RIKUGUN YUSOSEN

(SASAKO MARU by Ueda Kihachiro)

IJA Transport SASAKO MARU:
Tabular Record of Movement

© 2013-2016 Bob Hackett


27 March 1940:
Nagasaki. Laid down at Mitsubishi as a 7,180-ton passenger-cargo ship for the Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) Line.

13 March 1941:
Launched and named SASAKO MARU. [1]

28 June 1941:
Completed.

8 July 1941:
Requisitioned by the Imperial Army and alloted IJA No. 806. Converted to a troop transport. Two AA guns are fitted.

5 November 1941:
Departs Ujina, Hiroshima Prefecture, for Shanghai, China.

29 November 1941:
At 1420, arrives at Samah, Hainan Island, China. Joins other Army transports carrying elements of the IJA 5th Division.

4 December 1941: Operation “E” – The Invasion of Malaya:
At 0600, SASAKO MARU departs Samah in a convoy heading south as part of the Singora Invasion Unit. This combined IJN/IJA operation is under operational control of the IJA.
The IJA Singora Invasion Unit is under command of LtGen Yamashita Tomoyuki’s 25th Army. Troops involved are elements of 5th Division (5th Hy Company, Kawamura Detachment Brigade, 5th Engineer Battalion (Bn), 5th Rec Bn, 1st Tank Bn with 37 Med Type 97 and 20 Lt Type 95 tanks, 9th Railroad Eng Bn, 11th Eng Bn and various Air units.

Troops are carried by Army landing craft depot ship SHINSHU (RYUJO) MARU and Army transports AOBASAN, ASAKA, ATSUTASAN, KANSAI, KYUSHU, NAMINOUE, NAKO, SADO and SASAKO MARUs. One Ship AA Rgt and one Ship Signal Rgt are also carried on the transports. Further Invasion Units are destined for Kota Bharu, Malaya.

The IJN Singora Invasion Unit consists of minelayer HATSUTAKA (F) with the 9th Base Force Unit aboard, auxiliary seaplane tender KAMIKAWA MARU with six Mitsubishi Type 0 F1M2 (plus two in reserve) and three Aichi Type 0 E13A1 (plus one in reserve) floatplanes, auxiliary seaplane tenders SANYO and SAGARA MARUs each with six Mitsubishi Type 0 F1M2 and two Kawanishi Type 95 E8N2 (in reserve) floatplanes; destroyers AMAGIRI, ASAGIRI, YUGIRI and MURAKUMO; minesweepers W-1, W-4, W-5 and W-6; subchaser CH-8; auxiliary minesweeper tender EIKO MARU with 91st Naval Guard Unit aboard and auxiliary transport NOJIMA MARU with 91st Ports & Docks Unit and 91st Naval Signal Unit aboard.

7 December 1941:
At 2340, the Invasion Convoy arrives at Singora, Siam (now Songhkla, Thailand). Landings proceed without strong opposition.

17 February 1942:
At night, transports SASAKO and SAGAMI MARUs, with part of the IJA's 48th Infantry Division embarked, depart Makassar for Bali, Java escorted by DesDiv 8's ASASHIO, OSHIO, ARASHIO and MICHISHIO.

Light cruiser NAGARA, with Rear Admiral Kubo embarked, and DesDiv 21's HATSUSHIMO, NENOHI and WAKABA provide distant cover. During the invasion force's crossing of the Flores Sea, air cover is provided by Mitsubishi A6M "Zeke" fighters of the 3rd Air Group and the Tainan Air Group, based at Makassar, Celebes (now Sulawasei).

19 February 1942: The Invasion of Bali.
Badung Strait. At 0200, in Sanur Roads, the invasion force begins to disembark with little to no resistance.

LtCdr (later Rear Admiral) Frederick B. Warder's (USNA ‘25) USS SEAWOLF (SS-197), on patrol at the north entrance by the Flores Sea, sights the main force disembarking and attempts a surface attack. He fires two unreliable Mark-14 torpedoes each at SASAKO MARU and SAGAMI MARU, but they miss or premature. Warder is spotted by the destroyers and forced to dive. The destroyers depth charge SEAWOLF unsucessfully. Warder runs aground in the strait, but finally breaks free and surfaces. The escorts again spot SEAWOLF and charge in to attack. Warder retreats at full speed and fires two torpedoes from his stern tubes at his pursuers, but they miss and explode against the shore. SEAWOLF makes good her escape.

At 1030, the Bali airfield complex is captured completely intact.

1 March 1942:
The Japanese invasion force landed at the village of Kragan, East Java, about 100 miles west of Surabaya. SASAGO MARU is among the ships in the invasion force landing MajGen Tsuchihashi Yuitsu's 48th Division and MajGen Sakaguchi Shizuo’s detachment of the 156 Mixed Infantry Brigade. Colonel Tanaka Tohru’s unit of the 48th Division is ordered to occupy Tjepoe (Cepu) and secure its oil fields while LtCol Kitamura Kuro’s unit is to occupy Bodjonegoro, near Tjepoe.

8 March 1942:
At 0900, the C-in-C of the Allied forces, Dutch LtGen Hein Ter Poorten announces the surrender of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army in Java. That afternoon, Governor Jonkheer Dr. A.W.L. Tjarda Van Starkenborgh Stachouwer and Ter Poorten meet with the C-in-C of the Japanese forces LtGen Hitoshi Imamura at Kalidjati, Java and agree to capitulate. That same afternoon, MajGen Tsuchihashi orders his 48th division to attack and occupy Surabaya which was accomplished by 1800. The next day, the commander of Dutch forces in East Java also surrenders.

2 July 1942:
At 1200, SASAKO MARU departs Davao, Philippines for Palau in an unidentified convoy also consisting of KAZUURA, MYOKO, RYOYO, AYATOSAN and YASUKAWA MARUs escorted by torpedo boat TOMOZURU.

4 July 1942:
Arrives at Palau.

10 October 1942:
Attached to the Combined Fleet. SASAKO MARU’s primary mission is to transport LtGen Harukichi Hyakutake’s 17th Army’s troops and IJN SNLF troops to Guadalcanal in a “High Speed Convoy”.

12 October 1942: - First Assault Convoy for Tassafaronga, Guadalcanal:
SASAKO MARU departs Rabaul for Guadalcanal via Shortlands in a “High Speed Convoy” also consisting of IJA transports, SADO and SAKITO MARUs and IJN auxiliary transports KYUSHU and NANKAI MARUs escorted by Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) Takama Tamotsu’s (41) DesRon 4’s AKIZUKI (F), Desdivs 2’s YUDACHI, HARUSAME, SAMIDARE, MURASAME and DesDiv 27’s SHIGURE, SHIRATSUYU and ARIAKE.

SASAKO MARU carries the 230th Infantry Regiment (less 2nd Battalion).

The convoy carries about 4,500 troops including the IJA’s 16th Regiment, two battalions of the 230th Infantry Regiment and 824 men of the No. 4 Maizuru Special Naval Landing Force ( SNLF) from Rabaul and Shortlands. The ships also carry a battery of 100-mm guns and a battery of 150-mm howitzers, the 38th Field AA battalion, the 45th Field AA Battalion, one company of the 47th Field AA battalion, the 1st Company of the 38th Engineer Regiment, the 1st Independent Tank Company, one section of the 38th Division Signal Company, ammunition and provisions. Air cover is provided by the 11th Air Fleet and the R-Area Air Force's floatplane fighters.

At 1400, about 100 miles from Shortlands’ anchorage, the convoy is attacked by 30 aircraft of the ‘Cactus Air Force’. At 1530, a second attack occurs. Both are ineffective however and the ships sustain no damage, the convoy arriving at Shortlands later that same day.

13 October 1942:
The convoy departs Shortlands and arrives at midnight at Tassafaronga. Unloading operations are undergone.

14 October 1942:
At dawn, Mitsubishi A6M "Zekes" fighters from carriers HIYO and JUNYO and floatplane fighters of the R-Area Air Force provide cover over the unloading operation. At 0600, a flight of six Grumman F4F "Wildcat' fighters strafe the transports. One F4F is lost and another damaged, as is an IJN floatplane fighter.

At about 1030, the transports are attacked by the “Cactus Air Force” (later Air Sols) from Henderson Field, Guadalcanal with a force of 25 aircraft including 12 Douglas "Dauntless" SBD dive-bombers, three USAAF P-39s and one P-400 “Airacobra” fighters, eight F4F "Wildcat" fighters and one PBY-5 “Catalina” armed with two torpedoes.

Either an SDB or the PBY hits SASAKO MARU with a bomb that starts a fatal fire. She is beached at 09-30S, 160-00E and becomes a total loss, but her troops, tanks and guns are landed successfully and 85 crewmen survive.


Author's Note:
[1] Also known as SASAGO MARU.

Thanks go to the late John Whitman and Fontessa-dan of Japan for info about troops carried by SASAKO MARU in the “High Speed Convoy”.

Bob Hackett


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