Part 1 World War II

Section 1 Nagasaki and the Second Sino-Japanese War

Chapter 2 :The Battleship Musashi

1. Seizure of the Great Northern Telegraph Company Facilities
2. The Launching of the Battleship Musashi
3. The Urakami Factory District



In 1940, four years into the Second Sino-Japanese War, the lives of citizens became increasingly regulated. A stamp system was employed for the rationing of staple foods and other essential goods. In Nagasaki, rationing began on July 30, each adult given a daily allotment of 2 3 shaku (approximately 345 g) of rice and wheat and a monthly allotment of half a kin (approximately 300 g) of sugar. Other products also came under the rationing system over the following months, such as cotton products for newborn infants in June, towels in September, gauze bandages in October and charcoal and alcoholic drinks in December. Moreover, the sale of luxury goods was prohibited from July on. The slogans “Luxury is the Enemy” and “Unity of All Japanese” came into frequent use around this time.
          Nevertheless, citizens were still living in relative comfort, a fact attested to by the “Nagasaki City Administrative Report” stating that “between July and August, neighborhood associations across the city collected some 75,000 imonbukuro (“comfort pouches”) for soldiers and sent these to Kurume Army Division Headquarters.” Public donations of these pouches probably reached a peak that year. The report for 1941 also mentions the fact that comfort pouches were sent to the Kurume Army Division Headquarters and the Sasebo Naval Base, but no figures are included.
          However, the two major events in Nagasaki in 1940 were undoubtedly the seizure of the Great Northern Telegraph Company and the launching of the mammoth battleship Musashi.
          On June 1, 1940, the Japanese government took over control of the Danish Great Northern Telegraph Company’s facilities in Nagasaki. Reported the newspaper Nagasaki Nichinichi Shimbun in its June 6, 1940 issue: “Since 1871, when it laid cables from Nagasaki to Vladivostok and Shanghai, the Great Northern Telegraph Co. has monopolized Japan’s international telecommunications and ignored the repeated pleas of our government for an amendment to the humiliating treaty in force. Its office stands on a Nagasaki corner like a relic of the foreign settlement years, exempt from government control, transmitting and receiving biased messages that are detrimental to our country.” During the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese government had had no choice but to use the company’s submarine cables to transmit and receive confidential military and political information. Although wireless radio technology had been developed, the Japanese government, particularly after the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, “needed to tightly control national communication networks and could waste no further time in acquiring the Great Northern Telegraph Company’s rights of operation in Nagasaki and submarine cables landed here.”  After more than a dozen meetings between Ministry of Communications officials and H.S. Poulsen, the Danish company’s representative in the Far East, “it was decided that the company would turn over its perpetual business rights in Nagasaki to the Japanese government free of charge on June 1, and that the company would agree to the complete abolition of its control over the submarine cables connecting Japan as of April 30, 1943. The cosignatories also decided that the company’s submarine cables would be severed off the coast of Nagasaki.
          It was under these circumstances that the Great Northern Telegraph Company gave up its rights in Nagasaki. Although the cosignatories had decided to sever the submarine cables in 1943, the Shanghai cable was cut in 1941, immediately after the outbreak of war in the Pacific, and the cable connecting Nagasaki with Vladivostok through the Sea of Japan was disabled in January 1942. One theory has it that the Japanese armed forces, after ordering the severing of the cables, surreptitiously changed the landing sites and used the cables for some time as special military communication lines.


Secret orders to begin construction on the mammoth battleship Musashi were issued in January 1937, construction began on March 29, 1938 in the No. 2 building berth at the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard, the launching took place on November 1, 1940, and on May 20, 1942 the battleship set sail under its own power for Kure, where it reached completion on August 5, 1942.
          The building project took four years and one month to complete, including two years and seven months from construction to launching, and a further 18 months from launching to departure from Nagasaki Harbor, excluding the one-month period the battleship spent docked at Sasebo. During this long period, which extended from the Second Sino-Japanese War into World War II, the Musashi took shape under a tight blanket of security and secrecy. The gantry crane straddling the No.2 building berth was hidden behind walls made from metal sheets and hemp-rope curtains. The gantry crane was 36 meters high and the building berth 45 meters wide and 323 meters long. The metal sheets and hemp-rope curtains needed to provide shielding extended to 99,500 ㎡ and 845,000 ㎡ in area, respectively, or approximately 410 tons of metal and 2,710 km of rope. This strange scene of concealment was symbolic of conditions at the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard and Nagasaki Harbor during World War II.
          A wide variety of measures was taken in Nagasaki to maintain secrecy: a restricted zone was established in Nagasaki Harbor, a navy surveillance station was placed at Kozakibana near the entrance to Nagasaki Harbor, military police lookout posts were placed atop Naminohira Elementary School and on the hills of Tohakkei and Kazagashira, an increasing number of military police and regular police forces engaged in city patrols, sentries with binoculars maintained a vigil at three points within the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard, and the general public was obliged to report suspicious persons to sentry stations in their neighborhoods. Special precautions were adopted for the Oura neighborhood, the site of the former foreign settlement where foreign residents were still living, because it was located directly across the harbor from the No.2 building berth. These precautions included the government purchase of the former Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Nagasaki Branch from its British owner S.J. Halse and the conversion of the building into a police station. Also, shortly before the launching of the Musashi, a two-story wooden warehouse was erected along a 100-meter stretch of reclaimed land in front of the American and British consulates. This was referred to as the mekakushi sōko (“blindfold warehouse”) because its sole purpose was to block the view of the harbor from the consulate buildings.
          As noted above, the Musashi was launched at 8:55 a.m. on November 1, 1940. Shipyard workers had been working frantically inside the No.2 building berth since the previous day, preparing all night long for the launch. At the same time, wide-sweeping security precautions had been adopted.
          Japanese historian Yoshimura Akira relates that a special day was declared for joint air-defense maneuvers conducted by the navy, military police and police and a total ban on marine traffic enforced from the previous day. On land, a police force of some 1,800 men had been deployed by dawn, including 600 mobilized military police and members of the regular police force and 1,200 navy security guards dispatched from the Sasebo Naval Base. All streets leading to mountains, hills and other places commanding a view of Nagasaki Harbor were closed. People living near the harbor were forced to close their storm windows and shutters, draw their curtains and refrain from going outside. Even the officers and soldiers on patrol were ordered to turn their backs to the harbor at the designated launch time, so that they would not see the battleship. Immediately before the launch, police officers, working in pairs, visited the homes of all foreign residents and lingered as long as possible under the pretense of conducting census surveys. Thus, in effect, the Musashi revealed its huge form in the harbor of a deserted city.
          Only that afternoon were the “joint air-defense maneuvers” curtailed and the ban on harbor traffic lifted. Quiet returned to the harbor, and the hemp-rope curtains were back in place, hanging from the gantry crane at the No.2 building berth. The Musashi had already been pulled alongside an outfitting wharf at Mukaijima, where it was surrounded by large and mid-sized ships to shield it from sight.
          However, security measures were only stepped up after the launching. For example, passengers arriving in Nagasaki Harbor on regular ship services were forbidden to go out on deck. Moreover, black curtains were drawn over all windows on the right side of a ship when departing and on the left side when entering the harbor. These security measures continued until the Musashi finally steamed out of the harbor a year and a half later, when, needless to say, security measures were just as tight as they had been at the time of launching.
          The specifics of the Musashi demonstrate its status as the world’s greatest battleship: length: 263 m, overall beam: 38.9 m, draft: 18.9 m, displacement: 72,809 tons, maximum speed: 27 knots, main battery: (maximum range approx. 40,000 m) 9 × 46 cm (3 × 3), sub-battery: 12, high-angle gun: 44 and aircraft: 7. The ordinary citizens of Nagasaki, however, never saw the enormous ship built in their harbor, accustomed as they were to ignoring all military matters for fear of reprisals from the police.
          The Musashi, dispatched to the Philippine Islands to participate in a naval operation, was subjected to an intensive attack by American warplanes during the Battle of Leyte Gulf and suffered direct hits from 20 torpedoes and 17 bombs. It sank on October 24, 1944, taking 1,039 of its 2,339 crew members to a watery grave several hundred meters below the surface of the ocean. The battleship had seen action for only two years and two months, five months less than the time it spent undergoing construction in the No.2 building berth at the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard.
          A few words should be added here about the lives of ordinary citizens at that time. The year 1940 marked the 2600th anniversary of the Kigen (the enthronement of Jimmu, the legendary first Emperor of Japan) and commemorative ceremonies were planned across the nation. In Nagasaki, City Hall organized a ceremony and costume parade which set off from the municipal athletic field at 10:00 a.m. on November 10, just days after the launching of the Musashi.
          Meanwhile, many traditional events in Nagasaki had been affected. The popular kite-flying festival had been cancelled in 1938, the year that construction began on the Musashi, and the annual dragon-boat races disappeared from the harbor. At the Shōrōnagashi (procession of “spirit-boats” dedicated to the recently deceased during the Buddhist Bon Festival), participants refrained from making the usual style of boat and instead carried small models made of straw. Indeed, “from the outset of the Second Sino-Japanese War, all Bon Festival dances and village shrine festivals, aside from actual ceremonies, were prohibited under the National Spiritual Mobilization Campaign because they might cause a relaxation of vigilance on the home front”.
          This prohibition was lifted for just one day on the Kigen commemoration. In accordance with the times, many of the costumes worn in the parade were military-themed, but a variety was still in evidence and the procession to the athletic field was said to have been enjoyed without any inhibition on the part of the participants. At least until this stage of the war, the people of Nagasaki were still enjoying some small measure of ease. 


The “Nagasaki City Administration Report” for 1939, published at a time when the city was becoming deeply involved in the munitions industry, includes the following passage: “Since the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Nagasaki has served as an important point of contact between Japan and China and shown rapid increases in municipal prosperity. Moreover, the activity of modern industries, particularly heavy industries, has shown remarkable growth, leading to the great development of Nagasaki as an industrial center.” Concurrently with the construction of the battleship Musashi at the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard, the various Mitsubishi-affiliated factories clustering in the Urakami district had developed exponentially.
          The Mitsubishi Steelworks (located in Mori-machi) had become an independent enterprise in 1937, the first year of the Second Sino-Japanese War, followed by its designation as an army administrated factory in September 1938, secret military resource factory in December 1939, navy administrated factory in February 1942, and a munitions company in January 1944. During this period, the company built a three-story reinforced concrete office building, No. 1, 2 and 4 Factories, a steel plate testing facility, and No. 3 Factory in Takenokubo-machi on the opposite bank of Urakami River.
          In 1941, the Ohashi-machi Parts Factory, a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard, was established on land adjacent to the Mitsubishi Arms Factory. In May 1941, the shipyard further expanded its subsidiary facilities in Saiwai-machi by acquiring the factory of the former Kunimitsu Cotton Mill (also in Saiwai-machi), a Nagasaki landmark famous for its red-brick wall. Part of the Saiwai-machi complex later served as Fukuoka POW (Prisoner-of-War) Camp No.14 Branch. In addition, a new ship testing facility reached completion in Showa-machi in July 1943.
          As noted previously, the Mitsubishi Arms Factory started operation in 1917 as the only private company in Japan manufacturing torpedoes. The company built its Mori-machi Factory (initially called Urakami Factory) in Mori-machi and a test launching facility for torpedoes on the coast of Omura Bay at Dozaki, part of Nagayo Village. By 1939, the Mori-machi Factory had expanded to an area of about 12,900 tsubo (42,570 ㎡), 7,078 tsubo (23,357 ㎡) of which was occupied by buildings. However, ordered by the navy to double its production capacity, the company acquired an additional 60,000 tsubo (198,000 ㎡) of land in Ohashi-machi in September 1939 and, in 1942, erected a new factory building occupying 16,100 tsubo (53,130 ㎡). In the period following the outbreak of war in the Pacific, the company underwent three further expansions, growing by 1944 to a total area of about 75,400 tsubo (248,820 ㎡), 41,794 tsubo (137,920 ㎡) of which was occupied by buildings equipped with 3,435 factory machines. The total number of workers in the Ohashi and Mori-machi factories reached a peak of about 15,000. Moreover, it is said that the torpedoes used in the attack on Pearl Harbor were manufactured at the Mitsubishi Arms Factory in Nagasaki.
          In 1938, the Mitsubishi Electric Works established a foundry at Iwakawa-machi after acquiring the former Koga Foundry.
          In addition to the industrial complex described above, more than 100 small and medium-sized neighborhood workshops cooperated with the Mitsubishi factories in the area, forming a sprawling industrial district that stretched from the mid-section of Urakami River all the way to the estuary at Nagasaki Harbor.
          In 1941, greater changes than ever occurred both at home and abroad. These changes were evident in the mass sending-off of officers and soldiers conscripted for military duty. According to the “Nagasaki City Administration Report” for 1940, the city gave sashes to draftees, hung banners in the railroad stations where they were seen off, and allowed family members to enter the station platforms free of charge to see them off. Draftees departed amid an atmosphere charged with patriotic fervor. The report for 1941, however, states that military authorities confined send-offs to the front of the station as before and curtailed the presentation of banners and sashes the draftees and that, in July, the authorities restricted the send-off celebrations to the waving of the national flag in view of the need to prevent espionage. Subsequently, the draftees left their hometown more and more inconspicuously.
          While “red slips” notified their recipients of conscription into the armed forces, “white slips” were issued from this year onward to recruit citizens for labor in military-related factories. The first group of 1,361 recruits arrived for duty at the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard on October 15. By 1944, 23 groups totaling 20,449 workers had been recruited to work at the shipyard. Workers were also recruited to work at the Mitsubishi Steelworks on March 4, 1942 and, around the same time, at the Mitsubishi Arms Factory and Koyagi Island Shipyard run by Kawanami Industries.
          The year 1941 also saw the establishment of the new wartime regime by the Imperial Rule Assistance Association. In response, the Nagasaki Branch of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, the Nagasaki City Youth Organization, the Nagasaki City Marine Youth Organization, the Nagasaki Medical College Cooperation Unit, the Middle School Cooperation Unit and the Nagasaki Culture Cooperation Unit all came into being this year. Moreover, elementary schools were renamed kokumin gakkō (lit. “national citizens’ schools”).
          Into its fifth year in 1941, the Second Sino-Japanese War had become a war of attrition. Furthermore, since aligning itself with Germany and Italy under the Tripartite Pact in 1940, Japan had brought itself to the brink of armed conflict on the international stage. The number of foreign ships entering Nagasaki Harbor (see Table below) plummeted in accordance with these deteriorating relations, the main arrivals in 1941 being three Norwegian ships − the last foreign vessels to call at Nagasaki until the end of the war.
          On December 8, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and declared war against the United States and Britain. The Second Sino-Japanese War thus became the war in the Pacific and part of World War II. On the same day, the last of the nine 46-cm main cannons was installed on the battleship Musashi at the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard’s Mukaijima outfitting wharf.

Number of foreign ships entering Nagasaki Harbor from 1937 to 1943 (Source: Sixty-five Year History of the Nagasaki Municipal Administration)