Chuichi Nagumo, Vice Admiral IJN


By: J. Owen

Despite the fact that he was opposed to the attack on Pearl harbor, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was in command of the carrier-centered Mobile Force (Kido Butai). The task force was made up of 6 carriers, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, and 9 destroyers. His forces were split into three carrier commands:

  1. Nagumo: carriers Akagi and Kaga
  2. Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi: carriers Hiryu and Soryu
  3. Rear Admiral Chuichi Hara: carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku

When Chuichi Nagumo recieved signal from Tokyo on December 2, he relayed it to his ships. “Climb Mount Niitaka 1208”.  That was the signal that the attack was on and it was scheduled for December 8 (Japan Time. Dec. 7 Hawaii Time).

The fleet was able to near Oahu undetected. He managed to get his fleet there with the opportunity for a surprise attack. The first wave of the attack was a complete success. The second wave also experienced success, but a greater loss of planes due to anti aircraft fire from the ground.

None of Nagumo’s ships were fitted with radar, so when Nagumo learned that the US aircraft carriers he expected at Pearl Harbor were not there, he had cause for concern. He would not be able to attack them, but worse, they could attack his fleet at any moment.

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo had a difficult decision to make. He could continue with the attack, which would risk the loss of more planes. The biggest targets have already been hit. With the location of the carriers unknown, Nagumo made the unpopular, but conservative decision to halt the preparation of the planes for a third wave. They would return to Japan.

This decision is still controversial today. We shall never know what would have happened if the third wave returned to Pearl and attacked more targets. Some historians believe that failing to destroy Oahu’s vast fuel stores and shipyards was the greatest strategic error in the entire Pacific Theater.

Nearly a year later, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was quoted saying, “Events have shown that it was a great mistake not to have launched a second attack against Pearl Harbor.” Chuichi Nagumo was not experienced in aviation, was opposed to the attack and was by nature very cautious.  His indecision was evident at Pearl Harbor and became a burden later at the Battle of Midway.

On the Island of Saipan, July 6, 1944, Chuichi Nagumo committed suicide with a pistol.

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