Lost Japanese World War II Mega-Sub Found Off Oahu Coast; Largest Marine Vessel Ever Built At The Time

By Ajit Jha on December 4, 2013 9:47 AM EST

Lost Japanese Sub from World War II
A light from a research submarine illuminates the deck of a submerged World War II-era Japanese mega-submarine discovered off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. (Photo: Reuters/Hawaii Undersea Resear)

Scientists from the Hawaii Underwater Research Lab at the University of Hawaii have found what was originally a prized catch for the U.S. armed forces in 1946: a gigantic World War II Japanese submarine. The mega-sub was sunk by the U.S Navy in 1946, and was then left underwater because the U.S. did not want its advanced technology to get in the hands of the Soviet Union.

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The submarine, a model I-400, was discovered 2,300 feet under water off the southwest coast of the island of Oahu. It wasn't an accident; everyone was aware of the sunken World War II sub. Yet finding the submarine where they did "was totally unexpected" according to lab operations director and chief submarine pilot Terry Kerby, who in a university statement said, "All our research pointed to it being further out to sea."

This I-400 aircraft-carrying submarine, along with two sister ships, were the three largest pre-nuclear age marine vessels ever built, at nearly 400 feet long, the size of a football field. It was initially conceived as a weapon to target the U.S mainland and had several advanced features, not the least among which was their range of 37,500 miles which could take them one and a half times round the world without refueling, a capability that remains unmatched to this day by any diesel-electric submarine. In addition, they could carry up to three folding wing float plane bombers capable of taking off minutes after the submarines resurfaced. The sub could also carry an 1,800 pound bomb.

The three ships never attacked the U.S mainland and ended up seeing only limited service before the Japanese surrender in 1945. However, the novel design of this ship indicated a shift in the use of submarines, which were until then seen strictly as anti-ship weapons, according to James Delgado, director of the Maritime Heritage Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

According to a tabular record of movement of IJN Submarine I-400, maintained by combinedfleet.com, the ship was torpedoed on 4 June 1946: "I-400 is a target ship in the Pacific off Pearl Harbor for tests of the Mark 10-3 exploder. At 1210, she sinks by the stern at 21-13N, 158-07W after being hit by three Mark 18-2 electric torpedoes fired by Cdr D. B. Bell's new USS TRUMPETFISH (SS-425)."

After the U.S forces sank the submarines, they claimed they had no information on the precise location of the ship because they did not want the Soviet Russia to access the advanced technology of the ship, as they had been demanding that the ships be returned to Japan. "Following World War II, submarine experimentation and design changes would continue in this direction, eventually leading to ballistic missile launching capabilities for U.S. submarines at the advent of the nuclear era," Delgado said.

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