One of the most fascinating persons on Guadalcanal Island during the 1942 campaign was Terushige Ishimoto. Histories of the campaign are littered with misinformation about the man. Usually he is portrayed as a spy, a torturer, and the killer of Catholics missionaries. He was none of these. This tells a very different story.
The Story of Terushige Ishimoto
He was born on 27 July 1912 at 701-1, Oaza-Usuki, Usukucho, Kita-amabegun, Oita Prefecture, Japan, and had four brothers and one sister, and was the third-born boy. He was also an honorary member of the Taming family. His family moved to Usuki, and his father became head of the Forestry Supervision Office; when his father was transferred to another district, Terushige remained at Usuki, enrolling as a working student at the Commercial School. The schools director considered him a brilliant student and asked Terushige father-in-law (godfather) to provide aid for him. He went on to graduate from the Yamaguchi Commercial College in 1934 with honors.
Based on his schooling and his enthusiasm he obtained employment at the firm Marubeni, in Osaka. He served as the companys international representative in Europe for almost five years, and made one trip to the United States. He left Marubeni to study in England; there he mastered English, as well as French and German. It is said that he had the demeanor and manners of a gentleman; as his mother remembered, He was impeccable in his dress and he bathed, and changed clothes twice a day.
Early in 1939, Mr. Ishimoto returned to Japan, and obtained employment at Nanyo Boeki Kaisha Ltd. (South Seas Trading Company Ltd.), [NBK] which was managed by a classmate of his mothers uncle. Three years earlier he had married Eiko (written in Japanese as Eikoku), whose father was a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Navys Engineering Academy. Terushige worked in the NBKs main office in Tokyo until June 1939, when he was transferred to Rabaul as manager of the companys operations in the South Seas.
As manager of the Rabaul office, Ishimoto was responsible, among other things, for visiting the firms branch offices in the mandated islands throughout the South Seas area. Usually he took passage on the companys prime vessel, the M.V. Takachiho Maru. One of the routes he traveled was from Rabaul to Tulagi, where he would remain overnight, then on to Vila, New Hebrides where he stayed at the home of Murooka Kiyoshi the local NBK branch manager. Ordinarily he would travel on to Nouméa, Suva, and Butaritari in the Gilbert Islands as he sought to expand trade for the homeland.
He returned to Japan in mid-1941, making his home in Tokyo, and his assistant, Mr. Kosuge became the manager of the Rabaul office. He continued to be employed by Nan yo Boeki Kaisha, now as chief of the foreign section. His mother said, Terushige enjoyed listening to symphonic music, and was known to be kind and considerate to subordinates in the home office. He was one of the Japanese upper class, by manner, rather than by status. In November 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy mobilized Ishimoto to serve as a civilian interpreter, with the corresponding rank of lieutenant.
He returned to Rabaul with the invasion forces on 23 January 1942, served mostly on detached duty as an interpreter with forward units in New Ireland, Bougainville, and the Shortland Islands. He made one return trip home, by air, to visit his family and clear up last-minute details before returning to the front. From 1935 onwards, Japanese spies literally infiltrated into the Dutch Netherlands Indies and the southwestern Pacific. They came down among the British and French territories, south of the Equator, in fishing sampans, disguised as shell fishermen; but every one knew who they were--agents of espionage, busily charting every island, reef and shoal for the long-awaited day when Nippon should strike, and wipe the Europeans out of the Far East and the Pacific. Month by month , during the later 'thirties,' the Pacific Islands Monthly reported the presence of Japanese "poachers" off the coasts of New Guinea, Papua, Solomons, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Fiji, and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, but nothing was done about it. In the same vein, the Imperial Navy always had an ardent interest in the South Seas, including Tulagi, because its harbor could embrace a large portion of the fleet. In addition, it could be an out post to protect the flank of the great naval base at Truk.
Many stories abound about having a Japanese carpenter on Tulagi (or a sail maker or a tailor) these stories centered around the name "Ishimoto." Some imagined that he was spy, which may have arisen from an inaccurate recalling of some Japanese individual, not named Ishimoto, who was employed by W.R. Carpenter & Company at Tulagi or elsewhere in the Solomons. This author could not find his name in any records associated with pre-war Tulagi. Many Japanese have a moto as part of the family name, and it is easy to make that mistake with a Japanese surname. When a Japanese speaking English appeared on Guadalcanal in the summer of 1942 stories began to 'fly' around that one of the Japanese on the island had been on Tulagi pre-war. There is a distinct possibility that someone may have seen Terushige Ishimoto who may have been on Tulagi in conjunction with his NBK trading business. After all, a Japanese person on an 'all white' Tulagi would stand out.
The December 1941 Japanese Pacific onslaught saw the crushing of the Allies, with the Philippines, Wake and Guam Islands, the Netherlands Indies, and the Commonwealth possessions falling under Nippons control. In 1942, the Japanese began to consolidate their gains, and deployed their forces in an attempt to disrupt the lifeline between the United States and Australia.
In late April 1942, part of the Kure 3rd Special Naval Landing Force (Kure 3rd SNLF) consisting of two reinforced companies were aboard transports in Rabaul's harbor along with Brig. Gen. Tomiaro Horiis South Sea Detachment waiting to be part of the assault troops poised to land at Port Moresby in Papua. Because of the presence of strong of allied forces in the area, the 'MO' (Port Moresby, Japanese code designation RZP) operation was temporarily cancelled and the RXB project was put in play. The RXB project was the invasion of Tulagi Island.
In the late hours of 3 May 1942, when two reinforced companies known as the RXB (Tulagi) Landing Force (commanded by Sp. Lt. (jg) Junta Mauryama and Kakichi Yoshimoto) landed on Tulagi and Gavutu Islands, in the British Solomon Islands. One diarist notes it as a bloodless landing. The following morning, it was not 'bloodless,' because the area was struck with three successful air attacks launched from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. Her aircraft sank the 22-year-old destroyer Kikuzuki (23d Destroyer Division) and the 215-ton special service vessels Sôtoku-1 and Sôtoku-2, (14th Minesweeper Division), and damaged the 12-year-old minesweeper Okinoshima. On the 9th, Lieutenant Mauryama, and his 2d Company returned to Rabaul but left one platoon behind, commanded by WO Kikuo Tanaka to support the Yoshimoto's 3d Company.
A flying boat detail set up camp on Gavutu Island at the pre-war RAAF Base, and all remained calm after the 4 May attack. The only problem was the occasional bombing by the Catalina bombers of the RAAF. In early June, orders came through from the 8th Base Force at Rabaul to Tulagi to provide a platoon as a 'protective umbrella' on Guadalcanal for an important air unit inspection party from Rabaul for the proposed construction of a landing field. The team was led by Lt. Comdr. Tokunaga Okamura, IJNAF, who arrived at Gavutu by air from Rabaul, and the party took a boat to Guadalcanal, some 20 miles away.
Commander Okamura was the CO of the 13th Construction Unit. While not an engineer, he was a flying officer, who was grounded because of a disability, but was suited to help plan a forward airbase. On arrival, the group inspected the flat grass area of Lunga plains and laid tentative plans to construct an airstrip. They departed for Rabaul four days latter and the 'protection' platoon returned to Tulagi.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, DC, the War Department was worried about the Japanese pushing east to invade Tulagi Island, some 600 miles from their main base at Rabaul. On 2 July, the United States Joint Chiefs agreed upon an operation plan in two parts. Phase one would capture the islands of Santa Cruz (300 miles away) and Tulagi in the British Solomon Islands along with positions on adjacent islands. hey assigned this task to the 1st Marine Division then in New Zealand; reinforced by the 2d Marines, then in San Diego, California; 1st Parachute Battalion, 1st Raider Battalion in New Caledonia, and the 3d Defense Battalion at Pearl Harbor. Colonel M.B. Twinning: The plan transmitted to us [1st Marine Division] in [Admiral] Kings warning order focused almost exclusively on the seizure of Tulagi. Guadalcanal was not even referred to. Later on, a surveillance flight over Guadalcanal on 6 July by a B-17 from the Port Moresby based 19th Bombardment Group revealed the presence of a large ground party. With this information at hand, the island of Guadalcanal was added to the attack plans.
On 28 June 1942, Terushige Ishimoto and Matutaro Ito while at Rabaul, New Guinea were assigned as interpreters, for the 247 member RXI [Guadalcanal] Air Base Guard Unit, also identified as the 81st Guard Unit. The force arrived at Lunga, Guadalcanal Island on 1 July aboard the Kinryu Maru commanded by Lt. Yukio Endo, IJN. Because of Terushige Ishimotos background, his command of English, he became the civil affairs officer; however, he had no major authority in military matters.. Their mission of the guard unit was to provide security for the pending arrival of the two construction units, the 11th and 13th Construction Unit due to arrive on 6 July. Within three weeks the airstrip was almost completed. One construction unit was working on one side and the other the opposite side to meet in the middle.
One of Ishimotos assignments on Guadalcanal was to solicit aid from the natives via their chiefs and/or the missionaries, who had substantial influence over the islanders. He was to encourage the residents to become part of the Lunga workforce to assist the Japanese in building the airstrip. Another task was to explain the new government to the local inhabitants. To accomplish this, it was necessary to involve the missionaries because of their control over the locals.
A Visit to the Missionaries
To begin his duties Ishimoto decided to pay a visit to the missionaries while en route to establish a watcher post. On 3 July, a party consisting of Ishimoto and two squads of the 81st Guard Units Mountain Gun Platoon (WO Tetsuzo Nakamura), including two radiomen, headed for Cape Esperance (Cape Diaho) on board the Daiwa Maru No. 2 to establish the lookout post. En route they stopped at the Visale Catholic Mission to explain the new government. One squad with a radioman, under PO3c. Isamu Matsuda, continued on to Cape Esperance to establish the watcher station, later identified as the West Observation Post.
They arrived at Visale about 2:30 p.m. in what the Catholics described as a "black sampan." Father Aloysius Brugmans, the priest in charge of the Visale Mission, and Bishop Jean Marie Aubin, S.M., led a group of students away from the mission to avoid encountering the Japanese. In the meantime, the sailors scoured the property for any items of use, even looking under the house. Nakamuras men requested fowl, fruit, and a pig. The mission was obliged to cook this food for them.
Bishop Aubin later returned to the mission to handle all conversation with Ishimoto. He spoke both English and French, but with Ishimoto he often spoke in French. The Japanese were most anxious to learn the numbers and locales of whites living in the Solomons, and they questioned the missionaries at length about this. Bishop Aubin stated:
"At lunchtime a Japanese officer of high rank, accompanied by his orderly, [Ishimotos and his guard, PO3c Sankichi Keneda,] arrived at the station. Then the following questions: "How many whites in the islands before the Japanese occupation?" To this we replied that we depended on the "Blue Book" for that information. Then, how many whites are there now? Our answer was, "we do not know." Naturally enough, we knew that many had been evacuated! One further question: "Is there a district officer on this island?" We were able to reply orally, again truthfully: "We do not know."
Sister Mary Theresa, S.M.S.M. (Soeurs Missionaires de la Societe de Marie) recalled Ishimoto's commanding presence:
"Ishimoto had told our Bishop Aubin that he was an interpreter with no rank. We did not believe him; especially when we saw the way he snapped at the men who accompanied him, and there was authority in all his gestures. To me, Ishimoto was the only dignified Japanese soldier that I met during our three months captivity. He told us that he would protect us while he was there, which would be only a couple of days. He warned us, as isolated as we were, we were in danger and might even be killed. He promised that if any Japanese soldier should harm us he would be punished."
A Return Visit
Bishop Aubin recalled:
"The Japanese schooner [Diawa Maru No. 2] coming from Tsapuru anchored in the bay and Ishimoto came ashore with a party [of sailors]. He asked for immediate delivery of our three radios and twelve boxes full of trade articles left in our care at the station by one of the Chinese before his departure, as well as the delivery of chairs of the dining room and veranda. When they were loading those things, some of the crew went to the sisters quarters, entered their house and started to loot. I was at the time with Ishimoto on the beach. As soon as I saw the men at the sisters '[quarters], I left him and rushed hurriedly to them. "Get outside the house at once," I said to the men who were inside. At the same time the orderly of Ishimoto arrived and ordered them out. One came out with five or six packets of altar candles in his hand and another with a basket full of eggs. "Give me that," I said to them. And I took from them what they had taken and gave it back to the sisters."
Ishimoto asked for one priest to return with him to Lunga and Father Brugmans volunteered to go with the party. He informed the bishop that he was instructed to take all the white priests, and that the Father would be back soon. Ishimoto was very compassionate to Bishop Aubin. By taking only one priest to Lunga, he no doubt spared the lives of all the Catholics at the Visale Mission. His commander at Lunga was Lieutenant Endo, who was originally the adjutant of the Maizuru 2nd Special Naval Landing Force, the parent command of the 81st and 82d Guard Units. Endo had been part of the Wake Island invasion force and later was stationed at Rabaul. Bishop Aubin remembers:
"In the previous visit (3 July), I had written a letter to the chief commander at Lunga [Captain Mozen] asking for freedom of action for myself and all the missionaries of the vicariate. I now asked for an answer. Ishimoto had an oral reply. Liberty to visit the villages was refused. [Ishimoto wanted the Catholics to stay put and out the way of any marauding Japanese. He issued a permit for the bishop, who was restricted to his church area.] I insisted on being allowed to answer calls to the sick. Again no! We were prisoners on our own station of Visale.
When Ishimoto arrived back on the spot I protested strongly about the conduct of the men. He told me he would punish them upon their arrival back at Lunga. Some of the men, I was told by the sisters, had already stolen linen and hidden it under their clothes. Ishimoto said, They will be searched on their arrival at Lunga. The linen was returned a few days later."
He demanded my personal cooperation in making his orders known to the natives of the whole island. [These would be the orders from Capt. Kanae Mozen IJN, the base commander, via Lieutenant Endo.] I refused and told him that even under the British rule, we were not agents of the administration and that each island was ruled directly by a district officer who had his own representatives [a chief] in each district and village. Our role was that of ministers of religion and in that role our authority did not extend beyond the Catholics.
On 5 July, Ishimoto returned, accompanied by a doctor (Lt. (jg) Chihiro Yamagata, MC, IJN), and Father Brugmans. According to Sister Mary Theresa, Brugmans had not been ill treated or questioned, though he was given poor food, and for a bed only the ground between two officers on cots. Bishop Aubin continues: Ishimoto asked for the mission vessel Santa Ana with all her fuel, plus our refrigerator, binoculars, farming implements, shotguns, and cartridges. Fortunately for the mission, the larger of the two vessels, Hambia, had earlier been sent to Malaita for safekeeping.
Ishimoto again visited the mission on the 10th on his way to Cape Hunter, where the sailors were to establish a post at Veuru with ten men from the Mountain Gun Platoon. Included were two radiomen, four petty officers, and the platoon commander, Warrant Officer Nakamura. On the 12th, he returned with a party of sailors and took sixty-six men of the neighboring villages for a work detail on the airstrip. Three weeks later, Bishop Aubin would record the following in his diary:
"For the preceding two weeks the men of the district, working at the Lunga Airstrip, secretly had been coming back in small bands through the bush. The last of them arrived this date after having received a secret message to get out of Lunga quickly. All were in extremely low spirits and said: We were very frightened . . . impossible to sleep and to eat . . . but God looked after us. None had been injured in the American bombardments. Some also said that some of the Japanese would run away if they could."
His business with the Visale Mission having been completed, it was time for Ishimoto to visit other missions. Orders were to establish a lookout post near Maura Sound, and open a watcher station at Cape Zelée on Malaita Island. The forces now on Guadalcanal were all tied down with other projects. One platoon, (Tanaka) which was sitting idle on Gavutu Island, was transferred to Guadalcanal to open the two outer guard stations.
Ishimoto's Movements from 2 August
On 1 August, a platoon of 38 members of WO Kikuo Tanakas sailors moved from Gavutu Island to Guadalcanal. At RXI (Guadalcanal) they were attached to Lt. Akira Tanabes newly formed 1st Company, 84th Guard Unit. Ishimoto was attached to the unit as an interpreter. Tanakas Butai left the Lunga dock on board the Kaiyo Maru No. 1 and Kaiyo Maru No. 2, bound for Marau Sound at the bottom of the island. Added to the Butai were twelve crewmembers, and two radiomen from the 85th Communication Unit.
The vessels made a stop at "Higashi," the East Point watcher station, to drop off supplies, including new batteries. Then they headed for Marau Sound, and reached Niu Island (Marapa) early in the morning of 5 August. There they established a lookout post about two miles from the Marau Marist Brothers School located (between Makna and Pauru) just inland at Paruru. In the meantime, Kaiyo Maru No.1 came around Simeruka, a small island outside of Mikina, and ran into an unseen sandbar and was stuck. The crew had to swim ashore. Plans were made to re-float her later with the tide. Tanaka had decided to inspect the Marau Catholic Mission and arrived there at 1000. Pickets were placed, and all islanders were ordered to remain in their village. Brother Ervan (Brother Peter J. McDonough, F.M.S.), a missionary stationed at Marau, recalled: What took our attention was the size of the men; they were all tall, even by our standards and well built. We learned later they were Marines [naval infantry] especially selected for their physique. The community was informed that it was under martial law and must obey the Japanese government. At 1300, they departed for their coconut grove post at Paruru.
We interrupt our story to add that Guadalcanal and adjacent islands were invaded by the U.S. Marines. On 7 August, the 1st Marine Division, reinforced, invades Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo, and Florida Islands. The assault force is supported by an 80-warship task force, including two aircraft carriers. The Lunga area is now defended by 10,800 Marines. Brother Ervan, later while in Australia, told what happened when the Americans invaded the Solomons:
"Friday [7 August] there was a great roar of planes overhead. We became interested when they turned and came down, as we thought, to land in the bay. It was when they opened fire that we realized that the U.S. was here. For a half an hour the seven planes circled round diving and zooming over the two sampans; each time they fired, the blast shook our house; some flew low over us and we cheered them on. Later in the afternoon we heard the Japs were on shore at the time of the attack, but both boats were badly damaged; that meant the visitors would be staying for a while longer. One seaman [SME Kayma Otoichi], a crewmember [of Kaiyo Maru No. 2], was in the boat during the attack; he was removing supplies when the fighters struck and he was injured. We began to speculate . . . was this the big attack or just another air raid. It was more than a week before we had the answer.
Next morning we had just finished our morning prayers in our house and I was walking along the path on my way to the chapel, when I heard a noise. It was just daylight. Three soldiers [sailors] bent nearly in double were running at me; they were coming through the bush about ten yards away, two had rifles, one a sword. . . . Prods in the back with the sword scabbard informed me that my silent captors wanted me to run. I ran.
As we came up to the veranda, I saw the other soldiers [sailors] hurrying Fathers [John] Coicaud and [George] Van Mechelin along the path from the church. Soon we were all assembled on our veranda. I addressed the English-speaking officer [Ishimoto]; he spoke one word: Wait. Cord was produced and our hands were tied behind our backs and we were surrounded by some 30 soldiers [sailors], all taking this business very seriously. The commander [Tanaka] stood on the step in front of us and looked fiercely from one to the other. The interpreter [Ishimoto] spoke again, The commander wishes to kill you. I will try and protect you, but you must tell the truth. There was a deep silence while the commander unwound a couple of yards of the tape from his sword handle then drew it from the sheath. Drawing himself up on his toes he made as though to split me in two, then he made a pass as though to strike my head off. Satisfied that we were now completely scared, he sheathed his sword and we knew he had only been playing.
We remained tied up, while in the meantime U.S. fighters appeared over the area and then we were moved inside and tied up again. We were suspected of having a wireless, of having sent news to the U.S. Navy, of harboring Australian soldiers, of inciting the natives, and a long list of other charges. The interpreter [Ishimoto] informed us that if we had a wireless, we would be killed. The interpreter appeared anxious that our answers would please the commander [Tanaka], and we seemed to satisfy him on every count. Their questions eventually ceased to our relief, but it was made clear we should be expected to be taken away when boats were available. Now that the excitement of the early morning was over, the officers were very courteous.
The islanders served food and [the Japanese] all sat down to eat together. When finished they prepared to leave. About 1300, they formed in ranks and went off on the double. Ishimoto, the interpreter, paused for a moment to apologize for the treatment we had received and to inquire if we had permitted the sailors to take the half dozen fowls they were carrying. We assured him that there were no hard feelings and the soldiers were welcome to the fowls. Even the commander, he of the swishing sword, granted us a friendly grin as he walked off."
The Japanese outpost at Marau Sound had been established on 5 August about two miles from the mission. Chief radio operator PO3c. Satou Wusetti, using a TM radio, established contact with the Taivu Point naval lookout station on the following day. Just prior to the naval air strike in the area, Ishimoto and Tanaka were planning to head for Cape Zelée, on Malaita Island, in sampan Kaiyo Maru No. 2 with about twenty members of Tanakas unit to establish a new lookout station at the south end of Malaita. Unknown to the Tanaka Butai, however, Headquarters, 84th Guard Unit on Guadalcanal had received a message from the 8th Base Force at Rabaul that the plan to open a watcher station at Cape Zelée on Malaita was temporarily cancelled. Meanwhile, the Kaiyo Maru No. 1 continued to be stuck on the sandbar, and before the trip to Malaita could be accomplished both boats were demolished on 7 August by a carrier-based air strike, leaving the Japanese stranded at Marau Sound without water transportation.
On the 8th, radioman Wusetti, seeking information on the sudden attack, managed to contact Taivu Point lookout post and received the following reply: ORIGINAL AMERICAN FORCE AT RXI INCLUDED 40 TRANSPORTS. 40 WARSHIPS AND FIVE TANKERS. 12 AA GUNS. MORE THAN 11,000 MEN IN AMERICAN FORCE. For the next two days the carrier fighters constantly conducted air strikes at the Tanaka outpost. The camp was moved to a hill next to the church area for safety.
In the meantime, while Ishimoto and the Tanka Butai were at Marau Sound, the first Army Japanese reinforcement landed at Taivu Point (22 miles east of Lunga), where 916 soldiers of the first echelon arrived the night of 18 August. The force, the 1st Battalion 28th Infantry, 7th Division, commanded by Col. Kiyoano Ichiki, was known as the Ichiki Detachment. The commander had badly misjudged the American strength, believing there were only 2,000 Marines holding the island, and not waiting for his rear echelon (Kuma Battalion, 940 men) to arrive, he made plans for a mid-night attack. Three days later this force would attack the Marines holding the area around the Tenaru River, and Ichikis formation was almost annihilated.
The Tanaka outpost remained in daily radio contact with Navy headquarters on Rove Creek on Guadalcanal until 28 August, when the Marau Sound watcher station was abandoned. The Tanaka Butai picked up and departed on foot for the post at Gorabusu, some forty miles away on the northeast coast.
While trudging along they passed through Maraunia Plantation, they passed other abandoned plantations and stopped to rest at Koo village in the Koo Bay area. While en route they crossed many rivers, some flooded, and radioman Wusetti had a difficult time keeping his radio dry. On the 7th the party crossed a deep river in borrowed canoes and waded several streams, and at one spot they crossed a small-gauge railroad line. When the Japanese reached the deep Simiu River, the locals provided canoes and paddled the party across. All along the way, friendly islanders fed them. (Most islanders did not know that Japan and the United States were at war, and no doubt had never seen Japanese before!)
The group passed the village of Susu, then on the 9th, the group finally reached Aola, and to their surprise found a bag of rice, apparently dropped by a member of the party that had unloaded supplies from a submarine. Two days later they made a brief visit to the Gorabusu post, now under the command of the Imperial Japanese Army. 1st Lieutenant Masanori Yamada (45th Independent AA Battalion) had been placed in charge by Maj. Gen. Kiyotake Kawaguchi. Most of Tanakas sea infantrymen did not remain at the Gorabusu site. Once the initial contact was established, they moved near the coast to Koilotumuria (some five miles from Gorabusu, south of Ruavatu) which was an abandoned coastal village. It was cooler near the seashore, and there was fresh water nearby.
It has been written by many who wrote about the battles of Guadalcanal that Terushige Ishimoto worked and lived on Tulagi, our main character of this story, and was guilty of a number of heinous actsacts in which he had no part. He was accused of savagely beating Sgt. Major Jacob Charles Vouza [later OBE] and leaving him for dead. He was also accused of killing Fathers Henry Oude-Engberink (Dutch) and Arthur C. Duhamel (French-Canadian), and two French nuns, Sisters Mary Sylvia and Sister Mary Odilia. At the time of those atrocities Ishimoto was 40 miles away.
A Few of the Many Wild Stories
One typical, far-fetched tale concerns Ishimotos supposed activities as an espionage agent during the 1930s:
"With the invasion force [the elements of the Kure 3rd Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF)] was a naval man, Chief Petty Officer T. Yoshimoto [sic]. Before the war he was an undercover agent [in] the . . . great spy ring known as White Wolf,[?] which operated throughout the Pacific. . . . He worked for Lever Brothers . . . as a carpenter on Ghavutu [sic]. . . . The Solomon [I]slanders knew this man by the name of Ishimoto. In those quiet and peaceful years Yoshimoto was known as a keen photographer and [he] sailed in his own boat around the islands taking pictures and gathering information. He was fluent in pidgin and served his Japanese masters well. He was a key man in their plans."
Another introduces him this way:
"By 8 a.m. [on 3 May 1942] troops were swarming ashore from the transport Azumasan Maru. With them, acting as a guide and interpreter, came a Japanese named T. Ishimoto. He had lived on Tulagi for years, working as a carpenter . . . and as a quiet observer for His Imperial Majestys government."
Robert Luckie also paints another misleading picture of Ishimoto:
"After the battle of the Tenaru [22 August 1942], Clemens had his men comb the battlefield for Ishimotos body. They did not find it. [Some 778 men of the Ichiki Detachment were killed, and many mutilated by canister shot.] Then Gumu, a scout who had become separated from the Brush patrol [Capt. Charles H. Brush (A/1/1), who set up an ambush on 19 August of an advance information party of 39 of the Ichiki Detachment, killing 33.
Gumu was attached to the Brush patrol as a guide.], came into the perimeter reporting he had been caught by Ishimoto. Gumu had been sitting besides a track with ten stones to count the Ichiki as they passed. He made a movement and was discovered by Ishimoto and four soldiers. They had Father Oude-Engberink, Father Duhamel and Sister Sylvia with them and old Sister Edmée of France. [Sister Edmée was not with them. Sister Odilia was]. The missionaries were under guard having been brought from their mission at Ruavutu. Gumu said Ishimoto had tied them to a tree to make the priests go back to the Americans and tell them that the Japanese were too powerful and that they should surrender. [They were taken 31 August.] They refused, and they and the sisters were taken east. Ishimoto also tried to make Gumu carry his pack. When Gumu said he was sick and could not lift it. Ishimoto hit him across the mouth. Gumu continued to feign illness and was at last released. [The Japanese had orders to shoot the natives on sight.] Coming west he met another native who told him he was a lone survivor of five natives who had carried a wounded Marine back to the American lines. Ishimoto and his soldiers had bayoneted the other four to death."
Another wild tale appears in the oral history narrative of William Bennett, who was a prominent islander who worked with District Officer Donald Kennedy in the central Solomons. Bennett mentions that George Bogese, the native medical practitioner at Savo Island, who went over to the Japanese, told him, Ishimoto had been a carpenter for W.R.C. [W. R. Carpenter] at Tulagi. I knew him. He went with them to Kolare [on southeast Santa Isabel] to see George Bogese. [This was 16 May 1942, and Ishimoto did not arrive in the area until 1 July.] The unit that was dispatched to Kolare was the 2d Platoon, 3d Company, Kure 3d SNLF (WO Sadayuki Kato), which was seeking any Europeans. They found none. The platoon was the only unit actually involved in canvassing the outer islands looking for Westerners].
William H. Whyte, Jr., would write about Mr. Ishimoto thus:
"For several long years Ishimoto had endured the patronizing airs of his English masters as he worked at his ostensible trade of carpentry at Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Now, returning with the victorious Imperial Forces, he could no longer wait to greet his old enemies in his naval uniform. No longer would he have to bow and hiss politely at their reprimands, no longer would he have to live like a slave. He would teach these dogs a lesson!
With a group of 40-odd Naval Landing Troops from Tulagi he began scouring the villages along the north coast of Guadalcanal. He went after the troublemakers first the missionaries. None of these hypocrites had fled, but had stayed at their missions. On being questioned they brazenly claimed that they were not communicating with the English, but instead were looking after the needs of their "flock." Some of the other mopping up patrols merely requisitioned their supplies and personal belongings, but Ishimoto was not to be misled. He knew the hold they had on childish natives, although there was no proof he was sure they were up to no good.
When Ishimoto arrived at Ichikis command post he had little valuable information to offer, despite the fact he had been patrolling the north coast for many weeks. It was certain, however, that the Yankees had been able to enlist some of the natives as spies only a few days before, Ishimoto told Ichiki, his old enemy, Vouza, a sergeant major in the native police force, had brazenly walked into his bivouac. On being questioned Vouza denied he knew anything of the Americans activities. Ishimoto, suspicious, had him searched. An angry shout went up from the men as one of them unrolled a piece of cloth that had been hidden under Vouzas lava-lava. It was a tiny American flag! Ishimoto ordered that Vouza be tied to a tree. A little bayonet practice would loosen his tongue. . . . Hour after hour Ishimoto bellowed and shouted at Vouza as the men sliced at his jet-black skin with their bayonets. The black native would not say a word. When dusk came he had lapsed into unconsciousness and was dying."
Elesewhere, Whyte states:
"The most dangerous of the Japanese officers was this man named Ishimoto. He had worked as a carpenter on Tulagi for years, thought he was no doubt already in the pay of the Japanese navy. He returned with the first Japanese landing force in the islands and led the first group of forty troops that secured the villages looking for troublemakers.
He particularly mistrusted two priests, Fathers Henry Oude-Engberink and Arthur C. Duhamel, and several nuns with them, all missionary members of the Society of Mary. They were all stationed at Ruavatu. Ishimoto believed they knew more than they would say about American dispositions, but they insisted that as religious missionaries they were neutral. So they refused to answer questions, and when one of them tried to make an escape, Ishimoto seized a rifle from one of the men and bayoneted Father Duhamel in the belly. The rest were starved and tortured for a week before they were killed. Ishimoto left the disemboweled bodies as an example for the natives.
At first Ishimoto had only intended to threaten them, but the priests insolent manner, his lying answers when interrogated, demanded stronger measures. The whole thing broke when one of the nuns, evidently frightened by the playful gestures at them by the men, suddenly ran into the bush. They couldnt catch her, but the other two nuns and the priest were quickly tied to the coconut trees in front of the mission. Maddened by the insane sobbing of the women, and with the warmth of the sake stirring in him all of the memories of former insults, Ishimotos patience broke. With a cry of anger he seized a rifle from one of the men and plunged its bayonet into the priests belly. Screaming and yelling with excitement the men rushed to do the same to the nuns. After the execution was over Ishimoto decided to leave the disemboweled bodies as they were as a lesson to the natives."
Numerous authors have accused Ishimoto of being the principal evildoer in the attack on Vouza The problem with these assertions is that they are all false. Terushige Ishimoto was at Marau Sound 40 miles as an interpreter for WO Kinkuo Tanakas platoon from 5 to 28 August, therefore he could not have been present at the interrogation of Vouza. Rather, one of the interpreters with the Ichiki Detachment, either Kiichi Oshima or Reiichi Kinoshita, probably was the interrogator. As for Vouzas identifying Ishimoto as the culprit, it appears that Ishimoto was the only Japanese name with which the sergeant-major was familiar. It is entirely possible that Vouza mistook the name Oshima for Ishimoto, since both Japanese spoke English.
The following report, apparently written by the D-2 (Intelligence) Section, 1st Marine Division, sheds some light on the controversy:
"Ishimoto had bayoneted a native chief [i.e., Vouza] and left him for dead. The chief was not dead and made his way back to the Marine lines, from where he was taken to the hospital and cared for. This chief recovered and became a very valuable scout. He furnished very accurate information for the 1st Raider Battalion prior to the raid on Tasimboko. After repeated questions it was learned that Ishimoto was not in this vicinity but that a Jap officer by the name of Tasimoto [unknown] was there. The natives claimed that Tasimoto was sick with malaria."
The second act, one of great brutality, was the murder of four missionaries at Ruavatu. An undated document from the Solomon Islands Ruavatu Mission files tells the story:
This day begins the most tragic hours. Sister Mary Edmée lives to tell the beginning of the story. That morning the Japanese officers arrive at the church area with orders to bring the priests and sisters to Tasimboko, where the major officers were. Impossible to resist this order, the soldiers show their weapons with expressive gestures, so they [i.e., the missionaries] [are] forced to follow. Sister Mary Odilia remains hidden. General [Kawaguchi] quarters are quite far, they we must walk quickly. The sisters have difficulty in following the soldiers. Sister Mary Edmée is tired. Sister Mary Sylvia suffers from elephantiasis, yet the Sun-Warriors [are] without pity. Under the threat of bayonets, it is necessary to keep going in the hot sand, crossing swamps and rivers infested with crocodiles and passing in the middle of war machines and many abandoned bodies. It is only after many hours that they arrive in the evening at the generals quarters. The prisoners [are] provided a small quantity of rice and rest in a hut under strict supervision. They pass the night preparing to die and to make the sacrifice of their lives.
In the morning comes the questioning. The Japanese want to know if the missionaries are allies to the Americans and do they know the military strength of the Americans, their war plans, etc. The missionaries reply: They have come to the Solomons solely to devote themselves to the natives and they are ignorant of anything pertaining to the war.
The officers are furious at not hearing anything. They threaten and question, but always in vein [sic]. The prisoners ask themselves, in anguish, what will be the result of this long interrogation and are very surprised when, after the second night of terror and prayers, they are permitted to return to Ruavatu. Sister Mary Odilia had lost hope of ever seeing them return and is overjoyed when they return safe and sound.
Three weeks after, the Japanese return and this time take the two Fathers [Arthur Duhamel, S.M., and Henry Oude Engberink, S.M.], Sister Mary Sylvia and Sister Mary Odilia, but they leave Sister Edmée in bed with a fever.
What happened to the four prisoners remains a mystery. A few children [Klodio, Olovolo, and Avelino] who followed them from afar recounted that after the missionaries were questioned and maltreated; they [the missionaries] were massacred, killed by bayonet blows, in a shattered hut, where, a few weeks later, the natives discovered their bodies.
All this has absolutely nothing to do with Ishimoto. He and the Tanka Butai were still working their way back from the southeast tip of Guadalcanal, forty miles away, and they did not reach the Aola district until 9 September. The Ruavatu Mission was even farther away. During the entire period from 2 August to 11 October, the Tanaka Butai never shot at anyone and never killed anyone perhaps because of Ishimotos influence.
Most probably the missionaries were killed in the camp of the 35th Brigade on orders from General Kawaguchi or Col. Akinosuka Oka., the commander of the 124th Infantry Regiment. Prisoner of war Ittéhri (First Class) Iwoa Kumamoto, a member of the Oka Butai which had landed at Taivu Point, Guadalcanal on 1 September, verified this. When interrogated at the Marine intelligence (D-2) office at Lunga, Kumamoto reported: "Three days after I landed I saw a man and a women [sic] I thought were missionaries with the Japanese soldiers. They were lying down resting when I saw them. . . . Their clothes were completely white and I did not know whether or not they were prisoners." They were with Private First Class Kumamoto's unit only one day.
The rear echelon of the Ichiki Detachment (the Kuma Battalion) and the vanguard of the 124th Infantry waded ashore at Taivu Point late in the evening of 29 August. What actually occurred to the Catholic missionaries on or about 3-4 September may never be known. The Ichiki Detachment had lost most of the advance echelon on 21 - 22 August in the Battle of the Tenaru River, and the survivors were very likely in a vengeful mood.
Terushige Ishimoto was never employed in Tulagi and never a casual resident in the Solomons. He was on Guadalcanal from 1 July to 11 October 1942.
Jacob Vouza had been on Malaita as a constable since 1938, and did not return to Guadalcanal until 6 May 1942. Apparently, he had never met Ishimoto. Vouza was proficient in many local dialects, and excellent in pidgin, and was skilled in English. He may have heard Ishimotos name mentioned by other of Clemens scouts. The native scouts said that Ishimoto spoke English; therefore, Vouza assumed that it was Ishimoto who was involved in his brutal attack. Ishimoto was in the Marau Sound area from 5 August until 28 August 1942, and was some forty miles away when Sergeant Major Vouza was assaulted.
He could not have been involved with the murder of the Ruavatu missionaries on or about 3 or 4 September 1942, as he was then a long way down the coast of Guadalcanal working his way back on foot to the nearest Japanese outpost, Gorabusu. On arrival there, the army (Yamada Butai) took charge (on orders from General Kawaguchi) and was now in command of the former navy outpost. Ishimoto and a small part of the Tanaka Platoon moved to the coast near Koilotumuria to an abandoned village.
A POW verified that the missionaries were seen in the camp of the 124th Infantry in early September. Based on all the information available, it appears that Maj. Gen. Kiyotake Kawaguchi (the commander of the 35th Brigade) was a key player, perhaps the decision maker, in the deaths of the missionaries.
Terushige Ishimoto is not to be classified with other personnel of the Imperial Army and Navy; many were farmers, most of whom had never left their villages, much less their country, before they were shipped overseas. There is no comparison. Ishimoto was a cultured person who spoke four languages (Japanese, English, French and German) and had extensive international experience; his background was vastly different from that of most of the other Japanese on Guadalcanal.
Jack Gaskell and his brother, Geoff, had lived in the Solomons all their lives. Their family owned plantations in the Florida Islands; Jack had worked for Levers at Gavutu since 1935, and Geoff had worked for Burns Philp on Makambo Island. In my correspondence with the brothers, they wrote that "they had never heard of any person by the name of Ishimoto on Tulagi, at any time." In fact, no district officer ever met or saw Ishimoto.
The name Ishimoto became well known to the islanders on Guadalcanal because he spoke perfect English. It appears that the natives referred to every Japanese as "Ishimoto." Terushiges assignment was to help solicit native labor for the airstrip, act as an interpreter, consequently, at some point, someonepossibly Clemens scoutsinformed Vouza of Japanese named "Ishimoto." Thus, Vouza became acquainted with the name; but the two never met.
Terushige met his untimely death on 12 October 1942, on the beach at Aola. He had just been swimming, and was looking out to sea, wearing only a loincloth, with his uniform neatly folded nearby. Possibly looking for an expected supply submarine. Because of the noise of the waves he did not hear the sound of the approaching Marines. A single shot was fired, and Ishimoto fell. One of the three shooters was a friend of the authors.
Terushige Ishimoto can best be remembered as a highly cultured man who did no harm, and to whom many of the missionaries actually owed their lives. (In the opinion of the author, himself a Guadalcanal veteran, Ishimoto may be the sole Japanese participant in the Guadalcanal Campaign to merit this respect.) I hope that the research presented here will help to dispel the 65 years of myth surrounding this fascinating Japanese businessman from Rabaul and Tokyo.
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