Monday, August 31, 2015

"dare to die corps"

Chinese suicide bomber putting on an explosive vest made out of Model 24 hand grenades to use in an attack on Japanese tanks.

The battle involved a Japanese plan to conquer Xuzhou, a major city in the East. However, the Japanese failed to consider the plans of generals Li Zongren and Bai Chongxi, who planned to encircle the Japanese in the town of Tai'erzhuang. The Japanese operation started on 24 March. Overconfidence led the Japanese commanders to overlook the thousands of inconspicuous "farmers" in the area, who were affiliated with Li Zongren and cut communication lines and supplies, diverted streams, and ruined rail lines. By late March, supplies and fuels were being dropped from airplanes to Japanese troops, but the quantities were insufficient.

On 29 March 1938, a small band of Japanese soldiers tunneled under Tai'erzhuang's walls in an attempt to take the city from within. They were caught by the Nationalist defenders and killed. Over the next week, both sides claimed to hold parts of the city and surrounding area, and many were killed in small arms battles.

Finally, the Japanese attacked frontally, failing to consider the greater Chinese numbers. A major encirclement on 6 April, with Chinese reinforcements, preceded a major Japanese defeat and retreat, which the Chinese failed to capitalize upon fully through pursuit due to a lack of mobility.
The Chinese captured 719 Japanese soldiers and large quantities of military supplies, including 31 pieces of artillery, 11 armored cars, 8 armored fighting vehicles, 1,000 machine guns and 10,000 rifles.

A "dare to die corps" was effectively used against Japanese units.

Chinese suicide bomber putting on an explosive vest made out of Model 24 hand grenades to use in an attack on Japanese tanks

Due to lack of anti-armor weaponry, Suicide bombing was also used against the Japanese. Chinese troops strapped explosives like grenade packs or dynamite to their bodies and threw themselves under Japanese tanks to blow them up. Dynamite and grenades were strapped on by Chinese troops who rushed at Japanese tanks and blew themselves up. During one incident at Taierzhuang, Chinese suicide bombers obliterated four Japanese tanks with grenade bundles.

Amid the celebrations of the victory in Hankow and other Chinese cities, Japan tried to deny and ridiculed the reports of the battle for days. It was reported in the world's newspapers, however, and by mid-April had provoked a Cabinet crisis in Tokyo.

The Chinese scored a major victory, the first of the Nationalist alliance in the war. The battle broke the myth of Japanese military invincibility and resulted in an incalculable benefit to Chinese morale.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Formidable Power of One-Hit Sinking

Damaged William D. Porter listing heavily. Landing Craft Support ships LCS(L)(3)-86 and LCS(L)(3)-122 (behind) are assisting.

On 28 May, Japan’s Navy Ministry for the first time made public the operations of the Thunder Gods, extolling them for their fighting spirit and “the formidable power of one-hit sinking.” Newspaper accounts also carried the names of 332 Thunder God pilots who had already sacrificed their lives. Despite the public adulation, most ka pilots now went about their duties under a cloud of despondency, often ignoring the frequent air raid alarms, instead staying in their quarters. Increasingly, petty officers were even sneaking off base to carouse at local inns.

For Ryuji Nagatsuka, meanwhile, May’s end marked the completion of suicide tactical training for Jun-no Special Attack Corps. Nagatsuka received his promotion to flying officer and now was in line for a posthumous promotion. Credible war news was sparse, but conditions were undoubtedly desperate. Each time flights of American Grummans headed for their base northwest of Tokyo, the pilots flew to safer airspace. Machine guns had been removed from their planes and the primary objective was to preserve them for tokko missions.

The rainy season was in full swing, and the only possible bright spot was a brief visit from his mother and two of his sisters. But even this reunion was awkward. Candor about the future went unspoken in the presence of the young girls. When Nagatsuka left the three of them at a nearby train station, he knew he was seeing them for the last time.

The horrid weather, while it curtailed American air attacks, also delayed launch of Kikusui No. 9. An announcement trumpeting the assault went out each morning only to be rescinded by afternoon. Finally, on 3 June, a break in the weather set Kikusui No. 9 in motion. The operation’s buildup vastly overshadowed its substance: in a scattered series of sorties, barely fifty suicide aircraft flew south toward Okinawa, most without escorts.

These handfuls of kamikazes were having a harder time sneaking through, and their attacks seemed to be odd sideshows. Though not any less chaotic or dangerous, the air-sea duels involved many fewer planes and ships.

On 6 June, eight bogeys set upon DMs J. William Ditter and Harry F. Bauer on patrol southeast of Nakagusuku Wan. One attacker’s wing clipped Ditter’s after stack and tore open a long strip of shell plating on the port side, flooding the after fire room and forward engine room.

A plane also crashed close to Bauer’s starboard beam, tearing a twelve-foot gash in her side. Bauer’s damage seemed to be limited to flooding, but crewmen also spotted a large hunk of metal submerged near the forward fireroom and worried it might be a bomb. After taking a look, a bomb disposal expert dispatched from Wiseman’s Cove assured Bauer’s XO Robert Morgenthau it might be the plane’s engine or its landing gear, but was no bomb.

Destroyer William D. Porter’s time off Okinawa did much to erase the stigma that plagued her CO and crew since the accidental but near disastrous torpedo shot at battleship Iowa. But then, on 10 June, bad luck caught up with Porter on RP15 when an undetected kamikaze Val dove at her through a low overcast. The plane struck only a glancing blow to Porter’s radar mast, but when its bomb exploded in the water nearby, the blast tore up the after half of Porter’s hull and unleashed uncontrollable flooding. Even the pumps on LCSs dispatched to help Porter could not stay ahead of the rising water, made worse by the explosion of several jettisoned depth charges. Porter’s sailors were finally evacuated to CO Richard McCool’s LCS-122. Lined up along LCS-122’s railings, Porter’s men watched their hard-luck ship sink at 1119.

On RP15 at dusk the next day, it was LCS-122’s turn, but almost a different kind of turn. After escaping a near miss crash by one Val, LCS-122 took a direct hit to its conning tower by a second Val. The crash and explosion killed 11 men and seriously wounded another 29, including McCool. Despite his wounds, with 122 on fire and sinking, McCool somehow managed to exit the conning tower, jumping first to the gun deck and finally the main deck. McCool rallied his crew to fight fires, hauled one man to safety, and helped rescue several others before 122 had to be abandoned.

This was to be the last kamikaze blow for a week—though by no means the last off Okinawa or the last of the war. Still it was almost a showcase—an attack that occurred in focus and isolation, instead of the thudding, relentless blur of April’s and May’s attacks (and, earlier, the attacks in the Philippines). The LCS-122’s casualties (over half the crew) and the actions of the survivors and the rookie CO somehow symbolized all the suffering, determination, and instinctive heroism displayed by thousands of men through the seemingly unending days of eight long months.

Lieutenant Richard M. McCool, captain of the landing ship LCS(L)(3)-122, received the Medal of Honor in part for assisting in rescue of survivors of William D. Porter.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Britain was not far behind Italy in the development of midget submarines – and might have been in advance. As early as 1909–2, Lt Godfrey Herbert, RN, designed the Devastator, a one-man submersible which set the later style of British boats in being armed with a detachable explosive warhead. Submitted to the Admiralty in 1912, the boat was then (as later, during World War I) refused on the grounds that the operator’s survival could not be guaranteed; ie, that it was a suicidal weapon. However, it attracted the attention of Capt Max Horton, a submarine “ace” of World War I, who contributed suggestions for its improvement and was, according to his biographer, prepared to accept the fact that “the crew would have to be expendable”. Early in World War II, Admiral Sir Max Horton, as Flag Officer, Submarines, was to be a strong advocate of the development and deployment of British midgets.

Herbert’s design was not the only one to influence the British midgets of World War II. In 1915, Robert H. Davis of the Siebe, Gorman company patented a three-man boat incorporating an “escape” compartment. And in 1924, Max Horton himself put forward plans for three types: the A Type, based largely on Herbert’s designs; the two-man B Type, with a detachable compartment containing both warhead and main engines; and the C Type, armed with a single torpedo slung beneath the main hull. Although the C Type, met with some interest, none was adopted: the midgets were once again adjudged to be at best semi- suicidal craft.

All these design strands were woven together in 1939–40, when Admiral Horton learned that a private yard near Southampton was constructing a midget incorporating many features of earlier designs, including the Davis escape apparatus, to the plans of a retired submariner of World War I, Cdr Cromwell H. Varley. In spite of some opposition, Horton and Cdr Herbert (the same officer who had begun his own midget design in 1909) had Varley’s craft evaluated and subsequently improved by the Directorate of Naval Construction. It was to become the “X-craft”.

Characteristics of the “X-craft”
The prototype X-craft, the two-man X-3 and X-4, were built from early 1942 onward, and these experimental submersibles were quickly followed by the operational “X-5” class of 12 boats, which were to be the midgets that carried out missions in European waters. Without explosive charges (see below) an “X-5” midget displaced 27/30 tons (27.4/30.5 tonnes) and was 5.9ft (1.8m) in beam. The craft was 51.25ft (15.7m) long overall and 7.5ft (2.3m) in draught. A single-shaft 42hp Gardner diesel gave a maximum surfaced speed of 6.5kt (7.5mph, 12kmh), and a 30hp electric motor a maximum submerged speed of 5.5kt (6.3mph, 10kmh) – with explosive charges, in both cases. Maximum surfaced range was 1,320nm (1,518 miles, 2442km) with charges or l,860nm (2,139 miles, 3441km) without charges – at 4kt (4.6mph, 7.4kmh), in both cases. The craft carried a crew of four, one of them a trained diver.

The boat was divided into four main compartments. Forward was the “wet-and-dry” compartment, with a hatch from which the diver could leave the craft, to place demolition charges or to deal with underwater obstacles, and return when his task was completed. Also forward was the battery compartment, with the control room amidships and the engine room aft. Armament reflected the role for which the boats were chiefly intended: attacks on major warships at anchor. Unlike the torpedo-armed Japanese, Italian and German midgets the X-craft carried only detachable explosive charges. On each side of the boat, slung in a steel frame and streamlined to the boat’s outline, was a 4,400lb (1993kg) charge of Torpex. Released from within the X-craft, the charges sank beneath a target to become lethal mines, with clockwork fuzes running up to 36 hours.

Although the X-craft were stout boats of remarkable range and endurance – capable of diving safely to more than 300ft (91m), with a submerged endurance of 80 hours at 2kt (2.3mph, 3.7kmh), although with the necessity of rising to ventilate every 12 hours – their seaworthiness was limited by instability in rough weather and by the effect on their crews of long periods in such confined spaces. Thus, they were normally towed to the target area by fleet submarines, while manned by a passage crew; an operational crew travelled out on the mother boat and took over the midget for the attack.

Considering their efficiency, the X-craft were under-used; and some would ascribe this to the Admiralty’s equivocal attitude to what was still felt to be a semi-suicidal weapon. The major missions described briefly below will give the reader some opportunity of deciding for himself just how “suicidal” the X-craft were in comparison with the Japanese, Italian and German midgets. Meanwhile, it should be noted that X-craft also performed valuable services in such roles as reconnaissance of invasion beaches and the landing of clandestine agents. (Six boats of the “XT-class” were commissioned as training vehicles between June 1943 and March 1944; these were similar in most respects to the “X-5” boats, but were not fitted out for operational use; 12 were ordered but not built.)

Experimental Midget Submarines

Besides the midget submarines described above, Japanese designers produced a number of experimental models which did not achieve operational status. Had they done so, they would have been deployed for the final defence of Japan – as suicidal weapons.

The only model to go into production – about 14 were said to be on hand at Kure in August 1945 – was the boat known only by the codename of U-Kanamono (“U-Type Metal Fittings”). This crude weapon was strongly reminiscent of the Confederate semi-submersibles of the War Between the States: it was an awash-boat controlled by a two-man crew housed in a squat turret on a cigar-shaped hull, some 46ft (14m) long and 6.5ft (1.98m) in beam. Displacing c.15 tons (15.24 tonnes), it was powered by a single-shaft compressed-air torpedo motor, giving a maximum speed of only c.3kt (3.45mph, 5.5kmh) and a very limited action radius. Its armament consisted of one 17.7in (450mm) bow torpedo tube.

The smallest of Japan’s midgets, the two-man, 11.5 ton (11.7 tonne) Shinkai (“Sea Vibrator”), was intended for suicidal expeditions into Allied anchorages in operations somewhat resembling those of the Italian “Pig” and British “Chariot”. It was a shallow-draught (3.9ft, 1.2m) submersible armed with a detachable, magnetic, 2,000lb (907kg) warhead, to be affixed to the hull of an enemy ship. The only unit built, codenamed 9-Kanamono (“Type 9 Metal Fittings”) and completed at Ourazaki in August 1944, was powered by a 20shp electric motor giving a maximum 9kt (10.3mph, 16.6kmh) submerged. The 41ft (12.5m) craft was both unstable and plagued by mechanical failure.

Also intended for attacks on Allied anchorages was the Type C variant known as M-Kanamono (“Type M Metal Fittings”), built at Ourazaki in late 1944. Very little larger than the Type C, and with the same engines, it had no torpedo tubes and instead carried four mines. The single unit completed is said to have been equipped with tracks for crawling along the sea bottom.

The last of the experimental midgets was the Maru-Se (“SE boat”), of which one prototype was built by Kawasaki in 1944 for the Imperial Japanese Army. This craft, of which few details survive, was powered by a Walter high-test peroxide motor, a German-developed unit similar to the hydrogen- peroxide/hydrazine engine used in the experimental Kaiten II. This gave a submerged speed of c.15–20kt (17–23mph, 28–37kmh). It was to be armed with two electrically-driven torpedoes, then under development.