Photo 1: the Tsushimamaru
Photo 2: some of the passengers aboard the ill-fated Tsushimamaru
Photo 3: a young girl praying at a memorial for the victims
Photo 5: the Bowfin at a memorial park of the same name in Honolulu
It was 1944. The tide had turned for the Japanese, and it was increasingly clear that the question was not whether U.S. ground forces would land on Japanese soil, but rather when. Saipan had fallen to the Allies, and an invasion of Okinawa seemed inevitable. During the spring and early summer of that year civilians and military personnel alike worked feverishly to prepare the island's defenses. Their studies suspended, schoolchildren were assigned to work details constructing bunkers and barracks. The Japanese authorities were considering evacuating as many as 1,000,000 women and children from the island: 80% were to be relocated to the mainland, with the remaining 20% to be sent to Taiwan. For a number of reasons the plans never materialized, among them being the belief that Japan could repulse the invaders. However, in July of 1944, rumors began circulating that an evacuation of the schoolchildren would finally take place. The military presence on Okinawa was being increased, and the authorities did not want precious resources to be used to support a civilian population that, in the event of invasion, would be unable to provide armed assistance. Thus it was that on August 21, 1944, the Tsushimamaru, a 6,500 ton cargo ship commissioned for the evacuation, steamed out of the harbor of Naha, Okinawa. On board were 1, 788 passengers and crew. Their destination: Nagasaki. The 5 ship convoy of which the Tsushimamaru was part comprised military vessels as well, and the following day the group was spotted by the U.S. submarine Bowfin. Apparently the sub did not recognize the Tsushimamaru for what it was, though contemporary photos clearly show a ship without armaments of any kind. The passenger ship adopted evasive measures to elude the Bowfin, but to no avail. Between 10:00 and 10:30 pm, August, 1944, the Tsushimamaru was struck by a torpedo fired from the Bowfin. Of the 1,788 passengers on board, 1418, including 767 children, perished in waters some 10k from Akuseki Island, Kagoshima. Only 59 children survived the attack.