by Edwyn Gray
Pinnacle Books, 1976, 214 pages
German Captain Konrad Bergman commanded a U-boat (submarine)
in two earlier novels, No Survivors (1974) and Action Atlantic
Bergman returns for the series' third book, Tokyo Torpedo, as he leads
the U-885's crew from Germany to Japan and back on a secret mission to steal
Japan's advanced torpedo technology. Edwyn Gray has written numerous
submarine-related fiction and non-fiction books, including Disasters of the
Deep: A History of Submarine Tragedies (2003) and The Devil's Device:
Robert Whitehead and the History of the Torpedo (1992). Gray succeeds in Tokyo
Torpedo in creating an action thriller full of suspense and surprise.
Commander-in-Chief of Germany's Navy, gives Captain Bergman the assignment to
take the U-885 to Japan and persuade the Japanese Navy to hand over plans to
their Type 93 Long Lance torpedo. Kommodore Schiller, Dönitz's Director of Operations, orders
Bergman to steal the plans, contradicting Dönitz's specific instructions to persuade the Japanese to freely
hand over the plans. The U-885 departs Germany for Japan at the end of January
1943 and reaches a Japanese camp at Penang Island off the coast of Malaya.
Bergman meets Commander Mitsuru Fujita, who had commanded a Japanese submarine during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The two become
wary friends, and
Bergman decides to bring Fujita with him to Tokyo to assist him in his attempt
to get the plans for the Type 93 torpedo.
On the trip by the U-885 from Malaya to Tokyo, Fujita
explains to Bergman that Japan's Long Lance torpedo will be of little use to
the Germans since all of the U-boats' 21-inch torpedo tubes would need to
refitted to allow the 24-inch diameter Long Lance to be used. After Bergman
gets politely rebuffed by senior naval officers in Tokyo and fails to get any
details regarding the oxygen-propelled Type 93 torpedo, Fujita invites him to
visit Sasebo Naval Base to meet Captain Sendai, a former classmate at Etajima
Naval Academy. Sendai has been developing and testing kaiten, human torpedoes,
based on the Type 93 torpedo design but modified to have a one-man crew.
Several I-class submarines have been modified to carry and launch up to six
kaiten. Although Sendai has been sending out pilots to test the Type 1 kaiten
with a standard Type 93 oxygen-enriched engine, he has just received an
improved Type 2 kaiten with a hydrogen-peroxide engine.
Bergman convinces Sendai to let him take a test run with the new
Type 2 kaiten. Sendai gives Bergman some words of advice prior to his test run
(p. 151): "They're unpredictable little bastards. It's like a man having
it off with a seventeen-year-old nymphomaniac after twenty years with his
wife." After the Japanese submarine releases Bergman's kaiten, he pilots
it underwater out of range of the submarine's hydrophones to a rendezvous point
with his U-boat. His crewmen open the externally sealed kaiten hatch just before
his oxygen runs out, and they strap the stolen kaiten onto the U-boat for
the long trip back to Germany. The U-885 survives a typhoon and
"purchases" some needed fuel by force from a neutral Portuguese
tanker. Bergman delivers the stolen kaiten to Admiral Dönitz around May 1943, and Hitler orders
the establishment of a fleet of midget submarines and human torpedoes
based on secrets from the Japanese kaiten.
This fictional story depicts the Type 2 kaiten powered by
hydrogen peroxide as "the real Tokyo Torpedo–the proverbial crock of gold
at the end of the rainbow" (p. 135), but actual history differs greatly
from this novel's glowing portrayal of the Japanese suicide weapon. Construction of the
Type 1 kaiten with an oxygen-enriched engine did not actually begin until after
approval by the Naval General Staff in February 1944, and the Type 2 kaiten
with a hydrogen-peroxide engine, produced only in a small quantities, never saw
action . In contrast, Tokyo Torpedo depicts both Type 1 and 2 kaiten
weapons being tested early in 1943, and the novel even mentions the use of
kamikaze suicide bombers during the same time period even though the Japanese Navy did
not organize the first kamikaze squadron until October 1944.
This novel describes the kaiten as "a weapon that could
win the war for Germany" (p. 131), but the actual weapon had negligible
effect on the American fleet. Kaiten missions resulted in Japan's loss of 80
pilots and all crewmen on eight submarines, with only the sinking of an American
destroyer escort and an auxiliary oiler . Also, Germany never developed a
successful fleet of midget submarines and human torpedoes. In fact, the German
Navy did not even begin a serious investigation of these weapons until the end
of 1943, and Germany knew almost nothing about Japanese midget submarines and
Although details in Tokyo Torpedo concerning the
kaiten human torpedo may sometimes not agree with historical facts, Gray tells
an exciting story with fast-paced action and plot twists. A round-trip
submarine trip from Germany to Japan sounds quite dull, but Gray devotes very
few pages to the journey and instead focuses on key dramatic scenes.
German Captain Bergman, a brave but somewhat mysterious hero, dominates the
action, and other officers and crewmembers of the U-885 get introduced only
briefly. Bergman, although a patriotic German, silently opposes the tactics of
Hitler and the Nazis.
The characters in this book have a range of opinions toward suicide
attacks. The novel says little about the kaiten pilots
other than being men willing to die for their Emperor. Bergman surprises Commander Fujita when he shows his courage in ramming
an American submarine in order to sink it. "Until now he [Fujita] had been
convinced that only Japanese sailors had the courage to commit suicide to
achieve victory" (p. 92). Captain Sendai demonstrates a heartless attitude when he loses a pilot
in a kaiten accident. He says, "At this moment in our history ships are of
more importance than men" (p. 141). Sendai's callous comment irritates
Bergman, who cannot understand Japanese disregard for human life. However,
this attitude seems to be more the author's speculation
rather than the actual sentiments of most officers who led Japan's suicide
attacks during World War II.
Tokyo Torpedo contains a few implausible events and
discrepancies with historical facts and timelines, but this novel provides some
1. O'Neill 1999, 189.
2. O'Neill 1999, 217-8.
3. Kemp 1999, 183-6.
Kemp, Paul. 1999. Underwater Warriors. London:
O'Neill, Richard. 1999. Originally published in 1981 as an
illustrated edition. Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II
Special Operations. London: Salamander Books.