Soemu Toyoda

Soemu Toyoda

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Soemu Toyoda was born in Japan in 1885. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1905 and joined the Japanese Navy and by 1941 had reached the rank of admiral and was commander of the Kure Naval Station.

In November 1942 he became a member of the Supreme War Council and in May 1943 he took command of the Yokosuka Naval Base.

After the death of Admiral Mineichi Koga Toyoda was appointed Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet in May 1944. The following month he implemented Plan A-Go but it resulted in the heavy defeat of Jisaburo Ozawa in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (19-20 June).

As a member of the Supreme War Council Toyoda argued against Emperor Hirohito desire for a negotiated peace after the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Soemu Toyoda died in 1957.

Study This Picture: This Weird Weapon Decimated Japanese Submarines

In the Spring of 1944, Japanese Admiral Soemu Toyoda assembled a large fleet of warships at Tawi-Tawi in the southern Philippine Islands. There was no doubt in his mind that Allied military forces would continue their westward drive across the Pacific, but he was uncertain as to the direction of the next attack.

General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific, had firmly established beachheads in New Guinea, and Japanese scout planes had reported that an American task force was gathering in the neighborhood of the Marshall Islands. Toyoda realized that the U.S. naval force assembling in the Marshalls could strike at Guam or Saipan in the Marianas—or MacArthur, using New Guinea as a base of operations, could attack the Palau Islands.

American Assault on the Palau Islands

By this stage of the war, the Japanese Navy would have had a difficult task defending both sectors at the same time. Therefore, Toyoda decided to choose Tawi-Tawi—because of its central location—for his fleet buildup. From there, the Japanese admiral would be able to send his forces in either direction.

In May 1944, the Japanese High Command received Intelligence that Manus Island, in the Admiralty group, was being geared up as a springboard for an American assault on the Palau Islands. MacArthur’s troops were also reported gathering at points along the New Guinea coast. Even so, Toyoda felt that an attack on the Marianas remained a distinct possibility. He needed to learn, with exact certainty, in which direction to send his fleet, and an operational plan was quickly implemented.

Toyoda established a submarine scouting line extending from Truk Island in the Carolies to a point just west of Manus. His submarines were stationed at designated intervals along the line and positioned so that any invasion fleet could, hopefully, be detected. The vessels assigned to that operation were I-16, RO-104, RO-105, RO-106, RO-108, RO-116, and the RO-117.

The Hedgehog: Forward-Throwing Anti-Submarine Mortars

Toyoda reasoned that he had all bases covered. The odds appeared even except for two factors—the arrival of a squadron of new U.S. Navy destroyer escorts (DEs) and the infamous Hedgehog weapons with which they were armed.

During the spring of 1940, Commander Charles Goodeve of the British Royal Navy and its Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, came up with the innovative idea of a forward-throwing mortar for antisubmarine warfare. Satisfactory trials of the device were carried out in May 1941, and the weapon was then put to good use by the Royal Navy against the German U-boat menace.

The new but simple device consisted of a steel box holding four rows of six grenade-type missiles. The weapon was fired like a rocket launcher. And, when loaded with 24 projectiles, it gave the appearance of the bristling back of a porcupine—hence the name Hedgehog.

Instead of dropping antisubmarine charges off the stern of a ship, the Hedgehog fired its grenades forward—about 250 yards ahead of the vessel. The Hedgehogs did not explode like conventional underwater weapons, which had to be set at a specific depth. In order to detonate, the projectile had to make actual contact with a solid object. After being catapulted toward a target, however, a 24-shell salvo provided an excellent chance for a successful attack. Regular depth charges still had a function. They were often used in conjunction with Hedgehogs, especially if the enemy submarine had gone deep.

The Hedgehog proved to be so successful in the Atlantic that U.S. Navy Captain Paul Hammond, working with British engineers, developed the weapon for use aboard American warships. In early May 1944, while Toyoda was busy setting up his defensive strategy, a new destroyer escort (DE), the England, arrived at an American base in the Solomon Islands.

On May 18, the England, captained by Lt. Cmdr. Walton B. Pendleton, was assigned to Escort Division 39. The division also included the DEs George and Raby. All three ships had been fitted with Hedgehogs.

On the previous day, the Japanese submarine I-16 was reported to be heading south from Truk with supplies for the isolated garrison at Buin on the southern tip of Bougainville. Escort Division 39 received orders to patrol an area northwest of Buin to try to intercept the enemy vessel. Upon reaching their designated position, the DEs steamed in a parallel line about 4,000 yards apart. Calculating the submarine’s speed and course, Division 39 expected to make sonar contact with I-16on or about May 20.

At 1 pm on May 19, England suddenly made a sound contact at a depth of 100 feet. The submarine quickly became aware of its enemy and headed deep. The Japanese captain began to fishtail his sub to avoid a depth-charge attack. The England made a wide swing and raced toward her target. I-16 continued evasive maneuvers and managed to escape four Hedgehog runs. Whenever England approached to within 600 yards of I-16, the submarine’s captain would turn sharply into the DEs wake, obscuring his sub’s movements.

On her fifth run at the enemy, however, England’s sonar locked on the submarine. At 2:33, the order was given to “fire Hedgehogs!” Twelve seconds after splashing the water, four of the deadly missiles exploded. Two minutes later, a violent underwater explosion erupted astern of England, lifting her clear off the water. Her crew was tumbled about, and some thought that their ship had been torpedoed.

Momentarily, large quantities of oil and debris began to bubble up to the surface. England lowered a whaleboat near the center of the expanding oil slick. Rubber bags containing rice were recovered, along with broken pieces of furniture and cork insulation.

Two theories were advanced to explain the heavy underwater explosion. The Japanese submarine might have been severely damaged, and the captain could have set off a detonation device that destroyed his ship. Or the crippled sub may have sunk so rapidly after being hit that water pressure crushed its hull, setting off its torpedo warheads.

In the meantime, while England was busy stalking I-16, a U.S. Navy patrol bomber spotted RO-117and sent it to a watery grave. Admiral William F. Halsey, commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, was notified of the two submarine kills and assumed that there were probably other “prying eyes” in the neighborhood. He immediately dispatched Escort Division 39 to the location where RO-117 was destroyed.

Early on the morning of May 22, the three DEs were patrolling Admiral Toyoda’s scouting line west of Manus Island. At 3:50 am George reported a surface contact at seven miles England also picked up the target and dashed ahead at full speed. Pendleton hoped to get in position to flank the stranger and box it in.

Minutes later, George turned on her searchlight and swept the area. A submerging submarine was suddenly illuminated. George fired a Hedgehog salvo at the rapidly diving boat, but no hits were registered. England’s sonar soon located the escaping enemy sub, and she launched her Hedgehogs without success. Pendleton circled around for another attack, and at 4:45 another full load of grenades was fired from the destroyer escort. Bull’s-eye! Three explosions were heard at a depth of 240 feet. As England came about for another pass over its target, a heavy underwater eruption rocked the ship. Pendleton headed for the center of the explosion site. An oil slick was forming on the water, and a small quantity of debris was recovered. Pendleton, in a letter to COMSUBPAC (Commander Submarines Pacific) theorized that the enemy submarine was badly damaged by the Hedgehogs, and its captain, rather than risk capture, exploded his warhead magazine. The confirmation of that theory was lost with the captain and crew of RO-106.

Escort Division 39 continued its search-and-destroy mission along Toyoda’s scouting line. The early morning of May 23 was dark and overcast, and the DEs had to depend on their surface-search radar to spot the enemy. A depth of 3,300 feet registered on the fathometer.

At 6:10 am, Raby reported that she had picked up a surface contact at a distance of four miles. England immediately changed course to close on the target and raced ahead at full speed. Moments later, Raby radioed that the contact was submerging. England and George quickly reached the target area and plotted information received from Raby.

Wrecking the RO-108 and Entering Seeadler Harbor

At 7 o’clock, the George picked up the submarine (RO-104) on sonar and dashed to the attack. Five Hedgehog salvos were fired, but no hits were registered. England was ordered to try her luck. At 8:19, the sub-slayer sped in for her third kill. Pendleton’s first Hedgehog salvo missed, but the second hit the jackpot. Approximately 10 projectiles struck the enemy sub and exploded. A few minutes later, a heavy explosion was heard and large quantities of oil and debris began floating to the surface. As in the other cases, it was believed that the submarine had been crippled, and the crew committed hara-kiri by deliberately detonating its warheads.

1957: Admiral Toyoda – Last Commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy

Imperial Japan’s massive navy was formally abolished after World War II and was never revived. Modern Japan only maintains the so-called “Maritime Self-defense Force”, which are actually quite significant – they consist of some 100 ships and around 46,000 naval personnel. Despite having abandoned the name “Imperial Japanese Navy”, these naval forces are still mostly rooted in its tradition (they have even kept their old naval ensign, with its distinctive “rising sun” emblem).

Soemu Toyoda was promoted to Admiral (Kaigun Taishō) on the eve of World War II. He held many important commands during the war. For example, he was the commander of the so-called Combined Fleet, the strongest force in the Imperial Japanese Navy (his predecessors were the famed Isoroku Yamamoto and Mineichi Koga, both of whom died in the war).

Towards the end of the war, Toyoda also took the highest rank in the Navy – he became head of the Naval High Command. He commanded a vast naval force whose influence stretched from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. Admiral Toyoda also automatically became a member of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters and the Imperial Supreme War Council. This made him directly answerable to the Emperor.

There existed a strong rivalry between the Army and Navy in the Imperial General Headquarters. The generals of the Army considered the USSR to be Japan’s most dangerous enemy, while the Navy’s admirals considered the sea to be the most important theater of operations, and lobbied for increased investments in the naval air forces etc.

After Japan surrendered, Admiral Toyoda was given a relatively lenient sentence. He was eventually released from prison, and lived to be 72. He died on this day in 1957, in Tokyo.

Overcoming setbacks

In 1907, on the recommendation of Mitsui Bussan, Toyoda’s Loom Works, Ltd. (presently Howa Machinery, Ltd.) was established with funds provided by investors in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. This newly established company took over control of the plant and employees of Toyoda Shokai Co. Sakichi assumed the duties of managing director and chief engineer and continued to devote his efforts to invention and research.

Nonetheless, because the new company did not allow commercial trials for which Sakichi held such a strong conviction, he set up his own individually operated commercial trial plant (later Toyoda Shokufu Kikui Kojo) in 1909. Toyoda's Loom Works, Ltd. was eventually beset by poor business results, causing Sakichi grave concern as he was the chief engineer handling invention and research and a director who could not neglect management of the company. In 1910, Sakichi resigned from Toyoda's Loom Works, Ltd. and set out on an observation trip to the United States and Europe to make a fresh start.

Sakichi went to the West Coast of the United States from where he crossed the country. He visited many weaving factories in the Upper East Coast region. While amazed at the scale of these operations and their experimental facilities, he saw many weaknesses in the looms operated there and was not very impressed.

Sakichi then traveled to England where he visited loom manufacturers and weaving mills in the Manchester area. This observation trip instilled him with confidence in the superiority of his original loom. He made his way back to Japan refreshed.

World War II Database

ww2dbase Soemu Toyoda was born in the district of Oita in Japan in 1885. Early in his life he found a love for the unpredictability and the challenging nature of the sea, which prompted him to enroll in the Naval Academy. He graduated from the academy in 1905, becoming an expert in naval gunnery. His early career saw him aboard destroyers and cruisers, as well as tours to Britain, which included his attendance of the London Naval Conference with Isoroku Yamamoto in 1931. He reached flag rank on 1 Dec 1931 when he was promoted to rear admiral and became a member of the naval staff. After several desk assignments, Toyoda returned to sea-going duty as the commanding officer of the 4th Fleet then the 2nd Fleet, both in support of the invasion of China. He was one of the naval officers who opposed war with the United States. He "felt at the time that [Japan] could have avoided the war if it had tried hard enough", he said during his interrogation after the war. However, he also deeply believed that it was not a military serviceman's place to become involved in politics, so like so many others he obeyed his orders obediently.

ww2dbase At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, Toyoda was the admiral in charge of the Kure Naval Station. The appointment of that position returned him back on land for the remainder of his career. In Nov 1942, he became a member of the Supreme War Council his most notable action item at this appointment, although ending largely in failure when presented to the army-dominated Imperial General Headquarters, was his attempt to dedicate a greater percentage of Japan's industrial capacity to construct aircrafts for the navy. In May 1943 he left the Supreme War Council and took command of the Yokosuka Naval Base.

ww2dbase Toyoda's career reached its peak on 3 May 1944 when he was appointed the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, succeeding the recently deceased Admiral Mineichi Koga. At the helm of the Combined Fleet, Toyoda's A-Go Operation resulted in a major depletion of Japanese naval airpower at the Philippine Sea, and the subsequent Sho-Go Operation saw a complete annihilation of ships at Surigao Strait dealt by Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf and a disheartening loss of the battleship Musashi by swarming aircraft. Toyoda knew Sho-Go was a big gamble, but he also felt that had he preserved the naval strength by allowing the Americans to take the Philippines and cut off Japanese shipping to the south, the ships would soon run out of fuel, therefore it did not make sense to him to not go on this risky endeavor. "[I]f things went well, we might obtain unexpectedly good results", said Toyoda, "but if the worst should happen, there was a chance that we would lose the entire fleet. But I felt that that chance had to be taken." During the Marianas and Leyte Gulf campaigns (A-Go and Sho-Go operations, respectively), Japanese airmen and naval crew reported inflated reports on damages inflicted on the enemy, a common practice by both sides during the Pacific War. Toyoda, unlike his American counterparts, bought into his own propaganda which was based on these inflated numbers. Thinking that the American naval power was hurt much beyond actuality, when encountered with a need for a defense plan for the Philippines, Toyoda called for reinforcement of Leyte from Luzon and China, naming Leyte the location of the decisive battle that would stop the American juggernaut. In hindsight, this aggressive defensive strategy did not pay off in comparison, General Tomoyuki Yamashita's plan to make Luzon the site of the final defensive stand was more advantageous, especially given the proof that Yamashita was able to continue his resistance on Luzon until the day of Japan's surrender.

ww2dbase Toyoda, despite meeting unfavorable outcomes with his previous operations, nevertheless continued with his aggressive plans. He sent battleship Yamato on a suicidal mission with the goals of sinking the fleet supporting the landing operations at Okinawa. That operation, Ten-Go, saw the end of the Yamato in a eerie deja vu of the Dec 1941 sinking of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales by overwhelming airpower. While the sinking of Repulse and Prince of Wales marked the end of pre-war British naval presence in south Pacific, the sinking of the Yamato symbolized the end of the once unstoppable Japanese navy. In May 1945, he stepped down from his position as the commanding officer of the Combined Fleet and became the head of Overall Naval Command and then Chief of Naval General Staff.

ww2dbase In the last days of the war, while the dovish Prince Konoye lobbied for methods to negotiate for peace, Toyoda argued to defend the home islands until the last man. This argument persisted even after the dropping of atomic bombs by the United States and the declaration of war on Japan by Russia. After the war, he was interrogated by Rear Admiral R. A. Ofstie of the United States Navy, Major General O. A. Anderson of the United States Army, and Lieutenant Commander W. Wilds of the United States Naval Reserves in Tokyo on 13 and 14 Nov 1945. He was commented as "highly intelligent and widely informed", and was observed to be a strong critic of the amount of political power the Army held in the Japanese government. He also expressed his opinion that the war with China should have been ended "even at some sacrifice" so that the men and resources could be redeployed to the Pacific theater. At the war trials, he was released under the condition that he would never enter public service (same condition was required of for all released war criminals).

ww2dbase Toyoda passed away in Tokyo on 22 Sep 1957. His memoirs were published in 1950.

ww2dbase Sources: Interrogations of Japanese Officials, the Pacific Campaign, Spartacus Educational, Wikipedia.

Last Major Revision: Mar 2007

Soemu Toyoda Timeline

22 May 1885 Soemu Toyoda was born.
18 Sep 1941 Admiral Soemu Toyoda was named the commanding officer of Kure Naval District, Japan.
10 Nov 1942 Admiral Soemu Toyoda stepped down as the commanding officer of Kure Naval District, Japan.
3 May 1944 Soemu Toyoda was named the commander-in-chief of the Japanese Navy Combined Fleet.
22 Sep 1957 Soemu Toyoda passed away.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
4 May 2011 03:28:39 PM

Does anyone know, did the Admiral have any sons and if so, what were their names and dates of birth? I may be able to link him to a Toyoda I know.

2. Anonymous says:
22 Feb 2012 11:15:22 AM

It would be great to find out if he had children

All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.

Biographical Note Return to Top

Soemu Toyoda was born in Japan in 1885. He graduated from the Japanese Naval Academy in 1905 at which time he was appointed a naval cadet. In the years following the completion of his time at the Naval Academy Toyoda, received several naval recognitions and rose in the ranks. By 1941 Toyota had reached the rank of Admiral and on 18 September 1941 he was appointed Commandant of Kure Naval District, just three months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In November 1942 he became a member of the Supreme War Council and in May 1943 he took command of the Yokosuka Naval District. In May of the following year Toyoda was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, a position he held for just over a year. In early May 1945 he was also appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Naval Forces, a position Toyoda held concurrently with his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet through May 1945. By the end of the month Toyoda had been released from his other duties and was appointed Chief of the Naval General Staff, a position he held through the end of the war.

In his position as the Chief of the Naval General Staff, Toyoda participated in the Imperial Conferences concerning the Japanese surrender. Initially the Minister of the Navy, Mitsumasa Yonai, wanted Toyoda appointed the Navy Chief of Staff because of the influence he might have over Yoshijiro Umezu, the Army Chief of Staff, in the decision to end the war. (Both Umezu and Toyoda had come from the same district of Japan.) Toyoda's opinion concerning the end of the war, however, was different than Yonai anticipated. Toyoda joined Umezu in his protestations against the Potsdam Proclamation of 26 July 1945, which demanded the demobilization of the Japanese armed forces, the allied occupation of Japan, and the trial of Japanese war criminals.

Toyoda was not against the termination of the war but insisted that the Japanese push for more favorable terms. After the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Toyoda's feelings remained unchanged. With the aid of Emperor Hirohito an agreement was reached that the Japanese would surrender with the stipulation that the occupying forces not impede the imperial system of government and the powers of the Emperor. A letter to this effect was sent on 10 August 1945. The next day James F. Byrnes, U.S. Secretary of State, returned a letter rejecting the demands made by the Japanese government.

On 13 August Toyoda signed a petition for an Imperial Conference concerning the Japanese surrender on the terms that the conference would not be held for a few days and that he be notified before the petition was actually used. Instead, the next morning the Imperial Conference had been called. During the conference both Toyoda and Umezu are said to have voiced their concerns, particularly regarding the subordinate position the Emperor would play under the terms of surrender. Despite these concerns, Hirohito gave the order to bring the war to and end with an unconditional surrender.

After the war, high level leaders of both the German and Japanese governments were tried for war crimes. Because of Admiral Toyoda's positon at the end of the war he was charged as a war criminal and tried in Tokyo, Japan before a military tribunal in October 1948. Toyoda was charged with violating "the laws and customs of war" (p. 9 of MSS 195 Bx 1 Vol. 1.) The charged specified that Toyoda had:

"willfully and unlawfully disregard[ed] and fail[ed] to discharge his duty as a said officer by ordering, directing, inciting, causing, permitting, ratifying and failing to prevent Japanese Naval personnel of units and organizations under his command, control and supervision to abuse, mistreat, torture, rape, kill, and commit atrocities and offenses against innumerable persons of the United States, its Allies, Dependencies, and other non-combatant civilians" (pp. 9-10 of MSS 195 Bx 1 Vol. 1.)

To this charge Admiral Toyoda plead not guilty and was subsequently the only one of the accused Japanese War criminals found not guilty on all counts. In 1957 Toyoda died of a heart attack.

Content Description Return to Top

This collection includes the transcripts from the Soemu Toyoda war crimes Tribunal. There are fifteen boxes containing the trial transcripts, the affidavit of Soemu Toyoda, the Judgement of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and counts 54 and 55 against Stricto Sensu. Some prosecution exhibits in the transcripts include photographs.

Use of the Collection Return to Top

Restrictions on Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances.

Permission to publish material from the Soemu Toyoda Tribunal Transcripts must be obtained from the Special Collections Manuscript Curator and/or the Special Collections Department Head.

Preferred Citation

Initial Citation: Soemu Toyoda Tribunal Transcripts USU_COLL MSS 195, Box [ ]. Special Collections and Archives. Utah State University Merrill-Cazier Library. Logan, Utah.

Following Citations:USU_COLL MSS 195, USUSCA.

Administrative Information Return to Top


Processing Note

Processed in June of 2003

Acquisition Information

The Soemu Toyoda tribunal transcripts were donated to Utah State University by William Sorrell, a member of the military tribunal which tried Admiral Toyoda. The transcripts were created daily and given to Sorrell. Sorrell donated the collection to Utah State University Special Collections on 28 June 1994.

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Start of career

In 1905 (Meiji 38) he graduated from the naval school. During his service as a naval officer, he also stayed in England, where he received special training from the British Navy . Shortly before the outbreak of the Pacific War he was chief of the naval main administrative office and subsequently became chief of the naval base in Kure near Hiroshima .

Admiral and Commander in Chief

He was hostile to the war, like Grand Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku and Admiral Itō Seiichi . When the Tōjō Cabinet was formed in 1941, Toyoda was considered a candidate for the Ministry of the Navy , but Shimada Shigetaro was given preference.

In May 1944, Toyoda became Commander in Chief of the United Fleet, succeeding Admiral Koga Mineichi , who was killed in a plane crash in March 1944. Thereupon he led the high command in the Mariana and Philippines naval battles . His ingenious but also complex strategy turned out to be a major failure, as he had to fragment the fleets and a combined attack turned out to be impossible. He acted in the tradition of the Japanese Navy, which preferred complex strategies. So the small fleets were broken up one by one by superior American fleets. Another important factor was the early discovery of his fleets by submarines, which caused the Japanese heavy losses even before the actual battle. Another mistake was the indirect management of such large associations from the "green table" in Tōkyō. At this time he underestimated the Allied air and sea power, which he wanted to break ad hoc with almost the entire Japanese fleet.

After these battles he had lost much of the fleet and the remainder was almost inoperable. From this point on, no major fleet operations were carried out because the ships could no longer be repaired, there was no fuel and the necessary safety from the air was no longer available.

In the Battle of Okinawa , he ordered the suicidal final deployment of the last operational battleship , the Yamato , which was the largest battleship ever built. This is the largest kamikaze mission in world history. Its results were the destruction of the battleship, an accompanying cruiser and most of the crews, but not the breaking of the American resistance, as the ship had already been sunk by aircraft before reaching Okinawa. With the death of the commander of this combat group, Admiral Itō, the Japanese fleet completely lost its operational base. Even the losses of American carrier aircraft in this defensive battle were negligible when you consider that the Yamato had the most powerful anti-aircraft weapons in the world. The bottom line was that this last deployment of Japanese capital ships had been completely pointless.

After he had given the supreme command of the combined fleet to Admiral Ozawa Jisaburō , Toyoda was head of the Admiralty from May 1945 until the end of the war. In this function, Toyoda sat with Army Minister Anami Korechika and Chief of Staff Umezu Yoshijirō in the liaison conference for the continuation of the war, as they hoped that the Japanese troops would inflict a serious defeat on Japanese soil for the Allied forces and this would lead to an acceptable peace could.

End of war and death

After the war, he escaped prosecution before the Far East International War Tribunal despite being taken to Sugamo Prison . Separately, he was summoned to an Allied military tribunal and found innocent on all charges.

He published his memoirs in 1950 and died of a heart attack in 1957 at the age of 73.

This U.S. Navy Escort Group Changed the Course of World War II in the Pacific

The USS England had just sunk six submarines in twelve days, an unprecedented feat in the chronicles of naval warfare.

Admiral Soemu Toyoda needed answers. The newly appointed commander in chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet, Toyoda found himself facing several unpleasant facts. By May 1944, Allied naval and air strength in the Pacific Ocean was growing at an alarming rate. Already, fast-moving enemy forces had advanced far across northern New Guinea and into the Admiralties and through the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific.

Toyoda could not yet determine whether the next American thrust would head north into the Marianas or continue west toward Palau and the Philippines. The six carriers, 10 battleships, and 40 other warships of his First Mobile Fleet could crush an enemy advance, but those vessels carried only enough fuel for one decisive sea campaign. Before sending Japan’s last remaining surface force into battle, Toyoda required hard evidence of American naval activity and intentions.

Much had changed since the heady days of 1941 and early 1942. Japanese long-range patrol aircraft, once able to roam far into Allied territory, could now only rarely penetrate the enemy’s air defense umbrella. Radio interception, so useful during the war’s first months, was rendered virtually useless by advanced American communications security procedures. That left submarines as Toyoda’s sole reliable means of reconnaissance.

Unfortunately, Japan’s largest, most capable fleet subs—the oceangoing I-class boats—were increasingly being pressed into service as transports hauling food and supplies to Imperial Japanese Army garrisons marooned by leapfrogging Allied forces. Scouting duties would have to be performed by the smaller Ro-class submersibles of Rear Admiral Noboru Owada’s Submarine Squadron Seven. These vessels were designed for coastal patrol, however, and lacked the surface radar systems Owada deemed so necessary for conducting reconnaissance missions.

What their crews did not lack was courage. Each Ro-class boat then anchored at Saipan in the Marianas held between 40 and 60 sailors, the cream of the Imperial Japanese Navy undersea force. Combat veterans all, these well-trained seamen posed a substantial threat to any Allied vessel caught in their periscope sights.

Yet Owada’s orders were to locate and report enemy warships not sink them. He directed his boats to picket a 200-mile track between New Guinea and the Caroline Islands labeled the NA Line. Should they spot an Allied armada steaming toward the Philippines, these scouts were sure to radio back with positive confirmation. Armed with this intelligence, Admiral Toyoda could then order his Combined Fleet into the climactic battle he believed would win victory for Japan.

On May 15, 1944, the seven Ro-class boats of Submarine Squadron Seven departed Saipan to take up stations along the NA Line. Their 650-mile voyage would take six days and was tracked closely both by Owada’s staff on Saipan and Combined Fleet headquarters in Japan.

The progress of Squadron Seven was followed by another group of naval officers, listening from a heavily guarded facility at the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. These men belonged to Fleet Radio Unit-Pacific (FRUPac), the top-secret signal intelligence center responsible for collecting and decoding all enemy radio communications intercepted by the U.S. Navy. Already FRUPac had helped win a stunning American victory at Midway, not to mention its role in Operation Vengeance, the ambush of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto by U.S. Army Air Forces Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters in 1943. This brilliant team of mathematicians, puzzle solvers, Japanese linguists, and electronics experts was about to change history once again.

A routine radio transmission, made on May 13, 1944, set in motion what would become one of the most epic battles in the annals of antisubmarine warfare. This short, encrypted message came from Lt. Cmdr. Yoshitaka Takeuchi, captain of the fleet sub I-16. Takeuchi’s report, plucked from the airwaves by American technicians, advised Admiral Owada that his vessel was due to arrive with food and supplies for the bypassed garrison at Buin on the southwest tip of the island of Bougainville on May 20.

FRUPac analysts deciphered enough of Takeuchi’s dispatch to estimate his course and time of arrival at Buin. This information quickly made its way to Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey’s Third Fleet headquarters, also at Pearl Harbor, for action. Halsey had to move fast, though, since intelligence such as this was extremely perishable. Countless factors from weather to mechanical breakdowns to unpredictable sea conditions might put I-16 miles from where the Americans thought it was. And just because FRUPac knew the whereabouts of an enemy sub did not mean the U.S. Navy could get hunter-killer teams there quickly enough to find and sink it.

Fortunately for the Allies, a small group of destroyer escorts (DEs), purpose-built to attack submarines, was then awaiting orders at Purvis Bay off Florida Island in the lower Solomons. The group, designated Escort Division 39, consisted of USS England (DE-635), USS George (DE-697), and USS Raby (DE-698), all newly commissioned Buckley-class vessels on their first war cruise. Kept busy thus far with routine convoy escort duties, few sailors aboard these three DEs had yet seen combat.

A series of events would rapidly transform them into seasoned veterans. On May 18, a communiqué from Third Fleet arrived directing Escort Division 39 to intercept a “Japanese sub believed heading to supply beleaguered forces at Buin.” After posting its estimated location, the electrifying message concluded: “He is believed to be approaching this point from the north and should arrive in that area by about 1400 [hours] 20 May. Good hunting.”

Each of the three DEs in Escort Division 39 measured 306 feet in length with a beam of 36 feet. Fully combat loaded, a Buckley-class destroyer escort displaced 1,740 tons. Two General Electric turbo-electric engines drove the vessel to a top speed of 24 knots, while maximum cruising range exceeded 5,000 miles. A ship’s company typically included 15 officers and 198 enlisted men.

A suite of electronic sensors assisted the crew in its mission of locating enemy targets. SL search radar helped find surface vessels, while SA “bedspring” radar identified possible aerial threats. But the DE’s primary detection system was QSL-1 sonar, which sent a pulse of high-intensity sound called a “ping” into the water. Echoes reflected off such solid objects as a submarine returned to the ship, where trained sound operators could then determine the contact’s range and bearing.

The destroyer escort also packed a lethal punch. Apart from 20mm Oerlikon and quad-mounted 1.1-inch antiaircraft cannons, each Buckley-class DE came equipped with three Mk 22 3-inch/50-caliber deck guns—two forward and one aft. Three 21-inch torpedoes in a triple tube launcher mounted atop the superstructure deck were intended for surface vessels, while a battery of depth charge projectors on the ship’s fantail could devastate plunging submarines with a string of “ashcans” each containing up to 600 pounds of high-explosive filler.

Just entering service in the Pacific that spring was a new and deadly weapon, the Mk 10 “Hedgehog” forward-firing spigot mortar. The DEs of Escort Division 39 all carried this British-designed projector, which fired a salvo of two dozen 24-pound contact-fused charges intended to fall in a circular pattern up to 270 yards ahead of the ship. Hedgehog rounds could be aimed to fall slightly right or left of center line and would only explode if they struck a submarine. By 1944, Japanese submarine captains had learned how to evade blindly dropped depth charges Hedgehog-equipped destroyer escorts could now track a target on sonar throughout their attack and thus greatly increase the chance of a precision kill.

Sub hunting was a complicated, intricate task that required every officer, NCO, and bluejacket—from soundmen to Hedgehog gunners to the engine room gang—to work together as a team. Even the newest hands in Escort Division 39 knew their only chance to defeat the foe was through relentless training, and aboard one of those DEs training had become an obsession.

Since its commissioning in December 1943, the USS England, named for Ensign John Charles England, killed at Pearl Harbor, had earned the reputation of being a “taut ship.” Her crewmen devoted themselves to achieving excellence in equipment maintenance, ship handling and, above all, proficiency with the vessel’s weapons systems. They knew theirs was a kill-or-be-killed profession coming in second against a Japanese submarine meant violent death on the lonely ocean.

Leading the England’s company to excellence was an unlikely taskmaster. Lieutenant John A. Williamson, a 26-year-old from Birmingham, Alabama, served as the ship’s executive officer (XO). Taking a reserve officer’s commission in 1940, Williamson soon found himself aboard the destroyer USS Livermore in the North Atlantic. Although the United States was then technically not at war, fully armed American warships on the “Neutrality Patrol” regularly shepherded convoys to and from Great Britain during the height of the U-boat peril. During his nine months of escort work, Williamson often witnessed firsthand the horrific toll that German subs were taking on Allied merchantmen.

Lieutenant Williamson next served as an instructor at the Subchaser School in Miami, where he helped train the Navy’s next generation of sonar operators. He then skippered a wooden-hulled patrol craft along the East Coast before receiving orders to join England for duty in Pacific waters. As XO, Williamson brought to his new ship a remarkable combination of battle experience, technical knowledge, and passion for excellence.

War and Conflict Personalities. pic: circa 1950's. Tokyo, Japan. Ex Japanese Admiral, Soemu Toyoda, the World War II Commander in Chief of Japan's Combined Fleet, right, receives a ceremonial sword from Capt. Ethelbert Watts of the US.military, in a post

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Watch the video: Chiefs of Staff of the Axis Navies: Long Patrol - P1114 Soemu Toyoda (January 2023).

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