Tag Archives: japanese submarine

Rising Suns and whales

While there has been lots of heartburn, particularly in East Asia, about Japan’s use of their traditional 16-ray Kyokujitsu-ki rising sun flag, especially in martial settings– with some comparing it to the swastika– the Japanese Navy really don’t care about the haters. 

The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force launched the second of the very advanced Taigei-class diesel-electric submarines this week, JS Hakugei (SS-514). As Taigei means roughly “Big Whale” it is appropriate that Hakugei means “White Whale.”

And you better believe the current naval ensign, which was the old IJN’s ensign going back to the 1870s, was front and center (although it should be pointed out that an alternative version of the flag, with fewer rays and gold added to it, is used by the Japan Self-Defense Forces and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force).

Other than possibly the Germans, the Japanese are making the world’s most deadly SSKs. Post-WWII, they have earned lots of experience in that realm with domestic production including the Sōryū class (12 boats), Oyashio-class (11), Harushio-class (7), Yūshio-class (10), Uzushio-class (7), Asashio-class (4), JDS Ōshio, Natsushio-class (2), and Hayashio-class (2) since 1960, a run of 56 boats thus far, not counting the new Taigeis.

But, with neighbors like Communist China and North Korea, can you blame them?

Operation Cottage at 75, or the time the Canuks were really welcome in Alaska

Here we see a well-kitted Canadian corporal, probably of the 13th Brigade (consisting of the 2/Canadian Scottish, 1/Brockville Rifles, and 1/Edmonton Fusiliers), inspecting a captured Japanese Type 96 or 99 light machine gun, on the foggy and windswept island of Kiska, in the Aleutian chain of the U.S. Territory of Alaska, 16 Aug 1943.

Note the M1 rifle in 30.06…rather than the more traditional Canadian Longbranch SMLE in .303

As a sideshow to the Battle of Midway, the Japanese occupied Kiska with 500 IJN Special Landing Force marines on 6 June 1942 and, though they reinforced the garrison with another 8,000~ sundry troops to include a mini-sub base, by 28 July 1943, they shagged ass when it appeared the U.S. was coming back to take the island in force– one of the very rare instances when the Japanese withdrew from an island rather than fight for it to the last man in the Pacific War.

Part of huge 100-ship Allied fleet at anchor in Adak Harbor in Aleutians, ready to move against Kiska (NARA/U.S. Army Air Forces/Horace Bristol)

On August 15, 1943, the U.S. 7th Infantry Division (with the 87th Mountain Rgt, which later grew into the 10th Mountain Div) and the Canadian 13th Infantry Brigade along with the joint 1st Special Service Force, landed on Kiska as part of Operation Cottage and amazingly suffered over 300 casualties in the two-day operation, from friendly fire.

Lessons learned.

Bearded Gunner’s Mate. Stands by a 20mm anti-aircraft machinegun, mounted in a shore emplacement at an advanced base in the Aleutians, circa 1942-1943. Note cigar. Photographed by Lieutenant Commander Horace Bristol. U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. .

Japan’s WWII Alaskan mini-sub base

kiska

When the U.S. entered WWII, the entire garrison of tiny Kiska Island in the Aleutians consisted of a 10 man U.S. Navy radio/weather station. As a diversionary attack as part of the Battle of Midway, on 6 June 1942 the Japanese landed in force, some 550 men of an elite Naval Landing unit.

Over the next year, the Japanese build up on the remote island grew to 3,700 Navy personnel at Kiska Harbor and some 3,500 Army personnel at Gertrude Cove despite U.S. air and naval attacks. They put in fire hydrants and the beginnings of a water system, laid hundreds of foxholes, personnel trenches and barbed wire entanglements; dug underground bunkers into the hillsides; constructed a power and telephone network and erected a Shinto shrine.

Japanese propaganda design of the Aleutian Islands Campaign, 1942

In the harbor floated Kawanishi H6K ‘Mavis” flying boats, Nakajima A6M2-N ‘Rufe’ floatplane fighters and Aichi E13A ‘Jake’ floatplane bombers/reconnaissance aircraft. They also crafted a slipway and repair facilities for midget submarines (more on this later).

With a looming Canadian-U.S. force ready to invade the frozen tundra near the Bearing Strait in July 1943, the Japanese swiftly withdrew their troops and when the 34,000-man Allied force hit the beaches the next month, they found nothing but a ghost town– and three wrecked Japanese midget submarines.

These subs remain to this day.

The Japanese used Kiska as a base for Type A Kō-hyōteki-class submarines. The same type of boat that helped attack Pearl Harbor (where USS Ward splashed the first American kill of the Pacific War on one trying to penetrate the harbor), the 47-ton Type A was just 78-feet long and was electric-only, with a 600hp motor and 224 Type D batteries.

They were actually pretty fast– 19 knots submerged– but due to not being able to recharge their batteries, had a very short range (about a half-hour at full speed, 24-hours if barely spinning the contra-rotating propellers). The two-man crew of these boats carried a pair of 17.7-inch Type 98 (Type 97 “Special”) torps in a pair of blackpowder-fired tubes forward (each with a 772-pound warhead and a 3.4-mile range), and a 300-lb scuttling charge for when things went wrong.

Interior of a Type A Japanese midget submarine. Copyright Newspix/News Limited, via NWS.gov.au http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/M24/raid/midgetsubprog.htm

Interior of a Type A Japanese midget submarine. Copyright Newspix/News Limited, via NWS.gov.au.

The IJN completed about 105 of these vessels in four slightly different variants, of which a few were based at Kiska for coastal defense against encroaching U.S./Canadian vessels, and others lost in raids on Australia and Madagascar.

As noted by Combined Fleet.com, on 28 June the seaplane/submarine tender Chiyoda left Yokosuka with six Type A’s (HA-28, HA-29, HA-31, HA-32, HA-33 and HA-34) as well as the 150-man crew of the future midget submarine base, a detachment of the 12th Construction Battalion and 200-tons of cement.

The submarines on Kiska were launched to and from their base via a beaching railway with four sets of launch rails in the Western part of Kiska Harbor, and all the structures around the bases, when abandoned, were rigged with 155mm IEDs, sulphuric acid cans set to explode via live grenade, and other booby traps, making souvenir hunting hazardous to a GI’s health.

Arriving 5 July, the submarine force joined the 5th Guard Unit, Special Purpose Unit and was under command of Lt ( j.g.) Otozaka Shoichi. With Chiyoda leaving, the aging L-class submarine RO-61 (1,000-tons, completed 1920 to a British design) arrived in August to serve as a pier-side battery charger for the midgets, three of which were afloat in the harbor at a mooring buoy and three more retained on land.

By November 1942, with the submarine base built and the vessels operational, they begin taking regular personnel casualties in air raids from American bombers. Larger subs stopped coming as often.

Losses mount, with HA-33 sunk in a heavy storm in early April 1943 and on the 14th P-40 Warhawks from Amchitka strafe HA-29 and HA-34, leading to the cannibalization of  HA-29 and HA-34 for spare parts, but as a result of continuing air attacks and storms repair cannot be completed.

This led Vice Admiral Kawase Shiro in May to order the midgets redeployed to nearby Attu but when two fleet submarines arrive to accomplish this, the news that Attu has fallen leads the midget crews to instead embark on I-31 and I-35 for the Kuriles.

On June 8, the two remaining midget submarines in the harbor are scuttled with demolition charges and one midget submarine is blown up using two Type 98 torpedo warheads, ending in watery graves. The three partially cannibalized midget submarines in the maintenance shed (including HA-32 and HA-34) are also demolished and the cache of some 20 remaining torpedoes are thrown in the harbor.

The sheds and buildings are burned with the stored fuel.

When the Americans arrived in August all they found were ruins.

Entrance to tunnel near Japanese sub base on Kiska, August 1943. Tunnels gave protection to the Japanese against bombs and provided sleeping quarters; image and caption Alaska State Library/Alaska's Digital Archives (as with three following images). http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/search/collection/cdmg21/searchterm/kiska%20submarine/order/nosort

Entrance to tunnel near Japanese sub base on Kiska, August 1943. Tunnels gave protection to the Japanese against bombs and provided sleeping quarters; image and caption Alaska State Library/Alaska’s Digital Archives (as with three following images).

Inside view, looking seaward, of covered, Japanese submarine beaching railway, tracks leading to waterfront; a soldier passes large submarine handling cradles on left; warships are visible through opening.

Inside view, looking seaward, of covered, Japanese submarine beaching railway, tracks leading to waterfront; a soldier passes large submarine handling cradles on left; warships are visible through opening.

Japanese winches used to pull submarines into work shed on Kiska, August 1943.

Japanese winches used to pull submarines into work shed on Kiska, August 1943.

Two-person submarines, damaged by internal explosions, on Kiska, August 1943. Fleet Air Wing Four military personnel remove incapacitated submarines from marine railway track leading to waterfront; lumber is scattered along one side; sandbags line top of hillside; winches for hauling subs are at right. All of the submarines, as with other equipment left on the island by the Japanese, were captured in thoroughly disabled condition as to be expected.

Two-person submarines, damaged by internal explosions, on Kiska, August 1943. Fleet Air Wing Four military personnel remove incapacitated submarines from marine railway track leading to waterfront; lumber is scattered along one side; sandbags line top of hillside; winches for hauling subs are at right. All of the submarines, as with other equipment left on the island by the Japanese, were captured in thoroughly disabled condition as to be expected.

Submarines converted into scrap on Kiska Island, August 1943. Fleet Air Wing Four military personnel use torches to cut up submarines for scrap

Submarines converted into scrap on Kiska Island, August 1943. Fleet Air Wing Four military personnel use torches to cut up submarines for scrap

Today these boats are still there to some degree

These images from Brian Hoffman, cc-nc-sa-4.0, via Flickr:

japanese-abandoned-midget-submarine-kiska-island-9 japanese-abandoned-midget-submarine-kiska-island-5 japanese-abandoned-midget-submarine-kiska-island-7 japanese-abandoned-midget-submarine-kiska-island-6 japanese-abandoned-midget-submarine-kiska-island-8 japanese-abandoned-midget-submarine-kiska-island-3
Kiska is federally owned and forms part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, which is administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, though the National Park Service and others are also stakeholders.

I-400 Hangar found, 2300-feet down

We’ve talked about the I-400 and her sister the 401, Japan’s underwater aircraft carriers in past Warship Wednesdays. These lurking submarine sneak attack leviathans could tote a few seaplanes and, it was planned, for them to attack such strategic targets as the Panama Canal. Well, the funny thing about super weapons is that they often aren’t given a chance to be that super.

In the end, the 400 and 401 were captured by the Navy and, to prevent the Soviets from getting a look at these tasty treats, were scuttled in very deep water off Barber’s Point. In 2013 one was found, but was missing its famous hangar.

Well it looks like researchers from the University of Hawaii and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration got the funding for one more dive and it proved worthwhile