Mar 8, 2015

MY FINAL SERVICE - I-BOAT CAPTAIN Part I




HIJMS I-47: 8 November 1944 at Otsu Island Naval Base
BY ZENJI ORITA with JOSEPH D. HARRINGTON
On July 2, the American submarine Barb used a new weapon for submarines—rockets—against targets in the Japanese homeland. Three days later, Gen. MacArthur announced that the Philippines had been formally liberated from Japan. On the next day, I-351 arrived at Singapore. This was Lt. Cdr. Noboru Okayama's second fuel run there. He took aboard 500 kiloliters of aviation gasoline, as before, and started for home on July 11. Three days later, I-351 and all her crew were scorched into eternity. Torpedoes from the American submarine Bluefish tore into her, and the transport-converted-to-tanker blew up. Next day a force of enemy surface ships shelled our northern island, Hokkaido. The net was closing.

On July 15 the 6th Fleet added six submarines to its roster, but only on paper. They were the German submarines U-181, U-862, UIT-24, UIT-25, U-219 and U-195. The first two were confiscated at Singapore, the next pair at Kobe, and the others at Jakarta and Soerabaya, respectively. We renamed them I-501 through I-506. All were out of service when we confiscated them from our surrendered ally and still undergoing refit when the war ended.

On July 16 the world's first atomic bomb was exploded successfully at Almagordo, New Mexico, in the U. S. On the same day USS Indianapolis, which had been waiting for word of this, left San Francisco for Tinian, carrying a special cargo of uranium. Battleships and cruisers were shelling our main island of Honshu not long after that. On July 16th and 18th enemy carrier planes swept, one wave after another, over the Kanto Plain. Described to Mr. Harrington by a Yokosuka resident as "filling the sky in every direction you looked," they hit Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, and the nearby airfields defending our capital city. I-372, which Lt. Shingo Takahashi commanded, was getting ready for a sortie at Yokosuka and was sunk in the July 18 raid, all hands miraculously surviving the bomb hit that sent her down. Just before and after I-372's loss, however, we scored two minor victories. I-53 sent a kaiten into the attack transport USS Marathon on July 12, damaging her, then sent another into the destroyer escort Underbill on July 24. Lt. Cdr. Oba hit Underhill right in the middle of an attack on him. Underhill was so badly damaged that she had to be sunk by friendly forces.

Carrier aircraft hit Kure on July 23-24. When they flew back over the horizon, Japan had practically no navy left. Battleships Hyuga, Ise and "lucky Haruna" (the ship Americans claimed to have sunk about as often we claimed to have sunk USS Saratoga) settled right at their moorings, only portions of their superstructures thrusting above the surface. That left Japan with only 1 of her 12 battleships remaining, IJN Nagato, and she was damaged. Also, while those carrier planes were hitting Kure, Japan was being invaded—by submariners! A party of Americans had paddled ashore from USS Barb at Karafuto and blew up a railroad train.

I-402 was completed at Sasebo on July 24. Neither she nor her sister, I-404, saw action. The war was over before I-402 completed her shakedown training, and I-404 was sunk by bombing at Kure on July 28. She was moored offshore awaiting completion when carrier planes swooped in to give our navy its final blow. Carrier Amagi, ancient cruiser Izumo, light cruiser Oyodo, and destroyer Nashi went to a watery grave with I-404.

Meanwhile, in I-58, Lt. Cdr. Hashimoto had cruised for a week without sighting anything. On July 28 he spotted a tanker and, a few minutes later a distant explosion was heard. I-58 surfaced for a look., but a rain squall obscured vision in all directions. Hashimoto dived his sub again, estimating there was a "very dim possibility" that he had sunk a tanker. At that moment in time, in spite of duty in a total of five submarines since the war's beginning, Hashimoto had yet to fire a conventional torpedo at. the enemy. The following night, he scored Japan's last success of the war.

"A messenger waked me as I had ordered, at 10:30 P.M." he said, "The moon had then been risen for 30 minutes." Hashimoto threw some water on his face, then stopped for a few moments of meditation at his ship's shrine. This, a 10" x 16" box of white paulownia wood installed by workers at Kure, contained a few mementoes and charms from Ise Grand Shrine, where the Emperor's goddess-ancestor, Amaterasu, is venerated. Then Hashimoto went to the conning tower, accepted a routine report from his watch officer, and assumed the conn.

"Night action stations!" he ordered, and took I-58 up from the depths to where he could scan with his periscope. He also ordered the air and surface search radar antennas elevated and, when nothing could be detected either visually or electronically, called out "Surface!"

I-58 had hardly iconic to rest when one of her lookouts reported seeing a ship, '90 degrees left of the bow. Hashimoto was then steering almost directly south. The sighting was to the east.

Hashimoto said he heaved his "thick body up the ladder to the bridge," to confirm the sighting personally and issued a rapid series of orders. "Dive! Level off at 60 feet! Man all Kaiten! Make ready all torpedo tubes!"

The enemy ship, which had been a black blob on the eastern horizon, slowly took on a triangular shape. Hashimoto began to make out a large ship with a high superstructure. It was either a battleship or a cruiser. As it kept plowing through the sea toward him, neither changing speed nor appearing to zigzag, he kept saying to himself "That ship is dead!! That ship is dead!"

All six of I-58's tubes were loaded and readied, at which point Hashimoto grew fearful that the enemy vessel might pass too close to him for his torpedoes to arm. Like Tanabe approaching USS Yorktown at Midway, Hashimoto needed to make sure the run from his tubes to the target would be long enough for his torpedoes to arm themselves, which they did after a specific number of propeller revolutions. He quickly ordered a 180°-turn made to the left. Then he ordered another, to the right. This long S-turn put him back on his original course, but along a path more to the east and somewhat more distant from the enemy's track than he had been earlier. The cruiser-or-battleship was now about 2.5 miles away, angling across I-58's bow from the left. Hashimoto could now make out her two towering "islands" clearly, as well as her turrets. He decided, because of her high freeboard, that she was an Idaho-class battleship.

The four kaiten men were in their weapons, all clamoring to be fired away, now that the size of the target had been announced. Hashimoto curtly told his torpedo officer, Lt. Toshio Tanaka, that the kaiten men could wait. He had a perfect firing setup now, and was waiting only for the range to shorten a little more before emptying his tubes at the target. If he took time to launch kaiten, the target might pass and be gone into the night. Also, launching human torpedoes was a noisy operation that might be picked up on enemy sound equipment. And the visibility had begun to vary. Kaiten pilots might not be able to see a thing through their short periscopes.

When the enemy ship was about 1500 yards away and I-58 on a line 60 degrees off his starboard bow, Hashimoto shouted "Fire one!" In quick succession, a half-dozen Model 95's leaped from their tubes, spaced 3 degrees apart, set to run at 19 feet. Three missed, running across the enemy ship's bow. Then, one after another, the other three hit. The first slammed into the bow, and the second hit under the first turret. The final torpedo struck under the bridge, according to Hashimoto's report. He could see a third column of water in the light of explosions caused by his first two hits.

l-58's torpedo officer, gunnery officer and two communications petty officers kept scrambling for turns at the day periscope while Hashimoto was using the night one. Their cries of joy were repeated throughout the submarine. Hashimoto kept sweeping the horizon with his periscope. He could not believe that so big a ship was traveling without escorts and recalled the time off the Marshalls when a line of destroyers appeared out of nowhere while he was working into position to torpedo two aircraft carriers and a battleship. After a short while he dived his boat and turned to the westward, to keep clear of any escorts while his torpedo tubes were reloaded. An hour later he was back on the surface, sweeping the area with both radar and binoculars. The radar showed nothing and the visibility had closed down to 100 yards. Hashimoto wirelessed Kure, saying "Have just torpedoed and sunk Idaho-class battleship." Then he turned north and made full speed for several hours on the surface, getting as far away as possible before diving again.

On Aug. 10 the captain of I-58 launched two more kaiten at enemy ships, with results doubtful. On Aug. 12, the last kaiten of the war was fired. Hashimoto had two remaining, but Petty Officer Ichiro Shiraki's was found defective. The other, manned by Petty Officer Yoshiaki Hayashi, was sent away at what Hashimoto thought was a large seaplane tender. Actually, it was the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill. Hayashi may have actually scraped this target's side with his kaiten, but he did not sink it. Destroyer escort Nickel, trying to locate the human torpedo, saw it explode about a mile astern of Oak Hill.

Hashimoto had set out on July 16, but had had to put about and return when several kaiten periscopes were found to be defective. A week after he left this second time, Japan received word of the Potsdam Declaration, which demanded unconditional surrender from Japan. To some of our high-ranking officers, this was unthinkable. A group of them, later called kichigai ("the insane ones"), plotted to seize rule of Japan. They claimed that this would foil the "Badoglio-type" statesmen surrounding the Emperor who, they said, were acting like the officer who had surrendered Italy to the Allies. Gen. Korechika Anami (Minister of War) was the leader of this no-surrender faction. His followers went so far as to forge an order giving them command of the Imperial Palace guard, then searched the Emperor's residence on the night of Aug. 14, trying to find the phonograph record of the surrender announcement the Emperor had made for broadcast the next day. Posters suddenly appeared everywhere, denouncing the Emperor's closest advisors as traitors and urging people to provide themselves with bamboo spears for repelling expected Allied paratroopers. Mainichi, one of our larger national newspapers, carried announcements of government orders that indolent workers would be punished and showed pictures of large underground factories being constructed. Workers, fearing bombs, had not been reporting for work at industrial defense plants, so threats of fines and imprisonment were used against them. Absenteeism had become a civil crime.

Then came Aug. 6, the day when "two suns," one natural and the other man-made, cast their fiery glow over Hiroshima, not very far from my place of duty. An air raid warning sounded at 8 A.M. at Otake, but I did not pay much attention to it. There often were false alarms and the radio at the time was reporting that only one lone B-29 had been sighted in the sky. I had gathered up my books and was about to head for my classroom when, at about 8:15 A.M. a terrific explosion was heard. A short time later, all the windows on the north side of my building were blown in by an air blast, the great pressure wave emanating from where an atomic bomb was first dropped on human beings. I looked toward Hiroshima. A large cloud was spreading over the city. It then seemed to zoom upward with ever-increasing speed, after which it topped off at a great height, giving it the appearance of a giant mushroom.