Saturday, December 31, 2016
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Sonderkommando Elbe (Special Command Elbe), one of the most bizarre units in the Luftwaffe, flew its only mission on April 7. The unit was the brainchild of Oberst Hajo Herrmann, who resurrected his once-rejected proposal for a bomber-ramming formation in January, after he had joined Gemaj. Peltz’s command. With Peltz’s approval, Herrmann got Chief of Staff Koller’s permission to present his proposal to Göring. He wrote a letter for Göring’s signature that solicited volunteers from the advanced training, fighter training and operational fighter units for a special operation “from which there is only the slightest possibility of your return.” Somewhat to Herrmann’s surprise, since it implicitly condemned Göring’s own conduct of the war, the Reichsmarschall signed it. Göring’s letter was read to the fighter units on March 8, and volunteers soon began reporting to Stendal, the Elbe base. On the radio the unit was always referred to as Schulungslehrgang Elbe (Training Course Elbe), which confused Allied intelligence as to its purpose.
Although the operation qualified as a Selbstopfer (suicide) plan, the pilots did have a real chance of survival. The plan called for the exclusive use of Bf 109 variants with high-altitude engines and metal propellers, to be used as scythes. The tactical unit for the mission was to be the Schwarm, each led by an experienced pilot. It was anticipated that the other pilots would be novices. The fighters were to climb to 11,000 meters (36,000 ft.), out-climbing any escorts encountered, and would receive their orders from the IX. Fliegerkorps (Jagd) transmitter at Treuenbrietzen, which had a 200-km (120-mile) range to this altitude. The fighters would then dive on their targets singly, from above. The bombers’ wings and engines were suggested as the aiming points, but Obfw. Willi Maximowitz, an ex-Sturmstaffel “ramming expert” brought in to lecture the pilots, claimed that clipping off the tail section would surely bring down the bomber with less hazard to the German pilots, and that advice was taken by most of them, even though they considered his own experiences in a heavily armored Fw 190 irrelevant to their own situation. Most of the Bf 109s were lightened by removal of their radio transmitters, all guns but a single cowling-mounted MG 131 machine gun, and most of the ammunition. Most pilots also had their Revi gunsights removed, to facilitate bailing out.
Koller scaled down Herrmann’s ambitious plan, code-named Werwolf (Werewolf), considerably. The requested 1,000 aircraft were reduced to 350, and then to 180. The number of volunteers was restricted to 300. Very few commissioned officers, and no experienced, decorated fighter formation leaders volunteered, so Herrmann was forced to draft some experienced officers from his non-operational KG(J) units. Command was given to Major Otto Köhnke, a bomber pilot who had been awarded the Knight’s Cross in KG 54, and had lost a leg in combat. Common characteristics of the true volunteers, according to unit survivor and author Arno Rose, were a lower-middle class, non-religious background; low rank; youth (most were less than 21 years old); loyalty to comrades and the Reich; obedience; and a desire to continue flying rather than be ordered to the infantry. Many sought revenge against the Terrorflieger who had destroyed their homes and killed their families. Their training at Stendal was very scanty, comprising anti-Semitic and nationalist movies, political lectures by college professors, and a single lecture on tactics by Maximowitz. The food and drink at Stendal were very good, however, and were recalled fondly by the survivors.
On the night of April 4–5 the pilots were taken from Stendal to the seven bases chosen for the operation, where they waited for the next major Eighth Air Force raid. This took place on the 7th. Herrmann, in the Treuenbrietzen control room, ordered the Elbe pilots to scramble. It was a clear, very cold day, good considering his pilots’ limited flying skills, but bad for their comfort; they were not issued flying suits, and most wore only their light service uniforms. Unfortunately for Herrmann, the Americans had a large number of targets, and the stream split up into no fewer than 60 small formations, creating chaos in his control room as his officers attempted to sort them out. The pilots heard nothing but nationalist songs and exhortations over their one-way radios until and unless they were finally given target instructions. Their fuel tanks had been only partially filled for their one-way flights, and some had to break off their missions early and return to base. Whether successful or not, the day marked the high point of most of the young pilots’ military careers, and many survivors have recorded their impressions. We chose Uffz. Klaus Hahn’s account as representative:
I transferred with 30 comrades to Sachau/Gardelegen on the night of April 4–5. I was given my own Bf 109G-6 or G-14 the morning of the 7th. The radio couldn’t transmit, only receive the Jägerwelle. The tank was half full. My machine was armed with one machine gun with 60 rounds. We took off on the green flare, but I couldn’t maintain speed, and fell behind my comrades in the climb. I had no thought of turning back, but kept on. I heard only marches on the radio. My aircraft suddenly gained speed, and I climbed to 10,000 meters [33,000 ft.], entirely alone. I approached four 109s, which proved to be Mustangs. One got on my tail, damaged the aircraft and wounded me in the throat. I decided to bail out despite the -50 degrees C temperature and lack of oxygen. But I saw a Fortress Pulk below, and decided to take one with me. My airplane was smoking, and the Mustangs didn’t follow. I was able to get up-sun, and dove on the far-right B-17 in the Pulk. I don’t know what happened next. There was a loud crash. I bailed out automatically, pulled the cord at 1,000 meters [3,300 ft.], apparently lost consciousness with the shock, and hit the ground hard, throwing both thighbones out of their sockets. Witnesses say the bomber didn’t crash, but I never found out exactly where I landed. I was wounded severely in one shoulder, arm, and hand. My left arm was amputated in a British POW hospital in June due to an infection. A quick recovery followed, and I was released in August . I later tried to find the village where I landed, but couldn’t—it must be between Steinhuder Meer and Verden, east of the Weser. I’m no longer interested, because the people who helped me are probably all dead now.
Most of the Elbe pilots attacked B-17s of the leading 3rd Air Division, which according to American records lost nine bombers to ramming and three to Me 262s. Four of the ramming victims were from the 452nd Bomb Group, which was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for its 40-minute-long combat. The only Luftwaffe fighters seen by the trailing 1st Air Division were two Me 262s, but the 2nd Air Division received some attacks, and according to the Americans lost four B-24s to ramming, two of these in a single attack that is well-documented from both sides. Gefreiter Willi Rösner dove on the 389th Bomb Group B-24 leading the division and rammed into its nose. Either the B-24 or the Bf 109 then careered into the deputy commander’s aircraft. Both B-24s crashed. Rösner bailed out, blacked out, regained consciousness on the ground with a broken collarbone, and returned to Stendal on the evening of the 7th. He was promoted to Unteroffizier and was awarded the Iron Crosses Second and First Class and the German Cross in Gold for this single mission, in violation of all directives.
The OKL war diary contains a bare-bones summary of the mission. Of the 183 fighters prepared for takeoff, 50 returned; 106 pilots had reported in by day’s end, claiming 23 successes. There were as yet no reports from 77 pilots. IX. Fliegerkorps (Jagd) was to order the remaining pilots to be released—the operation would not be repeated.
The Elbe mission remained somewhat of a mystery for decades after the war. The survivors were considered naive fools by other Luftwaffe veterans and, often, by their own families. But many of the Elbe-Männer eventually concluded that they had a right to take pride in the sacrificial mission for which they had volunteered, and began communicating with one another and cooperating with historians. As a result this is now one of the best-documented Luftwaffe missions of the war. Fritz Marktscheffel was an Elbe volunteer who did not fly on April 7 because he was too junior to be given one of the limited number of airplanes. He has for decades collected documents and pilot’s accounts pertaining to the mission, and his figures can be considered the best available. Marktscheffel concludes that about 188 Bf 109s were prepared for the mission at five bases in Germany and one outside Prague. About 143 fighters actually took off; 21 returned early due to technical defects; 15 from Stendal were never given a target and returned to base for lack of fuel; and those from Prague were recalled when the bombers turned north, putting them beyond range. About 90 contacted the enemy; as many as 40 attempted ramming attacks. Marktscheffel can identify the pilots in 18 ramming attacks on B-17s, three on B-24s, and three on unspecified heavy bombers. In addition, one B-17 and one fighter were claimed shot down by the single machine guns of the ram fighters. Casualties to the Elbe-Männer were surprisingly light: 18 pilots were killed, six failed to return and remained missing, and 13 were wounded. Sixteen bailed out and landed successfully; two died when their parachutes failed to open; and four were shot and killed by American fighter pilots while hanging on their chutes. Another pilot was shot at but suffered only a hard landing when his chute was shot through. Known Bf 109 losses total 13 to American escorts, three to German Flak, and 21 in ramming attacks; 14 force-landed for operational reasons after contacting the enemy.
The Elbe plots were told that they would be protected from American fighters by Me 262s, but there is no evidence that the jet pilots knew anything of this. Their primary mission was to attack bombers, not fighters, and this is what they did. Fifty-nine jets from JG 7 and I./KG(J) 54 were scrambled. JG 7 pilots claimed one F-4 (a reconnaissance P-38), two P-51s, one B-17, and one B-24, for no known losses. I./KG(J) 54 reported four victories over B-17s, and lost one Me 262 to a B-17 gunner.
Although the Eighth Air Force lost 17 bombers, the greatest loss on a bombing mission since February 3, and 189 more bombers returned to base with damage, it was certainly not in the Americans’ interest to publicize a successful suicide mission in the ETO while the Kamikazes were causing great concern in the Pacific, and the casualties due to ramming were downplayed. Allied intelligence professed no knowledge of a special operation. The Eighth Air Force mission summary concluded that,
While there were a number of instances of fighters ramming bombers, there is no evidence that these were intentional. In all cases the enemy aircraft was either out of control after being hit, or was manned by an inexperienced pilot trying a fly-through attack against a tight formation.
The sacrifices of the Elbe-Männer were thus not even acknowledged by the Americans, and certainly did not affect their morale, as Herrmann had hoped. Like Operation Bodenplatte, Werwolf was only a futile, bloody gesture.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
14th-century painting of the assassination of Nizam al-Mulk by an assassin.
View of Alamut besieged. The last Grand Master of the Assassins at Alamut Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah (1255–1256) was executed by Hulagu Khan after a devastating siege. The Assassins were eradicated by the Mongol Empire during the well-documented invasion of Khwarizm. They probably dispatched their assassins to kill Möngke Khan. Thus, a decree was handed over to the Mongol commander Kitbuqa who began to assault several Hashashin fortresses in 1253 before Hulagu's advance in 1256. The Mongols besieged Alamut on December 15, 1256. The Assassins recaptured and held Alamut for a few months in 1275, but they were crushed and their political power was lost forever. "An Organised Terrorist Group meets an Organised Terrorist Army!" -- A disciplina in praesenti!
The most successful premodern group to systematically employ terror was found, appropriately enough considering that region’s centrality to modern terrorism, in the Middle East. They were popularly known as the Assassins. More properly they were the Nizari Ismailis, a Shiite sect of the eleventh century AD that was persecuted by the rest of the Muslim world. To carve out space to practice and proselytize their religion, their first great leader, Hasan-i Sabbah, took to assassinating his foes.
A “revolutionary of genius,” he established in AD 1090 his stronghold in a fortress known as Alamut in the Elburz Mountains of northern Persia. From this remote location, reachable only by a single narrow track, he dispatched his da’is (missionaries) to win converts to the Ismaili cause. But Hasan-i Sabbah was not satisfied using nonviolent means to extend his sect. He also dispatched fedayeen (self-sacrificers) armed with daggers to slay Muslim notables—clerics, judges, teachers, administrators, soldiers—who opposed his heresies. In their eagerness to attain a spot in paradise, the fedayeen usually made little attempt to escape, thus becoming in effect suicide knifers. The term “assassin” was a corruption of “hashish-eater”—a label that was applied to the fedayeen by their enemies who assumed (erroneously) that only powerful drugs could induce these men to sacrifice their own lives in order to eliminate their enemies. In fact the fedayeen seem to have been motivated by nothing more than religious zeal; taking intoxicants would have made it hard for them to be as patient and clever as they were in carrying out plots that often required considerable dissimulation and playacting.
During the course of Hasan-i Sabbah’s thirty-year reign, his fedayeen claimed only fifty victims, all men of some standing. But, while minuscule by the scale of most “reigns of terror,” whether of the Mongols or of the French Revolution, this was sufficient to terrorize his enemies. From then on, according to an Arab chronicler, “No commander or officer dared to leave his house unprotected; they wore armor under clothes.”
During all the years that Hasan-i Sabbah directed this campaign of terror he never set foot outside his Alamut stronghold, in fact rarely even left his room. He was, like many subsequent terrorist leaders, an intellectual, and he spent countless hours deep in study in his impressive library. He was a particularly devoted student of geometry, astronomy, and arithmetic. A Byzantine envoy who met him came away impressed: “His natural dignity, his distinguished manners, his smile, which is always courteous and pleasant but never familiar or casual, the grace of his attitudes, the striking firmness of his movements, all combine to produce an undeniable superiority.”
But this civilized exterior concealed a deep strain of religious fanaticism. Early on he sent his wife and daughters away so as not to distract him; he spent the rest of his life apart from them. When he caught one of his sons drinking wine, he ordered his execution. Another son he executed for killing a man without permission, only to later discover that the charge was false. Hasan-i Sabbah’s willingness to sacrifice his own children may have cast his humanity into doubt, but it helped to inspire his followers. Making use of such dedication, he succeeded in creating a state within a state—a series of Ismaili bastions scattered around the Persian countryside that the ruling Turkish Seljuks were too weak to wipe out.
Hasan-i Sabbah died, apparently of natural causes, in 1124. His successors were not his equals. The pace of assassinations slackened as the Ismaili movement in Persia lost energy and became consumed by internal quarrels. In time the movement’s western outpost in Syria would become more dynamic. Here, too, the Ismailis managed to establish a network of fortresses defended by suicide knifers. The Syrian Assassins were led initially by Rashid al-Din Sinan, a native of what is today Iraq who became known to the Crusaders as “the Old Man of the Mountain.” Sinan tried unsuccessfully to kill Saladin, the great Muslim hero who would lead an army of holy warriors to recapture Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187. He had more success in dispatching Conrad of Montferrat, king of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
In 1192, while in Tyre, Conrad was approached by two young Christian monks he had befriended over the past six months. They spoke his Frankish language perfectly and were obviously men of learning. After a minute of polite conversation, they produced daggers from their robes and “fell upon him like two mangy wolves,” in the words of an Arab chronicle. The wounded king stumbled into a church, where he was finished off by one of the assassins. Before his own death, the killer confessed that he had been sent by Sinan. The cause of this assassination remains obscure. But its impact on European minds was spectacular. A German priest was to write to a French king contemplating a further Crusade that the Assassins “are to be cursed and fled. They sell themselves, are thirsty for human blood, kill the innocent for a price, and care nothing for either life or salvation.”
In the thirteenth century the Assassins finally confronted enemies who could not be deterred by the threat of assassination. Their Persian strongholds were overrun by the Mongols, who massacred large numbers of Ismailis along with everyone else. The Syrian redoubts fell at roughly the same time to the slave soldiers known as Mamluks, who would establish a dynasty ruling Egypt and Syria. Millions of Ismailis still exist today led by the Aga Khan, but they have not been a political force to be reckoned with since the calamitous events of the thirteenth century. Nor have they undertaken acts of terrorism since then.
Their reign of terror, which lasted two centuries, was enough to establish their reputation as one of the most successful terrorist groups in history. Thanks largely to the dark genius of Hasan-i Sabbah, they developed a highly effective organization, combining a covert hierarchy with a compelling ideology and rigorous methods of indoctrination that inspired his followers to sacrifice their lives for the cause. Those remain the essential ingredients for terrorist success down to the present day. But the Assassins also differed in crucial respects from most of their successors. As Bernard Lewis notes, “Unlike their modern equivalents, [the Assassins] attacked only the great and the powerful, and never harmed ordinary people going about the avocations.”
Plans were being concocted for a one-man midget which could be released while the mother submarine was submerged. During the winter of 1942-43 two naval officers, lieutenants Nishina and Kuroki, and a naval architect Hiroshi Suzukawa drafted a design based on the Type 93 Long Lance. All the major components of the original torpedo were retained, and the only major modification was the inclusion of an additional section between the warhead in the nose and the oxygen motor. This was the pilot's compartment, fitted with a periscope and a set of controls enabling a man to direct the torpedo run. By the spring of 1943 the designers had completed their drawings, and had calculated that their 'manned' torpedo, fitted with a 3,000 pound high explosive warhead, would have a range of forty nautical miles. The Long Lance had already proved it could break the back of a heavy cruiser with a man to direct it and a warhead three times more powerful there was every reason to suppose it could do the same to a battleship or an aircraft carrier.
Things had already started to go badly for the Imperial Navy and the Naval General Staff in Tokyo were looking for some way of changing the pattern of the Pacific war. The plans were presented for what the designers were now calling the kaiten. (The literal translation of kaiten is 'Heaven Shaker'. But in Japanese it means much more - suggesting a radical change in affairs.) But they were rejected as being too fantastic even But when the for consideration. Imperial Navy's attempt to smash the Americans at Saipan went awry the men in Tokyo began to have second thoughts about the kaiten. Nishina and Kuroki's persistent pleas to the Navy Ministry had culminated in a petition written in their own if this had much what undoubtedly caused the Naval General Staff to listen was what the Americans termed the 'Marianas Turkey Shoot.' when over blood. It is doubtful effect; 400 Japanese planes were lost. Thirteen months after they first sought it, permission was given for the construction of a prototype. But only on condition that it should have an escape hatch giving the kaiten pilot a chance to get away safely once he had put his weapon on a sure course to the tar- get. In February 1944 the prototype was approved and a base was set up on Otsujima Island near the Kure naval base, headquarters of Japan's Sixth Fleet and submarine force.
Strict security measures kept news of the project out of the public eye and only a few kaiten had been built by June 1944. But when the extent of the disaster which had overtaken the Imperial Navy in the Marianas finally dawned on them, the Naval General Staff sent out a frantic order for more to be produced on a crash priority. A second order called for volunteers to operate a Kyukoko heiki, a new national salvation weapon, on missions from which they were not expected to return alive. At first no mention was made of the nature of the weapon, but even when it was learned that their probable fate was an unseen death beneath the waves there were plenty of volunteers. Indeed it appears that the first ones were grateful at being accepted. Selection was supposedly based on three qualifications: physical and moral strength, evidence of strong sense of patriotism, and a minimum of family responsibilities. Married men were excluded and very few elder or only sons were chosen. The accent was on young fit men who would have little tendency to look over their shoulders.
At the kaiten depot on Otsushima, 'Base P', every effort was made to instill esprit de corps, Yamato damashii, Japanese spirit, in the volunteers. On arrival they were introduced to a prototype of their steel coffins before being shown to their quarters. The latter were, like their food, luxurious in comparison with what most of them had known in their previous training. But there were few recreation facilities - no cinema and no women. Nor were the men permitted leave of absence until they had completed their training, and were ready for the mission which was to be their finale.
Nishina and Kuroki organised the training of the first volunteers. But on 6th September, 1944, the kaiten claimed its first victim when Kuroki's torpedo stuck in the mud at the bottom of the placid waters of the Inland Sea. Six other lives were to be lost in training before the end of the war brought the demise of the kaiten. But, from September 1944 until the end of the Okinawa campaign, volunteers in groups which were given traditional names such as 'God's warriors', 'Group for the furtherance of the Samurai way', took kaiten courses at Otsushima. Lessons in the functions of the Type 93 torpedo were followed by simulated dry run missions to familiarise the pilots with the controls and accustom them to the confined space of their tiny cabin. Submerged practice drill against ships moored in Tokuyami Bay followed. Finally, when the pilots were considered proficient at these drills, the group was embarked on one of the fleet submarines for an operational dummy run.
Each of the I class submarines fitted to carry kaiten could take six of the weapons. During the approach to the target the kaiten pilots climbed into their tiny craft through a special hatch which was then sealed off. As the submarine closed on its victim, a telephone link between the submarine's conning tower and the kaiten enabled the captain to keep the pilots informed on the relative positions of the target. At the optimum moment the kaiten's engines were started and they were released at five-second intervals from the mother ship. Once in motion the pilot could observe the target through his own periscope, and make the necessary corrections to his course. Then at about 500 yards distance he would switch his craft on to automatic control for the final dash at full speed submerged to a depth of about twelve feet.
Inside the kaiten even a small man was cramped. And, although the controls were simple, considerable skill needed to operate the craft Under his feet was a tiny box of emergency rations and a small flask of Japanese whiskey. Neither was intended for operational missions. Directly in front of the pilot's face was the viewing glass of the short, stubby periscope which was raised or lowered by a crank on the right. Also on the right but above the pilot's head was the valve regulating the oxygen flow to the motor immediately behind him. Overhead on the left was a lever connected with the kaiten's diving planes, which controlled the rate of descent or climb underwater. Below efficiently. was a valve for letting in sea water. This was necessary to maintain stability as the oxygen fuel was used up. Finally, there was the rudder control lever which steered the weapon right or left and which was the last control to be touched by the pilot when he set his final course for an enemy ship. To operate the kaiten efficiently a man really needed six hands. And about the same number of eyes for watching the control panel. Apart from the periscope there was a gyrocompass, a clock, and depth and fuel gauges. Any sudden change in the controls or contact with an underwater obstacle invariably resulted in the pilot banging his head on one or other of the instruments. In consequence, bandaged heads were a frequent sight on Otsushima.
On an operational mission the captain of the mother submarine would align his ship with the target and this lever man would check his compass bearing. In the conning tower each kaiten the attack course of each individual kaiten would then be plotted and relayed by telephone. For example a typical order might be 'Go right thirty degrees on leaving. Speed twenty-five knots for twelve minutes and thirty seconds.' These instructions were designed to bring the kaiten to within 500 yards of his target, at which point the pilot was expected to raise his periscope and set the controls for his dash for the enemy ship's vitals at the top speed of forty knots.
Training finished with the successful completion of an operational dummy run. The kaiten men were then entitled to a few days leave before assignment to an operational mission. On this leave they were not expected to reveal the fact that they were now committed to a suicide operation. Nevertheless many of the families of such men appear to have guessed the reason for the special leave even if they were not told. Any suspicions they may have had would often be confirmed by little luxuries with which their relative was laden when he arrived. When the leave was over it was not considered good taste to mention that the next meeting would probably be at Yasukuni. But no doubt the thought was there.
News that the Americans had seized Ulithi Atoll in the Carolines, where a deep water anchorage would provide an ideal fleet base, prompted the Japanese to launch their first kaiten attack. Twelve of the newly trained would-be suicides were selected for the strike. Among' them was one of the two inventors of the weapon. Lieutenant Sekio Nishina. Determined to show the worth of his innovation Nishina was taking along a box containing the ashes of his deceased co-inventor. This would ensure that both would go to Kudan and be enshrined at Yasukuni together. A dedication ceremony was conducted at the Otsujima base during the afternoon of 7th November 1944. Vice-Admiral Shigeyoshi Miwa, commander of the Imperial Sixth Fleet, supervised the proceedings and explained the forthcoming operation to the kaiten pilots. Three fleet sub marines, the I-36, I-37, and I-47, which were in the bay nearby, would transport four kaiten each to the vicinity of Ulithi where large numbers of American ships were reported to be concentrating. The kaiten pilots were to sink the biggest ships they could. A presentation of short swords and hachimakis followed, and that night there was a party for the twelve doomed men. Next morning they 9am the I-36 led the three I-class submarines out of the harbour. As they steamed slowly up the channel the crews on other ships lined the rails shouting 'banzai' and waving their caps in a farewell gesture.
The three submarines parted company not long after leaving port. I-37 was to proceed towards Kossol Passage in the Palaus, to attack Allied shipping there. I-36 and I-47 meanwhile would head straight for Ulithi. Their mission was to attack the American invasion fleet at anchor, launching their kaiten at through two different entrances to the atoll's giant lagoon. But I-37 was fated not to reach her destination. Despite having six lookouts on the bridge whenever she surfaced she was spotted by the American destroyer Nicholas on 12th November. In a sudden and unexpected attack the I-37 was caught before she could dive and take evasive action.
I-47 was under command of Lieutenant-Commander Zenji Orita, one of Japan's ace submarine captains. He steamed slowly for his destination, making twenty knots on the surface, until he came within range of the American patrol planes. He then submerged by day, surfacing at night to charge his ship's batteries and to pick up radio reports from Sixth Fleet headquarters at Kure. His ship and I-36 were working in close cooperation with reconnaissance planes from Truk. They would provide reports on American shipping at Ulithi.
On 17th November the I-17's radio picked up a message relayed by Tokyo reporting that one of the reconnaissance planes had seen a vast concentration of American ships at Ulithi on the previous day. According to the pilot they appeared to be anchored in three groups, and he had seen battleships and carriers among them. Next day, fifty miles west of Ulithi, Captain Orita surfaced so that the Kaiten could be given a final check. All four were found to be in good working order. By noon on the 19th the sub- marine had closed to within a mile of the southern entrance of the Ulithi lagoon, and at midnight the four Kaiten pilots began making their final preparations. Last minute messages were written and handed to Orita together with their wills; finally all four men wound their hachimakis round their heads.
Ensigns Akira Sato and Kozo Watanabe climbed into their kaiten at midnight while the submarine wallowed quietly on the surface. Lieutenants Nishina and Fukuda were able to defer their entry, because there were access tubes to their weapons from the submarine. (Access tubes to all kaiten were provided on later sorties, so that the submarine could remain submerged.) When the lids of their weapons had clanged shut, Orita dipped I-47 beneath the waves and then edged the submarine stealthily forward to the very en- trance of the lagoon. This manoeuv- ring occupied three hours, during which Sato and Watanabe sat in their kaiten - their only contact with the world outside being two telephone cables. At 3am Nishina and Fukuda struggled through the access tubes to their kaiten, Numbers One and Two. All was now set for the attack. Four cables bound each kaiten to the submarine's deck during the voyage. Two of these had been loosened when the I-47 surfaced at midnight; the other two could be released from inside the submarine. At 4am Captain Orita, guided by the twinkle of welding torches on the US ships which he could see in his periscope, declared that he was in the firing position. Over the telephone lines the four kaiten men reported they were ready for action.
'Kaiten Number One stand by, start your engine!' ordered Orita.
'Standing by', came Lieutenant Nishina's soft voice over the circuit. The third cable on Number One kaiten was loosened.
'Start your engine!' said Orita.
Inside the submarine, a motor sound could be heard.
The fourth cable was loosened. It was 4.15am, 20th November 1944. Captain Orita, peering through his periscope, could see just a trace of bubbling water for a moment, as Nishina's kaiten moved off. Final checks of position, depth and the course Nishima was to follow had been made. He was now on his run-in, under orders to penetrate as deep into the anchorage as he could before raising his periscope and selecting a target for attack.
Ensign Sato left at 4.20, followed by Watanabe and Fukuda at five minute intervals. The second and the third kaiten were to get inside, then move off to the right and left, respectively. Fukuda was to attack when just inside the lagoon. This, it was hoped, would throw the Americans into a panic, when ships began exploding at widely separated points. The last words heard from kaiten pilots in I-47's conning tower were Fukunda's, 'Tenno heika banzai!'. Long Emperor!
The four kaiten forged towards their targets at about thirty knots. Mean- time the barely submerged I-47, live the suddenly freed of twelve tons of metal, lurched towards the surface. Orita submerged again to periscope depth and headed south-east. He had wanted to be well away from the of the anchorage when the kaiten completed their mission. He also wanted a clear view of what happened to take back to Japan. Thus at 5am, the I-47 surfaced again. It was pre-dawn twilight and the crew was edgy, for daylight comes quickly in the South Pacific. The minutes ticked past. Then, at 5.07, an orange flash blossomed over Ulithi, and there was a distinct boom from well within the lagoon where Nishina was supposed to hit a target.
At 5.11 another flash set the submarine's crew banzaiing. The appearance of an American destroyer soon stopped that, however. Orita dived, but when the absence of depth charges suggested the submarine had not been spotted he surfaced again. The sun was now up and the destroyer could be seen threading its way through the entrance to the Ulithi anchorage. At 5.52 the dull thud of another explosion was reported by I-47's sonar as coming from the atoll. It seemed that at least three of the kaiten had scored hits on something.
Whether their missions were successful or not Orita concluded that all four pilots were now dead, and at 6am he ordered a silent minute of prayer for their souls. Then he dipped his ship beneath the waters and headed for home. I-36 was not so lucky. Lieutenant- Commander Teramoto, the captain, shut Ensigns Taichi Imanishi and Yoshihiko Kudo into their kaiten from the deck shortly after midnight. At 3am Lieutenants Kentaro Yoshimoto and Kazuihisa Touozumi climbed into their craft through the access tubes. Everything seemed to be going well until I-36 reached the point designated for launching, just off the eastern entrance to the Ulithi lagoon. There, at the very moment set for firing kaiten Numbers One and Two were found to be stuck fast in their racks. They could not be freed after their engines had started. Then the pilot of kaiten Number Four reported that his craft was leaking badly. The only weapon that could be despatched was Ensign Imanishi in Number Three, who was launched at 4.54am.
Yoshimoto and Toyozumi returned to the submarine through their access tubes, and the I-36 surfaced briefly to take in Kudo. At this point the captain decided no more could be achieved, and when the I-36 submerged he turned her bow towards the open sea. Shutting off all the motors the crew listened intently. At 5.45am an explosion was heard, and at 6.05 another. Soon afterwards a pattern of depth charges rocked the I-36 and Teramoto decided it would be wise to get away from the area.
But the I-36 was compelled to stay submerged while American destroyers overhead methodically searched the area for the submarine which they thought had fired conventional torpedoes from the eastern entrance. Nineteen hours passed. By that time the air in the submarine was foul with fumes, and the crew was exhausted. No depth charges had been heard for more than an hour, and Teramoto decided that he would have to surface to get fresh air and charge his batteries. Shortly before midnight the tanks were blown and the vessel surfaced. It was dark night and as there was no sign of American ships Teramoto took a risk. Running north on the surface at maximum speed, he cleared the area without further incident.
I-36 and I-47 both got back to Kure on 30th November. On 2nd December a special conference was held on board the Tsukushi Maru, flagship of the Sixth Fleet, to consider Orita and Teramoto's reports on the kaiten attacks. Over 200 staff officers and specialists attended, and there was a lot of discussion before the results were summarized by a staff officer of the Sixth Fleet. Men on board I-47 had seen two fires, he said. And the crew of I-36 had heard explosions. Photographs of Ulithi taken by a reconnaissance plane from Truk, on 23rd November, three days after the kaiten operation, were then produced. 'From these', declared the speaker, 'we can estimate that Lieutenant Nishina sunk an aircraft carrier, as did Lieuttenant Fukuda and Ensign Imanishi. Ensigns Sato and Watanabe sank a battleship apiece!'
This was the conclusion the audience wanted to hear, and there was a great outburst of banzais. The Japanese high command had ordered kaiten to be produced in quantity, and news that the first strike had been an outstanding success was a great boost to the morale of the scores of young men in training. 'Die for the Emperor, but not in vain' was a good motto. Every embryo Kaiten pilot was positively looking forward to his death-dealing mission, when the news was circulated. The Japanese estimate of ships destroyed was a complete fabrication. The only ship sunk in the operation was the US tanker Mississinewa.