Table of Contents
Next Chapter Home
The Nagara, 1600
As yet another American attack formed up, a question of etiquette arose. Admiral Nagumo still had under his command the considerable remnants of the First Mobile Striking Force. Apart from Murata's force in the air, that consisted of the battleships Haruna and Kirisima, four of the heavy cruisers, the Nagara herself, and part of the destroyer screen. In practice, it would be foolish to try to maneuver these ships independently of the rest of the fleet.
When they had first sortied from Hashirajima, the Yamato force had conformed to their movements because of the necessity of periodically turning into the wind to launch and recover aircraft. Now, the shoe was on the other foot. Indeed, Ugaki had already incorporated the Haruna and Kirisima into his own formation. Nagumo could easily just follow along in the Nagara, and let the matter rest there. But there was more to it than that. As Admiral Kusaka addressed Commander Genda, he was speaking unusually slowly, the sure sign that he was embarrassed.
"We do still have responsibility for a number of ships, and, while we may wish them to be under the direct command of Admiral Yamamoto in these circumstances, we would also wish it to be understood that the orders of Admiral Yamamoto should be taken, on each occasion, to also express the intentions and desires of Admiral Nagumo."
Genda could hardly remember when he had last slept, and found himself giving way to irritation. But he checked himself. Tired as he was, he understood Kusaka's concern.
Admiral Nagumo hadn't said a word during the transfer from the Kaga to the Yukikaze, and then from the destoyer to the Nagara. He was now standing on the cruiser's bridge as if paralyzed. Kusaka was worried that his chief's inactivity might be at least partially blamed for the looming defeat. He wanted some order to go out over Nagumo's name to "prove" that he was still actively in command. As the American torpedo bombers came in on their run, Genda smiled and suggested that they, in Admiral Nagumo's name, order all their ships to conform to the movements of the Yamato. Kusaka thanked Genda for his suggestion and summoned the signalman as a Devastator roared past close above them.
It was nice, for once, to be on a ship that no one thought worth attacking. This time, the priority seemed to be the two divisions of heavy cruisers, drawn up either side of the battleships. These particular cruisers were the fastest ships in the IJN, at least under ocean conditions. They were also bigger than any other cruisers in the world, and mounted more guns. In a night action they might be more dangerous than old battleships. It didn't surprise Genda that the enemy had reached the same conclusions he did. He rather suspected that the men in command on the other side had more in common with him than with most of his superiors.
It had now come down to running a gauntlet, and every attack took a toll. One of the cruisers, he thought it was the Mikuma, had taken two torpedo hits. She was now listing, and had almost stopped. The other cruisers all seemed to have been hit with at least one bomb or torpedo, and a couple were on fire. However, all but the Mikuma had kept their place in formation.
The Japanese Fleet, 1620
Some ten minutes after the attack, a float plane landed beside the Nagara while a signal came from the Yamato asking Commander Genda to report on board. A boat was soon launched with Genda in it. Even before the plane stopped, he stepped out on to the pontoon, and then climbed to the after cockpit. As he did so, he wondered, with some concern, what the purpose of this summons could be. Captain Miwa was the senior air officer of the Combined Fleet, and he would have been consulted on any matter concerning aviation. It would be unorthodox for Admiral Yamamoto, or Admiral Ugaki, to go past him to consult anyone more junior. Perhaps Miwa himself had suggested it.
Oddly enough, Genda had never taken off from the water before, and found it a unique and enjoyable experience. Hardly had they risen, after an accelerating sequence of slaps of the floats against waves, when they dropped down again, and the process repeated itself in reverse. As the Yamato's stern loomed above them, it reminded Genda, not so much of a ship, but of a great concrete dam with sluice gates letting go floods of water underneath. The plane danced alarmingly in the Yamato's wake as they crossed ridges of water and felt the vortices from the enormous screws not so far below them.
Above them, a crane swung out a hook, dangling back and forth like a pendulum. Genda discovered that he was expected to grab the hook and put it through the ring while the pilot kept them from being crushed by the behemoth beside them.
The motions of plane and hook seldom seened to coincide. Genda made a couple of futile jabs at the hook as it shot by. However, it was obvious that they were going to stay in this precarious position until he succeeded. In the end, he almost fell out of the cockpit, but got the hook through the ring. The second he had done so, the plane was lifted upward so fast that he was thrown violently back into his seat, hitting his elbow painfully on the side of the cockpit. Probably the crane operator had been irritated by their delay in taking the hook.
It was easy to forget how large the staff of the Combined Fleet was. They seemed to occupy every corner of the Yamato's palatial chart room. It was, predictably, Miwa who collared him.
"It's a relief to see you again, Minoru."
Genda had always felt comfortable with Miwa. He replied laconically, and, as it turned out, a trifle too loudly,
"It looks like we messed up."
Miwa gave a sidelong glance at Ugaki, and led Genda out to one of the many secluded areas in the complex bridge structure. He then spoke as a man who thinks that everyone has formed a compact against him.
"You see what it is, don't you. They've all gone crazy. Ugaki's standing beside the wheel muttering things like, 'Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.' Any time now, he'll signal 'England expects every man to do his duty' to the fleet. Most of the staff are standing there like so many sticks."
"I'm not sure we can get away now, whatever we do."
"Their fleet is still steaming away, and we wouldn't have to go very far west to get beyond the range of their torpedo bombers. If we continue east after them tonight, we won't catch them. But every ship of ours will be sunk tomorrow. If we turn west soon, we can save most of what remains."
There was a note of personal desperation in Miwa's voice. It was one of Genda's secrets that he would never consider suicide under any circumstances. That meant that he might well end up as an American prisoner if they continued east. He thought that that wouldn't be the end of the world, but, still, not good. He wasn't sure whether Miwa would allow himself to be taken prisoner, but thought that he probably would not. In any case, Miwa would, of course, be shocked if he, Genda, made any reference to saving their own lives. He instead asked,
"Will Admiral Yamamoto make the decision himself?"
"He'll probably follow his usual practice. That is, he'll decide only if the staff is divided. At present it's not divided enough, and Ugaki has everything under control. I can't imagine why he's acting this way. He always tried to keep the admiral a thousand miles from danger before. Now, he'll surely get him killed."
Genda laughed and replied,
"It's quite simple. He's a chief of staff. Kusaka would do the same thing in Ugaki's place."
Genda was surprised at the violence of Miwa's reaction. After some spluttering, he ended with,
"You mean Kusaka's crazy too?"
"No. Certainly not."
Genda went on to explain.
"A chief of staff acts to maximize the best interests of his principal. Ugaki originally must have thought that we could win this battle without the Yamato, as we won the others. So, he could keep the admiral safe, and still have him get a good share of the credit. But, now, we're faced with defeat. That's worse than death for these people, and might well involve seppuku for the admiral. A victory has to be achieved no matter how remote the odds. Or, at least, there has to be some consolation in a night action in which the admiral is personally and heroically involved."
Miwa seemed to understand.
"If it were put to Admiral Yamamoto that way, he'd put a stop to this nonsense."
"Sacrifice his reputation for the sake of the men? He probably would. But who could put it to him that way?"
"Only Ugaki. And he won't."
Genda stepped to the rail and looked over at the cruiser Tone, this time from a new, higher, perspective. As he watched the Tone catapult another scout plane, he spoke back over his shoulder to Miwa.
"I did just wonder whether the Americans might be running low on bombs and torpedoes. They must have lost a good many with the carrier that went down. And now they're running three bomber groups from two carriers."
"We can find out from our prisoner. You knew about him didn't you?"
"Yes. The torpedo pilot. He might not know about such things. Our pilots probably wouldn't. Besides, we wouldn't know whether to believe him."
"This man has been completely broken. I'll send Watanabe down. He'll get what we need very quickly."
As Miwa left, he made Genda promise to stay where he was and not talk with anyone else until he returned. It was, indeed, a surprisingly short time before Miwa reappeared.
"I went down with Watanabe myself. I have a little English."
"What did he say?"
"He knew a lot about it. It was once his job to keep track of squadron torpedo stocks, both ashore and afloat. He was relieved of it because of bad paper work. It looks as if they still have five torpedoes for each plane. He didn't know about bombs, but thinks the reserves would be similar."
Genda hit the rail sharply with his hand.
"That settles it. Even this ship can't take five more attacks by something like four squadrons of bombers."
"Let's count noses, then. There's you and I. There's Kuroshima. He predicted what would happen. The admiral didn't like it, but he may remember it now. Still, Kuroshima is so bizarre that no one on the staff listens to him."
"Isn't there anyone else on the staff whose opinion counts?"
"Well, I suppose there's Tanaka."
"I only know him slightly, but there's nothing to lose. Why don't we approach him?"
This idea seemed painful to Miwa, and he replied slowly.
"He spends most of his time toadying to his superiors. He's played a thousand games of chess with Admiral Yamamoto and never won once, even though he's a better player. Recently, except for one little episode, he's been following Ugaki around and hanging on his every word."
"That doesn't sound very promising."
"There's one thing about him, though. He is intelligent. He might see reason. Instead of taking you right to the admiral, I think I'll let you talk with Tanaka. If you can get him to say the right things to Ugaki, that will count more than anything you say to Admiral Yamamoto. The admiral has great respect for you, and he'll listen closely. But he won't change course until Ugaki at least wavers."
It was an odd, and rather unpleasant, sensation for Genda to find himself directly accused. According to Tanaka, he had lost the battle by providing too little fighter protection for the fleet. Genda resisted the temptation to point out that Tanaka never made mistakes because he had no responsibilities that went beyond playing chess. What was interesting was that Tanaka had referred to the battle as "lost." Replying to the accusation, Genda spoke soothingly.
"We've made so many mistakes that it's hard to say which one, if any, was critical in itself."
When Tanaka had first spoken, he had actually been shaking. Now, assailed with the voice of sweet reason, he calmed considerably. He even owned that the staff of the Combined Fleet had made its share of mistakes.
From there the conversation took a different turn. Genda, more to be politic than anything else, asked Tanaka whether the American prisoner's statements on torpedo reserves should be believed.
"Yes, I think so. Of course, it dims our chances greatly. I'm also sorry on account of the prisoner. If he could lie, just once, on a matter of such importance, he could regain some vestige of his honor."
It seemed to Genda that Tanaka, like Ugaki, could easily get sidetracked on to thoughts about honor when other things were much more important. He talked with Tanaka another ten minutes, but didn't try to persuade him of anything specific. It was more important, he thought, to simply get him to think about current operations. There would be plenty of time later to worry, as Tanaka tended to, about relations between members of the staff, and the implications of those relations for the appropriateness of seppuku in various circumstances.
The Yamato, 1710.
There was still no news of Murata, who could long since have reached the American fleet if he had wanted to. There was, however, a report from the scouts shadowing the American fleet that a large fighter group had taken off and headed west. That sounded ominous.
It wasn't long afterwards that another American attack came in, almost on schedule. This one was mostly dive bombers, with only a dozen torpedo bombers. Even though the dive bombers were again concentrating mostly on the cruisers, the scream as they dove was beginning to bother Hiroshi. It was like a dentist's drill coming ever closer to the nerve in a tooth. The unpleasantness was compounded when a bomb landed on B turret forward. It didn't penetrate, but shook the ship and sent shrapnel in all directions. A couple of shards of steel even went clanging past Hiroshi as he stood near the bridge rail. Instinctively looking back to see that Admiral Yamamoto was all right, Hiroshi saw that he was unhurt. He was, however, hunched down in an unusual position on his bench.
The contrast between this hit and the first one that morning that everyone had laughed off was instructive. This one was no more damaging, but nerves had frayed considerably in the course of the last eleven hours. Looking around at the others, it seemed to Hiroshi that Miura was the least affected. He was, after all, a gunnery officer, inured to all sorts of horrid bangs and crashes over the years. Moreover, he had expected something like this. Just then, amid the scream of a dive bomber, there was another hit, much closer. They were all knocked flat, although Hiroshi had the sensation that it was the ship which tilted while he remained upright. In any case, he twisted his back painfully. Sitting on the deck, he wondered idly if it would be possible to bomb the ship until the crew members were buffeted into insensibility without even seriously damaging the ship.
The only person who was thriving on this madness was Admiral Ugaki. Although a rather frail-looking older man, he had bounced up immediately after the hit, and was now standing beside the helmsman, his arms behind his back in the best style of the British Royal Navy. By contrast, the ship's commander, Captain Hideo Yamagiwa, had slowly pulled himself up and was standing, some distance away, rubbing his knee.
Afterward, Hiroshi had no idea why he had moved to speak to Admiral Ugaki at that moment, or why he had said what he did. Indeed, with Ugaki staring straight ahead over the great gun turrets in an attitude of command, Hiroshi at first wondered if he had been heard at all. He nevertheless continued, speaking slowly and carefully. He pointed out that he had been Admiral Yamamoto's servant for many years. He chose words that suggested that he had been, not a member of the admiral's staff, but something like a valet. This, of course, wasn't so terribly far from the mark in its way. Hiroshi then went on to submit, most humbly, that he could sometimes recognize some of the admiral's attitudes and intentions, even when the admiral did not express them.
That got through to Ugaki. He gave Hiroshi a hostile stare, as if the latter had suddenly gone insane. Hiroshi backed away a foot, bowed, and continued. No doubt Admiral Ugaki was much better than he, Tanaka, at divining Admiral Yamamoto's intentions, but, in the press of the recent action, perhaps Admiral Ugaki had been too occupied with the action to notice. It was that suggestion that did it. It was polite, but it barely hinted that Ugaki had neglected his duties as chief of staff. Ugaki angrily asked Hiroshi what on earth he was talking about. The latter replied,
"I think, sir, that the admiral is not entirely satisfied with our present plans for the night action. But, possibly, considerations of morale and honor may prevent him from saying ..."
Ugaki immediately spun around to look at Admiral Yamamoto, sitting on his bench.
The admiral looked smaller than he ever had before. Usually, he sat straight with his head high and scanned the horizon as if he were a lookout. Now, with his chest shrunk and his head bowed, he looked as if he were meditating or in mourning. It might, of course, just have been a matter of indigestion. On the other hand, it had just been suggested to Ugaki that Admiral Yamamoto was sick at the idea of leading his fleet to its destruction. A much less sensitive man than Ugaki might have found confirmation for that idea in his commander's present posture.
Ugaki, having taken a long look over at Admiral Yamamoto, then stood silently for a moment. Finally, he marched over to the assembled staff and announced a conference down in the chart room.
Ugaki opened the conference by detailing the condition of the fleet. The Yamato could do nineteen knots, and more for a short time in an emergency. The other four battleships had, at most, light damage. The cruiser Mikuma was sinking. The Mogami had taken two torpedo hits, and was heading for Japan. Other heavy cruisers were damaged, but there were three left that could still do 34 knots, albeit with some turrets out due to bomb hits.
Nothing whatever had been heard from Murata. But he still had at least another hour's worth of fuel in his tanks. Ugaki then introduced Genda and gave him an opportunity to state his views.
Hiroshi, sitting at one end of the long curved bench, noticed an unusual degree of silence as Genda rose to speak. Hiroshi wasn't sure of the extent to which Genda was being blamed for the loss of the carriers, but it was clear that his prestige, as a future admiral, was still very great. In addition, he was a voice from outside, a new voice to free them from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Combined Fleet staff. Finally, in addition to everything else, he had been much closer to the action. Although the Yamato had been hit repeatedly, no one on the staff had been in danger. Genda, on the other hand, had almost been killed on the Akagi. As a visible reminder, his left sleeve was cut away and his arm bandaged where it had been burned. Even in a world where much worse than that was taken for granted, a wound still counted for something.
Genda began by discussing Murata's mission. Not much should be expected. The attack was a desperation one, and Murata's men would be doing well if they got one torpedo into one ship. In retrospect, he wished that he hadn't recommended the attack at all. It could well turn out to be a pointless sacrifice.
No one had expected this kind of humility from Genda, and it had an immediate effect. Watanabe, for example, was nodding the way he did when Ugaki spoke. Then Genda had some good news. He didn't think that there would be many more enemy attacks that evening, perhaps none at all. Because the Americans had lost a carrier, the remaining carriers would have to land planes other than their own. Adjustments would have to be made. He continued,
"They'll make those adjustments this evening and rest their pilots. Then, tomorrow morning, they'll make a maximum attack with everything they have."
The relief Genda had first raised was largely removed by his last sentence. Then, someone pointed out that, if they caught the enemy that night, there would be no carriers left to strike at dawn. Ugaki asked who had the latest figures on position and speed. To his obvious disappointement, it was Kuroshima who had them. He stood up from his position near the center of one of the semi-circular benches.
"We are now 203 kilometers from the bulk of the American fleet. At Yamato's current best speed we won't catch them until 1458 tomorrow afternoon. If we left the Yamato behind and sent the cruisers and the two fastest battleships, they'd catch the enemy at 0600, an hour and a half after daybreak. If we sent only the three least damaged cruisers, they'd engage the enemy almost precisely at midnight tonight."
"If we sent the cruisers now, and the fastest battleships at their best speed, how far away would the battleships be at midnight?"
Kuroshima did a complex calculation in his head.
"Approximately 95 kilometers, sir."
Ugaki muttered something under his breath, and then addressed the others.
"I'm afraid that's just too far to do any good. Although, if the cruisers engaged the enemy and slowed him down, the battleships might get there before dawn."
It looked as if no one was going to answer until, at last, Genda spoke.
"I imagine, sir, that the enemy would drop back his battleships to engage our force, but that the carriers would keep going. Our cruisers would have to disable the enemy battleships to get to the carriers."
Although much had been said about the capabilities of the new cruisers, no one really wanted to match 8 inch guns, firing 114 kilo shells, against 14 inch guns which fired 650 kilo shells. For one thing, it would have contravened every principle ever laid down by the staff colleges. Kuroshima, speaking out of turn, asked Genda,
"If we turned west now, would they catch us and destroy us tomorrow."
At that moment, Kuroshima seemed to have offended almost everyone. Genda nevertheless answered,
"They've had a good look at the Yamato, and thy're still withdrawing at full speed. They don't want a night action. If we hold our present course another few hours until dark, we could then reverse it while they keep steaming east."
Tanaka asked Kuroshima what the distance between the two fleets would then be at daybreak. The latter, again doing calculations in his head, replied,
"That would put us about 700 kilometers away from them at daybreak. That should be well out of their range."
Admiral Ugaki had, by this time, reverted to something like his original character. Perhaps, thought Hiroshi, he had recognized that Admiral Yamamoto's reputation couldn't remain untarnished whatever he did.
At no point was the question ever raised whether they should turn back. But it was clear to Hiroshi, and probably everyone else, that virtually everyone, perhaps without any exceptions at all, wanted to break off the action. Defeat hung heavy in the room, but it had been there for hours. The process of accepting it was now well advanced. Advanced enough so that it was possible to think about salvaging what was left.
Ugaki, very much the chief of staff, wanted the figures checked to see if they were correct. There was a pause while Kuroshima wrote the calculations down on paper and checked them. Ugaki then concluded the conference by saying,
"Admiral Yamamoto preferred to remain on the bridge, but asked me to summarize our deliberations for him. I will now do so."
Hiroshi knew for a fact that Ugaki hadn't even spoken to the commander-in-chief before the conference. However, he supposed that a few white lies would do no harm.
The Yamato, 1950
The atmosphere on the bridge was an odd one. Absolutely nothing had happened for the last hour or more. The sun was getting low astern, and the scattered clouds, which had so well served the scout planes on both sides, were taking on exotic hues. It was a beautiful early summer evening in the middle of the Pacific. The ships all steamed in formation, and all fires had been put out. One would have had to look hard to see any damage anywhere.
On the other hand, there was a good deal of tension. Not the excited tension that precedes action, but a dead-tired tension that waits doggedly for the final accounting. And it was that final accounting which showed few signs of disclosing itself. Nothing had been heard from Murata. Nor had the scouts still shadowing the American fleet reported anything. The enemy was still steaming at 14 knots and 80 degrees, diverging only slightly to launch and recover aircraft. The Saratoga and her escorts were still operating independently, but only 20 kilometers away from the rest of the fleet. Hiroshi felt fairly certain that, by this time, Murata and his men were either dead or adrift on the sea.
There also had been no decision as to the night's action or lack of it. If Hiroshi had read the mood correctly, they would withdraw after dark, but no orders to that effect had gone out to the fleet. It was in these circumstances that Genda approached him.
"Commander Tanaka, I have a problem. I've already spoken to Miwa, and he says he can't do anything. He suggested that I speak to you."
It was hard to be reserved with a man who approached one so openly, and who could still smile after the day he must have had. Hiroshi therefore made encouraging noises. Genda continued,
"I think the decision to withdraw tonight must already have been made. It apparently involved only Admiral Yamamoto and Admiral Ugaki. I suppose we'll never know the details. My problem is much more minor."
It turned out that a float plane searching in their wake for survivors had discovered Akagi still afloat and burning. An order was going out to the Nagara instructing her to take two destroyers, pick up survivors from the carriers and sink any disabled ones that might remain afloat. At this point Genda smiled crookedly and scratched his ear before continuing.
"Obviously we have to rescue the crews. We also can't leave disabled ships floating for the Americans. However, Nagara already has many survivors on board. It would be more logical to send the Jintsu. Moreover, Admirals Nagumo and Kusaka are on board the Nagara. It's going to be very painful for them to have to sink their own ships. Do you think there's a punitive intention behind that order?"
Hiroshi was almost sure that there was. It was just like Ugaki to make Nagumo sink his own flagship. However, no one besides Genda asked such direct questions. It was hard to know how to reply. In the end, he answered somewhat indirectly, but more fully than Genda had probably expected. He finished by saying,
"From this point on, there will, of necessity, be a good deal of divergence of interest between Admiral Ugaki and Admiral Kusaka."
Genda again said the unsayable,
"You mean, each will want the other's principal to take the blame for the defeat?"
Hiroshi would not ordinarily have allowed himself to become party to a discussion of this sort, but he couldn't forbear from here stating the obvious.
"Someone will have to take the blame. A good chief of staff would certainly try to protect his admiral."
"Yes. But isn't it really for the naval General Staff, or even the emperor, to decide? It seems a pity to fight it out here where the battle is still going on."
Again, it seemed to Hiroshi just a matter of human nature. He replied,
"The issue of blame should be postponed, certainly. But it won't be. It's too important to the people involved."
Genda said nothing, as if he were unconvinced. Hiroshi continued,
"In effect, it comes down to this. If, by the time we get back to the Inland Sea, the defeat hasn't been established as Nagumo's, it will then be charged to Admiral Yamamoto."
At last Genda, despite a certain kind of naivite, seemed to understand.
"I see. As far as that goes, our own loyalties will lie on opposite sides. Even apart from that, I wasn't going to ask you to intervene. You did that, very effectively, earlier. When it really mattered. This is just politics."
"Yes, but staff officers are politicians. Nothing gets done without politics, and it may matter who commands the next fleet to challenge the enemy."
"I doubt very much that it will be Admiral Nagumo, or even include him."
"Granted. But it may not be Admiral Yamamoto who commands either. That's what is at issue."
Genda nodded and then shook his head, as if to clear it, before remarking.
"There's even more to this than I realized. But what I really meant to ask you is whether I should make representations to someone to substitute the Jintsu for the Nagara on this unpleasant mission."
"I think you could point out to Ugaki that the Nagara is already crowded without raising these other issues."
Genda thanked him and disappeared immediately in search of Ugaki. It seemed to Hiroshi that he had misjudged Genda. He wasn't scheming, and he was far too innocent to be considered an adventurer. He was simply a gambler, a very good one who occasionally lost. Japan would never beat America, with many times its resources, without gambling.
When, after some twenty minutes, Genda returned, Hiroshi asked him how it had gone.
"I caught him just in time. He wasn't happy about my request. He was willing to crowd the Nagara until she sank just to humiliate our admiral. But I'm learning how to play Combined Fleet politics."
Hiroshi, not entirely happy with this slur, let it go. The other explained,
"The order he was about to give was technically improper. He could order Nagumo, who's still a fleet commander, to perform this mission, but then Nagumo and Kusaka would be free to choose the ships. Of course, the Nagara would have to be involved. The battleships are too slow, and the destroyers aren't big enough. But I told Ugaki that Admiral Nagumo could send the Haruna to do it. By then he realized his mistake. So he relented and chose the Jintsu, one of his own ships."
Genda, pleased with himself, seemed to expect praise. Hiroshi wanted only to go to sleep. But the other wasn't to be stifled.
"Do you remember, earlier, that you accused me of losing the battle?"
Before he could go any further, Hiroshi invervened.
"I apologize. I was mistaken. I think it's the lack of sleep.
Genda waved his hand.
"No. It was a reasonable view. But mistaken, I think. I knew that Sendai was going to encounter more fighter opposition than he ever had. I was right in giving him everything I could, and even a bit more. The trouble was that it still wasn't enough."
Hiroshi, despite his desire to sleep, realized that this was the only chance he would ever have to understand what had happened.
"Why wasn't it enough? I thought our fighter pilots were the best in the world."
"Some of them were. Sendai was. And some others like him. But the other side, as a whole, must have been of roughly the same standard. I've talked with some of the survivors, and they were all of that opinion."
"Shouldn't that have resulted in a standoff. Why did we suddenly lose all our fighters?"
"One thing I know is that they had a much higher proportion of fighters in their air groups. Two carriers had nothing else. That meant that they outnumbered us in fighters."
The conversation with Genda, almost impossible at first, gained momentum as Hiroshi became less conscious of his tiredness. While he had never known Genda well enough to be said to have him for an enemy, or to have personal hatred for him, Hiroshi had seen him as the symbol of success. The success which had never come Hiroshi's way. He now saw that he had been a bright young man, too inhibited to make his mark, who had been passed by another man, a little brighter and a little younger, who had hardly any inhibitions at all. Hiroshi found that self-admission so liberating that he started to tell Genda about his wife. He concluded,
"It was probably because Admiral King seduced her that she started spying for the Americans."
Hiroshi managed to say this, with a glance at the western sky, in an almost neutral tone. He noticed that Genda didn't look terribly surprised and added,
"You knew about this, didn't you?"
"I had heard some of it. Things people think are secret seldom are. In both war and other things."
"I suppose the whole navy has been laughing at me for years."
"I never heard anyone laugh about it. Whatever the shortcomings of the officer corps of the IJN, it doesn't have the mentality of foot soldiers. It was just regarded as unfortunate. That's all."
It was hard to know whether to believe Genda. He was open and spontaneous for the most part, but he might also be capable of deceit where the truth would wound to no good effect. In any case, Hiroshi came back to the point.
"I met a number of American naval officers through my wife. There was one man, Murphy, who must have played a role comparable to yours in developing their carrier-borne air force."
Genda was instantly curious.
"What was he like?"
"Older than you. He had contempt for me, and it's hard to judge people under that circumstance. They don't bother to be intelligent or charming, or anything. I think, though, that Murphy was contemptuous of many people. In my case it must have been because of things Mitsuko had told him, and because of her affairs. He did have a foot soldier's sense of humor, incidentally. Moreover, he probably held his brother officers in contempt just because most of them weren't very smart. Murphy may not have been loved, but I suspect that, one way or another, he did more than anyone to shape their naval air force."
"You know, it wasn't just that they had a formidable fighter force. Everything they did fitted together nicely. It was all aimed at destroying our fighter force. We had only eighteen left at the critical moment."
It was only then that Hiroshi fully realized how many things he had heard, and in some cases overheard, about Murphy. In the light of what Genda said, he was beginning to be aware of a pattern that he should have recognized long ago. It was too late now, of course. But there was no harm in satisfying Genda's curiosity insofar as he could.
"Murphy worked in a very different way from you. Our navy recognizes the men with the best minds and gives them responsibility. But Murphy wasn't allowed to plan openly. Although I was never able to discover what his plans were, I was aware of his importance. I also knew that he had always to realize them through intrigue. He had as many secrets from his own navy as he had from us."
"He also seems to have kept them. That, in itself, is an unusual accomplishment."
"I'd overhear bits and pieces. Mitsuko and her friend, a blonde American assistant to Murphy, were always fooling around with clothes and whispering in the bedroom. I move quietly, without even trying, and there were times when I came into the apartment and left again without their knowing. It was very upsetting, since they were obviously discussing naval matters. I used simply to hope that Mitsuko wouldn't say anything obviously treasonous. When she didn't, I was relieved. But I should have reported everything I heard. Someone else might have been able to put it all together."
"Were other people involved besides Murphy?"
"Yes. Certain naval officers and someone in the office of the Navy Secretary. There were also other civilians that they talked about, mostly rather sinister types. There was an old ace fighter pilot, a sort of ruffian, I gathered. I heard later that he tried to assassinate the president of Cuba."
"I've never heard anything like that. It sounds more like a criminal conspiracy than a naval air force. I wonder how they ever got their navy to adopt these ideas."
"That would've been Admiral King's doing. He's quite a mysterious and sinister man himself. Can you imagine one of our admirals making an open sport of seducing the wives of other officers?"
"No. I agree. We have different moral principles. But we lost. At least, unless ..."
Genda broke off in the middle of his sentence and walked over to the signals officer. He then looked at his watch and came back.
"Still no news of Murata. It's really too late now. I should never have sent him."
"You had little choice. This was the decisive battle. By the time we replace what we've lost and train new air groups, the Americans will have a force five times the size of ours. We'll fight long and hard, but there won't be any other chances to destroy their fleet."
"No. Murata would have done it on his first try if the torpedoes had been set to run five feet deeper. We did it at Pearl Harbor so that they'd run under the torpedo nets surrounding the battleships. It never occurred to anyone that they'd use destroyers to absorb torpedoes meant for the heavy ships."
"That's so much the story of Japan. We get only one chance, and we have to get everything exactly right. The Americans can bumble along and make mistakes. Their torpedoes don't even go off half the time. This ship would be sunk if they did. But they'll be back later with the mistakes corrected."
It seemed to Hiroshi that Genda was no longer listening. The latter, hands in his pockets, was looking down at the bow wave creaming past them. At length, he looked up and remarked, with a little smile,
"I should have saved Murata for the next war."
Table of Contents Last
Chapter Next Chapter Home