Hikoki Publications Limited
Marsden Hill. Crowborough. East Sussex TN6 JXH
J 44pp-$49.95- ISBN J 902 J 09 45 7
(May be ordered from Specialty Press (800)-895-4585)
Reviewed by CAPT Jim Hay, USN(Ret)
This is a coffee-table book in which the photographs and illustrations deserve at least equal billing with the text. There are several artists’s illustrations of the submarine and line drawings of the aircraft. Most of the Japanese photos are of the people involved in the operation with very few of the boats and aircraft since the entire project was highly classified. After the surrender there were many USN photographs taken of the submarine and they are displayed in the book to excellent advantage. There is also reproduced the letter reporting the Navy’s technical examination of the boat in drydock at Pearl Harbor and a number of pictures taken with that survey.
The story of Imperial Japan’s largest submarines is a fascinating one from both technical and strategic aspects. They were conceived in early 1942 for air strikes against American East Coast cities. The submarines had to be long enough to support the 50 meter catapult rails needed for the heavier offensive aircraft and big enough to support the weight of three planes and all the necessary equipment. The initial plan was for a class of 18 but due to material shortages only five were started and only three ever got to sea. The aircraft were also designed especially for the submarine strike mission. Each of the Seiran M6A planes weighed over 7 ,000 pounds and carried either an 800kg bomb or torpedo. This was truly an ambitious project to build, and it was undertaken for a very ambitious mission.
During construction of the submarines and the building of their aircraft, the mission was changed to an attack on the Panama Canal to deny its use to the US Navy and American merchant shipping supporting the Pacific War. The book gives ample attention to the command and planning for the operation and discusses the senior officers in detail. There is also a fair amount of information given about the formation and training of the flight units. Technical details about the submarines are rather general with very little said about the submerged ship handling of the 5200 ton (submerged). 400 foot submarine. The aircraft characteristics and performance are treated rather more fully.
By June of 1945 the Japanese Naval General Staff realized the Panama Canal mission was no longer of prime importance and focused its submarine strike force aim on the fleet anchorage at Ulithi. By the 14’h of August I-400 and 1-401 were in position southeast of Ulithi ready for an early morning launch of a six plane kamikazi attack on the fleet anchorage on the I Th of August On the 15th they heard their Emperor announce Japan’s surrender. That was backed up by a formal cease-fire order from the Naval General Staff later that day. Their ordered return to Japan, of course, had to be carried out through the US Fleet then steaming toward Tokyo Bay. The high seas interactions provided a certain amount of drama to both the American and Japanese sailors. That ends the Japanese part of the I-400 story.
The American side of the I-400 story is covered by the book and starts just prior to the formal surrender on the deck of MISSOURI when a prize crew boarded the 1-400 at sea. Actually it was two prize crews which took charge of the big boat, but that’s a tale left to the book itself. It then continues with a final chapter devoted to the USN crew’s trip from Japan to Pearl Harbor.
There are several other sides to that whole end-of-war period in the life of the Imperial Japanese Submarine Service. It will be remembered that the April ’06 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW carried Dr. Thomas 0. Paine’s 1984 account of his experiences ashore in Sasebo right after the cease-fire in ’45. His mission was to help disarm and neutralize the Japanese Submarine Force, and also to collect samples of armament, particularly torpedoes. He recounted boarding the I-402 as it entered the harbor and his first experiences with the (then) huge aircraft-carrying submarines. If you haven’t already read that account, which was in the form of a letter from Tom Paine to Richard Compton-Hall at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, you should do so. It is a really hilarious story about getting the 1-400 ready for it’s cross-Pacific trip to Pearl and the trip itself. Paine was the Exec of the prize crew for that endeavor.
Another aspect of that end-of-war adventure into Japan by USN submariners is told in this issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW by RADM Joe Vasey in Submariners Ashore in Yokosuka Before VJ Day. As an aside, it was Admiral Vasey who provided me with the copy of Paine’s 1984 letter to Compton-Hall. They were friends who stayed in touch after the war and often discussed all the new panPacific issues which had to be addressed in the 60s,70s and 80s.
There is at least one other part of that 1945 submariner-pre VJ Day-expedition-to-Japan story which was completely unrelated to those in the Admiral Vasey story. It was touched upon much earlier in these pages in a Book Review of V ADM Jim Calvert’s book Silent Running. He was Exec of HADDO, and while moored alongside PROTEUS in Tokyo Bay awaiting the formal surrender aboard MISSOURI, submarine officers were afforded the opportunity to tour the Japanese Submarine Base at Yokosuka “on the southernmost curve of Tokyo Bay”. They were warned specifically not to leave the base and to return to their ships when finished with the tour. When a large hole in the fence provided an opportunity to explore a bit further afield Calvert and several other HADDO officers walked through the hole and took a train to Tokyo- in a very unauthorized, and unescorted, tour of the enemy capitol. That also is a tale worth hearing more than once, particularly the part of how they got out of their arrest on return to Yokosuka.