Appendices - Hirohito's War
APPENDIX A: SUBMARINES - THE UNDERSEA WAR
Japan’s ‘Long Lance’ Jockeys: Inspired by the early successes of the Kamikaze pilots, two young seamen, noting the abundance of unused stocks of Long Lance torpedoes, conceived the idea of converting them into one-way rides for their suicidal jockeys. Commander Zenji Orita, who was stunned to discover that there were more volunteers for the special attacks than there were Long Lances was dismissive of this waste of human life. The relunctant Orita, who was ordered to deliver six Kaiten and their pilots to Ulithi Atoll was told in no uncertain terms by Rear-Admiral Kozo Nishina, 6th Fleet Chief of Staff, “The pilots have already been selected. All you have to do is to carry them close to the enemy and release them. The order comes from the top. You just follow instructions.”19 The six jockeys selected to pilot the Kaiten (heaven shaker) included Lieutenant Sekio Nishina, along with Hiroshi Kuroki, one of the pioneers of the Long Lance suicide submarine.
In the early hours of 20 November 1944, Orita, in command of the Type C2 I-47, a 356ft x 29ft beam submarine, took his six Kaiten passengers each ready to ride a 3,000 lb torpedo, to within a few miles of Ulithi Atoll. At 5.47am a huge explosion rocked USS Mississinewa, a huge 25,000 tons Cimarron Class replenishment oiler that had been launched earlier in the year at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point Shipyard in Chesapeake Bay; by chance the Mississinewa had replenished its tanks just a few days previously and was carrying 404,000 gallons of aviation fuel, 9,000 barrels of diesel, and 90,000 gallons of fuel oil. Subsidiary explosions lifted the ship out of the water and sent flames hundreds of feet into the air with a huge black pall of smoke spiraling miles into the sky. The tanker rolled over and sank at 9.00am. It was an initial successful result that, as with the kamikaze, flattered to deceive. Nothing was heard of the other Kaiten but the scale of the explosion led intelligence to falsely report back to Japan that several aircraft carriers had been destroyed. Some 400 Kaiten were produced in six different types but the only other confirmed success achieved was the sinking of a destroyer. The Imperial Japanese Navy’s final miracle weapon had failed.
Perhaps even more than the production of the wrong type of submarine, the failure of Japan’s submarine force can be blamed on strategic incompetence. In the post-war analysis it was felt that Japanese commanders shared a significant portion of the blame for the failure of Japan’s submarine strategies. Some ascribe the reluctance to attack merchantmen to it not being part of the Bushido code. However it seems likely that flagging morale, in a submarine force that was poorly directed and equipped, led to a disinclination to engage in combat. Further enlightenment is found in the extremely large number of times the target was ‘too far away to attack.’20 It seems that in post-war debriefing even the Japanese commanding officers could not disguise their embarrassment when faced with the bare facts of Japan’s submarine performance.
The wariness of the Japanese submarine commanders can also be attributed to the rapid development of the US destroyer force during the course of the war. At the outset the US was mainly dependent on World War I period four-stackers of the Clemson and Wickes Classes - some 273 in total. [The Clemson Class became famed for the Honda Point Disaster, an accidental beaching of 14 vessels off Honda Point, Santa, Barbara County, California, after the Great Kanto Earthquake produced extraordinary tides on the west coast of America, in the process disrupting the US fleet navigation systems.]
In the 1930s just 38 modern destroyers were produced from three classes of destroyer (Porter, Sims and Mahan). Although these vessels were being upgraded it took several years after Pearl Harbor for large quantities of new destroyers to come on stream. It was evident in the earlier phases of the war, particularly in the Battles of the Slot at Guadalcanal, that US destroyers were outperformed by their Japanese counterparts. After 1943 however, a vast new influx of fleet destroyers were delivered to Asia. Apart from 92 fleet destroyers of late 1930s design (Benson and Greaves Class), US shipbuilders delivered a staggering 233 Fletcher and Sumner Class destroyers by the end of the war. In addition to fleet destroyers, the US also deployed 377 new, slower Destroyer Escorts by the end of the war: Evarts Class (65), Buckley Class (65), Cannon Class (58), Edsall Class (85), Rudderow Class (21) and Butler Class (83). With the exception of the Evarts Class, all these new Destroyer Escorts used newly developed steam powered turbo electric drives developed by General Electric, or innovative combined speed turbines built by Westinghouse.
Ineffective 1.1-inch anti-aircraft cannons were also replaced by the now standard US re-engineered Bofors 40mm weapon, which proved so effective during World War II. Added to their racks of Mark IX depth charges, forward throwing Hedgehogs and uprated sonar and radar, the Bofors made the new Destroyer Escorts into superb defensive weapons for convoy duty. At the peak of the Pacific War in mid -1943, the US Navy had orders for some 1,005 escort destroyers alone; although this requirement was later scaled down, nevertheless the US shipbuilders delivered an aggregate total of 557 Destroyer Escorts and conversions by the end of the war.
Deploying sonar and radar capabilities far in advance of their Japanese counterparts, the arrival of new US destroyers during the second half of the Pacific War simply overwhelmed Japan’s submarine forces with both their numbers and their technology.