According to the Naval History and Heritage Command; “She was acquired by the U.S. Navy, via charter, on August 14th, 1918 [Note: the day before the first Montanan was lost], placed in commission, and assigned to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service as USS Santa Paula (ID # 1590). Between then and mid-January 1919, Santa Paula completed two round-trip voyages between the US East Coast and France.”
“Santa Paula was then transferred to the Cruiser and Transport Force and converted to a troop transport. Beginning in March 1919, she made four trips from France to the U.S. to bring home American service personnel from the former World War I battle zone. A few weeks after this duty ended in early August 21st, 1919, USS Santa Paula was decommissioned and returned to her owners, W.R. Grace & Company of New York City.”
In 1925 American-Hawaiian Steamship Co. purchased her from Grace along with five other vessels Grace operated under the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. (See American history) and renamed her Montanan. Her last known Grace Line Master was John Percival.
This purchase brought American-Hawaiian’s fleet up to twenty-four steamships and two motorships. Montanan would spend the next fifteen years quietly operating in intercoastal service under the American-Hawaiian flag. It’s not clear who her earliest American-Hawaiian Masters were, although Charles Ernest Nash (or C.E. Nash as it was popular to use first and middle initials in the 20’s and 30’s) appears to have commanded her through most of the 1930’s.
Larz F. Neilson, who was a great help to me in telling Coloradan’s & Honolulan’s stories and who’s father Larz D. Neilson served with American-Hawaiian for much of his career, found some of his father’s logs from this period which help fill in Montanan’s details for 1939. According to the logs:
Larz joined the Montanan on April 18th, 1939. The officers were:
Capt.: Oscar L. Thomsen
Chief Mate: Albert Bamforth (Younger brother of Charles Bamforth of Honolulan fame)
2nd: Larz Neilson
3rd: Charles W. Daly
4th: William S. Slater
04/26/39 Capt Thomsen relieved by Capt. Charles H. McGahan.
04/29/39 Astoria to SF: departure on flood tide, Capt. Thomsen, pilot.
05/04/39 SF to LA, 7:24 p.m. departure, Capt. McGahan, pilot
08/12/39 NY to Philadelphia Master: W.K. Martin. Pilot: J.H. Deery
08/27/39 Philadelphia to NY, Master: J.L. Thompson. Pilot: Capt. C.N. Bamforth.
Neilson wrote: “I was second mate on her [Montanan] for about a year — Capt. McGahan. A nice handy ship. From the Montanan's deck in 1939, I watched the NDL Bremen [the German Norddeutscher Lloyd luxury passenger liner] sail from New York, her last trip to the U.S. This was after the beginning of WWII [in Europe, but prior to our entry].
Larz left the Montanan in January of 1940, joining the Dakotan for two days as 4th Mate, and then joined the Honolulan as 2nd Mate with Master Shigley.
In 1941 Montanan had a cameo in the April 21st edition of Life Magazine. On pages 34 and 35 was a brief article entitled: ‘A Messerschmitt 110, Gift from the R.A.F., Arrives here for Study by U.S. Engineers’, which read:
“At Los Angeles, April 5, U.S. aeronautical engineers got their first good look at a Messerschmitt 110, Germany’s fast deadly destroyer plane which has given R.A.F. pilots their stiffest competition and English production experts their worst headache in the Battle of Britain. Shot down virtually intact and presented to the U.S. by the British Air Ministry for study and inspection, the bullet-scarred fighter shown on these pages repudiated once and for all the popular misapprehension that German planes are gimcrack affairs, flimsily constructed and inadequately equipped. Aeronautical experts at Vultee Field, where it was assembled for examination, declared that in materials as well as design the Messerschmitt 110 was the equal of Britain’s and America’s best planes.”
“Designed for combat and escort work, the Me-110 does better than 365 m.p.h., has a range of 800 miles, packs four machine guns and two cannon in its nose and a swivel gun aft, and seats a crew of three – pilot, radioman and gunner. Though eight-gunned, more maneuverable Spitfires and Hurricanes have shot down many a Me-110, their short range keeps them close to base. Before Britain can hope to carry offensive war to Germany, it must develop something comparable to this big bi-motored destroyer. U.S. engineers admired its clean lines, marveled at the perfection of its rugged 1,150 h.p. fuel-injection Daimler-Benz motors. Only criticism they uttered concerned inadequate armor for the cockpit, a blind spot in the belly.”
According to historian John Vasco: “The Messerschmitt Bf 110 passed by Britain to the USA was Bf 110 D-0/B which belonged to the 2nd Staffel of Erprobungsgruppe 210 (the second Squadron of Test Wing 210) It carried the unit markings of S9+CK. 'S9' denoted the unit; 'K' denoted 2nd Staffel, and it was aircraft 'C' within the Staffel. It arrived in the USA in April 1941 aboard the SS Montanan.”
“It was shot down on 15th August 1940 following the unit's raid on Croydon airfield, to the south of London. The pilot, Oberleutant Alfred Habisch, made a good belly-landing at Hawkhurst in Kent, and he and his wireless operator/rear gunner, Unteroffizier Ernst Elfner, became prisoners of war.”
It was taken to Vultee Aircraft Inc. for engineering study, and there is some evidence it was sent to Martin and perhaps other manufacturers as well. Between the time it was shot down and shipped to America on the Montanan it was put on display on one or more London streets, and later in Hendon Park, northwest London.
Montanan’s next to last voyage departed Baltimore around May 15th, 1942. That voyage departed Bombay September 19th, 1942, Capetown October 13th, Trinidad November 14th and arrived in New York on November 25th, 1942. This period was the peak of German U-Boat successes during the war.
One interesting thing that the crew list reveals is that Montanan was already armed by the time they left Baltimore, which was very early for many of these older vessels. At the end of the crew list they penciled in the names of twelve Navy Armed Guard.
Only seven of her Merchant Mariner crew stayed with Montanan for her next, and what would be her last voyage. These men were:
Graham Griffiths, who advanced from 2nd Mate to Chief Mate
George Bailey, who advanced from Jr. 3rd Mate to 3rd Mate
Radioman Kenneth Goss
A.B. Anderes Thevik
Chief Engineer Wallace Tyler
Purser Leonard Skilling
The entire Navy Armed Guard complement was exchanged for a larger group of 28 men, which I will detail later.
Montanan was lucky enough to survive the disastrous year of 1942 and at the end of December Montanan was in Baltimore, MD. Rather than head east across the Atlantic as per the previous voyage, they headed down the U.S. East Coast, west (as part of convoy GZ20 – Guantanamo to Cristobal) through the Panama Canal to California, and then westward across the Pacific to Australia.
On March 15th, 1943, the same day the U.S. Southwest Pacific Force became the U.S. 7th Fleet, the Montanan arrived in Brisbane, Australia and was “check-ranged”.
On March 16th, 1943 McGahan made a withdrawal of $700 from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, at Perth near Freemantle.
Montanan departed Freemantle, Western Australia on March 20th, 1943 as part of the small convoy OW3 which also consisted of:
S.S. Harrison Gray Otis – a new American Liberty Ship on her maiden voyage, she was also operated by American-Hawaiian SS Co. She would be damaged by a mine in August near Gibraltar and later scrapped.
M/V Lowlander – an older former Italian steamer seized in the US after Pearl Harbor and given to the British under Lend-Lease who operated her under the Port Line. She survived the war and was scrapped in 1961.
S.S. Winslow Homer – a new American Liberty ship on her maiden voyage, she was operated by Agwilines, Inc. She survived war and was scrapped in 1972.
S.S. Zane Grey – a new American Liberty ship on her maiden voyage, she was operated by Isthmian Steamship Co. She also survived the war and was scuttled off the coast of North Carolina in 1974.
They were initially escorted by the Royal Australian Navy light cruiser HMAS Adelaide to position 20° 24’ S, 93° 42’ E, about 500 miles south southwest of the Cocos Islands, where escort duties passed to the Royal Navy’s Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Worcestershire (F 29).
They arrived safely in Colombo, Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) on April 2nd. It is unclear when Montanan departed Colombo, but she appears to have been bound for Bandar Shahpur, Iran.
SS Aronda (British India Steam Navigation Co., Ltd. - Passenger Vessel)
MV Braganza (Norwegian Cargo Ship)
SS British Fusilier (British Tanker Co., Ltd. – Oil Tanker)
SS El Madina (Scindia Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. (Indian) – Passenger Vessel)
SS Nevasa (British India Steam Navigation Co., Ltd. - Passenger Vessel)
SS Valentijn (Dutch Passenger/Cargo Vessel)
SS Varsova (British India Steam Navigation Co., Ltd. - Passenger Vessel)
They were escorted by the British Light Cruiser HMS Durban, the Corvette HMAS Bathurst and Minesweeper HMIS Carnatic.
Like No. 244 squadron, No. 212 had no flight operations either on the day Montanan was hit. It should be noted that Montanan was sailing independently, not in convoy, and therefore would have not warranted an air escort. The lack of flights due to issues beyond the various squadron’s controls, however, meant that the allies were not looking for enemy submarines either.
On the morning of June 3rd, 1943, the unescorted Montanan was on her return leg from Abadan, Iran to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania via Mombasa, Kenya under the command of 64 year-old Master Charles H. McGahan.
It would have been an around the world voyage had it been completed.
According to Arthur Moore’s ‘A Careless Word, A NEEDLESS SINKING’, they were returning home in ballast. I must say I find it puzzling they were returning from the Persian Gulf empty handed, especially in view of the unusually large letter of credit they left home with.
In addition to her normal complement of 10 officers and 31crew, Montanan was also carrying 28 Navy Armed Guards, which was more than double her previous voyage. There are no specifics on Montanan’s armament, but judging by the early time frame she was armed she likely had one 4in gun mounted on the stern, one 3in gun on the bow, and some combination of .30cal and/or .50cal machine guns surrounding her deck house for anti-aircraft defense.
When dawn broke on the morning of June 3rd I-27 was patrolling on the surface. The Japanese were aware of the RAF base on Masirah, but noted they had seen little activity. A possible indication they had already reconnoitered the area. At approximately 0655 I-27’s lookouts spotted the Montanan heading south. I-27 dove immediately and began working out their approach.
Twenty minutes later at 0715 I-27’s Torpedo Officer, Lieutenant Koichiro Suwa fired two Type 95 Model 1 torpedoes. These were very fast and powerful air powered torpedoes which burned a mix of kerosene and pure oxygen. They traveled at speeds of 49 knots, and carried an explosive charge of 893 lbs.
Both torpedoes missed forward, and Montanan plowed along unaware they were being hunted. According to historian Sander Kingsepp, “I-27’s navigator later ascribed the failure to an optical illusion distorting the appearance of the target, so that she appeared to sport a sizable bow wave and thus run faster than in reality”. Montanan had a top speed of 12 knots, and was likely traveling at between 11 and 11.5 knots.
Once clear, Fukumura ordered the I-27 to surface and continue the chase. At a maximum speed of 8 knots submerged, they had little choice if they wanted to press the attack. The navigator plotted Montanan’s course and I-27 managed to easily outrun her. The Type B1’s were very fast on the surface, up to 23.5 knots, or twice Montanan’s speed.
Once they observed Montanan’s smoke they dove to make another attack run. At 0735 from approximately 2500 meters (1.55 miles) distance Suwa fired two more Type 95 Model 1’s. One of the torpedoes was a surface runner, which missed the target wide, while the other scored a hit on the starboard side of the number 2 hold.
According to Moore “The explosion caused a huge sheet of flame from the bunker tanks under #2 hold to shoot up the foremast enveloping several crew members. The forward holds flooded immediately. The stern was kept afloat because of #4 bulkhead [separating the forward holds from the engine compartment] holding firm. When the foredeck was awash, the engines were secured. The ship went down bow first at 0743.” Other than the torpedo track moments before impact, the crew never saw any sign of the I-27.
Initial reports from the British Admiralty placed the attack at 18°10’N, 58°45’E, but subsequent information placed it at 17°54’N, 58°09’E, or about 150 miles from the southern tip of Masirah Island.
The lifeboats appear to have been separated soon after. It’s not clear if this was due to the weather, or if the officers in charge in each boat deliberately decided to go their separate ways.
Boat No. 2 was found by the fishing dhow Naranpasha on Saturday, June 5th, about 48 hours after the sinking. As was typical, the dhow didn’t have any radio equipment, so the allies still had no idea they had lost a vessel or had a Japanese submarine operating in their waters. No location is known for this rescue, but it assumed the lifeboat had been blown deeper into the Arabian Sea as the dhow made for India rather than Masirah.
The first indication the allies had that anything was wrong was a possible submarine sighting reported by some US Army Air Corps DC-3 Dakotas being transported to the China, India, Burma (CIB) theater on June 7th, four days after the sinking. The event was recorded in No. 244 Squadron’s Summary of Events:
“7.6.43, 0800, Signal received from Masirah that submarine sighted 10 miles N.E. of island by 2 American Aircraft at 0530 hours.” Keep in mind No. 244 had a ground stop in effect while they investigated their engine failures. Then, one hour later: “0900, W/O Daenke, F/Sgt. Tregonning, Sgt. Kelly proceeded to Masirah for operational duties in view of submarine scare.” The Bisley wasn’t identified but this crew usually took BA.488.
No. 212 Squadron was busy escorting convoy BP.82 (Bombay to Bandar Abbas), but also received notification of a possible submarine and at 0436 on June 8th Catalina FP.175 “B” took off and set course “ZYUZ 4905” to carry out a square search pattern for a U-boat. The crew consisted of:
Sgt. J. Gallagher. (Captain).
P/O A.D.H. Gray. (2nd Pilot).
F/O G. E. Cooper. (Navigator)
Sgt. A. Davies.
Sgt. M. Lowe.
Sgt. B. Rees.
Sgt. J. McKay.
Sgt. J. Spry.
Sgt. H. Price.
Sgt. Gallagher was John Edward Gallagher, and according to William Barrie, was known simply as "Johnny Gallagher". Barrie also recalled Gallagher was the son of the MP for Glasgow, Scotland and one of the best young pilots in the squadron. He did his Catalina flight training at NAS Pensacola, FL, and was one of 4,000 British and Commonwealth aviators trained there.
The flight of FP.175 did not go as well as planned for its crew, but would be key in the rescue of Montanan’s survivors.
According to the squadron’s Record of Events: “Aircraft was carried south of track by strong westerly wind. 1210 [time, 7.5 hours after they took off from Korangi Creek] VPHH 1515 [map grid location] a smoke float was sighted and a lifeboat containing 14 persons close by. 1230 Signal to Base requesting permission to land passed via Masirah. 1310 [40 minutes later] No reply from Korangi. Masirah signaled asking for position and clarification of message [no doubt puzzled by a report of survivors]. Captain decided to land to pick up occupants of lifeboat. All safety precautions were taken and fully stalled landing made. A swell was running and as aircraft slowed up swell broke over nose and crushed it. The pilot attempted to take off but inrush of water too powerful. Captain gave order to abandon aircraft leaving by the forward hatch with the second pilot. The remainder of the crew launched dinghies and left by blisters. The aircraft was completely submerged except for the tail in 3 minutes and finally sank 40 minutes later. The crew were picked up by the lifeboat.”
Since nothing more was heard from FP.175 and they failed to return on schedule, the Naval authorities were notified. No. 244’s Summary of Events does not specifically mention it, but No. 212’s noted that: “Bisley’s of No. 244 Squadron searched during evening but sighted nothing.”
It obviously didn’t work out as well as they hoped, but at least now the allies knew they were looking for merchant seamen survivors (although not from which ship just yet), had a downed aircrew to rescue as well and confirmation that in all likelihood they had a real enemy submarine in their backyard. There had not been an enemy submarine attack in this area for 8 months (ironically it was I-27 then as well), and it must have come as quite a shock.
Both squadrons rapidly began committing more resources to the effort. To complicate matters, the British had a rather large convoy WS.29 en route from South Africa. It had broken up near Aden into smaller A, B, & C groups, portions of which were heading north to where all the action was, including the large liner Athlone Castle, which would later have a role in the saga. No. 212 focused on protecting these vessels.
At 1400 on the 9th 244’s Summary of Events noted: “Signal received from Masirah that Bisley BA.656 sighted and made attack on a 200’ submarine. Unfortunately depth charges did not leave aircraft. Later signal disclosed that same aircraft had been ditch near Um Rasas [near No.212’s flying boat base]. P/O Tulley being the pilot. Reason being that port engine took fire and aircraft could not maintain height on one engine.” With Pilot Officer Tulley in BA.656 were his navigator F/Sgt. Stone [no relation] and gunner F/Sgt. Thomas. Fortunately, all three men survived the ditching. I attempted to confirm the Japanese perspective on this attack, but so far no luck.
At 0212 on June 10th No. 191 squadron entered the mix and Catalina FP.315 “Y” with Squadron Leader A. Brown and crew took off on search for missing Catalina FP.175. As per the squadron’s report; “Aircraft was diverted to search for U-Boat attacked by Bisley of No. 244 Squadron, S.E. of Masirah. Signal received from Masirah that U.S.A.A.F., D.C.3 had sighted lifeboat towing two rafts, 50 miles S.W. of Masirah and believed crew of FP.175 aboard. Y/191 sighted lifeboat and rafts during evening, dropped food and map and ascertained that crew of FP.175 on board. Y/191 landed Masirah 2010.”
At 0710 on June 10th No. 212’s Catalina FP.202 “D” piloted by G. Myers took off from Jiwani and set course for Ras al Hadd. At 1025 they received a message from base directing them to “Cover position MKUZ 0623 down wind on route to Masirah.”
"1116 (location MKUZ 0623) investigated area nothing suspicious sighted set course Masirah. 1254 Cape Abu Rasas set course VPHB 5418. 1318 Commenced Square search 1326 sighted floating boxes investigated nothing sighted. 1330 message from Masirah lifeboat being towed to Ras Hilf by dhow. 1332 signaled Ras Hilf are dinghies O.K. 1340 (location VPQR 1748) set course Ras Hilf. 1400 (location ZYHB 1722) circled dhow with lifeboat in tow. 1440 set course Ras Hilf. 1500 message from Masirah “Survivors landed suggest continue U-boat hunt”. 1510 (location ZYHB 1729) over dhow towing two rubber dinghies signaled to Ras Hilf giving position. 1542 (location VPHB 5418) commenced square search visibility 5 miles. 1553 message from Base “Continue sortie until PLE return Jiwani. Refuel and return to Base [Korangi Creek]."
It's clear from these communications that the authorities on Masirah still had no idea of the scope of the event. Several other Catalinas were searching as well and reported the following:
FP.201 “J” flown by Squadron Leader A.F. Johnson – “2009 landfall 15 miles North of Masirah commenced search for survivors. 2030 (location ZYHB 1938) over survivors – 1 lifeboat, 1 dinghy on shore. 1 dinghy being towed by dhow. 2128 Waterbourne [landed] Masirah.”
Perhaps from information from the lifeboat and dinghy that had reached shore the British finally knew the ship the Merchant survivors were from, and noted: “Information received from Masirah indicated that survivors sighted by FP. 175 were part of crew of American Hawian [sic] Co. S.S. MONTANAN torpedoed on June 3, 100 miles South of Masirah with loss of five lives. Survivors landed Masirah.”
FP.234 ‘G” flown by Flight Lieutenant N.T. Marix, and in addition to normal flight crew was carrying Flight Lieutenant J. Wilson as Medical Officer noted – “0700 Cape Jidufah (location MKVZ 2035) sighted small dinghy requested position of lifeboat, request ignored. 0755 (location MKUZ 1247) sighted Merchant Vessel 600 tons course 225 6 knots identified itself as “KNUSDE”. 0925 (location VPQR 2544) commenced CLA search MLA 231 26 miles to starboard 16 miles to port 1 ½ miles visibility. 1050 (location VPHB 5418) commenced square search. Message to Ras Hilf “Please check last position of lifeboat and signal back in latitude and longitude.” 1400 message from Masirah Position 1958 N 3818 E on course Masirah, suggest search south coast and inland, 1540 landed Umm Rasas. 1555 Airbourne. 1613 Cape Abu [Rasas?]. 1642 sighted Catalina D/212 requested position. 1810 (location VPHB 5818) commenced square search message from Base position of Dinghy (location ZYHB 1729). 2015 (location ZYHB 1917) sighted survivors on Masirah Island. 2041 landed Umm Rasas.”
Boat Nos. 1, 3 and 4 managed to reach Masirah Island on Thursday, June 10th. British Admiralty War Diaries for this period indicate one person from this group died in transit.
The next day at 1952, Catalina FP.315 piloted by No. 191 Squadron Leader A. Brown landed at Korangi Creek from Masirah carrying 4 members of FP.175’s crew and 5 survivors from the Montanan. About an hour later at 2045 FP.201 piloted by No. 212 Squadron Leader A.F. Johnson (DFC) landed carrying 5 members of FP.175’s crew and 10 survivors from the Montanan. The survivors were transported by ambulance to the nearby U.S. Military Hospital at Malir.
It is assumed that these 15 Montanan survivors were those in most urgent need of medical attention. The transport of the remaining 39 survivors from this group were not mentioned in the squadron’s records, so may have been transported to the main airport at Karachi by either USAAF DC3’s or a BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) passenger version of the Vickers Wellington that was used in the area.
In the mean-time, the survivors from Boat No. 2 were transferred from the dhow Naranpasha to HMIS Baroda, a Basset Class Indian Navy Armed Trawler on Thursday, June 10th. It’s unclear how the two vessels found each other. Baroda had arrived in Bombay on May 31st and isn’t mention in Admiralty reports until June 20th while escorting a convoy (BM.54) from Bombay to Colombo. Locations are not noted, but it is assumed the transfer occurred much closer to Bombay than Masirah as according to British Admiralty War Diaries Baroda landed the eight survivors at Port Okha, India only one day later on Friday, June 11th. The Admiralty War Diaries went on to note that boat No. 2 originally had ten men, but unfortunately two died in transit. The survivors were interrogated in Bombay on Monday June 14th.
The combined 54 survivors that had originally landed at Masirah appear to have been flown from Karachi to Bombay where they were re-united with the 8 survivors from lifeboat No. 2 for transport back home on the British Union Castle liner Athlone Castle.
When it was all said and done casualties included:
To date, I have not been able to locate any additional information on Frank Falco.
Second Cook Gustav Anton Schroeder was originally from Saint Gall, Switzerland, immigrated to America in 1911 and became a citizen in 1918. He left behind a wife, Carrie and son Wayne.
The two Navy Armed Guards, Lane and Lademan, were reported missing, presumed lost, and therefore were likely two of the original four (including Master McGahan) that were lost in the initial attack. They are listed on the “Tablets of the Missing” at the North Africa American Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia. They were both posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
Luther Phillips joined the Merchant Marine immediately after Pearl Harbor. He was married to Pearl Audrey Pottage and was memorialized along with 12 other men the tiny village lost during the war on a monument erected right after the war. He was lost just one month shy of his 31st birthday. One interesting detail about Phillips is that his date of death is listed as June 16th, not the 3rd when Montanan was lost. This could simply be an indicated that it took some time to formally declare him deceased, or could be an indication he survived the initial sinking and lifeboat voyages only to later succumb to his injuries in Milar or Bombay. This doesn’t quite add up, however, since all casualties were accounted for by the 11th; four missing from the initial attack, one lost in transit from the main group that reached Masirah, and two lost in transit from Lifeboat No. 2. Hopefully one day his family will find the site and be able to confirm.
I profile Captain McGahan and Chief Engineer Tyler later in this article.
There were 36 Merchant Mariner survivors:
Regular visitors to the sight might recognize Chief Mate Graham Griffiths name. He had already survived the Texan’s sinking in March of 1942 while acting and 2nd Mate. He was one of several American-Hawaiian officers I’ve found to date that survived multiple sinkings, and along with Earl Manning (Alaskan, Cape San Juan) was one of two men I’ve found that survived both a German U-boat attack and a Japanese submarine attack.
Second Mate Frank Munkasey had transferred from the Illinoian in October. After their return, Munkasey became Chief Mate on the American-Hawaiian liberty ship John Harvard.
In addition to the Merchant Mariners, there were 26 U.S. Navy Armed Guard survivors:
As mentioned previously, the survivors were consolidated in Bombay for transport home.
The Athlone Castle sailed from Bombay on Tuesday, June 22nd under the command of Master Alfred Alderson with the following aboard:
336 Officers and Crew
183 British Army personnel
97 U.S. Army personnel
63 Chinese Air Force Cadets
49 Chinese Air Force Officers
36 S.S. Montanan Merchant Marine survivors
26 S.S. Montanan U.S. Navy Armed Guard survivors
24 British Royal Navy personnel
20 British R.A.F. personnel
16 Miscellaneous Civilian passengers
12 Canadian Nursing Service personnel
9 California Arabian Standard Oil Co. employees traveling 1st Class
2 Catholic Missionaries
2 French Forces personnel
2 U.S. Navy personnel
2 U.S. Nursing Corps personnel
1 S.S. Steel Engineer survivor (James John Vives)
It is interesting to note that a year after the Washingtonian's loss the program to train Chinese pilots was still in process. The seas were rough due to the monsoons when they left and were likely that way for at least the first week out. No. 212’s records indicate they had no operations on the 22nd, as well as the 24th through 27th due to the rough seas.
Under normal circumstances they may have delayed their departure. However they had a small window of opportunity to sneak through a rather large group of German U-boats that had been operating in the Mozambique Channel and off the east coast of South Africa with considerable success. These U-Boats were U-177, U-178, U-181, U-196, U-197, U-198 and U-511.
While allied intelligence on the movements of I-27 had been lacking, they had a very good idea as to what the German’s were up to. They had intercepted German communications that indicated that German’s were going to temporarily withdraw from the path of Athlone Castle and other vessels to the East to refuel from a German tanker called the Charlotte Schliemann that had been sent from Japan.
Per German BdU war diary entries:
June 20th, 1943:
“U 511 has orders to maintain wireless silence and within 300 sea miles circumference of supply area KS 74, also isolated traffic is not to be attacked with the exception of large troop transport ships [i.e.; like the Athlone Castle] and warships from cruisers upwards. The Commander may replenish fuel supplies from "Schliemann".”
June 22nd, 1943 (the day Athlone Castle departed Bombay):
“Boats belonging to the supply group "Schliemann", are to withdraw in a northwesterly direction after refueling. Orders with regard to operational areas follow later.”
June 23rd, 1943:
“As a result of the last traffic report the Cape Town boats at present refueling from the tanker "Schliemann" are ordered to take up position in the following operational areas: U 178 : western half, U 196 : eastern half of KE. Center point: narrows of Mozambique channel. U 198 : northern half, U 197 southern half of area off Durban, depth 800 sea miles. U 177 : area round KQ 92, depth 400 sea miles. (S. of Madagascar), U 181 : area round KG 83, depth 400 sea miles (Mauritius Islands). All boats will be informed of the presumed traffic situation in their areas.” Athlone Castle would pass through several of these U-Boat patrol areas while they were gone.
June 29th, 1943:
“U 178, 198, 181, 196, 197 and 177 have increased their supplies to about 420 - 440 cubic meters from the tanker "Schliemann", and taken the appropriate provisions on board. The boats are to occupy the operational areas ordered on 23.6.” Luckily, by the time they reached their assigned patrol areas, the Athlone Castle had slipped through.
Athlone Castle arrived safely in Capetown, South Africa on July 6th and stayed through the 9th, where they picked up:
103 British R.A.F. personnel
50 British Royal Navy personnel
22 Dutch Dockyard Workers
14 British Army personnel
11 Distressed Seamen returning to U.K. (10 from S.S. Nailsea Meadow & 1 from S.S. Boringia)
1 S.S. Alexander repatriated (William Joseph Casavant)
No cargo was taken on in Capetown.
Athlone Castle and her passengers finally arrived safely back in New York on Sunday, July 25th, 1943. She departed New York for Liverpool on August 9th. 1943 and would survive the war. She was scrapped in 1965.
Crewmember, Nagato Class Battleship Mutsu - January 20th, 1927 - October 30th, 1927
Crewmember, Submarine Tender Jingei - June 1st, 1928 - December 10th, 1928
Crewmember, Nagara Class Light Cruiser Yura - December 10th, 1928 - May 15th, 1929
Crewmember, Kongo Class Battleship Kirishima - April 1st, 1930 - November 10th, 1930
Crewmember, Minekaze Class Destroyer Namikaze - November 2nd, 1931 - February 5th, 1932
Chief Navigator, Type KD-4 Submarine I-162 - May 25th, 1933 - April 10th, 1935
Equipping Officer, Type KD-6 Submarine I-171 - April 10th, 1935 - December 24th, 1935
Chief Navigator, Type KD-6 Submarine I-171 - December 24th, 1935 - April 20th, 1936
Chief Navigator, Type KD-6 Submarine I-169 - April 20th, 1936 - December 1st, 1936
Chief Navigator, Type J1 Submarine I-1 - December 1st, 1936 - December 1st, 1937
Chief Navigator, Cargo Ship Nojima - December 1st, 1937 - June 15th, 1938
Chief Navigator, Submarine Tender Komahashi - June 15th, 1938 - November 15th, 1939
Commanding Officer, Kaichu Type K.5 Submarine Ro-34 - November 15th, 1939 - November 4th, 1940
Staff, SubRon 3 - November 4th, 1940 - April 10th, 1941
Staff, 6th Fleet - April 10th, 1941 - November 15th, 1942
Commanding Officer, Type KD-3b Submarine I-159 (Training) - November 20th, 1942 - February 15th, 1943
Commanding Officer, Type B1 Submarine I-27 - February 23rd, 1943 - February 12th, 1944
As noted I-27 was a Type B1. They were the most numerous class of Japanese submarines at twenty vessels. She was the sister of the I-21 which sank the Cape San Juan.
The type was known as a cruiser, a class above the fleet submarines and they were very large, in fact some of the largest submarines built up to this point. Their overall length was 356.5 feet, with a beam 30.5 feet, a draft of 16.8 feet and displaced 2,584 tons surfaced/3,654 tons submerged. Compare this to the German Type IXC such as the U-126 that sank Arkansan at an overall length was 252 feet, with a beam 22.3 feet, a draft of 15.5 feet and displaced 1,120 tons surfaced/1,232 tons submerged.
Despite their large size, the Type B1's were quite fast (23.5 knots surfaced/8 knots submerged), and very long-ranged (14,000 nautical miles at 16 knots). Their Achilles Heel was a combination of their slow dive times, turning radius/maneuverability and of course their rather shallow maximum dive depth. At 330 feet, they could dive less deep than the distance of their overall length. Again, compare this to the German Type IXC with a maximum depth of 750 feet (designed). The U-126 herself was known to have survived a depth of over 787 feet after losing control during a depth charge attack. Some German U-boats were known to have survived depths exceeding 1,000 feet.
Armament consisted of six torpedo tubes in the bow and they carried roughly two full re-loads, but this varied from patrol to patrol. In addition, the Type B1's typically had a 5.5”/50 canon aft of the conning tower on the main deck and a twin-barreled 25mm/60 canon on the conning tower aft deck for anti-aircraft defense.
Typically, beyond their large size, the most distinguishing feature of the Type B’s was the ability to carry and launch an aircraft. As long range cruisers designed to independently cover the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the ability to carry their own scout aircraft/bomber was a significant capability that no other navy, including the German’s could match. This capability resulted in the type’s most obvious physical characteristic, the bulbous aircraft hanger just forward of the conning tower and the catapult ramp leading from it to the vessel’s bow. Housed within the hanger was a partially disassembled seaplane, typically a Yokosuka E14Y “Glen”.
I stress the word typically as there are no known surviving photographs of I-27 herself and some of the Type B's were modified for other duties, such as carrying landing barges or midget-submarines. I-27 was known to carry the latter as I'll summarize later. Her TROM makes no mention of any flights like her sister I-21's does. It is possible that I-27 had her aircraft hanger removed. Fueling the speculation is a sketch one of the Berakit's survivors made of the I-27 (see below):
If, in fact, I-27 had her hanger removed, she may have looked somewhat like the following:
I-27, like others of her type, was fairly new and considered modern for her time. She was originally laid down at the Sasebo Navy Yard as submarine No. 140 on July 5th, 1939, and launched and renumbered I-29 on June 6th, 1940.
She was officially renumbered I-27 on November 1st, 1941, but not completed and commission until February 24th, 1942 (roughly two months after Pearl Harbor). She was assigned to SubDiv 14, Sixth Fleet, with I-28.
Her first commander was Commander Iwao Yoshimura. He commanded her for two war patrols out of Truk lagoon in the Pacific.
I-27’s first patrol spanned from April 27th to May17th, 1942. Yoshimura and the I-27 were to provide distant cover for Operation “MO”, the invasions of Tulagi and Port Moresby, but the Battle of the Coral Sea forced the operation’s cancellation.
On May 18th, 1942 I-27 embarked a Type A midget submarine and departed Truk on their second war patrol, this time a mission to raid Sydney harbor with several other submarines.
On the evening of May 31st they launched their midget submarine, which was ultimately unsuccessful. The midget’s propeller became tangled in one of the anti-submarine nets leading into the harbor; she was spotted and while enduring depth charge attacks the two-man crew set off their scuttling charges, killing themselves in the process.
A few days later on June 3rd, Yoshimura was assigned to patrol in the Bass Strait area off Melbourne. He succeeded in damaging the Australian interstate freighter Barwon, sinking the Australian armed ore carrier Iron Crown on the 4th, and survived an air attack by a RAAF Hudson of No. 7 Squadron.
Rather than head back to Truk, I-27 arrived at Kwajalein Atoll on June 25th and then proceeded back to the home Islands, and arrived at Kure on July 23rd, 1942 for an overhaul.
On August 5th, 1942 Commander Yoshimura was relieved by Lieutenant Commander Soshichi Kitamura. Yoshimura went on to command the Type C1 submarine I-20 for 3 months starting in September, and later, in 1944, commanded the training submarine RO-62. He is believed to have survived the war.
I-27’s next commander, Kitamura, also proved rather disappointing. Over the course of three patrols in the Indian Ocean, spanning 6 ½ months, Kitamura is credited with sinking only one vessel, the British armed steamer Ocean Vintage. This was the attack in the Gulf of Oman in October of 1942.
Kitamura was not known to command any other vessels and survived the war as well, passing in 1978.
I-27 and Fukumura
First War Patrol
On February 23rd, 1943, the paths of the I-27 and Fukumura merged when he took over command from Lieutenant Commander Kitamura.
Just three days later, on the 26th, Fukumura and I-27 departed their base at Penang for the vessel’s sixth war patrol with the goal of raiding enemy shipping in the Bay of Bengal and Chagos Archipelago area (south of the Maldives). It would be a fairly disappointing first patrol for the new commander.
At around 0815 on the morning of March 8th, 1943 I-27 fired two torpedoes at an unidentified merchant (possibly the Joseph Wheeler). This took place about halfway between Colombo, Ceylon and Malé, Maldives. Fortunately both torpedoes missed and I-27 did not press the attack.
Finally, on the evening of March 20th, 1943, about 450 miles northwest of the previous attack and 75 miles west of the Laccadive Islands, I-27 successfully torpedoed the 7,132-ton British armed merchant Fort Mumford. The vessel was bound for the Mediterranean on her maiden voyage from Vancouver, Canada.
Fort Mumford is often cited as an example of one of Fukumura’s atrocities, where he is alleged to have machine-gunned the survivors, only one of whom survived. This was one of Fort Mumford’s seaman gunners named Horace Bailey. I was curious and did some digging myself, and to date I can find no evidence that Fukumura murdered the survivors, only innuendo.
While it’s true that Mr. Bailey was the sole survivor, there are three other factors that may explain the high loss of life:
Bailey’s experience is detailed in the book ‘The Quiet Heroes – British Merchant Seamen at War’ by Bernard Edwards (2005, ISIS Large Print Books, ISBN 075319905X, 9780753199053) in Chapter 18 – ‘The Lone Survivor’.
According to Edward’s book, Bailey was in his bunk when the torpedo hit during the watch changeover at 8:00pm when there would be a large number of crew on their way to or from their stations. He saw a huge flash of light through the port hole in his quarters and was thrown from his bunk by the explosion(s). He scrambled through a hatch up to the after deck and what he found there was utter devastation.
He was all alone. His way to the boat deck was blocked by a jumble of smashed aircraft parts and crates that had been on deck. To me this is another indication that the explosives they had been carrying had gone off. Typically a torpedo striking below the waterline would not do that much damage to the deck cargo unless the cargo was directly above the blast, which would in turn destroy the deck as well.
He worked his way aft through the debris looking for a raft, which he could not find. He made for the rail, only then realizing he had forgotten his life jacket in his quarters. Just as he climbed over the rail and prepared himself to jump the ship began to roll over and take its final plunge, causing him to lose his grip and fall outwards. At first he was dragged down with the ship but then broke free and shot to the surface. He found a piece of wreckage and climbed on top. He stood up and peered through the darkness, trying to spot any other survivors. He called out but there was no answer. Awhile later he thought he heard voices and again call out. Still no answer. At daybreak, no one was seen, only debris.
He was in quite a predicament. He had no food, no water, and had several deep cuts in his legs and feet from crawling through the mangled deck cargo. He cleaned his wounds as best he could with salt water and packed them algae. For four days he floated under the scorching sun and pondered his fate. On the fourth day he had some relief from a passing rain shower, collecting the rain water in a small container he had salvaged the first night.
On the fifth day, March 25th, he was rescued by an Indian dhow (no. 443) traveling from the Malabar Coast to Mikindani, Tanganyika in East Africa. The crew of nine tended to his injured leg, by this time black with gangrene. His leg was saved and he was able to walk ashore unassisted by the time they reached Mikindani on May 6th.
Bailey makes no mention of machinegun fire in his account. Author Edwards leaves the door open to the possibility, but provides no reason other than “the Japanese were notorious for such things”. Edwards also does not cite his source for the detailed account.
On March 24th, 1943 I-27 made another failed attack, this time on an unidentified tanker northwest of the Chagos Archipelago.
Fukumura and I-27 returned to their base at Penang on April 9th, 1943 after 42 days at sea with one enemy ship to their credit. Not a great start, however their next patrol would more than make up for it.
Second War Patrol
On May 1st, 1943 the I-27 departed their base at Penang on the second war patrol with Fukumura in command.
At 0556 on May 7th at the eastern entrance to the One and Half Degree Channel, Fukumura torpedoed the Dutch motor vessel Berakit en route from Colombo to Durban.
According to the British Admiralty War Diary: “Ship was torpedoed port side and immediately took up list of 7 degrees to port. Crew except for Master, First Officer and one or two other Officers promptly abandoned ship in starboard life boats. Those abandoning included 3 D.E.M.S. ratings and remainder of gun’s crew. As soon as U-boat [note: British used U-boat as a generic term for all enemy submarines, not just German] saw ship being abandoned she surfaced fearlessly one point on starboard bow and opened gunfire proceeding down starboard side at point blank range. Master and remaining Officers abandoned ship as soon as gunfire was opened, and ship sank, presumably as a result of gunfire, four hours later.”
“Suggest the importance of gun’s crew remaining at their post to last moment in independently routed ships should be stressed. Also suggest that, bearing in mind the lesson of BERAKIT, all independently routed ships should be asked to consider themselves as potential Q-ships. If torpedoed the guns crew should remain hidden near their gun while remainder should abandon ship thus giving confidence to U-boat as actually occurred in the case under review.”
Berakit sank at location 03° 40’ N, 75° 20’ E. Four sailors were lost and as mentioned previously 42-year-old Master Marten Seis Kruisinga was taken captive by Fukumura.
According to Admiralty reports, Berakit was able to get the following distress signal off: “SSS SSS SSS de GYVE GYVE* torpedoed 3° 4’ N. 75° 24’ E. abandoning life boat smashed.”
The British Hospital Ship HS Ophir (The MOWT requisitioned Dutch passenger/cargo ship MS Ophir) was the first vessel sent followed by the Corvette HMS Verbena (K 85) and the Sloop HMS Falmouth (L 34).
On May 10th three survivors were picked up and they reported that the remaining survivors were in one motorboat towing a lifeboat. Aircraft that were searching sighted empty boats, rafts and large oil patch. On the 12th it was noted that 76 survivors arrived in Colombo (73 in one vessel, 3 in the other). One Javanese boy had apparently died in an open lifeboat before help arrived. One Javanese and one Lascar were reported missing.
According to records held at the Netherlands Institute of Military History, Berakit’s crew was comprised of 24 Dutchmen (mainly officers), 41 British Indians (mainly Lascars), 6 Javanese, 3 Britons, and 1 Chinese.
Despite the loss of the Berakit, which was immediately known, the alarm was apparently not raised to the northwest in the Arabian Sea.
As noted previously, two other failed attacks were made as I-27 made her way north and west, but these too did not raise the alarm and Montanan was lost on June 3rd.
After Montanan's loss, Fukumura would spend the next 21 days prowling the Gulf of Oman with no success. This was likely due to a combination of the weather, increased RAF air patrols, and a slowdown in the traffic.
Perhaps because there had been no further attacks in weeks and no sightings of the I-27 since the failed Bisley attack on June 8th, the British were lulled into a false sense of security. It would cost them dearly.
The British Tanker Company’s British Venture was allowed to travel independently rather than in convoy. Although armed, she was extremely vulnerable.
At 0500Z on June 24th, I-27 torpedoed the British Venture while she was en route from Abadan to Bombay. Her cargo of kerosene and gas oil ignited and there was a high loss of life. 36 crew including Master Darley Campbell Barton, and 5 gunners were lost. See here for a list of merchant mariner casualties. 18 crew and 1 gunner were rescued by the British ship Varela. The only surviving upper deck officer was not on watch at the time, and could not offer any details leading up to the attack. British Venture’s position was southeast of Jask, Iran at 25°13’ N, 58°02’ E.
At 0915 on the 25th, No. 244 Squadron dispatched Bisley BA.428 from Sharjah with Sergeants Leicester (Pilot), Mills (Navigator) and Handyside (Gunner) to search for the submarine off Ras al Hadd, but they aborted at 0950 due to a sandstorm which reduced visibility to 200 meters. Flight operations were canceled for the rest of the day. They made another attempt at 0612 the next morning, and although able to patrol off Ras al Hadd, found nothing.
Four days later at 8:05 a.m. on the morning of June 28th, 1943 outside Muscat harbor the I-27 apparently fires a remarkable torpedo shot through the shallow Duweira Gap at high tide (approximately 10 feet deep). The gap leads into the harbor where the small 1,974-ton Norwegian armed steamer Dah Puh (aka Dah Pu and Dahpu, she was the ex-Clara Jebsen) was unloading a cargo of bitumen (asphalt).
According to ‘The Sultanate of Oman, 1939-1945’ by Raghid El-Solh (2000, Garnet Publishing, Limited, ISBN-13: 9780863722646); “S.S. Dahpu anchored in Muscat harbour at 2 A.M. on the morning of the 28th June. At 08.05 A.M. a tremendous explosion occurred in No. 3 hold of the ship and her stern half sank rapidly to the harbour bed. The Political Agent and the Agency Surgeon at once left for the Dahpu in the Agency whaler. Three survivors, one with his leg blown off, were picked up on the way. The ship’s Master, Commander [Adolf] Buhre, was found in his cabin sorting out papers. He gave his opinion at once that a torpedo had caused the explosion and it seemed possible, if that were the case, that it would be followed by shelling and a boarding party. The ship’s secret papers were according thrown overboard in a closed bag with a sinker attached.”
“The Political Agent then left the Dahpu and sent signals reporting the incident to all concerned. Enquiries during the day, and those still going on, have not revealed with any certainty that a submarine was sighted near Muscat nor is there any real evidence that the track of a torpedo was seen before the explosion. The theory discussed here is that there was some explosive (such as a time bomb) placed in the ship at a previous port; but so far nothing has been discovered to substantiate this. It is the theory which is favoured by Saiyid Shahab bin Faisel, the Muscat Minister for External Affairs, who will not consider the possibility that the War could come in close proximity to Muscat.”
“During the day of the 28th June the survivors and as much as possible of the moveable valuables of the ship were salvaged. The total casualties were:
Corpses are still being found washed up on shore.”
“H.M.S. Whaler Atmoshere arrived on the evening of the 29th June and her Commander, Lt.-Commander Falwasser, R.N.R., conducted an examination of the wreck with the Political Agent and the Dahpu’s Commander on the morning of the 30th June. By that time the whole length of the ship had settled on the harbour bed, and only her forecastle, bridge deck, foremast, and funnel are now showing over water.”
“The force of the explosion was such that debris was hurled into the Agency Tennis Court behind the Agency and a piece of it broke the verandah of the Treasury Officer’s house on the sea front. The ship was anchored at only 2-3/4 cables length from the Agency.”
“S.S. Dahpu was a Norwegian ship owned by Messrs. Wallem & Co., of Bergen and requisitioned by the Royal Norwegian Government on the outbreak of War and held by the Master on its behalf. Separate reports have been submitted.”
“It has now been established that S.S. Dahpu was torpedoed and the propellor [sic] of the torpedo has been found by the diving party [Note: on July 5th]. One of the three wounded Indian crew has died of his injuries. Messrs. Gray Mackenzie are trying to salvage as much as possible from the wreck.”
According to warsailors.com; “The tail of a 21" torpedo with many Japanese characters and with the number 390 inscribed in several places was later recovered in Muscat harbour. The torpedo was apparently similar to German ones, with twin propellers double the size of British propellers. It had a twin cylinder engine. The recovered parts were dispatched to Kilindini for investigation.” See here for more information.
Upon hearing the news of Dah Puh's loss in Muscat harbor, No. 244 Squadron dispatched Bisley BA.524 with Sgt. Nash (Pilot), Sgt. Keir (Navigator) and Sgt. Sublet (Gunner) to search Muscat and points north, apparently to no avail. No. 212 Squadron appears to have dispatched Catalina FP.201 “J” on an Anti-submarine Patrol that morning as well with:
FSgt. O’Meara. (Captain).
Sgt. S. Ives. (2nd Pilot).
Sgt. H. Carr (3rd Pilot).
W/O. D.W. Penn. (Navigator)
Sgt. S. Sharman.
Sgt. L. Trowbridge.
Sgt. J. Pate.
Sgt. J. Scott.
Sgt. A. Bassett.
Sgt. R. Bradbury.
Also, with no sightings.
About a week later, in the early morning hours of July 5th, 1943 Fukumura boldly attacks the large (for the theater) convoy PA-44, which consisted of:
SS Alcoa Prospector, American C1-B cargo ship operated by Alcoa Steamship, Co.
MV British Diligence, British Tanker operated by the British Tanker Co., Ltd.
SS Capsa, British Tanker operated by Shell Tankers, U.K.
SS Empire Coral, British Tanker operated by the Eagle Tanker Company, Ltd.
SS Esso Baytown, American Tanker operated by ESSO Shipping Co.
SS Esso Charleston, American Tanker operated by ESSO Shipping Co.
SS Gazana, British passenger/cargo vessel operated by the British India Steam Navigation Co., Ltd.
SS George E. Badger, American EC2-S-C1 Liberty Ship operated by Grace Line, Inc.
MS Hermion, Norwegian cargo ship operated by Orient Steam Navigation Co., Ltd.
SS John Fitch, American EC2-S-C1 Liberty Ship operated by Weyerhaeuser Steamship Co.
Macuba, unknown, possibly Dutch.
MV Pan Gothia, Swedish Tanker operated by Rederi A/B Pagota
MV Pegasus, Swedish Tanker operated by Rederi-A/B Transoil (Sunk by U-197 on July 24th)
They had departed Khasab Bay, Oman on Sunday, July 4th and were en route to their first stop in Aden, which the survivors reached on Tuesday, July 15th. Most of the vessels had departed Abadan, Iran on July 2nd, including Alcoa Prospector.
The convoy was escorted by the Bathurst class corvette HMIS Bengal (J-243) and the Bangor Class minesweeper HMIS Orissa (J-200). The attack likely occurred shortly before No. 244 squadron arrived for air escort, typically at dawn.
According to Moore; “At 0510GCT, a torpedo struck the starboard side of the #4 hold below the water line. The explosion ruptured the shaft alley and blew holes in the bulkhead between #4 hold and the engine room flooding the engine room. The main engines were stopped as the ship settled by the stern. By July 9th, the ship had drifted to 25-40 North/57-38 East. HMIS Bengal (J-243) attempted to tow the ship to keep her from going aground but was unsuccessful. The ship anchored at 1000 on July 9. At 1400, the tugs Tavana and Zurmand, owned by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, towed the ship to Bandar Abbas where she anchored on July 10.”
“The ship was abandoned about 5 minutes after the attack by all hands in 2 lifeboats, and 4 rafts, with the exception of the Armed Guard officer and 10 of his men. The men in the boats and rafts were picked up immediately by the Bengal. On July 6 at1230, the Navy officer, 13 of his men, 3 ship’s officers, and two seamen reboarded the ship. The Master [Ernest Henke] returned aboard at 0500 on July 7. After the ship was anchored at Bandar Abbas, the remainder of the crew returned aboard.”
As noted, after the attack Bengal stayed with the Alco Prospector and the Orissa continued on to Aden with the rest of the convoy. It’s not clear if either escort attempted to counterattack the I-27.
The Alco Prospector was a C1-B built by Bethlehem Steel Co., Staten Island, NY. She was originally laid down as Cape Ann, but was delivered to Alcoa Steamship Co., Inc. as Alcoa Prospector on March 25th, 1941. After the attack, temporary repairs were made in Bandar Abbas, but she would not serve for the remainder of the war. She was towed to Karachi on February of 1944, then on to Bombay by the Liberty Ship John A. Poor. In October of 1945 she finally arrived back in the United States, but her damage was so extensive it was estimated it would take $616,000.00 and 60 days to repair her. As she originally cost $1,959,454.00 the repairs were nearly one third of her value, and with the war over and a glut of vessels available it was decided to scrap her, which did not occur until January of 1951.
With that many tankers in the convoy, Alcoa Prospector was likely not the intended target. With the escorts alerted and aircraft arriving, Fukumura was not able to press the attack. As it stood, it was an enormously successful patrol for the I-27 and Fukumura. Four vessels sunk and one damaged for a total of 18,176 tons and 6,797 tons respectively. On par with some U-boat commanders.
Fukumura would later (on November 20th, 1943) receive a letter of commendation for this patrol from the Commander in Chief, Imperial Japanese Navy Combined Fleet, Admiral Mineichi Koga.
They returned to their base at Penang, Malaysia on July 14th, 1943, after 74 days at sea. By the time they got there, Japanese Radio Intelligence had indentified Montanan as “Montana” from intercepts.
According to historian Sander Kingsepp; “Among the I-27 officers, who participated in that patrol the best known one was her torpedo officer, Lieutenant (later Commander) Koichiro Suwa (Etajima class 64/graduated 23 Mar 1937). Suwa became the Commanding Officer of I-166 in 1944 and survived her sinking by the British HMS Telemachus. Later on he was appointed the CO of RO-55, lost in 1945.”
Kingsepp also informed me that the Radio/Code officer aboard the I-27, named Kikuyoshi Yoshida, wrote a memoir of his wartime experiences entitled; Igō dai 27 sensuikan no katsuyaku : angō-chō no sensuikan senki (Submarine I-27 in action: memoirs of a submarine encryption officer), 1995, Hatsubai Seiunsha Publisher, ISBN-10: 4795264198, ISBN-13: 978-4795264199. Unfortunately, the book is currently only available in Japanese, but Kingsepp has kindly translated portions that relate to this patrol.
According to Kingsepp, the book also “does mention Master Kruisinga of the Berakit though; according to its author, the latter was quite a character. The submariners were sympathetic to his plight and actually attempted to provide him with better food during the rest of the cruise”.
The hospitality would end soon after their arrival in Penang. Captain Kruisinga was transported to a secret interrogation camp on the Japanese mainland run by the Imperial Japanese Navy called Ōfuna. It was located in Kamakura, outside Yokohama, Japan. Official POW’s were managed by the Imperial Army. This was the only camp run by the Imperial Navy and it was not reported to The International Red Cross. Although it was an interrogation center, it was officially called “The Navy Yokosuka Guard Unit Ueki Detachment." as a cover. Here prisoners, mainly officers, were kept “off the grid” so to speak, and many were tortured for information they may have possessed. As a ship’s captain, Kruisinga may have had information on routings, codes and procedures the Japanese would have been interested in.
Most accounts of Ōfuna are pretty terrible and from American military prisoners that arrived just after Kruisinga had left. The facility was rather small and from its opening on April 6th, 1942 to the camp’s liberation on August 21st, 1945 only 1,000 prisoners were known to have been processed through there. Prisoners were kept in solitary confinement in 4ft x 8ft cells and there was strict no-speaking policy. Violations were met with severe beatings. In good weather they were allowed out to “exercise”, but were fed a diet estimated at 500 calories per day, mainly consisting of nothing more than a ball of white rice. You can read more about Ōfuna here, here and here.
After the war, Ōfuna’s Commander, Yokura Sashizo, was tried and convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 25 years hard labor.
On January 24th, 1944 Kruisinga was handed over to the Army and officially became a Prisoner of War at camp Tokyo 8-D (No.8 Dispatched camp - a former name of Tokyo No.9 Branch camp). This was a labor camp in Ashio, Japan and the POW’s were forced to work in a copper mine. Ashio is in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, approximately 87 miles north of Tokyo in a mountainous region. It is now part of the city of Nikkō.
Unfortunately, one month after his arrival at Ashio, Kruisinga died of catarrhal pneumonia on February 25th, 1944. This was just 4 days after his 43rd birthday, and less than 10 months after his capture. His remains were cremated but it is not clear if they were buried.
He was one of 15 Dutch POWs that died from pneumonia that winter alone, and apparently the only civilian. He was likely already in a very weakened condition from months of abuse at Ōfuna, and still wearing what was left of his same tropic weight uniform he had on when he abandoned ship. He would not have been provided with winter clothing. Temperatures at Ashio for January-February range from a high of 31° F during the day to low of 17° F at night. You can read more about Ashio here and here.
Kruisinga left behind a wife, Teena (neé Fenenga, 1901 - ?) whom he married in 1939 and daughter, Nellie.
Marten Seis Kruisinga was born in Rotterdam, Holland on February 21st, 1901. He was the only son of Marten S.G. Kruisinga (1868 – 1936) and Jeanette Krusinga neé Coerkamp (1870 – 1913). He had a younger sister, Jacoba Kruisinga (1902 - ?).
His Merchant Mariner career appears to have begun at the end of World War I. Below is a partial list of sailings I was able to assemble:
I was surprised by the number of voyages from Indonesia to America, and especially the East Coast. I assume his English was quite good.
He also may have served as 2nd Officer on the large Dutch passenger ship MV Christiaan Huygens between his time on Tabinta and Poelau Bras. Finally the crew lists provided a few personal characteristics; he was 5’-10” tall and weighed 161 lbs. in 1940.
While Kruisinga was on his way to Japan, I-27 went to Singapore for an overhaul. They arrived back in Penang on August 19th, 1943.
Third War Patrol
On August 29th, 1943 I-27 departed Penang to once again raid enemy shipping in the Indian Ocean.
Just nine days later while patrolling the Lacadive Sea, I-27 spotted and attacked the Liberty Ship Lyman Stewart with a large spread of torpedoes at 0420 on the morning of September 7th. The Lyman Stewart was en route from Colombo, Ceylon to Durban, South Africa with 7100 tons of cargo, comprised of ground nuts. Her complement was 41 Merchant Mariners and 26 Naval Armed Guard.
Master Alfred E. Fuller was credited for saving his vessel by taking evasive action. The first torpedo missed forward. The second crossed past the stern. A third came from aft along the port side and a fourth from the starboard quarter, both passing harmlessly by. According to Moore; “Between the 3rd and 4th torpedoes, there was a heavy jolt felt of the port side near #2 hold. It is assumed the ship was either hit by a dud torpedo or struck the submarine. The hull was slightly damaged at the point of contact.” This was later determined to be a dud torpedo. What are the odds that the 1 in 5 that made contact failed to explode?
What happened next differs according to the accounts. According to Moore: “Distress signals were sent and about 15 rounds were fired from the after 4” gun in the direction of the unseen submarine. It is possible that 2 submarines took part in this attack.” According to combinedfleet.com which translates and publishes the Japanese records; “I-27 battle-surfaces, but when the gunners from LYMAN STEWART open fire, dives again.” If true, this would be one of the very rare examples of an armed merchant successfully defending herself. I-27 was the only submarine involved in the attack.
All accounts agree that the Lyman Stewart made good her escape and survived with no casualties. According to Admiralty records, the British received her distress signal and actually sent the old heavy cruiser HMS Frobisher to search for survivors. The matter does not appear to have been cleared up until Lyman Stewart reached Durban, perhaps not wishing to reveal their position with another signal.
Two days later on September 9th, while about 200 mile northwest of the last attack I-27 torpedoed the 5,151-ton British armed motor vessel MS Larchbank on a voyage from Baltimore to Calcutta with 7,394 tons of general cargo and military stores. The latter included four tanks, two Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB Nos. 284 and 285), eight amphibious craft, and railway iron.
Unfortunately, Larchbank sank in less than 2 minutes, resulting in a high loss of life. 40 sailors including her Master, William A. McCracken and 6 gunners are lost. See here for a list of her Merchant seamen casualties.19 sailors and 4 gunners were rescued by the British SS Tahania and the American SS Panama and were landed at Ceylon. Note: some sources state the Panaman (American-Hawaiian SS Co.) rather than Panama took part in the rescue, however Panaman appears to have been occupied in convoy duty in the North Atlantic during this time period.
After a patrol of just 26 days, I-27 arrived back in Penang on September 24th, 1943. For this patrol Fukumura received credit for damaging the 7,176 ton Lyman Stewart (“damaging” is a bit of a stretch), sinking the 5,151 ton Larchbank plus the bonus of the two MTB’s at 32 tons apiece, although apparently not the eight amphibious craft.
It is unclear why the patrol was so short, but the I-27 may have had some mechanical issues as I-27 went to Singapore for another overhaul. They arrived back in Penang on October 11th, 1943.
Fourth War Patrol
I-27 departed Penang on October 19th 1943 to raid enemy shipping in the Gulf of Aden, which was the first time they had ventured that far west.
Between October 30th and 31st they reconnoitered the port of Al Mukalla and the anchorage at Maqatin al Kabir northeast of the main British port of Aden, Yemen.
On November 1st, 1943 Lt. Commander Fukumura was promoted to Commander.
By November 10th 1943 I-27 had worked their way down to entrance to the Red Sea where they torpedoed the 7,219-ton British SAM-class Liberty ship Sambo (Master J.D. Smith). She was on her maiden voyage from Iquique, Peru, to Suez with nitrate and general cargo. SAM technically stood for "Superstructure Aft of Midships", however some historians suspect it was more than coincidence that the ships were provide by "Uncle Sam". Sambo was originally launched as Edwin Joseph O'Hara but delivered August 12th, 1943 as Sambo for the MOWT (Ministry of War Transport) under the 'Lend-Lease' program. She was operated by Cunard White Star, Ltd.
According to ‘Liberty: The Ships That Won the War’ by Peter Elphick (2006, Naval Institute Press, ISBN-10: 1591144515); “Two successive explosions came in the early afternoon, one each in Nos. 4 and 5 holds. After that there was a smaller third explosion right aft, presumably as the after magazine went up. Then, within a space of five minutes, the ship blew up and sank, again probably aided by the nitrite cargo which is not the safest commodity to carry around. Only one boat got away, and after picking up men who had been blown off the ship into the water, it had thirty-five souls on board. All nine gunners, the ship’s carpenter and two engine-room hands were missing and believed killed in the explosion. The survivors were picked up before dark by the Norwegian Helgøy. It was Captain Smith’s considered opinion, one which was supported by other members of the crew, that the initial explosions were caused by a mine rather than a torpedo as they appeared to be under the ship rather than on the side. The Naval Staff Officer at Aden ventured the opinion that the mine may have drifted away from the British minefield off Perim [sic], the edge of which was only ten miles from the scene.”
As noted, three sailors and nine gunners were lost, and 34 sailors and one gunner were rescued by the Norwegian freighter MS Helgøy, sailing independently from Suez to Aden to join convoy AKD 6.
As this was I-27’s first attack, the opinion of Sambo’s Master Smith initially caused some confusion amongst the British authorities as to whether Sambo had struck a mine or been torpedoed. On the 13th they noted “Evidence that this was a mine is far from conclusive and I am reluctant to remove sweepers from their present A/S escort duties while submarines are known to be operating in Gulf of Aden. Suggest vicinity of sinking be declared a dangerous area until sweepers are available to investigate your 121830 (re sweepers to skim vicinity in which SAMBO is alleged to have been mined) refers. (Commander in Chief, Eastern Forces 130802Z to Commander in Chief Levant, (R) Com. Aden, F.O.R.S.C.A., Commander in Chief Mediterranean.)”
I-27 temporarily withdrew from the area and on November 18th torpedoed another British SAM-class Liberty ship, the Sambridge off the north coast of British Somaliland some 300 miles east southeast of the previous attack.Sambridge was also on her maiden voyage, although on a leg from Colombo to Aden with 365 tons of general cargo and 1,000 tons of sand ballast. Sambridge was originally launched as John E. Wilkie but delivered July 20th, 1943 as Sambridge for the MOWT (Ministry of War Transport) under the 'Lend-Lease' program. She was operated by T. & J. Brocklebank, Ltd.
According to Elphick’s book; “Sambridge managed by T. & J. Brocklebank and commanded by Captain A.S. Bain, was making for Aden from Bombay. Torpedo nets were not streamed as they had previously been damaged in bad weather. It was early evening when the Japanese submarine I-27, Commander Fukumura Toshaiki, fired two torpedoes at the ship, the first passing astern, the second exploding in the engine-room killing the Second and Fourth Engineers and two hands. The vessel caught fire and in under two minutes the midships section was burning fiercely. Captain Bain later reported that ‘No. 4 boat was lowered without my orders and had pulled off with only nine members in it.’ With his ship now well ablaze, Bain ordered abandon ship.”
“His report goes on:
‘I got into No. 2 lifeboat and ordered it lowered, intending to remain alongside taking only as many of the crew with as I thought safe, as the boat had a large quantity of water in it. I instructed the Chief Officer and those remaining on board to take to the rafts, adding that I would take them in tow. The boat drifted away from the ship towards the stern. All 4 rafts were successfully released and by 1900 hours . . . everyone was clear of the vessel’.’
“On his own admission, then, Bain had broken the unwritten but golden rule, that the captain should always be last to leave a sinking ship (unless of course, there are special reasons making that impossible, which manifestly was not so in this case).”
“Some men had been blown into the water by the blast and were picked up, several of them suffering from severe burns. Captain Bain went on:
‘Saw light which we thought was No. 4 boat and headed towards it, but saw wake of submarine heading this way. Ship suddenly exploded and sank.’”
‘Submarine surfaced and closed and ordered me alongside. I obeyed . . . at the same time instructing my crew to deny all knowledge of Captain’s whereabouts if questioned. [Author’s note. Nothing wrong with that, it was standard procedure.]’
‘In broken English a Japanese asked for Master, Chief Officer and Radio Officer. We replied, they had gone down with the ship. [Again, standard procedure].’
‘Whilst being questioned our lifeboat washed up on to sub causing it to swamp and throwing out some of the gear including several oars. I ordered painter cut, which did not please the Japanese who ordered us along their lee side. Whilst doing this I conferred with the Second Officer and we decided that it looked as though someone would have to board the sub. Having denied all knowledge of the Master and Chief Officer we could not suddenly produce them: I said that failing all else I would go aboard, but my Second Officer bravely volunteered to do so if it became necessary.’
“By that time the Japanese were scrutinizing everyone by torchlight [flashlight].”
‘Greaser Byrne who was severely burned with the skin hanging off his back, volunteered to board sub. The Japs simply laughed at him and pushed him back. Japanese then asked Second Officer who he was and ordered him aboard. He was ordered to climb to the conning tower and as he did so he called out ‘Cheerio’, then disappeared from view.’
‘Ordered to cast off and as we were pulling away towards the rafts I heard a burst of machine gun fire. Everyone crouched down, then a second burst was heard which I was afterwards told went over the rafts, one bullet hitting the raft on which the Chief Officer was lying. I do not think any injury was intended – but I consider it was an act of deliberate terrorism. Sub steamed away surfaced southerly.’
“On the following morning the men in the Captain’s boat and the rafts were picked up by the SS Tarantia and subsequently landed at Aden. The men in No. 4 boat were later rescued by a British frigate and landed at Port Said, were Gunner Zappa, who was apparently in charge, was questioned as to why they had abandoned ship without orders. ‘No satisfactory answer was given’, said the author of the relevant report.”
“As well as breaking the golden tradition, Captain Bain had permitted a more junior officer to be taken away a board a Japanese submarine in his stead, an act of cowardice for which there can be no excuse. It is of little wonder therefore, that at Aden after Bain had made his report to the King’s Harbour Master there, that the Navy did not want much to do with him. However, this reaction seems to have come as a surprise to Bain, for he made an official complaint about being treated with discourtesy. Bain also considered that the repatriation arrangements made for him and his crew were unsatisfactory – ‘no money for cigarettes or comforts’ and, ‘The King’s Harbour Master was always too busy to see me’. Greaser Michael Bryne, who had volunteered to board the submarine, died from his burns in hospital in Aden. In June 1944 he was given a Posthumous Commendation. Apprentice Hugh Jones who had manned an oar in the captain’s boat with a broken arm, was awarded the British Empire Medal on the same date. No one at the time knew what had happened to twenty-seven year-old Second Officer Henry Scurr.”
According to Scurr's award announcement in the London Gazette, December 11th, 1945; “The Second Officer showed outstanding courage and devotion to duty. After the ship had been sunk the submarine, which was Japanese, surfaced, approached one of the boats and demanded the whereabouts of the Master, Chief Officer and Chief Engineer. Answers to these questions were evasive, but Second Officer Scurr, realizing the danger to his senior officers, volunteered to go on board the submarine. He was taken prisoner and so sacrificed his freedom and chances of safety.”
Sambridge is another Fukumura attack where some sources allege he machine gunned the survivors. Other than the odd comment by Captain Bain, there is no evidence to support the assertion that Fukumura intended to murder the survivors, and in fact a cursory look reveals that the casualties on Sambridge were actually quite light. Lighter, in fact, than her aforementioned sister ship, the Sambo. Four sailors were lost, and 37 sailors and 11 gunners were rescued by the British transport Tarantia and the frigate HMS Teviot.
Captain Bain even conceded that the Japanese did not intend injury, however his assertion that it was some attempt to terrorize the survivors is odd as well. The survivors were clearly already suitable terrorized by the attack, so much so the captain was willing to sacrifice his honor and one of his junior officers to save himself. I believe Fukumura intended to patrol on the surface for a time, and so the gunners were simply clearing their guns in preparation for defending themselves against any potential attacks by allied anti-submarine patrol aircraft. The reference to machine gun fire in Bain’s report was picked up by subsequent authors and eventually twisted around to be an actual murder of survivors. This despite the fact that the four casualties were all attributable to the second torpedo striking the engine room where the men were on duty, and not a single survivor was wounded, much less killed by gunfire.
Admiralty reports note that the survivors attempted to send a distress signal using an emergency set, but the equipment caught fire before the transmission was completed. The following day the Tanrantia came upon the survivors and sent their own signal 18 hours after the sinking.
I-27 headed back west towards the entrance to the Red Sea and on November 27th Fukumura reconnoitered Birim Island and its anchorage in the Strait of Bab al-Mandeb.
At 1630 on November 29th, 1943 I-27 torpedoed and sank the 4,824-ton Greek steamer Athina Livanos about 50 miles from the entrance to Red Sea. Nine of her sailors and two of her passengers were lost.
According to the Admiralty war diary for the period, Athina Livanos sank in only 30 seconds, which would not be enough time to get the boats away. They were lucky more men were not lost. The diary went on to state “searches by Vincents from Aden Nov. 30th did not sight submarine, 2 Wellingtons searching December 1st sighted possible submarine same area while a French Potez reported submarine at periscope depth off Obokh [sic: Obock] same date.”
The Vickers Vincents were likely from No. 8 Squadron, which had flown the enormous bi-planes out of Khormaksar, Yemen since 1935. They were in the process of finally being phased out. The Wellingtons were brand new Mk. XIII’s that had just been delivered to No. 8 squadron and the newly formed No. 621 Squadron. Wellingtons from these squadrons would take part in the loss of the infamous U-852 the following May. The (Free) French Potez could one of any number of Potez (manufacturer) aircraft flown from what at the time was French Somaliland (present day Djibouti) at the southern entrance to the Red Sea.
Fukumura withdrew from the Straights and on December 2nd successfully torpedoed another Greek freighter, the 4,732 ton Nitsa en route from Calcutta to Aden. They were only about 85 miles southeast of Aden at the time.
According to the Admiralty War Diary from December 5th; “29 survivors from SS Nitsa landed Berbera”. Berbera is a port in British Somaliland (present day Somalia) almost directly due south of Aden on the south shore of the Gulf. Eleven of Nitsa’s crew were reportedly lost.
The day after Nitsa was sunk and about 40 miles to the southeast, I-27 attempted to sink the 7,126 ton British freighter Fort Camosun. It is unclear exactly what happened, but it is assumed that the vessel was struck by one or two dud torpedoes. Enough for Fort Camosun to realize they were under attack and issue a distress call. The damage could not have been too severe, however, as rather than head to nearby British ports the Fort Camosun proceeded all the way to Calcutta. Admiralty reports suggest she was in the company (at least temporarily) of the Flower class corvette HMS Jasmine (K23). Eastern Fleet War Diaries also show that HMS Jasmine had left Aden the same day escorting convoy AKD 8 bound for Kilindi, arriving on the 12th.
Fukumura headed home and arrived at Penang on December 17th, 1943 after 59 days at sea. It was a very successful patrol with another 23,908 tons sunk and 7,126 tons damaged. Once again, Fukumura received a personal citation for successful actions against enemy shipping from the Commander in Chief, Imperial Japanese Navy Combined Fleet, Admiral Koga Mineichi.
Fortunately Sambridge’s 2nd Officer Henry Scurr’s story ended better than Berakit’s Captain Kruisinga. He too was sent to a Prisoner of War camp on mainland Japan (no record of him at Ōfuna) reportedly survived the war in a camp near Hiroshima. As the legend goes, Scurr was close enough to the city to witness the atomic bomb attack, and suffered burns on his face and neck. This is not supported by the facts as the closest camp to Hiroshima (Mukaishima) was some 50 miles away and suffered no damage in the attack.
Scurr was awarded the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for chivalry in December 1945 along with the Lloyds Bravery Medal. After the war he eventually became a Master himself, ending his career with Brockelbank as their representative in New York.
Fifth War Patrol
On February 4th, 1944, I-27 departed Penang to once again raid enemy shipping in the Gulf of Aden. It was Fukumura’s fifth war patrol in command of I-27, the tenth for the vessel herself. Her complement was 98 plus a war correspondent from the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. It would be the last patrol for all of them.
Only about a week after leaving Penang I-27 spotted and attacked a small British convoy, sinking the troop ship Khedive Ismail, with a high loss of life. The I-27 was lost in the hours immediately after the attack in a confused and messy affair by the convoy’s escorts.
The Khedive Ismail tragedy was all but forgotten for many years, until one of her survivor’s sons, a gentleman named Brian J. Crabb started researching his father’s service. His father, Percival “Buster” Crabb was a stoker on the Khedive Ismail and was able to survive by squeezing through a port hole as the vessel sank. Brian’s research eventually led to his writing the book ‘Passage to Destiny: Story of the Tragic Loss of the S.S.Khedive Ismail’ (1997, Paul Watkins Publishing, ISBN-10: 1900289105).
There are now many varying accounts available on the web, and a few unanswered question about what exactly occurred that day. According to Hackett and Kingsepp’s trustworthy combinedfleet.com website, Crabb’s account seems to be the most accurate.
In summary, here is what is believed to have occurred:
On February 5th, 1944 the troop convoy KR.8 departed the port of Kilindini, Mobassa, Kenya bound for Colombo, Ceylon. The convoy was comprised of:
SS City of Paris (10,902 tons)
SS Ekma (5,108 tons)
SS Ellenga (5,196 tons)
SS Khedive Ismail (7,290 tons)
SS Varsova (4,701 tons)
The five transports were carrying a total of 6,311 Army troops, Royal Navy personnel, medical staff, and members of the Women's Territorial Service (WTS).
The convoy escort out of Kilindini was provided by the old heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins (D 86), the flower class corvette HMS Honesty (K 285), and two Banff class sloops, HMS Sennen (Y 21) and HMS Lulworth (Y 60). HMS Hawkins was nearing the end of its usefulness, was reportedly not even equipped with anti-submarine gear, and to put it bluntly, was more of a target than a deterrent.
At some point on their voyage up the east coast of Africa, the corvette and sloops were relieved by the destroyers HMS Paladin (G 69) and HMS Petard (G 56), probably before the convoy turned east to transit the Arabian Sea. A third destroyer, HMS Penn (G 77) was intended, but could not take part as she was still under repair.
On February 12th, 1944, the I-27 sighted the convoy moving towards them at 13 knots about 60 miles southwest of the One and a Half Degree Channel, and submerged to attack.
According to Admiralty reports: “Convoy included HAWKINS and 5 ships in 3 columns [so only two rows deep]. 3 cables apart 13 knots no zigzag. PALADIN and PETARD about 45° on bows of convoy carrying out broad zigzag.”
According to combinedfleet.com: “Fukumura closes in from ahead to attack, probably intending to target heavy cruiser HAWKINS, the leader of the port column, from the starboard quarter of the convoy. He dives under the screening destroyers without being detected and raises his periscope for a snap shot only 50 yards astern of VARSOVA, the leading ship of the starboard column. Fukumura then fires a spread of four torpedoes at the cruiser, partially overlapped by KHEDIVE ISMAIL (Capt Roderick C. Whiteman), the leading ship of the center column.”
“Three gunners on the stern gun platform of VARSOVA sight a dark green periscope protruding some 3 ft above the water and traveling towards KHEDIVE ISMAIL at 4 kts. They attempt to target it, but their gun cannot be depressed deep enough.”
“At 1433 (convoy time), KHEDIVE ISMAIL receives a torpedo hit to her starboard side engine room and starts to list to starboard. The aft mast collapses and the adjacent superstructure caves in, while the after hatch covers are blown upwards. Approximately 5 seconds later the second torpedo strikes the boiler room forward, directly below the ship's funnel, causing a major explosion inside the ship.”
“Once on her beam ends, KHEDIVE ISMAIL breaks in two; the stern sinks first, the bow upends and then corkscrews beneath the surface only one minute and 40 seconds after the first hit, at 00-57N, 72-16E. Of 1,511 passengers and crew 1,279 are lost, including a total of 77 women.”
The large number of female casualties, the largest in the war, was especially tragic. The sinking in general was the 3rd highest loss of life for a British troopship during the war (the others being 1) Lancastria with 4,000+ souls lost and 2) Laconia with 1,658 souls lost).
“Two remaining torpedoes, one of them a surface runner, pass ahead and astern of HMS HAWKINS, forcing her to take evasive action. The two destroyers each turn 180 degrees outwards while the convoy scatters, to regroup at 02-41N, 74-49E.”
“Multiple periscope sightings are reported by different vessels and confusion ensues. At 1436 Lt Edward A.S. Bailey's HMS PALADIN first establishes an asdic (sonar) contact N of the position of the now-sunken KHEDIVE ISMAIL, dropping a pattern of ten depth charges near the stern of the retreating HMS HAWKINS. PALADIN then chases a false contact and at 1449 drops a single depth charge at a periscope detected by the steamer CITY OF PARIS. PALADIN's next attack with ten depth charges against an unreliable target fails, but then a new contact is detected. After her asdic operator reports hearing a noise resembling the blowing of ballast tanks, nine depth charges are dropped at 1502.”
“Commander Rupert C. Egan's HMS PETARD likewise chases several contacts about a mile SW of the sinking. The first target is lost during the approach. At 1500, PETARD drops a pattern of seven depth charges, followed by eight depth charges five minutes later. After the final attack with nine depth charges at 1513, this contact is lost. Following an unsuccessful sweep to the westward, at 1536 Cdr Egan gives permission to pick up the survivors from KHEDIVE ISMAIL.”
Adding to the tragedy, Petard made at least one depth charge run through the survivors, the safety of the rest of the convoy taking precedence over that of survivors. Fukumura was alleged to have been hiding under the survivors, but there is no hard evidence of this.
Fukumura was likely more pre-occupied with trying to slowly maneuver away from the escorts. In all his former attacks except the Alcoa Prospector (convoy PA-44) he was fortunate to have found vessels traveling independently, and may have never faced the terror of concerted depth charge attacks by formidable escorts, as frantic and disorganized as the counter-attack initially was. Japanese defensive doctrine would have called for I-27 to move only when the escorts moved and at slow speed to limit the possibility of detection. As I-27 was already within the convoy perimeter and the Khedive Ismail sank so rapidly, they were naturally within close proximity to the survivors. Assuming he was using them as some sort of human shield is just that, an assumption only.
The logic is quite circular. Later authors, in an effort to re-enforce their allegations that Fukumura was some sort of monster that somehow intentionally picked the ship in the convoy with the most women on board and cowardly hid amongst them often point to the Fort Mumford and Sambridge attacks as proof, both of which I’ve shown as false atrocity claims. In the Fort Mumford and Sambridge attacks they point to the Khedive Ismail attack as proof of Fukumura’s ruthlessness. There were definitely some Japanese submarine commanders that crossed the line, and those stories are well documented, but I’ve seen nothing in my research to prove that Fukumura was a member of that despicable club. I’m all for calling someone to task, as long as it is backed up with facts.
“At 1620, the stationary I-27 suddenly surfaces about a mile and a half off PETARD's and PALADIN's starboard quarter, down by the stern. Both destroyers open fire from all guns, claiming numerous hits. PETARD passes close to I-27's stern and fires a pattern of three depth charges set to 50 feet. These cause no visible damage and the submarine starts to move, steering 250º at 4 knots and simultaneously correcting her trim.” Note that this may have damaged I-27’s rudder.
“The CO of HMS PALADIN decides to ram the submarine to prevent her from diving again. At 1621, when 600 yds away from the submarine, he receives an order from PETARD not to ram. HMS PALADIN turns away to port, grazing the submarine's port foreplane with her starboard side. The impact tears an 80-feet long gash 12 inches below PALADIN's waterline, flooding her engine and gearing rooms, two fuel tanks, and the after magazine. The destroyer goes dead in the water, but fires two depth charges, one of which explodes right under the I-27's bows. Now fighting the increasing list, the destroyer lowers her scrambling nets to pick up the last survivors from KHEDIVE ISMAIL.”
“Two minutes later five gunners scramble from I-27's conning tower in an attempt to man the deck gun [aft of the conning tower on the Type B1’s]. PALADIN's No. 2 Oerlikon [20mm] AA gun opens fire from 400 yards distance, blowing one of them overboard and killing the others. I-27 increases her speed to 8-10 knots, going round in circles and still down by the stern. PETARD fires a number of 4-in rounds that riddle I-27's conning tower, disable one of the periscopes and the deck gun.”
At this stage I-27 is obviously severely crippled. She apparently can't dive, has lost steering control and can't make enough speed on the surface to get clear or bring her torpedoes to bear, can't control her trim either due to a malfunction of her automatic trim system, flooding, or both. Her conning tower is riddled and her 20mm and 5in weapons disabled, and she is likely blinded.
“Since the high-explosive shells seem to inflict no apparent damage to the submarine's pressure hull [they carried no armor piercing rounds], the officers of PETARD discuss the possibility to board the I-27 and storm its conning tower with Sten guns and hand grenades, or to plant explosive charges on its hull. Both plans are given up as too dangerous.”
“At 1700, PETARD commences launching single torpedoes, six of which miss the target one by one. At 1723, the seventh torpedo [fired by local control] finally strikes the crippled submarine, blowing her in half. As the column of water settles, the bow and stern are seen sinking at 01-25N, 72-22E. An oil slick and pieces of decking are sighted in the area, but no survivors.”
As far as any Japanese survivors from the I-27 it does seem highly unlikely, although several Admiralty reports make mention of a single survivor, but no other information has come to light in the years since. On the wikipedia page for HMS Petard it makes a disturbing, but un-sourced reference that implies several survivors were left to the sharks.
It must have been an excruciating 23 minutes for the crew of the I-27 as they slowly circled, hearing the splash of torpedoes and the high pitched whine of their approach. Each time they must of thought ‘this is it’, as they worked frantically to overcome the multiple system failures that prevented them from diving, maneuvering, ramming, firing back or even running away. Of course, surrendering was apparently not an option for the Japanese either.
One wonders what the British would have done had their remaining torpedoes failed to hit their mark or failed to explode. Petard had two quad-torpedo launchers, and so had one torpedo remaining if No. 7 failed. It’s unclear if they had the ability to quickly reload. Their depth charges and main armament, while capable of damaging the surfaced submarine had already proven ineffective in destroying her. HMS Hawkins had the firepower to blow the I-27 out of the water, but was miles away by this stage. About the only option Petard had left was to ram I-27 themselves, which would likely result in crippling their vessel as well. This with their companion Paladin already crippled and in a sinking condition without immediate assistance.
Luckily they were successful, and were able to assist Paladin, get her stabilized, and towed her to Addu Atoll for temporary repairs. HMS Petard had the distinction of being the only allied warship during the war to sink a submarine from all three major Axis powers (The first two while under command of Lt. Cmdr Mark Thornton (DSC)); the German U-559 on October 30th, 1942, the Italian Adua class submarine Uarsciek on December 15th, 1942, and the Japanese I-27 on February 12th, 1944. Petard survived the war and was eventually broken up in 1967. Her commander during the I-27 encounter, Egan, reportedly committed suicide in 1948, some allege over lingering guilt for dropping depth charges amongst the survivors. Paladin was out of commission for five months, but returned to action before the war’s end, served in the post war navy and was eventually broken up in 1962.
Eventually, about a month after the incident on May 15th, 1944 the I-27 was presumed lost by the Japanese in the Indian Ocean. Commander Fukumura was posthumously promoted Captain at this time, and then on the 25th promoted to Rear Admiral.
The I-27 was removed from the Navy List on July 10th, 1944. With the loss of the Khedive Ismail and the damage of HMS Paladin, Fukumura became the third highest scoring Japanese submarine commander of the war.