- Gregory, Mackenzie J.
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2001 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
I-52, the Japanese submarine, was one of three Type C3 submarines that were built over 1943/1944.
This class designed as cargo carriers were huge boats, 356.5 feet long, with a beam of 30.5 feet, a tonnage of 2,564 tons, and carrying a crew of 94.
The cruising range was an incredible 21,000 nautical miles, at a speed of 12 knots.
It was in March of 1944 when I-52 left her base at Kure, bound for Lorient in occupied France, she was loaded with 2 tons of gold, and raw materials urgently needed in Nazi Germany, also on board were 14 experts from Japanese industrial companies such as Mitsubishi.
In return, the Japanese were seeking German technology, including radar.
I-52 called in at Singapore to load rubber, and 3 tons of quinine, and then shaped her course across the Indian ocean for the Cape of Good Hope.
The Allies’ signal intelligence and code breaking expertise allowed them to intercept and read all of I-52’s reports to both Tokyo and Berlin. Her cargo and reported progress were known, and an American task force including the small escort carrier USS Bogue, (converted from a merchant ship hull, and carrying 14 aircraft) was positioned to intercept this Japanese submarine blockade runner.
On June 23, 1944, the German U-Boat U-530, met with I-52 in mid Atlantic about 870 nautical miles from the Cape Verde Islands, and transferred two German radio ratings, Petty Officers Schulze and Behrendt, plus radar detection equipment, to be installed, and working prior to I-52 reaching dangerous European waters. Just over two hours later these submarines parted company, and the Japanese boat cruised on the surface, at 15 knots, on a dark moonless night, no doubt feeling to be quite safe in this part of the Atlantic Ocean.
But I-52, was carrying an entirely false hope, at that time she was being tracked by airborne radar carried by an Avenger bomber which had earlier been launched from the Bogue. It was piloted by Lieutenant Commander Jesse D. Taylor, he quickly dropped two flares which lit up I-52, then two depth charges (which missed) close to the submarine’s starboard side. The submarine crash-dived, and the Avenger dropped a purple coded Sono buoy to track I-52.
Sono buoys are dropped in the ocean by aircraft, usually in a pattern of five buoys, they are colour-coded: Purple, Orange, Blue, Red and Yellow, (POBRY). Each buoy floats, and transmits any underwater sounds it picks up from a submarine in the near vicinity. The searching aircraft is able to monitor each buoy in turn to listen for sounds emitted by its target.
(During my specialist Torpedo Anti-Submarine course in UK over 1947 and part of 1948, I spent time at Londonderry in Northern Ireland, flying in Liberator Bombers, dropping patterns of Sonobuoys over suspected submarine positions and then monitoring the results. It was quite exciting to hear the noise level emanating from the submarine’s propellors, when one had scored a bullseye with the sonobuoys, and then could calculate the course and speed of the target boat.)
Taylor now launched an acoustic torpedo, designed to home onto I-52’s propeller noise, it quickly found its target, a loud explosion followed, then quietness descended on the scene, as the Japanese submarine with all its crew and passengers sank to the ocean floor.
The exact location of the sunken I-52 has remained a mystery for over 50 years.
In 1991, a Texan, Paul Tidwell, a former US army infantryman who had served two tours in Vietnam, and had won a Purple Heart, commenced to scour recently declassified documents in the National Archives, looking for details of I-52, and its likely resting place, some 3.2 miles down on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, at a depth of 1 mile further down than that at which Titanic had been found.
A private investor was unearthed, and he put one million dollars into Tidwell’s All Holdings Company, and a Seattle based company, Sound Ocean Systems was approached about locating the Japanese submarine wreck using a side scan sonar towed above the ocean floor. At this stage, the search area was still a formidable 100 square miles of ocean, and the sea bed was uneven.