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Minoru Genda (源田実 Genda Minoru, 16 August 1904 – 15 August 1989) was a well-known Japanese military aviator and politician. He is best known for planning the Pearl Harbor attack.

Early life

Minoru Genda was the second son of a farmer, born to an ancient family. Two brothers were graduates of Tokyo Universitymarker, another brother graduated from Chiba Medical College, and his youngest brother entered the Army Academy. Graduating from the First Hiroshima Middle School, Genda entered the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy with the goal of becoming a fighter pilot and graduated in November 1929 at the head of his class.

Imperial Japanese Navy Service

For the next six years Genda moved rapidly from one operational and staff air assignment to another. He was well-known in the navy and during the 1930s Genda led a division of biplanes around the country, conducting demonstrations and aerobatics. Known as the "Genda's Flying Circus," his team was part of a public relations campaign to promote naval aviation.

Genda was one of the world's first naval officers to realize the potential of massing aircraft carriers to project air power. In the 1930s the aircraft carrier was a new and untested weapons system. Most naval strategists and tacticians of the time conceived of single carriers launching raids on enemy targets, or sailing with a fleet to provide air cover against enemy bombers. Genda understood the potential of massed air raids launched from multiple aircraft carriers steaming together.

An air power advocate from the time he attended the Japanese Naval Academy, Genda urged Japan's pre-war military leaders to stop building battleships (which he believed would be better used as "piers" or scrap iron) and concentrate on aircraft carriers, submarines, and supporting fast cruisers and destroyers. Above all, Genda thought that a high-tech and large naval air fleet would be necessary for survival if Japan was ever to fight a war with the United Statesmarker or United Kingdommarker and the Netherlandsmarker.

Pearl Harbor and World War II

The Pearl Harbor attack plan which was ultimately utilized by Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was essentially the work of Genda, with important contributions by others. Yamamoto had become acquainted with Genda in 1933 when Genda served aboard the carrier Ryujo. Yamamoto initially conceived of a one-way attack on Pearl Harbor from 500 to 600 miles away. In his scheme, returning aircraft would ditch in the ocean off Oahu and the pilots would be picked up by destroyers and submarines. Yamamoto was focused on smashing the U.S. Pacific Fleet and sinking as many battleships as possible. Most Americans and Japanese still believed in early 1941 that battleships were the mightiest weapons of war. The sinking of one, or better yet, a number of these giant vessels would be an appalling blow, akin to a disaster of nature.

In summer 1940, Lieutenant Commander Minoru Genda, IJN, age 36 years, was fortunate to be chosen by the Japanese Naval Department to travel abroad as a military attache to obtain first-hand military accounts of German air offensives and British defensive measures during the Battle of Britain. His assessment of the Royal Air Force Hawker Hurricane Mk I and Supermarine Spitfire Mk I fighters against the German Messerschmitt Bf-109E "Emil" later provided evidence that the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 "Zero" Model 21 could easily out-maneuver these European aircraft. These carefully recorded details were secretly documented during his brief tour in London, England, and were hand-carried by Lieut. Cmdr. Genda during his return trip to Japan for naval department studies. It should be noted here that his official trip was in accord with current British-Japanese naval accords authorizing official military attache visits to the warfront to observe and document military operations. This European trip is of historical significance in that it provided added stimulus for strategic naval studies and exercises that were later used against the United States, for example, the air raid on Pearl Harbor, 07 December 1941.

According to Pan American Airways System- Atlantic Division, Form PAA T.M. 28-7500-5-39-50 Passenger Record of Information Required By Immigration Authorities At Ports of United States, there was recorded seven U.S. citizens and sixteen aliens on Dixie Clipper (flight no. 204). This Boeing aircraft was piloted by Captain Audrey D. Durst (joined Pan American Airways, Inc., in 1930), and supported by his eight flight officers and two stewarts. Thus, totalling thirty-four personnel on this Boeing 314 (no other military attaches were documented on this flight). Lieut. Cmdr. Minoru Genda, an alien, was documented as follows: flight (Dixie Clipper NC18605, Boeing 314), name (Minoru Genda), age 36, male, married, nationality/race (Japanese), place of birth (Tokyo, Japan- this was the usual location U.S. Immigration Officials utilized due to the difficulties encountered in Japanese-to-English translation), immigration visa no. 42- diplomatic visa, visa issued in Lisbon on Monday, 09 September 1940, residence (No. 477 Okusawa, Tokyo Japan), weight 55 kilos, wife (Suzuko Genda), final destination (Tokyo, Japan), had on-hand ticket for final destination, passage paid by Japanese Naval Department, previously traveled to the United States (San Francisco, 1921), this trip to the United States to include a two-week or more stay at the Japanese Embassy in Washington DC, height (5' 2"), hair (black), eyes (brown).

The Dixie Clipper departed Lisbon Portela Airport, Portugal, on Thursday, 19 September 1940, stopping for several hours for refueling at Horta, Azores, then arriving at the Port of New York at La Guardia Field, on Friday, 20 September 1940. Whereupon, Lieut. Cmdr. Genda took rail service from New York City to the Union Station in Washington DC.

Yamamoto met with Genda in early February 1941 and presented his ideas to him for comment. Genda strongly disagreed with a one-way attack. Genda had previously considered an attack on Pearl Harbor in 1934 and he had discussed the possibility then with Takijiro Onishi. Genda emphasized to Yamamoto that "secrecy is the keynote and surprise the all-important factor." Genda felt that the task was "difficult, but not impossible" and began working on the details of the plan. Genda was responsible for much of the training, especially in the new tactics of shallow-water torpedo use, effective use of level-bombing by tactical aircraft, and coordinating several aircraft carriers simultaneously.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbormarker resulted in a lopsided victory, with 12 American warships sunk and over 180 American aircraft destroyed. The main Japanese fleet suffered no ship losses and only 29 aircraft lost. In the following six months of the Pacific War the Imperial Japanese carrier units ranged across the Pacificmarker and Indianmarker Oceans causing major damage to Allied forces. Later, the Battle of Midwaymarker brought this phase of the Pacific War to an end, as four of Japan's six heavy carriers were sunk. The Pacific War ground on for three more years, and by the end it was American carrier task forces that cruised with near-impunity in the Pacific.

Genda served with distinction in Japan's Imperial Navy in World War II and personally participated in many battles. He was a noted naval aviator and fighter pilot with over 3,000 flight hours. He organized an elite Japanese air unit (the 343 Kokutai) near the war's end as an alternative to the suicidal Kamikaze units. Genda believed that even late in the war Japanese pilots were capable of fighting experienced American pilots on equal terms if properly trained and supplied with state-of-the-art aircraft. He personally felt that the Kawanishi N1K2-J Shiden-Kai (Allied code name, "George") was equal to the American F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair. This unit had some success against American aircraft and fought with distinction.

Genda documented his World War II experiences in a revealing autobiography.

Post-war service in JASDF and the Lockheed scandal

Genda's military career came to a halt with the Imperial Japanese Navy's dissolution after the war ended. However, unlike other former military personnel who were left with nothing after the war, a wealthy businessman gave financial support to Genda.

Genda returned to active duty in 1954 as a member of the newly-established Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), eventually rising to the rank of general and later the chief of staff. He also test flew Lockheed jet fighters in the United States during this period.

In late 1950s, Genda, as the JASDF's deputy chief of staff, was involved in the political turmoil surrounding the acquisition of a successor to the F-86 Sabre then in service. The JASDF and the Defense Agency wanted the Grumman F-11 Super Tiger, but heavy lobbying by Lockheed -including downright bribery, through the shadowy underworld figure Yoshio Kodama - of key LDP politicians, including Finance Minister Eisaku Sato and Policy Affairs Research Council chairman Ichiro Kono, led to the adoption of its own contender, the F-104. Genda functioned as Sato's front man in uniform, openly criticizing the Grumman design and working to steer the selection in favor of the Lockheed aircraft. In August 1959, Genda became the JASDF chief of staff, with the blessing of Sato, his political patron. In his new capacity, he finalized the adoption of the Lockheed jet over the objections of his subordinates.

As an LDP Politician

After retiring from the military in 1962, he ran for and was elected to the upper house of Japan's legislature, the House of Councillors, as a member of the Sato Faction within Liberal Democratic Party. He was the first of several former SDF officers who entered politics under the auspices of the Sato Faction, mostly at the far right end of the Japanese political spectrum. He remained influential in politics for more than twenty years, as a leading member of the Defense Division of the LDP's Policy Affairs Research Council, often representing the hardline nationalist position advocating abrogation or curtailment of the Article 9 of the postwar Japanese Constitution and open remilitarization of the armed forces. He is particularly well-known for his fierce opposition, along with twelve lesser-known far right LDP Dietmen, against Japan's ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty during the 1974-1976 session of the Diet, on the grounds that Japan may one day need to acquire its own nuclear arsenal.

Genda died on August 15, 1989, exactly 44 years to the day after the Japanese surrender (VJ day) in World War II, and just one day short of his 85th birthday. He was married and had three children.

In popular culture

Genda served as an uncredited technical adviser in the making of the 1970 film Tora Tora Tora, where Tatsuya Mihashi played him.

Actor Robert Ito played the role of Genda in the 1976 film Midway, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa followed suit in Touchstone Pictures' Pearl Harbor, released in 2001.

Alternative-history writer Harry Turtledove used Genda as the primary Japanese protagonist in his fictional account of an invasion of Oahu following the Pearl Harbor attack in his books Days of Infamy and End of the Beginning.


  1. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957 (National Archives Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls); Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Year: 1940; Microfilm serial: T715; Microfilm roll: T715_6498

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