World War II Pacific Naval Campaign: Japanese Submarine Successes


Figure 1.--

While the Japanese submarines did not have a major impact on the Pacific War, they did have some important successes in the first year of the war that severely harmed the Pacific Fleets carrier force. The I-6 a monthafter the Peark Harbor attack put Saratoga out of action (January 1942). The I-168 delivered the final blows to USS Yorktown during the Battle of Midway (June 1942). The I-19 sank the carrier USS Wasp (September 1942) and damaged the battleship USS North Carolina (September 1942). This was at a critical point of the Pacific War. The Marines were clinging on to a narrow bridgehead on Guadalcanal. The Pacific fleet had very few carriers or battleships. This severely weakened the Navy's defense of the Marine bridgehead on Guadalcanal. Most of the important Japanese submarine actions took place during the first year of the Pacific War. The Americans and the British at the time were giving high priority on anti-submarine warfare (ASW), primarily because of the U-boat threat in the North Atlantic. As a result, the Japanese submarines through the rest of the War faced more robust American dfenses and had less success. As ASW developed, Japanese sub loses increased. Anti sub air patrols increased as the United States took more islands which by late-1943 gave them more airfields to work from using the long range Catalina flying boats and B-24 bombers. While the B-17 could carry a heavier load the B-24 was faster and had a longer range. Of less importance, although it has occasioned considerable, comment was the I-58 sinking the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis after it had delivered the atomic bombs to Saipan (July 1945).

I-6 (January 1942)

USS Saratoga was the USS Lexington's sistership. Saratoga was being used to ferry planes to the Pacific when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor (December 7). She reached Pearl (December 15). Saratoga stopped only long enough to take on fuel. She was ordered to help reinforce the Marine oupost at Wale Island. She was ordered to deliver the planes on bosrd to Wake and covr Tangier which had reinforcement troops and supplies for Wake. Lexington and Enterprise were part of the Wake reinfoircement effort, provided distant cover. Saratoga was an older, but still fast carrier. The task force, hoever, made slow progress because of a slow oiler and a decession to refuel the escorting destroyers (December 21). It is at this point that the Marines on Wake reported carrier airstrikes and a Japanese landing force. The Saratoga relief force was recalled (December 22). Wake fell December 23). Saratoga was used for patrolling Hawaiian waters. While proceeding toward a rendezvous with Enterprise she was encountered bu the Japanese sunmarine I-6 (January 11). I-6 scored a hit with a deep-running torpedo. Three boiler rooms were flooded, , but Saratoga was able to reach Pearl under her own power. Temporary repairs were done at Pearl. In addition her eight 8-inch guns were removd to strengthen Pearl's shore defenses. The Navy was expecting another Japanese attack. Saratoga then steamed to the Bremerton Navy Yard in Washington state for repairs to her hull that could not be perfornmed at Pearl. While at Bremerton there was a major overhaul to her machinery and a modern battery of antiaircraft guns were installed.

I-168 (June 1942)

The I-168 delivered the final blows to USS Yorktown during the Battle of Midway (June 1942). Yorktown was already badly damaged from bith the Coral Sea Battle and further Japanese Midway air strikes. The Navy may have sunk her itself, but was trying to keep her float when the I-168 found and torpedoed her (June 6).

I-26 (August 1942)

The greatest successes achieved by the Japanese submarines came during the naval campaigns in the Solomons around Guadalcanal and the Slot. The I-26 torpedoed the carrier USS Saratoga (August 31) which had to be withdrawn shortly after Enterprise was damaged in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. This severely weakened the U.S. Navy which was desperately attempting to support the Marines on Guadalcanal.

I-19 (September 1942)

The carrier USS Wasp while supporting a convoy to Guadalcanal almost engaged Shōkaku and Zuikaku, the two remaining Japanese fleet carriers that has escaped the carnage at Midway. The I-19 spoted Wasp and torpedoed it (September 14). The damage control teams with the power knocked off were unable to control the fires. She had to be abandoned and scuttled. I-19 also damaged the battkeship North Carolina. This meant that only one American carrier group was left in the South Pacific to support the Marines on Guadalcanal. This was at a critical point of the Pacific War. The Marines were clining on to a narrow bridgehead.

I-58 (July 1945)

Of less importance, although it has occasioned considerable, comment was the I-58 sinking the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (July 30, 1945). Indianaolis was the last major U.S. ship lost in the war. It is especially notable because it had just delivered the Manhattan Project's atomic bombs to Saipan. I-58 encountered Indianspolis alone with no escort. It was not part of aarger fleet becuse of the special cargo she had just delivered. The irony of all this was the U.S. Navy courtmartialing her skipper, Captain Charles McVay, after the war for not following anti-submarine tactics while alone in hostile waters. The main witness against him was the Japanese captain of that I-58, Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto. Cpt. McVay was found not guilty. This probably makes the I-58 the most famous Japanese sub in the war. The real tragedy was what happned to many of the crew that escaped only to be repeatedly attacked by sharks during their almost 4 day ordeal of waiting before the survivors were spotted by accident. At first the Navy did not even know she was missing because of the top secret mission she had been on and the radio silence she was ordered to keep. The Navy lost 879 of the Indianapolis's 1,196-man crew. This was the worst single at-sea loss of life in the history of the U.S. Navy. It is exceeded only by the Arizona sunk at Pearl Harbor. In war, many chance happenings occur. But the fact thast the last importnt Navy ship sank in the war was the one tht just delivered the atomic bombs does raise eyebrows. We have never read and I the I-58 had intelligence about Indianpolis. In his testimony at the court martial of Cpt. McVay, he never mentioned any thing of that sort. But were all the proceedings of that trial made public? Perhaps the Navy kept that a secret. But the military has now released, as far as we know, all the World War II secrets.






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Created: 6:31 AM 2/19/2012
Last updated: 7:51 AM 2/19/2012