Sunday, 31 March 2019

Genda Minoru Interview pt. 1

The February 1958 issue of "MARU" magazine featured an interview with Genda Minoru, taken by Asahi Shimbun journalist Kimura Noboru and Yomiuri Shimbun journalist Douba Hajime. Below are some extracts.
Q: How the Hawaii attack plan came to be?
A: Ten months before the beginning of the Pacific War, I think end of January or end of February 1941, I was a Commander Staff Officer with the First Carrier Division (Dai 1 Koku Sentai). I was called by Vice-Admiral Onishi who was at Kanoya base at the time and he showed me a letter by Fleet Admiral Yamamoto saying that if this situation continued, it is very probable there is going to be a war between the US and Japan. If such a war erupts, we will not be able to continue this war if we cannot inflict great damage to the US Combined fleet. For this, since the US fleet is based in Hawaii, we must attack using aircraft carriers. The letter concluded asking me to start thinking about such a plan.
Without showing that letter to anybody, I returned from Kanoya to my base and I started pondering about the plan while our aircraft units were training. That was the beginning of everything that followed.
Q: When exactly did training start?
A: We really started from September. Until that time nobody else knew about the plan. Not even the staff officers of the Combined Fleet.
Q: Did you really start from September in Kagoshima Bay, which it is said resembles Pearl Harbor? 
A: I incorporated the plan in the training from the moment I received the letter from Yamamoto. In April the organization of the Fleet changed and the First Carrier Division (Dai 1 Koku Kantai) was organized. Vice Admiral Nagumo became commander and the plan was revealed to him by the commander of the Combined Fleet. So from April started training.
Q: Were you aware of the various details like the depth and the condition of Pearly Harbor?
A: I wasn't sure if the information we had was 100% correct but we proceeded considering that the depth would be about 12 meters.
Q: Compared to Yokosuka or Sasebo, how deep is that?
A: It's very shallow.
Q: Did you search for other locations until making up your mind that Kagoshima best resembled Pearl Harbor?
A: Not that much. Actually although somebody said so, a reporter maybe, Kagoshima doesn't look like Pearl Harbor whatsoever.
We chose Kagoshima because there were many bases in the area for carrier aircraft. At that time, the training bases were Kanoya, Kasanohara (near Kagoshima), Izumi, Kagoshima, Tomitaka, Oita, Usa and Saiki. Each aircraft carrier's torpedo bomber unit gathered in Izumi and Kagoshima. The First Carrier Division (Dai 1 Koku Sentai) gathered in Kagoshima. The Second Carrier Division (Dai 2 Koku Sentai) in Izumi and the Fifth Carrier Division (Dai 5 Koku Sentai) in Usa. Special training for level bombing leaders was necessary, so all the leading aircraft from all the Carrier Divisions gathered in Kagoshima. So it's not that we trained in Kagoshima because it looked like Pearl Harbor.

Q: What was the power of the torpedo bomber units at the time?
A: All the so-called "carrier attackers" could carry a torpedo but we actually used only 40 torpedo bombers split between the 1 and 2 Koku Sentai. The rest of the carrier attackers carried bombs. We had a total of 144 carrier attackers, 40 of them carried torpedoes.

Q: Can "sentai" be translated as "wing"?
A: Yes, that's right.

Q: How big was it as a unit?
A: The "koku sentai" was an aircraft carrier unit. From one to three aircraft carriers plus destroyers. This became one "koku sentai". These days one carrier is one "wing" but back then there were more aircraft than today. Until recently the commander of a "wing" is a Rear Admiral ranking officer. But back then it was a Captain or the captain of the ship. So one aircraft carrier is similar to one "wing" of today.

Q: So, 2-3 aircraft carriers formed a "koku shidan" (carrier division)?
A: No, they were still called "koku sentai" regardless of the number of aircraft carriers.

Q: So, with these "koku sentai" the first and the second waves were carried out. Were there plans for a third wave?
A: Yes, we had planed a third wave. The organization of the units fluctuated depending on the mission and the conditions. So, depending on the conditions and the preparation we had made, we could change the way the ships performed with only one signal. There was a plan for a third wave, either against the enemy aircraft carriers or for landing support.

Q: So, was a third wave not launched because the enemy carriers were not there and the ships that were there were attacked sufficiently?
A: That's not the reason. If the results of the first and second wave attacks were not satisfactory we would launch more attacks. Actually we had planned to launch more attacks even if the results were very satisfactory. These decisions rest on the commander. Well, some people involved at the time have passed away but others are still alive and I'm not comfortable talking about this. So, to sum it up, yes there were plans for a third wave but due to complicated problems this didn't happen.

Q: Were the results as satisfactory as you had planned and expected?
A: Yes, they were more than satisfactory.

Q: You have met after the war Americans who were at Pearl Harbor. What have they told you?
A: Yes, I have met some. Well, if they don't start talking about Pearl Harbor, I don't start such a conversation. We both see these events as military professionals and the strategy involved, so there are really no problems.

Q: Could you elaborate on the complicated problems regarding the cancellation of the third wave?
A: Well, after all, it's the commander's thinking. I can't blame Vice Admiral Nagumo. Duty assignment is very important and I still think so. Nagumo was an expert in torpedo warfare. He is unrivalled commanding a torpedo unit from a torpedo ship. I have been a staff member of Nagumo and he is an excellent person. During Midway when the enemy torpedo bombers attacked and there were swarms of torpedoes coming in our direction, he took command of the ship from the captain and following his manoeuvre instructions we were able to perfectly avoid all of them. It was really amazing. That person with the incredible skills was assigned to command a "carrier sentai" for the first time. It's really problematic to assign the attack against Pearl Harbor, something that nobody had even done before, to a person that hadn't commanded torpedo bombers before. That's why he didn't order the third wave. In other words, any highly skilled person when assigned a mission they have no experience of, they will luck confidence. So, personnel assignment is really important.  

Q: Were there any other commanders with more skills for that mission?
A: For example, Vice Admiral Onishi. Although young he was capable of doing really incredible things.

Q: It's really a problem of seniority, isn't it?
A: At that time that was true. Senior officers were pushed to the front from behind but this system was terrible when it came to aircraft carriers and aircraft units.

1 comment:

D. Chouinard said...

Great article! Interesting that Genda-san was reluctant to comment on the decision not to send the third wave, not willing to put himself or others in an awkward position.
Thank you for posting!