Apr 1954 - Wartime Japanese wrecks

Submitted by Admin on Fri, 03/19/2010 - 15:47

4 April 1954   -   One of our boats had a fire a few days ago, it was heart-breaking.   She had just been refitted…she looked beautiful, then the crew worked all day on her and with just ten minutes work left one of the chinese decided to make tea.   The stove blew up.

26 April 1954   -   At last I have found out the name of that tanker I told you of.   It is the “Itukusama Maru”.   The photos will show you the mess that she is in.   The close-up is all that is left of her stern.

1953-4 HK Howell Green
1953-4 HK Howell Green

“Itukusama Maru”

Badly war-damaged Japanese cargo ships and tankers were suddenly appearing in Hong Kong harbour.   They had been sunk or put out of action during the war back in 1944/45 and only “now” in 1954 were they being salvaged.

((Update, January 2015: The salvaged ship has been identified as the Itsukushima Maru. Please see the comments for details.))


I suspect the vessel in the photo is the Kamoi, an oiler sunk on in Victoria Harbour in 1945 and later raised for scrap salvage in 1946.  The lines of the ship in the photo match the lines of the Kamoi, inc. the bow deck gun and the bridge.

According to U.S. military documents, the Itukusima (note the slightly different spelling) was sunk on Oct. 28, 1944, by land-based navy aircraft at 6-45N 116-55E.  This is far from Hong Kong, and land-based navy aircraft never raided Hong Kong in any case.

--Steven K. Bailey

I believe that picture is incorrect. Note the filename is "notoro02.jpg", the picture is squashed vertically, and the caption says:

NOTORO by Takeshi Yuki scanned from "Color Paintings of Japanese Warships"

 Notoro was of a different class, and the same picture is on the page for that class (but not squashed).

Probably most damning, though, is that if you overlay the painting on the photo and skew it too match, the bridge superstructure and gun turret on the wreck are far too far forwards, and the rear superstructure beneath the funnel is far too tall.

Of course, the artist could have gotten the proportions badly wrong, but given that it actually seems to be of a Notoro-class ship, I'm pretty certain that it's not that shown in the painting on combinedfleet.com. 

Looks like we've got a mystery ship.  If the photo of the wreck does not show the salvaged hulk of the Kamoi, what ship does the photo show? 

As I noted in an earlier post (see above), I am doubtful that the ship was the Itukusama Maru.  I am also doubtful that wartime wrecks were salvaged as late as 1954.  In a city as dynamic and profit-driven as Hong Kong, I find it hard to believe that it would take 9 years before somebody salvaged the valuable scrap metal of whatever ship we are looking at.  By 1947 or 48 the harbor was pretty much picked clean in any case--see Endacott's Hong Kong Eclipse, for example.

I am aware of three tankers that were sunk (or serverely damaged to the point of abandonment) on Jan. 16, 1945, in Victoria Harbour--the Matsushima Maru, Sanko Maru, and Tenei Maru.  Could one of these vessels be our mystery ship?

Of course, we're operating under the assumption the that ship was a tanker.  Could it be another class of ship, possibly?


> I am also doubtful that wartime wrecks were salvaged as late as 1954.  

I'd say the date of 1954 is accurate, given that it's from a diary written at the time.

Was this ship sunk in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong had a thriving ship-breaking industry at the time (eg http://industrialhistoryhk.org/ship-breaking-hong-kong-post-ww2-to1961/), so I wonder if it could have been brought here from further afield?

Regards, David

That does seem like a possibility, esp. since Hugh Farmer's post on the Industrial History of HK site suggests that all wrecks in Victoria Harbour had been salvaged by 1950. 

The mystery ship in the photo is seaworthy--albeit barely--and I suppose it could have been salvaged elsewhere and towed to HK for breaking up.

Another possibility--could the 1954 diary entry be referring to an earlier event?

It could be referring to an earlier event, but probably not much earlier. The quotes come from letters rather than diaries as I said above, so it probably refers to a letter written just a bit earlier. In any case, Howell was only in HK in 1953-4 (http://gwulo.com/royal-army-service-corps-hong-kong), so it wouldn't be earlier than that.

I'll drop Howell a line and see if he can add any more.

Regards, David

Thanks, David.  I look forward to Mr. Green's response.  It would be a fascinating story if it turned out that the ship was, in fact, the Itusukama Maru.  That ship was sunk far from HK, but we have the coordinates of where it was sunk in US war records, so the next question would be who raised her and towed her to HK for the breaker's yard. 


It's worth noting that she's covered in barnacles far, far above the water line. Look in the second picture and you can even see them on the masts.

That tells me she spent quite some time completely underwater -- months, at the very least, and quite likely years -- and had been refloated. The tides in Hong Kong (heck, almost anywhere in the world) aren't sufficient to submerge that much of the ship where she sits, and even if they were, there would be few barnacles on the parts that spent most of their time above water. 

The ship in the photo is very likely the Kawasaki type fast tanker Itsukushima Maru salvaged from Kudat, Borneo. Japanese sources are ambiguous as to the cause of loss (submarine or aircraft) but agree approximate location (Balabac Strait) and date 31 Oct /1 Nov 1944 and the ship fits the profile of a large tanker photographed in Kudat Bay (I have copies of photos) during the war as well as after the war. It appears probable the wreck was salvaged and towed to Hong Kong for scrapping. The ship was built in 1937, was 10006 gross tons and owed by Nippon Suisan but on Navy charter at the time of her sinking.

I would say that the name and fate of the mystery ship is pretty much solved.  I thank everyone who helped solve the puzzle.  Hard to believe that such a mangled, rusted-out hulk could be towed over such a long distance to Hong Kong, but there you have it.  --Steve

Well done to both of you for confirming this. Just found a picture of Itsukushima Maru from the opposite side in the forum thread below:


By mirroring the image and skewing it to roughly recreate the perspective of the wreck image, I created the shot below:

Ignore the fact that the mast looks a bit further back, and the forward superstructure also looks too long. Both are because the image is from a quite different perspective, and so can't be properly lined up.

It's certainly close enough that you can see it's the same ship design, though. Some amazingly small details are perfectly represented in both pictures, if you look closely, especially beneath the bridge.