Jun 15

“An Unnamed Navy Pilot” A Twist of Fate

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 12:01 AM


“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.

  • Jim Valle

    A really gripping account of life as a Japanese POW is the story of Louis Zamperini, an AAF bomber crewman captured in 1943. His experiences are related by Laura Hillenbrand in “Unbroken”, currently on the New York Times Best Seller List.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    Were the perpetrators ever identified and tried for war crimes? And do not lose sight of the General Order issues from General Staff Headquarters ordering the execution of all POW’s in the event of Allied landings on the home islands. The excellent work “Hell to Pay,” D.M. Giangreco, USNI, Annapolis, MD, 2009, shreds the revisionist historians’ arguments that the use of atomic weapons were unnecessary and uncalled for in concluding the war against Imperial Japan.

  • LTJG DO Weber

    It’s not “revisionist history” to criticize the use of atomic bombs on Japan. It’s a moral issue for which there is no right answer. The weapons were used, for reasons that seemed justification at the time, and hindsight allows us to question that reasoning. But Americans facing a cataclysmic invasion, and civilians at home, felt only elation at the swift end to the war the bombings seemed to have effected. I was seven years old — and I know the relief and pride the country felt. But it’s perfectly legitimate to look back on a decision one has made and think, “Hm. Maybe I could have done it differently.” Criminal treatment of war prisoners by the Japanese has no bearing on this debate… which turns on the awful “collateral damage” the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki entailed.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    Read the book first. And yes, as a trained historian, the “dropping nuclear weapons was bad” meme was originated by the so-called “revisionist” historians within the profession.(Blum, et. al.) But I suppose the expected deaths of approximately 40 – 60% of the population of the Home Islands (IJAGS own estimates) are much more palatable to you.


  • Jim Valle

    As a professional historian I tend to view the atomic bomb issue as an unfolding saga filled with surprises and details that continue to emerge. Originally the Manhattan Project was undertaken by British Scientests who were convinced that Germany housed the World’s leading authorities on nuclear fission and had an active program to build a bomb. When the United States entered the war the British turned over virtually all their data and personnel to us because they simply didn’t have the resources to continue research and solve the engineering problems associated with the production of nuclear bombs. The Manhattan Project continued under the conviction that we were in a “race” with the Germans. Fortunately the Germans were headed down the wrong path and their project ultimately came to nothing but it did attract the attention of the Japanese who set up their own atomic bomb project at a secret laboratory in Manchuria. Based on German research and plagued by lack of resources the Japanese bomb effort accomplished very little but the intention was there, a fact little recognized in today’s Japan. By the time Germany surrendered the United States had already spent eleven billion 1940’s dollars on the Manhattan Project and it was very close to fruition. To the Truman Administration it just made horse sense to get some payback for all that effort. Only a few of the scientests who had helped create the bomb sensed that there would eventually be a moral issue surrounding its practical application but by that time the political establishment had taken over and rather rudely shoved the scientests aside. The bombs were dropped, the War ended and everyone rejoiced. Even better, the Russians were put on notice and their ambitions curtailed for four critical years until they caught up with a bomb of their own. Those of the “revisionist” persuasion can wring their hands over the dawn of the Nuclear Age all they want to but there’s no going back now. And, what are the Japanses taught about all this? Their historians mention that in the 1920’s and ’30’s Japan undertook a quest for vitally needed resources following a path already legitimized by the major European Powers ( Imperialism ).
    For some reason this brought down upon Japan a powerful coalition of enemies. Ultimately Japan was subjected to nuclear bombardment, utterly defeated and laid in ruins after fighting a was that began in obscure circumstances and developed “not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”.