What Were The Japanese Losses At Pearl Harbour?

‘Taylor’s 2nd Kill’- Painting by Tom Freeman

What were the Japanese losses at Pearl Harbour?

The Japanese attack on the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet’s base at Pearl Harbour, Oahu on 7th December 1941 achieved complete surprise and caused considerable damage to US forces on the island of Oahu.

In return for the damage they inflicted, what casualties did the Japanese attackers sustain?

The Japanese carrier force, comprised of six aircraft carriers and the attacking force was intended to comprise 360 aircraft (189 in the first wave and 171 in the second). However, during launching, there were ten ‘aborts’- aircraft unable to take off or forced to return early due to mechanical problems such as malfunctioning engines or burst tyres. Six planes of the first wave had to abort, along with four aircraft of the second wave.

That left 183 aircraft of the first wave to carry out the attack, and 167 of the second wave. There were three kinds of aircraft used in the attack- the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter, the Aichi D3A1 Type 99 dive bomber and the Nakajima B5N Type 97 Bomber, used as both a torpedo plane or a high-level bomber. In late 1942, these planes would be referred to by the Allies as ‘Zeke’, ‘Val’ and ‘Kate’ respectively.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll refer to them simply as ‘Zero’, ‘Val’ and ‘Kate’ although the latter two names did not come into use until late 1942.

And the losses? They can be listed as thus:

First Wave:

Carrier Akagi: 1 Zero

Carrier Kaga: 2 Zeros, 5 Kates

Carrier Shokaku: 1 Val

Total - 9

Second Wave:

Carrier Akagi: 4 Vals

Carrier Kaga: 2 Zeros, 6 Vals

Carrier Hiryu: 1 Zero, 2 Vals

Carrier Soryu: 3 Zeros, 2 Vals

Total - 20

Overall Total: 29.

What were the causes of these losses?

Of the 29 losses, at least eight were shot down by American fighter pilots who managed to get airborne. Shortly after 0900, during the second wave attack, American pilots Lieutenant Ken Taylor and Lieutenant George Welch, managed to get airborne from Haleiwa Field, the smallest of Oahu’s seven military air bases and the only one not to be attacked. The two pilots engaged a group of Japanese Vals which had just made a strafing run along Ewa Field, the Marine Air Corps base on Oahu. Taylor and Welch each shot down two Vals, all of which crashed into the sea. Witnesses on a beach near Ewa later reported seeing a Japanese flier attempting to paddle to shore, dragging his wounded crew-mate with him but neither reached the shore alive. Although the Japanese fliers were under strict orders not to surrender or allow themselves to be taken alive, it is likely that the airman was trying to reach shore and hide out until he could signal a Japanese submarine offshore and escape.

Taylor and Welch landed at Wheeler Field to refuel and re-arm and they took off as the second wave attacked. Welch shot down two more Vals and Taylor also claimed two more (but the latter’s claims were not accepted).

Meanwhile, four other US fighter pilots managed to get airborne from Haleiwa Field and another six took from Wheeler Field. Two pilots, Lieutenants Harry Brown and Philip Rasmussen of the 47th and 46th Pursuit Squadrons respectively engaged retreating Zero fighters of the carrier Soryu over Kaena Point, Oahu’s most northerly tip. According to Japanese accounts, several of the Zeros were damaged, having been hit by anti-aircraft fire whilst making low-level strafing runs. Brown and Rasmussen each shot one down. Brown’s victim was Pilot Officer 1st Class Takeshi Atsumi who is believed to have fatally crashed into the sea some-where in the vicinity of nearby Niihau Island.

Rasmussen, who had taken off from Wheeler Field in a silver P-36 and was still wearing his purple pyjamas from the night before, managed to shoot down the Zero of Pilot Officer 2nd Class Saburo Ishii who went into the sea north of Oahu. Rasmussen managed the feat despite his single .30 calibre machine-gun being defective and spontaneously firing off the entire ammunition belt in a single burst.

A third American pilot, Lieutenant Lewis Sanders of the 46th Pursuit Squadron, also flying a P-36, was credited with a Zero. But it is now known that that aircraft, flown by Lieutenant Iyozo Fujita of the carrier Soryu, actually managed to make it back to his ship despite being considerably damaged by Sander’s attack. Only moments before being hit, Fujita had shot down the P-36 of 2nd-Lieutenant Gordon Sterling of the 45th Pursuit Squadron. Some accounts credit the young Sterling with destroying a Val dive-bomber before his death but this cannot be confirmed and could have been wishful thinking on the part of his comrades eager to credit the youngster for his first and final combat. Harry Brown was also eventually credited with a second kill, a Kate bomber over Kaena Point, but no Kates were lost from the second wave and it is almost certain that Brown’s intended second victim was only damaged and managed to make it back to the Japanese fleet.

There were other claims, Ken Taylor claimed another two Vals, Lewis Sanders also claimed a Val, as did another pilot, Lieutenant Robert Rogers and finally Lieutenant Malcolm Moore claimed a Kate bomber but none of these claims were ever confirmed.

During the attack, a formation of 18 Douglas SBD-3 dive-bombers of the US carrier Enterprise arrived over Oahu, their pilots having had no idea the attack was going on. The Navy pilots scattered and tried to land where they could before their fuel ran out. Three of the SBDs were shot down by Zeros in the vicinity of Ewa Field and another of the Enterprise’s dive-bombers was destroyed by its enemy counterpart, a Val. A fifth SBD collided with a Val near Ewa and crashed in bushland near the airfield.

‘Photograph taken from a B-17E on the 7th December, showing two Japanese Val dive-bombers circling near Ewa Field over the crash site of one of their comrades after it collided with an SBD.’

During the first wave attack, two Zero pilots were killed because, in their zealous determination to carry out low-level strafing runs, they flew too low and crashed. One Zero from the Kaga scraped the tarmac with its belly tank at Hickam Airfield and, according to eyewitnesses, ‘bounced’ back up again and appeared to recover before crashing into the ocean north of Oahu. Another Zero, this one the aircraft of Pilot Officer 1st Class Takashi Hirano of the carrier Akagi, was lost in the same way at Hickam only with more disastrous results.

Shortly after the attack began, a flight of 12 US Army B-17s arrived over Oahu, having flown overnight from the US main-land, intending to stop over at Pearl Harbour for rest and refuelling prior to proceeding on to the Philippines. One B-17, piloted by Captain Swenson, approached Hickam Field, intending to land there. Like the other B-17s, his aircraft was un-armed to save weight on the long flight and was low on fuel. His bomber was attacked by several Zeros and set alight. As the badly damaged bomber landed, its fire-weakened fuselage broke in half. As the crew abandoned the wrecked bomber, a low-flying Zero swept over the tarmac towards them. It was Hirano’s fighter and according to eyewitnesses, the Japanese pilot became ‘fixated’ on one of the running bomber crew, Surgeon-Lieutenant William Schick who had been hitching a lift to the Philippines.

Hirano flew dangerously low, firing at the lone running figure of Schick who fell, badly wounded in the head (he died the next day) but an instant later, the Zero’s belly tank hit the ground, tilting the nose and causing the propeller tips to scrap the tarmac, bending them backwards. Now out of control, Hirano’s fighter bounced upwards, staggering across Hickam and crashing into some tall palm trees at nearby Fort Kamehameha. Hirano was killed instantly, his body found with a section of a tree’s trunk literally embedded in him. His Zero went to pieces on impact, the fuselage landing near the officer’s quarters, whilst the engine smashed into a loading ramp among a group of artillery troopers gathered there. Four American soldiers were killed, including one who was decapitated and another who had all four limbs sliced off by the spinning propeller blades.

Photograph showing the wreckage of Lt Hirano’s Zero fighter near Hickam airfield.

The opening of the attack on Pearl Harbour itself, timed to begin at 0755, was intended to comprise the torpedo-carrying Kates, 40 in all. The attack was planned to take only 90 seconds, the vulnerable low-flying bombers releasing their torpedoes and then heading back out to sea before the American anti-aircraft batteries had time to wake up. But muddled confusion in the attack meant that the torpedo attack dragged out to a full 11 minutes. By the time the final torpedo squadron from the carrier Kaga made their attack, the US AA gunners on the various warships and shore installations were in full swing and the low-flying, broad-wing Kates, having to fly straight and level to achieve accurate torpedo drops, made good targets.

Five of the Kaga’s Kates were shot down by AA fire. One of those Kates was Lieutenant Mimori Suzuki’s whose aircraft was hit as it flew low over the submarine pens in Pearl Harbour. A chance bullet struck the warhead of Suzuki’s torpedo and detonated it, exploding the aircraft in mid-air. Several weeks later, US Navy divers raised the wreck of Suzuki’s Kate from the bottom of the harbour. Suzuki’s headless body was found in the front seat and cut loose to float to the surface, as was the body of the rear-seat gunner. The middle-seat navigator was still in his seat when the aircraft was brought to the surface, his face having been chewed off by hungry crabs. An enterprising US sailor sawed off the body’s swollen feet, knowing the boots would make valuable souvenirs.

Photograph showing the wreckage of Suzuki’s Kate bomber being raised from the waters of the harbour several weeks after the attack.

One Zero pilot of the second wave, Lieutenant Fusata Iida of the Soryu, after strafing Bellows Airfield, attacked the Naval Air base at Kaneohe, already badly hurt from earlier attacks. Iida’s fighter was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Idia signalled to his comrades that he was making one final dive and he was seen to turn back and deliberately aim his plane at one of the large hangars. The Zero missed the building and instead crashed into a nearby hillside. Impressed with his bravery, the Americans buried Iida the following day with full honours.

American troops bury Lieutenant Iida with full honours after the battle.

A Val dive-bomber from the Shokaku, a member of the first wave, ditched somewhere in the ocean en route back to the Japanese fleet, either due to battle damage or because the pilot became lost and ran out of fuel. At least one other plane also went down into the ocean during the trip home. Japanese logs record that radio signals requesting directions home were received from at least one pilot of the second wave but as all ships were under strict radio silence, the lost aviator(s) could not be helped.

Two of the Kaga’s Zeros vanished in the attack. One may have been the pilot that made the above radio signal. One may have also been the Zero that attacked a pair of US Navy Seagull seaplanes from the Cruiser USS Northampton. The pair were patrolling near Niihau Island when they were attacked by a Zero fighter which appeared to be already damaged and trailing smoke. After an un-successful attack, the Zero was last seen flying towards Niihau.

Niihau Island was where the Japanese pilots had been instructed to crash-land if they came to grief and there they were to wait until they could be rescued by a Japanese submarine. One plane, a Zero flown by Pilot Officer 1st Class Shigenori Nishikaichi of the carrier Hiryu, crash-landed on Niihau. He had been told by his superiors prior to the attack that Niihau was un-occupied, but Nishikaichi discovered that a small community of Hawaiians lived there, including several Japanese-Americans, of whom many thousands lived in the Hawaiian chain. The Japanese pilot was taken into custody by locals on Niihau and confined in a house. However, 5 days later on 12th December, Nishikaichi convinced a Japanese-American resident, Yoshio Harada, to help him escape.

Overpowering the guard by the house, the two men armed themselves with a shotgun and a machine-gun taken from the wrecked Zero and attacked the small village, sending most of them fleeing into the nearby forest and taking several as hostages. The next morning, two locals, Ben and Ella Kanahele, tried to overpower their two captors. Ben, a burly sheep-farmer, was shot several times by the Japanese pilot but the former bashed Nishikaichi against a wall and slit his throat with a knife whilst Ben’s wife Ella finished the job with a rock, bashing in the aviator’s skull. Seeing all was lost, Yoshio Harada committed suicide with the shotgun. The incident, widely reported in the US Press, only served to increase suspicion and resentment against Hawaii’s Japanese-American community.

Photo- The wreckage of Nishikaichi’s Zero on Niihau Island

The losses can be summarised as thus:

Shot down by US fighters- At least 8, possibly up to 11.

Crashed on Niihau Island- 1

Collided with American plane- 1

Ditched in sea en route home- At least 2, possibly up to 4.

Flew too low and crashed- 2.

Shot down by anti-aircraft fire- at least 10, possibly up to 15.

The numbers of aircraft claimed shot down by AA gunners on board US warships totaled nearly 50!

A Val dive-bomber on fire after being hit by AA fire during the second-wave attack. This photo was taken from Ford Island during the attack.

Aircrew losses totaled 55 dead, including one fatality on one of the aircraft that returned. The cost was un-evenly shared. Of the 29 aircraft lost, 15 belonged to the carrier Kaga whilst the carrier Zuikaku didn’t lose a single plane. In addition, 111 aircraft were damaged, 20 of which were written off.


So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.


  • Vale: Thanks for sharing the information regarding the Japanese losses, they are not often talked about. It’s interesting how the US servicemen buried the Japanese pilot!
  • Imhotep: WoW! I never heard about most of this! Amazing how many stories about Pearl Harbor still percolate up to the surface after all of these years. I would love to read a definitive account.
  • Jonathan Beard: Excellent report on the attack. I am working with a scholar writing a book on another aspect of the Pearl Harbor attack–the USS West Virginia’s fate. Could you contact me by e-mail?

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