Discovered while researching my next book: Central to Allied victories in WWII, including the Battle of Midway and the sinking of the Japanese submarine I-52, was the success of cryptanalysts in the breaking of German and Japanese codes. One of the keys to the decoding process was having some idea of phrases that might be in the messages to be decoded. These “cribs” vastly reduced the effort required. But how to get cribs, i.e., already decoded messages (or fragments)? One scheme, proposed by a British naval commander, involved purposely ditching a captured German bomber in the English Channel, crewed by German-speaking, Luftwaffe-uniformed men, who would capture the expected German rescue boat (and its code settings and documents). Known as “Operation Ruthless,” the mission was approved, and a crew was recruited and trained, but was never carried out. The commander who proposed the daring undertaking (and volunteered to be the pilot) was none other than Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series. These and other adventures as a wartime intelligence officer provided great inspiration for his popular novels. It is thought that Fleming’s boss, Admiral Hugh “Quex” Sinclair (known as “C” in official correspondence) was the model for James Bond’s boss “M” in the stories.
Sixteen years after its discovery by Nauticos, on August 31 the Israel Defense Forces gave the families of the 69 Israeli sailors killed in the sinking of the Israel Navy’s Dakar the complete report on the submarine’s disappearance 47 years ago. Nauticos submitted its report of technical findings and forensic studies in 2000. As told in my book, Never Forgotten: The Search and Discovery of Israel’s Lost Submarine Dakar, the evidence strongly supports a flooding accident in the forward compartment (torpedo room), leading to a loss of depth control and plunge to the bottom. According to the Times of Israel, “The Israel Navy’s investigations concluded that the demise of the Dakar was caused either by loss of control or a technical failure, but didn’t rule out the possibility that the submarine collided with another vessel.”
Nauticos found no evidence for collision, but this remains a popular theory in the Israeli Navy. Certainly, the bridge fin that we recovered in 2000 showed no signs of impact. For a collision to cause flooding in the bow, one would expect some evidence of damage; however, the bow of the vessel is intact and undisturbed.
The site has not been revisited since our 2000 survey and investigations, and there are no plans to return. May the 69 brave sailors of Dakar be never forgotten!
The recent discovery of wreckage from the Malaysian Airliner Flight 370 adds several new parallels to the disappearance and search for the Israeli submarine INS Dakar, lost in 1968 and discovered by Nauticos in 1999. Just as MH-370, Dakar vanished without a trace, with no sign of trouble, and in communication up to the last moment. Grieving families of the sixty-nine sailors lost on Dakar felt a lack of closure not knowing what happened to their loved ones, just as with the families of the lost airliner. Similar questions were asked: Was there a mechanical or operational flaw that could be remedied in other vessels? Was the Captain at fault, or was he or a crew member acting with evil intent? Was the submarine sunk by an enemy? Was the crew still alive, captured or stranded? Was some kind of international conspiracy afoot? Initial search efforts with international support yielded not a trace. The submarine was declared lost with all hands.
Then, a year later, a piece of wreckage washed ashore on the Gaza strip. Just as with MH-370, this piece was analyzed for any clues. From where did it drift? Would marine growth suggest a particular origin? Would the condition of the piece tell us anything?
As events developed, the Dakar wreckage did not directly aid the search for the lost submarine – in fact, accepted interpretation of its condition and trajectory mislead subsequent efforts. However, the appearance of a tangible piece of the wreck inspired renewed endeavor, which led thirty years later to the discovery of Dakar, closure to families, and a memorial to the crew.
See Never Forgotten: The Search and Discovery of Israel’s lost Submarine Dakar for a saga of tragedy, discovery, and closure.
MH-370 piece found 16 months after disappearance; INS Dakar piece found 12 months after disappearance.
You may already know that Friday is a full moon … not only that, it’s a Blue Moon! A “Blue Moon” is of course an “extra” full moon, i.e., 13 instead of the normal 12 in a year. Since the average lunar cycle is 29.53 days, there are usually three full moons in an astronomical season, but sometimes (every 2 or 3 years) a fourth one will squeeze in. Once in a blue moon.
(BTW, the moon is not colored blue … that can happen if there is lots of smoke or dust in the air and has nothing to do with the timing. The etymology of the term is thought to have derived from the obsolete word “belewe,” which meant “betrayer.” It was the evil betrayer extra full moon that had to be fit into the Christian ecclesiastical calendar and would sometimes have caused people to continue fasting for an extra month in accordance with Lent. “Belewe” was eventually shortened to “blue.” So they say ….)
To complicate matters, there are two definitions: The original one is astronomical, i.e., the third full moon in a season of four. This last occurred on August 20, 2013, and will not occur again until May 21, 2016. We’re going with the calendar definition – actually a misconception perpetrated by the March 1946 issue of Sky & Telescope and now popularly held – that is, the second full moon in a month. That last occurred September 30, 2012 (in my Eastern time zone), and will next occur on Friday! A bunch of us are going out for a full (blue) moon midnight kayak in Cape Porpoise harbor. The one after that will be January 31, 2018. Not a good night for kayaking.
Amelia Mary Earhart was born 118 years ago on July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas. She disappeared on July 2, 1937, just weeks before her 40th birthday. She accomplished much in her short life, and chose to face many challenges. One of her more inspiring qualities was her willingness to decide on a goal and pursue it, without overthinking the pros and cons. As she once said:
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”
Or to put it more directly:
“The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”
Of course, pursuing a goal is not without risk. Many of us are paralyzed into inaction by the fear of failure, which is all too real as Amelia herself discovered. Only those who are willing to try anyway have the chance for real achievement.
During our September, 1999 expedition to image seafloor sonar targets at the site of the Battle of Midway, the Nauticos/NAVO team used a system called TOSS (Towed Optical Search System). Dangled from a cable over 17,000 feet below the surface, the instrument captured video and still images of a huge debris field of wreckage. Some of these pieces had unique features that confirmed we had found the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga. Other artifacts, including a Japanese sailor’s boot, preserved for nearly seventy years, was evidence of the loss of life in battle. Three hundred and seven American sailors, Marines, and airmen perished in the battle, against over 3,000 Japanese.
Pieces of wreckage, large and small, were scattered in profusion around the area as seen in this montage. In the bottom photo, a deep sea worm left a trail as it gathered sustenance from the muddy bottom, evidence of life at extreme depths. The seafloor was thickly sprinkled with nodules of pure manganese. Nauticos.
David W. Jourdan’s Newest Book
Published June 2015, from Potomac Books (an imprint of University of Nebraska Press)
The Search for the Japanese Fleet
USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway
by David W. Jourdan, with Foreword by Philip G. Renaud
In The Search for the Japanese Fleet, David W. Jourdan, one of the world’s experts in undersea exploration, reconstructs the critical role one submarine played in the Battle of Midway, considered to be the turning point of the war in the Pacific. In the direct line of fire during this battle was one of the oldest boats in the navy, USS Nautilus. The actions of Lt. Cdr. William Brockman and his ninety-three-man crew during an eight-hour period rank among the most important submarine contributions to the most decisive engagement in U.S. Navy history.
Fifty-seven years later, Jourdan’s team of deep-sea explorers set out to discover the history of the Battle of Midway and find the ships that the Allied fleet sank. Key to the mystery was Nautilus and its underwater exploits. Relying on logs, diaries, chronologies, manuals, sound recordings, and interviews with veterans of the battle, including men who spent most of June 4, 1942, in the submarine conning tower, the story breathes new life into the history of this epic engagement. Woven into the tale of World War II is the modern drama of deep-sea discovery, as explorers deploy new technology three miles beneath the ocean surface to uncover history and commemorate fallen heroes.
In The Search for the Japanese Fleet, I argue that Nautilus attacked the aircraft carrier Kaga, not Sōryū as Captain Brockman thought, owing to outdated recognition guides. The information in his possession showed Kaga in its pre-war configuration, with a three-quarter length flight deck and uncovered bow. Otherwise, the two ships resembled one another, and both had a unique starboard-side island superstructure. (Kaga was significantly heavier, 39,000 tons vs. 16,000 tons, as it was built on an armored battlecruiser hull, but that did not affect its appearance through the periscope.) Wreckage from a vessel identified as Kaga was found in 1999 at the position of the Nautilus attack. Yet Captain Brockman and his crew recovered a life ring from Sōryū! How can this be?
Nautilus made her attack at around 1400 local time and evaded depth-charging destroyers by heading south. Nautilus first surfaced that evening at 1941. By that time she was twenty miles south of the attack location, but much closer southwest of the location of the dive bomber attacks that mortally wounded both ships (as well as Akagi) that morning at 1020. With winds and currents pushing floating debris to the west, it is likely that Nautilus fell among flotsam from the morning attacks on all three ships rather than from the particular ship they attacked at 1400.
Regardless of which ship Nautilus attacked, the old boat and her gallant crew were key members of the team of aviators and sailors that caused the destruction of the carriers of Kidō Butai that June day in 1942 and turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.
Shortly after release of The Search for the Japanese Fleet, I received a wonderful letter from Larry Brockman, nephew of William Brockman, captain of Nautilus. He began with:
“I want to thank you on behalf of the entire Brockman family for the wonderful tribute to my uncle. I have often hoped that something would be written about Uncle Bill’s Nautilus Days, and your book is the fulfillment of that hope and so much more.”
The letter went on to tell more about his uncle and memories of his service. Included was this passage about the controversy surrounding which ship Nautilus attacked:
“In 1976, I … drove up to Boca Raton to see Uncle Bill. We had a nice long chat. It seems that he was all steamed over a book writer who had interviewed him about the Midway encounter. He described in great detail how they argued about which carrier he had attacked, and whether or not the torpedoes had sunk the carrier. After raving about the encounter with the writer, Uncle Bill told me that he really didn’t care what the guy said or did because he was certain that he was right. I asked him how he could be so sure. He got up, went to a closet, and pulled out the life preserver. I took a photo of him with the preserver, which I have attached to this note. Then he said to me, ‘When it was safe, I surfaced and fished this out of the water. And there were hundreds more just like it all around me’.”
In my book, I report that the ship that Nauticos found, based on the position of the Nautilus attack, was clearly identified to be Kaga. Brockman was equally certain he attacked Sōryū . How do we resolve this contradiction? See next week’s blog post for a possible explanation.
William Brockman departed on eternal patrol from Boca Raton, Florida, January 2, 1979, at the age of seventy-four.
With the dramatic exception of USS Nautilus, U.S. submarines made a poor showing at the Battle of Midway. However, with more experienced and aggressive commanders, better torpedoes, newer boat designs and growing numbers, the tide turned. By war’s end, the submarine force, representing less than two percent of the Navy, accounted for fifty-five percent of Japan’s maritime losses. This achievement came at high cost – nearly 3,500 U.S. submariners perished during the war, over twenty percent of those who made patrols. This was the highest casualty rate for any branch of the U.S. military. May those brave men be … never forgotten! Excerpt from The Search for the Japanese Fleet.