PENANG, Malaysia – Japanese and British veterans of World War II reunited Friday to revisit the last major naval battle of the war.
On the night of May 15, 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy ships Haguro and Kamikaze found themselves surrounded by five British destroyers in the northern Malacca Strait.
By the early hours of the next day, the heavy cruiser Haguro, hit by three torpedoes, went down with with three-quarters of its 1,200 officers and men. The destroyer Kamikaze was also badly hit, losing 27 of its crew.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, 23 British and six Japanese veterans together with dozens of relatives of those who took part in the battle were brought face-to-face for the first time since the war.
Together, on board the ferry Coral Island, they visited the site of the Haguro wreck in the southwest of Malaysia’s Penang state.
Separate ceremonies were held, first by the Haguro and Kamikaze veterans and then by the veterans from the five British ships — the Saumarez, Virago, Vigilant, Venus and Verulam, which formed the 26th destroyer flotilla.
There were prayers said and the singing of a naval hymn. A representative from each ship later threw wreaths into the water followed by a minute of silence.
The ceremony ended with the ferry circling three times over the spot where the Haguro sank, as a mark of respect.
Morio Iwashita, 81, said he did not feel hatred toward his former foes despite the loss of many of his shipmates.
“It was a war fought between nation and nation. It was nothing personal. I have no personal resentment,” he said through an interpreter.
Len Dabin, who was only 19 when he served on the Vigilant, said: “It’s a long time. Any business is gone completely.”
Iwashita, who now heads the Haguro Veterans Association, said his memories of the battle remain vivid.
He said he clung to a large wooden plank with 30 others for 18 hours, watching his ship slowly sinking, before the Kamikaze came to rescue them.
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