ERROR OFT REPEATED -- THE ANABUKI HOAX
Foreword: The purpose of this article is to set the record straight not to attack a person, an organization or a nation. Accurately recording the facts is the first step toward understanding the meaning and significance of events. I believe this article convincingly demonstrates the Anabuki story is a hoax. I hope this will encourage further research and be a catalyst for additional discussion on this subject.
One of the most enduring and repeated stories of a Japanese pilot in World War II is the exploit of Sergeant Major Satoru Anabuki shooting down five aircraft including three B-24 heavy bombers in a single action. The story was on the front pages of Japanese newspapers during the war. It was repeated in Anabuki's own book (Soku no Kawa) as well as other works published in Japan. The story appears in recent works published in English (Hata, Izawa & Shores, Japanese Army Air Force Fighter Units and Their Aces, 2002, pp. 54, 189 and Sakaida, Japanese Army Air Force Aces, 1997, p. 34). The story is also available at several places on the Internet including in the research section of the j-aircraft website. Those unfamiliar with the story are commended to the version on j-aircraft or other sites where it appears in some detail.
Students of military history and most casual readers of books on World War II are aware that victory claims in air combats are often exaggerated. This is typically ascribed to the confusion of air combat and various factors impinging upon the accurate recording of battle results. It would probably not surprise many people to discover that Anabuki's claims were less than perfectly accurate. However, this article demonstrates that Anabuki's claims are nothing short of a hoax.
Satoru (familiarly called Satoshi) Anabuki was a product of the Japanese Army Air Force's youth flying training program. He came from a farming family in Kagawa Prefecture and showed his initiative and intelligence by completing Middle School. His preliminary training at Tokyo Army Flying School included academic work as well as an introduction to military and aeronautical subjects. After a lengthy preparatory course he began flying training at Kumagaya and then completed the fighter-training course at Tachiarai. After this three-year program he graduated from the Sixth Youth Class in March 1941 and began operational training. In July 1941 he joined 50th Hiko Sentai (Flying Regiment, FR) as a nineteen year-old novice fighter pilot flying the Type 97 fighter. When the Pacific War began Anabuki was a Corporal serving in the 3rd chutai of 50th FR on Taiwan. He was still with the same unit when he flew the mission that would bring him fame nearly two years later. Anabuki was then relieved from combat. He returned to Japan and a non-combat assignment early in 1944. Later he flew combat in the Philippines and against B-29s over Japan. He survived the war and became an officer in Japan's Self-Defense Force. He earned the respect of those who served with him.
I. THE JAPANESE OFFICIAL VERSION
On January 21, 1944 in Tokyo the Japanese War Ministry announced that the Emperor had been informed of the valorous action of Sergeant Satoru Anabuki in shooting down five enemy planes over Rangoon on October 8, 1943. The text of the official citation presented to Anabuki was quoted:
“Air-Sergeant Satoru Anabuki, upon receipt of information at 1215 o'clock on the afternoon of October 8 last year, that enemy planes had appeared in the skies over Bassien, took off to intercept the enemy raiders as plane No. 4 of the Tomomune Squadron [Lt. Takashi Tomomune, 1st chutai leader] of the Nitta air unit [Maj. Shigetoshi Nitta, CO 50th FR].
“While Air-Sergeant Anabuki was nursing his plane upward in a climb and trailing somewhat behind the main body of his unit due to engine trouble, he sighted the enemy in the direction of Thamaingtaw. It was a formation of 11 B-24s escorted by two P-38s. The Air-Sergeant immediately decided to crush the raiders single handedly.
“He plunged his plane into the enemy formation and surprise-attacked the near most P-38. He knocked it out with one stroke from the upper rear.
“Continuing his attack on the enemy formation with repeated rushes, the Air-Sergeant brought down two B-24s and another P-38.
“Despite a wound received in the palm of his left hand, he continued his lone battle. Upon seeing that his ammunition was exhausted, he deliberately swooped down on one of the B-24s, clipped its tail and sent it hurtling to destruction.
“In the air duels, he single-handedly accounted for a total of three B-24s and two P-38s. His plane was damaged compelling him to make a forced landing, after which, with calmness and composure, he succeeded in returning to his base alive [on October 10th].
“Since the outbreak of the War of Greater East Asia, Air-Sergeant Anabuki participated in various air operations over the Philippines and Burma, rendering distinguished service.
“Up to the present air battle he shot down a total of 30 enemy planes. All these meritorious feats are the fruits of his strong death-defying spirit as well as his superior ability in the art of flying. His services thus far rendered are unparalleled and merit him with distinction as being the paragon of Nippon fighting pilots, for which this citation has been awarded.”
The official version is, of course, not as detailed as some other accounts of the incident. From the very earliest published accounts Anabuki is credited with three B-24s and two P-38s. Interestingly in his post-war version he indicates he was not sure the second P-38 actually went down. More detailed versions also point out the weather was hazy. Furthermore, his victims all fell while withdrawing westward and presumably fell into the sea (“west of Diamond Island”, southwest of Rangoon according to Eiji Suzuki's original story in “Greater Asia”). On October 12th, the day Anabuki's story was first reported in the English language Rangoon newspaper “Greater Asia”, the front page carried a photograph of a B-24 shot down on the night of October 9/10th by Sergeant Major Daisuke Nishizawa of 64th FR.
According to Anabuki's book published years later the first P-38 fell into the Rangoon River and he was over the jungle when his attacks on the B-24s commenced. This seems slightly at variance with Suzuki's original report. In any event, despite the acclaim given the story in October 1943 and again in January 1944 when Anabuki was issued an official citation, no photographs of any of Anabuki's victims were ever published in “Greater Asia.”
The official account is correct in stating that Anabuki flew as a member of Lt. Tomomune's 1st chutai formation. Anabuki was still a member of the 3rd chutai but flew with Tomomune on this occasion. The main body of the 50th FR was in the process of returning to Burma from Malaya after the monsoon season and was transiting through Mingaladon (Rangoon) airfield prior to assembling at its new base at Heho near Loilem where it arrived a few days later.
II. OFFICIAL ALLIED ACCOUNTS
The official U.S. Army Air Force communiqué issued from New Delhi on October 10th stated:
“Aircraft from the Tenth Air Force ranged over several areas in Burma Friday and Saturday… On Friday [October 8th] heavy bombers attacked enemy-occupied barracks at Lashio. Bombs blanketed the area. Eight direct hits were made on the barracks and buildings and two delayed explosions resulted.
“Medium bombers destroyed tracks north of the railway station at Hsipaw. At Maymyo, east of Mandalay several buildings were hit…
“From these operations all our aircraft and crews returned.” [Hsipaw and Maymyo are in north central Burma between Mandalay and Lashio].
From Chungking the U.S. Army Air Force advised:
“Heavy bombers of the United States Fourteenth Air Force, escorted by fighters, on Oct. 8 raided Gia Lam airdrome, important Japanese airbase near Hanoi, Indo-China…all United States planes returned.”
The Royal Air Force communiqué from New Delhi on October 9th announced:
“Last night formations of RAF Wellingtons bombed the railway yards and sidings at Sagaing and objectives at Akyab…[day operations by Vengeances and Beaufighters were also described]. From these operations none of our aircraft is missing.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt's map room briefings advised him of the RAF Liberator raid on Rangoon on October 9th (night of 9/10th) but made no mention of a raid on the 8th.
III. FURTHER INQUIRY
After reviewing the official communiqués issued by the Allies and President Roosevelt's map room files possibilities are limited. At face value the communiqués indicate no Allied raid on Rangoon occurred on October 8, 1943. They might be mistaken but no correction was ever made. If a raid occurred it somehow remained unknown to the authorities that issue communiqués or, if known, reports of the raid were hidden from the public and President Roosevelt. The alternative is that no raid took place and Anabuki's claims are a fraud.
While honest mistakes can be made some “mistakes” are so unlikely as to be recognizable as fraud. In the case of this story the characteristics of Anabuki's victims (P-38s and B-24s) are so distinctive as not to lend themselves easily to mistaken identity. The P-38 with its twin-boom plan form simply cannot be mistaken for any other aircraft. The four engine, twin-tail, slab sided B-24 Liberator likewise is hard to mistake. The twin engine, twin tail B-25 operated in Burma but even that misidentification would be hard to make (B-25s flew no missions to Rangoon during this period). It seems safe to limit our further inquiry to ask what B-24s and P-38s might have attacked Rangoon on October 8th.
There were B-24s and P-38s in China. The 308th Bomb Group had operated B-24s in China since May 1943 and often flew between China and northern Assam in India in the transport role. They could operate from Indian bases against Rangoon if so ordered and did exactly that later in 1943. The Group's mission reports, however, show it was exclusively operating from China at this time. The P-38s of the 449th Fighter Squadron were also occupied with their duties in China.
The RAF had two squadrons of Liberators operational in the theater at this time. No. 160 Squadron was on Ceylon flying sea search and reconnaissance missions across the Bay of Bengal toward Sumatra. It suffered only one loss during October when navy fighters in the Andaman Islands shot down a Liberator on October 26th. No. 159 Squadron flew from India and attacked targets in Burma including Rangoon. It flew only night missions. It sent three Liberators to Rangoon on the night of 9/10th October and lost one of them there (its sole loss in October 1943). It did not fly a mission to Rangoon on the 8th.
By process of elimination we are left with only U.S. Army Air Force B-24s and P-38s operating from India. The B-24s of the 7th Bomb Group often attacked Rangoon and lost aircraft over that target during October.
The first loss that month went down on the 14th. It flew no missions to Rangoon nor suffered any losses there on October 8th. The Group's mission reports indicate it attacked Lashio on the 8th of October exactly as described in the official communiqué. Lashio is hundreds of miles north of Rangoon.
A strange aspect of Anabuki's account is that eleven B-24s were escorted by just two P-38s. U.S. heavy bombers often operated unescorted but when they were escorted they usually had a much stronger escort than just two fighters. Why would just two P-38s be escorting a heavy bomber formation?
Anabuki's story of an escort of just two P-38s would ring true with his colleagues because none of them had ever seen P-38s operating in numbers larger than one or two! The first U.S. P-38 fighter squadron (459th FS) to operate in India was just arriving and would not fly its first combat mission until mid-November 1943. The only “P-38” unit operational with the Tenth Air Force was the 9th Photo Squadron operating F-4 and F-5 unarmed reconnaissance versions of the P-38 fighter.
Japanese fighters were familiar with this aircraft and had shot down a number of them including two during September 1943. The 9th Photo Squadron lost no aircraft on October 8th for the simple reason that they flew no missions on that date.
Despite the abundant evidence cited above that there was no raid on Rangoon on October 8th there is one indication to the contrary. It is contained in a document titled, “Rear Echelon, HQ, U.S. Army Forces, CBI, Weekly Intelligence Summary CBI Theater for period ending 8 Oct. 1943”. Referring to “10/8” that report contains this sentence: “Enemy air executed 3 interceptions against Allied air operations, 2 at Rangoon and 1 at Sagaing resulting in 3 of 13 enemy fighters destroyed with minor damage to our aircraft.” The reference to Sagaing is in fact correct. Six R.A.F. Wellingtons operating at night over Sagaing (near Mandalay) did encounter two night fighters. Regarding the other encounters, the author of the quoted words seems to have mistaken location, date, or both. None of the other Allied intelligence summaries covering the same period mentions a Rangoon raid or interception on the 8th much less two (specifically, the relevant Tenth Air Force intelligence summary mentions only the Sagaing interception). The reference to Rangoon raids in this rear area report is not only at odds with all other Allied sources the author has reviewed but its few specifics lend no support to the events recounted in the Anabuki story. The report merits no credence but is mentioned here in the spirit of full disclosure.
IV. ANABUKI'S RECORD
The name and reputation of Satoru Anabuki are both well known and well respected. An inquiry that suggests such a person engaged in fraud, even a dispassionate historical inquiry, should only be done with extreme caution and circumspection. Is there internal evidence in his story to suggest its falsity? Was this an aberration or part of a pattern?
There are some aspects of the story that, while hardly conclusive, are markers indicating it could be a hoax. First, Anabuki's fighter lagged behind due to engine trouble but he had no hesitation in engaging a formidable enemy force. He was separated from his mates (potential witnesses) and haze made the lack of any ground observation of the combat plausible. His victims all crashed into the water most far from Rangoon where their wreckage would not be found. His own aircraft crashed in a remote location where its condition (battle damage, ammunition expended etc.) could apparently not be examined to determine whether it was consistent with Anabuki's account. The strange escort of two P-38s is at odds with known U.S. operational practice. Finally, while there undoubtedly was an air raid alarm and scramble, there is no other physical or photographic evidence known to the author to support Anabuki's version of what happened after becoming separated from Tomumune's flight.
Having already noted in an opening paragraph that unintentional over claiming is a common feature of World War II air combat, I examined a list of Anabuki's claims (as found on the Internet and partially verified in a number of published sources) to determine their general credibility. I primarily limited myself to instances when he made multiple claims and a few other noteworthy encounters.
My review revealed no instance prior to October 1943 of a totally fictitious claim (i.e. where there was no combat). There were many instances of “typical” type mistakes. Anabuki's first “kill” was claimed on December 22, 1941 while he was covering the Japanese invasion at Lingayen Gulf in the Philippine islands. His claim for a P-40 shot down cannot be verified but quite possibly he put an explosive round in the windshield of 1Lt. Boyd D. “Buzz” Wagner injuring the American ace and knocking him out of the remainder of the Philippine campaign. He claimed two other victories in the Philippines (on February 9th) and should probably be credited with one victory and a damaged. This record is actually quite impressive for a neophyte pilot both in the sense of actual accomplishment and reasonably accurate claims.
After the Philippine campaign Anabuki's detached 3rd chutai returned to Japan to re-equip with the Type 1 fighter (Ki 43-I) and then proceeded to Burma to join the main body of the 50th FR. The monsoon season was then in progress and Anabuki did not return to combat until October 1942. During one week in December he claimed seven victories in just three missions. On the 24th he claimed three Hurricanes and actually destroyed two.
Nothing particularly remarkable is evident in his claims until March 30th. Anabuki claimed two Hurricanes on that date. In total he and his comrades claimed twelve victories. Only one Mohawk was downed and one Hurricane damaged. On the following day Anabuki claimed three Hurricanes and three Hurricanes were lost but his claims were only three of eight Japanese claimed victories.
The 50th and 64th FR, and by inference Anabuki, were often over claiming during this period. Sometimes the exaggeration was modest and at other times it was grossly out of line but there is no basis to suggest fraud was involved. That was to change.
The Japanese 5th Flying Division in Burma usually confined its attacks to Burma and India. On occasion it attacked American bases in western China. May 15th, 1943, was the occasion of a major attack on Kunming. Anabuki claimed four victories. This was his highest single mission claim prior to October 8th. No American aircraft were shot down nor did any suffer significant damage. While not a smoking gun this surely looks suspicious.
A week later Anabuki claimed two Hurricanes. Two Hurricanes were downed and eight damaged but his claims were only two among nineteen Japanese claims. A week after this he claimed a Hurricane and a possible Spitfire. No Spitfires were yet operational in the theater. This was his last combat prior to October 8th.
V. WAS IT REALLY A HOAX?
Anabuki's five-victory day over Rangoon is probably the single best-known incident involving a Japanese Army Air Force pilot in the Pacific War. As noted it has been recounted in English by a number of authors. It is apparently the inspiration for the dust-jacket art on the cover of the definitive Hata, Izawa & Shores book (op. cit.). Could such a well-known story really be a hoax?
Proving a negative (i.e. what Anabuki reported did not happen) is always difficult. It could be argued he might have encountered enemy planes and engaged in combat and honestly mistaken the results. Unless the evidence related in this article is inaccurate or incomplete, there is no basis for believing, based on Allied records, that Anabuki encountered any Allied aircraft on 8 October 1943. If he did not encounter Allied aircraft his story is fiction, a hoax. Given the state of the evidence and absent a conspiracy of silence and falsification of records it seems clear the negative has been proved and the hoax established.
If the story is a hoax, what could possibly have motivated Anabuki to make it up? While delving into anyone's motive is difficult there are some interesting hints that suggest possible answers.
If his mission did not go as reported upon his return, it is still evident that something traumatic occurred. Anabuki had encountered engine trouble at the beginning of the mission. His fighter crashed for some reason, possibly engine failure. Anabuki returned with an injured palm after walking through wild jungle terrain for days. Perhaps his experience shook his judgment and caused him to fabricate in order to justify his actions. Alternatively perhaps a harrowing brush with death followed by isolation in the jungle made him miss his family (including his bride) and homeland. The effect, and possibly the intent, of Anabuki's story was his early repatriation to Japan.
Anabuki's claims from October 1942 to early May 1943 may be somewhat exaggerated but certainly fail to support a finding of fraud. The mission to Kunming with its unfounded claims for four fighters destroyed hints at something more sinister. Was Anabuki disgruntled that not all his claims were officially recognized? Hata, Izawa & Shores as well as Sakaida (op. cit.) note that Anabuki credited himself with considerably more victories than were officially recognized (apparently well over 40 by his calculation versus 25 by official count). His five “victories” on October 8th brought his official count to thirty. Were his claims over Kunming in May a preview of his actions over Rangoon in October?
Did Anabuki believe his report of shooting down three B-24s as well as P-38s would be accepted absent any independent verification? The answer to this question is provided in the interrogation of 1Lt. Noriyuke Saito of 50th FR who became a prisoner of war after being shot down in northern Burma in late October 1943. Saito related Anabuki's victory tally (“over 30…definitely destroyed”) and the Rangoon story with considerable accuracy. Saito was asked, in the context of Anabuki's claims, what sort of check is made on pilot's statements? “P.W. intimated that these were always accepted without question, it being beneath the dignity of a Japanese Air Warrior to make false claims.”
Anabuki's personal victory list differed from the official tally. This combined with Saito's testimony suggests some interesting possibilities. Anabuki may well have believed that he could “get away with” making up a story out of whole cloth. If he was going to fabricate why not do it on a large scale! Likewise, if some of Anabuki's previous claims had been officially disallowed might not his dignity have been insulted? Perhaps he considered receiving credit for fictitious claims compensation for being denied credit for claims he considered valid.
A story that is widely circulated and officially sanctioned gains credibility with repetition and the passage of time. The Anabuki story stood up to casual scrutiny for an extended period thanks to just such circumstances. Absent the difficult detective work to run the real facts to ground, the story is repeated and each retelling serves to enhance its credibility. It is an unfortunate fact that too many writers are prepared to repeat a story like Anabuki's without engaging in the effort necessary to substantiate it.
The Anabuki story contains factual assertions that can be tested against Allied records, namely whether B-24s and P-38s flew to Rangoon on October 8th and engaged in combat. A review of official communiqués, high-level intelligence briefings and the pertinent Allied unit records shows this did not happen. Furthermore, Anabuki had the opportunity to fabricate. He flew alone and had no flight companions as witnesses. Climatic conditions (haze) made it plausible that his “combat” could go unnoticed by potential witnesses from the ground. Finally, we have suggested possible motives for a fabrication of the incident.
Author's Note: This article (may also serve as) a cautionary tale. Many people think all is known about World War II and it merely remains for stories to be better illustrated and told more succinctly. This article may cause some to re-think that view. The fact that a story is officially accepted and often repeated does not make it fact. Go to the source materials! The serious student of history must necessarily be skeptical. Surely doing real research is more satisfying than just mimicking the narratives of others.
Richard L. Dunn (originally posted by JFL)
Below: CBI area of operations, 8th October 1943