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Kaiten pilot
Yuzo Watanabe

 
Tokkou no Shima 7 (The Isle of Tokkou 7)
by Syuho Sato
Houbunsa, 2014, 179 pages

Volume 7 of Tokkou no Shima (The Isle of Tokkou) portrays the preparation of I-53 submarine's six kaiten pilots to be launched to attack a convoy of eight transports and nine escort ships in the Bashi Channel, located between Taiwan and the northern coast of the Philippines, on July 24, 1945. When a Japanese observation plane detects the convoy about ten kilometers north of Cape Engao, the I-53 submarine's crew calculates that they can arrive at the area in about five hours. The I-53 submarine is part of the Tamon Unit with six submarines, carrying a total of 32 kaiten weapons, that was formed in the first part of July 1945 and departed from the main kaiten base at Otsushima, a small island in Japan's Seto Inland Sea off the coast of Tokuyama in Yamaguchi Prefecture. This volume includes a discussion of the best strategy to bring I-53 to a position to launch the six kaiten in battle, and the Captain decides to set six floating mines to slow down the convoy when they try to destroy them and then to have his submarine face the oncoming ships at a depth of 18 meters, which is optimal for launching the kaiten torpedoes each piloted by one man.

Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Yuzo Watanabe, a kaiten pilot who returned from two other missions without being launched, takes on the role as leader of the six kaiten pilots with his fierce determination to succeed on this mission. He explains to the other pilots that they have no choice but to die. After the Captain gets seriously wounded when an enemy plane strafes the surfaced submarine, Watanabe shows his battle experience by his composed demeanor and resolutely refuses to return to the submarine when ordered to do so by the officer who temporarily takes over command from the Captain. Watanabe explains that now is a good opportunity to launch the kaiten in an attack. The Captain briefly recovers from his unconsciousness and says that he supports Watanabe's idea.

In a chapter that depicts the inner feelings of the pilots sitting in their kaiten as they wait to be launched, the Captain asks by phone whether they have any last words. The first five pilots answer as follows:

  • Watanabe (kaiten #1) - I appreciate what you have done for me. I will certainly score a hit.
  • Katsuyama (kaiten #2) - I pray for Japan's victory and peace. Long live the Emperor!!
  • Seki (kaiten #3) - Nothing can surpass a young man's long-cherished ambition than to have joy in sacrificing himself to achieve a breakthrough in a crisis. I will show you how to die splendidly in a battle tactic that brings about certain death, that is with my life.
  • Kawajiri (kaiten #4) - I pray for I-53's success in battle! Long live I-53!! Long live the Kaiten Special Attack Corps!!
  • Arakawa (kaiten #5) - I surely will instantly sink an enemy ship!! Kaiten Corps members! I will meet you again at Yasukuni Gate!! (Note: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo was established in 1869 for the remembrance of spirits of persons who died in battle for their country.)

Takahashi in kaiten #6 then breaks down in tears as he thinks of his mother:

Please forgive my being undutiful to you by leaving before you, mother. War is approaching the Japanese mainland. Today I go in a tokkō (special attack) unit for this reason, so that you, the most loved mother in this whole world, may not die. I go for you, mother, mother.

Each of the other kaiten pilots also breaks out in tears as he remembers his mother. Watanabe also feels this way even though his mother had died already during the war in an air attack. When a submarine officer tries to reprimand the pilots for their excessive display of emotions, Watanabe answers that they are free to feel what they want in their innermost hearts when they go into battle. The Captain says finally to the kaiten pilots, "I will order you to your deaths. As for what you can choose, it is only your way of dying. Do you die for your country? Do you die for your family? Or do you die for yourself?" Watanabe declares to the other pilots his belief: "I will die for myself. I will not die for someone else." He then tells the other pilots to live for themselves.

The enemy plane that strafed I-53 reported its position, so two ships from the convoy come searching for the submerged submarine in order to drop depth charges. Two of the kaiten torpedoes have been damaged in the attack with smoke starting to fill one of them. This volume ends with the I-53 submarine waiting with a decision, recommended by Watanabe and confirmed by the wounded Captain, to face the oncoming ships so that the kaiten weapons may be launched.

Although much of this volume consists of strategizing, moving toward the enemy convoy, and conversing, the manga author still creates an atmosphere of tension and anticipation. As the I-53 submarine goes toward the area where the enemy convoy has been sighted, an enemy submarine is spotted  but passes by without noticing the Japanese submarine when it dives to 80 meters to escape detection. The story also continues to closely stick to what actually happened with the I-53 and her six kaiten during July 1945. The names of the kaiten pilots aboard I-53 are the actual ones with the exception of Yuzo Watanabe, the fictional hero of Tokkou no Shima (The Isle of Tokkou) . The author makes clear at the beginning of each volume that even though the names of the kaiten pilots are the same as the historical figures, their thoughts, beliefs, and emotions were different in some cases since the manga series is a work of fiction.


Watanabe sits calmly in kaiten #1 ready to be launched.
When captain asks kaiten pilots whether they have any
last words, Watanabe replies, "I appreciate what
you have done for me. I will certainly score a hit."