Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Japanese submarine I-52

I-52, a Japanese cargo submarine, was the lead ship of the three Type C-3 submarines designed and constructed by the Mitsubishi Corporation in 1943 and 1944.

In March 1944, on her maiden voyage, I-52 departed Kure, Japan, picked up a cargo of 290 tons of strategic materials, including 228 metric tons of tin, 2.3 tons of opium, three tons of quinine, tungsten, 54 tons of rubber, and two tons of gold, in Singapore, and headed through the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. In mid-ocean, she rendezvoused with U-530, a Type IXC/40 U-boat, which provided her with fuel and installed a Naxos radar detector. A Naxos operator and a navigator familiar with the Bay of Biscay joined the Japanese crew to help the submarine survive the final leg of the journey into Lorient. However, unknown to either the Japanese or the Germans, their codes had been broken and "Ultra" intercepts had revealed their plans; I-52 had been closely watched all the way from Singapore.

The escort ("jeep") carrier USS Bogue, enroute to the United States from Europe, was ordered to find and destroy the Japanese submarine. Arriving in the area of the meeting, the carrier began launching flights of Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers to search for the submarines. U-530 escaped undetected. I-52 did not.

At approximately 2340 on 23 June, Chief Ed Whitlock, the radar operator in Lieutenant Commander Jesse Taylor's TBF Avenger, detected a surface contact. Taylor immediately dropped flares, illuminating the area, and attacked. After his first pass, he saw the depth bomb explosions just to starboard of the submarine -- a near miss -- and the boat diving. Taylor dropped a sonobouy, a newly-developed device that picked up underwater noise and transmitted it back to the aircraft carrier. Directed from the carrier according to the sonobouy's signal, Taylor began a torpedo attack, dropping a Mark 24 "mine." That term was used for what was code-named "Fido": the first Allied acoustic torpedo, developed by the Harvard Underwater Sound Lab, which homed in on the sounds of the submarine. Fido was designed to be a "mission kill" weapon -- it would damage the submarine so badly it would have to surface, rather than destroying it completely. Within minutes, the sonobouys transmitted the sounds of an explosion and mechanical break-up noises.

As Commander Taylor's watch ended, the operators on Bogue and Taylor all thought he had sunk the sub. However, as Taylor's patrol ended, he was relieved by Lieutenant (junior grade) William "Flash" Gordon, accompanied by civilian underwater sound expert Price Fish. They arrived on the scene just after midnight, and circled with Taylor for some time. At about 0100, Fish reported hearing some faint propeller noise in the area.

Captain A.B. Vosseller, commanding officer of Bogue, ordered a second attack; Gordon checked with Taylor about the exact position a sonobuoy and dropped another "Fido" where he believed the submarine to be. Taylor departed from the area at 0115, but Gordon stayed to circle the area and listen for any sign of activity. He heard nothing, and was relieved by Lieutenant (junior grade) Brady, who continued to watch and listen, but no further activity was reported. Next morning, destroyers reached the site and found flotsam: a ton of raw rubber, bit of silk, and even human flesh.

In 1995, Paul Tidwell located the wreck 5240 meters deep, mostly upright. Her conning tower is intact and her hull number is still visible. The bow is broken up, probably due to impact on the bottom, and a large hole, undoubtedly caused by one of the torpedoes, is aft of the conning tower. Debris was scattered over a large area. Plans were made to raise the sub and recover the gold. The Japanese government objected, indicating that they considered the wreck site was a grave. Tidwell has worked on the proper proceedures with the Japanese government and has received the blessing from the war graves authorities in Japan. Tidwell took down a Japanese Naval Ensign and fixed it to the wrecked submarine. A metal box from the debris field was brought to the surface in the hope that it would contain some of the sunken gold, but when opened, the salvagers were disappointed to find not gold, but opium. It was dumped overboard.

General Characteristics