The WW2 Pacific Treasures of Kwajalein Lagoon by Dan Farnham PART 2 – Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita, the only man who has bombed the continental US and the story of the E14Y1 floatplanes found in a shipwreck

Aircraft wrecks, Interviews, WW2, WW2 Pacific treasures, WW2 Wrecks

By Pierre Kosmidis

Text, photos and additional information by Dan Farnhham, used by permission

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

The WW2 Pacific Treasures of Kwajalein Lagoon by Dan Farnham PART 1 – Exploring aircraft wrecks

 

Locating and identifying WW2 aircraft wrecks: The Kwajalein Missing in Action (MIA) Project 

 

An E14Y1 submarine-launched seaplane, code named “Glen” by the Allies, is the only enemy aircraft to have ever bombed the continental U.S., albeit with minimal damage caused.

Researcher, author and scuba diver Dan Farnham has managed, after a painstaking process and after numerous dives, to identify two such aircraft wrecks, deep inside the cargo holds of the 4,600-ton Japanese freighter Akibasan Maru, which was at anchor just off Kwajalein Island on January 30, 1944 when U.S. carrier planes struck during Operation Flintlock. The ship took two bomb hits and sank within 15 minutes.

Dan Farnham explains, via www.ww2wrecks.com, the story behind the seaplane that remained in history, as well as the identification of two E14Y1 “Glens” in a shipwreck off Kwajalein island.

Before the invention of radar, the limited range of observation on the surface was one of the biggest problems for submarine captains. When cruising on the surface, the limit of sight was usually six miles, mostly because submarine hulls sat low in the water by design. Submarine captains needed a way to extend their range of observation, both to spot enemy ships sooner and also to give earlier warning of any pending attack on their own vessel. One of the more unique ideas was basing aircraft on submarines.

An E14Y1 "Glen" is catapulted off a Japanese submarine. A similar floatplane attacked the continental U.S. twice.
An E14Y1 “Glen” is catapulted off a Japanese submarine. A similar floatplane attacked the continental U.S. twice.

In the years between World War I and World War II, several nations experimented with the concept of submarine-borne aircraft. The United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, and France all experimented with the idea, and several specialized aircraft were developed in the course of the tests. Several submarines were converted for aircraft operations, which included experiments on the best method to transport the aircraft. Most of the nations that conducted such tests, however, dropped the experiments and never progressed to the point of putting the concept into operational use.

The exception was Japan. Naval leaders in Tokyo were quick to recognize the value of submarine-based reconnaissance aircraft that could be used over the vast expanses of the Pacific. The Japanese Navy tested two purpose-built planes to gain experience in operating aircraft from submarines, and to test various methods for transporting the planes.

Two "Glen" floatplanes flying over the Pacific in the early stages of WW2
Two “Glen” floatplanes flying over the Pacific in the early stages of WW2

In 1938, a third design request was issued by the Japanese naval headquarters. Designed by the 1st Naval Aircraft Technology Arsenal (known in short as Kugisho) and the Watanabe Company and built at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, the new Navy Type 0 Small Reconnaissance Seaplane Model 11 was first completed in 1939, and given the designation E14Y1. The “E” was the project letter given by the Japanese Navy to reconnaissance seaplanes, the ‘14’ meant it was the 14th type of reconnaissance seaplane accepted into service by the Japanese Navy, the ‘Y’ indicated it was built at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, and the ‘1’ indicated it was the first major production version of the plane.

Later, under the Allied codenaming system in use beginning in 1942, the plane was given a male name because it was a reconnaissance seaplane, and the name chosen for the E14Y1 was ‘Glen’.

The Glen had a mixed construction of welded steel-tube fuselage with fabric, wood and light-alloy covering. The wings were fabric-covered with light metal spars and wooden ribs. It was powered by a Hitachi 340-horsepower radial engine, driving a two-blade fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The fuselage had a length of 28 feet, and it had a wingspan of just over 36 feet. The Glen could carry a 130-pound bomb under each wing, and it had a single 7.7mm machine gun on a flexible mount in the rear cockpit for defense. It had a top speed of 158mph and a range of 548 miles. The Glen carried a crew of two consisting of a pilot and an observer in tandem enclosed cockpits. Twelve prototypes were built for testing, and after improvements were made to the initial design, 352 production aircraft were ordered. But only 126 aircraft were completed, and the Glen would be the most numerous type of submarine-based aircraft ever manufactured by any nation.

"Glen" floatplanes patrolling the vast expanses of the Pacific
“Glen” floatplanes patrolling the vast expanses of the Pacific

The Glens were carried aboard specially modified I-class submarines, in a watertight hangar in front of the conning tower. The planes were disassembled when stored in the hangar. When the submarine surfaced, the hangar was opened up, the plane was winched out and the floats and wings were attached to the fuselage, and the tail unfolded. The plane was then launched from the deck by a catapult. A well-trained and experienced deck crew could have the plane launched in just six and a half minutes after the submarine surfaced. At the conclusion of its mission, the Glen would land alongside the submarine and a collapsible deck crane would hoist the plane back on board. The plane would be disassembled and placed back into the hangar, and afterward the submarine would submerge.

The Glen went into operational service in 1941. The first action was an over-flight of Pearl Harbor just 10 days after the devastating attack of Dec. 7, 1941. In early 1942, Glens performed reconnaissance over-flights of Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney in Australia. Glens also scouted Suva in Fiji, and Wellington and Auckland in New Zealand. But the actions that would assure the Glen’s place in history took place near the coast of Oregon State, in the United States.

The Japanese submarine I-26 , identical to I-25
The Japanese submarine I-26 , identical to I-25

On September 9, 1942, a Glen piloted by Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita flew from the submarine I-25 and dropped a pair of bombs near Mt. Emily, outside of Brookings in southern Oregon. The plane was spotted by U.S. Forest Service lookouts, who also spotted smoke where the bombs had impacted. Several men rushed to the scene and the small fire was quickly brought under control and extinguished. Fragments from the bomb casings were also found at the scene.

Brookings
Brookings, Oregon, the area of the first ever bombing of continental US by enemy aircraft, on September  9, 1942

On September 29th, just 20 days after the first attack, Fujita flew a second mission in his Glen and dropped bombs in the forest near Grassy Knob, east of Cape Blanco and about 45 miles northwest of Brookings. The intent for both attacks was to start a forest fire that would hopefully rage out of control and consume entire towns, and create panic in the population on the west coast. They were also intended as revenge for the ‘Doolittle Raid’ earlier that year in April when American B-25 ‘Mitchell’ bombers struck several targets in Japan. But the rains had come early that year, and the forest was wet. The incendiary bombs dropped by Fujita in both attacks failed to start any significant fires. Those two attacks remain the only time in U.S. history where an enemy airplane has dropped bombs on the continental United States.

Cape Blanco, Oregon
Cape Blanco, Oregon, the area of the second enemy bombing on continental US soil, with insignificant effect, on September 29, 1942

Nobuo Fujita survived the war, and later made three visits to Brookings. During his first visit, in May 1962, Fujita presented his family’s samurai sword to the City of Brookings as a gesture of international peace and goodwill, and also as a symbol of peacemaking between former enemies.

Fujita's 500 year old sword is displayed as a
Fujita’s 500 year old samurai sword is displayed as a token of peace between yesterday’s foes

The sword had been in his family for over 500 years. It is on display today in the Chetco Community Public Library in Brookings.

Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita in a wartime photo
Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita in a wartime photo

The site of the first bombing near Mt. Emily was re-discovered in August 1972. Today it is possible to hike to the bomb site. A trail marker located outside Brookings indicates the way, and at the bomb site itself there is a memorial marker and information displays. The site of the second bombing has never been found.

bomb
The site of the first bombing near Mt. Emily

Among the World War II Japanese shipwrecks in the Kwajalein Atoll lagoon, is the 4,600-ton freighter Akibasan Maru. It was at anchor just off Kwajalein Island on January 30, 1944 when U.S. carrier planes struck during Operation Flintlock. The ship took two bomb hits and sank within 15 minutes. The wreck was discovered in 1965, not very long after scuba diving was introduced to Kwajalein.

The identity of the ship was verified when the ship’s bell was recovered. Airplane parts were found in cargo holds 1, 2, and 5, but the exact identity of the plane parts would remain a mystery for another 43 years.

A book published in 1992, called “World War II Wrecks of the Kwajalein and Truk Lagoons”, stated that the plane parts were likely spares for H6K ‘Mavis’ flying boats which were based at nearby Ebeye Island. A video produced in 2005, called “The Silent Wrecks of Kwajalein Atoll”, speculated that the plane parts belonged to a “Rufe” fighter seaplane. Both would turn out to be incorrect.

Cargo hold no.1 of the Akibasan Maru, looking forward towards the bow
Cargo hold no.1 of the Akibasan Maru, looking forward towards the bow

In March 2008, I was talking to a couple of other Kwajalein divers, and they told me about the plane parts in the cargo holds of the ship. When I asked what type of planes they were, the answer was “Don’t know. There’s just frameworks remaining, so it’ll probably never be known for sure”. So, I decided to go have a look for myself, and at the end of March I made what would be the first of 29 dives on the Akibasan Maru wreck specifically to photograph the plane parts.

Cargo hold no.2 of the Akibasan Maru, looking forward and down from above the bridge
Cargo hold no.2 of the Akibasan Maru, looking forward and down from above the bridge

First I took photos of the wings in cargo hold 1 of the shipwreck, and posted them to a website called j-aircraft.com, a website run by several experts on WWII Japanese aircraft. The wings were quickly identified as belonging to a Glen. Before this, I only had a vague recollection of reading once about a bombing attack carried out by a Japanese plane in Oregon during the war, and I had never read much about it. So I knew very little about the topic. That would change very quickly.

"Glen" wings in cargo hold 1
“Glen” wings in cargo hold 1

The identification of the Glen wings caused quite a stir in several aviation history web sites, and within a week the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. sent me photocopy of a Glen pilot manual which had been captured on Saipan during the war. The manual contains diagrams and drawings of all parts of the Glen.

The fuselage in cargo hold 1
The fuselage in cargo hold 1, among other debris in the wreck of Akibasan Maru

Throughout the next few months, I continued diving the shipwreck to photograph the plane parts. Using the manual to compare the diagrams to my dive photos, I determined that there are enough parts for two Glens in the Akibasan Maru. Besides the wings in cargo hold 1, there are four floats and two fuselages in cargo hold 2, and two more wings in cargo hold 5. These two Glens were scheduled for delivery to the Dai 6 Sensuikan Kichi tai (6th Submarine Base Unit) at Kwajalein.

Another pair of wings in cargo hold 5
Another pair of wings in cargo hold 5

The plane parts had finally been identified for what they are. And the timing of the discovery was fortunate in another aspect as well- at the same time the identifications were being made, I found out that there was a book being written specifically about the Glen. The co-authors were Ryusuke Ishigiro from Japan, and Tadeusz Januszewski from Poland. Ryusuke contacted me and invited me to join the project, and I wrote the underwater wreck chapter for the book. The chapter includes 30 of the photos I shot of the Glen parts. The book is named Kugisho E14Y Glen: The aircraft that bombed America, and it was released by MMP Books in December 2012.

Cargo hold no. 5 of the Akibasan Maru, looking forward from over top of the stern superstructure
Cargo hold no. 5 of the Akibasan Maru, looking forward from over top of the stern superstructure

At the same time I began working on the book project with Ryusuke and Tadeusz, I also became friends via email with Oregon resident Bill McCash. Bill had finished the third edition of his book, Bombs Over Brookings, not long before. His book is also essential reading for anyone interested in a full history of the attacks, and the events afterwards. Bill joined in to help with the Glen book project as well.

A float in cargo hold 2
A float in cargo hold 2

It was an absolute thrill beyond words to make that discovery! Until those plane parts had been identified, the Glen had been thought to be a completely extinct type. Those two Glens are the only ones that have been found anywhere in the world since the end of World War II.

Besides the thrill of the discovery, it was also a tremendous privilege to become friends with Ryusuke, Tadeusz and Bill and join with them to produce the definitive book of the Glen’s history. The book filled an important gap in the history of World War II aviation and submarine operations.

And I also owe a big thanks to my friends who did all those dives with me on the Akibasan Maru wreck, while I was getting the photos needed for the identification of the aircraft parts- Mike Woundy (who did the most dives with me of anyone during that project), Nicki Hickmon, Al Christ, Marty Bazar, Valerie Bazar, Hal Parker, Jeff Timmerman, John Hadley, Chris LeBlanc, Melissa Haislip, Misty Shoemaker, Ryan Vahle, and Stewart Bell. It truly was a team effort.

"Glen" fuselage in cargo hold 2
“Glen” fuselage in cargo hold 2. Note the pilot and observer seats, which are clearly visible.

Today, the wrecks are showing the effect of 75+ years of immersion in warm saltwater. The Glen components, and the Akibasan Maru, are deteriorating. The Glen fuselage that was leaning up against the side of cargo hold #2 has fallen apart, and sections of the shipwreck are collapsing. Within perhaps the next 20 years, the shipwreck will be nothing more than a pile of rubble, and the Glens will be buried forever.

Another view of the fuselage
Another view of the fuselage

Recommended additional reading:

Kugisho E14Y Glen: The Aircraft That Bombed America, by Ryusuke Ishiguro and Tadeusz Januszewski, MMP Books, 2012

Bombs Over Brookings, Third Edition, by William McCash, Taxus Baccata Books, 2009

The Lookout Air Raid, Wreck Diving Magazine, issue #25, 2014

Japanese Submarine Aircraft, by Tadeusz Januszewski, MMP Books, 2002

A fuselage in cargo hold 2
A fuselage in cargo hold 2