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Kiyoshi Ogawa ( Ogawa Kiyoshi, 1922 – May 11, 1945) was a Japanesemarker Naval Aviator Ensign ( ) of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. As a Kamikaze pilot, Ensign Ogawa's final action took place on May 11, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa. Piloting a bomb-armed Mitsubishi Zero fighter during Operation Kikusui No. 6, Ogawa at the age of 24 went through antiaircraft fire and attacked the US aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill . He dropped a 550-lb bomb, never pulled out of the dive, and crashed deliberately into the flight deck near the control tower of the US aircraft carrier. The bomb penetrated Bunker Hill's flight deck and exploded, gasoline fires flamed up and several explosions took place, when re-armed and re-fueled planes on deck exploded and caught fire. Nearly 400 US crewmen died with Ensign Ogawa and the ship was knocked out of the war.

Early life

Kiyoshi Ogawa was born in 1922 in the Gunma Prefecturemarker, located in the Kantō region on Honshūmarker island, as a youngest child of the Ogawa family. Kiyoshi did well in schools, and entered the private Waseda Universitymarker, located on the northern side of Tokyomarker's Shinjuku Ward, near Kagurazaka, 60 years ago the Geisha center of Tokyo. Since 1902 Waseda is widely regarded as one of the two most well-known private universities in Japan.

Service in World War II

After Graduation from Waseda, Kiyoshi Ogawa departed as a gakuto (student-soldier, a college student who became a soldier or officer during his academic years) and received his training as a 14th graduate of Aviation Reserve Student. Special Flight Officer Probationary Cadets (the graduates from college) tended to have more liberal ideas, not having been educated in military schools, and also were more aware of the world outside Japan. Although some officers were kind to student soldiers during training, many acted harshly toward them; once on the base, many Reserve Students were subjected to harsh corporal punishment on a daily basis, as any minor action that irritated a superior could be a cause for severe corporal punishment.

Kiyoshi Ogawa graduated from Aviation Reserve Student flight training, appointed an Ensign, he was assigned to the 306th Fighter Squadron of the Imperial Japanese Navy's 721st Kokutai at Kanoya.

Ogawa then volunteered for Imperial Japanese Navy Kamikaze Special Attack Force (tokubetsu kōgeki tai) Dai 7 Showa-tai (No. 7 Showa-tai Force).

Since the Kamikaze attacks were to be made only if the pilots had volunteered, and could not be commanded, there were two methods to collect volunteers. One was an application for all pilots in general, and another was a survey for the Special Flight Officer Probationary Cadets (College graduates like Kiyoshi Ogawa) only. The survey asked: "Do you desire earnestly/wish/do not wish to be involved in the Kamikaze attacks?" Kiyoshi Ogawa had to circle one of the three choices, or leave the paper blank. The reason that the Special Flight Officer Probationary Cadet had to answer such a survey rather than send the applications at their own will was because the military had known that the students who had come from college had a wider vision, and would not easily apply for such a mission. Some college graduates, who did not volunteer willingly, were pressured to circle "desire earnestly" in the survey.

Many former students from Japan's elite colleges such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Keio and Waseda volunteered as kamikaze pilots in World War II. An estimated one thousand Japanese student soldiers died as kamikaze pilots, so Ogawa's decision was not uncommon.

Ogawa's kamikaze attack

Ensign Ogawa with comrades.
On the morning of 11 May 1945, USS Bunker Hill, flagship of Vice-Admiral Marc Mitscher, participated as part of TG 58.3 in carrier operations in the sea 122 kilometres east of Okinawa, supporting the Okinawa invasion. Bunker Hill and the Fifth Fleet sortied from Ulithi in February, 1945, for strikes against Okinawa and the Home Islands. Bunker Hill had provided aircraft for the massive effort to sink the Japanese battleship Yamatomarker on 7 April.

On May 11, the Japanese Navy carried out a massive kamikaze mission called Kikusui Rokugi Sakusen (Operation Kikusui "Floating Chrysanthemums" No. 6). On the early morning, pilots of the Tokkōtai suicide squadrons took off from their bases, among those pilots, there was Kiyoshi Ogawa, a member of the Dai-nana Showa-tai Squadron, flying a Zero modified to carry a 250 kg (550-pound) bomb underneath the fuselage. That day, Ensign Ogawa was ready to make a suicide attack on American ships near Okinawa.

Off the coast of Okinawa, Ensign Kiyoshi Ogawa and another Zero pilot of his squadron sighted the Bunker Hill. On Mother's Day, May 11, 1945, Bunker Hill had been at sea and in continuous action for 58 days. With a slight lull that day, the ship was at condition Easy One, with ventilators open and the crew, including Vice-Admiral Marc Mitscher, commander of Task Force 58, trying to relax. At 1004, Marine Captain James E. Swett, flying his F4U-1C Corsair on Combat air patrol, frantically radioed "Alert! Alert! Two planes diving on the Bunker Hill!"

Ogawa and his comrade had just swept down on the Bunker Hill so quickly that her gunners barely had time to respond. Ogawa's wingman released a 550-lb bomb which smashed through the flight deck and out the side, exploding just above the water. The aircraft crashed into the flight deck and skidded over the side, destroying nearly all of the 34 fully armed and fueled planes parked on the flight deck. At the same time, Ogawa was completing his dive with his Zero through the AA fire, aiming for the flight deck near the bridge of the ship to cause the most damage, as kamikaze pilots were trained to do. At nearly a vertical dive, Ogawa dropped his 550-lb bomb just before impact with the flight deck, crashing near the island at about 1005 hours.

Ogawa's bomb devastating the Bunker Hill.
Ogawa hit the flight deck near the bridge.
The 550 pound bomb penetrated Bunker Hill's flight deck and exploded. Gasoline fires flamed up and several explosions occurred. The bomb smashed through the flight deck, but did not make it through the hangar deck where it exploded. Bunker Hill's armor protecting the machinery spaces below had proven effective. A significant improvement of the USS Bunker Hill (as an ESSEX Class ship) over the other US carriers at the time was that they were equipped with a more heavily armored deck, plus a second armored deck on the hangar level designed to detonate bombs before they reached the vital machinery and electronic spaces below.

Ogawa's bomb blew a large hole into the flightdeck close to the bridge. On the flagbridge, Vice-Admiral Mitscher barely escaped wounds, but lost many of his staff officers including his own medical officer.

Many of Bunker Hill's pilots died either in their planes or inside the skin of the ship during the attack. 30 fighter pilots of Bunker Hill's Air Group CVG-84 were killed in the ready room by the explosion of the bomb which immediately burned all oxygen in the room and asphyxiated the men.

His flagship in bad shape, Vice-Admiral Mitscher decided to leave the boat as long as he still could. Destroyer English (DD-696) went close alongside Bunker Hill, to help in fighting fires, and to take off Vice-Admiral Mitscher, transferring his flag to the newly repaired carrier Enterprise.

Of the Bunker Hill's crew, 373 perished, 264 were wounded and 43 were missing. Hundreds of crewmen had been either blown overboard or were forced to jump to escape the fires. Captain James E. Swett collected about 24 of the circling airplanes, mostly F4U Corsairs, and they dropped dye markers and Mae Wests for the crewmen swimming in the oily water around the stricken carrier. The Bunker Hill finally was saved and the crippled carrier sailed the 7,000 miles to Puget Sound Navy Yardmarker under her own steam. Upon arrival, she was called the "most extensively damaged ship" ever to enter the yard, her repairs took the rest of the war.

According to Robert Schock, a US Navy diver on board the Bunker Hill, Ensign Ogawa's aircraft was not completely destroyed after penetrating the flight deck, but remained partially intact and did not catch fire. Instead, the wreckage rested on the hangar deck of Bunker Hill, half awash in water, with live wires sparking all around. Schock found Ensign Ogawa dead in the cockpit, and removed Ogawa's name tag from his flight suit, along with a letter Ogawa carried with him on his last mission, some photographs, the buckle from Ogawa's parachute harness, and a large smashed aviator watch, Japanese pilots wore hung around their necks.

On March 27, 2001, Yoko Ogawa, Ogawa's grandniece, her mother, and Masao Kunimine, an old college friend of Kiyoshi Ogawa, received these personal effects in San Francisco, nearly 56 years after Operation Kikusui No. 6.

In his last letter, Ensign Kiyoshi Ogawa wrote to his parents:

"I will make a sortie, flying over those calm clouds in a peaceful emotion. I can think about neither life nor death. A man should die once, and no day is more honorable than today to dedicate myself for the eternal cause. (...) I will go to the front smiling. On the day of the sortie too, and forever."

References

  1. "Who became Kamikaze pilots...", page 7
  2. "Kamikaze Diaries - Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers"
  3. "Who became Kamikaze pilots..." pages 7, 8 and 15
  4. Kamikaze Images
  5. Mitsubishi Zero A6M5
  6. Captain J.E. Swett
  7. Zero carrying 250 kg bomb
  8. USS Bunker Hill Association
  9. USMC Aces
  10. Personal effects of Ensign Ogawa
  11. Last Letter


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