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'Three Human Bombs' - heroes or not...

Nikudan Sanyushi (爆弾三勇士) is the Japanese term for 'The Three Brave Warriors' or 'The Three Human Bombs', who in 1932 were Japan's best known war heroes. Their names were Takeshi Eshita, Yuzuru Kitagawa and Inosuke Sakue and are pictured above.

On February 22nd 1932, during the siege of Shanghai, the three Engineers from the 24th Kurume Regiment died while detonating a long bamboo pipe filled with explosives known as a 'Bangalore Torpedo'. The blast cleared an opening in a line of enemy fortifications and allowed Japanese troops to advance at a critical time in the battle.

The men were posthumously celebrated as war heroes and remembered as gallant and selfless heroes who gave their lives for the greater good of Japan. Memorials were built and a military medal was created to award heroism in honor of the three and their effort was heavily exploited for propaganda purposes.

The 'Three Human Bombs' were lauded on stage, in film, and in song. As songs about the three heroes were made into 78 rpm records by all the biggest Japanese studios, such as Polydor, at least one gramophone needle manufacturer saw the opportunity to benefit commercially from their popularity.

A striking commemorative tin was made with a bright military propaganda style image on the outside and sepia style photographs of the three men printed on the inside. The tin was issued in a small 200 needle size and a large 1000 needle size. Interestingly, there was a major printing error on the larger tin, perhaps due to the haste to release it, where the number of needles was printed as 5000 instead of 1000. Correcting this lead to the large number '1' that you can see in the picture below.

A monument for the 'Three Human Bombs' was erected in Tokyo and in the photo below you can see the bamboo tube style explosive device carried by the three men as depicted on the needle tin lid. After Japan lost the second World War the monument was removed however, the piece of the statue representing Takeshi Eshita still remains at his grave today.

As glorious as all of this appeared to be, the problem was that many considered it all to be a lie! To this day there remains considerable debate whether the three men knowingly sacrificed themselves or if the explosive device detonated too early. Whatever the truth was, the story of the 'Three Human Bombs' was one of the most successful military propaganda campaigns in Japan in the early twentieth century.

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