Sinking Of Japanese Liner Terukuni Maru
By James Donahue
The 505-foot freight and passenger liner Terukuni Maru was strangely sunk by a German mine off the
coast of England in the fall of 1939, in the early days of World War II, and over a year before the Japanese became allies
with the Germans in the war.
Thus this wreck because an unusual Japanese casualty of the war before that country’s attack
on Pearl Harbor. In fact, the Japanese government lodged an official protest with both the British and German governments.
The ship sank in 45 minutes, giving time for all of the 177-member crew and 28 passengers to board
the ship’s lifeboats and make their escape. It was said even a dog and a falcon, which had flown onto the ship off Beirut,
The Terukuni Maru was launched in 1929 by the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. at Nagasaki,
Japan. Her owners were Nippon Yusen Kaisha.
This liner and a sister ship, the Yasukuni Maru, offered air conditioning and fresh air circulating
systems for passengers because their routes brought them south through tropical regions. They had regular freight and passenger
service from Japan south through the Indian Ocean, north through the Suez Canal, then through the Mediterranean Sea to the
Atlantic and on to English ports.
On her twenty-fifth and final voyage, the Terukuni Maru was approaching the mouth of the Thames River
on the morning of November 19. She took aboard a pilot for the trip into London, was inspected by British forces for contraband,
and waited while Royal Navy minesweepers checked the river for mines. The ship was cleared to proceed just after midnight
on November 21. Within minutes after starting her engines the ship struck the mine just off the Essex coast. The explosion
blew the ship open between her second and third holds.
The ship’s master, identified as Captain Matukura, said the vessel was proceeding at about 15
knots when there was a great explosion. He said the blast flooded the engine room and disabled the engines so the liner could
not be moved into shallow water before it sank. The crew had time to launch eight life boats and get everybody safely off
before the ship went on its side and sank by the bow.
The wreck turned on its starboard side and settled in shallow water with its port side remaining above
water. The wreck was never salvaged. It remained abandoned until it explosives were used to remove it as an obstacle to ship