Azusa tokubetsu kōgekitai:
Bakugekiki "Ginga" sanzen kiro no kōseki (Azusa special attack
unit: "Ginga" bombers' 3,000-km flight path)
by Masami Jinno
Kojinsha, 2000, 308 pages
The Japanese Navy hoped to sink American carriers anchored
at Ulithi Atoll by a long-range kamikaze attack from the Japanese mainland. On
March 11, 1945, 24 twin-engine Ginga bombers (Allied code name of Frances),
each carrying a 800-kg bomb, sortied from Kanoya Air Base at about 9 a.m. Only
11 planes at most finally may have reached the Ulithi area in the early evening
after a flight of more than ten hours over water. Just one Ginga hit an
American ship, the aircraft carrier Randolph (CV-15), which suffered 134 casualties.
Another plane crashed into a small island at Ulithi, and the other nine planes
must have crashed harmlessly into the sea near Ulithi after running out of fuel
without ever finding American ships in the darkness. This book gives a detailed
history of this daring long-distance attack carried out by 72 men of the
Azusa  Special Attack Unit.
Masami Jinno, author of a book on the Japanese aircraft
carrier Zuikaku and several magazine articles on World War II history
and military weapons, performed very thorough research in writing this
chronological history of the Azusa Unit. In addition to a bibliography of
almost 100 sources, both Japanese and English, Jinno contacted mission
survivors and bereaved family members to obtain photos, letters, and other
materials. The book contains about 80 historical photos, maps of the flight
route and Ulithi Atoll, a two-page table with information on Azusa Unit
members, and other reference material. This history encompasses not only the 72
Azusa Unit members who manned the Ginga bombers but also the 24 crewmen
of the two Type 2 Flying Boats (Allied code name of Emily) that served
as lead planes on the mission, the crews of the Saiun long-range
reconnaissance planes (Allied code name of Myrt) that flew over Ulithi,
and other air and ground personnel who provided mission support.
The sheer number of details included in this book makes it
hard to follow and slow to read in places. No one character stands out among
the many individuals involved in the planning and execution of the attack.
Official military records, reports, and communications make up much of the
book. A few of these, such as final radio messages from planes that reached the
Ulithi area, provide essential details. However, the author could have skipped most
of these formal documents and instead incorporated key facts into a narrative
in the author's own words. Although the flight to Ulithi has natural suspense
regarding its outcome, the 24 Ginga bombers do not sortie until after
200 pages of background history and mission preparation.
After a brief Preface introduces basic facts regarding Azusa Unit's mission to Ulithi, Chapter 1 gives background of the Japanese
Navy's planning of the original Tan Operation to destroy, in a single blow, American aircraft
carriers at anchor at Majuro. The original plan was not a
suicide operation and included 36 Ginga bombers and 18 Tenzan
bombers (Allied code name of Jill), but the Navy cancelled this operation
after finding out the American fleet had moved to Ulithi Atoll. The last half of the
chapter summarizes the history of Japan's Special Attack Corps, which carried
out suicide operations during the last ten months of World War II.
|Hole in Randolph's
Chapter 2 outlines the fairly complex roots of the Azusa
Special Attack Unit members, most who came from the 262nd Air Attack Unit of the
762nd Air Group. The
men in the 262nd Air Attack Unit trained on Ginga bombers first at Toyohashi Air Base
with takeoffs and landings, overwater flight training, dive bombing, and night
flights, and they then proceeded to Miyazaki Air Base for training in low
altitude flights, dive bombing at carriers, and flight formation. This chapter
also discusses the development of the Ginga bomber.
Ginga bomber sorties from
Kanoya Air Base
on March 11, 1945
Chapters 3 and 4 recount the planning for the No. 2 Tan
Operation to attack Ulithi and the formation of the Azusa Special Attack Unit. A
long-range Saiun reconnaissance plane from Truk starts reconnaissance of
Ulithi Atoll on February 13, 1945. Ulithi Atoll had served as the main Pacific
anchorage for American warships since the fall of 1944. The anchorage had
capacity for hundreds of ships, including aircraft carriers. On February 14,
1945, Vice Admiral Ugaki arrived at Kanoya Air Base as the new head of the
Fifth Air Fleet, and he soon divided the 262nd Naval Air Group into a torpedo
attack unit and a bomber unit. On February 20, orders were issued to the bomber
formation of the Azusa Unit, which would sortie from Kanoya on a special
(suicide) attack against American ships anchored at Ulithi. There was much
detailed planning and training up to the planned date of attack, March 10.
After final instructions from Vice Admiral Ugaki, the Ginga
bombers began to depart, but the operation was suddenly cancelled after several
planes already had taken off because of a mix-up in receipt of a surveillance
report. The No. 2 Tan Operation was postponed until the next morning since the
surveillance report, once it finally had been received in full at Kanoya,
indicated many ships, including carriers, at anchor at Ulithi.
Chapter 5, after an explanation of the one-day delay, presents about 50 pages of photographs, last letters, and reminiscences of
bereaved family members. The photos, taken at Kanoya Air Base, include many of
the individual crews of three men standing with Ginga bombers in the
background. There is also a group photo of the 72 Azusa Unit
members, who ranged in age from 17 to 29. Another photo shows Lieutenant Naoto Kuromaru,
mission commander, giving final instructions to his men, lined up in front of
him and divided into four squadrons of 18 men each, on either March 10 or 11
prior to takeoff. The last letters included in this chapter tend to be typical
ones subject to military censorship, such as the following one written by Petty Officer
1st Class Masanori Anan to a friend (p. 147):
Thank you for your letter. I am so glad that you are doing
I am glad to tell you that I also am well working hard with
my military duties. The war situation has become more and more serious. There
are surely matters of great importance that are the responsibility of Japanese
men like us. No, everyone has this responsibility.
Today the Japanese mainland is a battleground. We will
certainly win if we carry out taiatari (body-crashing) attacks as our duty.
Please take care of yourself as you work. As a favor to me,
please be friends with Masashi and the others until they return home in May.
My burning in flames from the air attack will be successful.
Chapter 6 relates the flight to Ulithi by the 24 Ginga
bombers, which gathered together in the skies above Kanoya slightly after 9
a.m. The two Type 2 Flying Boats, delayed on takeoff when one did not
successfully take off from the water until the third attempt, flew southward
about one hour ahead of the Azusa Unit, but an American PB4Y-2 Privateer
patrol bomber shot down one of these lead planes slightly after 11:30. However,
the American plane did not realize that the Type 2 Flying Boat was a lead plane
for the Ginga bombers, which continued on safely. Only 15 of the 24
bombers reached Yap Island, about 100 miles southwest of Ulithi, at 6:30 p.m.
The other 9 had either made earlier forced landings or returned to Kanoya with engine
Only two Ginga bombers hit targets at Ulithi Atoll.
At 7:07 p.m. Japan time (8:07 p.m. Ulithi time), one plane struck the aircraft
carrier Randolph about 100 feet forward from the stern. Casualties
included 25 men dead, 3 missing, and 106 wounded . Another plane crashed into
Ulithi's Sorlen Island, where the pilot may have mistaken it for an aircraft
carrier in the darkness. This crash caused 2 deaths, 2 seriously wounded, and 4
lightly wounded. Out of the 13 remaining Ginga bombers that passed Yap
on the way to Ulithi, 4 returned to Yap to make forced landings, and 9
must have crashed into the sea without ever finding the American ships anchored at
Ulithi Atoll. Japanese Army soldiers at the garrison on Yap mistakenly shot two and
seriously wounded one of the crew of one plane that made a forced landing on
Yap. Japanese Saiun reconnaissance planes from Truk flew over Ulithi the
next day on
March 12, but they observed no missing carriers and concluded that the mission
had not succeeded.
Jinno identifies the Ginga bomber that hit Randolph as the one
with the crew of Lieutenant Kōetsu Fukuda (pilot), Chief Flight Petty Officer
Takeshi Igai (navigator), and Chief Flight Petty Officer Kenji Ōta (radioman).
Fukuda was commander of Azusa Unit's 2nd Squadron (Chūtai) made up of 12
aircraft. At 8:01 and 8:04 p.m. Ulithi time, Fukuda's aircraft radioed that it
was diving on an aircraft carrier, and Randolph's Action Report indicates
an aircraft hit the ship at 8:07 p.m. No other Ginga bomber of the Azusa
Unit sent radio messages consistent with the timing of the attack on Randolph.
As further evidence that Fukuda's aircraft hit Randolph, one of the three
corpses recovered from the suicide crash was dressed in the uniform of a Navy
Lieutenant. The Azusa Unit had only two other Lieutenants besides Fukuda, and
these two could not have been the one to hit Randolph. One Lieutenant made
a forced landing on Yap Island and survived the war, and the other radioed a
final message before contact was lost more than 30 minutes after Randolph
had been hit.
Crewmen of Ginga bomber that hit
aircraft carrier Randolph (from left to right):
Petty Officer Takeshi Igai (navigator), Lieutenant
Fukuda (pilot), and Chief Flight Petty Officer Kenji Ōta (radioman)
Chapter 7 tells what happened to Azusa Unit members who
did not die on March 11. The crews of seven Ginga bombers died in battle
within two months. Only a few men, including the mission commander Lieutenant
Naoto Kuromaru, survived the war. The author describes in the final chapter his
trip to Ulithi to conduct research there for the book, and he mentions that
five crewmembers' bodies found from the two planes that crashed into the Randolph
and Sorlen Island were buried by Americans on Falalop Island at Ulithi.
Although the Japanese Navy made a bold attempt to destroy
American carriers, the Azusa Special Attack Unit achieved very little. Vice
Admiral Ugaki in his diary concluded the causes for failure were: "(1) the
planes were not suited for an attack at such a long distance, (2) they reached
the target an hour after sunset, so vision was impaired, and (3) the delay in
takeoff of the flying boats helped explain the late arrival; also they had to
detour a squall area" (Ugaki 1991, 550).
This well-researched book provides many interesting
features, especially photos and reminiscences of friends and bereaved
family members. However, the book's numerous details,
many directly from official military documents, make it a difficult read in
1. The word azusa means catalpa tree. Bows
made of azusa wood have been highly regarded in Japan since ancient
2. USS Randolph action and casualty reports
indicate the following number of casualties along with names (information
provided by Wayne Brown):
27 total dead
18 killed and buried on Falalop Island on March
5 mortally wounded and later died
on hospital ship
4 missing, later found dead
105 wounded survivors
Ugaki, Matome. 1991. Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome
Ugaki, 1941-1945. Translated by Masataka Chihaya. Edited by Donald M. Goldstein
and Katherine V. Dillon. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.