What Happened to the Japanese Submarine Crews?
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The first to die in battle was the crew of the midget submarine that was fired upon and sunk by the USS Ward before the aerial attack began. Experts disagree on the identity of this sub...American historians generally conclude that it was I-20tou, Japanese historians and veterans believe it was I-18tou. Regardless, the crew of that sub lies entombed inside the wreck of the submarine, lying upright on the bottom just outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor.

The severely-damaged mid and stern sections of the midget submarine rammed and sunk by the USS Monaghan were raised from the North Channel on 21 December 1941 and taken to the Submarine Base for examination. The body of the sub's commander was found in the conning tower, decapitated by a round fired by the USS Curtiss that passed straight through the conning tower. The sleeve rank insignia of a full Lieutenant was removed from the body, identifying the corpse as Naoji Iwasa, senior member of the Advance Force and the only full Lieutenant amongst the midget submarine crews, and the sub as I-22tou. The body of Iwasa's helmsman, Naokichi Sasaki, proved to be impossible to remove intact from the mangled steel, so the Navy filled the section with concrete, creating a "hermetically sealed coffin" for the sailor. The mid and stern sections of the sub, with the body of Sasaki sealed within, were buried as landfill next to a new concrete pier being built to expand the Submarine Base into Quarry Loch. The disposition of Iwasa's body is unknown, but his sleeve insignia is today enshrined at the old Imperial Japanese Naval Acadaemy at Eta Jima, Japan.

I-24tou mid section (left), I-22tou mid and stern sections (right)

When I-24tou beached itself in the surf off Waimanalo, Sakamaki and Inagaki stripped off their coveralls, set the timer on their scuttling charge and then jumped over the side to wade ashore. However, either the surf was more violent or they were more exhausted than they expected, because Inagaki didn't make it to shore alive. Sakamaki lost consciousness for a bit and woke up in American custody on the shore. There are rumours to the effect that Inagaki had a bullet hole in his skull, but that has not been confirmed. He was buried by the Americans. Sakamaki spent the rest of the conflict as America's first prisoner of war. After his release, he spent much of his time abroad, not willing to face his countrymen after allowing himself to be captured by the enemy. Almost 30 years after his capture, Sakamaki briefly reunited with the submarine that he had let fall into enemy hands, but he kept his feelings about the reunion to himself.

Enduring mystery

In 1960, US Navy divers unexpectedly found the remains of a Japanese midget sub in the waters of Keehi Lagoon (in an area now underneath the expanded Honolulu International Airport). By process of elimination, this sub would most likely be either I-18tou or I-20tou; again, experts differ on which. The conning tower hatch was found to be unlocked (without a special wrench, it could only be unlocked from inside), and no trace of the crew within. Only a set of coveralls and a pair of shoes (now on display at a shrine on the grounds of the JMSDF Officer's Candidate School in Eta Jima, Japan) were found inside. It has not been proven but indicators suggest that the crew abandoned their sub in quiet waters up against the O'ahu coastline. At that point, they vanished from history. It is possible that the crew drowned while making their way to shore, or that they were shot by US patrols and their bodies dumped in a common grave. But was there another possibility? Could they have possibly escaped from their sub and made their way ashore; if so, what then?

What is the truth? Isn't it well known that the Japanese submariners were on a suicide mission? Why even hint about escape, when its common knowledge that the Japanese fighting spirit required the utmost sacrifice?

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