Asahi Maru prewar

IJN Hospital Ship ASAHI MARU:
Tabular Record of Movement

© 1998-2013 Bob Hackett, Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall.

Revision 6

September 1914:
Riva Trigoso, Italy. Laid down as a passenger ship by Società Esercizio Bacini.

28 November 1914:
Launched and named DANTE ALIGHIERI.

28 February 1915:
Completed as a 9,754 GRT passenger ship for the Transatlantica Italiana Società Anonima di Navigazione owned by the Hamburg America Line. There are accommodations for 100 1st-class, 260 2nd-class and 1,825 3rd-class passengers.

Departs Genoa on her maiden voyage for Palermo, Naples and New York.

In service between Italy and New York with calls at Lisbon, Gibraltar, Azores and Boston and between Italy and South America.

October 1927:
Departs Genoa on her last voyage on this service.

5 November 1927:
Arrives at New York.

15 November 1927:
Departs New York for Lisbon, Naples and Genoa.

15 February 1928:
DANTE ALIGHIERI is purchased by Kinkai Yusen K.K. of Tokyo and renamed ASAHI MARU.

23 July 1928:
ASAHI MARU begins service on the Kobe-Keelung, Formosa route.

7 July 1937: The Marco Polo Bridge (The First "China") Incident:
Lugouqiao, China. Japanese troops are on night maneuvers at the bridge. They fire blank cartridges. Chinese troops fire back, but do not cause injuries. At morning roll call, the Japanese discover a soldier missing and assume the Chinese captured him. The Japanese demand entry to Beijing to look for the soldier. The Chinese refuse. The Japanese then shell the city. An undeclared war on China begins.

7 August 1937:
ASAHI MARU is at sea on the Kobe-Formosa route when she receives a radio signal from Kobe that she has been requisitioned by the IJN.

August 1937:
Kure. ASAHI MARU begins conversion to a specially installed hospital ship. Work begins to construct an X-ray room, operating room, infectious disease isolation room and accommodations for 120 patients, in addition to accommodations for officers and military personnel.

ASAHI MARU is registered (commissioned) in the Kure Naval District and allocated service (ship) No. 487.

17 August 1937:
Captain/Surgeon (later Vice Admiral/Surgeon) Wakao Yoshiho (Surgeon/1914) is posted Director of Medicine of ASAHI MARU.

25 August 1937:
Construction is completed. Departs Kure.

5 September 1937:
Attached to the 3rd China Fleet.

20 October 1937:
Renumbered ship No.734 in the China Fleet.

15 November 1937:
Arrives at Shanghai. Thereafter, ASAHI MARU makes 14 round trips between Shanghai and Japan and transports approximately 10,000 personnel.

1 December 1937:
Captain/Surgeon (later Vice Admiral/Surgeon) Takagi Takashi (Surgeon/1912) is posted Director of Medicine.

25 March 1938:
Kobe. Undergoes hull inspection at Pier No. 1 of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. shipyard. ASAHI MARU enters drydock. The ship is inclined in order to inspect her hull, but as a result of filling too many tanks the list grows rapidly, so that by the next morning, the promenade deck is awash. The hull is flooded next and the ship settles to the ground. The accident damages her forward smoke stack. It is removed and replaced by a dummy smokestack.

That same day, ASAHI MARU is attached to the 2nd special duty force of the China Fleet.

3 May 1938:
Refloated out of drydock by Nippon Salvage K. K.

9 June 1938:
Restoration is complete. Departs Kobe for Kure.

12 June 1938:
Departs Kure for Shanghai.

15 July 1938:
Arrives at Sasebo. From this date, ASAHI MARU makes 32 round trips to China, mainly the southern area with frequent stops at Mako, Kirun (Keelung) and Takao in Formosa and some visits to Ryojun (Lushun, previously Port Arthur) and other northern and central China ports. Sasebo remains her principal base.

15 November 1938:
Captain/Surgeon (later Rear Admiral/Surgeon) Uehara Junnosuke (Surgeon/1915) is posted Director of Medicine.

6 May 1939:
Under Government pressure to rationalize services as the war in China (Nikka Jihen) drags on, Kinkai Yusen, a subsidiary of NYK servicing the near seas to Japan, is absorbed back into NYK. The ship's port of registry remains unchanged as Tokyo.

8 September 1939:
Yokohama. Undergoes modifications and alterations at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. shipyard.

15 November 1939:
Captain/Surgeon (later Vice Admiral/Surgeon) Tanabe Yutaka (Surgeon/1915) is posted Director of Medicine.

The dummy funnel is removed.

15 November 1940:
ASAHI MARU is attached directly to the Combined Fleet.

20 September 1941:
Captain/Surgeon (later RAdm/Surgeon) Kandatsu Kinsaku (Surgeon 1917) (former Chief of the 1st Ward, Yokosuka Naval Hospital) is appointed Director of Medicine of ASAHI MARU.

3 December 1941:
Departs Saeki for Palau.

12 January 1942:
Provisioned by auxiliary transport SENKO MARU.

19 January 1942:
Davao. Provisioned by transport TOKYO MARU. Provides medical supplies to an unknown subchaser, possibly CH-2.

21 January 1942:
At 1700, Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) Hirose Sueto's (39) Balikpapan Invasion Convoy departs Tarakan, Borneo with IJN transports NITTEI, ASAHISAN, TATSUGAMI, NANA, KANAYAMASAN, SUMANOURA, KUMAGAWA and TOEI MARUs and IJA transports KURETAKE, HAVANA, EHIME, LIVERPOOL, TEIRYU (ex-German AUGSBURG), HITERU, TSURUGA, HANKOW and NISSHO MARUs carrying the Balikpapan Invasion Force consisting of MajGen Sakaguchi Shizuo’s 56th Mixed Infantry Group (Sakaguchi Detachment) and the Kure No. 2 Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) escorted by patrol boats PB-36, PB-37, PB-38, minesweepers W-15, W-16, W-17, W-18 and SubChasDiv 31's CH-10, CH-11 and CH-12.

Cover is provided by light cruiser NAKA with DesDiv 2's YUDACHI, SAMIDARE, MURASAME, HARUSAME, DesDiv 9's ASAGUMO, MINEGUMO, NATSUGUMO and DesDiv 24's KAWAKAZE and UMIKAZE. Seaplane tenders SANUKI and SANYO MARUs provide air cover.

Poor weather hampers air reconnaissance by ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) forces, but ABDA Air finally locates the invasion force. Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) William A. Glassford's Task Force 5's light cruisers USS MARBLEHEAD (CL-12), BOISE (CL-47) and Cdr Paul H. Talbot's DesDiv 59's old destroyers PARROTT (DD-218), POPE (DD-225), JOHN D. FORD (DD-228) and PAUL JONES (DD-230) are ordered by Admiral (later Senator) Thomas C. Hart (USNA 97), ADBAFLOAT [1] Commander, to intercept the convoy before it reaches Balikpapan.

22 January 1942:
Davao. Provisioned by transport KIRISHIMA MARU.

23 January 1942: The Invasion of Balikpapan, Dutch Borneo:
Davao. Provisioned by minelayer NICHIYU MARU.

Glassford heads north to find the IJN invasion force, but USS BOISE runs aground on a reef and is forced to retire and USS MARBLEHEAD develops engine trouble. DesDiv 59 is detached and increases speed so as to arrive at Balikpapan at midnight.

Storms protect the invasion force until it is almost to Balikpapan. At 1050, the convoy is attacked by three enemy aircraft, which are repulsed. At 1525, nine Dutch Martin Model 166 (B-10) bombers and four light bombers from Samarinda attack and hit transports NANA and TATSUGAMI MARUs. The latter is hit in No. 6 hold by a bomb, splinters from others that land to port alongside the same hold add to the fires raised. Navigation became impossible and over the following hours the flames take a firm grip. At 1730, the ‘Abandon Ship’ order is given. Finally, at 2100, after a huge explosion the ship sinks at 01-18S, 117-43E with unknown casualties. TATSUGAMI MARU, only slightly damaged, continues to Balikpapan. At 2130, the transports begin disembarking their troops.

24 January 1942:
Dutch Navy LtCdr C. A. J. van Well Groeneveld's (former CO of HMNS K-XIV) submarine HMNS K-XVIII, operating on the surface due to the weather, fires four bow torpedoes at the light cruiser NAKA, flagship of the IJN's covering force, but they all miss. At 0045, Groeneveld fires at NAKA, but misses and hits transport TSURUGA MARU port amidships, sinking her with the loss of one crewman and 38 troops. The covering force moves eastwards to carry out antisubmarine sweeps.

Cdr Talbot's DesDiv 59 arrives from the south. Since the covering force is to the east searching for submarines, the four destroyers are virtually unopposed. At 0316, they begin their first attack firing their 4-inch guns and launching ten torpedoes at the anchored transports, but all their torpedoes miss. Talbot orders another attack.

At 0330, the USS POPE hits and sinks transport SUMANOURA MARU. Only nine of her crew of navy sailors survive. At 0335, USS PARROTT and the USS PAUL JONES hit transport TATSUGAMI MARU with torpedoes in a deep fuel tank, the resultant flooding cause her to sink by the stern in Balikpapan Bay at 01-18 S, 117-04E, and four of her crew lose their lives. USS POPE and USS PARROTT sink the 2nd Base Force's patrol boat PB-37 (casualties unknown) with torpedoes and gunfire.

At 0345, USS JOHN D. FORD sinks transport KURETAKE MARU with gunfire and torpedoes. Six crewmen and 272 troops are KIA. ASAHISAN MARU suffers damage from gunfire and torpedoes but remains afloat. KUMAGAWA MARU also suffers slight damage in the engagement. At 0332, USS JOHN D. FORD scores gunfire hits on ASAHI MARU whose hospital ship status is obscured by the darkness. At 0350, their torpedoes gone, Talbot's DesDiv 59 departs southward.

11 February 1942:
Arrives at Sasebo.

21 February 1942:
Departs Kure.

5 March 1942:
Provisioned by auxiliary aircraft transport KEIYO MARU.

12 March 1942:
Balikpapan. Provisioned by from auxiliary transport KUMAGAWA MARU.

24 March 1942:
Macassar. Provisioned by auxiliary storeship KOSEI MARU.

26 March 1942:
Arrives at Kupang, Timor Island. That same day, ASAHI MARU is erroneously bombed by British planes.[2]

22 April 1942:
Arrives at Takao.

31 May 1942:
Arrives at Kure. Operates out of Kure for next five months.

1 November 1942:
Captain Noda Toshihiko assumes command. Captain/Surgeon Kandatsu is appointed chief of Kasumigaura Naval Hospital.

7 November 1942:
Completes conversion.

10 November 1942:
Rerated a transport. Departs Kure.

22 November 1942:
Arrives at Kavieng, New Ireland.

7 December 1942:
Arrives at Kure. Remains based out of Kure for next six months.

5 March 1943:
Departs Truk with sick and wonded men from the Maizuru 4th SNLF.

14 March 1943:
Arrives at Saipan.

20 March 1943:
Arrives at Kure.

23 May 1943:
At 1700, arrives at the North Channel, Truk.

1 October 1943:
Kure Naval Yard. Undergoes further conversion.

19 December 1943:
At 1200, departs Singapore for Moji in fleet convoy HI-24 consisting of ASAHI MARU, passenger/cargo ship TERUKUNI MARU, cargo liner ARABIA MARU and oilers BOKUEI and ASASHIO MARUs escorted by kaibokan KANJU.

28 December 1943:
Arrives at Takao.

4 January 1944:
Near Moji, BOKUEI MARU collides with TERUKUNI MARU and sinks at 34-04N, 130-32E with unknown casualties. ASAHI MARU is detached for Sasebo. Later that day, the rest of the convoy arrives at Moji.

7 January 1944:
Arrives at Osaka.

9 January 1944:
Departs Osaka.

13 January 1944:
Arrives at Sasebo.

19 January 1944:
At 0730, departs Moji for Takao in convoy No. 130 consisting of ASAHI MARU, passenger/cargo liner TERUKUNI MARU, cargo ships PANAMA, ATSUTA, MAYA and YASUKUNI MARUs [3] and oilers OGURA MARU No. 1 and SAN DIEGO MARU escorted by salvage tug KASASHIMA, auxiliary guard boat MYOJIN MARU No. 2 and small auxiliary patrol boat SHINEI MARU.

23 January 1944:
China coast. 14th Air Force North American B-25 "Mitchell" medium bombers attack the convoy at 27-15N 120-45E. PANAMA MARU carrying 2,229 men of the 82nd Division, is sunk with one crewman and two gunners KIA. YASUKUNI and ATSUTA MARUs are damaged.

24 January 1944:
The convoy anchors off Incog Island. B-25's attack again. Escort MYOJIN MARU No. 2 is bombed and sunk with unknown casualties and patrol boat SHINEI MARU is hit and damaged. Lighthouse tender RYUSEI (ex-Chinese LIU HSING), nearby but not part of the convoy, is also sunk with unknown casualties. ASAHI MARU is not damaged in these attacks. [4]

25 January 1944:
MAYA MARU and OGURA MARU No. 1 collide. MAYA MARU is moderately damaged. Tug KASASHIMA and auxiliary gunboat SHINKO MARU No. 1 that happens to be in the area, steam to render assistance, but are attacked by five B-25's. KASASHIMA is sunk with unknown casualties. The rest of the convoy is diverted from Takao and arrives at Kirun later that day.

4 February 1944:
At 1700, departs Kure for Kobe.

5 February 1944:
Inland Sea. W of Ushijima, 1.25 miles off Bizan Seto. At 0253, ASAHI MARU collides with oiler MANJU MARU at 34-21N, 133-46E. Captain Noda orders her beached after the collision. All personnel are rescued.

19 February 1944:
A crack occurs in the ASAHI MARU's hull.

24 February 1944:
ASAHI MARU's hull breaks. She is abandoned as a constructive total loss.

15 July 1944:
Removed from the Navy List.

December 1949:

Authors' Note:
[1] ABDAFLOAT = American, British, Dutch and Australian Naval Command. In reality, a non-unified command.

[2] This marks the first known instance of an Allied attack on a Japanese hospital ship during the Pacific War.

[3] This IJN shared 5,794-ton collier (B/C-AC) YASUKUNI MARU was not IJN Sub Tender YASUKUNI MARU.

[4] The absence of damage to the larger ships in the convoy suggests they may have detached for Kirun (Keelung) before the attack with only the slower escorts and cripples left behind.

Thanks to Mr. John Whitman of Virginia, USA, Mr. Matt Jones of USA and Mr. Gilbert Casse of France.

- Bob Hackett, Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall.

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