Kanbaku War Notes
A Narrative by IIZUKA, Tokuji
Part III
Kanbaku were what we called our carrier-based dive-bombers and I flew several types including the Aichi Type 99 and the Suisei. During training, a 30% hit ratio was said to be O.K. so dive-bombing was considered a more difficult task than one would expect. Between the beginning of the War and the Battle of Midway, our hit ratio reached 80%! This meant that during the interim period the skill level of our dive-bombing crews was at its peak.

The following example may show the difficulties of our technique. Suppose one saw a target while flying at an altitude of 4,000 meters. Deciding where to start the dive to get a 60-degree angle was not so simple. We had learned that if a 250-kilogram bomb is released at an angle of 60 degrees, with a top speed of 450 kilometers per hour, at an altitude of 400 meters, then your success rate of hitting your target was the greatest. So you strove to meet these conditions as closely as possible.

While piloting my kanbaku I could only see the target from one side of the engine because of the engine location in front of me. I would first place the target in a position where a left turn dive could be made. With our dive-bombers, it was easier making a left turn than making a right turn because the propeller was revolving to the right and we would make sure to turn left when making our dive. In order to achieve a 60-degree angle of descent I would use a visual “yardstick” to guide me as to the moment when I would begin my dive. This occurred as a target came into view in relation to the engine and wing. For example, if I saw my target get to the front edge of my wing, I would commence my dive and I would then be at a 45-degree angle. I would increase the angle as I dove, keeping my target in view through the bombsight. This would differ if I had a tailwind or a headwind. With a strong tailwind, I had to start the dive a little earlier and with a weaker wind I flew a little further before I commenced the dive. I learned all of this by practicing under all conditions.
Over enemy territory our planes would fly in formation led by the air group leader. Over the target the formations changed. Very shortly would come a signal from our leader, “totsure, totsure, totsugeki taisei tore!” which meant, “Take up attack position!”  At this signal, each plane separated and dove according to the judgment or instinct of its pilot. Inside the scope used for aiming there were parallel and vertical lines and a circle was etched on the glass used as a scale. The way we used our bombsight would differ according to the wind-angle and speed. If this calculation was not done correctly, a hit could not be expected, particularly on a moving target. Depending on the angle of descent, the point of aim would change. Crosswinds and headwinds would affect the aiming. The observer in the rear cockpit carried out the wind readings. The observer might report a 5-km/ph crosswind blowing from a certain direction. Based on this report, a pilot would have to adjust his aim considering the fact that the bomb would be blown by the wind after it had been released.
The foregoing was the procedure generally used for stationary targets. If the target was a moving ship, the ship’s speed had to be calculated. If it was moving at, say, thirty knots, we would then take aim a short distance in front of the ship and then release the bomb. In such an event the bomb had to be released within a window of time while making the dive. Usually the enemy would be firing at you with their ack-ack bursts filling the bombsight with their red fireworks. So, under such hectic conditions all of this had to be done within two to three seconds. The pilot’s flying ability and the observer’s wind-reading skills would require a great deal of teamwork. Without such training and practice hits could not be achieved.

When the altitude decreased to 400 meters, we would release the bomb and pull up. The altitude would be read from the altimeter by the observer. Usually the altimeter reading would be slower than the actual altitude, therefore, when the observer read out “400 meters” and gave the signal “teh” (release bomb), the plane had actually dropped down to 350 meters or even as low as 300 meters.  Here, again, the pilot would use his own judgment. If the vessel was in view, the pilot kept his eye on it; if the vessel was not in view, then he kept his sight on the ocean surface and pulled up. This would depend almost wholly on one’s own instinct and judgment!

The instant you pulled up, your eyesight blacked-out. The G-forces take over and all your blood flowed down from your head. Then a blackout would occur and sparks would fly within your eyes. There is an expression, “I saw stars come out of my eyes.” Yes, they really flew like bubbles. When you are hit hard on the head sparks fly, but in this case, during our pull-ups many times more sparks would fly. However, this occurs only for an instant. Just at that instant, I would find myself pulling up on the control stick. We were taught to pull the nose of the plane up to a certain degree angle. Thus we were taught, but you could not actually know the exact number of degrees the nose was pointing. Usually, perhaps by habit or subconsciously, if the nose angle was too great, I would move the control stick to correct the nose angle of the airplane upward until it gradually pointed at about a thirty-degree angle and was flying upward. I would soon find myself regaining consciousness. To put this experience in extreme terms, at first I would see hundreds of stars and soon only four or five. Then it would darken and I would see no stars at all.

During my flight training, I witnessed two airplanes crash onto the surface of the sea. There is a place called Tarumizu in Kagoshima Bay. Offshore there is a reef, which turns into an island only at low tide. Day and night, before going to Hawaii, we practiced dropping bombs on it as a target. Before the war began we had actually only practiced dropping live 250-kilogram bombs three times. When practicing dive-bombing there, we flew straight in from the direction of Sakurajima and dove at our target. One day, one of our planes made a dive at the target, but its wheels touched the surface of the water. It was only for a split second because he had pulled up too late. The airplane slapped the sea surface and, at that instant, there was a big bang and a splash of water went up. At the same time, I thought, the landing gear must have torn off as the surface of the water broke. “Oh!” I thought. Then the plane flew up again climbing in the direction of Ibusuki. But the airplane was in too sharp an angle and it stalled and plunged downward. I think for sure that when the plane first hit the surface of the water the pilot was knocked unconscious. Ordinarily, the plane would climb at an angle of between thirty to forty degrees, but this one had risen at a more acute angle. I feel certain that the pilot had been knocked-out while pulling his control stick up to maximum position.
Sixty degrees, they said, was the ideal diving angle. At times, however, we used sharper angles. Military planes in those days had no backrest. There was no cushion to lean back on, only a bare duralumin sheet. So the folded parachute one is supposed to wear on his back acted as a back cushion. At seventy degrees or so, the parachute we placed behind us would begin to move downward upon you. When diving at 70 degrees or so I could feel the weight of this parachute bearing down on me. When putting on a parachute you fixed it to your body with a strap attached to the chute. A parachute could be opened manually. However, when the pilot is thrown out of the cockpit with a bang, the parachute would open automatically because a part of the chute was strapped on to the seat. When we went to Hawaii and later into other battle zones we carried no parachutes.

If you got hit, then you just died. You must die. That was the sort of rules of the times. Of course, there was no rule against wearing parachutes. The lieutenant class officers of the Akagi who were wing leaders told us not to wear parachutes. If you were hit, then you blew yourself up with your plane. It was just that simple. It was a sort of a rule the pilots voluntarily chose to obey. As the war got intense, however, the superior officers began to strongly advise against self-destruction, and we were told to wear parachutes. Later, when we knew that our ground troops were in the vicinity of our target, for example, at Leyte Island, or when Japanese troops were on our side of the hills, or when flying cover for our ground troops, we took our parachutes along. Zero fighter pilots who flew cover over our base also wore their parachutes. Over such places there was no worry of being captured and becoming a POW.
Also, when we flew into a war zone we normally took charts along with us. It was called a map but it is actually a sea chart. Prior to our missions we entered our instructions directly on the chart, such as time of departure, place of attack, and the point of return. Prior to our attack on Pearl Harbor we decided not to do this. The chart itself was to be taken along, but without any notes written on it. Should we have been shot down and our charts recovered, any notes on it could have given away the movement of our fleet.

We did take along our codebook, which had a red cover and “Top Military Secret” marked on it. If we happened to have been shot down there was the danger of it being recovered by the enemy so the cover had a lead sheet pasted on it. Once it dropped into the sea it would never float up. There were many kinds of code books, but those carried on planes were possibly rated about third in importance compared to those used by fleet commanders. Even if one like mine had gotten into enemy hands the security damage would have been slight. I remember that at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor there was a fighter plane piloted by a Soryu officer, Lieutenant IIDA, who was killed by diving onto an airfield.* His plane must have taken a hit and he signaled, “I am short on fuel and cannot make it back. All of you return.” Then he plunged into the runway below.


Not long ago there was a gathering in Hawaii of American and Japanese soldiers and I was taken to the very spot where IIDA crashed and killed himself. The place is located at one side of the present airport and marked by a small stone memorial. It was well kept with Bougainvillea flowers growing here and there. It was explained to me that the first memorial was erected, not after the War, but in December 1941, right at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor! The remains of the pilot were placed in a box with the Stars and Stripes, not the Hinomaru Japanese flag, draped over it. Then it was quietly lowered into the grave as a bugler played in tribute. Even a photograph was taken of this event. That such a ceremony was undertaken during wartime was an act the Japanese would hardly ever have thought of doing.

There was another person who crash-landed on one of the islands in the Hawaiian island chain. In Hawaii, there are the islands of Oahu, Maui and Kauai. When one visits Kauai one may see a small island in the misty distance. There lived a Nisei man, or second-generation Japanese, among other residents who were all natives of the island. We had been instructed to land on this island in the event we had been hit by enemy fire and were unable to return to our carrier. This Nisei man might be able to hide a crashed crew until one of our submarines, stationed nearby, could pick them up. It just so happened that a fighter plane from the Hiryu, piloted by NISHIKAICHI, was unable to make it back to his carrier so he made an emergency landing on this island.** Sure enough, the Nisei man showed up to help him. But NISHIKAICHI would not leave his crashed airplane. Most likely, he was waiting for the submarine to come and pick him up. The codebook, or something else important, had been left at the crash site, and NISHIKAICHI and the Nisei man both urged the natives to help find it. This made the natives suspicious and they surrounded the two at a distance. This confrontation continued for some time until finally NISHIKAICHI shot and killed himself with his gun. And, it is said, that the Nisei man also followed suit. I understood that it was said that there was to be a monument to be erected at this spot as well.

After the first attack on Pearl Harbor was over, apparently some officers and airmen submitted an opinion to carry out a second attack. Vice Admiral NAGUMO, the commander of the Hawaii Attack Forces, however, decided to turn back. If a second attack had been carried out we would have sustained considerable damage, therefore, we were greatly relieved. My airplane had been destroyed when landing and it was in no condition to fly and there was no extra plane for me to fly. Akagi carried only enough planes for its fixed number of crewmen and there were none of either to spare. This meant that the Japanese side had thrown their total fighting force into the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On the way back from Hawaii, I was kept busy gathering up the belongings of the crewmen of the four planes of Akagi dive-bomber group, which failed to return from Pearl Harbor. There was discussion supposedly regarding an attack on Midway Island but the commanders rejected such an idea. They could not bear losing more of their precious flight crew. It seemed also that they did not wish to run the danger of exposing this small number of aircraft carriers to the enemy. Attacking Midway did not materialize, but our air units took part in attacking Wake Island. The 4th Fleet, under command of Vice Admiral INOUE Shigeaki, took the lead role in making a landing on Wake Island. This Fleet, mostly comprised of destroyers, headed toward Wake after having bombed it by using long-range medium bombers. However, the four enemy fighters, which remained on Wake, were giving the Japanese attackers great trouble since the bombers flew with no air escort of their own. NAGUMO’s Hawaii Attack Force diverted two of its carriers, the Soryu and Hiryu to assist, enabling the landing on Wake to succeed.
When the Akagi returned to Hiroshima it was December 21. We left port again on January 5, 1942, to attack Rabaul, Port Darwin, Ceylon, and Java. The month of March came and an American auxiliary vessel was found cruising all alone. At first, our battleships and cruisers, which were accompanying our carriers, tried to hit it with their cannon fire, but they failed. Nine of the eighteen Akagi dive-bombers were called on to go after this vessel. Our planes dove from 5000 meters, but because of the vessel’s skillful evasive movement a hit could not be made.
In youthful carelessness, on my first dive I discovered that my sighting was not satisfactory so I made a second dive. This second attempt also failed, so I carried out a third dive. I dropped my bomb and, finally, I made a hit! But, when I pulled up, my front windshield was gone. Machine gun bullets had shattered it to bits. My engine was also hit and oil was leaking out in big spurts. A piece of the front windshield glass had hit my face, blood was coming out, and one of my eyes was gradually closing. I thought I really had had it then. With the front windshield gone I could hardly breathe in the air stream. Making my return to my carrier, it looked as though I was hiding myself behind the instrument panel. I was saved because my carrier was in the vicinity. I was the only one injured in this attack, so when I got back on my carrier I caught hell. I was told that it was not necessary to try three times. “Drop your bomb. Even if it misses, it’s okay.”***

In June, although I did not go along on this mission, I recall that a Zero fighter plane belonging to a group which attacked the Aleutian Islands made a forced landing on the tundra of one of the islands there. The plane had been hit by ground fire and could not return. The pilot made an emergency landing on what he thought was grassy land suitable for safe landing. But he landed instead on a muddy patch of land. On touching the ground the plane flipped over and stayed upside down. The pilot must have been killed on impact. In fact, that Zero which made the emergency landing was the No.2 plane of a fighter air unit from the Ryujo. The No. 1 and No. 3 plane followed No.2 all the way and saw it finally land and flip over. At close distance they kept looking at the plane after it flipped over but did not see the pilot emerge from the plane. The pilot was trapped inside the plane and, at the time, his fate was unknown. The air unit leader and the No. 3 pilot thought that if the plane was left as is, then the plane and codebook could fall into enemy hands. Both men thought of firing at the downed plane and burning it up. They made up their minds to act as devils and destroy their own comrade.
At the end, however, they could not do it. They could not open up their guns to kill one of their own that was trapped inside and could still be alive.  If the two pilots had turned their minds into that of a merciless devil and opened fire on the downed Zero they may have prevented the secret of the Zero from being disclosed. But they just could not do so.

Some weeks later the American forces came and took the Zero away. Not only had the Zero been taken away, it was repaired and flown. The Americans had then secured the performance data of the Zero fighter and were able to figure out tactics to meet the Zero in the air. For the first time, the secret of the Zero fighter had been cracked.****
Simultaneously with the loss of the Zero in the Aleutians, Japan lost four of her aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway. I was then still a flight-crew member on board the Akagi and  I joined in attacking Midway. After completing the first wave attack, we were busy loading land bombs for the second wave attack. Just at that time a report came that an enemy task force was sighted. So a quick change from land bombs to ship bombs had to be made. This took some time. Preparation for take-off was completed and the time came to line up the attack planes on deck so they could take off first. Just at the moment two Zeros took off; the enemy bombs began to fall on our deck. At the time, I was already in my plane ready for take-off and I could see the bombs coming toward me, one by one. The explosions touched off the bombs and machine gun ammunition, which had been loaded onto our planes. Next, the petrol tanks full of fuel began to catch on fire.

The ship was still moving on its power, but burning fiercely. The order to abandon ship was soon announced and we got off the carrier. Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, all met the same fate. The captains of all the carriers went down with their ships except for the Akagi captain, AOKI. That a ship’s captain must go down with his ship was considered an unwritten rule. But, in fact there were no such rules, written or otherwise. Yet, most of the captains, when their ship began to sink, chose to share its fate. AOKI had already tied himself onto the bridge with a rope, determined also to go down with his ship. It is not right for him to do it, we all thought.  Four or five strong sailors, trained in judo, were sent on board to cut the captain loose and they carried him off and away from his sinking ship. Our captain, AOKI, had been taken away from his sinking ship by force, survived, and returned to his homeland. However, AOKI was immediately cast into the reserves.

[Foreword] [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

End of Part 3
*Lt. IIDA Fusata fighter pilot of the carrier Soryu Zero BI-151.

**NISHIKAICHI Shigenori, NAP 1/c, fighter pilot of the carrier Hiryu Zero BII-120 landed on pre-selected Niihau Island.

***According to IIIZUKA, in March 1942, a scout plane south of Christmas Island, near Java, found this “auxiliary ship” when the task force was on its way to attack Columbo. It seemed that this ship was fleeing toward Port Darwin. Two cruisers escorting the carriers were ordered to destroy this ship with guns but failed. So Akagi was called upon to dive bomb this vessel using nine kanbaku. Heavy clouds hampered IIZUKA’s first two attempts. The ship fought back very bravely, going down with all guns ablaze. Later, he learned that the ship was the USS Pecos, an oil tanker.

****The Zero fighter plane, DI-108, crash-landed on pre-selected Akutan Island, in the Aleutian Island chain. It later became famous as the Akutan Zero. The pilot’s name was KOGA Tadayoshi, Flight Petty Officer, fighter-plane crew of the carrier Ryujo.