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The Attack upon Port Arthur, August 1905.
Quoted from Human Bullets, by Lt. Tadayoshi Sakurai.
As soon as we were gathered together the colonel rose and gave us a final word of exhortation, saying: "This battle is our great chance of serving our country. Tonight we must strike at the vitals of Port Arthur. Our brave assaulting column must be not simply a forlorn-hope, but a "sure-death" detachment. I as your father am more grateful than I can express for your gallant fighting. Do your best, all of you."
Yes, we were all ready for death when leaving Japan. Men going to battle of course cannot expect to come back alive. But in this particular battle to be ready for death was not enough; what was required of us was a determination not to fail to die. Indeed, we were "sure-death" men, and this new appellation gave us a great stimulus. Also a telegram that had come from the Minister of War in Tokyo, was read by the aide-de-camp, which said, "I pray for your success." This increased the exaltation of our spirits.
Let me now recount the sublimity and horror of this general assault. I was a mere lieutenant and everything passed through my mind as in a dream, so my story must be something like picking out things from the dark. I can't give you any systematic account, but must limit myself to fragmentary recollections. If this story sounds like a vainglorious account of my own achievements, it is not because I am conscious of my merit when I have so little to boast of, but because the things concerning me and near me are what I can tell you with authority. If this partial account prove a clue from which the whole story of this terrible assault may be inferred, my work will not have been in vain.
The men of the "sure-death" detachment rose to their part. Fearlessly they stepped forward to the place of death. They went over Panlung-shan and made their way through the piled-up bodies of the dead, groups of five or six soldiers reaching the barricaded slope one after another. I said to the colonel, "Good-bye, then!" With this farewell I started, and my first step was on the head of a corpse. Our objective points were the Northern Fortress and Wang-tai Hill.
There was a fight with bombs at the enemy's skirmish-trenches. The bombs sent from our side exploded finely, and the place became at once a conflagration, boards were flung about, sand-bags burst, heads flew around, legs were torn off. The flames mingled with the smoke, lighted up our faces weirdly, with a red glare, and all at once the battle-line became confused. Then the enemy, thinking it hopeless, left the place and began to flee. "Forward! forward! Now is the time to go forward! Forward! Pursue! Capture it with one bound!" And, proud of our victory, we went forward courageously.
Captain Kawakami, raising his sword, cried, "Forward!" and then I, standing close by him, cried, "Sakurai's company, forward!" Thus shouting I left the captain's side, and, in order to see the road we were to follow, went behind the rampart. What is that black object which obstructs our view? It is the ramparts of the Northern Fortress. Looking back, I did not see a soldier. Alack, had the line been cut? In trepidation, keeping my body to the left for safety, I called the Twelfth Company. "Lieutenant Sakurai!" a voice called out repeatedly in answer. Returning in the direction of the sound, I found Corporal Ito weeping loudly. "What are you crying for? What has happened?" The corporal, weeping bitterly, gripped my arm tightly. "Lieutenant Sakurai, you have become an important person." "What is there to weep about? I say, what is the matter?" He whispered in my ear, "Our captain is dead."
Hearing this, I too wept. Was it not only a moment ago that he had given the order "Forward!"? Was it not even now that I had separated from him? And yet our captain was one of the dead. In one moment our tender, pitying Captain Kawakami and I had become beings of two separate worlds. Was it a dream or a reality, I wondered? Corporal Ito pointed out the captain's body, which had fallen inside the rampart only a few rods away. I hastened thither and raised him in my arms. "Captain!" I could not say a word more.
But as matters could not remain thus, I took the secret map which the captain had, and, rising up boldly, called out, " From henceforward I command the Twelfth Company." And I ordered that some one of the wounded should carry back the captain's corpse. A wounded soldier was just about to raise it up when he was struck on a vital spot and died leaning on the captain. One after another of the soldiers who took his place was struck and fell. I called Sub-Lieutenant Ninomiya and asked him if the sections were together. He answered in the affirmative. I ordered Corporal Ito not to let the line be cut, and told him that I would be in the center of the skirmishers. In the darkness of the night we could not distinguish the features of the country, nor in which direction we were to march. Standing up abruptly against the dark sky were the Northern Fortress and Wang-tai Hill. In front of us lay a natural stronghold, and we were in a caldronshaped hollow. But still we marched on side by side.
"The Twelfth Company forward!" I turned to the right and went forward as in a dream. I remember nothing clearly of the time. "Keep the line together!" This was my one command. Presently I ceased to hear the voice of Corporal Ito, who had been at my right hand. The bayonets gleaming in the darkness became fewer. The black masses of soldiers who had pushed their way on now became a handful. All at once, as if struck by a club, I fell down sprawling on the ground. I was wounded, struck in my right hand. The splendid magnesium light of the enemy flashed out, showing the piled-up bodies of the dead, and I raised my wounded hand and looked at it. It was broken at the wrist; the hand hung down and was bleeding profusely. I took out the already loosened bundle of bandages, tied up my wound with the triangular piece, and then wrapping a handkerchief over it. I slung it from my neck with the sunrise flag, which I had sworn to plant on the enemy's fortress.
Looking up, I saw that only a valley lay between me and Wang-tai Hill, which almost touched the sky. I wished to drink and sought at my waist, but the canteen was gone; its leather strap alone was entangled in my feet. The voices of the soldiers were lessening one by one. In contrast, the glare of the rockets of the hated enemy and the frightful noise of the cannonading increased. I slowly rubbed my legs, and, seeing that they were unhurt, I again rose. Throwing aside the sheath of my sword, I carried the bare blade in my left hand as a staff, went down the slope as in a dream, and climbed Wang-tai Hill.
The long and enormously heavy guns were towering before me, and how few of my men were left alive now! I shouted and told the survivors to follow me, but few answered my call. When I thought that the other detachments must also have been reduced to a similar condition, my heart began to fail me. No reinforcement was to be hoped for, so I ordered a soldier to climb the rampart and plant the sun flag overhead, but alas! he was shot and killed, without even a sound or cry. All of a sudden a stupendous sound as from another world rose around about me.
"Counter-assault!" A detachment of the enemy appeared on the rampart, looking like a dark wooden barricade. They surrounded us in the twinkling of an eye and raised a cry of triumph. Our disadvantageous position would not allow us to offer any resistance, and our party was too small to fight them. We had to fall back down the steep hill. Looking back, I saw the Russians shooting at us as they pursued. When we reached the earthworks before mentioned, we made a stand and faced the enemy. Great confusion and infernal butchery followed. Bayonets clashed against bayonets; the enemy brought out machine-guns and poured shot upon us pell-mell; the men on both sides fell like grass. But I cannot give you a detailed account of the scene, because I was then in a dazed condition. I only remember that I was brandishing my sword in fury. I also felt myself occasionally cutting down the enemy. I remember a confused fight of white blade against white blade, the rain and hail of shell, a desperate fight here and a confused scuffle there. At last I grew so hoarse that I could not shout any more. Suddenly my sword broke with a clash, my left arm was pierced. I fell, and before I could rise a shell came and shattered my right leg. I gathered all my strength and tried to stand up, but I felt as if I were crumbling and fell to the ground perfectly powerless. A soldier who saw me fall cried, "Lieutenant Sakurai, let us die together!"
I embraced him with my left arm and, gnashing my teeth with regret and sorrow, I could only watch the hand-to-hand fight going on about me. My mind worked like that of a madman, but my body would not move an inch.
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