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The Sinking of the AWA MARU and Japanese-American Relation, 1945-1995

Watching a TV presentation of the Memorial Day Concert from the Capitol made me think I had lost my memory. there having been numerous photographs and references to WWI, European operations in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam with special emphasis on the Holocaust but no mention whatever of the fact that there had also been a slight war in the Pacific. Reading this book also me question my memory; I remembered reading brief references to the incident in question and note that V ADM Uncle Charley Lockwood’s book Sink ‘Em All relates it, but I had no idea that it was of the major importance that Professor Dingman imputes to it. He truthfully observes the knowledge of the event has all be disappeared from Japanese memory and is virtually unknown to Americans.

Maybe I have missed something. From this book I learn that:

1. The inadvertent sinking of AW A MARU by QUEENFISH on 1 April 1945 was not only “the greatest submarine error of World War II” but colored Japanese-American relations for half a century;

2. Lockwood dominated all writings of the Pacific submarine war until 1951 and his protege. Rear Admiral (then Captain) Richard G. Voge, was able to influence Samuel Eliot Morison and Theodore Roscoe to the extent that the incident was relegated to a mere paragraph in victory in the Pacific and 2-1/2 pages in United States Submarine Operations in World Wac II, whereas these authors should have damned QUEENFISH and her crew;

3. The latter Naval Institute book had “the ostensible purpose of informing the next generation of submariners about their predecessors’ deeds” and “listed Theodore Roscoe as its author”, but actually was merely a Lockwood-induced
rewrite of NavPers 15,1784 (US Submarine Losses World War II) by “Roscoe, a professional writer of adventure stories” and which “Voge had polished during the last months prior to bis death”;

4. Despite the poor seamanship on the part of AW A MARU’s captain and the fact that the Japanese had filled her with contraband cargo and aboard was not one pound of the POW relief supplies for which she had been granted safe conduct, QUEENFISH’s skipper, C. Elliott Loughlin, whose error in sinking an unseen target which he believed to be a warship, was a tragedy which remains a wound in the heart of Japanese-American relations to this day;

5. Unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan was immoral and only excused by the Germans’ use of it;

6. Admiral King and State Department officials who insisted Ol Loughlin’s court-martial and U.S. indemnification of the families bereaved by the loss of over 2,000 Japanese citizens were right but Lockwood went too far in defending Loughlin. The officials who declined to approve indemnity payments made a terrible mistake and caused the Japanese to regard it as a symbol of their victimization by the USA during and after the war;

7. BOWFIN Park, US Sub Vets of WWII memorial shrine at Pearl Harbor, is faulty as it does not give “the sinking of the AW A MARU the prominence it deserves” among the 52 markers dedicated to lost US boats. In a note, Professor Dingman is gracious enough to state that he does not believe the designers consciously excluded errors such as the sinking of the AW A MARU but had “unquestioning acceptance of the heroic view of American submariners”, a “perspective whose genesis” was instigated by Lockwood’s imperfect “morally judgmental framework in which the Japanese bore the ultimate responsibility for all of the evils that flowed from the war in the Pacific.”

Although Sink ‘Em All was widely praised and is an essential part of any submariner’s historical reading, Professor Dingman says that “the work was important less for the detail it provided than for the way it wove the AW A MARU story into a broader triumphal and inspirational interpretation of the Pacific submarine war” and that the “ending of the book’s AW A MARU chapter pointed toward a positive moral that Lockwood drew from the story of the Pacific submarine war as a whole”. Aside from the fact that the incident is not the subject of a chapter but of less than half of a chapter and only S of the 393 pages in the book, the statements that the Admiral “put his gloss on the AW A MARU story” and ‘was directly responsible for the creation of visual images that others used to tell and modity the story of the submarine war against Japan” (emphasis added), such as Victocy at Sea. The Silent Service and Hellcats of the Navy appear to be derogatory, a judgment of Lockwood with which not all NSL members will agree. Apparently he was rehabilitated in Professor Dingman’s estimation by having suffered “an amnesia of sorts which healed Lockwood’s bitterness” during his last trip to Japan. This also applied to QUEENFISH crew members who served in postwar Japan and “did not come away from that experience hating the Japanese or haunted by the memory of having mistakenly caused the deaths of so many of them”. Draw your own conclusions!

Dr. Dingman is regarded as an expert in American-Est Asian relations; he served in the Navy in Japan 40 years ago, is fluent in Japanese and obviously knowledgeable in (and entranced with) the Japanese culture. His repeated references to .. the Pentagon” and such usage as calling Ambassador William H. Standley “Admiral Standley” or references to “clever uniformed men” barely conceal an implied distrust, if not dislike, of “brass hats”.

To his credit, he tries to present both sides of any story in the book and reaches a final reasonable conclusion that .. if younger generations appreciate that war is the province of error as well of achievement … that it brings tragedies … as well as victories in battle and triumph of the human spirit, then perhaps they will not have to learn from bitter experience, as the generation that fought the Pacific war did”. Before reaching that point, though, the various episodes are so frequently interspersed with opinion, pontificating and moralizing that it is sometimes difficult to follow the factual portions. His analysis of the political actions taken both before and after the incident is interesting, as are the stories of the various attempts at salvage, successfully accomplished by the Chinese (although, save for some contraband tin and rubber, he conveniently omits any research except from Japanese sources as to what munitions and other war materials were discovered by them).

The narrative/editorial itself is 256 pages long, whereas the notes (many are repetitive) and bibliography occupy 105 pages, which is presumably indicative of scholarly research. They will assist other writers who wish to delve into this or related subjects and are of some interest to the ordinary reader but are somewhat overwhelming. The index is excellent and helpful. Older members of NSL who wish to undertake the fairly arduous task of threading through this book are advised to have Valium handy.

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