The First and Last Day of the
Imperial Japanese Navy Ship SHINANO
By Ernest A. Herr
If it appears that the American Navy had the best claim to the Hard Luck Ship title, certainly the Japanese Navy should have the right to be in the running. Consider the Imperial Japanese Navy ship the SHINANO. When completed in late 1944, it was the largest warship afloat. It was an aircraft carrier of over 72,000 tons and with a steel flight deck that was designed to withstand a hit from a thousand pound bomb. The flight deck contained enough steel to build a conventional carrier of the day. The SHINANO was a great ship in any man's navy.
If the Japanese Navy had plans for taking the offensive again with any hope of victory, this ship would have to be the center piece. It was large enough and had the space and equipment for the maintenance of not only its own aircraft but that of its sister carriers. Indeed, the ultimate fate of Japanese Navy could be seen as depending on this ship. This dictated that the best available officer be found for its command.
The man finally selected was Captain Toshio Abe, commander of a destroyer division that had performed remarkably well at the Battle of Midway where the aircraft carrier HIRYU had been attacked by American dive bombers. Four aerial bombs struck the flight deck of the Japanese carrier where a line of planes sat loaded with bombs. This resulted in massive explosions that covered the length of the carrier. Abe's flagship at that time, the destroyer Kazagumo, stood in close to the flaming carrier and helped to try to save the ship and even provided the firefighters with food and drink as the fire raged. He had personally boarded the sinking aircraft carrier HIRYU to try to dissuade Admiral Yamaguchi and Captain Kaku from their decision to go down with their ship. Abe loved life and thought it too precious to be thrown away.
When it was apparent that there was no hope for the HIRYU, Admiral Yamaguchi ordered the ship abandoned. When the last of the crew was clear of the ship, orders were given to Captain Abe to torpedo the HIRYU to keep it from falling into American hands. Abe watched as his torpedoes tore into the doomed carrier with the Admiral and Captain still on the bridge (tied to the railing at their request) and wondered what he would do under the same circumstances perhaps little realizing the demise of these two carrier veterans would be a factor in his being selected to captain the SHINANO.
Other officers for the SHINANO were selected with great care with the executive and engineering officers as well as the navigator also having the grade of captain. However when the ship went on active duty, Captain Abe would receive the rank of Rear Admiral.
As to members of the crew, over 1400 were reported to have had sea duty, however, the ships Medical Officer reported, "That as someone who witnessed firsthand the superior seamen of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the outbreak of the war, it seems to me that many of the SHINANO crew are rather inferior in skills and morale. I can't help feeling a sense of apprehension as to how they will demonstrate their ability in the event of a fierce battle." He worried about the ultimate fate of the empire and this new ship. So much for the crew.
The top secret SHINANO had been built at the Yokosuka Naval Shipyard on the western shore of the Bay of Tokyo, behind an enclosure that completely shielded it from view. Stepped-up bombing raids on the harbor complex by B-29 Superfortresses from Saipan caused the area to be classified as a high risk area. This made it imperative that the ship be moved as quickly as possible to a lower risk area. The naval base at the city of Kure was selected as the site and there final completion and testing would be done. So, when leaving port, the ship would have not only its crew of 2176 officers and men, but some 300 shipyard workers and a group of 40 civilian employees. With no planes of its own onboard (its squadron was needed elsewhere but would be available when the ship went into active service), the ship had the space to store 50 suicide planes and six suicide speedboats for delivery at Kure.
When Captain Abe was informed that no air cover would be available from shore based planes for the voyage of the SHINANO, he knew moving the ship would be hazardous. Captain Abe (wondering how the most valuable ship in the Japanese Navy could be put in such jeopardy) decided that the SHINANO would be best moved during the hours of darkness. Three destroyers would provide escort service, two of which had radar and sonar problems that had not yet been repaired after the Battle of Leyte Gulf and could not provide first rate escort. But all three ships were considered to have the finest officers and crews.
So it was, as the ship moved out of Tokyo Bay on a mild November night with almost a full moon lighting up the sea providing good sightings for all lookouts both friendly and not so friendly. If the crew was not up to pre-war standards, it is not likely they were aware of it, as they were confident and in the best of spirits. They knew that theirs was the largest ship afloat and they had been told that it was virtually unsinkable. No need for the crew to be anything but confident.
On a ship's maiden voyage, it was traditional for the Imperial Japanese Navy to serve its famous black-bean soup. And since this was a very special ship, the ship's chief supply officer, Lieutenant Commander Kabuo Narute, thought he should go even further and transform the mess hall into a dining area that would match anything ashore with a sumptuous meal to be served on the midnight watch.
With some trepidation, he had early on broached the idea to Captain Abe and had been surprised and gladdened to receive the skipper's hearty approval. "Splendid idea, Narute. Splendid, the skipper had agreed. 'Ryokai,' Do it up right. The best you can get. The men have been performing in excellent fashion and deserve the 'sirouka.' Be sure to include the civilian and shipyard workers."
It was to be a treat that the crew would long remember. Included with black bean soup would be delicious rice cakes with more than enough for every man. Great batches of very hard to get sugar had been added to the pot and there were mountains of cakes on every table. Included would be huge bowls of fruit of many kinds, an almost unheard of luxury for a warship and very difficult to find in Japan. To be sure, the cost had exceeded the supply officer's budget but, Captain Abe managed to transfer funds from another account. Unknown to the supply officer, the skipper had also helped pay for the special meal with a personal contribution. The stern samurai captain appeared to have a soft side.
As the carrier continued toward Kure, all was going quite well. The ship rode so smoothly that many felt that they were still in dry dock. The speed was set at 20 knots (the best it could make since only half of the engines were available for service) and after clearing the small islands some distance out from the harbor, a southwesterly course of 210 degrees was set and the SHINANO commenced zigzagging to thwart enemy subs that might be in the area. For crew members contemplating the very special midnight meal, they still had an hour to wait and little realized that the ship was now on a course that would put it directly in the path of a lone United States submarine, the USS ARCHERFISH. This knowledge could have ruined a perfectly good meal.
Aboard the ARCHERFISH, the Captain and crew found sailing in Japanese home waters to be quite stimulating even though for days they had not seen anything that even closely resembling a target. This was the sub's fifth patrol and the crew was getting very hungry for some action. They wanted to win the combat insignia and were determined to do anything, short of running up on shore, to do it.
The sub was large, over 311 feet long and 27 foot wide. Its four huge engines throbbed beautifully as it cut through the water at 15 knots on the surface. It could go to 19 knots if pushed. The sub's captain, Commander Joseph F. Enright, along with the deck officer and three lookouts peered out anxiously from the bridge as the Commander unconsciously fingered some old black rosary beads given to him by his mother when he was a boy. If a little divine help was needed, why not.
Divine help could be needed it seemed, since the sub's radar had been out of service for maintenance since before dark. Now as the hours passed, the captain worried as he pressed for a time that it could be returned for use. Finally, Lieutenant Bosza called up through the open hatch to the bridge that the radar was back in service. Immediately, the radar detected a target 12 miles to the northeast. It was mistakenly reported as an island but it was soon realized that the island was moving. Soon the lookouts could actually see "a small bump" on the horizon and, indeed, it was moving. Aboard the ARCHERFISH there was great excitement. Captain Enright figured from the size it was probably a large tanker and probably an easy target since tankers are notoriously slow and since only one escort was spotted.
Back on the SHINANO, the officer on the "deck watch" cautioned the lookouts (a total of 25) to be vigilant. On the bridge, the steel island high above the flight deck, Captain Abe remained on his feet, aloof from his staff, as he listen to the to the report just being given by the officer of the deck. "Sir, the operator of our radar detector reports the signature of an enemy radar. The frequency and pulse rate indicate that it originated from an American submarine. No bearing." Then as if talking to himself, Captain Abe observed: "Sometimes I can't believe the stupidity of these Americans. Do they really believe they can use their radar -- even in short spurts -- without our being warned of their presence?"
If there's a time when silence is golden, this seemed to be the time and no one on the bridge thought it wise to answer the Captain. After a few moments of silence, Captain Abe ordered the Navigator, Captain Nakamura, to inform the ship's company of the sub's presence, telling that it was obviously traveling on the surface and to keep a sharp lookout for it. Any new sightings or changes were to be reported to the bridge immediately. It was the Assistant Navigator, Ensign Yasuda, who then carried out this order.
Ensign Yasuda was an engaging and remarkably self-possessed young officer who had graduated from the Japanese Naval Academy in the spring of 1944. Because of Ensign Yasuda's top standing in the class, his professionalism, and quick mind, Captain Abe had immediately assigned him to the very sensitive position of assistant navigator. The young ensign carried out his duties with zeal and commendable judgment.
It was soon obvious to the Navigator that Abe had taken a liking to the youth which was fine with the Navigator since the Ensign then could do most of the plotting of the ship's position and make log entries. This with Abe's blessing as well as his own. In the months preceding the launching of the ship, the Ensign had gotten close enough to the Captain (who appeared so much the samurai in his demeanor) to find he had a love of literature and poetry. Since Yasuda had similar interest, the two seem to get along quite well. This pleased the Executive Officer and Navigator since it made conditions on the bridge a little more pleasant.
In the SHINANO's mess hall, as the watches changed at midnight, the crew, Japanese civilians and Korean shipyard workers all mingled as they enjoyed the grand feast. On the bridge, officers and crew raved about the fine black bean soup and rice cakes and the chance to eat some rarely seen fruit. All were in the best of spirits. If there were a problem with so many people living in such close proximity eating all that bean soup, there were no reports of it mentioned in the ship's log.
Aboard the ARCHERFISH, bean soup was the furtherest thing from everybody's mind as one of the lookouts reported that the ship reported as an oil tanker looked more like an aircraft carrier. This was soon confirmed by everyone on the bridge and the excitement mounted. The plan of attack would have to be changed as now instead of a slow oil tanker with one escort, the lookouts reported the carrier with three escorts all moving along at 20 knots. The ARCHERFISH was now moving along at top speed of 19 knots as it tried to maneuver into a position to launch torpedoes.
Back on the SHINANO, the buzzer sounded on the communications phone from the lookout location, those on the bridge stiffened awaiting the news. The executive officer grabbed the phone and quickly announced that an unidentified object had been spotted on the starboard bow. It was quickly identified as a submarine that appeared to be about 8 or 9 miles away. Abe ordered that it be challenged by a signal light. Twice a signalman aimed his light gun into the darkness as lookouts awaited the properly coded answer. None came.
With this, Abe's lead destroyer went chasing off towards the sub. Abe was furious as this left the carrier with an unprotected area. His orders had been that the object of the cruise was to get the SHINANO safely to its destination and not to run off chasing subs. Abe finally requested that the destroyer be signaled to return to its designated station. A red light on the topmast was lit for two ten second intervals as a signal to the destroyer. Abe had a deadly fear that there was a whole group of subs out there and that the one remaining on the surface was luring the destroyers away from the carrier so that the others could do their deadly work.
On the ARCHERFISH, the lookouts, Officer-of-the-Deck and Captain Enright watched the carrier and its escorts. No radar signals were spotted as emanating from the carrier or destroyers but obviously the carrier lookouts were aware of them by now. Suddenly, a lookout reported that it appeared that one of the destroyers was headed this way. The Officer of the Deck and Captain soon confirmed this observation and checked with the radar officer to find the destroyer was approaching at the very fast rate of 35 knots. The Japanese were on the offensive.
Captain Enright gave the order, "Secure for attack, Lookouts below!"
The sub was ready to dive and fire its stern torpedoes at the oncoming destroyer but that would mean there would be little chance of getting a shot at the carrier. So the Captain and OOD stayed top side and waited until the last possible moment to dive, maybe that would be another minute, tops.
As the destroyer closed to three miles, the Captain found that he felt like the kid on the first seat of a roller coaster, profoundly excited and with an indelible memory being burned into his mind. Then, off in the distance, the carrier suddenly illuminated a bright red light on her topmost mast. It flashed across the sea for ten seconds. Then darkness for a few seconds and then another ten second flash. The Captain had never seen anything like it and thought it must be an order for the destroyer captain to commence firing on the sub. But, instead the destroyer turned and headed back to its position ahead of the carrier. Captain Enright's bluff had worked and now he might have a chance for a shot at the carrier. But Captain Abe was a wise one and set the carrier and destroyers on a new course away from the sub.
Positions and directions were quickly plotted and it soon became apparent to Captain Enright that the carrier was stepping along a little too quickly for the his sub to catch. The carrier's speed was 20 knots and the best the sub could do was 19 knots. Even with this small speed difference, it was soon evident that the carrier was slowly pulling away and would soon be out of sight. There was nothing to do but hope the carrier would change to a course that would provide a chance to overtake it. When this was apparently not going to happen, the Captain decided to break radio silence and report the carriers position to base in hopes that another American sub might be in a better position for attack. A message was quickly put together and transmitted to Hawaii for redistribution.
Back on the SHINANO, in the radio room on a lower level of the ship's island, an alert radioman copied the ARCHERFISH'S message to base. It was identified as from an American submarine in close proximity at about ten miles distant. Captain Abe studied the message and its notations deciding that it must be from the lead submarine in a wolf pack. This would account for the continuous radar contact and radio transmissions that appeared to be from the leader to the pack. Another change of course was quickly made for the SHINANO and its escorts.
As the evening progressed, Abe could take comfort in his detailed knowledge of the range and speed of the US submarine service Mark 14 and Mark 10 torpedoes. This information had fallen into Japanese hands as a result of General Douglas MacArthur's declaration on Christmas Day, 1941 that Manila in the Philippines was to be an open city. This did not allow enough time for the US Navy to remove all of its torpedoes and many fell into Japanese possession. So Abe knew exactly how far and how fast these torpedoes could go, much to his comfort.
Back aboard the ARCHERFISH, calculations were made and remade and it was finally decided that their sub was never going to overtake the carrier so they could give up on that idea. But there was the possibility that the carrier would eventually return to its original course of 210 degrees as it was first plotted. If that would be the case then they might have time to position the sub for a possible shot at it. But the SHINANO must return to its original course of 210 degrees.
On the sub, the Engineering Officer was requested to coax every bit of speed from the engines. But a bit of good luck fell into Captain Enright's lap. Back aboard the SHINANO, the Engineering Officer informed Abe that one of the main bearings on a drive shaft was overheating and was already too hot to touch. After the customary breast beating and heads banging against the bulkheads, the carrier was forced to slow to 18 knots. At that speed, the bearing cooled. Aboard the sub, this new speed was detected and everyone was elated since the sub could make it to the required position without too much difficulty. The stage was set for the final chapter in this saga.
On the SHINANO, Captain Abe was forced to make a decision on a course change and must consider that time was passing and he was not getting to his destination as planned. He became quiet again, tracing a finger along SHINANO's course on the chart. Which way?
"Commander Araki, are we still detecting the enemy's radar signals?"
"Yosoro. They haven't stopped since we first picked them up."
There was a pause as Captain Abe considered. "Good," he said "At least the wolf pack commander's boat is still on the surface. But I am worried about what he has just ordered his other boats to do." Again, Abe became quiet. Which direction should he go? North was out, west wouldn't do either. In those directions a host of enemy submarines could be in place and submerged anticipating their approach. Abe worried that the great battles of the war were yet to be fought with the approach of the Yankees to the Empire's home islands. They could very well herald Armageddon itself, at which SHINANO would be the key ship because of her planes, weapons, men and resources. The right course must be taken.
"Navigator, SHINANO will come left from course 270 to course 210. Log it."
Navigator Nakamura immediately repeated the order to the helmsman: "Come left 60 degrees to course 210."
Ensign Yasuda leaned over the chart and marked SHINANO's new course to the southwest. The time was also noted. It was 0256, November 29, 1944. As he did, he could already feel SHINANO's huge hull turning to port, hardly heeling as she did so. The ship was now heading directly into the path of the ARCHERFISH.
Captain Abe was standing by himself when Commander Araki appeared at his side with an ominous report. "Sir, the enemy's radar transmissions ceased at 0305. Abruptly."
Captain Abe sighed. So the submarine has finally dived. He then told Araki to signal the escorts of the eminent danger.
Navigator Nakamura was attempting to stave off the feeling that something terrible was about to happen. Never before had he felt such a premonition of disaster. It mounted like a column of cool mercury up his spinal cord. Despite his bulky woolen uniform, he shivered perceptibly.
At 0310, Captain Abe ordered a zigzag to the left, to course 180 degrees to confuse the sub, little realizing that he had just changed course from what would have been a good shot for the sub to an even better one.
Aboard the ARCHERFISH, there was elation and the big problem of the moment was trying to keep everyone calmed down. As the sub's periscope rose from the deep, Captain Enright pressed his head against the rubber cushion around the glass and glared into the eyepiece. The cross wires were fixed right on the target. "Stand by for a setup," the Captain called. "Range, mark!" The quartermaster called out, "Seven thousand yards." "Bearing, mark!" "Bearing three three zero." The sub was now in the final stages of the attack as the carrier approached at 600 yards a minute.
As the range closed rapidly, the Mark 14 torpedoes were made ready for firing. "Flood the tubes. Set depth on the torpedoes at ten feet." When the range had closed to 3500 yards, a periscope check showed the carrier had zigzagged about 30 degrees as the carrier was now heading due south and the ARCHERFISH was pointed due east. Corrections were made for this new heading and there was now two minutes to wait before firing. The target's course change provided a the captain with a perfect set-up.
Up periscope for a final check and Captain Enright saw an unexpected maneuver by a screening destroyer off the carrier's starboard beam. "Damn it," he was changing direction and heading right for the sub. Another decision had to be made quickly. Enright had to take the sub down to 60 feet to allow a ten foot clearance as the destroyer passed directly overhead thundering like a locomotive as the whole sub vibrated and rolled from the shock waves. Apparently this was one of the destroyers with damaged sonar equipment as no pings were heard. This was another piece of extraordinary luck for the sub. After the escort had safely passed, it was apparent that it was just a maneuver and the escort was unaware of the sub's presence.
Up periscope again and the target was still there but the torpedoes would have already been on their way if the escort hadn't caused a 60 second delay. No time to delay now. "Stand by," the captain ordered. "Fire one." The ARCHERFISH jerked as the huge compressed air blast ejected the torpedo. In ten second intervals, five more torpedoes were launched.
On the carrier, the time was 0317 and the SHINANO had completed her turn from course 210 to 180 degrees. Captain Abe was determined to outsmart the persistent commander of the wolf pack. Navigator Nakamura and Ensign Yasuda were busy recording the changes to the bridge chart.
Back on the sub, it was time to count the seconds and wait. Then it came. A huge fireball erupted near the stern of the target. "Got 'em" the captain yelled as he continued peering at the carrier. A second explosion ripped the target's hull eight seconds later. "Yahoooo" cried the captain to himself, the spread of torpedoes appeared to be perfect. Then the captain swung the periscope around to check the destroyers and found one rapidly heading his way. The next step was to take the sub down to 400 feet and wait for the depth charges.
On the carrier, the sub's first torpedo smashed into the hull some ten feet below the surface of the water causing a tremendous roar. A huge ball of red and orange flames rolled up the starboard side of the ship and shot into the dark sky. The torpedo had struck 115 feet forward of the rudder. Within the next 30 seconds three more torpedoes slammed into the SHINANO at 8 second intervals each advancing toward the bow.
From the dreaded sound of the first torpedo Captain Abe realized that the ship was under torpedo attack. "Enemy torpedoes gentlemen. Sound battle stations -- all hands. Quickly. Damage-control status reports. Immediately. Casualties. Get to it." Well, let the enemy do his worst; Abe was confident that the ship could sustain this kind of damage.
Almost immediately the ship listed 10 degrees causing Abe to wonder how that could happen. Weren't the anti-torpedo blisters along the hull effective. Captain Mikami, the executive officer, had been knocked out of his bunk in the middle of a nap. He was soon rushing toward damaged areas to get a firsthand estimate. Whistling sounds of escaping air were everywhere as he passed closed watertight doors with the same ominous high-pitched noise coming from pipes, ventilation ducts and electric cables passing through bulkheads. To the experienced captain, these were real danger signals as he recognized air was being vented by huge amounts of water entering the ship. When he received reports of four large gaping holes in the hull and that flooding was close to the starboard pumping station deep in the ship, he felt a chill for the safety of everyone aboard.
Although steering was fine and speed was still at 18 knots, Lieutenant Commander Miura, the carrier's engineering watch officer was getting battle-damage assessments in a rush. Most of them began with reports of massive bulging and buckling of bulkheads the length of the ship. The four explosions had caused the initial damage, but now the substantial pressure of the sea water cascading through the openings along the hull was smashing through one compartment after another high in the hull resulting in even greater destruction.
Seaman Murano Ueeno was making his way to quarters after being excused from duty because of seasickness when he was bowled over by the first torpedo blast. He was getting to his feet when the there was a second impact flinging him from bulkhead to bulkhead and finally to the overhead (ceiling). Lights failed as did the ventilation system and he was unable to find his way along the smoke filed compartment but he was finally rescued by his petty officer.
Seaman Kanenari was ordered, along with four other sailors, to assist in the boiler rooms. The new hands were warmly welcomed by the boiler-room chief. Kanenari could see why immediately, as the bulkhead that separated them from the No. 3 boiler room was bulging from the enormous water pressure behind it. Already, small streams of water were passing through any tiny cracks or openings. "We began by helping the boiler men by shoring up the bulkhead with beams and blankets. As we worked, we could hear squeaks and shudders from the tortured metal. The rivets were shaking and appeared almost ready to burst free from their holes. I thought, my life will be over in a minute. Fortunately, the officer in the boiler room realized the bulkhead collapse was imminent and ordered all hands to evacuate."
When Captain Mikami rejoined Captain Abe, who had now withdrawn with key members of is staff to the steel-enclosed command station on the bridge, he reported it was as bad as it could get. The protective bulges, or "blisters," around the ship's hull had failed to absorb the impact of the torpedoes. "Four torpedo hits and three of them struck in the citadel. I just don't understand the damage." Ensign Yasuda, listening to their conversation, was stricken with a momentary sense of doom. The citadel was the heart of the ship housing boilers, engines, steering, electronic and communication gear, and the ammunition magazines. Captain Abe authorized the transmission of an SOS message to be sent in the clear, rather than take time to encode it.
Toward 0500, Captain Mikami report to Abe that the civilian and the Korean workers had become a liability in the crew's efforts to save the ship and could cause a panic. "We've got reports of them fighting and punching each other to get up ladders. Others are just huddling on the hanger deck, refusing to obey all orders." Abe agreed that they should be transferred, all 300 of them, to the destroyers.
Reports continued to pour in telling of hundreds of crew members trapped by jammed doors, smashed bulkheads and rising water throughout the ship. Most attempts to rescue them had failed. Captain Abe turned to find Ensign Yasuda looking at him. There was a pained look on the young officer's face, as though he were trying to communicate, in a personal way, his sympathy and loyalty to his skipper. Captain Abe uncharacteristically nodded his head at the ensign, then looked away.
By 0900 all power was lost. Her speed slowed and the huge bow hardly rippled the sea. Soon she was dead in the water. Senior Medical Officer Yasuma watched the fainthearted in disgust. His sick and wounded had been brought all the way topside to the flightdeck, but their position remained precarious due to the ship's list. "Overwhelmed by deep sorrows, I could not say a word to them."
Seaman Sua had been ordered below to one of the radio rooms to retrieve several important files. Seaman Sua reported, "After I had obtained the stupid files, I noticed graffiti written on the bulkhead. Some of the sayings were patriotic but next to them were several drawings of officers with such descriptions as: You stupid bastard! Officers are no better than drug cans or hatboxes. Officers have a far lower rank than drug cans." The seaman wondered who would linger down there long enough to express feelings that no one would ever see.
Attempts were made to tow the SHINANO, but a 2000 ton destroyer had little effect on a 72000 ton carrier filled with thousands of tons of water. Attempts were soon abandoned. Finally, Captain Abe said, "Captain Mikami, it truly saddens me, but it's time now for the officers and men to leave the ship. To save themselves. Have the order passed to the men as quickly as possible. I want them to have the best possible chance to save themselves." The order to leave was passed at 1018. Almost immediately, great numbers of the crew began to jump into the sea joining others who had done so earlier. Any object that could float was tossed into the sea. There were no lifeboats or rafts for this rescue work. Why equip lifeboats on a ship that was unsinkable.
Within the command post, Captain Abe was finally alone with his staff officers. It was time to make their farewells and quickly. They hung on to secured tables, chairs and pipes to maintain their footing. "Gentlemen, you now have my permission to leave SHINANO. But, when asked "But what about you sir?" Captain Able replied, "I shall remain aboard. I take this action alone. Farewell, gentlemen." To Captain Mikami, his faithful executive officer, he commended his final words: "Express my shame at the loss of my ship. I alone was responsible. Give my blessing to my family, they were in my thoughts to the very end." Mikami then managed to gain the outside platform and began his precarious descent to the waterline and an awaiting destroyer.
Captain Abe noticed that Ensign Yasuda was still in the command station. "Ensign Yasuda, you must make your farewell and leave quickly. Our ship will soon be gone now." Ensign Yasuda attempted to come to attention on the tilted deck but had to grab hold of a pipe with both hands to remain standing. "Sir, I'd like to maintain the log to the end. With your permission." Captain Abe sighed. "Ensign Yasuda, once the ship begins to go down, the suction will take everyone still aboard with her."
"I'd like to believe, sir, that the Shinano will live for hours yet. I'll take my chances, sir."
"Yes, of course. You could be right, Ensign Yasuda. Who ever knows the exact moment of his death. SHINANO could live for hours yet. But I, frankly, am not of that mind." Captain Abe turned away and made his way outside. Ensign Yasuda followed close behind.
Radioman Yamagishi was tossed into the sea when the ship made a sudden list. An expert swimmer he swam away as fast as he could. He didn't want to be anywhere in the vicinity when the ship sank. Out a good distance, he turned and threw the dying ship a formal salute. Sighting a wooden ladder, he grabbed hold of it and pushed it toward a group of enlisted men struggling to remain afloat in the oil-covered water. Each grabbed a portion. Then he spotted Seaman Koguri, whom he had known since coming aboard the SHINANO. He called to him to join them for a share of the ladder. The young seaman was most grateful. He had seen scores of his teenage shipmates go under screaming for their mothers at the end. He himself had been waiting without a cry for one of the destroyers.
When Seaman Sua was informed that he and his mates could abandon ship, they went over the port side into the water and were immediately got sucked into a huge exhaust vent where most of them disappeared in the swirling water and into the bowels of the ship. Seaman Sua managed to save himself by grabbing a wire cable and got back on deck again. This time he jumped into the sea from the bow bulge. As he floated away from the ship, he seized hold of a big section of lumber. Some of the shipmates were singing to encourage others until they were picked up. Looking back, he saw the SHINANO was heeled way over to starboard. What an incredible sight! Such a huge ship to suffer such a fate. "I could see two men still clinging to the bow rail. One was heavy, undoubtedly Captain Abe, and the other was tall and lean. I guessed that he was Ensign Yasuda. I prayed that they would get off the ship safely."
Commander Miura, nobody's fool when it came to survival and living to fight another day, was swimming away from the ship when he heard a loud, shrill cry. Later he would describe it as a "devil-like cry." He stopped swimming for a moment and turned to watch the ship's final moments. He decided that the drawn-out cry resulted from the sea rushing into the carrier's series of fire room smoke stacks.
He looked along the length of the capsized ship. She was going down by the stern; the bow rising higher toward the sky until the ship reared up almost perpendicular to the horizon. He was surprised to see the number of men who were still clinging to her hull, fearful of taking their chances with the Pacific. Then, on the very tip of the bow, he spotted Captain Abe and young Yasuda. Damn fools, what were they up to? They should get their backsides off the fool ship before she took them down into the depths with her. Oh well, life was too sweet for him. He turned away a final time and swam toward a destroyer.
SHINANO's stern dipped deeper into the ocean, raising the bow in a final salute to the sky. Like a harpoon, she was preparing herself to be launched to the depths. She would hang for a moment as the seawater pounded through her to flood the remaining space, then give one loud, plaintive roar before plugging 4000 meters to the floor of the Pacific.
When the decisive moment arrived, SHINANO, shuddering with lost promises, went beneath the surface in a series of explosions, roars of released steam, rending bulkheads, and imploding compartments. Down with her, their hands outstretched to each other, went Captain Abe and Ensign Yasuda. The stricken carrier's suction took them, the entombed living and dying, and hundreds of the men clutching helplessly to her hull and decks, to their deaths.
Like the 48,000 ton British ship TITANIC, which went down in a similar fashion some 32 years earlier with a loss of 1500 people, the 72,000 ton SHINANO went down stern first with the bow finally rising up high out of the water. Survivors were left to climb higher and higher as they were unwilling to jump into the water. Perhaps a fear of water and drowning, or a fear of sharks and other creatures waiting in the cold water, whatever, the survivors hung on to the end. Captain Nakamura, the Navigator who had such a strong premonition of his death, made the decision to go down with the ship, but choose to perish elsewhere rather than waiting until the last moment on the bow.
At 1400, when the SHINANO had been lying on the bottom for three hours and all rescue attempts had ceased, the following message was sent to Imperial Japanese Navy Headquarters, Yokosuka Naval Shipyard and to the base at Kure:
"Out of 2,515 personnel aboard SHINANO, missing, 1,435; survivors, 1080. Surviving officers, 55; common seamen and noncommissioned officers, 993; civilians, 32. The Emperor's portrait is secure aboard the Hamakaze. All secret documents sank with the ship in a locked safe in 4,000 meters of water."
Aboard the ARCHERFISH, sitting 400 feet below the surface, her good luck continued to hold. Only a few depth charges came crashing down and they weren't even close. After just 20 minutes Captain Enright realized that the Japanese destroyers had departed, undoubtedly to rescue survivors. He then announced, "Secure from depth-charge attack and silent running." Power was turned back on, ventilation fans whirred again, circulating cool drafts. The boat now echoed with Indian war hoops and rebel cries as the crew exchanged congratulatory backslaps and handshakes. Everyone wore mouth-cracking smiles and flashed "V" for victory signs. The next day was Thanksgiving Day and the Captain and crew realized they had much to be thankful for.
See the submarine that sank the SHINANO
This story was based on information provided by the book SHINANO by Captain Joseph F. Enright with James W. Ryan. For a more complete and interesting account of the saga of the SHINANO.