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.

The Participants

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 war.

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.

Kayoko Itoh

Also works at Merrill Lynch Japan.  Kayoko is fluent in both Japanese and English and has been very helpful during translations and interpretation.

Bryan MacKinnon

The man luckily enough to know all these people.

The discussions


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 suspected mines.


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 otherwise.
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 unknown.


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 is low.