(Italian Liner CONTE VERDE, later KOTOBUKI MARU)

KOTOBUKI MARU: Tabular Record of Movement

© 2009-2016 Bob Hackett and Sander Kingsepp
Revision 2

16 January 1920:
Clydebank, Dalmuir, Scotland. Laid down at William Beardmore & Co. as an 18,765 GRT passenger liner for Lloyd Sabaudo Societa Anonima per Azioni (Lloyd Sabaudo Line) of Turin, Italy.

21 October 1922:
Launched and named CONTE VERDE.

4 April 1923:
Completed and placed on transatlantic passenger service between Genoa and New York City on Lloyd Sabaudo’s Genoa- Shanghai route.

21 April 1923:
Departs Genoa for Buenos Aires.

13 June 1923:
Departs Genoa for New York.

January-December 1930:
In service on Lloyd Sabaudo’s Genoa - South America route with ports of call at Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, Barcelona, Spain, Rio de Janeiro and Santos, Brazil, Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

CONTE VERDE transports four national football (soccer) teams to Montevideo for the inaugural FIFA World Cup. The Romanian team boards in Genoa, the French delegation boards in Villefranche, the Belgian team boards in Barcelona and the Brazilian team boards in Rio de Janeiro.

2 January 1932:
The Great Depression causes the merger of Lloyd Sabaudo, Cosulich and Navigazione Generale Italiana that form the new Italian Line and owner of CONTE VERDE. After that acquisition, she becomes a part of Lloyd Triestino (also chartered by Italian Line) for service between Trieste and Shanghai.

28 January 1932:
Departs Genoa for Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and Buenos Aires.

28 August 1932:
Under charter to Italia line sails from Genoa for Venice and Trieste and then to Shanghai and remains in this service for the next seven years.

11 September 1935:
Departs Venice for Egypt via Brindisi.

14 September 1935:
Arrives at Port Said, Egypt.

16 September 1935:
Passes Ismailia, Egypt along the Suez Canal.

17 September 1935:
Arrives at Mitsiwa, Eritrea.

19 September 1935:
Arrives at Aden, Yemen, then enters the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea.

23 September 1935:
Arrives at Bombay (now Mumbai), India.

25 September 1935:
Arrives at Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

29 September 1935:
Arrives at Singapore.

2 September 1937:
Kowloon Bay. During the Great Hong Kong Typhoon, CONTE MARU is ripped from her storm moorings and driven aground by the storm. Nippon Yusen Kaisha’s (NYK) (Japan Mail Steamship Co.) 16,975-ton liner ASAMA MARU also breaks her moorings, collides with CONTE VERDE and runs aground. The typhoon kills 11,000 people. Later, CONTE VERDE is refloated and repaired.

8 March 1939:
Departs Trieste, Italy for Shanghai.

March 1939:
Arrives at Bombay.

22 March 1939:
Arrives at Columbo.

March 1939:
Arrives at Singapore and Shanghai.

4 April 1939:
Arrives at Shanghai.

August 1939:
Departs Venice for the Far East.

3 September 1939:
With the outbreak of World War II, although Italy is initially neutral, CONTE VERDE is laid up in Shanghai. It is unclear why she was did not return to Italy or to Italian Somalialand.

10 June 1940 - Italy Declares War on the Allies:
CONTE VERDE remains moored in Shanghai.

13 December 1941:
The United States proposes repatriation of the Japanese and American diplomatic corps. Both countries agree to guarantee safe passage Exchange and Repatriation ships through the war zones.

5 January 1942:
Japan agreeds that the ships will meet and exchange personnel at the neutral port of Lourenço Marques in Portuguese East Africa (now Maputo, Mozambique).

June 1942:
Teikoku Senpaku Kaisha (Imperial Steamship Co.), owned by the Japanese government, charters CONTE VERDE and renames her TEIKYO MARU for use as a diplomatic exchange ship managed by the Nippon Yusen K.K. (NYK) Line, but the name CONTE VERDE still remains painted on the hull. [1]

7 June 1942:
Departs Shanghai. At 0940, CONTE VERDE runs aground, but by 1650 her crew succeeds in refloating the ship. At 1800, she leaves the Yangtze River.

11 June 1942:
Arrives at Nagasaki

14 June 1942:
Departs Nagasaki.

16 June 1942:
Arrives at Osaka.

18 June 1942:
CONTE VERDE departs Osaka. That same day, Swedish liner M. S. GRIPSHOLM, chartered to the U. S. State Department, departs New York for Japan on the first exchange voyage. She carries 1,083 Japanese diplomats, businessmen, journalists and their families who were in America when war was declared. Later, GRIPSHOLM stops at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and picks up 417 Japanese passengers including the staff of the Japanese Embassy. The embassy's portrait of Emperor Hirohito (Showa) is carried on board covered by a cloth.[2]

21 June 1942:
Arrives at Shanghai.

29 June 1942:
CONTE VERDE departs Shanghai with Mr. Frank Lockhart, Consul-General and concurrently Counsellor of the Embassy and about 600 American and foreign national passengers.

30 June 1942:
In the early morning, (0700 I) LtCdr David C. White’s USS PLUNGER (USS-179) picks up fully illuminated CONTE VERDE at 7000 yards. As White had previously received a message from COMSUBPAC that detailed the safe passage to be afforded to CONTE VERDE, he does not attack. PLUNGER passes 800 yards to starboard abeam of CONTE VERDE at 30-08N, 123-16E. One of PLUNGER's officers takes a photograph of the liner.

6 July 1942:
Arrives at Singapore. Diplomatic exchange vessel ASAMA MARU also arrives after leaving Yokohama on 25 June. Both ships load fresh water and supplies.

9 July 1942:
Departs Singapore accompanied by ASAMA MARU that is carrying approximately 800 Americans and foreign national civilians from Japan, South-East Asia and the Philippines. The ships sail in tandem and pass through the narrow Sunda Straits, between Sumatra and Java.

July 1942:
CONTE VERDE and ASAMA MARU cross the Indian Ocean with ASAMA MARU in the van.

22 July 1942:
At about 1300, CONTE VERDE and ASAMA MARU arrive at Delagoa Bay, Lorenco Marques, Portuguese East Africa.

25 July 1942:
The first exchange is made. Japanese passengers are disembarked from GRIPSHOLM. American and Canadian Red Cross supplies from GRIPSHOLM, and supplies from the South African Red Cross, are transferred to CONTE VERDE and ASAMA MARU.

26 July 1942:
CONTE VERDE and ASAMA MARU depart Lorenco Marques for Yokohama via the Indian Ocean.

28 July 1942:
At 1330, GRIPSHOLM departs Lorenco Marques with 1,510 passengers on board of whom just under 600 are missionaries and their families. She stops at Rio de Janeiro to drop off South American diplomats and their families. On 25 August she docks on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.

9 August 1942:
CONTE VERDE arrives at Singapore.

11 August 1942:
Departs Singapore.

19 August 1942:
Arrives at Tateyama and departs that day.

20 August 1942:
Arrives at Yokohama.

5 September 1942:
Departs Yokohama.

8 September 1942:
Arrives at Shanghai and is moored.

9 September 1943: Surrender of Fascist Italy:
Whangpoo River, Shanghai. In the early morning, SS CONTE VERDE, moored off the Shanghai Club, is scuttled onto her port side by Capitano di Corvetta (LtCdr) Chinea’s Italian crew so as to not be captured by the Japanese who later arrest and imprison the Italians.

21 September 1943:
Work begins to raise CONTE VERDE.

6 June 1944:
The hulk of CONTE VERDE is uprighted to 37 ½ degrees when a lifting cable breaks and work has to be stopped.

16 June 1944:
The lifting operation continues, but is stopped when 43 degrees is achieved

26 June 1944:
The lifting operation continues, but when 58 degrees is achieved a lifting cable breaks and work has to be stopped once more.

5 July 1944:
The hulk is uprighted to 67 degrees. At this point uprighting work ceases and ordinary salvage work commences. [3]

8 August 1944:
Shanghai. Whangpoo (Huangpu) River. Moored CONTE VERDE is attacked by a single LAB (low-altitude bombardment)-equipped B-24 bomber of 373rd Bomb Squadron, 308th Bomb Group flown by Lt Col William D. Hopson. Hopson makes two radar guided approaches at very low altitude through rain and fog. On his second pass, his B-24 drops six bombs on the liner. CONTE VERDE falls on her starboard side and sinks for the second time.

31 October 1944:
Salvage work resumes on CONTE VERDE.

16 December 1944:
Shanghai. CONTE VERDE is successfully refloated. Therafter she is towed to the Mitsubishi Konan (Kiangnan) Shipbuilding Yard, Whangpoo River, Shanghai. During the following weeks four of her eight boilers, two generators and two turbines are reconditioned.

TEIKYO MARU is renamed KOTOBUKI MARU at an unknown date, but the name CONTE VERDE still remains painted on the hull.

10 April 1945:
KOTOBUKI MARU departs Woosung, Yangtze River for Maizuru, escorted by minesweeper W-21, destroyer TSUBAKI and gunboat UJI. Minesweeper W-21 leads followed by TSUBAKI. At 1545, W-21 strikes a magnetic mine 300° distant 1,500 meters from South-east Knoll Buoy (south-westward of Grass Island; bearing 108°, 11.55 miles distant from Woosung Lighthouse). Rudder failure, main engine and generator unusable, oil leakage from the fuel oil tank, afterpart storage compartment and mine magazine flooded. At 1554, W-21 anchors, but at 1600, a fire breaks out on board W-21. By 1605, the fire is extinguished. At 2000, two tugs come alongside both sides of W-21.

At 1745, TSUBAKI also strikes a magnetic mine in position bearing 95°, 5.8 nms distant from Woosung Lighthouse. According to the captain of TSUBAKI damage is as follows: (1) Aft ammunition hold flooded, forward hold and depth charge compartment flooding. (2) There are numerous cracks in various places in the bulkhead of No. 2 boiler room, but they are being patched.(3) Steering engine, aft main engines and diesel generator, and sonar device are inoperative (4) One person is missing and 30 slightly injured.(5) Barely able to navigate at slow speed and steering by hand. TSUBAKI anchors off Woosung.[5]

11 April 1945:
At 0615, towage of W-21 starts. Later this day arrives at Mitsubishi Konan (Kiangnan) Shipyard for repairs. KOTOBUKI MARU, which returned to Woosung the day before with gunboat UJI, departs again escorted by UJI and old destroyer HASU. At 1659, about 1 nm from Woosung breakwater, a magnetic mine explodes off KOTOBUKI MARU's No. 2 hold. It loosens many rivets in No. 2 hold which ships some water.

Gunboat UJI sends the following two messages referring to KOTOBUKI MARU´s damage:
2130, 12 April 1945: “Estimate that emergency repairs for KOTOBUKI MARU will require two days.”
0900, 13 April 1945: “KOTOBUKI MARU is undergoing emergency repairs. Scheduled to be completed by the 16th.”

20 April 1945:
In the early morning, KOTOBUKI MARU escorted by gunboat UJI and destroyer HASU departs Woosung. Off the Yangtze River estuary the three vessels meet kaibokan OKINAWA, DAITO, UKURU, CD-27 and CD-57 which are arriving from Ssu Chiao Shan.Surrounded by seven escort vessels, KOTOBUKI MARU proceeds to Tsingtao.

22 April 1945:
KOTOBUKI MARU and her escorts are attacked by ten Consolidated B-24 "Liberators”, but they score no hits. One bomber is damaged and later forced to ditch. The convoy arrives at Tsingtao, China the same day. KOTOBUKI MARU stays at Tsingtao until 4 May.

4 May 1945:
At 0400, KOTOBUKI MARU departs Tsingtao escorted by gunboat UJI and kaibokan DAITO, UKURU, CD-27, CD-57, CD-63, CD-207. NB: It is appears possible that KOTOBUKI MARU sailed together with convoy HOMO-04 consisting of unknown number of unidentified ships.

5 May 1945:
The convoy arrives at Shihtao (Shitau) Bay, east tip of Shantung Peninsula.

6 May 1945:
The convoy arrives at Taito Bay (Taedong-Man), W coast of Korea.

7 May 1945:
The convoy arrives at Hakusha-Suido (Paeksa-Sudo), W coast of Korea.

8 May 1945:
SW of Mokpo, SW coast of Korea. KOTOBUKI MARU hits a mine laid by USAAF 20th Air Force B-29 “Super Fortress” heavy bomber at 34-30N, 126-09E. [3]

9 May 1945:
The convoy arrives at Chinkai (Chinhae), south coast of Korea.

10 May 1945:
An intercepted radio message (time 1640) reads: “KOTOBUKI MARU” having struck a mine is leaking. Requires docking for that and other repairs.”

15 May 1945:
KOTOBUKI MARU departs Chinkai for Maizuru escorted by kaibokan CD-36, CD-55, CD-57 and CD-71.

17 May 1945:
The ships arrive at Maizuru.

25 July 1945:
Undocked. Bombed that same day and beached in Nakata Bay, Higashi-Maizuru.

15 August 1945:
Hostilities end.

Removed from the Navy List.

13 June 1949:
The hulk is refloated and scrapping begins.

Authors' Notes:
[1] The exact date that CONTE VERDE was renamed TEIKYO MARU is unknown, but it seems reasonable that it occured at the time of her charter voyage exchanging diplomats at Lourenco Marques.

[2] The U.S. Department of State chartered Swedish liner M. S. GRIPSHOLM as an exchange and repatriation ship under the auspices of the International Red Cross, from 1942 to 1946. In addition to Japanese nationals, she also carried German nationals to exchange points where she picked up Americans and Canadians. GRIPSHOLM’s Swedish captain and crew made 12 round trips and carried a total of 27,712 reptriates. Exchanges with the Japanese were made at neutral ports: Lourenco Marques in Portuguese East Africa and Mormugoa, Portuguese India. Exchanges with the Germans took place at Stockholm, Sweden or Lisbon, Portugal.

[3] The Japanese intended to convert CONTE VERDE into a small aircraft carrier or a troop ship. She was to be towed to Japan in August 1944 for further repairs and reconstruction.

[4] Sources vary as to the date and place where KOTOBUKI MARU hit a mine.

[5] TSUBAKI later arrives at Kiangnan Shipyard, Shanghai for repairs. After temporary repairs TSUBAKI departs Shanghai on 8 May 1945, escorting convoy SHIMO-04. The convoy makes a great detour and finally arrives at Yuya Bay, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on 17 May 1945. TSUBAKI is detached on 16 May 1945 with orders to proceed to Kure to undergo full-scale repairs.

Thanks go to Peter Cundall of Australia for info in Revision 1 and to Erich Muehlthaler of Germany for info in Revision 2.

Bob Hackett and Sander Kingsepp

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