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A map showing details of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 has been preserved at the Library of Congress in Washington, offering a vivid presentation of the event 80 years on.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Mitsuo Fuchida, the map’s creator, sent from his airplane a telegram to communicate that the surprise attack, which plunged the United States into World War II, had been conducted successfully.

For the next two hours or so, Fuchida, who led the first strike group for the attack, circled above the harbor in Hawaii and watched U.S. vessels as they were engulfed in flames one after another.

After returning home, Fuchida was given the opportunity to report the results of the attack to Emperor Hirohito, known posthumously as Emperor Showa, on Dec. 26 the same year. He made the map as material to support his presentation.

On the upper right part of the watercolor map, which is about 80 centimeters long and about 60 cm wide in total, is a symbol indicating that the document was top secret.

The document offers details of the attack including the types and numbers of bombs and torpedoes that hit their targets, and how U.S. vessels tried to escape the harbor. | MITSUO FUCHIDA/LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
The document offers details of the attack including the types and numbers of bombs and torpedoes that hit their targets, and how U.S. vessels tried to escape the harbor. | MITSUO FUCHIDA/LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Within the map, some 60 vessels anchored in the harbor at the time of the attack are portrayed in blue, green and yellow.

The document offers details of the attack including the types and numbers of bombs and torpedoes that hit their targets, and how U.S. vessels tried to escape the harbor.

Fuchida also indicated the level of damage to each vessel, using four-tier assessments from minor damage to sinking.

The map, which still shows traces of pencil outlines, reveals Fuchida’s careful work in its creation.

“From a cartographic standpoint, it’s very rare that something of this type would survive and be made available,” said Robert Morris, a cartographic acquisitions specialist at the library’s Geography and Map Division.

“We’re talking about a very well crafted, somewhat beautiful production that was painstakingly made using firsthand information for presentation to the Emperor,” Morris said.

“Unfortunately, what belies that beauty, of course, is the horror of that day,” when the lives of both Japanese and U.S. service members were lost, Morris added.

After the end of WWII, Fuchida converted to Christianity. He handed over the map to a historian who was working for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander for the Allied Powers that occupied Japan after the war.

After the historian died, the map was added to a collection by Malcolm Forbes, a renowned U.S. businessman. It was then owned by a nonprofit organization in Florida and Miami Dade College before being housed in the Library of Congress in 2018.

The historical significance of the map is “immense,” Morris said. “It depicts a seminal moment in 20th century history that certainly changed the course of history for the United States. Of course the next day we entered World War II.”

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