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Kaiten pilot Yuzo Watanabe

 
Tokkou no Shima 2 (The Isle of Tokkou 2)
by Syuho Sato
Houbunsa, 2011, 196 pages

Tokkou no Shima 2 (The Isle of Tokkou 2) continues the manga comic story of Yuzo Watanabe and other Japanese Navy kaiten (human torpedo) pilots at a secret base on the small island of Otsushima in the Seto Inland Sea in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Volume 2 contains Chapters 8 to 15, which cover the sortie and success of the first kaiten mission by the Kikusui Group in Ulithi in November 1944 and the sortie of the second kaiten mission from Otsushima by the Kongo Group in late December 1944. Although the book includes fictional characters such as Watanabe and his friend Masao Sekiguchi, the story is based on actual history with the kaiten base and kaiten missions being accurately portrayed and with inclusion of some real historical characters such as Lieutenant Junior Grade Sekio Nishina, who carried out the first successful kaiten attack by sinking the large oil tanker Mississinewa (AO-59) at Ulithi. The manga's realistic drawings and sparse dialogue depict the emotions and thoughts of the kaiten pilots as they face death.

Volume 2 opens with the Japanese Navy's first kamikaze squadron that made successful attacks on American ships in the Philippines on October 25, 1944. The scene quickly switches to Otsushima Kaiten Base, where an announcement is made of names of the 12 kaiten pilots selected for the Kikusui Group, made up of three I-class submarines that will carry four kaiten each to make an attack on ships at the American anchorage in Ulithi. Watanabe and his friend Sekiguchi do not get selected for the Kikusui Group, but Nishina will lead the group to Ulithi as one of the 12 kaiten pilots. Nishina and Lieutenant Hiroshi Kuroki had developed the kaiten weapon, but Kuroki had died a couple of months earlier during a training accident off Otsushima. The selected kaiten pilots attend a farewell party, but Watanabe finds Nishina instead working on a kaiten in the Otsushima workshop since he wants to ensure success of the mission to Ulithi. Watanabe, whose hobby is drawing, asks the long-haired unshaven Nishina to let him draw a portrait of him. As Watanabe draws, Nishina talks fondly of his family and explains his promise with Kuroki to not cut his hair until crashing into an enemy ship.

The three submarines making up the Kikusui Unit sortie from Tokuyama Harbor on November 8, 1944. In the sendoff ceremony, Nishina carries a small white box with Kuroki's ashes, which will go with him in the I-47 submarine and in his kaiten during the attack. Early in the morning of November 20, 1944, about 30 minutes after the I-47 captain launches the four kaiten, a tall column of smoke arises from the middle of the Ulithi anchorage. Although not known at the time, this smoke came from the large oil tanker Mississinewa (AO-59), which quickly sank after a kaiten hit. It was not known with certainty which kaiten pilot sank the tanker, but the known facts seem to indicate that it was the kaiten piloted by Sekio Nishina.

Japanese Navy officials conclude that the kaiten attack at Ulithi was a resounding success with the sinking of three aircraft carriers and two battleships, but the actual results were much less. The Otsushima Kaiten Base commander invokes the names of Kuroki and Nishina to encourage other kaiten pilots to follow them, but Watanabe and his friend Sekiguchi, now portrayed to be more mature with unshaven faces, openly wonder about the accuracy of the reported kaiten battle results. They talk together on the shore of Otsushima as Watanabe sketches a self portrait by using a small piece of a mirror. He tells Sekiguchi that Nishina had explained to him before his sortie that in the future it would be much more difficult to attack anchorages after the first attack in Ulithi, so the kaiten weapons would need to focus their attacks on ships at sea.

Watanabe and Sekiguchi get assigned to the next kaiten mission on the I-53 submarine, which is part of the Kongo Unit of several submarines with kaiten that will attack various anchorages in January 1945. Sekiguchi questions the commander as to the wisdom of attacking anchorages rather than ships at sea, but the commander hits Sekiguchi in the face for questioning an order from the Combined Fleet Headquarters. He gets further beaten by other men outside the barracks. This incident in the story most likely would never have happened where an order from the commander would be openly questioned in front of others, since the Japanese Navy's training instilled absolute obedience to orders from above.

Before Watanabe's sortie, he gets leave for an overnight stay with his family. They are overjoyed to see him and think that he has been flying planes, since he keeps his assignment to a kaiten base a secret. As he prepares to leave, he lets his mother see his book of drawings, which include some with the kaiten weapon, so she realizes something of the nature of his real assignment. As Watanabe rides the train back to base, he sketches his family as they stood saying goodbye to him at the train station. Tears from his eyes drop onto the sketch.

When Watanabe returns to base, he goes on a successful practice kaiten run. However, Sekiguchi's kaiten gets stuck on the sea bottom, and he suffers minor injuries. As he lies down in a bed recovering, he wonders for what reason he will die as he talks with Watanabe. Sekiguchi and Watanabe board the I-53 submarine carrying four kaiten, which leaves Otsushima in late December with a planned trip of about two weeks in order to attack Allied ships at Kossol Passage in the Palau Islands on January 11, 1945. The kaiten pilots get a formal sendoff from Otsushima while Watanabe remembers Nishina and his earlier sendoff. The I-53 submarine gets attacked by Grumman fighters while still in sight of Kyushu. Volume 2 ends abruptly with an explosion on the surface of the sea without knowing what happened to I-53 and the men inside.

Tokkou no Shima 2 (The Isle of Tokkou 2) was published five years after the first volume's publication in 2006. Volume 3 continues Watanabe's adventures in this provocative and well-researched manga comic series.


Smoke rising after kaiten crashed into
oil tanker Mississinewa (AO-59)