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  • What sank her?

    What sank the USS Grunion off of Kiska Island?

    Search for the USS Grunion - Lost WWII Submarine near Kiska Alaska

    Below is an edited version of the Kano Maru's account of the fight. I edited it based on my experience working with Asian students and simply tried to convert the 'bad" English into readable English. while staying true to the intent.

    Aiura: (Aiura was the military commander on the Kana Maru) Yutaka (Japanese Naval Historian) translating (in 1998):
    The escorting sub-chaser came in and out the fog, until at last we lost contact as night came. Koano sailed alone again through the foggy Bering Sea toward Kiska. On July 30, at 08:00 we reached the northern end of Kiska Is. some 20 nautical miles further on. However, the dense fog prevented us from approaching closer. We were forced to drift, waiting for the fog to lift . The fog kept thinning out for a moment and then it would thicken backup. We could do nothing but wait. The day, the whole day the fog was dense and we were getting impatient. At 15:30 A friendly navy seaplane [Pete] set down near us and we picked them up. The plane and a crew were both safe. The crew were so young, the pilot had just graduated flight school, he was similar in age to my[S.AIURA] son. I was impressed with his dedication do his duty in the Northern sky. It was a accident that our ship found them and saved them, but I was so glad that we could help. That the evening the fog was still dense, when we were alerted to an enemy submarine. At 17:15 we turned towards the open ocean, our speed was under 15 knots ad we were maneuvering on a zigzag course. We decided to enter the Kiska harbor next morning.
    July 31, In the early morning we again reached the area off of Kiska's harbor, but the fog was still dense. We again decided to drift and wait. At 04:40 the fog thinned out a little and we could get our position by astronomical observation. We confirmed the longitude and latitude and fixed the course toward the Kiska.
    Enemy Torpedo Struck Home
    At 05:15 We were avoiding “Mac Arthur’s reef” on a heading of 158 degree and 12 nautical miles from Segula Is. changed course toward a heading of 255 degree.
    At 05:47 First Sargent Wakisaka shouted, “Torpedo! starboard fore!”. I saw two torpedoes and their course and wakes overlapped, the starboard now headed to the fore, at a 45 degree angle from us, but rapidly rapidly approaching. I at once ordered, “full turn starboard”. The Kano Maru reacted quickly as the rudder was turned hard over. the ship began to rapidly change course to the starboard. I got tense for the next few seconds- the most frightening moment of my life as I prayed to God. One torpedo wake passed aft of the stern we managed to avoid it, but other one hit the machinery room on the starboard side behind and below me, and large explosion and sound occurred rumbling like an earthquake and sounding like a demon from Hell.
    Just after the explosion, the engine made a strange sound not its usual rhythmical sounds, and after that turned over two or three more times from inertia and stopped. I was dazed by the force of the blow from below and don't remember seizing the handrail and the base of compass. Within moments the machinery room was completely flooded, the main engine was quiet: we were dead in the water. Also out were the generator, radio and communications equipment and other auxiliary machines- the ship was absolutely stopped. It was my heartbreaking, but there was nothing I could do.
    The gun crews and soldiers looked like they did not feel fear at all and were vigorously preparing for anti submarine combat and to launch the seaplane.

    Lucky Dud Torpedo
    The submarine attacked again and this time we spotted a periscope- starboard fore. Immediately the [type 3] 80mm gun and 13mm machine gun started firing. We figured the 80mm gun had less of a possibility of hitting the submarine, but we thought the sound of the gun was the only way to alert Kiska to the Kano Maru’s crisis. Also we also figured the 13mm machine gun fire was useless against the a submerged sub, but that the the splashes would aid the aiming by the of 80mm gun's crew. Further more the 80mm gun on the aft poop deck had been damaged by the torpedo explosion and was malfunctioning.
    The periscope that had been starboard fore, gradually moved to starboard aft. At 05:57 From 157 degree s of the starboard side and a distance of 300m, we saw the submarines second salvo. One torpedo wake line passed aft, and the the other passed below us, midships about where the the bridge was and failed to explode. How lucky we were! To alert the base at Kiska of our crisis, we planned as the last resort to launch the seaplane that we had picked up yesterday. The plane was still hooked to the cargo crane. The ships sailors set the plane on the sea surface using only man power. The pilot, pilot second class N. Mrasawa , tried repeatedly but the engine never started. We felt there was nothing to do but accept our fate. The periscope occasionally appeared and moved from the stern to the port side.
    At 06:07 From the port and an angle of 135 degree and very close in the sub fire a third salvo. Three torpedoes wakes came toward us. I thought, perhaps the sub shot the rest of the torpedoes in his tubes intending to finish us. I wholly gave up, I thought I was dead, the torpedoes must finish off the Kano Maru. I could barely breath for about 10 seconds. Two torpedoes hit, but nothing happened! One torpedo struck forward of the the bridge, at about the No.2 cargo hold. But unexpectedly it didn’t explode, instead it broke apart losing its head while the rest of the torpedo body floated on the water tail down with about and 0.5m of the body standing up out of the water. Anther torpedo struck amidships, but was also a dud. The last one torpedo missed passing aft of the stern. How lucky we are! I thanked God for the protection.
    At 06:10 we again found the find periscope on he port side, 135 degrees at about 400m distance. Our forecastle 80mm gun and 13mm machine gun started firing again. The sub kept the periscope up and was moving calmly ignoring the damaged Kano Maru. We clenched our fists bt that seems to be all we could do. [*3] Then the sub seemed to begin to surface. The conning tower made ripples on the surface and waves began washing the conning tower. I think the sub was unable to sink Kano Maru by the torpedo ( reload the stocked torpedo to the tube needs much minutes ) so finish Kano Maru with its gun or thought the Kano Maru couldn't hurt it from there. Just then a 8cm gun shot hit near the conning tower around the wave wash and, making a water column and dull explosion sound. Also we began to see heavy oil in the swells. All of the crew shouted ‘BANZAI!’
    Aiura: second source:
    Today's day’s antisubmarine combat action saw us only aiming at the periscope and so continued intermittently for about 20 minutes. At the end of the combat we again found the periscope off the port side at 135 degrees and about 400m distance. The guns crews immediately started firing again. The fourth shot, that was the 84th counting from the first shot, was directly on target.
    About this time the submarine sank, later the mine layer ISHIZAKI and some other ships observed a lot of oil on the surface, a piece of lifeguard buoy, chips of wood that seemed to be the material of the submarine's decks, and other things floating in the sea. They confirmed the sinking and radioed this to the Fifth fleet and combined fleet chief of general staff through the fifth guard command. [*4]
    More importantly was info is about the torpedo. They, [IJN Kiska base soldiers], took the rest of the torpedo which had lost the warhead and was left floating near the Kano Maru. They towed the torpedo body by boat to the Base, and examined it. Aiura reported, they apparently thought the head and body connection was irregular work. Because it it looked like there were more than 30 bolts hole around the warhead-body connection poi t, but only three bolts seem to have been used and the rest was partial welded using 100mm length silver-solder work not normal welding.
    Aiura said it is apparently not regular navy-yard work.
    Aiura also reported, he thought the maneuver of the sub was strange. The sub seemed to have wanted to approach from the aft of the Kano Maru to be shadowed from the forecastle deck gun, but it left the shadowed area and was no longer safe from the gun fire. Forecastle deck gun could bracket the submarine from bow to stern. He also said it was strange that 5 in 6 torpedoes were duds, 2 of them hit but failed to explode and the rest missed. He thinks the torpedo men must have forgoten [the normal procedure] to unlock the safety pins.

  • #2
    A fascinating story... so many individual battles of this nature are a microcosm unto themselves of the overall carnage of WW2. That war has been so extensively documented and archived, digitized, that fortunately, the details will hopefully be with us forever.

    I am no naval architect, but a hit from an AP 80mm gun would probably penetrate completely, through and through, a lightly armored submarine conning tower. With the command area hulled, the crew dead, injured, or dazed, the descent to the bottom and the subsequent implosion seems inevitable. Perhaps the shell hit destroyed the controls that would allow the sub to blow ballast and remain surfaced? Even if she did, the Japanese would have likely finish the job.

    Salute to all brave submariners... titanium gonads to do what they did.