Chapter 1 starts in November 1943 with Hamazono's flying a
Type 99 carrier dive bomber out of Rabaul Airfield in New Guinea. In late
December, he got reassigned to fly a Zero fighter due to the decision to stop
daytime flights of Type 99 dive bombers after heavy losses. In February 1944
during the Battle of Truk Lagoon, he encountered a Grumman Hellcat squadron.
After three or four minutes of air battle, a Hellcat hit his plane with
machine-gun fire. Flames jumped up from under his seat, and he heard the sound
of his face burning. He bailed out of his plane, but a third of his parachute
was burning with black smoke as he descended. He lost consciousness during the
fall, but he was saved as his parachute got caught in a tree on a small island.
The islanders recovered him from the tree and nursed him for ten days. He then
returned to Japan, where he wore gauze over the lower part of his face for
several weeks as blood continued to ooze out from his burns.
In Chapter 2, Hamazono served for several months in 1944 as
a flight instructor at Ōita Air Base on Kyūshū Island. On October 10, 1944,
Hamazono's squadron flew southeast of Taiwan to attempt a bombing attack on
Allied ships, but his squadron leader wisely decided to flee when he spotted
over 100 Grumman fighters flying below them. Another squadron from Ōita was not
so lucky and lost 70 planes off Taiwan in just a couple of days. Soon after
Hamazono returned to Ōita Air Base, he departed on October 20 aboard the
aircraft carrier Chitose. After arriving in the Philippines, on October
24 he switched to the carrier Zuikaku, from where he departed the same
a long reconnaissance mission. Hamazono fought briefly with Grumman fighters,
then tried to
locate his carrier in worsening weather, and finally made a landing at Manila
Airfield when he could not find his carrier.
Chapter 3's title refers to a kamikaze mission as the
ultimate death sentence. On December 7, 1944, Hamazono made a sortie from an airbase
in the Philippines on his first kamikaze mission, but his propeller developed
an oil leak in flight. His squadron leader signaled for him to not return to
the Philippines but rather proceed on to Taiwan. Hamazono knew that he would be
assigned to the next kamikaze mission if he returned to the Philippines, and
his eyes filled with tears when he thought of his squadron leader's kindness.
In February 1945, he was transferred to Hyakurihara Air Base about 80 km
northeast of Tōkyō to serve again as flight instructor. On April 5, he left
Hyakurihara to proceed to Kokubu No. 1 Air Base in southern Japan, where the
next day he would sortie with his navigator in a Type 99 carrier dive bomber as
part of a mass attack with 355 kamikaze planes called Kikusui (Floating
Chrysanthemum) Operation No. 1.
The riveting account of Hamazono's Okinawan kamikaze mission
is the book's highlight. His flight, expected to take two and a half hours,
passed over his hometown of Kiire in Kagoshima Prefecture, and he dropped a hachimaki
(headband) with the words "hope you are well, goodbye" from his plane
as he flew over. The clouds started to increase, and rain started to appear on
the cockpit window, but American radar could detect the incoming Japanese
planes even in the clouds. About two hours into the flight, American Corsair fighters
intercepted Hamazono's plane. He dropped his 250-kg bomb into the sea to
prepare for the attack, and he showed his battle experience by managing to
escape after 35 minutes of battling the enemy planes. He thought about making a
forced landing on Amami Ōshima, an island about 100 miles north of Okinawa, but
he realized that he probably would encounter more enemy planes if he tried. He
decided to try to make it back to the mainland since he calculated that he had
just enough fuel. He finally made it to Chiran Army Air Base in the evening,
but they turned off the runway lights since they do not know whether his plane
was friendly or enemy. The plane's engine soon stopped, and Hamazono lost
consciousness after crash landing his plane in the middle of a field about six
kilometers from Chiran. He awoke with pain during an operation on his lip. A
military doctor told him that five or six pieces of shrapnel remained in his
right arm and left leg, and he found out later that his plane had holes in it
showing that it had been hit by 78 machine gun bullets. After one month in the
hospital, Hamazono returned to Hyakurihara Air Base. In the first part of
August 1945, he received orders again for a kamikaze attack, but the war ended
before he could sortie again.
The two Japanese military leaders most closely associated
with kamikaze attacks are Vice Admiral Takijiro Ōnishi, who led attacks in the
Philippines in late 1944 and early 1945, and Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, who
commanded the Fifth Air Fleet's kamikaze attacks from February to August 1945.
Hamazono does not have kind words for either leader. One day in early November
1944, Hamazono spent more than five hours unsuccessfully searching for enemy
ships in his Zero fighter, and his plane's 250-kg bomb failed to release after
he decided to return to base. Although someone on the ground waved a red flag
to indicate not to land at Manila Airfield since he had his bomb still attached and pointed the flag in the
direction of Manila Bay to tell him to crash land there, Hamazono decided to
try to land at the base anyway even though about 350 people were on the ground.
He managed to bring the plane with the attached bomb down safely by landing
after men had already fled the area, but Ōnishi scolded him upon landing,
"Due to one man's disobeying orders, 350 people could have died" (p.
68). Hamazono strongly felt that Ōnishi showed disregard for the lives of his
men. When out of earshot of Ōnishi, he let his true feelings be made known to
his squadron leader, "When the 653rd Air Group makes special attacks, let
me be the first to go. I'll shoot Ōnishi with my 20-mm and 13-mm machine guns,
and if I miss, I'll drop my 250-kg bomb on him" (pp. 68-9).
On April 6, 1945, Vice Admiral Ugaki gave a farewell talk to
the Kokubu No. 1 Air Base kamikaze pilots, including Hamazono, and shook their
hands saying, "Please die for your country." A veteran pilot, who had
the highest respect of Hamazono and who had fought air battles since the Battle
of Midway in 1942, said to Ugaki when he asked whether anyone had questions,
"I am confident that I can sink two enemy transport ships with just the
bombs carried by my plane. If I sink them, may I return?" Ugaki answered,
"Please die." Hamazono thought, "You idiot! This is the ultimate
death sentence. The high command must be bad off to have been driven to this
point and to not be able to do anything but such a tactic" (p.93).
Chapter 4 briefly summarizes Hamazono's return to his home
town after the end of the war and his subsequent career. He found much of his
hometown of Kiire burned when he returned, and he decided to go into the
fishing business. Five years later in
1950, he started a 23-year career in what is now known as the Japanese Maritime
Self Defense Force (JMSDF). After his retirement from the JMSDF, he went back
to Kiire and returned to his fishing business. Even today in 2005, Hamazono
talks about his wartime experiences with reporters who visit Kagoshima
The life story of Hamazono ends in Chapter 4, and the book's
last chapter provides a chronological history of the Japanese Navy's special
attacks (tokkō in Japanese). Although many authors attribute Vice
Admiral Ōnishi with being the originator of aerial suicide attacks, few
sources mention that in June 1943 Ōnishi rejected the idea of special air units
that had the objective of carrying out body-crashing attacks. This chapter's
history shows that in early 1944, several months prior to the first kamikaze
attacks led by Ōnishi in the Philippines in October, the Navy's leaders
approved development of suicide weapons. In July 1944, the Chief of the Naval
General Staff issued a directive that included a statement indicating
approval of special attacks. In September 1944, one month prior to the first
kamikaze attacks led by Ōnishi, the Navy even established a Department of
Special Attacks (Kaigun Tokkōbu).
The book is silent about Hamazono's family until just before
his Okinawan kamikaze mission. When his older brother came to visit him at
Kokubu No. 1 Air Base on the morning of the same day as his sortie scheduled
for 2 p.m., he brought dango (sweet dumplings) made by his mother.
Hamazono wept when he saw his mother's fingerprint on the delicious dango.
After the end of the war when Hamazono returns home to Kiire in Kagoshima
Prefecture, we find out that he has 6 brothers and 5 sisters and that he lives
in a house with 18 people. He heard from his neighbors how his mother reacted
when she heard the news that he was going on a special attack suicide mission,
"On the day you made a sortie on a special attack, your mother went to the
garden in the midst of a drizzle, burned some incense, and sat down without
moving for a long time" (p. 118). Hamazono cried when he thought of how
his mother must of felt on that day. Even with 12 children, including 7 sons, he was
her precious child.
Zerosen ni kaketa otoko (Man who soared in Zero
fighter) stands out as one of the most fascinating Japanese books about a
kamikaze pilot who survived the war.
Hamazono, Shigeyoshi. . Suiheisen (The horizon). No
Wallace, Bruce. 2004. They've Outlived the Stigma. Los Angeles Times,
September 25. <http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-fg-kamikaze25sep25,1,3835906.story>
(September 27, 2004), link no longer available.