(Type C3 submarine, I-53)

IJN Submarine I-53: Tabular Record of Movement

2001-2014 Bob Hackett & Sander Kingsepp
Revision 3

15 May 1942:
Laid down at Kure Navy Yard as Submarine No. 626.

11 November 1942:
Re-numbered I-53 and provisionally attached to Kure Naval District.

24 December 1942:

15 February 1944:
LtCdr Toyomasu Seihachi (59)(former CO of I-159) is appointed the Chief Equipping Officer. 20 February 1944:
Completed and attached to Kure Naval District. LtCdr Toyomasu is the Commanding Officer. I-53 is fitted with a Type 13 air-search radar as completed.

I-53 is assigned to SubRon 11, in Vice Admiral (Admiral, posthumously) Takagi Takeo's (former CO of MUTSU) Sixth Fleet for training.

29 March 1944:
Departs Tokuyama after refueling at the local 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 cancelled. [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 one of the fuel tanks develops a serious leak.

2 July 1944:
Arrives at Truk.

15 July 1944:
Departs Truk after makeshift repairs with ComSubRon 7, Rear Admiral Owada Noboru 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 aft deck gun is landed to make room for the fittings for four human torpedoes.

13 October 1944: Operation "SHO-I-GO" - The Defense of the Philippines:
Admiral Toyoda Soemu (former CO of HYUGA), CINC, Combined Fleet, orders the Sho-I-Go plan activated.

I-53 is assigned to Group "A" with the I-26, I-45, I-54 and I-56 under direct the command of Vice Admiral Miwa Shigeyoshi's (former CO of KINU) 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 (24 th 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 feet to escape depth-charging. Special chemical compound vials are issued to her crew to minimize the carbon dioxide content in the submarine.

22 November 1944:
Returns to Kure.

27 December 1944: The Second Kaiten Mission:
I-53 is in the "Kongo" (steel) group with I-36, I-47, I-48, I-56 and I-58. The plan calls for attacks on anchored American shipping at five different points.

12 January 1945:
Four miles off Kossol Roads, Palaus. At 0700, I-53 surfaces. Her No. 1 kaiten, piloted by Lt (j.g.) Kuzumi Hiroshi, explodes soon after launch and No. 3 does not start its engine. Nos. 2 and 4 piloted by Ensign 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. They find that its pilot had lost consciousness because of fuel fumes. [2]

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

1 February 1945:
LtCdr Toyomasu is relieved by LtCdr (later Captain, JMSDF) Oba Saichi (62)(former CO of RO-105, RO-49, I-162).

24 March 1945:
The "Tatara" kaiten Group is formed of I-44, I-47, I-53, I-56 and I-58.

30 March 1945:
In the afternoon, departs Kure for Hikari. While conducting a trim test off Iwai Shima, 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.

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

4 May 1945:
At 1745, USN codebreakers intercept and decrypt a message from that reads: ---the I-53 struck a mine in Suco 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 Otsushima, carrying out combat exercises en route.

13 July 1945:
Arrives at Otsushima.

14 July 1945: The Ninth Kaiten Mission:
Otsushima. 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 on her fourth war patrol in 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.[3]

24 July 1945:
Philippine Sea, Luzon. 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 covered 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 makes a sonar contact on the I-53 and guides the PC-804 that makes a depth charge attack. LtCdr Newcomb moves to ram, but the submarine dives. UNDERHILL drops a 13-depth charge pattern.

About 1500, LtCdr Oba launches a kaiten piloted by Lt (j.g.) Katsuyama Jun. The kaiten surfaces on the side of the UNDERHILL. Newcomb goes to flank speed and rams the port side of the kaiten. An explosion disintegrates the kaiten and UNDERHILL from her stack forward. LtCdr Newcomb and 111 crewmen are lost. I-53 slips away. After the attack, the aft section of the UNDERHILL is sunk by gunfire from PC's -803, -804 and PCE-872. Oba reports sinking a transport.

30 July 1945:
At 1300, I-53 sights an American convoy and begins to position for a kaiten attack. At about 1700, LtCdr Oba launches a kaiten piloted by FPO1C Kawajiri Tsutomu. While approaching by periscope, I-53 is repeatedly attacked with salvoes of Mark 10 "Hedgehog" projector charges by a destroyer escort, but there are no hits. LtCdr Oba reports after return that the DE attempted to attack him with machine-gun fire. [4]

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.

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

12 August 1945:
Arrives at Otsushima where two kaiten are landed.

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

24 August 1945:

Arrives at Hikari.

September 1945:
I-53 surrenders.

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 still remain aboard. Later, I-36 is transferred from Kure to Sasebo.

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.

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

[2] Lt Cdr Toyomasu is credited with two transport vessels at Palau, but postwar analyses fail to verify any sinkings there on 12 January 1945.

[3] Some American sources claim that 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, the I-53 made no attacks on 22 July 1945.

[4] LtCdr Oba claims a hit, but it is not verified postwar.

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

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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