Requiem for Battleship Yamato


Yamato sank and her giant body lies shattered 200 miles northwest of Tokunoshima. 430 meters down.
Three thousand corpses, still entombed today.
What were their thoughts as they died?

In April 1945, Yoshida Mitsuru was a junior officer stationed on the bridge of the Yamato during her ill-concieved and hopeless 特攻 Special Attack mission that was meant to draw off American aircraft from the attack on Okinawa to allow a better hope of success for the 神風 Kamikaze aircraft attacking the American fleet. But as the Japanese themselves demonstrated in their 1941 attack on the HMS Prince of Wales, a battleship without aircover was no match for a concerted attack by over 400 aircraft. The Aircraft carrier group was the new supreme force on the high seas.

Richard H. Minear’s translation of Mitsuru’s account is a very easy and interesting read. The style is very clipped and terse. The original was written entirely in katakana in a now seldom used style called bungotai 文語体. First written in 1946, It fell foul of the military censor on several occasions during the American occupation. Only in 1952 was a version published, and the original didn’t appear until 1981.

It is patriotic and unashamedly militaristic in terms of sacrifice and duty, yet it is oddly matter of fact and I wouldn’t say it glorifies war. If it were an American writing about America’s military history no-one would find it strange at all. The British envisioned a similar forlorn hope and would have committed it’s fleet to engage a German invasion at all costs. Had that happened the sacrifice would have been deemed heroic.

Regardless of nationalistic sentiments, this speaks of the waste of war, the expenditure of young lives dutifully following orders of old men who wouldn’t bear the consequences. The sailors knew what they were doing. They also knew they couldn’t protest, that should have happened in the thirties with the rise of militarism not in 1945 when it was all falling down around them.

I heartily recommend this book for an insight into the thoughts of the Japanese who pointlessly sacrificed themselves in huge numbers in the closing year of the Pacific War. Not for it’s war story but for the glimpses of universal human life, in the bride left behind, the old sailor who posted all his possessions home before the attack, the captain knowing details about a junior officer, the crew getting slightly drunk together the night before the attack, it could have been almost any navy at any time.

20. February 2010 by ロバート
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