History of the I-52
of 1944, a huge Japanese transport submarine, the I-52, was enroute
from its home islands to German occupied France with a cargo of
290 metric tons of strategic materials. The Japanese were going
to exchange this cargo, which included tin, tungsten, rubber, and
two metric tons of gold, for German technology.
Japanese submarine rendezvoused with a German support submarine
(U-530) in the mid-Atlantic to take on fuel and technicians who,
ironically, were going to install anti-aircraft radar on the Japanese
vessel for the dangerous sail to the Bay of Biscay. Unknown to the
Japanese, the allies had broken their code. Each night when the
Japanese submarine surfaced to recharge its batteries, its coded
messages, which included its location, were being monitored.
escort carrier USS BOGUE, enroute to the U.S. from Europe, was given
new orders to find and destroy the Japanese submarine. After arriving
in the area of the meeting, flights of Avenger torpedo bombers took
off around the clock from the BOGUE, looking and listening. On the
night of June 24, 1944, an Avenger got a blip on its radar and dropped
flares. The submarine dove, and sonabuoys, dropped from antisubmarine
warfare squadron's aircraft, picked-up the 357-foot Japanese submarine
and commenced an attack. The first aircraft, piloted by Lt. Cmdr.
Jessie Taylor, dropped depth charges and then a Mark 24 "mine."
The Mark 24 was a code name for the then top secret acoustic torpedo
that was being used for the very first time in the war.
torpedo damaged the submarine, and the spot where the submarine
was last located was marked with a float light. Another Avenger,
piloted by Lt. William Gordon, arrived on the scene, its sonabuoys
picking up the sounds of the damaged submarine's cavitating propeller
noises. Another acoustic homing torpedo was dropped; finding and
critically crippling the Japanese submarine as it tried to get away.
years later, a Texas maritime researcher named Paul Tidwell, learned
of the I-52 while combing through newly declassified documents,
and decided to attempt to salvage the approximately $25 million
research, Tidwell came across references to 78-rpm records that
had been made at the former Naval Sound Laboratory in New London,
CT. The records, later made into tapes, were compilations of underwater
sounds used to train Navy sonar operators. Excerpts of those training
tapes are still requested for use by schools for use during marine
studies. On one of the recordings, the narrator notes "Here
are two more recordings of actual combat at sea, recorded by an
airborne magnetic wire recorder connected to a sonabuoy receiver
and intercom system." On the recording Lt. Gordon can be heard
talking to his crew, along with the sound of a torpedo exploding
and metal twisting.
contacted the Naval Historical Center in Washington DC, to see if
they could help locate any additional information on the original
Gordon wire recordings. The Historical Center in turn called the
Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division in Newport, the successor
to the Sound Laboratory. Coincidentally, that contact was made on
June 24, fifty-four years to the day of the I-52's sinking.
a lot of military facilities, the Division has undergone change
in recent years. Some "old stuff" did not survive the
closure of the New London Laboratory and the consolidation of its
personnel, records, etc. in Newport. Little hope was held for an
insignificant 50-year old spool of wire.
Mary Barravecchia, head of the Division's Technical Library, took
the lead to track down the recording. Originally employed in New
London, Barravecchia knew who the "keepers" were, and
of the nooks and crannies where a small spool of wire might hide.
amazement of all, two canisters, identified simply as "Gordon
wire No. 1" and "Gordon wire No. 2," marked June
24, 1944 were found.
Once the wire tapes were found, the search for a functioning recorder
began. The only place found to have a wire recorder still capable
of playing the recordings was the National Archives in Washington.
The original spools of hair-thin wire on which the last moments
the Japanese submarine I-52 were recorded have been transferred
to the National Archives for permanent retention.
Sub Wreck Could Reveal Japanese Peace Offer
Vietnam veteran could be about to answer one of the most intriguing
questions arising from the second world war: was Japan preparing
to seek peace with the allies more than a year before the war ended?
Paul Tidwell, a shipwreck salvager, said yesterday he believes wreckage
of a Japanese submarine sunk by US warplanes in the Atlantic on
June 23 1944 could contain a peace proposal from Tokyo that never
made it into the hands of its intended recipient. He plans to raise
the sub, the I-52, from its resting place 5,500 metres (18,000ft)
below the surface between Cape Verde and Barbados, 1,000 miles from
the nearest land. The vessel is thought to be carrying the remains
of 112 crew, two tonnes of gold and a similar quantity of opium.
learning about the I-52's mission while sifting through declassified
military documents in Washington in 1990, Mr. Tidwell's initial
interest became a passion.
knew I-52 was special, I knew there was gold on it," he said.
"I was driven to find out everything possible about the submarine
and her mission."
to the documents, Yoshikazu Fujimura, the assistant naval attache
in Switzerland, had been in secret peace negotiations with a US
representative, Allen Dulles. Mr Fujimura was sent to the port of
Lorient in German-occupied France to meet the I-52, and, some historians
believe, to receive the peace proposal. When the sub failed to show
up, he returned to Switzerland empty-handed. Mr Tidwell hopes to
have ended the speculation by this time next year. "Because
of the depth, paper is preserved."
I-52 could hold 300 tonnes of freight and travel 21,000 miles without
refuelling and was the most advanced submarine of its time. It was
sunk after a rendezvous with a German U-boat, during which it took
on board a radar detector and two operators that should have enabled
it to enter Lorient undetected. But by then the allies had cracked
the German Enigma code and US commanders in Washington knew exactly
where the I-52 was. They mistakenly believed the vessel might be
carrying information about atomic bombs, hence the order to destroy
it before it reached its destination. In 1944, when the Atlantic
Ocean was teeming with allied vessels, the only practical way to
carry senior military officials, messages and cargo between Japan
and Germany was by submarine.
salvage operation is expected to take about 30 days, with a further
two weeks needed to transport the sub to the US. Eventually Mr Tidwell
wants to return the I-52 to Japan. "We want to return all the
human remains to the Japanese families," he said. "We
have the full support of the Japanese government."
led two expeditions to the site, in 1994 and 1998, but was unable
to lay his hands on the sub's cargo. He did, however, return with
the personal belongings of several crew, as well as containers of
has been able to fund the project through a series of other projects
and investors. To date approximately $6 million has been spent.
Tokyo has agreed to reimburse Tidwell all the cost and an undisclosed
portion of the recovered gold. The submarine and artifacts will
be displayed in a museum in Kure, Japan.The submarine, after restoration,
will be displayed in a museum in Kure, Japan.
a large quantity of opium still thought to be on board, the US drug
enforcement administration says it will post two agents on the salvage
ship. The recovered opium will be donated to medical research to
see if the extreme pressure (8,000 psi) and cold has changed the
molecular structure of the opium.