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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 [1]. 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) [2]. 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 [3].

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 [4].

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 made sorties 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 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, 184-242.

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.

Sources Cited

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.