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The Short Life of the

First Japanese Q-Ship


The Delhi Maru was the first Japanese ship specially designed and reconstructed as a Q-ship. The 2,205-ton merchant ship was converted to a decoy ship at Sasebo. She was equipped with sonar, depth-charge launchers, masked gun batteries, and extra watertight compartments meant to keep her afloat and fighting even after one or two torpedo hits. She also carried equipment capable of detonating magnetic torpedoes at a safe distance from the ship. Postwar records indicate the Delhi Maru sailed from Nagaura for her maiden patrol on January 15, 1944, with subchaser Ch-50 and net-layer Tatu Maru on an anti-submarine sweep in heavy seas. The previous day an American submarine torpedoed and sank the 6,921-ton cargo ship Yamakuni Maru at 33° 16′ 60.000″ N, 139° 39′ 60.000″ E. The Deli Maru and her companions were dispatched to entice the pesky submarine and destroy it. The unwitting submarine was the USS Swordfish (SS-193). On December 29, 1943, she had shoved off from Midway on her tenth patrol with Captain Karl G. Hensel at the helm. Her orders placed her in the seas south of Tokyo. Around ten o’clock on the night of January 15, 1944 the submarine heard echo-ranging from the hunters. A bit later Swordfish made radar contact at 14,000 yards. Hensel closed the contact at full speed on the surface. At periscope depth Hensel spotted the converted maru with what he called two torpedo boat escorts at 6,000 yards. The Q-ship suddenly zigged presenting a port track. From 1,500 yards Hensel fired three Mark 14-3A torpedoes at the enemy’s new decoy. In his patrol report Hensel wrote that three high order torpedo hits were seen and heard. The target was obscured by smoke plumes rising to 200 feet fifteen seconds after the torpedoes hit. From 0025 to 0040 hours, many loud explosions were heard through the hull. Hensel opined that the ship was probably carrying ammunition. Japanese records indicate that at 0020 hours on January 16, the Q-ship was hit by all three torpedoes in her portside bow. She broke in two and her forward part sank. Ch-50 dropped ten depth charges, but Swordfish escaped undamaged. The subchaser then attempted to take the Q-ship’s after part in tow. At 0340 hours, a large wave struck the remains of the Q-ship, causing it to sink at 34° 12′ 0.000″ N, 139° 54′ 0.000″ E. Ch-50 rescued thirty-five crewmen, including the captain. One hundred and sixty-one personnel were lost. The subchaser’s captain reported they had destroyed the American submarine. The Delhi Maru’s career as the first Japanese Q-ship lasted less than twenty-four hours.

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