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Last Letters of Navy
Special Attack Corps

Last Letters of Lieutenant Junior Grade Tatsuji Nakanishi to His Parents and Classmates

At 1109 on April 12, 1945, Lieutenant Junior Grade Tatsuji Nakanishi took off from Kushira Air Base as pilot in Type 97 Carrier Attack Bomber (Allied code name of Kate) carrying an 800-kg bomb. He died in a special attack off Okinawa at the age of 21. He was a member of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps Tokiwa Chūka Squadron from Hyakurihara Naval Air Group. He was from Yamaguchi Prefecture and graduated in the 72nd Class of the Naval Academy at Etajima.

He wrote the following final letter to his parents with four death poems in tanka form (31-syllable poem with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7) at the end:

At a certain base in southern Kyūshū on the day before my sortie, I write down my various feelings and thoughts. I apologize for my lack of filial piety to you.

There is no limit when I look back over the period of 23 years [1] since I was born. It was not on behalf of anyone, and until today I was raised by only you. Ah, I did not repay you anything for your kindness. Ten thousand emotions surge within me, and I cannot continue writing. A crisis for the Empire of Japan finally has arrived. I wanted to make a sortie at this time, and I was selected to be a Special Attack Corps member. My long-cherished ambition was able to be realized, and I think that this is a supreme honor.

I listened to the following words, "The fighting in Nansei Shotō is a battle for our country's existence. Obtain that objective by exerting yourself to the utmost." The Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet has raised his Z signal flag [2]. There is nothing that surpasses any other long-cherished desire than making a sortie as commander of a taiatari (body-crashing) attack squadron at this time. Father, Mother, please weep. It is fine no matter how much you cry. Please mourn me by crying. However, Father, Mother, please understand my long-cherished desire. I still do not forget the words that Older Sister said long ago. I think that Older Sister also is waiting for me under the gravestone.

I now have no regrets. I am uneasy about only my lack of filial piety and loyalty toward you and your sadness. I think that for you Father and you Mother my death will be your greatest sadness. If you are sad, I feel that I will be able to depart feeling at ease. However, I certainly will not die. I always will follow the path of the eternal cause. And I surely will return. At that Yasukuni Shrine [3], at that gokoku jinja (shrine dedicated to spirits of war dead who protect country), I will be at your bedside. I suppose that the cherry trees in Yamaguchi already have blossomed. Please imagine me as a cherry blossom that falls tomorrow. I named it "chūka" (literally "loyal flower") from long ago. Perhaps it will fall without yet blooming, and if I can I want to name my squadron "Chūka Squadron."

That mountain, this river, that road, and this house in Yamaguchi now appear before my eyes one after another. I thought that when I came here the other day that I would circle in the skies over Yamaguchi to bid farewell to everyone, but since my engine became somewhat bad, I had to stop at Usa in order to have repairs done. With there not being any time, I regret that I was not able to go to Yamaguchi. However, I saw Ōshima-gun below, and I saw Mt. Hōben far off in the distance. I felt that certainly I had bid farewell to everyone from above in my plane.

Now I as a disloyal subject here have accepted finally the great road of loyalty. However, the way of loyalty still is profound. It is natural that I as a disloyal subject will end as a disloyal subject. I am satisfied. After I became a training officer, I exerted myself as much as possible and was able to continue to serve. Believing that I was able to serve by doing my utmost with all of my might, now I am satisfied. I think that now at the time when I will make a sortie, I who will be lamented by many people am truly fortunate. I appreciate my short life, which few persons have had such good fortune and lived as marvelously. It was thanks to many people.

Tomorrow at 11:20 I will depart carrying a large bomb that is the same as a torpedo. Seated behind me will be Ensign Tazawa who was a Reserve Student and Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Abe who was from the Yokaren (Preparatory Flight Training Program). In the future a photograph taken of the three of us together may be delivered from the newspaper company or Imperial Headquarters. At that time please mourn us together. Also in my squadron, Ensign Takimoto from Kamihazaka (older brother of Takimoto-kun, who is in the same grade as Kyōzō, and was one grade ahead of me when I was at both Fuzoku and Yamanaka Schools) will go with us. He was a former student in a higher grade, and now I am glad that he can come with us as one of my men. I promise that together we will not be second to Commander Akieda [4]. In another 20 days, I am to be promoted to Lieutenant, but it is fine to me as to whatever rank after my death I get promoted, whether to Lieutenant Commander or Commander. Without change on the path of the great cause, I do not desire ranks.

I can say that I have a religious spirit from you, but I have not thought anything because of this. However, now I am not particularly wavering. The only thing that bothers me is what type of feeling I will have at the moment when I make the taiatari attack in the future. I would have regrets because I did not do according to what you told me. In order to not hesitate, I think that I will try to make a taiatari attack while singing a song. With divine assistance, I am confident that there will be hitchū gōchin (sure hit, instant sinking). Please look once more at the battle results of the morning of April 10. Among these I expect there will be an aircraft carrier that I sank.

The other day many of my classmates and former students received orders for the first battle operation, and they achieved great battle results when they went as special attack squadron members. Everyone went bidding me farewell with a smile and in high spirits. Next time is my turn to go with a smile and in high spirits. If we three do it with a boom, I am truly happy when I think whether several thousand American military men will be our traveling companions to hell when we come there. For our lives there is nothing that will get a weight off of our chests more than this. I truly feel happy when I try to think carefully about tomorrow's departure. I consider myself to be a fortunate person who can go so happily.

Father, as one final matter, you no doubt believe firmly that I did not disgrace the family. If anything I think that I will be able to regain a part of the Nakanishi Family honor that has started to fade. Afterwards I rely on Kyōzō. I surely believe that Kyōzō is a person who will work excellently for the country.

Perhaps it is discourteous to you Father, but I am willing for the Nakanishi Family line to die out. I think that "even though the family dies out, it is not to be regretted if the country can carry out its destiny." Now it is a crisis for the country. When I think about what would happen if the Empire of Japan were to die, I feel deeply that whatever happens to the family is acceptable.

Our country is not made up only of families. Our country is first made up of the national family. As for our Nakanishi Family, even though it is cut off at your generation, I want to ask you to forgive me. Ah, I wrote this while just thinking in a rambling way. For now I will stop writing.

With one act of a taiatari attack, I am determined to make repayment for your great kindness. I will pray from below ground that you will take care of yourselves and you will have every happiness.

Falling cherry blossoms, remaining cherry blossoms too falling cherry blossoms
Giving freely when I fall as flower to protect country

When storm blows even cherry blossom buds are not reluctant
With hands folded I offer myself for the Emperor

For revenge I will attack and sink a ship
To give as present to demons in hell

Emperor's island of Yamato [5], be at peace
As I sink deeply in southern seas

Nakanishi also wrote a final letter to his fellow officers in the 72nd Class of Etajima Naval Academy:

To 72nd Class Officers,

We arrived safely at Kushira Base, and the next day on the 6th I sent off squadrons that participated in the 1st Kikusui Operation.

There were 30 planes from Type 97 Carrier Attack Bomber (Allied code name of Kate) special attack squadrons formed at Usa and Himeji Air Groups and 10 special attack Tenzan Bombers (Allied code name of Jill) led by Lieutenant Junior Grade Yoshioka who was my former student. They all in high spirits made sorties smiling. Our comrade Shigeo Nonaka [6] also went as he put down a slightly bad condition. Many flight students, reserve students, and trainees who I had taught went to attack.

Knowing that I also will go in a short time, I could not suppress my tears as I sent them off. I keenly appreciated their song with words that say, "Whether sending off or going, let's smile even though it is farewell from this life." With my face smiling and my heart crying, for three hours I sent special attack squadrons off on their departures.

I think that battle results from the 6th already have been made public, but they achieved great battle results. The majority of the 50 Navy aircraft and 60 Army aircraft in the special attack squadrons in one day succeeded in taiatari (body-crashing) attacks. The carrier bombers from Hyakurihara also made crash attacks into transport convoys. All of the 40 carrier attack aircraft except for a few made taiatari attacks on aircraft carriers or battleships.

I finally will depart tomorrow on the 10th with a single carrier attack bomber special attack squadron in the 2nd Kikusui Operation. The condition of the planes also is good, and the spirits of the crewmen are extremely high. Without a doubt I will make a sure hit on the target with divine assistance. I surely will make a taiatari attack on an aircraft carrier. Since I will go followed by a line of aircraft, I am convinced that I absolutely will carry out an instant sinking. Please look forward to the announcement of the battle results.

You have taken care of me in many ways for a long time. I apologize now for how many times I annoyed all of you.

Since coming here, all the more I have felt Japan's crisis. The enemy's material resources are much more terrific than we were thinking. There are still about 20 aircraft carriers that are cruising in nearby seas. On the 7th the surface special attack unit led by Yamato made an assault. The ships were attacked by enemy carrier aircraft off Ibusuki, and they were crushed as all of them were sunk quickly except for three destroyers. There already is nothing at all of the Imperial Navy's surface force, and also there is no air unit. The present situation is such that the Tenzan Bombers that carried out a night attack and returned in the morning were used again for an attack at dusk of that day.

It seems that the Empire of Japan's greatest air strength is our 10th Air Special Attack Fleet. At that there is the condition where the 12th Combined Air Group already has hit bottom. Only the 11th Combined Air Group remains. We cannot rely mainly on Army special attack units. At the time of the prior attacks on the 6th, the situation was that nearly all of the Army special attack units made forced landings at Kikaijima and did not make attacks. The men in the Army's Kantō Unit already are coming in rapid succession for the defense of Kyūshū. I think that this will not do. If they let the enemy land on Kyūshū, I believe that they will cause the downfall of the Empire.

I think that the group that will stop this will be my older brothers in the remaining units of the 12th Combined Air Group. Somehow or other they have been still more prudent. When the time comes, I hope that they surely will destroy completely the enormous enemy. I go to hell a short time before you, and I look forward to the brave fighting of you my older brothers.

Please take care of your health and look after things afterward.

April 9
At Kushira, Tatsuji Nakanishi

With the letter to his classmates in 72nd Class of the Naval Academy, he enclosed the following private letter to Lieutenant Junior Grade Masaichi Sakamoto:

As for the photos from the other day, please allow me the liberty to ask you to send them to my family along with the negatives.

I have an idea that tomorrow I will crash dive while singing the song "An enemy plane, an aircraft carrier, a battleship." I have continued singing their song from that evening. Whether in a plane or on land, it is truly a good song.

Lieutenant Nagata is here. Every day they are leaving for attacks, but in our free time we drank and talked together. He really laments my sortie. He was a truly good training officer. Just the same I felt great sadness when you also told me about your aim to be a Special Attack Corps member.

I will be watching over your strenuous efforts. Take care. Farewell.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Nakanishi

Letters translated by Bill Gordon
October 2018

The letters come from Matsugi (1971, 36-40, 220-3). The biographical information in the first paragraph comes from Matsugi (1971, 36) and Osuo (2005, 222).


1. The traditional Japanese method of counting age, as in much of East Asia, regards a child as age one at birth and adds an additional year on each New Year's day thereafter. This explains why the letter indicates his age as 23 whereas the current way of counting age based on his birth date in Matsugi (1971, 38) indicates that his age was 21 at time of death.

2. This is a historical reference to the defeat of the Russian Navy on May 27-8, 1905, by the Japanese Navy at Tsushima Strait when Admiral Heihachirō Tōgō, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, raised the "Z" signal flag to indicate the following: "The rise and fall of the Empire depends on this battle. Let every man do his utmost." ("World - Renowned Memorial Ship MIKASA" at <http://www.kinenkan-mikasa.or.jp/en/documents/leaf_e.pdf> (October 28, 2018))

3. Yasukuni Shrine in Tōkyō is the place of enshrinement for spirits of Japan's war dead.

4. On May 31, 1942, Lieutenant Saburō Akieda from Yamaguchi Prefecture died in a night attack in his two-man midget submarine at the harbor of Diego Suarez, Madagascar. After his death by special attack, he received a two-rank promotion to Commander. He graduated in the 66th Class of the Naval Academy at Etajima.

5. Yamato is an ancient name for Japan.

6. Lieutenant Junior Grade Shigeo Nonaka was the leader of the 1st Hachiman Goō Squadron from Usa Naval Air Group (Osuo 2005, 214).

Sources Cited

Matsugi, Fujio, ed. 1971. Kaigun tokubetsu kōgekitai no isho (Last letters of Navy Special Attack Corps). Tōkyō: KK Bestsellers.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (kaigun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.