Dec 10

A Midget Submarine Emerges

Thursday, December 10, 2015 12:01 AM


Monday last marked the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Much indeed has been written about the attack, which killed 2,403 US servicemen died, as did 64 of the Japanese attackers and 35 civilians. One particular area of interest has been the operations of the Japanese midget submarines during the attacks. For several decades after the attack, many mysteries surrounded the efficacy and fate of the two-man submersibles. With 9/10 of their crews having perished in the attack, one man (and his vessel) being captured, very little could be found to piece together just what had happened to the others. But slowly, over the succeeding years, the missing submarines were found, the last as late at 2009.

In the following extract from December 1974’s issue of Proceedings, LCDR A. J. Stewart Relates how one of the midget submarines, Type A Kō-hyōteki-class submarine No. 18 –also known as “Midget D” — was found and raised nearly twenty years after the attack.

sub divers

Divers from the USS Current (ARS-22), prepare to enter the water for salvage operations on HA. 18 July, 1960. USNI Archives.

“On 13 June 1960, Scuba diver trainees, under instruction from U.S. Naval Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, were involved in a long-distance diving exercise outside Keehi Lagoon, near the entrance to the harbor. Because of tidal action, the water is generally murky. But on that Monday morning, the water was clear. Instructor GM/ 2 Jerry Galloway, decided to take his students into deeper water. Minutes after the training had commenced, one of the divers, SK/1 C. F. Buhl, surfaced. He claimed to have sighted what appeared to be the sunken hull of a submarine. In subsequent dives, Buhl and Galloway confirmed that the hulk was indeed that of a submarine—one resembling those used by the Japanese in the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was sitting upright in 76 feet of water at Latitude 21° 17′ 48” North, Longitude 157° 56′ West.

“Midget ‘D’ [HA. 18] had been located. Her torpedoes were still in their tubes, her hatch was unclogged and, although her hull was encrusted with coral, she appeared to be structurally sound and a determination was made to raise her. The USS Current (ARS-22) was assigned the salvage task. Bridles were slipped around the submerged hull on the morning of 13 July 1960, and on the following day the Current raised Midget ‘D’ to the surface and towed her back to the base.

current hoist

USS YD-121 hoists the submarine HA. 18 alongside USS Current (ARS-22). Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, July 14, 1960. USNI Archives.

“There followed the first, dramatic entry into the submarine as Captain H. A. Thompson, of the ComSubPac staff pried open the conning rower hatch and climbed down into the submarine. In the dark, muddy interior, bent piping, a door twisted off its hinges, her large electric motor torn from its mountings, and much shattered glass gave mute evidence that Midget ‘D’ had suffered great damage from depth charges. However, no trace of documents or crew was found. No bone fragments or teeth were found. Experts agree that even if human remains had disintegrated over two decades, the victim’s teeth would have resisted the water’s corrosive effects. Second, a study of the small lengths of time fuse found, along with three detonators, indicated that inasmuch as sulfur was still present in the fuse, the scuttling charge had never been activated.

submarine conning

Two salvagers work around the open conning tower hatch of HA. 18 shortly after her recovery. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, July, 1960. USNI Archives.

“Fragments of plastic charge totaling 50 pounds, still stable, were taken from the hull. More dangerous were her two torpedoes, each containing 790 pounds of explosive. All efforts to remove them from their tubes failed, owing to corrosion. It was decided that the bow section should be unbolted from the remainder of the hull and dumped at sea. This proved an easy task as the bolts turned freely even after 7,000 days in salt water.

sub recovered

HA. 18 sitting dockside after her recovery, her bow section not having yet been removed. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, July, 1960. USNI Archives.

“Masayaki Harigai, Japanese consul general in Hawaii, indicated that his government would like to have Midget ‘D’ returned to its homeland as a World War II memorial. His request was granted and arrangements for her transfer were completed. The Japanese LST, Shiretoko, arrived at Pearl Harbor on 19 June 1961 to claim her cargo. Crewmen chained the submarine co the LST’s deck for the long ride back to Japan. Thus, bowless, Midget ‘D’ began her 3,500-mile journey home.

“A new bow was fabricated and attached to Midget ‘D’. She was then placed on permanent display near Memorial Hall at the Maritime Self-Defense Force Service School at Eta Jima where the ten young officers of the Special Attack Unit received their early military training. In a memorial service attended by family members of the crewmen who vainly died in craft of this type, Midget ‘D’ was unveiled on 15 March 1962.

“But what of her crewmen? As previously stated, the conning rower hatch of Midget ‘D’ was unclogged, an action that had to be accomplished from inside the boat. Little doubt exists that her two-man crew left the submarine. Whether or not they survived remains a mystery.'”

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