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Dawn Attack

© 2019 CR Britting

I stare at the bulkhead, my mind racing. There are so many people involved and so many different parts to the plan. What have we forgotten? What can go wrong that we haven't anticipated? I go over it again and again, but I can't find anything to change.


I've been in combat many times, but I can never seem to sleep much the night before. I know from experience I'll be all right once the shooting starts, but it's the waiting, the uncertainty, that gets to you.


With a groan, I throw off the covers and climb out of my bunk. Fifteen minutes later I'm wandering through the hangar deck, watching the mechanics make last minute adjustments to the planes. It's a crowded place with sixty aircraft packed close together, but the men's spirits are high and the planes are almost ready.


The attack plan calls for the torpedo planes to take off first, of course, since they are the slowest, followed by the bombers and then our fighter escort. Compared to the larger planes, the fighters have limited fuel, so they'll launch last and catch up with us on the way to the target. Some of them will have to stay behind to furnish air cover for the task force and I've heard complaints from the pilots about it. I sympathize with them, but I can't change the orders. Their role in protecting the fleet is vital in case enemy aircraft should spot us.


After getting something to eat, I walk back to the stern of the ship. Standing on the open fantail just below the flight deck, I watch the water churned up by the screws. The flying spray feels good on my face and helps to clear my mind.


It's raining pretty hard. Most of the task force is hidden in the downpour, but I know the other ships are with us because I can see their signal lights flashing in the darkness. On the starboard side, about 500 meters away, is the darkened silhouette of a destroyer, struggling to keep up as it maintains a lookout for submarines. To port, just visible through the mist, I can make out the vague outline of a battleship as it rolls ponderously in the heavy seas. If all goes well today, her big guns will not be needed.


Returning to my room, I change into my flying gear and stop by the operations office to say good-bye to Commander Genda. He's a brilliant officer; he created our whole attack plan himself, and without doubt, he'll be a flag officer someday. We share a smile and a handshake and he wishes me good luck.


After stopping briefly at the chapel, I make my way down to the squadron ready room. My pilots stand at attention as I enter. I tell them to be seated and look out at their eager, excited faces. So young! Some have been in battle before, but most have not. I go over our part in the attack plan once more, reassure them with a few quiet words, then dismiss them to their planes.


When we reach the fight deck, the plane handlers are spotting the last of the aircraft. It's just before dawn and I'm glad to see that the rain has stopped. We climb into our planes, and soon the air is filled with the sound of engines. Standing in middle seat of my plane, I can see that all is ready. A green flag is hoisted from the island superstructure and one by one, the aircraft begin to take off. Our plane is number fifteen so we have a few minutes to wait. Now that the rain has stopped most of the task force is visible and off in the distance I can see the other carriers are also launching aircraft.


When there are only two planes in front of us, I sit down and pull the canopy closed, fastening my seat belt tightly. My pilot is very good, but landings and takeoffs always make me nervous when I'm not at the controls.


Then it's our turn. With the engine at full power, our pilot releases the brakes and the plane lunges forward. I grip my seat tightly as the edge of the flight deck rushes toward me, but just as we reach it, we're airborne. We begin a climbing turn and about the time my heartbeat begins to slow down, we join the rest of the formation.


The hundred-mile flight passes quickly and soon we're over the enemy coast. I open the canopy and take a last look at the formation. The dive-bombers and fighters are above us and down on the deck I can see the torpedo planes. Everything is in order, awaiting only my final command to commence the attack. Reaching back into the cockpit, I grab my binoculars and train them on the target, now visible through a gap in the mountains. No anti-aircraft fire. No sign of enemy fighters. Amazing.


Pulling a flare pistol from the rack, I point it straight up and pull the trigger. A bright green globe arches high above the plane and then descends towards the ground. Following their orders, the various attack groups separate and proceed toward their assigned targets. All that remains is to report in, to tell the fleet we have arrived at the target without initial opposition.


In a moment, I hear the coded signal go out:


"Tora, Tora, Tora."


The American fleet at Pearl Harbor is fast asleep.




Author's note: The man of the story is Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese navy commander who led 360 aircraft into Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. I had the honor of meeting Captain Fuchida in the 1974 when I was working for evangelist Rex Humbard. We traveled to Japan to interview him, and also Jake DeShazer, an American who went on the Doolittle raid to bomb Japan early in 1942.


It's a fascinating story. DeShazer was caputured by the Japanese and held until 1944. After the war, he became a Christian missionary and went to Japan, where he met Fuchida. Through DeShazer's efforts, Fuchida became a Christian as well. At the time of our visit, Captain Fuchida was in poor health and I was saddened to learn of his death a short time later.


There are men of honor and courage throughout the world. If we could force leaders who conceive aggression to fight themselves instead of those who have no choice, maybe we would have less strife in the world.

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