The Sad Irony Surrounding a Submarine

Here we see the former Imperial Japanese Navy’s Type B3 “cruiser submarine” I-58 at the American-occupied Sasebo Naval Arsenal, Japan, 28 January 1946, some 75 years ago today.

U.S. Marine Corps Photograph. NHHC USMC 139990

A large boat by WWII standards, some 357-feet overall, I-58 was completed 7 September 1944. Besides her six torpedo tubes and 19 Type 95 torpedos, she could also accommodate as many as four Kaiten human-torpedoes on her deck.

Under the command of LCDR Mochitsura Hashimoto throughout her career, she took part in the unsuccessful attack on Guam in January 1945 as well as Operation Ten-Go off Okinawa, which was also unsuccessful. As a hat trick in failed missions, two of her Kaiten tried to make a run on the 6,214-ton cargo ship Wild Hunter, escorted by the Sumner-class destroyer USS Lowry (DD-770) north of Palau on 28 July, without luck.

Then, to Hashimoto’s great surprise, late on the night of 29 July he came upon the unescorted heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35). The mighty ship, identified at the time by I-58’s nav officer as an Idaho-class battleship– whose profile it did resemble– was not zigzagging and only steaming at 12 knots. What Hashimoto of course did not know was that it had just dropped off the key components of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs to the B-29 base carved out of windswept Tinian Island.

Firing all six tubes at the Indy, a lucky ship that had hosted FDR on peacetime cruises, at least two hit, and the cruiser sank just after midnight on 30 July. While I-58 would make a number of further attacks on other American vessels before the end of the conflict, Indianapolis was her only success.

Surrendered and disarmed after VJ Day, on April Fool’s Day 1946, I-58, long stripped of all usable equipment and material, was towed from Sasebo to an area off the Gotō Islands by the submarine tender USS Nereus and scuttled in 660 feet of water.

As for Hashimoto, he had already controversially testified at the December 1945 trial of Charles B. McVay III, the commanding officer of Indianapolis, saying that zigzagging would have made no difference in his attack on the cruiser– a key charge in the case against McVay.

The son of a Shinto priest, the former submarine commander and Imperial Japanese Naval Academy graduate would himself become a priest as well. Ironically, most of his family had been killed in the A-bomb drop over Hiroshima.

In a 1990 trip to Pearl Harbor to attend a December 7th commemoration, he told a survivor of the Indianapolis that, “I came here to pray with you for your shipmates whose deaths I caused,” and spent the rest of his life involved in the effort to clear McVay’s name.

Hashimoto died in 2000, aged 91, only a week before McVay’s posthumous exoneration.

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