Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

Normandy Invasion and the Cemetery

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 05 2015

Last year, I wrote this article about the invasion of Normandy, what went according to plan (some things) and what didn’t (most things). Quite honestly, if it hadn’t been for the dogged courage and sheer numbers of Allies that just kept running up that relatively-undefended beach, WWII might have gone on for much, much longer, or even ended differently.


Painted by military artist Joseph Gary Sheahan, 1944.

“Omaha”  Painted by military artist Joseph Gary Sheahan, 1944.  As usual with any image on this blog, click to see it at full resolution.

But no matter what, no matter how well the plan went, everyone involved knew that there would a a high cost in life. Even there, things did not always go as planned.  But how cemeteries like Normandy came about, had a long history, stretching back centuries.

What to do with the Battle Dead

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, in America and Europe, the battle dead were often buried near the battlefield, with little to no marker listing even a name. Most often, these graves were communal, so while you may know where your loved one was buried, he would not even have his own grave.

Taken from a 1905 archaeological excavation from the Battle of Visby.  The battle took place in 1361 on Gotland Island, Sweden.  These five mass graves are unusual as they were buried pell-mell while still wearing their expensive armor.   In most medieveal battles, bodies were stripped of their armor and weaponry before burial, but in this case, it appears that in the hot weather, 2,000+ bodies were more than the survivors or locals could strip before decomposition set in too they were buried wearing all their battle armor.  A tragedy in the 14th century is now a grisly archaeological treasure.  Photo Source: Wikipedia.

Taken from a 1905 archaeological excavation from the Battle of Visby. The battle took place in 1361 on Gotland Island, Sweden. These five mass graves are unusual as they were buried pell-mell while still wearing their expensive armor. In most medieveal battles, bodies were stripped of their armor and weaponry before burial, but in this case, it appears that in the hot weather, 2,000+ bodies were more than the survivors or locals could strip before decomposition set in too far…so they were buried wearing all their battle armor. A tragedy in the 14th century is now a grisly archaeological treasure. Photo Source: Wikipedia.

Only the most influential would be able to have their remains shipped home for a warrior’s funeral (and even then, the corpse would be pickled in a barrel, hello Admiral Nelson!)

In the American Colonies/United States, the dead were buried more or less where they fell. My own fifth-great-grandfather, a man named Henry Dorton (later Dalton), narrowly missed being killed in a 1777 battle/incident now known as “Foreman’s Massacre”. The 22 dead in that incident were left for 24-48 hours until Dorton and those who didn’t die were able to lead others back to the area. The men were buried in a communal, unmarked grave until 1835, when the grave was marked. It wasn’t until 98 years after their deaths that the men were disinterred and moved to a cemetery, again, in a communal grave.

Another example of this mass battlefield burials (or non-burials) in Europe comes from the pen of  Louisa Adams,  First Lady of President John Quincy Adams.  In 1815, however, that was still in her future as she and her son traveled from St Petersburg Russia to Paris, where her husband was now stationed as a diplomat.  During the carriage ride, they had tried to avoid the battlefields and carnage stills strewn across Europe in the wake of Napoleon’s first series of wars.  But they failed.

“About a mile before we entered the town [of Hanau] I had observed a number of mounds like graves with crosses at their feet, in the ditches on the sides of the roads–we entered on a wide extended plain, over which was scattered remnants of clothes; old boots in pieces, and an immense quantity of bones laying in this ploughed field…this was the field of battle in which the Bavarians had intercepted the retreat of Napoleon, and that in this plain ten thousand men had been slain.  Conceive my horror at the sight of such a butchery!”  

The Battle of Hanau, painted by Vernet.  It currently hangs in the National Gallery in London.

The Battle of Hanau, painted by Vernet. It currently hangs in the National Gallery in London.  The road Louisa and her son passed over is likely in the background, heading to the town in the far back on the left.

Louisa was seeing the results of the Battle of Hanau, which had taken place sixteen months earlier.  Obviously, many of the approximately 13,500 dead from that “minor” battle were still visible over a year later.   It didn’t help that, while Louisa and her son traveled across Europe, Napoleon escaped Elba to start the wars again!

Some of these mass graves still come to light even centuries later.  Another Naopleonic-war mass grave was found in 2001 in Lithuania, for example.


The Civil War

Fifty years after Louisa, the Civil War in the United States changed many things in the nation, and the disposition of the war dead was one of them.

For one thing, it was now the Victorian Age. Not that Victoria had anything to do with it directly (at least, not until her beloved Prince Albert died in December 1861, when she turned death and mourning into an intricate art form) but both the British and American cultures had embraced an ideal of “dying a good death”. That is, dying surrounded by family, saying last words, being buried with dignity and grace.

But in the melee of the North verses the South, where Industrial Age Weaponry met traditional battle tactics, the sheer number of bodies that were left behind was far more than even the most hardened war veteran had conceived.  Bodies could be left open to the elements for days. Letters were written of the horror of seeing men, friends and family, laughing and living just days before, now being eaten by wildlife, exposed to the wilderness with no provision for death, burial, or proper remembrance.  The advent of photography on a scale that allowed the aftermath of battles to be photographed in detail also brought home the magnitude of the problem.  (For more on this topic, I recommend watching Ken Burn’s fascinating Death and the Civil War documentary. It’s usually available through PBS.)

As the months stretched into years, small feats of humanity were often the least that could be done for the dead and dying.

So many nameless men come down to us, speechless and dying, that now we write the names and regiments of the bad cases and fasten them to their clothing, so that if they are speechless when they reach other hands, they may not die like dogs, and be buried in nameless graves, and remain forever missing to their friends.” -Katherine Wormeley, civilian volunteer, US Sanitary Commission, and author of The other side of war: with the Army of the Potomac

Still, things were often impossible. The winners would bury their dead with as much dignity and identification as possible, but the enemy dead on the same battlefield would be left exposed, or thrown into a communal grave with no name recorded (in part because the other side would not have the records of who these men were).

A mass of dead after the Battle of Antietam.  I do not know if this is a prepratory mass grave, or where the dead laid after the battle. (If you know the story of this photos, please comment!)   But it was images like this that brought home the horror of war and the desire to have cemeteries, not matter how far from home, that gave a dignified resting place for the soldiers fighting.  Brady photograph.

A mass of dead after the Battle of Antietam. I do not know if this is a prepratory mass grave, or where the dead laid after the battle. (If you know the story of this photos, please comment!) But it was images like this that brought home the horror of war and the desire to have cemeteries, not matter how far from home, that gave a dignified resting place for the soldiers fighting. Brady photograph.

People who expected to lay their families to rest in family graveyards now faced the possibility that their men, who had marched off to defend their way of life, could be buried in a graveyard far from home, be buried in a mass grave with no marker, or worse, be forgotten and left to decay and be scavenged.  The government who called these men up and asked them to fight should, at the very least, people said, make sure that for those who fought for their country, at least had a decent burial in consecrated ground.  And so, in 1862, Abraham Lincoln established the first National Cemeteries, owned and operated by the Federal Government, not churches or localities.  After the war ended, the temporary battlefield dead were exhumed, identified if possible, and re-interred with dignity beneath a single marker.

World War I

Fighting abroad didn’t change this policy.  After WWI, the Americans created twenty-two cemeteries and memorials for their 70.000 war dead. The British, who had not anticipated the sheer numbers of dead modern war could create (the Americans had the “advantage” of the lessons of the Civil War), started WWI with no means of sorting, recording or identifying their dead at all.  For them, battlefield burials had been traditional mass graves near the battlefield or in the nearest cemetery, with little to no identification. Such burials were the norm for the “business” of war in Europe for a number of centuries.

This ended with the establishment of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission under the guidance of Sir Fabian Ware.

The WWI memorials, mostly in France and Belgium, spent years gathering, identifying, and repatriating or burying the dead of WWI.

Sadly, some of the WWI memorials were finished and dedicated as late as 1937, when it was all but certain the “Great War to End All Wars” wouldn’t be.



Battle troops don’t carry coffins, or the means to bury the dead as a part of their primary duties. That was left to the Quartermasters, who also handled supplies. Thankfully, by WWII, military men carried “dog tags” on their person—a set of two. One tag remained with the dead, the second to go with the commanding officer, or burial detail. (Dog tags of various sorts were homemade during the Civil War, then manufactured by entrepreneurs for private purchase.  They became mandatory for the military in 1906 in the USA, were used by the Commonwealth from the beginning of WWI, and used by the Prussians as far back as the 1870s!)  This made tracking and naming the dead in both records and cemeteries much easier and more accurate.

So on June 6, 1944, as men landed on Normandy, the 604th Quartermasters were already assigned to land the next day, to take on the monumental task of burying the dead.

In the aftermath of the Omaha and Utah beach landings, the dead that could be located had been hurriedly buried by departing battle troops, often without the mattress cover to be used as a shroud. The arriving  Quartermasters were assigned to use land already selected near the towns of Cricqueville-en-Bessin and Sainte-Honorine des Pertes, but those towns still remained in enemy hands much longer than anticipated as the re-invasions slogged forward.

So the 604th Quartermasters continued to use the Omaha Beach cemetery.   As the battle troops drove deeper into France, then Belgium, then Germany, the 604th followed, burying men and recording names as they went.

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery.  You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to the beach.  Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated.  Photo Source:

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery. You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to the beach. Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated. Photo Source:

Following the war, with the heroic touchstone that Normandy proved to be, the decision was made to make Normandy one of two permanent WWII cemeteries in France.

To start with, each burial already in the temporary cemetery had to be exhumed, and families asked whether or not they wanted their loved one to remain in France, or be returned to a cemetery of the family’s choice.  In addition, there were single graves or small groups of graves buried with honor in village cemeteries all over France, where the local people had taken it upon themselves to bury airmen, paratroopers, escaped POWs, when they died in their locations.  These graves were often elaborately decorated with flowers and other remembrance tokens of the local French, who honored those who were fighting to re-take France from the Nazis.

Records differ, but between 60-66% of the American dead were returned home, those that remained in France were collected into the Normandy Cemetery and the Brittany American Cemetery.

In Normandy, the lawns of graves include the Garden of the Missing, for those who had been lost at sea, or whose remains had never been found in far-flung individual graves. Today, Rosettes are added to the wall if remains come to light and are identified. Just in front of the Garden, soars a 22-foot tall bronze statue: The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.

A chapel for prayer and reflection sits in the center of the cemetery.

Normandy American Cemetery was dedicated in 1957.  It covers over 172 acres, and still overlooks Omaha Beach, though it is now surrounded by a security wall.  The land it sits on has been gifted, in perpetuity, to the United States, which maintains the cemetery. Among the 9,387 graves include four women,  a father and son, and thirty-three sets of brothers.   One of these sets of brothers were the sons of American President Theodore Roosevelt.  Theodore Roosevelt Jr died of heart attack in July 1945, after helping lead the conquest of Utah Beach.  As he was to be buried in Normandy, his younger brother Quentin Roosevelt, who had died fighting WWI and was buried in a French graveyard, was exhumed and laid to rest beside him.  Quentin is the only WWI soldier to rest in Normandy Cemetery.

It is the most visited of the American Battle Monuments cemeteries.

Today, the dead are returned as part of war. Due to the constantly shifting battle lines of Korea, the dead were often shipped with the wounded to the closest MASH or secure unit to be sent home, rather than buried in foreign soil, which could then be re-taken by the enemy and desecrated or lost.  This is the pattern that is currently followed by the US Military.   There will, in most likelihood, but no more international cemeteries for American military.

But a little, shore-side temporary cemetery, begun in haste as the battle moved forward and left the shore behind, became one of the most famous cemeteries in America’s history.

The Normandy American Cemetery today.  Wikipedia.

The Normandy American Cemetery today. Wikipedia.



[1] A former intern of mine who went on to work at Fredricksburg and Spotsylvania, said that these mass graves still come to light from time to time.

[2] And again, sometimes these identities can be restored years later. In the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” actor Matthew Broderick discovered an ancestor, Robert Martindale, died in the battle of Peachtree Creek, but his remains had not been identified when they were re=interred in the Marietta National Cemetery. That identity was restored through paperwork alone…with the advances in DNA testing, more names can be restored in the future. Watch the exhumation of the Pearl Harbor dead as ithappens this year.

Musashi: The Final Days

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 21 2015




“In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” —Quote attributed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, in an interview with Japanese Cabinet member Shigeharu Matsumoto, 1940.*

It would prove to be prophetic.

Having been educated in the United States, and lived and worked there as part of the Japanese Naval Attache, Yamamoto knew the American culture. He also knew that, unless the US, Britain, and the Netherlands (the major naval and colonial powers in the Pacific in 1940) were knocked out so hard and fast they sued for peace (and left Japan alone with all her new territories), Japan would ultimately be doomed.

Created for a presentation, this shows the rapid expansion of the Japanese Empire (red circle)  from December 7/8 1941 to the cusp of the Battle of Midway, June 1942

Created for a presentation, this shows the rapid expansion of the Japanese Empire (red circle) from December 7/8 1941 to the cusp of the Battle of Midway, June 1942.  (click to see animation)

And sure enough, for six months the Japanese appeared invincible. In the USA, we talk about Pearl Harbor, but the truth is, PH was the first of a series of attacks, on Wake, Midway, Manila, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia. Three weeks after Pearl, the Japanese Empire stretched south to the Malaysian Islands, east to Wake Islands, deep into China (where the Japanese had maintained control of Manchuria since 1931) and into Singapore, Burma, and more.  (click on globe to see animation of Japanese Empire Expansion for the six month window Yamamoto mentioned)

But Japan’s Achilles heel was supplies. They had no oil or any way of getting any in the homeland. They did not have enough mines for the raw metal needed for modern warships. These they could get from their new territories, shipped aboard hundreds upon hundreds of freighters. But while they practically invented WWII aerial combat, they did not foresee the submarine’s future role slicing through these ocean highways, and destroying Japan’s newly-needed lifeblood.

By October 1944, Japan was fighting a more and more defensive war, desperately trying to make continuing the fight so costly to the Allies that they would settle for peace on somewhat favorable conditions for Japan. The unconditional surrender the Allies were determined to gain was unthinkable and so Japan used every resource to delay, to push back, to bloody every battlefield, to gain leverage for a treaty, not a surrender.

The Philippines were the largest of the last conquered territories protecting Japan and her remaining resource highway from Singapore to home. If the Americans re-took the Philippines, the highway would be under direct attack.  The Americans landed on Leyte Island with 1,500 ships: carriers, battleships, destroyers, carriers, tankers, troop ships, supply ships, all determined to take back the Philippines.

The Musashi and her sister Yamato, bigger than any ship in America’s arsenal in the Pacific and with larger and heavier guns, could pound Leyte apart, so Japan created a three-pronged attack: Sailing from Borneo, Musashi and her battle group would split in two: Musahi and Yamato both forming a “Center Force” that would eventually attack Leyte from the north, after sailing through the Sibuyan Sea. This force would be commanded by Adm Takeo Kurita from his flagship, Cruiser Atago.  Another force, mostly made of smaller, outdated battleships, would attack from the South (the Southern Force).

But these forces were doomed, unless the bulk of the aircraft carriers, battleships and destroyers, now supporting the landing, were off hunting even larger quarry than the biggest battleships ever afloat.

leyte Gulf Map


Hence the “Northern Force”, made up of the remaining four aircraft carriers, plus enough escorts to make it convincing.

Aircraft Carriers of Pearl Harbor

After the Battle of the Philippine Sea four months earlier, the Japanese had lost the vast bulk of their planes and pilots.  Both were scarce back home, even the gas needed to fuel the training planes so the new pilots could learn to take off, maneuver and land in the most basic of ways was hard to come by. The remaining hundred or so planes available at sea were prominently displayed on the four decks of the incoming carriers, to make their bluff look like the actual threat to the Leyte Invasion was sailing south from Japan herself, not from Borneo.

And to make sure the Americans would pay attention, front and center of the Northern Force sailed the most delectable bit of floating battle bait the Japanese had left:  Zuikaku, the final remaining aircraft carrier that participated in Pearl Harbor. Every American, from  Admiral “Bull” Halsey on down,  really wanted ZUIKAKU.  If the warships could be pulled away to fight this incoming threat, only troop, supply, and other support ships, with their auxilliary defense would remain: easy pickings for the Japanese

The trap was set, and sprung.  ZUIKAKU and her Northern bluff force set sail from Japan on October 20, chattering on the radios, trying desperately to catch attention.  MUSASHI and her sisters set sail from Borneo On October 22 under radio silence. If all went well, the American war fleet would intercept the Northern Force’s communications, and head out to intercept, leaving Musashi, Yamato, and her sisters to sneak in behind and  strike the landing force, driving the now-undefended Americans off the Philippines.



The plan was nearly scuttled by submarines before it got started. Darter and Dace were patrolling Palawan Passage during the October 22-24 window.  A huge patch of reefs, atolls, and other shallow water (known as Dangerous Ground) sits in the eastern part of the South China Sea, forcing every ship to either sail near modern-Vietnam, or through this  deep channel.  It was a great hunting ground, and today was no exception. Just after midnight on October 23, submarines DARTER and DACE saw this sight:


Taken a few hours earlier, this is just a small portion of the Center Convoy photographed leaving Brunei in October 1944.  Wikipedia Commons

Taken a few hours earlier, this is just a small portion of the Center Convoy photographed leaving Brunei in October 1944. Wikipedia Commons

Thirty one heavily armored surface ships in mostly two columns traveling together against two submarines.  Submariners have a term for this:  gift-wrapped.

Making a long story short, over the next few hours, the sisters shadowed the force, then ran ahead and waited for the task force to come to them**.   At 5:24 am, Darter sank the Atago, forcing Adm. Kurita to swim for it, and establish a new flagship aboard Yamato.  Ten minutes later, Darter hit Cruiser Takeo, setting her on fire, leaving her heavily wounded.   Twenty minutes after that, Dace hit the cruiser Maya with four torpedoes.  She must have hit the magazine, for Maya exploded and sank in minutes.  Akashimo rescued 769 surviving Maya-crewmen.

On the left, the same photo, labeled with casualties.  On the right, a diagram of the convoy's layout at the time the Darter and Dace struck.

On the left, the same photo, labeled with casualties. On the right, a diagram of the convoy’s layout at the time the Darter and Dace struck.

Takao was unable to continue, and two destroyers, Naganami and  Asashimo, were detached to escort her back to Singapore.  Akashimo transferred her Maya crewmen to the Musashi, supplimenting her own crew for the coming battles. Naganami, Asashimo and Takao turned back south, while the remaining convoy raced north.

So as dawn broke, of the thirty-one warships, twenty-six remained.  Darter and Dace, assigned to patrol Palawan, decided to take off after the wounded Takao, where shortly thereafter, the Darter would run aground, to become a seamark to this day. (An interesting story all of its own)


Darter aground, taken 14 October, while Musashi was under attack in Sibuyan Sea.  Even today, parts of Darter's hull remains perched on the reef, despite several demo attempts and subsequent salvage by multiple parties.  Photo from Naval History and Heritage Command.

Darter aground, taken 24 October, while Musashi was under attack in Sibuyan Sea. Even today, parts of Darter’s hull remains perched on the reef, despite several demo attempts and subsequent salvage by multiple parties. Photo from Naval History and Heritage Command.

But the damage had been done.  Not in the sinkings, not in the damaged ships or even subs.  Just as patrol boats are dangerous not for their weapons, but for their radios, so are submarines. Darter and Dace sent warnings of the  coming battle convoy, and now the Americans were on alert.

Intrepid, Enterprise, Franklin, Cabot, Essex, and Lexington, already scouting with planes, put more into the air, sending them deeper west into Philippine territory hunting this war  convoy. Task Force 34 (four battleships, five cruisers and fourteen destroyers) were sent south through the Surigao Strait in case Yamato’s convoy came that way.

October 23 ended, October 24 dawned, and the scouting planes found their target sailing through the Surabaya Sea.


Taken from the scout planes, this was one of the first photos taken of Center Force on the morning of October 24, 1944.  One of these is Musashi.  From

Taken from the scout planes, this was one of the first photos taken of Center Force on the morning of October 24, 1944. One of these is Musashi. If you think it’s hard to see them here in this photo, imagine how difficult it was for the pilots–and there’s no risk of anit-aircraft fire from my blog, unlike these ships!  Image taken from”USS Intrepid Report of Air Ops in Ryuku Is, Formosa and Philippines 10/10-31/44 Including Action Against Jap Fleet 10/24-26/44″  National Archives via

Six Flights of Death for a Tough Ship

Since this post is concentrating on the fate of the Musashi and how it plays into what the Allen Team found last month, this is an abbreviated record of M’s last day,  culled from; the book Battleship Musashi, and Naval Anti-Aircraft Guns and Gunnery.  As the story of Musashi’s final hours come from men on two sides of the war, under enormous stress at the time, details will vary.  Nonetheless, what you will see is that before she went down, Musashi took more damage than any other ship up to  that time and kept going.  I’d argue, perhaps, that she took more damage before sinking than any other warship of WWII.  The first scout plane to find Musashi and her force was from carrier Intrepid, so her planes got first crack at the two biggest battleships afloat.

First Wave

10:30 AM:  Intrepid’s planes  hit many of the ships in the convoy, and Musashi was no exception.  Four bombs narrowly miss, two striking the water on either side of Musashi. A fifth smacks Musashi’s no. 1 gun turret, bouncing off the armor plate and into the sea, leaving a perfect circle of popped paint as its only mark.  One torpedo strikes starboard amidships, forcing her into a 5.5 degree starboard side list.  Counter-flooding reduces the list to just 1 degree. All in all, she barely felt it



The following diagrams are drawn from information provided in several sources, including Musashi’s Tabular Record of Movement from; Musashi’s entry on Wikipedia, and the book, Battleship Musashi by Akira Yoshimura.


List after attack 1

List figure 1



Second Wave

12:03 PM: Nearly 100 Intrepid fighters hit. Several bombs explode within M, forcing her crew to abandon some of the port-side engine rooms, and losing the inboard port prop (this prop was seen on the Allen film footage starting around 56:30 mark). Another strike floods MUSAHI portside, forcing her to list to the OTHER side now. After counterflooding and balancing, she is only 1 degree to port list, but her bow is six feet lower.

Just to keep up with her convoy, Musashi’s remaining three props are throttled up, but she can only make 22 knots…she’ll be left behind.

Taken from the air, this shows the MUSASHI under attack.

Taken from the air by an INTREPID pilot, this shows the MUSASHI under attack.  Note the battle name this was going under when the report was written: the Second Battle of the Philippines.

A stray bomb fragment flies into the middle gun of #1 turret, and detonates the shell just loaded inside, disabling the whole turret.

She’s down, but she’s not out, and can still fight. Admrial Kurita, in charge of the central Force, slows everyone down to 22 knots to keep Musashi within the convoy.

Musashi Torpedo Damage 2

Second wave, at this point, suffering five torpedo hits, most ships would have succumbed.


List AFter Attack 2

From this point forward, Musashi will list to the portside, some planes will concentrate on the portside to try to take her down


Third Wave

1:30 PM: The wave from the Essex and Lexington arrive. After straifing, Helldivers score two hits starboard abreast the #3 turret.The TBM Avengers score four starboard hits,

  • Starboard forward of #1 Turret
  • Starboard Bow area, flooding storerooms.
  • Portside forward of #1 Gun Turret, destroying fuel tanks, flooding log and sounding rooms (knocking out SONAR and destroying records, and filling the tempory hospital area with carbon monoxide.
  • Portside, Amidships

And still more hell in store for Musashi and her crew: Three flights of Helldivers hit, scoring:

  • 4 portside bomb hits near #1 turret
  • Torpedo Hit, Starboard Bow area, flooding storerooms
  • Portside, forward of #1
  • Portside, Amidships
Musashi tortpedo damage 3

How much damage Musashi suffered in the third wave is still debated.

List AFter Attack 3

By now, Musashi is several thousand tons heavier than she’s designed for. Even in the intact engine rooms, this is putting more pressure and stress on Musashi’s engines and systems.



1:50 PM. All that damage, just 20 minutes. Several pump rooms are damaged, but by filling nearly every intact trim and void area, the Musashi now can only make 20 knots, and her bow is 13 feet closer to the water than it had been three hours earlier.


Fourth Wave

2:12 PM: And again! 8 Hellcats, 12 Helldivers from Essex arrive, but concentrate on Yamato and Nagato, ahead of Musashi. The pilots are amazed that Musashi is still afloat. Any other ship would have sunk long ago, but not only is Musashi still afloat, she’s still under power, and apparently valuable enough several ships of the convoy have surrounded her to provide air cover.  During the fight, Musashi still fires with her anti-aircraft guns, and frantically repairs her systems.


Fifth Wave

2:55 PM: Now the Enterprise and Franklin send in their fighters. Enterprise pilots radio thatMusashi  (or rather, a Yamato-class battleship) was lagging behind the convoy and trailing oil. By now, she appears to only make 8 knots speed.

Nine Helldivers score 4 hits:

  • 3 in the port bow, causing internal damage
  • 1 destroys the Chief Stewards office.

Eight Avengers soar in and score three torpedo hits:

  • One hit on starboard bow
  • One hit portside bow
  • One hit starboard abreast of M’s funnel
The entire Central Force maneuvering during the attack, including Musashi.  Taken bya  USS FRANKLIN pilot

The entire Central Force maneuvering during the attack, including Musashi. Taken bya USS FRANKLIN pilot

Within Musashi, the crew shores up damage in Damage Control Central, but the lose the No. 3 hydraulic room to flooding. Above, the American pilots later reported “Several bombs and torpedo hits were scored and after the attack, [Musashi] was reported burning, dead in the water, and down by the bow.” (Rep of Ops in the Philippines Area, including attacks on Jap Fleet, USS ENTERPRISE, October 1944)  Probably the pilots expected she’d be gone when they returned.

But they were wrong.

Musashi tortpedo damage 5

Now damages is piling up in certain areas, carving out huge holes.


Musashi was still making 16 knots on her three remaining props. With counterflooding to correct her starboard list to 1-2 degrees, she slows to 13 knots. She’s not yet down for any count.

But the day was still young, and the next flight of planes from the Intrepid, Franklin and Cabot flew in as the Enterprise planes left…there would be no break and no time to repair or recoup.

Musashi at 315 detail

Taken at 3:15 PM, this is MUSASHI, under attack


Sixth Wave

3:25 PM:. Of the 75 planes from three carriers that drop over Central Force, 37 take on Musashi directly. And they were brutally accurate:

  • 500 lb bomb strikes the right wing of the air defense station and destroys the first bridge. “One of the bomb hit the anti-aircraft control room over the No. 1 bridge. The bridge let out a huge roar as it collapsed like a demolished building…took the lives of the chief navigator and anti-airaft commander as well as five other senior officers. Captain Iguchi sustained serious injuries to his right shoulder”( –Battleship Musashi: the Making and Sinking of by Akira Yoshimura).  Adm Inoguchi would have to move to the second bridge to command MUSASHI.
  • Three bombs detonate in a row portside and abreast of turrest #1 and #2, ,destroying two single and one triple Anti-aircraft guns and mount, plus the main comm roon telegraph room #1, and telephone room, PLUS penetrating boilers #4 and #8.
  • Two bombs explode forecastle deck starboard abreast starboard area, taking out two single and one triple 25 MM AA guns.
  • Another bomb hits in the middle anti-aircraft shelter, damaging the flag deck.
  • Bom hit explodes in the portside crew space, and destroys the nearby ship’s hospital.
  • Bomb strike on Turret #1
  • Bomb Strike starboard in the Officer’s Wardroom,

Then the Avengers with their Torpedoes strike:

  • Portside, flooding #8 Boiler Room
  • Portside, abreast of #1 turret
  • Three torpedoes striking Portside Amidships, also flooding No 8 boiler and No 12 as well as Engine Room 4, killing the outboard Portside prop.  a 30 foot long hole is open along Musashi’s portside.
  • Last two torpedoes strike the portside near the #6 magazine, flooding both the magazine and the nearby gyro room.
Musashi tortpedo damagei 6

The final attack, the amount of damage is really astonishing.

List AFter Attack 6

By this time, many men were moving everything movable, including equipment, gear, even the wounded and, sadly, the dead, to the starboard side, in a vain attempt to keep Musashi from capsizing.



Yet the crew cannot believe she’s still going.  They counterflood and fire-control for all they are worth.

In an attempt to save the Central Force, Adm Kurita orders the rest of the force to head west, as though in a retreat, leaving Musashi to her fate.  The planes report this maneuver to HQ, and the flights are called off.  Three hours later, they would discover the Northern Bluff Force…too late for Musashi.

on the left, Musashi, shortly before she sank.  On the right, Musashi, taken as she left Brunei two days earlier.

On the left, Musashi, shortly before she sank. On the right, Musashi, taken as she left Brunei two days earlier. If you look, the strange angles of the superstructure compared to the Brunei photo show the severe list Musashi is fighting.


The End

Still, it took three hours for Musashi to give in.  All counterflooding efforts were taken, including moving the dead and injured starboard side to try and add weight there, and releasing the portside anchor and chain.  But she kept taking in water, it was hopeless.

As the crew prepared to abandon Musashi, those who had fought the whole battle below decks came out into the air, and were shocked at the sight that met them: “Oil and sweat stained sailors emerged from various hatches. They hesitated for a moment when they saw the carnage above, and then, with pale faces, they emerged onto the blood-spattered deck. The crewmen in the ship’s stern had mistaken the explosions of the torpedoes and bombs as fire from the ship’s own guns—they had no idea how bad the damage was. Over 200 injured men were carried from the rear hatches.”  (-Battleship Musashi)

Thankfully, Admiral Kurita returned within two hours, and detailed three destroyers to remain with Musashi.  If she could beach herself, she could still be repaired and saved.  If not, at least someone was there to take on the survivors.

Her Port list remained between 5 and 10 degrees for three hours, then suddenly, rolled to 30 degrees in 15 minutes.  At 7:30 pm, the crew started sliding into the sea, some injuring themselves on the barnacles that clung to Musashi’s hull.    Second in command, Capt. Kato, assumed command on orders of Adm Inoguchi, who chose to go down with the Musashi.

“The ship tilted suddenly, stirring up a large wave as the vast hull swung to port. The bow pointed down into the water, with the stern towering prominently above the rest of the ship. The crewmen still clinging to the wreck under the darkening skies of sunset were moving further and further toward the stern as the bow plunged into the sea…after the bow had sunk below the ocean’s surface, the ship’s bridges were submerged, and only the stern remained above water.”

Musashi vanished, leaving 1,376 survivors, from both her own and Maya’s crews, behind on the surface.  She would take 1,023 men with her to the depths. Moments after she disappeared, her survivors felt one (some accounts say two) explosion(s) from underwater.

List AFter Attack final

In many ways, these diagrams are still too clean. By this time, Musashi was heavily smoking, putting out a number of fires, and the superstructure was partially collapsed.



There were still three battles to go in the fight for Leyte Gulf, but Musashi’s time was now up.  The total number of torpedo and bomb hits she took is debated, but nonetheless, is impressive.  By some accounts, it took 19 torpedoes, 17 bombs and 6 near misses to take her down…other accounts vary, but not by much less. In addition, her crew took down 18 American planes while fighting.

That’s where Muashi’s story according to the eyewitnesses ends, and the examination of her wreck begins…more to come….




Wikipedia Entries on IJN MUSASHI, IJN YAMATO, Adm. Yamamoto, Leyte Gulf, USS DARTER, USS DACE,

Battleship Musashi: the Making and Sinking of the World’s Biggest Battleship by Akira Yoshimura

Battleship Yamato by Jamusz Skulski

Naval Anti-Aircraft Guns and Gunnery by Norman Friedman; particuarly the entries on MUSASHI, YAMATO, TAKAO, ATAGO, MAYA, the Battle of Palawan Passage and The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Sibuyan Sea

Presentation on Kenneth Gwinn of the USS FLIER; personal work created for Henry County Library Presentation, New Castle, IN; 2014

Documentary “Battle 360: Battle of Leyte Gulf” 2008

Documentary: “History of Battleships: Bismark to Yamato” 2002

Documentary “Yamato: Sinking the Supership” NOVA 2005


*Yamamoto and MUSASHI were actually connected.  Yamamoto had actually disliked YAMATO and Musashi’s construction, saying that investing so much capital into a ship which could not be replaced in case of loss, was a folly.  That being said, Musashi was Adm. Yamamoto’s official flagship.  She’s the one that dropped him off for a tour of the troops in 1943, and the one who picked up his ashes for transport back to Japan after Adm. Yamamoto’s plane was shot down.

**A Maneuver called “End Around”

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.

A new Flier-related (sort of) website

Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 11 2011

I had a wonderful surprise today.  Every few weeks I Google the names of several ships that featured largely in Flier’s history: Robalo, Redfin, Jack, Harder, Silversides, Orion, and of course, Macaw.   Usually, I find nothing, occasionally a new photo.

But today, I found a whole new website about USS Macaw, written by the son of Macaw’s Executive Officer, the most senior officer who survived the sinking.  It was incredible to read through and see the photos of this scarcely known ship.  The one on the home page was the best for me, a photo of Macaw as she sat, grounded, at Midway.  Wow.  THIS is why I keep sifting through the Internet to find stuff on Flier and all her connections.

So, I hope you visit the USS Macaw Website.

P.S.  It seems that particular area of Midway’s channel was VERY dangerous. Not only Flier, Macaw and that water barge (see March 23rds entry) grounded there, but so did USS Tarpon, another submarine on December 10, 1942.

From the War Patrol Report of USS Tarpon: December 10. 1942

1018(Y):  Grounded just before entering channel to NOB, Midway, bering 166 1/2 (degrees) T from W. H-beam pile, distant 850 yards.  Particulars of grounding covered in seperate correspondence.

1034(Y): Backed clear, proceeded up channel

1100(Y): Moored NOB Midway.  Diver inspected underwater condition of hull.


You’d think, with this warning 13 months earlier, someone should have blown that channel a little wider in 1943!  The strangest thing of this tale has to be the Executive Officer and Navigator of Tarpon that morning was Paul Burton.

Who, 13 months later, would be at Midway.  Commanding the new Submarine Rescue Ship USS Macaw.

I wonder if he felt a shiver go down his spine that morning in December.  13 months later, an unlucky number that (Flier would also sink on August 13, yeesh) He would drown in nearly the same spot.

Sub School

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 18 2010

Sixty-Six years ago today, the Flier is still up on blocks, the Redfin is about to leave, and the Robalo is getting repaired and a good deep cleaning while her crew is on R&R somewhere all over Australia.

I want to return to Al Jacobson, where he is currently (sixty-six years ago that is) located in New London’s Submarine school, in the final stages of his training and getting ready for his first assignment.

Al Jacobson at 22 years old and entering the Navy as an Ensign.

The American Submarine Force only takes volunteers, and maintained that policy even in the depths of WWII.  Submarine duty is hazardous.  During WWII, nearly 20% of the submariners went down with their ship, and many others died in various incidents that did not cause the loss of their boat.

It was hot, cramped, uncomfortable, and often submarines operated alone miles away from the nearest Naval ship.  The Calvary could not often be called in.  Under such circumstances, the Navy believed that volunteers would be the least likely to crack under the pressure.

However, volunteering only got you so far.  Once in Submarine School, the Navy did the best they could to make you crack, to get rid of those who might not be able to handle the physical, mental and emotionally rigorous life of the submarine sailor.

There was the Pressure Chamber, where potential submarine candidates were locked in with a doctor, while the chamber pressurized to the equivalent depth a submarine could reach underwater.  Usually a volleyball or some air filled object joined them.  By the time the chamber was fully pressurized, the volleyball resembled a bowl, and the candidates would have to equalize the pressure in their ears several times.  (Think about the pressure you feel in your head as a plane takes off or lands.  It’s apparently similar).  The chamber would also feel very warm.  Anyone who couldn’t equalize the pressure in their ears or showed signs of distress would be safely removed from the test and rejected as unfit for submarine duty.  Those whose eardrums burst because they could not equalize also were rejected.

Then there was the escape tower, where candidates learned to escape a sunken submarine using the Momsen Lungs or Steinke Hoods (nicknamed “Stinky Hoods”)  that would be stored aboard.  (Despite the fact that less than 1% of the ocean is at a “rescuable” depth).  Starting from a pressurized chamber beneath the 300 foot tower, a candidate would learn to ascend to the top without bursting or damaging their lungs.  Anyone who didn’t want to would be released to the surface navy.  (According to one source I found, completing this test earned you the name “bubblehead”)

The Submarine Escape Training Tower still stands in New London's Submarine School. There was a second one built in Pearl Harbor Hawaii, but it has since been drained. It apparently still stands as a landmark.

The School itself was tough:  generally there were classes in the morning, and afternoon exercises in either simulation chambers or training patrols on the old R and S class boats.  Officers and Enlisted both attended, but would also have specialized classes pertaining to their specific jobs.

Once graduated from Submarine School, a man was considered a “non-qual”, whether he was an officer or enlisted man.  The last stage of his training took place on board a working submarine, where he had a year to learn every pipe, valve, cog, and dial onboard.   When he felt he had learned enough, he would be given a written and oral test by that submarine’s officers.  Upon passing, he would be awarded his dolphins, the official insignia of the Submariner.  Those who couldn’t pass in a year were reassigned to the Surface Fleet.  Many submariners in WWII completed their qualifications in one patrol.  (They were not permitted much leisure time until they were fully qualified.  So every waking moment most non-quals were either working on duty or studying for their qualifications).

Today, submarine school apparently still bears a strong resemblance to the WWII version Al would have undergone.  Classes in  the morning, exercises in the afternoon, studying in the evening, and every man (and perhaps soon women) a volunteer.  Most of what they learned is strictly classified, so after volunteering for Submarine Duty a potential candidate is also background checked for security classification.
Al was approaching the end of his training, and likely spending his days on an old S-boat doing short patrols learning the rhythm of a working boat and wondering where he was going to go.  Would he be asssigned to a new construction which meant it might be another year before he went to sea?  Would he be assigned to one of the stars of the Submarine Service like the Trigger, the Tang or the Harder, or a boat just beginning to earn her stripes.

One thing he wasn’t thinking about was the danger.  They all knew the odds, and while no submariner ignored them as such, they didn’t dwell on them.   You’d go crazy otherwise and break down.  One thing Al did say later was the Submarine Service was an all-or-nothing proposition.  There was little risk you’d come back missing an eye or a limb.  You either came back whole, or you didn’t come back at all.

For more information: US Navy Submarine School

Redfin and Robalo: Sub Sisters

Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 06 2010

Sixty-six years ago today, the USS Robalo pulled into Fremantle after her first patrol.  She may even have moored next to the Redfin.

Robalo and Redfin shared a special relationship.  All submarines are sisters, but some are closer than others.  The Redfin (SS-272) and the Robalo (SS-273) were both Manitowoc boats, were built side-by-side, were laid, launched, and commissioned within weeks of each other.  They tested themselves in the depths of Lake Michigan, and probably moored side-by-side night after night.  Both were packed up on barges and shipped down the Mississippi to New Orleans, and both would have a new commander after her first patrol.

USS Robalo launch. Due to the narrowness of the Manitowoc River, submarines and other ships were launched sideways into the water. While it was common for some of the commissioning crew to ride their submarine into the water when she launched at Groton or Mare Island, that did not happen in Manitowoc!

But now, the Robalo was finishing her first patrol, under her commissioning CO Stephan Ambruster.  She  had traveled from Pearl Harbor, down the western coast of the Philippines and finished in Fremantle.  She damaged one freighter.  Her crew was looking forward to the standard two-week R&R that was due them as soon as they could be relieved by the Tender’s relief crew.

Redfin was beginning her two weeks of training and testing before leaving for her second patrol.  Both would return to Fremantle after their second patrols, and Redfin would bring news of Robalo home to Fremantle.

The USS Redfin undergoing her shakedown trials in Lake Michigan.

Their endings would be quite different.

While Robalo would vanish and her ending remains a mystery in many ways (not even her date of loss is known for certain), the Redfin completed seven war patrols and served honorably in Korea and Vietnam.  Despite numerous upgrades and refittings, Redfin eventually was retired and finally scrapped, the fate of many gallant submarines.  Her crew still gathers and maintains a website in Redfin’s memory.

For more information on the Redfin, check out their webpage (with some great photos of WWII submariners at work and play)

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: )

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.