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USS Enterprise CV-6
The Most Decorated Ship of the Second World War

Keiichi Arima: Imperial Japanese Navy Pilot

As a Lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Navy, Keiichi Arima witnessed Enterprise history from a vantage point which no man in her own crew could ever experience: the cockpit of an enemy plane in an attack against the carrier.

Mr. Arima, who advanced to Lieutenant Commander in October 1944, flew in two separate attacks against Enterprise, first on 24 August 1942, at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, and again on 26 October 1942, at the Battle of Santa Cruz. At the Eastern Solomons, his plane scored the first direct hit ever on Enterprise. And at Santa Cruz, his plane landed the first hit on the carrier in that battle. His skill and tenacity was typical of the powerful enemy that Enterprise faced in 1942.

The Japanese suffered heavy plane and aircrew losses at both battles. Mr. Arima is one of a handful of former IJN pilots who fought in the critical battles of 1942 and who are still alive to tell their stories today.

I'm grateful to Mr. Arima for agreeing to do this interview, and to Mr. Kan Sugahara who travelled to interview Mr. Arima, and who carefully translated his comments so they could be presented here.

LT Keiichi Arima in his flight suit
Imperial Japanese Navy pilot Lieutenant Keiichi Arima in his flight suit in early 1941.

General Background Information

When did you join the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN)? How long did your training last?

I enrolled in the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in April 1933, and graduated in March 1937. Then, I was assigned to the Training Squadron as a midshipman for 6-month cruise to visit the countries in South East Asia and along the Mediterranean Sea. After returning to Japan, I was assigned to sea duty aboard the carrier Soryu. I was commissioned as an ensign in March 1938. In August of this year, of the 160 graduates of our class (the 64th term), 40 were sent to Kasumiga-ura Training Naval Air Station (NAS) near Tokyo for basic training: 20 land-plane and 20 sea-plane pilots. Upon completion of training in March 1939, I underwent the first-line airplane training at Yokosuka and Saeki NAS (Kyushu), where I took the reconnaissance course. In June 1939, I was appointed to Lieutenant (jg).

Upon completion of the course, I was assigned to the 12th Air Group stationed in Central China as an assistant flight division officer, and operated out of the bases in An-ching, Chiu-chiang, and Han-Kou. We cooperated with the ground operations by flying Type 96 dive-bombers (biplane, fixed gear). Our unit became the first to bomb Chungking , the capital of the Chinese Nationalists at that time, with Vals operated out of the base in Han-Kou. We participated in 2 missions, making a refueling stopover on our way over. I was appointed to a full Lieutenant in May 1941.

When did your first duty aboard a carrier begin?

Toward the end of 1940, I was assigned to the carrier Soryu as an assistant dive-bomber division officer, but my assignment aboard the carrier did not last long this time. After some 6 months, I was transferred to Suzuka NAS in Mie Prefecture as an instructor (the US and Japan opened hostilities while I was stationed there). I was then assigned to the carrier Shokaku in May 1942 as a dive-bomber division officer.

The Battle of the Eastern Solomons

What carrier did you fly from?

The carrier Shokaku, flagship of the 1st Air Flotilla.

Who led the strike(s) you flew in?

Lt. Cdr. Mamoru Seki, the commanding officer of the attack unit consisting of 27 Vals and 10 Zeros.

Please give a summary of your flight and attack.

Lt. Cdr. Seki flew the vertex of the V formation of the command division (9 Vals), and I flew the vertex of the first division (9 Vals, rear left of the command division). The second division (9 Vals) was to my right. We approached the US task force at high altitudes of 6,000 to 6,500 meters. Spotting the ring formation by the wakes of the vessels, we said, "There they are!" About the time we were going to commence our dive, Flight PO 1/C Kyoto Furuta , flying my plane, saw an F4F climbing up from below shoot one of the Vals in LCDR Seki's division and set it afire. After passing through the formation and climbing up, it made a flipper turn and shot another Val and finished it up in his descent.

Furuta changed the course and led my division to hide in the nearby cumulo-nimbus clouds. Because of this, we could avoid being attacked by the CAP fighters before the attack. We dived at an angle of 40-45°, and released the bomb at an altitude of 500 meters. Although we scored a hit, I did not know whether it was the bomb we released or someone else's. After releasing the bomb, we made evasive maneuvers in a column, and passed just before the bow of a destroyer in the ring formation, at a very low altitude. We saw numerous geysers of water shoot up here and there as they fired five-inch guns into the sea so that the geysers of water might hit and capsize our planes.

How successful did you believe your attack to be at that time?

Although we scored a hit, what part of the large carrier the bomb hit was not known.

Did you have any impressions of US CAP (combat air patrol - fighters) and AA (anti-aircraft) fire?

Since there was not much difference between the speeds of F4Fs and Vals, CAP fighters were not much of a big threat for us. After the attack, I saw some fighters and thought they were friendly and neared them to rendezvous. They turned out to be foes and began chasing us. We descended as low as to less than 10 meters, barely missing to hit the water to evade this F4F's attack. We saw numerous machine gun fire splashes in the water near our plane. The AA fire was extremely heavy and dense beyond description. I felt the air was saturated with mostly machine gun fire.

Do you remember what became of the other planes and men who attacked with you?

Only 3 Vals (including myself) returned together. Lt. Cdr. Seki had landed on the Shokaku before us. (Note: 9 Vals and 4 Zeros, a total of 13 out of 37 returned - quoted from the Japanese Official War History.)

At the time, was your impression that the battle was success for the Japanese?

Although we scored one hit, it did not damage the carrier seriously enough to sink her. We lost the light carrier Ryujo. So, the score was, I think, below even.

Regarding Enterprise in particular: did you know the name of the carrier you were attacking?

The answer is no. Unless a vessel has a very special configuration, it is almost impossible to distinguish her type from above, other than that she is, for example, a battleship, carrier, or destroyer. The name of a vessel could never be confirmed. This was particularly true when the AA fire was extremely heavy. Unless a camera was automatically operated, as in the case of a gun camera, it was not possible to shoot photos during an attack in those days. (Note: Mr. Arima had an Eyemo camera with him, and took some photos of the ring formation from a distance. You can see something is there, but it is difficult to identify that they are ships, much less their kinds.)

At that time, did Enterprise have a particular reputation with the IJN or the aviators?

I do not know. Since I was a division officer, I had many occasions to visit the fleet headquarters, but I do not remember hearing the staff officers talk about the names of the US vessels. We classified them not by their names but by their kinds, such as a large carrier, a small carrier, etc. Therefore, we did not know the names of the US vessels we attacked.

The Battle of Santa Cruz

What carrier did you fly from?

The Shokaku, flagship of the 1st Air Flotilla. When we returned from the mission, she had been damaged by the enemy attack, and all planes operated from her had to land on the Zuikaku. My plane had numerous holes made by anti-aircraft fire, and was almost tearing apart.

[Kan] Was your plane flyable once more?

It could have been flown, if pushed too hard.

Who led the strike(s) you flew in?

Lt. Cdr. Mamoru Seki was the commanding officer of the attack unit consisting of 27 Vals and 5 Zeros.

Can you give a summary of your flight and attack?

My position in the formation was the same as at the time of the Battle of Eastern Solomons. We made an approach at an altitude of 7,000 meters and bombed. It is not possible to say whether the carrier we bombed was the Enterprise or not, but our target was not a carrier dead in the water. She was underway and I clearly saw her wake left in the water. We dived and released the bomb at an altitude of between 450 and 500 meters. It was about one minute from the time we commenced the dive until we released the bomb. We made a streaking evasive pass at full throttle just before the bow of the one of the ships in the ring formation. The AA fire during this attack was also extremely heavy: like all hell had broke loose. I did not encounter any CAP F4F in this battle, and I cannot comment about my wingmen who did not return.

[Kan] According to the Japanese Official War History, LCDR Seki knew there were two ring formations. When he spotted a carrier which was dead in the water, he thought there had to be another carrier. So, he made a wide right turn to look for her, and saw her ahead escorted by a battleship and destroyers. He decided to attack this carrier and did.

I had never heard of this before.

How successful did you believe the attack to be at that time?

I observed that the bomb I released hit the carrier and detonated. When we were flying at 5~6,000 meters, I saw the carrier was sending dense smoke high up.

Overall, was your impression (at the time) that the battle was success for the Japanese?

I think yes, if viewing the result of the attack in a favorable light.


What other naval/air actions did you participate in?

Sometime between the two battles, we made a sortie and attacked a cruiser, and sank her. (Note: this was probably the destroyer Meredith DD-434, sunk by Japanese carrier aircraft off San Cristobal Island, 15 October 1942.) We did not incur any damage.

When was your last wartime mission?

The Battle of Santa Cruz.

What other units did you serve in?

After my participation in the Battle of Santa Cruz, I was transferred to Usa NAS (Kyushu) as an instructor, and taught my juniors in the IJNA. Then, I was transferred to Yokosuka NAS as a flight commander, where I was engaged in the development of communication equipment and radar, and instructed aviators on them. I was appointed to Lieutenant Commander in October 1944.

May I have permission to quote from your responses for presentation on the USS Enterprise web site?

Yes, provided that my narrative is transmitted correctly.

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