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Tokkou pairotto o sagase: Umoreta rekishi no nazo o horiokoshita shinjitsu no kiroku (Finding a kamikaze pilot: Record of truth uncovered regarding puzzle of his hidden history)
by Katsumi Hiragi
Fusosha Publishing, 2005, 295 pages

On April 11, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, the destroyer USS Kidd (DD-661) got hit by a single-engine kamikaze aircraft carrying a bomb. The plane crash and bomb explosion killed 38 men and wounded 55 others. The original edition of this book published in 2002 was entitled Ware tekikan ni totsunyuu su: Kuchikukan Kiddo to aru tokkou, 57 nen-me no shinjitsu (I will dive into an enemy ship: Destroyer Kidd and kamikaze attack, truth 57 years later). This revised and expanded 2005 edition goes through the detail steps taken by the author to unravel the mystery of who piloted the kamikaze aircraft that hit USS Kidd.

Katsumi Hiragi grew up in Japan and completed his high school and university education in the US, where he now practices law in San Diego. He has written several magazine articles and a Japanese book about the accidental shooting in 1992 of a Japanese high school student in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While gathering materials for that book, he found out about the museum ship USS Kidd in Baton Rouge. When he saw the photograph at the museum of a kamikaze aircraft headed toward the destroyer Kidd, he became interested in the identity of the pilot who crashed into the ship. Although not a professional historian, he skillfully applied his legal skills related to evidence and reasoning in order to thoroughly document his support for the identity of this kamikaze pilot.

Also in 2005, Japanese author Akira Kachi wrote a book titled Senkan mizuuri ni totsunyuu shita reisen (Zero fighter that crashed into battleship Missouri), which examined evidence regarding identification of the kamikaze pilot who hit battleship Missouri on April 11, 1945. The books written by Akira Kachi and Katsumi Hiragi have many parallels. Each author developed a personal non-professional interest in identification of a certain kamikaze pilot based on a visit to a museum ship in the US. They conducted their research over roughly the same period of time, and they carried out many of the same or similar research steps. It turned out that both pilots were members of the same squadron, the 5th Kemmu Squadron, which took off from Kanoya Air Base. The two authors met in 2001 to exchange information, reasoning, and conjectures, which helped both of them in their research efforts in that their subject was the same kamikaze squadron that flew Zero fighters each carrying a 500-kg bomb, although the two different ships got hit some distance and time apart (USS Kidd hit at 14:10, and USS Missouri hit at 14:43).

The chapters present chronologically the research steps taken by Hiragi to obtain relevant information about the kamikaze pilot whose plane crashed into USS Kidd. After his visit to the museum ship in Louisiana, he contacted former Kidd crewmembers. Next, in 2001 he visited the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots and the Kanoya Naval Air Base Museum. The museum in Kanoya was especially relevant to his research, since many aircraft departed from there on special (suicide) attacks on April 11, 1945. As he carried out his research, his most valuable personal interviews were with Fujio Hayashi, who was unit commander at Kanoya Air Base when 16 Model 52 Zero fighters sortied with 500-kg bombs on April 11, 1945. He quickly narrowed down the plane that hit Kidd to a Model 52 Zero fighter based on information from Hayashi and a careful examination of the photograph that showed the plane headed toward Kidd. Hiragi went with Hayashi to the library at the National Institute of Defense Studies in Tokyo to examine wartime documents, where they found much valuable information such as pilot names, takeoff times, and radio telegraph messages sent back to base. Later Hiragi also made a three-day visit to the US National Archives to examine records related to USS Kidd and the task force to which the ship belonged. He attended the annual reunion of USS Kidd veterans to discuss his findings about the identity of the kamikaze pilot. It is hard to imagine how anyone could ever do more rigorous and extensive research than that performed by Hiragi on this narrow historical topic.

As Hiragi visits places and interviews persons, he gives his personal reactions regarding their helpfulness and value to his research. He admires the professionalism and support of a curator at the US National Archives, while he expresses his irritation with the indifferent attitude of a woman who works at the library of the National Institute of Defense Studies in Tokyo. He appreciates how the US National Archives strives to make historical information accessible to anyone interested in it, even to the point of making it easy for a researcher to make copies. He criticizes the high cost of about $1 per page to make copies at the National Institute of Defense Studies library in Tokyo, whereas the National Archives only charges 10 cents per page.

Many individuals provided information related to Hiragi's search for the pilot who hit Kidd, and he expresses his deep gratitude to them and singles out Fujio Hayashi's contributions. Hayashi with his first-hand knowledge interpreted for Hiragi some of the cryptic written wartime naval records found at the National Institute of Defense Studies. He also dispelled some myths regarding special attacks. The goal of Hayashi's special attack unit was not just to die but rather to achieve battle results, so a Zero pilot in a Kemmu Squadron would drop his bomb into the sea and engage an enemy fighter if met along the way or would return to base if enemy ships could not be located. He explained that aircraft involved in special attacks, in order to have enough fuel to return if enemy ships could not be found, would always depart with a full tank of fuel, not with only just enough to reach the target as often depicted in Japanese movies or books.

Lieutenant Junior Grade
Shigehisa Yaguchi

 

After Hiragi completed much in-depth research, he concludes with near certainty that Lieutenant Junior Grade Shigehisa Yaguchi, commander of the 5th Kemmu Squadron, piloted the Zero fighter that crashed into the destroyer Kidd. The primary support for this conclusion relates to the time (at 14:08) that Yaguchi radioed back to base that he would dive at an enemy warship and the time (at 14:10) that Kidd got hit. Fujio Hayashi, unit leader of the Kemmu Squadrons, thought that a kamikaze pilot would send a radio message back to base about a minute or two prior to hitting a ship. Hiragi systematically eliminates other possibilities by examining the take-off times and plane types of all other special attack squadrons that sortied on April 11, 1945. Based on the correspondence between take-off times, estimated time for a Zero fighter loaded with a 500-kg bomb to reach Kidd's location, and time of attack on Kidd, he quickly focuses on the 16 Zero fighters of the 5th Kemmu Squadron that took off from Kanoya Air Base from 12:15 to 12:24. Three squadron planes made forced landings, but 13 Zeros passed the island of Kikaijima about 13:30 at which time they broke off into pairs and angled off in different southerly directions in the shape of a fan in order to try to locate the American task force. Hiragi carefully examines what happened to each of these 13 planes before finally making the determination that Yaguchi's Zero must have been the one to crash into the destroyer Kidd. A couple of other 5th Kemmu Squadron pilots possibly could have hit Kidd, but they radioed that they were diving on an enemy carrier about 15 minutes prior to the crash into Kidd. Since Kidd was not an aircraft carrier but rather a regular warship, the other two pilots' messages that they would dive into an enemy carrier seem to make them unlikely that they hit Kidd. Also, it is improbable due to the large gap between the time of their radio messages that they would make attacks and the time that Kidd got hit.

When Hiragi attended an annual reunion of Kidd veterans, he presented the results of his research regarding the pilot who hit the destroyer, but he did not have answers when they started asking questions about the personal life of Shigehisa Yaguchi. After the reunion, Hiragi visited Yaguchi's younger brother living in Ibaraki Prefecture and found out much about his life and personality. Shigehisa Yaguchi was in the Navy's 13th Class of Reserve Students (Yobi Gakusei). After graduation from a technical school in Ibaraki, he started work as an engineer at a company in Fukuoka Prefecture, but he soon joined the Navy. While serving in a Zero fighter unit, he volunteered and trained to be an ohka (manned rocket-powered glider) pilot. However, after the utter failure of the first ohka mission from Kanoya Air Base on March 21, 1945, he volunteered for the Kemmu Unit that would use Zero fighters carrying 500-kg bombs in order to execute special (suicide) attacks. He was 23 years old when he died. During 2004 Hiragi worked together with an American lawyer, who had been aboard the destroyer Black, which was near Kidd when the ship got hit by a kamikaze plane. They tried to have Shigehisa Yaguchi remembered during a memorial ceremony as the 39th attack victim, in addition to the 38 Kidd crewmembers who died in the attack on April 11, 1945. However, they did not succeed in their proposal due to lingering bitterness among some Kidd veterans toward the Japanese pilot who had killed so many of their shipmates.

In addition to the striking cover photograph of a kamikaze plane headed toward the destroyer Kidd, the book has about 20 other photos. There are also several maps and charts that provide a clear description of Kidd's location, the route taken by the 16 Zero fighters of the 5th Kemmu Squadron, and the attack path of the plane that crashed into Kidd. In places the narrative becomes extremely detailed such as the more than 30 pages that provide information regarding the movements of the American fleet and Japanese kamikaze squadrons. At times such fine points may cause some readers to start skimming in order to reach the key points of Hiragi's analysis on which pilot hit Kidd.

Hiragi's search for identification of the kamikaze pilot exemplifies typical frustrations and disappointments faced by a historian who examines an incident many years in the past. He discovered that the photograph of the Zero headed toward Kidd was just one frame of a film taken by the ship's doctor. He hoped to be able to somehow find the entire film of the attack at the US National Archives, but he did not succeed. Hiragi could not personally interview certain individuals who most likely had relevant information to his research, since they had died prior to his starting the search. During the course of his research lasting several years, other persons he had interviewed near the beginning had passed away by the time he wanted to ask them follow-up questions. Even after the tremendous amount of research he completed on the topic of which kamikaze pilot hit the destroyer Kidd, he could not be 100% certain due to the lack of physical evidence. One former crewman told Hiragi early in his research that a document had been taken off the pilot's corpse, and he thought that the name began with "Ya" such a Yamamoto or Yamaguchi, but he could not remember for certain. By the time Hiragi wanted to follow up with the crewman regarding this document, he had already passed away.


Ohka pilot unit during visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo
(Shigehisa Yaguchi on far right of back row)