The Grounding of USS Darter — A Case Study of an Operational Security Disaster

The Okinawa campaign in WW2 has often been described as marking the end old style total war. Where “cork screw and blow torch” close combat to the death between American attackers who fought to live and Japanese defenders who died in order to fight played out its last dance.

Upon closer examination, as this first article in a series planned to run through August 2018 will demonstrate, the Imperial Japanese were a fell World War 2 high tech foe, punching in a weight class above the Soviet Union. In high tech warfare, as in everything else, the Samurai clan dominated Japanese military was smart, driven, capable, and deadly. Their culture was obsessive about doing everything their own way, partly copying, but always obsessive about the Japanese originality of the design. Whether we are looking at the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter, the 72,000 ton and 18-inch gun armed Yamato Class battleships or the I-8 and I-400 class submarine aircraft carriers.   These innate skills as high tech warriors meant Okinawa was in many ways far better described as a high tech war for the electromagnetic spectrum between peer competitors.

Point in fact, Okinawa was a “secret radar war” where two opposing command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) sensor networks were directing land, sea and air forces in a series of moves and counter moves. And while the less technologically advanced, and organizationally deficient, Japanese military lost Okinawa proper. It still took advantage of US Navy institutional biases, American inter service rivalries, political weaknesses, US Naval high command unwillingness to learn from “non-approved” sources and most especially its operational security failures to defeat the US Navy’s original plan to overrun the Ryukyu’s.  Denying the American military the Northern Ryukyu air bases it originally sought to cover the proposed Operation Olympic landings.

The first block in that Japanese Pyrrhic electronic warfare victory at Okinawa was laid at Bombay Shoal, off Palawan in the Philippines. Where the USS Darter sank Japanese Admiral Kurita’s flagship the heavy cruiser IJNS Atago during the greatest naval victory in America’s History, the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  And Japan had its biggest windfall of captured American secret radar documents in World War 2 — and second biggest secret document windfall over all — from Atago’s killer.

USS Darter (SS-227) grounded on Bombay Shoal off Palawan on 4th patrol, 24 October 1944
Figure 1: USS Darter (SS-227) grounded on Bombay Shoal off Palawan, the Philippines on 4th patrol, 24 October 1944. The shell holes from a Japanese destroyer, several US Navy submarines, and a Japanese air attack. This included 55 point-blank hits from the 6-inch deck gun of the Nautilus (SS-168) on 31st October 1944.  Unfortunately, Darter was boarded prior to that shelling by an away team from a Japanese destroyer and the entire unburned contents off her classified  technical library were seized for analysis by Imperial Japanese Naval Intelligence. Visible on the top of the conning tower are the undamaged radar, radio and identification friend or foe antenna’s. Photo credit —


The following passage is from Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships and it describes The USS Darter’s victory and grounding below —


Returning to Brisbane 8 August 1944, Darter cleared on her fourth and last war patrol. She searched the Celebes and South China Seas, returned to Darwin to fuel and make minor repairs 10 September, and put back to the Celebes Sea. She put in to Mios Woendi 27 September for additional fuel, and sailed on 1 October with Dace (SS-247) to patrol the South China Sea in coordination with the forthcoming invasion of Leyte. She attacked a tanker convoy on 12 October and on 21 October headed with Dace for Balabac Strait to watch for Japanese shipping moving to reinforce the Philippines or attack the landing forces.


In the outstanding performance of duty which was to bring both submarines the Navy Unit Commendation, Darter and Dace made contact with the Japanese Center Force approaching Palawan Passage on 23 October 1944. Immediately, Darter flashed the contact report, one of the most important of the war, since the location of this Japanese task force had been unknown for some days. The two submarines closed the task force, and initiated the Battle of Surigao Strait phase of the decisive Battle for Leyte Gulf with attacks on the cruisers. Darter sank Admiral Kurita’s flagship Atago, then seriously damaged another cruiser, Takao. With Dace, she tracked the damaged cruiser through the tortuous channels of Palawan Passage until just after midnight of 24 October when she grounded on Bombay Shoal. As efforts to get the submarine off began, a Japanese destroyer closed apparently to investigate, but sailed on. With the tide receding, all Dace’s and Darter’s efforts to get her off failed. All confidential papers and equipment were destroyed, and the entire crew taken off to Dace. When the demolition charges planted in Darter failed to destroy her, Dace fired torpedoes which exploded on the reef due to the shallow water. As Dace submerged, Darter was bombed by an enemy plane. Dace reached Fremantle safely with Darter’s men on 6 November.


In addition to the Navy Unit Commendation, Darter received four battle stars earned during her four war patrols, the last three of which were designated as “successful”. She is credited with having sunk a total of 19,429 tons of Japanese shipping.

A more recent August 16, 2016 article titled Darter & Dace at the Battle of Leyte Gulf by David Alan Johnson at Warfare History Network expands on the circumstances that caused the seasoned captain of the USS Darter, Commander McClintock, to ground her in the heat of combat. The following happened shortly after Darter and her wolf pack companion USS Dace sank two and damaged one heavy cruiser of Admiral Kurita’s “Center Force” —

They decided to make a surface attack, but expected that the cruiser would be towed by the two destroyers. To everyone’s surprise, Takao got underway under her own power. She began heading southwest at about six knots. This presented a new situation; torpedoing a moving target presented different conditions from shooting a sitting duck, even if the target was only moving at six knots. The two captains would split their attack—Darter would make her attack from the east while Dace made an end run around from the west. By midnight on October 24, the two submarines were still getting into position for their torpedo attack. Darter was making 17 knots, trying to attack before Takao could pick up more speed.


For the past 24 hours, both submarines had been navigating the Palawan Passage by dead reckoning only. Because they had spent so much time submerged during the daylight hours, navigators were not able to get a fix on the mountains on Palawan, which meant that they were not exactly certain of their position. Clouds obscured the stars after sunset, so they were not able to get a celestial fix, either.


To evade the screening destroyers, Commander McClintock planned to leave a margin of seven miles to Bombay Shoal, which is a coral reef on the western side of Palawan Passage. A quarter-knot error in estimating the current put Darter on a collision course with the reef. At 12:05 am, Darter’s crew found out exactly why that stretch of water was called the Dangerous Ground.


USS Dace and Darter at Bombay Shoals the night of 24-25 October 1944
Figure 2: A painting of the USS Dace (Left) taking crew from the grounded USS Darter the night of 24-25 October 1944. Attempts to scuttle USS Darter failed due to a never used before in combat wiring kit. Darter was beached so high on the shoals that torpedoes fired by Dace detonated uselessly hundreds of feet away from Dater’s hull. Dace finally emptied its 3-inch (76mm) deck gun into Darter, but the shells detonated between the Darter’s outer and inner pressure hull.  Leaving unburned documents intact for later Japanese naval boarding parties. Source: NavSource Online Submarine Photo Archive


The one thing in common about both David Alan Johnson’s and Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships description of events is that they are wrong about USS Darter burning all its secret documents.  It didn’t.

This is what Commander McClintock actually said in his log:

“0015 H Jap destroyer now began closing. He must have heard us hit.
Commenced burning secret and confidential matter and destroying
confidential gear. All hands not engaged in destroying gear employed
in lightening ship.”

“0230 H Tide receding now. We are high and dry. Ceased effort to get
off. Concentrated on destroying confidential gear. Three fires were
kept burning below decks to destroy classified matter: one in forward
engine room, one in radio shack, one in officer’s shower. These made
much smoke. Smoke was kept down to some extent by running #10 blow
continuously. More fires would have made destruction work below
impossible. As it was, personnel had to go topside for air every few
minutes. All registered publications except ONI-49 destroyed by
burning. Report of confidential matter not burned submitted by
dispatch and will be submitted by separate letter.


1. SJ radar including magnetron tubes
2. SD radar; ABK; BN; ARC
3. Sound gear in forward room; including JP.
4. Sound gear in conning tower.
5. TDC and both gyro angle indicator regulators.
6. Bathythermograph
7. Gyro
8. Ship’s radio transmitters and receivers
9. All generators were burned out (main generators)”

And if fortune favors the well prepared…Commander McClintock made clear his crew wasn’t, because the US Navy as an institution gave them inadequate tools and expected them to improvise the impossible.  At pages 216-217 of the on-line logs of USS Darter, Commander McClintock made the following biting remarks:

1. Demolition Outfit: It is recommended that a permanent wiring system for the demolition charges be installed on each submarine at the earliest practiable date. Conditions such as those encountered by the Darter call for this. With lightening the ship, destruction of gear installations below decks, and fires burning, the flimsy wiring provided may easily be damaged; and the wiring available to rig the charges may easily be inadequate, if the ship is left in the presence of the enemy in circumstances where it cannot be sunk.


2. Classified Matter: It is recommended that the number of registered publications carried on board be further reduced. Also that all confidential files except essential letters be turned in prior to departure on patrol . The time taken to burn all the registered publications and confidential charts, let alone ordinary confidential letters, makes this of vital importance.

The bold in the passage above was underlined in the type written original document.

Everything that could go wrong on the USS Darter after she grounded, did so, at the worst possible time.  And the boarding parties of the Imperial Japanese Navy captured USS Darter’s complete unburned library of classified documents.

Why that happened has been explained.

The “Who” of it, the Japanese naval commander who seized both fortune’s prize, and Darter’s secret documents, is next


In the disaster that was the Battle the Leyte Gulf, Japan was well served by Capt Onada Sutejiro [Etajima 48 Class].

Capt Onada, prior to his command of the IJNS Takao, was heavily involved in Japanese diplomacy. Capt Onada was sent to France 1928-29 and he visited Europe with Admiral OSUMI Mineo Mission in 1939. He again visited Germany in 1943 with Major General OKAMOTO Kiyotomi’s delegation via Siberian Railway. Capt Onada then returned to Japan aboard Japanese submarine I-29 in July 1944.

Through a matter of purest luck, he missed being sunk on the I-29 as after the former docked at Singapore.  As it was decided by Japanese naval high command that he should return immediately by air.  After leaving Singapore the I-29 was sunk by a submarine, likely cued on to its departure by ULTRA intercepts of the Japanese JN-25 naval code.

Shortly after arriving in Japan, Capt Onada, he was given the IJNS Takao, and the mixed luck that he had at Singapore held at Bombay Shoals

The Darter was stalking Capt Onada’s damaged Takao when she ran aground on the Bombay Shoals. According to page 638 of John Pardos’ COMBINED FLEET DECODED, — as the the senior officer on the scene and knowing the possible prize — Capt Onada had crewmen from his escorting destroyers Hiyodori and Naganami board the abandoned USS Darter looking for documents the afternoon of 25 Oct 1944, after she grounded the night of 24-25 Oct 1944.

When the salvage crews of the US Navy arrived years later to finally destroy USS Darter by detonating her torpedo stock — which is mentioned in a report appended to the logs of the USS Darter — they found not a single classified document aboard.
Figure 3: A 1944 aerial view of Mios Woendi and the Mios Woendi PT Boat Base (Camp Taylor) near Biak in New Guinea.  Two Submarine tenders based here supported USS DACE and DARTER  27 – 29 Sept. 1944 with maintenance plus the latest secret communications, charts and other confidential documents prior to their engaging the Japanese Combined fleet off Palwan in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Photo Credit: Pacific Wrecks dot Org


Since I learned of the lost confidential documents in Darter’s log in 2015,  I have been hot on the trail of what DIDN’T  make it to the Darter‘s burn barrels in the two and a half hours after she grounded and before she was abandoned.   Neither my internet searches nor my research partner Ryan Crieire’s visits to the national archives in Maryland found Commander McClintock’s certified letter.  What we did find was this passage from a declassified US Army ULTRA history “SRH-254 THE JAPANESE INTELLIGENCE SYSTEM MIS/WDGS 4 September 1945”, which states the following on the grounding and subsequent Japanese haul of intelligence from the grounded US Navy submarine USS Darter.

    Page 53 (62)

   “One of the most important discoveries of captured documents was made
by the Japanese Navy from the U.S. submarine Darter, which ran aground
west of Palawan on 23 October. The Japanese recovered many documents
    dealing with radar, radio, and communications procedure, as well as
    instruction books, engine blueprints, and various ordnance items.


It is difficult to evaluate the intelligence which the Japanese have
obtained from documents, but in those cases here it has been possible
    the information has been found to be relatively accurate.

Reconstructing all the confidential publications that might have been on the USS Darter, that match the description above, and didn’t make it to the burn barrel was a was a chore, but two publications stood out.  The first was a navy enlisted technician periodical called Radio and Sound Bulletin, and for a lot of reasons.


Military Classification systems are a three legged stool of policy, procedures and people.  Policy identifies what needs to be classified and to what level. Procedure dictates how the classified materials are handled and how people are to be trained and indoctrinated in the very well documented handling of those classified materials from their creation to their destruction.  And the human resources organization involved in classification must investigate, vet and track every person involved in the use of classified materials.  It is a bureaucratic system with huge penalties for those involved and very perverse incentives to over classify everything while limiting information to the fewest number of people possible.  It tends to utterly break down when a large number of classified documents must be issued to thousands of people.


The classic example of this happened in the South West Pacific in 1944.  When the SCR-584 gun-laying radar was issued there to anti-aircraft battalions.  The classified instruction manuals for the maintenance men to support the radars were not provided with the radars for fear they might be lost.  It took a special mission from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Henry Abajian who quite literally had to write a new manual that was printed in Australia to fix this classification system failure.  See this link —


Like the SCR-584 instruction manuals above, technical bulletins like Radio and Sound Bulletin have been a nightmare for counter-intelligence of every military power since their first publication in the 20th Century. Tech manuals and bulletins intelligence value are high, there are large numbers of them, they are not usually vetted by technical intelligence experts for their proper classification, because if they are they can’t be used, and their usual users are low paid and not indoctrinated with the need to properly maintain and dispose of them.


 The USS Darter, like all major radar equipped American fleet combatants,  was the opposite end of that classified “Catch 22”.   A complete library of Radio and Sound Bulletin issues was on every radar equipped US Navy combatant in WW2 at the time of Darter’s grounding. And by definition the crew of a submarine was trusted personnel for classified documents. However, Darter held too many secrets to destroy them quickly in the event it grounded and was rapidly captured.  Classified policy and procedure failed the test of combat.


The destruction of documents recorded in the Darter’s register of classified documents would have been executed from the most classified and actionable document to the least.  Code materials, maps, charts, and operational plans would have gone into the burn barrel’s first. Ordnance documents on torpedo fire control would have also gone in to the burn barrel, but based on the above SRH-254 passage, there wouldn’t have been enough time for the Radio and Sound Bulletin to join them.


 Some copies of Radio and Sound Bulletin can be found on-line here:


And an index of issues No. 1 thru No. 12 is here:



Issues one through 15 would have been aboard USS Darter in October 1944.  Taken together and analyzed by signals intelligence experts, they gave a complete technical background and a electronic listening fingerprint to all the major radio equipment used by the US Navy up to July 1944 including the YG Radio Homing Equipment used by US Navy strike aircraft returning to carriers.  In short, Japanese signals intelligence had technical “Keys to the Kingdom” on every major piece of radio equipment in the American Navy.  And this happened in time to be used for the Japanese Kamikaze Campaign no later than November 1944.


-Hold that Thought-


We will revisit it later.




Combat Information Center Magazine was an official publication of the Chief of Naval Operations  — Admiral King — in World War 2.  Its job started as a tool sharing lessons learned for USMC and US Navy ground radar units.  After four issues, published in March through June 1944, it was reoriented for the whole fleet in July 1944.  It remained in publication after World War 2 in order to capture the lessons learned by the fleet as it demobilized.  The July 1944 through December 1945 issues, less November 1944, are available on-line.


It was a great idea, badly executed, because in his efforts to spread the lessons learned on radar, Admiral King let his classification bureaucracy off the hook for tracking all the issues of CIC Magazine.  The following passage was on page two of every issue of CIC until March 1945 —


A Confidential magazine published monthly by the
Chief of Naval Operations for the information of
commissioned, warrant, enlisted personal, and per·
sons authorized, whose duties are connected with
the tactical use and operation of electronic equipment.
will not be transmitted or revealed. in any manner,
to unauthorized persons.


This Publication is to be handled in accordance
with Article 76 U.S. Navy Regulations, and will
be destroyed by burning when it has served its
purpose. Neither quarterly reports nor reports of
burning are required.


The bold and italics above are mine and they are there to make a point.


The US Navy made a policy decision to destroyed the procedural controls on its classified document system for issues of CIC Magazine.  This meant that when Commander McClintock ordered the destruction of registered classified documents.  CIC Magazine wasn’t on the register.  When the time came no one knew where they were or who had them last to ask.  And there was no time to run them down.


This was confirmed in the first issue where the news of the loss of the USS Darter, and Commander McClintock registered letter, had reached Washington D.C.


December 1944 CIC Magazine back cover
Figure 4: This is the back cover of the December 1944 edition of “CIC Magazine” an official publication of the US Navy teaching sailors and officers how to best use Radar and other command and control equipment in WW2. It told sailors that CIC should be among the first documents destroyed to prevent capture. Source: San Francisco Maritime National Park Association On-Line Archive


The relevant text from the back cover of the December 1944 issue of CIC Magazine states —
“This and other copies of “C,I.C” shall be included with other classified material which is to receive emergency destruction in the event of possible loss or capture. Commanding Officers of units employed in landing operations or similar hazardous duty are directed to destroy or land this publication prior to operations. C.I.C.” shall not be carried for use in aircraft.”


Italics and bold above are mine.  You don’t give specific instructions like that after six months of telling people specifically “Don’t treat it as a registered confidential document” without a damned good reason.  The IJN got the USS Darter’s library of C.I.C. issues.
 I went back to the beginning of the CIC issues index at the site to comb through issues a sub commander would keep and stopped on the first issue there — July 1944 — and it had the following articles listed in its index


“Window” Pg 1 — The German & Japanese use of expendable radar decoys is discussed with radar scope photos.


“Radar and Weather” Pg 5  The effects of weather on USN Radars is discussed with diagrams of SK radar fade charts provided.


“This Is Fighter Direction” Pg 11
“Fighter Direction Aboard an AGC” Pg 17


“Some Shipboard CIC’s” Pg 18 – Pages 11 through 20 are a series of photo essays showing fighter direction as executed with what equipment.


“The Night Fighter” Pg 21 – “…The care and feeding of” This article is about the training and maintaining of Night fighter pilot skills.


“Harbor Underwater Detection”  Pg 24 — An article on allied harbor defense sensors, nets and organization of their use.


“Combat Lessons” Pg 26 — Includes “Leatherneck GCI” by VMF(N)-531, the USMC’s premier land based night fighter unit.


“Two Kills, One Probable” pg 28 — By Air Warning Squadron One (AWS-1)  USMC’s premier land based radar unit and an USN ARGUS radar training group exercise where the “enemy” airplane hid in Santa Cruz’s radar shadow,


The article “Harbor Underwater Detection“  in the July 1944 CIC issue would have meant this issue would stay in USS Darter.  And it gets much worse when you consider that the USS Darter and Dace stop at  Mios Woendi to reprovision for the Leyte invasion included all the latest charts, codes, plans and classified documents.  To include the September 1944 issue of CIC Magazine which included the following article:
Are You Sabotaging The IFF System?”  Combat Information Center  Sept 1944 Pg 1 – 6.


This article detailed how to use the Mark III Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system…and it was the last issue of CIC to have made it to the USS Darter.  The Imperial Japanese capture of the July an Sept 1944 issues of  Combat Information Center, plus the radio information in  would render the US Navy’s fighter direction system obsolecent over night.


The biggest weakness that the Japanese learned from Darter was that the Type III identification friend or foe (IFF) interrogators were omnidirectional and American procedures for using it.
IFF Antenna radiation pattern
Figure 5: ABK/BN ‘Ski Pole type’ Omnidirectional Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Antenna Signal Radiation Pattern. Source: RADAR in World War II by Henry Guerlac
Nothing short of the Darter crew sawing off the IFF antenna and taking it with them on the Dace would have prevented the IJN from figuring out that fact. Very likely that technical limitation would have been in the papers the Japanese captured, but even if it was not, the physics of antenna design (See the Figure 5 above) would have told the Japanese of that technical limitation.


IOW, in a crowded sky, a lot of US planes, together, with their beacons turned on, could hide a Japanese plane trailing them because of the overwhelming number of IFF responses from a small area of a radar screen.


This was the exact tactic Japanese Kamikazes used off Luzon and Formosa against Task Force 38 (Adm Halsey) in November 1944.


The trick of following an enemy flight home to its carrier was new at Midway in June 1942.


But it was not until Dec 1944 almost 2.5 years later, a couple of months after the loss of the USS Darter, that Rear Adm Baker and Captain Thatch (of “Thatch weave” fame) invented the “Tomcat” picket destroyer concept. A tactic where there were two radar pickets, with overhead combat air patrol (CAP), either side of a line sixty mile towards the strike group’s target, were placed such that returning planes were to orbit them and be visually inspected for enemy planes by the CAP.


The US Navy advertised these as purely anti-Kamikaze defense** adaptations…but I’d scratch out the word “purely” and substitute “mostly.”


(** Per Adm McCain, on Page 58 of Adm. Samuel Elliot Morrison’s History of United States Naval Operations in WW2, Vol. XIII The Liberation of the Philippines.)


Author John Prodos also mentions the Darter capture in “The Combined Fleet Decoded”and states the Japanese got some useful information on US radar and diesel engines, but didn’t have the time or the resources to put them to good use.


The problem I have with “The Combined Fleet Decoded” assessment is the timing of the following kamikaze attacks —

Essex (CV 9), Philippines, 25 November 1944
Intrepid (CV 11), Philippines, 25 November 1944
Hancock (CV 19), Philippines, 25 November 1944
Cabot (CVL 28), Philippines, 25 November 1944


October 25, 1944 to late Nov 1944 is enough time for the Japanese to board Darter, get any non-burned papers, have a technical intelligence officer figure out the non-directional nature of the ABK & BN “ski-pole” Type 3 IFF antenna (Photos of  the grounded USS Darter in 1945 show these intact above), and use that information to fox the USN fighter direction on Task Force 38 via following returning strikes close enough to get good IFF radar returns and strike those four carriers.


Then in reaction in Dec 1944, we have the US Navy develop “Tomcat” tactic of radar picket DD, with visual CAP inspection, introduced as mentioned by both Adm Morison in 1959 and again by Clark Reynolds in his 1968, The Fast Carriers: The Forging of an Air Navy,.


The repetitive mention by USN & USMC radar operators of IFF returns from Japanese aircraft during the Okinawa campaign certainly indicated that the Navy Department thought the Japanese had compromised the Type 3 IFF.


Yet you won’t find this fact in the narratives of the Okinawa campaign.


The full “Why” that was will await future columns in this series, but the then clearly inevitable post-war founding of the Defense Department had a lot to do with it.




Sources and Notes:

Combat Information Center Magazine on-line Archive
San Francisco Maritime National Park Association
Richard Pekelney, Webmaster


Clark Reynolds, The Fast Carriers: The Forging of an Air Navy, see page 290 for TOMCAT tactics, Originally published in 1968, currently published Naval Institute Press (March 5, 2008) ISBN-13: 978-1557507013, ISBN-10: 1557507015


David Alan Johnson, “Darter & Dace at the Battle of Leyte Gulf”  August 16, 2016

Mios Woendi PT Boat Base (Base 21, Camp Taylor) Papua Province Indonesia


Adm. Samuel Elliot Morrison, History of United States Naval Operations in WW2, Vol. XIII The Liberation of the Philippines, Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (1959)


NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive
Darter (SS-227)
Contributed by Lester Palifka


SRH-254 THE JAPANESE INTELLIGENCE SYSTEM MIS/WDGS 4 September 1945, page 53 (62 in PDF)
Electronic copy in author’s possession downloaded from the Proquest database at Nimitz Library Summer 2016


SS-227, USS DARTER Submarine War Patrol Report

Submarine aircraft carriers of Japan


USS Dace (SS-247)


USS Darter (SS-227)

Yamato-class battleships (大和型戦艦 Yamato-gata senkan)

14 thoughts on “The Grounding of USS Darter — A Case Study of an Operational Security Disaster”

  1. The torpedo problems of the early war showed how good the Navy was at covering up mistakes.

    Joe Rochefort’s subsequent career showed how Navy politics worked.

  2. Mike K,

    The Level of US Navy prevarication involved in the Okinawa campaign reads like a 1949 Red Army history of the the invasion of the Soviet Union.

    The US Navy’s operational security was an utter failure at the strategic, operational and tactical levels through out the Okinawa campaign and extended prior to then for the entire last year of the war.

    The Japanese used this time and again and it is quite clear that some senior American military leaders were both aware of and took steps against it. The flag ranks that stands out in this regard are Admiral Halsey in the Central Pacific and General’s Kenney and Kruger under MacArthur.

    None were involved with the planning of the Okinawa campaign.

  3. Tangential: I read recently that throughout The War more than half of Japan’s soldiers were in China. Can that be true? Surely they would have tried to reinforce the home islands as the Americans got ever closer?

    I can see that their troops in, for instance, Burma were too far away to bring home, but could they really not ship men home from China?

  4. “but could they really not ship men home from China?”

    The Japanese were starving because the blockade kept food from arriving. Why bring home more mouths to feed?

  5. If they were so stuck that they couldn’t bring their troops home they should have surrendered. After the war their ruling cohort should have been executed for crimes against the Japanese people, never mind their crimes elsewhere in Asia.

  6. Dearieme said —

    >>Tangential: I read recently that throughout The War more than half of Japan’s soldiers were in China. Can that be true?

    Yes it was. The Japanese used a significant portion of the Chinese economy to both support and arm that garrison. They could not have maintained the size of army they had without that Chinese loot.

    >>If they were so stuck that they couldn’t bring their troops home they should have surrendered.

    Japanese senior leadership was functionally insane, in that it was a “Face/shame” culture power group that made a horrible decision. They kept doubling down on that bad decision for internal power reasons until two nuclear attacks convinced them that “Doubling Down” was no longer possible.

  7. Unbelievable. How many sailors were killed in those four kamikaze attacks because the stupid buffoons didn’t know how to classify their magazine?

    Not only did the REMF staff writers drench their article with insufferable condescension, but the graphic is literally wagging its finger.

    “Improved IFF performance will not result unless you demand that improvement.”

    “These recommendations are not based on armchair braintrusting. A team of officers and civilians went to the South Pacific and Southwest Pacific areas to make a special study”

    Oh really, thank goodness we had a brain trust to determine that the IFF will not operate without batteries nor if you fail to turn it on nor if you hold the antenna too close to your numb-skull. Meanwhile I guess silly tasks such as operational security that prevent thousands of lives lost will just be left to the unspecial teams.

  8. Grurray,

    There is a whole lot of American interservice politics in that September 1944 article you are unaware of. They will be in a future columns of this series.

    For now, check out the March 1945 issue of CIC Magazine here:

    And read the IFF article at page 37. In particular pay attention to the first columns on page 41 (the South Pacific IFF Mission) and 42 (IFF being set off by Japanese Radar).

    The South Pacific IFF Mission happened because local Japanese Navy pilots at Rabaul started shooting down our night bombers with a locally developed upward shooting cannon system which they developed for Japanese Navy Irving twin engine fighters. As a result of their efforts, one of the surviving USAAF bombers noted that at the same time it was being chased, that it’s IFF was being pinged as the Irving closed on it.

    The local electronic warfare experts speculated in USAAF and Australian RAAF secret communications that the Japanese had captured an IFF transponder and was using it on a night fighter to chase our bombers.

    What was actually happening was a ground based Japanese radar was in the IFF’s response band on the bomber’s set and was pinging at the same time as the Irving attacks by shearest coincidence.

    Never the less, these speculations brought the wrath of Admiral King down on all concerned, because if the Type III IFF was compromised, do was US Navy Fleet Fighter Direction system.

    The South Pacific IFF Mission found enough wrong with IFF use, particularly with Kenney’s 5th AF and the RAAF for reasons I laid out in my April 2014 column “Operation Chronicle and Airspace Control in the South West Pacific” ( that the mission made villain of local pilots and their commanders for “Abusing and not maintaining” the Type III IFF equipment.

    The “Wagging finger” of that column you read was aimed at General’s Kenney and MacArthur.

  9. Numerous small edits, the numbering of the figures in the post and a diagram of a ABK/BN ‘Ski Pole type’ IFF antenna was added to the post for clarity.

  10. Dearie, there is a good summary here.

    The failures seem to be a cascade, including overwork, poor training, excessive deployment with deferred maintenance and, possibly, incompetent officers.

    It is amazing to me that simple rules of navigation were ignored. I know nothing about conning a ship but I have sailed thousands of miles and know that the most dangerous time of any trip is the approach of shore and traffic patterns. We would cross the Los Angeles ship traffic lanes on the way to Catalina Island and I know how fast ships move when you are in those confined waters.

    Maybe electronic charts contribute. Paper charts give a picture that I’m not sure the electronic ones do as well.

    I know the Navy is starting to teach celestial navigation again. Maybe they should go back to paper charts and plotting sheets. At least as backup.

  11. I’ve no experience in a navy so I make only two points.

    1 There are many references to Standing Orders. How big a collection of orders is that? Is it a huge book of cover-your-arse cases, or a terse book of “you really need to do this”?

    2 In my experience you must practise doing the right thing again and again, and do the right thing even in circumstances where it seems trivially important or needlessly pedantic. Otherwise you’re unlikely to do the right thing when you are tired or stressed or hungry or fearful or soaked to the skin.

  12. It’s possible to see the probable cost of this security breach, it only took 72 years and a lot of work. What is probably impossible to know is how many were saved because of the wide and rapid dissemination of this information. We’re no closer to being able to draw the line now then we were then.

    Also note that the information was available to all ranks, down to the lowest that was interested enough to read it. This is rather at odds with a lot of popular military stereotypes.

    Out of morbid curiosity, I’ve read a few marine accident reports. Several have found that the electronic chart and navigation systems were misused, often by zooming the displays to such a level that the bridge personnel couldn’t see shoals or other obstacles until it was too late. In the U.S. Navy, officers are generalists and rotated frequently between ships and shore assignments. This makes them dependent on senior ratings for detailed technical knowledge. This is in contrast to having separate deck and engineering tracks. The two exceptions are Submariners and Aviators.

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