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Glad to be first Japanese prisoner of war!
Midget sub commander tells of his role
in the attack on Pearl Harbor

Introduced by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

I've talked with several folks recently about the new movie, "Pearl Harbor." Some I've talked with were disappointed with the show while others loved it. But if it hasn't done anything else, at least the movie has made some of the younger generation aware of what happened on that terrible day, and that's a good thing.

There were many stories of individual courage that came out of that historic battle and not all of those accounts were about the Americans....

When the Japanese launched their surprise attack against Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese imperial navy used midget submarines to lead the assault against American naval installations.

Recently, while researching Inquirer issues from 1948, I came across the following article about the only Japanese survivor of those small vessels and I thought the story, as told from his perspective, was very interesting.

Kazuo Sakamaki was ready to die for his country in 1941; but when he was interviewed in 1948, his opinion of war had changed greatly.

Japanese submarine
Japanese submarine at Howard County Courthouse
on tour during WWII
Courtesy J.D. Robertson Collection

The Gonzales Inquirer December 9, 1948
[Headline: Jap Sub Captain Became First US Prisoner of War]


NAGOYA, Japan, Dec. 7, 1948(UP)

Kazuo Sakamaki, only Japanese survivor of the midget submarine attack on Pearl Harbor seven years ago today, has had enough of war.

He says he is "not so happy" about the world situation, but adds: "If another war comes along, I would want to stay out of it remain strictly neutral."

Sakamaki, 30, works as a clerk in the Toyota truck company here. He is a moderately happy man, married to a bride of his choice and the father of a round-cheeked, almond-eyed son.

He no longer believes that he disgraced himself, his family, his ancestors, his country, the Imperial Japanese Navy and his emperor by being captured after his submarine grounded off Pearl Harbor.

He is glad he became the first Japanese war prisoner of World War II.

But seven years ago, Sakamaki was one of five officers who set forth in five midget submarines ready, indeed eager, to die for the glory of his country in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Each submarine carried two persons each was 74 feet long, weighed 30 tons, had a maximum speed of 24 knots and a cruising range of about 400 miles, and was equipped with radio transmitters and two bow torpedoes.

Sakamaki trained long and hard for what he sincerely believed was his date with destiny. He studied at the naval academy, learned to fly at Kasumigatura, practiced seamanship aboard the training ship Abukuma and underwent special training at Chujo Bay, which closely resembles Pearl Harbor. He was commissioned a sub-lieutenant.

He recalled vividly how his midget submarine was launched from its "hanger" on the afterdeck of a mother submarine off Pearl Harbor on the moonlight night of Dec. 6. He was 23 years old then.

His orders read to coordinate an underwater attack with the aerial bombardment of Pearl Harbor. He was instructed to attack, in order, aircraft carriers, battleships, and heavy cruisers.

The instructions said that he should rendezvous after the attack at point 7 off Lanai Island. But he knew that was only a formality. All were expected to die for their country.

"I said good-bye to the captain of the mother sub and 10 minutes later we surfaced so that we could enter our midget submarines," he said.

"It was then I got a nasty shock. My gyrocompass was out of commission. Why, I don't know. There was no time for repairs. After consulting the captain, I decided to attempt to make the journey anyway."

Without the gyrocompass, Sakamaki said he found his craft almost unnavigable and unmaneuverable.

"But I finally got to the entrance to Pearl Harbor just before 7 a.m.," he said. "We were to attack at 7:50."

For the next three hours, he said, he "hung around" Pearl Harbor trying to make repairs and trying to find a target.

Several times he surfaced and was depth-charged. He saw several small craft mine sweepers and destroyers but he wanted to save his torpedoes for bigger game. Through his periscope he saw columns of smoke rising over the harbor.

The midget submarine grounded several times on reefs. Bilge water spread to the battery racks and deadly gases began to fill the submarine. Depth charges rocked in.

Their senses dulled, Sakamaki and his fellow crewman, Petty Officer Kiyoshi Inazaki, decided to try to make Lanai. Then the ship grounded for the 10th and last time.

Sakamaki swam for the shore of what he thought was Lanai. His companion drowned.

Collapsing on the shore, Sakamaki remembered nothing until he was shaken by an American soldier pointing a pistol at him, he had been traveling in circles and was back on Oahu.

"I was terribly ashamed," Sakamaki said. "I asked for an opportunity to die an honorable death, but they just laughed at me."

The commanders and crewmen of the other midget submarines were lost and were enshrined by the Japanese as "war Gods" soon after Pearl Harbor Day. The Japanese made no mention that Sakamaki had fallen into American hands.


Lone Star Diary July 2001 Column
Published with author's permission.

Related articles:

  • Small Fish in a Big Spring - War bond tour brings Japanese submarine to West Texas by John Troesser
  • Pearl Harbor Survivor by Sandy Fiedler

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