'Strange but True Stories'
Translated by Erich Muehlthaler with Bob Hackett

“AITEN MARU - 10,000 nautical miles to Japan!”

By July 1945, the need for aviation gasoline was so desperate that IJN authorities planned one final daring attempt to send out a tanker from Singapore to Japan. As all usual sea lanes to Japan were under complete control of Allied air and sea forces it was necessary to work out a unique course which meant a gigantic detour, but at the same time was considered to be the safest one possible. The planned route was from Singapore via Bangka Strait southward through Sunda Strait, then southward from Java down the west coast of Australia, then eastward far off the south coast of Australia, then northward through the central part of the Tasman Sea, pass between New Caledonia and Fiji, pass Wake to the east. The final destination selected was the port of Kushiro on Hokkaido. This meant a distance of about 10,000 nautical miles!

At this stage of the war there hardly remained any suitable tankers in the Singapore area. Finally, it was decided that the diesel motor tanker AITEN MARU (2087 grt) should be used for this daring undertaking. AITEN MARU had been the former Dutch ALDEGONDA, owned by the Nederlandsch-IndischeTankstoombootMaatschappij (N.I.T.). Since autumn 1939, ALDEGONDA had been in regular service for the Royal Netherlands Navy as auxiliary naval tanker TAN 5. Under the command of Captain A. Penning, ALDEGONDA arrived at Surabaya from Batavia on 31 January 1942. On 2 March 1942, at Surabaya, ALDEGONDA was finally scuttled by her own crew.

In July 1942, ALDEGONDA was refloated by the Japanese and underwent repairs at the IJN’s 102nd Contruction & Repair Section at Surabaya. On 5 August 1942, she was officially entrusted to the shipping section of Mitsubishi Shoji, K.K. and on 31 August 1942 renamed AITEN MARU. On 8 September 1942, repairs were completed by 102nd Construction & Repair Section. On 25 September 1942, she was officially taken over by Mitsubishi Shoji, K.K. at Surabaya, call sign JWJY. Thereafter, she was time-chartered by the IJN and attached to the 8th Fleet. On 12 October 1942, her assignment was altered from the 8th Fleet to the 1st Southern Expeditionary Fleet. On 1 January 1943, she was classified as an auxiliary fleet tanker (XAO).

In July 1945, AITEN MARU was selected for a final attempt to reach Japan with a cargo of aviation gasoline. In preparation for this mission all native crew men had to leave the ship. AITEN MARU moved to Seletar Naval Base where both sides of the ship´s hull were strengthened with steel plates and several gun mounts were installed on her bow, bridge and poop. Altogether, the oiler was equipped with two AA-guns, 6 mounts with 20mm m/g and 4 mounts with 10mm revolving machine guns. During this period, Captain Jutaro Katsumi and Chief Engineer Jujiro Ishiguro had to disembark while the other 11 Japanese crew including Chief Officer Suematsu Koga were allowed to remain on board. On 15 July 1945, 32 IJN personnel including the new captain Tsunekichi Sato went aboard. Commanding Officer of the transport mission was IJN Captain Yoshizo Hasebe. In late July 1945, AITEN MARU moved to Bukum Island oil terminal in the Singapore Straits where she loaded a full load of aviation gasoline. To disguise her whereabouts, AITEN MARU received the alias ENOSHIMA MARU No.2. The ship also received a number of foreign country flags to conceal her identity when necessary. Immediately before leaving Singapore, CO Captain Hasebe became ill and had to leave the ship. Hasebe´s adjutant, IJN Lieutenant Masahiko Kuhara, now became transport mission CO (officially appointed on 11 August 1945).

On 8 August 1945, AITEN MARU departed Singapore in high spirits, escorted as far as the Sunda Strait by subchaser Ch-41 and probably auxiliary minesweeper Wa-7. At sunset on 10 August 1945, she temporarily anchored off the east coast of Banka Island. She weighed anchor pre-dawn on 11 August 1945. At about noon that day, she encountered a single B-24 which carried out a bombing attack. AITEN MARU received only minor damage. Subsequently, at noon on 12 August 1945, when sailing north of Djakarta, AITEN MARU was again attacked by a single B-24. This time she received two direct hits near the captain´s room. Beyond belief, both bombs proved to be duds! Nevertheless, they demolished part of the ship´s bridge. At the same time, the aircraft raked the tanker with heavy machine-gun fire causing several wounded among the crew and IJN personnel. The material damage proved no hindrance to navigation, but it was decided, for the wounded and the very long voyage still ahead, to make an emergency stop at Tandjong Priok, port of Batavia (now Jakarta). While still undergoing repairs at Tandjong Priok, the war ended and the extreme daring adventure was over.

On 25 August 1945, AITEN MARU proceeded to Seletar Naval Base where all IJN personnel but Captain Sato had to disembark immediately while the ship’s crew was allowed to remain on board. On 30 November 1945, AITEN MARU was officially handed over to British Forces and Captain Tsunekichi Sato and his crew had to disembark. By mid-1946, all crew members had been repatriated to Japan.

“The Gruesome Ordeal of the Crew of DAIGO MARU”

DAIGO MARU was a 5,244 grt wartime-standard type (2) K ore-carrier, completed on 3 October 1944 by Hitachi Zosen K.K. Innoshima Zosensho, Habu, Innoshima (Yard No. 2805), owners Osaka Shosen K.K., with Port of Registry at Osaka. DAIGO MARU was a Rikugun Haitosen (A/C-Ore), a transport allotted to the Army by the Senpaku Uneikai (Shipping Control Authority), army number #5590. DAIGO MARU was armed with a 20mm gun on her poop and with four 13mm MG mounts on her flying bridge.

On 4 January 1945, DAIGO MARU departed Wakamatsu for Pukow with a full load of railroad ties. Pukow village is located on the left bank of the Yangtze River, nearly opposite to, but a little below, the north end of Nanking. Pukow was of importance as being the southern railway terminus of the line from Tientsin to Pukow with ferry connection to Nanking. The railway was completed for through traffic in the autumn of 1912.

About 130 nm SE of the entrance to Kiaochow Bay, Shantung Province, China. At about 0115, 8 January 1945, LtCdr Marion R. DeArellano’s USS BALAO (SS-285) torpedoed DAIGO MARU at 34-37N, 122-12E. DAIGO MARU was hit on her starboard side near No. 3 hold and flooded. Upon noticing torpedo wakes, shipboard gunners fired at them, but in vain. Within the next 10 minutes a total of 5 torpedoes found their mark. After the third hit, Captain Saburo Okubo ordered “Abandon Ship”. At about 0200, DAIGO MARU broke in two and sank. 12 crew including the captain and 14 shipboard gunners were killed. Captain Okubo had remained heroically on the bridge to the very end and went down with his ship.

49 survivors escaped in a lifeboat and set sail southwest to Shanghai. Due to the weak wind, the boat made very slow progress. In addition, the icy cold took its deadly toll. By the time of the landing of the lifeboat on 12 January 1945 16 members of the crew were frozen to death. On the early morning of 12 January 1945, after an inhuman struggle, the remaining 33 men made it to land the boat on the Chinese coast in position 32-43N, 120-54E. The landing point was located near the village of Tungchiang in Kiangsu Province. Further navigation on the open sea was no longer possible because the boat was now blocked by driving ice floes.

Soon after landing, coincidentally, a Chinese fisherman came along with his small boat. The fisherman led the survivors a little further to the south to a small river village, where they could rest. The men noticed very soon at the enemy mood of the villagers that they had to be in a territory not controlled by the Japanese. Therefore, they were planning to leave the village as soon as possible. They managed to hire a local junk and were just about to equip the boat when the anchorage was surrounded by about 30 Chinese soldiers on 14 January 1945. The majority of the soldiers went on board and captured the 33 survivors of DAIGO MARU without resistance. The Chinese took sail and steered the junk upstream with all prisoners.

On January 16, 1945 the junk grounded on a sand bank. The Chinese soldiers disembarked, leaving only three men back as guards. The prisoners recognized an unique opportunity to conquer the junk back and escape.A similar plan was forged and then it was time. At about 0300, 17 January 1945, the attack began under the leadership of DAIGO MARU´s Chief Officer Takeo Kitamura.After a short but hards skirmish, the three Chinese guards could be hunted down from the junk. All the three guns of the soldiers including ammunition were captured. However, two men of the DAIGO MARU lost their lives in this dispute.

The men made the junk immediately clear to sail, but after a short time the junk ran again on a sand bar. The men tried desperately to get the junk free which did not succeed, due to the prevailing ebb tide. The survivors now began to realize that there was no hope to escape. Despite this hopeless situation, the men remained quiet. A man shot himself with one of the captured guns.

At dawn, a crowd consisting of about 300 villagers and Chinese communist soldiers appeared. The angry mob surrounded the junk. As there was not the slightest chance to escape, the men on the junk decided that there was only one way out: honourable suicide! Several men started shooting each other while others killed themselves by holding the rifle barrel against their heads and pulling the trigger with their toes. The last remaining survivor was a deck-hand with name Tamio Kondo. He held the gun barrel to his temple and pulled the trigger with his big toe. Either it was divine providence or sheer luck, we will never now, but the bullet got stuck in the barrel! With one last gasp, Kondo jumped overboard and ran as fast as he could. Chased by Chinese soldiers he was captured very soon, completely tired and exhausted.

Tamio Kondo was kept in custody until 1946. He returned to Japan on 2 May 1946. Thus ended the tragic story of DAIGO MARU and her crew. Fortunately, one man has returned back to reveal the truth. There are so many tragic stories relating to Japanese wartime merchant sailors, but the gruesome ordeal of the exceptionally brave men of DAIGO MARU will be remembered as one of the most horrible ever.

“Death in a Remote Place"

On 3 October 1941, pearling mother ship KOKOKU MARU departed Palau and proceeded through Dampier Strait - between the southern side of Waigeo and the north-west end of New Guinea - to the Banda Sea. While crossing the Banda Sea, KOKOKU MARU was signalling weather reports for the eighth and last Palau-Dilli test flight of a Dai Nippon Airways flying boat. This flight inaugurated the regular air service which the Japanese had obtained permission to operate from Palau to Dilli. Afterwards, KOKOKU MARU continued to Bathurst Island, Northern Australia.

On the morning of 29 October 1941, KOKOKU MARU arrived at Port Darwin. Her master claimed that the purpose for his visit was for water and that he intended returning to Bathurst on 31 October 1941 to take charge of the Japanese pearl diver luggers KOTOHIRA MARU, CELEBES MARU No. 3, NANSHU MARU No. 5 and two others which had been operating off Northern Australia since 17 October 1941. [1]

For the Australian authorities this was the first indication of Japanese fishing craft returning to Northern Australian waters following the recall of all such craft from these waters last August. KOKOKU MARU had previously acted as a mother ship to luggers operating in these waters and was last reported at Darwin on 28 October 1941. The purpose of the visit on that occasion was to contact the local agent. With reference to her signalling weather reports for the last Palau-Dilli flight on 18 October 1941, there has been no record of any such messages from her being intercepted but it is known that a similar vessel ASAHI MARU which usually worked with KOKOKU MARU followed approximately the same course from Palau as that claimed by KOKOKU MARU and was employed in connection with the flight on 18 October 1941. ASAHI MARU, which on 13 October 1941 was north of the northwest tip of New Guinea, was by 16 October 1941 southbound in the passage between Serang and Boeroe, slightly to the northwest of Amboina. ASAHI MARU was similar to KOKOKU MARU and was known to have a powerful W/T transmitter. It therefore appeared likely that KOKOKU MARU having no short wave transmitter had been working with ASAHI MARU in conjunction with the flight and feeding her with weather reports which had in turn been passed on by ASAHI MARU. [1]

M/V KURU which was in the vicinity of Croker Island was informed of the presence of the Japanese ship and luggers. An air search sent out from Darwin on the morning of 30/10/1941 to cover the Bathurst Island area reported three luggers off Bathurst Island. The search covered a triangular area with sides of approximately 45 – 50 miles by Cape Fourcroy, Cape Van Diemen and Parry Shoal.

KOKOKU MARU left Darwin on 4 November 1941. A Darwin air patrol on 8 November 1941 sighted her and six luggers off the west coast of Bathurst Island. A telegram intercepted at Darwin, to the Japanese Consul General at Sydney from a Mr. Nakashiba who had returned to Darwin from KOKOKU MARU stated that KOKOKU MARU will await the arrival of NEW GUINEA MARU and ARAFURA MARU off Bathurst Island were six Japanese luggers were operating. [1]

Nakashiba was President of the Japanese Society at Darwin and had been closely connected with the activities of Japanese luggers. Apparently Nakashiba left Darwin on 4 November 1941 when KOKOKU MARU left that port and had since returned on some other lugger after having visited the fishing grounds of Bathurst Island. When KOKOKU MARU left Darwin her master said she would visit Bathurst Island and then proceed to Palau, the luggers’ base. The arrival of two more mother ships seemed entirely superfluous on commercial grounds especially since the pearl fishing season was over. Both NEW GUINEA MARU and ARAFURA MARU previously had operated in the Bathurst Island area. It appeared possible that the new vessels intended evacuating Japanese residents (principally lugger crews) from Darwin and possibly Broome, but at the same time taking the advantage of observing the movements of U.S. aircraft and the volume of shipping passing through the Arafura Sea area and also collecting metrological observation data.

Aircraft were to search the Bathurst Island area on 18 November 1941 to investigate the movements of these craft. Air search revealed six Japanese luggers and the two motherships KOKOKU and NEW GUINEA MARUs.

In an air search carried out by Darwin on 21 November 1941, the mother ships KOKOKU and NEW GUINEA MARUs and two luggers were sighted on the Bathurst Island pearling grounds. The four Japanese luggers previously seen in this area on 18 November 1941 were not located (NB: KOKOKU MARU was at Darwin and three luggers were thought to be of Wessel Island). In order to locate the latter and also the mother ship, ARAFURA MARU a further search flight was planned for 22 November 1941.

Lugger KOTOHIRA MARU departed Darwin on 1 December 1941 for the pearling grounds off Bathurst Island. On 2 December 1941, reconnaissance aircraft from Darwin sighted four luggers south of Bathurst Island. It appeared that the mother ships had moved round to the Wessel Islands.

On the evening of 5 December 1941, KOKOKU MARU received orders to gather the luggers and ARAFURA MARU and return to Palau as fast as possible. The group consisted of six vessels: KOKOKU, ARAFURA KOTOHIRA, KISHU and AUSTRALIAN MARUs and CELEBES MARU No. 3 [1]

The group proceeded northward through the Arafura Sea and Banda Sea at maximum speed. On the way through Banda Strait CELEBES MARU No. 3 straggled from the group and went missing for some time. After CELEBES MARU No. 3 had succeeded in re-joining the group, KOKOKU MARU passed a rope and each lugger fixed to it. The luggers now followed KOKOKU MARU in a single row like a string of pearls.

At 1600 (JST) on 8 December 1941, Dornier Do 24 flying boat “X-12” of the Marine Luchtvaart Dienst (Naval Air Force) Squadron GVT.2 on patrol from her base at Sorong, New Guinea, sighted a small Japanese convoy five miles south of Sajang Island at 00-10N, 129-54E. The convoy was reported consisting of a 200-ton motor-schooner towing four small sailboats which were considered pearl-diving boats. After a short while “X-12” strafed and bombed the motor-schooner, near missing her with four 100-pound bombs, but observed no damage before the flying boat had to return to Sorong. Believing that the vessels were carrying infiltrators to be put ashore on Dutch New Guinea territory, 1st LT W.J. Reijnierse the squadron commander of GVT.2, ordered another Dornier Do 24, “X-11”, to find the convoy next morning

The crew on board the Japanese vessels had clearly recognized a red triangle mark on the fuselage of the flying boat and understood the plane to be a Dutch flying boat. The flying boat circled the group for a short time before coming in for an attack. The plane was seen to drop four bombs, one of which exploded between KOKOKU MARU and KOTOHIRA MARU which was the first boat following astern of KOKOKU MARU. The explosion caused no damage to the two ships. The luggers cut themselves free from the towing rope and started to scatter. Thereafter, the flying boat went down to low altitude and came in from the rear to strafe the boats. CELEBES MARU No. 3 sustained a number of bullet holes in her hull and her chief engine operator Kimura was seriously wounded. KOKOKU MARU also suffered many bullet holes and boatswain Kunitaro Takumi died instantly when hit by a bullet in the chest. At dusk, the enemy plane finally retired.

On the morning of 9 December 1941, the “X-11” found the convoy and called in her mate “X-25” for assistance, which was on its morning patrol. “X-11” then attacked the motor-schooner with four 100-pound bombs, near missing her once astern. When “X-25” arrived, the motor-schooner by now was laying stationary in the midst of an enlarging oil patch. “X-25” dropped her four 100-pound bombs and this time one bomb struck directly amidships sending much debris flying into the air and leaving a small column of black smoke to mark her position. The two flying boats then returned to Sorong. At noon of 9 December 1941, “X-11” made a final reconnaissance flight over the motor-schooner, which it now found abandoned and burning; the vessel sank later that day.

On the morning of 9 December 1941, KOTOHIRA MARU had seen a plane heading in a westerly direction. At about 0900 (JST), a column of black smoke was observed to the westward. During that same day the scattered luggers met again and it was learned that KOKOKU MARU had been bombed and abandoned. Nine crew members of KOKOKU MARU had been killed in the bombing (NB: total loss figure is 10 men incl. the boatswain killed on 8 December 1941) and only six survivors had escaped in a boat. The six survivors were found and picked up by CELEBES MARU No. 3.

The surviving pearling luggers continued for Palau. But on the way, the damage received on 8 December 1941 by CELEBES MARU No. 3 proved to be too serious. Despite desperate efforts by the crew, flooding increased steadily and the small boat was now on the verge of sinking. At about 0530 on 11 December 1941, CELEBES MARU No. 3 had to be beached and abandoned on the coral reef off the southwest tip of Tobi Island at 03-00N, 131-07E.

Author’s Note:
The ships mentioned consisted of:
B-Misc KOKOKU MARU 161grt, wooden motor-schooner, 250 h.p. diesel engine, completed May 1937, acting as pearling mother ship, owner Chuichi Ishikawa, PoR Tokyo)
B-Misc CELEBES MARU No. 3 38grt wooden fishing lugger, owners Nippon Shinju (Nippon Pearling Co.)
B-Misc NANSHU MARU No. 5 39 grt wooden fishing lugger
B-Misc ARAFURA MARU 34grt wooden fishing lugger acting as auxiliary pearling mother ship, owner Toshiro Nakamura.
C-Fish KOTOHIRA MARU 39grt wooden fishing lugger, owner Takichi Ozawa
C-Fish KISHU 38grt wooden fishing lugger, owners Nippon Shinju.
C-Fish AUSTRALIAN MARU 33grt (wooden fishing lugger, owners Nippon Shinju).

“The Exceptional Maiden Voyage of Imperial Japanese Army
Transport Submarine YU 3001"

It is not well known that several Japanese Army transport submarines (Maru-Yu) were built in Korea. YU 3001 was the first such boat built by Chosen Kikan Seisakujo Jinsen Kojo Seizotai (Korea Machine Factory Boat Manufacturing Works at Inchon). On 2 August 1944, YU 3001 was officially handed over to the Japanese Army. Thereafter, for about a month she conducted training in the vicinity of Inchon.

On 9 August 1944, YU 3001, commanded by 1st Lt Toshihiko Deguchi, departed Inchon for the IJA transport submarine’s main base at Iyo-Mishima, Ehime Prefecture, Inland Sea. The boat headed southward along the west coast of Korea. That evening, Lt Deguchi ordered the boat anchored in the shadow of an island off Kunsan.

At the same time, on a voyage from Wakamatsu to Dairen, Nippon Yusen Kaisha´s (NYK) Line’s IZU MARU (882grt), a wartime-standard type 2E cargo ship was approaching the waters off Kunsan. Captain Seinoshin Hiyama, skipper of IZU MARU was extremely careful. At this stage of the war, the Yellow Sea had become a very dangerous place with repeated attacks by enemy subs and aircraft. IZU MARU was sailing only at night, hopping from island to island and anchoring during day in the shadow of an island.

In the moonlight at about midnight of 8/9 September 1944, a lookout on IZU MARU´s quarter deck discovered a suspect silhouette through his binoculars. It looked like a submarine with conning tower and a deck gun at a distance of about 1,500 meters and close to an island. Captain Hiyama checked the warships recognition manual, but the silhouette did not resemble any of the shown I-Go, RO-Go, HA-Go or training submarines. That left only one conclusion: enemy submarine!

Captain Hiyama immediately rang the emergency bell “enemy sub seen, all hands to action stations”! Lacking any weapons, Captain Hiyama decided to ram the sub! He ordered the helmsman to make a full U-turn and at full speed. Chief Engineer Toshiro Kurashige did his utmost to bring the small ship around as quickly as possible at maximum speed.

Meanwhile, on board YU 3001 half of the crew were asleep in their bunks. The night watch on the conning tower was observing the seaward vicinity through their binoculars. Around midnight, a lookout discovered an approaching shadow which was identified as a small cargo ship. Though the cargo ship came nearer and nearer, the men on the conning tower did not get suspicious, expecting the other ship to alter course at any moment and pass the submarine at safe distance. When the men realized that something was totally wrong, it was already too late.

IZU MARU rammed YU 3001 port side amidships and tore a big hole in No. 4 main tank. The shock of the collision knocked out all the lights. YU 3001’s stern draft increased by 20 cm. But the most important damage was a crack in the pressure hull. Luckily, the submarine escaped capsizing because the engine exhaust pipe still remained above water level. Fortunately there was only one grievous casualty among the men on board: IJA Captain Kanazawa Hajime was hit in the face by caustic soda causing painful burns. Captain Kanazawa was landed at Kunsan and was in the Keijo (Seoul) Army Hospital for treatment until December 1944. Captain Kanazawa was not a member of the crew, but the navigation officer of the Army Transport Submarine Detachment Headquarters at Inchon.

After ramming YU 3001, IZU MARU came free again and backed. It was at this point, that several crew members on board IZU MARU heard desperate shouts coming from the submarine: “friend!”, “friend!”. Only now did Captain Hiyama realize that his ship had rammed a Japanese submarine. He immediately ordered IZU MARU´s life boat into the water and pulled over to the submarine arriving there 20 minutes later. He now recognized the full extent of the disaster and immediately offered all assistance he and his crew were able to give.

Afterwards, IZU MARU entered Kunsan Harbor where her bow damage was repaired. At Kunsan, Captain Hiyama and Chief Engineer Kurashige were asked by the local Military Police (Kenpetai) about the accident and a protocol was made for further investigations. Later, when IZU MARU arrived back again at Moji, Captain Hiyama was cited to appear in front of naval staff officer about the ramming of YU 3001. To his astonishment the naval officer admitted that, considering the circumstances, Captain Hiyama had performed courageously!

Due to lack of adequate repair facilities, Captain Deguchi received an order from Army Shipping Headquarter at Ujina to proceed to Pusan with a stop at Reisui (Yosu) on the south coast of Korea. YU 3001 was heading southward along the west coast of Korea when a navy plane was seen approaching the submarine. The aircraft passed over YU 3001 when all of a sudden, it lost speed and made an emergency water landing. The pilot was rescued and taken on board the submarine.

When YU 3001 arrived at the island-dotted waters of the SW coast of Korea, a northward bound convoy was sighted on the port side. Suddenly, a gunshot was heard and seconds later a column of water erupted with a deafening roar 500 meters ahead of the submarine. Shortly afterwards, a second round caused another water column 700 meters starboard astern. The attacker was now identified as a convoy escort vessel. The men on the sub signalled and waved with all means they had. Finally, the escort vessel realized its error and continued northward. After a stop at Reisui, YU 3001 arrived at Pusan on 18 September 1944.

At Pusan YU 3001 was dry-docked and repair work started on the damaged No. 4 main tank. A thorough inspection revealed that the crack in the pressure hull was so severe that a proper repair was impossible. This was very bad news meaning that the submarine would never be able again to reach her designed deep diving depth of 100 meters. After finishing all possible repairs, YU 3001 departed Pusan on 10 October 1944 and proceeded to Mishima and finally arrived there on 20 October 1944.

Due to her damaged pressure hull, YU 3001 could only be used as a training boat at the Mishima Army Transport Submarine Base. At end of war, YU 3001 was still at Mishima.

“Poor devil!”

MORIOKA MARU was 4,469-ton cargo ship owned by the Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) Line of Tokyo. On 3 July 1941, she was requisitioned by the Imperial Army and allotted Army No. 286. On 2 March 1942, MORIOKA MARU finished loading 4.000 tons of coal at Sakito Harbor, Kakinoura-shima, Nagasaki Prefecture.

On 4 March, at 1000, MORIOKA MARU departed Sakito Harbor for Takao, Taiwan. At about 1130, Oiler 3rd Class Yoshimatsu Saito was just entering the boiler room when he discovered a male stowaway, about 25 or 26 years old. The stowaway was put in handcuffs and immediately brought to the captain´s room. Interrogation by MORIOKA MARU´s Captain Kikuchi Susumu revealed that the stowaway was a coal miner from Sakito who had tried to escape the extreme harsh working conditions that existed there. Captain Kikuchi decided to turn back to Sakito. At about 1207, MORIOKA MARU had just reversed course when she struck a Japanese defensive mine at 32-55.5N, 129-26.4E (177 degrees 5.5 nautical miles from Odate-jima Light). The mine exploded port side between No. 1 and No. 2 holds and tore a huge hole in the hull.

Initially, it was thought that the ship was hit by a torpedo from an enemy submarine. MORIOKA MARU’s stern gun fired two threatening shots. Immediately thereafter, both lifeboats were lowered into the water and Captain Kikuchi ordered all hands to abandon ship. Everyone on board, including the stowaway, got away safely. At 1220, MORIOKA MARU flooded and sank bow first. Later the same day, the survivors were picked up by auxiliary minelayer KINJO MARU (330grt) and landed at Sasebo that evening where two Kempeitai military policemen were awaiting the stowaway and took him away.

On 9 March, in a message regarding this sinking to the Chief of Staff of the Sasebo Naval Station, the Army Shipping Headquarter at Ujina complained that when MORIOKA MARU entered the difficult fairway it received instructions by means of a simple hand-flag from a naval boat and because of poor signalling MORIOKA MARU had not completely received the full content of message.

Captain Kikuchi later faced an investigation at Hiroshima. On 22 May, as a result of the hearings, it was decided that there would be no prosecution against him. Unfortunately, no records have been found about the fate of the poor devil who had tried to escape his terrible working conditions.

“Doolittle´s after-effects”

On 18 April 1942, in the First Bombing of Japan, LtCol (later Gen/Medal of Honor) James H. Doolittle's force of 16 North American B-25 "Mitchell" twin-engine Army bombers of the 17th Bomb Group took off from Captain (later Admiral) Marc A. Mitscher's carrier USS HORNET (CV-8) and struck targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya and Kobe.

Four days later, at 1525, on 21 April, the brand-new flying boat tender AKITSUSHIMA was running official builder trials off Wada-misaki, Kobe when a large airplane approached the vessel. The aircraft was identified as an enemy B-25 bomber! Immediately, AKITSUSHIMA opened fire with her brand-new AA-machine guns. Nearby, at the same time, Settsu Shosen´s passenger ship TENNYO MARU (495grt) was running her regular passenger service between Kobe and Awaji Island ports. At 1528, TENNYO MARU sent an emergency call that she was under machine gun fire thought to come from a large aircraft seen flying in the vicinity.

Finally, it became clear that AKITSUSHIMA had mistaken a Japanese transport plane for a B-25 bomber and that shell splinters from her AA-fire had rained down on nearby TENNYO MARU! The Doolittle Raid had, in deed, left a deep impact on Japanese psychology!