Culpable Negligence


Daybreak is not far away. The two port-side escorts have joined with the single remaining ship of the port column and are escorting her on the original course, now zigzagging more radically than ever, and the third ship of the starboard column, which had sheered out toward us, is going it alone, still in that direction, diverging from the convoy’s initial base course. We will have to select one of the two potential targets, for we cannot reach a submerged attack position for both. In the instant case, there is no choice. Up goes the power of our engines again, and plot is directed to steer us clear of all contact with the enemy until we can submerge unseen, just before first light, dead ahead of the track of the single ship.

It is dawn when our target comes over the hill. He is zigzagging, but he should have made a radical course change, too. Possibly he was on the point of doing so at daybreak, which was why we planned our diving spot so as to be shooting before sunrise. With no escort, the approach is simple, submarine-school textbook, despite the zigzag. To make sure, we fire three torpedoes in a standard spread and get one hit. It blows her guts out in a highly satisfactory manner, and we let everyone in the conning tower have a look as she goes down.

Five big ships on the bottom; an excellent night’s work. One we could not by any stretch have accomplished in 1942. But this was in 1944, and the steady execution of her shipping had become a national disaster for Japan. Not nearly able to cope with the hemorrhage by building new ships to replace those being lost, she took to sending her ever fewer vessels in short daylight dashes from anchorage to anchorage. Instead of sending ships across the Yellow Sea, she sent them around its perimeter, along the coast of Korea to Tsingtao or Shanghai behind outlying islands whenever practicable. Anything to make the night surface attack less likely. Statistics backed up Japan on this, for by far the greatest damage to her shipping during those climactic last two years of the war came from submarines attacking on the surface at night.

But now, finally, there was nothing Japan could do.

Still, Japan had nearly succeeded at the outset of the war because we were unready, because we were materially deficient, and because some of our top people were culpably negligent. It was a very hard lesson, but it is one we must ponder very carefully, lest, in different ways to be sure, and over different details, we let it happen again.