“Our Mission Was Suicide”
THE day, August 15, 1945, dawned when we were far out in the southern Pacific Ocean. I was on a mission as a member of the Kaiten Special (Suicide) Attack Corps, on board the submarine A-367. When the Emperor’s announcement of surrender came over the radio, everyone just stood at his post in a daze. The Pacific war was over.
Within ten days we returned to Japan. Those of us who had made the Navy our career could not understand why other sailors looked so happy to be demobilized and with the war lost at that! How vexing it was to see people rejoicing over the termination of the war when so many young men had died for their country!
On the Suicide Mission
In retrospect I remembered the time some eight months earlier, after I had graduated from the Naval Antisubmarine and Submarine schools. It was December 25, 1944, and I had just received orders to serve on the submarine A-367. When we walked aboard in Yokosuka on New Year’s Day 1945, our orders were to take part in special attack maneuvers. The words “special attack” meant suicide attack, just like the kamikaze in the air. We were named the Shimbu Squad of the Kaiten Special Attack Corps.
To prepare for maneuvers, we cruised to Kure, a major naval port near Hiroshima, for remodeling work on the submarine in order to accommodate the kaiten. A kaiten was a converted torpedo with a cramped control room for one person amidships. After it was launched from the upper deck of a submarine, the operator piloted it to hit the target, thus the name human torpedo. Once launched, there was no return. Hitting the target meant a hero’s death, whereas missing it would be a dog’s death, as the Japanese call it when a person dies for no purpose.
Dying for our country, we thought, was a glorious privilege. When our commanding officer invited volunteers to step forward to be members of suicide squads, all stepped forward as one man. Although I was not a kaiten operator, all on the crew were considered members of the suicide attack corps. What an honor!
After training for the kaiten launching, we set out on a mission carrying five kaitens mounted on the upper deck. Heading out to the Pacific through the Inland Sea, I stood on deck and looked at the beauty of the early summer. I wondered what bounty awaited these five vessels of death and recalled sweet and bitter memories of my days as a naval trainee.
Wanting since childhood to make the Navy my career, I had entered the Naval Mine School when I turned 18 in 1944. For the first two months, training centered on basics for land combat and a crash course on Navy common sense. After that, the school was renamed and became the Naval Antisubmarine School. Education in the operation of hydrophones and sonar began so that we could be rushed to the war front fully trained.
The first two days in school, we were treated like guests. The instructors kindly explained to us whatever we did not understand. Then, on the third day, came the first “adjustment.” Right after the watch officer made the rounds upon our retiring to bed, we heard the command of an instructor, “Everyone up! Everyone line up on the deck!” Not knowing what to do, we ran about blindly. “Get a move on! Hurry up! Line up!” Rebukes were barked at us. After finally lining up, we were told: “All you guys are in need of morale.” And the “adjustments” began. In the Navy, “adjustment” meant beating. We were first told to stand with feet apart and clench our teeth so that we would not fall down or cut the inside of our mouth. Successive blows across the face followed.
Adjustments were given on a community responsibility basis. If one member of a division made a mistake, then the whole division received adjustments. Oftentimes a stick resembling a baseball bat was used to strike our buttocks. It was called “the stick to infuse the soldier’s spirit.” Supposedly, adjustments were to nurture a spirit of teamwork, which was much in demand at sea. Every time I experienced an adjustment, I wondered if it really would be of help in actual combat.
After graduating from the Antisubmarine School, I entered the Submarine School. Now we were learning to be on the other side of the fence, being given lectures and training on how to catch the sound of a surface ship from a submarine and attack it. Training was even harsher here, following what the Japanese Navy called a “Mon-Mon-Tue-Wed-Thu-Fri-Fri” routine. In other words—no weekends off.
The Suicide Attack
“We have now cleared the Bungo Channel,” blared the loudspeaker, jerking me back from my reminiscence. “We will navigate on surface until tomorrow morning. We expect you to accomplish this mission as the Shimbu Squad of the Kaiten Special Attack Corps. Do your best in your assigned posts.” Our mission was to ambush and destroy ships plowing the supply routes between Okinawa and Guam. For four days we submerged at dawn and surfaced at dusk.
At 1400 hours, or 2:00 p.m., on the fifth day, we detected a sound source. We kept a depth of 45 feet [14 m] and closed steadily while observing the target through the periscope. Suddenly, commands poured out one after another.
“Each one to his post!”
“Kaitens stand by!”
“Operators to crafts!”
As the operators rushed through the narrow corridor tying on Rising-Sun headbands, crew members flattened themselves against the walls, saluting farewell.
The operators ran up the ladder leading to the communication duct (the passage leading to the torpedo cockpits from inside the submarine), turned around at the hatch, and saluted as they shouted: “Thank you, everyone, for taking good care of us. We’ll make a go of it!” Those standing below were silent, their faces stiff.
“Each craft set for launching!” The orderly’s voice shook as he relayed the captain’s command.
“Targets: a large supply ship and a destroyer,” the captain declared. “Craft No. 1 is out of order. So No. 2 and No. 3 will go for the targets. Others stand by.”
“Craft No. 2, take off!”
“Craft No. 3, take off!”
“Thud! Thud!” The wire bands fastening the kaitens had loosened and slammed the deck. Craft No. 2 jerked free, and while its thunderous boom was still resounding, craft No. 3 followed it. The operators’ boyish faces flashed through my mind. I concentrated on my work of tracking the kaitens with the hydrophones.
“It’s about time they hit the targets,” mumbled someone. The kaitens had been launched only 15 minutes earlier, but it felt like an hour or more. “Boo—oom!” came the roar from the explosion, shortly followed by another.
“Petty Officer Chiba hits the target!”
“Petty Officer Ono hits the target!”
Silence prevailed. No one made a sound, did not even cough. Some pressed their hands together in prayer in the direction of the explosion. Tears left tracks on the faces of crew members standing mutely. An unbelievably calm scene for such a brilliant result.
Hidden in his personal effects, we found a farewell poem written by Petty Officer Ono, according to the Japanese custom of leaving behind an original poem when one expects to die. He wrote: “When the cherry trees of Old Japan blossom, and the petals are scattered, they are scattered deep down in the sea.” He was 19.
We kept searching for enemies, submerging before sunrise and surfacing after sundown. After two weeks of fruitless search, the captain announced that we would immediately return to Kure. The whole crew was elated. While the submarine was anchored in Kure for repairs and to replenish provisions, the crew members lolled about in local spas.
It was June 15, 1945. We were moored at the wharf near the Naval Arsenal while preparing to leave on our next mission. The air-raid warning siren blew. There was no time to prepare. A huge B-29 bomber formation came down toward the arsenal. I leapt from the upper deck to the wharf to undo the front mooring. I shouted to Petty Officer Mohri, who had just returned, to undo the back mooring. The submarine slipped from the wharf, and we were left behind.
We sought refuge in a shelter near the wharf, but it was packed with arsenal workers. While we were standing at the entrance, a bomb fell, and we were blown outside. We felt it would be dangerous to stay there and decided to run into a cave dug in a hill behind the arsenal. We timed a three-minute interval between the attacks of bombers. As soon as one of the groups of bombers passed, we rushed out and ran toward the hill. A bomb exploded behind me as I reached the cave, and I was blown inside. Fortunately, I was not injured. Petty Officer Mohri, who had followed me, was nowhere to be seen. As soon as the air raid was over, I searched for him as I traced my way back to the wharf. The bombs had left many large holes in the path. I looked for my comrade everywhere but to no avail.
Never had I seen so many dead and injured. The wretchedness and futility of war hit me more acutely than ever before. Neither God nor Buddha could exist, I thought. If they did, they would never have permitted such atrocities.
Finding the Trustworthy God
It was only two months after the air raid that I had to accept the defeat of the Japanese Empire on that summer day in the South Pacific. After taking care of odd jobs, I returned to my home on November 20, 1945. Two days later I obtained a job with Japan National Railways. For the next 30 years, I worked as a conductor and station official in numerous cities on the island of Shikoku. Because of what I had experienced during the war, atheistic ideas took over my thinking.
In 1970, I was assigned to work at Sako Station, which was three hours away in the neighboring prefecture. Commuting on the train, I read newspapers and magazines. Every morning when I opened my case, I found The Watchtower and Awake! in the top corner. My wife had just become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and had put them there. At first I was upset to see them and threw them up on the luggage rack. I harbored hostility toward religion and harshly opposed my wife’s Christian religion. “Don’t you ever put those magazines in my case again,” I would yell at her upon returning home. But the following day, the magazines were there once again.
One day I noticed a person take the magazines down from the rack and start reading them. ‘What’s so interesting about those magazines?’ I wondered. After seeing this happen a few times, one day I casually looked through The Watchtower after finishing my newspaper. I could not quite understand what was written in it, but I found Awake! to be interesting. Reading them just once, I felt they had something different, and I have read both of them ever since. Mind you, I did not read them at home because of my stand as an opposer, but I gradually came to appreciate why my wife went out preaching every day.
From the beginning of 1975, my physical condition deteriorated, and I retired in April of that year. Doctors found cancer in my pharynx. While I was in the hospital, a male Witness visited me and gave me as gifts The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures and the book Is This Life All There Is? I had been bored, and since the Bible was given to me as a present, I now had an excuse to read it openly.
After I left the hospital, the man immediately visited me. The first two visits were just friendly chats. We talked about war experiences. But on the third visit, he offered me a Bible study, which I accepted. After overcoming atheistic thinking that was an aftereffect of the war experience, I was finally baptized at a district convention in 1980. Since then, I have enjoyed the privilege of serving others, and recently I was appointed to serve as an elder in our local congregation.
Looking back, I realize why the political and military leaders were able to educate young men to offer up their lives unselfishly for their country. The powerful forces of Satan the Devil goaded them on, as my study of God’s Word, the Bible, revealed. Behind the mass hysteria of suicide missions, I can now see Satan’s sadistic intent. Revelation 12:7-9, 12 had foretold it: “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled but it did not prevail, neither was a place found for them any longer in heaven. So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him. On this account be glad, you heavens and you who reside in them! Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.”
My mind had long been blinded into believing that suicide missions were an honor, but I now can see the truth unveiled. I now see who was behind my blindness. The apostle Paul’s words at 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 make it clear: “If, now, the good news we declare is in fact veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through. For we are preaching, not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God is he who said: ‘Let the light shine out of darkness,’ and he has shone on our hearts to illuminate them with the glorious knowledge of God by the face of Christ.”
Coming to know the truth and the only living and true God may be compared to the sweetness, yes, the freshness, of the air when we surfaced and opened the submarine hatch. No one could have appreciated that sweetness and freshness more than we did. For this spiritual refreshment, I am deeply grateful to Jehovah. And my gratitude goes to my wife as well for her untiring efforts to share Bible truth with me, not giving up for ten years until I finally dedicated myself to God. As a result, I am now engaged in the Christian ministry, a lifesaving mission for the living God.—As told by Yoshimi Aono.
[Picture on page 10]
Thanks to my wife’s untiring efforts, I am now taking up a lifesaving mission for the living God