The code for successful surprise (and the movie's title) "Tora! Tora! Tora!" was a shortening of the words totsugeki (attack) and raigeki (the Japanese term for torpedo bombers), and was originally spelled "To ra, to ra, to ra!" Those two shortened words were interpreted by American radio operators, who happened to intercept them, as the Japanese word for "tiger"; hence "Tora! Tora! Tora!" See more...
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Factual error: After the Opana radar operators call in their discovery of the approaching planes and are told "don't worry about it" they turn off the radar station. In the actual attack they stayed there all during the attack, and even tracked the planes returning to the carriers, thereby locating the exact position of the Japanese fleet. This information was also ignored by the command center.
Factual error: In one scene you see a damaged B-17 about to land when he gets a call from the tower saying that he had a Zero on his tail and telling him to go around. This would never happen. A heavy B-17 (much less a damaged one) would never be able to outrun a Zero, especially after trying to land. The pilot's best option would have been to get it on the ground as soon as possible and to run like hell.
Factual error: The scene where the Japanese planes are taking off from their carriers shows a mix of aircraft in motion, mainly reproductions of the Zero, Kate, and Val aircraft that were used. In the actual event, the Zeros always left first as they needed the least space, and the heavier planes last. This is not the case in the film.
Factual error: None of the jeeps shown in this film are correct for 7 Dec. 1941. The standard jeep grill didn't appear until Feb. of 1942. All jeeps up to that point were either Bantam, Ford, or Willys prototypes or the first standardized jeeps (called slatgrills) that used welded bars for a grill, as did most military trucks of the time.
Factual error: When the Japanese planes have arrived in Hawaii and are flying across the island before they arrived to bomb Pear Harbor, there is a microwave tower in the background. Microwave communications was not invented until much later in the century, so there were no microwave antennas or towers.
Continuity: When the USS Ward first spots the mini-sub trying to sneak into the harbor, we see a close up of the conning tower. The forward edge of the conning tower is undamaged. Next we see the USS Ward fire it's first shot and we see the shot miss and hit the water well forward of the mini-sub. Look at the conning tower and there is now a square notch in the forward edge. The USS Ward fires its second shot. Just before the special effects explosion you can see the forward edge of the conning tower is undamaged. After the flash from the shell hit on the conning tower subsides, we can now see the square notch which we saw after the first shot which missed. Finally, the mini sub submerges and in the underwater shot, the forward edge of the conning tower is again undamaged.
Continuity: During the scene where the B-17 has only one wheel down, the wheel that is down changes. When the B-17 is first shown in a close up with one wheel down, the right wheel is down. But during the sequence where it is shown approaching the runway, and in the crash footage, the left wheel is the one that is down.