatched weaker player trying to stave off defeat, he wondered about Ugaki and Watanabe. They were under no obligation to sit there watching. He was sure that neither had any real interest in chess. Was it just dog-like devotion? Or was it to make sure that no impropiety occurred? He suspected the former motivation in Watanabe's case and the latter in Ugaki's.
Hiroshi often wondered if the staff did more good than harm. Nelson had had nothing beyond a flag lieutenant, and had been content to ask captains to breakfast on board Victory.
Sailing ships had had the great advantage that their movements couldn't be closely timed and coordinated. The admiral could only indicate his general intentions to his captains, and then improvise once the action was begun. Admiral Yamamoto would have been good at that.
Even in the time of the great Togo, there had been nothing like a present-day staff. Steamships were still relatively new, and they travelled all together in a fleet. When they ran low on coal, the whole fleet put into port. One didn't have to worry about fast ships and slow ships, or threats from aircraft or submarines. There were no radio communications and intercepts, and one didn't have to arrange mid-ocean meetings with oilers. Hiroshi would himself have been in command of a destroyer, and would thus have had his own domain. His prime function wouldn't have been that of providing amusement and recreation for an admiral. There would have been a young flag lieutenant for that, not a thirty seven year old officer of middle rank whose career had long been held in limbo.
The game ended surprisingly quickly. Admiral Yamamoto stood and thanked his erstwhile opponent. Then, as he was about to leave the chart room, he asked if there was any more news about Commander Tanaka's wife.
It was kind of the admiral to ask periodically, but there was never any news. Moreover, it was a painful subject which followed Hiroshi as he stepped out on to a lower wing of the bridge. Looking forward over the world's largest caliber guns and heaviest turrets, it was somewhat comforting to reflect that Yamato had been only a dream in her designer's eye when he had first met Mitsuko. Since that unfortunate day a whole new world had come to be.
Still, it was impossible not to remember the old one. His first sight of Mitsuko in her western clothes had overwhelmed him. But he had known from the beginning that she would be a source of shame. It had never been, as she had claimed, something she couldn't help, a matter of looks. It was true that she didn't have classical Japanese looks, but only the old people cared about that. He had always thought her beautiful, and so had his friends. If she looked a little foreign, that made her only more exotic and exciting.
The trouble was that she flirted shamelessly. It had gone on incessantly, and with everyone.
It might have been true, as Mitsuko claimed, that she had always been virtuous. At least, until later on. She had been a virgin at marriage, certainly. But she would smile and toss her head at the doorman of a hotel. She would also give a little scream when she recognized any acquaintance, male or female, in the street.
To be thought to be a cuckholded husband exposed one to as much ridicule as the reality would have done. It was actually worse. And the reality wasn't so long in coming. Hiroshi hoped that Admiral Yamamoto didn't know that Mitsuko had had an affair, and might still be having it, with Admiral E. J. King, now in command of the entire United States Navy.
It was fortunate that Admiral Yamamoto had left Washington before it happened. There was also the comforting fact that the admiral was, in his own way, sufficiently stern so that no one, even another full admiral, was likely to approach him with anything that could be taken for gossip. Besides, he was far too sensitive a man to even mention Mitsuko if he had had any inkling of the true state of affairs.
One might have been pardoned for thinking that nothing could be worse than having an unfaithful wife. Unfortunately, there was, indeed, something worse. This was the probability that Mitsuko had been an American spy since long before the war.
Hiroshi had had some exceedingly unpleasant interviews in that regard. Intelligence officers had asked certain intimate questions which could not, in even remotely ordinary circumstances, have been put to a naval officer. He had almost refused to answer them. Despite his grudging cooperation, his career, such as it was, had almost ended. It would have if he hadn't gotten caught in the middle of a fierce conflict between two intelligence services.
The latest phase in this conflict had started when the Imperial Defence Intelligence Committee had arrogantly insisted that Hiroshi be removed from his present sensitive position because of his wife's activities. But they actually had no right to give the navy orders of that sort. The Naval General Staff had referred the matter to its own intelligence service, which investigated independently. They, too, interviewed Hiroshi, much more gently. He could tell that they were actually less interested in protecting him than in building up a case of incompetence against their competing service. Perhaps they were also, to some extent, mindful of his powerful naval family. At that point, Hiroshi hardly cared.
For whatever reasons, Naval Intelligence had at least pretended to take seriously the possibility that Mitsuko, trapped in Hawaii by the outbreak of war, was still a Japanese agent, loyally sending in reports on the Americans via some Indian intermediaries. Hiroshi felt sure that any such reports originated with U. S. Naval Intelligence. He hadn't shared that thought with his own intelligence service, but his reticence had made no difference. They obviously had their own suspicions. Still, the conclusion had been a sort of stalemate in which the navy was obliged to take no action against Hiroshi. His career had been "saved." More important, he continued to serve Admiral Yamamoto, a man who either got rid of a subordinate or trusted him unreservedly.
Hiroshi's thoughts were interrupted by the sight of a shape moving across the path of the moonlight, a couple of miles or so distant. He then realized that it must be the destroyer Hatukaze, returning from anti-submarine patrol. That was the sort of command he should have had by this time. Routine anti-submarine patrols in the Inland Sea weren't the most thrilling things that could be imagined. Nor were they enhanced by the fact that the Hatukaze was attached to this same fleet that almost never ventured out into the ocean. Still, it would be better than playing chess. Feeling that he was on the verge of feeling sorry for himself, Hiroshi climbed up to the next level of the bridge to chat with Lt. Commander Mas Miura, the officer of the deck.
At anchor, Miura had almost nothing to do. He could make sure the lookouts were alert, but there was little point to it. If, in the unlikely event that an enemy submarine penetrated the anchorage, it would be too late to do anything about it. The submarine would certainly be within torpedo range, and even the Yamato would shudder under the impact of a half-dozen tin fish. Miura was pacing slowly along the railing when he caught sight of Tanaka. As he turned, there came into view Miura's ugly face, a little reminiscent of an angry chimpanzee. Then, when he spoke, his whole aspect softened and twisted humorously.
"How's the chess champion tonight?"
Hiroshi pointed to the area where he knew the Hatukaze to be.
"More alert than the officer of the deck. There's an enemy submarine out there."
Miura quickly jerked his head in the indicated direction, and then, recognizing the destroyer, gave a grunt which might have been a laugh. That was one subject about which it was strictly forbidden to joke. However, both men had such small regard for the offensive capabilities of the American navy that it seemed harmless enough. Hiroshi had, just the same, spoken softly enough so that the petty officer and seaman at the telephones couldn't hear.
Miura, who played chess himself, was always curious to know how the game had gone, and how Admiral Yamamoto had played. He knew, of course, the outcome, but he wanted to know what strategy had been used. When he had his detailed account, Miura asked,
"Would I be able to beat him?"
"Occasionally. Not often, though. He's a bit better than you are."
The stocky Miura grunted with less levity than when he had recognized the enemy submarine as the Hatukaze. It was obvious to Hiroshi that he wanted to believe the admiral to be a better player. This subject pointed toward another which the two men had never discussed directly in all their many hours of late night conversations. It was typical of Miura that, when he did get to it, he did so without flinching.
"How good a naval strategist is Admiral Yamamoto?"
"I saw another article today comparing him to Togo and the English Lord Nelson."
Hiroshi knew that this seemingly evasive reply wouldn't be taken amiss by Miura. The latter would conclude from his tone that he didn't agree with those articles. Miura remaining silent, Hiroshi asked his own sensitive question.
"Do you think those articles in the popular press also represent opinion in the service?"
Even though both men had been assigned to duty aboard the same ship for some time, they belonged to quite different circles. Hiroshi, as a staff officer, had dealings mainly with other staff officers. Miura, as the Yamato's assistant gunnery officer, had contact, not only with enlisted men, but with a much greater range of officers. Seeming to find the question a difficult one, he looked down and tapped a bridge stanchion with the pointed tip of his black shoe. Hiroshi wondered whether Miura would reply with his own opinion of Admiral Yamamoto. Instead, his friend took the question literally.
"I think the admiral has been credited, not only with Pearl Harbor, but also with the Java Sea, Indian Ocean, and Coral Sea victories."
Hiroshi himself knew that, genuine as those victories were, they didn't really belong to Admiral Yamamoto. He had directed in detail the planning for Pearl Harbor, and had played a lesser role in the other operations. Most of the time, Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo had been in direct command. However, once myths got started, they gathered their own way. Admiral Yamamoto had been made a hero. As far as Hiroshi knew, it might by now be believed that he had been present on board Nagumo's flagship during those battles. He said as much to Miura. The latter replied,
"Even if his reputation is somewhat inflated, he might still be able to plan and win a great battle. The one we need to win now."
Hiroshi paused to think, and couldn't quite imagine Admiral Yamamoto inflicting a defeat of the scale of Pearl Harbor on an enemy who was no longer asleep. He replied,
"His strategy is about like his chess. Good, but not extraordinary."
Miura grunted again, this time with less satisfaction. Feeling the other's concern, Hiroshi explained,
"He'd be better if he didn't have Ugaki."
"Is it because of Admiral Ugaki that this ship will again miss the action by a couple of thousand miles?"
"You're not supposed to know about the Midway plans."
Miura laughed contemptuously.
"I haven't yet discovered anyone from whom the secret has been kept. Did you know that there's a gambling pool on the lower deck as to the date when the Midway Islands will be taken?"
Hiroshi found himself suddenly a little dizzy. He could only reply,
"The security has been terrible this time."
Then, remembering Miura's question about Ugaki, he replied,
"Yes. It's because of Admiral Ugaki that we will again miss the action. He worries so much about Admiral Yamamoto's safety that he always wants to keep his flagship well to the rear, if not here in the achorage."
Miura hit the rail powerfully with the flat of his hand, surprising the petty officer some fifty feet away.
"That makes useless the world's most powerful warship."
Tanaka, standing beside Miura as they both looked into the night, patted the rail more gently as he spoke.
"This ship may be a monster, but she's still a battleship. You know what happened to the American and British battleships."
"All except one were old. And the new one, the Prince of Wales, was exactly half the size of this ship. Besides, she was sunk by aerial torpedoes. The Americans aren't good at that."
"No. Dive bombing is their specialty."
"Their 450 kilo bombs would just bounce off us. They can't stop the Yamato. And we've got the speed to catch their carriers if we started anywhere near them. Once we caught them, we'd put them under in five minutes."
Whenever Tanaka tried to represent the view of the staff to Miura, he felt as if it were an uphill battle. Often, as now, he felt ashamed that he, a trained staff officer, could do no more than lamely recount the opinions of Admiral Ugaki.
"You may be right, but Ugaki is almost as cautious about the Yamato as he is about the admiral. He wants them both together, at least a thousand miles out of the way of trouble."
"If the chief of staff is that concerned, he could recommend that the admiral exercise command from a shore base, the way the Americans do."
Again, Hiroshi could reply only,
"Admiral Yamamoto has old-fashioned notions about leading his fleet personally."
"Let him do it then. From the front."
Hiroshi had never heard anyone say anything like that. Rather shocked himself, he looked back to see whether anyone could have overheard. He then led Miura further out on the wing of the bridge and spoke softly.
"I tried to suggest something like that in my own small way. Admiral Ugaki was furious. I was over-ruled."
"Isn't there anyone else on the staff who understands that power is to be used, not hidden away?"
"Well, of course, Captain Kuroshima is the best strategist. He's the only really brilliant member of the higher staff."
"He's crazy isn't he?"
"I'm not sure. The more you know him, the less crazy he seems."
Miura had now regained his calm, and gave his twisted smile.
"I suppose we should be thankful for small favors. I sometimes wonder how we've won all these battles."
Hiroshi spat over the rail on to the darkened deck far below. He then started for the ladder and spoke over his shoulder.
"We win because the enemy is even more incompetent than we are."
The Yamato, May 20, 1942
It was six-thirty in the morning, and sunlight flooded in the port-hole. The alarm rang imperiously, and Captain Kameto Kuroshima pulled the covers over his shaven head. He then remembered that the clock wasn't one of IJN standard issue, but a new electric one. It would go on ringing indefinitely. Not one to be defeated easily, Kuroshima lashed out with a burly arm. The clock, impelled briskly across the tiny cabin, shattered against the bulkhead. Still plugged in, it lay peeping feebly on the deck like an extremely sick sparrow.
Kuroshima, now partly awake, had been ordered to report early to Admiral Yamamoto. The Midway plan still had to be completed. It was necessary to precisely detail and coordinate the movements of more than a hundred ships and five times that many aircraft. Because of the critical nature of the forthcoming operation for their nation's history, Admiral Yamamoto, instead of leaving the details to Ugaki and the staff, was personally overseeing the development of the detailed plan, as he had before Pearl Harbor. Kuroshima, as senior staff officer, would be the one to actually draw it up.
Admiral Yamamoto arose each day at six. He was ready to go to work by seven. He obviously intended an early start on this, of all days. Ugaki, Watanabe, Tanaka, and the others would all be assembled by seven at the latest. However, in speaking with Kuroshima, the admiral hadn't actually named a time.
Captain Kuroshima, in contrast to his chief, preferred to work at night. Although he drank enough to be considered an alcoholic, he also, unlike most people of his persuasion, ate enormous quantities of food. He would often eat an entire extra meal at midnight, then go through a bottle of saki, and finally round into top form about two in the morning. On the previous night, knowing what was in store, he had eaten only half a meal at eleven, drunk half a bottle, and was actually in bed by one. To this abstemiousness he credited his present minimal consciousness.
Kuroshima had already argued with Admiral Ugaki over the desirability of the Midway operation. This wasn't a matter of taking Hawaii, or taking some other group of islands which would threaten the communications between America and Australia. Midway consisted only of two tiny islands 800 miles northwest of Hawaii. There wasn't enough room on them to base more planes than could be accomodated on a single aircraft carrier, nor was there even a good anchorage. They had no potential as a naval base.
The unfortunate thing about conquest was the necessity of defending whatever had been taken. Even if it turned out to have no value, lives had been lost in capturing the objective, and it was difficult to abandon it. They had now taken the Phillipines, Malaya, Singapore, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, and islands all over the Pacific. There was, basically, only one Japanese fleet. It might easily be many thousand miles from whatever happened to be threatened. Even then, it was better to have it too far away to intervene than to lose it intervening under circumstances dictated by the enemy. To lose it trying to take, or defend, anything as insignificant as Midway was highly irresponsible.
At times, Ugaki had said that the islands were to be used only to entice the Americans into one great final battle. That was all right. But, unfortunately, Ugaki wasn't consistent. In the next moment he would talk of diverting forces which would be needed for the great battle, and throwing them into a purely local battle on and around the islands. That he had persuaded Admiral Yamamoto to entertain two contrary objectives at once was something of a wonder in itself.
The next intrusion came in the shape of the steward. Kuroshima was aware of being shaken vigorously. The man also said something about Admiral Ugaki. Evidently Ugaki had sent him. In reply, the captain broke wind loudly. This action expressed well his enthusiasm for planning an operation which might lose the only fleet Japan would ever have. It also reflected the fact that he had eaten too much the evening before. A palliative would be required. He sat up in bed and ordered the steward to bring him a bottle of plum wine. The man began to object, but was quickly shouted down.
The stweard came rushing back with the bottle. He also brought a glass. Kuroshima waved it away and had the bottle uncorked. After tipping it up and drinking deeply, he pointed his finger at the steward, who was still standing there trying to say something. Gesturing for silence with the hand holding the bottle, Kuroshima spoke in a tone of sweet reasonableness
"All right, let us plan. Why did we take the East Indies?"
The steward looked confused, but Kuroshima demanded a reply.
"Because we needed the oil, sir?"
"It would have been easier and cheaper to buy it."
"The Dutch and English wouldn't sell it to us, sir."
Half the bottle was now gone, and Kuroshima was about to address the steward again when he noticed that the man had disappeared. The Dutch and English had refused to sell Japan oil because they objected to the Japanese conquest of the more valuable parts of China. Why had it been necessary to conquer China? There was a pounding on the door, and Kuroshima, still sitting on the bed in purple silk pajamas, called for his visitor to enter. It was Admiral Ugaki, very excited. Admiral Yamamoto was waiting and wanted to get started. Ugaki refused a drink of plum wine, even after Kuroshima had offered to send for glasses. He finally went away after Kuroshima assured him that he was, even now, hatching a complex plan in his brain.
It seemed to Kuroshima that the Japanese people were truly more organized, industrious, and self-sacrificing than any others he had encountered in his travels. The Yamato herself was a tribute to Japanese industrial power. Within a few decades they had gone from copying British warships to building a ship no other country in the world could have produced. Without conquering anything, Japan would, in time, become the dominant economic power in the world. They could easily protect the home islands, and they could buy anything else they wanted. The plan began to congeal in Kuroshima's mind.
The bottle was almost entirely consumed when the steward returned yet again. Kuroshima, who had started to feel hungry, caught the man before he could say anything, and sent him off for breakfast. Prudently, he specified double orders of everything.
Admiral Ugaki arrived almost simultaneously with the eggs, and began to upbraid Kuroshima, who was still in his pajamas. It seemed to particularly upset Ugaki that Kuroshima was smoking a cigar while Admiral Yamamoto was waiting. Kuroshima pointed out, reasonably enough, that it was necessary to smoke cigars to propitiate the war gods before planning a major operation. That seemed to be the final straw. Ugaki turned on his heel, muttered ugly threats, and disappeared
Kuroshima thought it really very unlikely that marines would arrive to march him off to the brig, and he ate his breakfast slowly and reflectively. It was simply not true, as was often alleged against him, that he ate with both hands like an animal. Then, while dressing, he smoked another cigar to further reassure the war gods. Finally, he stepped out on deck.
It was Admiral Yamamoto's practice to hold conferences in the Yamato's operations room, really the chart room, high in the bridge structure. Kuroshima traversed half the length of the ship with his rather eccentric gait before it was time to climb the mountain. At the very first level he was out of breath and paused at the rail to look over the assembled might of two battleship divisions. The high shore beyond, with rickety fishermen's cottages, contrasted oddly with all that steel armor sprouting monstrous guns.
Finally, when he staggered into the chartroom and caught hold of a post, Kuroshima found himself facing the whole higher staff of some thirty officers. They were arranged around the long semi-circular table, so that any late arrival found all eyes upon him. Admiral Yamamoto, seated in the center, was the only one to speak.
"Captain Kuroshima, I understand that you have been preparing the final plan for the Midway operation. Kindly explain it to us."
Kuroshima bowed low, while attempting to hide the fact that he was still grasping the post, and began to speak.
It wasn't terribly out of place to begin such a presentation with a short disquisition on the virtues of the Japanese people. As Kuroshima did so, he noticed a definite expression of fear on the face of Commander Tanaka. Such a peculiar young man, thought Kuroshima. There was definite talent there, and even a healthy cynicism. But Tanaka was afraid of his own shadow. It wasn't that he was a coward. In battle he might well distinguish himself. If the Yamato ever saw action, Kuroshima would get himself behind as much armor plate as possible, but he could imagine Tanaka standing with equanimity on the open bridge. It was in his relations with other people that Tanaka shrank so. One glance from a superior officer, and he'd virtually disappear into the wall. These thoughts faded from Kuroshima's mind as he advanced toward his conclusion.
Ugaki was beginning to look as he had earlier, when he had been so unpleasant, but Admiral Yamamoto's face was entirely immobile. Kuroshima, who was now standing unaided at the center of the semi-circle, clasped his hands behind his back and tilted his body backward from the waist.
"In view of these facts, sir, I believe our best course of action is the obvious one. We should apologize to our enemies and give them back their territories, including the provinces of China now under our control. They might possibly wish to take reprisals against the home islands. However, the Combined Fleet can easily prevent anything of the sort, and can ensure the safety of the Emperor."
There was absolute silence. Kuroshima could see Tanaka, from his position at one end of the table, looking furtively at the admiral. Commander Watanabe grinned nervously, his large white teeth contrasting sharply with his dark rectangular face. His expression was far from one of amusement or joy. After some moments, Admiral Yamamoto spoke.
"I have been told, Captain Kuroshima, that you have been smoking cigars this morning in order to propitiate the war gods. Is that correct?"
"What you have given us is a plan for peace, not war. I think it must be because you have not satisfied the gods. You will go out on the bridge and smoke one more cigar. You will then return in ten minutes' time with a plan for war. It will be one in which the islands of Midway will be taken, and in which the remaining major units of the United States fleet will be destroyed."
Commander Tanaka had been following the day's events with even more alarm than might have shown on his face. He liked and respected Captain Kuroshima. He also regarded him as the only man who could both produce a good plan and convince Admiral Yamamoto of it. Much more was at stake than Kuroshima's naval career. Tanaka had, of course, known that Kuroshima was eccentric. But he was now coming closer to insubordination, and even defiance, than Tanaka would have dreamed possible.
Hiroshi had the impression that the others were not all as worried as he. A short time previously, during a break in the session, he had talked with Commander Toshio Aoki, the assistant logistics officer for the Combined Fleet. Hiroshi had the impression that Aoki, while outwardly disgusted with Kuroshima, was really rather pleased. He might have thought that Kuroshima's behavior made the rest of them look better by comparison. Or he might have thought that Kuroshima's seemingly incipient dismissal would open up possibilities for promotion. Hiroshi wasn't sure. For his own part, he thought it reflected badly on all of them. It was certainly something that one would wish to hide from the Emperor. But, then again, it was dishonorable to want to hide anything from the Emperor.
Situations of this sort were extremely disagreeable, and Hiroshi settled himself uncomfortably to hear whatever might transpire when Kuroshima returned. Of one thing he was certain. No other admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy would have handled the situation with humor and equanimity. But there had also been force in the admiral's voice. Hiroshi hoped, for all their sakes, that Kuroshima hadn't been drunk enough to miss it.
When Captain Kuroshima returned, he seemed a different man. Before saying anything at all, he covered half the large blackboard with names of ships and units. The other half was crammed with a detailed timetable. It looked as if Kuroshima had produced the whole thing in his head in the last ten minutes. It was a virtuoso performance.
Admiral Ugaki wasn't quite as quick as Hiroshi to notice that there had been a major change. The First Battleship Division, comprising the Yamato, Nagato, and Mutu, was slated to accompany the big carriers of the First Mobile Striking Force into the thick of the action. But, when Ugaki did notice, there was trouble. What, Ugaki demanded, if the Yamato were hit? He glanced briefly at Admiral Yamamoto as he spoke. His real point, of course, was that the admiral might be endangered. Kuroshima took the question at face value in his response.
"I hope that enemy pilots, looking for our carriers, do decide to bomb the Yamato. Where the carriers are filled with explosives behind the thinnest of plating, we have many thousands of tons of the heaviest armor ever fabricated. Yamato is as close to being unsinkable as any ship could be."
Admiral Ugaki opened his mouth, seemingly to gasp desperately for air. Hiroshi knew why. To suggest that Admiral Yamamoto might prefer to keep away from danger would be to insult him. Nothing that hinted at that could be whispered in even the strictest of confidence. On the other hand, it was painfully obvious that Ugaki could think of no other reason to keep the Yamato hundreds of miles from the main action.
Ugaki would ordinarily have consigned any plan that put the Yamato
in danger to the waste basket before it ever got to Admiral Yamamoto, or
even the full staff. He had done just that many times. Kuroshima's genius
had consisted in obtaining for himself the opportunity of presenting to
Admiral Yamamoto a whole plan without interruption or prior censorship
from Ugaki. Now that it was out, it was too late for Ugaki to do anything.
In the event, he merely closed his mouth wordlessly, looking as if a stroke
might be imminent. Hiroshi wondered how much of Kuroshima's bizarre behavior
had been planned for the purpose of giving the only eighteen inch guns
ever produced a chance to speak.
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