Early 1942 – After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Isoroku Yamamoto quickly turned his attention to the mineral rich mines of northern Malaysia and the sea lanes around Singapore. Their capture was necessary to secure materials needed to make alloys, fuel for the war machine and freedom to move unhindered around the region.
Secretly a Japanese invasion force was building at a remote location in the gulf of Thailand, tasked with taking control of the mines then driving their attack towards the jewel of Singapore. The British would be caught unprepared.
Luckily the empires spies were everywhere. When informed of the Japanese presence rear admiral Tom Philips was pressed into action commanding his flagships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse to intercept. Force Z as it became known quickly put to sea, but without aircraft cover! HMS Indomitable had ran aground in the Caribbean and the remaining carriers were too slow to join the force. So the fateful decision was taken, in the best tradition of the British navy, to press on.
Ineffective without aircraft cover, force z failed to make contact. But worse was to follow, returning to Singapore – north of Tioman islands they were attacked and sunk! With land based aircraft, the war at sea was changed forever.
All that was left to repel the landings were a small group of Royal Dutch Navy Submarines. Ltz commander Hedrick F Bach in command of o19 found himself and his crew caught up in the middle of this madness.
Peering through his periscope two enemy cargo vessels slowly came into view; it was late in the day and with the humidity the stale air of the bridge was hard to breath. Bach gripped hold of the periscope, feeling the tension sweep through his crew he calmed his mind.
Guessing the convoys’ course as they zigzagged their way across his scope he steered his command to the best position for an attack – every second his periscope broadcasting his location, holding off the erg to release his torpedoes until the right moment.
Three times the call to fire –three torpedoes rang out – followed by the order crash dive! The o19 quickly retreating below the relative safety of the thermo cline, there to await the attack that was sure to follow.
The IJN Akita hull was laid at the Mitsubishi shipyard in 1915 Japan. Built for the NYK line, her design was common for the far east – a mid-centered bridge allowed her to cater for cargo as well as fare paying passengers. But she was ill matched for the onslaught to follow.
Bach listened intently. A still unease befell his crew, then two explosions in quick succession – followed a few minutes later by a third! The image played out in his mind. Had the third torpedo found the second ship? Or was this the sound of a secondary explosion from the first ship? Keen to get some distance from this scene of destruction and not wanting a similar fate to befall his command, Bach steers his ship towards the setting sun and the relative safety of the darkness.
The convoy escorts search frantically for the culprit without success. Aboard the IJN Akita the sound of a ship taking its last breath was heard. Two torpedoes had struck amidships, the engine room destroyed and four crew men killed on impact. At 3317 GRT she was too small to survive the catastrophic effects from the torpedoes. The Akita was left to the mercy of the sea, reluctantly the order given to abandon ship.
The sun was now setting on the Akita…or was it. The following day as the sun rose to the east, the surviving crew stood stunned as the outline of the stricken ship appeared on the horizon. Quickly they rushed to re-board, the cargo of Wood had held back the onslaught of the sea – inches away from breaching her free board! But the crew were to be disappointed again. The damage was too severe from the final blow given by the destroyer Fubuki and the Akita slips slowly beneath the waves on an even keel, there to rest for eternity.
Written by prominent tech and wreck diver Tim Lawrence, based on evidence gained from historical data. Read part 2 for the expedition and dive report.