(Wartime Sakito Maru-Class - Fujimi boxart)

Tabular Record of Movement

© 2011 Bob Hackett and Gilbert Casse
Revision 1

5 August 1939:
Nagasaki. Laid down at Mitsubishi as a 7,146-ton passenger-cargo ship for the Nippon Yusen Kaiha (NYK) Line.

13 December 1939:
Launched and named SAKURA MARU.

30 March 1940:
Completed and placed in NYK’s service.

SAKURA MARU is used mainly on NYK’s eastbound "Round-the-World-Line" from Kobe to the Philippines, Hong Kong, Kirun, Shanghai, Dairen, Taku (Tientsin), and Busan (Pusan), returning to Japan where she calls at Moji, Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, Shimizu, and Yokohama before crossing the Pacific to Los Angeles and New York via the Panama Canal. She then calls at Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Her cargo consists of raw silk from Japan and general cargo, sugar, manganese and palm oil from the Philippines. On her return trip, after leaving Baltimore, she calls at some Caribbean islands and sails for Japan, calling at Capetown, Durban, Mombasa, Africa and Singapore, Malaya and returning to Japan with steel products, cotton and general cargo.

21 January 1941:
Requisitioned by the Imperial Army as an Army Transport

5 June 1941:
Released to her owners.

12 July 1941:
Requisitioned again by the Imperial Army and converted to a 9,246 grt Boku Kikansen (anti-aircraft) vessel. Fitted with six IJA Type 88 75-mm AA and eight IJA Type 98 20-mm AA machine cannons. Assigned Army No. 844. Assigned call sign JWWN.

4 October 1941:
Departs Moji for Humen, China.

8 October 1941:
Arrives at Humen.

15 October 1941:
Departs Humen for Moji.

17 October 1941:
Arrives at Moji.

18 October 1941:
Departs Moji for Canton (Guangdong), China.

21 October 1941:
Arrives at Canton.

20 November 1941:
Departs Canton for Haikou, Hainan, China.

23 November 1941:
Arrives at Haikou.

24 November 1941:
Departs Haikou and returns back that same day. Departs later for Samah, Hainan and arrives there at an unknown date

7 December 1941:
Departs Hainan in a convoy of 18 transports carrying LtGen Yamashita Tomoyuki's (a.k.a. "Tiger of Malaya") 25th Army to the Gulf of Thailand, escorted by light cruiser SENDAI and DesDivs 12, 19 and 20.

7/8 December 1941: Operation "E" - The Invasion of Malaya:
Kota Bharu, Malaya. At 2355, SAKURA MARU and transports AWAJISAN and AYATOSAN MARUs drop anchor about two miles off the coast, but are spotted by Indian guards. The ships are carrying about 5,200 troops of MajGen Takumi Hiroshi’s 5th Division. The majority are already veterans of the war in China.

The Kota Bharu Invasion Force also consists of Colonel Nasu Yoshio’s 56th Infantry Regiment aboard SAKURA MARU, LtCol Takasu Katsutoshi’s mountain artillery battery of the 18th Mountain Artillery Regiment, LtCol Fujii Ichie’s 12th Engineer Regiment, 18th Division Signal Unit, one company of the 12th Transport Regiment, one company of the 18th Division Medical Unit and No. 2 Field Hospital of the 18th Division Medical Unit.

The Invasion Force is escorted by Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) Hashimoto Shintaro (41)’s light cruiser SENDAI, DesDiv 19's AYANAMI, ISONAMI, SHIKINAMI and URANAMI, minesweepers W-2 and W-3, subchaser CH-9. At 2345 local, SENDAI and her destroyers commence a bombardment of Kota Bharu. World War II in Pacific begins.

8 December 1941:
At 0045 (local), the Invasion Force lands troops at Kota Bharu. At 0210, they are attacked by seven Lockheed "Hudson" light bombers of RAAF No. 1 Squadron. MajGen Takumi’s headquarters ship AWAJISAN MARU is hit by a one 60 kg bomb on an armoured landing craft stored on the hatch of No. 2 cargo hold. An explosion ignites drummed aviation gasoline and ammunition stored on deck sets the ship afire. She blazies furiously during the landing operation. One crewman is KIA. After towing by two of DesDiv 19's destroyers fails, AWAJISAN MARU is abandoned. [1]

SAKURA MARU is lightly damaged by a near miss explosion that blows away part of the port side bulwark and also causes flooding in No. 1 hold. AYATOSAN MARU (9788 grt) suffers medium damaged by straffing and near misses that cause a 6' x 3' foot hole above the water line and sever a cable of No. 4 hold's derrick that blocks unloading of ammunition.

The Indian-British brigade defending Kota Bharu puts up stiff resistance and inflicts heavy casualties on the Japanese, but is soon outflanked and overrun.

E December 1941:
SAKURA MARUs departs Kota Bharu for Singora, Siam (now Songhla, Thailand) in convoy with ten other transports.

10 December 1941:
The convoy arrives at Singora. Landings are proceeded without opposition. That same day, five transports land troops unopposed at Patani, Siam. SAKURA MARU departs later for Humen.

13 December 1941:
Thepha (W of Patani). At about 0005, Dutch Ltz. 1 (KIA) Anton J. Bussemaker’s submarine Hr.Ms. O-16 fires eight torpedoes and badly damages anchored TOSAN (TOZAN) (8666 grt), KINKA (9305 grt) and ASOSAN MARUs. All three transports are heavy damaged and settle to the bottom in shallow waterlater, but are later salved. [2]

E December 1941:
Arrives at Humen and undergoes some emergency battle-damage repairs.

E December 1941:
Departs Humen for Osaka.

E December 1941:
Arrives at Osaka. Enters dock at Sakura-Jima Iron Works shipyard for permanent repairs.

E 2 January 1942:
Undocked. Departs Osaka for Ujina, Hiroshima Prefecture.

3 January 1942:
Arrives at Ujina.

4 January 1942:
Departs Ujina.

25 January 1942:
Arrives at Takao, Formosa (now Kaohsiung, Taiwan).

18 February 1942: Operation "J" - The Invasion of Java, Netherlands East Indies:
Vice Admiral Takahashi Ibo's (36)(former CO of KIRISHIMA) Third Fleet, Western Netherlands East Indies Seizure Force departs Camranh Bay, Indochina. Takahashi's force consists of 56 troop transports carrying the 16th Army's 2nd Infantry Division for the invasion of Bantam Bay and Merak, Java. Light cruisers YURA and NATORI provide escort and seaplane tenders SANYO and KAMIKAWA MARU provides air cover. Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) Kurita Takeo’s (38) CruDiv 7's MOGAMI, MIKUMA, SUZUYA and KUMANO provide cover.

SAKURA MARU and 29 other transports are assigned to land the IJA’s 2nd Division’s Nasu Detachment’s troops S of Merak, Java. The transports also carry the 2nd Tank Regiment’s 2nd and 4th companies (21 Type 97 medium tanks) and 2nd Recon Regiment (16 Type 97 tankettes).

28 February 1942: The Battle of the Sunda Strait:
Bantam Bay. Twenty-seven transports land the main body of the IJA's 2nd Infantry Division. At about 2215, American Captain (MOH, posthumously) Albert H. Rooks (USNA ’14) USS HOUSTON (CA-30) and Australian Captain Hector M. L. Waller’s light cruiser HMAS PERTH, sortie for Tjilatjap via the Sunda Strait, but by chance encounter Ozawa’s Western Java Seizure Force transports screened only by DesDiv 5's HARUKAZE, HATAKAZE, DesDiv 11's FUBUKI and MineSweepDiv 1's minesweepers W-1, W-2, W-3 and W-4.

The two Allied cruisers attack. The Japanese destroyers make smoke to mask the transports. FUBUKI charges and launches a salvo of nine torpedoes at HOUSTON and PERTH.

At 2300, the Western Support Force's MIKUMA and MOGAMI, destroyer SHIKINAMI, Third Escort Force's light cruiser NATORI and destroyers SHIRAKUMO, MURAKUMO, SHIRAYUKI, HATSUYUKI and ASAKAZE arrive and engage HOUSTON and PERTH with gunfire and torpedoes. The Japanese fire about 90 torpedoes in the engagement.

At 2327, in the Sunda Strait, MOGAMI fires six “Long Lance” torpedoes at HOUSTON, but they all miss and pass into Bantam Bay. At 2335, five explosions erupt.

SAKURA MARU is hit and sinks in shallow water as does hospital ship HORAI MARU, minesweeper W-2 and landing craft depot ship SHINSHU (RYUJO) MARU carrying LtGen (later Gen) Imamura Hitoshi, Commander-in-Chief of the IJA 16th Army. Imamura jumps into the sea, but survives. Transport TATSUNO MARU runs aground while avoiding a torpedo.

The other transports carrying MajGen Nasu Yumio’s detachment of LtGen Maruyama Masao’s 2nd Infantry Division commence landing their troops at Merak, Java.

Authors’ Notes:
[1] On 12 Dec '41, Dutch Ltz. I Henry C. J. Coumou's submarine K-XII torpedoes and sinks the drifting wreck of AWAJISAN MARU. K-XII's log reported she sunk a large modern 8,000 ton merchant ship with clipper type stern, 2 masts and a wide and short funnel. This description matches AWAJISAN MARU perfectly. IJN records book also confirm AWAJISAN MARU's sinking by an enemy submarine.

[2] O-16's patrol report lists SAKURA MARU as one of the torpedoed ships, but this is clearly a wartime error as she had already left Singora/Patani area.

Thanks go to Erich Muehlthaler of Germany.

-Bob Hackett and Gilbert Casse

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