Got 'Em! USS Archerfish Sinks the Shinano, and its Deadly Cargo!

So I've had an idea for another history-oriented series of posts, called Got 'Em! The theme will be hard targets, impossible engagements, and daring bluffs that people walked away from victorious. Also, it'll be an exercise in writing article titles in the style of an old stag mag. There will be less focus on full histories, and more focus on action.

First up is the story of the USS Archerfish, an American submarine that wiped out multiple Imperial Japanese superweapons in a single strike.

archerfish1.jpg

November 28, 1944. The USS Archerfish, under Commander Joseph Enright, spotted a large ship leaving Tokyo Bay under heavy escort. For the entirety of the engagement, including his after action reports, Enright incorrectly determined his target to be a Hayataka-class Carrier.

A Taiho class carrier. The Hayataka was essentially an upgraded version of this.

A Taiho class carrier. The Hayataka was essentially an upgraded version of this.

However, the Archerfish's enemy was a far more important target, as was the contents of its cargo holds. The carrier was actually, the Shinano, which had been constructed from one of three Yamato-class hulls. It was the largest aircraft carrier in the world at the time, built on the hull of the largest battleship ever to exist.

Assume the bridge is around 1.5x the size of the one on the Taiho, and you might have a sense of scale.

Assume the bridge is around 1.5x the size of the one on the Taiho, and you might have a sense of scale.

Archerfish pursued, her engines struggling to keep them close to the enemy ships. The Japanese ships apparently spotted the Archerfish, and made a few rudimentary evasive maneuvers, but then seemed to lose contact with the submarine. At one point, one of the destroyer escorts (Most likely the Isokaze) broke formation and moved towards Archerfish, and promptly sped right past the sub, none the wiser. This, combined with a large heading adjustment by the Shinano, left Archerfish in a perfect position to launch an attack.

Commander Enright's Chart of the pursuit of the Shinano

Commander Enright's Chart of the pursuit of the Shinano

All six forward tubes launched torpedoes at the Shinano. The Archerfish Crew reported all six hits. The Japanese crew of the Shinano only reported four. It is possible that secondary explosions caused by a hit were registered as additional hits. My theory regarding secondary explosions is lent weight by the fact that a fireball was spotted climbing the side of the Shinano after the first torpedo hit.

The Shinano began listing, and the sound equipment on the Archerfish was filled with the noise of a large ship hull breaking up as its engines stopped, never to start again. On the Shinano itself, the captain fought to keep the ship on course, thinking the damage was less extensive than it was. Below decks, multiple failsafes and bulkheads failed to operate as intended, and the massive ship continued to take on water past the point of no return. of around ~2500 crew, only around half would survive.

As it became clear the Shinano was lost, the destroyers broke formation and started dumping depth charges. But even that was too late, the Archerfish escaped with minimal damage, and racked up the most tonnage sunk in a single target by a submarine.

It wasn't until a post-war review that the crew understood the full extent of the target they had destroyed. First, what they thought to be a further modified Hayataka had instead been the Shinano, the largest carrier of the Japanese fleet and, at the time, largest carrier in the world, built from a hull meant to carry the largest battleship ever built. Furthermore, the Shinano had been carrying cargo of a deadly, horrifying nature.

Inside the Shinano were the first 50 completed MXY-7 Ohka ("Cherry Blossom") rocket planes. These were designed to be the ultimate Kamikaze aircraft. The Ohka's mostly wooden airframe was propelled by a series of three rocket motors, fired all at once or one at a time depending on the situation. All of this enclosed over a ton of explosives.

Normally I'd say that what I've just said describes a fucking rad way to die. However, I think the mere fact that the Imperial Japanese approved the standardized production of this plane shows a horrific lack of morals and regard for the lives of their soldiers.

Normally I'd say that what I've just said describes a fucking rad way to die. However, I think the mere fact that the Imperial Japanese approved the standardized production of this plane shows a horrific lack of morals and regard for the lives of their soldiers.

Because of this sudden break in the production and distribution of the Ohka, the entire program was set back far enough that very few were ever utilized, and only three attacks against American ships were successful.

Diagram of the damage done to the USS Hugh W. Hadley. The "Unidentified Aircraft" mentioned were determined to have been MXY-7 Ohka sucide planes. Though the Hadley survived the attack, it was damaged beyond repair.

Diagram of the damage done to the USS Hugh W. Hadley. The "Unidentified Aircraft" mentioned were determined to have been MXY-7 Ohka sucide planes. Though the Hadley survived the attack, it was damaged beyond repair.

The Hadley's survival was partially due to one of the Ohkas failing to detonate properly, instead passing clear through the ship. Even a large breech in the hull is a lot easier to handle when it hasn't been compounded by the detonation of a metric ton of explosives.

The Hadley's survival was partially due to one of the Ohkas failing to detonate properly, instead passing clear through the ship. Even a large breech in the hull is a lot easier to handle when it hasn't been compounded by the detonation of a metric ton of explosives.

Alongside the 50 Ohka aircraft, the Shinano was carrying 5 Shinyo-class suicide motorboats. Shinyos were a simple motorboat packed down with explosives, acting as a man-guided torpedo.

I don't know what to say. The Japanese made a lot of these and it was horrible.

I don't know what to say. The Japanese made a lot of these and it was horrible.

A quick rundown of the Archerfish's accomplishments in this engagement is in order.

  1. The Archerfish snuck up on a high value target, slipping literally right underneath destroyers bristling with anti-sub equipment, who were aware of its presence.
  2. The Archerfish sunk the largest aircraft carrier in the world (at the time), which had been built around the hull of the largest battleship class ever.
  3. Along with the Shinano, the Archerfish destroyed the first shipment of one of the sickest terror weapons ever devised, as well as some of its close relatives.

I will now conclude with a photo of Commander Enright.

Kind of a lanky, goofy looking guy. What a perfect person to be taking down Axis terror weapons.

Kind of a lanky, goofy looking guy. What a perfect person to be taking down Axis terror weapons.