Master Sergeant Hayashi -light bomber pilot PART II

Both Japanese Army and Navy failed to train sufficient number of qualified commanding officers for their air forces. As the battlefield expanded and casualties mounted, they were faced with an acute shortage of commanding officers. Unfortunately, promotions of seasoned air crew from soldier ranks did not occur very often as whether or not the candidate graduated the academy was viewed with an unfair importance. In the case of the IJAAF, many infantry officers were transferred to the air force after a six month training period. These infantry officers were naturally unpopular with pilots and were often derided as "75cm", 75 centimeter being the specified distance between footsteps in marching drills. In some cases, these officers lacked understanding on aviation, and were responsible for some serious operational errors. An order from one such "Lt. Col. 75cm" sent M.Sgt. Hayashi onto a mission he never returned from.

When the rainy season of 1943 ended, the Japanese forces in Burma had the 8th and the 34th Sentais to carry out attacks on enemy air bases. The vulnerable heavy bomber units were more or less reserved for overwater operations, so the short-ranged and lightly armed Ki48s originally intended for ground cooperation bore the burden of a full-scaled war against enemy air forces. By this time, the Ki48s were forced to operate during night (photographs indicate dark color paint on the undersides as well) to evade interception. Night time operations were initially carried out on moonlit nights, but enemy night fighter action soon forced raids to be carried out at new moon under total darkness. This was a very difficult task for the Ki48s whose instrumentation was barely sufficient for daytime operations. However, an extremely dangerous, even reckless, plan was planned a "Lt. Col. 75cm" whose name is not identified by war journalist Eiji Suzuki.

Suzuki walked into the 4th Hikodan command post one day and saw a document titled "Plan for flight training on dark stormy nights" on "Lt. Col. 75cm's" desk. A few weeks later, when Suzuki visited the crew station of the 8th Sentai in Sungei Patani air base, he did not find the usual carefree bunch.

"What happened? Anything wrong?" asked Suzuki.

"Is anything wrong? Haven't you heard about that crazy "training" that went on a couple of days ago?" the crewmen all huddled around Suzuki.

"Go ahead and tell him everything!" yelled the veteran M. Sgt. Oogusa.

The story Suzuki heard was this;

A few days ago the "training" flight was put into practice. It was a pitch dark night with wind and rain so hard that the ground crew had a problem keeping parked aircraft from moving. The field commander for the night was the 1st Chutai leader Capt. Kawashima, and a select crew of 16 on four planes were getting ready for the flight in the tent that served as the command post. However, when the gusts blew the tent away, the Captain decided it was impossible to fly that night.

The decision to cancel the night's training mission made sense to everyone but the "Lt. Col. 75cm" who had just arrived on the scene.

"Cancel the mission? No! The training must be carried out!" cried the lieutenant colonel. Capt. Kawashima and Capt. Katayama tried to convince him that it was suicidal to attempt to fly in this weather on the light and ill-equipped Type 99 Light Bomber. However, the lieutenant colonel stopped them and said

"You all are wrong. If you tackle the challenge with determination, even the devil will back away. Remember this is for your own safety. In the air raids we carry out after this rainy season, you will be encountering much enemy action even on night bombing missions. Attacking on stormy nights is the only way left. If you don't take this opportunity to train yourselves, you will regret it later."

Kawashima tried to talk some sense into the lieutenant colonel, but to no avail. The order was given and it was final.

It took an hour and half just to take the four planes to the end of the runway, and one by one, the bombers took off. The four bombers led by Capt. Kawashima were all flown by seasoned pilots, all with over 3000 hours flight time, but ground radio lost contact with them immediately after takeoff, and they were never heard from again. Kawashima's and Katayama's planes were soon found in pieces in the mountains near Sungei Patani, but the other two were never found.

It was not long after this incident that Hayashi was ordered to report to Lt. Col. 75cm to receive some documents that needed to be flown over to Rangoon. As the lieutenant colonel handed Hayashi a bundle of documents and ordered him to take a passenger (a doctor) on board, Hayashi stood there, glaring at him, thinking "this man killed M. Sgt. Sato" (Sato was one of the pilots killed in the accident and a personal friend of Hayashi).

Unwary of Hayashi's feelings, after all the orders were given, the lieutenant colonel said

"I'd like to make one point clear to you. Flights to Rangoon are always late. You pilots tend to forget flying, chasing after those Thai women in Bangkok. Don't be afraid of the weather. I will not stand a delay of more than three days on this flight. Don't forget that the documents you are carrying are urgently needed in Rangoon!"

Hayashi could stand it no longer. He looked the lieutenant colonel in the eye and said " If the weather is good I will surely fly out of Don Muang within three days, sir. But I will not fly in dangerous weather sir. " He would have wanted to add "Ignorant infantry man! If you don't know how dangerous the flight over Shan mountains in bad weather can be, you should ride along too. If killing sixteen people is not enough for you, go and get killed yourself!", but what can a master sergeant say to a lieutenant colonel. Besides, Hayashi wanted to stay a decent soldier himself. So he just said "However, if you permit me to cause an accident, I will fly any time sir. I will leave at 1300 today!"

The flight engineer who was at the scene asked Hayashi

"Was that okay Sergeant? You can get in big trouble just saying those things, you know", to which Hayashi replied

"Don't worry dummy. If he wants me to die, I'll die any time. That'll make him happy. I'll just die."

We can no longer tell what Hayashi's feelings were then, but Eiji Suzuki had a long conversation with Hayashi before the rainy season began. That's when Hayashi told Suzuki his life story, about the pharmacy and all, but Suzuki recalls Hayashi started the conversation by saying "I don't think I'll stay alive for much longer. When the rainy season ends, it's my turn to die."

Hayashi flew that day to Don Muang airfield in Bangkok, but for the next five days, the weather charts indicated bad weather over the Shan mountains, so Hayashi waited for the weather to clear in Don Muang. On the sixth day, while Hayashi was waiting at the airfield for the weather chart to be posted, he saw a light bomber approaching the field. Tail markings showed it was Sgt. Fujii's plane, plane #2 in his formation. Hayashi thought of going out to Bangkok for the night with Fujii, but his anticipation of a fun night lasted only as long as it took Lt. Col. 75cm to step out of the plane. The lieutenant colonel walked straight into the command post and yelled "Where is Hayashi of the 8th sentai!"

Hayashi grinned and said to his flight engineer "Here he comes! Lt. Col. Infantry!". Hayashi stood up, walked over, did a proper salute and said "Hayashi here sir!".

"Master Sergeant Hayashi! Just what are you doing in Don Muang? You and your excuses! Bad weather! Very funny! You think the Hikodan commanders wouldn't know, huh? Well, I'm sorry, but you are flying today, NOW!" said the lieutenant colonel

"I can't fly today sir. the weather over the Shan mountains is very bad" Hayashi replied.

"How do you know?", asked the lieutenant colonel

"The weather chart, sir"

"Well the weather chart wasn't drawn by God. It may be wrong. The documents are needed in Rangoon. You are flying immediately"

Hayashi almost began to lecture the lieutenant colonel that the Shan mountains was friendly territory and it was possible to make very accurate weather charts, but stopped, thinking it would be in vain. It was obvious that the lieutenant colonel wouldn't understand. In fact, the lieutenant colonel would think that Hayashi would not fly because he was a coward. Hayashi may wanted to prove that it was impossible to fly over Shan in this weather, coward or not.

Hayashi turned to his crew and said "You guys stay here. I will go alone. Oh bring the doc here. I've orders to take him to Rangoon. I feel sorry for the guy, but he's going to have to die with me." Hayashi said all this aloud, all in front of the lieutenant colonel, and this was perhaps the only protest he could make.

When Hayashi got to his plane, he found the flight engineer in his usual position.

"I told you I'm going alone. Get off." said Hayashi.

"No Master Sergeant."

"Off! I know we are going crash into the mountains if we fly in this weather. Get off!"

"We were always together sir. I can't get off just because it is dangerous."

Hayashi finally gave up and decided to take the flight engineer along. Before take off, he walked over to Sgt. Fujii and asked him to report the whole story to the Chutai commander, and said he will do his best to get to Rangoon, though he thought the flight was 90% doomed.

Thus M. Sgt. Hayashi took off that day, doing his acrobatic steep take off climb and circling the airfield once at low altitude, waving the wings at Sgt. Fujii. Then Hayashi was gone, heading towards a mountain range 10,000 feet high with gigantic cumulonimbus clouds up to 30,000 feet high on his low altitude bomber plane.

Radio contact was lost in an hour, and his plane was never found again.

Story reorganized and translated from "Samurai-no-Tsubasa", Eiji Suzuki, ISBN4-7698-2162-X C0195

(c)1998 Hiroyuki Takeuchi