Pearl Harbor underwater
Attack of Imperial Japan on the main naval base of the Pacific Naval fleet USA December 7, 1941 still excites the minds of historians, researchers and politicians. However, in the shadow of a powerful air raid by the Japanese aircraft carrier aviation remained actions completely new for Americans weapons imperial fleet - dwarf submarines. The canonical version of their participation in the attack on Pearl Harbor says that all the boats were sunk without causing any damage to the American fleet. However, research over the past 20 years casts doubt on this version.
The birth of Japanese mini-submarines
The Washington Naval Agreement of 1922 defined a completely new balance of power for the leading naval powers after World War I and became a significant obstacle to the growing naval arms race. Imperial Japan turned out to be especially dissatisfied, since, according to the treaty, its navy was significantly inferior to the fleets of England and the United States in terms of the number of aircraft carriers, battleships and cruisers.
The Japanese were looking for a way out of this situation and found two loopholes. The first of these was the lack of agreements with the United States and Great Britain on the number of submarines. The second is permission from Washington and London to build forward bases for the Japanese Navy on the Pacific islands. Adding one plus one, the Japanese decided to turn these remote islands into advanced submarine bases that could not only attack the enemy fleet themselves, but also act as carriers of midget submarines. Covertly approaching the naval bases of the Americans or the British, the carrier boats were supposed to launch ultra-small submarines that could unexpectedly attack the enemy fleet right at the anchorages!
In 1934, in the strictest secrecy, two experimental ultra-small A-hoteki submarines (target boats, type A) were built. Based on the test results, the necessary improvements were made to the project, after which the serial construction of ultra-small Type A submarines under the designation "Kohoteki" was launched, which were armed with two 450-mm Type 97 torpedoes. These dwarf submarines could be used as carrier ships. hydro-air transport and ocean-going submarines.
On April 15, 1941, 24 junior naval officers received a secret order to join a special formation. Submarine crews were trained near the Kure naval base. During the development of submarines, accidents and breakdowns sometimes occurred. Crews died, and instead of targets, boats were hit that ensured their delivery ...
In addition, it turned out that midget boats had too short a cruising range, which was determined by the capacity of the batteries, and their recharging was possible only on the carrier ship. For this reason, it turned out to be completely impossible to use boats from unequipped parking lots on remote islands. But for attacking a protected enemy naval base, they were quite suitable.
So, the bow and arrows were ready, it remains only to lower the bowstring ...
Arrow shot at target...
Young submarine officers aggressively pushed for the inclusion of ultra-small Type A submarines in the operation against Pearl Harbor. In October 1941, the fleet command gave its consent and created a connection of ultra-small submarines "Tokubetsu Kogekitai", abbreviated as "Tokko". This phrase can be translated as "Special Attack Unit" or "Special Naval Strike Unit". At the same time, none of the dwarf submarines had a personal number and was identified only by the carrier boat.
Crews were formed on dwarf submarines (in accordance with Japanese rules, the surname is indicated first and only then the name of the submariner, the carrier boat is indicated in brackets). A characteristic detail: due to the small chance of returning from the mission alive, it was forbidden to involve submariners in the operation who were married, were the only or eldest sons in the family.
Lieutenant Iwasa Naoji and non-commissioned officer Sasaki Naoharu (I-22).
Second Lieutenant Hiroo Akira and NCO Katayama Yoshio (I-20).
Second lieutenant Sakamaki Katsuo and non-commissioned officer Inagaki Kyoji (I-24).
Midshipman Yokoyama Masaharu and non-commissioned officer Ueda Teji (I-16).
Midshipman Haruno Shigemi and Sergeant Yokoyama Harunari (I-18).
After that, work began to boil on the equipment of large submarines in carriers of ultra-small submarines. The I-22 submarine was the first to arrive at the Kure naval base to make the necessary improvements to the design. Three more arrived a few days later. The fourth submarine, I-24, had just been built in Sasebo and immediately began its sea trials.
Early on November 18, large submarines left Kure, stopping briefly at Ourazaki to pick up small boats. In the evening they headed for Pearl Harbor. The boats sailed at a distance of 20 miles from each other, with the flagship I-22 in the center. In the daytime, the boats went under water, fearing detection, and surfaced only at night.
According to the plan, they were supposed to arrive at the assembly point, located 100 miles south of Pearl Harbor, at night, after sunset, two days before the start of the attack. After checking the boats under the cover of darkness, the carrier submarines were to approach Pearl Harbor and take up a position in their square 5-10 miles from the entrance to the harbor.
Early on the morning of December 7, the mini-submarines were supposed to leave their carriers, quietly enter the harbor of Pearl Harbor and lie on the bottom, then join the air attack and inflict maximum destruction on the Americans with their ten torpedoes.
Three hours before dawn (at 03:00 on December 7, 1941), the leftmost boat in the I-16 group is the first to launch its ultra-small boat. Then, sequentially, with an interval of 30 minutes, ultra-small boats start from carriers I-24, I-22 and I-18. The midget submarine from the last boat, I-20, was supposed to pass through the harbor alignment half an hour before dawn.
The operation has begun...
First shots, first casualties...
The entrance to Pearl Harbor Bay was blocked by two rows of anti-torpedo nets, and American minesweepers conducted control trawling of the waters surrounding the base every morning. It seemed that it was not difficult to slip into the bay after them. However, the plans of the Japanese were violated from the very beginning.
At 03:42 (other sources indicate the time 03:58), the minesweeper "Condor" discovered the submarine's periscope in front of the entrance to the bay. The old destroyer Ward (built in 1918) immediately joined in her search, the commander of which William Woodward Outerbridge (1906-1986) immediately radioed to headquarters about contact in his patrol zone. However, after an hour of searching, he found nothing.
At about 05:00, the Americans opened a passage in the nets to let minesweepers, as well as the Antares military transport, a tugboat and a barge, approach. Two midget submarines took advantage of this and managed to stealthily enter the harbor. These were the submarines of Lieutenant Iwasa Naoji from I-22 and midshipman Yokoyama Masaharu from I-16.
The third dwarf boat of junior lieutenant Hiroo Akira and non-commissioned officer Katayama Yoshio from the I-20 carrier boat was not lucky. She was seen at 06:30 about 3-4 miles from the harbor by the Antares watch transport and the Catalina flying boat of the 14th Patrol Squadron circling over the sea. It is quite possible that the depth gauge on the boat failed, as it moved into the harbor at a speed of 8 knots on the surface - the cabin of the boat and part of the cigar-shaped hull rose above the surface of the water.
This time, the Ward did not disappoint and, after visually detecting the boat at 06:37, opened gunfire with direct fire from a short distance. Already the second shell hit the base of the cabin on the right side. The boat shuddered, but continued to move with a ragged hole in the wheelhouse. Having collected outboard water through a hole, she forever disappeared into the depths of the ocean. The destroyer dropped four depth charges at the dive point.
For a long time it was believed that their explosions almost tore the dwarf submarine in half. But in fact, they did not cause any significant damage to her hull. The Catalina also made its own contribution to the destruction of the uninvited guest, dropping several bombs at the site of the death of the boat. Second Lieutenant Hiroo Akira's dwarf submarine became the first casualty of the yet-to-be-declared Pacific War, and the destroyer Ward fired the first shots of that war and was the first to achieve victory.
At 06:53, the commander of the destroyer Outerbridge sent a message ashore:
The message was transmitted to the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband Kimmel by 07:30. But he ignored him, since recently there have been many similar messages, none of which was confirmed during the check. After 25 minutes, dozens of Japanese aircraft appeared in the sky, and an air attack on Pearl Harbor began ...
The first dwarf submarine, Lieutenant Hiroo Akira and Non-commissioned Officer Katayama Yoshio, from the I-20 carrier boat, was discovered on August 28, 2002 using a deep-sea submersible of the University of Hawaii. The boat lay at a depth of 400 meters about five miles from Pearl Harbor. The submarine's hull was not destroyed by depth charges, as previously thought. At the base of the cabin, there was a hole from a shell from the destroyer Ward, which apparently killed the crew of the boat instantly.
The second dwarf submarine that died during a breakthrough into the harbor of Pearl Harbor was a submarine from the I-18 carrier boat, the crew of which was midshipman Haruno Shigemi and non-commissioned officer Yokoyama Harunari. Nothing was known about the actions of this boat, except that it was missing and its crew died.
Only after almost 20 years, namely on June 13, 1960, the boat was discovered by divers of the US Navy and US Marine Corps, who were trained in the Kehi lagoon, east of the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The boat was lifted and inspected.
Her hull was damaged by a depth charge attack. The hatch was opened from the inside, the remains of the crew were not found, and both torpedoes were in the vehicles. It became clear that midshipman Haruno's boat never managed to enter the harbor of Pearl Harbor, and the circumstances of the death of her crew remained unclear.
The submarine was restored and put on display at the former Japanese Imperial Naval Academy at Etajima on March 15, 1962.
While carrier boats were launching mini-submarines one after another early on the morning of December 7, there was a serious hitch on I-24. On her "baby" (the crew of junior lieutenant Sakamaki Katsuo and non-commissioned officer Inagaki Kyoji), the gyrocompass failed. Troubleshooting failed. It was already 05:30 in the morning, and the boat was still not ready to launch, two hours late from the scheduled time. Dawn was approaching when Sakamaki and Inagaki squeezed through the hatch of their boat.
It was 10,5 miles before entering the harbor of Pearl Harbor, but it was not possible to move there right away - for more than an hour the submariners were desperately trying to straighten the trim of their submarine. With difficulty, they managed to do this, and they reached the entrance to the bay. The gyrocompass was still out of order, so Sakamaki was forced to raise the periscope to get his bearings. He saw the American destroyer Helm patrolling the entrance to the harbor, which soon approached so close that every detail on the deck and the white uniforms of the sailors could be distinguished through the periscope.
The Americans noticed the periscope and immediately rushed to the attack, dropping several depth charges. He rocked their boat for a long time, and then was picked up by the current and carried away into the open ocean. Sakamaki again tried to find the entrance to the base, but ran into a reef. As a result of the impact, one of the torpedo tubes was damaged, water began to flow into the boat. Due to the chemical reaction of water with the sulfuric acid of the batteries, asphyxiating gas began to be released.
At this time, Japanese aircraft had already bombed Pearl Harbor, and the Sakamaki boat still had not penetrated the bay! The crew, poisoned by gases (it was difficult to breathe, their eyes hurt), tried in vain to approach the entrance to the harbor again. But at about 14:00, the boat again ran into a reef and damaged the second torpedo tube. Poisoned and exhausted submariners were seized by depression. It became clear that the operation had failed. Sakamaki, with a last effort of will, tried to at least get to the carrier boat I-24, but soon both submariners lost consciousness, and the boat became uncontrollable.
When Sakamaki woke up, it was already night. The boat's engine was not running because the batteries were completely discharged. Having slightly opened the hatch cover, Sakamaki saw, about 200 meters away, the coast of some island, the moon and bright stars among the clouds. After recovering a little from the fresh sea air, Sakamaki tried to start the engine and after many attempts he succeeded. But the rejoicing did not last long - the boat again ran into the reef and this time got stuck tightly.
Realizing that it was all over, Sakamaki decided to sink the submarine - after all, it was the secret "wonder weapon" of the imperial fleet. Having undressed in advance and inserted detonators into the explosive charges, he lit the fuse of the fuse and, together with Inagaki, threw himself into the sea. According to other sources, Sakamaki ordered the non-commissioned officer and the mechanic of Inagaki's boat to prepare the explosion, but he did not comply with this order and threw himself into the sea (this version is confirmed by the fact that the explosion on the boat never happened). It was 06:40...
Sakamaki thought they were sailing towards the island of Maui, but in fact it was the west coast of Oahu, the same one where the Pearl Harbor base was located! Having jumped into the water after the commander, the exhausted Inagaki did not reach the shore and drowned. Exhausted and unconscious, Sakamaki was found on the shore and captured by Corporal David Akui of the 298th Regiment of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard.
American propaganda did not miss the opportunity to at least partially wash away the shameful stain of Pearl Harbor with the help of a captured Japanese submarine. During World War II, this submarine repeatedly "toured" the United States, inciting patriotism and thereby helping to sell war bonds to the population.
Inside the harbor...
One of the two dwarf submarines that successfully entered the harbor of Pearl Harbor was the boat of Lieutenant Iwasa Naoji and non-commissioned officer Sasaki Naoharu (from the I-22 carrier boat). When the first Japanese air raid began at 07:55, Lieutenant Iwasa began maneuvering and at 08:36 attacked the American Curtiss seaplane base, whose sailors were firing at Japanese aircraft at that time.
The torpedo fired by the boat passed by, but the American sailors noticed the periscope and immediately opened fire on it. At 08:40, the Japanese boat, due to damage or crew error, unexpectedly surfaced about 700 meters from the hydro-air transport and immediately sank again.
Some sources claim that two shells from the Curtiss hit the boat, but there is no documentary evidence for this. In any case, the Japanese have already signed their own death warrant - they were noticed by the destroyer Monaghan hurrying to leave the harbor.
Lieutenant Iwasa also detected the approaching enemy, turned around and fired a second (last) torpedo at the destroyer. She passed by, about 45 meters on the starboard side of the Monaghan. Moments later, at 08:43, the destroyer rammed the boat and then finished it off by dropping two depth charges. Due to the shallow waters of the harbor, thunderous explosions lifted the destroyer's stern out of the water. He lost control and crashed into a barge, escaping with minor damage.
Later, during the construction of new berthing facilities for submarines at Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant Ivas's lost boat, along with the soil, was used as material for one of the breakwaters. In 1952, the skeleton of the submarine was discovered again, but by that time the acid from the batteries had damaged the boat so badly that they didn’t bother with the “Japanese woman” and were “reburied” in the same place. At the same time, the remains of the crew remained inside the boat.
Of greatest interest to historians is the fate of the mini-submarine midshipman Yokoyama Masaharu and non-commissioned officer Ueda Teji from the carrier boat I-16. According to official investigations, the boat managed to enter the harbor, but failed to hit any targets, after which it disappeared without a trace, and its crew died.
In 2007, maritime historian and former US Navy submariner Parks Stephenson decided to solve the mystery of this boat. By that time, the fate was known and the skeletons of four of the five mini-submarines involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor were discovered.
But where did the fifth one go?
First of all, it was found that after the raid, namely on the night of December 8, the allegedly missing midshipman Yokoyama's mini-submarine sent two radio messages, which were received by the carrier submarine I-16. At 00:41 on December 8, Yokoyama radioed the success of the air attack on Pearl Harbor and the damage to the American battleships. 10 minutes later, another radiogram was received from him:
This clearly indicated that the Yokoyama boat did not die on December 7, but found a quiet place, lay at the bottom until night before surfacing and sending both radio messages.
But where is this calm place?
Stephenson's attention was drawn to West Loch, the western bay of the Pearl Harbor base, located directly opposite the battleships. It was the perfect hiding place, and that was where the boat was to be found. However, no traces of the "Japanese woman" could be found.
West Loch is known for the disaster that occurred here on May 21, 1944 and was classified until 1960. On that May day, 29 LST landing ships were stationed in the bay, preparing for Operation Forager, the US Navy's attack on the Japanese-occupied Mariana Islands. Some of these ships were loaded with ammunition and fuel.
The crews were actively preparing to go to sea, and nothing foreshadowed trouble, until at 15:08 an explosion occurred on LST-353, which was at one of the piers in the bay. The fire quickly engulfed several nearby ships. More and more explosions sounded, and the base command at first decided that this was another attack by the Japanese or an unexpected earthquake.
Having figured out what was happening, the commanders took their undamaged ships out of the harbor, saving them from the oil spilled in the water on fire. The last explosion occurred at 22:30, but fires on some ships continued until the next day.
The accident sank six landing craft and killed 392 sailors and marines. 20 buildings, 17 pieces of equipment and eight 155-mm guns were damaged. The investigation concluded that the cause of the incident could be the careless handling of ammunition by personnel or the ignition of gasoline vapors.
Within a few weeks after the disaster, all the wrecks of the ships were raised, towed and flooded 3 miles south of the Hawaiian Islands (with the exception of the LST-480 landing ship thrown ashore). In 1992, 2000 and 2001, the Hawaiian Institute conducted dives in the area, and in 2009 sent photographs taken to Stephenson. They captured the wreckage of not only American landing ships, but also a Japanese mini-submarine!
The Hawaiian Institute experts suggested that this was a boat that could have been captured by the Americans in 1942 on Guadalcanal or elsewhere, towed to Hawaii for research and later scuttled. However, the presence of a net cutter on the bow, characteristic of the first boats of type A, resolved all doubts - it was the fifth midshipman Yokoyama's missing mini-submarine!
The picture became more or less clear - having given radio messages to I-8 on the night of December 1941, 16, the crew sank the boat in West Loch and later died (probably committed suicide). The skeleton of the boat lay in the bay until May 1944, when it, torn into three parts by nearby explosions of landing ships, without understanding, was raised along with other debris and flooded south of the Hawaiian Islands.
Since both torpedo tubes of the boat were empty, it remained to find out who Midshipman Yokoyama fired his torpedoes at?
Here, Stephenson was helped by a declassified photograph taken by a Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It shows how torpedoes dropped by torpedo bombers rush to the target. But one torpedo shot was fired from a different point. After tracing the trajectory of the torpedo, the researchers found characteristic splashes on the water surface of the bay. These occur at the time of launching torpedoes from a dwarf submarine type A.
It became clear that the Yokoyama mini-submarine fired its torpedoes at the opposite battleships West Virginia and Oklahoma.
The torpedo fired at the battleship West Virginia never hit the target and was later found unexploded - it is mentioned in the report to Congress by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in 1942.
But the torpedo fired at the Oklahoma battleship most likely reached its target, since the battleship received such serious damage that it did not sink to the bottom like the others, but turned over, burying 429 officers and sailors in its compartments.
In the fall of 1943, the battleship was raised and examined. It turned out that the damage he received to the underwater part was stronger than the aircraft torpedoes dropped by Japanese aircraft could inflict. At the same time, Japanese mini-submarines used much more powerful Type 97 torpedoes, which the battleship became a victim of, which received up to eight torpedo hits during the attack.
So, the official version of the Japanese type A mini-submarine attack on Pearl Harbor reads: all the boats were sunk without achieving any success, their crews were killed, and one submariner was captured. However, an investigation into the fate of each of the five dwarf submarines allows us to draw somewhat different conclusions.
First. The anti-submarine defense of the main naval base of the US Pacific Fleet was poorly organized. The first two Japanese mini-submarines managed to penetrate the base, and only the careless use of periscopes and the inexplicable ascent to the surface of the boat of Second Lieutenant Hiroo Akira allowed the Americans to finally detect the underwater danger and take action.
As a result, Second Lieutenant Hiroo's boat that surfaced was sunk, and midshipman Haruno's boat was damaged by depth charges and was scuttled by the crew. Second Lieutenant Sakamaki's third boat was ruined by technical problems and reefs.
It is worth noting that the Americans quickly corrected the matter. During the war, Japanese submariners patrolled the waters around Pearl Harbor more than once, but were never able to inflict any damage on ships that, during the years of the war, hundreds came and left the naval base. They were immediately discovered by aircraft, then anti-submarine ships and submarines were involved, frustrating all attacks and often sending underwater samurai to the bottom.
Second. An analysis of the photograph of the Pearl Harbor attack, as well as the damage to the Oklahoma battleship raised from the bottom, allows us to conclude that the Japanese submariners managed to sink the above-named battleship during the attack. Or, at least, finally finish him off with his torpedo - more powerful than the ones in service with the Japanese naval aviation. And this means that, in general, the operation should be recognized as a success - the death of an American battleship and more than 400 crew members more than compensate for the loss of five mini-submarines and 10 submariners.
The third. Despite the courage, determination and readiness to go to the end, the training of the Japanese mini-submarine crews was not up to par. The careless and too frequent use of the periscope attracted the attention of the enemy already at the initial stage of the operation and thwarted the surprise attack. And of the four targets attacked by Japanese submariners in Pearl Harbor, three were very large ships and stood motionless - the battleships Oklahoma and West Virginia, the Curtiss seaplane base. But the Japanese managed to get hit only in Oklahoma.
In Japan, the courage and self-sacrifice of the mini-submarine crews were highly appreciated - they became national heroes. A postcard was issued with the image of nine heroes of Pearl Harbor, among them was captured and thereby disgraced himself and the imperial fleet - Second Lieutenant Sakamaki Katsuo, who became Japanese prisoner of war No. 1 in the Pacific War.
To be captured according to Japanese tradition was an indelible shame, so Sakamaki was dismissed from the ranks of the imperial fleet and deleted from the list of Pearl Harbor submarine heroes. Waking up in the hospital, Sakamaki perfectly understood his position (he survived, was captured, and even did not destroy the secret submarine) and asked permission to commit suicide, which was refused.
After the end of World War II, Sakamaki married, worked for Toyota Motor Corporation, becoming president of its Brazilian subsidiary in 1969. He returned to Japan in 1983 and continued to work for Toyota until he retired in 1987. With the exception of writing his memoirs, Sakamaki did not like to reminisce about the war and became a pacifist.
Only in 1991 did he visit historical conference at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. He could not hold back his tears when, 50 years later, he saw his boat again, which was exhibited in the museum. He spent the rest of his life in Japan until his death in 1999 (aged 81).
- Sergey Rusov
Subscribe and stay up to date with the latest news and the most important events of the day.