- Pacini, John
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1975 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The vehicles we saw had mostly been captured during the retreats of early 1942. One car was a Buick 8 sedan, which had been brought to Japan from the Philippines for the use of the Admiral who commanded the base.
During the war, as many as 35,000 sailors would be employed at this base, which was comparable with the British Naval base at Plymouth. Not far from the base stood the naval aircraft base, while on Azuma Peninsula, which is really an island about one mile square divided from the naval base by a 50-yard wide canal and looks like a mountain peak jutting out of the water, were stocks of ammunition and oil for ships which had been built up for the once proud Japanese grand fleet.
Our tour took us through the stores, which contained beautiful cutlery and crockery. There were plentiful supplies of parachutes made from the best Japanese silk, and there were silver trays and champagne glasses, which were issued to senior naval officers to be used on auspicious occasions. One store was filled with uniforms and rank epaulettes.
One sailor found a complete Admiral’s dress uniform, with yards of gold piping and braiding. We visited the petty officers’ mess, behind which were stacked dozens of empty bottles of Japanese beer and sake. The bottles had not long been opened, so apparently the petty officers and their friends had entertained lavishly just before their evacuation.
We found English Corona typewriters, which had not been taken from the cases since the fall of Singapore, and Japanese Admirals’ dirks, which were silver inlaid and stood beside a case of Samurai swords.
It was a strange feeling to be walking round this great store, which only a week before had been a hive of activity and whose asphalt streets today were dead.
On a steep hill overlooking the base and surrounded by beautiful gardens and terraced lawns stood the Japanese place of worship. Just below it stood a small inadequate hospital. As we walked from one place to another we heard at regular intervals the toot of electric trains only a mile outside our perimeter, which ran every seven minutes to Tokyo. We had been told that all civilian transport had been cancelled, but many of them were still travelling on these trains.
A number of interpreters, who had been provided by the Japanese Government, were waiting for us in a small building. They looked a miserable, unfed lot, but the moment we entered they sprang quickly to their feet. But we did not even acknowledge the greeting. We had made up our minds, independently if not collectively, to say ‘Thank You’ to none of them, and if they barred our way as we walked along the street to push them to one side.
When the Japanese commander realised that no harm was going to come to him, so long as no harm came to us, he began to smile more often. He became even more open with his information, and for a few minutes I was able to speak to him through an interpreter. He told me that the navy desired to attack Australia straight after the fall of Singapore, but the army preferred to move to Australia through New Guinea. The army won. He smiled.
He knew as well as I that had the navy won, and the Japanese sailed for Australia after Singapore and landed in this country in those early hectic days of 1942, the course of the war as far as Australia was concerned would have been entirely different.
He said that the Japanese civilians were surprised when their country surrendered, but senior service officers and those holding executive positions in Government departments expected it.
My interview with the commander was very much ‘under the lap’, and was necessarily shorter than I would have liked. But he did give me the impression that the permanent naval officers in Japan were still proud and annoyed that their military government had not placed more reliance, particularly early in the war, on their views and information.
I passed from the commander to two or three Japanese interpreters, one of whom had been a student at Tokyo University, and another who was a fully qualified teacher. I took the precaution of not interviewing them together, because I wanted individual impressions and information without influence.
It was obvious, from what all said, that the Japanese Government had kept its people in sublime ignorance about the war until two or three months ago. One interpreter said many of the people thought their troops were fighting in Australia until a few months ago, and the majority were sure a landing had been made in America earlier in the war.
Toward noon we returned to our assault personnel destroyer before going to inspect Azuma. Our stay with the American Navy had taught us that it was a much more informal navy than our own.
The American Navy had been hastily built and manned, but had, nevertheless, done the same work as successfully as our own. When one realised that of the 300 American warships in the harbour more than 200 had been built and manned within three years, one appreciated the tremendous war effort of that country.
During the early afternoon we travelled to Azuma, about a mile distant, with Captain Buchanan. Azuma was surrounded with a number of small pontoon wharves, which were used to refuel smaller Japanese ships, and the marine major met us on one as we stepped ashore. He took us to his headquarters, about 50 yards away. Originally it had been a Japanese office.
Already he had commandeered a firefighting truck, which he used as a headquarters vehicle. His marines had found a number of Japanese flags, including some outsize ones measuring 15 ft. square.
We climbed aboard the fire truck, and began a tour of the peninsula. As I said before, Azuma is more like a mountain peak, jutting out of the water. The whole of it is honeycombed with caves, running almost from one side to the other.
There were shells stacked closely together in the first cave we inspected. In the second cave, outside which British marines were brewing their everlasting cup of tea, we found 150,000 British 2 lb. shells, which were taken from Singapore and Hong Kong. They would never have fitted any Japanese weapon, and it is difficult to understand why they were kept.
Two hundred yards along the same tunnel we came to thick steel doors, such as one might see in a city bank vault. They were not difficult to open. Behind them and almost under the peak of the mountain, were stacked fragile wireless parts, including brittle valves, which had been placed there as protection from bomb blast.
Further around the island we came on a midget submarine base, where these small underwater craft were built, assembled, and put to sea. They were not unlike those which entered Sydney Harbour, except that they had obviously been built for suicide purposes.
They were driven by compressed air, while those which entered Sydney Harbour were driven by battery. Commander Urquhart, who was in charge of the examination of the submarines which entered Sydney Harbour and was now Engineer Commander for the Seventh Flotilla, said they had never been made to fire torpedoes.
A complete railway system afforded them easy transportation on land, and a huge crane enabled them to be launched into the water.
They were 30 ft. smaller than those which entered Sydney Harbour, and could have been driven and controlled by one man, as against three employed on the earlier types. Beside their launching place a huge concrete trough had been built for testing before they put to sea.
On a ramp beside the midget submarine base we found a motor torpedo boat, on stilts, which was apparently being repaired when the order came to evacuate. It had never been meant to travel far – it was obvious from the state of the hull that it could never have handled heavy seas, and Commander Urquhart felt sure its purpose was for use as a suicide vessel which, when full of explosives, could ram an Allied ship at high speed.
Nowhere did we see much stored rubber or rubber tyres, suggesting that the Japanese also are extremely short of this commodity so essential in modern warfare. We also found little oil, but did discover large caches of coal.
On top of the mountain peak the Japanese have built a large control house, from which the whole of Azuma naval base and the harbour can be seen. From it we saw the burnt-out Japanese battleship Nagaro, which was one of the last members of the Japanese fleet to be attacked by our aircraft.
Out in the harbour we saw the hull of a 5,000-ton Japanese cargo submarine, which had been built to carry supplies to places like Bougainville and New Guinea, but it was never used. There were a few destroyers and cargo ships anchored beside it.