Stories about and by Submariners: 
Archerfish vs Shinano

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ARCHERFISH vs SHINANO (No. 1 on the Hit Parade!)

 

(Edited from U.S. SUBMARINE OPERATIONS, WW-II, U.S. NAVAL INSTITUTE)

ARCHERFISH (CDR J.F. Enright) left Saipan on November 11, 1944, to conduct her fifth war patrol. Out of Portsmouth Navy Yard in 1943, the submarine had met with indifferent luck thus far, and there was nothing in the cards to indicate a change. From Saipan she headed north to patrol in waters of "Hit Parade." Her assigned area lay about 150 miles south of Tokyo - a stretch of water due north of Hachijo Jima in the Nanpo Shoto chain.

Once an Empire main line from Japan to the Marianas, the Nanpo Shoto islands were now landmarks on the B-29 main line from the Marianas to Japan. ARCHERFISH's primery mission was to act as lifeguard for the first B-29 strikes on Tokyo. She was also to engage in offensive patrolling and shoot at any targets that came her way. But Enright was not anticipating much shooting. American Superforts droned in the sky. ARCHERFISH was not long out before she made contact with three friendly submarines. It could be assumed Japanese shipping would avoid this lively area. And the first days of patrol substantiated the assumption. Three small vessels came along, but they were too insignificant to warrant an expenditure of torpedoes. Enright and company watch the air show; otherwise submarining was slow in the Nanpo Shotos.

Early in the morning of November 28, ARCHERFISH received word there would be no air raid that day and she was therefore free from lifeguard duties until further notice. The day was a round of routine monotony. But that evening, when the submarine was about 12 miles off Inamba Shima, something happened. It happened at 2048 - radar contact at long range, bearing 028 T. Enright set the machinery in motion and started tracking from ahead.

Within an hour the target was identified as an aircraft carrier, on base course 210, making 20 knots and zigzagging. Only one escort could be located. The sky was overcast but bright moonlight seeped through the clouds, and visibility was good for about 15,000 yards. The horizon was dark to the north, so Enright started his approach on the enemy's starboard flank.

At 2230 an escort was sighted on the target's starboard beam. The position maintained by this escort conspired with visibility conditions to rule out a surface approach on the target from that side. Enright therefore changed course back to the base course. At 2250 the range was decreasing but ARCHERFISH was too far off the track to close in with a submerged approach. Range to the escort was 6,100 yards, and the carrier was 15,000 yards away. So, Enright held the submarine on the surface and drove in.

As the range shortened, he sent his lookouts below, and, awaiting gun flashes and splashes, braced himself on the bridge. He could now make out the target as a large carrier in a cordon of four escorts - one on either beam, one ahead and one astern. A surface attack seemed out of the question, but there was little chance of the submarine's regaining the ahead position required for a submerged approach.

Enright sent out a contact report, hoping to guide some other submarine into an intercepting position. The carrier group was making one full knot better than ARCHERFISH could do at her best. Strive as she would, Enright's submarine was slowly falling behind, and it was evident to her skipper that she would end up far in the rear unless the enemy made an accommodating zig or zag. As it was, the enemy was doing his best to accommodate, but his zags and zigs were not angular enough. However, by careful maneuvering and paralleling the base course, ARCHERFISH managed to hang on.

Many are the pros and cons with regard to zigzagging as a submarine defense. Obviously a target traveling on a straight course at a uniform speed presents the easiest fire control problem to the tracking submarine. On the other hand, zigzagging seldom baffles a well-trained fire control party with modern instruments. The chance that a sudden swerve by the target will adversely affect the submarine's position after she is all set for the attack is about offset by the chance that such a maneuver will improve the submarine's position.

There remains the possibility that the target will veer immediately after the torpedoes are fired. But such a course-change would amount to correct evasive action taken before torpedoes had been sighted. So the odds are about Even Stephen. But no navigator - certainly none of Japanese extraction - could deny that zigzagging increases the number of miles steamed in submarine waters, and thereby increases the chances of submarine attack.

Moreover, the reduction of target speed, caused by zigzagging, may be just sufficient to enable the submarine to gain an attack position when otherwise it would be left behind. Whatever the theoretical arguments, it remains a fact that ARCHERFISH's target would have escaped had the navigators main- tained a straight course.

At 2340 the target group made a radical course change - a change in the base course to the west. ARCHERFISH was now on the port flank and farther off the track than before. She hung on desperately as the "black gang" coaxed a few more turns from the overloaded engines. The chase went on through midnight and into the morning of November 29th. The enemy's zigzag plan allowed the submarine to pull ahead - slowly - slowly. But at 0241 it was obvious that if the carrier held to her base course of 275, the ARCHERFISH situation would be hopeless. Enright sent out a second contact report.

Then came the break. At 0300 the target group made another radical change in course, this time veering to the southwest. The range began to close rapidly, and ARCHERFISH was ahead. The long chase was nearly over. Patience and perseverance were about to move a mountain.

At 0305 Enright came to course 100 and ordered the submarine under. Range to the carrier when ARCHERFISH submerged was 11,700 yards. At 7,000 yards the target could be seen through the periscope. Wait - that baby was going to pass too close! Enright changed course 10-degrees to the left, and now the range shortened to 3,500 yards. At about this point the starboard escort approached the carrier to receive a blinker message. This caused the escort to pass ahead of ARCHERFISH at only 400 yards. The move also served to get the escort out of the way.

At 0316, the carrier zigged away from the submarine. This move put the queen right where Enright wanted her. ARCHERFISH had been a little too close to the target, and the zig gave her a nice position: 1,400 yards range with a 70-degree starboard track. Because of the late zig, Enright had to accept a larger than normal gyro angle. No matter. At 0317 he fired the first shot of a six-torpedo salvo - Mark 14's set for 10 feet and spread to smash into the target from stern to bow.

Forty-seven seconds later Enright saw and heard the first torpedo hit just inside the carrier's stern, near the propellers and rudder. A great glowing ball of fire climbed the vessel's side, Then another torpedo smashed home.

Enright ordered the submarine deep to evade the inevitable counter-attack. As ARCHERFISH went down, four more timed hits were heard. Breaking-up noises hissed and crackled in the sound gear. Fourteen depth charges boomed in the sea, the nearest some 300 yards away. The last charge thundered at 0345, but the clash and crackle of a great ship disintegrating deep under the sea continued for another 20 minutes. Finally, silence.

At 0614, Enright put up the periscope for a look. Nothing in sight. Four hours later a thunderous explosion was heard, it source a mystery. Whatever the origin, it came as a salute to the victors of the greatest undersea battle fought in "Hit Parade."

Enright identified the target as a vessel of HAYATAKA class and accordingly claimed credit for sinking a 29,000 ton aircraft carrier. The facts did not come to light until V-J Day. The Japanese super battleships YAMATO and MUSASHI, mounting 18-inch guns, were the largest men-of-war ever built by any nation. The allies were aware that the keel had been laid for a third behemoth of this class - a giant sister to the other two. The name and where abouts of this third monster remained unknown to the Allies until the cessation of hostilities. Then it was learned that the huge vessel had been converted into a super-aircraft carrier named SHINANO. And her whereabouts was latitude 32.00N, 137.00E, where ARCHERFISH had caught and sunk her in the waters of "Hit Parade."

Commissioned on November 18, 1944, SHINANO was torpedoed just 10 days later while on her maiden voyage to a safe port for fitting out. SHINANO had a standard displacement of 59,000 tons. Enright and company sank the largest man-of-war ever downed by a submarine. ARCHERFISH leads the hit parade in world history!