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Posted on Feb 14, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

First Shot: The Untold Story of the Japanese Minisubs That Attacked Pearl Harbor – Book Review

By Richard N Story

Shot1.jpg

Book Review: First Shot: The Untold Story of the Japanese Minisubs That Attacked Pearl Harbor.
McGraw Hill; 2006, Hardcover. 

The first shot fired in anger at Pearl Harbor was not by the Japanese, but the USS Ward. The first to die at Pearl Harbor were not Americans, but the two man crew of the Japanese minisub sunk by the Ward. The Japanese minisubs, like their larger brethren the I-Class submarines, had a very uneven track record with many failings and the occasional outstanding feat of arms. At Pearl Harbor all of the minisubs were lost with one captured but of the five at least one, possibly two minisubs did breach the harbor defenses and made an attack. How were the minisubs designed? What was their purpose? Who manned them? And why did Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku include them in his plans for Pearl Harbor when they could, and did, prematurely alert the Americans? It took a complacent, uncomprehending and bureaucratic high command to ignore the dire warning created by the sinking of the I-20A (or I-20tou which means I-20’s boat). John Craddock explores these questions as well as place the role of the minisubs in the campaigns waged by the Imperial Japanese Navy in his new book: First Shot: The Untold Story of the Japanese Minisubs That Attacked Pearl Harbor.

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The book opens the narrative with Bob Ballard’s unsuccessful search for the I-20A. The search failed due to a lack of time and searching in the wrong place due to faulty information. Following the prologue, the books dives deep into the character of Yamamoto Isoroku and how his gambler’s nature let him include the minisubs (at the insistence of the Navy High Command), but not as suicide attacks. Admiral Yamamoto insisted that the minisubs be given every opportunity to be rescued. This demand was at odds because the minisubs were designed as a suicide craft from the outset. One but can’t help but wonder if Admiral Yamamoto would have condoned the Kamikaze attacks if he had lived.

After Pearl Harbor the Minisubs were used sporadically through out the rest of the war. Except for the attack on Australia and the sinking of the USS Mississinewa at Ulithi Atoll; the Japanese minisubs were more a threat in being than an actual threat to the Allied fleets. It was not until 2002 that the minisub sunk by the USS Ward was found and final proof that the report was correct in all regards; sixty one years after the fact.

John Craddock weaves together the tale of the Japanese miniature submarines and the war in the Pacific in a very easy to read style. The writing is free of technical faults or grammatical errors, but two red flags were raised by a mistake in factual history and a quote taken out of context. The factual mistake was implying that the USS Nautilus torpedoed and sank the Soryu when in fact it was Kaga that the Nautilus fired the torpedoes at and they were duds. The quote taken out of context was in the passage: Admiral Yamamoto would not, as he once said, dictate the terms for peace by walking down Pennsylvania Avenue and strolling into the White House to make his demands (pg.147). What Admiral Yamamoto had actually said was that the ONLY way Japan could win the war was if he would be able to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and dictate the terms on the White House steps and that is something very different from boasting you would do it.

Despite these two red flags, the book is otherwise free of mistakes, but the author at times does fall into trap of over identifying with and bolstering the United States forces. Fortunately this is limited to a few remarks through the book about the Americans being the world’s toughest fighters, etc. Something I am sure the Soviets, Gurhkas, etc. might have questioned. The illustrations and maps are first rate and add substantially to the text. The research, except for the two mistakes, seems to be first rate. In spite of the small flaws listed in the book it is recommended because it shines a light on a long ignored subject. Another unusual aspect of the book is that notes are not numbered in the traditional style, but identified by the appropriate phrase. With a list price of $24.95 it is recommended for any student of the Pacific War or anybody wanting to learn more about the Japanese minisubs and the brave young men who went into war in them.

6 Comments

  1. What was the Japanese minature submarine at Pearl Harbor that was towed out to sea by the USS Arikara ATF-98 in May or June 1946 for our subs to sink?

  2. There were several of the mini subs deployed the morning of the Pearl Harbor Attack. I don’t think they had names, probably just numbers. I know one of them ended up washing ashore nearby and was recovered by the U.S. Navy. This was the only one I know of that was captured. It was probably that one.

    • Hello Lance,

      I am the video producer of the Dr. Harold C. Deutsch World War II History Round Table in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. In the HMdb.org web site, I see that you are credited for providing records to (presumably your relative) Cmdr. W.W. Outerbridge.

      Interestingly, there are no official service photos of him available anywhere online. Do you have any that can be made available?

      I am preparing a video special regarding the “First Shot” for the pending 70th anniversary.

      Thank You!
      Rob Barros
      rob@barrosproductions.com
      763-639-3399

    • Lance,

      There was a report that the Captain of one of the mini subs became fatigued and beached the sub. Do you think that it is the one you mentioned?

      • No, The one William Outerbridge sunk is definitely on the bottom off the coast of Pearl Harbor but I have seen pictures of one the Navy recovered off a beach.

  3. Who was the naval gunner who shot the mini sub from the USS Ward (name or names)?

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