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"We Zigzagged a Little"
Submitted by Bill Bradfield

With the torpedo tubes stuffed with stateside beer and those doubled-up toasts to a brand new year. We zigzagged a ittle, and so would you.

“Here is the story of the voyage of those three giant Japanese submarines that tied up together alongside USS Euryale in Sasebo, as told to The Gorgon by former shipmate Kermit Cooper of North Tonawanda, NY, six-time president of his local submarine vets chapter."

The three Japanese airplane-carrying submarines taken over by the US Navy at the end of the World War II were moved to Sasebo on the island of Kyushu for “Americanization” and preparation for the voyage to Pearl Harbor. The I-14, I-400 and I-401 were capable of carrying float-type aircraft in tank-like hangars on their decks. Each had a boom crane that folded into the deck and was used to hoist the aircraft back aboard the sub after its mission. The plane would be placed on a chock located on the launch rail, then returned inside the hangar, and after a large watertight door was closed, the submarine could submerge.

On December 10, 1945 the three subs, with an American submarine rescue vessel as escort, left Sasebo headed for Pearl Harbor. During this voyage, a stop was made at the island of Guam for fuel and provisions. The oddity of the three plane-carrying subs was a big attraction. Many visiting dignitaries toured the subs and asked about souvenirs. Those of us in the new American crew had collected assorted trophies and trinkets in Japan and we soon found that the market for trading these artifacts was pretty attractive.

There was a cargo ship tied astern of the nest of three Jap subs. The ship was off-loading pallets of lovely amber fluid, good old American stateside beer. In our conversation with the stevedores unloading the ship, the subject of souvenirs came up. We sort of pushed it a little. The cargo ship crew had a bottle of 7-Crown to bargain for a Japanese rifle. A single fifth of stateside whiskey wouldn’t go very far with 20 or so sailors who were in on our scheme. We had more rifles, but no more whiskey was forthcoming. But in exchange for a whole case of rifles, we could have as much beer as we could walk off with. In no time, we organized a chain line and moved cases and cases of Iron City beer onto the I-400.

Now we had a storage problem. But not for long.

The forward torpedo room was divided into two levels with four torpedo tubes at each level. We weren’t carrying any torpedoes. Two cases of beer, stacked one atop the other, could be slid nicely into a tube. Each tube was loaded from breach to muzzle with our booty.

When the skipper returned from Camp Dealy, he noticed a definite “down by the bow” attitude of the I-400, and ordered the executive officer to trim the ship and eliminate that unseemly bow-down attitude.

Leaving Guam, we stopped at Eniwetok, and then on January 1, 1946, we were just west of the International Date Line. We had a great party in the lower torpedo room with Iron City beer for all enlisted men who were in on our secret. Now, talk about luck! The next day we crossed the International Date Line and so it was January 1 once again and we had a second New Year’s Day party. The crew of that cargo ship back in Guam had a case of rifles and we had a 48-hour celebration!

More than once, following all that celebrating, the officer of the deck called for the helmsman to be more careful about the ship’s heading. A serpentine wake, he calculated, could only mean that we were on a zigzag course, and that was not part of the peacetime plan to get us to Pearl Harbor.

Arriving at Pearl in mid-January, we had managed to get rid of all those empty cans, using them as garbage ballast along the way.

We were long overdue in Pearl because of a problem they had early on with the I-14. Word is that the motormac got confused by the Japanese characters on the fuel tanks, and in doing a routine transfer, he put a tank on line that was already empty of fuel oil and contained salt water. Two engines were damaged and the lack of spare parts and the schedule for departure caused all three vessels to travel at a speed that the I-14 could manage--about 6 knots. In addition, zigzagging or not, our route took us the long way around so that we could be near an island here and there in case other failure developed.

When we reached Pearl, I left for stateside to be discharged. Over time, I’ve been in contact with a retired commander who was in charge of the three subs at Pearl. He sent me photos of them and an aerial shot of I-401 being sunk by a torpedo from the submarine USS Cabezon. He told me all five of the Japanese subs, including the I-201 and I-203 that followed USS Euryale across the Pacific, sometimes at the end of tow lines, met the same fate during May and June of 1946.

The two smaller boats went to the bottom after one torpedo hit. The I-14 stayed afloat for about three minutes and then sank. The two larger boats, I-400 and I-401, required two torpedoes each to put them under.

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