Kanbaku War Notes
I began life in the northern part of Tochigi Prefecture in a place called Otagahara in Nasu County, on January 13, 1920. I was the youngest of the seven brothers in my family and all of us enlisted in the military. My six older brothers all went into the military, so my father and mother wished strongly that I, at least, would not go into the military. My six brothers served in the Army and it is a wonder that not one of us was killed during the war. I had no special reason I could think of in planning for my career other than the wish to fly an airplane and wear the Navy uniform which I thought looked much sharper than the Army’s. One uniform was white and the other was a black one with pleats and a dangling short dagger. That is about all for my so-called motivation to volunteer for the Navy!
The day before my enlistment, the family went to Enoshima to spend the night together and the next day, June 1, 1937, I entered the Navy at the Yokosuka “Chinjufu” or Naval District. I was still wearing my middle school uniform and carrying two or three books with me. I had joined the Navy during my 4th grade of the old middle school system, which is comparable to the 2nd year of the present high school. Those living in Hokkaido, Tohoku and, the present, Kanto Koshinetsu districts came under the jurisdiction of Yokosuka Chinjufu and all were inducted there. On July 7 of that year the so-called Marco Polo Bridge Incident broke out. It was the first step leading up to that Big War. To us in the Navy, however, we had no way of then knowing of such things.
I entered the Navy as a reserve student pilot. The physical fitness test was very strict and at that time there were only two hundred such students who had passed the fitness test. After undergoing further tests and training, one could usually tell whether or not he was qualified to fly. If one was not qualified to fly then he was ordered and placed into the observer group. Thus, we were further separated into 100 flight students and 100 observer students who would not engage in piloting airplanes.
At this point I would like to tell you about a certain man named Mr. MIZUNO* who was highly regarded by the Navy’s ONISHI Takijiro. To what degree of scientific grounds there was I do not know, but it was Mr. MIZUNO who tested us and then passed judgment on whether or not we were qualified to become pilots. He read our palms, studied our physical features and then he would say if we qualified or not. His words seemed to hit the mark with high probability regarding the new men who came to the Navy base at Tsukuba.
The base was full of all kinds of officers, pilots, paymasters, combat specialists, engineers, etc. A bunch of officers would be gathered at random to be looked over by Mr. MIZUNO, one by one. When asked how many pilots there were in the group he would say three, for instance, and pointed out the three pilots exactly; “This man; this man and this man”. Furthermore, he might add, “This man will die soon;” or “This man will stay alive.” Generally his words turned out to be so. He would come up to the pilots, and after talking to them for a while, passed out his verdict. Yes, I had the pleasure of meeting him, but what his verdict was for each one of us in my group we were not told. We did hear that he spoke to our higher ups on something pertaining to our aptitude.
Although we were reserve student pilots, we were in the Navy after all, and so in the early stages we had to undergo basic training as sailors. We did not have the chance of even touching an airplane for a year or so. We started with swimming and cutter rowing. As to schoolroom lessons we even studied English, as we were in the same age group as students in the late stage of the old system middle school where English was taught.
We had lessons in flag signaling, flash signaling, and Morse code. We were thoroughly trained in the code business. The Navy’s way was to take the first syllable of a common word and remember it; for example “I” from “Itoh” (a common family name), “ro” from “rojyohokou” (road walking), “ha” from “harmonica”, “ni” from niuekichoka (revenue increase), “ho” from “hokoku” (report) and “to” from “totsugeki” (charge), etc. In this way, relatively simple words were used to express the signals. We had to memorize the entire alphabet so it would come out spontaneously. And, even today I have not forgotten them.
Training, however, in cutter rowing and swimming was quite demanding. After we got used to swimming we were sent out on a long distance swim. We had to swim from Yokosuka to Yokohama and this took eight to ten hours. Of course, our swimming instructors came along on boats, but we had to swim breaststroke style all the way without stopping. On the way, rice balls would be handed out and we would eat them while swimming. All Navy men lived in hammocks whether on ship or at air force land base. For the first two or three days sleeping in hammocks was difficult, but one can get used to it because daytime training was so hard you fell asleep quickly.
As for the raw recruits, the Army had their Naimuhan (Home Duty Unit) system where the recruits had to live together in a single room with senior ranked soldiers and be subjected to constant hazing. In the Navy’s air force the class lived together independently and not together with their seniors. There were times when some instructors scolded us, but there was no bullying among us within the members of the class. Our instructors were about the same age as us, at the most three years older. Trainees were about seventeen years old and the instructors about twenty or twenty-one. And yet we were dressed down by our instructors, not all the time, but once a week or once in ten days. If the trainees showed a slack in their attention then they got a dressing down. For instance, while preparing to fly solo, if one made a mistake on landing and damaged the landing gear, that was when we all caught hell, “You guys are not paying attention!” Or, if I made a mistake in landing, I, alone, would not be punched in the nose, but the entire trainee group would be punished together and made to run around the airfield. This once around the airfield is quite a demanding punishment. The once around distance is about 4,000 meters. We had to run in our flying uniform with helmet and flying boots on. After running only 500 meters we were full of sweat even in the winter. But the worst punishment of all was to have our meals denied. Of course, not all food was denied us.
Our first flying lessons took place at Tsukuba Air Force Base in Ibaragi Prefecture, which is now called Tomobe. This was the Kasumigaura Detachment. We spent three months taking elementary flight training and there our aptitude was determined and we were divided into the flying group and the observer group.
All of the trainees were genuine novices on matters pertaining to airplanes. Nobody had ever driven a car or a motorcycle. I don’t remember ever having been taken on a motorbike ride. Such a thing as a motorcycle was rarely ever seen around my village of Otagahara. No one there had an inkling of an idea of what an engine looked like, let alone, how to fly an airplane, so flight lessons had to be started from scratch.
It was a time when few had ever seen a thing called an ocean prior to entering military service. I think today’s middle and high school students all know what an ocean looks like. In Tochigi Prefecture there was no ocean. So during my childhood, I didn’t even have a chance to go and see what an ocean looked like. Such being the times, it was perhaps thought better for the instructor to take a student with a fresh, clean slate by the hands and legs and mold him into a real flyer rather than have to give flying lessons to a student with a half-baked knowledge of, say, driving a car.
My first plane ride was in a two-seater primary trainer biplane. Both front and rear cockpits had identical equipment and it could fly only at a cruising speed of around 90 knots per hour. So, when there was even a slight wind, flying lessons had to be postponed. When the headwind was strong the speedometer would indicate 80 or 90 knots per hour, but respective to the ground the plane would not be moving forward.
At first, the instructor in the rear cockpit would demonstrate to the student several times how to take off and land and after further repeating it four or five times he would say, “Now, you take over.” The instructor would have his hands and feet at the controls to assist when needed. When making a landing the student would feel the guiding hands of his instructor on his control stick and was taught to understand whether the speed was too fast or too slow, or if the plane was tilted or slipping.
After takeoff from the runway and reaching an altitude of 150 meters, a left turn would be made. This was the first turn. At the second turning point we would rise to a height of 200 meters and keep the same height until the plane came to the opposite side of the runway. There we would make the third turn, gradually lowering the altitude and, at the fourth turning point, we would drop down to about 100 meters, lowering the speed gradually as we headed toward the runway. However, even at the given height, if the nose were pointed downward or very much upward this was not good. The nose angle must be exactly at three degrees-plus and at the precise speed. If not, you had to do it all over again. During these lessons the instructor in the rear cockpit would also bang us on the head for our mistakes.
Between the front and rear cockpits there is a voice tube to carry on conversation. This tube can be disconnected at the left side of the helmet. The length of the disconnected tube was about 50 centimeters. The instructor used this to bang us on the head. Say I was in the front cockpit flying the plane. When I sensed that the instructor was a bit dissatisfied I could tell by the noise that he was disconnecting the tube. “Woops, I’m going to be hit”. Well, it was a good thing my helmet was on so that the pounding did not hurt too much. Every now and then I would get disciplined with “the tube.”
When my take-off and landing exercises began, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. On take-off from Tsukaba airfield I could see, just ahead, the Monopoly Bureau building where the cherry blossoms were really beautiful. My first turn would be made just at the point where the cherry trees stood; the second turn was made above the woods and returning to the opposite direction I could see the cherry blossoms in full bloom and after flying over the cherry trees I would land. In such a way I had my targets set in my own way. I recall that four or five days later, it rained, and, when I took off after it stopped raining, the cherry blossoms were no longer there. “Woops!” the cherry blossoms had all fallen and my targets had vanished. “Oh, I can’t see the cherry blossoms!” And, as I was fumbling around, there came a stinging bang from behind. In this manner my training progressed.
Even during level flight practice it was difficult to keep the plane flying straight until one got used to it. At first the instructor in the rear cockpit would give out an order to maintain height at 500 meters and fly level. The next order was “Mt. Tsukuba, yohsoro (keep her steady).” This meant that since Mt. Tsukuba could be seen up front, I must fly straight toward it. I flew as ordered, aiming my plane straight at Mt. Tsukuba. But the instructor was saying, “Hey, Mt. Tsukuba is going away toward the left”. It was not Mt. Tsukuba going away toward the left. It was my plane going toward the right side of Mt. Tsukuba. It must be the effect of the wind. The effect of side winds is actually strong. Even if one thought he was flying steady toward Mt. Tsukuba, if the wind was blowing from the left then the plane was swept away toward the right.
Landing on an aircraft carrier was also fairly difficult. One must first underwent training in a primary trainer, intermediate trainer, and then took the Practical Course. And when the Practical Course was completed then training for aircraft carrier landing began. This training first started on the ground. The so-called fixed landing on land runway was first undertaken. The body of the plane must stop exactly at the center of the runway. Furthermore, both front and rear landing gears must land within two lines set 20 meters apart. The reason for this was that when landing on an aircraft carrier a landing hook on the airplane was extended to hook on to the wire strung across the deck of the aircraft carrier. This wire was stretched at the center of this 20-meter distance. So, if the airplane did not land at that point it could not stop.
After one became capable of landing his plane, from nose to tail, within this 20-meter spacing he was sent to a carrier for the first time. First, however, a simulated deck landing had to be done several times. Then, finally, one got to land on the real thing. The carrier was about 200 meters long but, as expected, it would roll, pitch, and yaw. So when making the approach and flying past the stern one had to throttle the engine and pull back the control stick. When pulling back on the stick, its position must be moved to synchronize with the movement of the carrier. If, however, the bow of the carrier was about to be moved upwards by the waves the landing speed had to be slowed down a bit. Anyway, once one got used to it, it became natural without being instructed each time. Even if one underwent training up to this point, not all would be capable of making a carrier landing. Two or three out of ten pilots would not be able to do it and landing on a carrier became too difficult for them.
During basic training sometimes the flight instructor judged that the student was able to fly solo after about twenty-five hours of flying together. Others would not be allowed to fly solo until after thirty-hours. After forty-hours of flight instruction, if one was judged incapable of flying solo, then he was told that, despite all his efforts, he was not qualified to become a pilot and hw was urged to go into another branch, such as aircraft maintenance. Thus some were dropped from the pilot-training program.
Times were harsh and many were dismissed from this training program not because of their aptitude. For instance, student pilots, when going on leave, were told to have meals only at authorized restaurants. Movie theaters were off-limits. Being young, some would misbehave or would get drunk and go on a rampage. For such misconduct, a number of flight trainees were dismissed from the training program. The remaining pilots, around fifty of them, would be assigned to combat units after completing their secondary training course. They were then separated into type of planes they would fly. At that time the pilots were asked about their preference.
Being young, most of them wished to join the fighter plane units or carrier bomber units, very few volunteered for carrier attack plane duty. The instructors would then get together and make the decision after exchanging views like “he would make a good fighter pilot” or “this one is fit for flying a carrier bomber” and so on. If there were fifty in the graduating class, ten would be distributed to fighter-plane units, ten for carrier-bomber units, and thirty for the carrier-attack plane units. This distribution is made according to a preset quota. I became a carrier-bomber pilot because it was my choice and because of my instructor, NUMATA, who was a carrier-bomber pilot himself. He would say to me “Hey you! You join the carrier bomber group.” After all, it was natural for an instructor to want his student to join the same professional field as his own.
The so-called “kanbaku” or carrier-based bombers were dive-bombers. You dove from a height of about 8,000 meters and pulled up at about 400 meters. At this point a gravity force of 6 Gs would bear down upon you. Every time without fail your senses would go black. There is a saying “I saw stars”. For sure, bright stars will flash within your eyes every time we pulled out. For an aircraft of that time and age, the diving speed was about 400 kilometers per hour. Under the main wing there was a dive brake, which could be activated by changing its position from horizontal to vertical. With this dive brake extended one must dive at a speed of 450 kilometers per hour while adjusting the dive brake so as not to exceed this speed. This is done because 450 kilometers per hour would assure the best-hit accuracy for the bombs dropped. At faster speeds the accuracy was reduced. Also, if the plane over-sped then it could not be pulled up and it would nose-dive into the water below. There were several such accidents I witnessed during practice runs.
As to the timing of when to pull back on the stick, the observer in the rear cockpit read out the general altitude, like “1000…800…600 and so on. At about 600 meters he cried out “ready” and at 400 he shouted “Teh!” When he said “Teh” (release bomb), the altitude shown on the altimeter was 400 meters, but actually, the plane had dropped down to about 300 meters. At 300 meters you braced your legs up hard and with both hands pulled the control stick back with all your might, and at the same time kept an eye on the water surface or else you could not pull the plane upward from the dive. The dive-bombers, at the time, had their landing gears stuck out under the wings. So, if the landing gear touched the surface of the water, no matter how slightly, you were finished.
The rate of dive bombers being shot down by enemy anti-aircraft guns on the ground was about the same as for torpedo planes (carrier-attack planes) which skimmed the water surface. For the enemy anti-aircraft gunners our dive-bombers were easier shooting targets because they would dive from high altitude. Our dive-bombers dove at a set angle of 50 to 60 degrees and, because of the comparatively high altitude from which they dove, the distance was long and it took considerable time to complete the attack. So, to put it in extreme terms, if the anti-aircraft gunner on the ground would take aim and keep shooting a short distance in front of the angle at which our plane would be plunging downward, the plane would automatically come down to meet the bullets. If the plane attempted to avoid the bullets then the bomb would miss its target.
As one gradually got used to all of this, however, he knew that it will
take some time to get down from 8,000 to 4000 meters and at about 2000
or 1000 meters he will be able to bank the plane slightly and slide it
to avoid the on-coming bullets. And at around 1000 meters or so he began
to enter the bombing stage. No! It is not a good feeling to be plunging
downward from 8,000 meters and even worse when someone was shooting at
you! In the case of the Hawaii attack, enemy battleships, cruisers, destroyers
and land based artillery all opened fire at us with a big hail of bullets.
When I flew my mission to Pearl Harbor, antiaircraft guns were already
in action. My group was positioned at the very tail end of the Second
Wave formation, and already the First Wave had finished their attack
thirty or forty minutes earlier. Guns from vessels and from land bases
were furiously firing at us. One could see through the tubular bombsight
in the cockpit used to take aim at your target below as we dove. Looking
through this bombsight I could see the bullets coming toward me in a
bundle filling the sight with nothing but red color. The bullets, however,
go astray midway. Really! I could see the bullets flying towards
me and fill up the bombsight. All told, our side lost a total of twenty-nine
planes with four dive-bombers from my wing failing to make it back. My
plane was also hit over Pearl Harbor.