Sixty six years ago today the fates of Robalo and Flier were likely sealed.
The Balabac Straits were mined as early as December 1941, but on this day in 1944, a minelayer named Tsugaru Maru was laying more. The Allies would not be aware of this second mining until after the war.
Early Japanese mines could only be placed in waters a few hundred feet deep, hence the continuous orders to keep to the deep waters when transiting a strait of passage known to be mined.
But in 1944, the Japanese invented and sent out a new kind of mine that could be laid in waters nearly 3,500 feet deep and could be armed in waters up to 230 feet deep. It was these mines the Tsugaru Maru was carrying and laying in Balabac Strait sixty-six years ago today.
Whether Flier and Robalo hit one of the old mines, or one of these new ones, or one that had come loose from its mooring and was floating free, is still officially unknown. At first, the Flier survivors themselves didn’t believe it was a mine since no less than 40 submarines had gone through the strait in 1944 with no problems, and the Crevalle, whose track they were given as a guide to get through, had been through the strait three times in a couple of months.
Robalo was living on borrowed time: she had four months left. Flier was now on borrowed time: five months left.
Strangely enough, Tsugaru herself was on an even shorter time leash: three months. By the time her mines destroyed Robalo and Flier, she had already been sunk by yet ANOTHER submarine, the Darter, who would, again, strangely enough, end up lost only a few hundred miles away from Balabac Straits herself.
But I’m getting ahead of the story.
For more information about the Tsugaru Maru, click here.