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Kaiten pilot Yūzō Watanabe

Tokkou no Shima 5 (The Isle of Tokkou 5)
by Syuho Sato
Houbunsa, 2012, 182 pages

Tokkou no Shima 5 (The Isle of Tokkou 5) continues with the story of Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Yūzō Watanabe, kaiten human torpedo pilot. Volume 4 ended with him passed out in his kaiten due to toxic fumes from water that had leaked into the kaiten. On January 15, 1945, the I-53 submarine, which had carried three kaiten to Kossol Passage in the Palau Islands, successfully launched two kaiten weapons at Allied ships in the anchorage, but these two did not reach any target before exploding. Watanabe's kaiten failed to launch from the I-53 submarine, so the captain ordered his submarine to surface so a rescue attempt could be made, since there is no passage from the submarine to Watanabe's kaiten. Volume 5 begins at the point when the I-53 submarine has finished surfacing despite enemy ships within firing range.

Several crewmen exit the submarine hatch and hurry to Watanabe's kaiten while enemy ships fire at the submarine. They carry the unconscious Watanabe from the kaiten back to the submarine entrance. As the hatch is closed, a torpedo launched from one of the enemy ships hits the submarine but appears to cause only minor damage. Four enemy ships soon start to drop depth charges on the submarine that has dived as deep as possible. One wounded crewman, who thinks everyone will die, can hold back no more and blames the submarine's precarious situation on the captain's decision to surface and rescue Watanabe from the kaiten. The captain tells the crewman to calm down and says they can escape as before when depth charges were being dropped on them.

The manga comic effectively depicts the apprehension and terror of the submarine crew who are hearing and feeling depth charges explode around them. As the I-53 submarine remains deeply submerged for several hours, the oxygen level and batteries become low, and the inside temperature heats up to nearly unbearable levels. The crewmen beg the captain to have the submarine surface so that they can die fighting rather than in vain deep in the sea. The captain finally orders the I-53 to surface, and the crewmen are overjoyed to find high waves, a hard rain, and nearly zero visibility. One crewman shouts that this miracle came about due to a kamikaze (divine wind) that blew. The submarine gets through the enemy ships and returns to the kaiten base at Ōtsushima in two weeks.

When Yūzō Watanabe was recovered from his kaiten and carried inside the submarine, he was given oxygen. However, he remained unconscious for several hours, and he did not regain consciousness until the submarine surfaced during the driving rain. During his unconsciousness, he dreamed that he was in a small boat heading toward the torii gate at Kudan, which is the hill in Tokyo where Yasukuni Shrine is located. Yasukuni is the place where the spirits of dead soldiers were said to go. Around him in other small boats were kaiten pilots who had died already such as Masao Sekiguchi, Watanabe's close friend whose kaiten saved the I-53 submarine when it drew away three enemy destroyers to allow the I-53 to escape, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Sekio Nishina, one of the co-creators of the kaiten weapon who died when his kaiten successfully crashed into and sank a large oil tanker at the Ulithi anchorage on November 20, 1944. In Watanabe's dream, the others reach a large ship and climb up rope ladders to the deck. The dream ends as the voice of an unseen person from the ship tells Watanabe to live.

Watanabe returns extremely depressed to the kaiten base at Ōtsushima, since he did not carry out his mission of crashing his kaiten into an enemy ship. On February 11, 1945, officers meet at naval headquarters in Kure to discuss the results of the Kongō Unit, which included six I-class submarines that each carried four kaiten weapons. They conclude that 18 enemy ships in total have been hit and sunk by kaiten launched from Kongō Unit submarines, even though after the war American records showed that no ships had been sunk. Watanabe begs the kaiten base commander at Ōtsushima to be assigned to the next kaiten mission, which is the Chihaya Unit scheduled to sortie on February 20 with 14 kaiten on three I-class submarines. The commander refuses his request, since he strongly believes that a kaiten pilot should not be sent again on a mission if he failed in the initial one. Watanabe is assigned as an instructor and accompanies a trainee inside a kaiten when there is a training run. Volume 5 ends with one of the top officers lecturing kaiten pilots, including the Chihaya Unit pilots and Watanabe. He exhorts them to achieve battle results and apparently refers to those who do not as cowards. He says, "If the [kaiten's] screw does not turn, try to turn it even by your hands and plunge into a ship." The manga story's last frame of Volume 5 shows Watanabe in anguish as he hears the commander's words.

Volume 5, like previous volumes, has sparse dialog with an emphasis on drawings that illustrate the emotions and actions of the characters. The manga series is based on historical facts with a few minor changes. In real history, the I-53 submarine actually carried 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. The final 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 similarities to the fictional account of Yūzō Watanabe.

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

I-53 submarine crewmen recover
unconscious Yūzō Watanabe from kaiten