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The Need to Innovate
The Kaga, 1200
Commander Genda's natural optimism was considerably tempered. Only eighteen fighters. They were certainly not sufficient to escort a daylight strike, particularly without Sendai. Worse, given the numbers of aircraft the enemy could put in the air, what amounted to one squadron of fighters could hardly protect their own fleet for the remaining hours of daylight. Then an expedient occurred to him.
The Aichi 99 dive bombers had become useless as such. They couldn't be provided escorts in daylight, and they couldn't operate at night. But they could be used as defensive fighters. Almost as fast as the American dive bombers, they were considerably faster than the Devastator torpedo bombers. If nothing else, an Aichi could fly the same course as a Devastator, a little below and in front of it, and the Aichi's gunner would eventually shoot down the virtually defenseless torpedo bomber. Even up high, an Aichi should be able to somewhat disrupt the dive of an enemy dive bomber.
Genda almost felt as if he had, in an instant, increased his fighter force from 18 to 50. Still, hardly a comfortable combat air patrol. But perhaps enough. Then he had another idea.
Rear Admiral Kusaka was down in Kaga's chart room, even smaller than Akagi's, when Genda found him. The two men had always spoken frankly, and Genda had no hesitancy in laying down his views.
"I think, sir, that we've almost lost the battle, and perhaps the war. At this point, we have left only two offensive weapons that might be decisive. Murata's torpedo force attacking at night, and the Yamato, whenever we can get her guns within range."
Kusaka mentioned the dive bombers, but accepted Genda's proposal for their employment. He then asked what else Genda had in mind with a smile, as if his junior colleague always had something else in mind.
"I think we should split Kaga off from the main force. We could give her a destroyer escort and take her off to the northwest. Until dark, we should keep her a good 500 kilometers from the American fleet. That'll keep her out of their range."
"They struck from that range before."
"Yes, but they can't afford any more of those one-way missions. Kaga will be safe, but also close enough to allow Murata to strike tonight. We should keep only the torpedo planes on board and send everything else on board Hiryu and Ziukaku."
Kusaka again objected.
"The fighters and dive bombers would all fit on board the Ziukaku. Why not keep Hiryu out of their range as well?"
"To protect the Yamato. The Americans will always go for carriers first, and they have a limited number of torpedo bombers. At this stage of the battle, we don't want those torpedoes launched at the Yamato. Also, one of the carriers will be sure to go down pretty quickly. But the other could continue to service the fighters."
"So you envision losing either the Hiryu or Ziukaku in addition to the Akagi and Soryu. That's three carriers out of the original five."
"In return, we get everything they have, probably including the Saratoga. We had four decisive weapons. The forces of Murata, Egusa, and Sendai, and the Yamato. We would end up with two out of the four while they end up with nothing."
Rear Admiral Kusaka looked decidedly uncomfortable. Genda realized that he had put the other man in a position where he would have to make a decision. Kusaka generally made a point of not making decisions, and merely presented a case, albeit shaded one way or another, for Admiral Nagumo to decide. On the other hand, it was an obvious and unspoken fact that Admiral Nagumo had lost something when he had been forced to leave Akagi. Even his voice, which had always served him so well, was now faltering. He would do, or at least recommend to Admiral Yamamoto, whatever Genda and Kusaka wanted.
Genda knew Kusaka well enough to know what the matter was. It wasn't that Kusaka was absolutely incapable of sacrificing a carrier, and most of the men aboard, for the sake of a real, if costly, victory. It was that he couldn't ignore certain longer-range and more abstract questions.
Was it honorable, in conducting warfare, for officers not entrusted with command to start exercising it simply because their superiors were, for the moment, entirely occupied in mourning lost ships and dead men? Was it not instead proper to conduct affairs in accordance with the known wishes of their superiors until those officers were again able to take minute-by-minute control? Was it not adventurism to immediately move into any temporary vacuum that might present itself? Genda knew that all this, and more, was going through his superior's mind.
Kusaka was, in many ways, a more honorable man than himself, and he certainly didn't scorn him for that. On the other hand, there were the needs of the moment. He broke the silence by remarking, in a reflective tone more suited than his usual one to Kusaka's way of thinking,
"I believe, sir, that what matters most isn't really the ships, but the pilots. There must presently be hundreds of them, both theirs and ours, floating around in rafts and life jackets. Whoever wins the battle will be able to conduct a comprehensive search and pick them up. That's what will really be decisive in the long run."
Kusaka brightened a little at that and remarked,.
"Sendai and Egusa may be out there."
"That would end us up with the essence of each of our decisive weapons. Our industry at home can always replace the carriers with better ones. But they'll be no good without people like Murata and Sendai and their men."
Kusaka rose suddenly.
"I will recommend your plan to Admiral Nagumo."
The Yamato, 1215
During the lull in the action, Admiral Ugaki and Commander Tanaka had been having a discussion about midget submarines. Someone who didn't know Ugaki would have thought such a subject of conversation odd in the circumstances. After all, the fleet wasn't accompanied by midget submarines, and the scale of the present conflict was one in which any such craft would have been totally insignificant. The two men were, in fact, aboard a battleship heading for the climax of the greatest naval battle in history. But, despite the frustration of having to put half his mind on something that didn't matter, Hiroshi wasn't surprised.
Midget submarines, carrying three-man crews and a couple of torpedoes, had first been used at Pearl Harbor just before the air strike. They had sunk nothing, been lost themselves, and would have alerted any enemy that could have been alerted as to what was coming. Nevertheless, the crews involved had been given posthumous double promotions, an honor denied to the fliers who had been lost in the subsequent air attack.
This slight had rankled deeply with the naval air forces. Captain Miwa, as air officer for the staff of the Combined Fleet, had been deeply concerned with it. Indeed, in the last few weeks he had spent as much time and energy trying to get double promotions for the dead fliers as he had in planning the present operation. Ugaki, on the other hand, favored the midget submariners. It seemed to be partly because he had never quite come to terms with aviation, and partly because he was enamored of suicide, an act that was almost automatically accomplished in a midget submarine.
The issue was so emotional that Ugaki and Miwa had tacitly agreed not to discuss it at all. This apparent agreement was much encouraged by the rest of the staff. Some of them thought that, had the two men been of the same rank, they might actually have come to blows. Still, Admiral Ugaki had a strong need to talk about his pet subject with someone. Hiroshi now realized that he had been appointed.
Having started, nearly disastrously, at Pearl Harbor, the midget submariners had proceeded from the ill-considered to the ridiculous. Having penetrated the harbor of Sydney, Australia, they had attempted to torpedo the American cruiser Chicago, which was moored there. Instead, they had managed to blow up a wooden barge. This act had set off a display of gunfire, depth charging, and other assorted fireworks which had entertained the whole waterfront for some time. The midget submariners had, as always, been killed.
This new reverse very much concerned Ugaki, who had fears for the program as a whole. While learning much more than he wanted to about the little craft, a new realization struck Hiroshi. Admiral Ugaki wasn't terribly interested in winning battles, or, for that matter, wars. At bottom, he regarded war, not as a continuation of policy by other means, but as a means for displaying certain moral qualities. Particularly if he could be killed in the process, he would rather lose in heroic style than win in a way which was tawdry or undignified.
The medieval ideal of single combat between warriors was his ideal. He didn't want to deceive the enemy. Even the achieving of surprise, so much a part of the tradition of the IJN, seemed to him only a necessary evil. Hiroshi wondered idly how Ugaki had ever reconciled himself to the Pearl Harbor attack. In the midst of all this, a messenger arrived saying that there was a signal from Admiral Nagumo, and that it would be decoded shortly.
Hiroshi knew that Ugaki and Nagumo had been life-long colleagues, but not a great deal more. It was typical of the IJN that men who had been cadets together moved together through the various layers of ranks and assignments. In the course of years all sorts of jealousies and enmities developed, but also friendships, pockets of comraderie, and mutual loyalties. These patterns were often screened so carefully from juniors and seniors that men who appeared to be the closest of friends might, in actuality, turn out to be the closest of enemies. In the present case, a great deal might depend on the exact relation which obtained between Ugaki and Nagumo, a relation which might be as hidden from Admiral Yamamoto, looking down from above, as it was to Hiroshi, looking up from below.
When the message was read to Ugaki, he exploded into a rage. It seemed to him a matter of cowardice, pure and simple. To want to take the Kaga off to the west and hide, while the rest of the force fought, was dishonorable in the extreme. Nagumo should immediately be relieved of command.
Admiral Yamamoto didn't see things in quite the same light. There was good reason to keep Murata's force out of harm's way until the moment came to use it. If so, Nagumo and his staff should be where they could control it most effectively. On the other hand, there was something in his chief of staff's attitude that touched him. It was, he allowed, important not to do anything which might tend to diminish the respect of the men for their leaders.
Obviously uncertain, he called for Captain Kuroshima in order to put the question to him. There wasn't time, on this occasion, to convene a full staff conference. The decision was to be made by the little knot of officers standing around Admiral Yamamoto. It included, in addition to Ugaki, Miwa and Tanaka. Hiroshi was uneasy about the way the decision was being made. He also thought that, in view of the delicate balance, the decisive voice might well be that of Kuroshima. And that, of course, was an imponderable.
Hiroshi himself was in an odd state. Recognizing Genda's hand, as usual, behind this plan, he had been prepared to reject it. However, the severity of Ugaki's over-reaction had made him wonder. Genda had very likely been right the last time, and he might be right this time. One shouldn't simply choose the most suicidal course of action. If the Kaga was put down, their only remaining weapon would be the Yamato. And, without an air force, it was doubtful if they could even find the enemy. Thus, when he saw Kuroshima approach, Hiroshi wasn't even sure what he hoped for.
Kuroshima, for all the nonsense of the past, appeared absolutely steady in this moment of decision. He didn't seem to have been drinking, and his eccentricities were under apparent control. He listened courteously as Admiral Yamamoto himself explained the situation, and he asked a few questions in a way that was neither presumptuous nor servile. Then he gave his opinion.
"I believe, sir, that the Kaga will certainly be lost if we keep her with us much longer. We know that the enemy has several squadrons of bombers, including two torpedo squadrons, which may, even now, be approaching us. Furthermore, the carriers that have bombs or torpedoes stored aboard are excessively vulnerable. I would recommend that the Kaga be removed from the enemy's range as quickly as possible."
There was then a moment of silence in which Ugaki looked daggers at Kuroshima. Admiral Yamamoto broke it.
"Am I to understand, Captain Kuroshima, that you subscribe to the plan put forward by Admiral Nagumo?"
"No sir. I am afraid that the battle is lost. I recommend that the whole fleet steam as fast as possible to the northwest."
It was the first time that Hiroshi had ever seen Admiral Yamamoto visibly angry. He expected him to order Kuroshima to his cabin for the remainder of the action. Instead, the admiral replied only,
"Thank you, Captain Kuroshima. That will be all."
After Kuroshima left, the decision was a foregone conclusion. The idea of simply bolting for Japan was so monstrous that Nagumo's rather sensible suggestion of hiding the Kaga simply got lost. In fact, there was no further discussion of the matter at all. Admiral Yamamoto spoke quietly to Ugaki, and asked him to prepare a signal to the fleet. Ugaki quickly wrote it out on the board.
"To all ships of the Combined Fleet. Proceed on course 80 degrees at 27 knots in order to engage enemy from 0100 on."
Admiral Yamamoto read the message, nodded, and left for the bridge.
Ugaki, left in command of the chart room, appeared much more relaxed. The fury that had attended the receipt of Nagumo's message had now completly left him. He approached Hiroshi, actually put an arm on his shoulder, and spoke paternally.
"It's important to remember, Tanaka, that odd things happen in battle. Often things that might appear dishonorable. But there's generally an opportunity for redemption. Our whole force is now headed together for the enemy. Every man aboard every ship will do his duty. Once the guns of the Yamato open fire, nothing else will matter."
It seemed that, as long as things turned out well, there was to be a blanket pardon for both Nagumo and Kuroshima. Admiral Ugaki was turning out to be much less vindictive than Hiroshi would have imagined.
The Yamato, 1300.
Practically the whole staff was now lining the bridge. There was really nothing left for the staff to do. The decision had been taken, and it remained only to watch the action unfold. The enforced passivity of his situation caused Hiroshi to feel almost as if he was on board an ocean liner, enjoying the sun and brilliant sky after a brisk game of shuttlecock. Indeed, the only real problem he faced was that of holding on to his cap in the face of the near gale created by the ship's speed in combination with the moderate head wind that had sprung up.
The chief discordant note in this scene was the Kaga, off to port, now drawn close for the protection that the Yamato's innumerable guns could offer. No carrier could be beautiful in Hiroshi's opinion, but the Kaga approached the grotesque. Instead of taking her funnels straight up beside the flight deck, her designers had twisted them out and down, and had elongated their mouths to make them look disgustingly organic. The volumes of heavy black smoke were discharged down, toward the water, and then billowed, often obscuring the entire stern of the ship.
There was no activity on her flight deck, nor would there be any until dusk. The Kaga's remaining weapon might well go up in flames before it was launched. Hiroshi wasn't nearly as optimistic as he had been earlier. But, at any rate, he no longer hoped for bomb hits on the ships simply in order to discredit Genda.
In the midst of these musings, there came a message from Ugaki for Hiroshi to again interview the prisoner, Lt. Tabor. Hiroshi doubted that there was much left to glean, but he had nothing else to do. There could still conceivably be some detail of importance.
Hiroshi found rather shocking the sight that he encountered on entering Watanabe's cabin. Lt. Tabor was now a physical wreck. With a makeshift patch over one eye and most of his teeth broken, he looked as if he had been lifted bodily and dumped into the chair. Dressed only in tatters, there were welts and cuts all over his body, and his head swayed oddly. When Tabor spoke, it was hard to understand him because of the missing teeth. After a minute, Hiroshi could just make him out.
"I know now what you were up to. The police use it. The soft man, then the hard man. Then the soft man, and the hard one again. Your hard man will kill me next time."
Hiroshi was sure that a full denial wouldn't be believed.
"I didn't have it in mind when I first talked with you. But, then, they wanted Watanabe to have a try. I couldn't very well object. We didn't have anything to lose."
Tabor said something that Hiroshi couldn't make out. The latter continued,
"And he did get something important out of you. The reduced speed of the Saratoga You didn't say anything about that to me."
"Am I supposed to betray my country in every conceivable way just to make you happy? If your people had had the foresight not to put my eye out, you could have asked me to fly one of your torpedo bombers."
"I imagine your side would do the same thing. In a battle of this importance, no one could afford to let a prisoner keep his secrets just out of kindness and consideration. I'm not a cruel man, but Watanabe will be sent back if I don't go back up with something to tell them."
Tabor attempted to laugh ironically, but gave it up. He replied,
"I can't imagine anything else that would be of value that you haven't already gotten out of me."
"Tell me about your squadron leaders. What are they like?"
"You've already seen Waldron, my squadron leader, now dead. I don't think he had much life outside of flying. He pretty much knew what was going to happen to us today. He sent out a message to the squadron last night saying that only one man might get through, but that he wanted that man to get a hit. The last I saw of him, his plane was in flames, but he was still trying to torpedo you. If he'd had a decent plane, he would have."
"What about the other torpedo squadrons and their leaders?"
"They've had more experience and training than our squadron had. Their leaders, Massey and Lindsey, are just as good as Waldron was. Lem Massey may be even better."
"We're almost out of fighters, but we have a plan to use dive bombers instead."
Tabor, seemingly less conscious of his injuries, listened intently. He then rejoined,
"It'll never work. Even assuming that our fighters don't shoot down your dive bombers, a few thirty caliber guns aren't going to make any difference. Massey and the others aren't at all like me. They wouldn't tell you anything, no matter how much you beat them. If you only have dive bombers to attack them with, they won't even notice anyone shooting at them. They'll just lay their torpedos into your carriers."
Just then, as if to illustrate Tabor's words, the Yamato began to heel, ponderously but rather steeply, as she turned. Hiroshi felt sure that they were under attack, but continued his questioning.
"Are the leaders of the dive bombers as good?"
"Yes, but with much better planes. There you have McCluskey to deal with. He was the one who got you before. He's the leader of our air group."
"Do you think he had enough fuel to get back to one of the carriers?"
"Probably. If you're out of fighters, you'd better forget about it. He and Massey will never give up."
"We have men like that. Murata and Sendai, for example. And dozens of others who have the determination, but not quite the same level of skill. I suppose they're all heroes. For some reason, I don't hold them in great awe. They're likely to die more quickly and suddenly then the rest of us. But what of that? The pain may not be any greater."
"If I'd refused to say anything, I'd probably have died with less pain than now seems likely."
"You won't be killed as long as you keep saying interesting things. Even if you don't have any more secrets. You can go on indefinitely talking about your navy in general terms."
For the first time, Tabor looked a little better. It seemed to Hiroshi that he still had a strong will to believe.
There was then a jolt like a barely detectable earthquake. Apart from the muffled noise of the ship's anti- aircraft guns, which had been going on for some time, there was no particular sound. However, both their chairs had been knocked sideways a few inches. Tabor was alarmed and said,
"That must have been a torpedo hit."
"I suppose so. I doubt that it will affect us much."
"There'll be more. Look. We're all going to end up in the water. If you can keep them from killing me until our side picks us up, I'll tell them you saved me. I'll even say you intervened against Wata-what's-his-name."
When Chief Petty Officer Abe returned to take Tabor away, Hiroshi told him to be gentle. He also translated his order into English for Tabor's benefit. He then asked Abe about the torpedo hit.
"Starboard side opposite B turret, sir. We may lose a knot of speed, perhaps not even that."
By the time that Hiroshi reached the bridge, the guns had stopped firing. To his relief, the Kaga was still where she had been. The great cloud of smoke was coming from her funnels, and not from a hit. Looking over the fleet, he noticed a volume of smoke not so easily explained coming from Hiryu, and had to search for the Ziukaku, now some distance astern. Approaching his friend Miura, he asked what had happened.
"Not good. The Ziukaku took a torpedo and several bombs. She can't land planes, and she seems to be dead in the water. The Hiryu took several bombs. Fortunately, Genda had them jettison their bombs. But they did keep their torpedoes in case they have to rearm Murata. If the fire reaches them, she'll be gone."
"What about the hit we took?"
"One compartment flooded out of over a hundred. No significant reduction in speed."
Hiroshi then reported to Ugaki on the interrogation.
"He really doesn't have any secrets left. But we talked about their squadron leaders. It seems likely to me that they have some people of the caliber of Murata."
Ugaki remained more cheerful than Hiroshi had ever seen him. He replied,
"This is the first test of a first-class modern battleship against aircraft. So far we've been hit with a bomb and a torpedo with virtually no effect. The American General Mitchell sank an ex-German battleship with bombs, and we've sunk quite a number with both bombs and torpedoes. But none of them were anything like the Yamato."
Hiroshi could see that this was to be, not only the final confrontation
between fleets for which Ugaki longed so much, but also the proof that
airplanes hadn't really changed naval strategy.
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