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Kaiten pilot Yūzō Watanabe

Tokkou no Shima 3 (The Isle of Tokkou 3)
by Syuho Sato
Houbunsa, 2011, 184 pages

Volume 2 of the manga series Tokkou no Shima (The Isle of Tokkou) ends with the Japanese submarine I-53 under attack by Grumman fighters while still in sight of the Japan's southern home island of Kyushu. I-53 has on board four kaiten pilots on their way to Kossol Passage in the Palau Islands in order to attack Allied ships there. Two I-53 kaiten pilots, Yūzō Watanabe and Masao Sekiguchi, are the main characters of this manga series. The I-53 submarine is part of the Kongō Unit, which includes six I-class submarines each carrying four kaiten weapons. Kongō Unit's mission is to attack various enemy anchorages in January 1945, and the six submarines all make their sorties from the kaiten base on Ōtsushima Island in the Seto Inland Sea where kaiten pilots have been in training for several months. The entire volume of Tokkou no Shima 3 (The Isle of Tokkou 3) covers a relatively short period of time in which I-53 first gets bombed by five enemy planes and then gets subjected to many depth charges dropped from three enemy ships.

In contrast to Volume 2, which features the actual historical figure Lieutenant Junior Grade Sekio Nishina who made the first successful kaiten attack by sinking the large oil tanker Mississinewa (AO-59) at Ulithi, this volume portrays a fictional event. Submarine I-53 did participate as part of the Kongō Unit, but it did not have bombs and depth charges dropped on it even before getting out of sight of Kyushu. Reference sources on kaiten history make no mention of such an attack on I-53 on its way to Kossol Passage (e.g., Konada 2006, 116-25; Mediasion 2006, 47; Uehara 2000, 250-6).

The depth charge attack by the three enemy destroyers on the I-53 submarine gets depicted in the book more with drawings than with dialogue or narration. The dialogue remains sparse like the first two volumes, but it portrays the close relationship between Sekiguchi and Watanabe. Sekiguchi gets seriously injured with a broken leg when a depth charge explodes right above the submarine, and water starts to flood the ship. The crew manages to stop the flooding, but depth charges continue to be dropped. The three remaining kaiten pilots plead with the captain to let them attack the enemy ships with kaiten weapons, but an inspection indicates that only one kaiten is in good enough shape to be launched since the others have been damaged by the depth charges. Watanabe first gets in the usable kaiten, but then the injured Sekiguchi declares that he wants to pilot this kaiten since he was born for this day. In the midst of exploding depth charges around the submarine, Sekiguchi says his final goodbye to his close friend Watanabe, the other kaiten pilots, and the I-53 crew in an overly long scene when considering the danger.

After Sekiguchi's kaiten is launched, he tries to use it to lead the three destroyers away from the I-53 submarine so that it may escape from the enemy. Depth charges are dropped on Sekiguchi's kaiten, and the final page's two drawings seem to indicate that his kaiten has been hit and damaged, but they are not clear whether it has been destroyed. Most likely this manga series will continue with at least one other volume, since submarine I-53 in actual history did launch three kaiten weapons after reaching Kossol Passage. The final frame shows Sekiguchi with teeth clenched in fierce determination as he says, "Watanabe . . ., I will protect the lives of you all."

Sources Cited

Konada, Toshiharu, and Noriaki Kataoka. 2006. Tokkou kaiten sen: Kaiten tokkoutai taichou no kaisou (Special attack kaiten battles: Kaiten special attack corps leader's reminiscences). Tokyo: Kojinsha.

The Mediasion Co. 2006a. Ningen gyorai kaiten (Kaiten human torpedo). Hiroshima: The Mediasion Co.

Uehara, Mitsuharu. 2000. "Kaiten" sono seishungunshou: Tokkou senkoutei no otokotachi ("Kaiten" youth: Men of special attack submarines). Tokyo: Shouunsha.

Sekiguchi (on crutches) says to Watanabe (center),
"If you live, I will be able to die."