It was in early December 1968 that Hollywood (20th Century Fox) beckoned the USS Yorktown for a major role...however, not as the USS Yorktown but as Imperial Japanese Admiral Nagumo's flagship.

  The USS Yorktown become the Imperial Navy's aircraft carrier Akagi in the film "Tora! Tora! Tora!"- a graphic account of the attack on Pearl Harbor from American and Japanese viewpoints.  The title of the movie was taken from the battle cry of the flight commander Mitsuo Fuchida: "Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!" as the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor.

  Yorktown's "make up" for the role included sandbags installed around the bridge and camouflaged yellow gear on the flight deck.  Paint lines on the angled deck were marked out (to make the Yorktown flight deck look like a Japanese straight deck aircraft carrier).

 As it happened in December 1941, the attacking Japanese aircraft were launched at sunrise off Hawaii.  Twenty seven years later, the re-creation was off the California coast on a clear chilly morning.  As the ship's meteorologist and the OOD {Officer of the Deck} on watch, it was a great deal of personal pride to see  the weather forecast for the day's filming turn out as predicted-thanks to the help of my chief and the Aerographers working upon the 07 level. 

 Yorktown's Commanding Officer John G. Fifield presided from his leather chair on the port side of the bridge.  As the underway OOD, I was standing my watch to the right and in hand's reach of Captain Fifield.  Our view from the bridge of flight deck activities was best in the house!  But never in my wildest dreams did I think I would see the 'launch' of another attack on Pearl Harbor...especially from the deck of the Yorktown.

Click here for the free previews of the Academy Award Winning Movie about
the USS Yorktown, "The Fighting Lady.

  On the morning of the filming, Yorktown's packed flight deck hummed with 30 aircraft configured as Zero fighters.  Val dive bombers and Kate torpedo bombers warming up for launch.  With a full deck, the first aircraft off would have a very limited run (as there were no catapult shots.)  {Please note Yorktown flight deck crew dressed up as Japanese flight deck crewmen, complete with uniform and head gear, supplied by 20th Century Fox.}

  The lead plane (flight commander Misuo Fuchida's) was a skillfully reconstructed SNJ (AT-6) that closely resembled a Mitsubishi Zero, including a 3 blade propeller.  When it came time for the launch, the Zero with full throttle raced toward the bow, but as it lifted from the flight deck it suddenly dropped from sight, directly in front of the ship.  In that instant I thought we were going to pass directly over him.  As the OOD I was ready to call out a critical command "All emergency stop!  Hard right rudder!"

Filming on the Yorktown flight deck as Japanese "zero" takes off. 
Notice Japanese flag flying from Yorktown's island!

   I imagine my facial expression summed up all that I was anticipating but the words never left my mouth.  Captain Fifield, who had been carefully observing the action, very-very firmly grasped my shoulder and said, "Don't worry Neil, it's in the script."  At that moment I harbored mixed emotions; primarily relief but also some very dark thoughts as my pounding pulse slowly subsided!

  As the "Japanese air group" circled Yorktown (before flying to North Island), I couldn't help but think of the "Fighting Lady" at Wake Island, the Gilbert Islands, the Philippines and the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" where hundreds of Japanese planes were shot out of the sky in a single day.  The crew had to be very proud when Yorktown returned to the west coast in August 1944 with 400 Japanese flags stenciled on her superstructure (to represent the number of Japanese craft shot down and sunk).

  Some additional notes;  If you look closely at the photo of the Yorktown with the "Zero" in the foreground, you can see the Japanese flag flying at the aft section of the  Yorktown island!  (what would the "old salts" from WWII say if they could see that?)

  As was the Japanese Navy practice at the time, wind direction across the flight deck was determined by a smoking smudge pot near the bow.  That was unnecessary for the modern day Yorktown but it does illustrate the extent to which the film makers pursued accurateness.

  If you watch the movie "Tora! Tora! Tora!" as the Japanese planes were launched, you can detect for a moment, the distant Santa Catalina (California) Islands in the background.

Japanese Navy uniforms on United States Navy sailors--US Navy USS Yorktown crewmen working on the flight deck are given costumes to wear that make them look like World War Two Japanese sailors during the filming aboard the "Fighting Lady".

 

 

 

There was indeed a lump in my throat as I watched the aircraft disappear over the southeast horizon as they headed for San Diego. 

  Upon completion of the launch sequence by 20th Century Fox, the USS Yorktown resumed her real identity. {The sand bags were taken down off the Yorktown island and the flight deck was repainted}  The bogus Japanese aircraft were onloaded to the Yorktown for transportation to Pearl Harbor for the final climactic film ending.  The movie, release in 1970 received five Academy awards for "Best Visual Effects" and the YORKTOWN and crew was there!

 

Rear Admiral Paul Gillcrist Leading a Flight of Japanese Aircraft 

While still in the five-sided funny farm (aka "The Pentagon"), Paul got an even better Good Deal. CAPT "Gorgeous" George Watkins let it be known that prop-experienced aviators were sought for the filming of "Tora, Tora, Tora." Mandatory leave time had to be taken to participate, but that was a no-brainer; the studio was paying top dollar for qualified pilots to fly replica Zekes, Vals and Kates. As a senior VF guy, Paul was designated the Zero squadron commander and strike leader under "CAG" Watkins.

Filming in California and Hawaii in 1969-1970 offered some rare opportunities. Two that stand out in Paul's memory were dissimilar but for their vividness. Leading a 31-plane gaggle from El Toro to North Island to go aboard Yorktown (CVS-10), he struck upon the concept of a flyby at Miramar. "It was real hazy," he recalls, "and we couldn't see Runway 24. But I thought I knew where it was, so I called the tower asking permission for a low pass." When the controller asked composition of the flight, Hikotaicho Gillcrist couldn't wait to respond, "I have thirteen Zekes, nine Kates and nine Vals." Overflying the air station, Paul eased down to 500 feet with most of his Rising Sun air group stacked down. "It must have sounded pretty awesome when we broke out over the O' Club," he laughs.

Filming the predawn launch aboard Yorktown also provided some drama. Paul was to lead the Zeroes off the deck, settling off the bow as described by Minoru Genda, the film's technical advisor who had done most of the original Pearl Harbor strike planning. Paul -- still flash-blinded by a photographer -- found that his SNJ/A6M was ready to fly long before he reached the bow, so he pulled off a handful of throttle. But he overdid it and his plane staggered off the deck, settling dangerously low before Paul recovered airspeed.

Today he laughs, "Back at North Island, Genda came up to me and gave me a big hug, saying 'That was exactly the way it looked!'"

RAdm. Gilcreast has written a book about his Naval experiences called Sea Legs

From the USS Yorktown Cruisebook~Click onto picture to make it bigger

 

 

 

"Top Secret" that Jap planes on the Yorktown, heading for Hawaii in 1968?

From Dale Potts, Lt jg of the Yorktown Public Affairs Office

Potts was involved in the filming by 20th Century Fox of the movie about the bombing of Pearl Harbor entitled "Tora! Tora! Tora!"  His  major impact to Toro, Toro Toro happened after the filming. It involved a TV network crew that came aboard after dinner to do a story.  The NAVAIRPAC PAO was working with the media crew and had approved the visit but didn't expect it would be done at 1830. Potts volunteered to handle the public relations with the news crew at that late hour.


Some Japanese Zero's were being loaded by cranes on the flight deck while the news crew was there. The reporter asked why planes were being put aboard the Yorktown since the flight scenes had already been shot. Potts told him that the Yorktown was transporting the planes to Hawaii so they could used for the movie segment dealing with the actual attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Yorktown was going there anyway on its way to be the recovery ship for the Apollo 8 moon shot.

The next day while giving the Yorktown's Captain a debrief, Potts learned that the transit was supposed to be big secret.

Both the Captain and NAVAIRPAC PAO were both unhappy with Potts for awhile but Potts could not see where it was a national security issue.  Also every sailor on the ship knew the Yorktown was taking the planes so it was common knowledge in all the bars and whatever other hangouts the officers and crew used.

girls, girls girls, Hollywood style?


After arriving in Hawaii, all the Yorktown Senior Officers were treated to an exclusive dinner party on the top floor of a major building in Honolulu. The Hollywood studio saved a tremendous amount of money by having the Yorktown provide the ferry service at no charge. There were rumors that the party included call girls. Potts can neither confirm nor deny that report because he wasn't on the guest list.


Interestingly enough, Congress initiated a bill about six months later that required the military to charge fair market value every time it assisted the movie industry. Previously the military considered the PR enough payment for providing ships, planes, tanks and personnel for movies.  Potts never learned if his interview with the TV crew had any role in the law but agreed with Congress that it was only fair to the taxpayers for the movie industry to pay its way.

 

 

 

From the Yorktown Cruisebook

The Yorktown played host to a crew from 20th Century Fox for the filming of the movie Tora Tora Tora.  Action took place off the coast of San Diego in early December.

At 0600 the aircraft carrier swung smartly into the northeasternly wind.  Across the flight deck the engines of the bomb and torpedo laden "Zekes", "Kates" and "Vals" roared to life in anticipation of the dawn launch.  At 0610 the first "Zeke" rumbled down the flight deck, became airborne and then briefly settled for an agonizing moment over the dark waters of the Pacific, steadied and gained altitude.  The year was not 1941, but 1968.  The aircraft carrier was not Admiral Yamamoto's flagship but Captain John G. Fifield's Yorktown.  The 1968 converted aircraft were flown and maintained by off duty personnel on contract with 20th Century Fox, with Department of Defense approval given to the ship's participation.

  The film, essentially a documentary, has been in preparation since 1966, and is not expected to be released until 1969.  The film is being produced both in Japan and the United States, with tedious attention given to detail.  A budget of 25 million dollars has been allocated for the picture.

  Thirty Japanese fighters and bombers were hoisted on the Yorktown December 2.  The planes are United States BT-13 and AT-6 training planes altered by 20th Century Fox to resemble the Japanese planes that launched the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Most of the flight deck crew, garbed in conventional World War Two Japanese flight gear, participated in maneuvering the Rising Sun bearers in position for the filmed take offs.  Lines from the angle deck were painted over to make the "Fighting Lady" appear like the straight-decked Akagi.

After filming off San Diego, the planes remain onboard for the trip to Pearl Harbor to assist competing the movie in Hawaii.

 

 

From the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! on board the Japanese carrier Akagi after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Said Admiral Yamamoto before his flag officers  "I had intended to deal a fatal blow to the American fleet by attacking Pearl Harbor immediately after Japan's official declaration of war.  But according to American Radio, Pearl Harbor was attacked...fifty five minutes before our ultimatum was delivered in Washington.

I can't imagine anything that would infuriate the Americans more.  I feel all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

With orders from President Roosevelt and Secretary of War Knox, Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the sneak attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbor, was assassinated by the US Army Air Force April 18, 1943.