LAST NIGHT the engine room floor of the American
Islander was awash in hydraulic fluid from the nasty break
in the hose, and the repair work delays our departure. The
clouds are already in withdrawal from the foothills of the
Koolau Mountains and the sun is steaming on Pier
#13 as we pull out at 11:15.
It takes us only a half-hour to reach the seas adjacent
to Pearl Harbor, whose entrance channel squeezes between
Tripod Reef and Ahua Reef. Between us and the island of
Oahu, traffic is constantairliners streaming into
Honolulu Airport, cruise liners docking, the swift and eerie
flow of submarines. We watch a Japanese Airline 747
descending, with the great red rising sun emblazoned on its
fuselage. History seems to mock us.
The search for the Japanese midget submarine is a
matter of reconstructing history, but historical moments are
often like auto accidents; five witnesses to the same crash
tell five different stories. Truth is reached, if at all, by the
On that fatal morning of December 7, 1941, the U.S.S.
Ward was steaming east when it spotted the sail of a small
submarine following a salvage ship, the U.S.S. Antares, north
toward the harbor channel The Ward fired once from her #1
gun on the main deck, and missed. She fired again with her
#3 gun on the second deck, and hit the sub where the sail, or
conning tower, meets the hull.
The sub listed to starboard and then righted itself,
says Will Lehner, one of the Wards veterans. I
thought it was going to ram us, it was that close. Then we
started depth-charging, depth-charging.
At 6:45 that Sunday morning Lt. William Outerbridge,
captain of the Ward, sent out a terse message: We have
attacked, fired upon and dropped depth charges upon
submarine operating in defensive sea area. Through
indecision, dallying, and a busy telephone line, the
implications of the message never registered on the
American high command. The Japanese aerial task force
struck at 7:50, achieving total surprise.
If the midget had been fatally struck and sunk on the
spot, the search might be easier. Yet we are not dead sure if
the physical evidence, this cigar-shaped suicide vessel, is
even in the area. Ballard sits now in the cramped control
room wearing his trademark blue cap, drawing careful lines
in orange pencil across the squares between longitudes
157.58.4 and 55.3W, latitudes 21.15.7 and 17.9N, outlining
our search patterns, eliminating targets.
Behind him a bank of 12 video monitors displays the
illuminated floor of the sea as the Argus imaging vehicle
glides over it. Late on Thursday, November 9, Argus lights
up the remains of the other World-War II midget submarine,
a different class from the ones that had attacked Pearl
Harbor. It had been captured in another campaign, probably
in Guam, studied by intelligence experts at Pearl Harbor,
then junked. Only its mid-section and sail remains.
Dewa, the Japanese veteran, regards the screen with
emotion, realizing he is seeing a tomb of comrades he may
have known. I am very happy, he says through an
interpreter. Dewa, a gentleman, is always happy, but
happy seems to mean different things, and his face shows
little but stoicism and reserve. In the way of the Samurai,
he says finally, it is our duty to die honorably for our
As on most Ballard expeditions, hardware meets
history and he attempts to reconcile them. In two days
well have sonified the box, says Ballard in
impeccable techno-speak. Well have made a sonar
record of the entire area.
And then what?
This is like looking for the Loch Ness monster. You
gotta have a monster there, otherwise youre just
going through the motions. The big question here is if the
midget submarine is really down there.
Ballard studies the squares on the table and frowns: I
dont like where the Park Service has been searching.
They havent found anything in that box. The midget
may have died somewhere, but it may have not died in this
box. It may have been heavily damaged, and the captain
may have decided to get as far away as possible.
Hardly anyone notices that Hawaii is happening
outside. The trade winds dance across the waters, Waikiki
Beach sparkles in the distance. But Ballard leans back in the
air-conditioned dimness and tries to get into the head of the
midget submarine captain of 60 years agoa young
Japanese naval officer in his 20s who had toasted his
comrades, adjusted a white hashamaki, the traditional
Japanese warriors headband, around his head, and
set out to meet his maker for the glory of Imperial Japan.
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