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On 7 December 1941, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked by both naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. Military records show that Japan's sea forces were led by five (midget) submarines that each carried aboard Japanese I Class Submarines (mother boat) from Japan to just outside of Pearl Harbor. From both U.S. and Japanese military records, they account for five mother subs I-16, I-18, I-20, I-22, and I-24. Those records also confirm the five midget subs and their two occupants per sub. Each midget sub was a 78 1/2 foot long, cigar shape tube, and each carried two, 1,000lb. torpedoes that were launched from the nose of the sub. For purposes of simplicity, the midget subs will be referred to according to their mother ship hull number. The midget subs were HA Class sub with their own letters and numbers of designation.


Just before daybreak of December 7th, just outside of Pearl Harbor, all five midget subs were launched from their mother sub. All five of the subs were to enter the harbor while four of the subs were to lye-in-wait until after the attack had started then torpedo the ships trying to escape the raid thence blocking up the harbor entrance. Japanese military records reveal that submarines I-68 and I-69 were ordered to lay off the entrance to Pearl Harbor to rescue midget submarine crews. Those records also show at 0042, I-16 launches Lt (j.g.) Yokoyama Masaji and PO2C Ueda Sadamu's midget submarine I-16 (HA-16) was about seven miles SSW of the harbor's entrance and was first to enter Pearl Harbor. By 0333, all 5 midget subs had been successfully launched from their carrier sub. 

The midget sub I-24, fails to enter the Harbor and she flounders. The sub eventually beaches on the east side of Oahu near Bellows Field and is captured by American military forces. From the I-24 midget sub, a map of Pearl Harbor, carried by both Japanese attacking forces was discovered. The map shows on it the locations of military installations and ship mooring placements around Pearl Harbor. The map also plots a course to be followed by the I-16 midget sub. The first to enter the harbor the I-16 continued north along the sea channel into the main channel to the entrance of the southeast loch just across from Ford Island and Battleship Row. According to the map, I-16 was to fire her 2 torpedos into Battleship Row then continue the coarse plotted and exit back out of the harbor to the awaiting I-68 and I-69 submarines for their rescue.  According to a Congressional report by Admiral Nimitz, Commander of the Pacific Fleet following the attack, the I-16 midget sub was successful in breaching the entrance to Pearl Harbor, following the plotted course into battleship Row, and launching her two, 1,000 pound torpedos. The Congressional report describes in a passage within the report of an unexploded torpedo with an explosive charge of 1,000 pounds was recovered at Pearl Harbor in the days following the December 7 attack. 

I-16 & USS Oklahoma BB-37

The Nimitz Congressional Report describes that a sub-launched torpedo was recovered at Pearl Harbor following the attack. There has been much speculation over which ship was struck by the I-16's, other torpedo. From the map (above), it shows that after the I-16 entered the harbor, she continued north along the sea channel, then turned east into the main channel (red line on map). From there, the I-16 then made its way to the entrance of the Southeast Loch and lined up directly in front of the USS Oklahoma at about 400 yards distant (see "I-16 - 0450" on the map above and see photo below). Had the I-16 fired her torpedo at USS West Virginia, moored directly behind Oklahoma, the sub would have had to have made a diagonal shot at about 500 yards distant from where she was located. In the photo (below), I-16 is submerging after firing her first torpedo at Oklahoma and is on the move to set up for her second torpedo shot (below, curved red line).

The photograph (above) of Battleship Row was taken by a Japanese pilot during the onset of the attack. The colored-in red square-ish shape (above, 3 inset windows, at red/white arrows) is a conning tower of a midget sub. The 3 water sprays to the rear and right of the debris (yellow arrow) indicate a submarine propeller rocking up and down from the force of a torpedo launch, as well as from the force of the explosion that can also be seen in the tremor waves in the water radiating out from battleship row. As I-16 moves forward, she leaves a disturbance just under the white caps of rolling waves after firing her torpedo. The waves are slapping against the debris (white platform at yellow arrow) and washing back over the sub seen just forward of the 3 water sprays and next to the debris. The sub is submerging and its cigar shape creates a vortex of the same shape in the water around the conning tower. Smoke, from the sub-launched torpedo strike on Oklahoma, is just visible as it begins to rise up over her port side bow as Oklahoma's debris rains down on the sub. Directly behind the debris are 2 whaleboats that also blew off from the ship, 1 of the boats (left) is underwater. Forward of the debris is a rubber raft also probably from Oaklahoma. Some debris may also be from West Virginia as both ships were struck almost simultaneously with torpedos. West Virginia was struck with an aerial torpedo (above, blue arrow). A second aerial torpedo (green arrow) heads for USS California. The debris quickly sunk and is not visible in any other photos. 

From Japanese period artwork (above, left), shows a midget submarine firing its torpedo at USS Oklahoma. The sub-fired torpedo is celebrated by a tall water geyser. A water geyser from an aerial torpedo is about half that size. The ship's main mast (above, left, red arrow) displays the same as the main mast on USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7 (above, right, red arrow). The main mast on West Virginia, moored directly behind Oklahoma (above, right) shows to be a mast completely different in appearance than the main mast in the artwork. Other period Japanese artwork shows the same mast as USS Oklahoma did on December 7.

Photographic evidence shows, that a 500 lb. aerial torpedo struck USS West Virginia just seconds before the USS Oklahoma was struck by the 1,000 lb. sub-launched torpedo. The geyser (above) from the West Virginia strike is receeding. The geyser from the Oklahoma strike is topping out. 


There has been much speculation that the USS Arizona was struck by a torpedo. According to the captured map from I-24 midget sub, it shows that from the position from where the first torpedo was launched from (at left, blue arrow), that the sub is to proceed about 600 yards north from there to about 100 yards off of Arizona's exposed bow (at left, red arrow). The supply ship USS Vestal was moored to the port side of Arizona with Arizona's bow exposed to the channel. Don Stratton was on the Arizona during the attack, directing anti-aircraft guns at incoming planes. Don states that he saw a torpedo headed right towards Arizona. According to the map, the I-16 was to fire its second torpedo at the Battleship Arizona. From the photo (below), it shows the I-16 about 100 yards off the port bow of the Battleship Arizona. The sub is firing her second torpedo. The nose of the sub is visible (below, at red arrows) and is rocking up and down from the force of the torpedo launch. The torpedo may just be exiting the subs torpedo tube and a line has been drawn (by Imperial Japanese Navy) for directional purposes of the torpedo's path. It is unclear if the line follows any of the torpedo's wake in the water.

First published in 1977 in the booklet Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial: A Pictoral History, the photo (above) shows the nose of the I-16 midget sub breaching the water's surface and firing a torpedo at the USS Arizona in Battleship Row. The torpedo failed to detonate. The wake caused by the midget sub at the point of launch is shown to be much wider than a wake caused by an aerial torpedo entering the water. The torpedo track extends over the bow of Arizona and onto Ford Island. The line drawn follows over the torpedo track, or its destined path, up to the point of impact and extends over Arizona's bow to show that she was struck by a dud torpedo. What appears as a small plumb of "smoke" can be seen at the point of impact of Arizona's bow, that plume is oil, that same shape of oil plume can also be seen there in other photos taken at different times. From the USS Arizona's action report, Ensign J.D. Miller stated "I had gotten up at about 0745 and had started to dress when a short air raid alarm sounded...I felt one explosion near the ship which seemed to me like a no-load shot on No. 2 Catapult. However it was followed by two more explosions." A plane sat on top of the catapult and usually went off the port side. It is probable that the "no-load shot" sound, from a catapult, was the 1000lb torpedo dud slamming into the tip of the ship's bow (photo below, left). Note the other explosions just forward, starboard, and port sides (above photo) of Arizona that Ensign Miller states also to have heard seconds after hearing the "no-load shot". Had the torpedo exploded, most likely the tip of Arizona's bow would show some kind of damage topside (photo below, left) and Japanese artwork would celebrate a second large geyser from their two sub-launched torpedos in Battleship Row, but they do not.

The bow of the USS Arizona and the path of the torpedo strike. Had the torpedo detonated, it is probable that damage would be visible on the deck of the bow (see photo at right)

The tip of USS Arizona's bow shows to be fully intact with no damage. 

USS Arizona Survivors - Dec. 7, 1941

"I saw from my vantage point (forward mast) torpedo wakes forward from where I was at headed right for the ship (USS Arizona)." 

While Secretary for the Colorado Pearl Harbor Survivors, I did an article about Don Stratton for our newsletter. Don lived just outside of Denver and I stopped in and spoke with him. A question that I asked him was regarding his witnessing of a torpedo that he saw was headed for Arizona on Dec. 7. During the attack, Don was directing the AA guns at the incoming planes. Arizona was hit by one sub-launched torpedo and eight aerial bombs. He describes that one of the bombs passed through a powder magazine and lit cordite, causing a massive explosion! Just a handful of men in these gun directors miraculously survived the blast, all of them badly burned when her forward magazine exploded as a result of a modified, armor-piercing Japanese bomb. The massive explosion, caused by ammunition powder, aviation gasoline, and fuel oil, killed almost everyone in the forward two-thirds of the ship.

There has been no definitive proof that any aerial torpedos were launched at the Battleship Arizona, so I asked him what details he recalled about the torpedo he saw headed for Arizona. He replied, "I saw from my vantage point (forward mast) torpedo wakes forward from where I was at headed right for the ship (USS Arizona)." As the torpedo disappeared from sight, there were also bombs lighting off all around the ship and upon her forward section where Don was stationed. "These 500 lb bombs were bouncing off of the gun turrets and blowing everything all to hell" Don recalled. The torpedo that he witnessed slammed against the ship's hull and fizzled, at the same time explosions were lighting off around the ship. A 1 kiloton explosion erupted from a modified armor-piercing bomb dropped by a Japanese bomber plane just minutes later. The bomb slammed through Arizona's deck and penetrated deep into her hull. The explosion blew off her bow from the ship. According to the Nimitz Congressional report, a torpedo with a 1,000 pound warhead was found in Battleship Row, the same torpedo that Don witnessed. That torpedo can be seen as it is launched from the I-16 sub in the above photograph. Don Stratton (right) was burned over 60% of his body in the attack. He later served in the Western Pacific. Don passed away on February 15, 2020, at the age of 97. 

Don Stratton, witness to the I-16        torpedo dud fired at USS Arizona.     

From period Japanese artwork (at left) does not represent the true mooring positions of the battleships on 7 December. It shows only the USS Oklahoma BB-37 (at left), USS Arizona BB-39 (center), and USS West Virginia BB-48 (at right). The West Virginia sustained up to 9 aerial torpedo strikes and sunk down upright. In the picture, a torpedo track represents that aerial torpedos sunk the West Virginia beneath the harbor waves with 106 men (at far right). At center, the Arizona was 

sunk from bomb strikes. The sinking of the USS Arizona is represented by bomber planes circling above Arizona and their bomb strikes exploding on the ship. Torpedo tracks are not represented in the sinking of the ship. Following the attack, Japanese airplane pilots were upset that the midget sub(s) were receiving credit for sinking Arizona as the pilots knew she was sunk from their aerial bombs and not torpedos. 1,177 men went down with Arizona, many of them vaporized as the 1 kiloton explosion detonated ammunition powder, gas, and oil. USS Oklahoma (at far left) shows to be listing from both a sub-launched torpedo strike (represented by the oversized geyser) and an aerial torpedo track. A midget sub breaches the water's surface and fires a torpedo into Oklahoma, its periscope directly behind causing the 4th wake. Oklahoma rolled over beneath the harbor's waves in 12 minutes with 429 men trapped inside her hull.

The I-16 Midget Sub Revealed 

The above picture taken by another Japanese pilot shows a Japanese "Kate" torpedo-bomber plane heading towards Battleship Row. Just in front of the plane's left wing is the midget sub I-16 (red circle). She is on the move just north-east of Battleship Row. A water contrail emits from the sub's propeller. The Japanese choreographed certain aspects of the attack and this was one of those choreographed shots showing a bomber plane, a midget sub, and battleship row burning. Also see photos below of discovered I-16 midget sub. 

Carrier Group Leader Fuchida, "Tora, Tora, Tora", and the I-16/HA-16 sub

A Nakajima B5N2 type 97 carrier attack bomber, also known as a Kate torpedo-bomber (above) was taken from the above photo. As the image is darkened the features of the plane appear. It is unclear exactly what all of the letters and numbers are on the tail of the plane. The last number is a 1. It is probable that this plane is serial # AI-301, with Cdr. Mitsuo Fuchida (observer), Lieut. Mitsuo Matsuzaki (pilot), and Radioman-Gunner PO1c Tokunobu Mizuki, aboard and are viewing the I-16 midget sub in the harbor. Cdr. Fuchida led the first wave of attacks on Pearl Harbor. At 0749 local time, Cdr. Fuchida's Kate torpedo bomber arrived over Pearl Harbor and he gave the now-famous signal ‘Tora, Tora, Tora,’ to the carrier Akagi.  Cdr. Fuchida's plane carried a bomb. A long torpedo is not evident on the undercarriage from the rear of the plane in the photo. AI-301 has three horizontal tail stripes for the carrier group leader, and three verticle stripes around the fuselage just forward of the tail. The stripes are blown out from the glare on the tail and are not visible. The two stripes are visible around the fuselage (above, yellow arrows) with a wider third stripe in-between the two thin stripes. There also appears to be a person in the third cockpit seat in the rear of the plane (above, at red arrow). The AI-301 carried the pilot and 2 passengers, Commander Fuchida sat in the 2nd cockpit seat as an observer. In the 3rd seat was Radioman-Gunner Mizuki. The photo (above, top left) shows a Kate torpedo-bomber and the third cockpit seat (at red arrow). The seat is located in the rear, left of the aircraft. A machine gun is to the right of the seat and the radio is located forward of the machine gun with its own seat. The figure that appears in the 3rd seat (above) is seen sitting on the left side of the aircraft and that would be Radioman-Gunner Mizuki who radioed Cdr. Fuchida's message "Tora, Tora, Tora." Cdr. Fuchida and Lieut Mitsuo would be in the two seats forward and are not visible in the picture. 

USS Oklahoma BB-37

USS Ari​zona BB-39


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