SECRET JAPANESE SUBMARINE BASES
ON THE PACIFIC WEST COAST


the Wanderling



BAHIA MAGDALENA

During and just prior to World War II the Japanese Navy used Magdalena Bay (Bahía Magdalena), 600 miles south of San Diego on the Baja penisula in Mexico, as a hiding place for submarines. It is reported that Max Miller, the author of Land Where Time Stands Still, had personally observed a Japanese submarine from a high spot above the bay himself after a short side trip to Puetro San Carlos, possibly during his 1941 journey through Baja California --- although he does not make reference to such a sighting by his own eyes in his book. The closest he comes is what he was told while in La Paz:


"Then they point to Magdalena Bay as an example. And the time immediately prior to Pearl Harbor when Japanese submarines did lie in wait there (submerged by day), awaiting the all-out signal. They had not been there long apparently, but they were there in hiding undetected --- until spotted one night by some stray Mexicans on that bleak coast. And the Mexicans told us in La Paz, and two other La Paz Americans and myself immediately informed the Navy as best we could."

Land Where Time Stands Still, (1945) Max Miller
Chapter 13, pages 133 - 134


Miller (1899-1967), from Traverse City, Michigan, attended the University of Washington in Seattle. After leaving college he took a job as a waterfront reporter in San Diego and soon published his best-selling book, I Cover the Waterfront. He continued to publish a book nearly every year after that through 1952 or so. His observations and written commentary, including his comments regarding the Japanese submarines in Magdalena Bay, is always considered top notch and highly credible.

In the book COLLECTIVE HEARTS: Texans in World War 2, edited by Joyce Gibson Roach (1996), the first essay in the book, "Night of the Yaqui Moon," by Jane Pattie, is connected in an obtuse sort or way to Miller's observations, and based on a story told by a former Texas Ranger named Rufus Van Zandt (1895-1981). Pattie writes:


"Van Zandt spent a lot of time hunting bears and big cats in Mexico and became friends with the fierce Yaqui Indians, a tribe the Mexican government had tried its best to exterminate.

"When the war began, the U.S. government asked Van Zandt to keep his eyes and ears open for Japanese or German activity south of the border. He did and found a considerable Japanese presence on the west coast of Mexico.

"Eventually, according to Van Zandt, he participated in a raid by Yaqui Indians on a clandestine Japanese submarine refueling point on the Pacific side of Baja, Calif. He said a submarine and two trawlers were sunk and a fair number of Japanese were killed."


Some years back I interviewed the Oscar nominated art director named Albert Nozaki. Nozaki, a Japanese-American, had been in an internment camp during World War II. In order to get a proper introduction with Nozaki so talking to him would have some weight behind it, I went through a friend of mine who, as a young boy, had been interned in a camp along with his parents. Nozaki and his wife had been sent to Manzanar and, although my friend and his mother and father had been sent to a camp in Poston, Arizona, his parents maintained a close contact with a long list of former internees from all the locations and were able to arrange an introduction. When I discovered my friend had been interned in the camp at Poston I finagled another introduction through his parents to meet a second person, a man named Edward H. Spicer.

In 1942 Spicer was a Community Analyst at the Poston Relocation Center for Japanese-Americans, eventually becoming the head of the Community Analysis Section of the War Relocation Authority (WRA). Spicer was also an expert on Yaqui Indians. During 1939 and 1940, Spicer, an instructor in the University of Arizona Department of Anthropology, conducted research among the Tucson Yaquis and finished a manuscript called "People of Pascua" to compliment the book based on his dissertation. Spicer then received a Guggenheim Fellowship which made it possible for he and his wife to spend much of 1941 and the early part of 1942 in southern Sonora, Mexico, studying Yaqui Indian culture on a first hand basis.

Before all of that went down, in the early to mid 1880s, a man name Albert Franklin Banta, in a dare, was challenged by Pima County Arizona deputy sheriff Charlie Shibell to go into Old Mexico 900 miles and back to track down a fugitive. Banta took up the challenge. To help him in his quest Banta recruited a Yaqui Indian who, because he was married to a Yuma Indian on the U.S. side, had lots of experience going back and forth traversing both sides of the border. Banta thought the idea perfect because the person he was seeking was operating outside the law and, since the Yaqui had to operate by avoiding the law as well, Banta felt it would put him in a much better position to apprehend the suspect he was seeking. In the end of course, his idea paid off as Banta returned with the fugitive.

The interesting part to the whole story is that the Yaqui Indian Banta recruited from Yuma to help him apprehend the outlaw turned out to be, according to my Uncle, the father of one Don Juan Matus, who grew up to become famous in a series of books by Carlos Castaneda.

And that is the reason I wanted to meet with Spicer, an expert on Yaqui Indians in both Yuma and the Sonora Desert. I wanted to know if he had any knowledge or information regarding Banta or Pima County deputy sheriff Charlie Shibell and any relation to Don Juan Matus my uncle spoke of --- and of which, if so, would or could prove that Don Juan Matus was a real person or not. How little I knew how unreceptive and antagonistic Spicer would be about anything that had to do with Carlos Castaneda. If it hadn't been for the introduction by the parents of my friend, who it was quite clear Spicer had a great deal of respect for, literally he most likely would have thrown me out on my butt. So said, Spicer did tell me about the only story he was personally familiar with that involved a U.S. or American law officer and Yaqui Indians in Mexico. It had to do with a former Texas Ranger and happened sometime in 1941 or 1942 during the tenure of his Guggenheim Fellowship when he and his wife were in southern Sonora studying Yaqui Indian culture and, as outsiders and Americans, were trying their best to create a strong working relationship between themselves the Yaquis.

Spicer told me a former Texas Ranger named Van Zandt, an undercover Special Services intelligence officer during the war, using long established credentials as a guide for hunters and fishermen in Mexico as a cover, was assigned by the U.S. government to keep his eyes and ears open for Japanese or German activity south of the border.[1] News began filtering down through his network of informers, especially from those that ran sportfishers or fishing boats, that Japanese submarines were being spotted in the Pacific off the coast of Baja and some had even holed up and possibly taken on fuel in Magdalena Bay. Hard evidence of Van Zandt's raid that showed up in his hands was passed on during a veiled public meeting in a busy train station with movie actress and fellow spy Rochelle Hudson who worked undercover on and off in Mexico and South America for the Naval Intelligence Service. He covertly slipped fairly solid information to Hudson that Japanese officers had gone ashore to make some sort of contact with operatives and a few low ranking shore-launch crew members without Mexican currency unwittingly traded items with local establishments for goods and services.

Japan had a long history along the Baja peninsula, albeit sans submarines, starting as early as 1908. It was then that several Japanese based companies began to make substantial land investments in Baja California. Aurelio Sandoval, a Los Angeles based resident, was the head of the International Fisheries Company which held the exclusive Mexican government concession for fisheries on the Baja penisula. Sandoval was intent on developing fisheries all along the richest fishing locations throughout Baja but lacked the necessary capital. He approached a professor from the Imperial Fisheries Institute of Tokyo on world tour of fisheries for the Japanese government visiting Los Angeles about the possibility of large scale Japanese financing. Japanese financing was not initially forthcoming, however Sandoval did open a small lobster cannery in Baja California on Santa Margarita Island in Magdalena Bay he had supervised by a Japanese fishery expert who had been trained at the Imperial Fisheries Institute.(source)

According to Eugene Keith Chamberlin, in "The Japanese Scare at Magdalena Bay," Pacific Historical Review, XXIV (1955), 345-359, in 1912, the expert, one Takasaki Tatsunosuke, while attempting to establish a financially viable enterprise, ensnared himself in an international incident involving a purported attempt by the Japanese government to purchase Magdalena Bay as a naval base and agricultural colony.

Van Zandt's assertion that he participated in a clandestine raid in Mexico and that the raid included a number of Yaqui Indians was substantiated by Spicer. Although Spicer did not learn of the event until immediately after the fact, he remembered it well. He said he was not very happy that Van Zandt had used his sway amongst the Yaquis, many of whom he hired as trackers on and off, to participate in some covert venture against the Japanese, especially since at the time Mexico had yet to formally declare war against Japan and the Mexican government was always looking for reasons to hassel the Yaquis. Matter of fact, Spicer said he heard rumors that Van Zandt and the same group of Yaqui raiders had participated in a similar mission against two German submarines said to have been in the Sea of Cortez.[2] If the Magdalena raid led to a Japanese submarine along with two trawlers being sunk and a fair number of Japanese being killed Spicer never said, nor has it ever been confirmed officially. However, although remains of any such vessels have not been found in or around Magdalena Bay, there is a bevy of strong circumstantial evidence that what Van Zandt says happened did in fact happen.

During World War I the U.S. submarine H-1 (SS-28), operated off Long Island, New York. On January 6, 1920, with the war over, she sailed for her home port of San Pedro, California, transiting the Panama Canal. On March 12 the H-1 went aground on a shoal off Santa Margarita Island, the southern reaching island that helped form Magdalena Bay. Four days later, on March 24th, the repair ship USS Vestal AR-4 arrived and by March 26th had pulled the sub off the rocks and was headed toward San Diego only to have her sink 45 minutes later in some 50 feet of water when the tow line parted. After several tries refloating was abandoned and her name was struck from the Navy List April 12, 1920. Four men, including the commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. James R. Webb, died as they tried to reach shore.(source)

The whole event was well documented and the location was precisely known, plus she went down in only 50 feet of water yet she was not refloated and was stricken from the registry. The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (1968) Vol. 3, p.196 says her hulk sold for salvage scrap in June 1920. According to Joe Cummings and Nikki Goth Itoi in Moon Baja, 7th Edition:


"(T)he sub was mysteriously looted of all logs and other classified material before U.S. Navy rescue ships could approach it; the Navy scuttled the sub at a depth of nine fathoms just off the island coast and erased virtually all records of its existence."


That is the way it was until 1992 when a hull said to be a submarine laying on its side was located in the same general vicinity that the H-1 was reported as going down. Rumors she was found stemmed from several searches that year including one made by Peter Jensen, a Baja California shipwreck expert. Although the hull was observed by several people from competing search teams, return expeditions were not able to relocate the hull explaining that it is highly likely that it is buried in sand and uncovered only periodically. However, at this point in time, there is nothing to say the hull is that of the H-1 and not that of the Japanese submarine Van Zandt said he sank, especially since the hulk of the H-1 was said to have been sold for salvage scrap in June 1920. According to a man that should know, Torrance Parker, former owner of Parker Diving Service in San Pedro and a 50 year commercial diver now retired, as told by Edward W. Vernon the author of A Maritime History of Baja California, the H-1 probably was salvaged, perhaps secretly, during the 1940s.

The problem is, if Van Zandt and his clandestine Yaqui team did sink a Japanese sub in Magdalena Bay, what Japanese sub was it?

The two best candidates, at least of those known to be on the record, are the I-9 and the I-10, although, according to that same record, neither of them could have been at Magdalena Bay at the sametime. The I-10 was sent to the U.S. Pacific west coast by the Imperial Japanese Navy on December 14, 1941 and assigned to patrol off San Diego, California, an operational area that was the farthest south of all the submarines dispatched by the IJN and within easy reach of Magdalena Bay. It returned to Kwajalein, the Marshall Islands, five days later on December 19, 1941 for unknown reasons. The I-9 arrived off the Oregon coast the same day the I-10 returned to Kwajalein. The day after the I-9 arrived off Oregon it was ordered to Panama for undisclosed reasons. On route it was held up just off Mexico to join three other subs for a potential attack on a trio of U.S. battleships reported to be steaming up the west coast toward San Pedro and due to arrive there on December 25, 1941. The report proved false and the I-9 continued on, officially recorded as being at least as far south as Guadalupe Island located 150 miles off the coast of Baja California and 220 miles south of San Diego, sometime around December 22nd. Then the record goes blank and out of nowhere it just shows up at it's home base in Kwajalein in early January 1942.

When Max Miller was in La Paz in 1941 he was told by the Mexicans he met there that they saw submarines in the bay. Notice the plural use of the word, meaning more than one submarine. Van Zandt said during his covert operation "a submarine" was sunk. The number of submarines puts a couple of different scenarios into play. If the I-9 went into the bay on its own and attacked by Van Zandt it may have been damaged but not sunk because it showed up at Kwajalein in January. It must have slipped out of the bay possibly just below the surface and most likely headed toward the La Palma Secret Base in Chiapas. There it received enough repairs to make it to Kwajalein. If so, that would mean the hull that was located in 1992 was more than likely the H-1. If there were two submarines in the bay and one of them was the I-9, then again, as above, she escaped. That would mean it was the second sub that was damaged and sank outside the harbor --- which means the hull seen in 1992 could easily be that of a Japanese sub.

An attack on a Japanese submarine, or possibly two, by Van Zandt's rather unconventional Yaqui Indian black ops group might not sound like much in the overall scheme of things. However, the I-9 had been dispatched to Panama by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The question would be why? Instead, apparently thanks to Van Zandt, it ended up in it's home port of Kwajalein having never reached Panama. The I-9 pulled into Magdalena Bay for some reason. Van Zandt called the bay a "refuling point." He also said there were two of what he called "trawlers" which could have been tenders. However, the I-9 should have had plenty of fuel. If refueling was a necessity it most likely would have been scheduled or done at the closer to Panama and farther south La Palma base in Chiapas. Since all of the submarines were sent to the U.S. Pacific west coast for possible strikes and to disrupt shipping they were supplied with all the necessary ordinance and equipment to do so. There is a good chance, in that the I-9 was redirected toward Panama the day after it arrived in it's area of operation near the Oregon coast, that she stopped at Magdalena Bay to take on something, and, whatever was to be accomplished by the results of those efforts was basically stopped in it's tracks by Van Zandt's raid.

A couple of things were in the works. First, in Harbor Defenses of Los Angeles in World War II by John R. Monett, Lester Cole and Jack C. Cleland (1945) it is reported that on December 31, 1941, the IV Interceptor Command received intelligence that several enemy planes were believed to have landed and been hidden near the inland desert communities of Indio and Brawley in the Imperial Valley of California. They also reported that five messages in Japanese code were being sent daily between Brawley and Mexico City via short wave radio. At 12:32 PM in the afternoon of December 31, 1941, the Federal Bureau of Investigation relayed the following message:

"There is a plan for air and sea attack against San Diego, San Pedro and San Francisco, to take place about dawn either New Year’s Day or the following Sunday. It is possible the attack will be made against San Diego and San Pedro first. Expecting cooperation from aliens ashore. The air attack will be by German airmen from across the border where planes are now under cover, taking off before dawn and coming over flying high. If air forces are alert, this can be broken up before they reach their objectives. Am sending you this information for want of better channels to advise. Remember Pearl Harbor."(see)


The second sub was apparently an off the record submarine on a secret mission as there is no record of the Japanese having lost a submarine in Mexican waters.[3] Whatever it's mission was has never been made clear either. It very well could have been carrying personnel to accomplish the strike missions as planned above and/or as I have suggested, the transfer of something to the I-9 that it did not have when it left Japan for the Oregon coast. The reason I think so is because the second submarine must have been a quick operation vessel, perhaps dispatched to carry German pilots and whatever it had for the I-9. The I-9 was an aircraft equipped submarine designed for long distances and long durations at sea, AND it had been redirected to Panama. It probably picked up either a two-man midget submarine or some sort of heavy duty destructive device, or possibly both. It any case, whatever they picked up was somehow destined for for some sort of involvement dealing with Panama. In the end it was either not pulled off or the mission ended in failure. However, both the I-9 and the I-10 continued to Kwajalein and the reason why overshadowed any attempt to interact adversely with Panama. It had to do with the Galapagos Islands. The Japanese were interested in the Galapagos Islands and their strategic location relative to the Panama Canal at least as early as 1935, possibly before. In the Canberra Times, datelined Monday November 4, 1935, the following appeared:


MYSTERY FLEET OFF GALAPAGOS ISLAND ARE THEY JAPANESE?

Dispatches from Galapagos Island state that an unidentified fleet of submarines were maneuvering near Cristobal Island on Thursday night. The submarines were described as being fitted with electric projectors. Off Barrington Island a ship of large tonnage, presumably the mother-ship, was sighted

Other dispatches from Balboa, in the Panama Canal zone, state that the submarines were not from the United States. It was suggested at Guayaquil that they might be Japanese vessels.


More than likely the I-9 was reconnoitering the Pacific approach to the Canal, testing approach vunerabilities, surface and undersea currents, prevailing winds, etc., with orders to strike if feasible and, if not, continue on to the Galapagos then on to Kwajalein. The I-10 most likely just went to the Galapagos then to Kwajalein. Why was it so important for Japan to have two of it's submarines visit or reconnoiter the Galagapos? A growing American presence was potenitally thwarting their plans for a forward operating base to attack the Canal.[4] The map below, from the March 2, 1942 issue of Life magazine tells the tale:




If you have gone to Footnote [3] above, then you already have a fairly good handle on the infamous long range Imperial Japanese Navy submarine the I-12. Of all the known A-type Japanese submarines during World War II the I-12 was the only one that late in the war that was remotely in a position to have used the facilities of Magdalena Bay. She had shown up at the much farther south La Palma Secret Base in Chiapas, Mexico sometime around mid-December, 1944 followed within days by the equally infamous if not more so German u-boat, the U-196. When the 1-12 departed the secret base it headed north into the Sea of Cortez, then, after traversing nearly the full length of the sea she turned back, rounded the tip of Baja California and headed north. If the I-12 accessed Magdalena Bay, about a quarter of the way up the peninsula from the tip, is not known. If not, she went right by it. It is my feeling she bypassed the bay and did so for three reasons. One, to my knowledge there was no need to stop after having most recently left the La Palma Secret Base where any needed supplies, fuel and fresh water could have been obtained. Secondly, the Magdalena Bay facilities, unlike the La Palma Secret Base, were transient. That is, they depended on trawlers for supplies. Since there had not been any known Japanese subs operating in eastern Pacific waters on a regular basis for several years, more than likely the Japanese discontinued maintaining trawlers that far afield. Third, she was probably attempting to maximize as much secrecy as possible relative to her location and movements. Magdalena Bay, although remote in location, especially during the same years as World War II, still presented a much greater chance for discovery or being sighted than at La Palma. As it was the I-12s movements and discovery still occurred, apparently by the USS Willard Keith (DD-775) in March of 1945 near San Francisco and, according to Willard Keith crew members, sunk. See:

SINKING OF THE I-12


THE VAN ZANT PAPERS:
JAPANESE BASE IN MEXICO


SEE ALSO:

THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES: THE RADAR DILEMMA


UFO OVER L.A.: THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES


WORLD WAR II COMES TO REDONDO



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FOOTNOTE [1]

----CLICK THEN CLICK AGAIN FOR LARGER SIZE


Rufus Van Zandt was sworn in as a Texas Ranger in 1921, being promoted to rank of Captain in July of 1922. Sometime after a woman by the name of Miriam 'Ma' Wallace became governor of Texas in 1925 Van Zandt resigned his position for reasons undisclosed, but most likely because of differences of opinion (it has been said Ferguson used the Rangers as a political tool for dispensing patronage. On February 20, 1925, she reduced the five companies of Rangers, limiting the remaining Ranger authority to the counties along the southern border. If Van Zandt, with the rank of Captain, was caught up in that reduction or resigned because of the reduction is not known).

In 1926, within months of leaving the Rangers, Van Zandt became a Special Agent for the U.S. Treasury Department. The Special Agent position carried the full credentials and powers of a federal law enforcement officer including the right to carry a badge, gun, and arrest authority --- duties of which were loosely bracketed around the area of border enforcement. Van Zandt did not resign his position as a federal agent until sometime in 1928, making him effectively in play as a law enforcement officer in Texas from 1921 to 1928.


Just for the record, for those of you who may be so interested, there is a little known incident that occurred in Sanderson, Texas circa mid-1920s that involved Van Zandt and the yet to be cowboy western author of over 100 books Louis L'Amour, the results of which show up in L'Amour's autobiography Education of a Wandering Man. See:


LOUIS L'AMOUR





















FOOTNOTE [4]

Within a week of the attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. Navy expedited a small force of 36 men to the Galapagos Islands to establish a refueling depot for patrol planes at Aeolian Cove, on the western side of Battra Island. Less than a week after that seaplanes were being refueled by hand from a makeshift landing ramp and pier. In January 1942 the Army surveyed the island for an 8,000-foot air strip and by January 24, 1942, Ecuador granted permission to proceed with essential construction.(source)


From at least 1943 up through the first half of 1945 the Japanese honed a serious set of new plans to attack the Panama Canal, specifically the Gatun Dam, with the attack emanating from the Atlantic side rather than the Pacific side and the Galapagos. They designed and built a series of giant, super long distance submarines, the I-400 Class, each capable of carrying three powerful aircraft.

In July 1945 the attack flotilla was assembled for the first time, consisting of two of the newly designed I-400 Class submarines, the I-400 and I-401. They were joined by two smaller subs capable of carrying two aircraft each, the I-13 and I-14. In that the two smaller subs did not have the fuel capacity for the round trip to Panama, they were to either refuel from the two larger subs or abandoned after the attack.



Source: Janusz Piekalkiewicz, The Air War: 1939-1945, (Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press, 1985), 420-421


The subs were provisioned for a four-month cruise on a route designed to take them beyond India, around South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope and out into the open Atlantic ending in the Caribbean off Panama. For whatever reason, before they even departed the flotilla was reasigned to attack Ulithi Atoll in the South Pacific, where American aircraft carriers were known to be moored.

When the submarines left their base July 23, 1945, under new orders, each one departed separately, with a rendezvous set at sea for August 16th off Ponape Island, the Carolines. On August 5th while at sea the I-400 suffered an electrical fire that forced her to surface to repair the damage. The I-401 sets a new rendezvous point but the I-400 did not receive the message and the subs missed each other. The strike date was set for August 17th, but Japan surrendered on the 15th.


There has been some question as to if a Japanese attack against the canal, especially the Gatun Dam, could have been pulled off. Most analysts say no. That is because the dam is a huge earthen structure situated six miles inland from the Caribbean Sea in a valley created by the Chagres River. The hills on either side of the valley form a gap over a mile wide. That gap is filled by an earth dam 7,500 feet long along the top, 2,100 feet thick at the base, 397 feet thick at the water level, and 98 feet thick at the top, which is 30 feet above the normal lake level.

However, the canal, like the Star Wars Death Star, does have its weakness. It is especially vulnerable when the rainy season ends because canal uses water stored during the rainy season to operate during the dry season. Any removal of water from these supply sources jeopardizes the operation of the locks. Attacks on Gatun or Madden Dam creating a forced mass spilling of water could shutdown the locks for months. As well, it is not necessary to destroy the dam, just open up its spillway and lock the controls. It has been speculated that even an unstoppable full-on two hour discharge during the dry season could shutdown the locks for a month.

A lot of historians and others laugh off a potential strike against the canal. However, to show how serious the Japanese were about the whole thing, in March 1945 the submarine flotilla's air squadron moved to Nanao Bay, located on the west coast of Honshu, 178 miles northeast of Tokyo, to practice for the strike. A full-scale exact-replica model, almost down to the last nut and bolt of the Gatun Locks, even recreating the air approach, was constructed in adjacent Toyama Bay and the pilots practiced bombing and torpedoing it over and over. The squadron staff and pilots felt confident of striking their target and wrecking the huge gates at the locks, draining the lake and rendering the canal unusable.

I-400


I-401





















FOOTNOTE [3]

In Footnote [5] of World War II Comes To Redondo and crediting the source, the following is found:


In January 1943, the United States Army and Navy had set up a Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC) to catalogue enemy Naval and merchant shipping losses during the war. The Air Force was part of the Army at the time, although it did have its own representative on JANAC. Using PoW reports, intelligence sources and bombing reports it put together a comprehensive index of enemy war losses. After the defeat of Japan, the US Navy and British Admiralty jointly conducted a major survey of the Japanese Navy.

Both eventually produced reports on enemy losses, the Admiralty in June 1946 and the Navy Department in February 1947. 3 The two reports overlapped considerably but each published different levels of detail. Both reports identify the vessels sunk and the date. The British report gives the identity of the ship(s) or aircraft responsible for the sinking, but only a vague location. The American report gives a precise latitude/longitute location but only a general category of sinking agent (e.g. "ship", "aircraft", etc.) By cross-referencing the two, it is possible to identify who sank which submarines, with exact details of where and when.

(No) vessel is recorded by either the British or American naval authorities as having been sunk off the West Coast of the United States at any time during the war. Almost every Japanese submarine was accounted for. Of the 130 Japanese submarines destroyed during World War II, the cause of destruction of only five was never determined. Of those, the location of only one remained unknown, the RO.35, lost sometime during June 1942. Its cause of sinking was described as an "operational accident" but where and when this happened was not determined by the Allies in their contemporary reports. According to Lt Cdr Shizuo Fukui of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the RO.35 was sunk in October 1943 in the Solomon Islands.


However and thus said, and this is a BIG however, our World War II enemies, for officially having lost NO submarines off the U.S. west coast of any size, shape, or discription any time during the war, there sure seems to be a lot of them off the record being said to have been lost --- with the I-12 being one of the most mysterious. Records on the I-12 kept by both sides are all over the place and packed with inconsistancies. As reported in HIJMS Submarine I-12: Tabular Record of Movement by Hackett and Kingsepp (Revision 1) and elsewhere, the following is found:


"13 November 1944: 100 miles WSW of Los Angeles, California. USCG cutter ROCKFORD (PF-48) and minelayer USS ARDENT (AM-340) are escorting a six-ship convoy from Honolulu to the American mainland. At 1232, ARDENT makes a sonar contact with a submarine ahead of the convoy. After 1241, ARDENT makes two 'Hedgehog' projector charge attacks with negative results. At 1308, ROCKFORD makes another attack with 13 Hedgehogs. Fifteen seconds later, three distinct detonations are heard, followed four minutes later by numerous underwater explosions. ARDENT makes two more attacks and ROCKFORD drops 13 depth charges. After more explosions, contact with the submarine is lost."


Continuing, it was reported water and air bubbles appeared on the surface along with oil and debris, including teak planks, ground cork, pieces of varnished wood, and a piece of an instrument case inscribed with Japanese characters. Both warships receive equal credit for the probable destruction of a Japanese submarine, probably I-12. The only Japanese submarine known to be operating along the west coast of the United States that late in the war was the I-12, which had attacked and sank the SS John A. Johnson two weeks before, on October 30, 1944.

For all practical purposes the claim by the two ships remains unconfirmed as the sinking was not corroborated by Japanese documentation captured after the war --- the same Japanese documentation construed to be accurate that everybody else uses to confirm their kills. Japanese sources indicate that the I-12 was active through the end of December and given credit for the sinking of an Allied transport and a tanker in the mid-Pacific. The I-12 is listed as having been lost January 31, 1945 from unknown causes.

The question arises, if the sub that the Ardent and Rockford sank 100 miles WSW of Los Angeles (i.e., off the coast of Mexico), was not the I-12, what sub was it? If it was the I-12 they sank, then what sub continued to wreak havoc on Allied shipping in the mid-Pacific during December 1944 that the Japanese High Command reported as being the I-12? Interestingly enough, the Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee report, linked above, lists the I-38 as being the sub sunk on the same day, date, and location as given for the I-12.


What really happened to the I-12? Former sailor Bill Anderson thinks he knows. It started for Anderson during the spring of 1945 when the destroyer he served on, the USS Willard Keith, DD-775, was returning from routine weekly training from San Francisco to San Clemente Island and back when it came into contact with an unidentified submarine off San Francisco. From the source so cited:


"Anderson was an 18-year old sailor on board the destroyer USS Willard Keith on that gray spring morning in March of 1945. He believes they sank a Japanese heavy submarine. 'It was 352 feet. It's two feet longer than our destroyer was,' Anderson says. 'Tonnage was about the same. It's a monster submarine.' But no record of the action was apparently kept, and it would have faded completely except for a reunion in 1993 of men who had been on board the Willard Keith. Bill and some of his shipmates determined to try to find the submarine in her watery grave somewhere off the coast between Half Moon Bay and San Francisco."

SINKING OF THE I-12