Wahoo Japanese Veterans Lunch
On November 16, 2000, I joined four Japanese veterans for a 3 hour Wahoo
lunch. Joining me were Kayoko Itoh and Keiko Takada who both work for me
at Merrill Lynch in Tokyo and have been invaluable assistance in the ongoing
Wahoo research. Included here is a group photo.
Before I summarize what we discussed, an introduction of the participants
is in order:
Background: Each year, a group of Japanese WWII midget submarine veterans
meets in Tokyo in a kind of informal reunion. Far from merely
dwelling on their own exploits, the Wahoo has become sort of a quest
for them. We were invited to join this year.
Kazuo Ueda: Vice Admiral, JMSDF Navy Retired
If there is one person who is responsible more than any other of what we
know of the Wahoo's fate, it is Ueda-san. He has devoted many years
of research into the Japanese archives. During the closing days of
WWII, he was a crewman aboard a 5 man midget submarine.
Satoru Saga: Ensign, Imperial Japanese Navy Retired
Along with Ueda-san, has contributed significantly to the knowledge that
we currently have about the Wahoo's final battle. A resident of Wakkanai,
Hokkaido for many decades, Saga-san knows personally many of the people
who participated in the attack on the Wahoo. He was the key person
from the Japanese side for construction of the Wahoo memorial in Wakkanai.
Along with Ueda-san, he was aboard a midget submarine during the
Yasuhiro "Tommy" Tamagawa: Captain, JMSDF Navy Retired.
Fluent in English, Tamagawa-san has been a liaison between the Japanese
and American navies since the early 1950's when he was part of a officer
exchange program and was assigned to Quantico Marine base. Tommy-san
requested early retirement when he finished his duty as the Japanese Naval
Attaché to the United States in 1974 to live in the States, and
retired as a Captain. In 1985 he was asked to become an American citizen
in order to have access to SECRET material. Until recently, he was a manager
at Lockheed Martin working on selling the AEGIS system to Japan; he retired
from Lockheed in 2001 and now works as a consultant to the U. S. Navy.
Tamagawa-san was Master of Ceremonies at the Wahoo Peace Memorial dedication
in 1995. Like Ueda-san and Saga-san, Tamagawa-san was aboard a midget
submarine during the war. He describes their assignment has a kind
of suicide mission. They were stationed in Japan inland sea to fend off
the anticipated American invasion in 1945. Fortunately for us all, the
invasion never came.
Noritaka Kitazawa: Captain, JMSDF Navy Retired
Junior to the other three and not active during WWII, he now works at the
Japan National Institute for Defense Studies. Kitazawa-san has been extremely
helpful during the Wahoo research including assistance in finding the long
lost final battle photos.
Keiko Takada: Works at Merrill Lynch Japan
Takada-san has a law degree and is an experienced researcher in Government
archives. Working with Kitazawa-san, Takada-san uncovered many documents
including the two photographs of the Wahoo under attack.
Also works at Merrill Lynch Japan. Kayoko is fluent in both Japanese
and English and has been very helpful during translations and interpretation.
The man luckily enough to know all these people.
Visibility is approx. 10 meters depth from the surface. Sea floor
depth is approx. 60 meters. The current is swift and varies from 1 to 1.5
Knots. The combination of tides, current, and the intersection of
warm waters from the Japan sea and cold waters from the North Pacific makes
for often turbulent seas and poor atmospheric conditions.
Ueda-san believes the claim of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) firing
upon a surfaced Wahoo is bogus. At the closest approach, the Wahoo
was 12 nautical miles from nearest shore and would be extremely difficult,
if not impossible, to see. He has a healthy contempt of IJA capabilities
and feels they made the claim sometime after the battle simply to share
in the glory. More likely, the Japanese were just on the alert and happened
to see a small oil slick coming from a propeller shaft. Such slicks
are common enough and the Wahoo was cursed by uncommonly fair weather.
The Wahoo was under water and close to the surface, probably to avoid the
FINDING THE WRECK
The site of the Wahoo is thought to be one of two places. Either
the site of the battle or a location about 10 miles east where fishermen
often caught their nets (to the point they don't go there much any more).
Within Russian waters in either case. Getting permission from the Russians
is important. The Japanese coast guard would be responsible for any mishaps
The idea of just dropping a camera down in at the two locations was
discussed as was use of Sonar and even ASW airplanes. Ultimately,
the discussion would flow back to Russian permission. I suggested I could
write a letter the Russian embassy in Tokyo. Tamagawa-san suggested addressing
it to the Naval Attaché.
A Russian sub is believed to have been sunk in the region during the
closing days of the war, possibly after hitting a mine. This sub
left port, attacked a Japanese ship, then disappeared. It's location is
We exchanged documents and photographs. I was presented with a comprehensive
set of documents from Saga-san including the map with the latest known
locations pinpointed. With this and what I had before, I think I just have
about all documents that are available in Japan.
The Wahoo Peace Memorial is in good shape. Some minor repairs have
been made and the city of Wakkanai is taking it over. Expected maintenance