A Slant in the Cockpit and a Tiger on the Rhine

I’m going to lay out a mini-analysis of the slant in Leiji Matsumoto’s The Cockpit series here that will confirm the comments I’ve made before.  One thing I’ve mentioned is that most of these war stories tend to take place toward the end of the war.  So far I’ve read the first two volumes of a five-volume (bunko) edition by Shogakukan, and out of the 21 chapters there are seven with specific months and years stated.  Let’s examine these seven.

Granted, seven chapters is a tiny sample, but it will serve to show the way the wind blows here.  These are the dates given:

October 1942

July 1944

March 1945

March 1945

April 1945

April 1945

August 1945

Japan entered the War in December 1941 and left it in August 1945 (corresponding figures for Germany are September 1939 and May 1945).  You can see from the dates above how the stories crowd toward the very end.  Not a single one of these stories takes place in the period of Axis ascendancy, which I would argue ended in mid-1942.

When we look at the POV of each story, we find that altogether 4 stories are told from the Japanese point of view, and 3 from the German point of view.  If all 7 were Japanese we could simply argue that the writer was Japanese and therefore etc etc.  As it stands, however, the overall motif of these stories seems to be the tragic struggle of the Axis powers (with Italy notably absent) to endure against overwhelming military odds toward the end of the War.  This motif is there in pretty much every one of those 21 stories, actually, so this sample is quite good even though it’s small.  And the stories in The Cockpit were written by Matsumoto over many years and are not placed in the volumes in chronological order, so later volumes should have no surprises for us on this front.

There is another motif that Matsumoto loves to indulge in: the so-called superweapons developed by both Germany and Japan toward the end of the war.  The story goes that if only these countries had been able to develop these weapons earlier the tide of the war would have changed.  One of the stories in The Cockpit involves the Nakajima Ki-84 fighter plane (Hayate/Frank), which only came into heavy use during the Battle of Leyte in 1944.  The Type-4 Chi-To tank, which never even saw combat, appears in another story.  German super-tanks from the end of the war also turn up, including the Elephant and the King Tiger, another 1944 entry.

Characters in these stories comment again and again on what a pity it is that these great machines were built too late and there is no fuel, or adequate pilots, with which to employ them properly.

Chapter 17 in Volume 2, Tiger on the Rhine, is very typical.  I’ll give a summary of this 1974 story here.

Horst Heimmann belongs to a Panzer division fighting at the Battle of Remangen in March 1945.  Heimmann’s King Tiger tank hammers the American M4 tanks mercilessly but the number of enemy tanks is too huge and defeat is only a matter of time.  As German forces retreat behind the Rhine over the famous Ludendorff Bridge, the officer in charge receives orders to leave a single tank across the Rhine.  The idea is for this tank to gather intelligence on the Allied advance, making this of course a suicide mission.  Heimmann volunteers to do the job with his King Tiger.

Heimmann has an ulterior motive.  His family home, now deserted, is in the vicinity.  He drives there and uncovers an unfinished canvas.  The soldier was a painter before the War, and this particular painting of a beautiful woman remains unfinished.

The model behind the painter sneaks up on him.  Her name is Hélène, and though they’ve known each other from childhood their lives have taken radically different turns.  Heimmann is a German Army soldier, whereas Hélène fights for the French resistance [I might be totally wrong here, but it looks like Leiji has confused his history and geography here; he seems to think that Remagen was at the Franco-German border, whereas in fact it was and is deep within German territory, though it was certainly part of the Rhineland demilitarized zone in the interwar period].

The Frenchwoman pleads with Heimmann to join the resistance against Germany but he refuses.  She leaves and soon after an Army comrade of Heimmann’s comes bearing the news that the Americans are coming, apparently aware of the King Tiger’s location.  Heimmann immediately thinks Hélène has betrayed him, but soon she shows up to warn him of the American advance and dies as she does so.  Heimmann mounts the King Tiger, destroys a number of M4 tanks, and dies in a blaze when the Americans concentrate all their firepower on his family estate.  The tank and the unfinished painting succumb to the flames as well.

This is a classic Matsumoto war story, focusing as it does on German nobility and sensibility.  Harlock would not be ashamed to have Heimmann as a relative.  Now compare the tone of this apocalyptic tragedy to the one in this clip from a 1942 Japanese propaganda film:

Compare and discuss.  Papers due on Friday~

~ by Haloed Bane on May 3, 2012.

10 Responses to “A Slant in the Cockpit and a Tiger on the Rhine”

  1. Yes … “tragic failure” seems to be a common theme of the Cockpit stories. You’ve pretty much given the basic outline of almost any given tale from the series – ability (or capability) versus overwhelming odds, with a heavy dose of fatalism on the part of those involved with the former. The idea of “the noble doomed” repeats over and over again.

    And yes, there’s almost always one historical goof per tale. Makes you almost think that was deliberate … but that’s just M-san being more concerned with the story he’s telling than the niggling little details. A good parallel in American WWII wartime fiction is almost any fictional tale dealing with Nazi efforts to uncover the secrets of the Norden bombsight. They already knew everything about it as early as 1938, and yet its legend was such that “getting the secret of the Norden” is pretty much a trope of the genre.

    Great analysis.

    • Thanks. One way he avoids making mistakes is coming up with fictional places. Very often when doing South Pacific tales he’ll come up with islands that don’t exist (plus he won’t specify the dates) so he can run wild with his imagination. But I totally appreciate him trying to do historical fiction, naming battles and stuff.

  2. Thanks for the insight. It’s always interesting to see fictional material on the view of the war from the ‘other side of the hill’. Most of it always tend to focus on the honour or humanity in defeat scenario. I wonder how that would play out if the story was placed say in May 1940 on the german side or january 1942 for the japanese side.

    • If something even remotely like that comes up in a Cockpit story I’ll be sure to write about it here (don’t keep your hopes up though~).

  3. Glad you mentioned that. One of the best flip-flop “what-if” WWII comparisons I’ve ever seen in media are the American sci-fi movie The Final Countdown and the Japanese sci-fi manga/anime Zipang. Both have almost the exact same premise – what if a modern “supership” of its country were transported in time back to the start of the war in the Pacific? Both, of course, have their own unique slants on the concept, and I wish the American movie had gone as far in-depth as the Japanese concept. Quite a comparison …

    • From everything I’ve heard Zipang is quite nuanced. (I’ve never read it).

      I guess a feature film is just not a good format for deep, sustained engagement with history.

  4. True on both counts.

    You know, fatalism – i.e. the “noble death” – was common to the military mind of both cultures. It was one of the things that drew them so close together (despite their physical differences) and drove the Italians away. For example, there’s a famous quote made by Grand Admiral Raeder about the time the war started. For him, it came way too early, since the Reichskriegsmarine was still in the process of rebuilding. He knew he’d never be able to match the British in a surface war, much less beat them – so he said about the only thing he and his men could do was show them how to die. Plenty of other examples about in the Wehrmacht, too, as well as most of the Luftwaffe under Goering (but not counting him) – especially later in the war, once the tide had turned. Add to that the old German nightmare about the “Slav invasion” coming true (which they provoked, but that’s another discussion) … well ….

    And then, of course, there’s the Japanese perspective, which was so nicely summed up by Admiral Yamamoto himself to the Emperor right before Pearl Harbor. They knew they were going to lose the war in the long run – if they let it get away from them. From Midway on, despite the occasional short-term victory and individual fanaticism aside, they knew they were going to lose.

    So by 1944-45, when most of the stories of the Cockpit are based, the fatalism of Germany and Japan was pretty much entrenched in both officer and enlisted alike. Accuracy issues aside, The Cockpit and its sequels (Cockpit Legend, the two Case series) do a great job of capturing this. The German and Japanese “drivers” (as I like to call them) are going through the motions. They have a job to do, and they do it. They’re long past blind obedience in official causes and slogans. They know what the war is really about, because they’ve been fighting in it. They put their personal beliefs and feelings aside, though, because they still have a job to do – even though it will most likely end in their deaths. Some of them are fortunate enough to have the latest and greatest gear, but it won’t matter in the long run and they know it. Even so, they’re going to do their job no matter what because that’s what’s they’re trained to do and it’s their duty. They’ll “show the enemy how to die,” to repeat Raeder’s quote.

    This contradiction in its protagonists – duty versus belief, fatalism versus conviction – is one of the things that makes The Cockpit so great.

    • As much as I’ve pondered the mysteries of the war, I don’t think I’d ever really thought of this opposition of temperament between the Germans/Japanese on the one hand and the Italians on the other. Todesliebe, death poetry, it makes so much sense. And then Goring was more Italian, sunnier, in a way huh.

      IIRC correctly Yamamoto’s assessment was 6 months: we either wrap this up in 6 months or we lose. And then almost exactly 6 months after Pearl Harbor, Midway happened. Epic oops.

      I actually, try as I might, don’t see a scenario where Japan could have won the war. When it comes to Germany though, I do see a couple of scenarios where they could have won it…

  5. […] against British Malaya and Singapore were highlighted (watch the video at the end of the post [here], around the 2:20 mark).  How the arrows have turned~  You might think this is a case of Japanese […]

  6. I’d love to read these stories! hope some day they are translated into english, or perhaps scanlated, as i’ve seen the raws already floating around.

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