First Japanese Prisoner of War


By: J. Owen

As you drive around Oahu, you will see the longest beach named Waimanalo.  It was at this beach that the first Japanese prisoner of war was captured by US troops in World War II. His name was Kazuo Sakamaki and he was an ensign in the Imperial Japan Navy (IJN). He served on a midget submarine that malfunctioned and drifted to Waimanalo Beach.

The midget submarine was onboard mother submarine  I-24. She was able to have 2 men on board. Along with Ens. Sakamaki, was CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki. Both men knew that the gyroscope on the submarine was inoperable, but they chose to go anyway.

The minisub left at 0333. The defective gyroscope immediately gave them problems. Despite the constant risk of surfacing, it was able to reach Pearl Harbor. While attempting to enter the channel into Pearl Harbor, the midget submarine was reefed three times.  While reefed, Sakamaki, saw the destroyer Helm. He believed he could have torpedoed Helm, but his target was the battleships or carriers in Pearl Harbor.

Sakamaki’s submarine was finally free of the reef by about noon, having missed window of the two waves of attack.  The damage from reefing made their torpedo useless as they could not fire.  Additionally, they did not have ample power to get to the pick-up point near the island of Lanai.

Although low on power, they attempted to enter Pearl Harbor with hopes of ramming a battleship. However it was too dark and they gave up that hope. They aimed towards Lanai and drifted. Eventually the mini sub died for good. The men were off East Oahu at this point. They knew that they could not let their midget submarine get into the hands of their enemies so Sakamaki lit a fuse and both men jumped overboard.

Things only got worse at this point. They did not hear an explosion because the attempt to destroy the minisub had failed.  Inagaki’s attempt to swim also failed and he was never seen again.

Sakamaki lost consciousness and drifted towards Waimanalo Beach.  When he awoke an American soldier was standing over him.  Sgt. David M. Akui, who found Sakamaki, was of Japanese descent, but did not speak Japanese. Sakamaki fell asleep again and was brought to Honolulu where he would be questioned.

The Shame of Becoming the First Japanese Prisoner of War

Sakamaki was the first Japanese prisoner of war and this brought him great shame. It was expected that a Japanese Warrior would die fighting or commit suicide before surrendering.  He requested that no information about him and his capture be sent to Japan. Sakamaki asked to be killed or to be allowed to commit suicide, neither request was honored.

Submariners on Pearl Harbor Attack not including the first Japanese prisoner of War, Sakamaki

This Japanese Propaganda photo of the submariners in the midget submarines does not include Sakamaki, the First Japanese prisoner of war.

He was correct though about how the others in the IJN would see his capture. When he eventually found out, Yamamoto was outraged that Sakamaki allowed himself the disgrace of capture.

Midget submarine at Pearl Harbor

A midget submarine at Pearl Harbor after the attack

He lived through the war in various prison camps and returned to Japan after the war as a pacifist. Sakamaki went on to write the book I Attacked Pearl Harbor. Author Ulrich Straus wrote  The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, which tells the story of Sakamaki, the first Japanese Prisoner of War in WWII.

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