November 1, 1945 X-Day

For years, everyone believed that semi-submersible craft in Fall River must have been a kamikaze vessel, from World War 2. The story that funny little boat had to tell was very different. The tale of a history, that never was.

If you’re ever in southeastern Massachusetts, be sure to visit Battleship Cove in Fall River, the largest collection of World War 2 naval craft, in the world. The Battleship Cove museum sports some sixty exhibits, preserving the naval heritage of these iconic vessels and the veterans who served them.

To inspect battle damage visible to this day on the decks of USS Massachusetts is to realize United States armed forces once exchanged shots in anger with our French ally, at a place called Casablanca. The attack sub USS Lionfish once performed “lifeguard duty”, the rescue of downed fliers, off the coast of Japan. Her captain was Lieutenant Commander Edward D. Spruance, son of Admiral Raymond Spruance who commanded US naval forces during one of the most significant naval battles of the Pacific, the battle of the Philippine Sea.

To walk aboard USS Massachusetts or USS Lionfish, is to experience a side of WW2, fast disappearing from living memory.

Battleship Cove

Walk among the wooden-hulled PT boats of the Pacific war, and there you will find a strange little craft. One of three planned for and only two, ever built. Closed at the top and semi-submersible, a Japanese kamikaze boat perhaps, designed for suicide missions against allied warships. Museum management believed just that and mislabeled the display, for years.

The other it turns out is on display at Central Intelligence headquarters, at Langley, Virginia. Years later a retired CIA employee visiting Battleship cove spotted the error. CIA files declassified in 2011 added detail to a very different story, from that of Japanese suicide vessels.  To the tale of a history, that never was.

On August 2, 1939, Hungarian physicist Leó Szilárd delivered a letter which would change history, to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Written in consultation with fellow Hungarian physicists Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner and signed by Albert Einstein, the letter warned that Nazi Germany was working to develop atomic weapons, and urged the American government to develop a nuclear program of its own.  Immediately, if not sooner.

The Einstein–Szilárd letter spawned the super-secret Manhattan project, culminating in the atomic bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”, and ending the war in the Pacific in August, 1945.

At the time, precious few were aware of even the possibility of such a weapon.  Fewer still, the existence of a program dedicated to building one.  Vice President Harry Truman, second only to the Commander in Chief himself, was entirely ignorant of the Manhattan project and only read in following the death of the President in April, 1945.

Female students with the Kokumin Giyū Sentōtai, the Volunteer Fighting Corps, prepare for the Allied projected invasion

The battle for the Japanese home islands was expected to be a fight like no other. Casualties of a million or more were expected, and for good reason. Japanese soldiers fought with such fanaticism, that hundreds continued to resist, years after the war was ended. The last holdout wouldn’t lay down his arms until 1974. 29 years, 3 months, and 16 days after the war had ended.

Such frenzied resistance would not be isolated to Japanese military forces, either. Japanese government propaganda warned of “American devils raping and devouring Japanese women and children.” American GIs looked on in horror in 1944, as hundreds if not thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians hurled themselves to their death, at Laderan Banadero and “Banzai Cliff” on the northern Mariana island of Saipan. One correspondent wrote with admiration of such mass suicides, praising “the finest act of the Shōwa period”… “the pride of Japanese women.”

This is what their government, had taught these people to believe.

Plans for the final defeat of the Imperial Japanese Empire all but wrote themselves, phase one launched from the south against the main island of Kyūshū, and using the recently captured island of Okinawa, as staging area.  Phase two was the planned invasion of the Kantō Plain toward Tokyo, on the island of Honshu.

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Operation Downfall

The story of the D-Day invasion begins with deception, a massive head fake intended to draw German defenders away from intended landing zones. “Operation Downfall” offered no such opportunities, for deceit. Geography dictated the method of attack, and everybody knew it. Virtually everything left of Japanese military might would be assembled for the all-out defense of Kyūshū, against what would be the largest amphibious invasion, in history.

This was to be a full frontal assault with no subterfuge and nowhere, to hide.

American military planners ordered half a million Purple Hearts, in preparation for the final invasion of the Japanese home islands. To this day, military forces have yet to use them all. As of 2003 some 120,000 Purple Heart medals still remained, in inventory.

The whole thing would begin on “X-Day”.  November 1, 1945.

Which brings us back to that funny-looking boat, in Fall River. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor to the modern CIA, built two of these semi-submersibles. The vessel was called “Gimik”, part of a top-secret operation code named “NAPKO”.

GIMIK, underway

Ten teams were envisioned varying from five to a single individual. 55 Korean-Americans and Korean prisoners freed from Japanese prison labor camps were trained to infiltrate Japanese occupied Korea and possibly Japan itself, to collect intelligence and carry out sabotage against military targets in advance of Operation Downfall. None were aware even of the existence of the other teams lest any, were to fall into Japanese hands.

The GIMIK craft were built by John Trumpy and sons yacht yard of Annapolis Maryland, builders of the presidential yacht, Sequoia

Operated by a single OSS officer with two Korean operatives and up to 1,000-pounds of equipment secured inside, the GIMIK craft would be their means of insertion. 19-feet long and built of plywood to avoid radar and sonar detection, the snorkel was wrapped in steel wool to confound discovery. The craft were to be delivered on theater via submarine in large metal boxes called “coffins’. After insertion, the vessels would go fully submerged and anchor to the bottom where they were equipped to operate, for up to four weeks.

Operated by a single OSS officer with two Korean operatives and up to 1,000-pounds of equipment secured inside, the GIMIK craft would be their means of insertion. 19-feet long and built of plywood to avoid radar and sonar detection, the snorkel was wrapped in steel wool to confound discovery. The craft were to be delivered on theater via submarine in large metal boxes called “coffins’. After insertion, the vessels would go fully submerged and anchor to the bottom where they were equipped to operate, for up to four weeks.

The NAPKO operation was conceived and run by OSS Colonel Carl Eifler, who hope to have as many as seven teams, operational. Tactical focus would then be placed on those best positioned, for ultimate success. As it turned out only two teams were ever ready, for the operational stage.

“Code-named ‘Kinec’ and ‘Charo.’ Both were very similar in concept, differing primarily in intended points of penetration and operating areas. Kinec envisioned landing five agents at Chemulpo Bay, about 20 miles outside Seoul on the country’s west coast; Charo was focused on Pyongyang following penetration via Wonsan and utilized three, rather than five, Korean agents. Typical of NAPKO missions, the teams were to carry minimal equipment and supplies: 100,000 yen, a radio, appropriate clothing for passing as locals, and a Japanese-manufactured shovel for burying the team’s equipment after landing.”

Hat tip former Special Forces NCO Steve Balestrieri, writing for SOFREP.com

The mission was extremely dangerous for obvious reasons.  Training was carried out during the summer of 1945 on Catalina Island, off the California coast.  The two boats, nicknamed “Gizmos”, were tested at night against the US Naval base in Los Angeles. Even this part was dangerous, since no one was told about the trials. Should such a vessel be detected entering the American installation, it would be treated as an enemy vessel, and destroyed.

In the end, the Gizmo teams never left American waters.  Several such tests were carried out without detection, leading to a scheduled departure date of August 26, 1945.  It was never meant to be.

A parallel and equally secret plan to end the war literally burst on the scene on August 6, 1945.  The war would be over, in another nine days.

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