IJN Submarines – East Coast Australia

In the days after the Sydney raid, the Australian Department of Information monitored Japanese broadcasts around the clock, but picked up no public broadcast relating to the Sydney attack until 5 June.

The Imperial Navy made an attack on Sydney Harbour with midget submarines on 31 May. We have succeeded in entering the harbour and sinking one warship. The three midget submarines which took part in this operation have not reported back.

Although MacArthur’s headquarters issued a brief statement on 1 June, the first detailed reports of the raid came from American and British broadcasts. The Sydney press was particularly outraged when the initial news came from Melbourne, not Sydney. When the Minister for the Navy came under fierce fire in the House of Representatives for not allowing Sydney to release the news, Mr Makin replied: “It was thought undesirable to make an earlier announcement because enemy ships might still have been in the vicinity.”

In response to the Japanese raid on Sydney, the Deputy Prime Minister, Francis Forde, made the following speech in Parliament:

The public should not complacently count on this as the last attack in these waters. The attempted raid brings the war much nearer to the industrial heart of Australia. It should clearly indicate the absolute necessity for eternal vigilance by all services. It should act as a new stimulus to the whole of the people to co-operate wholeheartedly on a complete war effort.

Forde’s words were both true and prophetic. On 3 June, Sasaki brought I-21 to the surface 40 miles off Sydney and attacked the Australian steamer Age with gunfire. Unarmed, the steamer ran for safety and arrived in Newcastle the following day without further incident.

At 11:30 pm, soon after the Age was attacked, I-24 sank the Australian coaster, Iron Chieftain, which was on passage from Newcastle to Whyalla. Iron Chieftain had sailed from Newcastle at 10:00 pm but was only able to make good six knots against the heavy seas. Twenty seven miles from Newcastle Harbour, the submarine surfaced and fired a torpedo at the coaster. Laden with coke, Iron Chieftain sank in five minutes, taking with her 12 crew including the master and third mate who were last seen on the bridge.

One of the survivors, Naval gunner Cyril Sheraton, gave the following account of the Iron Chieftan attack in the Sydney Morning Herald:

I was in my pyjamas and watch coat beside my gun when the torpedo struck. I tried to get my gun into action but did not have a chance. The captain and third mate were on the bridge and were watching the submarine for five or six minutes before the skipper shouted “Hard a’starboard”. The torpedo struck before the ship could swing. I could see the submarine 200 yards away on the port side. As the ship sank under me, I was dragged onto a raft. After the ship sank, the submarine circled our raft and we thought that we might be machine-gunned so we laid still. The submarine finally left and we drifted in the darkness.

When news of the Iron Chieftain’s sinking reached Sydney, Rear-Admiral Muirhead-Gould closed the ports of Sydney and Newcastle to outward bound shipping, and ships at sea were warned to “zigzag”. The anti-submarine vessel Bingera sailed from Sydney to search for survivors and picked up some of the crew, including Sheraton. Another 25 crewmen were found 30 hours later after rowing their open boat ashore.

With Second Officer Brady in charge, the lifeboat picked up as many men as could be seen in the water. When no more survivors could be found, they began to row through the heavy swell, taking turns at the oars to keep warm. After some hours the sea abated and conditions became easier. The men began singing to boost their morale, but it was a dismal attempt and ceased after a while. They continued to row in silence. Thirty hours later they arrived about a mile off The Entrance, north of Sydney. Unfamiliar with the area, Brady fired distress flares into the sky, but local fishermen did not understand their meaning. When help failed to arrive, the men rowed slowly ashore, weary, drenched and cold. The exhausted Second Officer was reluctant to surrender his charge to the police and had to be threatened with violence before he would consent to go to bed and warm up.

At dawn on 4 June, six hours after Iron Chieftain was sunk, I-27, en route to Tasmanian waters, surfaced and attacked the Australian steamer Barwon 30 miles off Gabo Island. The submarine commenced the attack with gunfire, followed by a torpedo, which exploded prematurely alongside the steamer. Fragments of metal landed on the ship but there was no damage or casualties. Barwon was able to escape by outrunning her attacker.

At 4:45 pm on the same day, I-27 torpedoed the Australian ship Iron Crown, laden with manganese ore and bound for Newcastle. Iron Crown went down in one minute, taking with her 37 crew, including the captain. The submarine was forced to crash dive when an Australian Hudson aircraft suddenly appeared over the horizon.

Australian naval authorities became exceedingly jittery about the increasing Japanese submarine activity and frequent molesting of Allied shipping. On 4 June the Australian Naval Board decided to suspend all merchant sailings from eastern and southern Australian ports. However, merchant vessels already at sea before the Naval Board directive continued to fall victim to elements of the Third Submarine Company. In the absence of enemy warships, the Japanese naval authorities considered merchant vessels legitimate targets.

It was the Japanese Navy’s policy to limit the number of torpedoes that a submarine commander could fire at a particular target. Merchant ships and destroyers were allotted only one torpedo, cruisers warranted three, and battleships and aircraft carriers were allotted maximum torpedo firepower. Since this policy reduced the chances of sinking a merchant ship, Captain Sasaki ordered his submarine force to resort to surface gunfire attacks in an effort to economise on torpedoes.

While Sasaki’s submarine force waged its campaign of destruction, Allied aircraft continued to scour the sea in search of the submarine raiders. During this period there were many reported sightings of periscopes. However, to confuse the enemy, Sasaki’s force released decoy periscopes along Australia’s east coast. These decoys were made of long bamboo sticks, painted black, at the top of which were attached mirrors that would glint in the sunlight. Below the surface were two sake bottles lashed to the decoy periscope. The glass bottles were half-filled with sand and half-filled with diesel oil. The weight of the sand would cause the bamboo stick to float upright in the water, and the oil was to convince the enemy of a successful attack when it floated to the surface once the bottles shattered following a bomb or depth charge attack.

One of these decoy periscopes was responsible for a reported sighting by a Dutch aircraft eight miles south-east of Sydney on the morning of 6 June. The aircraft attacked and reported damaging a submarine at periscope depth after thick diesel oil was seen on the surface.

A decoy periscope was later recovered offshore by a commercial fisherman who turned it over to Muirhead-Gould’s staff for examination.

Also on 6 June, 22-year-old Flight Lieutenant G. J. Hitchcock taxied his Lockheed Hudson bomber across the tarmac at Williamtown, north of Newcastle, and, with only a scratch crew, took off to search for enemy submarines. The base medical officer had been invited to join the flight with the promise that Hitchcock would sink a submarine. Hitchcock’s promise almost became a reality.

Flying at 2,000 feet, the air gunner, Flight Sergeant A. T. Morton, sighted a periscope 80 miles east of Sydney. Hitchcock descended abruptly to 500 feet and commenced his attack. The Hudson accidentally dropped its entire bomb load, which fell astern of the periscope. Hitchcock recalled that the aircraft received an almighty thump from behind when the bombs exploded. The Hudson circled the area for half an hour. While bubbles were seen rising to the surface, there was no oil. Hitchcock considered his attack was unsuccessful, but newspaper accounts thought otherwise, crediting the Hudson with “the first Australian killing”. Hitchcock told the author that the newspaper accounts had the effect of lifting morale and he and his crew became temporarily famous.

In the days that followed the Sydney Harbour attack, residents had begun to settle back into their normal daily routines. However, they were not without foreboding as they read press reports of submarine attacks on merchant shipping along the coast.

Sydney’s apprehensive mood turned to panic when Sasaki’s submarine force interrupted their campaign against Allied shipping and turned their attention to frightening the civil population. On 8 June, shortly after midnight, I-24 surfaced 12 miles off the coast of Sydney and fired 10 high explosive shells.

The examination vessel HMAS Adele, which was responsible for challenging suspicious vessels attempting to enter harbour, sighted the gunfire flashes out to sea, as did the Outer South Head army battery, which probed the sea with searchlights. Five minutes later the air raid alarm was sounded and city and coastal navigation lights were temporarily extinguished. The submarine submerged before the coastal defences could return fire.

There were no major casualties reported from this unexpected shelling, although one resident – a refugee from Nazi Germany – was terrified when a shell crashed though his bedroom wall. According to newspaper accounts, the man leapt out of bed, fracturing his ankle, and the shell failed to explode.

The remaining shells exploded in the suburbs of Rose Bay and Bellevue Hill, shattering windows and causing only superficial damage. One shell exploded harmlessly in Manion Avenue, Rose Bay, where a large crater was formed in the roadway.

The main objective of the shellfire was to destroy the Sydney Harbour Bridge, however, the Japanese also wanted to frighten the population. Although they failed in their first objective, they succeeded in the second beyond their expectations.

During the shelling, panic broke out when confused residents ran screaming into the streets thinking the air raid siren meant that Sydney was under attack by enemy aircraft. Urban Australians did not react very favourably when, later that morning, harbour front and other wealthy Eastern Suburb residents put their houses up for sale and fled to the Blue Mountains and even further inland, fearing a Japanese invasion at any moment.

A steady trickle of harbourside residents had been leaving Sydney following the Japanese attack on Sydney Harbour more than a week earlier; but with the shelling of the Eastern Suburbs, the trickle increased to a frenzied stream of panicky citizens. When every house, boarding house and hotel in the Blue Mountains was crammed, these “escapees” retreated further inland to Orange in the central-west of New South Wales. Some people fled from Sydney to the Hunter Valley – to towns like Singleton and Muswellbroook – but they were turned away when every available accommodation space had been taken. This is a good indication of how serious the belief was that Australia would be invaded by the “Yellow Peril”.

Compared with Londoners during the Blitz, these Australians behaved with less than Churchillian courage. Only after the war was over did many of them sheepishly return, some buying back their houses at vastly inflated prices.

Scenting an opportunity, poverty-stricken European refugees, many of them Jewish émigrés who had weathered far greater ordeals in Europe, quickly moved into the area. They shrewdly bought up the vacated real-estate at absurdly deflated prices and, after the war, many became millionaires overnight. One Eastern Suburbs real estate agent, Mr Karl Malouf, told the author that the exodus of the rich had been extensive. He remembers the harbourside suburbs of Vaucluse and Bellevue Hill were a forest of “For Sale signs.” Malouf‘s company went on to become one of Sydney’s best known realtors.

Just over two hours after I-24 shelled Sydney, I-21 surfaced three miles off Newcastle. The submarine fired 20 star shells over the industrial heart of the city, followed by six high explosive shells, only three of which exploded. Close examination of the unexploded shells later that day revealed that they had been manufactured in England in 1914! The nose sections were very rough, with some fuses bent and damaged, which explained why the majority of shells failed to explode.

The main Japanese target at Newcastle was the BHP steelworks. As with Sydney, however, the shells landed over a wide area, one shell exploding on the road behind Fort Scratchley, a coastal Army battery, and another some distance away near Nobby’s Head. Two star shells also exploded above the corvette Whyalla, which had recently arrived in Newcastle after searching for enemy submarines off the coast.

Fort Scratchley, overlooking Newcastle Harbour, was originally built during the Russian scare of the nineteenth century and was modified and reactivated for World War II. In the early hours of the morning, the duty sergeant at the Fort reported to the searchlight commander, Captain W. J. Harvey, that he could see flares in the sky and that something unusual appeared to be happening. Gun flashes were then seen and the searchlights probed the sea. At the extreme range of the searchlights, Gunner Colin Curie reported sighting a submarine. The battery commander, Captain Walter Watson, put the battery on alert and the guns were loaded ready to fire. Suddenly, Watson saw a gun flash and cried “Duck!” The shell exploded in Parnell Place, narrowly missing the observation post. Watson telephoned fire command for permission to open fire and, when he received no reply, opened fire anyway. The telephonist then reported, “Fire command says engage when ready, Sir!” Watson retorted, “Tell them I bloody-well have!” He then gave ranging corrections to his gunners and fired a second salvo.

The pilot steamer Birubi was at sea off Nobby’s Head when the shelling began. In her haste to run for the harbour entrance and safety, the pilot vessel emitted huge clouds of thick black smoke, which obscured Watson’s field of vision and he was unable to correct the range of fire. Sasaki submerged before Fort Scratchley could fire a third salvo. The pilot vessel later reported that the first salvo had fallen short of the submarine and the second had overshot.

Some remarkable escapes were made from the Newcastle shelling. Residents had heard an air raid siren shortly after midnight, followed by the “All Clear”, which actually signified the end of the shelling attack on Sydney. When, an hour later, firing commenced on Newcastle, residents were confused and caught unaware.

In Parnell Place, Mrs Wilson had decided to evacuate her two young children from their home above a shop: “I thought it was only air raid drill or practice. Then I realised it wasn’t… The shells were screaming across. The worst part was not knowing where they were going to hit.”

Scooping her two children from their bed, Mrs Wilson was making her way downstairs when a shell exploded on the road outside. It was not until daylight that the young mother realised how close she and her children had come to death. She discovered shrapnel from the blast had torn through a wire mattress base where the children had been sleeping and, when she rolled back the mattress, a huge, gaping hole was revealed in the wall.

There were only two casualties reported from the Newcastle shelling, both victims of shrapnel from the blast in Parnell Place. Bombardier Stan Newton had been on his way to Fort Scratchley when he was knocked unconscious by a piece of shrapnel that struck him in the forehead. Regaining consciousness, he was greeted by a surprised air raid warden. Newton then ran on to the Fort to take up his position, unaware the shrapnel was still lodged in his head.

Meanwhile, naval authorities ordered a total blackout of the Newcastle and Sydney coastal areas. HMAS Whyalla and the American destroyer Perkins were ordered to escort eight merchant ships from Newcastle to Melbourne.

Submarine bombardment of enemy cities was employed by the Japanese only on limited occasions. From the time of surfacing, often over a minute passed before the submarines could commence firing. Ranges had to be estimated from charts, and to score a direct hit was extremely difficult. The rangefinders they used were portable and inaccurate, making the whole operation a rather clumsy exercise. Also, only 20 shells could be stored at one time in the ammunition locker on the upper deck. If more ammunition was required, it had to be brought up from below, thus creating a dangerous situation, especially if the submarine had to submerge in a hurry.

After the shelling of Sydney and Newcastle, I-24 and I-21 turned their attention back to terrorising merchant ships off the coast. At 1:00 am on 9 June, I-24 pursued and shelled the British merchant ship Orestes 90 miles south of Sydney. Steaming independently from Sydney to Melbourne, Orestes presented a prime target for I-24, which chased the merchantman for five hours. During the running battle, Orestes suffered several direct hits, resulting in a large fire. Believing the merchant vessel was doomed, I-24 broke off the attack; but Orestes succeeded in extinguishing the fire and made Melbourne safely the next day.

Not so fortunate was the Panamanian vessel Guatemala. At 1:15 am on 12 June, I-24 intercepted and successfully sank the merchant ship 40 miles from Sydney. Guatemala had left Newcastle in the convoy escorted by Perkins and Whyalla, but soon found herself straggling behind the convoy. The Norwegian master, Captain A. G. Bang, heard two gunshots to starboard but saw nothing. A few minutes later, the second officer saw the track of a torpedo, which struck the ship before he could take evasive action. The crews took to the lifeboats and Guatemala sank an hour later without any casualties. Soon afterwards the Australian minesweeper Doomba picked up the 51 crew and transported them to Sydney.

The Japanese account of the Guatemala’s sinking varies slightly from official Australian records. In his book, Sunk, Mochitsura Hasimoto records the submarine fired one torpedo at Guatemala, which detonated prematurely. The submarine then surfaced and engaged the Panamanian vessel with gunfire, but found it difficult to score a direct hit in the darkness. The submarine intercepted an SOS from the ship announcing she was under attack and asking for assistance. Eventually, one of I-24’s shells hit its target, after which Guatemala’s crew stopped the ship and took to the lifeboats. The submarine then fired a second torpedo, which sank the doomed ship.

This was the last enemy submarine attack in Australian waters for about six weeks.

From the time of the Sydney Harbour raid until the sinking of Guatemala, the Third Submarine Company had sunk four ships with the loss of 73 lives over a period of 12 days. From mid-July until the beginning of August, three more large Japanese submarines – I-11, I-174 and I-175 – joined with I-24 to continue Japan’s campaign of destruction along the coast. They succeeded in sinking another four vessels before leaving Australian waters.

Thereafter, a period of calm followed until January 1943 when I-21 returned to Australian waters and sank six ships off Sydney over the following month. Then, in April 1943, I-26 sank two vessels off Brisbane, and a further six ships were sunk between April and mid-June 1943.

When Japan lost her forward bases at Rabaul and Truk, distant operations into Australian waters were rendered progressively more difficult. By the end of July 1943, submarine operations became almost impossible.

Between June 1942 and December 1944, a total of 27 merchant ships were sunk in Australian waters with the loss of 577 lives, including the 21 sailors who lost their lives on Kuttabul. Of the total fatalities, 268 lives were lost in one attack when the Australian hospital ship, Centaur, was sunk 40 miles east of Brisbane on 14 May 1943. The Centaur sank in about three minutes with only 64 survivors, who spent 36 hours in the water before rescue. The Japanese submarine thought responsible for the sinking was 1-177 commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Nakagawa, who was later tried as a war criminal and spent four years in prison for firing on survivors from a British merchant vessel torpedoed in the Indian Ocean. The sinking of Centaur was not raised at his trial.

Imperial Japanese Army Legacy 1920-45

On August 16, 1945, Maj. Sugi Shigeru led about 100 young soldiers from the army’s air signal training school in Ibaraki prefecture to Tokyo in order to protect the emperor from the imminent allied occupation. The Guard Division, which was responsible for defending the palace, shooed them away, but the group congregated at Ueno Park, eventually occupying the art museum. More arrivals from the school swelled their numbers to around 400 armed and emotional young men. Sugi ignored senior officers’ orders to disband, and the next day Maj. Ishihara Sadakichi, a Guard Division officer and friend of Sugi’s, was sent to convince him to leave. While the two were talking, a second lieutenant assigned to the training school walked up and shot Ishihara to death. Sugi in turn shot and killed the lieutenant. The murders broke the spell of an imperial rescue mission, and the disillusioned troops drifted away. That night Sugi and three other junior officers committed suicide. The scene of the army’s decisive victory in 1868 over supporters of the Tokugawa shogunate became the backdrop for the imperial army’s violent curtain call in 1945.

Radical young reformers had created the new army of 1868 and forged intensely personal relationships as young men at war bonded by danger. Their personal ties created a web of informal connections that transcended the emerging political, military, and bureaucratic institutions. The first generation of leaders not only held the various levers of state power but also knew how to use them. They also possessed a self-assertiveness that attracted adherents and repelled opponents.

The army’s formative experiences left it riven with competing internal factions dominated by strong contending personalities who held diametrically opposing visions of a future army. Reaction to the Chōshū-Satsuma domination of senior military ranks produced anti-Yamagata stalwarts like Miura and Soga who simultaneously represented a French faction that opposed Yamagata’s and Katsura’s Prussian clique. Arguments about the merits of differing force structures and the functions of a general staff consumed most of the 1880s. Though the army successfully adapted division formations and staff organizations, it failed to institutionalize the highest decision-making process and formalize command and control arrangements.

Lacking that apparatus, army leaders had to rely on the emperor to resolve disagreements and authorize policy. From beginning to end, the army depended on its relationship with the throne for authority as well as legitimacy and enshrined its unique connection to the emperor in the Meiji Constitution. Although the army steadily increased its power, it still remained one of many government institutions (which were simultaneously expanding their influence) competing for imperial certification. Initially, army leaders used the symbols of the throne to promote nationalism or a sense of nationhood, but by the early 1900s they were manipulating the imperial institution to secure larger force structures and budgets. By the 1930s they used appeals to the throne to justify illegal acts at home and aggression overseas.

The formative period realized its immediate goal, which was the preservation of domestic order. Had Japan fallen into civil chaos during the 1870s or 1880s, the nation might have shared a fate similar to China’s. By quelling civil disturbances and crushing armed insurrections, the army guaranteed domestic order and became the bedrock of the oligarchic government. Thereafter a series of midrange objectives carried Japan through two limited regional wars. In each the army initially sought to protect previously acquired gains on the Asian continent, and successive victories brought in new acquisitions that in turn required protection and ever-larger military forces.

Between 1868 and 1905 the army played a significant role in achieving the nebulous but shared national strategic goal of creating “a rich country and a strong army.” At the least, the slogan suggested a general approach to modernize Japan in order to fend off potential enemies. The well-ordered colonial world of nineteenth-century western imperialism fit the conservative approach of Japan’s oligarchs and military leaders, who were often the same individuals. Working in a well-defined international system, men like Yamagata cautiously developed the army’s strategy in reaction to events.

Successors built on Yamagata’s foundation, modified the army’s institutions to meet new requirements, and institutionalized doctrine, training, and professional military education. The steadily expanding conscription system indoctrinated youths, who in turn transmitted military values to their communities, as the army became an accepted part of the larger society. But the second generation of leadership faced the problem of perpetuating the oligarch consensus, an impossible task because of the emergence of other strong competing elites—the bureaucracy, political parties, big business—whose demands for their shares of power and influence inevitably shifted national priorities and international policies.

Furthermore, once the nation had achieved the goals of the Meiji Restoration, a new strategic consensus was required. It never materialized. The army responded with strategic plans that reflected narrow service interests, not national ones. Army culture increasingly protected the military institution at the expense of the nation. One might say the army had always put itself first, but after 1905 the tendency was exacerbated by the absence of an agreed-upon common opponent, a strategic axis of advance, and force structure requirements.

Until the Russo-Japanese War fierce debates raged within the army about Japan’s future. Should the government be satisfied to be a minor power defended by a small territorial army, or should Japan, undergirded by an expanded army and navy, aspire to a dominant role in Asia? Imperial sanction for the 1907 imperial defense policy set Japan on the latter course because of fears of a Russian war of revenge, rising anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States, and an obsession to preserve continental interests acquired at great cost in blood and treasure. International pressures helped to shape the army, but perhaps the internal debate, division, and dissension were decisive in its overall evolution. In other words, the formulation of strategy, doctrine, and internal army policy decided the army’s and the nation’s fate.

Japan’s post-1905 aspirations for regional security enlarged the army’s responsibilities to encompass garrison and pacification duties in Korea and the railroad zone in Manchuria. The army’s emphasis in the 1907 imperial defense policy aimed to protect those newly acquired interests by conducting offensive operations against a resurgent Russia. The navy, intent on expanding south, identified the United States as its potential opponent. Military objectives were not focused, and the formulation of long-term military strategy foundered as the army compromised internally on force structure issues and externally with the navy over budget shares and the strategic axis of advance.

Too often after 1907 long-term strategic planning was sacrificed for short-term service-specific goals to protect budgets and resolve internal doctrinal and philosophical differences. Formalized strategic planning reflected parochial service interests, not national ones, and military strategy habitually depended on unrealistic plans that the nation could not afford. Military strategy was never integrated into a comprehensive national strategy and never fully coordinated from the top. The last cabinet consensus was for war with Russia in 1904, but even then there was no service agreement on how to fight the campaign. Decision-making had less to do with national unanimity than with the absence of an agreed-upon national strategy.

Unable and unwilling to resolve fundamental differences, the services went their separate strategic ways and produced operational and force structure requirements whose implementation would have bankrupted the nation. Recognizing this, the Diet and political parties consistently rejected the army’s more radical proposals for higher appropriations into the early 1920s. At a time of unprecedented global flux, internal fissures plagued army planning and operations while external friction with the legislature, the imperial court, and the public disrupted hopes for service expansion.

Economic austerity intensified the bitter factional disputes over strategy and force structure that erupted between Tanaka Giichi, Ugaki Kazushige, and Uehara Yusaku. These were not idle disagreements about abstract numbers of divisions but fundamental expressions of substantially different approaches to future warfare. Put differently, the army had moved from its personality-based cliques of the nineteenth century to professionally based groups led by officers holding competing and incompatible visions of future warfare. Traditionalists argued there was no need to match the technology of the West because Japan’s next war would be in northeast Asia, not Western Europe. Excessive reliance on technology would detract from traditional martial values and fighting spirit. And the divergent proposals became zero-sum choices; the army either funded personnel or modernization.

Major international realignments after World War I, particularly in Northeast Asia, reinvigorated the army’s mission. Under the revised postwar international structure, Japan confronted a growing Chinese nationalism, a resurgent Soviet Union in North Asia, and a weakening of the western grip on Asia. New ideologies of communism, democracy, and national self-determination threatened the army’s core values by questioning the legitimacy of the imperial throne. During and after World War I, changing requirements for national security rewrote the rules governing international relations. Alliances that had been the basis of international stability were suspect. Treaties to reduce armaments or guarantee commercial opportunity appeared anti-Japanese. Most of all, modern warfare meant total war—whose preparations had to extend beyond national borders, making it impossible to pursue a conservative foreign policy in a well-ordered international framework and simultaneously achieve military goals of self-sufficiency required to wage total war.

Japan’s new theorists of warfare deemed the acquisition of China’s resources vital national interests and thereby elevated China to a central place in army strategy. Army officers became more aggressive and assertive toward China and made radical, often unilateral, decisions about national security that converted a traditionally defensive strategy into an aggressive, acquisitive one. This decisive strategic alteration set Japan on a course that challenged the postwar international order. Unilateral action by army officers failed in China in 1927 and 1928, but the army’s stunning “Conspiracy at Mukden” in 1931 rendered Manchuria and North China essential national interests. Instead of the army serving the interests of the state, the state came to serve the army.

Senior army leaders, however, were unable to agree on the limits of continental expansion or the type of army required for the changing ways of warfare. The bitter clashes between Araki and Nagata about the timing for war with the Soviet Union and army modernization were not resolved, only carried forward as disputes between Ishiwara and Umezu over China policy, rearmament, and a short-war or long-war strategy. Likewise, the war ministry and general staff often found themselves at odds over strategic decisions during the Siberian Expedition, the China Incident, and the 1941 decision for war with the Soviet Union. They continued to argue about strategy during the Asia-Pacific War, disagreeing about the merits of holding an extended defensive perimeter, Burma operations, and homeland defense, among others. The internal bickering was masked by a united front adopted against the navy, the Diet, political parties, and the foreign ministry. As much as army leaders disliked it, even in wartime they had to deal with these competing elites, compromise with them, and bargain to gain their ends.

Between 1916 and 1945, six army generals served as prime minister. Only one, Tōjō Hideki, displayed an ability to control subordinates and administer the cabinet, but his attempt to consolidate control made powerful enemies within the army who collaborated to assure his downfall. A dominant war minister like Terauchi Masatake fell victim to the rice riot mobs, Tanaka Giichi resigned after the Zhang Zuolin fiasco, and Hayashi Senjūrō quit so soon after taking the premiership that pundits nicknamed it the “eat-and-run” cabinet. Abe Nobuyuki served briefly with little distinction, and Koiso Kuniaki resigned after the defeats in the Philippines and Iwo Jima, unable to coordinate military and national strategy.

The outbreak of full-scale warfare in China in 1937 ended the army’s ambitious modernization and rearmament plans. But the army did not prepare for the last war. It planned well for the next war, only against the wrong opponent. Japan could not afford to prepare simultaneously for the army to fight the Soviet Union in Manchuria and the navy to fight the United States in the Pacific. Stated differently, the services consistently produced a military strategy that the nation could not afford. Only the United States had the resources and industrial capacity to underwrite a global maritime and continental military strategy. Japan went to war against the one opponent it could never defeat. Appeals to warrior spirit to offset American material superiority pitted merciless men against impersonal machines in a savage war that ended in atomic destruction.

Suicide tactics, fighting to the last man, and brutality during the Asia-Pacific War became the legacy of Japan’s first modern army. Yet the concept of literally fighting to the death did not gain popular acceptance until the late 1930s and was not institutionalized until 1941. After the Boshin Civil War and the Satsuma Rebellion there were no mass suicides by the defeated rebels. The collective suicides by sixteen members of the White Tiger Brigade during the Boshin War represented a tragedy of such unusual proportions that the event became enshrined in popular memory. It is true that the Meiji leaders meted out cruel punishments to high-ranking rebels and instigators, but the new government took pains to reintegrate most of the former insurgents into society. Government propaganda and the deification of wartime heroes during the Russo-Japanese War intersected with a popular reaction to western values that revived derivative samurai ideals as somehow representative of true Japanese spirit to create new standards for battlefield conduct. This attitudinal change eventually metastasized into tactical and operational doctrine that prohibited surrender, coerced soldiers to fight to the death, and ultimately endorsed the desperation kamikaze tactics of 1944–1945.

Ordinary soldiers did not fight ruthlessly to the bitter end because of a common samurai gene pool or military heritage. The great paradox is that the only samurai the new Meiji leaders ever trusted were themselves. Appeals to a mythical warrior ethos were government and army devices to promote the morale of a conscript force that neither the civil nor military leaders held in much regard.

In macro terms, soldiers fought because the educational system inculcated a sense of national identity and responsibility to the state, patriotism, and reverence for imperial values that the army in turn capitalized on to indoctrinate pliable conscripts with idealized military values. At the micro level, they continued to fight when all hope was gone for various institutional and personal reasons. Army psychologists identified tough training, solid organization, army indoctrination, and small-unit leadership as factors in sustaining unit cohesion in extremis. Personal reactions were as varied as the conscripts. Some fought to uphold family honor (usually sons of veterans), others simply to survive one more day, and most to support others. Based on recent, preliminary research, it appears that the vertical solidarity between junior leaders (lieutenants and senior sergeants) and the conscripts they led played a more significant role in combat motivation than in western armies.

Any generalizations about the army’s Asia-Pacific wartime performance require caveats. Battles or campaigns that ended in the almost total destruction of army units usually occurred when they were surrounded, as happened at Nomonhan, or defending isolated atolls such as Peleliu and smaller islands like Attu, Saipan, and Iwo Jima, where retreat was impossible. Conversely, on Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Luzon, and China, large Japanese army forces conducted tactical and operational retreats to preserve unit integrity. True, those armies suffered heavy losses, but most occurred after their logistics systems collapsed. There were also times such as at Leyte when withdrawal was an option but senior commanders’ stubbornness and ordinary soldiers’ docility had predictable disastrous results. Mutaguchi’s Burma campaign is probably the most notorious example, but even his battered army did not fight to the last man.

An assessment of the Japanese army must address its brutality. The army’s conduct in the Boshin War, the Satsuma Rebellion, and the Taiwan Expedition was at times reprehensible and reflected a combination of traditional Japanese military practices of the samurai class and late nineteenth-century western colonial pacification policies against indigenous peoples. In 1894, however, the Second Army’s massacre of Chinese at Port Arthur went beyond accepted international standards, and the army reacted by protecting its interests, not punishing the perpetrators. Just a few years later, during the Boxer Expedition, Japanese soldiers were models of good behavior, operating under draconian discipline designed to impress the western allies with the nation’s enlightened and civilized military forces. If nothing else, the experience suggests that the army could enforce strict field discipline when it found it to its advantage. The army’s conduct during the Russo-Japanese War was likewise exemplary; prisoners of war were well treated, European residents of Port Arthur were not harmed, and international rules of land warfare were observed. A decade later, German prisoners taken at Tsingtao were similarly well treated. The army’s conduct during the Siberian intervention was at times atrocious, but perhaps comprehensible, as the consequence of fighting a nasty guerrilla war in the wasteland.

A sea change in attitudes about civilians and prisoners seems to date from the 1920s. Notions of total war made civilians an essential component of an enemy’s overall war-making capability and therefore legitimate targets to one degree or another by all major military powers. The army’s hardening attitude during the 1930s about being captured complemented a growing contempt for enemies who surrendered. The permissible violence that unofficially suffused the barracks drew on concepts of superiority to toughen the conscripts while the gradual militarization of Japanese society, abetted by a national educational system that glorified martial values, contributed to a sense of moral and racial superiority. Popular stereotypes of devious Chinese made their way into field manuals, and when full-scale warfare broke out in China in 1937, officers at all levels condoned or connived at murder, rape, arson, and looting.

War crimes may afflict all armies, but the scope of Japan’s atrocities was so excessive and the punishments so disproportionate that no appeal to moral equivalency can excuse their barbarity. Between July 1937 and November 1944 in China, for instance, the army court-martialed about 9,000 soldiers for assorted offenses, most involving either crimes against superior officers or desertion, indicating that internal discipline mattered more to the army than external brutality.

By the late 1930s the Japanese army relied on violence to terrorize Chinese opponents and civilians into submission. The army was as ruthless with Japanese citizens (Okinawa being the case in point) as it was with indigenous populations under its occupation because it placed the institution’s prestige first and justified illegal acts to protect it. First readily observable after the Port Arthur massacre, the trend accelerated in the late 1920s with field insubordination (1927 Shandong), assassination (1928 Zhang Zuolin), criminal conspiracies (1931 Manchuria, 1932 Shanghai, and 1936 Inner Mongolia), and the sack of China, which began in July 1937 and continued into August 1945. The government, the army, and the navy ignored reports of mistreatment of Allied POWs and crimes against civilians to perpetuate the institution, not the nation.

Violence was idiosyncratic, depending on commanders’ attitudes and orders. Too often senior Japanese officers ordered the execution of prisoners and civilians, the destruction of villages and cities, and condoned or encouraged plunder and rape. Junior officers followed orders (or acted secure in the knowledge that no punishment awaited them), and the enlisted ranks followed the permissive lead and took out their frustration and anger on the helpless. Not all Japanese soldiers participated in war crimes, and those who did cannot be absolved because they were following orders or doing what everyone else in their unit was. They were the “ordinary men” in extraordinary circumstances who became capable of the worst.

Between the cease-fire of August 15 and Japan’s formal surrender on September 2, the cabinet ordered all ministries to destroy their records—orders that were soon extended to local government offices throughout Japan. The imperial army tried to conceal its past, particularly its long record of atrocities throughout Asia. A week-long bonfire consumed the war ministry’s and general staff’s most sensitive, and likely most incriminating, documents. Imperial general headquarters also transmitted burn-after-reading messages to overseas units ordering them to destroy records related to the mistreatment of Allied prisoners of war, transform comfort women into army nurses, and burn anything “detrimental to Jap[anese] interests.” Finally, former army officers concealed significant materials from the occupying American authorities so that they could write an “unbiased” account of what they called the Greater East Asia War after the occupation ended.

Throughout the war, the army had routinely starved and beaten prisoners and had murdered tens of thousands of Caucasian prisoners and hundreds of thousands of Asian captives. Disturbed by the postwar outpouring of such revelations, in mid-September Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru conveyed his thinking on the matter to Japanese diplomats in neutral European nations. “Since the Americans have recently been raising an uproar about the question of our mistreatment of prisoners, I think we should make every effort to exploit the atomic bomb question in our propaganda.” Instead of confronting the issue of war crimes, Shigemitsu tried to shift attention from it, a precedent the Japanese government has followed ever since.

The Allies’ dragnet for Japanese war criminals covered most of East Asia and identified and punished Japanese for war crimes committed throughout the area of Japanese conquest. Besides the twenty-eight leaders designated Class A war criminals (a number that included fourteen army generals) for plotting aggressive war, 5,700 Japanese subjects were tried as Class B and C war criminals for conventional crimes, violations of the laws of war, rape, murder, mistreatment of prisoners of war, and so forth. About 4,300 were convicted, almost 1,000 sentenced to death, and hundreds given life imprisonment.

Others escaped justice. The most notorious example was Unit 731, a biological warfare unit in Manchuria that conducted human experiments on prisoners to test the lethality of the pathogens they manufactured. At war’s end the unit destroyed its headquarters and germ-warfare facilities as its commander, Lt. Gen. Ishii Shiro, and his senior officers escaped the advancing Soviet armies and made their way back to Japan. Ishii later traded his cache of documents to Supreme Commander Allied Forces (SCAP), Japan, in exchange for immunity from prosecution as a war criminal.

For all the bluster about one’s responsibility to emulate samurai values, only about 600 officers committed suicide to atone for their roles in bringing Japan to defeat and disaster. That number included just 22 of the army’s 1,501 army generals. Other general officers disarmed their troops throughout Asia and the Pacific in accordance with Tokyo’s August 17 notification to major commands that surrendering soldiers were not to be considered prisoners of war and that unit order and discipline would be maintained.

The immediate military problems were the repatriation of overseas Japanese and the dissolution of the army. Even with Japanese cooperation, these were staggering tasks. More than 6.6 million Japanese were outside home islands (more than half of them soldiers and sailors), and there were one million Chinese and Koreans brought to Japan as forced laborers during the war who had to be returned home. About two million Japanese were in Manchuria, one million in Korea and Taiwan, and about one-and-a-half million in China. Others were scattered across Southeast Asia, the Southwest and Central Pacific, and the Philippines. The enormous mass migration was carried out between 1945 and 1947, using U.S. Navy and Japanese ships, many crewed by Japanese seamen. Repatriation and demobilization went smoothly, and Gerhard Weinberg has noted the paradox between the turmoil in Asia that followed Japan’s defeat and, notwithstanding the desperate conditions, the relative tranquility in Japan itself.

In mid-September 1945 SCAP dissolved the imperial general headquarters and made the war and navy ministries responsible for demobilization of the armed forces. By December 1945 the ministries had disbanded all military forces in the Japanese home islands. SCAP then converted the ministries into demobilization boards that continued to muster out returning overseas veterans until October 1947, when the boards too were inactivated. After a generation of insubordination, conspiracy, and iniquity, in one of the great surprises of World War II Japanese officers obeyed orders and presided over the dissolution of their army. Perhaps nothing befitted the army so much as its self-administered demise

The rapid rise of Japan’s first modern army was a remarkable accomplishment that succeeded against long odds. Army leaders faced difficult options whose outcomes were never certain. Their choices set the army on a course whose direction was buffeted by foreign threats, altered by personalities, and changed by domestic developments. What continues to define the army, however, is its fall, a descent into ruthlessness and barbarity during the 1930s whose repercussions are still felt today through much of Asia. That legacy will forever haunt the old army.

Death on the Equator – Khedive Ismail 12.02.44

HIJMS Submarine I-27: Tabular Record of Movement

SS Khedive Ismail

The Indian Ocean was at its best, the sky a flawless blue, the sea mirror-calm, the wind a gentle breeze from the north-east. An eerie quiet lay over the ocean, with only the measured thump of the engines and the swish of the bow-wave disturbing the silence of the early afternoon. Lunch was over, and most of the passengers were below enjoying a concert party in the main lounge. On deck, a few dedicated sun worshippers were stretched out in steamer chairs. At any other time the Khedive Ismail might have been a cruise liner of the 1930s carrying the privileged to their next exotic destination. But the year was 1944, and the world was at war.

By December 1943, after a long and hard-fought campaign, British forces in Burma had at last turned the tables on the Japanese invaders, and a major offensive aimed at regaining lost territory was about to be mounted. Fresh troops were being brought in from bases around the Indian Ocean, among them 996 men of the 301st Field Regiment of the East African Artillery, who made up the majority of the Khedive Ismail’s passengers. Also on board were 271 Royal Navy personnel, 54 nursing sisters, 19 Wrens and 9 drivers of the Women’s Transport Service. The ship’s crew consisted of 22 British officers, 5 medical staff, 12 DEMS gunners and 144 Indian ratings. With a total of 1,536 passengers and crew on board, the ship’s accommodation was fully occupied.

In her long life the Khedive Ismail had served many masters. Built on the River Clyde in 1922 for the Chilean Campania Sud Americana de Vapores for their Valparaiso to New York service, she had been launched as the Aconcagua, named for the highest mountain in the Andes. In l931, following heavy losses sustained by CSVA in the depression years, she had been sold to Lithgows of Port Glasgow and returned to the land of her birth. A few years later, the Lithgow yard sold her on to another shipbuilder, William Hamilton of Belfast, who in turn found a buyer for her in Egypt, the Khedivial Mail Line of Alexandria. She was then renamed Khedive Ismail and employed ferrying cargo and passengers between Alexandria and ports in Greece and France. Egypt was then under joint British and French control, and in 1940 she was requisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport and converted for carrying troops in the Indian Ocean under the management of the British India Steam Navigation Company.

On Sunday, 5 February 1944 the Khedive Ismail sailed from Mombasa, East Africa with Convoy KR-8, bound for Colombo. The convoy consisted of five fast British troopships, Ellerman Line’s 10,902-ton City of Paris and four others operated by British India, the Ekma (5,108 tons), the Ellenga (5,196 tons), the Varsova (4,701 tons) and the Khedive Ismail. Between them, the five ships were carrying a total of 6,311 military personnel.

Commanded by 49-year-old Captain Roderick Macaulay, who had been appointed convoy commodore, the Khedive Ismail led the way out of Mombasa, and once clear of Mackenzie Point the ships formed up in three columns abreast. At the head of the port outer column was the convoy’s ocean escort, the heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins.

Built in 1917 and a veteran of the China Station, HMS Hawkins was a formidable looking warship armed with seven 7.5-inch and eight 12-pounders; but she was severely lacking in anti-submarine capability, which in this war was the main requirement of any convoy escort. She had no Asdic or any other underwater detecting equipment and was in reality far more vulnerable than any of the merchant ships she was charged with protecting. Fortunately, KR-8 also had a local escort comprising the Flower-class corvette Honesty and the two Banff-class sloops Lulworth and Senna, all fully equipped and well experienced in submarine warfare.

As the convoy formed up off the East African coast, 3,000 miles to the east the Japanese submarine I-27, which had sailed from Penang twenty-four hours earlier, was rounding the northern end of Sumatra and entering the Indian Ocean. In her conning tower was Commander Toshiaki Fukumura, who had orders to seek out and attack Allied shipping in the Gulf of Aden. The Suez Canal, which for some time had been inaccessible to the Allies, was once more in business, and it was reported that many ships were sailing unescorted in the Gulf.

I-27 was a 356ft-long cruiser-class submarine with a displacement on the surface of 2,584 tons, almost twice the size of the Type IX, her German equivalent, and considerably larger than the average British destroyer. She was armed with six torpedo tubes in the bow, a 5.5-inch deck gun and a twin-barrelled 25mm AA gun in the conning tower. Housed in a hangar forward of the tower was a small reconnaissance seaplane, and she was also equipped to carry a midget submarine on deck when required. With a surface speed of 23 knots and an underwater speed of 8 knots, I-27 was undoubtedly fast, but she had an Achilles heel: largely because of her size, she was slow to manoeuvre and slow to dive, two characteristics that could prove fatal to a submarine at war.

Thirty-nine-year-old Toshiaki Fukumura was a long-serving member of the Imperial Japanese Navy, having entered the service as a midshipman in 1927. After sailing in the battleship Matsu he had joined the submarine arm in l933 as a navigator, advancing quickly through the ranks until in November 1939 he was given command of the small coastal submarine RO-34. Since taking command of I-27 in February 1943 he had had considerable success, sinking ten Allied ships of 54,453 tons and damaging three others. In the course of these sinkings he had earned the reputation of being a ruthless foe, prone to machine-gunning survivors in the water.

Four days after sailing from Mombasa, when crossing the Equator north of the Seychelles, KR-8’s local escort returned to port, leaving the cruiser Hawkins in sole charge. The voyage so far had been without incident, and with the Admiralty reporting no German or Japanese submarines in the area, the indications were that it would continue so. Some forty hours later, on the morning of the 11th, HMS Hawkins was joined by the P-class destroyers Paladin and Petard, two of the Royal Navy’s best. Less than three years off the stocks, they were 37-knotters equipped with the latest in anti-submarine gear. The two destroyers took up station 3,000yds on either bow and began zigzagging, their Asdics sweeping ahead for any sign of an underwater enemy. KR-8 was then only 270 miles west of the naval air base on Addu Atoll, and with air cover expected soon it seemed that, to quote an old adage, ‘it was all over bar the shouting’.

Dawn on the 12th saw the convoy approaching the One and a Half Degree Channel, the 80-mile-wide gap in the Maldive archipelago, and making 13 knots. During the course of the morning, Captain Whitehorn, as convoy commodore, suggested to the Senior Officer Escort, Captain Josselyn in HMS Hawkins, that the merchant ships should now commence zigzagging. His suggestion was noted, but no action was taken. No air cover had yet arrived, but with Addu Atoll only just over the horizon to starboard and Colombo less than two days steaming away, Josselyn appears to have been content to leave things as they were. The convoy continued on its serene way, seemingly oblivious to any dangers that might still lay ahead.

Aboard the Khedive Ismail noon sights had been taken and the course adjusted appropriately. Normal afternoon routine was being followed. Below decks, the concert party was in full swing, with Nursing Sister Edith Bateman giving a spirited rendering on the grand piano of the Warsaw Concerto, while on deck the sunbathers sipped their post-lunch gin and tonics contentedly. The war seemed to be on some far-off planet. Then, without warning, this peaceful scene was cruelly shattered.

I-27’s periscope was sighted simultaneously by the leading ship of the starboard column, British India’s Varsova, which was slightly ahead of her station, and the destroyer Petard. Aboard Petard, zigzagging on the starboard bow, the Officer of the Watch, Lieutenant R. de Pass, happened to be looking astern when he caught a glimpse of the periscope as Fukumura took a quick sweep around the horizon. At the same time, three DEMS gunners, standing to at the 4-inch on the Varsova’s poop, saw what they described as ‘A dark green periscope protruding some 3ft above the water and travelling towards the Khedive Ismail at about 4 knots’. The gunners tried to bring their gun to bear, but it would not depress low enough.

Fukumura had been approaching the One and a Half Degree Channel from the east when he sighted the smoke of the convoy, which was then on a reciprocal course. Remaining on the surface until the sighting was confirmed by the appearance of mast and funnels on the horizon, Fukumura submerged and waited. KR-8 continued on course in complete ignorance of the danger it was steaming towards.

As the convoy drew nearer, Fukumura sank deep, and with motors stopped and observing silent routine, he allowed the two destroyers to pass over him. Once inside the convoy, he came back to periscope depth and took another quick look around. I-27 was then about 50yds astern of the Varsova, but Fukumura had eyes only for the cruiser Hawkins. He took careful aim and fired a spread of four torpedoes.

I-27’s spread bracketed the British cruiser, one torpedo passing ahead of her, another astern. The Khedive Ismail, which at the time was partially overlapping Hawkins, was the unlucky recipient of the other two torpedoes. Second Officer Cecil Munday, who was on watch on the bridge of the troopship at the time, later stated:

I am of the opinion the submarine fired a fan of torpedoes from the starboard quarter of the convoy; I was on watch at the time, talking to one of the signalmen, when I saw the wake of a torpedo pass our stern and miss the stern of HMS Hawkins by 50 feet. Immediately afterwards we were struck by a torpedo in No. 4 hold on the starboard side, followed five seconds later by a second torpedo, which struck in the boiler room, on the starboard side. No one saw the track of either of these torpedoes, but I sighted the U-boat’s periscope about 400 feet away between the centre and starboard columns.

There was a loud explosion with the first torpedo, which caused the vessel to list 12° to starboard; the second explosion, which was more violent than the first, may have caused one of the boilers to explode. There was no flash with either explosion, but I saw flames rising outside the funnel through the fidley gratings. No water was thrown up, but a great amount of debris was flung high into the air. The second explosion caused the main stairway and troop deck to collapse, thereby trapping a great number of people. The vessel continued to heel over to starboard, until she was on her beam ends, and then disappeared.

An unnamed eyewitness described how, when the first torpedo struck, he saw the mainmast collapse and much of the after part of the superstructure cave in, while the hatch covers of the after hold were blown high in the air. When, five seconds later, the other torpedo hit directly below the funnel, there was a major explosion inside the vessel, resulting in the Khedive Ismail breaking in two. The stern sank first, then the bow section up-ended and corkscrewed below the surface. One minute and forty seconds after she was first hit, the ship was gone.

Acting Petty Officer Percy Crabb, one of the Royal Navy contingent on board the Khedive Ismail, in later years recorded his experience:

I was in the POs’ mess with seven other petty officers when the troopship was torpedoed between 1400 and 1500 by, I believe, two tin fish, one in the engine room and one aft under the counter. I was asleep at the time. Immediately she listed over; everyone made a dash for the companionway except yours truly and PO Harper; we both made for the two portholes, which were open. I remember scrambling through and hobbling down the ship’s side, stepping over the rolling chock and diving into the sea, by the time I surfaced the ship had gone. I swam to a green smoke canister some thirty yards away, hanging on to this I looked around me, there were several survivors either swimming or hanging on to whatever floated.

Soon after the second torpedo hit, Captain Whiteman, realizing that his ship was mortally wounded, gave the order to abandon ship, informing Second Officer Munday that he would remain on board until everyone else was off. This was a brave gesture that would cost Roderick Whiteman his life; the Khedive Ismail capsized and sank only seconds later.

Second Officer Munday later said:

There was no time to launch any boats, but many rafts and four lifeboats broke away as the ship sank. The Chief Officer and the Troop Officer ordered everybody to jump overboard as the ship was turning over. The Chief Officer jumped, but fouled some ropes and was pulled under with the ship; he eventually came to the surface, found a raft onto which he climbed and managed to pull on board a Wren who was struggling in the water. He said that he felt no effect of suction on the low side of the ship as she sank. I went along to No. 2 boat and saw a Wren officer lying on the deck; as she was unconscious and frothing at the mouth, I did not consider anything could be done for her, so I climbed over the high side and walked down the ship’s side into the water.

I swam some half dozen strokes from the ship when a big wave overtook me, and as I was drawn under I saw many bodies and wreckage floating past; I momentarily surfaced and managed to take a few deep breaths before being again drawn under. I was then on the port side of the ship, but on surfacing again I found myself off the starboard bow. I therefore must have passed completely under the ship.

The reaction of Paladin and Petard to the sighting of the periscope by Lieutenant de Pass was immediate. Both destroyers turned outwards under full helm and raced back to the rear of the convoy, where it was thought the attacker might be. Asdic contact was established, and with Petard directing, Paladin dropped two patterns of depth charges. There was no visible reaction, Fukumura having already moved out of range. Now the hunt had to begin in earnest.

At this point, as Senior Officer Escort, Captain Josselyn in HMS Hawkins intervened. Having in mind the possibility of more than one enemy submarine being involved, he called for one destroyer to return to the convoy, leaving the other to deal with the attacker. Petard being the senior ship, Commander Egan ordered Paladin to rejoin, after first picking up survivors sighted in the water. Among those survivors was Petty Officer Crabb, who later wrote:

The convoy had dispersed by this time and it seemed we were left to our own devices; some 200 yards away were two lifeboats from the ship, one upside down, survivors were all making for them so I decided to do the same.

I am almost certain the submarine passed under me, as there was quite a turbulence of water and a wake left behind. This was the scene when the destroyers Petard and Paladin arrived at high speed, the submarine must have been picked up on their Asdics, because they started depth charging some 300 yards away. I distinctly remember one charge from the thrower exploding just above the surface of the sea. It was a very strange experience to feel shock waves coming through the water and the almighty thump in the stomach. Luckily, I was still hanging on to the smoke float, which took most of the concussion.

Paladin had dropped off a motor boat and sea boat to pick up survivors. I eventually made it to the troopship’s lifeboat and got aboard, we managed to row towards Paladin, which was slowly circling us, while Petard was still depth charging further away. We got alongside Paladin and hastily scrambled aboard, among us three nursing sisters, two Wrens and one South African WTS; this was all that was left of their contingents. I remember a seaman throwing me a pair of sandals, as I was barefoot, because the steel decks of the destroyer were very hot.

HMS Paladin was in the act of sending away her boats to pick up survivors when I-27 appeared to give away her position. Commander Egan, on the bridge of Petard, saw a sudden eruption in the water about 1,000yds to the east which had the appearance of a submarine blowing its tanks. Egan carried out an Asdic sweep in the area but could get no contact. He then concluded that the disturbance must have been caused by a sudden rush of air escaping from the submerged wreck of the Khedive Ismail and decided to join Paladin in the more urgent business of rescuing people from the water. It soon became obvious that there were not many of them. To quote Commander Egan, ‘Survivors were regrettably few and concentrated in a small area, with barely half a dozen up-turned boats and a few rafts.’

As Petard approached the survivors with her boats swung out ready to lower, another large bubble of air broke the surface close to the wreckage marking the last resting place of the Khedive Ismail. Egan immediately abandoned the rescue and made for the spot at full speed. Once again he was disappointed, for no Asdic contact could be made. He was about to rejoin Paladin when, to his great surprise, a submarine suddenly shot to the surface about 1½ miles on Petard’s starboard quarter. Egan’s report reads:

By this time Paladin had recovered all survivors and both ships turned simultaneously to the attack, firing with all weapons and scoring many hits. I then proceeded to pass as close astern of the U-boat as practicable, firing three depth charges from the port throwers and trap, set to 50 feet, when close aboard, which fell reasonably near but were not lethal.

Meanwhile the U-boat got under way but attempts by the crew to come out of the conning tower were frustrated by the combined fire of both ships. At least two of the crew were blown to shreds. Petard now opened from the target while Paladin closed at high speed to the attack, signalling that she intended to ram.

Although there was a possibility of the U-boat re-submerging, I did not wish to take this action, except as a last resort, I therefore ordered Paladin not to ram.

Egan’s signal came too late. Paladin was then only 600yds from the surfaced submarine and bearing down on her at full speed. The Khedive Ismail’s second officer, Cecil Munday, who had been picked up by HMS Paladin, described the action:

All the survivors in the Paladin were ordered to lie flat on deck. We then proceeded at full speed and steamed straight for the submarine with the intention of ramming. When only a few feet away the Senior Officer in HMS Petard signalled, ‘Don’t ram’. Immediately the helm was put over in an attempt to clear, but as she shot past the submarine’s hydroplane guard caught in the Paladin’s side, below water, and ripped her side from amidships as far aft as the 4″ gun. Water poured into the ship and everybody was ordered on deck.

Damage parties reported that the Paladin’s hull had been sliced open for some 80ft just below the waterline. Her engine room was awash, and two fuel tanks and the after magazine were flooded. The destroyer slowly lost way, until she was lying dead in the water and listing to starboard. Paladin was out of the fight.

Petard now took up the sword, and there followed a bizarre running action lasting nearly an hour, in which destroyer and submarine circled each other like two prize fighters in the ring, each looking for an opportunity to land the killer punch. I-27 appeared to be unable to dive, and because of the hail of machine-gun and cannon fire sweeping her decks her gunners were unable to man her 5.5-inch. However, her six torpedo tubes were a menace not to be ignored. If she were able to manoeuvre into a position to fire, Petard would be in great danger. As it was, the destroyer smothered the submarine with shot and shell, firing a total of 300 rounds of 4-inch and a constant stream of smaller shot. I-27’s deck gun was blasted over the side and her conning tower riddled, but due to Petard’s lack of armour-piercing shells, she failed to hole the submarine’s hull. Commander Egan wrote in his report:

The problem of tackling a U-boat under these conditions was vexatious. Gunfire inflicted no apparent damage to pressure hull and running up alongside sufficiently close to lob depth charges to a lethal distance, with the U-boat under helm, at the same time keeping clear of bow and stern tubes, was hazardous. These tactics were finally abandoned due to the danger of collision and it was decided to sink her by torpedo.

Here again the target appeared simple, but only the seventh torpedo found its mark and she finally blew up at 1153 (GMT). When the column of water subsided, nothing was visible except an oil patch. Another violent underwater explosion occurred seven minutes later, which only brought more diesel oil and a few pieces of wreckage to the surface.

Paladin now reported she was in danger of sinking. Her engine room was flooded and it was feared that the forward engine room bulkhead would give way under the weight of water. Her remaining torpedoes were fired off, and everything moveable and not essential was thrown overboard, while her survivors were transferred to HMS Petard. Fortunately, by the time the sun went down Paladin had stopped taking on water and appeared to be out of danger. Petard then passed a tow line, and the two destroyers set off for Addu Atoll, leaving HMS Hawkins to look after the remaining four ships of the convoy. The destroyers arrived safely at the base t 0740 the next morning.

The sinking of the Khedive Ismail with the loss of 1,297 lives, including 77 women and 137 of her crew of 183, will go down in history as one of the worst shipping disasters of the Second World War. There are conflicting reports as to why so many people died, when the weather was so favourable and other ships were close by. It has been said, although never officially confirmed, that I-27 was hiding under the survivors in the water and that HMS Petard made at least one depth charge run through them, causing many deaths. If this was so, then Commander Rupert Egan was only following Navy protocol, the safety of the other ships in the convoy taking precedence over the lives of survivors in the water.

Kenneth Harrup, who was serving in the repair ship HMS Lucas at the time, in later years wrote:

Our orders were to join the Khedive Ismail and convoy KR 8 but when they learned that our maximum speed was only 9 knots they departed without us at 15 knots on the 5th. We left on the 8th and sailed through the wreckage and empty lifeboats before arriving at the Maldives where we carried out first aid repairs to the damaged destroyer. Apart from this our voyage was completely uneventful, but only now do I realize how close we came to disaster.

If that raider had not been disposed of in that terrible moment of decision by the Petard captain, my ship and the lives of some 500 navy men would almost certainly have fallen to that Japanese submarine. We had so little in the way of defences – just a 12 pounder gun and a few depth charges, we would have been a sitting duck. With that thought in mind, perhaps those dozens of poor souls did not die in vain on that most tragic day 61 long years ago, when swimming hopefully towards their rescuers only to find that they were their executioners.

Sen Taka Sho Type Medium Attack Submarine

The design for this class was developed using data from the experimental No. 71 to create a torpedo attack type with high underwater speed. It featured a streamlined hull, retractable deck fittings and weapons (including a snorkel), spring-loaded cover plates for limber holes, powerful electric motors, and a new high-capacity battery that enabled it to maintain full speed for up to 55 minutes followed by a cruise at 3 knots for up to 12 hours. The design was optimized for mass production with extensive use of prefabrication and an all-welded hull.

The design for this class was developed using data from the experimental No. 71 to create a torpedo attack type with high underwater speed. It featured a streamlined hull, retractable deck fittings and weapons (including a snorkel), spring-loaded cover plates for limber holes, powerful electric motors, and a new high-capacity battery that enabled it to maintain full speed for up to 55 minutes followed by a cruise at 3 knots for up to 12 hours. The design was optimized for mass production with extensive use of prefabrication and an all-welded hull.

The Japanese technological advantage did not wane during the course of the war. It diverged to three different branches: large, small, and fast. The Japanese used their skill to build the largest submarines in the world (Sen Toku Type) as well as some of the most capable small submarines (kaiten and other midgets). Most impressive of all of their designs, however, is the Sen Taka Sho Type medium attack submarine that had an acceptable cruising range coupled with outstanding underwater speed. Had more of these submarines reached operational status earlier, the American forces would have had a unique foe on their hands.

Even with the technological advantages of their designs, the Japanese submarines did suffer from a lack of resources that placed limits on the number of submarines that could be built and on the timeliness of the build process. Also, the Japanese did have a significant delay in developing and installing radar on their submarines. While it was a deficiency, it would not have had significant influence if the focus on operational security had been stronger.

The training of Japanese submarine crews was without equal. The submarines spent long periods of time out at sea constantly practicing elements of the plan for a decisive battle. The intense training periods had such a level of realism that three submarines were lost in prewar training accidents. The training was not without fault however. The overarching focus on the submarine role in the “decisive battle” limited the growth of submarine force capabilities. The overall training gave minimal consideration to key aspects of submarine operations: surveillance, commerce raiding, and sea control (area denial).

The Sen Taka I-201-class submarine took its name from an abbreviation of the Japanese words for “submarine” and “fast”, and it certainly lived up to that christening. It was the only World War II submarine that was easily a match for the German U-boat XXI and was superior to it in the three key areas of power, speed and weaponry.

The hull was fully welded and very carefully streamlined; no gun or other deck obstruction was allowed which might impair the under- water performance. Even the 25-mm (I-in) mount retracted into a streamlined housing in the conning tower. The whole design concentrated on underwater performance, and new electric motors were installed giving the vessels an underwater speed of 19 knots.

The maximum submerged depth achieved by the submarines was 110m (360 ft), the greatest depth achieved by a Japanese submarine. In many respects the vessels resembled the German Type XXI and when completed they were the first operational GUPPY type submarine in the world. Specially designed lightweight MAN diesels were used for surface propulsion, to keep displacement low. Only small bunkerage was pro- vided, and the surfaced radius of action was only 5800 nautical miles with an endurance of 25 days.

The Sen Taka stood out among the Japanese boats, which had something of a reputation for slow manoeuvrability and diving. The two 2,051 kW/2,750hp engines and streamlined welded hulls provided around 17 knots on the surface, but even more impressive was the coupling with heavy-duty battery cells supplying an impressive 3,728kW/5,000hp electric motor capable of achieving 19 knots – double the speed achieved by contemporary American designs. They were equipped with a snorkel, which allowed for underwater diesel operation while recharging batteries.

Eight boats were laid down, but only three were completed before the end of the war, and the commissioning came too late to see any operational activity. Construction employed full mass-pro- duction techniques, with the submarines assembled in section in factories, the completed sections being welded together on the slip. The whole operation from start to finish took on average only ten months. A total of 23 units were ordered from the Kure navy yard under the 1943 Programme, construction commencing in March 1944. A further 76 units were projected under the 1944 Programme, but the progress of the war and the decision to concentrate construction on suicide units led to the cancellation of I-209-122­ in 1945, and the l]nits in the 1944 Programme were never ordered at all. I-201 entered service on February 2, 1945, followed on February 12 by I-202 and on May 29 by I-203. I-204-208 were laid down but never completed and all the boats were surrendered at the end of the war.

The incoming Americans made sure they kept the Sen Taka secrets to themselves.

Two submarines, I-201 and I-203, were seized and inspected by the US Navy at the end of the hostilities. They were part of a group of four captured submarines, including the giant I-400 and I-401, which were sailed to Hawaii by US Navy technicians for further inspection.

On 26 March 1946, the US Navy decided to scuttle these captured Japanese submarines to prevent the technology from falling into the hands of the Soviet Union. On 5 April 1946, I-202 was scuttled in Japanese waters. On 21 May 1946, I-203 was torpedoed and sunk by submarine USS Caiman off the Hawaiian Islands. On 23 May 1946, I-201 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Queenfish.

Ha201 Sen-Taka-Sho fast attack submarine

General characteristics
Displacement:1,290 t (1,270 long tons; 1,420 short tons) surfaced 1,503 t (1,479 long tons; 1,657 short tons) submerged
Length:79 m (259 ft) overall 59.2 m (194 ft) pressure hull
Beam:5.8 m (19 ft) pressure hull 9.2 m (30 ft) max. across stern fins
Height:7 m (23 ft) (keel to main deck)
Propulsion:Diesel-electric 2 × MAN Mk.1 diesel (Ma-Shiki 1 Gō diesel), build by Kawasaki and Mitsubishi. 2,750 hp (2,050 kW) 4 × electric motors, 5,000 hp (3,700 kW) at 600 rpm 2 shafts
Speed:15.75 knots (29.17 km/h) surfaced 19 knots (35 km/h) submerged
Range:15,000 nmi (28,000 km) at 6 knots (11 km/h) 7,800 nmi (14,400 km) at 11 knots (20 km/h) 5,800 nmi (10,700 km) at 14 knots (26 km/h) Submerged: 135 nmi (250 km) at 3 knots (5.6 km/h)
Test depth:110 m (360 ft)
Complement:31 (plan) approx. 50 (actual)
Armament:4 × 533 mm (21 in) bow torpedo tubes 10 × Type 95 torpedoes 2 × Type 96 25 mm AA guns

The “Crouching Dragons”

Next door to the Yasukuni shrine in Japan is the Yushukan Museum of the Heroes. Thanks to the efforts of survivors such as Shimizu Kazuro, a statue was placed in the museum to honour the lost Fukuryu trainees, the `human spar torpedoes’, so many of whom lost their lives not in action, but in training.

Drawing from the January 1946 report by the Naval Technical Mission to Japan, index no S-91(N): The Fukuryu Special Harbor Defense and Underwater Attack Unit – Tokyo Bay.

The final manifestation of the spar torpedo concept were the `Crouching Dragons’, or `Fukuryu’, the weapon of a brave and dedicated group of young men of the Imperial Japanese navy’s Special Service Corps in 1945. As seen in the illustration on the next page, here we have an explosive device on the end of a long pole, intended to sink a vessel by exploding against its underwater hull. To all appearances, this is a classic spar torpedo – and conceived as a desperate last resort against a vastly superior naval power, as was the very first spar torpedo.

Unbelievable as it may sound, these sailors were trained as suicide frogmen, prepared to wade out from the invasion beaches, or hole up in diving chambers hidden off the coast in wrecked ships or underwater caves, in order to thrust their spar torpedo into the hull of an Allied landing craft heading for the shores of Japan.

A surviving Fukuryu trainee, Mr Shimizu Kazuro, was interviewed by a journalist at his home in Nagano prefecture in the course of 2013. He described how conditions for the Japanese in 1945 were becoming desperate. As a young naval trainee of just sixteen he was drafted to the `Tokkotai’, the Special Service Corps who made up the kamikaze units. From an initial total of 300 trainees, all firstborn sons, only children, and boys with no father were drafted out, then the trainees thought to be of above-average intelligence were separated and sent away, and the 100 left were the kamikaze recruits.

The Crouching Dragons wore rubber diving suits, and breathed recycled air through a simple arrangement using caustic lye. However, if they forgot to breathe in using their nostrils and exhale though the mouth, they could accidentally inhale caustic lye and quickly lose consciousness. Training consisted of jumping from boats and practising descending to their operating depth, and then they would practise walking on the seabed, guided from a boat by an officer pulling on guide ropes. All too often the trainees would be dragged down by their equipment, which out of the water weighed more than they did, or they would mix up their breathing procedure and suffocate, or the defective brazing on the breathing gear would fail and let in water with disastrous results, or they would simply become entangled in weeds and drown.

Mr Kazuro recalled how at least fifty of his comrades died in this appalling manner. There were too many to cremate in a religious ceremony at the local shrine, so their bodies were simply piled on fires lit along the shore.

Reference works often state that the Fukuryu units were disbanded before hostilities ended because of these appalling casualties. But that was not so. After the news of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, and the emperor’s radio broadcast, the officers ordered all the equipment and documents to be gathered up and burnt. The Fukuryu were to have remained a closely-guarded secret. It was only after many years that the survivors revived the memory of their lost comrades, and arranged for the small commemorative statue to be made and placed in the Yushukan Museum.

IJN Heavy Cruiser Takao

The Japanese had probably the best cruisers of the early Pacific War era. Their crews were superbly trained and the boats themselves superbly handled, and used very imaginatively as well.

The Takao class was a class of four heavy cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched between May 1930 and April 1931.

They were an evolution from the preceding Myoko class, with heavier torpedo armament and had an almost battleship-like, large bridge structure. Their bridges able to accommodate an Fleet staff.

Their main gun armament was ten 8-inch (203 mm) guns in twin mounts and they were also armed with sixteen 24 inch torpedoes (carrying more than the Myokos or Mogamis), making the Takaos the most heavily armed cruisers of the IJN. The only flaw was that they were considered top-heavy and thus prone to capsizing, while Turret #3 had a poor firing arc. These two problems were rectified in the follow-up Mogamis; nonetheless the Takaos were considered the best cruisers that the IJN ever built.

IJN Takao: Early in the morning of 15 November 1942, the battleship Kirishima, supported by Takao and Atago, engaged the American battleships Washington and South Dakota. All three Japanese ships hit South Dakota multiple times with shells, knocking out her radar and fire controls. Takao and Atago fired Long Lance torpedoes at Washington but missed. However, Kirishima was quickly disabled by Washington and sank a few hours later. Atago was damaged. Takao escaped unharmed, but was forced to retreat to Truk.

Takao was launched on 12 May 1930 at the Yokosuka Navy Yard and commissioned on 31 May 1932, and was the lead ship of her class.

At the start of World War II, Takao was commanded by Captain Asakura Bunji and assigned to Vice Admiral Kondo Nobutake’s Cruiser Division 4 together with her sister ships Atago and Maya. In late December 1941, she provided gunfire support for the landings at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon in the Philippines.

In early 1942, Takao operated in the Java Sea in operations culminating in the Battle of the Java Sea in early March. On 1 March, one of Takao’s floatplanes bombed the Dutch merchant ship Enggano. The next night, Takao and Atago overtook the old United States Navy destroyer Pillsbury and sank her with no survivors. Early on 4 March, Takao, Atago, Maya and two destroyers of Destroyer Division 4, Arashi and Nowaki attacked a convoy near Tjilatjap. The Royal Australian Navy sloop HMAS Yarra defended the convoy for an hour and half, but was sunk with 34 survivors of her crew of 151. (Of these 34 survivors, only 13 were alive to be picked up a week later by the Dutch submarine K-XI and taken to Ceylon.) The Japanese cruisers then sank three ships from the convoy: the tanker Francol, the depot ship Anking, and a minesweeper. Two Dutch freighters were also captured.

In June 1942, Takao and Maya supported the invasion of the Aleutian Islands. On 3 June 1942, their reconnaissance floatplanes were attacked by United States Army Air Forces Curtiss P-40 fighters from Umnak and two were shot down; on 5 June, Takao shot down a B-17 Flying Fortress.

In August 1942, she was assigned to Operation Ka, the Japanese reinforcement during the Battle of Guadalcanal, and participated in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October. A determined attempt to shell the US base at Henderson Field led to the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal: early in the morning of 15 November 1942, the battleship Kirishima, supported by Takao and Atago, engaged the American battleships Washington and South Dakota. All three Japanese ships hit South Dakota multiple times with shells, knocking out her radar and fire controls. Takao and Atago fired Long Lance torpedoes at Washington but missed. However, Kirishima was quickly disabled by Washington and sank a few hours later. Atago was damaged. Takao escaped unharmed, but was forced to retreat to Truk.


Despite everything that Rear- Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s two heavy cruisers (Maya and Suzuya) threw at it during the following night, Henderson Field remained defiantly operational. Its aircraft proved that on the morning of 14 November by attacking the rest of Nishimura’s force (the light cruiser Tenryu and four destroyers) and the units of Gunichi Mikawa’s 8th Fleet (the two heavy cruisers Chokai and Kinugasa, the light cruiser Isuzu and two destroyers) which had been acting as a covering force for the previous evening’s bombardment. Along with carrier aircraft from the Enterprise, the Americans swiftly got their own back on the Japanese for the destruction of TG. 67.4. After waves of attacks, hits and near-misses, the heavy cruiser Kinugasa was sunk, while two others (Chokai and Maya) and the light cruiser Isuzu, along with one of Nishimura’s destroyers, were damaged to the extent that they could not go to Tanaka’s assistance as he brought his transports down `The Slot’ to their landing sites on Guadalcanal later that day. More punishment was meted out to the Japanese when carrier aircraft from the Enterprise, along with planes from both Henderson Field and Espiritu Santo, found these troop transports. Six were sunk and one was damaged in a series of savage attacks that killed 400 troops and left another 5,000 to be rescued and put ashore by their destroyer escorts. Tanaka stoically pressed on with only four transports left and got his troops ashore on the northwest of the island during the hours of darkness(14-15 November). It was just as well because more air attacks followed the next day and all the empty transports were hit and sunk.

As Tanaka was disembarking his troops, Kondo’s 2nd Fleet – comprising the battleship Kirishima, the heavy cruisers Atago and Takao, two escort cruisers and their eight destroyers – were trying to do what Abe and Nishimura’s forces were supposed to have done the previous two evenings and eliminate Henderson Field. Once again, the night time operation was thwarted. On this occasion the perpetrators were the two battleships South Dakota and Washington and four destroyers belonging to Rear-Admiral Willis Lee’s TF 64 which Vice-Admiral William `Bull’ Halsey, the recently appointed C-in-C South Pacific, had sent the previous day from their holding position south of Guadalcanal to go to Turner’s aid after the loss of Callaghan, Scott and their ships. Once again, the nightfighting skills of the Japanese wreaked havoc with the American ships when they confronted one another in Iron Bottom Sound off the northeast coast of Guadalcanal. Three of Lee’s destroyers were swiftly dispatched by a mixture of shells and torpedoes and the other one, Gwin, was damaged. His leading battleship (South Dakota) lost her radar and shortly thereafter the ability to avoid the concentrated fire of her heaviest opponents. Despite being battered, she was still able to defend herself as the destroyer Ayanami found out the hard way when she tried to torpedo her. While all of this was going on, Lee’s other battleship (Washington) remained unseen and unaffected. Captain G. B. Davis, expertly using his radar, brought her to within 8,000 metres of the Kirishima and sank her in a seven-minute bout of shelling. Kondo, on his flagship Atago, had no option but to abandon his mission and withdraw taking the rest of his fleet with him. Henderson Field’s extraordinary durability was set to continue.


In 1943, Takao supported the evacuation of Guadalcanal. Under the command of Inoguchi Toshihira, she operated in the central Pacific from her base at Truk. On 5 November 1943, she was refuelling at Rabaul in the Bismarck Islands when she came under attack by SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Saratoga (see Attack on Rabaul). Takao was hit by two bombs, killing 23 and damaging her steering; she was forced to return to Yokosuka in Japan for dry dock repairs.

On 22 October 1944, she joined Takeo Kurita’s “Centre Force” and sailed from Brunei Bay for the Battle of Leyte Gulf. On 23 October, as she was passing Palawan Island, the force came under attack from two US submarines. At 06:34, Takao was hit by two torpedoes from USS Darter, which shattered two shafts, broke her fantail and flooded three boiler rooms. She turned back to Brunei, escorted by the destroyers Naganami and Asashimo, the torpedo boat Hiyodori and the transport Mitsu Maru. This flotilla was tailed by Darter and Dace until just after midnight on 24 October, when Darter ran aground on the Bombay Shoal and Dace remained to rescue her crew.

Takao was so badly damaged that it was considered impossible to send her back to Japan any time soon for full repairs. So the stern was cut off and shored up, and she was moored as an anti-aircraft battery for the defence of Singapore. While berthed there, she was attacked (Operation Struggle) on 31 July 1945 by the British midget submarine HMS XE3, commanded by Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser and Acting Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Magennis attached six limpet mines to Takao’s hull using a piece of rope (the hull was covered with thick layer of seaweed, and the magnets of the limpet mines would not hold them on the hull); when the mines exploded, they blew a hole 20 m by 10 m. Most of Takao’s guns were put out of action, the rangefinders were destroyed and a number of compartments flooded.

On 5 September 1945, the Straits of Johor naval base was surrendered by the Japanese to the British and the formal boarding of the still partially manned Takao took place on 21 September 1945. She was finally towed to the Straits of Malacca to be used as a target ship for HMS Newfoundland and sunk on October 19, 1946 (03°05′05″N 100°41′00″ECoordinates: 03°05′05″N 100°41′00″E).

Other Takao-class heavy cruisers

Continuing in her role as a fleet flagship, Chokai was assigned to the Eighth Fleet in August 1942. As the flagship of Vice Admiral Mikawa Gunichi, she played a central role in the Japanese victory at Savo Island, although she also received the most damage of any Japanese ship present – American cruisers achieved several hits, killing 34 crewmen. Throughout the campaign, Chokai was a regular visitor to the waters around Guadalcanal, and on 14 October she and Kinugasa bombarded Henderson Field. On November 3, the other three ships of Sentai 4 departed Truk to reinforce the Eighth Fleet. Later, on November 13, Maya and Chokai left Shortland anchorage to conduct a night bombardment of Henderson Field alongside Suzuya. After hitting the airfield with 989 shells, the cruisers were attacked during their withdrawal by aircraft from the carrier Enterprise. Kinugasa was sunk, Chokai slightly damaged, and Maya more heavily damaged when a dive-bomber struck the ship’s mainmast and crashed into her port side, igniting fires. Maya’s torpedoes were jettisoned to avoid a disaster and she was sent back to Japan for repairs.

After her repairs, Maya was assigned to the Fifth Fleet and took part with Nachi in the March 1943 battle of Komandorski Islands, as already recounted. Later that year, Takao, Atago, Maya, and other heavy cruisers were forward-deployed to Rabaul with the aim of launching a massive cruiser attack on the American invasion forces at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville. To forestall such an operation, the Americans hastily mounted a carrier air attack on the cruisers on November 5, while the Japanese vessels were still anchored in Rabaul Harbor. Takao was hit by a bomb near No. 2 turret, killing 23 men; she departed the same day with Atago for Truk. Atago suffered three near misses that caused flooding in the boiler and engine rooms. Maya was heavily damaged when a dive-bomber hit the aircraft deck above the No. 3 engine room and started a major fire in the engine room itself that killed 70. Maya returned to Japan in December 1943 and underwent major repairs and conversion.

The entire Takao class participated in the Philippine Sea operation. Maya was slightly damaged by near misses from carrier air attack. Leyte Gulf, however, was the death knell of the IJN’s finest class of cruisers. All four were assigned to the First Diversionary Attack Force. On October 23, the force was ambushed by two American submarines in the Palawan Passage. Darter sank Atago with four torpedoes and hit Takao with two others, setting her afire and stopping her dead in the water. Dace sank Maya with four torpedoes, killing 470 of 1,105 crewmen. Takao was able to get under way and arrived in Singapore on November 12. The cruiser was deemed irreparable and was moved to join Myoko in Seletar Harbor as a floating anti-aircraft battery.

Plans for modernizing the Takao class were complete by April 1938, but the approach of war meant that only two ships in the class were fully modernized: Takao at Yokosuka from May 1938 to August 1939 and Atago from April 1938 to October 1939. Chokai and Maya received only limited modernization before the war, including modifications to handle the Type 93 oxygen-propelled torpedo, heavier catapults, and the standard fit of 13mm and 25mm light anti-aircraft guns.

During the modernization, the anti-aircraft armament was increased, though the projected fit of the Type 89 5in twin guns did not begin until after the start of the war: Atago and Takao received theirs in May 1942; Chokai retained the single 4.7in guns until she was lost in 1944; Maya kept hers until reconstruction as an anti-aircraft cruiser began in November 1943. The light anti-aircraft armament was standardized and in the autumn of 1941 the two twin 13mm mounts were replaced with two 25mm mounts. The torpedo armament was augmented by the substitution of quad mounts for the existing double torpedo mounts.

The largest change was to the bridge structure, which was rebuilt to reduce topweight. When completed, the bridge was much smaller in appearance and was the primary feature for distinguishing Atago and Takao from their sisters Maya and Chokai. The bridge accommodated new fire-control equipment and featured the placement of an almost 20ft rangefinder in a separate tower immediately aft of the Type 94 fire-control director.

The other primary change was the alteration of the aircraft-handling facilities and the area of the hangar. To do this, the mainmast was moved 82ft aft. Two heavier catapults were also fitted and moved forward. As on the Myoko class, larger bulges were fitted to increase anti-torpedo protection and stability.

During the war, modifications were made to the ships’ radar and light anti-aircraft fit. In July-August 1943, Atago and Takao received the foremast-mounted No. 21 radar and two triple 25mm guns, making their total light anti-aircraft fit six twin and two triple mounts. Maya and Chokai received the No. 21 radar and two twin 25mm mounts between August and September, making their total anti-aircraft fit eight twin mounts.

In November 1943-January 1944, Atago and Takao were fitted with No. 22 radars and eight 25mm single guns. Chokai could not return to Japan during this period, but was given ten single 25mm guns at Truk. After receiving severe damage in November 1943, Maya returned to Yokosuka in December 1943 for repair and conversion into an anti-aircraft cruiser. Her No. 3 8in gun turret was removed, as were all her twin 25mm mounts, the single 4.7in mounts, and her old twin torpedo tubes. In their place were fitted six twin Type 89 guns with two Type 94 directors, plus 13 triple and nine single Type 96 guns. In addition, 36 13mm machine-guns on moveable mounts and four quadruple torpedo mounts with no reserve torpedoes were fitted. A No. 22 radar was added, and the No. 21 radar received a larger antenna.

Another round of modernization began after the battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944. All four units received a No. 13 radar and Chokai finally received a No. 22 set. In June 1944, Atago and Takao received four triple and 22 single 25mm guns. Maya received another 18 single guns, while Chokai received 12 more single mounts. Plans were made to convert her as Maya, but since she did not return to Japan until June 1944, these was never carried out.

IJN Cruiser Armour

Kako – Belt 79.88m X 4.12m of 76mm NVNC plate at 9 degree slope, AD 35-32mm, 51mm sides and 35mm roofs on magazines, total wt 1200t, 12% of trial displacement
Aoba – as Kako.

Myoko – belt 123.15m X 3.5m of 102mm NVNC plate at 12 degree slope. AD as Kako, total wt 2032.5t, 16.1% of trial displacement.

Takao – belt 119.8m X 3.5m (Amidships) of 102mm NVNC plate at 12 degrees, but thickness and height varied at the ends (38-127mm thick). AD as Kako, total wt 2368t 16.8% of trial displacement.

Mogami – belt over machinery tapered from 100mm to 25mm over magazines tapered from 140mm to 30mm (total length and height not given) at 20 degree slope. AD 35mm flat, 60mm sloped. total wt in 1935 was 2029t 15.6% of trial displacement.

Tone – belt over machinery 77.8m X 6.95m tapering from 100 to 18mm, belt over magazines 44.82m X ? high, tapering 145 to 55mm all at 20 degree slope
AD 31mm flat 60mm slope, total 2053t 14.6% of trial displacement.

Ibuki – similar to Mogami.

Note, none of the above protection schemes were modified during the various reconstructions only minor plating added.

Japanese Submarines: No.71 & Type ST

Type ST Sentaka type submarine

General arrangements and sections of the type I 201 class submarine.

I 201 Japanese submarine class. These Type ST submarines were designed after exhaustive tests and trials with the high underwater speed experimental submarine No 71. The hull was fully welded and very carefully streamlined; no gun or other deck obstruction was allowed which might impair the under- water performance. Even the 25-mm (1-in) mount retracted into a streamlined housing in the conning tower. The whole design concentrated on underwater performance, and new electric motors were installed giving the vessels an underwater speed of 19 knots. The high-capacity batteries carried sufficient energy to give the vessels an underwater radius of action of 135 nautical miles at 3 knots. The maximum submerged depth achieved by the submarines was 110m (360 ft), the greatest depth achieved by a Japanese submarine. In many respects the vessels resembled the German Type XXI and when completed they were the first operational GUPPY type submarine in the world. Specially designed lightweight MAN diesels were used for surface propulsion, to keep displacement low. Only small bunkerage was provided, and the surfaced radius of action was only 5800 nautical miles with an endurance of 25 days.

Construction employed full mass-production techniques, with the submarines assembled in section in factories, the completed sections being welded together on the slip. The whole operation from start to finish took on average only ten months. A total of 23 units were ordered from the Kure navy yard under the 1943 Programme, construction commencing in March 1944. A further 76 units were projected under the 1944 Programme, but the progress of the war and the decision to concentrate construction on suicide units led to the cancellation of I 209-122­ in 1945, and the units in the 1944 Programme were never ordered at all. I 201 entered service on February 2, 1945, followed on February 12 by 1202and on May 29 by I 203. I 204-I 208 were laid down but never completed and all the boats were surrendered at the end of the war.

General characteristics
Displacement:1,290 t (1,270 long tons; 1,420 short tons) surfaced 1,503 t (1,479 long tons; 1,657 short tons) submerged
Length:79 m (259 ft) overall 59.2 m (194 ft) pressure hull
Beam:5.8 m (19 ft) pressure hull 9.2 m (30 ft) max. across stern fins
Height:7 m (23 ft) (keel to main deck)
Propulsion:Diesel-electric 2 × MAN Mk.1 diesel (Ma-Shiki 1 Gō diesel), build by Kawasaki and Mitsubishi. 2,750 hp (2,050 kW) 4 × electric motors, 5,000 hp (3,700 kW) at 600 rpm 2 shafts
Speed:15.75 knots (29.17 km/h) surfaced 19 knots (35 km/h) submerged
Range:15,000 nmi (28,000 km) at 6 knots (11 km/h) 7,800 nmi (14,400 km) at 11 knots (20 km/h) 5,800 nmi (10,700 km) at 14 knots (26 km/h) Submerged: 135 nmi (250 km) at 3 knots (5.6 km/h)
Test depth:110 m (360 ft)
Complement:31 (plan) approx. 50 (actual)
Armament:4 × 533 mm (21 in) bow torpedo tubes 10 × Type 95 torpedoes 2 × Type 96 25 mm AA guns

1942: Japanese Options

Hitler’s blitz swept through Poland, the low countries, and France from September 1939 to June 1940, but it paled in comparison to the military feat accomplished by the Japanese in an even shorter period of time. Adolph’s European conquest geographically would not even cover the Japanese home islands, yet Japan extended its power and control 4,000 miles east toward Hawaii, 4,000 miles south toward Australia, and 4,000 miles west into the Indian Ocean. Admiral Nagumo’s fleet alone had swept almost 50,000 miles across the high seas from Japan to Hawaii and back, to New Britain, to Truk, to Java, to the Celebes, toward Australia, toward Ceylon and back to Japan. The triumphant Japanese had lost but 23 war-fighting vessels, none larger than a destroyer. Though 300,000 tons of Japanese merchant shipping went to the bottom, what they captured in Allied harbors more than exceeded their losses.

On the surface, it all seemed to come easily for the Japanese. In a mere five months, every objective of the imperial grand scheme had been achieved. Across 10,000 miles of ocean from Hawaii to Australia to India, the Combined Fleet reigned supreme. The Allies had been routed out of the Southwest Pacific with the exception of New Guinea. No one on the imperial staff doubted Port Moresby on New Guinea’s south coast would soon capitulate, just as the other Allied bastions had. Once Japan moved east into the Bismark Archipelago and finished securing the Solomon Islands, Australia would be dealt with next.

Japanese military doctrine stressed offense. Their fighting ships, aircraft, submarines, and ground forces were designed for and functioned well when on the attack. Little consideration was given to defense. When attacked, the Japanese soldier, sailor, airman, flag officer, or even emperor had difficulty reacting properly. Poorly considered attempts at swift vengeance were the typical response: the April 18, 1942, Doolittle Raid a prime example. The imperial staff planning focused on continuing the offensive, since reverting to a hold-and-consolidate posture might indicate temerity and yield the initiative to the Allies.

The Battle of Coral Sea by Robert Taylor

As the lights were going out in the Philippines in late April and early May, American listening posts picked up message traffic indicating a Japanese invasion force was proceeding around the northern side of New Guinea, intent on seizing Port Moresby. This outpost was the last remaining Allied base of any size north of Australia. An Allied loss here would put Japan’s air power well within reach of the southern continent’s northern extremities and provide jumping off points should invasion of Eastern Australia be in the offing.

Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii and General MacArthur in Australia recognized the extreme threat to Australia that this Japanese gambit represented. To ambush the invasion, Nimitz ordered into action both the Lexington under Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch and Yorktown under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, the overall commander of the task forces that included escorting cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and tankers.

En route to the battle for Port Moresby, the 4th Japanese fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inouye included two carriers, Zuikaku and Shokaku, along with one light carrier, Shoho, four heavy cruisers, submarine-hunting destroyers, and 14 troop/supply transports. The Japanese task force swung east for a stop on May 3 at Tulagi. The Japanese were lucky; the Australians had abandoned their outpost on this small island three days prior. Without opposition, a garrison made up of troops, seaplanes, destroyers, minesweepers, and support equipment disembarked and occupied the small island and its harbor located just north of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Then the main force continued on toward Port Moresby.

Upon learning of the Tulagi landings while at sea, Fletcher launched an air strike on May 4, from 100 miles south. Three waves of planes struck the island’s new tenants. One Japanese destroyer had to be beached, and five seaplanes were sunk, as were four barges and three minesweepers. But Fletcher had given himself away. He withdrew his force south, then swung west, hoping to surprise the Port Moresby-bound transports, which his intelligence estimated were about to appear rounding the eastern tip of New Guinea on the sixth.

But Admiral Inouye instructed his invasion transports to remain at sea while he detached his striking force to take up hot pursuit of the maneuvering American carriers. On the night of May 6, the two fleets passed 60 miles abeam each other going in opposite directions. A Japanese scout plane, flying well to the south of the two American carriers, spotted the U.S. oiler Neosho and her escort, the destroyer USS Sims, before 8 a.m. on the 7th, yet the Japanese crew reported these ships as a “carrier and cruiser.”

Later that morning, a U.S. scout plane alerted Fletcher that two Japanese carriers and four heavy cruisers were headed his way from the northwest. It, too, was mistaken. The carriers were now southeast. Based on these botched reports, both sides felt pressed to act. Thus began what would come to be known as the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese launched two strikes in the direction of their sighting. Both found the ships, but the first strike employed level bombing from altitude. All bombs missed. This was not the case for the second attempt by dive bombers. Shortly after noon, the Sims went to the bottom and the Neosho was reduced to a drifting wreck that was scuttled four days later.

Fletcher’s strike involved 93 aircraft. They found the wrong ships just before noon. Lieutenant Commander Weldon L. Hamilton in an SBD Dauntless dive bomber spotted the light carrier Shoho and decided that, light or not, it was a carrier and needed to be sent to the bottom. All 93 aircraft took part in one continuous, chaotic, attack lasting 26 minutes.

At the Combat Information Centers aboard both American carriers, little of the garbled radio transmissions made much sense. Suddenly, Lieutenant Commander Robert E. Dixon, Lexington’s second SBD flight leader, transmitted clearly and loudly, “Scratch one flattop! Dixon to Carrier, scratch one flattop!” The tension on the carriers exploded as men cheered in jubilation.

It was, in retrospect, a hollow rejoicing. That same day, May 7, some 2,700 miles to the northwest, General Wainwright formally surrendered the Philippines to the Japanese.

On May 8, Japanese and American scout planes out over the Coral Sea located each other’s main fleets east of New Guinea. Every available aircraft was launched by both sides. Yorktown was hit by one delay-action bomb that penetrated four decks and exploded, killing 64 sailors. The Lexington was hit by at least two torpedoes and two bombs but kept up steam even though on fire. She began to list, but the crew counter-flooded compartments with oil ballast to stabilize her while they fought the fires.

Lexington’s airborne planes along with those from the Yorktown spotted the carrier Shokaku turning into the wind to launch aircraft. The attack was on. American torpedo bombers launched at too great a distance and missed, but the dive bombers had better luck. One bomb struck near the bow and one aft. A third later smashed into her deck. The now heavily damaged Shokaku limped away, her decks of steel and planks mangled and burning.

The American planes headed home, with Lexington’s aircraft recovering aboard in spite of her heavy damage. Just after one in the afternoon, a smoldering fire aboard the Lexington, caused by a motor generator left running, spread to high-octane fuel, touching off a succession of explosions. Seven hours later she went to the bottom. Fletcher then reversed course for Hawaii with his remaining carrier and supporting ships.

Though the Japanese suffered less damage and loss, the invasion of Port Moresby was turned away, since Inouye withdrew his fleet to Japan for repairs. The engagement was the first carrier versus carrier engagement and the first between naval forces that never came within sight of each other. This was the second time a Japanese invasion had been turned back, the first being the initial Wake Island attack in early December 1941.


The battle of the Coral Sea was the third naval probe by the American fleet, and Admiral Yamamoto’s concern regarding maintaining the initiative now peaked. Though the first two U.S. forays involved the Gilbert and Marshal Islands in February and the Marcus Islands in March, the Coral Sea operation was a deep Pacific probe. Early on, Yamamoto became fully aware that air power was making the difference in virtually every operation the Japanese were conducting, and that the proper application of that arm would determine the outcome of the war. In that light, he felt the aircraft carrier, not the battleship, determined fleet strength, and as such the Allied carriers needed to be dealt with promptly while the Japanese Navy had numerical superiority. Early in Yamamoto’s career, the Russian fleet had been surprised at Port Arthur, then drawn into battle at Tsushima Strait where they were soundly defeated. What works, works, was Yamamoto’s creed, and he intended to repeat the performance. A strike at Midway, two small islands (Sand and Eastern) located 1,150 miles northwest of Hawaii, would be the setting, an operation that was sure to draw the American carriers into battle. Only this time, instead of being an ordinary seaman fighting the battle, he would be the commander who devised and orchestrated Japan’s most decisive victory.

In preparation, an odd exercise had been tested. Called Operation K, two H8K1 Emily flying boats took off from Wotje Island in the Marshalls on March 4. They set down at French Frigate Shoals, a reef 487 miles northwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. Refueled by submarines, they then launched on a night reconnaissance and bombing mission over Pearl Harbor, Oahu. U.S. Army radars detected the Japanese planes while they were some 200 miles from Oahu. Fighters were launched to intercept, but were unable to obtain visual contact in the dark. The two Emily seaplanes arrived over Oahu just after two in the morning, but the island was shrouded in clouds. Both planes released their bombs above what they thought was Ford Island and subsequently reported success. One stick of bombs actually struck harmlessly on Mount Tantalus above Waikiki. The other string splashed into the sea at the entrance to Pearl Harbor. In view of the reported results, Yamamoto incorporated a similar mission into his maturing Midway Plan, which had been forwarded to the imperial staff in April.

The generals and admirals in Tokyo had other ideas. Being debated were three options: thrusts toward either Australia, India, or Hawaii. The “Australia first” group considered the continent a grave threat, an eventual springboard for an Allied counteroffensive. As such, Australia needed to be under Japanese control or its sea lanes closed to U.S. shipping. But the Army generals vigorously opposed the idea of invading Australia. The China problem had given them no illusions regarding the task being suggested. The Army staff concluded it could not assemble the 10 or more divisions needed for such an operation. Navy staff officers bristled, suspecting the Army was holding back its divisions, counting on the success of Hitler’s upcoming Caucasus offensive in the spring to allow Japan to initiate a ground offensive against the Russians in the vulnerable Soviet Far East. The Army was also opposed to extending control westward into the Indian Ocean. A proposed amphibious assault on Ceylon would again pull divisions from China and make things there vulnerable to a Soviet counter.

The Hawaii option envisioned occupation of Midway, Johnston and Palmyra Islands from which air power could be brought to bear on Hawaii to support amphibious landings there. Once Hawaii was under Japanese control, the U.S. would effectively be shut out of the Central and Western Pacific. But surprise would no longer be available, and the amount of airspace over the Hawaiian Islands was considered too extensive for medium bombers and long-range fighters to adequately cover.

While the fractured staff worked toward a solution that all could agree upon, plans had gone forward to at least isolate Australia by extending control east beyond New Guinea into the Solomon Islands, plus the New Caledonia, Fiji Islands, and Samoa area.

Yamamoto’s scheme at Midway, though complex, seemed more manageable than the other three options the staff was deliberating. More importantly, the Army had no objections, their contribution to the effort being minimal.

Yamamoto wanted to draw out the American carriers via a feint at the Aleutians immediately prior to the assault on Midway. The plan would require the largest Japanese naval commitment to date. Within the Combined Fleet, the only outspoken opposition against the plan came from Vice Admiral Inouye and his 4th Fleet staff. Inouye had presided over the debacle on the first attempt to invade Wake Island. It was one of his destroyers that was among the largest Japanese war ships lost during the first four months of the war. Yamamoto, not altogether thrilled with the 4th Fleet performance to date, ignored Inouye’s rebuff. But the admiralty staff in Tokyo also had misgivings about the value of Midway, and in particular the heavy logistic requirement needed to supply both it and the Aleutian Islands once occupied. After successfully invading Midway, long-range bombers from Hawaii could attack the island, while Japanese land-based medium bombers on Midway would be limited in their ability to respond in kind. Due to its size, Midway offered little hope for dispersal and concealment of aircraft, fuel, and munitions, while the Hawaiian Islands had ample locations to disperse everything. Continuous day and night air patrols would be required around Midway to minimize losses from these expected forays.

The admiralty staff eventually leaned toward the isolation of Australia. They believed that severing the sea lanes would be the best way to draw out the American carriers. In doing so, the decisive battle would occur much farther from Hawaii such that logistics issues for both sides would be equalized.

Yamamoto threw aside these objections, claiming the most direct way to isolate Australia was to “destroy the enemy’s carrier forces, without which the supply line could not in any case be maintained.” Japan’s superiority over the U.S. Pacific Fleet in carriers alone at that time was nearly three to one, with Japan possessing seven large and four light carriers against America’s four large carriers. The admiral also pointed out that even if the four U.S. carriers could not be drawn to battle, “we shall still realize an important gain by advancing our defensive perimeter to Midway and the Western Aleutians without obstruction.”

In the months following the opening of the Pacific War, Yamamoto’s efforts in protecting of Tokyo and the Imperial Palace became close to an obsession. He had established the picket boat line, yet the U.S. Navy incursion at Marcus Islands in March made him nervous. But all the arguments against Yamamoto’s Midway plan paled when the unthinkable did happen.

Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo on April 18 ended the wrangling. The admiralty staff threw in the towel and signed off on the Yamamoto venture. Key to its success was timing. Yamamoto wanted the mission launched in early June when the moon was full. Complex maneuvers would be conducted at night, and the fleet’s lack of radar once again was having a direct impact in strategic decisions. A delay until July’s full moon was considered unacceptable by Yamamoto.

A mission rehearsal, or rather a table-top war game, was scheduled by Yamamoto on the Yamato during the first week in May. The exercise went smoothly. It did so because chief of staff Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki canceled or revised the adverse rulings of the game’s umpires at every negative outcome. In one reported instance of what would become supreme irony, the Japanese officer acting as the American player rolled his dice the first time and sank four of Yamamoto’s carriers. The Japanese side complained that it was not possible for this to happen and had him re-roll. This attempt resulted in one carrier sunk and two damaged.

That same week, the New Guinea part of the headquarters plan to isolate Australia hit a snag as a consequence of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Once again Vice Admiral Inouye had failed to deliver on time. The Japanese staff, now with increased urgency, sought a means to prevent the U.S. fleet from establishing a secure sea lane to and from Australia. How to go about it was what had them stymied. Yamamoto with his Midway plan offered a solution.

Two fleet commanders who would find themselves in leading roles at Midway, Vice Admirals Kondo (Second Fleet) and Nagumo (First Air Fleet), were engaged in battle operations during the planning cycle. By the time they learned of the proposed operation, it was no longer being argued, but had been locked in. Thus the Japanese Combined Fleet began assembling for the largest naval operation in history.

The plan called for over 200 ships and submarines including 8 carriers bearing over 700 planes, 11 battleships, 22 cruisers, 65 destroyers, 21 submarines, plus 80 transports and auxiliary support ships, all arranged in 16 different fleets. The required fuel alone exceeded that needed for a full year of peacetime operations.


At naval headquarters on Oahu, Admiral Nimitz had an element that most wartime commanders could only dream about. Designated Station Hypo, it was the admiral’s code-breaking team led by Commander Joe Rochefort. The commander was regarded by some as brilliant but eccentric, often wearing a red smoking jacket and carpet slippers at work. He assembled a group of similarly minded code breakers whose work would ultimately change the outcome of the war. By the first week in May, Station Hypo had already discovered that Yamamoto had a grand scheme in the works. What they did not yet know was the where and when. The Japanese began referring to the next battle as occurring at point AF. But where was AF? Rochefort thought it was Midway, but had to prove it. He got the nod from Admiral Nimitz to send a message to Midway via secure underwater cable asking them to transmit in the clear that their fresh-water distilling plant was out of service. The hope was that the Japanese would intercept the transmission and comment on it. They did. On May 20, code breaker Tommy Dyer working in Station Hypo decoded a message sent to Tokyo from the Japanese listening station now on Wake Island. The message alerted Yamamoto regarding a water emergency at point AF. Bingo!

Nimitz now had enough deciphered message traffic from Japan to convince him that the next push by the Japanese was toward Midway and the Aleutians. This was no gambit aimed at an Australian outpost on a backwater island thousands of miles away. This was aimed at American soil, and there would be no thought of anything but a maximum response.

Nimitz had already visited Midway on May 2, ordering an increase in the garrison force and aircraft needed to defend the island. Nineteen Marine Corps SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers, seven F4F Wildcat fighters, 30 PBY flying boats, plus 18 B-17 and four B-26 bombers were added to the air power on station, bringing the total to 119 aircraft. The admiral also stationed 20 submarines in three patrol arcs around the island at 100, 150, and 200 miles out. All were in place as the Nagumo force closed the distance to Midway.

Nimitz did not ignore Alaska. The command arrangement there was a merger of U.S. Army, Navy, and Canadian forces, with the U.S. Navy as the senior service.