11 pm, December 6, 1941, Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki and Petty Officer Second Class Kiyoshi Inagaki entered their 2-man midget submarine and were released from their mother sub about 10-miles off Pearl Harbor.
They were part of Special Attack Forces, an elite 10-man group of five 2-man midget submarines that would attack Pearl Harbor.
They planned to carry out suicide attacks against the enemy with no expectation of coming back alive: “That the personnel of the midget submarine group was selected with utmost care was obvious.”
“The twenty-four, picked from the entire Japanese navy, had in common: bodily strength and physical energy; determination and fighting spirit; freedom from family care. They were unmarried and from large families.”
“None of us was a volunteer. We had all been ordered to our assignment. That none of us objected goes without saying: we knew that punishment was very severe if we objected; we were supposed to feel highly honored.” (Sakamaki)
His 78.5-foot-long submarine, HA-19, and four other midget subs, each armed with a pair of 1,000-pound torpedoes, were to attack American destroyers or battleships. (NYTimes)
From the beginning, things went wrong for Sakamaki and Inagaki. Their gyrocompass was faulty, causing the submarine to run in circles while at periscope depth – they struggled for 24-hours to go in the right direction.
The submarine was spotted by an American destroyer, the Helm, which fired on them, and the midget sub later got stuck temporarily on a coral reef. The submarine became partially flooded, it filled with smoke and fumes from its batteries, causing the two crewmen to lose consciousness.
With the air becoming foul due to the battery smoking and leaking gas, the midget sub hit a coral reef again. They abandoned the sub.
Sakamaki reached a stretch of beach, but, again, fell unconscious. In the early dawn of December 8, he was picked up on Waimanalo Beach by Lt. Paul S. Plybon and Cpt. David Akui of the 298th Infantry. (hawaii-gov)
Sakamaki became Prisoner No. 1 (the first US Prisoner Of War in WWII.)
He was the only crewman to survive from the midget submarines; his companion’s remains later washed up on the shore. All five subs were lost, and none were known to have caused damage to American ships.
Humbled to have been captured alive, Sakamaki inflicted cigarette burns while in prison at Sand Island and asked the Americans permission to commit suicide. His request was denied and the first prisoner of war spend the rest of the war being transferred from camp to camp. (Radio Canada)
He spent the entire war in various POW camps in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas. He and others were offered educational opportunities through the “Internment University” that had lectures on English, geography, commerce, agriculture, music, Japanese poetry, Buddhist scriptures and other subjects.
He became the leader of other Japanese POWs who came to his camp; he encouraged them to learn English. He also tried to address the problem of other Japanese POWs’ wanting to commit suicide after their capture, since he previously had gone through the same feelings.
At the end of the war, he returned to Japan and wrote his memoirs, ”Four Years as a Prisoner-of-War, No. 1,” in which he told of receiving mail from some Japanese denouncing him for not having committed suicide when it appeared he could be taken captive.
His memoirs were published in the United States on the eighth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack with the title, ”I Attacked Pearl Harbor.” (NYTimes)
Mr. Sakamaki became a businessman, serving as president of a Brazilian subsidiary of Toyota and then working for a Toyota-affiliated company in Japan before retiring in 1987.
His submarine was salvaged by American troops, shipped to the United States in January 1942, and taken on a nationwide tour to sell War Bonds. Admission to view the submarine was secured through the purchase of war bonds and stamps.
On April 3, 1943, HA-19 arrived in Washington DC for the war bond drive and for a brief time sat in front of the United States Capitol Building for people to see.
On arriving in Alexandria, Virginia, “George W. Herring, Virginia lumberman, bought $16,000 worth of war bonds yesterday for the privilege of inspecting a Jap submarine. One of the two-man submarines captured at Pearl Harbor was here for a one-day stand in the war bond sales campaign.”
“Those who buy bonds are allowed to inspect it. Herring held the record for the highest purchase and was the first Alexandrian to take a peek at the submarine. War bond sales for the day totaled $1,061,650.” (Belvedere Daily Republican, April 3, 1943)
It was placed on display at a submarine base in Key West, Florida, in 1947 and later transferred in 1990 to its current site, the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, home of Admiral Chester W Nimitz (who served as Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet during WWII.)
Back to Sakamaki … when he returned from America, he saw a woman working in a neighbor’s field with whom he fell in love at first sight, although he reviewed her papers (“a health certificate, academic records, a brief biography, a certificate of her family background, all certified as to their accuracy”) prior to making the commitment to marriage.
Her father and brother had died in the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, so her mother and she had moved back to their ancestral home next to Sakamaki’s home. They married on August 15, 1946, the first anniversary of the end of WWII. (Lots of information here from Gordon and hawaii-gov.)
The image shows the beached midget submarine at Waimanalo. In addition, I have added other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
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Jason green says
I hope it’s ok to share this on facebook.
Peter T Young says
Yes, you may share.