Hakusan Maru: The Troop Ship

Posted by Rebekah
Oct 31 2011

AAAANND as soon as I say I’m going to try to post at least twice a week, the whole family comes down with the crud.  I don’t know what it is about kids that act as some sort of petri dish for new and exotic flavors of virus, but it’s been a long week.  Still we’re on the mend now, and they’re quietly watching a movie, which means I have some time to post….maybe.

There is a record of Hakusan Maru showing that her owners, NYK Line, intended to use her as a passenger/mail ship in 1939. There is no schedule for any NYK Line ships in 1940 that I can access. This either means that all NYK ships had been requisitioned by 1940, or that those records aren’t visible yet. Still, by 1 February 1941, while the USA is busy trying to stay OUT of war, and Japan is still not invading any place other than China, the Hakusan is now a military troop ship. In fact, she was the flag ship of the “1st Base Force”, at least she was UNTIL 1 Feb 1941, when the flag was transferred to the Aotaka.

All of Hakusan’s movements from this point forward, are courtesy of the research of the people behind combinedfleet.com, a website devoted to tracking nigh near each individual ship in the Japanese Navy during WWII, including a record of movement for each. Strangely, Hakusan Maru that met the Flier, is not one of them, but she did travel around with a number of other destroyers, transports, escorts, ect. so it was easy, if a touch time consuming to piece Hakusan’s schedule.  (The Hakusan Maru on Combined Fleet’s site is another ship, requisitioned after Hakusan I sank, and that one survived the war).

Anyway, now Hakusan Maru (I) has only about three and a half years left. And boy oh boy was she a busy girl.

Spring of 1942, Hakusan, with a bunch of other ships, headed from Mutsu Bay to Kiska Island Alaska. She was carrying troops to invade America, and her troops would actually win. That’s right, it’s a little known fact that the USA was successfully invaded and occupied during WWII. Not much of it, and we took it back, but still, America was invaded.

It was a hellish battle field too, the only arctic battle site in the Pacific.

These paintings by William F. Draper in 1942, show some of the harsh battles of the Attu and Kiska campaigns. Weather, and cold and show added to the misery of battle, and when it was finally all over, both sides abandoned military equipment on the islands, which can still be seen today. (Apparently, including a submarine!) Painting on the left: Fireworks (The First Japanese Raid on the Island) by William F. Draper Oil on Board 1942; Painting on Right: War and Peace (Ack-Ack- Fire Near a Russian-Aleut Grave) William F. Draper Oil on board 1942. Both paintings held by Navy Historical Center

And that’s definitely a whole other post.

Hakusan apparently did two round trips in the summer of 1942, dropping off men and supplies, ending in 2 August.  I found no more records of her for the rest of 1942.

Map of Hakusan Maru's routes through 1942 and 1943.

The next time I found records of her, she’s in Palau, heading for New Guinea, then Japan, back to Palau, Balikpapan, Yokosuka (her home port before this mess) then doing a number of routes between Truk and Rabaul, Yokosuka, then back to Rabaul. She certainly put a lot of miles in her wake.  One thing that is interesting to note is that by late 1943 the Japanese are still this close to Australia, despite the battles of Guadalcanal and the Battles of the Coral and Bismarck Seas.  They’re certainly tenacious, one of the things that made them so fierce and frightening to fight.

In Rabaul on November 2, 1943, Hakusan had her first hiccup.  The Japanese still held beautiful and seep Simpson Harbor in Rabaul at this point, and the Allies were trying to change that.  For six days, from 23 October 1943 to 2 November 1943, daily raids over Simpson Harbor were carried out, trying to keep things tied down while the Allies invaded Bougainville to the east.

It was in the 2 November Raid that Hakusan was hit and damaged badly enough that she could not flee out to sea.  One of the American bombers took photos of that raid.

This photo, taken from one of the bombers, shows the Japanese heavy cruiser Haguro, in the foreground. The ship burning back and off to the right is a Hakone class transport, or which Hakusan was one, so that may be her there. Photo is Official US Air Force Photo, now in the collection of the Naval Historical Center.

Another photo, from a different angle, showing the Haguro just on the left, nearly out of frame and the possible Hakusan (or at least one of her sisters) burning in the center left. Official US Air Force photo now in the Naval Historical Center.


It was a savage raid: only 25% of the 40 ships in harbor were undamaged by the end.

Hakusan remained in Simpson Harbor until the repair ship Hakaai Maru can arrive ten days later and patch her up.  by December 6, 1943 the Hakusan has been loaded up and departs Rabaul (with, I’m sure, a relieved crew!) and jumps the short distance to Truk (again.)

(Incidentally, the Hakaai Maru, the repair ship, would be destroyed by Allied bombers in Simpson Harbor herself on 17 January 1944)

She ends 1944 in Saipan, and by January 1945, she’s back in Truk, and then it’s off to Yokohama.

Track of Hakusan's final year. Records might be incomplete, but considering all the records that were destroyed (deliberately or not), lost, or ruined in the final two years of the war, it's not that surprising.

Her final convoy left Saipan on May 31, bound for Yokohama. Three days into the journey, another transport, the Chiyo Maru, was hit with two torpedoes in her starboard side by the USS Shark II during Shark’s first patrol.  Chiyo Maru sank in 10 minutes, and though the escorts dropped a number of depth charges, they didn’t damage Shark at all.

The convoy moved on, they had to, if they halted and tried to retrieve the people on the sinking ship, they could fall prey to another submarine (or it’s pack, if the sub wasn’t a lone wolf) Two days later, they crossed Flier’s path.  Crowley sent three torpedoes her way, two of which exploded against her starboard side.  Like Chiyo, she sinks in about ten minutes, taking her passengers and crew and even some families with her.  The escorts responded with depth charges, but like the Shark, Flier was unscathed.

Flier stalked the convoy for another day, but the escorts never let her close enough to get off a clear shot.  In a strange way, the escorts were almost immune from submarine attacks.  Not that submarines COULDN’T attack escorts, but their priority targets were transports, tankers, and cargo ships, with navy vessels below that, and escorts faaaar below that.  The submarine force was trying to slowly strangle the Japanese empire by removing all her raw goods, (steel, rubber, oil, tin, copper, ) making it impossible for her to create, repair or refuel any of her war machines, so torpedoes were not to be wasted on mere escorts, whose absence wouldn’t be as missed.

Hakusan’s wreck site was the only one that Flier returned to during her patrols.  Her crew recovered two life rings, and a number of codebooks, and other official paperwork that had been hastily wrapped and thrown into a lifeboat that drifted aimlessly.  According to Al Jacobson, who was on the deck, there were dozens of bodies in the water, far more than a shipping vessel that size should have had. That was how they figured out that this ship was a troop transport, though where these troops were going, no one knew.

Hakusan’s wreck has never been found.  Her wreck location is vague enough and deep enough that it may be a long while before she is ever discovered, IF she ever is.

Following the war, NYK Line, Hakusan’s owner, picked back up and brushed themselves off.  Of their 222 strong fleet in 1940, only 37 ships remained.  Most of the 185 lost ships were destroyed by American submarines.  NYK did well, and today, having long gotten out of the passenger and mail business, are one of Japan’s largest cargo fleets, her ships are a familiar sight all over the world.

And there’s even a new Hakusan Maru, a 73,000 ton container ship built in 1973, and sold in 1987.  Guess the legacy lives on.


3 Responses

  1. […] 12 May, 1943, while running cargo between Japanese installations on the Alaskan Islands of Attu and Kiska, she fired a torpedo at the American Battleship, PENNSYLVANIA, survivor of Pearl Harbor.   […]

  2. maureen klassen says:

    I am trying to trace a family . mother Mrs Hujiyama and daughter Amy ( or Fujiyama as we knew them)
    I have a postcard from the ship, dated June 12th 1940 mailed from Marseilles, which indicates the boat would soon leave the Mediterranean, and sail around Africa en route to Japan!
    This is earlier than your posts.
    I would like to know if this ship ever did make it to Japan, or whether it was maybe sunk, and a later ship took its name.
    Amy lived with us in London, but we never heard form them again after the war.
    We would love to trace her.

  3. Egemen says:

    My greatgrandparents and grandparents – after running away from Kazan – lived in Kobe&Tokyo between 1923-1939. They took the ship Hakusan Maru from (to the eldest daughters’ recollection) Yokohama in 1 October 1939, which was sailing to Mediterranean (Port Said and then Marseilles) as a civilian ship. The trip took longer than planned (2-2.5 months in total).

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