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Maritime Disasters of World War II - page 3 of 3 - which occurred during 1944 and 1945.

Reading through this database of Maritime Disasters, it seems hard to imagine many of the actions that occurred at sea. Even just adding up the casualties, the number of people on both sides, naval crew, civilians and prisoners that perished is phenomenal.

Another 50 disasters completes this section of the events of the "War at Sea".

This 3 page series focuses on stories of the losses of some of the "Big Ships":

  1. during 1939, 1940, 1941
  2. during 1942, 1943, and
  3. during 1944, 1945.

1944

SS PETRELLA (February 6, 1944)

German troop transport sunk by torpedoes from the Britiah submarine HMS Sportsman north of Souda Bay on the island of Crete. Of the 3,173 Italian prisoners of war on board a total of 2,670 lost their lives.

SS ORIA  (February 12, 1944)

Italian troopship taken over by the Germans in November,1942, in Marseilles. Given a new name 'Norda 1V' she departed Marseilles for Italy where she was given back her old name of ORIA. Still under German management the vessel departed Rhodes for Piraeus on February 11, 1944, with 4,200 Italian prisoners-of-war on board. They were guarded by over sixty German soldiers. Next day, February 12, the ship encountered a severe storm and while attempting to anchor near the island of Patroklos she stranded on the Gaidaroneos Reef and broke up. Only 49 prisoners, 6 soldiers and 5 crew including the captain, were rescued.

SS KHEDIVE ISMAIL (February 12, 1944)

Egyptian transport of 7,513 tons requisitioned by the British for use as a troopship while docked at Bombay in 1940. Sister ship to the Mohamed Ali el-Kebir, the vessel was carrying 1,511 returning service personnel including 178 ships crew, 996 officers and 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, East Africa). While returning from Colombo, Ceylon, in convoy KR-8, the ship was torpedoed in the Indian Ocean at 14.33 hours. It took only 1 minute 40 seconds for the ship to sink taking 1,297 of her passengers and crew with her. There were 214 survivors including only six female passengers from the vessel, a victim of the Japanese submarine I-27 commanded by Lt-Cdr Fukumura. This was the greatest maritime tragedy involving female service personnel in British naval history. The I-27 was hiding under survivors and flotsam but priority lay in destroying the submarine rather than rescuing survivors and so a depth charge attack was made, unfortunately killing some of the survivors in the water. The I-27 was later blown apart by torpedoes fired from two of the escort destroyers, HMS Petard and HMS Paladin.

HMS PENELOPE (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 0718 hrs 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.

British cruiser, H.M.S. Penelope

The British cruiser HMS Penelope.

SS DEMPO (March 17, 1944)

Dutch passenger liner (16,979 tons) serviced the Holland-Java route with 634 passengers in four classes. Used as a troopship from 1941 but was sunk in the Mediterranean by the U-371(Lt-Cdr. Mehl) A total of 498 US troops on board, died. The Dempo was part of convoy SNF.17. The year before, on October 13, 1943, the U-371 sank the US 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 HMS Blankney. Three of her crew were killed and 48 taken prisoner.

YOSHIDA MARU (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 sank 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.

SHOKAKU (June 19, 1944)

Japanese aircraft carrier (25,675 tons) sunk about 140 miles north of 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 vessel. 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 carrier's commander, Captain Matsubara Hiroshi. (The USS Cavalla is now on public display at Galveston, Texas.)

TAIHO (June 19, 1944)

The largest and newest carrier in the Japanese fleet, sunk west of Guam during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. It took only one torpedo hit from the USS Albacore to sink the 29,300 ton vessel, the flagship of Vice Admiral Jisburo Ozawa. Two fuel tanks were ruptured and fumes from the liberated crude oil and aviation spirit spread throughout the vessel. The ship sunk after a catastrophic explosion caused by the accumulated fumes igniting near an electric generator on the hanger deck. Of her 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 entire crew of 86 perished.

HIYO (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 US 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, about one thousand, 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.

TAMAHOKO MARU (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 US submarine USS 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 P.O.W.s 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 the P.O.W. camp, Fukuoka 13.

TOYAMA MARU (June 29, 1944)

Japanese 7,089-ton troop transport torpedoed by the USS Sturgeon. The vessel was carrying over 6,000 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 P.O.W.s 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 P.O.W. camp a month later. Nimori was eventually tried by a British Military Court in Hong Kong and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.

TAIHEI MARU (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 WWII.)

TSUSHIMA MARU (August 24, 1944)

Passenger/cargo ship of 6,754 tons, sunk by the US 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.

SHINYO MARU (September 7, 1944)

Japanese 2,634-ton transport carrying hundreds of American and Filipino prisoners of war captured at an airstrip near Lasang, were being transported from the island of Mindano to Manila 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 US submarine USS 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 P.O.W.s were killed in the explosion or drowned when the ship went down. Some were shot by the Japanese while attempting to swim to shore.

RAKUYO MARU and KACHIDOKI MARU (September 11\13, 1944)

On September 4th, 2,218 Australian, British and American 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 year old passenger/cargo ships Rakuyo Maru (9,500 tons) and the Kachidoki Maru (10,500 tons). The Kachidoki Maru was the ex US ship President Harrison which had ran aground at Sha Wai Shan in China and was captured and salvaged by the Japanese. Both vessels were bound for Formosa. In the South China Sea, the twelve ship convoy, including 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  P.O.W.s 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. The USS Queenfish and USS Barb 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 P.O.W.s and crew had died) and 277 British and Australians from the Rakuyo, to again become Prisoners of War.

JUNYO MARU (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 Batavia (Jakarta) in Java, to Padang in 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 the Junyo Maru 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 P.O.W.s.

HOFUKU MARU (September 21, 1944)

Japanese transport carrying 1,289 prisoners-of-war en route from Singapore to Japan was attacked and sunk by US torpedo carrying bombers. Loaded with British and Dutch P.O.W.s, it stopped at Manila to unload the sick and dying. It sailed again in convoy and was attacked again in Subic Bay 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.

URAL MARU (September 27, 1944)

Japanese transport ship (6,374 tons) built in 1929, sunk by the American submarine USS Flasher 150 miles off Masinlik, Philippines. About 2,000 of the 2,340 people on board were drowned.

MUSASHI (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 greatest naval battle ever fought. 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. During the battle the Japanese Imperial Navy lost 34 ships, the US Navy lost six ships.

USS PRINCETON (October 23-26, 1944)

American 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 Princeton, hit by a bomb from a dive bomber, suffered 229 killed and 211 seriously injured when her magazine exploded. She had to be scuttled by the light cruisers USS Irwin and USS Reno. The Gamber Bay was the only American carrier sunk by naval gunfire in World War II.

USS SAINT LO (October 25, 1944)

American aircraft carrier sunk in the Battle off Samar by a Japanese Zeke-52 kamikaze aircraft. The plane hit the St Lo at 10:53hrs. 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. (During the Battle off Samar the US lost 5 ships and 23 aircraft. Casualties were 1,130 men killed and 913 wounded.)

ARISAN MARU (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....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 P.O.W.s and killed. Only seven men survived the sinking by clinging to wreckage. Two were picked up by the Japanese escort destroyer the other five were later rescued by a Chinese fishing boat and reached the Chinese coast. As the Arisan Maru was unmarked, the captain of the submarine had no way of knowing that the ship carried P.O.W.s.

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 P.O.W.s. The number of prisoners amounted to 126,064 of which 21,039 died.

FUSO (October 24-25, 1944)

Japanese battleship (39,154 tons) sunk during the 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 03.40hrs. 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 the US 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 some four hours later. 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.)

YAMASHIRO (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 US 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 American destroyer USS Claxton.

ABUKUMA (October 26, 1944)

Japanese light cruiser of 5,570 tons commissioned in May, 1925 and sunk off Negros Island. Attacked by B-24 Liberators of the US 13th Air Force the cruiser takes a direct hit followed by two more direct hits which starts heavy fires and explodes four 'Long Lance' torpedoes in the torpedo room. The Abukuma sinks by the stern at 11.42 hrs with the loss of 250 of her crew. Her commander, Captain Hanada and 283 officers and men were rescued by the escorting destroyer Ushio.

BREMERHAVEN (October 31, 1944)

German 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 5:30pm 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 9:30am 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 below deck 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, including the tug-boat Danzig, to approach and save 2,795 from the burning vessel. Unfortunately, 410 souls were lost as the still- burning vessel rolled over and sank at 7:30 pm.

NACHI (November 5, 1944)

Japanese heavy cruiser of 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 16:45hrs. 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 to death in the water, there were to be no witnesses. 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.

USS MOUNT HOOD (November 10, 1944)

Named after the 11,239 foot high active volcano in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Commissioned on August 6, 1944, the converted merchant ship she set sail on the 21st of October bound for the Pacific Theatre via the Panama Canal. Fully loaded with 3,800 tons of ammunition and explosives, in its five holds the Mount Hood anchored at Seeadler Harbour on Manus Island, 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 08:55 hours 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.

TIRPITZ (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 15-inch guns and that was in the bombardment of Spitzbergen in September, 1943, which destroyed the Allied base there. On September 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. Hit by one of the 13 Tallboy bombs dropped on the ship, the Tirpitz was damaged but not sunk. The battleship was then moved south to Tromso and moored in Sorbotn off Hakoya Island. For the next attack on November12th, the RAF dispatched 32 Lancaster bombers from Nos 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 showing above the water. Trapped inside were 971 crewmen who slowly died as the water rose inside. 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 by a Norwegian salvage company. They presented the two RAF squadrons with an engine room bulkhead door salvaged from the ship. This steel door is now on show in the Bomber Command Museum as a memorial to the gallant crews of 9 and 617 Squadrons. (The sinking of the Tirpitz was further proof that battleships had become obsolete). (The first Tallboy bombs were dropped on a railway tunnel at Saumur, France, on June 9, 1944, by Lancasters of 617 Squadron. The tunnel was blocked for a considerable period preventing a German Panzer unit from reaching the battle area around Normandy.)

KONGO (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.

KUMANO (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.

M.S. RIGEL (November 27, 1944)

Originally a Norwegian steamer owned by the 'Bergen Dampskipselskip' and captured at Oslo in 1940 during the German invasion of that country. Used as a troop transport under German naval control and part of southbound Convoy 410, she was carrying military equipment, 450 Wehrmacht troops, Russian P.O.W.s and ten Norwegians, eight of whom were prisoners, One a maritime pilot and one female passenger who worked on the ship. The Rigel (3,828 tons) was attacked north of Namos by 16 Fleet Air Arm planes from the British carrier HMS Implacable. Altogether she was carrying 2,838 persons including 2,248 Russian prisoners of war on their way to a P.O.W. camp in Germany. Hit by five bombs from the British planes, there was little time to launch the lifeboats before sinking. A total of 2,571 lives were lost. There were only 267 survivors. Of the ten Norwegians on board only one survived. The pilots of the British planes had no way of knowing that the ship they sank carried their Russian allies.

SHINANO (November 29, 1944)

Named after the Shinano province of Japan, this 71,890 ton super battleship, now converted to the world’s largest aircraft carrier, set sail on her maiden voyage on November 28, 1944, escorted by three destroyers. On her way to the safety of the Inland Sea to conduct her sea trials, she was spotted by the American submarine USS Archerfish 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 Archerfish 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 352 kilometers south of Nagoya, Japan, 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 Archerfish, was awarded the Navy Cross at Pearl Harbour in March, 1945. The commander of the Shinano, Captain Toshio Abe, went down with his ship. Archerfish 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.

ORYOKU MARUand and BRAZIL MARU (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 P.O.W. 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 Japanese seamen, survivors of ships sunk in Manila Harbour. She was spotted on her next day out at sea by US Navy planes from the carrier USS Hornet 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, numbering 925, 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. The Brazil Maru, which also carried a cargo of 12,000 bags of sugar, 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 P.O.W.s.

ENOURA MARU

Following the bombing of the Oryoku Maru, those prisoners who survived were then put on board the Enoura Maru. Previously used to transport horses, the holds were filthy with manure, yet into these holds were crammed some 1,040 men with little room to sit down. Some were so hungry that they picked out grain from the manure, grain that had dropped from the horses mouth during feeding. On New Years Eve the Enoura Maru reached Takao in Formosa. The crew then started to celebrate the New Year, leaving the P.O.W.s to fend for themselves for the next four days. During those four days thirty-four prisoners died. On the morning of January 9, aircraft from the USS Hornet carried out a bombing attack on the harbour. Little did the pilots know that the ship they were bombing carried their own countrymen. The bombs that struck the Enoura Maru killed 252 men and injured a similar number, many of whom later died from their injuries. No medical help was forthcoming from the Japanese crew, the prisoners left in the hold surrounded by hundreds of mutilated bodies. Two days later the bodies were removed and transported in cargo lighters to the outer spit of the harbour and buried in a mass grave. In the later part of 1946 the bodies were exhumed by an American Graves Recovery Team and re-interred in the National War Cemetery in Hawaii.

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 P.O.W.s on board the Dainichi Maru. In 1944, there were no reports of homicide among British, Dutch or Australian prisoners. Of all the nationalities that were transported on these hell-ships, all were subjected to the same inhumane conditions, yet, it seems that only Americans killed each other.

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 P.O.W.s 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?

UNRYU (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 at 16.35 hours on the starboard side setting off the deadly Ohka bombs and volatile cargo of aviation fuel stored in the lower deck hanger. A second torpedo struck at 16.50 hours, the detonation literally blowing 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 some 379 kilometers northwest of Naha, Okinawa. Casualties were appalling: Captain Kaname Konishi and 1,238 officers and men, plus an unknown number of passengers, lost their lives. Only one officer and 146 men survived to be rescued by the escort destroyer Shigure.

LEOPOLDVILLE (December 24, 1944)

An 11,509 ton former Belgian luxury liner, now troopship, was carrying US soldiers across the English Channel to Cherbourg in 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 13.8 kilometres north-northeast of Cherbourg, a torpedo fired from the German U-boat the U-486 (Oblt. Gerhard Meyer) hit the vessel amidships just below the waterline. The ship sank three hours later at 9.15pm . 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, and no call for assistance or distress signal sent from the ship, 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. Some 700 survivors were rescued by the escort destroyer HMS Brilliant (Captain Pringle) 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 submarine HMS Tapir. Her entire crew of 48 men, perished.

1945

USS TICONDEROGA (January 21, 1945)

American aircraft carrier of 27,000 tons, hit by a Japanese suicide plane while patrolling the waters off Formosa. Although the ship was not sunk it suffered casualties of 144 men killed and around 200 injured. This tragedy was not revealed until six months after the event.

SS BERLIN (January 29, 1945)

The German passenger liner Berlin (15,286 tons) part of the 'Strength Through Joy' cruises, was later converted to a hospital ship and helped in the evacuation of refugees from the Hela Penninsula. Damaged after striking a mine off Swinemunde it was taken in tow for the port of Kiel but later that same day it hit another mine and this time the ship sank. No lives were lost. After the war ended, the Russians raised the vessel and after repairs it entered the Soviet navy under the name Admiral Nachimov. In May, 1957, it was delivered to Soviet state shipping line and placed into service in the Black Sea serving the Odessa-Batum route. On September 1, 1986, it was involved in a serious collision off Novorossiysk with the motor vessel Pjotr Wassjew after which it sank. Unfortunately on this occasion 398 lives were lost. Other German hospital ships sunk during the war were the Birka, sank after hitting a mine at Altafjord, Norway. Casualties were 115 killed. The Posen was bombed by Russian aircraft off Hella on April 11, 1945. Around 300 lives were lost.

WILHELM GUSTLOFF (January 30, 1945)

THE GREATEST SEA TRAGEDY OF ALL TIME. The 25,484 ton German luxury cruise liner, launched in 1937, was built to carry 1,465 passengers and a crew of 400. The Gustloff and her sister ship Robert Ley, were the world's first purpose-built cruise ships. The ship, now converted to a 500 bed hospital ship, set sail from Gotenhafen (former Gdynia) in the Bay of Danzig en-route to the port of Stettin as part of the largest naval rescue operation in history (Operation Hannibal.) Overcrowded with 4,658 persons including 918 naval officers and men, 373 German Women Naval Auxiliaries, 162 wounded soldiers of whom 73 were stretcher cases, and 173 crew, all fleeing from the advancing Red Army, the ship ploughed her way through the icy waters of the Baltic Sea. Just after 9pm the ship was hit by three torpedoes from the Russian submarine S-13 (a German designed boat) commanded by Alexander Marinesko. The first torpedo hit the bow of the ship, the second, below the empty swimming pool on E-deck where the Women Auxiliaries were accommodated (most were killed) and the third hit amidships. Indescribable panic reigned as the ship listed and sank in about ninety minutes near the Danish island of Bornholm. Many families committed suicide rather than drown in the freezing waters. Rescue boats picked from the stormy minus 18 degree celsius seas, 964 survivors, many of whom were landed at Sassnitz on the island of Ruegen and taken on board the Danish hospital ship Prince Olaf which was anchored in the harbour. The exact number of drowned will never be known, as many more refugees were picked up from small boats as the Wilhelm Gustloff headed for the open sea and were never counted. Around 4,000 of those who died were children. (Latest research puts the number of people on board at 10,582) Many of the 964 persons rescued from the sea, died later, and it is likely that well over 9,340 souls perished. Alexander Ivanovitch Marinesko, ex-commander of the S-13, died from cancer in 1963. Although he proudly wore six medals, including the Order of Lenin, he was never decorated with Russia's highest honour 'Hero Of The Soviet Union'.

The ship was named after the leader of the German Nazis in Switzerland, Gauleiter Wilhelm Gustloff. In February 1936, Gustloff fell to an assassins bullet  fired by  a Yugoslav Jew, David Frankfurter. He became a Nazi martyr as the first Nazi assassinated by a Jew. Frankfurter was later arrested and sentenced to eighteen years in prison. 

 

The German luxury liner Wilhelm Gustloff as a KdF ship, pre-1939.

GENERAL VON STEUBEN (February 10, 1945)

A few days after the Gustloff had been sunk, the 14,600 ton liner General von Steuben of the Nord German Lloyd shipping line, set sail from Pillau in the bay of Danzig, her destination being Swinemunde. On board were 2,800 wounded soldiers, 320 nurses and 30 doctors as well as over 1,500 refugees and 165 crewmen. Just after midnight, torpedoes from Marinesko's S-13 hit the Steuben. She sank in seven minutes, the wounded lying helpless, strapped to their stretchers. In those seven minutes some 3,608 persons died, around 659 being picked up by escorting ships. Sixty years later in May, 2004, the wreck of the Steuben was found lying on its side at a depth of 45 meters (150 feet) and scattered all around the wreck are human remains, skulls and bones. Within ten days, Captain Alexander Marinesko had sunk two of Germany’s largest liners and in the process had taken the lives of over 11,000 people. (Captain Marinesko died in October, 1963, from cancer and only in 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev posthumously awarded Marinesko with the title 'Hero of the Soviet Union.')

USS BISMARK SEA (CVE-95) (February 21, 1945)

The 10,982 ton escort carrier was launched in 1944 under the name 'Alikula Bay' and later renamed Bismark Sea. Joined the US 7th Fleet and saw action off Leyte and in the Lingayen Gulf landings. While taking part in the Iwo Jima invasion, the Bismark Sea (Captain J.L. Pratt) was attacked by three Japanese kamakazi planes from the island of Kyushu, Japan. One of the planes crashed onto her deck, the other two were shot down. An explosion in her ammunition store caused uncontrollable fires and in spite of all efforts of her crew to save the ship, the carrier sank ninety minutes later. Of her complement of 860, a total of 318 men lost their lives.

USS FRANKLIN (CV-13) (March 19, 1945)

American aircraft carrier attacked by Japanese planes off Samar Island. Two direct hits by 550lb bombs caused fires and internal explosions but failed to sink the ship. A total of 725 men were killed and 265 injured. The Franklin had a crew of 3,450 officers and men. After the war, 393 bravery decorations were awarded to the crew, including one Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to naval chaplain Lt. Commander Joseph O'Callahan for heroism, the first naval chaplain to be so honoured. The Franklin (commanded by Captain Gehres) was the most severely damaged US ship to survive but managed to make her way back to Ulithi Atoll in the Caroline Islands and finally to the US for repairs, a voyage of nearly 12,000 miles.

AWA MARU (April 1, 1945)

Japanese passenger/cargo ship of 11,249 tons, (Captain Hamada Matsutaro) sunk while homeward bound after having delivered Red Cross relief supplies to American and Allied P.O.W.s in Japanese custody under an agreement between Japan and the US Government which guaranteed safe passage for such ships. The third ship to carry out this relief programme was the Awa Maru which picked up the Red Cross parcels from the stockpile at Nakhodka, one hundred miles south of Vladivostok. They had been transported there by five Soviet ships which had sailed from Portland, Oregon, in December, 1943, loaded with 2,500 tons of supplies. The Awa Maru was painted green with large white crosses on her sides and funnel, all illuminated by special spot lights. Loaded with 175 tons of Red Cross supplies, the Japanese also loaded crates of aircraft parts, munitions and other commodities desperately needed by Japanese troops in Southeast Asia.

This was in complete violation of the Relief for P.O.W. agreement. After unloading her cargo at various stops on her journey south, the Awa Maru was now in Singapore preparing for the journey home to Japan. Before leaving Singapore on March 28, she had on board over 2,000 Japanese officials, diplomats, technicians, war loot and civilians, all eager to escape the Allied bombs that were now falling on the city. The war loot consisted of forty metric tons of gold and 150,000 carats of diamonds, all worth over $5 billion. Calling at Batavia (Jakarta) she took on 2,500 tons of crude oil, hundreds of tons of oil drilling machinery, tin ingots, tungsten and rubber. Although the Americans knew what was going on they were reluctant to do anything about it in fear that the relief supplies would be stopped. Submarine commanders were ordered to 'let it go by safely'. However, April 1st saw the US submarine Queenfish, Commander Charles E. Loughlin, on her fourth patrol, in the Taiwan Strait in an area near where the Awa Maru would have to pass through. At 11 pm, a pip appeared on the Queenfish's radar indicating a possible target at 17,000 yards. Loaded far beyond normal limits, and traveling low in the water, the ship presented a smaller than usual radar image not unlike that of a destroyer.

What happened next proved to be the greatest submarine error of the Pacific war. The Queenfish fired four torpedoes, all of which hit the target. As the submarine approached the oil covered spot where the target had sunk, the crew picked up one exhausted man from the water, a first class steward from the sunken ship, 46 year old Shimoda Kantaro, the only survivor of the Awa Maru. Drowned in this disaster were 2,003 persons including seventy-two Taiwanese civilians. On arrival back at base, Commander Loughlin was relieved of his command and faced court-martial the result of which cleared him of all charges of wrongdoing. As the ship was sunk in Chinese territorial waters, Beijing carried out the salvage and recovered the looted treasure.

The Japanese passenger/cargo ship Awa Maru

The Japanese passenger/cargo ship Awa Maru with clearly visible white crosses on her sides.

YAMATO (April 7,1945)

Japan's 71,659 ton, 862 foot long super battleship Yamato, commissioned on 16th December, 1941, was the world's largest fighting ship afloat. She carried nine 18.1 inch guns which could hurl a shell a distance of 35 miles. As the Americans prepared to invade the island of Okinawa, the Yamato set sail from Tokuyama with the cruiser Yahagi and eight escort destroyers under the command of Vice-Admiral Ito Seiichi, on what was considered a suicide mission, to engage the American amphibious fleet as it approached the island. Sailing with nine escorts but without air cover, the Yamato was soon spotted by a US scout plane which radioed its position to the invasion fleet. Within hours the mighty battleship was attacked by an armada of 386 fighter planes and torpedo carrying bombers from the flight decks of the invasion fleet carriers. Hit by at least eight torpedoes and many bombs during the two-and-a-half hour battle, the Yamato developed a 120 degree list to port after one of her magazines exploded. Minutes later the great ship capsized and sank at 14:23 hrs off the coast of Kyushu, taking with her 2,498 members of her crew including Admiral Ito. Of her full complement of 2,767 men, there were only 269 survivors. The cruiser Yahagi  was also sunk with the loss of 446 lives. Another 721 lives were lost from the sinking of five of her escort destroyers. Total casualties from the five ships were 3,665 dead. The sinking of the Yamato was the largest single loss involving a warship in history. Just like the Tirpitz, the Yamato never had a chance to fire its big guns against enemy warships.

The Japanese super battleship, Yamato

The Japanese super battleship Yamato, running trials in 1941.

SS GOYA (April 16, 1945)

A passenger/cargo ship (5,230 tons) built in Norway for the Hamburg America Line, it was taken over by the German Navy to help in the evacuations from the Hela Penninsula in the Bay of Danzig. It had taken on board the remnants of the 35th Tank Regiment and thousands of pleading refugees. When sixty miles off the port of Stolpe near Cape Rozewie, she was attacked by the Russian submarine L-3 commanded by Captain Vladimir Konovalov. Two torpedoes were fired, hitting the Goya amidships. Immediately the ship broke in half and sank in about four minutes. Of the estimated 6,385 people on board, only 183 were rescued. For this episode, Konovalov was awarded the medal, 'Hero of the Soviet Union'.

In spite of the huge losses suffered during the evacuations (Operation 'Hannibal' and often referred to as "Germany's Dunkirk") around two million people, including 700,000 soldiers, were saved, thus avoiding capture by the Red Army.

CAP ARCONA and THIELBECK (May 3, 1945)

Four days after Hitler's suicide the German pre-war luxury liner Cap Arcona, 27,561 tons, anchored in Lubeck Bay along with two other ships the Thielbeck and Athen, were bombed by RAF planes of 83 Group, 2nd Tactical Air Force. On board the three ships were around 7,000 prisoners from the Nazi concentration camps at Neuengamme near Hamburg and Stutthof near Danzig, half of whom were Russian and Polish P.O.W.s who were being evacuated ahead of the advancing British troops. Arriving at the port of Lubeck they were forced on board the 1,936 ton Athen to be ferried out to the Cap Arcona whose captain, Kapitän Heinrich Bertram, refused to let them on board protesting that his ship could only accommodate 700. Threatened with arrest and execution, he relented and watched as thousands of prisoners were herded into the holds of his ship. Guarding them were some 400 SS troops. (These ships were to be sailed out to sea and then scuttled, drowning all on board according to Himmler's order to all concentration camp commanders that 'surrender was unacceptable, that camps were to be immediately evacuated and no prisoner was to fall alive into the hands of the enemy) When the Athen had finished its ferrying duties a group of prisoners were then transferred from the Cap Arcona (which was now seriously overcrowded) back to the Athen whose captain then ran his ship against the quay at Neustadt and hoisted a white flag, thus saving his 1,998 passengers.

A short distance away, the civilian liner Deutschland (21,046 tons) was anchored and about to be converted to a hospital ship. Firing their rockets, the Typhoons of 184 Squadron from Hustedt attacked first, hitting all three ships. The second attack was by 198 Squadron from Plantlünne led by Group Captain Johnny Baldwin. The third attack by 263 Squadron from Ahlhorn attacked the Deutschland as did the fourth attack by 197 Squadron, also from Ahlhorn. The Deutschland, burning furiously, keeled over and sank four hours later. Fortunately there were no prisoners on board and the crew had deserted the ship during the first attack. The 27,561 ton Cap Arcona, with nearly 4,500 prisoners trapped below and suffocating in the smoke and flames, turned over on her side and lay partly submerged and burning out. Some managed to break out and cling to the hull of the ship, others jumped into the freezing Baltic Sea. In all, 314 prisoners and 2 crewmembers were rescued. The Thielbeck (a 2,815 ton freighter) was left a smouldering wreck and sank forty-five minutes later. Of the Thielbeck's 2,800 prisoners, only around 50 were saved. Many survivors, trying to swim ashore, were mown down mercilessly in the water from machine guns of SS troops stationed on shore. They only rescued those in SS uniform, about 350 at the most. Altogether, over 6,500 people died in this tragedy.

The RAF pilots knew nothing about the prisoners on board and it was not until many years later, in fact 1975, that they learned that they had slaughtered their own allies! For weeks after the sinking, bodies of the victims were being washed ashore, to be collected and buried in a single mass grave at Neustadt, in Holstein. For nearly three decades, parts of skeletons were being washed ashore, the last find, by a twelve year old boy, was in 1971. The history of this tragedy is depicted in the 'Cap Arcona' Museum in Neustadt, opened in 1990. Max Pauly, the ex-Commandant of Neuengamma Concentration Camp and SS doctor Alfred Trzebinski, were later tried and convicted of war crimes. Both were hanged in Hamelin Goal.

The Burning Cap Arcona

HAGURO (May 15, 1945)

Japanese heavy cruiser of the 10th Area Fleet commanded by Captain Kazu Sugiura. Commissioned in April, 1929, the ship was a survivor of many battles including the Battles of the Java Sea, the Coral Sea and Midway. Attacked by five British destroyers the ship was hit and damaged by two torpedoes and sank after the third torpedo hit about 45 miles north-west of Penang. The exact number of casualties is not known but believed to be around 900. There were 320 survivors. This was the last surface naval battle of World War II.

ASHIGARA (June 8, 1945)

The 13,380-ton Nachi class Japanese cruiser sunk by the British submarine HMS Trenchant commanded by 'Baldy’ A. R. Hezlet. (It was estimated that around 1,200 Japanese troops were on board on their way from Batavia to reinforce the garrison at Singapore). At the last minute, the Ashigara had altered course and was hit by five torpedoes out of the eight fired by the Trenchant. In an effort to beach herself she headed towards Klipped Shoal near Sumatra but half an hour after being hit, the blazing Ashigara capsized and sank. A total of 853 survivors were rescued by the Japanese escort destroyer Kamikaze. Commander Hezlet was later awarded the DSO and the United States Legion of Merit.

USS BUNKER HILL (CV-17) (June 27, 1945)

Aircraft carrier operating off the island of Okinawa, hit by a Japanese kamikaze suicide plane piloted by Kiyoshi Ogawa. The ship suffered the loss of 373 crewmen when the re-armed and re-fuelled planes on deck exploded and caught fire. The Bunker Hill did not sink but made it home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for repairs. Air attacks by Japanese planes on American ships off Okinawa killed 2,658 men during ten kamikaze attacks in which eleven ships were sunk and 102 damaged. During the Pacific War, 288 United States Navy ships were hit by kamikazes, 34 were sunk. (Kamikaze units, was first formed in October 1944, as a Special Attack Force called 'Shimpu' by Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi and included 23 volunteer pilots) A second unit was formed soon afterwards under the name Kamikaze "Divine Wind" after a typhoon that destroyed a Mongol invasion fleet way back in 1281 AD. In their suicide attempts, 1,465 kamikaze aircraft were destroyed killing 1,228 pilots.

Damage caused by a Japanese Kamikaze aircraft

Damage caused to a British aircraft carrier by a Japanese Kamikaze aircraft.

The picture above shows the damage that was caused by a Japanese kamikaze aircraft after it had targeted and crashed on the deck of a British aircraft carrier. These Japanese 'death pilots' aimed at different points depending on the type of ship that they were going to attack. On an aircraft carrier they aimed for the central elevator, on larger ships such as battleships and heavy cruisers they aimed just below the bridge and anywhere between the center and the bridge of smaller ships and transports. Later British aircraft carriers generally suffered less damage than the American aircraft carriers because they had specially reinforced steel flight decks whereas a kamikaze could easily penetrate the wooden decks of the American carriers.

USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35) (July 30, 1945)

Launched on the 30th of March, 1930, this 9,950 ton heavy cruiser served throughout the Pacific War until its final mission. One of the wars most secret missions was the delivery of the uranium core to be used in the 'Little Boy' Hiroshima bomb. After unloading the component to the B29 Bomb Squadron on the island of Tinian, the Indianapolis departed for Leyte to join up with the USS Idaho for gunnery practice before rejoining the rest of the US Fleet off Okinawa for the expected invasion of Japan. Halfway between Leyte and Guam, the cruiser was hit by torpedoes from the Japanese submarineI-58(Captain Hashimoto). The Indianapolis rolled over and sank bow first taking the lives of 883 US sailors. (Position 12 degrees-2 minutes north by 134 degrees-48 minutes east) There were 316 survivors from the 1,199 crew. Most of the men died in the water from exposure and shark attacks. Of the thirty nine Marines on board only nine survived. The survivors were rescued four days later by the US destroyers Cecil Doyle, Talbot and Dufilho. After hospital treatment on Guam the survivors were soon on their way home on board the carrier USS Holandia . The captain of the Indianapolis, Charles Butler McVay, was later court-martialed for failing to zig-zag in hostile waters. His sentence was remitted by the Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, and he was restored to duty. He retired as a Rear Admiral in 1949 and in 1968, in Litchfield, Connecticut, he committed suicide by a pistol shot to the head. In July, 2001, Captain McVay was exonerated for the loss of his ship. The Indianapolis was the last major warship sunk in WWII and America's greatest naval disaster at sea. How different would history have been if the cruiser was sunk on the outward journey taking the nuclear components to the bottom of the ocean?

UKISHIMA MARU (August 24, 1945)

In the Aomori Prefecture, in the far north of Japan, around 5,000 Korean slave labourers had spent the last few years of the war digging a major underground complex of tunnels and storage facilities. With the work completed and the end of the war just a few weeks away, the five thousand labourers including many Korean sex slaves, the so-called 'Comfort Women', were put aboard the Japanese warship Ukishima Maru with the promise that they were being returned to their homeland. The warship sailed south along the west coast until it reached the Maisaru Naval Base in Kyoto. There, the hatches to the holds were sealed down and the ship taken offshore and scuttled. Explosives were placed inside the hull, the resulting explosions sinking the ship within minutes. There were only some 80 survivors. Fifty-seven years later, in August 2001, fifteen of the survivors who were still alive, won a lawsuit for compensation against the Japanese government. They were paid the paltry sum of $30,000.

OP TEN NOORT (August 30, 1945)

A 6,076 ton Dutch passenger liner based in Java and on regular service between Surabaya and Singapore. Converted to a hospital ship for the Dutch Navy at the outbreak of the war. In harbour at Surabaya during the Battle of the Java Sea, she was dispatched to look for survivors but was intercepted by two Japanese destroyers and ordered to turn back to Bandjarmasin in Borneo where she was boarded and apprehended. Ordered to take on board 970 Allied prisoners-of-war, including around 800 survivors from the British cruiser Exeter sunk in the Java Sea battle, she sailed for Makassar and there, for the next eight months served as a hospital facility for the P.O.W. camps in the area. Later, June 5, 1942, she sailed for Yokohama under the Japanese flag and a new name 'Tenno Maru' and extra funnel to hide the fact that she was a former Allied hospital ship. The remainder of the war she sailed between Singapore and Manila carrying looted gold and other treasures from the Japanese occupied countries. Just weeks before the war ended she arrived again in Yokohama loaded with 2,000 metric tons of gold but instead of off-loading her cargo she then sailed on to the Maisaru Naval Base where more gold and platinum bars, diamonds and other gems were put on board. (A metric ton of gold equals 26,400 ounces) Realizing the war was over it was decided to sink the ship and recover the treasure at a later date. Just days before the Japanese surrender the Op ten Noort was taken out into Maisaru Bay late at night by a group of high-ranking Japanese naval officers. The Japanese captain and twenty-four crewmen of the Op ten Noort were then shot dead to preserve the secret and the ship scuttled by placing explosive charges in the hull. When the wreck was found in 1990 the Japanese valued the treasure at thirty billion US dollars (Three trillion Japanese yen).

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All text researched and compiled by George Duncan. Website by Columbus.