Minoru Genda and His Role in the Pearl Harbor Attack

July 11, 2018

An assault as complex as the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor required ideas and input from many different sources. To sail across the Pacific and launch an attack on the US naval base on Oahu without being detected en route required immense planning. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is credited as the mastermind behind the attack on Pearl Harbor, but he was far from the only one. Among the other officials who had a hand in planning the attack was Minoru Genda, then a captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The Early Career of Minoru Genda

Captain Minoru Genda

Captain Minoru Genda

Genda’s was born in 1904 into a farming family in the Hiroshima Prefecture. In 1924, he graduated from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy. In 1928, Genda began 11 months of flight training, graduating with honors.

Shortly after being assigned to the aircraft carrier Akagi in 1931, Minoru Genda started to draw attention to his proficiency in the cockpit. In 1932, he put together a demonstration squadron as part of a public relations campaign for naval aviation. The team, which flew Nakajima A2N Type 90 fighters, was given the nickname “Genda’s Flying Circus.”

When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, Genda gained combat experience with the Second Combined Air Group, and in 1938 he became a senior flight instructor for the Yokosuka Air Group.

As a strategist, Minoru Genda advocated an unusual approach to utilizing the navy’s aircraft carriers. At a time when most naval strategists considered raids launched from individual carriers as most effective, Genda saw the potential of launching mass raids from several aircraft carriers at once. With his emphasis on air power, Genda suggested halting construction of battleships in favor of aircraft carriers, destroyers, and submarines.

As Japan contemplated a potential war with the United States and Great Britain, Genda lobbied for shifting focus to a large naval air fleet, but given his relatively low rank, his suggestions were mostly ignored.

Planning the Pearl Harbor Attack

Over time, Genda’s input became more welcome. Shortly after Yamamoto conceived the idea for an attack on Pearl Harbor, he ordered officers to study the harbor and draw up a plan that allowed them to attack and cause a crippling amount of damage to the US Pacific Fleet.

In the summer of 1940, before the planning process began, Gendra was sent abroad to observe German air offensives and British defensive measures during the Battle of Britain. His assessment of the aircraft used both by the British and the Germans showed at the Japanese A6M Zero was superior, specifically with its maneuverability. Returning to Japan, he was assigned to the First Carrier Division, and Admiral Yamamoto met with him in February 1941 to discuss options for attacking Pearl Harbor.

When approached by Yamamoto, Genda offered his suggestions, including the importance of secrecy for the success of the attack. He also recommended a three-wave attack launched from six aircraft carriers. Some of Genda’s ideas ended up being integrated into the attack plan, including the three-wave approach.

When it came time to prepare for the Pearl Harbor assault, Genda stepped in as a trainer, including new methods for effective use of the torpedoes modified specifically for the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. Genda was also behind the selection of Captain Mitsuo Fuchida to lead the raid.

The War in the Pacific and Its Aftermath

Minoru Genda in the 1980s

Minoru Genda in the 1980s

After the war broke out, Genda took part in combat, serving aboard Akagi until she was sunk during the Battle of Midway. He survived the sinking and continued his role as a distinguished fighter pilot.

As Japan grew nearer to defeat, in opposition to kamikaze attacks, Genda organized an elite air unit, the 343rd Kokutai and pushed pilots to keep fighting against the Americans, as he firmly believed Japanese aircraft were still superior to American.

After leaving the military in 1962, Minoru Genda ran for, and was elected to, the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of Japan’s legislature. Minoru Genda died exactly 44 years after Japan’s surrender in World War II, on August 15, 1989.

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