Posts Tagged ‘Hawaii’

Countdown to the Day of Infamy: The Final Spies

Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Nov 01 2011

Saturday, November 1, 1941: Honolulu Harbor, Hawaii.  8:30 am.

It was a familiar old ship, that pulled into Honolulu harbor that morning. She used to ply the seas from Yokohama to San Francisco every few weeks, always stopping here, docking to throngs of waving, cheering people, who draped on her lucky passengers and welcomed them ashore with dancers and music. But now, the American built ship, Taiyo Maru, flying the Japanese flag, had been chartered by the Japanese government to bring home any citizens who wished to return. Trade relations were broken, and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin warned that this might be the last ship bound for Japan permitted to dock here for months-or longer. So, even though she’d visited this harbor dozens of times, the local authorities and counter-intelligence watched her warily now, and established strict rules.

The Taiyo Maru, from a postcard during her glory days as a luxury passenger liner for NYK Line. If she looks familiar to long-time readers, it's because they're distant sisters.

There were rumors in the air, on this Saturday morning, November 1, 1941, and growing stronger, that the Japanese empire was seeking to expand her reach. The United States had recently cut Japan off from their shipments of oil and gas.  The diesel burning in Taiyo Maru’s tanks was already scarce, and there were rumors of immense aircraft carriers, battleships and destroyers back home which also needed those supplies. But Pearl wasn’t thought to be a target.  It was too far away, and a busy port. Even despite the embargo against Japan, dozens of ships pulled in and out daily, heading to and from America, the Philippines, Mexico, the Panama Canal, the South Seas, and Australia. No one could sneak in here, with so many eyes watching, much less an armed fleet.

And six miles away, sat the American Navy, inside Pearl Harbor. The great ships, including the mighty Arizona, flagship and pride of the American Navy, the aircraft carriers Enterprise and Lexington, and the submarine base, sat at the ready, constantly practicing, constantly drilling, for the war no one wanted. No one in Honolulu believed there was danger here. Manila maybe, Singapore, maybe, Hong Kong, maybe, but Japan, for all her might, couldn’t come this far unseen.

Still, the District Intelligence Office in Honolulu, long taxed from trying to track any hint of war from Japan, knew something was afoot. For months before the oil embargo, Japanese tankers would come and go every few days, most leaving behind or picking up a few hands, each time. So many men were impossible to track, and tensions were now so high that Customs and District Intelligence office refused to allow any hands off the Taiyo Maru, save a few the ship’s master deemed absolutely necessary for maintenance, and store purchases, and those few could easily be followed. Any passengers, once aboard, were not permitted to leave again. As far as possible, the District Intelligence Office was making sure that no information could get on or off, and the Taiyo was certianley going to leave with every person she brought with her still onboard.

They were right to fear spies.  Dozens had come through in the past months, many that never stayed in Honolulu more than a couple of hours while those tankers refueled, and there were three aboard the Taiyo now, disguised as stewards and an assistant purser. They were not trained in espionage, they were high ranking members of the Imperial Japanese Navy: Commander Mae-jima Toshihide, Commander Suzuki Suguru, and Lt. Matsuo Keiu, and they never planned to leave the Taiyo or set foot on Honolulu-at least, not on this trip.

They had, in fact, already completed half of the mission. The Taiyo Maru, rather than follow the well-traveled direct sea route from Yokohama to Honolulu, traveled north, and cut east between the Aleutian Islands and Midway, before turning sharply south.  During the whole journey the three men measured wind speeds, tracked the weather, and watched the horizon constantly for ships or air patrols, admittedly strange behavior for men who usually were more concerned with food and upkeep aboard.  But it had been a success: not even a fishing boat had been seen until they were nearly in sight of Oahu.

And they had managed to send information out of the Taiyo Maru.  Despite broken trade relations, there was still diplomatic relations between the countries.  Indeed, the Japanese Consulate in Washington D.C. was working through marathon talks to keep war at bay, while the consulate in Honolulu worked hard as well, but was it more diplomacy, or a cover for espionage?  District Intelligence had often wondered, but there was no way to break the sovereignty of the consulate and get inside information.  And as a Japanese ship, bound back home, according to diplomatic treaties and traditions, one of the Taiyo’s crew carried instructions from the Japanese government to the consulate written and sealed in the consulate pouch.  The consulate also returned a pouch with their own papers, observations, and recommendations to the Taiyo for transport home. What the District Intelligence Office didn’t know was there were written questions directly from the IJN officers aboard in the outgoing pouch, and the written responses, along with photos of Pearl Harbor, the anchorages of the Naval ships and other information, in the incoming pouch.

They were looking for final details, final answered questions, and, since the Taiyo docked on a Saturday, and would stay until Wednesday, the officers onboard would answer a few questions with their own eyes: how seriously did the Americans take their “weekend”? How many people seemed to attend Sunday services?  How many sailors and civilians were out and about on a weekend rather than a weekday?  How many ships and submarines were sighted going in and out of Pearl Harbor each day? When did they enter and leave? When was there a lot of traffic, and none?

These answers were crucial, since the talks continued in Washington and Tokyo, and this plan may never come to fruition depending on the answers the officers brought home.

The strangest thing of all, had to be that the plan they were proposing, and even now were scouting, was not new. In fact, Pearl Harbor had been attacked twice before in the ten years previous using this plan. By Americans.

Trading Crews

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 04 2010

Between patrols, submarine crews were usually re-organized a bit.

After Sub School, the potential submariners were shipped to their new boat or new station, wherever it was located:  Goton CT, Manitowoc WI, Mare Island, CA, Honolulu HI, Brisbane Australia, Fremantle Australia, Midway Island.  Then, when a submarine was scheduled to leave, as much as 1/3 of a crew would be reassigned.  Experienced hands would be pulled off to man new submarines under construction, to man shore stations for a while (a type of mental rest, working for a few months on submarines (usually repair, cleaning between patrols, ect.) without the stress of the enemy hunting you) or man another sub scheduled to go on patrol.  The open places were usually occupied by men straight out of Sub School or experienced hands that were expected to learn or experience another submarine and its command structure and culture.

After Sub School, and once they were assigned to a submarine, a non-qualified submariner (often called a “non-qual”) had a year to finish qualification on board a practicing submarine.  Unlike surface ships where a radioman was expected to know a radio and a baker to bake, and a gunner to man the weapons systems, a submarine radioman, in addition to knowing the radio, had to know EVERY other system on the submarine.  Same with the baker or the gunner crews.  The cook had better know how to fire a torpedo and repair the engines, and the enginemen (MotorMacs) and Torpedomen had to know how to make coffee and use the kitchen if necessary.

The reasoning was simple:  a submarine crew is small and often works in remote areas where the nearest friendly ship may be days away.  If something happened that wiped out a portion of the crew, permanently or temporarily, the rest of the crew had to be able to take over and man every system in an emergency,  including repairs if necessary.

On the Redfin, after Commander Austin came aboard, the traditional crew shuffle took place.  It was only a few people for two reasons:  1.) the submarine itself was only on its second patrol and the crew was still learning to work together and 2.) with a new commanding officer, the crew needed to have as little disturbance as possible.

One of the men who was detached from the Redfin at this point though, was Kimball Elwood Graham.  Where he was immediately reassigned is unknown, but he will come back into play later.

On another note, 68 years ago yesterday, the USS PERCH went on eternal patrol.  Commissioned in 1936, she was one of the older submarines in the fleet during the war.  She was in Cavite Bay when the Japanese bombed the submarine base, and scouted and patrolled the area while the submarine base began its long flight south.  Damaged in a severe depth charge attack on March 1, Perch‘s crew tried for three days to repair her while dodging and diving to avoid other enemy destroyers.  On March 4, with two cruisers and three destroyers closing in to attack, and the Perch unable to dive, her captain, David Albert Hurt, knowing that despite her age, Perch was a valuable trophy if captured, ordered “Abandon Ship, Scuttle the Boat”.  And sank his boat.  The entire crew was captured and remained POWs for the remainder of the war, six dying in captivity.

Strangely, Perch was not done yet.  On November 23 (Thanksgiving Day) 2003, the Perch was discovered by a team of divers who were looking for the wreck of the HMS Exeter which was sunk on March 1, 1942 (the same day Perch was severely damaged).  They found a large object on the bottom of the ocean, and went down to check, and found the Perch, sitting upright.  Unlike the Flier, whose wreck was authenticated by the Navy, Perch’s remains have not been authenticated, but the strange thing is the evidence is fairly conclusive.

See, prior to WWII, all submarines had a brass plaque affixed to their fairwater with the name of the submarine attached.  After Pearl, these were removed and, on new constructions, placed inside the subs.  Perch was never in port long enough to have hers removed, so the divers found it still attached to the side of the boat: “USS Perch: United States Submarine”.  By pure chance, Perch became the fourth submarine discovered since WWII, and the only one to be found by accident.

For more information, please see On Eternal Patrol’s page on USS Perch

All photos of the wreck are copyrighted, and can be viewed here.

Exhibit Update

The Exhibit, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 09 2010

Well, the formal proposal is finished.  11 custom graphics for it.  And of course, as is normal, I realized after I sent it that I forgot a few things and had to send several addendums in follow-up e-mails.  Oh well.

One of the fun things to do with the proposals is establish a basic exhibit, then build layers on top of it.  It’s rather like a menu.  If you get past the baseline you can start to pick and choose what you want for additions.  Whether you want floor graphics, or touchscreen interactive documentaries or quizzes, or what.  It’ll be interesting to see what this will end up looking like.  Once I get clearance to show what we have in mind, I’ll post it here.

One of the most interesting things about this exhibit is working with the crew of the USS Redfin, the submarine that not only rescued the Flier survivors, but who also, four months previously, dropped off the Coastwatchers that sheltered them and set up the rescue.   The Redfin survived WWII, then went on to serve until 1969.  Her crew gets together every year to tour, swap stories, and in general, have a good time.  They’re very good at that, and very welcoming (not to mention, hilarious).

When they had their 2008 reunion in Muskegon, they asked me to talk about the Flier and Redfin’s rescue.  It was one of the best evenings in my life.  The next year, they contacted us to say that one of their number had located the Redfin’s bell and, on the condition we put it on display, they wanted to donate it to the museum and in particular, to the long-talked about Flier exhibit.

Submarines tended to leave their bells behind when they left on patrol.  If they remained mounted to the exterior of the submarine, it could ring during the concussions of a depth charge attack, allowing their enemy to hone in and target the sound.  If they brought it inside, it would just use up valuable storage space.  Moreover, if they never came back, their bell could serve as a memorial.  Some of these bells are used for that purpose today.  Some, due to the fact they’re made of nearly 100 pounds of solid brass, were sold and melted down.   (The bell for the USS Narwhal was rescued from the scrap metal heap only a few years ago and is now at the Bowfin Museum inPearl Harbor,  Hawai’i:  http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/09/24/news/story19.html )

It is tradition to ring a bell in memory of lost boats and their crews.  The Redfin bell will do that for the lost Fliers and nearly 3500 men who have given their all in the submarine service.

The Flier’s bell is still missing.  It may have been destroyed decades ago.  It may exist somewhere, long forgotten in someone’s attic.  If anyone ever finds an old brass bell engraved “USS Flier 1943 (or possibly 194)” we would love to hear from you so she can sit next to her sister.

And where was Flier 66 years ago today?  About halfway back to the United States.