Kijichi Dewa: World War II


On the Japanese Mother Sub I-16

"As to our feelings at the time, there was no sense of impending tragedy."

Excerpted from interviews with Kichiji Dewa, taken for the National Geographic program, Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack, on the National Geographic Channel.

When I was in junior high school, I was taught by my teachers and others that Japan would make war with America. While being trained in the Japanese Navy, I learned about Japan’s secret weapon, the midget submarine. It has two torpedoes and only two men could get into it. Each torpedo carried about 2200 kg (1,000 pounds) of explosives…On the I-16, my assignment was the midget submarine. I was the maintenance man, and I had to keep the submarine in the best possible condition.

We went to places along the Inland Sea of the Japanese coast, where there were bays like Pearl Harbor’s. We trained to enter narrow places at night. And we worked in the day, too…

My diary shows that the I-16 left for Hawaii on November 18…When the crew learned that they would attack the United States, they were really surprised and got shaken. But it was no surprise to those of us who had trained in the midget submarine.

The midget submarine ran on an electrical motor, powered by 224 batteries. The midget could run underwater at a top speed of about 20 miles (32 km) per hour. I maintained the electrical wiring. And I put in a special switch for the radio on the midget submarine. It would use the radio after it left the mother submarine.

As to our feelings at the time, there was no sense of impending tragedy. Everyone felt that we were simply carrying out our duty, taking part in military action. That was the only thing on our minds, though I felt that they might never make it back.

[Before the midget sub left] I said something like, “take care” to them. I didn’t say anything special, just words of parting said on the phone, very normal. They set out to carry out their duty, and we just saw them off. Even though the fact that they wouldn’t return was a foregone conclusion, we didn’t talk about it. Of course, I hoped that they would return, but the commander told me, “If I come back, I’ll come back with a wolf,” as we say in Japan, “and put the mother sub in danger.” So I don’t think they planned to return, even if they had succeeded.

America and Japan must have had their reasons for starting the war, but after coming here and seeing the waves of the Pacific, I question why we had to go to war. Japan and the United States could be described as brothers, they should get along well – to protect world peace, because I think Pacific peace is world peace. This trip has made me feel that we must protect it.

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