Nakajima B5N2 “Kate”

Air Raid Pearl Harbor…

This is easily the best known example of this important Japanese bomber. On December 7, 1941, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida flew this plane as commander of the Pearl Harbor attack force.

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After the jump, a look at the lead plane of the major event.

The Pearl Harbor raid that started World War II for the United States is a complex and fascinating event.  From the meticulous Japanese planning, to the bungled American response, to duplicitous diplomacy, to tragic heroics; there are so many excellent accounts and even plenty of controversy to make this a very involved area of study.  The most classic account would be “At Dawn We Slept” by Gordon Prange.  It is widely regarded as the best overview of the event.  Many of the details have been hashed over since that book was published, but the basic narrative is sound.  Honorable mention goes to “Day of Infamy” by Walter Lord; it may be the most easily readable account of the battle written, but it is brief.

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The gauge on the top/front of the cowling is for determining angles for a torpedo drop.

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The B5N “Kate” was the primary Japanese torpedo bomber in the first couple years of the war.  For the Pearl Harbor raid, Kate’s carried two non-standard load outs.  Many had torpedoes with extra wooden fins to keep them from running to their normal depth in the shallow harbor. But Cmdr Fuchida’s plane was armed with an 800 kg (1760 lb) armor piercing bomb that had been modified from a 14 inch battleship shell.  This was done because the Japanese knew the American battleships were docked side by side, and torpedoes would not reach the inner row.  And only torpedoes or very heavy special bombs would pose a real threat to well armored battleships.

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As the command aircraft, it was this plane that sent the famous “Tora, Tora, Tora” signal back to the fleet indicating surprise had been achieved.  The example shown here is from the Hasegawa kit, with Aeromaster decals.  The tail markings are somewhat conjectural.  The plane was known to have an all red tail with yellow stripes during training leading up to the raid.  And by the time of its loss at the Battle of Midway the markings had been removed.  Fuchida’s own account says the markings had been removed from the horizontal surfaces, but remained on the vertical, at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack.  So that’s what I’ve shown here.  But no photographs exist of this interim marking.

After Pearl Harbor Fuchida would continue as the air group commander on the carrier Akagi until the Battle of Midway, where the ship was lost and he was injured.  After recovery, he spent the remainder of the war in a variety of staff positions.  Fuchida’s personal story is even more interesting after the war than during.  He was furious after the war crimes trials of Japanese post-war, and set out on a personal mission to expose American atrocities.  But was shocked to discover Japanese prisoners returning home reported only good treatment from their captors.  This caused a complete shake up of his world view.  Mitsuo Fuchida was born again in 1949, and became a missionary to the United States.  He died in 1976 at age 73.

The 800 KG armor piercing bomb.  The bomb aimer's window is alongside the bomb.

The 800 KG armor piercing bomb. The bomb aimer’s window is alongside the bomb.

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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21 Responses to Nakajima B5N2 “Kate”

  1. Theresa says:

    These planes were slow but did the job on stationary targets. In open combat they were no match to the US forces as the subsequent battles showed,

    • atcDave says:

      Well any Bomber is going to be slow compared to fighters, it just sort of comes with being a bomb truck.
      But all things considered, the Kate was the fastest torpedo Bomber in the world in the early part of the war. Keep in mind, in 1941/42 the US was using the Devestator, Britain was using the Swordfish. The Japanese had a huge advantage right from the start, their torpedoes could be dropped at almost 200kts; while American and British torpedoes had a drop speed closer to 100kts. So not only were the Japanese designing around a faster release, it was faster than we even imagined possible. It definitely gave the Kate an edge until we caught on, and some early battles include stories of US fighter cover missing the Kate’s entirely as they deployed too far behind to catch them.

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    I always loved the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! for the way it delved in to all the what-if’s of that day. The most important being that the Japanese never launched a third wave, leaving fuel depots and dry docks untouched, allowing the US to recover quickly from the attack.

    • atcDave says:

      I think Tora! Tora! Tora! Is one of the greatest war movies ever made. It embellishes almost nothing, and delivers good quality history. It lets the events generate their own drama. I love that movie.

      The third strike issue is a huge part of the fascination, and it goes right into Fuchida’s personal story. Although there is some controversy there too. Even writing in the late 1940s (before a lot of wartime material had been declassified) Samuel Eliot Morrison wrote in “History of US Naval Operations in World War Two” about the obvious shortcomings of the Japanese strike. He said something to the effect “seldom has a successful operation been so disastrous for the victor”. And Fuchida claimed to have argued with Nagumo about a follow up strike for dock and fuel facilites. But I think something has been lost in translation (I suspect this argument took place in Japan, during planning). Because the Pearl Harbor attack force had clearly shot its bolt. They didn’t have enough fuel for even a few more hours on station. Carrier Division Two (Soryu and Hiryu) supposedly returned to port running on fumes. Plus the weather turned against them, they physically could not have launched another strike on December 7. So additional strikes would have meant another day, with only the bigger carriers remaining on station.
      Which opens up the possibility of Enterprise and Lexington getting an attack on some part of the Japanese fleet…

      Yeah I love this stuff.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        A Third wave was in the plans from what I’ve read, but the facts that you cite, the time involved to refuel and re-arm a third wave, the logistics of support, and the weather, seem to make it improbable that it could have been done. I have read sources that claim Yamamoto initially supported Nagumo’s decision not to linger with the US carriers unaccounted for and the other factors you cite, but later lamented that Nagumo hadn’t either sought out the US carriers or attacked the docks and fuel. One additional factor people don’t often mention is that the second wave faced much more effective anti-aircraft fire and while they only lost 29 aircraft they had double that number damaged, disproportionately the bombers. There is some question how effective a third wave they could muster even if the other conditions hadn’t been breaking against them.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah a third strike was definitely among their plans, but it had been pretty much decided when they left Japan that there wouldn’t be one. Presumably there was enough fuel and munitions for the aircraft to allow some discretion, but it would have taken a far nervier commander than Nagumo to do so.

        It is interesting just how effective US AA was against the second wave. Both AA and fighter defense, from the remaining dozen or so fighters (!) presumably would have inflicted a very heavy toll if they’d tried to attack again the next morning.
        Not to mention they WERE being stalked by our carriers at that point. As it was, our carriers missed them by a wide margin. But if they’d been near Hawaii on December 8, things would have been very interesting.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I’d have to go back and look at what was attacked when, I know the first wave intentionally avoided the fuel and munitions storage so the smoke wouldn’t hinder the second wave, but if a third wave was so unlikely I wonder why they didn’t dedicate at least part of the second wave to those facilities.

      • atcDave says:

        I think it all ties back to their hopes for a short war, and a decisive military victory. They thought with our fleet at the bottom we would sue for peace and they wouldn’t have to even worry about the strategic assets.

        It’s a similar mind set to their submarine war. They actually considered supply train and merchant shipping to be very low priority, to the point of considering them dishonorable targets.
        So their submarines went after military targets, and scored a few spectacular successes (Yorktown, Wasp, & Indianapolis), and made themselves strategically irrelevent.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I suppose so. I have read accounts that after their initial success at securing their “resource area” there was a lot of disagreement about what to do next. They just sort of expected the allies to sue for peace and hadn’t planned much beyond that.

      • atcDave says:

        Oh yeah. And huge blow ups between the Army and Navy over it all. They’d clearly expanded so quickly their resources were scattered to the wind. Yet there were very few in leadership who considered moving over to a defensive position. Most discussions were Midway, Samoa or Australia. I do think, if the Japanese had any chance at all (and it is a slim one) it lay in making the war such an ugly drawn affair that we would loose interest, and that meant consolidating their gains and making use of newly acquired resources.

        Yamamoto apparently saw Midway as his great chance to correct the mistake of Pearl Harbor (missing the carriers) and put an end to the war.
        It never occured to them that we might not quit even if we lost some carriers. I would say from war gaming it that the allied position is far from hopeless without carriers (err, not that I’ll ever admit to loosing every carrier except the Yorktown prior to July of ’42…).
        Although obviously war games can only look at military issues, politics are more unpredictable. But I’ve heard many people say the true turning point of the Pacific War was December 7, 1941. That day pretty much garunteed the Japanese could not possibly achieve their war aims.

  3. thinkling says:

    Fantastic story about such a compelling moment in history, Dave.

    • atcDave says:

      Thanks for chiming in! I know it’s a little off topic for you, but its always good to hear from friends.

      And notice Ernie and I don’t argue quite so much here…

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Yeah, we’re both fans of the allies winning, and there’s no third side forming a triangle.

      • atcDave says:

        Oh that’s funny.

        Maybe we should discuss if it’s more about journey or destination?

      • Ernie Davis says:

        While it does develop a compelling narrative at times I’d say this was pretty much about the destination.

      • atcDave says:

        I don’t know, if the journey wasn’t so fascinating it wouldn’t be the most documented event in human history.

        I’m pretty sure someone named Shaw is to blame…

  4. Terry Brodin says:

    Tora!Tora! Tora! has always been sorely underrated. It is the most factual account, from both Japanese and American perspectives, of the attack. If you want to know the facts, but don’t want to read a book, then you need to watch Tora!Tora!Tora!
    Being there wa no computer generated magic back then, the effort that was put into recreating the attack was truely monumental. Also the casting was well done. Yet most reviews called it slow moving and only entertaining —“if you like seeing cardboard ships being blown up”
    The follow-up movie, Midway, should have been done in the same style.
    The 2001 Pearl Harbor isn’t even close to being in the same league. Everything about it is laughable.

    Pearl Harbor Trivia:
    We all know the time —07:55AM, Hawaiian Standard Time.
    In 1947 Hawiian Standard Time was advanced by 30 minutes, so nowadays when memorial ceremonies are conducted at Pearl Harbor every December 7, at 07:55 AM, they are actually 30 minutes late. Guess 07:25AM would confuse the tourists.

    Naval Air Station Kanoehe Bay (PBYs) was attacked before Pearl Harbor — at 07:48AM.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah I’m a huge fan of Tora!Tora!Tora! One of the best war movies ever made. The aerial sequences and pyrotechnics are breath taking. Especially since it was all pre-CG. And of course the fake Japanese air force made for that movie has seen steady work ever since!
      I thought Midway was still a fun movie, but it certainly falls far short of Tora!Tora!Tora! The addition of a couple fictional characters and cheesy romance was a mistake; and we likely have the critical belly-aching from the previous movie to thank for it. I always laugh though at how every Navy bomber squadron is flying Vindicators. Obviously its just some quirk about what the film makers had good file footage of. But of all the obscure types it could have been. (They had better color footage of a Vindicator squadron in flight than a Dauntless squadron?! Bizarre)

      My feelings on Pearl Harbor are more mixed. Obviously, as a history buff, it just makes me cringe in places. But I still enjoy some of the flying sequences and effects. And best of all, its given me the opportunity to talk about the actual history of it all with many different people. People who just sort of shrug if I suggest Tora!Tora!Tora! or you know, a book. I’ve even had some reasonably involved discussions coming from that movie. And I guess the good news is, most people know “it was just a movie” and they don’t normally take it very seriously; or at least, they know they aren’t getting a history lesson from the movie.
      Still, I always worry a little when so many liberties are taken with history. The real story is interesting enough! They didn’t need to make so much stuff up!
      Oh well…

  5. Terry Brodin says:

    Your last two lines hit it on the head and sum it up!
    Tora!Tora!Tora!, Twelve O’clock High and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo always head the list for me. There are some other realistic “war” movies, but most have to be taken on thier propaganda and entertainment value.
    Speaking of the fake Japanese aircraft, did you know most were sold off afterwards for about $5000.00 a plane. Have only found a couple of short articles about the construction of these faux Zeros, Vals and Kates. Now that wouild be a fascinating WIP article!
    I know you said you try and stay away from major conversions, but have you considered doing a 1/48 T-6/Zero — would be interesting side by side with an OOB Zero.
    Sorry, I’m sure you have your own agenda of “to build”. without “taking requests”.
    Got going on the movie and failed to compliment you on your Kate! Very, very nice work — as usual! Wish I could come up with better adjectives for your models — no — scale replicas is a more appropriate term!

    • atcDave says:

      For now, the only movie plane I’ve really considered is an Ha1112. I’ll do that in “Battle of Britain” markings. Should be fun.
      But yeah, I’m not looking for a lot of big conversions. Although if the Hollywood Japanese Navy is ever kitted, I’ll be first in line!

  6. Terry Brodin says:

    That’s another good movie. Had some side story detours, but the aircraft were the movie.
    l still hang on to my old Nichimo Kate and Fujimi Val. Think I got them in the 70s. Pretty decent considerering I believe they first came out in Japan in the mid sixties. Guess I keep them for the nostalgia.

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