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Leyte - I-58

(Japanese submarine I-58; at Brunei, preparing to weigh anchor for the Philippines)

“Musashi plunged his spear into the ocean bed. Pulling it up, sand and earth dripped from its point. This became the Home Islands.”

Japanese creation myth



IJN Yamato plowed easily through the small swells, making a firm 15 knots as she and her ‘core’ force of four additional battleships (including Yamato’s sister-ship, Musashi), ten heavy cruisers and two light cruisers steamed north toward the Philippines. Ahead of and beside the core were fifteen destroyers in a screen-formation. Ahead of the destroyers and unseen over the horizon were ten submarines, acting as screen-and-picket for the fleet.

Admiral Tanaka raised his right index finger, catching the eye of the yeoman in the wardroom.

Yeoman Hishida trotted to face the admiral, and stood to attention.

Ocha”, said Tanaka. Hai!”, responded Hishida, and trotted to the door.

He returned in a minute with a tea service, pouring Tanaka and Admiral Morishita a cup each, returning to his station by the door.

“To victory, Morishita.”, said Tanaka, holding his ceramic cup in front of him. Morishita returned the gesture, and they drank.

“Morishita, do you know why I’ve asked to see you?”, said Tanaka, standing in front of the map-board with his pointer.

“I imagine it’s to ensure I’m on board, as they say.” said Morishita.

“It’s more than that, Morishita. Look here.” Tanaka nodded to the map of the United States which he’d has the yeoman put on the map board a few minutes before. Tanaka used his pointer to touch a spot in the north-central part of the country.

“Can you read that name, Morishita?”

“Man-ee-tow-wock”, said Morishita, doing his best to pronounce the unfamiliar word.

“Manitowoc.”, corrected Tanaka, still looking at the map. “And, do you know what they make there?”

“I haven’t a clue, Admiral.”, said Morishita.

“Submarines. They manufacture submarines in the north-central part of the United States.” Morishita’s eyes grew wide.

“I processed intelligence reports for over a year while I was commanding a desk in Burma,” continued Tanaka, “and I learned a lot about the Americans. They build submarines in Manitowoc; a city in their state of Wis-kahn-sinn.”, Tanaka said, working his Japanese tongue around another unfamiliar Native American word.

He then scribed his pointer in a broad arc across the map. “They then sail them through these lakes and through the seaway here to the Atlantic. Let that soak in for a moment. The Americans have the resources to build submarines in the center of their country, and send them over 1,500 miles to the sea.”

Morishita looked sober. Tanaka continued. “Morishita, we have no hope of beating these people if this war continues. This is the last battle. Do you understand?”

“I think so,” replied Morishita. “Although, it is wise not to say these things too loudly.”, he added.

Tanaka quickly turned to face Morishita. “Was that a threat, Admiral? Because if you don’t agree with me, you can tell me now.”

Morishita paused. He knew that to state any disagreement with Tanaka now would result in his immediate dismissal and confinement to quarters. He said, “No, admiral – I’m simply stating a fact. Better me than someone else.”

Tanaka grinned. “Sorry, Morishita. My apologies. My mouth has gotten me into trouble since the beginning of my career, and I’m not likely to change. However, I need to know that you are in this with me, completely. I’ve made a lot of changes which I know are unpopular with Admiral Toyoda, but which are necessary for victory. I will need your help to run the coming battle from Yamato.”

Morishita said, “You mean — ” He cut himself off, knowing the obvious answer.

“Yes, Morishita. I’ve been given complete command of this operation, effective today.” Tanaka showed Morishita the communication. “Let me show you what I’ve done.”

Tanaka turned to the wardroom-table, where the map of the Philippines and the operational movements and order-of-battle for Operation Sho-Go 1 was still laid out. “This operation was conceived during the first part of the war. It had a number of flaws which we did not anticipate.”

Using his pointer, he touched Leyte Island. “We have 400 aircraft ratholed in and about Tacloban, including some of the later-model J2M Raiden interceptors. The Americans, however, have been raiding the airfield for the past few days.”

He continued, “I’ve requested 100,000 Marines to be landed here,” he pointed to the northern part of the island, “but Combined Fleet headquarters can only promise me half that number. We’ll have to use them to keep that airfield. The Americans never attack something they don’t want to capture – -and that field will either be ours for combat air patrol over the fleet, or it’ll be a sanctuary for them.”

“This,” Tanaka pointed to the eastern part of the island, “is the only place the Americans can land in force. This is where we will drop our bombardment anchors, and sink anything we see.”

Morishita said, “Will the Americans have disembarked by then? No sense in sinking empty transports.”

Tanaka continued, “Admiral Toyoda wanted me to wait a month to attack. A MONTH! The Americans would have been ASHORE by that time, Morishita! They’ve assembled one of the biggest invasion fleets in history, and they wanted me to WAIT!”

Tanaka took a deep breath. “Apologies. However, you see what I mean.”
“What of the other two groups?” said Morishita.

“Ozawa has broadcast a LOT of clear-traffic, along with coded material, to see that Halsey gets it. To our knowledge, the Americans still don’t have our code, but I’ve been suspicious for several months. Regardless, Ozawa should be enough ‘bait’ to draw Halsey away.”

Tanaka continued, “Admiral Nishimura is under my direct command, with the second force here,” he pointed in an arc from Brunei to the eastern Philippines. “They are steaming at flank speed to get here, as the other ‘arm’ of the pincer. We’re bringing additional aircraft to outlying bases on Luzon to support our fleet.”

“You see,” he continued, “we are going to have to deal the Americans an overwhelming blow – something which will force their people to demand peace.”

“Is that possible?” said Morishita.

“Yes,” said Tanaka. “It is possible. You see, the Americans have two things which are their greatest strengths, and also their greatest weaknesses. It is their unbridled freedom, combined with their belief in themselves.”

Tanaka continued, “Morishita, after the Philippine Sea engagement, the Americans believe that they’ve won the war. They believe they’ll be largely unopposed from here on. They believe we’re beaten. Did you know, however, that one of their newspaper publishers, a man named Hearst, has been calling for an end to this war for nearly a year now? I’ve seen his writing. The Americans permit this. You see, the American people actually elect the government there. That’s hard for us to understand, but they do everything that way. They even choose their own marriage partners.”

Morishita shook his head. “Strange.”, he replied.
Tanaka finished, “If we can deal them a blow which their newspapermen and radio will report widely, we have a chance to force them to seek peace. Otherwise, the war is lost.”

Morishita said, “Why is the war lost?”

Tanaka pointed to the outer ring of islands north of the Philippines. “Because the Americans will take these next, and then bring their heavy bombers to airfields within striking distance of Japan. With the Philippines gone, the Americans will have a perfect staging-ground to launch attacks against the Home Islands.”

“Their navy is a sledgehammer, Morishita,” said Tanaka. “They will use it again and again to beat the door open. When they are done, it is their air force which will do the real work. No, Morishita – the real threat is from the air. That’s why we have to win. Even if it costs us everything.”

Morishita nodded, understanding the enormity. “You have my support, Admiral.” said Morishita, offering his hand. Tanaka shook it enthusiastically.

“Now, go get some sleep,” said Tanaka, “because you’re going to need it.”


Lieutenant-Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto was on the squawk-box with his engineering officer. “Yoshida! What’s the engine-status?” Hashimoto didn’t like yelling, but it was necessary to be heard over the deafening roar in the engine room. He was also worried about the engines – I-58 had been launched not two months earlier, and the engines hadn’t been properly run-in yet.

“We’re fine, Commander! Thank you!” replied Ensign Yoshida. “Fifteen knots are a bit high as a cruising speed, but the engines are holding up well!”

Hashimoto killed the squawk and turned to his executive officer. “So, the men are disgruntled?”

Lieutenant Suzuki, Hashimoto’s executive officer aboard I-58, replied, “They’re wondering why we put to sea with torpedoes in the tubes, especially when we’ve trained them that it’s dangerous to do so. They also wonder why we’ve stacked torpedoes two-deep on the floor of the torpedo room as well as the torpedo-racks. They’re wondering why we’re pushing the engines. What do I tell them, sir?”

Hashimoto smiled. “Yoshida, you may tell them through their petty-officers that, offhand, we imagine Combined Fleet expects us to fire them all at the enemy, and to get there as soon as possible to do so.”

Yoshida smiled in return. “I see your point, Captain. Regardless, removing our float-plane from the deck-hangar and loading that with torpedoes also is a serious risk. What if one is dislodged? How will we even use them?”

“Yoshida, first, there’s something you know well. Orders come from above, not below. Secondly, I imagine they’ll want us to surface, use the floatplane-crane, and load the spares through the torpedo-hatch. This, of course assumes we can surface and do so without risk of aircraft attack.”

Hashimoto continued. “Tanaka, the new fleet-admiral, came up with a plan. I might as well tell you now, as we’re at sea.” Yoshida leaned forward over the cutaway-plan of their submarine, I-58.

“This boat is new. We put to sea early, and that was because Combined Fleet needed every ship it could muster for this operation. You see, we’re going to do something other than what we were designed to do. We’re not carrying kaiten on this mission, you know that. We’re carrying torpedoes – and we’re going to fire massive spreads of them. Tanaka has a theory that if we act as a ‘torpedo shotgun’, we can cover the fleet BEFORE they engage the enemy. We’ll be doing this just as a destroyer would do – fire, turn, and run. Prior to that, we’ll be lining up targets and firing just as we would normally – but we’re going to be a picket-screen for the fleet, rather than hunting independently.”

Yoshida’s eyes widened. “I see. And, due to the narrow passages in which we’ll be operating in the Philippines, the enemy will not be able to fan-out as he would normally.”

“Exactly, Yoshida. Normally, a confined area is a disadvantage to an attacker. Tanaka is turning the tables on the Americans, just as he did at Tassafaronga. We’re under orders to get there first, and sink anything we can see. That’s why we and the other boats in our class are up front – – we’ve got radar, and we can ‘see’ for the fleet before they reach the horizon.”

Yoshida said, “Thank you, Captain! How much of this may I tell the men?”

Hashimoto smiled. “Just that first part. About firing our torpedoes at the enemy and getting there first.” he said.

Hashimoto turned to the conning-tower ladder and undogged the hatch. He wanted some fresh air – and he liked the camaraderie of the lookouts. Their raunchy jokes aside, salt air, spray, and the sun on the sea would do him good.

“A raunchy joke or two wouldn’t hurt, either.” he thought, as he climbed the ladder….

(Next — Tacloban)


One Comment

  1. You are an amazing writer.

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