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The Story of a Comet Hunter's Life

My 50 years with Comets

Part 32: The star in the year the war ended 1

     Late at night on August 15, 1945, the day the Pacific War ended, a submarine surfaced at Susaki port in Kochi prefecture. An officer disembarked and walked in the quiet late night streets of the port city toward the Shinyotai Operations Headquarters at Motomachi with the loud sound of his footsteps.
     On this historic day of the end of World War II, people were ending this long anxious day still unable to believe what had happened. "What is going to happen next?"
     A strange, mysterious telegram was sent the next day from the 128th Shinyotai Operations Headquarters to the Shinyotai base on the shore of Sumiyoshi on August 16. The telegram read: "Our enemy was found on the sea in the south. The 128th Shinyotai must immediately launch an attack." What is "Shinyotai"? In short it is a "human torpedoes" special attack force. The existence of its base was confidential and located on the shore of Sumiyoshi near where Geisei Observatory stands today.
     On my way to Geisei Observatory from my home, I go through the short Teiyama tunnel after driving about 40 minutes along National Highway 55 toward the Cape of Muroto. Suddenly, the landscape with small towns and mountains crammed together changes to a scenery with a huge expanse of the ocean on the right. This makes me enjoy a feeling of being liberated. On the left a shining dome of Geisei Observatory becomes visible in the distant mounting range. Then along the national highway, you will notice a signboard "Shiyotai Memorial for Fallen Soldiers."
     It was 20 years ago that I first learned about Shinyotai. When I was writing a long serial "A Vagabond of Space" for Kochi Shinbun Newspapers, suddenly an elderly gentleman came to see me. This person was around 80 years old. He told me he was working at Nishijima Horticultural Park in Nankoku city. To my surprise he was a member of Shinyotai Tokkotai (the special attack force for the suicidal mission during the war). While talking to me, occasionally he had a fit of coughing caused by excitement, but told me incredible facts about the situation at his times.
     "The day when that incident occurred had a unusually beautiful evening glow. Captain Takenaka summoned us suddenly and told us: eThe Headquarters has just sent us this order. All the soldiers, prepare immediately for launching attacks' Remember, they hadn't told us members of the force anything about the end of the war at all. One hundred and sixty members of us were in distress and prepared ourselves for the worst. With a heroic resolution, we began carrying explosives out of the depot and loaded them on the torpedo boats."
     The man coughed for a few moments and began talking again: "Once you have boarded the torpedo boat, you would never return alive. The red evening glow made the soldiers' faces turn red, which all the more made the sight of working men appear tragic."
     When I asked him if those explosions were accidental, he replied: "They say it was an accident that had occurred when they were handling the explosives, but we don't know what the truth is. The only survivors were 50 men who happened to be behind the beach. When I was returning again to the pine grove where the storage was, about 100 meters from the boat, suddenly the explosions occurred and I was blasted and fainted. When I came to, I found the whole shore turned into a bloodbath. The 22 torpedo boats vanished without a trace. I saw many dead bodies floating on the water. The shore and sky were all bloody red and the bodies of men blown by the blasts were hanging from the branches of pine trees. It was a horrifying hellish site, unimaginable."
     I asked him: "Who in the world sent the telegram that caused such a tragedy?"
"We don't know at all even today. One theory goes that hot-blooded young officers from the Central Command ordered the attack. We believe it was the case, but there is also a theory that spies were involved. The truth is still unclear."
     "Spies?" I heard myself shouting. During the war our home was running a munitions plant. Hearing the word espies', I remembered a shocking incident that had happened in the plant when I was young.
     A few days later, I visited the shore of Sumiyoshi where the accident took place. A stately memorial was erected for the dead soldiers with the names of over 100 victims were engraved on the back of the memorial. There was also a rare photograph of a torpedo boat displayed alongside with the description that the small two-man operated boat was equipped with explosives and fitted with a 20mm machine gun. Walking along the beach where the accident occurred, I saw the evening sun turning the sea scarlet and offshore waves coming toward the beach and crashing on it. Was the sea on the day of the incident rough or calm? The setting sun was simply red and the roaring of the sea sounded like distressing and angry calls of the dead soldiers' souls. I kept on walking leaving these thoughts behind and came across a strange-looking thing in the pine grove. It looked like an old military weapon painted dark green. Badly damaged and exposed to the elements for many decades, it no longer retained its original form. It was like a hand-drawn cart with three rubber wheels, one of the kinds used by the military. It was probably abandoned there after the accident. Then came the end of the war and it must have been left there. I wondered if this was the site where that elderly former soldier told me the explosives had been loaded. Looking at the place, I felt as if it had happened just yesterday, not half a century earlier. The sound of the sea carrying the voice of the dead soldiers was bearing down upon me.

A human torpedo board
This photograph was classified strictly confidential during the war and later provided by a former soldier of the Shinyotai.

Copyright (C) 2019 Tsutomu Seki.