The Emperor’s Magic Carpet Ride, 75 Years Ago Today
Rare postwar photo of SB2C Helldiver #43, carrying an AN/APS-4 radar pod under the wing, over kite-shaped Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands on 23 October 1945. The dive bomber is flown by Lt. Frederick C. Lambert USMCR.
In the background are the disarmed Japanese Katori-class light cruiser Kashima and her “escort,” the Cannon-class destroyer escort USS Thornhill (DE-195).
Kashima, the former Japanese Fourth Fleet flagship, spent the last part of WWII in Korean backwaters and escaped the Armageddon fate that was inflicted on the rest of the Imperial Combined Fleet. After the surrender, she had her munitions landed, her gun barrels torched off, breechblocks welded shut, and was tasked with repatriation duty, returning Japanese POWs and civilians home from overseas.
The old training cruiser was at Jaluit 22-23 October 1945 to retrieve 911 EPOWs and one-time Japanese immigrants for repatriation.
Officially stricken from the Japanese Naval List on 5 October, between 10 October 1945 and 12 November 1946, Kashima made a dozen voyages to New Guinea, the Solomons, the Marshall Islands, Singapore, French Indochina, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Hong Kong, transporting over 5,800 former Imperial Japanese military personnel and internees back Home.
She was then sold for scrap and broken up by mid-1947 at Nagasaki by Kawanami Heavy Industries, her steel being used to help rebuild that city.
As for Thornhill, she was decommissioned at about the same time that Kashima disappeared for good and was later transferred to NATO ally Italy, where she served as the frigate Aldebaran (F-590) through the 1970s.
Jaluit Atoll, which between 1914 and 1945 was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a seaplane base after spending 30 years as a coaling station for the Kaiser, currently has a population of around 1,200 locals today, and the former IJN power station, barracks, antiaircraft guns, and a Shinto shrine remain to the delight of tourists.