Operation K: The Second Attack on Pearl Harbor

The planned route for Operation K. Wikimedia Commons.

The plan called for the two planes to fly 1,900 miles from the Wotje Atoll in the Marshall Islands to French Frigate Shoals. There they would land and meet up with submarines that would refuel the craft before they flew another 560 miles to Hawaii. Once they were over Pearl Harbor, they would use the light of the moon to survey the area and bomb one of the docks used to salvage the damaged ships. But the odds of coming back in one piece from such a mission were slim. And from the beginning, there were problems with the plan.

A submarine that was supposed to report the weather conditions in Hawaii to the planes and recover the pilots if anything went wrong had been lost in February and couldn’t be replaced. And though the Japanese were able to read US Navy weather codes, the Navy changed the codes just before the attack, meaning that the pilots would have no idea what kind of conditions they were flying into. This would prove fatal to the plan as the clear, moonlit night the pilots had hoped for turned out to be obscured by a heavy layer of clouds over Hawaii.

As the pilots flew towards the base on the night of March 4, US radar installations picked up their signature and dispatched fighter planes to intercept them. Isolated and defenseless, Hashizume could only hope that the enemy fighters would be unable to find the planes in the clouds. As luck would have it, they did. But the weather also left Hashizume unable to see what he was flying over. Disoriented, Hashizume had to rely on a nearby lighthouse he recognized from his maps to fix his position. He gave the order for Sasao to follow him in as he attacked the base.

Sasao, however, couldn’t hear the order and turned his plane south. In a few moments, Hashizume lost sight of his wingman. Alone and disoriented, he dropped his bombs over what he hoped was the target. But Hashizume wasn’t even over the base. His bombs fell over the slopes of an extinct volcano on the island. The bombs landed a few hundred yards from a local high school, and the only damage was caused by the force of the explosions shattering the school’s windows. The only thing left for Hashizume to do now was turn back as planned.

An aerial view of the submarine base at Pearl Harbor. Wikimedia Commons.

Sasao meanwhile had missed the base completely. The islands were in a state of wartime blackout, leaving the naval base as the only source of light. But in the heavy clouds, Sasao still couldn’t see it. Ultimately, all he could do was fly the plane back towards the Marshall Islands, dumping his bombs into the Pacific. Luckily for the pilots, both men managed to avoid US aircraft while leaving the area. Sasao managed to touch down safely at their base at Wotje Atoll. But when Hashizume came into view over the atoll, he didn’t stop. There was something wrong with his plane.