Stories from Pearl: Japanese Mini-Subs

Stories behind the attack that shaped American history.

nh-54302Pearl Harbor was in my dreams last night. I flew over the sunken wreck of battleship Arizona. Even in my dreams, the massive leviathan was visible from the surface of the water. I knew the ship was not to be disturbed. Like other fighting ships, the Arizona remains a tomb.

Today we must devote our memory to the surprise attack that pulled the United States into an ocean war. Some expected confrontation with Imperial Japan, but few could imagine the leagues traveled, men lost, fuel consumed, ships sunk, shores visited, islands charred, and shells expended. The Pacific war would be something entirely different than any campaign in the Atlantic, Europe, or Africa.

Early this morning, a NOAA team from the Okeanos Explorer will stream a live dive on two special wrecks: Japanese mini-submarines that took part in the Pearl attack on 7 December 1941. Mini-subs were ideal for penetrating harbors and wreaking havoc on the enemy. Because of their short range, they were meant to operate with mother ships for transport, resupply, and battery charges. Adapted seaplane carriers ChitoseChiyoda, and Mizuho conducted trials with the vessels in 1941. Some mini-subs were fitted with propeller guards, net cutters, and other devices to get past various defenses of an outer or inner harbor. On the morning of 7 December 1941, the destroyer USS Ward sank a mini-sub outside Pearl Harbor—an hour and a half before Japanese squadrons attacked the U.S. fleet. From 30-31 May 1942, Japanese mini-subs sank ships at Diego-Suarez, Madagascar and Sydney Harbor, Australia. Such units had some effectiveness in various actions but presented many hazards, often more for the small crews that manned them.

A great podcast on the history of mini-submarines is in Season 10 of The History Network. Clive Barker has also read a superb podcast here on the Aleutian Islands Campaign that you don’t want to miss.

You’ll also want to look at new content from the Naval History and Heritage Command web site.

Would you like to learn more? Here are a few of my other articles on Pearl Harbor. Enjoy!

Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command

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