Historia y Arqueologia Marítima


Indice Desastres... Indice Accidentes Maritimos

Desastres Maritimos de la 2ª Guerra Mundial

1944 (Esta seccion sera traducida en breve)

Estas Páginas son una traduccion especial del sitio de George Duncan "Maritime Disasters of WWII" y se hacen con el debido permiso del autor.

Traduccion: CF ARA Carlos Villa

Esta página está dedicada a todos aquellos que lucharon en las batallas navales de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. -

(February 12, 1944)

Egyptian transport of 7,513 tons requisitioned as a troopship while docked in Bombay in 1940. The ship was carrying 1,511 people including 178 ships crew, 996 men of the 301st Field Regiment, East African Artillery, 271 Royal Navy personnel and a detachment of 19 British Wrens. Also on board were 53 nursing sisters with one matron and 9 WTS girls (Women's Transport Service). While enroute from Mobasa, Africa to Colombo, Ceylon, in convoy KR-8, the ship was torpedoed in the Indian Ocean. It took only 1 minute 40 seconds for the ship to sink taking 1,297 of her passengers and crew with her. There were only 214 survivors from the vessel, a victim of the Japanese submarine I-27 commanded by Lt-Cdr Fukumura. The I-27 was then blown apart by torpedoes fired from two of the escort destroyers, HMS Petard and HMS Paladin.

(February 18, 1944)
British cruiser (Captain George D. Belben) launched in 1935 and sunk by a torpedo from the German submarine U-410 (Oberleutnant Horst-Arno Fenski). The Penelope was returning from the Anzio beach-head to Naples when she went down at 0718hrs taking the lives of 417 members of her wartime complement of 623. The U-410 was later destroyed on March 11, 1944 during a US bombing raid on the Vichy Naval Base at Toulon.
Click on "The Penelope Survivors Association" to access their website.

(March 17, 1944)

Dutch passenger liner (17024 tons) being used as a troopship, was sunk in the Mediterranean by the U- 371 (Lt-Cdr Mehl). A total of 498 U.S. troops on board, died. The Dempo was part of convoy SNF.17. The year before, on October 13, 1943, the U-371 sank the U.S. destroyer, USS Bristol, off Algeria. On May, 4, 1944, the U-371 was herself sunk in the Mediterranean north of Constintine by depth charges from 4 destroyers including the American destroyer USS Pride and the British destroyer H.M.S Blankney. Three of her crew were killed and 48 taken prisoner.

(April 26-May 6, 1944)

A Japanese convoy (Operation Take-Ichi) transporting around 20,000 troops, en route from Shanghai to reinforce the Japanese garrison of Halmahera on the Vogelkop Peninsula, was attacked by the American submarine USS Jack. The Yoshida Maru was carrying an entire Japanese Army regiment of 3,000 men. There were no survivors when the ship was sunk off Manila Bay. On the 6th of May, the American submarine USS Gurnard spotted the convoy and attacked. Her torpedoes sank the transports Tenshizan Maru (6,886 tons)  Taijima Maru (6,995 tons) and the Aden Maru (5,824 tons)  Nearly half of the troops that embarked at Shanghai were lost.

(June 19, 1944)

Japanese aircraft carrier (25,675 tons) sunk about 140 miles off the island of Yap, during the two day Battle of the Philippine Sea. A spread of six torpedoes were fired from the submarine USS Cavalla (Lt. Cmdr. Kossler) three of which struck the Shokaku. Badly damaged, the carrier ground to a halt. One torpedo had hit the forward aviation fuel tanks near the main hanger and planes which had just landed and were being refueled, exploded into flames. Ammunition and exploding bombs added to the conflagration as did burning fuel spewing from shattered fuel pipes. With her bows subsiding into the sea and fires now out of control, the captain gave orders to abandon ship. Within minutes, total catastrophe struck the ship. Volatile gas fumes had accumulated throughout the vessel and when an aerial bomb exploded on the hanger deck, a series of terrific explosions simply blew the ship apart. The mighty carrier, now a blazing inferno, rolled over and slid beneath the waves taking 887 navy officers and men plus 376 men of Air Group 601, a total of 1,263 men in all, to the seabed. There were 570 survivors, including the carriers' commander, Captain Matsubara Hiroshi.
                    (The USS Cavalla is now on public display at Galveston, Texas).

(June 19, 1944)

The largest and newest carrier in the Japanese fleet, sunk west of Guam during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, by one torpedo hit from the USS Albacore. The 29,300 ton vessel, the flagship of Vice Admiral Jisburo Ozawa, sunk after a catastrophic explosion caused by gasoline fumes igniting near an electric generator. Of a complement of 1,751 a total of 1,650 crewmen were lost. The USS Albacore (Lt.Cmdr. H. Rimmer) was lost during her 11th patrol off the coast of Japan, on November 7, 1944, after hitting a mine while submerging. Her crew of 86 perished.

(June 20, 1944)

Japanese aircraft carrier also sunk during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Hit by bombs and aerial torpedoes from Avenger aircraft from the carrier USS Belleau Wood, part of the U.S. Task Force 38, she was set on fire after a tremendous blast from leaking aviation fuel. Dead in the water, the burning Hiyo then slipped stern first under the waves, taking the lives of 250 officers and men. The rest of her crew survived to be rescued by Japanese destroyers. The Philippine Sea battle was a disaster for the Japanese naval air arm, only 35 out of Admiral Ozawa's 473 planes were left in a condition fit to fly. Soon the loss of the Marianas, Tinian, Saipan and the island of Guam forced the resignation of the Japanese prime minister General Tojo.

(June 24, 1944)

Part of a convoy sailing towards Japan with 772 Australian, British and American prisoners of war on board. With the lights of Japan in sight, one of the ships in the convoy, exploded after being torpedoed by the U.S. submarine Tang.  Nearby, the Tamahoko Maru was almost blown apart and water poured in through a gaping hole in her side. On top of the main hatch cover 80 men were sleeping. Not one of them survived. As the Tamahoko (6,780 tons) settled in the water, hundreds of prisoners jumped into the sea and soon a Japanese whale-chaser appeared and started picking up survivors. The final count was that 560 POWs had died. Of the 267 Australians on board only 72 survived. Fifteen US soldiers and sailors were killed as well as thirteen merchant seamen rescued from the sunk freighter American Leader.  Next day, 212 survivors of the Tamahoko Maru were brought into the harbour at Nagasaki to spend the rest of the war in POW camp, Fukuoka 13.

(June 29, 1944)

Japanese 7,089-ton troop transport torpedoed by the USS Sturgeon. The vessel was carrying the 6,000 plus men of the Japanese 44th Independent Mixed Brigade from Kyushu to Okinawa. As the torpedoes hit, thousands of drums of gasoline exploded turning the holds into a fiery hell. There were about 600 survivors, a death toll of around 5,400. The year before on December 15, 1943, a total of 504 Canadian POWs from the Sham Shui Camp in Hong Kong were transported on the Soung Cheong to Japan via Takao, Formosa. At Takao, the prisoners were then embarked on the Toyama Maru and all were transported safely to Moji, Japan on the 5/6th January, 1944. During the voyage, Rifleman Doucet of the Royal Rifles of Canada was beaten in a most brutal manner by the Japanese interpreter Nimori. Kicked in the stomach as he lay on the deck he never recovered from this attack and died in the Marumi POW camp a month later. Nimori was eventually tried by a British Military Court in Hong Kong and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.


(July 9, 1944)   Troopship of the Imperial Japanese Army sunk off the Chishima Islands in the Kuril Islands chain, probably by an American submarine. The ship departed from the port of Otaro in Hokkaido with around 2,000 troops and crew on board. The troops included 182 Koreans who were conscripted into the Japanese army during the Pacific War. Casualty toll on the Taihei Maru amounted to 956 deaths. (A total of 708 Koreans died while fighting for Japan during WW11).

(August 24, 1944)

Passenger/cargo ship of 6,754 tons, sunk by the U.S. submarine USS Bowfin just north-west of the island of Akuseki. The Tsushima, unmarked and unlighted, was evacuating some 1,788 persons including children, school teachers and some parents, from Okinawa to the mainland of Japan prior to the American landings on the Ryukyu Islands. The attack on Convoy Namo 103, which included the Tsushima , was carried out at night between 10 and 11.30 pm. The ship sank in less than fifteen minutes and took the lives of 1,529 souls. Some survivors managed to cling to rafts for three days before being picked up. Of the 826 children on board, 741 drowned. There were only 59 child survivors. 

(September 7, 1944)

Japanese 2,634-ton transport carrying hundreds of US and Filipino prisoners of war, captured near Lasang, were being transported from the island of Mindano when attacked by an American submarine, the USS Paddle commanded by Lt. Cdr. Byron Nowell. A torpedo hit the Shinyo Maru blowing her apart, the bow section sinking with hundreds of  men trapped inside. But many survived the sinking, some making their way to Sindangan Bay in Mindano. There, they contacted Filipino guerrillas who radioed for help. The U.S. submarine Norwhal was contacted, and being in the area of the sinking, proceeded at full speed to search for any survivors. As luck would have it, 81 persons were plucked from the water. A total of 667 American and Filipino POWs were killed in the explosion or drowned when the ship went down. Some were  shot by the Japanese while attempting to swim to shore. 

(September 12\13, 1944)

On September 4th. 2,218 Australian and British prisoners of war, who had survived the building of the Death Railway, were marched the three miles from the Valley Road camp in Singapore, to the docks to board the two twenty-three old passenger/cargo ships Rakuyo Maru (9,500 tons) and the Kachidoki Maru (10,500 tons) The Kachidoki  was the ex  US ship President Harrison salvaged by the Japanese.  Both vessels were bound for Formosa.  In the South China Sea, the convoy, consisting of three transports, two tankers and four escorting destroyers, was attacked by three American submarines, the Growler, Sealion and the Pampanito. The Rakuyo and Kachidoki  were both sunk by torpedoes 300 miles west of Cape Bojeador, Luzon.  A total of 1,144 British and Australian POWs lost their lives. Among those lost were thirty-three men from HMAS Perth. All told there were 1,074 survivors, 141 were picked up by the three submarines and the USS Queenfish and USS Barb which arrived later and in heavy seas rescued another thirty-two before heading for Saipan.  The Japanese destroyers rescued 520 British prisoners from the Kachidoki (488 POWs and crew had died) and 277 British and Australians from the Rakuyo, to again become POWs.

(September 18, 1944)

The 5,065 ton Japanese cargo ship 'Junyo Maru ', built in Glasgow by the shipbuilders Robert Duncan Co., was en route from Java to Sumatra, when hit by two torpedoes from the British Triton Class submarine HMS Tradewind (Lt.Cmdr. S. Maydon) which had departed its base in Trincomalee on September 8. On board were 1,377 Dutch, 64 British and Australian Prisoners of War and a few dozen American merchant seamen. Also on board were 4,200 Javanese slave labourers bound for work on the 220km long railway line being built between Pakan Baru and Muaro in Sumatra. Packed into the holds like sardines, it was 'standing room only' with very little chance of escape in an emergency. The Junyo Maru was by this time just a rust bucket. The death toll amounted to 5,620 dead, the world's greatest sea disaster up till that time. A total of 723 survivors were rescued by Japanese ships, only to be employed on the building of the railway. Many did not survive the war. Of the 100 odd Dutch nationals who survived the sinking, ten died on the railway. As the ship was unmarked the submarine commander could not have known that the ship carried such a cargo.

However, a few of these sinkings were carried out in the full knowledge that the ships carried prisoners-of-war. The Japanese naval code had been broken and was being deciphered and read by the Allies. The codes reported the sailing times, destinations and cargo of all convoys so the Allies knew which convoys were carrying prisoners.  But the submarine commanders were ordered to attack the convoys, not any specific vessel. There was no way of knowing which of the ships carried POWs.

(September 21, 1944)

Japanese transport carrying 1,289 prisoners-of-war enroute from Singapore to Japan was attacked and sunk by U.S. torpedo carrying bombers. Loaded with British and Dutch POWs, it stopped at Manila to unload the sick and dying. It sailed again in convoy and was attacked again when only three days out. It took only a few minutes for the ship to go down drowning around 1,047 men who were trapped in the holds. Less than 250 survived. 

(September 27, 1944)

Japanese transport ship (6,374 tons) sunk by the American submarine USS Flasher 150 miles off Masinlik, Philippines. About 2,000 of the 2,340 people on board were drowned.

(October 23-26, 1944)

The giant 64,200 ton Japanese battleship built at the Mitsubishi Shipyard in Nagasaki, was sunk during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The super battleship took 6 torpedo hits and 17 bomb hits during four attacks from the 259 planes of Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet. The Musashi , her speed now down to six knots and her bows almost at sea level, then rolled over on her port side and sank taking 1,023 of her crew to their deaths. This was nearly half of her complement of 2,200 men. Her captain, Real Admiral Inoguichi Toshihira, went down with his ship.

(October 23-26, 1944)

American light carrier was one of the six US warships sunk in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement since Jutland. The other five ships were the Gamber Bay (119 men were killed) and the USS St Lo, both escort carriers, the destroyers Hoel (202 killed) and Johnston (187 killed) and destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts. Casualties from the six ships were 898 killed and 913 wounded. The Gamber Bay was the only U.S. carrier sunk by naval gunfire in World War 11.

(October 25, 1944)

American aircraft carrier sunk in the Battle of Leyte Gulf  by a Japanese Zeke-52 kamikaze aircraft. The plane hit the St.Lo at 1053hrs. Shortly after, a massive explosion of her own magazines caused an enormous mushroom shaped cloud to rise above the doomed vessel. Another six or seven explosions occurred after her commander, Captain F.J. McKenna, gave the order to abandon ship. The St. Lo disappeared beneath the sea at 11.25 hrs taking with her 126 members of her crew. Her escort destroyer, USS Dennis, rescued 434 survivors.

(October 24, 1944)

Japanese freighter of 6,886-tons bound for Japan (in convoy of 17 ships) from Manila Bay in the Philippines. In the holds were about 100 civilians and 1,782 American prisoners of war, being transported as slave labourers to work in the mines and factories of Japan. Crowded so close together they could not lie down, the holds soon became a hell-hole as the temperature soared to over 100 degrees F. The lack of fresh air caused many to go mad as the holds became fouled by the stench of sweating bodies, urine and human excrement. As the ship sailed into a typhoon, the odour of vomit from the hundreds of sea sick prisoners added to the wretched conditions. Four days out into the China Sea, in the Bashi Straits, at 1500 hrs on the 24th, a terrible jolt shook the ship from bow to stern as three torpedoes from the American submarine USS Shark (some sources say USS Snook...but both these submarines failed to return from that patrol) split the ship in two. The two halves separated but remained afloat only to sink two hours later. Most of the Japanese crew and guards were the first to escape by the few available lifeboats. Those guards left behind were set upon by the enraged POWs and killed. Only seven men survived the sinking by clinging to wreckage. Five reached the Chinese coast and two were picked up by a Japanese destroyer. As the Arisan Maru was unmarked, the captain of the submarine had no way of knowing that the ship carried POWs. 

Many other 'hell ships' sailed the pacific seas and were sunk during the last three years of the war but little is known about them.  After the war investigators discovered that the Japanese had destroyed numerous  records of these voyages. 

Between 1942 and 1945 it is recorded that 134 Japanese ships made 156 voyages carrying POWs. The number of prisoners amounted to 126,064 of which 21,039 died.

(October 24-25, 1944)

Japanese battleship (39,154 tons) sunk during the night Battle of Surigao Strait, Leyte, by a torpedo from the American destroyer USS Melvin. Badly damaged, she lost speed and fell out of formation only to blow up in a cataclysmic explosion half an hour later at 0340hrs. The Fuso (Admiral Masami Ban) broke in two parts, the two sections remaining afloat and blazing furiously only a short distance from the northern tip of Kanihaan Island. The bow section was sunk by gunfire from the USS Louisville and the stern section sank half an hour later after having drifted with the current for some distance. Many survivors swimming in the sea refused to be rescued by U.S. ships. The Japanese destroyer Asagumo may have, or may not have, rescued some of Fuso's survivors but she herself was torpedoed and sunk with all on board at 0721 hrs. Those that survived the sinking of the Fuso and made it to shore, were butchered by Philippine natives out for revenge. The entire crew of the Fuso therefore died, the exact number is not known but estimates put her full complement at just over 1,400 men. (The last Japanese battleship still afloat at war's end was the NAGATO. It was sunk off Bikini Atoll during one of the atomic bomb tests in 1946)

(October 24-25, 1944)

Flagship of Vice Admiral Nishimura Shoji and sister ship of the Fuso, sunk during the Battle of Surigao Strait. As the formation entered the Strait, the ships were attacked by PT Boats and destroyers of the U.S. Battle Force under the command of Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf. One of her escorting destroyers, the Yamagumo, hit by a torpedo, blew up and sank with all hands. The Yamashiro, after being hit by four torpedoes, started to list and when the list reached 45 degrees the order to 'Abandon Ship' was given. The order came too late, for after two minutes the ship abruptly capsized taking most of her 1,400 crew to the depths. There were only ten survivors who were rescued by the USS Claxton.

(October 31, 1944)

Ex refrigerated cargo ship converted to a troop transport in 1942 and then to a hospital ship early in 1944, sailed from the Latvian port of Windau at 1730 hrs on October 29th, bound for Gotenhaven in the Bay of Danzig. On board were 1,515 wounded soldiers (stretcher cases) 156 walking wounded, 680 refugees, 511 workers from Organization Todt, 200 SS guards, 42 medical staff, 22 anti-aircraft gunners and 45 civilian crew, a total of 3,171 persons. At 0930hrs on the 31st, the ship, commanded by Captain Grass, was attacked by five Russian planes when about 60 miles from its destination. Hit by one air-borne torpedo and two bombs, one of which exploded in the ship's ammunition store setting the ship on fire. When the fire got out of control, the order to abandon ship was given. Luckily, the Bremerhaven (5355 Tons) stayed afloat long enough for rescue boats to approach and save 2,795 from the burning vessel. Unfortunately, 410 souls were lost as the ship rolled over and sank. Those lost included 113 soldiers, 289 refugees and eight crew members.

(November 5, 1944)

Japanese heavy cruiser(13,380 tons. Captain Kanooka Enpei)  In an attempt to escape American air raids on Manila harbour, the Nachi  headed for the open sea but another strike from Halsey's Task Force 38, caught the Nachi  just off Corregidor. Immobilized with bomb hits and a torpedo strike in the starboard boiler room, the ship lay dead in the water only to be attacked again by another air strike, this time taking 5 torpedo hits. The Nachi simply blew apart and sank at 1645hrs. A total of 807 of her crew died, plus 74 Fifth Fleet staff. There were 220 men who survived the blast. (This is according to the official US Navy report)

The latest version of the sinking of the NACHI.   The cruiser was damaged in a collision with the Japanese cruiser Mogami and needed repairs in Japan. Before sailing she was loaded with 100 metric tons of looted gold bullion and towing a barge loaded with drums full of silver and gold coins, diamonds and gemstones. The Nachi sailed out into Manila Bay where she was deliberately torpedoed by a Japanese submarine lying in wait. All crew were machine-gunned in the water. The looted gold was to be retrieved after the war. In 1975 the first attempt was made to find the wreck but ended in failure. Later that year, President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines financed an expedition to recover the treasure and according to numerous sources finally recovered the gold which in 1975 was worth six billion US dollars. Gold at that time was selling at $65 an ounce. Other Marcus assets, deposited in Swiss banks, were frozen in 1998. Now (July 2003) these assets total 1.6 billion dollars. The Philippine Supreme Court has requested this money be returned to the Philippine Government. Swiss authorities have agreed to do this.

(November 10, 1944)

Named after the 11,225 ft high extinct volcano in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Commissioned on August 6, 1944, she set sail on the 21st. October bound for the Pacific Theatre via the Panama Canal. Fully loaded with ammunition and explosives, the Mount Hood anchored at Seeadler Harbour in the Admiralty Islands, the largest American Naval Base west of Pearl Harbor. There, on the 10th of November, while the ship was dispersing ammunition to other vessels preparing for the invasion of the Phillipines, the ship blew up at 08.55hrs in a terrible explosion sending up a smoke cloud 7,000 feet into the air. The largest part of the ship found after the explosion measured 16ft by 10ft. The ships former position was shown by a trench on the harbour floor, 300 feet long, 50 feet wide and 35 feet deep. The Mount Hood and all its crew aboard at the time, simply disappeared. The tragedy took the lives of 295 men aboard the ship plus 49 men killed on other ships in the harbour, 371 men were injured. There were 18 survivors from the Mount Hood who were ashore when the ship blew up. Thus ended the ships career, after only four months service. Controversy still rages as to whether this accident was the result of careless handling of ammunition or a torpedo from a Japanese midget submarine.

(November 12, 1944)

The 44,755 ton German battleship commissioned in 1941 (sister ship to the Bismarck) was named after the creator of the German High Seas Fleet, Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, and out of action for six months following an attack by Royal Navy midget submarines. Only once during the war did the Tirpitz fire its huge guns and that was in the bombardment of Spitzbergen in September, 1943, which destroyed the Allied base there. On Sept 17, 1944, it was again attacked while holed up in Altenfjord in Norway. For this attack the Soviets co-operated by permitting the RAF to use their airfield at Yagodnik. The Tirpitz was damaged but not sunk. The battleship was then moved to south to Tromso and moored in Sorbotn off Hakoya Island. For the next attack on November12th, the RAF dispatched 32 Lancaster bombers from No. 9 and 617 Squadrons based at Lossiemouth, Scotland. Flying at 14,000 feet, they scored three direct hits with 12,000 pound Tallboy bombs tearing open her hull for a hundred feet. The Tirpitz turned completely over, her upperworks hitting the shallow bottom leaving her stuck there with only her red keel above the water. Trapped inside were 971 crewmen who slowly died as the water rose. Only 76 men survived by making their way up to the bottom of the hull which was then cut open by rescue teams. The wreck was scrapped in situ after the war. (The sinking of the Tirpitz was further proof that battleships had become obsolete)


The photograph above, although of poorish quality is believed to be one of only a few that shows the "Tirpitz"  after she rolled over after being bombed by Lancasters of RAF Bomber Command.



(November 21, 1944)   Built in Britain by Vickers & Son at Barrow. On October 25th, 1944, the 36,601 ton Japanese battleship Kongo was badly damaged by air attacks during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. A gash on her starboard side opened up fifteen oil tanks, the contents of which poured into the sea. The damage forced the Kongo to attempt a return voyage to Japan for repairs. While plowing through rough seas in the Formosa Strait she was attacked by the American submarine USS Sealion (Captain Eli Reich). Two torpedoes hit the battleship causing a list of 20 degrees. Heading for the nearest port of Keelung on Formosa, some sixty-five nautical miles distant, the list increased to 45 degrees. It became obvious to the captain and crew that the Kongo was sinking and the order to 'Abandon Ship' was given. When the list accelerated past 60 degrees, tragedy struck. Her forward 14-inch magazine exploded with horrifying results and the Kongo rolled over and slipped under the waves. Some 1,250 officers and men were lost. Her escorts, the destroyers Hamakaze and Isokaze rescued survivors. The Hamakaze picking up seven officers and 139 men, the Isokaze rescued six officers and 85 men, a total of 347 survivors. A third escort, the destroyer Urakaze, was also sunk by the Sealion taking all hands, 307 men, to their deaths.

(November 25, 1944)

Japanese heavy cruiser, a survivor of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. (in which Japan lost 26 ships, the US, 6 ships) The badly damaged vessel lost 56 officers and men killed and 99 wounded. The Kumano (Captain Hitomi Soichiro) managed to escape to Manila for repairs. On her next sortie she was hit by torpedoes from a US submarine but again made it home. Dubbed the 'ship with nine lives' her luck finally ran out on 25th November when, en route to Formosa, she was attacked by Avenger planes of Air Group 80 from the carrier USS Ticonderoga. Four direct hits by 500 lb bombs slowed the ship down but next came an attack with aerial torpedoes scoring 5 hits on the disabled ship. Listing at an angle of 45 degrees the order to 'Abandon Ship' was given. The Kumano then turned turtle, her hull showing above the water. Survivors clinging to the hull and swimming in the water were subjected to strafing by the American planes. At 5.15pm she slid under the waves taking 440 men including her captain, out of a complement of 1,036, with her. In all, she had absorbed a total of eight torpedoes and six bombs before sinking.

(November 27, 1944)

Norwegian troop transport under German control and part of a southbound convoy, was carrying military equipment, 450 Wehrmacht troops, Russian POWs and manned by Norwegian sailors, was attacked north of Namos by Fleet Air Arm planes from the British carrier HMS Implacable. The Rigel (3,828 tons) was carrying 2,838 persons including 2,248 Russian prisoners of war on their way to a POW camp in Germany. Hit by five bombs from the British planes outside Helgeland, a total of 2,571 lives were lost. There were only 267 survivors. Of the ten Norwegian crew on board only one survived. The pilots had no way of knowing that the ship they sank carried their Russian allies.

(November 29,1944)

Named after the Shinano provence of Japan, this 71,890 ton super battleship, now converted to the world’s largest aircraft carrier, set sail on her maiden voyage on Nov. 28, 1944 escorted by three destroyers. Enroute to the safety of the Inland Sea to conduct her sea trials, she was spotted by the American submarine USS Archer-Fish commanded by Joseph F. Enright USN. On board the Shinano were 2515 officers and men plus some 300 shipyard workers and 40 civilian employees. The Archer-Fish fired a volley of six torpedoes, four of which struck the carrier on the starboard side causing a torrent of sea water to flood in. Developing a list of over 20 degrees the mighty ship lay dead in the water. Her escort destroyers came alongside to take off the crew, shipyard workers and civilians, who had started to panic. Hundreds of others jumped into the sea, clinging to anything that would float. Too weak to haul themselves aboard the destroyers they fell back into the water and drowned. Her short life of 17 hours at sea ended at 10.55 hrs. on the 29th. November when the brand new carrier slid to the bottom without having once fired her guns. From her complement of 2,515 a total of 1,435 souls perished. There were 1,080 survivors including 55 officers, 993 ratings and 32 civilians. Joseph F. Enright, commander of the Archer-Fish, was awarded the Navy Cross at Pearl Harbour in March, 1945. The commander of the Shinano, Captain Toshio Abe, went down with his ship. Archer-Fish ended her career in 1968 on the ocean floor off San Diego when she was used as a target for a new type of torpedo fired by the nuclear submarine USS Snook.

(December 1944)

These two 7,000 ton Japanese passenger ships were being used to transport some 1,619 American Prisoners of War, mostly officers, to Japan. Marched through the streets of Manila from the Bilibid POW Camp to Pier 7 for boarding, the prisoners were crammed into the holds, standing room only. Also on board were around 700 civilians plus 100 crew and 30 Japanese guards. Already overloaded, the Oryoku Maru then took on about 1,000 seamen, survivors of ships sunk in Manila Harbour. It was spotted on her next day out at sea by US Navy carrier planes and attacked. The Oryoku Maru sailed into Subic Bay in the Philippines and ran aground to prevent her sinking. The attack continued over a period of two days in which 286 US soldiers were killed. The survivors, who were forced to swim ashore, were then transported by truck and train to San Fernando and thence to other ships, the Enoura Maru and Brazil Maru.  Reaching Takao in Formosa, the Enoura Maru was bombed, killing around 316. The survivors, numbering 925,  were then transferred to the Brazil Maru  which also carried a cargo of 12,000 bags of sugar, and sailed for Japan on January 14, 1945. Conditions on board were indescribable, hundreds dying on the way from the cold, lack of air and water. On arrival at Moji in Japan two weeks later, only 475 were alive. Of these, 161 died within the first month ashore. Of the original 1,619 Americans on board the Oryoku Maru, around 300 had died. In a period of just over six weeks American submarines had killed over 4,000 Allied POWs. 

During the year (1944) about 53 of these hell-ships had sailed carrying a total of 47,057 prisoners to different destinations. The casualty rate was thirteen hell-ships sunk with 17,383 lives lost. That same year there were 674 deaths aboard these 'hell ships'. The deaths were not attributable to air or submarine attacks but to illness, suicide and murder (prisoner killing another prisoner)  Crazed by thirst, prisoners would drink their own urine or slash their wrists for a mouthful of blood. Others would kill their companions and bite open an artery in the neck to get to the blood. Thirst would turn a man into a vampire. One prisoner who survived the war stated "Some prisoners fell into depravities of which I, for one, did not realize the human race was capable". In the latter part of 1944, murder became commonplace on ships carrying American soldiers. Back in 1942, murders were committed among British POWs on board the Dainichi Maru. In 1944, there were no reports of homicide among British, Dutch or Australian prisoners.

Crowding and sanitary facilities were a serious problem on all troopships whether Allied, Axis or Japanese. The Japanese maintain that their own troops suffered the same conditions as Allied prisoners (without, of course, the deliberate starvation). Australian POWs were always amazed at the brutality of Japanese officers towards their own men. Slapping, kicking and punching were commonplace, an everyday occurrence. Is it so surprising then that prisoners were treated so badly by the Japanese soldier?


(December 19, 1944)  The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Unryu was sunk during her first war voyage at sea.  Torpedoed by the USS Redfish, the Unryu  had only been in commission for six months after the devastating losses at the Battle of Midway. The ship was loaded with a special cargo of thirty 'Ohka' rocket propulsion bombs before being sent on her way to confront the US invasion forces during the Luzon landings. The torpedo struck the Unryu on the starboard side setting off the deadly Ohka bombs stored in the lower deck hanger. The detonations literally blew the bow area apart. After the boiler rooms flooded, the ship listed to over 30 degrees and the order to 'Abandon Ship' was given. Minutes later, with a 90 degree list, the carrier plunged headfirst to the bed of the East China Sea. Casualties were appalling: Captain Kaname Konishi and 1,238 officers and men, plus an unknown number of passengers, lost their lives. There were only 14 survivors.

(December 24, 1944)

An 11,509 ton Belgian troopship carrying US soldiers across the English Channel to France, a trip she had done twenty four times before. On this Christmas Eve the ship carried 2,235 men of the US 64th Infantry Regiment of the US 66th Infantry Division which had left New York on November 14th. The troops were to relieve the 94th Division already fighting the "Battle of the Bulge". When the ship was about five miles from Cherbourg, a torpedo fired from the German U-boat U-486 ( Oblt. Gerhard Meyer) hit the ship which sank soon after. Official records put the number of men lost at 802. The 66th Infantry Division alone, lost 14 officers and 748 men, but the exact number is not known due to the hurried departure at 9am from Pier 38 at Southhampton and the unorganized boarding procedures. As no life jackets were issued, the men of the Leopoldville died in the freezing 48 degree waters of the English Channel. Most of her crew, Africans from the Belgian Congo, took off in the lifeboats, deserting the troops on board. Her commander, Captain Limbor, was the only officer lost. The few survivors were rescued by the escort destroyer HMS Brilliant and transferred to the St. Nazaire/Lorient area but 493 bodies were never found, presumably going down with the ship. The wreck of the Leopoldville lies on her port side in 180 feet of water in a remarkable state of preservation, in an area now used for testing nuclear submarines. The Allied Governments covered up the story of the tragedy for over 50 years, relatives being told simply that their loved ones were 'Killed in Action'. In 1996, Britain de-classified the files relating to the disaster. A memorial to the Leopoldville can be seen at Sacrifice Field at Fort Benning in Georgia, dedicated on November 7, 1997. The U-486 was sunk on April 12, 1945, northwest of Bergen, by a torpedo from the British destroyer HMS Tapir . Her entire crew of 48 men, died.