As a bit of an introduction, I was contacted by Alan Matthews (the writer of this interview) a couple months back. Alan offered to send me a photo of Lt Iki in his Betty that he used on the mission that would eventually sink the Repulse and the Prince of Wales. Alan was kind enough to provide a portion on an interview he did with Lt. Iki along with some recollections of his father. A very big thanks goes out to Alan for sharing his story!
During recent years I have been fortunate in forging many close friendships with men who served onboard the ill fated British Capital ships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse; primarily because my own father served on Repulse up until the battlecruisers demise, along with the Prince of Wales at the hands of Japanese aircraft, off the coast of Malaya on December 10, 1941.
Consequently, a number of years ago I felt compelled to recollect the wartime memoirs of six men that served onboard Repulse, within the form of a limited publication entitled ‘Sailors’ Tales’.
Whilst conducting background research for this project, my father constantly reminded me of the sheer bravery shown by Japanese pilots that attacked the ships. Going on to describe their torpedo attacks as far in excess of anything he had ever witnessed at hands of our antiquated ‘Swordfish’ in training exercises during the early phases of WW2. Eventually I became convinced that I must locate (if possible) one of the pilots that attacked the ships. And after a series of correspondences with the Japanese Embassy in London, I made contact with one such man, Lt Haruki Iki of the Kanoya Air Corps.
Iki pictured on Graduation from Naval Academy November 17, 1934
I must admit, the first time I put pen to paper dutifully requesting his account of the battle, I felt mixed emotions; primarily because 840 British sailors perished during the battle. Nevertheless, my father and his shipmates held no resentment for Iki and his comrades, to the contrary they welcomed any contribution he could offer towards the compilation of ‘Sailors’ Tales’. However, there was another aspect to this: what if Iki was offended by my letter, what if he shunned my request? Hence my initial correspondence respectfully enquired of him to furnish me with his personal account of the battle. He soon replied, his sense of honour was immediately evident. Iki informed that provided I send him a draft copy of ‘Sailors’ Tales’ and depicted the battle (from his perspective) in a factually correct manner, he would offer every assistance. Needless to say, I complied with his wishes.
Whilst affording attention to the Iki’s brief account of the battle (which accompanies this introduction) I feel the reader should be made aware of one other important issue. This being, the actions of this honourable man the day after Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk. I must admit that Iki had not drawn my attention to the following fact; rather I had become aware of it when reading the late Professor Arthur Marders work ‘Old Friends – New Enemies’. During which the Professor, erroneously I add, describes Iki’s post battle actions. The reason I state ‘erroneously’ is that I have a letter from Iki which is at odds with Marders account.
Such issues aside, during the battle several planes were shot down. In point of fact, Iki’s two wingmen succumbed to anti-aircraft fire from Repulse, whilst they executed the final assault against the battlecruiser. Iki was so moved by their sacrifice that the following day he flew (solo) over the site of the previous days battle; dropping two wreaths. I naturally enquired as to why he did this; his reply shocked. One (understandably) was for his fellow members of the Kanoya Air Corps who had lost their lives during the action. However, the other wreath was a mark of respect from his Air Corps to all ratings from Repulse and Prince of Wales that had perished in defence of their ships. I also know from later correspondences with Iki, that the acts of bravery carried out by men from these ships remains etched in the memories of their former adversaries.
Questions and answers set for Lt Haruki Iki formerly of the Kanoya Air Corps.
Q1. When did you join the Japanese Naval Airforce?
R1. I graduated from the Naval Academy on November 17, 1934, and also graduated from the Naval officers pilots course on September 28, 1937.
Q2. How soon before the ships arrived in Singapore were you informed to prepare to attack them?
R2. On November 28, 1941 the Japanese armed forces received information that the Prince of Wales and Repulse would enter port in Colombo and then head for Singapore. The commander of our combined fleets, Isoroku Yamamoto, decided to send 36 warplanes of the type known as the ‘Betty’ equipped with torpedoes and then based in the Philippines, to reinforce those in Malaya. On November 30, 1941 one of the combined called ‘Kanoya Naval Forces’ to which I belonged was unofficially told to attack the Prince of Wales and repulse, using the Betty. A reconnaissance plane discovered both planes were in Singapore. At a meeting held on December 3, 1941 the Southern Armed Forces ordered three fleets to sail from Malaya from the Philippines.
Q3. What training had you done against large ships?
R3. The warplanes known as Nell and Betty were specially designed for the Japanese navy to attack using torpedoes and bombs, had a patrol range of 750 nautical miles and so we were training day and night with these planes to realise their maximum potential. The usual attacking tactics were for nine planes to fly about 100 metres apart from each other and to launch the attack simultaneously at about a height of about 20-50 metres and a bout 1 mile or less from the target. The torpedoes could travel through the water at about 45 knots.
Q4. How long had you been flying the type of bomber you flew on the day of battle?
R4. I trained on the Nell to attack China from August 1936 to August 1941, and trained on the Betty from September 1, 1941 to December 10, 1941, the total number of hours being around 172.
Q5. How long had you been training with the new type of torpedo that your planes carried that day?
R5. From September 1, 1941 till December 2, 1941.
Q6.Had Repulse been damaged when your squadron arrived in the area?
R6. Yes. When our squadron arrived I could see Repulse had been hit on the port side. Later I was informed that a torpedo from a Nell warplane of Lieutenant Shirai’s ‘Miharu’ based squadron had hit a 250kg bomb on Repulse.
Q7. Was the Repulse a hard target to approach. If so why was this?
R7. Yes it was very difficult because when I was attacking the Repulse it was firing intensively and turning to starboard. So one of the small fleets was attacking from starboard and the other two fleets were attacking from port. We lost a few warplanes and they sank close to the Repulse. Later on I found that 17 bullets had penetrated my plane.
Q8. Did your torpedo score a hit on the ship? If yes do you remember at what point it hit?
R8. Yes. I scored 2 hits on the port side, 3 on the starboard and 1 on the bow.
Q9. Was the Repulse sinking when you left? If yes how did she look to you?
R9. Yes. We could see Repulse sinking when we were about 3 kilometres away and about 3 kilometres above sea level. After finishing our attack we were still watching her firing, but losing speed. Then she started to sink towards the port side. At that time we could also see the Prince of Wales was escaping towards the south east at a speed of 5-6 knots.
Q10. Did you have a chance to see the Prince of Wales? If yes, how did she appear?
R10. Yes. My group consisted of 26 warplanes and from a height of about 3 kilometres we could see the British navy. There were 3 destroyers just in front of the ships and the Repulse was following about 1 kilometre behind heading south-south-west. We decreased height by about 3-400 metres and were about 10 miles away from the British ships when we began our attack.