Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018: Sideroxylon lanuginosum, everlasting
Here we see the Mesquite-class buoy tender USCGC Ironwood (WAGL/WLB-297) in the summer of 1996 in Alaskan waters offloading equipment for maintenance on Eldred Rock Lighthouse. A product of WWII, she would over a half-century in U.S. maritime service and is, remarkably, still ticking in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1916 the Revenue Cutter Service and Lifesaving Service were merged to form the Coast Guard, to which the Bureau of Lighthouses was added on 1 July 1939 and as such all U.S. lighthouses, tenders, and lightships became USCG installations and ships. The thing is, the lighthouse and buoy tender fleet was a hodgepodge of antiquated single-use vessels to which the Bureau had been looking to replace with a new series of 177-foot lighthouse tenders modeled after the USLHT Juniper, the last vessel designed by the Bureau.
Taking these plans, the Coast Guard made some changes and produced a 180-foot/950-ton single-screw steel-hulled ship that incorporated some new features that the USLHS never needed (an ice-strengthened bow, search and rescue equipment and mission, allowance for armament, et.al). The first of these, USCGC Cactus (WAGL-270) was appropriated for $782,381 on 20 Jan 1941 and laid down at Marine Iron & Shipbuilding Corporation, Duluth, MN on 31 March.
Almost all of these hardy ships were built either at Marine or at Zenith Dredge Company very rapidly in three subclasses: the “A” or “Cactus” class, “B” or “Mesquite” class, and “C” or “Iris” class (with all named for trees and bushes). All ships of the three subclasses have the same general characteristics, but with slight differences, (e.g. the “A/Cactus” class tenders may be differentiated from the other two classes of 180-foot tenders by their unique “A” frame main boom support forward and their large 30,000 gal fuel tanks that allowed an economical 17,000nm cruising range on their gentle diesel suite.) The last to come off the ways was USCGC Woodbrush (WAGL-407) which commissioned 22 Sept. 1944. The building process entailed an average of 192,018 hours of labor per vessel.
Unlike the other 38 of the class that was built by contractors, the hero of our story, USCGC Ironwood, was laid down at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland and commissioned 275 days later on 4 August 1943 for a cost of $1,388,227 (note the difference from Cactus, above). She was the only vessel in active U.S. service named for the Sideroxylon lanuginosum, aka gum bully or ironwood, a small tree native to the Sun Belt and Midwest. According to the USCG’s office, in service, her crew nicknamed her “Ironbush” and “Ironweed” for her small size.
Ironwood sailed for the War in the Pacific, arriving in Noumea, New Caledonia via Bora Bora and Pago Pago, in March 1944.
She spent the next nine months in a busy but routine operation of keeping the 3rd Fleet’s vast anchorages up to snuff. This meant tending anti-torpedo nets and mooring buoys, establishing the new-fangled LORAN network, carrying cargo, mail, and servicemembers from island to island, and towing barges as needed– all while looking out for the possibility of Japanese mines, periscopes, and floatplanes on the horizon. She even came to the assistance of the stranded Liberty Ship SS John Lind.
Coast Guard Historian’s Office:
On 26 March1944 Ironwood left Noumea to assist SS John Lind grounded on a reef at 22 28 S, 166 36 E. Ironwood’s attempts to pull the vessel off being unsuccessful, she removed 65 Navy and Marine Corps personnel from the vessel on the 28th and transported them to Noumea on the next day. She remained until 2 April 1944 when she proceeded with Navy tugs USS Sioux and YT-463 to remove the reefed ship. In tandem with the tugs they successfully re-floated John Lind on 6 April.
In January 1945, she sailed for Guadalcanal’s Cape Esperance in the Solomons. There, she moved assisted in the recovery of a Japanese midget submarine. The 78-foot, 47-ton, two-man Type A Ko-hyoteki boat, was found in 30 feet of water and the cutter spent two weeks in the recovery operation as detailed by Combined Fleets:
4 January 1945:
US Coast Guard cutter IRONWOOD (W-297) begins operations to raise an unidentified Japanese two-man midget submarine from about 30 feet of water off Cape Esperance. Divers, working from a small boat, use a water pressure hose and crowbars to clear a space under the bow and stern of the submarine. By 9 Jan, a 1.5” chain sling is rigged around the bow of the midget submarine.
19 January 1945:
After retiring to Gavutu for ten days, IRONWOOD again anchors off Cape Esperance. By now, divers have completed rigging the submarine for lifting, connecting the chain around its bow and stern with a chain bridal.
20 January 1945 :
IRONWOOD is positioned alongside the sunken midget submarine. She lowers the main hoist over the starboard side and hooks it to the chain bridal. The cutter then raises the midget submarine to the surface and secures it alongside. IRONWOOD then tows it to Hutchinson’s Creek, Florida Island, Solomons. The next day, IRONWOOD moves to a new anchorage where the midget submarine is transferred to an unidentified USN crane barge.
The identity of this 1945 salvaged midget submarine is unknown but is possibly HA-22 or HA-37. I can’t find out what happened to the craft but it was likely scrapped at some point. It is not one of the five Type A midgets preserved and on display currently (HA-8: Groton, Connecticut; HA-18: JMSDF Etajima Naval Base, Etajima, Japan; HA-19: Nimitz Museum, Fredericksburg, Texas; and HA-14/HA-21 at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra).
Ironwood went on to spend a solid year, from August 1945 to July 1946, in the Philippines reestablishing buoys and lighthouses and looking for pockets of Japanese holdouts.
Following her extended wartime service, she was stationed briefly in Monterey, California then returned to the South Pacific soon enough.
Between 19 November 1951 and 2 May 1954, Ironwood made four deployments to support Korean War operations, supplying and supporting radio stations in the region. As such, she was one of just 24 Coast Guard vessels that qualified for the Korean Service Medal.
In 1963, by that time stationed in Honolulu, she took some of the first scientists to return to the Marshall Islands after U.S. nuclear testing. As related by Capt. LeRoy Reinburg, Jr., U.S. Coast Guard-Retired, her skipper at the time, Ironwood spent almost two weeks inspecting radioactive and poorly charted Rongelap Atoll.
“In the course of our travels, we discovered nine uncharted islands and one large reef that bared at low tide. Dr. Held and I decided to assign names to these geographic features. The reef, appropriately, was named ‘Ironwood Reef,’” he noted.
During the mid-1960s, these boats were designated WLBs (buoy tenders) and saw all fixed armament landed in 1966, leaving them only their small arms lockers. If deployed for law enforcement missions or to war zones, 180s would be equipped with up to four Browning M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns or a similar number of M60 7.62mm GPMGs. Lacking its naval piece, the 3-inch Gun Tub served as a lookout perch and occasional storage area for small items including crew bicycles when traveling between ports. Lockers for life jackets and exposure survival suits were later located on this deck, which is encircled by a tubular steel railing.
During the Vietnam conflict, four USCG 180s were dispatched to Southeast Asia to perform aids-to-navigation support and assist with harbor defense and maintenance– Basswood (WLB-388), Blackhaw (WLB-390) Planetree (WLB-307, and, of course, Ironwood, the latter of which deployed there in July 1967.
Vietnamese lighthouse service personnel were assigned to temporary duty on board as they worked to reactivate and automate Vietnamese lighthouses and establish new U.S.-sponsored lights. While deploying work crews, machine gun teams would have to stand by in case they came under fire from passing sampans or the shore as VC constantly shot out navigational lights and sank buoys. Her crew also provided services to the local populace such as MEDCAPS.
Sometime around this period she even clocked in on NASA support duties, helping with recovering boilerplate space capsules in the rush to the moon.
She conducted a number of rescues over the years:
*8 January 1959 Ironwood assisted thegrounded sampan Bellatrix at Molokai Beach, HI.
*6 January 1962 Ironwood rescued the crew of FV Hiroshima Maru aground at 21 17 N, 157 51 W.
*23-25 May 1963 the cutter escorted the disabled MV Dianna to Honolulu, HI.
*18 February 1969 Ironwood towed the disabled FV Widgeon from Augustine Island to Homer, AK.
*April 1969 escorted the distressed tanker Yukon, which was holed by a submerged object in Cook Inlet.
*29 April 1969 the crew fought a fire on the Shell Oil drilling platform in Cook Inlet.
*26 December 1969 she hoisted the disabled FV Arctic Fox on board at MacArthur Cove and carried her to Seward, AK
Ironwood was later given a one-year major renovation (MAJREN) in 1974, envisioned at the time to keep her in service for another 15 years. This involved removing her Cooper-Bessemer inline 8-cylinder engines and rebuilding them, new electrical wiring, piping, and sewage handling systems. She picked up a bow thruster, all-new crew spaces, new cranes, ship heaters, reefers, the works.
After her refit, she was put to work on the Alaska beat, stationed at Kodiak, in all spending the last 26 years of her Coast Guard career in Alaskan waters. During this time she escorted Soviet fishing trawlers out of U.S. waters, participated in Naval exercises, towed disabled fishing vessels to port, medevac’d injured mariners, searched for missing planes– you know, typical Coast Guard stuff.
Between 1979 and 1995, she earned six Coast Guard “E” ribbons. In 1981, she received the Coast Guard Unit Commendation. In both 1989 and 1999, she picked up Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendations for her duty in the frozen and dangerous Bering Sea, in particular assisting with the cleanup operations in Prince William Sound after the grounding of the Exxon Valdez.
At the time of her decommissioning, Ironwood was the second-oldest cutter in USCG service (only surpassed at the time by the medium endurance cutter Storis) and was the only remaining US vessel in service awarded the Korean Service Medal. Then, of course, there was her WWII service, nuke sniffing, assistance to the Space program and her Vietnam tour. She served 14 Commandants of the Coast Guard, 34 commanding officers and more than 1,200 crew members in the course of her half-million miles traveled.
But her story doesn’t end there. The old girl, after 57 years of active duty, she was to be transferred to Nigeria but instead, in 2002, was presented to the Tongue Point Seamanship Academy in Oregon which uses her as a floating classroom to train new mariners in an 18-month program to find seagoing careers.
In 2014, the center threw a 70th anniversary for Ironwood.
As for her sisterships, many have proven to be very long in the tooth:
*Balsam (WLB-62) was decommissioned 1975 and has been used as an Alaskan crab boat ever since. She is currently the F/V Baranof.
*Cactus (WLB-270) was seized in Kings County Washington as a derelict vessel in 2013 for dismantling.
*Cowslip (WLB-277), Firebush (WLB-393) and Sassafras (WLB-401) were transferred to Nigerian Navy 2002-2003 as NNS Nwamba, NNS Olepu and Obula respectively. All remain in service. Sedge (WLB-402) was also transferred for parts.
*Woodbine (WLB-289) was donated to be a training ship in Cleveland in 1972 and went on to be a fish processing boat in Alaska before being sold for scrap in 2012.
*Gentian (WLB-290) was transferred to Colombia as ARC San Andrés (PO-45) and is still active.
*Laurel (WLB-291) was sold at a GSA auction in 1999, ultimate fate unknown.
*Clover (WLB-292) and Evergreen (WLB-295) were decommissioned 1990 and sunk by the Navy as a targets.
*Sorrel (WLB-296) was decommissioned in 1996 and is used as SS Reliance operated by Sea Scout Ship #13 of Stockton, California, showing up in an episode of Dexter.
*Conifer (WLB-301) and Papaw (WLB-308) were decommissioned 2000 and 1999 respectively and was used for a number of years as F/V Hope and F/V Mersea, part of the disaster relief fleet of Friend Ships, but have since been removed from that organization.
*Madrona (WLB-302) transferred to El Salvador who used her as General Manuel José Arce and subsequently sunk her as a reef.
*Tupelo (WAGL/WLB-303) was decommissioned in 1975 and has spent the past 30 years as a Bering Sea fishing boat, FV Courageous.
*Mesquite (WLB-305) ran aground December 4, 1989 on a reef off the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior while in Coast Guard service and was scuttled for underwater diving preserve.
*Buttonwood (WLB-306) was decommissioned 2001 and transferred to the Dominican Republic’s Navy as Almirante Didiez Burgos, still active. USCGC Citrus (WMEC-300), also endures there as Almirante Juan Alejandro Acosta (C-456/P301)
*Sweetgum (WLB-309) was transferred in 2002 to Panama as SMN Independencia (P401).
*Basswood (WLB-388), Blackhaw (WLB-390) and Mallow (WLB-396) were scrapped in 2000.
*Bittersweet (WLB-389) was decommissioned and transferred to Estonian Border Guard, 5 September 1997 who used her until 2014– she is retained as a museum ship.
*Blackthorn (WLB-391) sank in 1980 in a collision near the Tampa Bay Sunshine Skyway Bridge, resulting in 23 crewmember fatalities. Raised, she was resunk as a reef.
*Bramble (WLB-392) was decommissioned 2003, and has been retained with a mixed degree of success as a museum ship in the Great Lakes.
*Hornbeam (WLB-394) was decommissioned 1999, and lost near Panama as M/V Rum Cay Grace in 2013.
*Iris (WLB-395) and Planetree (WLB-307) were decommissioned after helping with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1995 and 1999, repectviely, and sit in rusting quiet in the SBRF, Suisun Bay, CA mothballs fleet.
*Mariposa (WLB-397) was decommissioned in 2000 but has been retained by the Navy as a hulk until 2009 and has been spotted in the Seattle area since then.
*Redbud (WLB-398) was transferred to the Philippines as Kalinga (AG-89) in 1972.
*Sagebrush (WLB-399) was scuttled off St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia on 28 April 1988.
*Salvia (WLB-400) was decommissioned 1991 and used as a salvage operations training vessel for U.S. Navy at Little Creek.
*Spar (WLB-403) was decommed 1997 and sunk as a reef in 2004.
*Sundew (WLB-404) was decommissioned 2004, used as a museum for a while, then sold to private interests in 2010.
*Acacia (WLB-406), the last 180 in Coast Guard service, was decommissioned 2006 after 63 years of service and is now a museum in Manistee, Michigan.
*Woodrush (WLB-407) and Sweetbrier (WLB-405) were transferred to Ghana in 2001 where she still serves as GNS Anzone (P30) and GNS Bonsu (P31) respectively, which means “shark” and “whale” in the native lingo.
For interior pics, the LOC has a great series of images from the Planetree, a Mesquite subclass sister.
Displacement: 935 fl (1944); 1,026 fl (1966); 700 light (1966)
Length: 180-feet oa
Beam: 37 feet mb
Draft: 12 ft. max (1944); 14′ 7″ (1966)
Propulsion: 1 electric motor connected to 2 Westinghouse generators driven by 2 Cooper-Bessemer-type GND-8, 4-cycle diesels; single screw
Top speed: 13.0 kts sustained (1945); 11.9 kts sustained (1966). 28,000 gals diesel
Economic speed: 8.3 kts (1945); 8.5 kts (1966)
6 Officers, 74 men (1944);
5 Officers, 2 warrants, 41 men (1966)
Radar: Bk (1943); SLa-1 (1945), SPS-64(V) 1979
Sonar: WEA-2 (1945-66)
1-3″/50 (single), 4-20mm/80 (single), 2 depth charge tracks, 2 Mousetraps, 4 Y-guns
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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.
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.
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.
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation last week posted images of the Pacific fleet submarine rescue unit at work.
As noted by my friend HI Sutton over at Covert Shores, “They show a Project 18270 BESTER rescue submersible (DSRV – Deep Sea Rescue Vehicle) deploying from the rescue ship Igor Belousov. Also shown is a British-built Saab SeaEye Tiger ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle). The same ship and BESTER DSRV AC-40 was tested in the Baltic in 2015.”
The Russians have two Besters, Northern Fleet based AC-38 and AC-40, and the 40-foot/39-ton rescue subs have a limited endurance and can pick up 16-18 submariners on each trip. They are not built for combat, and are capable of poking around at just 3 knots– but they can ascend/descend at about 60 feet per second once they get going.
This mysterious little midget was photographed in the CIA Museum in McLean, Virginia in 2011.
From the official description:
CIA designed and manufactured this two-man semi-submersible in the 1950s. It carried no weapons, was cramped, had limited endurance, and required a “mother ship” for transport and recovery. However, the vessel could approach areas ships could not.
Then there is the rest of the story.
Codenamed the SKIFF, the craft could be towed to a location and cached at a depth of up to 30 feet below the surface if needed.
Designed in the tail-end of WWII as part of the OSS’s Project NAPKO, these craft were to be used to deposit specially trained Korean Americans and Korean prisoners of war for infiltration into Japanese-occupied Korea, and ultimately into Japan itself. Their mission was to collect intelligence and conduct sabotage in advance of Operation Olympic, the planned US invasion of the Japanese home islands in November 1945.
Half the 2-3 man teams would be landed via nylon boat from fleet submarines coming danger close while the other half would infiltrate via our trusty little submarines towed within 30-40 miles of shore. The little semi-submersibles could be cached just offshore on the seabed and used by (surviving) agents to exfiltrate back to sea.
As noted in a great 11-page article from Studies in Intelligence, the agents would go local:
“Typical of NAPKO missions, the teams were to carry minimal equipment and supplies: 100,000 yen, a radio, appropriate clothing for passing as locals, and a Japanese-manufactured shovel for burying the team’s equipment after landing.”
The boats, built by John Trumpy and Sons of Camden, New Jersey, were termed “Gizmos” and never used, though the Navy did keep them around for awhile, one even lasting long enough to be put on display at the USS Massachusetts in Fall River, incorrectly labeled as a Japanese suicide submarine for years.
In 1953, the CIA thought the concept valid enough to commission two more from Trumpy, codename SKIFFs.
“SKIFF also appears to have come close to operational use, but at least two missions for which it was deployed were canceled.”
Some 19-feet long, the craft drew 2’8″ when buoyant and could ride almost four feet low when semi-submerged, leaving just a foot or so of the low-profile hull above surface. Powered by a 25hp “Atomic Four” gasoline engine with 30-gal tank, the craft could putter along at 5-knots when buoyant or 4.1-kts semisubmerged with a combat radius of 110 nm. The craft weighed 3,650-pound sans crew. Without removing the slabs of ballast, the maximum cargo carried including crew was 608-pounds (exclusive of the weight of two submachine guns). If the ballast was scuttled this could be boosted about another 100 pounds.
With the anniversary of VJ Day this week, I was brainstorming something.
The jury will always be out on just what won the U.S. Civil War: the defeat of Lee in the North, Grant’s splitting of the Confederacy by capturing Vicksburg, Sherman’s total war campaign across Georgia and the turn to take on Johnston in the Carolinas, the South being bled white by losses that it could not replace as the North grew stronger every day, the refusal of Britain to come into the war in support of the South…maybe all of the above.
Of course, I wager that without the Anaconda plan, all of the above would have been much harder to pull off, if not impossible.
Envisioned by that “The Grand Old Man of the Army,” Gen. Winfield Scott. The North’s war chief at the beginning of the conflict, Scott, aged 74 when the balloon went up, earned his commission as a captain in the Light Artillery in May 1808, and knew firsthand how much the War of 1812 sucked when the Brits had default naval superiority and controlled the coastline. Sure, the plucky U.S. Navy and a force of privateers raided around the globe and took the fight to the Brits in their home waters, but they couldn’t keep the RN out of the Chesapeake or from landing at New Orleans.
Then there was the blockade.
Robert, 2nd Viscount Melville, who had become the First Lord of the Admiralty in June 1812, noted that,
“We do not intend this as a mere paper blockade, but as a complete stop to all trade and intercourse by sea with those ports, as far as the wind and weather, and the continual presence of a sufficient armed force, will permit and ensure. If you find that this cannot be done without abandoning for a time the interruption which you appear to be giving to the internal navigation of the Chesapeake, the latter object must be given up, and you must be content with blockading its entrance and sending in occasionally your cruisers for the purpose of harassing and annoyance.”
In the end the war, Scott, who advanced to major general (brevet) during the conflict, remembered the lessons when it came to 1861 and he recommended an idea coined “The Anaconda Plan” to rigorously (if somewhat passively) blockade all of the major and minor Confederate seaports, and seize control of the mouth of the Mississippi, to ensnare and strangle the budding rebellion, cutting them off from imports of munitions and manufactured goods they had no factories for, as well as exports and of agro goods on which their economy was based.
Implemented in the first few weeks of the war, the blockade of the rebel coast proved extremely effective, though some blockade-runners always got through even in the last days of the war. In true capitalist fashion, many of these runners carried luxury goods on their return trips rather than muskets and shells, as there was more profit per pound in the former.
Enter July 1945
With the end of the war in Europe in May, the culmination of the apocalyptic battle for Okinawa (Operation Iceberg) at the end of June, the starving remnants of Yamashita’s Japanese Fourteenth Area Army reduced to isolated pockets on Mindanao and Luzon in the Philippines, and the British annihilation of the Sakurai’s Twenty-eighth Army in Burma the same month, the biggest nut left to crack (other than bypassed forces Java, Southeast Asia and China which was a whole ‘nother thing), was the Japanese home islands.
We all know what came next.
A continuation of the intense and unrelenting long range air campaign by the AAF’s heavy bomber force that flattened and rained fire across Japan while the Army proper prepared Operations Olympic–the land invasion of the southern island, Kyūshū; Coronet–the assault on the main island, Honshu; and Pastel, a diversionary fake out. The effort, expected to use four full U.S Armies as well as a combined Commonwealth force, would have heaved 55~ infantry and armored divisions across Japan’s beaches under the world’s largest umbrella of Allied air and Naval power in an effort that would have made D-Day look like a yacht club regatta.
The thing is, Olympic/Cornet/Pastel were expected to cost, as noted by Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s staff, upwards of 1.7–4 million American casualties, including 400,000–800,000 fatalities, and five to ten million Japanese fatalities. With the Japanese plan for absolute resistance, Operation Ketsugō, putting millions of untrained and laughably equipped civilians into bitter village-to-village, street-to-street, room-to-room fighting, those figures may have been conservative.
The Kokumin Giyū Sentōtai (Patriotic Citizens Fighting Corps) — that included men and boys 15-60 and women 17-40 — were armed with everything from obsolete 1880s black powder Murata rifles to clubs and bamboo sticks with anti-tank mines attached.
Even with that being said, the Japanese did have a significant stockpile of small arms and light artillery in the Home Islands.
On 31 August 1945 the Japanese reported on hand 1,369,063 rifles and light machine guns with limited ammunition of only 230 rounds per weapon. Records later indicated that actually some 2,468,665 rifles and carbines were received by the Occupation forces and later disposed of. The Japanese reported more artillery ammunition than small arms ammunition. Ammunition for the grenade launcher, often known as the “knee mortar,” was also more plentiful; some 51,000,000 rounds were reported, or an average of 1,794 rounds for each weapon.
This, as we know it, led Harry Truman to drop a couple atom bombs and threaten more, leaving the Emperor to sue for peace and avoiding the above. In effect, saving the lives of those 6-14 million lost on both sides in estimates.
But was there a third option?
The invasion fleet in place in the Pacific by the end of July 1945, made up of U.S., Commonwealth and French naval assets, amounted to no less than 42 fleet and light aircraft carriers, 100 escort carriers, 24 battleships, 500 destroyers and destroyer escorts, and nearly 180 fleet submarines including British, Australian, and Dutch boats. The majority of these were new wartime construction with a large portion just off their shakedown cruises.
To oppose this armada, in Japanese Home Waters there was a small and battered Imperial naval force consisting of four battleships (all damaged), five aircraft carriers (all damaged), two cruisers, 23 destroyers/large escorts, 46 seagoing submarines, 115 short-ranged Kōryū-class midget submarines (with another 496 building), 200+ smaller Kairyū-class midget submarines (with 760 planned), 120 Kaiten manned torpedoes (with another 500 planned), 2,412 Shin’yō suicide boats, and 13,000~ aircraft of all sorts.
Of these, most were capable of littoral operations only, which, due to extensive mining of Japanese coastal waters by Allied forces, was a danger all its own.
In effect, there was no way that the Japanese Navy could lift a blockade of their shores, especially if one was done far enough out to sea to limit the affect of manned torpedoes and kamikazes.
The islands were suffering from an extended lack of food, fuel, and raw materials, all of which had to come by sea.
The Japanese merchant fleet by August 1945 had been reduced to 1,466,900 tons, about 1/5 of its pre-war strength, and many of these ships were damaged or incapable of operations. With every wave hiding an Allied periscope and every cloud a B-24 ready or PBY/PBM, it was hazardous to a Maru’s health to poke around in blue water.
During the war, U.S. Navy submarines over the course of an amazing 1,474 patrols sank around 1,300 Japanese merchant ships, as well as roughly 200 warships, accounting for most of these losses. By 1945, Navy bombers and flying boats had become adept enough with the new SWOD Mk.9 (Special Weapon Ordnance Device) “Bat” radar-guided glidebomb to become a verified standoff shipkiller.
Therefore, this leads to the speculation that the Allies could have paused in late July 1945, kept the Manhattan Project up their sleeve, placed Operations Olympic/Cornet/Pastel in a holding pattern, and concentrated on a renewed Anaconda plan around the Home Islands.
With Guam, Tinian and Saipan-based B-29s continuing their operations over the skies of Kyūshū and Honshu, flatting factories and military targets; PBYs and PBMs could haunt the coastline looking for things to sink while sowing sea mines so thick you could walk across Tokyo Bay without getting your feet wet.
The surface fleet could establish an exclusion zone around the islands, standing far enough offshore to avoid Shin’yō and Kaiten, enforcing a blockade on the high seas to cut off communications and supply coming from Java, Southeast Asia and China, letting Japan wither on the vine.
While the Empire still had thousands of aircraft ready for kamikaze attacks, most were single-engine trainers and fighters with short legs. Of course, there was the possibility of long range suicide raids, such as the Japanese Operation Tan No. 2 in which 24 Yokosuka P1Y Ginga (Francis) bombers flew from Kyushu to attack Ulithi on a one way 1,100-mile trip, but such strikes took planning, knowledge of Allied fleet movements, and– most importantly– lots of fuel and well-trained aircrews capable of navigating precisely over water, neither of which the Japanese had in abundance at that stage of the war.
With the Okinawa campaign showing the Japanese were capable of one-way single engine aircraft attacks some 400 miles out from Kyushu, a surface fleet blockade zone some 600-700 miles out would keep the Japanese supply lines severed while remaining relatively safe. With F6F’s capable of a 850nm combat range and TBMs as well as the larger follow-on F8Fs some 1,100, its conceivable that Hellcats/Avengers and Bearcats could be launched by carrier groups coming in a tad closer from time to time to get in some coastal strikes over Japanese harbors if Halsey and Spruance felt strongly about it.
Inside the exclusion zone, the massive Allied submarine fleet could keep doing what they did best: sinking Marus and anything afloat with a meatball on its flag. While doing so, they could form early warning pickets for outgoing long-range kamikaze raids and lifeguard service for downed B-29 and PBY crews. Nighttime shore bombardment with their 3 and 5-inch guns could add an element of harassment to outlying areas. This could work with deception and psywar operations to keep the Japanese land forces shuttling from point to point, wasting resources and keeping men tied down on the beach and in the hills waiting for an amphibious assault while the cities, plants and marshaling yards in the rear burn.
However, what of the Japanese forces overseas?
On the day of surrender, the Imperial Japanese Forces totaled 6,983,000 troops including construction units, naval and air forces. Of these, Army and Navy forces stationed within the home islands numbered 3,532,000, which meant that nearly as many, some 3.4 million, were still scattered around the Pacific from Manchuria to the Solomons:
-In China, the 900,000-strong Kwantung Army of Gen. Otozō Yamada (along with another 200,000 toy soldiers of the Mengjiang and Manchukuo Imperial Armies) sounded massive on paper, but was filled with bottom of the barrel units and armor that could be stopped with your average sticky bomb much less a Sherman or T-34. When the Soviets muscled in starting on 9 August, they swept through all of Manchuria with their 1.5 million Ivan force within two weeks. Sure, you can argue they could have held out longer if the Emperor had not ordered Yamada to lay down his arms on 15 August, but either way, this force would have been steamrolled by Stalin by October regardless. The same could be said of Lt.Gen. Yoshio Kozuki’s 17th Area Army in Korea, though allowing Moscow to sweep through the whole Korean Peninsula may not have been politically acceptable in the West.
-Stroke-addled Gensui Count Terauchi Hisaichi’s 680,000-man Southern Expeditionary Army Group controlled French Indochina, Singapore, Thailand, Malaya, New Guinea, Borneo, Java, Sumatra, and a dwindling slice of Burma but was facing a huge Indo-British-Australian effort to keep pushing him out. Though they laid down their arms to Lord Mountbatten on 12 September 1945 following the surrender order, the odds that they could have held out against the tide was slim and Hisaichi’s scattered command would likely have folded by that Christmas regardless of events in Japan. Sure, far-flung units would likely have held out longer (it should be remembered that an estimated 1,000 Imperial Japanese Army troops joined Indonesian guerillas and fought the Dutch into 1948) but this would not have ended the blockade of the Home Islands.
-General Rikichi Ando’s 10th Area Army in Taiwan consisted mostly of poorly trained reservists, conscripted students, and local Boeitai home guard militia with some units equipped with sharpened bamboo pikes and longbows. They surrendered to Kuomintang General Chen Yi on 25 October 1945 as almost as afterthought but could have been left, like Japanese garrison island Truk, to remain isolated in our Anaconda redux effort.
-Smaller forces existed in the Philippines, New Britain, the Japanese naval and air base at Truk, Wake Atoll, the Bonin Islands, Mili Atoll, Jaluit, the Ryukyu Islands and others. Over the course of a July-December 1945 Anaconda campaign, they could continue to either languish as being strategically invaluable, or be captured in small-scale sideshow operations. By that time, most of these areas had been pulverized.
Mili Island, in the Marshalls, for instance, had been the target of 18 months of ceaseless bombing by U.S. Marine Corps aircraft when the surrender order came in Sept. 1945.
So as the theory goes, could a six-month naval and air blockade/bombardment of the Home Islands, say stretching to January 1946, the bitter winter of the new year, coupled with the eventual reduction of the Empire’s overseas outposts, have resulted in Japan seeking peace?
During this time, the B-29s and the newly introduced Consolidated B-32 Dominators would have covered Japan with fire from sea to sea.
Between January and July 1945, the U.S. firebombed and destroyed all but five Japanese cities, deliberately sparing Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital, and four others. The extent of the destruction was impressive ranging from 50 to 60% of the urban area destroyed in cities including Kobe, Yokohama and Tokyo, to 60 to 88% in seventeen cities, to 98.6% in the case of Toyama….Overall, by one calculation, the US firebombing campaign destroyed 180 square miles of 67 cities, killed more than 300,000 people and injured an additional 400,000, figures that exclude the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki…
Suffer the POWs
At risk during the pressure cooker of Anaconda 1945, would be the more than 36,000 Allied personnel of various categories located in approximately 140 POW camps in the Home Islands. Another six months of firebombing and evaporating supplies of medicine and food would likely have led to most if not all Allied POWs in the Home Islands losing their lives either through neglect or culling by the Imperial Army.
At least one source maintains that in the last three months of the war, 173 American POWs were murdered in Japan including 62 who were burned alive in their cell blocks. Surely, these instances would have increased if the war continued.
Also, there is the nuclear option.
Japan managed a small-scale atomic program going as far back as 1931 and had both centrifuges and cyclotrons as well as a tiny amount of uranium on hand during WWII, which they attempted to weaponize. Hitler tried to help a brother out and sent U-234 to Japan in the last days of the Third Reich with plans for radars and super-weapons as well as 1,200 pounds of uranium oxide. However, when Germany surrendered, the U-boat’s commander was ill inclined to complete his epic voyage and made for the U.S. where he raised the white flag to an American destroyer south of the Grand Banks, Newfoundland on 14 May.
This left the Japanese woefully short of heavy water and uranium and, while some reports have surfaced that hinted the program was still making progress in the last days of the war, was likely never going to produce a workable bomb. Further, even if by some unlikely miracle Tojo pulled off an atomic strike on a U.S. anchorage via aircraft, or West Coast port city via submarine, the retaliation made possible from the more advanced American atomic program would have seen the last remaining Japanese cities glow in the dark– while still not breaking the blockade or clockwork firebombs.
Further, barring a radio broadcast by the Emperor or military coup by the peace faction, Japan’s government may have still been willing to fight to the last bullet in January 1946, leading to Truman dropping the bombs anyway and/or Operation Downfall getting the green light.
Would a rehashed Anaconda worked and brought peace by 1946?
Possibly. But would it be worth it?
Hundreds of thousands if not millions of additional Japanese would have perished between 1 July-31 December 1945 due to famine and flame that otherwise survived following the actual events. Further, thousands of Allied POWs that made it home in real life would have likely found shallow graves in Japanese soil. Add to this Allied submariners sunk by uncharted mines in the winter of 1945 and even more American airmen parachuting into hostile and very hungry villagers below.
Strategically, Anaconda would have extended the war by six months and cost billions of extra dollars keeping huge fleets at sea, B-32s in production, and men under arms. Further, the Soviet Union and likely Mao’s Red Chinese Army, would have made much more extensive gains during the last half of 1945 than actually occurred, leaving the prospect of Korea and Taiwan still being vassal states of one or the other.
In retrospect, and in my personal opinion, Anaconda 1945 may have worked, but the A-bombs and Hirohito’s subsequent decision to run a peace appeal was and is the better choice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today these boats are still there to some degree
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.