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Japanese Aviator Rescues

By U. S. Submarines

In World War II


I extend my thanks to Ric Hedman, the Webmaster of PigBoats.com, for planting the seed in my mind which has resulted in this webpage. So far I have found records of seven events when American submarines pulled downed Japanese aviation personnel out of the sea. There are without doubt many other instances of such rescues which I have not yet come across in my research and reading. Therefore, this presentation will be updated as I discover other verifiable reports of lifeguard services extended to the enemy. As is always the case with my ongoing projects, I welcome your comments on and contributions to this list.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the source for the information and quotes contained in this Web page is John Clear's collection of more than 63,000 pages of U. S. submarine World War II patrol reports, compiled from original U. S. Government microfilms.


01  13-Feb-43, USS Amberjack (SS-219), War Patrol No. 3, LCDR J. A. Bole, Jr.

After a false start on January 24, 1943, when the Amberjack had to return to the Task Force 42 base at Brisbane for repairs of several minor leaks, on January 26th she got underway again, captained by Lieutenant Commander John A. Bole, Jr., for her third and final war patrol. She had orders to patrol in the Solomon Islands area. The Amberjack's last radio transmission was on February 14, 1943, when she reported having been forced down on the 13th by two IJN destroyers and that she had recovered an enemy aviator from the water and taken him prisoner. After that message, she was never heard from again.


02  01-Apr-44, USS Tunny (SS-282), War Patrol No. 5, LCDR J. A. Scott

On April 1, 1944, the USS Tunny came across a Japanese airman swimming some thirty miles west of Palau. The crew maneuvered the submarine alongside him, but despite having no life jacket and being circled by two large sharks, he refused rescue. The same morning, however, the Tunny crew persuaded another downed aviator to board the submarine. The prisoner, a nineteen-year-old Zero pilot shot down the previous day, proved "a model prisoner and quite willing to talk." (Quote from Sturma, Michael, Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific, p. 148-149.)


03  28-May-44, USS Barb (SS-220), War Patrol No. 8, LCDR E. B. Fluckey

On May 28, 1944, at 1030 hours, the USS Barb "Picked up Jap Zoomie rubber boat." The rescue occurred at the geographic position 44° 45' 06" N, 151° 30' 01" E. (Quote from USS Barb's eighth war patrol report, p. 154.  Also see Thunder Below!, by Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey, p. 15-19.)


04  14-Sep-44, USS Seahorse (SS-304), War Patrol No. 6, CDR H. H. Greer, Jr.

On September 14, 1944, at 12° 24' 60.000" N, 127° 29' 0.000" E, Seahorse sighted three Japanese men in the water. Since there was no wreckage in sight, it was believed these men must have been the crew of a plane. The captain gave the order to pick up one of them to take back for interrogation by naval intelligence. They selected the man who seemed to be the most desirous of being picked up. After the prisoner was brought aboard subsequent events were to prove he was a bad choice. He was suffering from shock, exposure, and serious wounds. The pharmacist's mate began working on him, but the prisoner soon lapsed into unconsciousness and died. He was buried at sea. The captain ordered that one of the two men still in the water be retrieved. However, only one was seen afloat so he was brought aboard. It was later determined that he was a fourth survivor who they had missed earlier. His clothing and equipment verified that he and the men in the water were members of a ditched plane crew. The prisoner also verified this fact later via sign language. "Eventually the crew warmed to the young man, identified as Seiza Mitsuma, a seventeen-year-old bomber radio operator. When the Seahorse made an attack, Mitsuma was handcuffed to a bunk in the crew's quarters and kept under armed guard. After several weeks, though, he was given a degree of freedom and put to work cleaning and cooking. As described by one of the Seahorse crew, yeoman Dell Brooks, he was 'Really a nice kid and the entire crew took to him.'" (Quote from Sturma, Michael, Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific, p. 148.)


05  16-Feb-45, USS Pomfret (SS-391), War Patrol No. 4, LCDR J. B. Hess

The Pomfret's fourth war patrol was conducted in the Nanpo Shoto and Bungo Suido areas. The Pomfret was a member of a coordinated attack group consisting of the USS Piper (SS-409), the USS Bowfin (SS-287), the USS Trepang (SS-412), the USS Sterlet (SS-392), and the Pomfret with the CO of the Piper as the group commander. Their mission was lifeguard duty, picket boat sweeps, and offensive patrol. The Pomfret's patrol resulted in the rescue of two friendly aviators, the capture of two prisoners (one a Japanese aviator), and assistance to the American air forces in destroying two enemy planes. The Pomfret penetrated to within nine miles of Joga Shima in the approaches to Tokyo Bay in the performance of her lifeguard duties. On February 16, 1945, at 1523 hours, the Pomfret sighted a Japanese rubber life raft bearing 340 relative at about 2,500 yards. There was one Japanese naval aviator on the raft. As they maneuvered to pick him up he pulled off his lifejacket and made a determined effort to drown himself. However, he was not able to hold his head underwater long enough to do the trick. Finally after 37 minutes he gave up the struggle and came aboard. He was stripped and turned over to the pharmacist's mate. They took from him two condoms and a small memo book about two thirds full of Japanese writing. Despite the fact the prisoner could speak some English, he was not interrogated as Captain Hess decided to leave that to professionals. On February 17, 1945, at 1740 hours, they sighted one frantically waving Japanese male in a small swamped row boat. As the Pomfret came alongside he stopped waving and held his hands up. When he realized the Pomfret was there to rescue and not to shoot him, he jumped in the water and swam to the submarine. The deck crew took him aboard and he behaved like a friendly and fawning puppy, saying, "Thank you, thank you! Me a little Jap newspaper boy!" Captain Hess opined he was so effervescent that it was going to be difficult to make the crew treat him purely as a POW for the next five or six weeks. He had a naval field cap on when picked up. Captain Hess doubted the prisoner knew very much, but felt he may have information on the antisubmarine work of the picket boats.


06  16-Apr-45, USS Bonefish (SS-223), War Patrol No. 7, CDR L. L. Edge

On April 16, 1945, during her seventh war patrol, Bonefish rendered life guard services to the enemy by making captives of two Japanese aviation ratings whose plane had been shot down by a U.S. Navy PBY. A third Japanese crewman declined rescue, preferring unconventional but effective seppuku by drowning. The two rescued airmen were hauled aboard from the middle of an oil slick caused by their downed Jake-type plane. The rescue occurred at 33° 39' 60.000" N, 128° 15' 0.000" E. One prisoner's foot was badly smashed. The other prisoner was the non-com pilot of the plane and stated the Jake was on a routine antisubmarine patrol.


07  16-Apr-45, USS Tirante (SS-420), War Patrol No. 1, LCDR G. L. Street, III

During her first war patrol, at twilight on April 6, 1945, off the south coast of Korea, near the Tsushima Strait, Tirante battle surfaced and captured a small Japanese fishing vessel. She took its three Korean crewmen prisoner before sinking the prize. The following day, Tirante torpedoed a 2,800-ton cargo freighter loaded with a deck cargo of oil drums. The submarine surfaced, looked over the debris, and directed a nearby Korean fishing craft to pick up two survivors who were clinging to pieces of wreckage. On April 16, 1945, while en route to Midway Island, Tirante sighted three Japanese aviators roosting on the float of their overturned Jake. The submarine flooded down and maneuvered to pick them up. At first, they showed no desire to come aboard Tirante. The pilot, identified by goggles and a flight cap, had something hidden in his right hand and suddenly defiantly threw a lighted aircraft flare aboard, in return for which LCDR Ned Beach parted his hair with an accurately placed rifle shot. The bridge machine gunners had to be firmly ordered not to shoot. The flare was kicked over the side by the gunnery officer. The pilot kept haranguing his two crewmen. Things seem to be at an impasse. One of the Koreans was brought topside and tried to persuade the aviators to come aboard. The three aviators suddenly jumped off their perch and swam away from the wrecked plane. LCDR Beach then sank the enemy plane with a few rifle shots. The pilot swam away in one direction and the two crewmen in another. All had kapok lifejackets on. One crewman ducked out of his lifejacket, swallowed salt water several times, and disappeared under the surface. The other crewman came alongside and was willing to be rescued after more cajoling by the Korean through a megaphone. He was brought aboard, stripped, and searched. No weapons were found. The pilot came alongside without his lifejacket. He seemed conscious until close aboard, when he appeared to lose consciousness and became helpless. Two of Tirante's crewmen dived over the side with sheath knives and heaving lines tied around them. They grabbed the helpless pilot and boosted him aboard over the bow. The pilot was also stripped and searched. No weapons were found on him either. After he was examined below decks by the chief pharmacist's mate, it was determined he was shamming. This was substantiated by the fact that when startled by the general announcing equipment, he jerked upright, then relaxed into insensibility again. He apparently had not had the nerve to carry out his own suicide. The pilot's pockets contained a notebook, a visiting card, quite a lot of Japanese money, and a quantity of rubber prophylactics. During her first patrol, Tirante performed two days of lifeguard service for friendly aircraft, but no opportunities for rescue were presented.


08  09-May-45, USS Atule (SS-403), War Patrol No. 3, LCDR J. H. Maurer

On May 5, 1945, the Atule served as a fighter director and succeeded in vectoring a B-29 Dumbo aircraft to two Japanese planes on antisubmarine patrol near Atule. The Atule had a front row seat to witness one enemy plane get shot down by the Dumbo. The other plane fled. Atule reached the scene of the crash and found one survivor calling for help. Lieutenant Masayosi Kojima, a Japanese naval observer, was hauled aboard. One of the remaining two aviators had been completely decapitated and the other was dead floating face down in the gasoline covered water. Kojima was suffering from shock, second degree burns of the face and hands, flesh wounds in the neck and one arm, and gunshot or crash wounds in his right ankle. The numerous pockets in the clothes, lifejacket, and uniform of the English and German speaking prisoner provided a wealth of printed matter including identification, seven packs of Japanese and one of English cigarettes, calling cards, ration books, club tickets, a diary, a notebook, a flight record, and, of prime importance, two magnetic detector traces and notes concerning them. A thick wad of currency, a vial of perfume, and several condoms showed he was ready for any eventuality. The time schedule of this event was rather unusual since the total action from the initial sighting, including diving, the attack, surfacing, and the rescue covered only twenty minutes. It occurred near 32° 15' 60.000" N, 132° 20' 60.000" E.