Film of WWII US air attack on Japanese navy destroyers unveiled by citizens’ group – The Mainichi – The Mainichi


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A frame from gun camera footage taken by a U.S. Navy F6F-5 Hellcat fighter plane shows a flash indicating the moment one of the Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Fuyutsuki fired its main bow gun, on April 7, 1945. (Image courtesy of Toyo no kuni Usa-shi juku)

USA, Oita -- A citizens' group in this southwestern Japanese city unveiled a trove of U.S. military gun camera and other footage from World War II on Dec. 4, including what is believed to be the first film of attacks on a pair of Imperial Japanese Navy destroyers in the waters near a Kagoshima Prefecture cape after they were sent with the battleship Yamato on a one-way mission to battle American forces around Okinawa.

Usa, Oita Prefecture-based citizens' group Toyo no kuni Usa-shi juku released a total of 26 minutes and 56 seconds of footage, the only part of a larger cache of material obtained from the U.S. National Archives from 2013 to 2021 that the group could positively date and contextualize. The footage also includes the first U.S. attack on the Mizunokojima lighthouse in the prefectural city of Saiki.

The film of the air attacks on the destroyers in waters off southwest Japan's Kagoshima Prefecture runs 30 seconds, shot by the gun cameras on a U.S. Navy F6F-5 Hellcat fighter plane from the aircraft carrier USS Bennington at around 12: 40 p.m. on April 7, 1945. The destroyers were part of a 10-ship flotilla including the battleship Yamato that had departed coastal Yamaguchi Prefecture the day before. The clouds were low and visibility poor, so the images are dark.

Despite this, the group believes it can identify one of the destroyers as the Fuyutsuki. It made the determination based on the shots fired from two spots near the vessel's bow that indicated the position of the ship's main armaments, combined with Japanese records stating that the Fuyutsuki was unable to fire simultaneously in a strafing attack.

The second destroyer was identified with the help of a photo included in the U.S. air unit's after-action report, and the group found a scene in the footage resembling the photo. The ship in the photo was disabled, and at that point in the battle only one vessel in the flotilla had been disabled: the Hamakaze. Unable to navigate, the Hamakaze was sunk by a torpedo just after the photo was taken.

All told, five Imperial Japanese Navy ships were sunk in the battle, including the Yamato. The Fuyutsuki reportedly escaped with only minor damage.

Mizunokojima lighthouse in Saiki, Oita Prefecture, is seen under attack in this frame from gun camera footage taken by a U.S. Navy F6F-5 Hellcat fighter plane on March 19, 1945. The flashes are apparently tracer rounds fired by another aircraft in the unit. (Image courtesy of Toyo no kuni Usa-shi juku)

The attack on the Mizunokojima lighthouse happened just past 4 p.m. on March 19, 1945, and the gun camera footage of the assault lasts 20 seconds. Again, it was F6F-5 Hellcats doing the strafing, though these were from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. The unit attacked the lighthouse after hitting then Oita Airfield in the city of Oita, and a shipyard in Usuki, also in Oita Prefecture. The strikes were apparently launched to support the withdrawal of U.S. ships that had been attacked by Imperial Japanese Navy forces.

The trove of footage also includes the Japanese military's bombing of Saipan on Nov. 27, 1944, U.S. air attacks on Tano train station in the city of Miyazaki on Aug. 9, 1945 -- the same day that the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki -- and U.S. forces burning Japanese military planes at a navy airfield in Matsuyama, the capital of Ehime Prefecture, on Oct. 31, 1945.

Toyo no kuni Usa-shi juku has said it plans to screen the clips for next year's "Heiwa Walk" (peace walk) event. While chances to hear stories from those who lived through the war are dwindling, "watching the films allows us to think about what that time was really like, and what war really is," group participant Yusuke Orita, 35, commented. "I hope people reflect on the meaning of peace."

(Japanese original by Katsuyuki Miyamoto, Usa Local Bureau)

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