Tokyo NPO Resumes Hunt for Warships Sunk in Battle of Guadalcanal

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Eighty years ago in the South Pacific, Japanese forces withdrew from Guadalcanal Island, the scene of some of the hardest-fought battles during the Pacific War.

The fighting there in the Solomon Islands is viewed as one of the turning points in favor of the Allies led by the United States against Japan in the Pacific theater of World War II.

Several warships were sunk off Guadalcanal, and a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization is resuming its search for these vessels in April.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Katsuhiko Ikeda

A team of six is conducting the search, led by Katsuhiko Ikeda, the 76-year-old representative of the NPO who is also the president of Tokyo-based underwater survey firm Arc Geo Support Co. Using the company’s underwater sonar equipment, the survey will be conducted from April 11 to 17 in waters off northwestern Guadalcanal.

“As well as passing down the memory of the tragic war, we want to record the place where a warship met its final day,” Ikeda said.

This time, the survey team will search for the Imperial Japanese Navy’s I-3 submarine using sonar from a boat at sea. The team will also hold a memorial service for the crew.

In December 1942, the I-3, on a mission to transport food to Japanese soldiers who were then on the verge of starvation on Guadalcanal, came under attack and was sunk by Allied forces.

A nearby beach served as the point from which retreating Japanese soldiers boarded vessels. It is said that the soldiers, to reduce the amount of cargo they had to carry, discarded their canteens and helmets into the sea. The team will also search for these mementos.

“If their names are written on them, there is a possibility we can inform the bereaved families of the discoveries,” Ikeda said.

The survey will cost about ¥5 million, part of which has been raised through crowdfunding.

Futility of war

In August 1942, U.S. forces landed on the island to gain a foothold for a counteroffensive against Japan. The Japanese forces successively deployed about 30,000 soldiers, but they had difficulty supplying food to them. By the time Japan withdrew from the island in February 1943, about 20,000 soldiers were believed to have died in the war. Guadalcanal was dubbed “Starvation Island” as that, along with malaria, was the cause of death for many of them.

Japanese forces also lost many vessels and aircraft in the series of battles for the island.

In light of this history, the NPO has conducted three surveys around the island since 2017. That first year, the NPO conducted a seabed probe for the battleship Hiei, which sank during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal from Nov. 12-15, 1942.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the most recent survey was conducted in 2019. That year, the NPO confirmed the locations of five sunken vessels, including finding a hull that is reckoned to be that of the transport ship Sasako Maru lying on the seabed at a depth of approximately 70 meters. The team produced 3D images of its findings as well.

Courtesy of Katsuhiko Ikeda
A 3D image shows what is believed to be the hull of the Sasako Maru, a vessel that sank during World War II. The image was produced based on an on-site survey by a team led by Katsuhiko Ikeda, the representative of a Tokyo-based NPO that probes for sunken warships. The stern is reckoned to be at the lower left, with the vessel overturned.

Warships sunk during the Pacific War have been drawing attention in recent years. In 2015, a hull believed to be that of the battleship Musashi was found on the ocean floor near the Philippines. In 2017, the U.S. cruiser Indianapolis, which was sunk by a Japanese submarine after transporting parts for the atomic bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima, was discovered off the Philippines.

“The global situation has become ever more unstable with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but a war can only produce futile results,” Ikeda said. “Those warships lying at the bottom of the sea quietly convey the tragedy brought about by war.”

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