“In the future, no enemy fliers other than fighter pilots, carrier base pilots and senior ranking pilots of B-29’s and other important fliers will be sent to Tokyo. Others will be suitably disposed of.” So wrote Fumitoshi Yamanaka, a former Japanese Army officer, regarding a message received on 15 June 1945 at Western Army Headquarters in Fukuoka, Japan.
Over the previous months, over two dozen American pilots and aircrew had fallen into Japanese hands on Kyushu. The vast majority of these men were Army Air Corps personnel, survivors of B-29 bombers lost to air defenses, enemy fighters and random chance during raids over the Japanese Home Islands.
The flight from their bases on Guam and Tinian to Japan was long, over ten hours, and it was not until carrier task forces began conducted repeated raids in the summer of 1945 that many Navy pilots bailed out over Japan. Starting in late 1944, when B-29 raids began out of the Marianas, all captured enemy fliers were sent to Tokyo for interrogation and ultimate processing into the formal prisoner-of-war (POW) system.
Six months later, overcrowding, interrogation backlog and a lack of useful results led to the 15 June telegram. Given the almost daily raids, many consisting of one hundred plus planes, the numbers of captured Army Air Corps bomber crews began piling up in local detention centers. In a twist of fate, the Japanese desire for as much information as possible on American carrier task force operations meant Navy pilots continued to be sent to Tokyo.
By such decisions do lives hang in the balance. For not five days after the 15 June telegram, eight of the Americans were taken out of their cells at Fukuoka and beheaded in revenge for a B-29 raid on the city. And on two other days, 12 August and then in the hours after the Japanese surrender on 15 August, the remaining twenty-five American fliers were executed without trial, victims of revenge killings and a desire to cover up the atrocities after wars’ end. The only flier to escape this fate was “an unnamed Navy pilot” captured on 9 August who was briefly held near Fukuoka before being sent on to Tokyo.