(Type C3 submarine, I-53)

IJN Submarine I-53: Tabular Record of Movement

© 2001-2019 Bob Hackett & Sander Kingsepp
Revision 4

15 May 1942:
Laid down at Kure Navy Yard as the C3 Submarine No. 626 (the second boat of that class).

1 November 1942:
Renumbered I-53 and provisionally attached to Kure Naval District.

24 December 1942:
Launched as I-53.

10 December 1943:
Cdr (later Captain) Ikezawa Masayuki (52)(currently serving at the submarine construction department at Kure Navy Yard) is appointed the Chief Equipping Officer (CEO) of I-53 as additional duty.

15 February 1944:
LtCdr (later Cdr) Toyomasu Seihachi (59)(former CO of I-159) is appointed the CEO.

20 February 1944:
Completed, commissioned and attached to Kure Naval District. Assigned to Rear Admiral Ishizaki Noboru's SubRon 11, in Vice Admiral (Admiral, posthumously) Takagi Takeo's Sixth Fleet (Submarines) for working-up. LtCdr Toyomasu Seihachi is the Commanding Officer. I-53 is fitted with a Type 13 air-search and Type 22 surface-search radars as completed.

29 March 1944:
Departs Tokuyama after refueling at 3rd Fuel Depot to resume working-up in Inland Sea.

April 1944: Operation "Tatsumaki" (Tornado) - Amphibious Tank Attack at Majuro, Marshall Islands:
Inland Sea. I-53 participates in training with I-36, I-38, I-41 and I-44. The operation calls for the submarines to carry amphibious tanks from Kure to Majuro. There the tanks, armed with torpedoes, are to be put ashore, make their way overland, enter the water again and make a torpedo attack on American ships. Later, the plan is canceled.[1]

17 May 1944:
Departs Saeki on her first war patrol to operate NE of Kavieng, New Ireland.

19 May 1944:
Reassigned to SubDiv 15, Sixth Fleet.

28 June 1944:
Departs her patrol area after a serious leak is discovered in one of the fuel tanks.

2 July 1944:
Arrives at Truk to conduct makeshift repairs.

15 July 1944:
Departs Truk for Kure with ComSubRon 7, Rear Admiral Owada Noboru (44) aboard.

25 July 1944:
Arrives at Kure.

28 July 1944:
Arrives at Sasebo. Dry-docked for overhaul and repairs. The anti-radar coating is renewed.

Late August 1944:
Transferred to Kure for the conversion to a kaiten human torpedo carrier. The deck gun abaft the conning tower is landed to make room for the fittings for four human torpedoes.

13 October 1944: Operation "SHO-1-GO" - The Defense of the Philippines:
Admiral Toyoda Soemu, CinC, Combined Fleet, orders the "Sho-1-Go" plan activated.

I-53 is assigned to Group "A" with I-26, I-45, I-54 and I-56 under direct command of Vice Admiral Miwa Shigeyoshi's Sixth Fleet.

19 October 1944:
Departs Kure to operate off the Philippines on her second war patrol.

20 October 1944: American Operation "King Two" - The Invasion of Leyte, Philippines:
Admiral (later Fleet Admiral) William F. Halsey's Third Fleet of 738 ships including 18 aircraft carriers, six battleships, 17 cruisers, 64 destroyers and over 600 support ships land the Army's X Corps (24th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions) and the XXIV Corps (7th, 77th and 96th Infantry Divisions) that begin the campaign to retake Leyte.

21 October 1944:
I-53 is ordered to proceed to the area E of Leyte.

4 November 1944:
650 miles E of Manila. About 0100, I-53 surfaces, but is detected by an American destroyer that starts a 38-hour chase. I-53 submerges to depths reaching 490 ft to escape depth-charging. Special chemical compound vials are issued to her crew to minimize the carbon dioxide content in the submarine.[2]

22 November 1944:
Returns to Kure to complete the conversion to kaiten carrier.

8 December 1944: The Second Kaiten Mission:
I-53 is assigned to the "Kongo-tai" (Steel) Kaiten Group with I-36, I-47, I-48, I-56 and I-58. The plan calls for attacks on American fleet anchorages at five different points at dawn of 11 January (later postponed to 12 January).

19 December 1944:
Participates in joint exercises with other submarines of the group.

28 December 1944:
I-53 and I-58 proceed to Otsujima (locally known as Ozushima) kaiten base to embark kaitens and their pilots.

30 December 1944:
At 1000 departs Otsujima for Kossol Roads anchorage, Palau, in company of I-36 and I-58.

12 January 1945:
Four miles off Kossol Roads. At 0700, I-53 surfaces. Her No. 1 kaiten, piloted by Lt(jg) Kuzumi Hiroshi (72), explodes soon after launch and No. 3 does not start its engine. Nos. 2 and 4, piloted by Ens Ito Osamu and CPO Arimori Bunkichi, are launched without incident. After an hour and 20 minutes, two explosions are heard. The nearby 30th Base Unit confirms two hits. I-53 surfaces to check out kaiten No. 3; it is discovered that fuel fumes had rendered its pilot unconscious.[3]

26 January 1945:
Returns to Kure for repairs and overhaul.

1 February 1945:
LtCdr (later Captain, JMSDF) Oba Saichi (62)(former CO of I-162) is appointed the CO.

27 March 1945:
The "Tatara" Kaiten Group is formed of I-44, I-47 (F), I-53, I-56 and I-58 to attack the American shipping off Okinawa.

29 March 1945:
On that day, the USN Fleet Radio Unit, Melbourne, Australia (FRUMEL) provides the translation of the following message from an unidentified originator:
"1. Submarines I-44, I-47, I-53, I-56, I-58 and --- are to form a Kaiten Special Attack Force.
2. They will load Kaitens as follows: I-44 and I-58 3 each; I-53 and I-56 6 each."

30 March 1945:
In the afternoon, departs Kure for Hikari Naval Base (Yamaguchi Prefecture). When conducting a trim test off Iwai Shima on the northern side of the eastern entrance to Suo Nada, I-53 grazes a magnetic mine laid by a Boeing B-29 "Superfortress." The ensuing explosion incapacitates her diesels and destroys a number of batteries. A fuel tank on the starboard side develops a leak. I-53 returns to Kure on one shaft, using the auxiliary engine.[4]

On that day, FRUMEL provides the following information:
"5 I-class submarines carrying Kaitens were equipped with these weapons at Kure. It is considered probable that these unknown weapons are carried externally by the submarines. I-class submarines are known to carry 5 or 6 Kaitens. Movements of these submarines are as follows:
I-56 departed Bungo Channel 31st at 1630; I-58 departed Bungo Channel 31st at 1700; I-47 returned 31st; I-53 to depart Kure."

1 April 1945:
Returns to Kure. Drydocked for repairs. Fittings for carrying two more kaitens are added to the foredeck and she is equipped with a snorkel. The forward deck gun is landed. All six kaitens are fitted with underwater access tubes.

4 May 1945:
At 1745, USN codebreakers intercept and decrypt a message that reads: "The I-53 struck a mine in Suco (sic) Nada on 30 March and because of the damage sustained was deleted from the Tatara Unit on 6 April ---."

9 July 1945:
Departs Kure for Otsujima, carrying out combat exercises en route.

13 July 1945:
Arrives at Otsujima.

14 July 1945: The Ninth Kaiten Mission:
Otsujima. I-53 is in the "Tamon" Kaiten Group with I-47, I-58, I-363, I-366 and I-367. In the morning she embarks six kaitens and in the afternoon departs for the area 300 miles SE of the southern tip of Taiwan.

On that day, FRUMEL provides the following information:
"Four submarines have been ordered to carry out reconnaissance and offensive operations against Allied shipping. The first, I-53, leaves Bungo Suidoo (sic) at 1700 on 14th to patrol half-way between Okinawa and Leyte Gulf..."

22 July 1945:
Arrives at her assigned area.[5]

24 July 1945:
Philippine Sea, 260 miles NE of Cape Engano Lighthouse. The submerged I-53 sights a convoy of seven American ships - troopship USS ADRIA and six Landing Ship Tanks (LST), carrying the 96th Infantry Division withdrawn from Okinawa - making 10 knots towards the Philippines. The convoy is escorted by LtCdr Robert N. Newcomb's USS UNDERHILL (DE-682), PC's 1251, 803, 804, 807, SC's 1306, 1309, and PCE-872.

About 1200, UNDERHILL establishes a sonar contact and orders PC-804 to conduct a depth-charge attack. LtCdr Newcomb moves to ram, but the submarine dives. At 1453 UNDERHILL drops a 13-depth charge pattern.

At 1425, LtCdr Oba launches kaiten No. 1, piloted by Lt(jg) Katsuyama Jun (73). The torpedo first passes underneath PC-804 and then surfaces alongside UNDERHILL. Newcomb goes to flank speed and rams the port side of the kaiten at 1507. An explosion disintegrates UNDERHILL from her stack forward. LtCdr Newcomb and 112 crewmen are lost. After the attack, the stern section of UNDERHILL is sunk by gunfire from PC's -803, -804 and PCE-872 at 19-24N, 126-43E. Oba reports sinking a large transport.[6]

27 July 1945:
E of Bashi Channel. Around 1300, the submerged I-53 sights an American convoy of ten ships, heading south, and begins an approach. After the convoy is moving out of torpedo range, LtCdr Oba is inclined to give up the attack, but FPO1C Kawajiri Tsutomu, the pilot of No. 2 kaiten, implores to attempt a long-range kaiten attack. He is launched around 1700 and one hour later a heavy explosion is heard. I-53 departs the area, returning to the previous patrol station.

7 August 1945:
Philippine Sea, 20-17N, 128-07E. I-53 spots a LST convoy en route from Okinawa to Leyte and commences a submerged approach. At 0023 she is detected by the sonar of USS EARL V. JOHNSON (DE-702). LtCdr J.J. Jordy orders to drop 14 depth charges. Following the first attack the contact with the submarine is lost, but reacquired 25 minutes later. At 0055 EARL V. JOHNSON conducts a second depth charge attack and at 0212 a third. At 0233 PCE-849 joins the chase, firing a "Hedgehog" salvo.

Their contact evades all hits, but the nearby explosions knock out a number of batteries, the rudder engine breaks down and all lights fail. At 0230 I-53 launches her No. 5 kaiten, piloted by Ens Seki Toyooki, from the depth of 130 ft; 20 minutes later an explosion is heard. The lookouts on EARL V. JOHNSON sight a passing torpedo at 0235, followed by two others at 0245. One of them passes below the destroyer escort's keel and then explodes at 0246.

At 0256 PCE-849 makes another "Hedgehog" attack and soon thereafter EARL V. JOHNSON's sonar detects the submarine again. At 0300 I-53 launches her No. 3 kaiten, piloted by FPO1C Arakawa Masahiro; at 0332 a heavy explosion is heard. Three other kaitens develop various problems and cannot be launched.

At 0326 EARL V. JOHNSON conducts a depth charge attack against a new target and at 0330 a heavy explosion follows. A plume of white smoke is sighted. As a result of the depth charge explosions the destroyer escort herself receives slight damage. Her CO decides to rejoin the screen of the convoy, reporting one submarine as sunk.[7]

In the evening I-53 receives a signal from the Sixth Fleet to return to base.

12 August 1945:
Arrives at Otsujima where two kaitens are landed, then proceeds to Kure.

13 August 1945:
Arrives at Kure.

15 August 1945:
The Emperor Hirohito (Showa) broadcasts an Imperial Rescript calling for an end to the hostilities.

5 October 1945:
I-53 is inspected at Kure. She has 15 tons of fuel, 7.2 tons of rice and 20 tons of fresh water aboard, while all weapons have been removed. A total of 50 sailors under the command of I-53's navigating officer, Lt Yamada Minoru (72), remain aboard.

November 1945:
Transferred to Ebisu Bay near Sasebo. The crew is additionally reduced.

30 November 1945:
Removed from the Navy List.

1 April 1946: Operation "Roads End:"
I-53 is stripped of all usable equipment and material and towed from Sasebo to an area off Goto Retto by the submarine tender USS NEREUS (AS-17). NEREUS scuttles I-53 by gunfire at 32-37N, 129-17E.

7 September 2017:
The Society La Plongée for Deep Sea Technology research team, led by Research Professor Ura Tamaki from Kyushu Institute of Technology, locates and photographes the wreck of I-53, using a multibeam echosounder and an ROV.

Authors' Notes:
[1] The Type 4 "Ka-Tsu" Special Amphibious Vehicle could carry two 45-cm torpedoes, one on either side.

[2] I-53's attacker at that time was probably USS BOYD (DD-544), later joined by USS BROWN (DD-546).

[3] LtCdr Toyomasu was credited with two transport vessels at Palau, but postwar analyses fail to verify any sinkings there on 12 January 1945.

[4] CNO analysts noted that I-53 announced her arrival at an unidentified location on 30 March and was not operational again until 14 June.

[5] According to older sources a kaiten launched from I-53 damaged the 12,450-ton attack transport USS MARATHON (APA-200) at Buckner Bay, Okinawa on 22 July 1945, but her operating area was elsewhere. According to Japanese sources, I-53 made no attacks on 22 July 1945.

[6] Contrary to popular accounts I-53 was not alerted about the presence of an American convoy by an IJAF reconnaissance aircraft. She was not carrying any mines either.

[7] According to American records that encounter took place on 7 August.

Special thanks go to Hans Mcilveen of the Netherlands for info on FRUMEL intercepts.Thanks also go to Dr. Higuchi Tatsuhiro of Japan and the late John Whitman of the USA for info on CNO intercepts of Japanese messages.

Photo credit gores to the Kure Museum via Steve Eckhardt of Australia.

– Bob Hackett and Sander Kingsepp

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