A Japanese soldier faces up to a lost campaign

Aerial photograph of Vila Airfield on Kolombangara taken by a U.S. Navy at low level, circa August 1943.

Aerial photograph of Vila Airfield on Kolombangara taken by a U.S. Navy at low level, circa August 1943.

In New Georgia on the Soloman Islands a japanese private soldier found himself thrown into a campaign that had already been lost. He and his companions from the 23rd Infantry Regiment were landed on Baanga Island, where the troops in occupation were already in retreat. U.S. forces were already well established on nearby islands and the seas around were patrolled by PT boats and destroyers, making it increasingly difficult for the Japanese to land reinforcements or supplies.

Little is known about Tadashi Higa apart from what was found in his diary which was found by the Americans and translated for intelligence purposes. On the 3rd August 1943 he made the following entry

We walked along either starving or chewing hard tack. The men in the forces that were withdrawing had pale faces; and there was one casualty in torn clothing who went along using a sword as a cane.

Being just one battalion, we are helpless. We withdrew further. We must withdraw tonight, for our number will be up when day breaks. To advance would have meant death. The situation is indescribable.

The day broke. Enemy planes came roaring toward us, and if we had been detected, it would have meant our end.

The force has spent three days and four nights hiding in the brush without eating, and soaking wet. We were unable to advance a step. We were awaiting the order for an immediate withdrawal to Kolombanga.

Everybody picked coconuts. The enemy was hurriedly constructing an airfield opposite us. We could see them so clearly that it seemed we could have touched them. It only meant that more air attacks were in store for us. Our lives were worthless, for there was no order for withdrawal after all. I have come to hate the men who cause wars. The withdrawal order didn’t come through tonight either.

Our rations have run out. I felt as though I had Malaria, and I took quinine tablets and Hinomarin to keep alive. I was merely awaiting my fate and yet I wanted to die fighting.

It isn’t merely that Japan is being defeated. I felt like crying. Being wet, and in a jungle full of mosquitoes, I thought of home. Ah! The letters from home last month. Ten letters and fourteen or fifteen postcards after a year without any word. There were also letters from my parents.

News from HARUKO, I cherish deeply. But the new was that my beloved younger sister has died, has become a cold, black corpse. Oh! When I thought of her fate, the tears came. I really cried. I felt bitter toward Providence. When I realized that fate determines our lives, my mind became calm. Although death comes sooner or later, I felt sorry for my sister who had to die so young. I prayed for the repose of her soul.

Our parents must be bereaved. Furthermore my mother, who is always thinking about me, must be going through an ordeal worse than death. War is sad.

Nature remains unaffected by such things, though. The morning sun shone, the wind blew softly, yet rain fell plentifully. The hard tack was wet and gave out a foul odor; nobody ate it. We did nothing except gnaw on coconuts.

Two large landing barges were attacked by torpedo boats while they were transporting material to this island. One squad of our CO was on them. I wonder what happened to them!

We talked about home, and we criticized war conditions. We ate no food; our life was just this and nothing else. There was talk that, even today, dead bodies floated up on the north shore. When we thought of their deaths, we were overcome with sorrow.

There was talk that the men of the Southeast Div have not yet arrived. We could not expect them, because our forces, driven hither and thither, must have been roaming about these lonely islands. I wondered what would become of them! I wondered, too, what fate had in store for us!

Despite his sadness and his despair on 13th August Tadashi made his last entry in his diary:

We are determined to resist to the last soldier, and with that intention I lay down my pen.

It was the same situation as on Attu in the northern Pacific, despite knowing that they fought without hope of victory, or even of surviving, the ordinary japanese soldier saw no alternative but to fight on.

His diary was eventually found on 20th August, what became of Tadashi Higa is not known. The diary was translated by the Combat Intelligence Center, South Pacific Force, and is now retained by the U.S. Naval Historical Center. This extract is included in Richard Aldrich, ed.: The Faraway War: Personal Diaries Of The Second World War In Asia And The Pacific.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Editor August 11, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Thanks – should be airfield, now corrected – its a strange glitch in the OCR that does not like the combination “fi” for some reason!

kiki August 6, 2013 at 4:17 pm

aireld?

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