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Super Sub I-52

Japanese World War II Super Submarine I-52 Found

By James Donahue

At 356 feet in length, the Japanese submarine I-52 was a monster in its day when compared to the fleet of operating American, German and Japanese submarines operating during World War II.

It was one of three submarines of its class that were built by Mitsubishi to operate as cargo ships on the high seas.

This ship, commanded by Uno Kameo, left Kure, Japan on March 10, 1944, on what was to have been a secret mission, carrying a cargo of gold, precious metals and other supplies bound for Lorient, France, which was then occupied by the German army. She was carrying a crew of some 94 sailors plus 14 Japanese technicians on their way to study German technology in anti aircraft guns and torpedo boat engines.

The cargo consisted of 2.2 tons of gold in 146 bars packed in 49 metal boxes. The ship also carried 9.8 tons of molybdenum, 11 tons of tungsten, 3 tons of opium and 54 kegs of caffeine. I-52 stopped at Singapore and added another 120 tons of tin ingots, 59.8 tons of raw rubber bales and 3.3 tons of quinine.

From there the big submarine headed through the Indian Ocean and out into the Atlantic where it made its run for the French coast.The plan was for the cargo to be unloaded at Lorient. There the submarine was expecting to load 1,000 pounds of uranium oxide to be used in the development of a dirty nucular bomb, secret documents and a cargo of acoustic torpedoes, a motor for a special new fighter aircraft, radar equipment bombsights, chemicals, alloy steel, vacuum tubes and other equipment for the Japanese war effort.

While on route, however, the Normandy Invasion of France occurred and Kameo was signaled to divert on a new course for Norway, instead. He received a special radio message to rendezvous with a German submarine on June 22 and given the coordinates.

What the Japanese did not know was that Allied forces had broken the Japanese code and intercepted the message. Thus when I-52 reached the rendezvous point, US forces were waiting for it.

A US task force consisting of the escort carrier Bogue and five destroyers under the command of Captain Aurelius B. Vosseller made up what was remembered as the submarine hunter-killer group. On the carrier were 0 FM-2 Wildcats and 12 TBF-1C Avengers with pilots especially trained to seek out and attack enemy submarinjes. I-52 never had a chance. It was sunk with more than 100 officers and those specialists before ever reaching the coast.

With such a valuable cargo it should be no surprise that the submarine has been of great interest to marine salvagers since the day it was sunk. But it was not found until recently by maritime researcher Paul R. Tidwell. The wreck lies about three miles under the sea. With the new deep-water research equipment, Tidwell claims he plans to try to recover the gold, now valued at more than $25 million, and possibly raise the wreck.

Tidwell said the old submarine appears to be in very good condition. The ship is intact except for the torpedo hold on its starboard side and some bow damage caused when it struck bottom. It rests upright on a rocky sea floor.