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 Chapter 29

An Unexpected Source of Information

The Yamato, 0950

Hiroshi had noticed one of the destroyers pull alongside, and had wondered why. He didn't have to wait long to find out.

The Hatukaze had picked up one of the American torpedo pilots who had been splashed. The destroyer didn't have anyone who could interrogate him properly, and so had transferred him to the Yamato by breeches buoy. Admiral Ugaki had then sent for Hiroshi.

"Tanaka, I think you're the best man to interrogate the prisoner. Your English is excellent, and you'll know what questions to ask. You'll have Chief Petty Officer Abe to help you. He's a champion wrestler, and rather ferocious looking."

Ugaki had given Hiroshi his own cabin for the interview, and Hiroshi was seated at the desk when Abe brought the American in.

Hiroshi had never even thought of conducting an interrogation of a prisoner until a few minutes previously. He supposed that the sort of pilot who had just attacked them would be tough, brave, and silent. He supposed that he would have to have Abe twist the man's arm, or even choke him. Even then, he wasn't optimistic. However, as soon as he saw the man, he began to wonder.

Hiroshi had met quite a few American pilots in his long diplomatic career, but this one looked different. It wasn't just that the man was handsome. A lot of the pilots were, but they also looked rough in a high-spirited fun-loving way. That is, they looked like former college athletes who had never settled down. This young man, on the other hand, looked like a gentleman.

Hiroshi began by introducing himself, and the other responded, with a rather winning smile,

"My name is James Tabor. I'm a lieutenant.

Lt. Tabor's speaking voice confirmed Hiroshi's suspicions. He was the sort of American who would really rather be English. His idea of proper conduct in these circumstances came from stories of Englishmen dressing for dinner in the jungle, and of the meeting between Stanley and Dr. Livingstone. He was determined to be the civilized man in awkward circumstances in the hope that his example would rub off on his captors.

As Hiroshi sent for tea, and the two men exchanged pleasantries, Tabor hardly seemed a military type at all. It was hard to imagine him in a torpedo plane. He was certainly a world removed from the slim and dangerous Murata. He looked as if he didn't want to kill anyone. On the contrary, Hiroshi could imagine him as a lecturer or professor, using his appearance and charm to hold an audience. Moreover, teacher- fashion, Lt. Tabor seemed anxious to talk. Hiroshi merely prompted him,

"You must have had a narrow escape."

"God, yes. I was sure I was going to be killed when Waldron went down. But I did much better than I ever imagined I would. I actually launched my torpedo, more or less at a carrier. I don't suppose it hit anything, but it was a lot better than jettisoning it and turning tail."

"It didn't look to us as if anyone was about to turn tail. We admired your attack. If you had had some fighter protection, .."

Tabor continued without waiting for Hiroshi to finish. It looked as if he were too involved in his own concerns to pay much attention to anyone else, at least for the moment.

"The men on that destroyer looked like a bunch of thugs. I was sure they'd kill me if I didn't do something. So I told the only one who spoke English that I knew Admiral Yamamoto. That's true, actually. I was introduced to him once when he was visiting Pearl Harbor. He wanted to meet some of our aviators. Is he on board?"

"Yes. I'm on his staff. As you can imagine, he's busy just now."

"Oh yes, certainly. It's just that he seemed a civilized man. I told the man on the destroyer that I'd only talk with the admiral. I didn't really mean that, of course. I just wanted to be under his control, so to speak."

Hiroshi nodded sympathetically. It was clear that Tabor was in something of a euphoric state, but also close to panic. He was thrilled that he had survived, and that he hadn't disgraced himself in the process. But any hint that he might now be killed would have the most drastic and unpredictable consequences. It would be better to get the most out of the present mood before proceeding to anything else. Hiroshi spoke reassuringly.

"Admiral Yamamoto is most certainly a civilized man."

He then added, with a little smile,

"So, if I may say so, are the members of his staff. However, I'm sure you realize that we do need certain information .."

Tabor again interrupted.

"I've thought about that. And, you know, I think America will win the war. All sorts of things will come out at the end, probably including records of who said what to who."

"It might interest you to know that Admiral Yamamoto agrees with you. He didn't want to attack Pearl Harbor. And, of course, I can imagine circumstances in which I'd like to have you say that I didn't torture you, or anything like that."

Tabor looked much relieved and Hiroshi asked,

"Did you have any crewmen in your plane?"

"Yes. They were killed when we were shot down. I checked them after we ditched."

"That's actually convenient. I'll put it in the records that we picked one up, and that he later died of his wounds. However, before dying, he gave us information. For you, I'll put down only name, rank, and serial number."

"But, still .... "

Lt. Tabor looked confused, and Hiroshi replied,

"You may not realize it, but there are two entirely different sorts of people aboard our ships. There were the people on the destroyer, and then there are much the same sort of men aboard this ship."

At this point, Hiroshi indicated Chief Petty Officer Abe with his glance. Not understanding English, the huge man glared malevolently at their prisoner, as if he were considering breaking his bones one by one. Hiroshi continued,

"It's not just the difference between officers and men. Most of the officers are rather like this gentlemen here. It's those of us on the staff and certain of the senior commanders who are gentlemen. The fact is, we can justify looking out for you if you cooperate with us."

"Well, of course, there are some things which don't really matter which I could tell you."

"Exactly. You mentioned Commander Waldron. Was he leading your squadron?"


"Number two?"

"No. We were squadron three."

This was the beginning. Horoshi knew that American torpedo squadrons had the same numbers as their carriers, and three was the Saratoga. He responded brightly,

"A fine ship, the Saratoga. She's very like our Akagi isn't she?"

"Yes, I suppose so. They're both former battle cruisers converted according to the Washington Treaty. Was the Akagi one of the ones our dive bombers just hit?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so. I hope we can save her."

Lt. Tabor looked as if he sympathized. Hiroshi, happy to have established an atmosphere in which he and Tabor were colleagues exchanging information freely, remarked,

"We looked for the Saratoga, but we didn't find her. There were all these battleships and carriers packed together, but she wasn't among them."

"Well, that's our so-called 'slow fleet'. You must have noticed how slow they were."

"Yes, only some fourteen knots. I suppose it would be a waste to put a thirty knot ship in the middle of them."

The fact that there was an additional American carrier out there, and a big one at that, was information of the first importance. Hiroshi was tempted to scribble a note to Ugaki and send Abe off with it, but he didn't dare. The whole thing depended on pretending that nothing Tabor told him was of any real importance. He remarked in his conversational tone,

"We were quite surprised when you attacked us because we know the range of your torpedo aircraft and we knew that none of your carriers were within range. How did you expect ever to get back?"

Tabor laughed and replied,

"We couldn't. We were to turn east, fly for a hundred miles or so, and report our position as we landed in the water. Then PBYs or PT boats from Midway were going to be ready to pick us up. Except that there aren't any of us left to be picked up, are there?"

"I'm afraid not. You know, Lt. Tabor, that's a very unusual and daring thing to do, sending out bombers without enough fuel to get back."

"We knew you had a much greater range, and that was the only way to even things up."

Hiroshi noticed that Tabor spoke about the battle as if it had ended. Could he have thought that the loss of two carriers would send them back to Japan? More likely, he was consoling himself with the idea that his information was too late to be of more than historical interest. Hiroshi was certainly happy to let him take comfort in that illusion. He then asked,

"Were you worried about landing on the water?"

"Not much. Nothing compared to being burned alive in my plane. I had to land in the water once when I ran out of fuel. It's not really any harder than landing on a carrier. The plane floats for quite a while. You have plenty of time to inflate your raft and get in it. Besides, we would have all landed together."

Hiroshi could see that Tabor was recovering himself. He was far from panic now. But it would still be good to keep him talking as much as possible.

"Well, I admire the daring of your high command. Even Admiral Yamamoto wouldn't sacrifice something like a third of his bombers for the sake of striking first."

"It does seem to have worked. While I was in the water, I saw the dive bombers get two of your carriers."

"Yes. The Soryu and the Akagi. I don't suppose we'll really be able to save either. We feel particularly badly about the Akagi."

"It was the same with us when we lost the Lexington. Which of our carriers did you get this time?"

Hiroshi was glad that Lt. Tabor asked questions. It made their conversation a two-way street, far removed from an interrogation. He replied,

"I think it may have been the Mississippi. There seem to have been induced explosions of bombs or torpedoes. And then, of course, the converted tankers."

"Yes, we knew they'd be hit."

"It strikes me that you were willing to sacrifice so much, not only planes but ships, for tactical advantage. That tendency seems more Japanese than American."

"We knew that you'd have a great advantage. One thing made me feel better, though. When Captain Murphy briefed us, he said the most important thing was to save our pilots. He had a couple of dozen PBYs standing by just to search for downed pilots. He also wants to pick up as many of yours as he can."

"That's an area where we don't do as well as we should. So far as I know, we don't have any special arrangements for rescuing our downed pilots. Part of it is that we never expected to lose many."

"You have float planes on your cruisers. They could be sent out, couldn't they?"

Hiroshi was fully aware of the irony. An American pilot, evidently identifying more closely with the fraternity of pilots than with any nation, was suggesting means for rescuing Japanese pilots. Hiroshi adopted a bantering tone,

"You're speaking as a pilot. We staff officers have to worry about many other things. For example, those float planes are used primarily for scouting. We can't always divert them to pick up pilots. For that matter, your scouting seems to be of a much higher standard than ours. You knew exactly where we were, didn't you?"

"My squadron leader, Waldron, did. He led us right to you. We never had to change course at all."

"That was remarkable."

"He was very good at that. He was mostly an American Indian, and he put it down to that."

Tabor seemed to rather naively accept that notion, but Hiroshi replied,

"I wonder if you haven't broken some codes."

"I have no idea. They certainly wouldn't tell us pilots if they had."

That, of course, was true. Hiroshi kept the conversation going another few minutes, and then took his leave most courteously.

As soon as he was out of sight, Hiroshi bounded up flights of ladders and rushed into the chart room. Admiral Ugaki was in conversation with Captain Miwa, but Hiroshi interrupted unceremoniously with his news of the Saratoga. Ugaki, Miwa, and Kuroshima all listened intently, and Miwa asked,

"Where is the Saratoga exactly?"

Hiroshi could only speculate, and Ugaki said,

"I'll send Watanabe down to interrogate the prisoner. He has enough English to manage, and he'll be much more threatening."

At that moment, even more important information was being sent over from the carriers. It was now almost 1130, and all the strike aircraft had landed that were going to return at all. The losses had been heavy, and included Sendai and Egusa. Bombers had also been lost when the Akagi and Soryu were hit. All told, there remained 48 torpedo bombers out of the original 93. It was still a formidable force, and they still had Murata to lead it.

The dive bombers in Egusa's force, instead of scattering near the water, had tried to reach the clouds in formation. Most of them hadn't made it, and there were now only 32 Aichi 99s out of the original 84. But it was in fighters that the wastage had been disastrous. There were, believe it or not, only 18 left out of the original 126.

A great many fighters had been shot down, and many more had run out of fuel on their return. The few who got back all had the same story. They were heavily engaged, but neither Sendai nor Fujita had sent out the signal to return in time. Fujita had landed in the water, and had been picked up by a destroyer. He was now said to be extremely anxious to make amends.

According to Captain Miwa, the failure of the fighter pilots to turn back in time wasn't the fault of either Sendai or Fujita. Each pilot was supposed to keep track of his own fuel. It was, of course, difficult to do that if continually engaged. It also looked as if the enemy might have deliberately lured the Japanese fighters beyond their endurance. Aerial combat ate up fuel very fast, and it was the first time that enemy pilots had been able to engage the fighter pilots of the IJN in prolonged combat.

If anything, the fault lay in the training of the fighter pilots. They had always been encouraged to be as aggressive as possible. There was little question but that the offensive had been over-emphasized at the expense of defensive concepts. Still, there was no point in worrying about such matters now. The important thing was to prepare for the next stage of the battle.

Captain Kuroshima had already drawn up the new plan before it had been realized how few fighters would be available. In addition to the night attack specified by Admiral Yamamoto, it featured a daylight torpedo attack by Murata. Miwa now argued persuasively that such an attack would be, not only suicidal, but pointless. They should wait for dark, and then attack with flares and floating lights in the way they had so often practiced. Then Miwa went on to make another point.

"This operation, like the other air strikes, should be planned by the staff of the First Mobile Striking Force under Admiral Nagumo. We're only amateurs in this area."

There was some grumbling over that. It was obvious that Ugaki had lost confidence in Nagumo and his staff, and wanted to take over their functions. He put his concern in a somewhat indirect form.

"Since Admiral Nagumo and his staff have abandoned the Akagi, they will have some difficulty exercising command. The communications facilities of the Nagara weren't designed for that."

Miwa came right back.

"I am just informed, sir, that Admiral Nagumo has completed his transfer to the Kaga. Kusaka, Genda, and Murata are all there with him, ready to carry on the battle."

Ugaki looked for a moment as if he might take the matter to Admiral Yamamoto, who was up on the bridge. But he relented. Nagumo and his team would get one more chance. Ugaki then turned his attention to the night battleship action they hoped to bring off.

Kuroshima outlined the situation. They had an advantage of twelve knots over the American fleet, which steamed at only fourteen knots.

"Assume that they steer directly away from us on a heading of 80 degrees. If we follow at full speed, we'll catch them at approximately 0300 hours tomorrow morning. If they deviate to launch and recover aircraft, particularly if the wind changes, we'll catch them sooner."

Someone then asked about the Saratoga. Kuroshima replied,

"Ordinarily, we'd have no chance of catching her. However, I've just received a note from Watanabe. The prisoner has told him that, due to her damage at the Coral Sea, Saratoga's speed is reduced to twenty knots or less. We can at least reach her with our aircraft tomorrow if we sink the rest of the fleet tonight."

When Kuroshima finished, a sense of optimism again arose. The feeling was that the Imperial Japanese Navy could suffer adversity and still win.


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