Mar 8, 2015


"Atomic bomb!"

I don't think I spoke the words aloud, but 1 know that I spoke them in my mind. I had heard from time to time that Japan's scientists were studying how to make atomic bombs. And the matter had been brought up for discussion in the National Diet during 1942. At once I realized that America had perfected her bomb first. Two other things came into my mind at the same moment. My family was safe, but the war was lost. Should America continue to drop bombs like that one, Japan was truly doomed.

I went on to my classroom, but had difficulty concentrating on the curriculum. What is the purpose of what I am doing? 1 asked myself. There I was, teaching students how to make a submarine attack, when B-29's were spreading mines so thickly that even Japan's fishing fleet was decimated, and could not bring food to our people. Submarines had difficulty clearing Kure, letting alone reaching and hitting the enemy. They had to pass through Bungo Strait submerged, out of fear of lurking enemy boats. And America had the atomic weapon! What chance was there for victory?

Whenever my glance moved in the direction of Hiroshima that day, 1 was thankful that none of my family, relatives or friends lived there.

On Aug. 7, with several other submarine school instructors, I drove into Hiroshima. We were curious to see the effects of an atomic weapon. So small was our knowledge of it, that we didn't even know about danger from radiation and rode blithely into what would be later called the danger area. Horrific sights met our eyes. Everywhere there was desolation. All that remained standing of Hiroshima's structures were the shells of concrete buildings. Everything else was flattened over a wide radius from the explosion's center. Fires were still smoking, and charred bodies of men, women, children and horses lay everywhere. A few live people, haggard-eyed, wandered about poking through the wreckage, trying to find the remains of lost ones. A sickening stench rose from everything. We soon realized that this was no time for satisfying scientific curiosity and, after offering a few of the more wretched ones our condolences, we got back into our car and returned to Otake. No one spoke during the ride back, but I am sure that my comrades had the same thoughts as I—radar, blockade, bombs, fire raids, and now this. No doubt of it, the end could not be far off!

On Aug. 8 a second atomic bomb was dropped, on Nagasaki, and Russia declared war upon Japan. The first was expected sooner or later, and the second surprised no military man. For forty years the Russians had been waiting for an opportunity to take revenge, ever since our military and naval forces had smashed them at Port Arthur and Tsushima Strait. Few of the world's white men (other than diplomats, historians and political scientists) are aware of how much that defeat rankled, especially since it had been achieved less than 40 years after Japan had emerged from a supposedly "barbarian state."

The world's colored peoples are aware of it, however. One need only discuss history for a few minutes with leaders of any backward nation before learning that scholars from such nations mark the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 as a "tide-turning," the first time in history that a colored race defeated a white one. Every Japanese military man was constantly aware of the "great bear" at our backs, ready to pounce should we ever grow weak.

In class that day, I told my students that we should fight on for Japan so long as breath was left in us. In Tokyo, the Emperor was telling an Imperial Conference that "the time has come to bear the unbearable." Lt Cdr. Yukio Inaba took I-373 out of Sasebo on Aug. 9, heading for Formosa. Four days later the U.S. submarine Spikefish torpedoed and sank her, the 134th and last Japanese submarine destroyed or sunk in the war. Early in the morning of Aug. 10 our Emperor demanded the unanimous consent of his closest advisors for accepting the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. Japan, he said, must surrender unconditionally. There would be no more quibbling. And, on the next day, the American Secretary of State announced that, from the moment of surrender, our Emperor would be subject to the orders of the Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific. This was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who later thwarted Russian attempts to seize Japan by simply ignoring whatever the Russians requested or said.

Not knowing what else to do, I continued my submarine classes. At Otake we had no knowledge of what was occurring in Tokyo; the plots, the promises, the planned revolts. Then, at 7:15 A.M. on Aug. 15, we heard over the radio that the Emperor would speak to all of his subjects at noon. It was something that had never happened before; His Majesty's voice coming to all Japanese at the same time. We didn't know what to make of it, except that something of great and special importance was bound to be said.

By that time, bomb damage had hurt Japan so badly that electrical power was rationed. It required a special allotment of electricity to bring off the broadcast. When the appointed time arrived I gathered with other Otake officers and men in front of our main building, where loudspeakers had been set up. Vice Adm. Noboru Ichikawa stood facing us. None of us had any idea what was coming. I expected the Emperor either to issue an imperial order, or make a personal appeal for all Japanese to unite in one final stand against the enemy. There was a lot of static in the broadcast, making it difficult to hear, and every account I have read since states that this was "interference" caused by unknown persons who were trying to jam the broadcast. Nevertheless, all of us could make out enough of it to understand that the Emperor was telling us that he meant to end the war.

Earlier, while some of us were still in the school instructors' office, Lt. Cdr. Genbei Kawaguchi, former skipper of I-44, had burst through the door. In an agitated voice he said that advisors to the Emperor had told our ruler lies about the true state of Japan and overseas. He claimed that the Emperor, misled, was about to make an announcement of surrender. This was appalling news to all of us. How Kawaguchi received the word in advance, I do not know. Perhaps he had been told by representatives of the Army officers in Tokyo who were planning the coup d'etat. They hoped to seize control of the empire, fight on, then turn control back to the Emperor after winning the great victory they were sure they could bring off.

We became confused upon listening to Kawaguchi. The confusion increased when we later heard the Emperor's broadcast. Some wanted to fight on, including myself. But a few (again including myself) also began to think of our duty to the Emperor. He said that he was going to end the war and that made us bound to assist him, to carry out whatever orders were given toward that end. Nonetheless, August 15, 1945, was a day of insanity. No voice of reason could be heard. Anyone who dared mention the word "surrender" would have been fighting his own comrades for his life. After a lot of speculation, I and others took refuge in indecision. We decided to wait until some kind of official word was sent down through 6th Fleet from the Naval General Staff. Meanwhile, business as usual. We returned to our classrooms.

The next day, Gekko night fighter aircraft from the nearby air base at Iwakuni flew over Otake, dropping handbills. Each bore a message from Capt. Yasuna Ozono. He was at the air base in Atsugi, southwest of Tokyo, and commander of the aircraft charged with defense of our capital city. Ozono refused to surrender. He had sent men to other bases, too, to take over planes from those men who were surrendering. His leaflets urged all of us to fight on with him "to a certain victory."

Only a small minority at Otake were influenced by Ozono's message. The time between the Emperor's broadcast and the dropping of the leaflets had given us a chance to think. At Hirao, Lt. Takesuka Tateyama, determined to fight on, took the old I-159 out, with a pair of kaiten, and headed for the Inland Sea. But he came back in two days. On Aug. 17 I was ordered by Rear Adm. Mitsuru Nagai to take over as disciplinary commander at Otake. "You will be responsible" he said, "for calming the wild spirits of young submarine men and students. It will not be easy. You know that their spirit is the highest in the Imperial Navy. They will not want to give up."

My duties also included the burning of all official records and documents, and I also had to see to it that submarine men were released from active duty. I also had to see to the discharge of all civilian workers without incident. These were not easy tasks. Many men and women had worked long and hard in hope of a Japanese victory. Telling them that all was lost and they would no longer be needed was a hard thing to do. I had to calm many people, soothe many disturbed feelings.

Hashimoto got back to Kure with his I-58 on Aug. 18. On the way up Bungo Strait he'd met six HA-Class submarines that had left Kure, their captains determined to fight to the death. Hashimoto, having already received the Emperor's broadcast on his radio, was reserving decision and action until he arrived in port. When his boat glided on past them, the six HA-Class boats put about and also returned.

Hashimoto reported that I-58 had sunk a battleship. He found a very tense situation at the Kure anchorage. Submariners had earlier provisioned and fueled every boat there. A delegation of young officers, led by Lt. Akira Kikuchi, met with Capt. Shojiro lura, of the 6th Fleet staff and asked him to convince senior officers to keep on fighting. lura disagreed (risking his life) and reminded those men of their duty to the Emperor. The delegation left, but a few submarine captains tried to change Iura's mind. "Let them go!" they urged, "Those men do not want to live. They can fight the enemy for as long as two more months before committing seppuku. They wish to die in battle, like true samurai. Why not let them do it?" Again Iura demurred, and it was about that time that the six HA-boat commanders took matters into their own hands and headed down Bungo Strait.

When a third group came to him in the afternoon of Aug. 18, Iura went to Vice Adm. Daigo that evening, and Daigo summoned all concerned to his headquarters the next day.

"For nearly three years," he told them, "I had official duty that put me in close attendance on our Emperor. I know what he is like. I understand his feelings. You men obviously do not understand them. He is very humane, very concerned for all of his people, not just us few in the military forces. If we continue to fight, the enemy will continue to fight. And what will happen? Many thousands of innocent ones, women and children, will die because you are so headstrong. If you sink even one enemy ship, death will shower down on the innocents who have no weapons at all. Think! Try to understand the deep sense of humanity that made the Emperor come to this precedent-shattering decision!"

Daigo's words were enough. All present apologized, and begged his forgiveness for causing him and the Emperor concern. They promised to make no more trouble. That ended the problem at Kure. Expect for an occasional raised voice, disbanding of the forces there went ahead with no difficulty. Disturbances occurred among submariners at Yokosuka, Maizuru, Sasebo, and the places where Tokko Squadron 11 and positioned kaiten, koryu and shinyo, but everyone eventually calmed down alter a few days. Men began to think about their families, left alone to face an occupation by the enemy. They began drifting away from Otake and other bases, toward their homes.

As for Tokyo, Gen. Anami committed suicide. And one version has it that, at Atsugi, Capt. Ozono was given a hypodermic by peace-inclined people, then spirited away. The Japanese government itself later tried him, sent him to prison and did not include him years later, after the Occupation ended, on the list when pensions were given to former military men. Prince Takamatsu, the Emperor's brother, helped put things right at Atsugi, where holes were punched in fuel tanks and propellers removed from aircraft, so that the kichigai could not use them in kamikaze attacks on the approaching Allied fleet. Everything was settled before Gen. MacArthur's advance party landed at Atsugi.

One Japanese officer had an amusing experience that illustrates how rapidly the mood of the country changed. Right after the surrender he met an elderly farmer who was brandishing an ancient, rusty sword and threatening to slaughter all Americans. On Aug. 22, that officer met the farmer again. This time the sword was dripping blood. "Have you been fighting, oji-san?." the officer asked. "No," the old man answered, "just killing a pig. I was hungry." The pragmatic had overwhelmed the heroic. All through Japan people supported the Emperor's position, a proof of the reverence in which he was held.

After announcing the surrender of Japan, the U.S. announced the loss of the cruiser Indianapolis. Later events showed this sinking to be the center of a tragedy in communications. When Hashimoto's torpedoes sent the cruiser down, about 300 men died. But twice that many later died, because no rescuers came to their aid for four days. Overconfident from so many victories, the American authorities did not set up any regulation (at least in the Philippines) for action to be taken should a scheduled vessel not arrive by her designated time. The Philippines were where Indianapolis was heading when she was sunk. No search was made until an aircraft sighted some survivors in the water several days after the ship went down. The delay cost about 600 lives through exposure, exhaustion, sharks, and thirst.

An even stranger sequel followed. Late in 1945 Hashimoto, then involved in clearing up the debris of war, was suddenly seized by Occupation authorities and taken to America. There he appeared as a witness in the general court-martial of the officer (Capt. Charles McVey, USN) whose ship he had sunk. I do not think that such a happening has any precedent in history: summoning your enemy to testify against your own fighting men. Hashimoto, puzzled, answered the questions put to him. Later, while translating Mr. Richard Newcomb's book on the Indianapolis sinking into Japanese, Hashimoto realized that some of his testimony had been very poorly translated. Long afterward he still held a low opinion of the entire proceedings.

On Aug. 19 I received a letter from Hisako, telling me she was taking our sons and going back to Kagoshima. This was a bold thing for a Japanese wife to do without consulting her husband, but a brave thing as well. I had my hands full where I was, urging men to go home and arranging things for a swift takeover by Occupation troops when they arrived. On Sept. 15 the 6th Fleet was finally disbanded, one of Vice. Adm. Daigo's final offical acts being to promote me and other officers. I became a Commander (in a navy that no longer existed) and was mustered out in October.

When I left I said goodbye to the scraps of a great navy, a navy that had really been my life since I was a small boy. Of our once-mighty Fleet we had lost 11 battleships, 21 aircraft carriers, 38 cruisers, 135 destroyers and, via one means or another, 134 submarines. Eight of the submarines had been lost in kaiten operations, together with 80 of the young men who had volunteered to serve as human torpedoes. Another 15 kaiten men had died in training accidents: suffocating, drowning, or striking enemy-laid mines. About 10,000 trained submarine men had died fighting for Japan. And, after a few ships had been taken by the victors, the Allies took the remainder out to sea in February, 1946, scuttling them in Operation Road's End—the Imperial Navy's final humiliation.

As I made my way southward towards home, I found the country in a terrible state. Japan was unable to feed or clothe itself. Nor was the population able to sustain good health, medicines were in such short supply. Had not Occupation authorities rushed in massive shipments of food, much of Japan's population would not have survived the winter of 1945.