|OKADA Seizo was born in 1913 in Osaka, and graduated from the Osaka Foreign Language University, majoring in English before he got his job at the Asahi Newspaper as a reporter. He was sent to New Guinea in 1942 as a war correspondent and in total he spent over a year outside Japan. He survived the war and died in 1995.
Leaving Ujina in Hiroshima for New Guinea on 2 June 1942 with his journalist colleagues on board the Arizona Maru, OKADA arrived in Rabaul on 20 July. He and another correspondent, SATO, were attached to the South Seas Force which was led by Major General HORII on its overland attack across the Owen Stanley Range to Port Moresby.
OKADA landed on the New Guinea coast with the South Seas Force and reached Isurava with the troops. The Australian troops left food supplies behind when they retreated and Japanese soldiers including OKADA rushed to the storehouse to get hold of food which included canned food, butter, cheese, milk, corned beef and Arnotts biscuits. Some soldiers from farming villages did not like Australian food which they were not familiar with, but OKADA enjoyed eating Arnotts biscuits with butter. He saw the combination of biscuits and butter as "the power of Anglo-American civilization."
OKADA moved further into the mountain with the troops. At Efogi, bitter hand-to-hand fighting took place. By the time the Force left Efogi, considerable numbers of troops were lost "killed in action, suffered from disease, nervous breakdown, diet deficiency and fainting." (p.14)
On 12 September, the Force reached on top of Mt Ioribaiwa and the troops were elated. However, he reported that 80 per cent of the men were either killed or ill by then, and that food and ammunition had run out.
An order from General IMAMURA, Commander of the 8th Area Army, reached HORII and directed the Force to turn back without proceeding with the Port Moresby attack. OKADA was present at when the order was received, and described the scene vividly as follows:
On a thin straw mat in the tent the elderly commander was sitting solemnly upright on his heels, his face emancipated, his grey hair reflecting the dim light of a candle that stood on the inner lid of ration can. Lieutenant Colonel TANAKA, his staff officer, sat face to face with him also on a mat. Two lonely shadows were cast on the dirty wet canvas. There was a strong body of opinion among the hot-blooded battalion commanders advocating a desperate single-handed thrust into Port Moresby. But Staff-Officer TANAKA remained cool, and reasoned with them saying that it was a suicidal action even if everything went well except the supply of food, which was in a hopeless condition.
OKADA wrote that HORII did not want to obey the initial order from IMAMURA. However, when he received the same order from the Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo, he realised the order needed to be accepted.
OKADA and his colleague SATO decided to turn back straight away without waiting for the troops. On their way back, OKADA experienced hot pursuit by the advancing Australian Army and they were threatened by frequent air raids. The food shortage was even more severe because they could no longer find taro and other crops in the field as they were already dug up when the troops had passed through. For OKADA, his work as a newspaper reporter became unimportant and he had only one desire: to escape.
However, his observation as a journalist was not totally abandoned. In his manuscript entitled "Lost troops" he described a distressing scene in Efogi which he witnessed during his retreat. His writing is graphic and shocking, but realistic.
In the eternal twilight (of jungle) lay numberless bodies of men scattered here and there - men so recently killed in action and already beginning to rot. A nasty stifling smell, like that of burning old cloth, filled the air, giving us a stifling sensation of nausea. It was the smell of dead bodies - rotting human bodies lying in all possible postures, some on their faces, some on their backs, some on their side, some in the squatting position. What struck me as being very strange was that they all had on their bellies something like a heap of sand, black, glittering and wriggling all the time. I approached one of the bodies and found that it was a heap of maggots bred in the belly, where the rotting process seemed to set in before any other part of the body.
Once OKADA and SATO reached the flat country from the mountains, severe air raids were waiting for them. Crossing the Kusumi River was difficult as the bridge which had been built by the Yokoyama Advance Party had been destroyed by Allied bombers. On many occasions a rope was sent across the river to guide boats to the other side, but was cut by machine gun bullets from the Allies planes. A young Japanese officer genuinely admired the skill of enemy pilots by praising, "A circus in the air!"
Finally, OKADA managed to cross the river at night on a small folding boat in a group of six. In a debilitated state, he and SATO reached Soputa where they left communication staff and radio equipment. For a month, they recuperated in a hut in a coffee plantation and waited for transport out of Buna. During this time, they watched many sick and starved soldiers pass by towards the coast.
Back in Rabaul, OKADA realised the number of troops had greatly increased and their main interest was the situation in Guadalcanal, not on the fate of the South Seas Force.
OKADA secured an interview with TSUJI Masanobu in the beginning of December 1942. When the reporter enquired about HORII's attack, TSUJI simply spitted out "A blunder!" and "Lost troops!" It became obvious for OKADA that the Headquarters did not care about the miserable outcome HORII's unit had suffered. The aftermath of the campaign continued even after the soldiers returned to Rabaul as many suffered from malaria, diet deficiencies, and nervous breakdown.
As the situation in Guadalcanal became graver, the newspapermen's existence became a nuisance for the Army. The food provision for the reporters was neglected and they decided to leave Rabaul. For OKADA, TSUJI's comment on the fate of the South Seas Force was a severe disillusionment.
Instead of heading back to Japan directly, the journalists were to be sent to Manila to be "shelved" so that the true reporting of the war could not be known to the public. They left Rabaul at the end of December 1942. In Manila, OKADA eventually learned about the tragic end of the South Seas Force in Buna.
Contributed by Keiko Tamura (AJRP)
OKADA Seizo, "Lost troops" (AWM) MSS0732
Human face of war
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