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The Tenth Man

by George Underwood

Tora! Tora! Tora! (Our surprise attack has been successful). The exultant signal sent by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida to Admiral Chuichi Nagumo told a surprised world that Japan had carried out a devastating attack on Pearl Harbour bringing America into the war, an act which finally sealed the fate of the Axis powers.

But was it so unexpected? Japanese history shows they set much store by these tactics. In 1904 they destroyed the Russian Navy in a similar manner which then placed them in an unbeatable position.

Perhaps the most surprising thing of all, was their use of midget submarines. Not only were they expected to play a major part in the drama but, it was claimed, they had.

The trend, following WWI was to build larger and more powerful submarines. Small boats such as the one-man boat invented by Lieutenant Godfrey Herbert, played no part in submarine development although many men had suggested the use of such craft in the Royal Navy.

The Japanese on the other hand continued to experiment with midgets. As early as 1932 Captain Hiroyasu Fushimi, Chief of Naval General Staff, ordered the construction of a prototype midget, but insisted they should not be suicide boats. "You are sure the crew will be able to return alive?" he asked. 'They are not going to hit the enemy ships with their bodies?"

By December 1941 a flotilla of five 'Special Service' boats were ready for use in the planned attack on Pearl Harbour. They were not designed as suicide boats, but their construction and short range made it impossible for crews to escape. The term to describe them 'tokko' was used long before the word 'kamikaze'. They were the Coffin Boats.

The seaplane tender Chiyido had been undergoing extensive modifications and could carry twelve midgets. These small boats were seventy-eight feet long with a beam of six feet. The thin skin boats carried two seventeen foot torpedoes and could run for fifty minutes at a speed of 21.5 knots. At first some doubts were expressed concerning their use in the forthcoming action, but a successful deployment at a similar venue decided the issue.

Much thought and planning went into designing this boat. But what of the crews? Special boats need special men. The skippers, all graduates of the Naval Academy, were hand picked. Apart from tactical matters, the cadets took part in all kinds of fitness and endurance exercises; swimming, judo, sumo wrestling and kendo (an old samurai art of swordplay). They had to row heavy wooden cutters over a gruelling eight mile course. Mountain climbing included running up the final 2000 steps to the summit.

Each evening, before the end of study, cadets would have to meditate on the 'Five Reflections:'

Have I been sincere?
Have I been fair in word and deed?
Have I been enthusiastic?
Have I been energetic?
Have I been industrious?

After three or four years the cadets were ready to give their lives, following the Bushido creed:

'To rush into the thick of battle and be killed in it is easy enough. It is true courage to live when it is right to live and to die when it is right to die.' Apart from the strenuous training two of the cadets, Matsuo and Kanda, were sent to Honolulu to gather all relevant information they felt would assist the midgets when entering the Harbour.

Plans to use Chiyido as transport were dropped. Five parent submarines of the Special Attack Corps set out on November 28th. 1941 on direct course across the Pacific to Hawaii, twenty miles between them, each having a type 'A' Midget submarine secured aft of the conning tower with huge clamps. It was a difficult passage. For the parent submarines, their cargo was no midget. Weighing forty-six tons, with two torpedoes at 300 kilograms each plus crew, this was no picnic. It was no picnic for the Midget's crew either. Even on the surface, both boats were awash. The only way the men could reach their boat was by clambering across, using ropes, or swimming.

They suffered one mishap on the way. The Midget on 1-22, commanded by Sakamaki, had been damaged while the parent boat had submerged and it became necessary to change a torpedo, not an easy task in heavy seas. When they eventually reached Honolulu the boat was still experiencing problems with the gyrocompass. However they decided to press on and do the best they could, almost certainly committing themselves to die.

Soon after midnight on December 6th., 1941 1-22 launched the first of the midgets eight miles from the Harbour. An hour later 1-18 sent her boat away and 1-20 followed. The submarines fanned out over a seven-mile spread to await their return. Sakamaki still struggling with its giro, set off, the boar listing badly.

"If the war had started I would be wise to give up, but as it has not, I will carry on with my periscope raised.", Sakamaki told the gunnery officer.

Shortly after six in the morning, one of the boats saw Antares (rowing a barge) entering the harbour. Sub - Lieutenant Yokoyama attempted to take advantage by getting himself between the ship and the barge. Nearby, Ward a very old US destroyer, recently brought back into service and commanded by Lieutenant Outerbridge, spotted a strange object bobbing in the water. At first it was taken to be a buoy, but it was still there half-an-hour later. For a while there was some confusion in Ward. By now the object, which seemed to resemble a submarine conning tower, was moving at a leisurely pace over the sea.

"What will you do now?" Lieutenant Doughty, the gunnery officer, asked his Captain. Outerbridge was caught in two minds. If the strange object turned our to belong to the USA and he took action, his first command could be his last. However the strange object was in prohibited waters.

"I'm going to shoot it," he replied. The first shot missed. By now it could be seen the object was a submarine. The second shot appeared to strike the midget fair and square below the conning tower. Next Ward discharged four depth charges, the small craft ran straight into the barrage and Japan suffered the first casualty before the war had really started.

Of the others, it is not entirely clear what happened. The air attack had started and there was much confusion. U.S. Chew claimed to have attacked one and is accredited with sinking it. A Navy plane reported sinking one just off the entrance to the Harbour. But one of the midgets did manage to get through. This was seen by U.S. Monaghan. At 8.40 the submarine surfaced and fired a torpedo, which missed the target and exploded on the shoreline. The destroyer fired a shot too high, which hit a crane on a derrick barge moored at Beaconing Point, starring a fire. The midget fired its second torpedo, which once again missed, hitting the shore at Ford Island. The destroyer then rammed the submarine striking it with a glancing blow. The depth charges that followed appeared to have finished the action.

The ill-fated boat from 1-24, now battered and out of control, frill of smoke, approached the entrance during the air bombardment. Without their compass they were unable to dive, but when Sakamaki viewed the scene through the periscope all he could see was clouds of billowing smoke.

"We've done it"" he said to his navigator. "This rime we will nor try to evade the depth charges, we'll take our chances." He continued the mad dash towards the Harbour entrance, but only succeeded in running aground on a coral reef where they were spotted by U.S. Helm. The destroyer fired several shots at the small boat, all missing their target. Torn by the reef, the midget slid off and submerged, then attempted once again to enter the battle zone.

"Watch me die," Sakamaki shouted defiantly at the ships as he tried to get the boat forward, but they struck another reef, damaging the craft and rendering them unconscious. When Sakamaki came to his senses, the midget was drifting along at will eastwards. He knew their mission had failed. After drifting all night, the boat became fast on a reef once again.

Setting a scuttling fuse, they both dropped into the rough sea. The two tried to stay in touch, but the navigator sank beneath the waves and was never seen again. Sakamaki battled on through the water until he was washed tip on the shore at Bellow Fields, where he lay battered and exhausted until he was discovered by some American soldiers.

The parent submarines waited four days for the return of their babes. The mood was one of gloom as all hope of their return faded. Regretfully, Captain Sasaki called off the search for the midgets. Then an unexpected announcement came from Navy Headquarters, that one of the midgets had sunk the US Battleship Arizona (even though aerial photographs showed it was sunk by surface missiles). This was based on a report believed to have come from 1-16 during the aerial attack and receipt of the signal: Tora. Tora. Tora. followed by a coded message from one of the 'A' boats, 'We are unable to navigate.' There were no further messages.

Submarine 1-69 watching the entrance to the Harbour, also sent a message to Admiral Shimizu that they had seen flames over Pearl Harbour and he was sure one of the midgets had succeeded in sinking a battleship. What the submarine actually saw was the shooting down of American planes by trigger-happy US gunners.

Once established, the myth that the midgets had achieved outstanding success, persisted. The news was broadcast to the whole of the Japanese Nation and the nine men who had died on their hopeless mission were declared War-Gods. Photographs of the nine War-Gods with the caption 'Their Lives Offered.' appeared in all Japanese newspapers on 7th. March 1942.

The sudden overnight glorification of nine heroes confused many Navy men, who knew the midgets carried a crew of two. That Sakamaki had been taken prisoner shocked the Navy Ministry as well as his own family. All knowledge of this was suppressed because the whole Japanese Nation would suffer everlasting shame if news of his capture became public. Complete censorship was imposed.

When Sakamaki opened his eyes, he was looking straight into a pistol held by a tall American-Japanese, Corporal David Akui. At first, stripped of all clothing and covered with an army blanket, he was held in Fort Shafter guardhouse. Later he was moved to better quarters and instructions issued that he be fully clothed and that he should be held in conditions befitting a Naval Officer.

Throughout his confinement, Sakamaki repeatedly begged for an honourable death. The Military Code of Honour left no doubt as to what was expected. He wrote many letters, made many drawings, to explain what was meant by 'Honourable Die.'

The procedure demanded that the Commanding Officer of the American Army be six paces to his right and the Fleet Admiral of the American Navy be six to his left, while he ended his life by his own hands. When this was refused, he frequently asked to be shot. Many times he used lighted cigarettes to burn three spots in the form of a triangle, probably as a kind of disguise when photographed.

The authorities interrogated him many times, but he revealed little. Believing his midget submarine would never be found he told his captors there were no documents or papers of importance aboard. What he did not know was the day after his capture; a plane had spotted it 600 yards off the beach at the end of Bellows Field runway.

Sakamaki had no wish to be repatriated after the war. He refused most comforts, such as hot water or a stove, but accepted books, papers, pencils and newspapers. He made many attempts to kill himself, even to the extent of biting his tongue off in order to bleed to death. It's reported the authorities pulled all his teeth to prevent this. But this story is denied.

Life as a prisoner for Sakmaki was unbearable. He felt he had failed in many ways. The fact he failed to destroy the midget, the fact he placed himself in a position to be captured, the fact he failed to die. He prepared a last will and testament apologizing for his failure.

'Although I plunged into the mouth of the Harbour and although I struck fear into the hearts of the people, I arrived at a situation wherein I could do nothing. For this I have no excuse to make. I do not desire to grasp this opportunity of being a prisoner of war. I am about to die after fighting for righteousness to the very end, as an Officer of the Navy. Banzi for his Imperial Majesty!'

He asked the message be sent to the Japanese Navy Department. But it was never sent. A talk with an understanding Naval Officer convinced him to accept life as a prisoner of war, in accordance with the rules of International Law. After the war, Sakamaki wrote these words in his best selling book 'I attacked Pearl Harbour.'

'The only things I recall were my several attempts to commit suicide. I failed in those attempts. Our desire for suicide was thwarted on every hand. We had no knives to cut our throats. We had no ropes to hang ourselves. Some banged their heads against every object in sight and yet did not die. Some men refused to eat .. Death demanded our allegiance and yet life claimed our bodies.'

Reproduced with kind permission from
Submariners News


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