Kanbaku War Notes
A Narrative by IIZUKA, Tokuji
Part III
In June of 1942, after returning from Midway, I was assigned to the Usa Air Squadron and I was engaged in carrying out my duties as a flight instructor. By 1943 the tides of war had turned against Japan. Fuel supplies became very scarce and it was difficult to carry out normal flight training. In October, I took my reserve student pilots to a base in Kainan-toh (Hainan), an island in the South China Seas more than a thousand kilometers from Taiwan, to resume flight training. When we arrived at Kainan-toh, we found Captain AOKI, the former skipper of the carrier Akagi. He had been sent all the way here and he felt isolated and abandoned.*  AOKI must have been considered a very capable man at one time to have been assigned as the captain of such a reputable aircraft carrier as the Akagi. He could have gone on to a higher rank and position in the Navy if it were not for the Midway debacle. His ship had been sunk along with the three other carriers whose captains had, unlike him, gone down with their ships.

This same man now served as a mere commander of the Kainan-toh Air Detachment. The Kainan-toh base had a signboard up, but not a single airplane was in view. I told Captain AOKI that I had brought with me some reserve student pilots to train and asked, “Where are the airplanes?” “There aren’t any,” he told me. After conferring with him, Captain AOKI told me he would get in touch with Kure base right away and that I should go there to get the airplanes.  I took a transport aircraft and to Kure base, but hey had no carrier dive-bombers either. “We have some Type 97 carrier attack planes. Why not take those?” they asked. Being a carrier dive-bomber specialist, I had not once flown a Type 97 attack plane. Type 99 carrier bomber planes had fixed landing gears while the Type 97 carrier attack aircraft had retracting gear with which I had no experience.

I had a lot of thinking to do. Kure airbase had a runway only about seven hundred meters long, yet, in spite of my experience, I had never flown an airplane with retracting wheels. I asked a mechanic how the retracting gear worked. He told me to do “this” and the wheels would retract; and do “that” and the landing gear would come down; and, “when the red light changes to green, you are cleared for landing!”  It seemed simple, yet I was not at all confident and I would not be confident until after I had made a trial landing at Kure. However, after listening to the mechanic’s simple explanation, I decided to accept these planes and ferry them back to Kainan-toh.

I flew out of Kure airbase and from there I proceeded to nearby Usa air base.  At Usa I practiced take off and landings until I was ready to return to Kainan-toh.  I had brought with me the deputy chief of Kainan-toh airbase, a warrant officer who was not flight rated, and three others. I told the deputy chief that I was ready to return to Kainan-toh anytime. He said it was not necessary to return in such a hurry.  Apparently, he wanted to stay in the homeland a little longer. We spent two more nights at Usa airbase while the deputy chief went off to Beppu, saying he would be back in a jiffy or something of that sort.

We went back and forth many times to ferry these planes to Kainan-toh. They were all Type 97 carrier attack planes. This meant, that at Kainan-toh airbase, the reserve student pilots had to be trained in carrier attack planes to become dive-bomber pilots! Enemy planes from southern China had begun to frequently fly over Hainan Island and many of our planes were shot down during our training flights. Only reserve student pilots manned our airplanes and the outdated Type 97 carrier attack planes had no fixed machine guns and only one 7.7 mm caliber flexible machine guns in the rear. In an air engagement with the enemy there was no chance of their survival. Such being the situation, sufficient training could not be undertaken even at Kainan-toh. We had to pull back temporarily to Tainan Airbase in Taiwan.

In May 1944, I was reassigned to the 3rd Attack Air Force made up of Suisei (“Comet”) carrier dive-bombers, which were a relatively new type of airplane. At the time of Midway we had taken two experimental models along and used them for reconnaissance purposes.**

The Suisei attack force was trained at Matsuyama. On 12 October, the so-called Taiwan Air Battle had begun and, on the 13th, we moved to Kokubu to prepare for the attack. The next day we got word that the enemy forces had pushed into offshore Taiwan and our leader, IKEUCHI-San, told us to get ready. How many pilots were there in our squadron who could pilot a Suisei bomber carrying a 500-kilogram bomb at night? It turned out there were only three; they were KAWABATA, YAMAKAWA, and myself. All three of us had been flying since the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. That night, the orders came for us to launch a night attack.  We loaded the bombs and prepared to take off.  However, it so happened, that GENDA Minoru had formed a special joint Army-Navy squadron called the “T Force” (T for “Typhoon”) using army bombers flown by army pilots, but with a navy crews acting as observers, navigators, and bombardiers. The “T Force” was to take the night attack, so our mission was called off.

Later on, the 3rd Attack Air Force, comprised of Suisei bombers, launched their 1st and 2nd attacks. On October 16th, the first wave, comprised of eighteen planes under Lt. Commander IKEUCHI, took off, but we did not hear from them. Later, we learned they had departed Kokubu and had flown close to Okinawa, where enemy task force aircraft had intercepted them. It ended with not a single airplane of ours surviving. Lt. OGAWA led the next attack on the 17th. The same number of Suisei as had been in the first wave, also departed. It was a night attack, but they failed to find the enemy, so they landed at Davao in the Philippines. From there, they launched an attack on enemy shipping in Leyte Bay and, again, not a single plane made it back.

The next day a third attack wave was formed using all flyable planes. Our twenty-seven Suisei got as far as the Philippines and comprised the last of any unified group of carrier dive-bombers. The leader was Junior Lt. 2nd Class, MOMOSE and I flew the No.1 plane. We left Kokubu for Taiwan and from there to Mabalacat located just north of Clark airfield in the Philippines.  At that time, the general situation had gotten so confused that, although we knew that a certain air unit existed, it was difficult for us to find out who the commander or squadron leader was. Wherever we were sent, the local base commander there would declare that our unit, from that moment, would come under his command and we would be absorbed into his unit. After all, it was natural for such air units to desire an increase in their fighting power, no matter how small. From then on it became impossible to launch any organized large-scale air attack.

Those who came with us then did not have sufficient flying skill. There was no gasoline and few planes to fly, so flying time was low. All they could do was take off and fly level. Some could not hit their targets in bombing runs and others could not fight in the air. For example, at the time of Pearl Harbor, it took us less than ten minutes to assemble our formations in the air, but, now, these pilots could not assemble in twenty, or even thirty minutes. So we took these airmen to places like Aparri and Tuguegaro in the northern Philippines for retraining.

After coming to the Philippines, veteran flyers like myself were not included in the special attack (kamikaze) operations, which had already begun. Instead, veteran pilots like us were used to lead the Zeros and Suisei to their targets and to confirm the results. Although our ranks were thin, our flight experience was great. So it seemed that our superiors wanted to retain the experienced pilots like ourselves intact. Before takeoff, those going on such missions would be in the officer’s bunker at Mabalacat Base. They would be writing their last will and testament under dim palm oil flames because there was no electricity. When I saw this scene, there were no words to describe my feelings inside. These suicide attacks were being aimed at enemy ships in Leyte Bay.

I went on missions to guide these men to their targets and confirm their results, but only for a few times. On these missions, after passing Legaspi at an altitude of 6000 meters, Leyte Bay would come into view on the right. When the pilots confirmed their targets they would bank their planes to signal goodbye and then they took their last plunge.  These special attacks were carried out not only by Zero fighter planes, but also by Suisei dive-bombers. In the early stages of the war, all dive-bombers carried observers and both pilot and observer worked as a pair. Separating the two was unthinkable. However, in 1945, these dive-bombers carried no observers, only the pilot. In such cases only the flight-leader’s airplane carried an observer just in case the lead airplane got shot down and they had to assume the guiding.

In those days, whenever Japanese airplanes took off never did they all return. The enemy was much stronger and they had great strength in reserve. On my third mission from Mabalacat airfield guiding the special attack planes to their targets, my mind was so concentrated on confirming the results of the battle going on below, that I failed to notice a P-38 coming up after me and I was attacked. My mind was on the action going on below because I wanted to see with my own eyes the outcome of their attacks by counting the hits and so on. This was something I could confirm and report on behalf of these brave men flying the suicide missions. Normally, in the Suisei, if I were chased by a P-38 I would not nose dive to escape, but I would do the opposite. If I could keep climbing I could out-distance myself from a P-38. But, this time it was too late!

My plane was hit and burst into flames over Leyte Island. The battlefield situation at Leyte Island was such that the American forces had landed on the eastern portion while the western part was still in the hands of the Japanese troops. Knowing this, I descended toward the western part of the island after my airplane had caught fire. I do not exactly remember, but I must have gotten down to about 2,000 meters, when I jumped from the airplane. It had become impossible to fly my Suisei any longer due to the flames.  As I said earlier, we usually did not strap our parachutes on ourselves, but had them in our airplanes and used them as seat cushions. By 1944, some crewmembers would be seen flying with parachutes strapped to their bodies. Some parachutes had belts that could also be tied to the plane so that when the pilot made his escape his parachute would open automatically. My parachute opened either automatically or I had unconsciously pulled the cord to the parachute. I do not know for certain, but my parachute opened up fully.

The shock brought me to. Then I saw about three enemy planes circling around my parachute and I saw them coming at me, shooting. The bullets did not hit me, but they hit my parachute. Although I could not tell for sure, I seemed to be at around two to three hundred meters. At that point, my parachute detached from my body and I felt myself dropping into the ocean below and I felt a strong shock. My body sank into the ocean to some depth, but I was able to automatically float upwards, thanks to my life jacket.  Coming up to the surface, I took a look and I could see the enemy still flying around above me.

Several P-38s were circling and, when they saw me surface, they began to fire at me again, but ineffectively, I thought. They seemed not be shooting to kill, but, perhaps, only half seriously and shooting only in fun. No matter how much experience one had, or how much knowledge one had about airplanes, if you were shot at, your instinct is to dive under the surface and try to escape. I thought I had submersed and that I had stayed put for some time. I soon realized that I had my life jacket on and my back was actually floating above the water and only my face was under the surface! Becoming aware of this, I also realized, I could not keep this up. They were still flying above me. Then I pretended to be dead, floating, but not moving at all. The planes seemed to have circled above me two or three times and flew away.

Since the place was near the shore of Leyte Island, our Army sent a small ship, called a “daihatsu” I think, to pick me up and I was rescued. I told the commanding officer of the army unit why I was there. The commandant then told me that they had a ship going to Legaspi and I would be welcome to come along in it and, thus, I was able to make it back to my base. This was the only time I had ever made a parachute jump.

At Mabalacat there was not a single flyable plane remaining.  The Americans had gradually made advances and almost every day there were air raids. With no planes left, even the Navy took to the hills to fight as naval land troops. It came to pass that only the aircrew were to be spared and somehow they were to be returned to Japan. Our group, consisting of five warrant officers and myself, was to follow a road called the Manila Highway. The Manila Highway started at Manila, past Clark Airfield and Mabalacat, to Echague, Tuguegarao, and Aparri in the north. We started on foot, sometimes catching a ride on an army truck. Finally we arrived at Tuguegarao, half way between Manila and Aparri, where an airplane was scheduled to pick us up.

Our first night there, at around 1 or 2 a.m., two Type 1 flying boats flew in from Taiwan and landed on a river. They offloaded some goods and took on as many men as possible to return to Taiwan. Only fifteen or sixteen men could be taken aboard. They had no seats, so everyone had to hang on to something in the plane. Every night we would go to anywhere the airplanes would land and wait for our turn to get on. Our turn, however, never came around. Naturally, many brass hats would be there, all wanting to return to Japan. This meant that the high-ranking officers had priority over lowly ranked warrant officers like us and our turn would never be called!

After several days of waiting, I ran into the commanding pilot of a medium-size attack plane that had just flown in. It so happened that he was an officer I had once trained with at Matsuyama. I told him why we were there waiting and asked him to do something to help us. He said “Understood. My plane will take off shortly, in about an hour, so IIZUKA-san, and all of you, be here a little earlier.”  The relief flights, after all, were not fully manned and the crew consisted of only one pilot, an observer, a radio operator, and a flight engineer. Usually, the fixed number of men would be about eight or nine. So, before the other passengers got on, we jumped in. I sat in the pilot’s seat, the one for the chief pilot, as there were two pilot seats. I had the other warrant officers take up seats in the machine gun quarters. Then, the other passengers came on board.
This operation really went smoothly.  If we had waited for our turn we would have never gotten on.

We flew to Taiwan and from there caught a plane headed for Oita, finally making it back to our homeland. When we had gone to the Philippines in our Suisei we had been absorbed into any squadron or base where we happened to be until we finally ran out of airplanes.  Well, we got off at Oita all right, but now we had no idea which squadron we were supposed to go for our next assignment. So we decided to go to the Navy Headquarters in Tokyo to have them decide on our new assignment. We hitched a plane ride to Atsugi Air Base and from there took a train to Tokyo. When we got off at Tokyo Station, I happened to bump into a man named OKUMIYA Masatake. He was also a dive-bomber pilot and my division officer when I had been stationed at Yokosuka. At that time, OKUMIYA was testing a Type 96 dive-bomber when it caught on fire in the air. Since there was a mechanic on board, OKUMIYA had him jump out with a parachute on. Then OKUMIYA tried to make an emergency landing where there were no homes. His plane, however, hit a tree and he was severely injured. This man had now become a commander and a staff officer and, as it so happened, we had coincidently met each other at Tokyo Station.

“How are you doing?” he asked. “Well, I just got back from the Philippines,” I replied. I explained to him my predicament, requesting his help in finding me a new assignment. “Understood. You must have gone through lots of hardships at the front. Return to your home” he said. “In the meantime, I will find you a new assignment.”  So I went home to see my family. I told the other warrant officers to go home also and wait there until I got in touch with them.

At home I waited, one week, then ten days, and yet no word arrived. I then went to Hiyoshi, where Keio University is located and to where the Navy Ministry had been relocated. I went there several times to request my new assignment as soon as possible. Finally, I was told to go to Nagoya as Superintendent of the Aichi Aircraft Company. I was to test-fly the newly completed Suisei and Ryusei (“Shooting Star”) at the Aichi factory before they were delivered to the Navy units. If I had not bumped into Commander OKUMIYA by coincidence, I might have been assigned to a first line squadron. If such had been the case, I would have most likely have been included in the special suicide attack units made up of carrier dive bombers for the attacks on Iwo Jima that took place at that time.

My very last flights, piloting an airplane, were made on August 14 and 15, 1945. On the 14th, it must have somehow been known that Japan was going to surrender the next day because I was asked by the Aichi Aircraft Company to ferry three Ryusei carrier bombers, a new type plane with wings in the shape of a sea gull’s, to Chitose base in Hokkaido. That was the “only day” to fly, they added, as if they knew of the coming surrender. “Understood,” I replied. We flew out at three that afternoon. I knew that if we left at 3 pm, we would not be able to arrive during daylight in Hokkaido. Since I had an observer on board I could somehow manage to complete the flight, but for the other two planes, it would have been difficult.

We flew over Shizuoka, over Mt. Amagi, and crossed Tokyo, which was already reduced to ashes. We arrived over Utsunomiya, which was half-burned to the ground. By that time, it was close to sunset so I made the decision to land at a small air school attached to the Army near Otagahara. Before landing, however, I flew over my elementary school and my home. Of course, the people on the ground did not know who we were, except that they were looking up at strange airplanes. Having brought no gifts with me, I wrote a short message on a piece of paper, stuck it into my flight glove and dropped it out of the plane. A policeman came running out of the police box and picked the glove up.  I heard later, that the policeman had read my note and shouted out, “The son of IIZUKA-San has come home!”

We landed at the detached flight school and explained our situation to the officer in charge and had him hide our planes in the nearby hills so as not to be spotted by enemy planes. I sent the warrant officers to a local inn and I returned to my home. The next day, the 15th, there was an air raid warning. Being afraid of having the planes burned up here and causing embarrassment to all, we hastily flew out and landed at Misawa base in Aomori before noon. At the base, preparation was underway for suicide attack planes to fly out, however, at noon, the Emperor’s radio announcement was made with his proclamation announcing the end of the war.

For seven or eight years I had continued to fly warplanes. Starting with my early training, some missions over China, the attack on Hawaii in December 1941, and following-up with participation in numerous other operations, I had logged a total flight time of 3,550 hours. And, in the end, I received nothing whatsoever from the State for my efforts, not even a medal of any kind. On the contrary, after the war, they even had me restricted from holding public office. I had received no favors, benefits or blessings from my country.

However, on that one day, prior to the final day of the War, I was able to make a homecoming flight over my school and my home, which I will remember for the rest of my life. For this, I am deeply grateful!

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

The End

* Captain AOKI Taijiro, toward the end of 1944, became Commandant of the Genzan Air Squadron located in Genzan, Korea, a full fledged Zero fighter plane base. Here, unlike at Kainan-toh, he was not lonely but kept preoccupied training pilots and sending them out on Kamikaze missions.

**In the spring of 1942, two Suisei kanbaku, out of the first 5 completed as “13 Shi” experimental planes, were re-equipped for reconnaissance purpose and allotted to the carrier Soryu to be tested under actual combat condition. At Midway, one flew reconnaissance; out-pacing U.S. fighter planes, but had to discontinue its mission due to radio malfunction. When it returned, Soryu had already sunk so it landed on the Hiryu only to go down shortly with the carrier. Its marking was BI-201.

Credits & Acknowledgement:

Art: Don Marsh/Don Marsh Studio and Roy Grinnell via LRA

Bikers Magazine Magazine, Publisher & Editor: Mr. SATO Yasuo, Yufusha Ltd., Koyama 5-6-9, Shinagawa-ku ,Tokyo 142-0062.

Footnotes: By Dr. Minoru Kawamoto

Manuscript Translator/Editor: Dr. Minoru Kawamoto

Photographs: IIZUKA Family Collection, NARA, and LRA

Proofing: Osamu Tagaya and Michael Wenger

Web Editor: James F. Lansdale