Sunday, August 23, 2009

Kaiten Special Attack Submarine

The Kaiten class submarine ( or piloted torpedo) was an attempt to stem the tide of the American and Allied advance on the Japanese Empire in the last years of WWII. The Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Coral Sea had inflicted costly and overwhelming defeats of Japanese surface and air Naval power. The Japanese were desperate to stop or impede the advance of the powerful Carrier groups and amphibious assault groups of the USMC and US Army.

Much like the Kamikaze air attacks that began in the battles for the Philippines, the Kaiten (Turning of the Heavens) submarine was designed to use a small amount of resources and a fanatical, brainwashed young man about to die to inflict hopefully catastrophic damage to the enemy.

The Kaiten was piloted by a single sailor laying on a canvas chair. It was of crude construction, prone to mechanical failures and leaking. It did however, have more than 3,000 lbs of explosive in its nose. The propulsion unit was out of the excellent Type 93 24 "Long Lance" torpedo, probably the best torpedo of WWII.

The Kaitens were carried in groups of 4 to 6 on the backs of submarines and launched, as many as available at surface targets, often convoys of troopships. The Kaitens were launched from the mother submarine from beyond 5000 meters, ran underwater for awhile, then came up to periscope depth the re-target and make corrections to their course and dive. The only real advantage of the Kaiten is the unlike a regular torpedo, if they missed the target they could conceivably come around for another run and re-target themselves. The Kaiten were considered by US Navy personnel who evaluated them after the war to be difficult to control, and prone to uncontrollable dives, broaching, and other accidents.

submarines did make some kills in 1944 and '45 though, most notably the USS Underhill (DE-682), a
Buckley-class Destroyer escort. However, much like the Kamikaze, they were overall ineffective and mostly only served to futilely end the lives of more than a hundred pilots.

US Navy diagram of captured Kaiten Subs

Kaiten on display in the Washington Navy Yard

Kaiten torpedoes attached to the deck of Japanese sub in 1945

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