Last Letter of Lieutenant Junior Grade Masaharu Yokoyama to His Family
On December 8, 1941, Lieutenant Junior Grade Masaharu Yokoyama died at the age of 22
during the attack of his two-man midget submarine at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after
being released from submarine I-16. He was a member of the 1st Special
Attack Flotilla, which included ten crewmen in five midget submarines that
attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was
from Kagoshima Prefecture and graduated in the 67th Class of the Naval Academy
at Etajima. He received a promotion of two ranks to Lieutenant Commander after his
death, which was recognized as being in a special (suicide) attack.
He wrote the following final letter to his family:
At this critical time for the Empire, there is nothing that surpasses my
honor in obtaining a place to die. I humbly offer my declaration of
banzai (long life) to His Majesty the Emperor.
From the heart I offer my thanks for 23 years of kindness from first my
deceased Father and my mother and then everyone in the family and for the
great kindness shown to me by my teachers in elementary and junior high
school and by training officers, superior officers, and seniors who provided
guidance to me in the Navy.
I cannot bear the misery for the bereaved family of my fellow crewman
Petty Officer Kamita.
Finally, I am deeply ashamed that I will die without repaying even one
ten-thousandth of the Emperor's grace.
Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Masaharu Yokoyama
Burlingame (1992, 63-4) describes Yokoyama as follows. Yokoyama's given name of
正治 has two common pronunciations: Masaharu and Masaji. Burlingame uses Masaji,
but other English and Japanese sources give the pronunciation as Masaharu, which
has been used on this web page .
Masaji Yokoyama, pilot of I-16tou, "was the most handsome of the
midget submariners," recalled Captain Takayasu Arima, Yamamoto's liaison
officer with the midget squad. "When he smiled, he looked like an innocent
child. But he was a hard worker and had a lot of raw courage." Yokoyama had
a gentle nature that belied a crushing sense of responsibility; his father,
a member of the Imperial Guards Cavalry, served in the Russo-Japanese war
and died in China when Yokoyama was six. The family, eight brothers and five
sisters, was left in Kagoshima to be raised by mother Taka Yokoyama. These
circumstances left Masaji both independent and sympathetic. He liked being
around people, and doing things for them. Possibly because he didn't want to
further strain his mother, he became a stoic, enduring pain without crying.
Once, when he was in grade school, he dislocated his shoulder in a fall and
insisted on visiting the doctor alone.
As a boy, Yokoyama listened avidly to tales of great military heroes, as
he considered his father to be; those who, by stint of bravery and faith,
rose above the masses, or at least above the mass of brothers and sisters.
At the Naval Academy, Yokoyama developed a fixation on Admiral Heihachiro
Togo, hero of the Russo-Japanese conflict, who was also from Kagoshima.
Whenever Yokoyama visited home thereafter, he'd spend long hours at Togo's
In his academy notebook, Yokoyama distilled the four vital attributes of
a heroic officer ― vigor, spirit, patience and honesty. These words were
written on the cover, so that he would see them every tie he opened the
During his last visit home, Yokoyama seemed unusually animated about
something, but told his family nothing.
Yokoyama was the only crewman of the five midget submarines that attacked
Pearl Harbor who sent a message back to the mother submarines that released them
(Burlingame 1992, 242):
Into the cusp of Dec. 8, at 41 minutes past midnight, the crew of I-16
was surprised when they received a signal from Ensign Masaji Yokoyama, her
midget skipper and the first attacker launched. Successful surprise attack,
This was the only radio message passed on from any of the midgets,
although I-16 said communication with Yokoyama abruptly ceased at
1:11 a.m. It's possible Yokoyama was shooting at Breese, which was in her
general area at the time.
Letter translated by Bill Gordon
The letter comes from Yasukuni Jinja (2014, 93-4). The biographical
information in the first paragraph comes from Tokkōtai Senbotsusha (1990, 220) and Yasukuni Jinja (2014,
1. The following sources give Masaharu as the
pronunciation of Yokoyama's given name of 正治: Warner and Seno (1986, 28);
Wikipedia article in Japanese on Masaharu Yokoyama <https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/横山正治>
(December 1, 2018).
Burlingame, Burl. 1992.
Advance Force Pearl Harbor. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei
Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai (Tokkōtai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990.
Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tōkyō: Tokkōtai Senbotsusha
Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai.
Warner, Peggy, and Sadao Seno. 1986.
The Coffin Boats:
Japanese Midget Submarine Operations in the Second World War. London: Leo
Cooper in association with Secker & Warburg.
Yasukuni Jinja, ed. 2014. Eirei no koto no ha (10)
(Words of the spirits of war heroes, Volume 10). Tōkyō: Yasukuni Jinja