USS Archerfish shortened the Second World War

“Nothing can sink Shinano,” barked Capt. Abe. “Continue course and speed.”

“Nothing can sink Shinano,” barked Capt. Abe. “Continue course and speed.”

August 1967 marked the visit of the United States Navy Balao-class submarine USS Archerfish to HMC Dockyard, Victoria. Unknown to most, this aging non-nuclear submarine, a sister to the RCN’s HMCS Grilse, was the star of one of the most historic naval attacks of the Second World War.

In fact, she boasted three unique distinctions. She was then the only hydrographic survey vessel in the USN; she logged up to 5,000 miles in a single month so every one of her crewman was a bachelor; she sank one of the largest warships in naval history.

Commissioned Sept. 4, 1943, at Portsmouth, N.H., she began her first war patrol four months later, out of Pearl Harbour. Exactly a year to the day of the laying of her keel, Lt.-Cdr. G.W. Kohl successfully stalked a 5,000-ton Japanese freighter off Formosa and scored his ship’s first strike.

Her second patrol, 42 days off Palau Island, was uneventful. But Archerfish’s third sweep, now under command of Lt.-Cdr. W.H. Wright, resulted in an impressive total of one 800-ton coastal defence craft sunk, a 10,000-ton transport and a second, unidentified vessel damaged despite heavy resistance.

It was Archerfish’s fifth patrol into enemy seas that brought her immortality and perhaps shortened the Second World War.

Darkness had fallen early that wintry evening of Nov. 27, 1944 and only a water-colour moon blinked from an overcast sky as the 50,000-ton super aircraft carrier Shinano and her four-destroyer escort sped at 20 knots for Matsuyama. Soon they’d reach the Combined Fleet Training Area for final manoeuvres. The Japanese were convinced, Shinano would change the course of the war in the South Pacific which Japan was steadily losing.

She was one of the best-kept secrets of the war. From the laying of her keel, four years before, to her maiden cruise, U.S. intelligence hadn’t had so much as an inkling of her existence. Originally intended as a battleship, she’d been altered to “super” flat-top in 1942 when the Imperial Admiralty became alarmed at the sinkings of British and German battlewagons. Built in the famous Yokosuka naval yard, Shinano was protected from prying eyes by enormous bamboo walls and specially-designed camouflage roofing. Only the finest craftsmen worked on the project.

Japanese intelligence worked painstakingly to mislead American naval authorities in the pre-Pearl Harbour months of 1941, convincing them that they were building a giant submarine, one capable of carrying three aircraft hangars on its deck for bombing the Panama Canal!

Now, three years later, Shinano, designed to carry as many as 70 bombers, was at sea. With her five-foot-thick flight deck of specially-treated concrete and steel, she could withstand most bombs then in existence. Such was the leviathan swiftly bearing down on a lone American submarine — USS Archerfish.

With the first B-29 attacks on the Japanese homeland, the submarine was on another lifeguard patrol when Cdr. J.F. Enright, in failing light, spotted the oncoming armada through his periscope. Because of the poor visibility he concluded it was an escort carrier, smallest of the Japanese line, screened by four destroyers. Because of their high rate of speed he had no choice but to attack on the surface.

When Archerfish was immediately spotted, Shinano’s Capt. Toshio Abe ordered general quarters and a zig-zag course at full speed, and a destroyer wheeled to investigate. Archerfish had no choice but to dive and run silently at periscope depth while Enright kept his eye on the target. The destroyer lost track of him and returned to the others which ceased to zig-zag in the apparent belief that it had been a false alarm.

As fate would have it, when Capt. Abe resumed his original course he brought his ship right across the submarine’s line of fire. Enright fired six torpedoes; minutes later, as a succession of dull explosions signalled that the torpedoes had found their mark, the submarine dived to escape the forthcoming depth-charge attack.

But Shinano carried on and away, leaving the Americans disappointed that they’d merely damaged her, an escort carrier at that.

When the cease-fire finally came in August 1945, Archerfish and 11 sister subs steamed into Tokyo Bay and berthed near the Yokosuka naval yard. After Japan’s historic surrender aboard the USS Missouri, Archerfish returned to Pearl Harbour. During two years of war she’d steamed 75,000 miles, most of them in hostile waters. Not until after V-J Day did the U.S. Navy learn of the monster carrier, Shinano. Even more time passed before the men of Archerfish were told of the incredible foe they’d stalked, in November 1944 and that their torpedoes had dealt her a mortal blow.

Incredibly, Capt. Abe had refused to believe his damage control reports that the pumps couldn’t handle the incoming seas. “Nothing can sink Shinano,” he barked. “Continue course and speed.” And sped on she did, leaving the destroyers to chase down her attacker.

Six hours later, Shinano, the world’s mightiest aircraft carrier, on her maiden voyage without ever having launched a plane, was heeling over and the at-last-believing Capt. Abe ordered abandon ship. Among the more than 500 officers and seamen lost was Capt. Abe who stood erect on her sloping bridge until he and his ship vanished beneath the waves.

To this day, armchair naval historians and strategists wonder what role the mighty Shinano might have played in those last months of hostilities before mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki finally ended the war.

For their historic feat the men of USS Archerfish were awarded one of the nation’s highest honours, the Presidential Unit Citation.

www.twpaterson.com

Just Posted

Desmond (Casey) Peter serves salmon and hamburgers to the waiting crowd at the Cowichan Tribes’ celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Cowichan Tribes celebrates National Indigenous People’s Day

First Nation members gather for day of fun and remembrance

The Crofton Pool will reopen July 2. (File photo by Don Bodger)
Lifeguard services returning to Fuller Lake Park, Crofton Pool

Summer schedule starting after hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic

Sierra Acton, regional district director for Shawnigan Lake. (file photo)
New parkland in Shawnigan creating connections

Used to created parking for the popular Masons Beach Park

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Chris Wilkinson
Chris Wilkinson column: This could be the worst thing done to you during the pandemic

As a result, all of us will contend with more ‘scarcity’ thinking and mindset.

A person stands in a tower on the perimeter of the Number 3 Detention Center in Dabancheng in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on April 23, 2021. Human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority and demanded unimpeded access for U.N. experts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 denounced by China as “politically motivated” and based on “lies.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Schiefelbein
VIDEO: Trudeau demands truth from China about Uyghurs

PM says Canada has admitted broken Indigenous relationship, unlike China on Uyghurs

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, middle right, participates in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in honour of the launch of Kelowna’s plasma donor centre at Orchard Plaza Mall on June 22. From left to right: Canadian Blood Services’ business development manager Janna Pantella, Canadian Blood Services’ operational excellence manager Tyler Burke, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and Canadian Blood Services’ centre manager Janine Johns. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
B.C.’s first dedicated plasma donor centre opens in Kelowna

The Kelowna location is the third dedicated plasma donor to open in Canada

Children walk with their parents to Sherwood Park Elementary in North Vancouver for the first day back to school on Sept. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Study reassures parents, teachers that COVID-19 infrequently shared at school

Federally funded study in Vancouver finds risk in the classroom and in the community identical

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday April 13, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Single-game sports betting about to become legal in Canada

Senate passes bill to take sports gambling away from overseas agencies

Point Roberts is part of the mainland United States but not physically connected to it, to reach the community by land one must pass through Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Closed Canadian border leaves Point Roberts’ only grocery store on verge of closure

‘We’re Americans but we’re not attached to America. It’s easy to forget we’re here,’ says owner Ali Hayton

The Somass Sawmill sits idle in early May 2021. While the kilns have been in use occasionally, and the lot has been used to store woodchips this spring, the mill has been curtailed since July 27, 2017. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni to expropriate Somass Sawmill from Western Forest Products

Sawmill has been ‘indefinitely’ curtailed since 2017

Robin Sanford and her fiance Simon Park were married in an impromptu ceremony at Abbotsford Regional Hospital on June 16. (Submitted photo)
Mom dies day after witnessing daughter’s hospital wedding in Abbotsford

Nurses help arrange impromptu ceremony in 3 hours for bride and groom

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. home owner grant won’t be altered, despite expert advice

Tax break for residences worth up to $1.6 million too popular

Most Read