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Tokyo Torpedo
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 (1975). Captain 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.

Admiral Dnitz, 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, Dnitz's Director of Operations, orders Bergman to steal the plans, contradicting Dnitz'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 Dnitz 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 [1]. 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 [2]. 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 torpedoes [3].

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 thrilling action.

Notes

1. O'Neill 1999, 189.

2. O'Neill 1999, 217-8.

3. Kemp 1999, 183-6.

Sources Cited

Kemp, Paul. 1999. Underwater Warriors. London: Brockhampton Press.

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.