November 3, 1954 Godzilla

He was a Kaiju, a Japanese word meaning “strange creature”, more specifically a “daikaiju”, meaning a really, really big one.

In 1954, the fishing boat Daigo Fukuryū Maru (“Lucky Dragon No.5”) was working the grounds near the Marshall Islands, in the equatorial Pacific. At 6:45am local time, March 1, 23 fishermen were witness to “Castle Bravo”,  a thermonuclear test explosion that lit up the western sky “like a sunrise”.  Then came the sound the explosion.  The TX-21 device with a predicted yield of 6 megatons, and code named “Shrimp”.

For eight minutes, these twenty-three men watched the mushroom cloud rise into the sky.  An hour and one-half later came the fallout, the fine white dust, calcinated coral of the Bikini atoll, falling like snow from the sky.

None of the twenty-three crew members of the Lucky Dragon recognized the material as hazardous, and made no effort to avoid exposure.  Some even tasted the stuff.

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A few fishermen developed acute radiation sickness, over the next three days.   By the time of their return to Yaizu on the 14th, all 23 were suffering from nausea, headaches, bleeding from the gums, and other symptoms.  One was destined to die of a liver disorder on September 23,  a complication of radiation sickness.  They had entered the ranks of the “hibakusha”.  The “explosion-effected people”.

The atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only nine years in the past at this time, and a fierce anti-nuclear sentiment was building in Japan. In this context, there arose a metaphor for all that destruction. Literally rising from the sea, this product of the Japanese entertainment industry took the form of a monster. “Godzilla”, Ishirō Honda’s first film released by Toho Studios, this day in 1954.

The name is a portmanteau, two words combined to form a third, of the Japanese word “gorira”, (gorilla), and “kujira”, meaning whale.  Godzilla was the Gorilla Whale, with the head of a Tyrannosaur, Stegasaur-like plates on his back and skin modeled after the keloid scarring of the hibakusha.

The original Godzilla (“ɡodʑiɽa”) was awakened by atomic testing and impervious to any but a nuclear weapon. Emerging from the depths with his atomic breath, havoc and destruction was always accompanied by the distinctive roar, a sound effect made by rubbing a resin glove down the strings of a bass violin, then changing the speed at playback.

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The actor who played Godzilla in the original films, Haruo Nakajima, was a black belt in Judo. His expertise was used to choreograph the monster’s movements, defining the standard for most of the Godzilla films, to follow.

Originally an “it”, Godzilla was usually depicted as a “he”, although that became a little complicated with the 1998 American remake “Zilla”, when he started laying eggs.

He was a Kaiju, a Japanese word meaning “strange creature”, more specifically a “daikaiju”, meaning a really, really big one. Godzilla is the best known, but certainly not the only such creature. You may remember other kaiju, including Gamera, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla and Rodan.

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Godzilla has appeared in 28 original films, with more in the works. Over the course of his existence he has been a hero, a villain, and a destructive but values-neutral force of nature.

Godzilla got his own star on the Hollywood “Walk of Fame” in 2004, timed to coincide with the release of the 29th movie, “Godzilla: Final Wars.” Instead of nuclear weapons testing, this version was spawned by “environmental pollution”. It takes the superheroes of the “Earth Defense Organization” (but, of course) to freeze him back into the ice of the South Pole. The film was a flop, grossing less than $12 million after a production budget of $19 million.

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The franchise came roaring back ten years later, when Godzilla was released in 2014, grossing $200 million domestically and $529.1 million on worldwide sales.

A film franchise 64 years in the making is still going strong, and will continue to do so, for the foreseeable future. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is set to be released in 2019 and Godzilla vs. Kong, in 2020.

Tip of the hat to http://www.mykaiju.com, for most of the images used in this story.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
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November 1, 1945 Downfall: A History that Never Was

The battle for the Japanese home islands was expected to be a fight like no other. 

If you’re ever in southeastern Massachusetts, be sure visit Battleship Cove in Fall River, the largest collection of WW2 naval craft, in the world. The Battleship Cove museum sports some sixty exhibits, preserving the naval heritage of these iconic vessels, and the veterans who served them. To walk aboard the battleship USS Massachusetts, the attack submarine USS Lionfish, is to experience a side of WW2, fast receding from living memory.

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Walk among the wooden-hulled PT boats of the Pacific war, and there you will find a strange little craft.  Closed at the top and semi-submersible, a Japanese kamikaze boat, perhaps, designed for suicide missions against allied warships. Museum management thought it was just that when they acquired the thing, back in the 1970s.  CIA files declassified in 2011 revealed a very different story.  The tale of a history, that never was.

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On August 2, 1939, Hungarian physicist Leó Szilárd delivered a letter which would change history, to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Written in consultation with fellow Hungarian physicists Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner and signed by Albert Einstein, the letter warned that Nazi Germany was working to develop atomic weapons, and urged the American government to develop a nuclear program of its own.  Immediately, if not sooner.

The Einstein–Szilárd letter spawned the super-secret Manhattan project, culminating in the atomic bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”, and ending the war in the Pacific in August, 1945.

At the time, precious few were aware of even the possibility of such a weapon.  Fewer still, the existence of a program dedicated to building one.  Vice President Harry Truman, second only to the Commander in Chief himself, was entirely ignorant of the Manhattan project, and only read in following the death of the President in April, 1945.

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Female students with the Kokumin Giyū Sentōtai, the Volunteer Fighting Corps, prepare for the Allied projected invasion

The battle for the Japanese home islands was expected to be a fight like no other.  Casualties of a million or more, were expected.  And for good reason.  Japanese soldiers fought with such fanaticism, that hundreds continued to resist, years after the war was ended.  The last holdout wouldn’t lay down his arms until 1974.  29 years, 3 months, and 16 days after the war had ended.

Such frenzied resistance would not be isolated to Japanese military forces, either.  Japanese government propaganda warned of “American devils raping and devouring Japanese women and children.” American GIs looked on in horror in 1944, as hundreds if not thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians hurled themselves to their death, at Laderan Banadero and “Banzai Cliff” on the northern Mariana island of Saipan.  One correspondent wrote with admiration of such mass suicides, praising them as “the finest act of the Shōwa period”… “the pride of Japanese women.”

This is what their government, taught them to believe.

Plans for the final defeat of the Imperial Japanese Empire all but wrote themselves, phase one launched from the south against the main island of Kyūshū, and using the recently captured island of Okinawa, as staging area.  Phase two was the planned invasion of the Kantō Plain toward Tokyo, on the island of Honshu.

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The story of the D-Day invasion begins with deception, a massive head fake intended to draw German defenders away from intended landing zones.  “Operation Downfall” offered no such options, for deceit.  Geography dictated the method of attack, and everybody knew it.  Virtually everything left of Japanese military might would be assembled for the all-out defense of Kyūshū, against what would be the largest amphibious invasion, in history.

American military planners ordered half a million Purple Hearts, in preparation for the final invasion of the Japanese home islands. To this day, military forces have yet to use them all up. As of 2003, 120,000 Purple Heart medals still remained, in inventory.

The whole thing would begin on “X-Day”.  November 1, 1945.

gimik-underwayWhich brings us back to that funny-looking boat. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor to the modern Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), built two of these semi-submersibles, code named “Gimik”, part of a top-secret operation code named “NAPKO”.

55 Korean-Americans and Korean prisoners freed from Japanese prison labor camps were trained to infiltrate Japanese occupied Korea and possibly Japan itself, to collect intelligence and carry out sabotage against military targets in advance of Operation Downfall.

The Gimik craft, each operated by a single OSS officer with two Korean operatives secured inside, would be the means of insertion.

The mission was extremely dangerous for obvious reasons.  Training was carried out during the summer of 1945 on Catalina Island, off the California coast.  The two boats, nicknamed “Gizmos”, were tested at night against the US Naval base in Los Angeles. Even this part was dangerous, since no one was told about the trials. Should such a vessel be detected entering the American installation, it would be treated as an enemy vessel, and destroyed.

In the end, the Gizmo teams never left American waters.  Several such tests were carried out without detection, leading to a scheduled departure date of August 26, 1945.  It was never meant to be.

A parallel and equally secret plan to end the war literally burst on the scene on August 6, 1945.  The war was over, nine days later.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

 

 

September 18, 1931 A Pretext for War

The “Mukden incident” was entirely staged, a “false flag” operation and bald pretext to war, carried out by Japanese military personnel and identical in purpose to that carried out against Poland by Nazi aggressors some eight years later, nearly to the day.

As Japan emerged from the medieval period into the early modern age, the future Nippon Empire transformed from a period characterized by warring states, to the relative stability of the Tokugawa Shōgunate.  Here, a feudal military government ruled from the Edo castle in the Chiyoda district of modern-day Tokyo, over some 250 provincial domains called han.  The military and governing structure of the time was based on a rigid and inflexible caste system, placing the feudal lords or daimyō at the top, followed by a warrior-caste of samurai, and a lower caste of merchants and artisans.  At the bottom of it all stood some 80% of the population, the peasant farmer forbidden to engage in non-agricultural activities, and expected to provide the income that made the whole system work.

Into this world stepped the “gunboat diplomats” of President Millard Filmore in the person of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, determined to open the ports of Japan to trade with the west.  By force, if necessary.

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Gunboat Diplomacy, Commodore Perry

The system led to a series of peasant uprisings in the 18th and 19th centuries, and extreme dislocation within the warrior caste.  In time, these internal Japanese issues and the growing pressure of western encroachment led to the end of the Tokugawa period and the restoration of the Meiji Emperor, in 1868.

Many concluded as did feudal Lord (daimyō) Shimazu Nariakira, that “if we take the initiative, we can dominate; if we do not, we will be dominated”.  In the following decades, Japanese delegations and students traveled around the world to learn and assimilate Western arts, sciences and technologies. As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, Japan was transform from a feudal society into a modern industrial state.

The Korean peninsula remained backward and “uncivilized” during this period, little more than a tributary state to China, and easy prey for foreign domination.  A strong and independent Korea would have represented little threat to Japanese security but, as it was, Korea was a “a dagger pointed at the heart of Japan” in the words of German military adviser to the Meiji government, Major Jacob Meckel.

1-92-140-02The first Sino-Japanese war of July 1894 – April 1895, was primarily fought over control of the Korean peninsula.  The outcome was never in doubt, with the Japanese army and navy by this time patterned after those of the strongest military forces of the day.

The Japanese 1st Army Corps was fully in possession of the Korean peninsula by October, and of the greater part of Manchuria, in the following weeks.  The sight of the mutilated remains of Japanese soldiers in the port city of Lüshunkou (Port Arthur) drove their comrades to a frenzy of shooting and slashing.  When it was over, numbers estimated from 1,000 to 20,000 were murdered in the Port Arthur Massacre.  It was a sign of things to come.

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An illustration of Japanese soldiers beheading 38 Chinese POWs as a warning to others by Utagawa Kokunimasa.

Russian desire for a warm-water port to the east brought the two into conflict in 1904 – ’05, the Russo Japanese War a virtual dress rehearsal for the “Great War” ten years later, complete with trench lines and fruitless infantry charges into interlocking fields of machine gun fire.

Subsequent treaties left Japanese forces in nominal control of Manchurian railroads when, on September 18, 1931, a minuscule dynamite charge was detonated by Japanese Lt. Kawamoto Suemori, near a railroad owned by Japan’s South Manchuria Railway near Mukden, in modern Shenyang, China. The explosion was so weak that it barely disturbed the tracks. A train passed harmlessly over the site just minutes later, yet, the script was already written.

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The Imperial Japanese Army accused Chinese dissidents of the incident, launching a full scale invasion and installing the puppet emperor Puyi as Emporer Kangde of the occupied state of “Manchukuo”, one of the most brutal and genocidal occupations of the 20th century.

The “Mukden incident” was entirely staged, a “false flag” operation and bald pretext to war, carried out by Japanese military personnel and identical in purpose to that carried out against Poland by Nazi aggressors some eight years later, nearly to the day.

e59373baad2df0c6393fa778500d1575As Western historians tell the tale of WW2, the deadliest conflict in history began in September 1939, with the Nazi invasion of Poland. The United States joined the conflagration two years later, following the sneak attack on the American Naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor, by naval air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Eastern historians are more likely to point to a day eight years earlier, when this and subsequent invasions and the famine and civil wars which ensued, killed more people than the modern populations of Canada and Australia, combined.

Feature image, top of page: Mukden Incident Memorial and Museum, Shenyang, China

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

September 9, 1942 If we Knew each other

The old pilot never forgot a promise made to the place he had once tried to burn down.

In the months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the B-1 type submarine I-25 quietly slipped from her dock, departing Yokusuka on November 21 and joining three other Japanese subs on patrol, in the waters north of Oahu.

The B-1 type was a fast cruiser submarine, built for long range and carrying on her bows a small aircraft hanger and deck catapult, designed to store and launch a single two-seater Yokosuka E14Y reconnaissance floatplane, known to the allies as a “Glen”.

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With twenty of them built, the B-1 series was the most numerous of some thirty nine distinct submarine types, employed by the Japanese in WW2.  The type was fairly successful, particularly in the beginning of the war. I-26 crippled the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga in August of 1942, and I-19 sank the aircraft carrier USS Wasp that September, at the same time damaging the battleship USS North Carolina and the destroyer USS O’Brien, which later sank.

I-25 launched the only piloted aircraft during World War II, to successfully attack the American mainland.

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Nobuo Fujita

Lieutenant Commander Meiji Tagami turned the I-25 into the winds off the Oregon coast on the morning of September 9, 1942, and launched the Yokosuka E14Y floatplane, piloted by Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita and armed with two 168-lb thermite bombs.

Fujita had hoped the target would be Los Angeles or San Francisco, payback for the Doolittle raid that April but, no chance of that.   Lumbering along at 90MPH, such an aircraft is way too slow to attack such a heavily defended target.

Fujita’s target this day, was the vast forested region along the Oregon coast, near the California border.  With a little luck, the incendiary bombs would burn down a large section of the forest and a string of coastal towns along with it, diverting American resources from the war effort.

That day, the luck was on the American side. A recent rain in the Siskiyou National Forest had left the place wet, at low risk for fire. Howard “Razz” Gardner watched the aircraft come in, from the fire lookout tower on Mount Emily. He never saw the bombing itself but the plume of smoke, was easy enough to follow. Razz was able to hike to the scene while the Forest Service dispatched lookout Keith Johnson, from a nearby tower. The pair was able to keep the blaze contained overnight, and the crew arriving the next morning, put it out.

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The following day, area commander Lieutenant General John DeWitt announced “The Western Defense Command is investigating the circumstances surrounding the discovery on Sept. 9 of fragments of what appears to have been an incendiary bomb. These fragments were found by personnel of the United States Forestry Service near Mt. Emily nine miles northeast of Brookings, Or. Markings of the bomb fragments indicated that the missile was of Japanese origin”.

Fujita and his observer made a second attack on September 29, but the damage was negligible.  Not at all the regional conflagration he had hoped for.  Late in the war, Japanese authorities released hundreds of balloon bombs into the gulf stream, in a sustained attack on the continental United States.  One managed to kill a Sunday School class and its teacher but, the earlier attacks flown by Nobuo Fujita remained the only piloted attack on the US mainland, of WW2.

Years later, the junior chamber of commerce in Brookings Oregon, the “Jaycees”, got a bright idea over a few beers. Why not invite the only foreign pilot to successfully attack the American Mainland, as an honored guest.

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It was a gesture of friendship, but the idea set off a firestorm in the coastal community. A full-page op-ed signed by 100 locals ran in the Brookings-Harbor Pilot, in 1962. Part of it read:

[Fujita’s] sole claim to fame is that he’s the only Nip pilot who bombed the mainland of the United States by airplane … Why stop with Fujita? Why not assemble the ashes of Judas Iscariot, the corpse of Atilla the Hun, a shovel full of dirt from the spot where Hitler died … .

Brookings resident Greg Jacques remembers, “There was a lot of turmoil. You gotta remember it was only like 16 years after the war. There were 30 to 40 to 50 percent of the men in the community at that time were in World War II.”   There were heated arguments in coffee shops and bars, all over town.  Then-Jaycees President Bill McChesney recalled, “I got a death threat it in the middle of the night.  This guy said, ‘If you walk with that Nip down the street we’re going to have rifles pointed at you, and your family.’”

In the end, the group of young businessmen, none over the age of 35, voted unanimously to extend the invitation. To hell with the consequences. President John F. Kennedy congratulated the group, on their efforts to promote international friendship.

With assurances to the Japanese government that the former pilot would not be tried as a war criminal, the Fujita family left the Ibaraki Prefecture for the City of Brookings Oregon, in 1962. Nobuo, his wife Akayo, and their young son Yasuyoshi. Nobuo carried with him a prized family heirloom, a 400-year old Katana, the Samurai Sword with which he intended to perform Seppuku, ritual suicide by disembowelment, should this visit go wrong.

Nobuo Fujita presents his family's sword to the mayor of Brookin

Despite the bitterness left in the wake of that terrible war, the visit did not go wrong.
Fujita was made honorary chairman of that year’s azalea festival. The man was presented with a ceremonial key to the city, and allowed to take the controls of an aircraft, flying over the bomb site. He even tried his hand at playing a bagpipe, during a parade.

All things were not “Kumbaya” – several men were jailed during the visit, in a preemptive effort to keep the lid on.

In the end, Nobuo Fujita did not open his abdomen with that sword, nor did he pass the treasured heirloom to his son, as once intended. The sword which had accompanied him on his every mission of the late war, including the one over Brookings itself, that prized object did he give to the city of Brookings, as a symbol of friendship. The sword may be seen at the Chetco Public Library, to this day.

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Back in Japan, the economy was tough after the war. Fujita passed the family hardware store down to his son, but the business failed. The old pilot never forgot a promise made to the place he had once tried to burn down. Fujita worked for years to earn the money, to buy a few books every month. In 1985 he kept his promise, inviting three Brookings-Harbor High School students on a cultural exchange visit to Japan, with the money he had saved. An aide to President Ronald Reagan sent him a letter, “with admiration for your kindness and generosity.”

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Hat tip Oregon Public Broadcasting, OPB.org, for this and the sword image.

Fujita returned to Brookings in 1990, and again in 1992, and 1995. During the 1992 visit, he planted a Pacific Redwood, at the site where his bombs fell.

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Nobuo Fujita died in 1997 at the age of eighty-five, only days after being made an honorary citizen of the city of Brookings. In October of the following year, Fujita’s daughter Yoriko Asakura returned to the bomb site, where she buried some of her father’s ashes. Now, his spirit would fly over that place, forever.

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At some point, the only foreign pilot to successfully attack the American mainland, confided to his diary: “If we knew each other. If we understood each other as a friend. This foolish war would never have happened. I sincerely hope that a day would come where everyone could overcome their differences through talking and not fighting”.

Yeah…What he said.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.