Posted on November 15th, 2016 by:

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By Henry Sakaida

This report was long buried in the National Archives, and I happened upon it by mere chance. I did not know the identity of the American pilot then, and after much sleuthing, I found out who he was.

arthur how Japanese interrogation

Howe during the Korean war.

Ens. Ensign Arthur Whitney Howe III was a Hellcat pilot of VF-19 aboard the carrier USS Lexington. The fast carriers were ordered to hit Luzon in the Philippines on 21-22 September 1944. The goal was to destroy the estimated 500 Japanese planes based there. Howe had a hell of a first day; he was credited with downing a Ki-61 Hien (codename Tony) and damaging another over Manila between 1500-1530. Just four more and he would become an ace. The Tonys belonged to the JAAF 17th and 19th Sentais.

VF-19 did very well on the 22nd when they claimed 6 Tonys and 3 probables during an escort mission. However, Art Howe was unlucky and did not score. Two days later, he got more than he had bargained for. Over the gulf, he was hit and bailed out. His buddies kept the Japanese from strafing him, but soon they had to depart. Howe was fished out of the water by the enemy and taken to Manila where his 7-month nightmare began.

japanese ki 61 tony

Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien (Flying Swallow). Codenamed “Tony” by the Allies.

I got my hands on the declassified research report from the National Archives, titled JAPANESE METHODS OF PRISONER OF WAR INTERROGATION, Report No.134, dated 1 June 1946. It is a summary of captured Japanese documents which were translated and analyzed. On page 6, something caught my eye: “The first of these documents is the ‘Interrogation Report of an American Navy Flier shot down and captured 24 September 1944 near Cebu.’ A brief of the contents indicates the extent of the interrogation. The comparative detail with which the information was given can be best illustrated by an excerpt from the report itself.” This report did not contain Howe’s name, but there were enough clues for me to eventually figure it out.

Howe’s interrogation was conducted at HQ Southwest Area Fleet and the report was dated 20 October 1944. The information was beaten out of him with fists and rifle butts. This is what Howe divulged: Recent movements and organization of the task force. Commander of Task Force 38 is Adm Mitscher. Four groups are composed of two regular aircraft carriers and two converted cruiser carriers each, totaling 16 ships, plus destroyer escorts. Groups 1 and 2 – two to three battleships and three to four cruisers. Group 3 – four to five battleships and four to five cruisers. Group 4 – no battleships, four to five cruisers.

Howe gave his history including training and transfers. He gave information regarding operations he participated in, the losses, and movements of carrier forces. He gave information regarding the organization of Task Force 38, organization of his own carrier, number of planes and personnel aboard the Lexington, names of carriers, carrier camouflage (with sketches), and information on matters pertaining to security, with reference to frequency used, call words, and terminology.

In this late stage of the war, it is difficult to see how the Japanese benefited from questioning Howe. His personal information including his training was totally useless to the Japanese war effort.

Codes and call signs/words were frequently changed, sometimes on a weekly basis. I wouldn’t be surprised if Howe exaggerated the number of ships just to intimidate the Japanese. More importantly, Adm Mitscher was not in the habit of telling his pilots what his top secret plans were. Howe caught on really quick and insured his survival by talking and telling his captors what they wanted to hear.

Japanese interrogation report

japanese interrogation report

Japanese interrogation techniques were analyzed by our intelligence experts, but names of American POWs were not revealed.

japanese interrogation report

From Manila, Howe was sent to Japan. It is a wonder why the Japanese did this. He must have convinced them that he was one valuable POW. The hapless prisoner found himself at Ofuna, the notorious “off the record” POW camp, where guys like Pappy Boyington, Hap Halloran, and Louie Zamperini were kept. Beatings were the norm.

When the war ended, Howe could not believe that he had beaten the odds and survived. He and other survivors submitted detailed accounts of the war crimes committed by the guards at Ofuna to the US military. Howe did not talk about his POW days until shortly before his death. He acknowledged the atrocities at Ofuna and what had happened to him.

After the war, Howe continued to serve in the Navy and flew fighters during the Korean War. He later became a test pilot and retired in 1962. He worked for a large insurance company and led a successful life. Always in service to the community, he worked closely with civic leaders and was active in the civil rights movement. Art Howe was married and had two children. He passed away on 10 March 2011 in Charleston, South Carolina; he was 88.

Arthur Howe had nothing to be ashamed of. The information he provided was of no value to the enemy and had no impact on the course of future battles. He won the war by surviving.

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