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Kaiten pilot Yūzō Watanabe

Tokkō no shima 4 (The Isle of Tokkou 4)
by Syuho Sato
Hōbunsha, 2012, 178 pages

The manga book series Tokkō no shima (The Isle of Tokkou), now up to four volumes, tells the story of kaiten pilot Yūzō Watanabe starting with his training at the kaiten base on Ōtsushima, a small island in Tokuyama Bay in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Volume 3 ended with Masao Sekiguchi's kaiten being launched from the I-53 submarine so he could lead three enemy destroyers away in order for the I-53's crew and kaiten pilots, including his close friend Watanabe, to escape from the enemy. The destroyers had been dropping depth charges on the submerged I-53 after it had been sighted just south of the Japanese main island of Kyūshū. Sekiguchi must have succeeded in drawing away the three destroyers from the I-53, since Volume 4 opens with the arrival of the heavily damaged submarine to a harbor at Tanegashima, an island south of Kyūshū, on December 27, 1944.

The submarine commander comments that the crew experienced two miraculous happenings. First, the submarine returned safely despite the heavy depth charge attack. Second, the three remaining kaiten weapons carried by the mother submarine seem to not have suffered any visible damage. Therefore, he decides that their mission as part of the Kongō Unit, which had departed from Ōtsushima Kaiten Base, would continue after the submarine had been repaired. On January 4, 1945, the I-53 departs Tanegashima toward their original destination of Kossol Passage in the Palau Islands in order to attack Allied ships at the anchorage there.

The I-53 submarine arrives at Kossol Passage on January 15, 1945. The heavily guarded anchorage has several Allied ships but no aircraft carriers or battleships. The kaiten pilots prepare to be launched. Two pilots, Ensign Ito and Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Watanabe, enter their kaiten after the submarine surfaces since these two kaiten do not have any interior passage from the mother submarine. Chief Petty Officer Arimori enters his kaiten from a tube that connects the submarine to his kaiten. The kaiten weapons piloted by Ito and Arimori are the first ones to be launched, but both did not succeed in their suicide mission to blow up an enemy ship with the explosives packed into the kaiten's front part. Itō's kaiten explodes when it hits an underwater mine attached to an anti-submarine net guarding the anchorage. Arimori's kaiten avoids the anti-submarine net but explodes when hit by gunfire from enemy ships after his kaiten was spotted.

Watanabe also receives an order to launch his kaiten, but it does not release from the submarine. He yells out words of extreme frustration at not being able to complete his suicide mission and to die in battle like his close friend Masao Sekiguchi. Water starts to leak steadily into the kaiten, and toxic fumes fill the air within the kaiten interior. Watanabe passes out, and finally he is shown with his face down in the water filling up the kaiten. The submarine captain orders a rescue attempt, which is only possible if the submarine surfaces since there is no passage from the submarine to Watanabe's kaiten. The final frames of Volume 4 show the I-53 as it surfaces, but it is spotted by enemy ships. Most likely the series will have a Volume 5 that reveals whether or not this rescue attempt will be successful.

In actual history, the I-53 submarine did carry four kaiten manned torpedoes to Kossol Passage in the Palau Islands (Konada 2006, 116-25; Mediasion 2006, 47, 80). Three kaiten weapons were launched in the darkness of the early morning of January 12, 1945. One kaiten piloted by Hiroshi Kusumi was lost before he could reach the anchorage. The other two kaiten torpedoes, piloted by Ensign Osamu Itō and Chief Petty Officer Bunkichi Arimori who appear in the manga story, lose their lives and apparently did not succeed in their attacks since there is no record of damaged Allied ships on that date at Kossol Passage. The kaiten piloted by Ensign Minoru Kuge filled with gas prior to his launch, and he passed out before the order for launch. The submarine surfaced in the darkness and recovered him. Kuge's experience has some similarities to the fictional account of Watanabe in Volume 4.

As in the previous three volumes, Volume 4 does not have long dialogues. Many of the intense emotions experienced by the kaiten torpedo pilots are depicted in the comic drawings.

Sources Cited

Konada, Toshiharu, and Noriaki Kataoka. 2006. Tokkō kaiten sen: Kaiten tokkōtai taichō no kaisō (Special attack kaiten battles: Kaiten special attack corps leader's reminiscences). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.

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

Yūzō Watanabe's kaiten, stuck on top
of I-53 submarine, starts to fill with water