Submarine in the West Loch
USS Valve deck log entries
The first item that captured my attention was mention of the 150-ton floating crane in the West Loch. This towering non-self-propelled crane, designated YD-25, had been the heaviest lifter at Pearl Harbor since 1903. It was used extensively during the salvage of Battleship Row. However, aside from two entries in Valve's deck log, there is no record of it ever being used outside the inner harbour, much less the West Loch. According to Valve, the floating crane came out on both 11 and 12 June 1944 (it went back to the Navy Yard overnight), and tied up to the starboard side of Valve as it assisted in salvage operations on the wreck. No description was given for what the crane was salvaging. After 12 June, the crane was never again mentioned in Valve's deck log during the rest of her time at Pearl Harbor.
Other interesting entries in the Valve's deck log:
What was even more interesting about Shafroth was that he was an avid historian of the Pearl Harbor attack, even during the war. He was very interested in the factors that resulted in the attack being a complete surprise to the Americans, and he took advantage of the access he enjoyed by virtue of his position to all the senior officers involved, especially Admirals Kimmel and Nimitz. He wrote a number of papers on the subject, both during and after the war, which have since been sought out by historians interested in the causal factors of the American defeat. As Commander, Task Unit 34.8.1, in July 1945, Shafroth signalled the start of the first surface bombardment of Japan by hoisting "Never Forget Pearl Harbor" from his flagship. It was Shafroth who found and brought home the now-famous photograph of a Pearl Harbor model that the Japanese made for a wartime motion picture. It is safe to assume that Shafroth would have recognised and understand the importance of a Japanese midget submarine from the Pearl Harbor attack.
Rear Admiral John F. Shafroth, Jr., aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) (left) and USS Indiana (BB-58) (centre). The photograph (right) that captured Shafroth's attention in occupied Japan.
I was therefore interested in the confluence of the YD-25, CDR Foss and RADM Shafroth with the USS Valve in the West Loch during the period 11-13 June 1944. This unique combination does not seem to have been repeated. For that 3-day period, though, the physical means, command authority and Pearl Harbor expertise was in place to make speculation about a recovery and disposal of a midget submarine feasible.
During our investigation, I had an opportunity to interview Ken Larson, a hard-hat Navy diver who participated in the West Loch salvage effort. Working up to 14-hour days in difficult conditions, he had neither time nor energy to know anything aside from his daily routine of eating, sleeping and diving. However, once he left the West Loch, he was approached by shipmates, asking if he knew anything about the rumours then floating around about a miniature Japanese submarine. Ken knew nothing and honestly didn't think much of it until I came along with my questions.
Ken Larson didn't arrive in the West Loch until January 1945. I really wanted to talk with someone who had been there in June 1944. With the help of NHK researcher Midori Yanagihara, we found that witness in the form of USS Valve crewman, Seaman Gordon Plume.
Plume reported aboard USS Valve in May 1944, a week before the West Loch disaster, and served until July. He not only was present aboard Valve during the early salvage effort, but also had a collection of personal photographs – never before published – of some of the salvage operations in the West Loch. The YD-25 featured prominently in several of the photos. As a Machinist's Mate striker, Plume worked below in the engine room so he couldn't personally testify to what the crane raised during its time on station...a friend of his working topside took the photos for him. He doesn't remember any submarine being raised and the photos he provided reveal no sub; in fact, the sequence of photos in which the YD-25 appears documents the raising of a shattered LCT bow section. This sequence of photos was not dated, but we do not believe they were taken on 11-13 June 44 because the floating crane was not tied up to the starboard side of Valve, as described in Valve's log. However, there is one photo that shows a single line from Valve's starboard side to the YD-25. Another large crane (unidentified with unknown capacity) is shown in other photos lifting unidentified debris. That crane, also, is shown to have a line to Valve's starboard side, from which many of the photos were taken. The photos, therefore, support the deck log entries and prove that the large 150-ton crane did operate in the Loch. One picture, in particular, was of great interest because it showed a pile of damaged LVT-2s being loaded on a barge for disposal. These could very well the same LVTs that we would later find around the midget sub wrecksite.