Shinano! The Sinking of Japan’s Secret Supership

So secret that no photographs were taken and all blueprints were destroyed, the Shinano was unknown to American intelligence. On November 28, 1944, an hour after sunset, the Shinano set out on her maiden voyage, from Tokyo three hundred miles south to Kure. From there she would join the remnants of the Imperial fleet in the Inland Sea, and she was expected to play a crucial role in the dramatic battles to come.

The sinking of a great warship, such as the German Bismarck and the British Repulse, is inherently a dramatic and compelling event. The Shinano’s story has elements of pathos as well as drama, for she was sunk on her maiden voyage, going to the bottom only seventeen hours after departure--a ship the size of a small city, sent to the bottom with only four torpedoes in her hull. The combination of circumstances that led Captain Joseph Enright and his Archer-Fish to sink the 72,000-ton carrier--the largest ship ever sunk by a submarine--is what constitutes the primary interest of this account by the American captain, four decades after the mysterious Shinano sank with more than 1400 of her 2515 men.

As Enright reconstructs the story of the Shinano, based in part on Japanese accounts, the ship was rushed into battle before she was ready, against the better judgment of Captain Abe, her commander. Her gigantic engines, which normally would have allowed the carrier easily to outdistance any submarine, were partly inoperative, and the hull had not been fully pressure-tested. Captain Abe erred as well in assuming that Archer-Fish was a decoy for a killer pack of American submarines, and he pulled a destroyer off her track as it was about to ram Enright’s boat. Finally, Abe underestimated the capability of the American torpedoes to inflict critical injury to his ship. Captain Enright, recalling a conversation with a superior earlier in the war, adjusted the depth of his deadly fish so that they would hit high on the hull of the carrier. The inrush of water, combined with the enormously top-heavy superstructure of the big ship, caused her to capsize. Enright’s daring and innovative attack, combined with Japanese haste, careless workmanship, and bad judgment, sealed the Shinano’s fate, and Captain Abe’s, in what must now be seen as a symbolic last moment for the Japanese war effort.