740.00116 P.W./6–245

Memorandum by the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee to the Secretary of State

Reference: SWNCC 133/2.

Reference is made to your letter, SWP 740.00116 P.W./11–2144 of 14 December 194450 concerning an alleged attack by an American submarine on 3 July 1944 upon the Japanese vessel Taiei Maru.

Investigation has established that an American submarine, on 3 July 1944, attacked and sank a Japanese wooden inter-island steamer which was intercepted between Palau and Yap. The vessel was identified by survivors as the Taimei Maru of 989 tons. Although a wide discrepancy exists between the tonnage given in the Japanese protest and that reported by survivors, the identity in date, hour and geographical location, and the similarity in names, leave no doubt that this was the incident to which the Japanese protest refers.

In reporting the attack the commanding officers of the U.S. submarine stated that the vessel was taken under fire about 1010 on 3 July 1944. All gunfire was directed at the vessel, which attempted escape. On completion of the attack, which left the vessel burning [Page 454] furiously, the submarine temporarily retired from the scene, presumably because of danger that the smoke column from the burning vessel would attract enemy aircraft. The submarine returned to the scene less than 45 minutes later but, because of the presence of hostile aircraft, remained submerged until 1545. At 1605 five wounded survivors were picked up, given medical treatment, and retained on board the submarine.

In the next two hours the submarine was on three occasions forced to submerge on the approach of enemy aircraft. Nevertheless, attempts were made during brief periods on the surface to rescue other survivors, two of whom deliberately evaded capture by swimming away. On one occasion, prior to submerging, the crew of the submarine dropped a rubber lifeboat containing food, fruit juices, water and a knife alongside a half-submerged lifeboat to which two women were clinging. It is probable that these were the two women later rescued by the Japanese and entirely possible that the other five survivors owe their lives to the presence of the same boat.

The following Japanese survivors are now interned in Australia:

Ota, Eigoro Tailor Age 26
Seki, Tsukane Student Age 17
Kubota, Ichiro South Seas Civil Office at Yap Age 34
Kitazono, Hideo Kokusai Wireless Co., Ltd., at Yap Age 30
Tamura, Yakichi South Seas Development Co., Ltd. (Nanyo Kohatsu) at Palau Age 50

A brief of the report of the interrogations of the above is substantially as follows:

On 3 July, the captain of the Taiei (Taimei) Maru believed the vessel had been sighted by a submarine and increased speed in an attempt to escape. About 1000, a submarine was seen to surface astern and open fire. The third or fourth shot struck the engineroom and started a fire. The submarine shortly thereafter raked the ship with machine-gun fire and passengers began to abandon ship. The survivors do not believe the submarine was shooting at persons in the water. One survivor (Ota) stated that by the time the first Japanese plane flew overhead the majority of the other passengers who had jumped overboard had drowned. At this time he and six other survivors clung to a small wooden raft. Subsequently, the ship’s lifeboat came by with the captain of the Taiei (Taimei) Maru and two or three wounded crew members aboard, picked up two of the survivors from the raft, and proceeded toward the Taiei (Taimei) Maru for the purpose of obtaining oil drums to improve the boat’s buoyancy. Shortly thereafter the submarine surfaced again, came [Page 455] alongside the raft, and picked up the five survivors, who were, taken below. Ota is certain that he did not hear any further shooting and added that the treatment received by the survivors on board the submarine was excellent. Kitazono, another survivor, stated that he thought the captain of the Taiei (Taimei) Maru unwise to attempt to flee from the submarine, knowing, as he did, that the vessel could not possibly hope to escape. Tamura stated that there were no other survivors in the water when the submarine surfaced to pick them up. None of the above is of the opinion that the submarine machine-gunned any persons in the water. “Otherwise,” they ask, “why should the submarine have picked us up?” All are now in good health and well-satisfied with the treatment they have received since capture.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion, in which the Secretaries of War and the Navy concur, that every effort was made to rescue the passengers and crew of the Japanese vessel, the submarine remaining in the vicinity despite repeated approaches of enemy aircraft, which forced it to submerge to avoid damage. The Navy Department categorically denies the Japanese charges and reaffirms that Naval forces will continue to observe the principles of international law and the fundamental principles of humanity.

Inasmuch as similar protests were addressed to the British Government and to the Royal Netherlands Government, it is assumed that those Governments will be informed of your reply to the Japanese Government.51

For the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee:
H. Freeman Matthews

Acting Chairman
  1. Letter to the Secretary of the Navy, not printed; it transmitted a copy of memorandum 251, Ex. 150.000, November 21, 1944, from the Spanish Embassy, Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. v, p. 1139.
  2. Marginal notation: “File as there is no protecting power.” A draft reply to the Swiss Legation, which embodied the data contained in the SWNCC memorandum of June 2, was prepared in the Special War Problems Division on July 30. With the end of hostilities on August 14, work on the draft reply was stopped. On December 20, the Office of Far Eastern Affairs stated that it did not believe any practical purpose would be served by a formal reply to the Japanese Government, “especially as Japan is no longer in control of its foreign relations”. (740.00116 PW/6–245) The Spanish Embassy relinquished representation of Japanese interests in the United States on March 27. The United States accepted the Swiss Government as representing these interests on July 21.