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The sinking of a supercarrier.


On November 29, 1944, the ImperialJapanese aircraft carrier Shinano was steaming along eight hours into her maiden voyage. Off Shinano's bow, the destroyer Isokaze raced about erratically. The destroyers Yukikaze and Hamakaze duplicated Isokaze's unpredictable movements off both beams of the carrier. Overhead the moon was beginning to drop but visibility remained excellent. Optimism was mounting that Shinano would pass safely through the Pacific waters believed to be swarming with Yankee submarines.

Captain Toshio Abe stood, as if transfixed, atthe front of Shinano's bridge. Behind him staff officers and crewmen went about their tasks quietly and efficiently. An hour earlier, Captain Mikami had gone below to convey the captain's compliments to the ship's officers and men at the celebratory sirouka meal.

Periodically, Abe went back to look at thebridge chart to study the chart and Shinano's plot. He was concerned about the enemy submarine that had been detected 48 hours earlier. He thought about her almost obsessively. Submarines seldom remained stationary, and in those two days she could have moved in any direction, and for a considerable distance. It could be anywhere. Shinano would be passing only 25 miles south of the site of the report, well within the range of a patrolling sub. If he could constantly detect the radar signals, it meant the American boat was running surfaced and posed no real threat. His lookouts would spot it long before it came within torpedo range. If the signals could no longer be detected, it would have dived, with the assumed intention of attacking the carrier.

Captain Abe, however, believed Shinano couldwithstand the damage caused by the enemy's torpedoes--which, he knew, were substantially inferior to the Empire's. The man hours and millions of yen spent on Shinano's construction made it nearly inconceivable that a few torpedo hits would put her out of action.

Torpedoes fired

I was the captain of that submarine, theArcher-Fish. The Japanese carrier was moving directly towards us.

I whirled around to Lieutenant Andrews."Okay, John, let's take her down!'

Instantly the Lieutenant Andrews bellowed,"Lookout below! Dive! Dive!' He sounded the diving alarm simultaneously. It resounded throughout Archer-Fish: Ah-oooooh-gah! Ah-oooooh-gah!

In the control room below the conning tower,the chief on watch was already opening the vents to the ballast tanks. The seawater could be heard rushing into the tanks. The air it forced out whined through the topside vents like so many tornadoes. Archer-Fish's down angle increased to 10 degrees as we started to slide beneath the Pacific.

I followed the lookouts down the ladder butstopped at the conning tower, positioning myself between the pair of periscopes. The other men continued below to the control room and their various battle stations.

I pressed my head against the rubber cushionaround the glass before the scope was fully raised and glared into the eyepiece. The cross wires were fixed right on our target. Just keep coming, sweetheart, I murmured to myself. Don't turn away.

There were about ten of us crowded into theconning tower.

"Stand by for a setup,' I ordered. "Range,mark!'

Quartermaster Sykes called out, "Seven thousandyards.'

"Bearing, mark!'

"Bearing three three zero.'

The huge carrier was approaching at about 600yards every minute. Archer-Fish was lined up. Unless the target zigged, the next move was ours. Ours was a typical approach, one that many of us had rehearsed hundreds of times on training runs. The principle for firing torpedoes is almost the same as for firing a rifle: "Settle down; steady; squeeze the trigger gently!' Do otherwise and the bull's-eye is missed.

As the range closed rapidly we prepared ourtorpedoes for firing.

"Make ready all tubes,' I ordered. "Flood thetubes. Set depth on the torpedoes at 10 feet.'

Rear Admiral Freeland A. Daubin had oncetold me that if he ever had an opportunity to torpedo an aircraft carrier, he would set his torpedoes to run shallow. He figured that given the great weight of the flight deck well above the waterline, any additional weight high in the carrier--in the form of flooding--would tend to capsize her, perhaps even more effectively than a greater amount of flooding lower in the hull.

Bill Sykes raised the scope for me for quicklooks at the target. Up and down it went, silently within its smooth casing. Even though it was still dark on the surface, I didn't want the periscope breaking the surface any more than was necessary.

I peered through the scope and saw an unexpectedmaneuver by the screening destroyer on the carrier's starboard beam. He was changing course and heading straight for our piece of the ocean.

We did not appear to have been detected bythe destroyer. All of us could now hear the sharp sounds of the destroyer's propellers as she headed our way. When we dropped to a keel depth of 62 feet, we would have about 10 feet between Archer-Fish's upper periscope support and the destroyer's keel. Inside the conning tower not a word was spoken. We just looked at each other and listened.

Then the destroyer was roiling the water rightabove us. The beat of the big propellers so close was breathtaking. The whole submarine vibrated and rolled from the shock waves. Would she drop the ash-cans? We squinted and listened. No depth charges. Then she was past us, the sound of her propellers diminishing rapidly.

I quickly motioned "up' with a jerk of mythumb, and Sykes raised the scope. The carrier was there, clearly visible. I put the cross wires on the carrier's island and called: "Mark, bearing.'

"Stand by,' I ordered. "Fire one.'

Chief Carnahan pushed the firing button.Archer-Fish jerked as if she had been smacked by a whale, as the huge compressed air blast ejected the first torpedo from its tube. It swooshed away in a cloud of bubbles at a depth of ten feet, with a 28-degree right gyro angle steering it on course. Now I had time to stare at the target and take in all the details. God, she was big! She filled the scope.

Chief Carnahan, almost like an automaton,turned the selective switch to the No. 2 tube and waited for the eight-second interval, then fired the second torpedo. Archer-Fish lurched again. Then the third and fourth torpedoes were fired. I kept watching the nearby carrier through the scope. Things were getting tense. Where were the hits? Then we all felt the unmistakable jolt of our fifth torpedo swooshing away.

They say one's heart leaps into one's mouth,and that is exactly what I felt. In the glass I saw a huge fireball erupt near the stern of the target. Then we heard the noise of the first hit, carried to us through the water. Then Archer-Fish felt the stock waves created by the 680 pounds of torpex explosive.

"Got 'em!' I yelled. "Got the son-of-a-bitch!'

I saw the second explosion rip the target's hulleight seconds later, about 50 yards forward of the first blast.

I swung the periscope to watch the reaction ofthe destroyers. One was already headed for us from the carrier's starboard quarter. The one that had done pounding overhead only a minute before was completing a tight turn to head back toward us. I got one more fast look at the carrier as we felt and heard further torpedoes rip into her hull. Incredibly, she was listing already. She looked as though she would capsize any minute. I heard more torpedoes strike the target.

"Take her down to 400 feet,' I ordered. "Rigfor depth-charge attack.'

Gaping holes

It was at 3:15 a.m. when the first torpedosmashed into Shinano's hull some ten feet below the surface. There was a tremendous roar, and a huge ball of red and orange flame rolled up the starboard side of the ship and shot into the dark sky. The torpedo ripped into large refrigerated areas and one of the empty aviation gasoline-storage tanks. The explosion burst through the deck above, killing engineering personnel who were asleep in their compartments.

The number two torpedo thudded into thestuffing box compartment for the starboard outboard propeller shaft. The sea rushed in and flooded the outboard engine room. The engine-room personnel managed to escape. The third torpedo flooded the No. 3 fireroom within minutes. Every man on watch was killed. The last torpedo detonated against the side of the starboard air compressor room, flooding it and the neighboring magazines. The explosion also ruptured the starboard-ready oil tank. From the dreaded sound of the first explosion, Captain Abe recognized that Shinano was under submarine attack. Well, let the enemy do his worst; he was firm in his belief that Shinano could sustain this kind of damage.

"Enemy torpedoes, gentlemen. Sound battlestations--all hands. Quickly. Damage-control status reports. Immediately. Casualties. Get to it.' Abe seethed inwardly. He wondered whether he should break radio silence to notify headquarters of the attack.

"Navigator Nakamura, order the helmsman tomaintain our top speed. We must proceed with every knot the engine rooms can provide.'

Lieutenant Sawamoto interjected almost immediately:"Captain Abe, the ship is listing. Nine . . . now ten degrees to starboard.'

Abe glanced through the window fronting thebridge. Shinano was heeling, far too quickly. Could four torpedo hits cause such a situation? A ship this huge, with so many inches of armor--something was wrong. Weren't the antitorpedo blisters along the hull effective?

Captain Abe's mind was in turmoil as hethought about the fate of the carrier Akagi, which had been deprived of its electric steering by the Yankee bombs at Midway, resulting in a jammed rudder. Akagi had turned in huge circles to port until Japanese ships were forced to scuttle the carrier with torpedoes.

Captain Mikami rushed toward the damagedareas. Only moments earlier he had been knocked out of his bunk. The whistling sounds of escaping air were everywhere as he passed closed watertight doors. Gaskets were leaking. The same ominous high-pitched noise came from pipes, ventilation ducts, and electric cables that passed through bulkheads. Mikami recognized that the air being vented was caused by the pressure of seawater entering the ship. He surveyed the mutilated decks above and below him. Storerooms, refrigerated spaces, and sleeping quarters had been blown apart. Reports of many dead and wounded were being called out to teams of medical corpsmen who were making their way to the crew's sleeping compartments.

Mikami reached the No. 1 damage-control stationand instructed all personnel to proceed to their stations and secure all watertight doors. As he gave the orders, he was filled with resentment toward headquarters and the builders of Shinano. If we had been permitted time to air test the compartments, we would be able to control this flooding now, he thought. Within minutes he received reports of four large gaping holes in the hull. When one of the reports told him that the flooding was close to the starboard pumping station deep in the ship, he again felt a chill for the safety of everyone aboard. If we lose the pumps, he thought, it will be impossible to keep the ship righted.

Shinano's list to starboard had increased to 13degrees, making it difficult to walk along the decks. Mikami made his way to the first generating room next to a flooded compartment. Seawater, reeking of bunker crude oil, swirled above his knees. The generator was out of commission. When the auxiliary generator kicked on, the dim light revealed that the water in the generator rooms was rising to waist height.

Mikami returned to the No. 1 damage-controlstation, where he received a new order from Captain Abe: "We're going to try to make Shiono Point. Do everything possible to right the ship.'

Mikami then called Lieutenant Inada."Lieutenant, we must do more to correct the list. It has now increased to 13 degrees. Can't you do more?'

"We are pumping from starboard as fast as wecan. Some of the valves are not working properly now. We have already shifted 3,000 tons of water into the port bilges. That hasn't helped.'

Mikami realized that Shinano probably wouldnot make port.

Prayers and pumps

Ensign Shoda, the carrier's chief quartermaster,had been enjoying a peaceful nap when a torpedo exploded close enough to knock him out of his bunk. He dashed out of his tight quarters and headed for his battle station at the emergency steering station, choking on the heavy brown smoke and the odor of cordite explosive. He staggered through the dimly visible, suddenly unfamiliar passageways. As he covered the length of one corridor, he noticed that a section of the bulkhead had been peeled back. Ensign Shoda could peer into what had been one of the seamen's quarters. The bodies of many of the sailors, killed in their sleep by a torpedo blast, floated eerily on the surface of the ocean rushing in from a gaping hole in the hull. The ensign climbed to the flight deck, which was covered with crew members and panic-stricken civilian workers. Just below the flight deck there was a large hole where antiaircraft guns had once stood.

Seaman Kobari ran to his station in the No.12 boiler room when the torpedoes struck. The room was already ablaze when he arrived. The asbestos flooring, supposedly unable to burn, was in flames.

Kobari heard Captain Abe announce over theloudspeaker system that Shinano would not sink. "We brought in timbers to strengthen the closed hatch of the lower compartment, which was flooding. Although Mr. Sato had also guaranteed that the ship was impregnable, I shivered when I saw the main steam pipe under water. I knew then that the ship was doomed.'

In the pumping station far below, LieutenantInada and eight enlisted personnel had struggled in vain to pump water from the ship. Now they were trapped in the rising water. Their only escape door had been jammed shut by water pressure. Several of the men began to thrash about in the water and to scream out in terror. The officer's efforts to calm them were useless.

Captain Mikami informed the lieutenant overthe voice tube that a rescue team was on its way. The members would try to burn their way into the enclosed compartment with acetylene torches.

As the water rose higher, forcing the trappedmen to tread water or clutch for a hold overhead, Captain Abe spoke to Lieutenant Inada through the speaker tube: "Keep up your spirits, men. Our people are cutting their way into your area from above.'

Lieutenant Inada replied, "Thank you verymuch, sir, but I'm already prepared to die. We're in total darkness down here, and the water is rising all the time. But we'll keep trying to fix that valve as long as we can.'

The rescue team worked feverishly to cutthrough the steel plate to Lieutenant Inada's party, but as the ship continued listing and the water level rose the team had to withdraw. Lieutenant Inada called the bridge. Ensign Yasuda was standing by.

"This is Lieutenant Inada in the pumping station.The water is now almost at the top of our compartment. We'll soon be unable to communicate with you.'

Lieutenant Inada then shouted his last wordsinto the speaker tube: "I'm going before you, and I will pray for Shinano and her company.'

Ensign Yasuda relayed the gallant officer's finalwords and sentiments to Captain Abe, who shook his head sadly. "Lieutenant Inada's courage and that of his men are in the finest tradition of the Imperial Navy. They will all be remembered for generations.'

Desperate graffiti

The cries of the wounded and terrified civilianand Korean workers echoed throughout the ship. The muffled screams of men trapped by rising water could also be heard.

Shinano was still making almost 18 knots. Yetthe sea poured into her broken hull. Elements of the carrier's huge power plant were still operating, but engineering and machinery officers expressed doubts about how much longer the engine and firerooms could function.

Counterflooding had reduced the list to sevendegrees, but there was little time to be optimistic. The starboard engine room became hopelessly flooded and Shinano's list increased again, to 20 degrees. Then came the report that the trimming tanks on the port side could no longer be used to correct the list because their flood valves were now above the waterline. Shinano's speed dropped below 10 knots.

Many compartments had flooded due to leaksin the bulkheads and around doors. Because of the urgent order for Shinano to depart Yokosuka Naval Shipyard, there had been no time to detect and repair them. Bucket brigades were formed to control the flooding, but the water swirled around the men and continued to rise. It was like bailing out a small boat under a waterfall. The buckets were left to sink in the flood waters, and the men began to clamber topside on ladders throughout the ship.

Captain Abe ordered the men on watch in thefirerooms and engine rooms to leave their posts and proceed to higher decks. Captain Kono was then ordered to flood the three outboard port boiler rooms in a desperate effort to reduce the ship's list. Abe realized that this action was his last resort if Shinano was to be kept from capsizing.

The crew turned the series of valves onseawater lines through the bottom of the hull, which allowed the sea to enter the port boiler rooms on the higher side of the ship. As the tons of water filled the spaces, the carrier began to right herself. All too soon, however, she again started to heel to starboard under the weight of the water.

Sometime after 8:00 a.m. Captain Abe sent asemaphore message to Hamakaze and Isokaze requesting that they approach to take on tow lines. Ensign Shoda shook his head in disbelief as he watched the two destroyers approach and assume stations off the bow of Shinano. With a combined displacement of some 5,000 tons how could they hope to tow a 72,000-ton carrier flooded with thousands of tons of water?

A pair of two-inch-thick steel cables wererelayed to both escorts. Then the destroyers attempted to put on headway. Shinano failed to move. Her weight was too much for the small ships. Shortly, the cables parted. Again they were taken aboard the destroyers, but this time they were secured around heavy gun mounts. When the tow was ready for a second try, it was obvious to all that the cables would undoubtedly snap again, injuring many sailors aboard the ships. In addition, Shinano's list was becoming so severe that it appeared she could plunge below at any moment. Captain Abe ordered the cables released.

By 9:00 a.m. Shinano had lost all power. Soonshe was dead in the water, without electricity or steam pressure--little more than a hulk. The escorting destroyers circled around her. Shinano now had a list of more than 20 degrees. On the flight deck 1,000 or more men milled around, most of them clutching any object that would help them to maintain their balance on the sloping deck. It was then that panic took hold of some members of Shinano's crew. The less experienced men began to jump over the sides. Some drowned, but most were able to stay afloat until rescued.

Seaman Sua was attempting to steady himselfon the flight deck when Commander Araki ordered him to go below to retrieve several important files. Seaman Sua recorded in his diary:

I went below, struggling because of theterrible list. After I had obtained the stupid files, I noticed graffiti written on the bulkhead. Some of the sayings were patriotic and wished long life to the Emperor and the Imperial Navy. But right next to them were several drawings of our officers with such descriptions scrawled alongside as: "You stupid bastard!'

I supposed one of the officers must haveharassed the artist unmercifully, but even so, it seemed rather humorous that some sailor had taken the time while Shinano was sinking and listing to vent his feelings before hurrying topside. What a tough sort he must have been to linger down there to express humor no one would ever see.

The ship's list had increased to 30 degrees. Thecarrier was fatally stricken. It was time for Captain Abe to give the able-bodied men permission to leave the ship.

"Captain Mikami,' he said, "it truly saddensme, 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.'

Scores of men were ordered to pass among thethrong jamming the tilted deck and relay the captain's command: "You are all released from duty. Save yourselves.' Almost immediately, great numbers of the crew began to jump into the sea to join hundreds of others who had done so earlier. Any object that would float was tossed into the sea by the veterans to aid the men in the water or those who fell into it while attempting to board one of the destroyers. There were no lifeboats or rafts for this rescue work.

Radioman Petty Officer Yamagishi was tossedinto the sea when Shinano suddenly increased her list. He went deep, but a few sweeps of his strong arms brought him to the surface. He felt the water tugging at him with what seemed a hundred hands. What was happening?

His eyes widened in horror. The carrier's hugeelevator, used to raise and lower the aircraft, was wide open, causing an enormous suction that was pulling mobs of sailors into it. Despite their screams and thrashings, a tremendous waterfall pulled them into the huge opening, where they disappeared from view into the maw of the ship. He was certain that he, too, would be sucked into the maelstrom with the other victims. Luckily, he caught on to some loose trash snagged to the flight deck. Holding it fast, he was able to secure his position until he spotted a rope dangling from the flight deck and managed to grasp it. He then climbed across the width of the deck, swung himself over the port railing, and slipped and slid along the port side into the sea. An expert swimmer, Yamagishi swam away from Shinano as fast and as straight as he could. He would be later rescued by one of the destroyers.

Aboard the destroyer Yukikaze, LieutenantShibata kept a running account of the ship's rescue efforts to Captain Terauchi, who was then at the helm. Captain Terauchi, viewing the hordes of men trying to clamber across several gangplanks between the ships and the hundreds of others jumping into the sea, said, "Lieutenant, don't pick up any sailors who cry or call for help. Such faint hearts can do our Navy no good. Pick up only the strong ones who remain calm and courageous.'

Lieutenant Shibata cringed and said to himself:"What a price to pay for the lack of spirit. How cruel he is.'

All the time, Yukikaze was dropping lines tothe sailors in the sea. Some held on until the men aboard the destroyers could haul them up. Others, too exhausted to help themselves, were abandoned to drown. Far more men fell from lines and drowned than were rescued.

Captain Abe had ordered all the seamen andpetty officers assigned to the bridge and command post to save themselves.

Captain Mikami, grasping the back of a chair,was the first to speak for the staff. "Sir, your gratitude and compliments are most welcome. We shall never fail Dai Nippon. But what about you, sir? Surely you will leave the ship with us.'

Captain Abe was silent for a moment. "CaptainMikami, staff officers, I shall remain aboard. I take this action alone. I was at Midway and witnessed the decision of Admiral Yamaguchi and Captain Kono not to abandon the Hiryu. I have concluded in the years since that their way was correct for a commanding officer. Farewell, gentlemen.'

The navigator, however, had no intention ofjumping from Shinano and said, "I intend to stay with Captain Abe until the end.'

The small party of Shinano men moved slowlyaway from the dying ship, passing through similar groups and lone seamen who were trying to make it to safety. Ensign Shoda's group had propelled themselves almost 200 yards from the ship when the officer heard a tremendous hissing sound. He looked about to see Shinano's red hull standing almost straight up, with the bow pointing skyward.

All about him the sailors in the sea were staringback wide-eyed for a final glimpse of their ship and hundreds of their desperate comrades still clutching the rails and decks, swaiting their end in a resigned and benign fashion.

Shinano's stern dipped deeper into the ocean,raising the bow in a final salute to the sky. She would hang for a moment as the seawater pounded through her to flood the remaining space, then plunge 4,000 meters to the floor of the Pacific. Sucked down with her were Captain Abe and Ensign Yasuda, the entombed living and dying, and hundreds of the men clutching helplessly to her hull and decks.
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Title Annotation:excerpt from Shinano!
Author:Enright, Joseph
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:May 1, 1987
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