The Battle of Niʻihau occurred between December 7–13, 1941, when Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi crash-landed his Japanese Zero aircraft on the Hawaiian island of Niʻihau after participating in the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was killed in a struggle with people on the island of Niʻihau.

The Niʻihau Incident

On the morning of December 7, 1941 Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service engaged a surprise military attack against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawai’i. By midmorning, after the attack, 22-year-old Japanese Airman 1st Class Shigenori Nishikaichi struggled to keep his mechanically failing Mitsubishi Zero fighter in the air as he made his way back to a Japanese aircraft carrier. He never made it back, crash landing on the island of Ni’ihau.

Nishikaichi’s zero fighter landed on Howard Kaleohano’s farmland. Knowing of the conflict between the United States and Japan, Kaleohano immediately recognized the plane as Japanese, pulled Nishikaichi from the wreckage and wisely confiscated his sidearm and papers. Yoshio Harada, one of three Ni’ihau residents of Japanese decent was summoned to translate between the pilot and Hawaiians. Harada chose not to disclose information discussed to the Hawaiians.

While Nishikaichi was placed under guard at Harada’s home, he convinced Harada, his wife Irene, and Ishimatsu Shintani to defend their Japanese homeland and to overcome the Ni’ihau Hawaiian captors. They sought weapons, and began taking Ni’ihau residents hostage. They planned an attack on Benehakaka “Ben” Kanahele and Kealoha “Ella” Kanahele. The plan failed as the Kanahele’s defended their home. During the scuffle, Ben Kanahele was shot several times, but continued fighting. Ella Kanahele was able to stone Nishikaichi’s head, Ben was then able to stab Nishikaichi, killing him. Yoshio Harada committed suicide, Irene Harada was taken into custody, Shintani was placed in an internment camp.

Ben Kanahele survived the gunshot wounds and was decorated with a Purple Heart medal for his part in stopping the Japanese takeover, although Ella Kanahele received no official recognition.