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Senkan mizuuri ni totsunyuu shita reisen (Zero fighter that crashed into battleship Missouri)
by Akira Kachi
Kojinsha, 2005, 299 pages

In 2000 when author Akira Kachi retired from a business career and made his first visit to the Battleship Missouri Memorial next to Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, he started five years of intensive research to determine the identity of the Zero fighter pilot who crashed into USS Missouri (BB-63) on April 11, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa. This kamikaze attack became famous with the wide publication of the photograph of a Zero fighter about ready to crash into Missouri as crewmen take cover (see photo at right on top of book cover). Based on extremely thorough research and careful analysis of all possibilities, Kachi concludes that the Zero pilot who hit battleship Missouri on April 11, 1945, was either Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Kenkichi Ishii or Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Setsuo Ishino. They were in the same Zero fighter pair that was part of 16 Zero fighters of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps 5th Kemmu Squadron that took off from Kanoya Air Base.

On August 4, 2001, NHK broadcast a one-hour Weekend Special television documentary entitled Kamikaze tokkoutai: Mizuuri totsunyuu no kiseki (Kamikaze Special Attack Corps: Path of crash into Missouri). Kensuke Sato, crewmen of Japanese battleship Musashi; Tadafumi Sugiyama, Mitsubishi aircraft plant worker; and Edwin Kawahara, WWII US Army Military Intelligence Service veteran, had worked with the USS Missouri Memorial Association to research the identity of the pilot who hit Missouri. They concluded that most likely it was Setsuo Ishino who hit Missouri. Ishino had radioed a telegraph message to base at 2:39 p.m. that he had spotted the enemy fleet, and Missouri was hit by the kamikaze aircraft at 2:43 p.m. This would seem to indicate that Ishino hit Missouri, but at 2:47 p.m. another Zero fighter was shot down in the same area. In the NHK documentary, the contents of Kachi's research to date were introduced to indicate that it was not possible to conclude with certainty that Ishino had crashed into Missouri. The documentary also covered the memorial service held aboard Missouri at Pearl Harbor on April 12, 2001, to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the funeral for the remains of the pilot found on the ship held at the order of Captain William Callaghan aboard Missouri on the day following the kamikaze plane crash. The memorial service attendees included retired Admiral William Callaghan, Jr., son of Missouri's Captain Callaghan, and two relatives of 5th Kemmu Squadron pilots other than Ishii and Ishino who also died in battle on April 11, 1945.

Senkan mizuuri ni totsunyuu shita reisen (Zero fighter that crashed into battleship Missouri) has two main threads running through the book. First, author Akira Kachi presents detailed evidence and analysis to support his conclusion that either Kenkichi Ishii or Setsuo Ishino could have been the pilot who hit Missouri. Second, Kachi describes in detail his many research-related trips and his personal impressions. For example, in the first chapter over 20 pages in length, he describes his year 2000 trip to the three Pearl Harbor memorials for battleship Arizona, battleship Missouri, and submarine Bowfin. He also includes descriptions of his trips to Kanoya Air Base, Yasukuni Shrine's Yushukan Museum, Kokubu No. 1 Air Base, Kikaijima Airfield, Battleship Missouri Memorial for the second time in 2001, library at the National Institute of Defense Studies in Tokyo, home of Zero fighter pilot Saburo Sakai, and Ohka Monument at Kenchoji Temple in Kamakura. On the one hand, these trip accounts provide excellent background related to Japanese kamikaze pilots and the attacks made on April 11, 1945. They also allow someone to understand the difficulties encountered in research of the very specific topic of the identity of the Zero pilot who hit Missouri. On the other hand, extensive descriptions of subjects that are only marginally related to the main topic can be distracting from understanding the author's evidence and arguments to support his conclusion of the pilot's identity.

Kenkichi Ishii
Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class

 

The evidence carefully presented by Kachi fully supports his conclusion that either Kenkichi Ishii or Setsuo Ishino could have hit Missouri on April 11, 1945. He examines all other reasonable possibilities and provides reasons for why they are impossible or extremely unlikely. Kachi had extensive interviews with Lieutenant Fujio Hayashi, one of the division leaders of the 721st Air Group from which suicide attacks were carried out by both ohka rocket-powered gliders with 1,200 kg of explosives in the nose and Zero fighters each loaded with a 500-kg bomb. Hayashi provided much valuable information related to the attack on April 11, since he was one of the division leaders present at Kanoya Air Base when the 16 Zero fighters of the 5th Kemmu Squadron took off on their suicide mission. He explains that the squadron planned to fly to the island of Kikaijima at which point they would separate into fighter pairs flying southward at different angles making a fan shape in order to try to locate the two American task groups (58.3 and 58.4) that had been spotted earlier by Japanese reconnaissance planes.

Kachi accounts for what happened to each of the 16 Zero fighters of the 5th Kemmu Squadron by examination of the times and contents of radio telegraph messages from the planes, information contained in official reports of US Navy ships in the area south of Kikaijima, and projected flight path from Kikaijima of each of the eight pairs of Zero fighters. Three planes did not reach Kikaijima, but the remaining single plane in three pairs followed the same planned flight path. Besides the Zero fighters piloted by Kenkichi Ishii and Setsuo Ishino, the other Zeros all made their attacks much earlier than the 2:43 p.m. time at which Missouri was struck. One Zero hit the destroyer USS Kidd causing 38 deaths and 55 wounded. Whereas the other planes attacked the US fleet from the north, Ishii and Ishino went around east of Task Group 58.4 in order to attack the rear from the south. Kachi provides maps to show the position of ships from Task Group 58.4 sailing north toward Kikaijima and the probable flight path taken by Ishii and Ishino to make their attack. Ishii never sent any radio telegraph messages during his flight in contrast to Ishino's message at 2:39 p.m. that he had sighted the enemy fleet and another message at 2:41 p.m. that he had sighted enemy fighters. However, since Ishii and Ishino were flying in the same fighter pair, the aircraft that hit Missouri could have been piloted by either one of them. US Navy records indicate a second Japanese plane was shot down at 2:47 p.m., which could have been a Zero piloted by either Ishii or Ishino. Although it is not known why Ishii did not send a radio telegraph message, it could have been due to equipment malfunction. Three other Zero fighters in the 5th Kemmu Squadron in addition to Ishii's plane never sent even one radio telegraph message back to Kanoya Air Base. Although Kachi establishes that either Kenkichi Ishii or Setsuo Ishino was the kamikaze pilot of the Zero fighter that struck Missouri on April 11, 1945, the book provides very little information about the personal lives of these two men.

Setsuo Ishino
Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class

 

This book has many black and white photos, both those from WWII and those taken by the author in his research. Several maps in the book very effectively supplement Kachi's explanations of the ship positions and Zero flight paths. In addition to detailed descriptions of Kachi's trips to various places, several other sections provide background or related information not essential for understanding who hit Missouri. For example, 12 pages cover the Japanese Navy's Yokaren (Preparatory Flight Training Program) and Yobi Gakusei (Reserve Students) program to increase the number of lower-ranking officers, which even Kachi mentions as being a digression from the main topic of the book.

Interestingly, neither this book published in 2005 nor the 2001 NHK documentary Kamikaze tokkoutai: Mizuuri totsunyuu no kiseki (Kamikaze Special Attack Corps: Path of crash into Missouri) has changed the information provided to tourists who visit the Battleship Missouri Memorial at Pearl Harbor (as of September 2011). Ship guides and the information display stand near the spot where the Zero hit indicate that Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Setsuo Ishino is most likely the pilot who crashed into Missouri on April 11, 1945, with no mention whatsoever that Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Kenkichi Ishii is just as likely to have hit the ship. Only Setsuo Ishino's photograph, not one of Kenkichi Ishii, is displayed on both the information display stand and in the ship's wardroom as the pilot who hit battleship Missouri.


Related Information

Hagoromo Society (1973, 11, 158) originally published a book in 1952 with incidents and reminiscences by surviving pilots and with memorial statements by family survivors of dead pilots. Setsuo Ishino's father had the following comment:

As the surviving members of Shiichi Ishino's family, we manage to get along these days with our memories of our son. We would be honored to have the wartime death of our son recorded for future generations. When he was still alive, his squadron commander suggested that we pay him a visit. We went to Konoike Air Base in Ibaraki Prefecture to see him for the last time. We received a letter from him when he was stationed at Kanoya in Kagoshima Prefecture, including his farewell poem, as follows:

Today's mission is something I have long awaited.
All that's left for me now is to crash straight on
Into some enemy aircraft carrier.

Shiichi Ishino
(father of Setsuo Ishino)

Source Cited

Hagoromo Society of Kamikaze Divine Thunderbolt Corps Survivors. 1973. The Cherry Blossom Squadrons: Born to Die. Edited and supplemented by Andrew Adams. Translated by Nobuo Asahi and the Japan Tech Co. Los Angeles: Ohara Publications.