By Pierre Kosmidis
Text, photos and additional information by Dan Farnhham, used by permission
CLICK THE LINKS BELOW TO READ THE FOLLOWING STORIES
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
The WW2 Pacific Treasures of Kwajalein Lagoon by Dan Farnham PART 3 – “Gegibu Betty”, the Japanese G4M bomber found in an uninhabited island of the Pacific
Scuba diver and author Dan Farnham adds another installment in the series of WW2 Wrecks located in Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
Kwajalein is the world’s largest coral atoll and comprises 93 islands and islets, it has a land area of 1,560 acres (6.33 km²) and surrounds one of the largest lagoons in the world, measuring 324 mi² (839 km²) in size.
The two most significant land masses are Kwajalein Island in the south, and the linked islands of Roi-Namur in the north. By the start of World War II, the Marshalls (South Pacific Mandate) were already an integral part of the Japanese perimeter of defense, used as submarine and naval vessels bases.
The Battle of Kwajalein was fought from 31 January to 3 February 1944, with the US forces launching a twin assault on the main islands of Kwajalein in the south and Roi-Namur in the north. The Japanese defenders put up stiff resistance, although outnumbered and under-prepared. The determined defense of Roi-Namur left only 51 survivors of an original garrison of 3,500.
Faced with the need to provide escorts for maritime convoys that often operated far beyond the range of land-based aircraft in the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean, the Japanese Navy relied extensively on the use of reconnaissance seaplanes. During World War II they operated more seaplanes than any other nation.
In 1937 the Japanese Navy issued a requirement for a new long-range, three-seat reconnaissance seaplane to replace outdated aircraft then in service with the fleet. Designed that same year and first flown in 1938, the new Navy Type 0 Reconnaissance Seaplane Model 1 (later Model 11) would become numerically the most important of all Japanese float seaplanes during World War II. Although the prototype first flew in 1938, development was slow and the plane did not enter service with the Japanese Navy until early 1941.
In the official short-designation system used by the Japanese Navy, the plane was given the designation E13A. ‘E’ was the project letter given to reconnaissance seaplanes. The ‘13’ indicated it was the 13th type of reconnaissance seaplane accepted into service with the Japanese Navy, and the ‘A’ indicated it was built by the Aichi Kokuki KK aircraft company. Numbers after the ‘A’ indicated major production versions, such as E13A1.
Because it was a reconnaissance seaplane, Allied Intelligence later gave the E13A a male name, and the name chosen for the plane was ‘Jake’.
The E13A1 was the major production version throughout the war. It had a wingspan of 47 feet 4 inches, and a length of 37 feet 1 inch. It was powered by a 1,080hp ‘Kinsei’ radial engine which gave it a top speed of 234mph.
Standard armament consisted of a 7.7mm machine gun in the rear cockpit for defense, and it could carry a maximum of 551 pounds of bombs in its internal bomb bay. The Jake carried a crew of three in tandem enclosed cockpits, and it had a maximum range of 1,300 miles.
New versions of the ‘Jake’ appeared starting in November 1944, such as the E13A1a which was fitted with redesigned floats and improved radio equipment. The E13A1b was fitted with air-to-ground radar equipment, and the E13A1-K was a trainer version equipped with dual controls. Other versions such as the E13A1c and the E13A1a-S were anti-surface vessel and night-flying versions, respectively.
The Jake first saw combat over China in 1941 when several Jakes were launched from Japanese cruisers and seaplane tenders to attack the Canton-Hankow railway, as well as to perform anti-shipping patrols. Not long after, Jakes that were part of the 8th Cruiser Division performed reconnaissance over-flights of Pearl Harbor, just before the Dec. 7th attack.
From that point on, Jakes operated from ships and shore bases anywhere the Japanese Navy was active. Despite its lack of armor protection for the crew and lack of self-sealing fuel tanks, the Jake was hugely successful and popular with its crews because of its reliability. The Jake had a maximum flight endurance of almost 15 hours, which made it admirably suited for long-range patrol missions in the vast expanses of the Pacific.
In the years prior to the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Japanese established a seaplane base at Ebeye Island, located at Kwajalein Atoll. Several Jakes were among the aircraft types assigned to the base as part of the 952nd Kokutai (Naval Air Group).
Kwajalein Atoll was attacked by US carrier forces on December 4, 1943 as a softening-up operation in preparation for Operation ‘Flintlock’, the invasion and seizure of the atoll, scheduled for the following month.
During the December attack, several Jakes were among the planes strafed at Ebeye Island by F6F ‘Hellcat’ fighters. Eleven planes were left burning on and off the water, although it is unclear exactly how many of those were Jakes. More planes at Ebeye were destroyed the following month during Operation Flintlock.
In the years since the war ended, three Jake wrecks have been found off Ebeye Island. The first one to be found was located just off shore in 15 feet of water.
Only the engine, pilot’s seat and wings remained on that wreck. Unfortunately it is no longer visible today. There are two stories as to what happened to the wreckage- it was either blown onto shore during a typhoon and disposed of by Ebeye residents, or it was covered up in 1992 when a new cargo pier was built.
The second Jake wreck to be found was discovered in mid-1998, lying upside down about 270 yards from the Ebeye cargo pier, at a depth of 130 feet. There is still a bomb lying on the underside of the plane, and one of the two floats lies about 30 feet away.
The other float is nowhere to be found. The tail of the plane is missing, and there are bullet holes all over it, leaving little doubt as to why the plane ended up where it is. This wreck is often referred to as “Jake #1” by Kwajalein divers, due to being the first one found which is still divable today.
This plane is not visited very often, due to its proximity to the Ebeye cargo pier, and the fact that it is underneath the lane used by the ferry boats that run between Ebeye and Kwajalein Island. Visibility on this wreck is also not very good most of the time.
The third Jake to be found was discovered in August 2009, just over half a mile from shore. The third Jake sits upright at a depth of 129 feet, propped at an angle by one of its floats which is wedged under the fuselage. This one is referred to as the “Jake #2” wreck. Like the Jake near the cargo pier, the other float is nowhere to be found.
This Jake also has bullet holes all over the wreck, and the center fuselage section at the observer’s cockpit also shows signs of fire damage where part of the fuselage sides burned away. More of the plane is intact and visible than on the Jake #1 wreck, which makes this plane the preferred dive between the two.
The 7.7mm machine gun is still sitting in the rear cockpit. The tail is broken off and parts of it are in the sand near the back of the plane. This Jake is by far the most-visited of the two wrecks, and a sub-surface mooring buoy provides an easy tie-off for the dive boats that visit this wreck.
I’m often asked to take other divers out to see plane wrecks in the lagoon, usually new divers or visiting divers who have never dived a plane wreck. The Jake #2 wreck is always one of the planes I take them to. It’s a great dive, one I never get tired of, and it provides a great look at one of the premier Japanese Navy reconnaissance seaplanes of World War II.