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Army 144th Shinbu Squadron members receiving encouragement from residents. Second Lieutenant Kiichi Matsuura is 3rd from left on front row.
(provided by Bansei Tokkō Peace Museum)

Lack of Experience: Hard 600-km Flight over the Sea (Keiken busoku: Kibishikatta yōjō 600 kiro iki)
Researched and written by Shūji Fukano and Fusako Kadota
Pages 76-8 of Tokkō kono chi yori: Kagoshima shutsugeki no kiroku (Special attacks from this land: Record of Kagoshima sorties)
Minaminippon Shinbunsha, 2016, 438 pages

Kiichi Matsuura (91 years old, Setagaya Ward, Tōkyō Prefecture), former member of the Army 144th Shinbu Special Attack Squadron, made a sortie from Bansei Airfield (Tabuse Village, Hioki District, currently Minamisatsuma City), but he returned alive when he turned back due to poor weather. When you read his memoir Shōwa wa tōku: Ikinokotta tokkōtaiin no isho (Shōwa Era is far away: Last words of Special Attack Corps member who survived) (Komichi Shobō), you understand how hard his 600-km flight to Okinawa was for an Army Special Attack Corps member who was trained quickly at the war's final stage.

Matsuura, who as a student at Keiō University became an Army Special Cadet Officer Pilot Trainee, was selected in May 1945 to be a Special Attack Corps member during Army Type 1 Fighter (Hayabusa) pilot training at Fuji Airfield in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Although called training, in those days pilots were not permitted to fly in skies above the airfield except for a short time. After the end of 1944, the route where natural resources such as oil were transported from the south was cut off, and the pilots lacked required aviation fuel to train.

The advance to Bansei Airfield was the first long-distance flight for Matsuura. In order to escort safely the 144th Shinbu Squadron made up of beginner pilots, instructors led them to a stopover at Kikuchi Airfield in Kumamoto Prefecture.

In addition to lack of experience, navigation to fly accurately to a destination was a weak point for the Army Air Corps. They did not know how to navigate except by using physical features such as mountains and shores as landmarks, and there was no know-how regarding how to fly above the sea with no landmarks by calculating one's own position from one's speed, wind speed, and position of heavenly bodies as the Navy did.

Masuo Takahashi (91 years old, Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture), pilot in the 66th Sentai (Regiment) based at Bansei that was responsible for regular operations such as bombing and guidance, recalls, "At the beginning of the Battle of Okinawa, Army aircraft flew from island to island to Okinawa, and there was also a transfer base on the island of Tokunoshima. However, it came about that American fighters would wait to ambush them, and they were compelled by necessity to make low-altitude flights over the sea."

Takahashi, who says that he escorted ship convoys many times in the Battle of the Philippines and learned by himself how to navigate over the sea, also performed the role of guiding special (suicide) attack squadrons during the Battle of Okinawa. He feels sympathy for special attack pilots, "For pilots who have gained flight experience, they can learn quickly the first time. I feel sorry for young Special Attack Corps members who were forced to make the difficult flight over the sea in their first sortie."

The 144th Shinbu Squadron made up of three aircraft headed to Okinawa in the midst of poor weather at an altitude of 20 meters. However, the escort plane responsible for navigation by use of a compass hit the sea and crashed. It was decided that Matsuura and the other plane would turn back.

That day of his special attack sortie from Bansei to Okinawa finally ended.

Matsuura, who after demobilization inherited his family's Japanese-style confectionary store, did not tell even his family for a long time about his special attack experiences. His son Kazushi (64 years old) says, "I did not know at all about such experiences of my father until his memoir was published in 1994."

It was a difficult special attack experience. Matsuura needed nearly 50 years after the war's end to get the courage to tell his story.

Translated by Bill Gordon
July 2022