What do Japanese Sea Battles, Pearl Harbor, and the Nissan Z have in common?
Imperial Japan is something I am fascinated by. After listening to the Dan Carlin Podcast series titled: Supernova In the East I was hungry for more information about the years leading up to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. This led me into reading THE RISING SUN: THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE JAPANESE EMPIRE, 1936-1945 by John Tolland. While reading Toland's book I was reminded of the significance of the letter Z to Japanese Imperial Naval History with its connection to the Russo-Japanese War and the Attacks on Pearl Harbor 79 years ago. While further researching, I was also able to find a connection to these wars to the Nissan Z car program!
The fate of the Empire rests on the outcome of this battle. Let each man do his utmost."
From 1904-1905 Japan and Russia where engaged in land dispute for Manchuria (China) and Korea which escalated into what is now known as the Russo-Japanese war. This war brought the first engagements between modern battleships and in several battles in 1904 the Japanese inflicted heavy losses on the Russian Navy. As response, in April 1905 Russia deployed a formidable armada of eight battleships from its Baltic Fleet to face the Japanese Navy in the Pacific. In its journey from the Baltic the Russian fleet traveled 18,000 miles and consumed an estimated 500,000 tons of coal before it arrived in the Tsushima Straight (located between Korea and Japan) on 27 May 1905. Laying in wait Japanese Navy fleet consisting of 4 battleships, crusisers, and torpedo boats laid in wait. After receiving word from a merchant ship of the presence of Russian ships Admiral Togo placed his ships in a position of advantage by having his ships come broadside in front of the Russians intended path of travel. This allowed the Japanese ships to fully engage their guns at approaching ships but only permitted the Russian ships to fire from forward guns. In the afternoon of 27 May, when both fleets were in sight of each other Admiral Togo ordered the hoisting of the Z flag, issuing a predetermined announcement to the entire fleet:
“The Empire's fate depends on the result of this battle, let every man do his utmost duty”
In the ensuing battle, the Russian Navy was nearly decimated by the Japanese with 7 of its 8 battleships sunk, 7 ships captured , 6,000 sailors captured and 5,000 sailors killed. Months after this battle the Russians surrendered to Japan and Admiral Togo with his infamous Z flag would go on to become a symbol of national pride for the imperial Japanese
December 7, 1941 a date which will live in infamy
36 years after the Battle of Tsushima the Z flag once again made its appearance on a Japanese ship. Following a two-week transit from the Japanese Island of Iterup, a Japanese fleet consisting of 6 aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku, and Zuikaki) had reached the debarkation point for its aircrafts to reach targets on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. In the pre-dawn hours of December 7th 1941 Admiral Kusaka ordered the Z flag to be raised on the Akagi to signify the start of the operation.
In total 353 aircraft would leave the Japanese carriers to conduct the attack which resulted in 2,335 Americans killed and the loss of 3 battleships, 188 aircraft, and more than a dozen ships damaged. The attack of Pearl Harbor drew America into the war and would result in the death of over 2.5 million Japanese until the uncondional surrender on August 15, 1945.
What does this have to do with Z's? Nissans use of Z flag in marketing of the Z car:
In 1960 Yukara Katayama, famously known in the Z community as “Mr. K” left Japan for America to market Nissan cars. His brother, an admirer of Admiral Togo, provided him a Z flag as a good luck charm. In the years that followed he rose to become president of Nissan USA and when the first arrivals of the 240Z arrived from Japan to California in 1969, Mr. K was there with his Z flag as a morale booster for each employee “to do their utmost”.
The famous Z flag is still flown today in Japan. In the Yokosuka Navy Base a veteran ship of the 1905 Battle of Tsushima, the Battleship Mikasa is displayed as a memorial, and hanging high from its yardarms is the Z flag.