There is a small cemetery, barely marked, on the short plain east of Minami-dake. A small river runs between it and an abandoned temporary city, running out into the still inner shallows of Kagoshima Bay. On one side of the river Korean slaves and conscript civilian workers for the fortifications on Sakura-jima were camped. On the other side they buried their dead. Digging in the gravel and dark sand near the water would have been immeasurably easier than cutting through solid rock on the mountain.
The G-2 men of the 5th Marine Division have been through the remains of Jap fortifications on the island, the ones that weren’t blasted shut by bombs and rockets and hand-placed satchel charges, and they tell a tale of woe for the builders. Innumerable pits and caves were cut into the steep rock faces with hand tools.
These defenses are not as interconnected as with the tunnel systems we found in places like Iwo Jima and Okinawa, but the number of positions is staggering. Firing pits for infantry were everywhere. Among them were double-L shaped rooms for teams manning machine guns or field pieces. None of them could be resupplied or reinforced once we were on Sakura-jima. All of them were there to protect the crown jewel of this hand chiseled gem set.
A tunnel with parallel light rail tracks cut high up through the volcano, running around the entire west side of the main crater. Two of the now infamous eight inch naval guns were mounted on carts for the track. Either gun could be moved to either end of the tunnel, or into the center where we found a small workshop and store room.
At those tunnel ends, heavy doors of welded scrap iron and old steel plate, salvaged remnants repurposed instead of melted down to make new shapes, closed up the tunnel when the guns were pulled back. The two doors sat under bony protrusions of rock, like the mountain itself was scrunching its furrowed brow at the headache caused by all our commotion outside. The Japs even thought to tack small round bands to the face of the doors, where fresh brush could be tucked as camouflage. They were practically putting up Christmas wreaths.
The southern end of the tunnel still had tools and iron scraps and empty gas canisters for a cutting torch piled to one side. That position was silent for several days after we bombed it, but it seems they got busy with repairs right away. It’s not like they had anything else to do.