Mitsuo Fuchida’s Battle Map

July 01, 2017

Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who led the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Striking Force at Pearl Harbor, was also responsible for the overall coordination of the attack. Though Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto planned the attack up until the moment it launched, it was Fuchida who led the first wave of planes and sent the message “Tora! Tora! Tora!” to indicate the element of surprise had been successful.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor ended, the US naval base was left in complete disarray, with multiple ships either damaged or completely sunk. While there are many images of Pearl Harbor during the attack, the Japanese weren’t able to stick around and admire their work afterwards. However, that didn’t mean officials back in Japan didn’t get a chance to see the extent of the damage. In fact, thanks to Fuchida's ingenuity, the devastation of Pearl Harbor lives on today through a detailed battle map that depicted which battleships were struck, how extensive the damage was, and what armaments were used to attack them.

Fuchida's hand-drawn battle map

The map is a crude depiction of Pearl Harbor with upwards of 60 American ships drawn in. Red lines, red dots, and arrows indicate the severity of damage and where the torpedoes struck, ensuring that as many details of the attack as possible would make it back to Tokyo. Ships marked with red dots and lines through them were thought to be severely damaged.

To make the map, Fuchida turned to action reports from his fellow pilots, which allowed him to pinpoint which vessels were struck. While the battle map is quite detailed, it’s probably best known for inaccurately depicting the extent of the damage done to the USS Arizona. While Fuchida was aware that damage was inflicted on the vessel, he seems to have been oblivious to the fact that the battleship was, in fact, completely destroyed.

Over the years, the map—which sold at auction in 2013 for $427,000 by the family of Malcolm Forbes, who acquired it from historian Gordon Prange, who received the map from Fuchida himself—has become a well-known historical artifact, but at the time it was a top-secret document that was presented to Emperor Hirohito weeks after the attack to show its success.

Though Fuchida was largely responsible for the damage suffered at Pearl Harbor, after World War II he settled in the United States  and later became a Christian evangelist, leaving his life of war—and wartime diagramming—behind him for good.

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