Steel Coffins: 7 December 1941 Part II

USS Ward opens fire on a Japanese sub. Art by Tom Freeman.

At 6.45 a.m. the Ward opened fire, the first shot from its No. 1 gun sailing over the little conning tower to land in the sea beyond. At this point the midget submarine was seen to noticeably increase speed, the commander evidently attempting to charge the open gate in the net and get inside the harbour. Shot number two from the Ward decided the issue, however, as the round ploughed into the base of the conning tower, but did not explode. The midget immediately heeled over violently and started to sink. Outerbridge decided to make sure and passed alongside the foundering submarine, four depth charges rolling off the back of the destroyer. The detonations finished the Japanese submarine, and she disappeared rapidly into the disturbed sea. The Ward now signalled to shore a message for the attention of Rear-Admiral Claude C. Bloch, Commandant of the 14th Naval District, and responsible for the Pearl Harbor base and facilities: ‘We have dropped depth charges upon sub operating in defensive area.’ Theoretically, such a message should have set alarm bells ringing all over Pearl Harbor that something was amiss, but when the first message was received (a second followed a couple of minutes later) at the Harbor Control Post at 6.51 a.m., getting the signals sent up the chain of command quickly proved difficult. A twenty-minute delayed ensued while the messages were decoded and re-sent, and because it was very early on Sunday morning only skeleton crews were manning the communication equipment anyway. The duty officer in charge of the security of the antisubmarine and ship net guarding the harbour, Lieutenant Harold Kaminski, took it upon himself to try to get things moving regarding some sort of response to the Ward’s messages. He telephoned Admiral Bloch’s chief-of-staff, Captain John B. Earle, and Kaminski also ordered the ready-duty destroyer, the USS Monaghan, to ‘proceed immediately and contact the Ward in defensive in sea area’. Captain Earle in turn telephoned Admiral Bloch, and the two senior officers discussed the reports, and concluded that it was probably just another false submarine sighting. With the Monaghan assisting the Ward the two vessels were more than capable of dealing with the situation. Earle told Kaminski to inform the 6th Fleet’s Operations Officer of the event, but to take no further action. Confusion reigned ashore, as the Ward now reported that she had intercepted a fishing sampan inside the security defence zone, and required a navy cutter to escort the vessel away from the vicinity. When Earle was informed he wondered why the Ward would go off intercepting sampans when she believed a submarine to be in the area, and concluded that the Ward’s crew had misidentified their earlier submarine contact. Therefore, it was just another false alarm.

The Japanese air armada of carrier aircraft, led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, was fast approaching Oahu. Another American destroyer, the USS Chew, reported to 14th Naval District that she had attacked and sunk a midget submarine outside the entrance to the harbour. The Ward continued depth-charging operations as American patrol vessels charged about seeing submarines everywhere. They were still busily engaged in this when the first Japanese aircraft passed overhead and roared down to bomb and strafe Ford Island, Battleship Row and Hickam Field US Army Air Corps base. The reports of submarine contacts were soon drowned out by the full-scale aerial assault being made on the naval base and vessels moored in the harbour. The Ward and the Monaghan sounded ‘General Quarters’ at 8 a.m., after a Japanese bomb landed close to the Monaghan. Anti-aircraft guns were hastily manned, the crews doing what they could to return fire against the Japanese planes knocking Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Fleet to pieces virtually at will.

By 8.14 a.m. the harbour patrol destroyers had commenced a steady anti-aircraft barrage directed against Commander Fuchida’s carrier air group. The Monaghan was ordered to move down the harbour approach channel, and while making this journey she encountered the seaplane tender USS Curtiss at 8.53 a.m. Although a massive air battle raged overhead, the Curtiss was flying signal flags indicating that a submarine was threatening her. Crewmen aboard the destroyer watched as the Curtiss trained her guns on the water and opened fire at a floating object. The destroyer quickly identified the object as a small submarine before the craft slinked beneath the surface, reappearing at 8.40 a.m. This midget submarine was well within the harbour defences, cruising around off Ford Island in the centre of the harbour. The midget had been able to penetrate so deeply into Pearl Harbor because, as related earlier, a gate had been left open from 5 a.m. that morning at the entrance to allow the USS Antares to enter. It had remained open while the destroyer USS Ward had attacked and sunk a midget submarine by the harbour entrance, and no one had subsequently closed the boom and net as Pearl Harbor came under sustained and heavy air attack that morning. The midget that was lurking off Ford Island shot a single torpedo that sailed past the Curtiss, narrowly missing the light cruiser USS Rayleigh, before running into the land opposite Pearl City and exploding.

The Monaghan now attempted to deal with the midget, firing a single 5-inch shell at the small conning tower from her main gun, but the midget turned about and shot its final torpedo at the destroyer. The Japanese torpedo shot past the Monaghan and blew up when it struck land at Ford Island. Lieutenant-Commander W. P. Burford, captain of the Monaghan, decided upon a drastic course of action at this point. He ordered the engine room to give him full speed, and then pointed the destroyer’s bows at the little submarine and set to ram it. After a few seconds the destroyer struck the midget, which was dragged along the length of the Monaghan before it passed by. A quick-thinking torpedoman stationed in the destroyer’s stern watched the midget submarine trail along the side of his ship, and quickly fused a depth charge that he dropped overboard alongside the midget. Burford ordered another depth charge dropped, but then the Monaghan ran aground onto a submerged mud bank. The two depth charges exploded, and great geysers of seawater, black with oil, shot high into the air marking the destruction of the Japanese submarine. The Monaghan extricated herself from the mud. All the time this little action was occurring Japanese air attacks continued all around the Americans, but the Monaghan and her crew were unharmed.

The Japanese submariners continued in their efforts to press home attacks on the US fleet. At 9.50 a.m. the destroyer USS Blue obtained a contact with a suspected submarine outside the harbour. The Blue laid a pattern of depth charges and reported the probable destruction of the enemy vessel. Attempting to exit the carnage that was Pearl Harbor that morning, the light cruiser USS St. Louis dodged two torpedoes running towards her before they exploded. A small submarine conning tower was seen, and the cruiser engaged the target with her main batteries, claiming to have scored hits.

The I-24’s temperamental Type-A, whose defective gyrocompass had almost cost Ensign Sakamaki his place on the mission, was now the only midget still operational. Sakamaki’s boat, however, had been extensively damaged by the depth charge barrages laid at the harbour entrance. The midget’s steering gear was almost gone, and the batteries were cracked and leeching noxious fumes into the crew compartment as Sakamaki and Petty Officer Inagaki struggled to nurse their vessel towards the harbour entrance channel, and its open gate. Both men were buoyed up immensely when Sakamaki viewed through the periscope the huge columns of black smoke rising from Pearl Harbor, indicating the success of the aerial assault. Sakamaki was determined that he would add to the destruction with his two torpedoes, never considering abandoning his mission and attempting to rendezvous with the mother submarines. At 8.15 a.m. Sakamaki surfaced the boat to attempt to locate the harbour entrance and a potential target through his periscope, only to have the American destroyer USS Helm loom large in the lens as the ship raced for the open sea. The destroyer clearly discerned the midget submarine limping towards the harbour entrance. As the two vessels converged, the Japanese submarine ground onto a submerged reef, exposing herself completely to the Helm’s guns. But, although the destroyer blazed away no hits were made, and gingerly, Sakamaki was able to get the Type-A off the reef and submerged. Once beneath the waves the two Japanese sailors assessed their situation. The air inside the submarine was becoming unbearable, and the men were in danger of being overcome by the battery fumes. The defective steering meant the Type-A wallowed around uncontrollably, making directed movement or assuming a firing position almost impossible. One of the torpedo tubes had also become inoperable as a result of striking the reef, so Sakamaki decided to use his entire vessel as one giant torpedo and ram the next American warship they encountered. This would result in their deaths, but both men were fully committed to such an end. For the rest of the morning Sakamaki vainly tried to obtain some measure of control over the submarine, but another grounding on a reef knocked out the second torpedo tube. The midget was now adrift, with the crew swimming in and out of consciousness in the thick air inside the submarine, as they attempted to reach Lanai Island and the mother ships waiting there. Sakamaki opened the submarines hatch to air the crew compartment, before falling asleep again, and for the rest of the night of the 7–8 December the submarine drifted about, hatch open, crew asleep until further efforts were made to use the engine to get them to Lanai. The engine barely worked, and the attempt was abandoned, for without a compass they also had no idea where they were, and which direction salvation lay. At some point on the early morning of 8 December the midget submarine ran aground for the final time on a reef some way off a deserted beach. Sakamaki ordered the vessel abandoned, and the two Japanese plunged into the heavy sea and attempted to swim for the shore. Unfortunately, Petty Officer Inagaki was lost in the waves and drowned, while Sakamaki washed up exhausted but alive on Waimanalo Beach, close to a devastated Bellow’s Field Army Air Corps base. Sakamaki came ashore virtually into the arms of a patrol of American soldiers from the 298th Infantry Regiment and was taken prisoner. Sakamaki was the first Japanese serviceman taken prisoner during the Second World War, and the young naval officer was stricken with humiliation and shame. It was to prove an intelligence coup for the Americans, and they hoped to discover from Sakamaki more about the strange little submarines that had so boldly attacked the anchorage.

The First Special Attack Flotilla’s assault on Pearl Harbor was an abject failure. All of the Type-As were destroyed during the operation, and not a single torpedo fired by the midgets struck a single American ship. Of the ten sailors who crewed the vessels, only Ensign Sakamaki survived the ordeal. However, the men who undertook the mission had not really thought much of their chances of coming back alive. The Imperial Japanese Navy honoured the memories of the nine dead men, and they were elevated to the level of war-gods, and posthumously promoted. Lieutenant Iwasa, the leader of the First Special Attack Flotilla was promoted to commander. Yokoyama and Furuno were advanced to lieutenant-commanders, and Ensign Hiro-o was made a lieutenant. Petty Officer First Class Yokoyama and Sasaki were commissioned with the rank of special ensign, while Petty Officer Second Class Ueda, Katayama and Inagaki became warrant officers in the afterlife. Ensign Sakamaki, who had had the misfortune to fall alive into enemy hands, was studiously ignored in the praise and honours distributed after the operation. His bravery was, in the eyes of the Imperial Navy, cancelled out by his failure to sacrifice his life for the Emperor when placed in an impossible situation. To add insult to injury, the scuttling charge that Sakamaki had set inside his midget before abandoning ship had failed to detonate, and the Americans were able to recover an intact example of the Type-A to study.

As regards American preparedness concerning this new form of underwater warfare, the harbour defences were not impregnable to submarine attack even when carefully monitored. Although the Americans usefully would leave the gate in the harbour protective net wide open between 4.58 and 8.46 a.m., even if the gate had been firmly shut it would not have been impossible for the Japanese midget submarines to have penetrated Pearl Harbor. They could have passed beneath the net. According to Gordon W. Prange on 7 December 1941, the net extended to a depth of forty-five feet, but the harbour channel plunged down to a maximum depth of seventy-two feet. The Type-A midget was twenty feet tall, from the bottom of the keel to the top of the conning tower, and this would have given a midget seven feet of leeway beneath the net. Because the Americans left the net gate open for so long none of the five Japanese midgets was forced to attempt the tricky manoeuvre of passing under the net, but it remain theoretically possible, further demonstrating the usefulness of the Type-A in overcoming harbour defence measures.

The activities of the other submarines involved in the Pearl Harbor operation were similarly disappointing. The four boats of the 3rd Submarine Squadron achieved only two kills before returning to Kwajalein on 17 December. The I-68 was damaged after being heavily depth-charged by American patrol boats thirty miles from the entrance to Pearl Harbor on 7 December, and the I-69 ended up entangled in floating line off southern Oahu after an unsuccessful torpedo attack on a merchant ship. Whilst caught up the boat was also depth-charged, and the crew only managed to extricate their submarine by working flat out for forty hours. The boat came to the surface with the crew almost asphyxiated by the stale air onboard. The I-72 managed to sink a small freighter 250 miles south of Oahu on 8 December, and the I-75 made a similar claim when 100 miles south of Kauai on the 17th. The seven submarines forming the 1st Submarine Squadron under Rear-Admiral Sato only managed to sink one merchant ship on 11 December. The seven ocean cruising boats of 2nd Submarine Squadron would continue patrols until 11 January 1942. The I-7 successfully conducted a dawn reconnaissance of battered Pearl Harbor on 17 December, the E14Y1 floatplane obtaining enough data to enable a complete damage report to be sent to Tokyo. Three days previously the I-4 had sunk the 4,858-ton Norwegian merchant ship Hoegh Merchant off Makapuu Point, Oahu.

Later, the Japanese had endeavoured to find and destroy the American aircraft carriers that they had missed during the Pearl Harbor attack, and in January 1942 a Japanese submarine had torpedoed the USS Saratoga 500 miles west of Hawaii. The Saratoga, though damaged, survived to fight again, and on every occasion Japanese Naval Intelligence discovered the possible locations of American aircraft carriers all forces were directed towards locating and sinking them, often to the detriment of submarine operations then in play. This kind of strategy continued to demonstrate that in the Japanese Navy’s mind submarines were vessels designed to work in close cooperation with the surface fleet, taking them away from the more valuable, with hindsight, tasks of sinking Allied merchant ships. The Japanese resolutely refused to use their submarine force in a similar fashion to the Germans, often with terrible results for the submarines employed against the increasingly technologically advanced antisubmarine detection equipped Allied warships.

The Japanese determined to understand why their massively potent submarine service deployed during and after the Pearl Harbor operation had failed to achieve the kind of impact expected. One reason was a command structure that saw the commander of 6th Fleet submarines, Admiral Shimizu, ensconced firmly on dry land at his headquarters in Kwajalein. Shimizu was simply too far removed from the situation to make much impact, or to have changed plans while the operation was ongoing. The overall commander also had a penchant for sending radio messages to his submarines when they were laying in position around Hawaii before the attack, alerting the Americans to a suspicious build-up of Japanese forces in the region. The Americans took care in routing merchant ships away from the reported locations of Japanese submarines, thereby limiting the boats’ abilities to find and sink targets around the islands when war came. Planning was rather uncoordinated, with much of the potential the submarines posed being squandered, leading to all the glory going to the Imperial Naval Air Service. A final factor that upset the Japanese sub-surface plan was the unexpected strength of American anti-submarine forces, emphasized by the fate of the Special Attack Force midget submarines.


Target California I

Japanese 6th Fleet Headquarters at Kwajalein had come up with a further innovative use for submarines that had already been employed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The seven submarines of 1st Submarine Squadron were given a new task, and were to bring the war in the Pacific to America’s doorstep. Joined by the I-10 and I-26 from the original Pearl Harbor Reconnaissance Unit, Vice-Admiral Shimizu ordered the nine submarines to pursue the enemy eastwards and to patrol off the American west coast. The American public and military were already jittery following the audacious Japanese aerial and submarine attack on Hawaii, and rumours abounded of the likely next move by the Japanese towards the mainland of the United States. Perhaps an enemy landing on the lightly defended Pacific coasts of California or Oregon was a distinct possibility? The Japanese knew of American invasion fears and the redeployment of Japanese submarines close to these very coasts would hopefully have an adverse effect on civilian morale far outweighing any strategic or military impact they would have been able to make with the limited resources placed at their disposal.

Each of the eventual eight Japanese submarines that moved into position was ordered to interdict American coastal shipping by lying off the major shipping lanes, such as those located off Los Angeles and San Francisco. Rear-Admiral Sato, commander of 1st Submarine Squadron, was aboard his flagship, the I-9, directing operations at sea. It was expected that each skipper would make each of his seventeen torpedoes tell, and 6th Fleet had ordered them to only expend one torpedo per enemy ship. The submarine captains had also been ordered to expend all of the ammunition for their submarine’s 140mm deck-gun before returning to base. This would be achieved by supplementing the limited supply of torpedoes carried onboard by blasting merchant ships to pieces with the submarine’s artillery piece, and then turning the gun on vulnerable American coastal installations. It was a plan intended to spread fear and panic along the huge Pacific Ocean coast of the United States, a plan to set the inshore waters and shoreline ablaze.

The I-17 was a Type-B1 Japanese fleet submarine skippered by Lieutenant-Commander Kozo Nishino, an example of the most common and numerous class of submarine employed by Japan during the Second World War. Between 1940 and 1943 twenty were constructed, earlier examples such as the I-17 being equipped with the ingenious Yokosuka E14Y1 floatplane used for reconnaissance. A watertight hanger was fitted aft of the conning tower, the aircraft being launched by means of a catapult and ramp built into the submarine’s deck. Each B1 submarine was 356.5 feet long with a top speed on the surface of 23.5 knots, or 8 knots submerged and running on electric motors. Prior to the introduction of nuclear-powered submarines in the 1950s the vessels that fought in the Second World War were essentially submersibles rather than true submarines. Japanese, German, British and American submarines, and the submarines of every nation able to maintain undersea fleets, were all limited by their central power sources. Submarines at this stage were powered by diesel engines while they were at the surface, making them relatively fast and ideal platforms to launch anti-commerce and anti-warship attacks from, especially when cloaked by the cover of darkness. The power of large Japanese diesels fitted to many types of their submarines produced enough speed to allow the vessels to keep pace with the surface battle fleet – which remained a primary consideration of Japanese submarine designers throughout the Second World War. If forced below the surface of the water, or if attempting a submerged attack, the submarine was powered by electric motors running off cumbersome and space consuming batteries. The submarine immediately lost its speed and agility beneath the sea, and could only remain submerged while the air aboard remained breathable for the crew. The Japanese would not be able to match the Germans in advanced submarine design during the Second World War to overcome the twin problems of increasing underwater speed and staying semi-permanently submerged during patrols, and their submarine force would pay a heavy price as Allied anti-submarine technology developed exponentially as the war progressed. The Germans went some way to overcoming the problems of extended periods spent below the surface and running on electric motors by the incorporation of a Dutch design known as the snorkel. Basically, a submarine was fitted with a large mast that could be raised until the head was above the surface of the water, the submarine remaining submerged. Air would be sucked into the snorkel head, allowing the diesel engines to be run while the submarine was submerged, and the boat aired, theoretically enabling a German U-boat to conduct its patrol entirely submerged and therefore rendering it less vulnerable to Allied attacks. Fitted to most late-war German U-boats the snorkel often malfunctioned due to poor construction or components, and if waves splashed over the snorkel head the diesel engines would suck air from inside the U-boat, causing the crew great discomfort, especially to their ears and occasionally causing unconsciousness. Allied warships could also locate the snorkel head in the same way as a periscope mast, and the submarine would be attacked. Japanese submarines were not fitted with this technology, even though the Germans gave the Japanese detailed plans of the apparatus as part of ongoing German-Japanese trade and military technology exchanges between 1942 and 1945.

If a Type-B1 submarine was run at full speed on the surface the skipper would have rapidly used up his available diesel fuel, severely curtailing the boats operational potential, so a top speed was simply the boats potential power. Rather, a sensible skipper would be able to take his B1 on a round-trip patrol of approximately 14,000 nautical miles at a conservative 16 knots without requiring a single refuelling pit stop. This would make the B1 submarine the ideal platform with which to sail across the Northern Pacific to the west coast of the United States, and bring the war to America’s doorstep. Added to the potency of the B1’s great range was a 140mm deck-gun designed to assist a skipper in sinking ships. The deck-gun fired armour piercing anti-ship ammunition, designed to penetrate the steel hulls of ships and explode within. Pump a sufficient quantity of these cheap shells into a merchant ship and the result was a foregone conclusion, and just as effective as a torpedo. It was a more economical option than expending one of the seventeen torpedoes carried aboard the B1 through one of the boat’s six torpedo tubes. Ninety-four officers and men crewed the B1, including two pilots and two observers to man the Yokosuka floatplane (one pilot and observer acting as a reserve crew).

Although the B1 was not the biggest submarine type employed by the Imperial Navy, the Japanese nonetheless cornered the market in producing large submarines during the Second World War. The B1 was bigger, better armed, quicker and with a greater range than the closest comparable German U-boat type. For example, the Type IXC U-boat had given the Germans the ability to take the war to the east coasts of the United States, Canada and all around South Africa by 1942 and could motor an impressive 11,000 nautical miles at 12 knots before requiring refuelling. However, the Type IXC, at 252 feet long, was nearly 100 feet shorter than the Japanese B1, and was armed with fourteen torpedoes and a 105mm deck-gun and anti-aircraft weapons. Importantly, although German U-boats were smaller, had a shorter range and carried less munitions than their Japanese counterparts, they were quicker to submerge and were progressively equipped with superior technology such as radar detectors and snorkels that increased their survivability. The fundamental difference between a Japanese submarine and a German U-boat was not so much the technical specifications and technologies utilized in creating them, but the method in which they were employed. The Japanese viewed submarines as essentially fleet reconnaissance vessels to replace cruisers in that role, whereas the Germans saw submarines as the tool with which to sink millions of tons of enemy merchant shipping in order to reduce the industrial/military output of their opponents, and create hardship on the enemy home front.

Nishino aboard the I-17 was proceeding on the surface in the pre-dawn darkness fifteen miles off Cape Mendocino, California on 18 December 1941, lookouts armed with powerful binoculars patiently scanning the barely discernable horizon on all points of the compass, and studying the sky in case of air attack. They were quiet, speaking only briefly in hushed tones, using their ears as well as their eyes to search out engine noises above the rhythmic reverberations of the I-17’s twin diesels as they lazily pushed them through the dark Pacific waters. The eerie red glow of low night lighting crept up the conning tower ladder from the control room below, etching the faces of the Japanese submariners into fixed masks of concentration and anticipation. Suddenly, as the first glow of dawn began to rise on the eastern horizon a lookout let out a guttural exclamation. His arm shot out in the direction of the approaching ship, a compass bearing relayed to the helmsman below, as Nishino ordered his vessel closed up and made ready for action. In normal circumstances a submarine captain would attack his intended target with a spread of torpedoes, a staggered shot that would fan out to intercept the intended target(s) after calculations of the speed and direction of the prey had been computed into the attack plot. Nishino was under strict orders to only expend a single torpedo per enemy ship, which did not give him much latitude for attack, and meant that the Japanese submarine would have to move up very close to the target ship to be sure of not wasting the valuable mechanical fish. Nishino decided that the best method of attack as the merchant ship hove into view was the employment of the deck-gun for the time being. If he could inflict sufficient damage to the freighter with his gun, enough to stop her, he could then decide whether to finish her off with more armour-piercing shells or close in for a single torpedo strike against a static target. The I-17, however, was rolling heavily in the swell as crewmen busily prepared the deck-gun for immediate action, manhandling shells from the gun’s ready locker, ramming home a round with a solid thump as the breech was closed and the gun commander awaited the signal from the bridge to open fire.

The ship in the gunners’ sights was the American freighter Samoa under the command of Captain Nels Sinnes, who was about to be abruptly awoken by the report of a submarine close by. The Samoa had already sustained damage, but not from enemy action. She had been caught by a heavy storm which had washed away one of the ship’s lifeboats. The Samoa also had a noticeable list to port, as the engineers had been shifting water in the ballast tanks following the battering from the ocean. The pronounced list, and the remnants of the wooden lifeboat hanging from its launching davits, would be providential in saving the ship from the attentions of the I-17 in the minutes that followed.

Captain Sinnes quickly dressed and, grasping a life jacket, ordered his crew to muster at their lifeboat stations. The sailors frantically stripped the covers from the open boats and began swinging them out on their davits ready to launch when the Japanese opened fire. Five times the I-17’s deck-gun barked, its flat high velocity report sounding out across the empty sea, the armour-piercing shells tearing towards the defenceless Samoa. Four missed to fountain in the choppy ocean, the Japanese gunners pitching hot, steaming shell cases overboard as others fetched fresh shells from the ready locker. The fifth shell exploded above the Samoa with an ear-splitting crack, white-hot shrapnel pummelling the deck. The Japanese submarine was rolling erratically on the disturbed sea, making it difficult for the gunners to accurately target the American ship, and they were reduced to flinging shells in the general direction of the enemy vessel and hoping for a lucky strike. Commander Nishino quickly tired of this pointless shooting and ordered a surfaced torpedo attack, the fish leaving the I-17’s bow with a hiss of compressed air and a trail of bubbles, quickly crossing the barely seventy yards that separated hunter and prey. In the early dawn light it appeared to the crews of both vessels to be a foregone conclusion.

Incredibly, as the crew of the Samoa braced for impact and a thunderous explosion, nothing happened. The torpedo passed clean underneath the merchant ship. The blind torpedo cruised on a short distance and then erupted in a massive tumult of water, smoke, fire and flying shrapnel. Fragments of the torpedo thumped harmlessly onto the Samoa’s deck, the I-17 a low black shape that drifted ominously closer to the American ship. Officers aboard the submarine attempted to assess the damage the torpedo, which they erroneously assumed had struck the Samoa, had caused. Now perhaps no more than forty feet from the side of the merchant ship, the early morning gloom frustrated their efforts. Still the I-17 closed with the Samoa, coming to within fifteen feet of the hull. Someone aboard the I-17, according to the Americans, yelled out in English ‘Hi ya!’ Captain Sinnes yelling back ‘What do you want of us?’ when he already knew the answer. From his position alongside the Samoa Nishino observed the vessel’s heavy port list and assumed she was doomed. The I-17 slowly pulled away and disappeared. Nishino instructed his radio operator to report a successful kill to the I-15, coordinating submarine operations from her position off San Francisco.

The Samoa arrived safely in San Diego on 20 December after her close encounter, saved by storm damage and the poor early dawn light. On the same day Nishino redirected his submarine to its original position off Cape Mendocino, some twenty miles from the American coast. The crew of the I-17 awaited another target of opportunity, buoyed up by their apparent first successful sinking of an enemy vessel of the mission. The day wore on with no sightings of American merchant ships, until, bathed by early afternoon winter sunshine, the lookouts were once more laboriously scanning the horizon and biding their time. Nishino made no attempt to disguise his presence so close to the coast, believing he had little to fear from American naval or air forces still reeling from the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor fourteen days previously. Just after 1.30 p.m. the sight of the oil tanker Emidio heading towards San Francisco rewarded Nishino’s patience. The Emidio was only carrying ballast, returning empty from Seattle’s Socony-Vacuum Oil Company facility.

Captain Clark Farrow reacted as swiftly as he could to the report of a submarine gaining on his ship. Nishino aboard the I-17 ordered full power, the big diesels churning confidently ahead, the submarine making fully 20 knots, her exhausts trailing blue clouds of fumes into the clear Pacific air. Captain Farrow lightened his ship, dumping ballast that made the Emidio steady in the water but painfully slow, frantically ringing ‘full speed ahead’ on the engine room telegraph. The I-17 cut through the water, closing rapidly on the Emidio’s stern, crew racing to man the deck-gun as Nishino manoeuvred his boat for the attack. It was imperative that the American ship be prevented from radioing for assistance, and therefore reporting Nishino’s position to United States forces. Captain Farrow was already a step ahead of Nishino, however, as he had ordered his radio operator to send the following short Morse message: ‘SOS, SOS: Under attack by enemy sub.’

Nishino ordered the gun crew into action, the first shell exploding close to the Emidio’s radio antenna, blowing the fragile communication mast into useless scrap. In rapid succession the submarine’s gun banged twice more, the shells screaming across the ocean into the defenceless Emidio, a lifeboat exploding into smouldering matchwood. Ashore, the US Army Air Corps were already scrambling a pair of medium bombers following the receipt of the Emidio’s distress signal and position, in the hope of destroying the Japanese submarine. Captain Farrow realized his ship was doomed, as the bombers would take some time to arrive, and he ordered the engines stopped. Meanwhile, the plucky radio operator had managed to restore communications with the shore by erecting a makeshift antenna. A white flag was hastily run up a mast and the tanker gradually slowed. The crew worked feverishly to swing out the remaining lifeboats while under constant shellfire from the I-17, Nishino ignoring the white flag and refusing to give the merchant seamen time to depart in the boats. It was not long before another shell found its mark, blowing three unfortunate crewmen into the water as it ploughed into their lifeboat. Twenty-nine crewmen were crowded aboard the lifeboats and pulled hard on the oars in an attempt to get clear of the Emidio, while four men, including the resourceful radio operator, remained aboard the ship, perhaps from a refusal to give up the vessel, or out of ignorance of the order to abandon ship issued by the captain.

On board the I-17 lookouts had reported two black dots approaching from the mainland, which could only mean aircraft. Nishino ordered the bridge cleared, the submariners hastily clattering down into the pressure hull, securing the hatches as the submarine blew its tanks and slid beneath the waves in a swirl of white water. The Emidio’s remaining crewmen now turned their eyes skyward as the American bombers roared in low over the stricken merchantman. The two aircraft circled the spot where the I-17 had a moment before submerged, eventually releasing a single depth charge. The I-17 lurched violently as the depth charge detonated, but it was not close enough to cause the submarine any damage. Perhaps realizing that the American aircraft lacked the wherewithal and experience to launch a more devastating and coordinated anti-submarine attack Nishino did the opposite of most submarine skippers in his position. Ordering the I-17 to periscope depth Nishino swiftly relocated the fully stopped Emidio. Orders were issued to partially surface the boat, and a torpedo was launched at the stationary American ship 200 yards distant. The torpedo ran true, impacting in the Emidio’s stern and detonating inside the ship with a massive blast of fire, smoke and debris. The Emidio lurched over as the engine room rapidly filled with freezing seawater. The torpedo claimed two of the four crewmen who had not vacated the ship earlier, and a third was injured. The radio operator, topside in his shack, frantically transmitted ‘Torpedoed in the stern’ before throwing himself clear of the ship into the sea. The surviving engineer, though wounded, also managed to struggle clear of the Emidio, and along with the radio operator he was plucked to safety by the small flotilla of lifeboats standing off the tanker.

The I-17 slipped once more beneath the waves as the two American bombers roared in to resume their ineffectual attack. Another depth charge plummeted into the sea and detonated in a giant plume of white water, concentric circles created by the sonic force of the explosion pushing out from the epicentre. The I-17 escaped damage once more and motored quietly away from the scene, sure again of a confirmed kill.

The Emidio, though grievously wounded and abandoned by her crew, drifted off with the current. Lost for several days from human eyes, this Second World War Mary Celeste eventually ground up against jagged rocks opposite Crescent City, California, over eighty miles from her encounter with the I-17. As for her crew, their ordeal was to be sixteen hours in open boats and battling through an unsettling rainstorm before rescue by the US Coast Guard lightship Shawnee located off Humboldt Bay.

The I-23, another Type-B1 Japanese submarine with orders to sink unescorted American merchant ships, was active at the same time as the I-17 was attempting to sink the tanker Emidio. Constructed at the Yokosuka Navy Yard, the I-23 had entered service in September 1941. She was just in time to play a crucial part in ‘Operation Z’, the submarine contribution to the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor. On 13 December the I-23 began her relocation from the waters off Hawaii for the west coast of the United States.

On 20 December the I-23 was approximately twenty miles off Monterey Bay, California, and with a target in sight. The American tanker Agwiworld, a 6,771-tonner belonging to the Richmond Oil Company was the Japanese target. Like a fighter pilot swooping down on a hapless rookie opponent, Lieutenant-Commander Shibata approached the oblivious Agwiworld with the early afternoon sun behind his boat, a classic attack from out of the sun. Coupled with a heavy swell the big Japanese submarine’s approach behind the tanker was unobserved. The first the Agwiworld and her captain, Frederick Goncalves, knew of the presence of the Japanese submarine was the thump of the impact and explosion of a 140mm armour-piercing shell in the ship’s stern. The I-23 moved into a firing position to enable her deck-gunners to blast the tanker to scrap. However, due to the rough conditions, the Japanese sailors experienced difficulties loading and aiming the deck-gun. The I-23’s deck was awash as the boat rolled and pitched in the swell. Captain Goncalves did everything he could to make the Agwiworld as difficult a target as possible to hit, zigzagging through the whistling shells, probably eight or nine of them, before the I-23 was seen to submerge. Commander Shibata had clearly lost interest in his prey. The heavy seas and the fact that in order to achieve a good attacking position he would have had to have driven the I-23 harder would have risked the lives of his gunners, who could have been swept overboard. A further factor which precluded a more determined assault on the tanker originated in the submarine’s own radio room. The operator alerted his captain to the fact that the enemy ship had reported the Japanese submarine’s attack to the US Navy, and assistance in the form of anti-submarine assets were undoubtedly on their way.

Shibata and the crew of the I-23 were frustrated as they departed from the scene of their first attack on an American ship to search out further prey. Some time later Shibata encountered the 2,119-ton American merchant ship Dorothy Phillips. Employing an identical method of attack as that used against the Agwiworld, gunners again pumped high velocity armour piercing rounds into the hapless steamer. Although the I-23 successfully disabled the Dorothy Phillips’s steering by wrecking the ship’s rudder with a shell strike, a torpedo attack was not pressed home, presumably because the sea conditions were still unfavourable. Nevertheless, the Dorothy Phillips eventually ran aground so Shibata had scored a victory of sorts.

Lieutenant-Commander Kanji Matsumura was an experienced submarine skipper, having previously commanded the RO-65, RO-66 and RO-61 before commissioning the I-21 into service on 15 July 1941. As with the other boats assigned to operations along the United States west coast, the I-21 was formerly part of the submarine task group that made up an element of ‘Operation Z’. On 9 December the submarine I-6 had reported a Lexington-class aircraft carrier and two cruisers heading north-east. The Japanese were well aware that although they had scored a notable victory against the US Pacific Fleet’s battleship squadron they had failed to sink or damage a single American aircraft carrier. It was imperative that American carriers be sunk or damaged wherever found for the Japanese themselves had already demonstrated the power of naval aviation in this new conflict, and the days of the big-gun battleship appeared to be numbered. Vice-Admiral Shimizu at 6th Fleet Headquarters at Kwajalein, on receiving the intelligence report from the I-6, immediately ordered all submarines not involved with the launching of the midget submarines during the Pearl Harbor operation, known as the Special Attack Force, to proceed at flank speed and sink the American carrier. The I-21 was included in Shimizu’s force sent to intercept the vessel later identified as the USS Enterprise, but her progress was hampered by problems with the submarine’s diesel engines and electrics. Carrier-based Douglas SBD Dauntless aircraft spotted the I-21 on the surface on a number of occasions, necessitating Matsumura to crash-dive. Matsumura became increasingly fed up with constantly being forced beneath the waves by patrolling American aircraft. He decided upon a bold course of action – to remain surfaced and take on the enemy aircraft with his anti-aircraft armament. Motoring on the surface at 1 p.m. on the afternoon of 13 December a lone Dauntless attacked the submarine from the port side, but the accuracy of the Japanese anti-aircraft barrage caused the pilot to abort his attack run and go around for a second attempt. Diving towards the port side of the submarine again the American aircraft released a single bomb which slammed into the sea close to the I-21, but which failed to detonate.


Target California II

Japanese B1-type I-15 submarine on initial sea trials 15 September 1940 with integral aircraft hangar visible.

Following the unsuccessful operation to intercept and sink the Enterprise and her escorts, on 14 December Matsumura and the I-21 were assigned a new patrol area off Point Arguello in California, a promontory of land fifty-five miles north of Santa Barbara. Motoring just below the surface close to the shore on the morning of 22 December, Commander Matsumura spotted the H. M. Story, a Standard Oil Company tanker, as he scanned the horizon at periscope depth. For two days the I-21 had waited in this position, only coming to the surface at night to recharge the submarine’s batteries and air the boat. Lookouts aboard the H. M. Story never spied the periscope mast cutting through the waves, as the instrument’s blank gaze determined the American ship’s speed and course. Matsumura now seized his opportunity and ordered the I-21 to surface. The bulky submarine rose majestically to the surface, ballast tanks blowing noisily and hatches clanking metallically as officers and men manned the conning tower bridge and the deck-gun, the air thick with bellowed commands. As Matsumura and his officers fixed the H. M. Story in their binoculars the submarine’s deck-gun blazed into life.

Witnesses ashore said they saw a torpedo running in the sea, as the I-21 was between the H. M. Story and the quiet beach at Point Arguello. The tanker was approximately three miles from the shoreline. What had first attracted the witnesses’ attention was the report of the submarine’s deck-gun, but the gunners view of the target was quickly obscured by thick black smoke emitted from the H. M. Story as the vessel attempted to avoid destruction. What was believed to have been a torpedo was observed rapidly exiting the smoke screen as the H. M. Story went full ahead. The Japanese Long Lance torpedo shot through the water towards the tanker, occasionally coming to the surface, slapping white spray off the tops of the waves as it did so. Matsumura was once more unsuccessful as the torpedo passed in front of the tanker. This indicates again the limiting effect of the order issued to submarine commanders to only expend one torpedo per merchant ship. If the German method of firing a spread of two or three torpedoes had been employed the H. M. Story, and probably many other merchant ships throughout the region, would have almost certainly been struck. The use of the deck-gun to attempt to wreck a merchant ship’s communications equipment, as well as hasten the ship’s sinking, was also proving to be a suspect attack method. The H. M. Story was able to radio for assistance, and shore-based US Army Air Corps bombers quickly arrived on the scene. These aircraft dropped several bombs in an attempt to destroy the now submerged I-21, but without effect. More importantly, however, was the fact that Matsumura had intercepted and failed to sink two American tankers, on each occasion being forced to give up the hunt and slink off frustrated to attempt to locate some other target.

North of Point Arguello along the coast is the little town of Cayucas, and by the early morning of 23 December the I-21 was sitting quietly on the surface off the settlement, all eyes scanning the horizon. At 3 a.m. lookouts spotted the Larry Doheny, a twenty-year old empty Richmond Oil Company tanker skippered by Captain Roy Brieland. The Larry Doheny was six miles off Cayucas when Matsumura attempted once again to disable a ship with his deck-gun. The first shot roused the crew aboard the Larry Doheny, Captain Brieland frantically ordering the helmsman to deviate from his course and begin zigzagging in a desperate attempt to throw the Japanese gunners off target. In fact, Brieland’s evasive manoeuvres had almost succeeded in stalling Matsumura’s attack, for the Japanese skipper, after two shots had missed from his deck-gun, was about to issue the order to curtail the attack. The I-21 was hampered by both darkness and by Brieland’s violent evasive manoeuvring of his ship. However, at the last moment a lookout reported the enemy ship to be less than 200 yards from the submarine, and, importantly, exposing her port side. Matsumura ordered an immediate torpedo attack, the Long Lance quickly crossing the water between the two vessels. However, luck was on Brieland’s side, for as the Larry Doheny made another turn the Japanese torpedo sailed past the tanker and exploded some way off, the massive detonation clearly audible to the citizens of Cayucas already woken by the firing of the submarine’s deck-gun. With the expending of a torpedo Matsumura followed his standing orders and broke off the attack. The Larry Doheny had survived, but was, ironically, to come to grief at the hands of another Japanese submarine the following year, also off the west coast.

At 3 a.m. that same morning the 8,272-ton Union Oil Company tanker Montebello pulled away from the dockside at Port San Luis, California. She was bound for the Canadian port of Vancouver in British Columbia with a mixed cargo of oil and petrol. The bulk of her cargo, however, consisted of 4.1 million gallons of heavy crude oil loaded into ten separate storage tanks. Her captain, Olaf Eckstrom, placed her on course, not realizing that his route would bring his ship into the sights of the I-21 less than two hours later. He, and other merchant skippers, had received no warnings from the US Navy or the Coast Guard regarding prowling Japanese submarines that had already made several attacks on coastal shipping.

Commander Matsumura must have felt a dull rage at his failure to sink two defenceless American ships, both of which should have been easy kills for the big I-21. As the I-21 motored further north the search resumed once more for targets of opportunity, and that elusive first successful kill of the mission. At 5.30 a.m. Captain Eckstrom aboard the Montebello was informed that what appeared to be a submarine was stalking his vessel. Eckstrom went immediately to investigate and there was no mistaking the size and outline of a big submarine closing on the ship’s stern. Eckstrom followed the only anti-submarine direction at his disposal and ordered the helmsman to begin zigzagging in the hope of throwing the submarine’s aim off target, the same manoeuvre that had saved the Larry Doheny from destruction. After ten minutes Eckstrom realized that the manoeuvre was a futile gesture. The I-21 was closer than ever, and a Long Lance exited the submarine when the Montebello was broadside to her. With a blinding flash and a tremendous explosion the torpedo impacted amidships, the Montebello shuddering perceptively as the tanker slowed. It seemed clear to the crew aboard that the Montebello had been struck a fatal blow from which the only recourse was to abandon ship in the four wooden lifeboats available. Incredibly, through sheer good luck, the Japanese torpedo had struck the only compartment that was empty of oil or petrol. Had it struck elsewhere it is doubtful if more than a handful of the thirty-six men aboard would have survived the resultant inferno. What many crewmen remembered most was the courage under fire displayed by their Scandinavian skipper. And Eckstrom had only been promoted to captain one hour before the Montebello had departed port, when he was serving as first mate and the original captain had suddenly resigned. Eckstrom was ‘as cool as a snowdrift’ recalled the new first mate as he stood on the deck and ordered his crew to their lifeboats, and then gave the order to abandon ship. For his part, Eckstrom was not entirely convinced the Montebello was done for, and ordered the lifeboats to be rowed a distance from the vessel, and told the crew to sit on their oars and wait. Hopefully the Japanese submarine would depart, and perhaps the Montebello could be re-boarded if she was not discovered to be foundering. Commander Matsumura, however, had darker ideas concerning the fate of the American crew.

Even as the crew was taking to the lifeboats the Japanese opened fire on the Montebello with their deck-gun, firing approximately ten rounds at the listing vessel as the crew began to lower themselves over the side in their boats. Clearly, to Matsumura’s mind, the crew was expendable as the object of the attack was to make sure the Montebello went to the bottom. This kind of coldblooded assault was characteristic of Japanese naval operations throughout the Second World War, and was repeated on countless occasions. It is in direct contrast to the behaviour of German U-boat crews, who very often gave merchant seamen time to abandon their ship before finishing off a vessel with a torpedo or the deck-gun. Eckstrom and his crew rowed a distance from the Montebello, by another stroke of good fortune suffering no injuries from flying shrapnel as round after round hammered into the stricken tanker, and within forty-five minutes the Montebello had slid beneath the waves. Eckstrom now ordered his crew to begin pulling for the shore. They were some four miles from the Piedras Biancas lighthouse.

Matsumura had achieved the first kill of his mission to the United States west coast, but what followed was an attempt to murder the American sailors in their lifeboats. Machine guns were brought up into the conning tower of the submarine and fire was poured forth on the helpless lifeboats pulling hard for the coast. It was only poor visibility that saved the crew of the Montebello from murder at the hands of the Japanese, and Matsumura eventually ordered the submarine to leave the vicinity of the attack. Machine-gun bullets had struck lifeboats, though fortunately the crewmen sheltering inside them had not been injured. Although the malevolent Japanese submarine had departed, the hapless crew of the Montebello faced a new battle for survival in attempting to row lifeboats holed by machine-gun rounds to the shore through a heavy sea. Men took turns pulling on the oars or bailing water from their boats until, utterly exhausted, around noon they washed up on the beach opposite the town of Cambria.

Why the Japanese were intent on murdering the civilian crewmen of a vessel they had successfully sunk has an explanation. It was official policy even though it violated laws to which the Japanese were themselves signatories. According to Lord Russell of Liverpool’s seminal work The Knights of Bushido: A Short History of Japanese War Crimes when Japan had signed the 1922 London Naval Treaty, Article 22 of that agreement provided that submarine actions must conform to International Law, and that ‘except in the case of persistent refusal to stop on being duly summoned, or of active resistance to visit and search, warships, whether surface vessel or submarine may not sink or render incapable of navigation a merchant vessel without having first placed passengers, crew and ship’s papers in a place of safety’. A ‘place of safety’ in the case of the Montebello was the ship’s lifeboats. The Japanese had allowed the 1922 Treaty to expire on 31 December 1936, but Article 22 remained binding on all signatories, ‘by virtue of Article 23, which laid down in Part IV of the expiring Treaty relating to submarines should remain in force without time limit’. So even though Japan considered the treaty expired, the section concerning submarine action remained in force forever, because it accorded with basic International Law. Further to this, Lord Russell also points out that Japan had signed a further Protocol in London on 6 November 1936 with the United States, Great Britain (including the Dominions and Empire), France and Italy, which incorporated verbatim the very provisions of Part IV of the 1922 Treaty relating to the conduct of submarines in war. Interestingly, Commander Matsumura’s actions regarding the crew of the Montebello actually predated the accepted change in Japanese government and naval policy towards merchant ship crews. His actions, however, certainly conform to the de facto attitude of the Imperial Navy to non-combatants. It was only following talks between Lieutenant-General Hiroshi Oshima, Japanese Ambassador to Germany, and Adolf Hitler in Berlin on 3 January 1942, a little under a month after the entry of the United States into the war, that Hitler suggested murdering surviving merchant ship crewmen. Although the German Navy flatly refused to entertain such a notion, Oshima was apparently sufficiently impressed by Hitler’s argument that depriving the Americans of trained crewmen would undermine their massive shipbuilding capacity that he reported to the Japanese government that such a measure should be adopted. It duly was, in flagrant violation of the laws outlined above, on 20 March 1943, when submarine skippers were ordered to exterminate all survivors from sunken ships, and Imperial forces faithfully carried out this order. Matsumura’s actions certainly predate the official order, but it is clear that either he was unaware of International Law and the agreements his country had signed regarding the correct behaviour of submarine skippers (which seems unlikely owing to his rank and experience), or that Matsumura and his contemporaries had been given tacit approval for such measures to be taken against helpless survivors. Subordinate Japanese military officers were not generally known for thinking for themselves, and following orders to the letter regardless of cost was very much the rule (one torpedo per merchant ship for example). It appears unlikely that Matsumura decided to murder some three dozen unarmed and defenceless sailors on a whim, or out of revenge for his earlier humiliation at failing to sink the H. M. Story and the Larry Doheny. There was a certain cold, calculated method in Matsumura’s actions that could only have been sanctioned by a higher authority than he.

The consequences of Matsumura’s sinking of the Montebello are still felt today. In 1996 the wreck of the tanker was located in 900 feet of water, sitting upright on the seabed adjacent to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A preliminary investigation of the wreck by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) revealed that the Japanese torpedo had ruptured only two out of the Montebello’s ten oil storage tanks. The remaining eight tanks were still watertight, and full of millions of gallons of crude oil. As the wreck naturally deteriorates over time eventually that oil will be released into the surrounding ocean, which poses an alarming ecological issue for the nearby marine sanctuary. Salvaging the wreck has not been seriously considered due to the costs involved, so scientists can only regularly inspect the wreck for signs of degradation. Inevitably, this ghost of the Second World War sits rusting away, a potential ecological time bomb waiting to go off.

Commander Matsumura decided to remain in the vicinity of his successful sinking of the Montebello. He was rewarded later that day, 23 December, by the appearance of the 6,418-ton American tanker Idaho, which he shelled and damaged with his deck-gun before breaking off his attack. However, the following day Matsumura and the I-21 came close to running foul of American anti-submarine forces in the region. The I-21 was patrolling at periscope depth when a small, depth charge armed patrol vessel surprised her. Two depth charges were released which exploded close to the submarine’s hull. The I-21’s vertical rudder was wrecked, and the explosions also knocked out all of her lights. Matsumura decided that instead of staying down and being bombarded to pieces by depth charges, the I-21 would surface, enabling the gunners to fight it out with the patrol boat and any reinforcements that showed up. Matsumura’s banzai tactic was forestalled just as the boat was rising to the surface as the lights suddenly came back on and the engineering department reported that they had repaired the submarine’s steering. This meant that the I-21 could be saved, and more importantly returned to Kwajalein for repairs. Matsumura immediately left the area and set a course for home. On 11 January 1942 the I-21 arrived back at base, and Commander Matsumura was incorrectly credited with sinking two enemy tankers.

On 14 December 1941, in common with the other Japanese submarines the I-25 was reassigned to the United States west coast. The I-25 was given a patrol area off the cities of Astoria and Portland in Oregon, specifically targeting merchant shipping using the important Columbia River estuary. The I-25 struck early on in the Japanese attempt to plague American coastal commerce, locating the Union Oil tanker L. P. St. Clair. Following standard operational orders issued to all submarine skippers before the commencement of the west coast campaign, the captain of the I-25, Lieutenant-Commander Meiji Tagami, assigned the job of sinking the tanker to his deck-gun crew. No torpedoes were used during the night time attack. As the gunners attempted to hit the L. P. St. Clair with gunfire, the captain put her hard to port and managed to evade ten armour-piercing rounds before disappearing into the dark Columbia River Channel.

On 22 December Commander Tagami was offered something enticing in a radio message from 6th Fleet Headquarters at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. The Combined Fleet Intelligence Bureau had received information that the battleships USS Mississippi, New Mexico and Idaho were in the process of transferring into the Pacific from the Atlantic via the Panama Canal to reinforce the shattered US Pacific Fleet. Although this information would prove to be false, Vice-Admiral Shimizu immediately radioed the submarines I-25, I-17 and I-9. Japanese naval intelligence estimated that the battleships were due to arrive at Los Angeles on or about Christmas Day 1941. The I-25 was ordered to patrol the area between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the hope of intercepting the capital ships as they made their way to port. After the intelligence concerning the three American battleships had turned out to be false the I-25 was ordered to patrol off the Oregon coast, to continue her original mission of commerce interdiction.

On 27 December the submarine’s lookouts located the 8,684-ton American tanker Connecticut during the night off the aptly named Cape Disappointment. The lookouts saw the tanker’s white masthead running light in the distance, and discerned her engine noise on the clear night air. Tagami gave immediate chase, spending twenty minutes manoeuvring into a suitable attack position before launching a single torpedo at the Connecticut’s stern. The Long Lance struck the tanker squarely in the stern, submarine and prey both brilliantly illuminated for a second by the flash of the explosion that immediately ignited a large fire. Tagami assumed that he had dealt the Connecticut a killer blow from which the tanker would not recover. Satisfied that the tanker would eventually sink, Tagami ordered the I-25 to motor away from the scene some ten miles off the American coast. The Connecticut, however, although settling by the stern, was not ready to disappear just yet. She escaped the scene of the attack and eventually went aground in the mouth of the Columbia River where she was salvaged for repairs. Once again, the single torpedo mantra being adhered to by Japanese submarine skippers was costing them their kills, though most commanders left the scene of their attacks believing that they had successfully sunk the ships they had struck.

Following the attack on the Connecticut, Tagami took the I-25 back to base to refuel, rearm and revictual. On 11 January 1942 the I-25 arrived at the 6th Fleet’s anchorage at Kwajalein. On 8 February the submarine set sail again, this time bound not for America, but for the coasts of Australia and New Zealand.

Japanese submarine I-19

The I-19 first struck at commercial traffic off the west coast early on Christmas Eve 1941. Completed at Kobe by Mitsubishi Shipbuilding in April 1941, the I-19 under Lieutenant-Commander Shogo Narahara had already untaken duties during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent failed pursuit of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. For the move to the coast of the United States the I-19 had been assigned a patrol area off the great metropolis of Los Angeles. On 22 December the I-19 had chased the American oil tanker H.M. Storey for an hour before Narahara had been satisfied that his firing position was good. Disregarding orders concerning the use of torpedoes, Narahara ordered a spread of three released from the bow tubes, all of which missed the tanker. The H.M. Storey made good her escape and a frustrated Narahara continued his patrol, itching for another opportunity to prove his usefulness.

On the morning of Christmas Eve Commander Narahara sighted the Barbara Olsen, a freighter loaded down with lumber that was on her way to San Diego. The Long Lance torpedo released by the I-19 passed clean beneath the Barbara Olsen, and detonated approximately 100 feet from the ship’s hull. The booming detonation of the torpedo, and the massive column of black smoke which rose to 300 feet, was spied by lookouts aboard the US Navy sub chaser USS Amethyst that was patrolling the entrance to Los Angeles harbour four miles away from the aborted Japanese attack. The Amethyst immediately went to ‘Action Stations’ and raced to the assistance of the Barbara Olsen. On this occasion, although the Amethyst conducted a thorough search of the area, no trace was found of the offending submarine. In fact, Narahara had taken his boat several miles north to an area close to the lighthouse at Point Fermin. By 10 a.m. that Christmas Eve the I-19 was settled down at periscope depth awaiting a target of opportunity to emerge from the nearby Catalina Channel. By 10.30 a.m. a 5,700-ton lumber freighter named Absaroka was observed by the I-19 off Point Fermin.

Commanded by Captain Louie Pringle, the McCormick Steamship Company vessel would pass within one mile of a US Army coastal defence gun position located in front of the Point Fermin lighthouse, the soldiers having a grandstand view of the events that followed. The I-19 pressed home its attack on the Absaroka with determination. The first torpedo passed wide of the freighter, but a second torpedo was launched almost immediately, Commander Narahara continuing to disregard the ‘one torpedo per enemy ship’ order previously issued to the Japanese submarines operating off America. This second torpedo slammed into the Absaroka’s Number 5 Hold, the blast throwing three crewmen, busily engaged in checking that the lumber carried on deck was securely fastened down, overboard. Massive quantities of lumber were blown into the air by the force of the explosion, one crewman recalling that it appeared ‘as if a man were throwing matchsticks around’. One of the three crewmen flung into the water by the torpedo strike was able to get back aboard the Absaroka almost immediately. The ship heeled over in the blast, her main deck railing touching the surface of the sea. The seaman took a firm hold of the railing, and as the ship righted herself he was lifted clear of the water and scrambled back aboard. Another of the men who had gone overboard managed to climb back onto the deck with the aid of a rope. The third man had been injured during the explosion and would require assistance from his shipmates to get safely back aboard the ship. Standing on deck, Seaman Ryan picked up a rope mooring line and flung it at the man struggling in the water. However, in the midst of this rescue attempt a tragedy struck. The force of the torpedo’s explosion had upset the tons of lumber stored on the freighter’s deck, and the lashings holding everything securely in place had parted or were no longer tight. As Ryan concentrated on trying to save his comrade a massive pile of lumber suddenly broke free with a roar and fell upon him. Ryan was crushed to death and his body swept over the ship’s side as tons of lumber splashed into the sea.

In the Absaroka’s radio shack the operator had picked himself up off the floor where he had been flung by the force of the Japanese torpedo impact and had sent an SOS distress call and details of the submarine attack to the shore. On deck, the remaining crew had already begun to make the ship’s lifeboats ready as the Absaroka settled lower and lower in the water. Responding to the Absaroka’s distress call, US Army Air Corps planes soon arrived at the scene, dropping bombs into the sea close to the I-19’s last reported position. The USS Amethyst steamed defiantly up to the Absaroka, taking off the crew, and then spent several hours’ depth charging the area in the vain hope of destroying the elusive Japanese submarine. It was all to no avail, as none of the thirty-two depth charges found their target. As time passed it became apparent to Captain Pringle that his ship, although with her main deck awash, was not in any immediate danger of foundering. Perhaps the Absaroka could be salvaged, and with this in mind a US Navy tug tied up to the freighter ready to haul her to land. Pringle and seven volunteers re-boarded the Absaroka to assist with the salvage operation. With great care the freighter was taken into shore and beached below Fort MacArthur. The great hole in the Absaroka’s hull made by the Japanese torpedo became a useful propaganda tool for the American home front. In a similar tone to the British slogan ‘Careless talk costs lives’, movie actress Jane Russell was photographed standing in the gaping hole holding a poster emblazoned with the slogan ‘A slip of the lip may sink a ship.’ The photograph appeared in LIFE magazine in January 1942. The press speculated on the possible involvement of Japanese-Americans in assisting enemy submarines in finding their targets, all of which was completely unfounded and further demonstrated the fear and paranoia gripping the west coast.

By Christmas Day 1941 the Japanese submarines assigned to interdict American coastal shipping had begun to break off their attacks and plot a course for their home bases. Originally, all of the submarines were to have moved even closer inshore, and were supposed to have expended their deck-gun ammunition against shore installations along the west coast before heading home. Admiral Osami Nagano, Chief of the Naval General Staff in Tokyo, had countermanded Vice-Admiral Shimizu’s original shore bombardment order. It has been surmised that Nagano feared that American submarines would retaliate by bombarding Japanese coastal installations and towns. Only Commander Nishino and the I-17 would go against his wishes and conduct a coastal bombardment sortie against the United States before departing across the Pacific.


Japanese Naval AAA Early War

Japan developed naval radar to a far greater extent than her Axis partners, because her fleets spent much more time in contact with enemy fleets and enemy aircraft. Unlike the Germans, the Japanese pursued both metric-wave and microwave technology. They did not develop the powerful magnetrons which made British and US microwave radar fully effective (output was typically half a kW rather than the hundreds of kW of the Western sets). Also, because the first radars they saw (in Germany) were air-search sets, the Japanese were inclined to begin with that type of radar rather than, as in the German navy, to limit themselves to fire-control sets. The first two installations were on board the battleships Ise and Hyuga, prior to Midway. Meanwhile US and British metric army radars fell into Japanese hands at Singapore and in the Philippines.

The first major operational sets were a metric air-search radar (Type 2 Mk 2 Mod 1) and a microwave surface-search set (Mk 2 Mod 2, a developmental designation). Mk 2 Mod 1 had a mattress antenna. On a carrier it was typically free-standing; on a battleship or cruiser it was on the foretop. Range on an aircraft was 70 to 100km (38 to 54nm). Because there was no Japanese PPI scope, the surface-search set was also treated as a fire-control rangefinder.

After the battle of the Philippine Sea, the Naval General Staff ordered all surviving ships equipped with both an air-search set (Type 3 Mk 1 Mod 3) and a surface-search set (Mk 2 Mod 3, with increased power [10 kW]). Type 3 Mk 1 was a new set, development of which was completed only in February 1944, based on a land-based radar. The great deficiency was a complete lack of anti-aircraft fire-control radar. There were also airborne radars, including sea-search sets. Unfortunately they were heavy. Thus during the battle of the Philippine Sea Japanese torpedo bombers equipped with Mk 6 radars were ordered to remove them: they could not lift both the radar and a torpedo.

The pre-war Imperial Japanese Navy was determined to maintain radio silence, which to the higher staff included radar silence. That view stopped radar development for a time before the war, when it was first proposed, and the ban on emissions (until ships were under fire) was not completely lifted until the spring of 1944, just before the battle of the Philippine Sea. By that time ships had been lost under circumstances suggesting that they would have survived had they had air warning. The battleship Musashi had been damaged by a surprise attack while steaming from Japan to Palau in the latter part of February 1944. The cruiser Atago had given a practical demonstration of the value of radar. During repairs after Guadalcanal, the Communications Officer of First Fleet convinced his superiors to mount an early Mk 2 Mod 2 microwave surface-search set aboard the cruiser. The radar was credited with the survival of seven cruisers after the battle of Empress Augusta Bay in November 1943.

In the 1930s, like the US Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy considered its carriers both powerful and vulnerable; the question was how to use them most effectively before they could be destroyed. The initial answer for both navies was dispersal. Thus a November 1936 Staff College study called for dispersal of the carriers so that they could envelop an enemy force. The largest carriers would steam alone, the smaller ones in dispersed formations so that they could combine to provide sufficient striking power. The paper emphasised the need for greater range than the enemy’s, a continuing theme later on.36 The experience of war in China seems to have convinced the Imperial Navy that only by massing could it realise the offensive power of its carriers. The 1939–40 fleet exercises employed co-ordinated air group attacks. Since it was essential not to reveal the positions of the carriers, the Japanese saw little point in using radio to co-ordinate dispersed ships. They had to be within visual range if their air groups were to work together. The compromise solution reached in 1940 was for the carriers of each division to concentrate, but the divisions to disperse so as to envelop the enemy.

The Japanese Navy was the first in the world to concentrate all the aircraft of several carriers into an integrated Air Fleet. By May 1941 it had a multi-carrier operational doctrine. By this time, at least as conveyed to the contemporary Royal Italian Navy by a high-level Japanese mission, the Imperial Navy considered the enemy carriers its prime target, since once they were sunk the enemy’s naval force would be deprived of essential air services: search, attack, and fighter defence. Once the carriers were gone, the enemy fleet would lose about half its fighting potential. Conversely, great attention had to be paid to safe-guarding the Japanese carriers. The Japanese seem to have envisaged a two-phase battle, the carriers first destroying the enemy carriers, and the main body (surface force) then engaging the enemy’s surface force, the unstated assumption being that carrier aircraft probably could not sink the enemy’s battleships. That was a logical assumption at the time, given the large number of torpedoes a modern battleship could absorb and the ineffectiveness of dive-bombing armoured decks.

Each Japanese task force (a phrase used in the 1941 Italian notes) would have attached to it a carrier division of up to three carriers. At this stage there was no expectation of unifying the air groups. Instead, the idea was to specialise – to place all the fighters on one carrier, the dive bombers on a second, and the torpedo bombers on a third. It was understood that specialisation might be dangerous, but until the two fleets engaged the only real danger was submarine attack, which was considered minimal. Apparently Japanese doctrine also allowed for mixing different types on each carrier, but that was considered an inferior solution. All-fighter carriers would be responsible for protection of non-fighter carriers, but carriers with mixed air groups would be at the direct disposal of a task force commander both to protect the main body and for use during the surface battle and subsequent pursuit.

The carriers had to be separated from the main body – the surface force – so that they were unlikely to fall victim to enemy light or heavy ships. Prevailing wind, for launch or recovery, would determine where the carriers might be placed. In the simplest formation, the carriers were about ten miles ahead of the main body, with attached destroyers for submarine protection and cruisers to protect them from enemy light forces. Once combat was imminent, the carriers would move so that the Japanese main body was between them and the enemy, beyond gun and torpedo range (a 1941 diagram showed the carriers 20–25nm off the track of the Japanese main body, with 20nm a bare minimum).

The emphasis on fighter defence of both the carriers and the main body suggests that by the spring of 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy had limited faith in its anti-aircraft guns – which was much the position of the US Navy at the time. However, by 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy was building Akizuki class destroyers which may have been intended specifically to provide anti-aircraft support to carriers. The provision of the destroyers may have reflected fear that it would be difficult to spot high-performance attackers in time. Carriers, like capital ships, were well armed with anti-aircraft guns. Overall the Japanese seem to have had much the same view of carrier survivability as the US Navy: carriers were eggshells armed with hammers. Fighters were the only real defensive option, but attackers would probably succeed. That is certainly what happened in the 1942 carrier battles.

It is not at all clear that the Japanese had thought through the requirements of fleet air defence. The standard carrier fighter complement was eighteen aircraft, nine of which were expected to accompany its strike aircraft. Without reliable voice radio, and without radar, fighter direction could not even be imagined. The standard fighter formation was the three-plane shotai. In theory a carrier would maintain a shotai continuously aloft (with two-hour endurance), keep another on deck alert and a third at a lesser readiness. If an attack developed, the two reserve units would be launched to supplement the one aloft. Individual pilots had assigned sectors. In theory, further aircraft could be vectored to a threatened sector, but little attention went to direction of any kind.

Carriers were grouped together as an integrated force (mobile aircraft force) for the first time in the June 1940 manoeuvres, and on 1 April 1941 two carrier divisions were formed into the 1st Air Fleet as a unified entity. By the time of Pearl Harbor six carrier air groups had been integrated together. In such a force each carrier had its own mixed air group. That presented a new operational problem, as each carrier would have to launch and recover aircraft more frequently, usually manoeuvring into and out of the wind. Like the contemporary US Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy seems to have concluded that carriers should be well separated to this end. Separation would also make it more difficult for an enemy to find and attack all of the carriers. Separation in turn made it impossible to provide the destroyer screens previously envisaged. Instead, each carrier was assigned two plane guard destroyers. Carrier survival would be based on manoeuvre (evasion) and dispersal (an enemy strike should not find all of them together).

Given their First World War experience working alongside the Royal Navy, it seems likely that the Japanese adopted the British emphasis on radio silence for security. On that basis it is not clear how well air operations from separated carriers could be conducted. It would be much simpler to concentrate a pre-arranged strike than fleet air defence. Fighter defence seems to have been conducted by a strong CAP, without any form of fighter direction. It does appear that the Japanese hoped for early warning provided by lookouts on board dispersed surface ships.

Given limited faith in fleet anti-aircraft firepower, ships could manoeuvre freely to evade attack, even though that would ruin fire-control solutions. The Japanese adopted a standard circular evasive manoeuvre, familiar from photographs of Japanese ships under attack, from Shoho at the Coral Sea onwards, had the important virtue that it might frustrate dive bombing, as an attacker would find it difficult at best to compensate for a radically varying aim point and with the changing effect of wind as the ship moved. At least one US officer espoused exactly this manoeuvre in 1942. Note that if all the ships in a formation began to circle at high speed, the formation would break up. That was probably acceptable given that there was apparently little interest in mutual support other than by integrating the air groups of carriers working together. It is not clear whether the circular manoeuvre was adopted pre-war or during the war.

Thus the Akizuki class, armed with four twin 10cm/60, and specifically intended for anti-aircraft screening, seemed to contradict evolving Japanese carrier thinking. The first six were inserted into the naval programme as modified in December 1938, under the designation ‘direct protection’ destroyers. As sketched they would displace 2600 tons, with a speed of 34kts, armed with four twin 10cm, four 25mm and a bank of four torpedo tubes. The light torpedo battery testified to their unconventional mission. They were described as close protection for carrier divisions. The projected Maru 5 and Maru 6 programmes planned in 1941 included a new class of anti-aircraft cruisers, to displace about 5000 tons and to be armed with six twin 10cm guns. However, they were not included in the programme as projected in the spring of 1941. Instead, it included sixteen improved Akizukis (2900 tons, design F-53). The other sixteen destroyers in the programme were of more traditional (Shimakaze) type (a repeat pre-war type was eventually built).

The Japanese distinguished three types of operation. One was the massed strike against a land target, as at Pearl Harbor. In that operation the carriers occupied a box about 8km on a side, the distance providing sufficient sea room for the carriers. The six ships which struck Pearl Harbor were in two widely-separated staggered columns, with screening ships around the box. Much the same formation was adopted for Midway, the only major difference being that there was columns of two rather than three. In the Indian Ocean operation (March/April 1942), the major units were in line ahead, the head of the column being a bent screen of destroyers with a cruiser on either flank. This formation would make sense (as in British operations in the Mediterranean) if the object was to clear a corridor of submarines.

A second type of operation was a fleet vs. fleet battle, as at the Coral Sea. Carriers operated loosely co-ordinated, each having only plane guards in company. The surface force (the main body) would be nearby but not too close. Probably the Japanese had learned from pre-war exercises that it was much easier to spot a large surface force from the air, and that carriers should not be so close that any scout spotting the surface force would also see them. That was much the lesson the US Navy had learned pre-war.

At Santa Cruz battleships and cruisers formed a vanguard formation, with the carriers about 100km astern. This vanguard was largely line abreast, which suggests it was a scouting formation, except that it had a pair of Kongos in line ahead at its centre. The four carriers were in loose formation, the carrier Shokaku leading her sister Zuikaku by about 8000m, with Zuiho 8000m to one side and Junyo 100 miles away (originally she was to have had Hiyo with her, but that ship had to retire due to an engine fire). Each carrier had two plane-guard destroyers as her only escorts. Compared to the Eastern Solomons, the carriers were considerably further astern of the vanguard. This combination of Main Body and Advance Force was used again at the Philippine Sea in June 1944. A third type of operation was direct support of a surface force, a single carrier being more or less integrated with the surface force. That was the case of Shoho at the Coral Sea, with cruisers in company.

In August 1943 Combined Fleet issued a memorandum explaining that for future operations it was necessary to have a standard set of operating procedures and doctrines. At just about the same time the US Navy was developing its own set of standardised procedures under the designation PAC-10 (or USF-10A). Both navies had to deal with the disintegration of the pre-war fleet. In the US case, the flood of new construction (and new air groups) could be absorbed only in standardised forms, so that each new ship or squadron knew where it fitted in. In the Japanese case, the pre-war navy understood enough that limited orders sufficed. Enough of that fleet was destroyed, particularly in the Solomons, to bring up officers who had not absorbed enough standard procedures pre-war. Like their US counterparts, they needed standardised procedures laid out explicitly. Probably the doctrines involved were not too different from those of the past, but the officers of the past did not need such explicitness. At about the same time the Japanese introduced circular screening formations for carriers, mainly for protection against submarines (almost no Japanese destroyers had area anti-aircraft capability). No other surface combatants were involved, and multicarrier formations were not envisaged; this was not contemporary US circular-screen practice.

A May 1943 paper on strike force tactics drew the lesson of the 1942 carrier battles: ‘the secret … is to divert and restrain the enemy on one side, and then to attack suddenly from the flank. This discovery was a product of chance in successive battles. We must deliberately develop such situations and, advancing, destroy the enemy on the field of battle.’ That changed the likely role of the heavy surface group from a hammer against the enemy’s surface ships (and damaged carriers) to a means of diverting his attention from the carriers, which were now to be the hammer. The May paper advocated forming a diversionary force comprising a battleship division and decoy carriers. The latter could be useful only if they were used aggressively, hence had to be fast. A light cruiser, for example, might be camouflaged to look like a carrier. Official doctrine promulgated in March 1944 went further. The Advance Force of the past (the heavy surface force) was renamed the Diversionary Attack Force in line with current thinking. This logic was inverted at Leyte Gulf, the carriers, almost bare of aircraft, acting to divert attention from the heavy attack force approaching invasion shipping.

The new doctrine emphasised air attack against the enemy’s carriers, not only as a means of reducing the enemy’s overall strength prior to a surface battle, but as the main part of a battle. In the face of enemy aircraft, the fleet would retire quickly and reorganise. That made sense, since the Japanese could expect to outreach the Americans, striking first to (they hoped) destroy US carriers and their aircraft. Only if the US Navy achieved surprise (due to a failure of Japanese scouting) or managed to wipe out the Japanese air strike force (as happened at the Philippine Sea) would the Japanese carriers see US carrier aircraft. Alternative fleet dispositions were a concentration of all three carrier divisions, a concentration of two with a third carrier division at a distance, and three separate carrier divisions. Since relatively few surface ships operated with each carrier or carrier division, the Japanese did not feel any pressure to consolidate the carriers into US-style formations.


Japanese Naval AAA Late War

The 1944 instructions include anti-aircraft fire: barrage fire is to be used both against dive bombers and against low fliers. That is much the British doctrine of this period, and it suggests that, like the British, the Japanese did not expect to use aimed fire against other than high-flying level bombers. Ships escorting carriers were to concentrate on defending the carriers.

All of this meant that, as unpleasant as Midway had been, the Philippine Sea carried the additional message that the enemy would almost always be able to carry out his air attacks unhindered by any long-range Japanese strike. Anti-aircraft weapons suddenly became far more important, because the option of striking first at greater range was gone. That had already happened in 1942, but in 1944 the Japanese could hope to regain their range advantage with new carrier attack aircraft.

After Midway, Admiral Yamamoto issued new orders for ships under air attack. Battleships were taken as the basis for more general practices. The ship in the fleet closest to the attacking aircraft was to turn towards the enemy and emit specified smoke signals, firing its guns so as to direct Japanese fighters towards the enemy. Presumably smoke was to be used because the Japanese had taken from the British the idea that radio silence was golden. However, the orders also included flag and wireless signals to provide data such as the strength of the enemy force. Their list of ways of detecting incoming enemy aircraft consisted of radio intelligence, radio location (presumably radar), scouting aircraft, watching aircraft and fire-control predictors (presumably used to project forward the path of enemy aircraft).

Alternative means of distributing fire among ships of the fleet were given. The rules clearly envisaged British-style barrage fire by the main and secondary (LA) batteries, which could be used against torpedo bombers, long-range bombers, and bombers capable of strafing (presumably a literal translation), but primarily against torpedo bombers. Medium-calibre anti-aircraft guns would be used against bombers and dive bombers. Machine guns would be used against dive bombers and, according to circumstances, short-range torpedo bombers.

Special rules indicated when guns could open fire in the presence either of numerous or few or no Japanese fighters. For example, when there were numerous Japanese fighters, guns could open fire against torpedo bombers out to 15km range. They could open fire against dive bombers when they were running in – at an estimated altitude of 3000m (9840ft) and at a 50° vertical angle. Against low-level bombers, the range to open fire depended on whether there was an adequate patrol on the second warning line. If there was, fire could be opened not more than 5km (plan range) from the second line. When the patrol at the second line was inadequate, fire could be opened 6nm (unit given) from each ship. Fire could also be opened when the enemy aircraft were at an altitude of more than 6km (19,700ft) and 7km (7650 yds) from the ship (plan range).

An appendix warned that sights etc on all types of AA guns were unsuitable for use against fast aircraft moving at 200kts or more, and should be rebuilt.49 Simple unobtrusive sights suited to 300kt targets could be placed alongside the existing sights of 12cm and 7cm AA guns. The ordinary sight of the 8cm AA gun should be improved and a simple unobtrusive sight suitable for 300kt speed should be fitted. Measurement and gradation of the firing table for the Type 89 (12.7cm) AA gun and the time taken for communication were considered excessive; a simple and rapid type of measuring instrument should be made and distributed. Automatic weapon (25mm and 13mm) sights could not match target speed, as their capacity was too limited, and therefore they could not be used in combat. Either a prism should be inserted in the sighting telescope, or a simple 300kt sight should be installed.

A drawing of a typical battleship AA battery clearly showed a Yamato class battleship, but that must not have been evident at the time. Main and secondary gun calibres were not given, but the ship clearly had two main battery turrets forward and one aft, plus four secondary battery mounts in diamond arrangement. The diagram showed three AA guns (actually twin 12.7cm) on each side, numbered odd to starboard and even to port. Also on each side were two ‘concentrations’, each apparently corresponding to a pair of light anti-aircraft mounts, which were controlled together: one each at the ends of the row of medium AA guns. Another machine gun mount was on each side forward of the middle AA gun, for a total of ten machine gun mountings. All were mounted inboard of the medium-calibre guns.

A US Navy evaluation of Japanese AA fire in mid-1944 was that medium-calibre guns were being used for barrage rather than aimed fire. Most aircraft were being damaged by guns in the 20mm to 40mm class, the 25mm Hotchkiss being the most effective. Guns of 20mm to 40mm calibres had caused three times as many casualties as those of heavier calibres and six times as many as many as guns of lighter calibres. That was contrasted with US experience in which 5in guns had overtaken the lighter weapons in lethality. A captured document gave ranges to open fire for various calibres: 9900 yds for the 12cm (4.7in), 7700 for the 3in, 6600 yds for the 8cm, 2750 for the 25mm, and 2200 yds for the 13mm. All but the last were in line with ranges at which the British and the US Navy expected fire to become effective; the 13mm figure was more than twice that adopted by the Allies. It seemed that the Japanese were relying on a course and speed sight (like the Le Prieur sight of the 25mm gun and its director) to an unrealistic degree. The same document stressed the need to conserve ammunition, hence to limit the number of rounds fired at any one target. Limits given were six rounds for a 12cm gun, ten for 8cm, and one magazine (fifteen rounds for a 25mm gun) for machine guns. Automatic weapons were not to fire at retiring targets (a policy also followed by the Allies). The severe restriction on numbers of rounds to be fired reflects production problems even before Japan began to suffer strategic bombing. The figures were far below the RPB estimated for US guns.

After Midway the Imperial Japanese Navy decided that its Type 94 fire-control system was inadequate even with planned improvements, so work began on a new Type 3 (1943) system. Like Type 94, it had its rangefinder in the director, which was arranged to insure that layer, trainer and control officer were all observing the same target. Like many wartime British systems, it had scooter control for rapid slewing by the control officer. Very rapid development, and many system features, suggest that Type 3 was inspired by British systems such as the FKC, details of which were probably captured at Singapore. Like the British systems, Type 3 worked in terms of plan motion, the target being handled as though it was flying at constant altitude. Thus, unlike Type 94, Type 3 used rectangular co-ordinates. Also like the British systems, this one included a height plot intended to allow an operator to estimate aircraft height from a scatter of observed points. Unlike British systems, the director was sufficiently stabilised (by leveller and cross-leveller, not gyros) that it was expected to provide accurate bearing data. The Japanese later said that Type 3 was designed to provide rapid solutions. Initial inputs were estimated target course and speed (as in British systems). Unlike Type 94, Type 3 worked in rectangular co-ordinates, decomposing target speed into across and along components. To avoid the use of three-dimensional ballistic cams, it employed a British-style roller on which firing table data were engraved. The computer turned the roller, and an operator found the appropriate tangent elevation on it, sending it to the guns by means of a follow-up. A similar roller was used to enter wind corrections. Ballistics could be changed simply by replacing the rollers. Type 3 was never completed, although manufacture of a prototype was well underway at the end of the war. It was not related to the Type 3 developed for use ashore.

There was also an attempt to produce a dual-purpose destroyer system to control 12.7cm/50 guns. This Type 2 (1942) system replaced pre-war LA fire-control systems. Unlike Type 3, it entered service, but was never considered satisfactory for HA fire. The Japanese described it as grossly over-complicated, because its designers refused to compromise by emphasising either HA or LA fire (i.e., large or small angular rates). Instead, the same mechanism was used for both high and low angles, with change-over gears and clutches to shift function. Change-over required a complicated lining-up procedure. The associated Type 2 director was fully enclosed and trained hydraulically, but the optics were not cross-levelled (director outputs were adjusted for cross-level). On top it carried a 3m rangefinder which could train independently. In addition to the usual pointer and trainer it carried a target inclination operator (Japanese surface fire-control systems included elaborate inclination devices). The computer maker, Aichi, considered the associated Type 2 computer the most complicated it had ever made. Prediction was based on rate integrators. The computer used a three-dimensional cam to correct LA elevation to super-elevation for HA fire.

By 1944 there was an urgent requirement for a radar director to replace the Type 2 director; the result was the Type 5 (1945) director, which was intended as a minimum modification to Type 2 for destroyers and light cruisers. The Japanese described it as a means of blind fire, but that was not true in Western terms, since their radars did not provide good enough bearing and elevation data. Type 5 never entered service.

The standard Type 95 machine-gun director was modified with scooter control (probably based on British technology acquired when Singapore fell). By the end of the war the associated ring sights provided for target speeds of 900, 800 and 700km/hr (900km/hr equated to 492kts). Given production problems, a simplified version was produced, designated Type 4 (1944) Mod 3. It had range rings only for 800 and 700km/hr (800km/hr is 437kts), with a central area to be used for speeds of less than 600km/hr (328kts).53 Because the new device was simpler, it was available in larger quantities, and it could be used more extensively, and also ashore. Initially it was intended for 12cm rockets (see below) in addition to 25mm machine guns, but use was later extended to the war-built Matsu and Tachibana class escort destroyers.

Massive anti-aircraft rearmament began in the spring of 1944. The two superbattleships had their wing 6.1 in anti-destroyer mounts replaced by anti-aircraft weapons. Many 25mm guns were added. For example, in the superbattleships the original 25mm mountings were in closed shields to protect them from the blast of their 18.1in guns. The new mountings were the standard unshielded type. The big fleet destroyers had their after superfiring twin 5in guns replaced by triple 25mm guns. Note that, unlike fleet destroyers, the Matsu and Tachibana class escort destroyers all had 12.7cm/40 guns, which were truly dual-purpose.

Two new weapons were deployed. After a short development programme, 12cm anti-aircraft rockets were deployed in 28-round launchers on modified 25mm machine-gun mounts, controlled by standard 25mm machine-gun directors. These launchers were installed on board the battleships Ise and Hyuga and on board several carriers including Zuikaku. These shrapnel incendiary weapons were used at Leyte Gulf, but results were not recorded. The Japanese did say that they valued them as a deterrent and as a way of increasing anti-aircraft firepower at relatively low cost – much as the Royal Navy had adopted rocket weapons in 1940.

The second new weapon was the Model 3 incendiary anti-aircraft shell, which was fired by low-angle guns up to and including the 18.1in guns of the two superbattleships. Shells were filled with steel tubes containing an incendiary mixture. The shell was burst by a mechanical time fuse, the tubes igniting about half a second later, burning for 5 seconds. An alternative Model 4 was phosphorus-filled. Much effort was directed at production of these shells during the run-up to the Guadalcanal campaign. Gunnery officers considered these shells more effective than the usual common shells when fire was directed at approaching targets, because the tubes and fragments formed a cone beyond the point of burst. The post-war US view was that the officers were misled by the impressive appearance of bursts; the projectiles were apparently ineffective. Among other problems, the ballistics of the special shells was different from that of standard HE. Moreover, the shells should have been burst higher than HE shell, because shrapnel drops as it is ejected by the shell. Gunnery officers were given special ballistic charts and cards giving the necessary corrections. In many ships, some turrets were loaded with HE and some with incendiary shrapnel, to be prepared to engage either approaching or retiring targets.

There was also an attempt to improve the performance of anti-aircraft guns by improving and streamlining the shells. By the end of the war, tests had been completed on the destroyer 5in shell, the standard 4.7in shell, and the 3.9in shell, of which the 4.7in had gone into production.

Under post-war interrogation, the Japanese professed themselves satisfied with their anti-aircraft weapons. Few records of shipboard performance had survived, so most naval records were of the air defence of Japan itself. The subject is complicated further by the fact that, during and after the Bougainville Island engagement, the Imperial Japanese Navy was extremely short of ammunition. As a result, it shot down many fewer aircraft. For example, 25mm machine guns were limited to ten rounds per plane against diving targets, fire being held until the aircraft closed to 1000 metres. The Japanese claimed that US aircraft were so predictable that such figures were adequate, but it turned out that they grossly overclaimed aircraft shot down. The one ship figure which emerged in interrogation was that the carrier Zuikaku, armed with three twin 12.7cm guns and sixty to seventy machine guns required 150 RPB with her 12.7cm and 1000 RPB with her 25mm at ranges of 1000 to 2000m in the South Seas Battle (presumably Philippine Sea). These were not far from generally accepted figures, which may represent hoped-for rather than achieved standards. The Japanese also stated that effective range for the 12.7cm anti-aircraft gun was 8000m and below 3000m altitude, and for the 25mm machine gun, 2000m range and 1000m height (1500 RPB). Attempts were made to predict the effectiveness of various weapons, but they were not backed by operational data of the sort used by the US Navy. Other remarks made under interrogation were that no planes were claimed by 10cm and heavier batteries for ranges beyond 8000m, and the best results were obtained at 4000m and below. For medium ranges between 4000 and 7000m, the 10cm high-velocity gun was considered the best medium-calibre weapon. No kill claims were made for ‘jinking’ targets.



Rees’s 19 Division, the first to cross, was also the first to achieve its object:

The recapture of Mandalay.

The 4/4 Gurkhas had taken the summit of Mandalay Hill, but in the subterranean chambers bored in the hillside the Japanese defenders survived and came out to snipe at the attackers who were waiting for them to emerge, thumbs ready to press the buttons of vigilant machine guns. It was the engineers who solved the problem, and in a particularly gruesome way. Under the surface of this hill, with its temples dedicated to an ideal of tranquility and non-violence, they burst open the concrete casings with explosive, poured petrol through the gaps and then fired Very lights into them. Anti-tank projectiles were used to blow down steel doors, through which petrol drums were rolled and exploded with grenades. This ghastly inferno was the key to victory. By 12 March, Mandalay Hill was clear. It would have been cleared earlier, the Indian Army Official History states, but ‘Major-General Rees had decided not to bomb the sacred places, the pagodas, though [a] lot of machine-gun fire was poured on the garrison from the air. Rees had served in Mandalay as a young officer, and no doubt knew its importance as a religious centre. But the casuistically distinction between aerial bombardment and explosives igniting petrol drums is not easy to follow. Or perhaps the purpose was aesthetic rather than moral: when Compton Mackenzie toured Mandalay in 1947 in preparation for his Indian Army History, a Gurkha battalion commander explained to him the difficulties of removing the Japanese without destroying the hill, and, he commented, he could wish that ‘the Americans had always been as scrupulous in Italy. ..I could not help contrasting the lot of Mandalay Hill with that of Cassino.

Fort Dufferin was next. 5.5 inch howitzers breached the walls, Thunderbolts bombed the bridge on the south side of the moat, 8/12 Frontier Force Regiment and 1/6 Gurkhas probed the approaches. But the Japanese reacted strongly. Their guns stopped the tanks accompanying the Gurkhas and the attack came to a halt. For several days the British guns continued to pound the walls, but the 50-foot earth ramparts behind them simply absorbed the shells.

Rees then decided to use a tactic remarkably similar to those of the Japanese ninja, the silent, invisible killers of samurai fiction. ‘Exercise Duffy’, as it was called, was meant to achieve a secret entry into the fort, to establish a foothold which could then be exploited. Rees was insistent that it was to be inexpensive in terms of casualties:

“The operation I intend is one of surprise; a silent start and rapid seizing of the bridgehead, NOT the forcing of an entry at all costs by bludgeon methods. If the surprise operation at reasonably light cost is not possible owing to enemy vigilance and preparations, then it will not be pressed home at all costs.”

The operation was entrusted to 1/15 Punjab and 8/12 Frontier Force of 64 Brigade (Flewett). They were to leave behind their steel helmets and change their boots for rubber-soled shoes. They would be brought to the walls in the darkness by engineers manning assault boats, with scaling ladders at the ready, and six man-pack flame-throwers and a machine-gun company would augment their firepower when the attack went in, which was at 10 pm on 17 March. They reached the north-east and north-west corners of the Fort in the darkness, but as they made for the breaches the guns had opened, the Japanese opened fire, sinking one of the boats. In the early hours of the 18th, a platoon which had a foothold on the railway bridge in the north-west corner (the railway ran right through the west side of the Fort) was met by automatic fire and driven back. The flame- throwers never got near enough to be of use. Realizing that any of his men caught on the walls by the morning light would be mercilessly shot down, Rees called off the attack at 3.30 am.

After the failure of ‘Exercise Duffy’, the battering began again. The RAF bombed the north wall, to little purpose, and 6-inch howitzers made seventeen more breaches in the north and east walls, on the theory that the Japanese could only man a small number of breaches and in the end would not be able to defend them all. B25s used skip-bombing with 2000lb bombs, the kind of thing that had been used against the Mohne Dam. The result was a 15-foot hole in the wall, and nothing more.3 Rees described for ” the BBC, again, a typical day’s assault on the Fort in the earlier phase -10 March-:

“Let’s get under cover. The Frontier Force are attacking Mandalay Fort now. You can probably hear the noise of the shelling, mortaring, shooting. I’m fairly close to the walls myself, standing, looking half round a concrete wall. Our chaps are advancing steadily, bunching a little more than I’d like to see them. They’re going very well. The tanks are advancing, firing very hard at the walls. You can see where our medium guns, firing direct, have made breaches in the walls of the fort. You can see the bullets flicking the ground just ahead of me. I think actually they’re our own tank bullets. The tank Besa’s co-axial firing just ahead of the infantry, smothering the operation. I can see one of our infantry running across now, just near the fort wall.

I’ll get my glasses on. I can see the breach, but there’s a big moat, this side. I can now see some of our leading infantry. They’ve just doubled to behind a concrete shelter which the sappers have built before the war, because we’re standing now in the sapper lines just north of Mandalay Fort, actually called Fort Dufferin, with a palace in- side.

Tremendous lot of noise going on. A whole lot of smoke now, near the wall itself, which is a very good thing for our infantry. I’m not quite sure which of the firing is the enemy firing. I can see some of our infantry running round the tanks. Not always a wise thing to stand near a tank. Now I can see more of our infantry going across now, they’re running across near the tanks, they’re in slouch hats, Australian hats, Gurkha hats, very clear to see.

Rees’s instructions from the Corps Commander to avoid unnecessary damage to Mandalay were proving increasingly difficult to observe. Slim was confident the Fort could be bypassed, and considered its capture to be a matter of news value rather than military advantage. Rees did not want a repetition of the stalemate at Myitkyina, and sought desperately for ways of substituting cunning for the bludgeon of artillery and air strikes. ‘Duffy’ had failed, but he remembered that, as the Governor of Burma’s Military

Secretary in pre-war days, he had explored the Fort and discovered a culvert which went beneath the moat. He decided to find it again, and an assault unit was got ready to follow a Burmese who knew the plan of the Mandalay sewers. Sappers found that it was possible to approach the Fort from underneath, as they waded through the sewers, up to their thighs in mud.

It would have been a nauseatingly filthy attack. Happily, it was not necessary. In the early afternoon of 20 March, after yet another air-strike had taken place, four Anglo-Burmans – civilian prisoners held by the Japanese – carrying a white flag and a Union Jack came out of the north gate. Already harassed by the incursion of 17 Division into Central Burma, and not wishing to see the morale of his troops deteriorate, the GOC 15 . Army, Katamura, relaxed his order to the defenders. 51 and 60 Infantry Regiments were ordered to put in a final attack on 19 Indian Division and then withdraw. The order was given on 18 March. 60 Regiment occupied the Government Farms Buildings area (called in the Japanese texts ‘the Agricultural College’) on the south edge of the city. During the night of 19 March, the main body of 15 Division withdrew from Mandalay. They were as well informed as Rees: they came out through a drain under the moat.

Slim was at Monywa when the news came through. Air Vice-Marshal Vincent at once detailed a Sentinel light plane from the L5 detachment of 194 Squadron, RAF, to fly him into Mandalay to take the salute at the victory parade, escorted by two Spitfires.

2 British Division got in on the act; but only just. Brigadier Michael West, of 5 Brigade, had been told to link up with his opposite number from 19 Division in Mandalay, and he drove up on 21 March, taking Colonel White, the Commanding Officer of the Dorsets, with him, a troop of Grant tanks, and some armoured carriers. There was no one at the crossroads rendezvous, except a puzzled military policeman, who sent them on to the Fort. They drove through the shambles of the city -White was oppressed by its air of desolation -past the ruins of King Thibaw’s Palace, and on to the parade ground where they found 19 Division drawn up on the site of Government House, in the presence of Slim, Messervy, and three divisional commanders. ‘It was perhaps most fitting’, White wrote later, ‘that the Dorsets gate-crashed this party to represent the 2nd Division, as we and the troop of the 3rd Dragoon Guards with us were the only troops of the Division to fight in Mandalay itself.’ All the more appropriate since the Dorsets wore the battle honour’ Ava’ for the Burma War of 1824-6, during which they had not entered Mandalay. By another odd coincidence, the fourth Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, who was with a Field Broadcasting Unit, was killed in an ambush between Ava and Fort Dufferin on 23 March.3 The flag was hoisted over Fort Dufferin, as soon as 72 Brigade went in, by Rees himself – according to Slim – or by a gunner of 134 Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery -according to the Official History. The ceremony was repeated by Slim at the formal parade to make sure everyone realized that more than one division had collaborated in the capture: ‘The capture of Mandalay had been as much the result of operations at Meiktila and elsewhere as of those around the city itself. Every one of my divisions had played its part; it was an Army victory. I thought it would be good for everyone to have that fact demonstrated.’

From: Allen, Louis. Burma: The Longest War 1941-1945. London: Phoenix Press, 1984. ISBN: 1 84212 260 6. Pb. 686p. Illus. Maps. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. Pages 420-24.



After about 6 weeks of fighting on the bridgehead the pressure began to ease, as our Division in the South began “breaking out” of its bridgehead and the enemy began to retreat towards Mandalay. First, the shelling eased off somewhat. Then night attacks became less ferocious and we began aggressively patrolling. They had constructed strong bunker positions around our perimeter and the Indian Airforce attacked these with varying success.

From dead Japanese we gathered notebooks and written messages and these were sent to Divisional H.Q where they were interpreted by C.I.S.D.I.C. personnel. These were Japanese Americans who were loaned to us. One such message from a Japanese Sergeant killed on our wire said “tonight we attack the hated British for the last time – tonight we die, this is glorious!”

Then we started to move South. This time, of course, on the East side of the Irrawaddy. The advance was pretty horrible in Teak forest where the undergrowth had been burnt and we trudged through deep ash. We moved in two echelons, each with its artillery so that one could support the other.

Madaya was the next big town before Mandalay. The Japs had fought here too. There were mines and booby-traps everywhere for the unwary. We were constantly involved with Japanese stragglers and worse, enemy suicide patrols. Bill Minto, our quartermaster, was involved in quite a battle when ambushed bringing forward our rations with Peter Sibree. He was awarded a Military Cross for his action. Bill Minto never failed us, feeding the battalion under the most trying circumstances.

Thoughts were always for a rest but not for us. Transport became available and we were carried towards Mandalay. Mandalay Hill eventually hove into sight; a very beautiful one but to any attacking infantry soldier, a daunting one.

The hill, covered with temples and shrines dominated, everything. It was obvious when we de-bussed and marched towards the battle area that the Division was not having it all its own way.

Several of our tanks had been knocked out and were burning before the hill. As we arrived the Baluch Regiment were retreating, having been given a bloody-nose. The Recce. Regt. named “Stiletto Force” was stuck around the lower part of the Hill and were pinned down.

We, the 4/4, spread out in what is called “extended order” over a large area and watched feeling vaguely sorry for the troops at the “sharp end”. It was always thus. We were actually lying in an area of cultivated land on which delicious tomatoes were growing. They were the Italian type of tomato and I had never seen them before. We gorged ourselves, as we watched the battle ahead.

The Jap occasionally sent over the odd shell but in the main he concentrated on those troops actually attacking.

A hare, an animal, which I don’t think I ever saw before in Burma, was suddenly put up and began to dash through our position towards the enemy. Gurkhas are like children when something like this happens, particularly when “Shikar” (game) is concerned. There were shouts of excitement and laughter as attempts to catch the poor thing were made. Eventually, it was caught and tossed into the air amid great shouts of “shabash”! All this time the battle raged.

Orders were then given for the Royal Berkshires, with us in support, to make a frontal attack supported by tanks. The General intervened and Col. MacKay our C.O. asked for us to lead and tackle the Hill with a night attack. Hamish, having served in Burma, knew the area well and his plea was accepted.

Our plan was to march at night by compass bearing to the army rifle-butts that lay to the East of the Hill. From here, we would make our assault at night. As the Intelligence Officer in charge of navigation, it was my responsibility to get us there. The intelligence section were well trained at this, but it was always dodgy because they had to be near the leading scouts to guide them.

The battalion started off with our mules but we ran into trouble because we were unable to cross a number of chaungs (canals) quietly enough. At one point we could hear the enemy shouting on the Hill and they were too close for comfort.

It was decided to send the mules back and go onto a ‘man-pack’ basis. This is not pleasant as it means that very heavy weights; ammunition, mortars, bombs etc. had to be carried by men, who would shortly be required to climb a very steep hill, to attack the Japanese who were waiting for them. B Company were sent back with the mules.

Fortunately for me, A Company arrived exactly on target, formed a strong base and sent out patrols.

It was D Company’s turn to lead and C prepared to follow in support. The attack started at 3.00 am and D started off. Fighting started almost immediately and A Company’s base was attacked at the same time. The Japs were driven off with heavy losses.

As dawn broke there was a shout of “Ayo Gurkhali” as they stormed the summit and David Hine, the gunner O.P. with them, directed excellent and accurate fire on the Defenders. It was a tremendous battle; Khukris bayonets and hand-grenades before the hill was ours.

As usual they immediately counter-attacked and sustained losses.

Some Japs took up positions in the many temples and barrels of petrol were rolled down slopes and fired with phosphorus grenades. The Royal Berkshires took over the mopping-up of those who survived our assault.

We carried on fighting around the hill and actually suffered greater casualties than we did in taking the hill.

The moated Fort Dufferin lay at the foot of the hill and contained a beautiful palace. I am glad that I saw this building before it was destroyed. Whether the Japs, the RAF or our gunners did the damage is not known but it was soon reduced to rubble.

The capture of the Hill was a battle honour for the Fourth Gurkha Rifles and together with the fact that we were the first to cross the Irrawaddy caused the General to describe us as a “magnificent battalion” in the despatches. There is a memorial on the Hill to the 4/4 G.R casualties (see photograph).

Lt. Col John Masters, a famous author after the war, a 4th Gurkha in it; was the G.I. of 19 Indian Division. The G.I. is the principal staff officer and is the General’s chief planner and advisor.

In his book “The Road Past Mandalay” he tells the story of the battle for the hill as follows:-

“The lion-like bulk of Mandalay Hill climbed over the southern horizon. Rising nearly a thousand feet above the plain, the spine of it is covered from end to end by temples, linked by a covered stairway. Under the temples lie cellars and dwellings and storage rooms. The Japanese held the whole complex, in strength, and from it their artillery observers directed a heavy gunfire on to our leading troops.

Pete and I spent an unpleasant hour under its western slope on two successive days. Every movement, particularly of vehicles, drew prompt and accurate fire from 105s and 155s. On our first visit a shell made a direct hit on a jeep twenty feet from us. After picking ourselves up we ran forward to help the man lying there beside the burning wreckage, but he was dead, incredibly shrunk so that I thought it must be a child; but it was a mangled mess of adult humanity, an Indian sepoy, red flesh thrown anyhow into torn green trousers. A dozen more shells were on their way and we left him.

We could make no further advance until we took Mandalay Hill. The general allotted the task to 98 Brigade, and they to the Royal Berkshires. But the 4th Battalion of the 4th Gurkhas was in that brigade, and its commanding officer came forward to protest. Hamish Mackay, very quiet and shy-seeming, in reality full of fire and fey humour, pointed out that he knew the area well having been seconded to the Burma Rifles from 1937 to 1942. Hamish thought he could take the hill with his battalion, that night, using little known paths of approach. The orders were changed, and Hamish was given his head.

On the night of March 10-11 (again, our Regimental Day), the battalion went up to the assault, led by Subadar Damarsing and Jemadar Aiman. All night they fought up the steep, up the long stairway and along the flanks of the ridge. At dawn they took the summit. An hour later Pete and I stood on the highest point of Mandalay Hill, looking down into the city and into the palace of the ancient kings of Burma. Once they had been spacious beautiful, with avenues of shady trees; now three and a half years of war had battered them, and columns of dust rose in the streets where our shells fell, and half the houses had no roofs, and to the south acres of corrugated iron, which had once been a warehouse or factory, glittered dully in the early sun. The Irrawaddy ran wide and yellow on our right and immediately below us the old splendour still lived in the brilliant white of the pagodas climbing down the ridge towards the moat and the wall of the fortress.

We stood, so to speak on top of Mandalay. We also stood, at much closer range, on top of a good many Japanese. The temples, cellars, and mysterious chambers covering Mandalay Hill were made of reinforced concrete. The 4th Gurkhas had taken the summit, and no Japanese was alive and visible; but scores of them were alive, invisible, in the subterranean chambers.

A gruesome campaign of extermination began, among the temples of one of the most sacred places of the Buddhist faith. Sikh machine-gunners sat all day on the flat roofs. Their guns aimed down the hill on either side of the covered stairway. Every now and then a Japanese put out his head and fired a quick upward shot. A Sikh got a bullet through the brain five yards from me. Our engineers brought up beehive charges, blew holes through the concrete, poured in petrol, and fired a Verey light down the holes. Sullen explosions rocked the buildings and Japanese rolled out into the open, on fire, but firing. Our machine-gunners pressed their thumb-pieces. The Japanese fell, burning. We blew in huge steel doors with PIATs (bazookas), rolled in kegs of petrol or oil, and set them on fire with tracer bullets. Our infantry fought into the tunnels behind a hail of grenades, and licking sheets of fire from the flame-throwers. Grimly, under the stench of burning bodies and the growing pall of decay, past the equally repellent Buddhist statuary (showing famine, pestilence, men eaten alive by vultures) the battalions fought their way down the ridge to the southern foot – to face the moat and thirty-foot-thick walls of Fort Dufferin.

Pete brought up the medium artillery, and the 5.5s hurled their 60-pound shells at the wall, over open sights from four hundred yards. The shells made no impression. He called in the air force. P-47s tried skip bombing, B-24s dropped some 1,000 pound bombs, some inside the fort and some outside – among our troops.

We found a municipal employee who knew where the sewers led out of the fort, and prepared an assault party. All the while the infantry fought in the brick and stone rubble of the burning city, among corpses of children and dead dogs and the universal sheets of corrugated-iron. The night the sewer assault was to go in the Japanese withdrew from Mandalay. Next morning coal-black Madrassi sappers blew in the main gate, and Pete walked in, surrounded by a cheering, yelling mob of a dozen races. Just as Pete – but not his superiors – had planned, the ‘Dagger’ Division had taken Mandalay. At the same time Jumbo Morris took Maymyo. Jumbo Morris was commander of 62 Brigade.”

Subadar Damarsing, Jemadar Aiman and Capt. David Hine were all awarded military crosses. Col. Hamish Mackay was given another bar to his D.S.O.

As Mandalay fell to 19 Indian Division, 2 British Division and 5 Indian Division crossed the Irrawaddy to the South of the town and so began the destruction of the Japanese in Burma.


An Overview of Japanese Submarine Operations off Australia during 1943 Part I

IJN Submarine I-21

Starr King sinking after being attacked by I-21 near Port Macquarie on 10 February 1943.

The Japanese never again mounted the kind of coordinated submarine attacks on Australia witnessed during mid-1942, when the Eastern Advance Detachment launched the midget attacks on Sydney Harbour and also bombarded the Sydney suburbs and the city of Newcastle. However, the Japanese did not entirely disappear from the waters around the continent, and several submarines were dispatched to harass coastal shipping and convoys throughout 1943. The submarines operated individually, and although they sank or damaged several Allied ships, their collective impact on the Australian war machine was slight, really constituted no more than a series of nuisance attacks designed to demonstrate a continued Japanese ability to strike at the Australian home front. Australian anti-submarine defences continued to develop, based on the fast corvettes, and Japanese submarine skippers became increasingly wary of the types of bold attacks they had made earlier in the war. The change in Australian naval tactics with the introduction of convoys in 1941 also had an effect on the effectiveness of Japanese submarines. Only six ships were sunk and two damaged by Japanese submarine attacks on convoys, while roving Japanese boats between 1941 and 1944 successfully destroyed eighteen ships that were travelling unescorted, proving the value of the convoy system.

The experienced I-21, famous for bombarding Newcastle in 1942, was to achieve a string of successes along the Australian coast during January and February 1943. Commander Matsumura took his boat out from the Japanese base at Rabaul on her fourth war patrol on 7 January, bound for the busy waters off Australia’s east coast. By the 15th the I-21 had arrived off Sydney and continued her patrol into the Tasman Sea off New South Wales where she achieved her first kill of the patrol on the 18th. Many vessels were still to be found sailing unescorted along the Australian coast, particularly smaller vessels plying the coastal trade routes, and these had always been a submariner’s targets of choice. Submarine skippers viewed these unprotected ships as easy prey, as they would not have to avoid a sudden corvette or destroyer counter-attack, and, as long as the submarine attacked swiftly and devastatingly, it was unlikely that help would arrive before the stricken merchantman was finished off.

The small 2,051-ton Australian freighter Kalingo had departed from Sydney and was setting out across the Pacific for Plymouth in New Zealand when Matsumura came upon her on 18 January. Attacking while submerged, two torpedoes were fired at the Kalingo, which was critically damaged. Matsumura then surfaced and in a humanitarian gesture not usually demonstrated by officers of the Imperial Navy, he gave the crew of the freighter sufficient time to take to the ship’s lifeboats before moving in to finish the vessel off. Once the merchantman’s crew were safely out of harm’s way, the I-21 launched a third torpedo which hastened the end of the Kalingo, and Matsumura departed from the scene triumphant.

Matsumura’s days work was not done, however, and later that evening a far more substantial target presented itself. This was the huge American tanker Mobilube, which had a small escort ship assigned to protect her. At 9.50 p.m. two torpedoes were unleashed towards the 10,222-ton ship, but the huge detonation of at least one strike failed to sink the tanker. Ignoring the escort vessel for the time being, Matsumura ordered his boat to the surface, and the deck-gunners began banging away at the huge tanker, until her escort returned their fire which forced the I-21 back beneath the waves in a crash-dive. As Matsumura guided his boat out of danger, the escort dumped a pattern of six depth charges over the spot where the Japanese submarine had disappeared, but although the Japanese sailors were jolted about by the sonic detonations, their vessel escaped any damage and Matsumura made off confident that the Mobilube had been fatally wounded. Indeed, his assumption of another victory was correct, for although the great tanker was towed into port she was declared a total loss and later cut up for scrap.

The hunting off New South Wales, along the shipping lanes fanning out from Sydney, was to continue to provide Matsumura and the I-21 with plenty of interdiction opportunities. The I-21 crippled an American Liberty ship, the Peter H. Burnett, on 22 January, firing two torpedoes while at periscope depth. One struck home, severely damaging the vessel. As the I-21 departed from the scene the American escort USS Zane and an Australian, HMAS Mildura, towed the vessel into Sydney where the ship’s cargo of wool and mail were salvaged. The Peter H. Burnett was declared a total loss and met the same fate as the Mobilube in a breaker’s yard reduced to scrap.

As well as attacking Allied ships along the coast of New South Wales, the I-21 was also detailed to conduct a reconnaissance of the coastline. Once again, the usefulness of the Yokosuka E14Y1 floatplane proved its worth, and Warrant Officer (Flying) Susumu Ito carried out a successful flight over Sydney Harbour on the night of 25 January. Ito reported the presence of at least one heavy cruiser and ten smaller warships inside the harbour. On 30 January Matsumura launched a single torpedo at a small British merchantman, the 1,036-ton Giang Ann, and would almost certainly have sunk her but for a torpedo malfunction. The torpedo began its run smoothly, but then detonated prematurely, allowing the British ship time to escape any further attention from the Japanese submarine. Matsumura was nothing if not bold, and on 8 February he located a convoy of ten ships off Montague Island. Convoy OC68 was making its way from Whyalla to Newcastle, and Matsumura scored an immediate hit on the lead ship, the 4,812-ton Iron Knight, a British ship carrying a cargo of iron ore. The torpedo strike under the bridge on the starboard side was so devastating that the Iron Knight went down like a stone in under two minutes, giving the crew virtually no time to abandon her. The Free French destroyer Le Triomphant, one of the convoy escorts, pulled fourteen survivors from off a floating life raft. Two days later off Port Macquarie Matsumura launched a spread of four torpedoes at the 7,176-ton American Liberty ship Starr King. This was an important prize to sink for the Starr King was loaded down with 7,000 tons of supplies destined for the US Army fighting the Japanese in New Caledonia. She was struck by two of the Japanese torpedoes, but did not sink immediately. The Australian escort vessel HMAS Warramunga rushed alongside the stricken freighter and took off the surviving members of her crew, and then attempted to take the Starr King in tow to hopefully prevent her loss. However, the freighter started to founder, and the commanding officer of the Warramunga ordered the tow lines severed, and the crew watched helplessly as the Starr King and all of her valuable supplies were swallowed up by the ocean.

Ito took to the skies once again over the Australian coast on 19 February, the sortie proving a success despite his aircraft being detected by Australian radar. Whether the photographs his observer took were of any military value is questionable, but the fact that Ito’s aircraft was not challenged in so sensitive an area for the second occasion during the submarine’s patrol, and in an area that had already witnessed extensive Japanese submarine and aerial activity, indicated that the Australians still had some way to go to secure this particular stretch of coastline from enemy infiltration. Thereafter, Matsumura headed for Japan as his boat was in need of an overhaul after extensive operations so far from base, and the I-21 concluded her war patrol at the giant Yokosuka Naval Base south of Tokyo on 3 March.

As Matsumura headed in to Japan to celebrate his most successful war patrol to Australia, another large I-boat was headed in the opposite direction. This was the I-26, under Commander Yokota. His mission was the same as that of his colleague Matsumura, with the exception of not launching any photographic reconnaissance sorties. The I-26 was not nearly as successful as Matsumura’s recent run along the New South Wales coast. On 11 April the I-26 was nineteen miles off Cape Howe, Victoria, when her lookouts spotted Convoy QC86, which was making its way from Whyalla to Newcastle. Yokota struck and sank with torpedoes a Yugoslavian ship, the 4,732-ton Recina. She was carrying a cargo of iron ore, and was under Australian government charter. There followed for the I-26 a period of inaction, as no targets presented themselves until 24 April. Then, when thirty-five miles east of Bowen the I-26 found a lone ship and attacked her. The Australian Kowarra (2,125-tons) was heading from Bowen to Brisbane loaded down with sugar, and she sank quickly after a single Japanese torpedo strike. This was Yokota’s second and final kill of the patrol, and he headed back to base at Truk undoubtedly frustrated that more targets and opportunities had eluded his search.

The Type KD7 submarine I-177 under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Hajime Nakagawa left Truk on its first war patrol on 10 April 1943 in company with sister submarines I-178 and I-180. All were bound for the east coast of Australia, favoured hunting ground of the Imperial Navy’s submarines. On 26 April the I-177 was twenty miles south-east of Cape Byron, close to the city of Brisbane, when she encountered an escorted convoy. Moving quickly into an attack position, Nakagawa managed to sink the 8,724-ton British freighter Limerick, and also to avoid two depth charges dropped by the convoy escorts. On the same day Lieutenant-Commander Toshio Kusaka aboard the I-180 also launched an attack on an unidentified merchantman, but the freighter escaped and Kusaka end up wasting three of his torpedoes. The following day the I-178, under Commander Hidejiro Utsuki, was 100 miles off Port Stephens. Utsuki attacked and sank an American Liberty ship, the 7,176-ton Lydia M. Childs, which was loaded with tanks. However, on this occasion the RAAF attempted to take some measure of revenge against the Japanese submarine, a Catalina flying boat launching three bombing runs over the I-178 an hour after she had sunk the Liberty. The I-178 escaped without suffering any damage and made it unscathed back to Truk on 18 May.

During May 1943 the Australian army was heavily engaged against the Japanese on the island of Papua New Guinea. Fierce battles had raged at Buna, Gona and Sanananda, necessitating the evacuation of wounded soldiers to Australia for more extensive medical treatment. The Centaur, a large motor passenger ship, had undergone conversion into a hospital ship earlier in 1943, which had involved a radical alteration of not just her internal compartments, but also in her outward appearance. When the vessel left Sydney harbour on 12 May bound for Port Moresby in New Guinea, she was painted a brilliant white, with thick green stripes running the length of her hull broken by huge red crosses. On her bows was painted the number ‘47’, providing information that any enemy submarine skipper could investigate to determine the ship’s identity and purpose. The number was the Centaur’s registration lodged with the International Red Cross in Switzerland, the IRC having informed the Japanese government of the ship’s new role as a non-combatant vessel protected by International Law from any kind of attack. Although Japan had not signed the 1929 Geneva Conventions, she had nonetheless agreed prior to the outbreak of war to abide by the provisions concerning non-combatant status, and the rules regarding hospital ships that had been established as long ago as 1907.

The Centaur’s first task was to sail from Sydney to Cairns through Australian coastal waters regularly patrolled by Japanese submarines, and thence on to Port Moresby to collect wounded. Aboard her for the journey to New Guinea were sixty-four medical staff, including twelve Australian Army Medical Service nurses, who would stay on the ship to treat the wounded, and the 149 men, plus an additional forty-four attached personnel, of the 2/12th Field Ambulance who would be landed at Port Moresby to provide casualty clearing stations and aid posts for the front-line fighting troops. The Centaur had a crew of seventy-five men of the Merchant Navy, giving a total aboard of 332 souls all headed north into the war zone.

The captain of the Centaur was sailing directly into seas where Japanese submarines had been recently operating and sinking Allied ships, trusting in his ship’s clearly marked non-combatant status for protection. He was aware that the Japanese had been informed of his ship’s status as a hospital vessel on 5 February, and he knew that their superiors would have apprised any roving submarine skippers of this fact. With hindsight, it is possible to see that the disaster that followed occurred as a result of a Japanese unwillingness to follow any rules concerning conduct in war, other than their own military code. The track record of the Japanese army and navy in conducting war since 1937 in China and throughout the Pacific and south-east Asia after 1941 was a litany of atrocities and flagrant breaches of internationally agreed codes of military and naval conduct, even those rules to which Japan was bound or had agreed to honour. Put simply, the Japanese left much of the observance of these rules to individual commanders, who reacted depending upon the situation they faced, or the degree to which any such rules meant anything to them. The Japanese officer corps was renowned for being obsessively loyal to the Emperor to the ignorance of everything else, and slavishly obedient to the Bushido code of feudal Japan that took no account of prisoners or non-combatants within its ethos. Many officers were simply brutal and very often what we might subsequently define as sadistic in dealing with the enemies of Japan, and the Centaur was about to run foul of one the navy’s most brutal submarine skippers. Lieutenant-Commander Hajime Nakagawa was on his first war patrol to Australian waters as commanding officer of the submarine I-177, a KD7 type completed in December 1942. Nakagawa, along with submarines I-178 and I-180, formed Submarine Division 22, 3rd Submarine Squadron based at Truk. Nakagawa’s career had been marred by an incident before the war that meant that his promotion chances were very few and far between. On 2 February 1939, when Nakagawa was commanding the I-60, he had been conducting training exercises in the Bungo Straits in Japan, simulating attacks, when he had accidentally rammed the submarine I-63 in the early morning gloom. The pressure hull breached, the I-63 had immediately sunk, taking eighty-two of her crew with her, and Nakagawa had been placed before a court martial. He was found guilty of negligence and suspended from the navy. In 1940 he was reassigned to the command of the I-58, and then the I-177, which he took to Australian waters.

On the 26 April 1943 Nakagawa had intercepted and sunk the 8,724-ton British merchant ship Limerick, a member of an escorted convoy, off Cape Byron near Brisbane and escaped the resulting attack by the convoy escorts on his boat. The Limerick was one of five merchant ships sunk between 18 January and 29 April off the New South Wales and Queensland coasts by Japanese submarines resulting in a great loss of life among the merchant crews. Nakagawa was a man driven by a need to restore his reputation after having lost face during his court martial in 1939. Perhaps the way in which to restore his professional reputation was through achieving as many kills as possible against his country’s enemies.

As the brightly lit Centaur crossed his path in the early hours of 14 May 1943 he did not hesitate in ordering a torpedo attack launched against her. The Centaur was strung with electric light bulbs that illuminated her red crosses and IRC number on the bows for all to see, but Nakagawa turned his head from the periscope eye-piece and began to issue orders for the attack plot to be drawn, and one or more torpedo tubes made ready to fire. He knew absolutely that his next actions were illegal under the rules of war, the Geneva Conventions and International Law, yet he ruthlessly ignored these facts and prepared to launch an attack. There are several ways to rationalize Nakagawa’s sinking of the Centaur, and one is the fact that a hospital ship was tasked with collecting wounded soldiers and taking them home for treatment so that some might be returned fighting fit to once again oppose the Japanese advance. If Nakagawa sank a hospital ship he might reason that he was serving the Emperor by removing one of the links by which Australia supported her forces defending New Guinea. Perhaps what followed was revenge for Allied attacks on Japanese hospital ships? In the Allies defence, even they pointed out that the Japanese were of a habit of not properly or clearly marking their hospital ships, which led to some cases of mistaken identity. The war in the Pacific was subsequently famous for the brutality displayed by both Japanese and Allied forces towards each other, and Nakagawa may also have been aware of recent American attacks on Japanese troop transports. In January the Americans had sunk a troop transport, and thousands of the 9,500 Japanese soldiers aboard the vessel were machine gunned in the water after abandoning the sinking ship. Christopher Milligan and John Foley in Australian Hospital Ship Centaur: The Myth of Immunity point out that in early March 1943 American aircraft had sunk an entire Japanese convoy of twenty-two ships. The majority of these vessels were troop transports, which was of course a legitimate target. However, for seven days following the initial sinking of this convoy American ships and aircraft systematically set about eliminating the survivors, machine gunning and bombing more than 3,000 of them. This action was against the established rules of war and the Geneva Conventions, which the United States had most certainly signed. The ferocity of both combatants in the war in Asia and the Pacific was legendary, and the rule of law was very often put aside in a multitude of cases.