Lost flags

Flags captured from the Japanese Type A kō-hyōteki midget submarine HA-19 at Pearl Harbor in the days immediately after the attack on 7 December 1941, one of five luckless vessels whose part in the attack (likely) yielded nothing.

Note what seems to be a signed personal yosegaki hinomaru “good luck flag” at the top that likely belonged to one of the crew, probably Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki (IJNA 1940), a Japanese rising sun (Kyokujitsu-ki), and a same-sized U.S. ensign, which is curious. National Archives Photo 80-G-13033

The third Japanese Type A boat spotted by American forces in and around Pearl Harbor– after one famously sunk by the old four-piper destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) and another less known sub dispatched by the newer USS Monaghan (DD-354) on the morning of that infamous day– the abandoned HA-19 was dubbed “Midget C” when Army Air Corps pilots spotted her grounded on an offshore reef near Waimanalo on 8 December after the craft’s scuttling charge failed to go off.

Washed ashore near where Sakamaki, the only survivor of the hapless vessel, swam ashore, HA-19 was captured in remarkable condition and towed from the surf zone by an Army tractor.

HA-19. (Japanese “Type A” midget submarine). Beached in eastern Oahu, after it unsuccessfully attempted to enter Pearl Harbor during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack. The photograph was taken on or shortly after 8 December 1941. 80-G-32683

Same, 80-G-32682

Other items besides the flags were recovered, including a map of the harbor with HA-19‘s planned route.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. Chart of Pearl Harbor recovered from a Japanese midget submarine captured after the attack. The chart shows various courses around Ford Island and gives ship locations that do not necessarily correspond to actual 7 December ship positions. Since it presumably came from the midget submarine HA-19, which was unsuccessful in its attempts to enter the harbor, these details probably represent expected ship locations and intended maneuvers by the submarine. 80-G-413507

Disassembled in three large pieces and inspected, HA-19 served as a traveling war bonds trophy before being put on outdoor display for 40 years before the boat was semi-restored and moved inside the Nimitz Museum (National Museum of the Pacific War) in Texas a while back, and it is still there.

In the George Bush Gallery at the National Museum of the Pacific War, HA-19 endures 

As for Sakamaki, he was not only the sole survivor of his boat but was also the lone survivor of the crews of the five Japanese midgets that participated in the attack.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. Wartime painting in oils on silk, by an unidentified Japanese artist, depicting the four officers and five crewmen who were lost with the five Japanese midget submarines that participated in the attack. The single survivor of that effort is omitted from the painting, which features a view of the attack on Ford Island in its center. NH 86388-KN (Color)

Sakamaki, the first Japanese prisoner of war in U.S. captivity during World War II, had his file and name stricken from the Japanese records once his story was flashed around the world. Repatriated after VJ Day, he ultimately retired from Toyota, visited HA-19 on at least two occasions, and passed in 1999, one of the last Japanese Pearl Harbor vets.

Four of the five Pearl Harbor midget submarines have been found– all lost before they could penetrate the harbor– and, as noted by NHHC, could be the most controversial and a missing piece of naval history: 

One of the five Pearl Harbor midgets is still unaccounted for. Recent studies of Pearl Harbor attack photograpy have led some observers to argue that one of the midgets was in place off “Battleship Row” as the Japanese torpedo planes came in, and may have fired its torpedoes at USS Oklahoma (BB-37) or USS West Virginia (BB-48). This contention is still controversial, but, if it is true, the “missing” Type A midget submarine may lie undiscovered inside Pearl Harbor.

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