It takes a lot to sink an aircraft carrier, even back when aircraft carriers weren’t massive floating cities like they are today. But during World War II, there was a Japanese aircraft carrier that was so critical that the US military didn’t believe a single submarine was responsible for its sinking.
The skipper and crew of the USS Archerfish would say otherwise. They hit the Imperial Japanese carrier with four torpedoes, just to make sure the ship was really going to the bottom, and they did so just two weeks after it was commissioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
IJN Shinano was first laid out in 1940, nearly two years before the United States entered World War II. She was supposed to be the third and last in the line of Yamato-class battleships, but after the Battle of Midway which saw two-thirds of the Japanese carriers lost to American naval power, the Japanese changed course. speed and made the Shinano an aircraft carrier.
Midway was an early and critical battle for the United States Navy. four of the six Japanese carriers that had taken part in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, were sunk in the battle of June 1942. Replacement of these carriers would be important to the ongoing Japanese efforts .
Since Shinano’s keel was originally designed to be a battleship, Shinano would not only be the largest aircraft carrier in the entire Japanese fleet, but would be the largest aircraft carrier in the world at the time. . It was an improvised design that would not be exceeded in size until the United States built the USS Forrestal 11 years later.
In November 1944, the IJN Shinano officially joined the Imperial Japanese Navy. His first mission was to go to the Kure naval base to be equipped with the latest technologies in naval and aeronautical electronics. After that, he would face a full complement of kamikaze fighters and suicide boats before heading into the fighting in Okinawa and the Philippines.
As Shinano left the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal in Tokyo Bay to make the 300 mile journey to Kure, he was already chased by American submarines. The USS Archerfish was a Balao-class diesel-electric submarine that had already completed four combat patrols but found itself empty-handed on each one.
Archerfish was out of Pearl Harbor for nearly two months before meeting Shinano on November 28, 1944. His initial assignment that day was to perform rescue duties for B-29 Superfortress raids on Tokyo, but no aerial sorties. was not flown that day, so Archerfish took a patrol route near Tokyo Bay.
After sunset, the boat noticed what looked like an oil tanker leaving the bay, escorted by three destroyers and a submarine chaser. The US Navy submarine followed Shinano for six hours before the massive aircraft carrier turned toward Archerfish. The submarine was overwhelmed and fired six torpedoes, four of which hit Shinano. Not knowing exactly what type of carrier he was looking at, the captain of the Archerfish fired the torpedoes to run in shallow water and the attack was devastating.
Even as the sub sank deeper to avoid Japanese depth charge attacks, he could see that the Shinano was already to starboard. The Office of Naval Intelligence also didn’t know what it was. Based on drawings made by the captain of the Archerfish, it was determined that they had sunk a 28,000 pound carrier.
It was not until after the war that the US Navy learned that the target was a 72,000 ton super carrier and 1,435 sailors fell with the ship.