Shōnen to Ishigakijima tokkō kichi (A Boy and Ishigakijima Special Attack Base)
by Minoru Kuniyoshi
Tōkyō Keizai, 2005, 160 pages
Ishigakijima, a small island between Okinawa and Taiwan, had
two airfields from which special attack squadrons made suicide attacks during
the Battle of Okinawa. Minoru Kuniyoshi, who grew up on Ishigakijima, tells the
story of his life on the island during World War II. This memoir focuses almost
solely on Kuniyoshi's experiences, with very little background information on
the overall war or even other events that happened on Ishigakijima. Kuniyoshi
witnessed many sorties of kamikaze planes in his role working at the Navy's
airfield in Ishigakijima, but the book provides no details regarding these
kamikaze squadrons other than the general timeframe and the types and numbers
of planes for some kamikaze missions.
Both the Navy and the Army had airfields on Ishigakijima
that were used against the Allied fleet during the Battle of Okinawa. Seventeen
Zeros, each loaded with a 250-kg bomb or at times with a 500-kg bomb, made sorties from
the Navy airfield on kamikaze missions toward Okinawa . The Navy airfield,
known as Ohama Airfield or Ishigaki Base during the war, was constructed in
1942 at the current location of Ishigaki Airport. Some Navy planes came from
Taiwan bases to be loaded with bombs at Ishigakijima for their kamikaze
missions toward Okinawa. The Army's airfield, built in 1943, was located at
Shiraho and served as the sortie base for 31 special attack planes (23 Type 3 (Hien)
Fighters and 8 Type 99 Assault Planes) . The Navy also had
shinyō explosive motorboat squadrons stationed at Ishigakijima to be used in suicide attacks if
the Allied fleet tried to invade the island .
Kuniyoshi applied for the Yokaren (Navy's Preparatory Flight
Training Program) during the same month as his fifteenth birthday. He describes in detail the
rigorous two-day examination that
took place on October 1 and 2, 1944, with a written aptitude test, physical
examination, and oral questioning. On January 10, 1945, he finally received
notification that he had been accepted into the Yokaren at Nara Air Base to
start on April 15. On March 1, Kuniyoshi along with 20 other young men accepted
into the Yokaren were scheduled to leave Ishigakijima for mainland Japan, but
they never left the island during the war due to Allied bombing that started
that same day.
After the first bombing attack by enemy planes, the 21 young
men from the island who were headed for the Yokaren training program on the
mainland were assigned to Ohama Airfield, where they performed various tasks
such as repairing damage from Allied bombing and strafing that usually took
place in four waves each day. A squadron leader provided the young men with
basic training, including regular discipline with a wooden bat. Kuniyoshi's
squadron also cut trees in order to camouflage Zero fighters and helped load
bombs onto kamikaze planes that would take off from the airfield. In early
July 1945, after the fall of Okinawa in late June, Kuniyoshi left Ohama
Airfield to perform other tasks such as burying those who died from malaria.
The war ended on August 15 without any invasion of Ishigakijima by the Allies.
Although Kuniyoshi's personal wartime experiences make for
interesting reading, the book needs more background research to reach its
potential as a valuable historical record. In a few cases, his statements
cannot be confirmed by other sources, but this may be the result of his not
remembering certain details 60 years after the events or the possible
incompleteness and inaccuracies of these other sources due to military records
being destroyed or lost after the end of the war. The author mentions that he
saw off about 100 kamikaze planes that made sorties from Ishigakijima, but Japanese
reference sources indicate that only 17 Zero pilots died in kamikaze sorties
from the island. Kuniyoshi describes in great detail the sortie from Ohama
Airfield of six Zeros and three Type 93 Intermediate Trainers, which were
nicknamed Akatonbo (Red Dragonflies) in Japanese, on an unspecified date
in June 1945. However, Japanese reference sources only mention two Navy
kamikaze planes (Zero fighters loaded with bombs) that made sorties that entire
month from Ishigakijima .
Suicide attack missions from the two air bases on
Ishigakijima get little mention in other books on Japanese special attack
corps. This memoir, although filled with interesting personal stories, provides
very little systematic information about special attacks that originated
from Ishigakijima. The author mentions no battle results from special
attack planes that made sorties from the island toward Okinawa, and he gives no
specific dates of sorties. The book has only one sketch of Ohama Airfield and
one poorly-lit 1991 photo of the remains of a concrete underground hangar. These limitations plus the inability to confirm certain
key facts, such as the number of kamikaze planes that sortied from Ishigakijima,
lessen the value of this historical record.
Web Pages on Ishigakijima Special Attack Corps Sites
1. Osuo 2005, 176-8; Tokkōtai Senbotsusha 1990,
212-6. Information displayed at Kanoya Naval Air Base Museum indicates that 23
men, rather than 17 men mentioned in the other two Japanese sources, died in
Navy kamikaze attacks originating from Ishigakijima.
2. Chiran Tokkō 2005, 153-220; Hara 2004,
3. An appendix in Kimata (1998, 348) indicates that the
19th, 23rd, 26th, and 38th Shinyō Squadrons were stationed at Ishigakijima.
These squadrons used the Model 1 Shinyō, a one-man explosive motorboat intended
for suicide attacks.
4. Osuo 2005, 176-8; Tokkōtai Senbotsusha 1990, 212-6.
Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai (Chiran Special Attack
Memorial Society), ed. 2005. Konpaku no kiroku: Kyuu rikugun tokubetsu
kōgekitai chiran kichi (Record of departed spirits: Former Army Special
Attack Corps Chiran Base). Revised edition, originally published in 2004. Chiran Town, Kagoshima
Prefecture: Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai.
Hara, Katsuhiro. 2004. Shinsō kamikaze tokkō: Hisshi
hitchuu no 300 nichi (Kamikaze special attack facts: 300 days of certain-death, sure-hit
attacks). Tōkyō: KK Bestsellers.
Kimata, Jiro. 1998. Nihon tokkōtei senshi (History of
Japan's special attack boats). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.
Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (kaigun
hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.
Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei
Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai (Tokkotai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990.
Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tokyo: Tokkotai Senbotsusha
Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai.