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Kaiten pilot
Yuzo Watanabe

 
Tokkou no Shima 8 (The Isle of Tokkou 8)
by Syuho Sato
Houbunsa, 2015, 179 pages

Unlike the prior volume with much dialogue and little battle action, Volume 8 depicts the Japanese I-53 submarine, with six kaiten torpedoes each manned by a pilot, under constant attack by exploding depth charges dropped by two enemy escort ships from a convoy of 17 ships. The submarine originally dives to a depth of 80 meters to try to  escape the depth charges, but it starts to take on water due to a nearby explosion and cannot stabilize its depth and raise the bow. The story gives the depth at several points with the last report at 160 meters, and it looks uncertain whether the sinking I-53 submarine will survive when this volume ends. The volume portrays intense emotions of both kaiten pilots and submarine crewmen as depth charges explode around them and as they consider how to counterattack in this desperate situation.

As described in Volume 7, two kaiten torpedoes, #2 and #4, strapped to the top of the I-53 submarine were damaged in a strafing attack by an enemy plane when the submarine was surfaced. Kaiten #4 cannot be launched, but the pilot releases all of the kaiten's fuel and oxygen in an attempt to deceive the enemy ships on the surface that the submarine had been destroyed. The straps of kaiten #4 are loosened to free it to float to the surface, but apparently no part of the kaiten reaches the surface, possibly due to a depth charge sinking it. Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Yuzo Watanabe, kaiten #1 pilot and leader of the squadron of six kaiten pilots, says that bubbles and an oil slick will not stop the enemy attack unless they see submarine debris.

Jun Katsuyama in kaiten #2 volunteers to be a decoy, if his damaged kaiten can be launched, in order to lead the enemy ships away to allow the submarine to avoid the continuing depth charges and possibly to let the other kaiten weapons be launched. The other kaiten pilots also eagerly volunteer to serve as a decoy if kaiten #2 cannot be launched. This plan has the same purpose as that of Watanabe's friend, kaiten pilot Masao Sekiguchi, who at the end of Volume 3 allowed the I-53 submarine to escape three enemy destroyers when he led them away from the submerged submarine with his kaiten. Katsuyama's kaiten travels some distance but then explodes when hit by a depth charge.

Despite the extreme depth of the submarine, Watanabe in kaiten #1 gets launched next, and this volume ends with him in his kaiten determined to destroy an enemy ship. The three remaining kaiten pilots refuse to return to the submarine even though there is almost no chance that they can be launched due to the extreme depth of the sinking submarine. Throughout this volume up to Watanabe's kaiten launch, he exhibits a calm attitude with fierce determination to hit an enemy ship. The submarine's captain was seriously wounded in the prior volume and cannot function during the battle since he is near death, so Watanabe steps up as a leader with ideas on what actions to take by continuing to focus on the mission of the kaiten squadron. Watanabe experiences several flashbacks in this volume, especially of his friend Masao Sekiguchi who saved the I-53 submarine on a prior mission when his kaiten lured away the destroyers that were dropping depth charges. Watanabe may be near delirium after his kaiten is launched. The two pages next to the last one show a squadron of seven kaiten moving through the water even though only Watanabe's kaiten is there, but the scene may also symbolize that kaiten pilots who died before him are with him in spirit as he carries out his suicide attack.

The last chapter has an abrupt shift where the author presents details of US Navy reports of the battle action on July 24, 1945:

  • 17:00 - Destroyer escort Overhill discovered floating mines thought to be enemy's.
  • 17:10 - Overhill's radar detected submarine. Contacted destroyer escort PC-184 by convoy phone and ordered her to investigate. Moved away from convoy.
  • 17:15 - 20-mm machine guns began firing to explode mines.
  • 17:30 - PC-804 discovered periscope a short distance in front. Soon the same ship detected submarine passing underneath. At same time Overhill also detected submarine.
  • 17:34 - Overhill dropped ten depth charges set to explode at shallow depth.
  • 18:05 - Something like submarine oil was rising to surface. Continued search and attacks since no debris came to surface. (Note: This was caused by kaiten #4 in the story.)
  • 18:16 - A depth charge exploded in the sea, and submarine debris came to surface. Captain broadcasted to each ship that one enemy submarine had been sunk. Planned to join up with convoy. (Note: This is Jun Katsuyama's kaiten in the story.)
  • 18:45 - PC-804 once again discovered periscope. Overhill went quickly there but soon could not see periscope.
  • 18:49 - Overhill's crew saw several periscopes on surface at same time. There appeared the figure of midget submarine intermittently breaking the surface in various directions like a dolphin. (Note: This is Yuzo Watanabe's kaiten in the story.)

Although in the form of an official US Navy action report, actual records provide a slightly different account. The manga version is clearly meant to be fictional, since the actual destroyer escort sunk by a kaiten was named Underhill (DE-682) rather than Overhill in the story. Although the manga's events occur on July 24, 1945, the same date that the destroyer escort Underhill was sunk by a kaiten explosion, the actual events took place a few hours earlier. The details contained in action reports vary somewhat from the manga story, although the general sequence of events remains the same.


Kaiten pilot Jun Katsuyama (top) after his kaiten
 has been launched shouts to Yuzo Watanabe (bottom)
in his kaiten waiting to be launched,
"Win glory!! Watanabe!!"

Included with this manga volume is a separate sheet with a map of kaiten historical sites at Otsushima, the small island in the Seto Inland Sea where the first and main kaiten base was located. The sheet shows photos of nine locations on Otsushima alongside the frames from the manga series that show these places. The main tourist site on Otsushima is Kaiten Memorial Museum.


Kaiten pilot Jun Katsuyama cries "Mother"
right before his kaiten torpedo explodes