The Great Train Robbery

Anyone serving on Azuma has probably heard
the tale of the "Great Train Hijacking."

Switch engines at the Yokosuka RTO. They were usually left idling, unattended.
That fact alone contributes to the believability of the story.


The tale has been perpetuated on the Internet. With each retelling, a little more embellishment creeps in. More and more minemen seek to be recognized as the "train thieves." If all those who would like to take credit for the crime were assembled together, they could fully man an aircraft carrier.

I was in Yokosuka from 1957-59 and the legend was being told and retold from the moment I arrived on Azuma. From my understanding, the ringleaders were Notgrass and Fraley with Tapscott aiding and abetting. Contrary to other stories I heard, a switch engine was idling at the Yokosuka RTO station and there were no passengers involved. Some stories report that when the "substitute train crew" decided to abandon the engine, they bailed out and watched at it proceeded south, and out of sight. Whether it ran out of coal or whether it hit the stops at the end of the line and fell into the sea is also subject to speculation. In any case, this legend has spread far and wide throughout the Mineforce and the Navy as a whole.

The Great Train Robbery from Joe Beetar.

"I served in Yokosuka between Feb. '62 and Feb. '64. The Great Train Robbery was, and is, one of the greatest Mineman sea stories ever. While there, I became aware that one of the Minemen I served with was involved. About two years ago, I became aware that another Minemen I served with was also involved. I don't remember who the third one was.

"Sometime in the 50s, three Bakashima [translates to "Crazy Island" (aka Azuma Island)] sailors went on liberty to either Tokyo or Yokohama. Tokyo was about one hour from Yokosuka and Yokohama was about half that. The train station was about a ten-minute walk from the main gate.

"Thoroughly inebriated, our three "Sailors of the Year" boarded a train back to Yokosuka. Whether they boarded in Tokyo or Yokohama, they decided to take over the train in Yokohama. The motorman may have gone to take a leak (I'm not sure) and they proceeded to occupy his compartment and hijack the train.

"There were other passengers aboard - most of whom were Japanese Nationals. These guys blew through every station between Yokohama and Yokosuka. But they were quasi-smart. There were contingents of Japanese policemen and Shore Patrol waiting for them at the Yokosuka station - the last stop on that line. Anticipating just such a maneuver, our guys stopped the train of terrified Japanese about a quarter-mile from the station and hopped off. They then ran (the back way) to the base. Miraculously, there were no accidents or arrests."


This version comes from Cliff Bartyzal.

"It all started when the train was parked and not due to depart. The train operator got scared and got off the train as we were pushing him to leave ahead of schedule. With only us drunken kids onboard we decide to run it on our own well somehow we made it to Yokohama. I remember the bell ringing and it bothered us and we finally realized I was...standing on the switch! Ha, ha! We were the only people onboard: Bartyzal, Bondick, Tapscott...if others, I don’t recall."

"In 1949 when you got out of a school the higher the grade the higher the choice for duty station. [Still true in 1975 — GUS] Being well in the bottom of the class, Billy Case and I ended up in Japan. Not too bad for a couple of dummies. There were more I just don't recall their names."





Derick S. Hartshorn - 2009-present
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