The Japanese Submarine Force and World War II

The Japanese Submarine Force and World War II

by Carl Boyd, Akihiko Yoshida Yoshida

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When first published in 1995, this book was hailed as an absolutely indispensable contribution to the history of the Pacific War. Drawing heavily from Japanese sources and American wartime intercepts of secret Japanese radio messages, a noted American naval historian and a Japanese mariner painstakingly recorded and evaluated a diverse array of material about Japan's…  See more details below


When first published in 1995, this book was hailed as an absolutely indispensable contribution to the history of the Pacific War. Drawing heavily from Japanese sources and American wartime intercepts of secret Japanese radio messages, a noted American naval historian and a Japanese mariner painstakingly recorded and evaluated a diverse array of material about Japan's submarines in World War II.

The study begins with the development of the first Japanese 103-ton Holland-type submergible craft in 1905 and continues through the 1945 surrender of the largest submarine in the world at the time, the 5300-ton I-400 class that carried three airplanes. Submarine weapons, equipment, personnel, and shore support systems are discussed first in the context of Japanese naval preparations for war and later during the war. Both successes and missed opportunities are analyzed in operations ranging from the California coast through the Pacific and Indian Oceans to the coast of German-occupied France. Appendixes include lists of Japanese submarine losses and the biographies of key Japanese submarine officers. Rare illustrations and specifically commissioned operational maps enhance the text.

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Using only recently declassified material and other historical documents, Boyd (history, Old Doninion U.) and Yoshida (National Institute for Defense Studies, Japan) focus on American wartime interception of Japanese radio messages. Their research leads them to new conclusions regarding the relative shortcomings of Japanese submarines and operations. The text includes operational maps, rare illustrations, and definitive appendices of Japanese submarine losses, and biographies of commanders. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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The Japanese Submarine Force and World War II

By Carl Boyd and Akihiko Yoshida


Copyright © 1995 Carl Boyd and Akihiko Yoshida.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1557500150


 List of Illustrations...............................................ix Preface.............................................................xi Introduction: Basic Concepts of Submarine Strategy and Tactics.......1 1 Submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy...........................8 2 Weapons, Equipment, Personnel, and Shore Support for the Submarine Force.....................................................36 3 War in the Pacific and Submarine Operations, 1937 to Mid-1942: Successes and Missed Opportunities........................53 4 New Submarine Operational Patterns and New Devastation in the Second Half of 1942.............................................92 5 The Attrition of War and Submarine Operations....................113 6 Submarine Operations and Plans for the Decisive Battle, 1944.....134 7 Submarine Operations Near the War's End..........................158 Appendixes     1 Imperial Japanese Navy Instructions for Submarine     Warfare and the Decisive Battle................................191     2 The Pearl Harbor Carrier Strike Force........................196     3 Reconnaissance Operations with Submarine-Borne     Aircraft, November 1941 through November 1942..................198     4 Southern Expeditionary Main Force (Second Fleet).............200     5 Imperial Japanese Navy Task Force Organization     (Guntai-Kubun) against Midway, the Aleutians, and Port.........201     6 Sixth Fleet Submarines in the Eastern Solomons, Late     1942...........................................................203     7 Leadership of the Sixth Fleet, Mid-1943......................204     8 Task Force Organization for Operation A-Go sakusen...........206     9 Summary of Japanese Submarine Losses in World War II     and the Surviving Submarines...................................208     10 Biographies of Key Members of the Imperial Japanese     Navy Submarine Force...........................................219 Notes..............................................................227 Bibliography.......................................................243 Index..............................................................259 

Chapter One

Japan's twenty-five large submarines in Hawaiian waters in the first week of December 1941 represented a long and sophisticated effort to develop a modern and powerful submarine force. The oldest of the Japanese submarines around Oahu was fifteen years, and the newest was five weeks.

    As part of the Imperial Japanese Navy's quest to become a modern fighting force, naval leaders decided in May 1904, three months after the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, to experiment with the new undersea craft. Thus, nearly two decades before the Japanese developed strategic plans in which the U.S. Navy was named the Imperial Navy's chief rival, Japan purchased five Holland-type submarines from the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut. The specially constructed, disassembled sections of these boats and additional materials were shipped by rail to Seattle, Washington, where they were loaded aboard the Kanagawa Maru, which sailed for Japan on 5 November 1904. The submarines were then secretly assembled at Yokosuka Navy Yard. Thus the beginnings of the Japanese submarine force were rather inauspicious and in keeping with Shinshi Akiyama's views before the war that the submarine was an infant and not yet battle-worthy.

    The Japanese navy was careful and systematic in its investigation of the Holland-type submarine. The U.S. Navy had bought the new submersible craft, the sixth of the submersibles designed and built by John P. Holland, and then commissioned the boat as the USS Holland in April 1900. The preceding year, however, Lt. Kenji Ide, who was studying in the United States, made a test dive in the Holland model. Ide enthusiastically reported the following statistics of the American vessel to his naval superiors in Japan and emphasized the boat's practical use for port and coastal defense.

Displacement:      64 tons surfaced; 74 tons submerged
Dimensions: 53 feet 10 inches x 10 feet 2 inches x 8 feet 6 inches
Machinery: Single-shaft Otto gasoline engine plus electric motor,
45 brake horsepower, 50 shaft horsepower = 8 knots
surfaced, 5 knots submerged; diving depth 75 feet
Armament: One 18-inch torpedo tube (bow; three torpedoes)

    By the summer of 1901, the Japanese navy, with Ide acting as its agent, sought to purchase some Holland craft. Negotiations were started with the Electric Boat Company, successor of the Holland Torpedo Boat Company, but the parties were unable to agree on terms, and negotiations were broken off by the end of the year.

    However, Japanese interest in submersibles did not wane. News that Holland-type submarines were also being adopted by the British was of special interest to Japanese admirals, who had long admired the Royal Navy. In Great Britain Lt. Comdr. Kozaburo Oguri watched British experimentation and sea trials and, like Lieutenant Ide, reported strongly in favor of submarines to his superiors in Japan. Both officers returned to Japan by the time of the Russo-Japanese War to champion the case for adoption of the submarine in the Imperial Navy. Thus, by the time the Japanese navy placed an order for construction of five Holland-type boats in 1904, three years of careful investigation convinced Japanese admirals of the growing sophistication of submersibles and the need to develop a submarine force in the Imperial Navy.

    The Japanese Holland-type boats were larger than the earlier craft and were further modified for diving to a maximum depth of 125 feet. The specifications follow.

Displacement:      103 tons surfaced; 124 tons submerged
Dimensions: 67 feet overall x 11 feet 11 inches x 10 feet 3 inches
Machinery: Single-shaft four-cylinder gasoline engine, 180 brake
horsepower; electric motor, 70 horsepower = 8 knots
surfaced, 7 knots submerged; range 184 nautical
miles at 8 knots surfaced, 21 nautical miles at 7 knots
Armament: One 18-inch torpedo tube (bow; two torpedoes)
Complement: Thirteen

Known only by their hull numbers one through five, the first Japanese Holland was completed in August 1905 and commanded by Oguri, who before the Russo-Japanese War had gained experience with the British Holland-type boats. Numbers 2 and 3 were completed a month later; 4 and 5 went into service in October 1905. At that time Commander Oguri was appointed commandant of the corps—this was the beginning of the infant Japanese submarine force. On 23 October 1905, these five small submarines participated in a naval review with the Combined Fleet off Yokohama, where they astonished observers, particularly civilian, when the boats submerged and later surfaced. These boats were used for extensive training until they were stricken and broken up in 1921.

    While the Japanese anticipated that the continued purchase of foreign submarines would be necessary, they were also eager to build their own submarines. Their first two boats bore the hull numbers 6 and 7. Indeed, the first of these Imperial Japanese Navy (Kaigun) Holland-type boats was laid down at Kawasaki Shipyard, Kobe, when the other Holland boats were en route from Seattle in November 1904. John Holland personally sent Kenji Ide, whom the American designer knew well, blueprints for these two smaller (63 tons submerged for number 6 and 95 tons for number 7) experimental craft. However, these two submarines were inferior to the earlier Holland types, and the Japanese navy recognized the weakness of Japan's submarine technology.

    The Japanese submarine force suffered an early tragic accident that later served as a noble example of submariner character. Boat number 6 was running submerged on its gasoline engine while sucking air through an extended air induction tube (later called the snorkel). The induction valve mechanism failed to close when on 15 April 1910, waves of water unexpectedly poured into the boat and caused it to sink to the bottom. Crew members recognized that they faced certain death as the boat filled with the sea and isolated pockets of air vanished. The next day the little boat was located and raised. Apparently, all members of the crew died serenely at their stations—their brave behavior deeply moved the Japanese public. Thus, the Japanese submarine force developed an early tradition of self-sacrifice as a backdrop for later trying conditions, particularly in World War II.

    After purchasing the original American Holland-type submarines, the Japanese purchased four additional types from Great Britain, France, and Italy. They carefully studied their newly purchased vessels to learn as much as possible about submarine technology; the Japanese often made improvements and modifications as they developed a distinctive technology of their own. In little more than fifteen years, the Japanese were prepared to design and build their own submarines in Japan.

By the end of World War I the following types of submarines had been purchased from Western countries:

Holland type from the United States
Vickers "C" and "L" types from Great Britain
Schneider-Laubeuf type from France
Fiat-Laurenti type from Italy

The Vickers "L" type was the last of Japanese purchases of foreign submarines, but naval analysts gained much insight in modern submarine technology after studying the designs of all of these foreign boats. More significant, however, were the German U-boats that Japan, an Allied power in World War I, acquired after the war.

    Japan received seven U-boats as German reparations in 1919; they were studied and tested in preparation for the construction of larger Japanese-built submarines of the "I" class. "I" is a romanization of the first letter in the traditional Japanese syllabary (written as the Greek lambda), "RO" is the second, and "HA" the third. Therefore, under three separate classes established in 1924, an I-boat was a first-line class A submarine, the RO-type submarine was a somewhat smaller class B boat, and the HA-type Japanese submarine was a small coastal class C boat with an appreciably more limited range and displacement. Midget submarines were later listed in the HA series.

    Although German influence in the modernization of various Japanese institutions—legal, medical, educational, military—was particularly important after the Germans won the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71, British influence was traditionally foremost in the Japanese navy until the end of World War I. With Germany's defeat and the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow in June 1919, the Imperial Japanese Navy stood third in the world after the British and American navies. But British influence decreased rapidly, especially in the Japanese submarine force. The technology of German U-boats was clearly superior. Moreover, the wide-ranging U-boats received much attention during the war; their involvement in fleet strategy had already been delineated by Capt. Nobumasa Suetsugu, a member of the Japanese delegation at the Washington Conference in 1921. Anglo-American treatment of Japan at that conference on arms limitations outraged many prominent Japanese naval officers, not least of whom was Suetsugu, promoted to the rank of rear admiral on 1 December 1923. Japan's capital ship ratio of six to the American ten (also the British ten) would result in a Japanese naval force significantly inferior if attacked by the whole weight of the U.S. Navy. No limits were placed, however, on submarine strength at the Washington Conference. Therefore, after the war when Japanese shipbuilding facilities were considerably modernized and relations with Anglo-American powers were in some respects becoming strained, the arrival of seven German U-boats offered a special opportunity. Some Japanese believed that they could help redress the naval balance by changing the character of their submarine force for potential use as a powerful arm of the battle fleet.

    On 25 June 1919, the American naval attaché in Tokyo was given a special opportunity to survey the U-boat precursors to a new generation of Japanese submarines. The aide-de-camp to the Japanese naval minister took the Allied and Associated powers' naval attachés to Yokosuka to inspect the newly arrived submarines. The seven ex-German U-boats were given new names in the Japanese navy: the U-125 became O-1, U-46 became O-2, U-55 became O-3, UC-90 became O-4, UC-99 became O-5, UB-125 became O-6, and UB-143 became O-7. The American naval attaché was impressed by several especially significant features of the ex-German submarines and reported to the Military Intelligence Division in Washington in July:

(1) Excepting the UC-90, they have a mast for radio, which can be erected or dropped down from the inside of the submarine by an electrical apparatus.

(2) Excepting the U-46, they are all provided with two sawlike torpedo net cutters, one on deck and the other on the bottom.

(3) In order to prevent the projecting parts of submarines [from] getting tangled with lines or cords, while sailing under water, steel wires are stretched from the top of the conning tower to the bow and two from the conning tower to the stern. These wires can, by special device, be utilized for radio signaling to short distances. The vertical and horizontal rudders, and propellers are protected by strong frames around them.

(4) In order to purify the air inside the submarine, there are provided apparatuses which purify the air by means of chemicals, and others that give out compressed oxygen.

(5) In order to show the site of the submarine when stuck to the bottom, they have buoys which are attached to the submarine by chains, which can be floated from the submarine. There are also rubber tubes through which the salvaging vessel can send down air or liquid food. They are also equipped with apparatus for telephonic communication.

    The Japanese were quick to recognize the need for foreign assistance as they prepared to assimilate features of these U-boats into their own schemes of building submarines; naturally they sought German submarine designers, technicians, and former U-boat officers. Indeed, shortly after Japan received the German U-boats, Capt. T. Godo of the Japanese navy was named head of a naval mission to Germany. The American military attaché in Tokyo reported to the War Department on 9 October 1919 that the Japanese were "now in Berlin for the purpose of studying submarine construction from German naval designers.... Captain Godo expects to obtain German patents and designs for submarines, and also expects to bring German naval mechanics back with him to Japan."

    The first German submarine specialists had already arrived in Japan a few months earlier during the summer of 1919. One engineer, who had helped build U-boats at Germaniawerft in Kiel during the war, was taken to Kure "by the Japanese government especially to train officers and men, and to explain the ex-German submarines to the Japanese navy," as an American intelligence report declared.

    The number of German submarine specialists working for the Japanese reached a high point soon after the war and then tapered off dramatically. Probably several hundred German submarine designers, technicians, and former U-boat officers were brought to Japan under usually five-year contracts—one Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) report originating in Germany claimed that by 1920 "over 800 submarine building specialists, etc. have gone to Japan." Engineers and ex-U-boat officers were most sought after, commanding the highest salaries. Annual salaries of ¥25,000 (about $12,000), plus a yearly bonus ranging from ¥5,000 to ¥10,000, were not uncommon. Additionally, Germany-Japan round-trip travel expenses were guaranteed by the Japanese. These Germans were usually employed directly by the Kawasaki Shipyard in Kobe.

    Knowledge of German activity in Japan was widespread. For example, the American military attaché in Venezuela learned of the Japanese-German association through his German counterpart in Colombia and offered the following observation in a memorandum to the U.S. Army assistant chief of staff, G-2 (Intelligence) in 1927: "The acquisition by Japan of what might be termed the best professional talent in a special arm is a point worthy of our immediate attention." The American attaché further recommended that the services of the German submarine specialist, Robert Bräutigam, under contract in Japan since 1923, "might be acquired by us, not only as an interesting expert of unquestioned efficiency in his special arm, but as a means to keep track of Japanese activities, through him and his connections with former colleagues, now in the Japanese service." Similar German activity in Japan was claimed in 1929 in a letter to G-2 in Washington from the American military attaché in Berlin.

    However, by late in the decade few German specialists remained employed by the Japanese, and immediate German influence in general had all but vanished. In 1928 another ONI report, this one originating in Japan, declared confidently that no more than twenty-eight German submarine specialists had been employed in the Kobe area during the last five years. "As various submarines were completed, ..." wrote a U.S. Navy lieutenant in Japan in November 1928, "the Japanese staffs gradually took over the work, until finally a distinctly Japanese type of submarine was evolved. Consequently, during the past two or three years, the influence of the German designers with the Japanese lessened to such a degree that at present it is practically nil."

Shifting Japanese submarine tactical and strategic thinking helped to create different classifications of boats. The same lieutenant in Tokyo concluded in 1928 that "German [technical] influence ... is overrated.... Japanese submarine design is tending almost entirely towards large fleet submarines, capable of operating with the fleet." Various new tactical and operational concepts about how submarines ought to be used also started to take shape in the navy. However, the dominant view remained unshakable—the chief purpose of the submarine was to intercept the enemy battle fleet and systematically weaken it through repeated attacks.

    Before this time the submarines in the Japanese navy were small (less than 1,000 tons) with limited firepower, slow speed, and short cruising range. These conditions changed when a new era of construction started after the conclusion of the Five-Power Naval Treaty coming out of the Washington Conference in 1922. Compared with Japan's standard RO-class submarines intended for coastal defense, the new I-class submarine had nearly twice the displacement and operational range as well as a speed advantage of 2-5 knots. The new submarines were fast enough to operate with dreadnoughts of the 1920s or to scout ahead, and they had sufficient range and provisions for a sixty-day cruise across the Pacific or Indian Oceans.

    However, the Japanese had plans to build a series of large submarines before they received the seven German U-boats. Two prototypes were actually completed. These experimental boats were two different types and were originally intended to serve as models for the systematic construction of large I-boats. One prototype was derived from the British K class submarine of 1917. Laid down under the naval program of 1919, launched in 1921, and completed in 1924, the I-51 (ex-hull number 44) was the first fleet-type submarine in the Japanese navy—the Kaigun-dai (large fleet type), abbreviated as Kaidai. The large features of the I-51 were very attractive to the Japanese and a decided departure from the various Vickers-class submarines then in the Japanese navy. Nevertheless, plans changed, and this experimental boat served chiefly as a backdrop and not as a model for future designs. This Type 1 submarine, the first of a series of Kaidai types, was used largely for training until it was decommissioned on 1 April 1940.

One Kaidai Type 1

The I-51 was the only Kaidai Type 1 submarine. Specifications: displacement of 1,500 tons surfaced, 2,430 tons submerged; length 300 feet; 5,200 horsepower; four shafts, four Sulzer diesel engines (two shafts and two diesels after 1932); 20 knots surfaced, 10 knots submerged, with a cruising range of 20,000 nautical miles at 10 knots surfaced, 100 nautical miles at 4 knots submerged; eight torpedo tubes; twenty-four torpedoes; one 4-inch deck gun; diving depth of 200 feet.

One Kaidai Type 2

The other prototype, the subsequent experimental I-52 (Type 2), had a little more influence on future design. It was employed very extensively in fleet training exercises during the interwar years when data were collected for refinements of design in the new Kaidai types in service by 1941.

    The I-52 (ex-hull number 51) was the only Kaidai Type 2 submarine. Although its specifications were similar to those of the I-51, this experimental boat was modeled after the U-139, whose specifications in brackets follow those of the I-52: displacement of 1,500 [1,930] tons surfaced, 2,500 [2,483] tons submerged; length 331 [302] feet; 6,800 [3,300] horsepower; 22 [15.3] knots surfaced, 10 [7.6] knots submerged, with a cruising range on the surface of 10,000 [12,630] nautical miles at 10 [8] knots surfaced, 100 [53] nautical miles at 4 [4.5] knots submerged; eight [six] torpedo tubes; sixteen [nineteen] torpedoes; one 4.7-inch and one single-mount 3.1-inch [two single-mount 5.9-inch] deck guns; diving depth of 175 [230] feet.

    The I-52 was the second experimental Kaidai submarine built by the Japanese. It was laid down under the naval program of 1920, launched in 1922, completed in 1925, and decommissioned on 1 August 1942. Its double-hull design, like the German cruiser-type submarine of 1917 (U-139), had considerable design significance. The I-52 had a notably higher surface speed than the U-139, a characteristic in keeping with the new role I-boats were to play vis-à-vis the Combined Fleet. Several additional Kaidai Type 2 submarines were planned, but they were cancelled in 1922 before contracts were issued, building materials were assembled, or the keels were laid down. The chief reason for this change in submarine construction plans was the earlier arrival of the German reparation submarines.

    The famed naval journalist Hector Bywater explained something of the turmoil and reevaluation that seized Japanese submarine planners between the end of the war and the eve of the Washington Conference:

Eight new submarines—four sea-going and four coastal boats—covered by the naval programme of 1919, were to have been commenced the following year, but before they were laid down an event had occurred which is believed to have brought about an important modification in Japanese ideas on submarine design. This event was the arrival at Yokosuka on the 20th June 1919, of seven ex-German submarines, which had been allotted to Japan for experimental and propaganda purposes, by the Inter-Allied Naval Council in Paris. These seven vessels had previously been closely examined by Japanese experts in Europe, and were, indeed, selected by them as representing the most useful types from the Japanese point of view.


Excerpted from The Japanese Submarine Force and World War II by Carl Boyd and Akihiko Yoshida. Copyright © 1995 by Carl Boyd and Akihiko Yoshida. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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