First Shot: The Untold Story of the Japanese Minisubs That Attacked Pearl Harbor
By John Craddock
Hardcover in dustjacket, 210 pages, bibliography, notes, photographs, and index
Published by McGraw-Hill, October 2005
Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
The use of the five Japanese minisubs during the attack on Pearl Harbor has always been controversial. Many Japanese naval officers opposed the idea, fearing the submarines would contribute little and risked alerting the Americans to the impending attack. On the American side, the submarines represented missed opportunities to warn of the attack (just as many Japanese officers feared), and the penetration of the harbor revealed inadequacies of the defenses. In the aftermath, the Japanese were convinced the minisubs had torpedoed American warships. The American Navy insisted they had done no damage, a position which was maintained for decades.
In First Shot John Craddock documents what was known about the attack and the fates of the minisubs in 2005. The midget submarine (I-20-tou) sunk by USS Ward’s gunfire had been located, but not positively identified. I-16-tou had not been located although she was suspected to have torpedoed the USS West Virginia (BB-48) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37) by some. He also briefly describes the midget submarine raids against Sydney Harbor and Diego Suarez, the latter arguably their most successful operation. Operations in the Solomons are briefly mentioned. There is some interesting information on ENS Kazuo Sakamaki, who commanded I-24-tou and became PoW Number One.
However, for a good part of the book Craddock is exploring peripheral subjects. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s early career is described in detail, and there is an entire chapter on his assassination. There is a chapter on Coral Sea and Midway, as well as the use of the Kaiten manned torpedoes during the last year of the war. Another chapter discusses Japan after the war. All interesting and well written, but not the topic of the book.
There are also some missed opportunities which are not mentioned. For instance, Ward had a busy morning on 07DEC41, and reported depth charging a total of four submarine contacts off the entrance to Pearl Harbor – and at least three of the minisubs were known to have been damaged by depth charges outside the harbor. Tracing her movements could have filled a chapter, and she was not the only destroyer prosecuting submarine contacts in the area at the time. Midget submarine operations in the Solomons and the Aleutians would also be interesting, and would give some insights into the evolution of doctrine and employment of these vessels as the war progressed.
While this book is worth reading, it is limited by what was known at the time. The author “gets out into the weeds” with topics outside of the book’s scope, and doesn’t fully explore topics which are related. This work is a start, but there is a comprehensive book still waiting to be written on the saga of the fifty Ko-hyoteki midget submarines used by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War.
The Japanese Ko-hyoteki midget submarines were used in several theaters of the Pacific War, but their first and most famous use was during the attack of Pearl Harbor on 07DEC41. They were 80 feet in length. They were powered by a 600 horsepower (447 kW) electric motor, which could drive them at a maximum speed of 23 knots (43 km/h) or for 100 nautical miles (190 km) at a low speed. They carried a crew of two and two torpedoes, which were loaded externally from the bow.
For the Pearl Harbor raid they were carried piggy-back by five I-16 class fleet submarines and launched outside the harbor entrance. The minisubs were launched during the night before the raid, with orders to penetrate the harbor and attack. Nominally they were to rendezvous with their parent submarines after completing their missions, but the crews were under no delusions of the likelihood for successfully completing this phase and expected not to return.
The actions of the midget submarines are listed below in order of their parent subs. “I-16-tou” means “I-16’s boat”. There are some loose ends remaining. The Light Cruiser USS St. Lewis (CL-49) reported being missed by two torpedoes outside the harbor entrance at 1004. The Japanese fleet submarines were not positioned there so if the report is accurate, it is possible these were fired by I-16-tou. Alternatively, many believe a photograph taken of Battleship Row during the attack shows a midget sub broaching after firing her torpedoes. In either case, it is likely that I-16-tou ended up in the West Loch at the end of her mission and her wreckage was dumped off the harbor entrance in 1944.
I-16-tou, ENS Masaharu Yokoyama and PO2c Tei Uyeda, launched at 0042. Likely penetrated Pearl Harbor, skuttled in the West Lock. Many believe a photograph taken by a Japanese aviator during the attack shows I-16-tou firing torpedoes at the USS West Virginia (BB-48) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37). Three messages were received from I-16-tou confirming a successful air attack, claiming that she had damaged U.S. warship(s), and a final message received at 0051 local time on 08DEC41 reporting that the submarine was unable to navigate. Her wreck was discovered in three sections in the debris field of the West Lock disaster, dumped outside the harbor during the clean-up. Torpedoes fired, scuttling charge detonated, crew unaccounted for.
I-18-tou, LTJG Shigemi Furuno and PO1c Shigenori Yokoyama, launched at 0215. Found outside of Pearl Harbor, East of the entrance, recovered by USS Current (ARS-22) on 13JUL60 from depth of 76 feet. Damaged by depth charges, abandoned by her crew, torpedoes were not fired. Currently on display at Eta Jima, Japan.
I-20-tou, ENS Akira Hiroo and PO2c Yoshio Katayama, launched at 0257. Sunk by the Destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) at 0645. The crew died in the attack, her torpedoes not fired. Found on the sea floor in 1,312 feet of water by a University of Hawaii submarine in August 2002. Declared a war grave.
I-22-tou, LT Naoji Iwasa and Petty Officer 1c Naokichi Sasaki, launched at 0116, penetrated Pearl Harbor. Fired one torpedo at the Seaplane Tender USS Curtiss (AV-4) and one torpedo at the Destroyer USS Monaghan (DD-354). I-22-tou was struck by shellfire from Curtiss at 0840, then rammed and depth-charged by Monaghan. Crew was killed in the attack. Her wreck was recovered on 21DEC41 and used as fill during construction, remains of the crew still aboard. LT Iwasa’s shoulder insignia was recovered from the wreckage confirming the identification, as he was the only full Lieutenant among the crews. The insignia is currently on display at Yasukuni.
I-24-tou, Ha-19, ENS Kazuo Sakamaki and CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki, launched at 0333. She had a faulty gyrocompass which delayed her launch. She was depth charged twice off the entrance to Pearl Harbor and ran aground. Broke free and proceeded east, then ran aground again off Bellows Field. Submarine broke free during air attack and hauled ashore by U.S. forces. Torpedoes not fired due to damage, scuttling charge failed to detonate. Inagaki killed, Sakamaki taken prisoner. Ha-19 was salvaged and went on a War Bond tour, and is currently displayed at The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Hardcover in dustjacket, 256 pages, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index
Published by Naval Institute Press 1996
Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
Midget submarines were used by all the major naval powers of WWII except for the United States. The Italians, British, Germans, and Japanese all fielded small submarines, manned torpedoes of various types, or what would now be called swimmer delivery vehicles (SDVs). These generally were deployed against enemy shipping at anchor or in harbor, and utilized standard torpedoes or mines to sink their targets. While not technically suicide weapons (at least in most cases) the operations were extremely hazardous and often resulted in the death or capture of the crews.
The author begins with Bushnell’s Turtle of American Revolutionary war fame. While unsuccessful as a weapon, it had some basic success as a submersible and proved the concept. Strangely, the successful CSS Hunley is not mentioned, although this may be due to the discovery of her wreck happening after publication of this book. The first modern operation covered in detail is the sinking of the Austro-Hungarian battleship Viribus Unitus by the Italians during the closing days of the First World War.
The Italians were certainly the first to capitalize on the midget submarine concept in WWII, using SDVs to sink the British battleships Valiant and Queen Elizabeth at Alexandria with their Maiale and covertly operating against Allied shipping from the tanker Olterra at Gibraltar. The British copied the Maiale for their own Chariot SDV, and developed the four-man X-craft which were used successfully against the German battleship Tirpitz and the Japanese heavy cruiser Takao. Germany was a late comer to the midget submarine game, employing a variety of types in an effort to disrupt the Allied invasion of Europe, without much success. The Japanese developed their “Target-A” two-man midget to engage the U.S. Navy on the high seas in a climactic battle, but in the end used them mainly against ships at anchor or in harbor, the most well-known attacks being the Pearl Harbor raid and attack on Sydney Harbor. More successful but less well known are the torpedoing of HMS Ramillies at Madagascar and the attacks on American invasion shipping at Guadalcanal.
The author also evaluates the different vessels and their employment from a technical perspective, tracing the development of each. The smaller one-man submersibles, although tried on several occasions, were never able to be made practical for a variety of reasons. The larger types such as the British X-craft and Japanese Target-A were designed by submarine officers and engineers and were quite functional, their main limitations stemmed from their deployment to the combat area which required the services of fleet submarines as transports.
This work fills a void as very little has been written about the operations of midget submarines, the author has done an excellent job researching the stories of the men involved. These operations were quite secret at the time, and in some cases more information has only come to light recently – the details of the five Japanese mini-subs at Pearl Harbor being one example. Overall this is a very well written book which I can recommend without hesitation, and one which fills a gap in the naval history of the Second World War.
The second leading scorer of the Imperial Japanese Navy with 80 victories, Tetsuzo Iwamoto fought throughout the Pacific War and survived. During his first combat on 25FEB38 he was credited with five Chinese aircraft downed over Nanking. The model depicts the aircraft he flew from the carrier Zuikaku at Pearl Harbor and the Coral Sea.
The Ship That Wouldn’t Die: The Saga of the USS Neosho – A World War II Story of Courage and Survival at Sea
by Don Keith
Hardcover in dustjacket, 400 pages, photographs, indexed
Published by Dutton Caliber April 2015
Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
This is the story of the USS Neosho (AO-23), a Cimmeron-class fleet oiler. Neosho was one of the few ships to get underway during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, moving from Battleship Row to a safer area. The U.S. Navy depends on supply ships and oilers to keep its fighting ships at sea; without them operational range and endurance would be greatly reduced, severely limiting combat operations. Thus the “fleet train” ships are considered to be high-value assets.
The Neosho was sent to the Coral Sea to support RADM Fletcher’s Task Force 17 centered around the aircraft carriers Yorktown and Lexington. After refueling TF 17 Fletcher sent the Neosho and her escort, the destroyer USS Sims (DD-409) to a safer area while he sought to engage the Japanese fleet consisting of the carriers Zuiakaku, Shoakaku, and light carrier Shoho. Unfortunately a Japanese scout plane discovered the Neosho and Sims, but misidentified them as an aircraft carrier and cruiser.
Thinking they had located Fletcher’s main force, the Japanese launched a powerful airstrike. Three dive bombers struck Sims, breaking her back and sinking her quickly. Neosho took seven bomb hits and was crashed by a damaged dive bomber. After the strike she was left on fire and dead in the water. In the confusion, roughly half her crew had mistaken to order to prepare to abandon ship for the order to abandon ship. While two of her whaleboats and one of the Sims’ boats eventually returned to Neosho, at least eight life rafts full of men drifted away.
The author uses official reports and crew interviews to tell the story of the Neosho from the Pearl Harbor attack through the eventual rescue of her crew and the Sims survivors by the destroyer USS Henley (DD-391). There are several acts of heroism and several cringe-worth mistakes which reflects both the highs and lows of human responses to extraordinary circumstances. An interesting read which went by rather quickly, recommended.
Note: If you have ever wondered why I go to the extra effort to list the publishing information and ISBN numbers as part of my book reviews, here is an example of a list of other books with very similar titles:
The Ship That Would Not Die by RADM F. Julian Becton – USS Laffey (DD-724)
The Ship That Would Not Die by Stephen Curley and J. Dale Shively – USS Queens (APA-103)
The Ship That Would Not Die by Thomas Lightburn (novel)
USS Franklin (CV-13) The Ship That Wouldn’t Die by James R. Nilo and Robert E. St. Peters
This is the aircraft of 1LT Ken Taylor. Taylor was one of the few US airmen to get airborne during the Pearl Harbor raid, and was credited with two victories and two probables. After the war Japanese records confirmed that the probables also failed to return to their carriers. Markings are from Starfighter Decals sheet 72-135, and went on without difficulty.
All told, the Airfix kits are nice. The panel lines are excessive, but can be dealt with. The clear parts were disappointing, I filed down the side rails, removed the mysterious ridge at the rear of the sliding portion, and fabricated the armored glass in the front – and I still don’t like the appearance. Any future builds will get a vacuformed canopy right from the start.
By Jamie Prenatt and Mark Stille, illustrated by Paul Wright
Paperback, 48 pages
Published by Osprey Publishing June 2014
Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.2 x 9.8 inches
This is a typical Osprey New Vanguard volume and follows their well-established format. The authors have organized the presentation by nationality, with the major Axis powers of Italy, Germany, and Japan each having their own sections. The sections detail the developmental history of the various types of small submersibles employed by each nation and then gives a brief overview of their operations.
The various designs had inherent limitations imposed by their size which influenced the scope and effectiveness of their employment and chances for success. Several types are marginal vessels at best, and while not strictly suicide missions, the odds are decidedly against the safe return of the crews.
Italian submersibles mainly fall into a category which we would call “Swimmer Delivery Vehicles” today. The SLC delivered two divers to an enemy harbor, where the crew would attach large mines and then hopefully evade capture. Their most notable success was the mining of the British battleship HMS Valiant at Alexandria. The Italians also employed CB-type mini subs in support of German Operations against the Russians at Sevastopol.
The Germans came late to the midget submarine game but developed several types in anticipation of the Allied invasion of Europe. The vast majority of these designs were ineffective, being much more a threat to their own crews than to Allied shipping. The one successful design was the Type XXVII Seehund which accounted for 120,000 tons of shipping. Like most German wonder weapons, this was another case of too little too late.
The Japanese were arguably the most successful of midget submarine operators, most famously employing five “Target A” as part of the Pearl Harbor Raid. The authors’ view is that these submarines achieved no results at Pearl Harbor, although Japanese sources maintain one did hit the USS Oklahoma. Target A submarines were also used at Sydney Harbor, the Aleutians, the Guadalcanal campaign, the Philippines, Okinawa, and Diego Suarez. The latter is the least well known operation but is arguably the most successful, the battleship HMS Ramillies being damaged and the tanker British Loyalty being sunk on 30MAY42.
The space constraints of this series limits the narrative to only a brief discussion of each nation’s midget submarine programs but the space is used well. Three very interesting books could easily be written by simply expanding upon this information and covering the operations in detail. This book provides a quick introduction to the topic which leaves the reader wanting more. Recommended.
WHENEVER ANY FORM OF GOVERNMENT BECOMES DESTRUCTIVE OF THESE ENDS (LIFE,LIBERTY,AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS) IT IS THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO ALTER OR ABOLISH IT, AND TO INSTITUTE A NEW GOVERNMENT― Thomas Jefferson