© 2001 Anthony P. Tully

Special Presentation to My Board Posters

5 August 2001

Regular visitors to this site may recall that a precisely 20:01 hours on June 1st, poster "Tiornu" happened to make the 1,000th post on this board. `Admiral Gurita' pointed out in post 1012 that this meant 1,000 posts in less than a year and suggested some kind of `prize' in jest. Also clowning, Tiornu replied that he wished to `claim Akizuki as his prize'! It just so happened that a fully detailed account of Akizuki's obscure explosion and sinking in the Battle of Cape Engano had just come into my hands via Allyn Nevitt. The description was in the issue of `Gakken' on the Akizuki-class destroyers [full ref/order info pending]. The timing was positively karmic, so I announced that when the translation was available, it would be `awarded as prize'. Thanks to Mr. Sander Kingsepp who provided a skilled and informative translation and Mr. Allyn Nevitt for the reference to the article, I can now fulfill our little version of `crossing the line' for all those who make this discussion site a success. ;-)

So, as requested by the recipient, without further adieu, "This account of the neglected sinking of IJN Destroyer AKIZUKI is dedicated to `Lord Tiornu, Master of all Elvenkind, Seeker of the Eternal Flame and Waterer of Trees' :-) and in fact to all the visitors to my discussion board here whose input and correspondence have proved invaluable. Unusual or unknown sources and pictures I never imagined have come to me in correspondence and I hope I have been able to do a bit of the same in turn. Thanks also are due to my cohort Jon Parshall whose first site was inspiration to my own going online and posting!

For now, I am posting this only on my discussion board for its patrons. Please forgive the rough form of this presentation, which will be updated and edited for the Mysteries page when time permits. A family medical mishap has impacted my time, and I didn't want to withhold posting the `award' any longer than necessary.

The Sinking of AKIZUKI - A Sudden but Obscure Fate Unveiled

Tony Tully with translations by Mr. Sander Kingsepp

In the issue of Gakken dealing with AKIZUKI there turns out to be a fairly full account of her loss and some survivor stories that throw much light on the last moments of the ill-fated AA destroyer. Mr. Sander Kingsepp kindly translated and rendered a detailed summary of the account. However, while rather detailed about the ship's extremis and onboard events, not much context or outside markers of time are given. So I preface this with explicit references drawn from action reports of other ships used in my Total Eclipse book's account of Cape Engano. These help fill in the gaps and clarify the chronology. Where applicable, I will insert comments in [brackets ].

I am aware that USS HALIBUT is sometimes credited with torpedoeing AKIZUKI, but this seems ruled out by the timing of events. The AKIZUKI turns out to have been lost in the first attack waves to hit Ozawa's Mobile Fleet off Cape Engano, and thus, at the time, the original formation was roughly intact. The four carriers were in the usual box, except that this box was stretched out so that the two lead carriers, one Ozawa's own ZUIKAKU, were well ahead of the other two, and in fact, the formation almost immediately broke up into two separate rings of two carriers each.

In the lead ring, at the time of the first attack starting to break around 0820, the OYODO was in the lead point position of the formation with the AKIZUKI on her port quarter and the TAMA on her starboard quarter. Behind these three ships came the ZUIHO with ZUIKAKU on the former's starboard beam. On the flagship's starboard beam steamed the HATSUZUKI with WAKATSUKI astern and to port bringing up the rear of the formation was the ISE. Further astern, almost in a second ring formation, came the CHITOSE and CHIYODA in similar arrangement. The ISUZU led the formation point with the SHIMOTSUKI and MAKI in the front and the KIRI and SUGI bringing up the rear.

At 0825 the ZUIKAKU was dive-bombed, and then at 0831 the ZUIHO was bombed in turn. At 0835 the ZUIHO logged a bomb hit on the stern of her flight deck and began flooding her aft magazine as a precaution, and three minutes later she began direct steering. At 0842 the SHIMOTSUKI from a position port of the CHIYODA and astern of AKIZUKI observed that the AKIZUKI had been 'bombed and was afire'. White smoke at first, then torpedoes seemed to explode and at 0850 AKIZUKI broke in two and sank.' OYODO reported that she was on AKIZUKI's starboard bow at the time [correct from chart] when white smoke came forth, turned black, then at once showed a fireball that burst within an `eyeblink. AKIZUKI broke in two and sank.' At 0848 a bomb hit OYODO, damaging her No.4 boiler room. At 0850 the ZUIHO resumed normal steering, and had a three degree list to port. At 0856, ZUIHO logged the attack as over.

As can be seen, there is not much there, but what is seems unarguable. Akizuki is gone before 0900. The records of the other ships confirm a pattern of bombing from about 0825 to 0845, covering the time range of AKIZUKI's damage.

Now here is what the Gakken's account says, paraphrased in translation:

`AKIZUKI opened fire at 0825. Approximately twenty minutes later (around 0845) she was shaken by a violent explosion amidships. Ten minutes later (0855, i.e. ca 10 minutes prior to HALIBUT's attack) she sank. After the explosion, Akizuki "jackknifed" slowly, with her forward part listing to port and stern to starboard. The explosion put all engines and boilers, as well as auxiliary machinery out of action; 78 members of the "black gang" (including Chief Engineer) perished instantly. All lights went out and the DD lost power. AA guns were thus rendered inoperable and the Chief Gunnery Officer gave the order to abandon battle stations. One popular legend claims that AKIZUKI's fore turrets continued to fire until the very moment she went down. As all power was lost with the explosion, this would been impossible. The CO of the turret No. 2 Takagi Yoshio (no rank given) described the situation there as follows:

"First I heard a violent explosion which rocked the whole destroyer. All power was gone at once. Soon thereafter the order 'Abandon ship!' was given. I yelled to my gunners: "The destroyer is going to sink! All hands, assemble on upper deck!" The middle part of AKIZUKI started to sink, while the bow was slowly rising. We assembled on the port side of our turret. I wanted to be sure that everybody was present but there was no time even for that. Near the bridge some sailors were already jumping into sea. The bow was still rising and I was about to lose my footing on the sloping deck. Finally I jumped, too."

The fuze setter of the third turret, Okamoto Michii confirmed: "It was around 8 o'clock a.m., when we were attacked by a large formation of enemy carrier planes. The order 'Commence firing!' was given after a couple of minutes and we opened up. Suddenly there was a shattering explosion and I was thrown against the bulkhead. Simultaneously all lights in the turret went out. Black stifling smoke was pouring out from the lower compartment. I tried to get out but the door was jammed by the shock wave of the explosion. Fortunately there was a small window /providing additional light/ and we all managed to squeeze ourselves out through it. There seemed to be nobody moving on the afterdeck any longer."

As said, almost the entire engineering division was wiped out. Boiler room No. 1 doubled as boiler division command station. Chief Stoker Lt. (jg) Yamamoto Heimi or ?Hiraya stationed there described how the whole compartment was instantly filled with superheated 350 centigrade steam; most of its crew was either badly scalded or killed on their stations. The explosion had ripped a circular hole into the roof of the forward engine room where a quad torpedo mount was located; after the explosion it was vanished. Most likely it was the same mount that doomed AKIZUKI. To quote Yamamoto who had escaped from his compartment:

"I tried to reach the forward engine room where the engine command station was located. To get to the afterdeck turned out to be impossible: a large cylindrical hole (i.e. extending downwards) was torn from near the port side edge to starboard... When I looked into that hole I saw that the whole compartment was filled with a mixture of sea water and fuel oil; the turbine casing was barely visible. I knew already that Chief Engineer, his assistant and most of the others were killed. Thus I assumed that in engine spaces and boiler rooms everybody had perished as well. Only a couple of shipmates from the forward boiler room managed to escape."

Except Yamamoto two more stokers managed to escape from the forward boiler room. They were the sole survivors of the whole "black gang" (of four stokers previously assigned to AA guns' "shell brigade" two more perished). Nakajima Naoshi manning one of the emergency pumps beneath the AA gun mount No. 1, described the situation at the stern: "A heavy explosion brought our DD to halt. I fell and lost consciousness for a while. When I woke up, I was lying in the midst of dangling wires, cables and flakes of paint, knocked off from the hull side. My killed shipmates were lying in a sorry heap at starboard. Blood was coursing around in the compartment like sea water. When 'Abandon ship!' was sounded and the ship was breaking in two, I did not jump. The bow was high enough, so that I could slip myself down the anchor cable. The members of the port damage control team helped me to escape. They told me that the chief damage control officer who had been on the afterdeck prior to the attack, was killed as well." Nakajima also remembered that only one (starboard) whaleboat could be lowered.

`AKIZUKI's CO [Cdr. Ogata Tomoe] first refused to leave the ship, stating: "Now I have lost a total of three Emperor's warships. I'll stay here. It is my responsibility." A popular legend claims that he was forcibly removed by either Communication or Navigation Officer, both of whom also managed to escape. As a matter of fact, they managed to convince their skipper to abandon ship just at the last moment. AKIZUKI had received a fresh coat of camouflage prior to battle; thus her sinking was "spectacularly beautiful to see", as one sailor noted.

One hundred fifty of AKIZUKI's crew (including surviving key officers) were rescued by MAKI, although her skipper LtCdr Ishizuka Sakae had received no order to care for survivors. As a result, she lagged behind the rest of Ozawa's fleet for a while. Badly burned Lt. (jg) Yamamoto was the last one to be rescued (ca one hour after AKIZUKI went down) when MAKI was attacked by U.S. planes and had to leave at least 20 more survivors behind. MAKI was strafed and bombed (no hits); 31 of her crew also perished, as well as 4 AKIZUKI survivors. Once on Amami-Oshima, AKIZUKI survivors were transferred to ISE. One previously wounded sailor died during a surgery performed aboard her. Thus there were a total of 145 survivors and 183 seamen KIA.'

[End translation excerpts].

Commentary: As can be seen here, the accounts all agree that AKIZUKI exploded and sank prior to 0900, and more specifically, the survivor's recollection of `around 0845' for the initial explosion is given more precisely as 0842 by the ZUIHO. Though I myself have not yet seen TF 38 air attack reports, veterans can probably figure out from this who struck AKIZUKI. The famous photograph seen is taken about 0845, as the superheated white steam pouring out begins to change to a large explosion. The ISE and ZUIHO can be seen manoeuvring in the background, exactly where they should be.

In summary, the dramatic accounts tell this story: at 0842 the AKIZUKI was shaken by a tremendous explosion, the brunt of which was apparently located at the Torpedo Tube mount and blew a hole in the roof of the forward engine room from starboard nearly to port. The No.1 boiler room immediately filled with superheated steam, the bulk of the `black gang' scalding to death or being killed by the explosion. It is this white cloud and column the SHIMOTSUKI observed towering up and was caught by the cameras before she broke in two. All power and lights were lost at once, and the badly damaged hull began to break in two. The ship's captain, Commander Ogata Tomoe gave the order to Abandon Ship and despite an intention to go down with her, was eventually persuaded by his bridge officers to evacuate at the last moment. The AKIZUKI began to jacknife, probably breaking at the forward engine room at the hole described above. The forward section heeled to port as the bow rose, and the stern section bent and corkscrewed to starboard. The entire ship had sunk beneath the waves by 0900 it appears.

What had happened? The Japanese genuinely were uncertain, but the photographs and survivors all absolutely agree perfectly on the where. The blast is centered at the forward engine room and at the Torpedo Tube mount above it. What is not clear is if the TT exploded AFTER a blast in the engine room, or if the TT exploding is what blasted the engine room. Fragments from near-miss bombs, a bomb hit, or a torpedo hit were all considered possibilities. The odds are that it was a torpedo hit in the starboard side (since the hole seemed greater there from the above), and such a wake was reported. To make the matter more confusing, a vague mention in BKS reports that a post-war inquiry led by Captain Kawazaki Isamu of Torpedo Operations found that AKIZUKI had been "damaged at keel by torpedo or bomb, and pulled down into the water. Torpedo sighted, being unnavigable, couldn't avoid and crew at bridge had been watching torpedo miss stern". My translation at the time was limited, and this is a bit garbled, but seems to suggest that the hit came when attention was diverted to a torpedo passing aft. Alternatively, it almost seems to be saying that AKIZUKI had suffered her explosion, only to sight a torpedo and be hit a SECOND time, and then sunk. It will be necessary to re-translate this short blurb in BKS.

Finally, it is noted above that the translation mentioned "some ten minutes" before HALIBUT's attack, so it appears the Japanese themselves have become confused as to the time of the submarine's attack. In fact, the USS HALIBUT according to her patrol report on 25 October commenced firing six torpedoes at a BB in formation at 1843:36 and the first explosion was recorded at 1847:50 followed by more detonations at 1848:08, 1848:53,1849:30 and 1850:10. Moderate explosions were then recorded at 1850:37 and 1850:44, followed by a very loud triple explosion 1851:44. The last explosion was followed a prolonged heavy reverberation. As can be seen, in no possible way do the times line up. The MAKI had even completed rescue before noon. It seems then, whatever HALIBUT hit, it cannot have been AKIZUKI. (Times and patrol report quotes kindly provided by another of our posters, Mr. Brian Viglietti].

Regarding MAKI's role, the official reports confirm most of the recollections but clash on one point. The statement implying the last AKIZUKI survivor was rescued one hour after she sank, thus, about 1000, squares well with the evidence, for it is interesting to notice that at 1320 she is circling the unnavigable CHIYODA, and still at it at 1250 when with SHIMOTSUKI and HYUGA leave her and head north. The rescue thus did clearly take place right after the sinking, and LtCdr Sakae must have simply set course for the wreck the moment he came upon it from the trailing position of the second ring. No conflict here.

However, the claim that MAKI was not hit is directly contradicted by the Mobile Fleet War Diary damage summary which says MAKI received one direct bomb hit that put the No.1 boiler room out of action, cut speed to 20 knots, and damaged the torpedo tubes. In addition, the steam pipe leading to the anchor windlass was cut, making it unuseable. The damage described is all perfectly consistent with a bomb hit amidships on a MATSU-class, which would indeed damage the TT and hit the No.1 boiler room [set to the port side]. One might also suspect that the body count of 31 MAKI and 4 AKIZUKI survivors is also suggestive of some damage more like this. The summary does not mention the time of the bomb damage however, but probably came during the attack around 1400 that also hits ISUZU with a bomb.

At 1440 ISUZU orders MAKI to remove CHIYODA's crew, but of course MAKI was already well north, and at 1525 replied that she was retiring on course 0 degrees. At 1751 MAKI signaled ISUZU that she was down to 90 tons of fuel, so was heading to catch up to and rejoin OYODO. Thus, as sunset approached MAKI was trying to catch Ozawa, but by 1300 26 October, she had not done so, and Ozawa reported her missing with some anxiety. However, it turned out she had joined SUGI and at 0930 26 October arrived at Takao, Formosa. They didn't stay, but immediately set forth again, and at 1600 the same day MAKI and SUGI arrived at Nakagasuku Wan. After proceeding via Amami Oshima on the 29th, they arrived at Kure 30 October 1944. - Tony

Sincere Thanks to All!
Tony Tully 5 August 2001

Back to Combined Fleet's Discussion & Question Board

A.P. "Tony" Tully
E-Mails to: tullyfleet - gmail.com

Back to Combined Fleet Page