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Nobuya Kinase (center) gives advice before taking off on special flight. Zero fighter used for training is in background.

 
Magnificent Comrades of Tsukuba Unit
by Nobuya Kinase

Nobuya Kinase was a former Japanese Navy Lieutenant who served as a flight instructor in the Tsukuba Air Group. He was in the Navy's 13th Class of Yobi Gakusei (Reserve Students).


From the beginning through the middle of February 1945, Tsukuba Naval Air Group in Tomobe Town of Ibaraki Prefecture was subjected to air attacks by American carrier-based aircraft. It was the nature of things that Tsukuba Air Group, a training unit that was carrying out its task of training fighter crewmen, lost many young officers when they tried to intercept enemy planes. They were elite pilots from the 71st to 73rd Classes of the Naval Academy, but they were not able to achieve victory in their first battle due to lack of preparation and inexperience. Of course, experienced petty officer pilots also took off to intercept them. However, differently than a frontline fighter unit, as men who had spent several months as training officers and trainers, their appearance in some respects was not so strong. The result only stood out due to the large number of victims. At Tsukuba there were many Reserve Student (Yobi Gakusei) Ensigns and Lieutenant Junior Grades. With respect to the number of men, the Reserve Students were the core strength. From the ground they breathlessly watched the battle situation of the young training officers.

Even more serious times were about to come to Tsukuba Air Group.

In the latter part of February (the date and time have already gone to the far reaches of my memory), all reserve officers were called together for a meeting. The intention to form a special (suicide) attack unit was announced, and at the same time there was a request for volunteers. There was no coercion.

However, one might be able to say that the war situation emotionally coerced the young Ensigns and Lieutenant Junior Grades. The Kamikaze [1] Special Attack Corps Tsukuba Unit was formed with only Ensigns and Lieutenant Junior Grades from the 13th and 14th Classes of Reserve Students (Yobi Gakusei). The eight squadrons totaling 64 men were further reinforced by adding two Lieutenant Junior Grades from the Naval Academy and five men from the Yokaren (Preparatory Flight Training Program). Refer to table at bottom of page.

Piloting a fighter meant that one had strong motivation and will-power to clash with enemy fighters and to shoot them down with one's machine guns. Therefore, one worked desperately hard at training. It was probably natural that fighter crewmen lit the signal fire of opposition to special attacks in which both effort and ability were ignored with the only focus being on crashing into an enemy warship. Though the war situation had worsened, nevertheless there was not a sense of urgency as the men in the 201st Air Group in the Philippines exhibited when before their eyes the country's fate was confronted by a situation in which they tried to extinguish the flames surrounding them [2]. Among elite pilots especially, there was pride of being commanders of fighter pilots.

The reserve officers had hardly any of this type of pride as they called themselves "spares" in a self-deprecating manner. They only had a sense that they shared the same fate with their families, so if they were called patriots to their face, they most likely would have been somewhat embarrassed.

The Kamikaze Special Attack Corps Tsukuba Unit, which in the beginning was formed only with this type of Ensign or Lieutenant Junior Grade reserve officer, added two Lieutenant Junior Grades who were Naval Academy graduates and five young men from the Yokaren as mentioned earlier. One could call it a reserve officer special attack unit since it had a personality like that of the reserve students. The unit was given one barracks building called the Kamikaze Barracks, and the unit had a life independent from other pilots. When squadrons were formed with eight aircraft each, each squadron decided on a color for their mufflers. In trying to clearly distinguish themselves from others, I think that the Tsukuba Unit was unlike any other of the many special attack squadrons. It was decided that their pilot mufflers would be white habutae (fine Japanese silk).

In the midst of my comrades full of such "worldly desires," the two young Lieutenant Junior Grades who were rigorously trained in their elite education were added to the unit. However, in retrospect, I cannot help but taking pity on them in that surely they felt out of place.

Those two unexpectedly had the lowest record of piloting skills, and this was the reason why they were selected.

If I think about the circumstances in those days, I think there is was necessary that the standard for selection was different than that for the reserve officers. There were also times when I thought that "spares" generally were what remained for supplemental use.

As for the formation of the special attack unit, excluding the two men mentioned above, the Lieutenant Junior Grades and Ensigns in the 13th Class became squadron and section (shotai) leaders and also served as special attack training officers who provided guidance to Ensigns in the 14th Class. About the end of March I think, instead of equipping the Zero fighters with 250-kg (No. 25) bombs, there was an idea to try to equip them with 500-kg (No. 50) bombs. We had to examine fuel consumption as basic data, so it was decided that Takamitsu Nishida and I would each fly a Zero at an altitude of 8,000 meters for 30 minutes. Since a Zero fighter was built so that a 300-liter tank could be attached, carrying a 250-kg bomb was a reasonable situation, but a 500-kg bomb was a completely different subject.

The first thing was the takeoff. When I sped down a runway of not even 1,000 meters at full throttle and took off barely getting over the trees standing at the end of the runway, I gave a sigh of relief.

This time, due to an oil leak, I made a forced landing with my aircraft, which suffered serious damage. While I knew that the aircraft was in bad condition, I thought that I could fly for about 15 minutes and return back. Suddenly I could not turn back since the leak had been caused by a maintenance worker who had forgotten to close the lid on the oil tank.

I crashed into a farm field next to the airfield while carrying a simulated 500-kg bomb. Those same Tsukuba comrades came and assisted me inside the cockpit as I was hanging in midair from the pilot's seat. These men nearly all died in battle in the middle of May in Nansei Shoto (southernmost island group of Japan, stretching towards Taiwan and including Okinawa, Miyako, and Ishigaki).

The unit was reorganized in the latter part of March. The added persons, apart from the reserve officers, were because the unit was restructured with persons who had enough flight skills and could depart soon in the first group. At this time young petty officers from the Yokaren were added to the first group.

The five young men from ages 17 to 20 were truly young cherry blossoms with rosy cheeks.

When summer comes, every year the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium excites the large crowd. I wonder why it excites everyone in the country like that.

It's probably because they go all out to the utmost in everything they do. When I am watching the actions of Koshien players, I suddenly realize that they are the same as the dedicated figures of those young men from the Yokaren.

Navy Special Attack Corps Tsukuba Unit

 

Special Attack
Corps Members

Number Who
Died in Battle

Survivors

Naval Academy Graduates 2 2 0
Yobi Gakusei
(Reserve Students) Graduates
     
     13th Class 29 24 5
     14th Class 48 30 18
Yokaren (Preparatory
Flight Training) Graduates
5 5 0
TOTAL 84 61 23


Translated by Bill Gordon
November 2011

The source of the story on this web page is pages 188-9 of the following book:

Makino, Kikuo, ed. 1979. Ichioku nin no shouwa shi (Nihon no senshi 4): Tokubetsu kougekitai (Showa history of 100 million people (Japan's war history, Volume 4): Special Attack Corps). Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbunsha.

Related web pages:

Notes

1. The pronunciation used by the Japanese Navy was Shinpu rather than Kamikaze for the same two kanji (Chinese characters).

2. The first Kamikaze Special Attack Corps squadrons were formed in the Philippines from the 201st Air Group.