© 1996 Allyn D. Nevitt

Destroyer Division One: War in the Back Waters

Destroyer Division 1 comprised three Minekaze-class vessels, NAMIKAZE, NOKAZE, and NUMAKAZE, in addition to the lead ship of the follow-on class, KAMIKAZE. The three MINEKAZEs had been completed to an improved design which made them almost identical to the KAMIKAZEs, and they worked well together. KAMIKAZE served as flag to Captain Kagawa Kiyoto, Comdesdiv 1, who in turn reported to the Ominato Guard District in northern Japan.

These elderly vessels were withheld from Japan's early offensive operations, being retained instead on defensive patrols in northern Empire waters, from Hokkaido to the Chishimas (Kuriles). They played only minor roles in the Aleutian operations of mid-1942, though KAMIKAZE and NUMAKAZE helped to screen Aleutians-bound supply traffic between Ominato and Paramushiro through the end of the year.

Patrol and escort duties along Japan's northeastern seaboard continued as Desdiv 1's lot for most of the war. By 1943 their area of responsibility had been extended to include much of Honshu as well, with NAMIKAZE and NOKAZE operating as far south as Ise Bay and Yokosuka, respectively. On 2 June 1943 NUMAKAZE suffered heavy damage in a collision with destroyer SHIRAKUMO off Cape Lopatka and remained under repair at Ominato through 11 September. In the meantime NAMIKAZE and NOKAZE were placed on alert by Fifth Fleet for the Kiska evacuation in July, but performed only back-up duties.

On 12 January 1943 Captain Kagawa, taking a giant step forward to command of the new YUGUMOs of Desdiv 31, had been relieved by Commander Wakida Kiichiro. When Wakida in turn moved up to command of Desdiv 21 on 20 August 1943 he was replaced by Commander Watanabe Yasumasa, who soon chose freshly-repaired NUMAKAZE as his flagship.

Near the end of 1943, with Ominato largely ice-bound, Desdiv 1 was called on to lend assistance on the Empire's more southerly shipping routes, and NUMAKAZE and NAMIKAZE headed south from Otaru on 18 November. On 1 December NAMIKAZE cleared Moji for a brief stint of escort duty in Indochinese waters. NUMAKAZE followed just a few days later, leaving Moji on 5 December with a Formosa-bound convoy, but then became Desdiv 1's first war loss during the convoy's return to Japan when waylaid and sunk south of Okinawa on 18 December by submarine USS GRAYBACK (SS-208). NUMAKAZE had dropped behind the convoy to hunt the sub that had just sunk freighter GYOKUREI MARU, and was charging down GRAYBACK's wake when caught in a four-torpedo spread that exploded and sank her with all hands. Commander Watanabe perished with NUMAKAZE, and Lieutenant Commander Ebihara Tarou of NOKAZE assumed the "added duties" of Comdesdiv 1 from then on.

The other Desdiv 1 ships were all refitted at Hakodate during the winter of 1943/44, then resumed their Northern Area duties for the remainder of 1944. NAMIKAZE returned from Indochina to rejoin her sisters on the Hokkaido-Chishima sealanes in March, then on 18 September was torpedoed by USS SEAL (SS-183). With her stern blown off, she had to be towed by KAMIKAZE into Otaru for emergency shoring, then was gotten to Maizuru on 26 September for definitive repairs.

In the course of being repaired NAMIKAZE was converted to a Kaiten carrier, with her stern pared down to the waterline to enable the suicide craft to be launched over rails. At the same time one boiler and most of her armament was removed. This work was completed on 1 February 1945, and NAMIKAZE was posted to the western Inland Sea for training. But the only further action she would see was sweeping those waters for mines dropped by B-29s. NAMIKAZE ended the war at Kure.

KAMIKAZE and NOKAZE were both docked at Ominato for maintenance in December 1944, then left the Northern Area for the final time to join the Empire's harried escort forces on her ever-shrinking sealanes to the south. They departed Moji on 26 January 1945 to escort Convoy HI-91 to Singapore, but after the early sinkings of SANUKI MARU and escort KUME, were detached (probably survivor-laden) to Mako. From there they sortied again on 11 February to meet and augment the screen of oil-laden battleships ISE and HYUGA as they returned to Japan from Singapore. Rendezvous was effected on the 14th, but the old engines of Ebihara's two destroyers were strained in keeping up with the 18-knot fleet speed, and they were released the next day to proceed independently to Singapore. ISE and HYUGA frustrated the efforts of several American submarines sent to intercept them, but one of these, USS PARGO (SS-264), gained a measure of satisfaction on 20 February when she torpedoed and sank NOKAZE in a night surface attack near Camranh Bay. NOKAZE thus became the last of 39 Japanese destroyers to be sunk by United States subs in the Pacific War. KAMIKAZE was able to rescue 21 survivors, including Lieutenant Commander Ebihara, but he would die the following month when the ship carrying him back to Japan from Singapore was itself sunk.

KAMIKAZE continued south to reach Singapore on 22 February, then closed out the war performing transport missions out of that base. In the course of these she assumed the role of savior in two of the Imperial Navy's final tragedies. KAMIKAZE was with heavy cruiser HAGURO on a food transport run to the Andaman Islands on 16 May 1945 when the cruiser was intercepted and sunk by a flotilla of five British destroyers. Ordered away at the last minute, KAMIKAZE outran her pursuers, then returned the next day to pick 320 HAGURO survivors out of the water. Just a few weeks later she departed Batavia with heavy cruiser ASHIGARA on a troop transport mission. When, on 8 June, that cruiser was in turn sunk by submarine HMS TRENCHANT in the Bangka Strait, KAMIKAZE successfully evaded a similar ambush by HMS STYGIAN to rescue 853 ASHIGARA crewmen and 400 soldiers. KAMIKAZE herself then completed two transport runs to Indochina out of Singapore, and at war's end remained undamaged at that base.

Both KAMIKAZE and NAMIKAZE were eventually ceded to China following repatriation duty. KAMIKAZE went aground near Omaezaki and was wrecked before she could be turned over to the Chinese, but NAMIKAZE served them until 1963 as the SHEN YANG.

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