In addition to Shinsei Maru, there were other losses during the Pacific War. These are only now beginning to surface. One of the sunken ships was 護國丸 (the Gokoku Maru), and with it 212 Taiwanese youths, only 88 survived. These were high school graduates drafted in 1944 to serve in the IJN and they were sailing from Kaohsiung to training camps in mainland Japan.
護國丸 was one of the three high-speed armed transport ships, a group known as the Hōkoku Maru Type (pictured below, peace- and war-time, respectively) that included 報國丸 (Hōkoku Maru), 愛國丸 (Aikoku Maru), and 護國丸. They were funded and built based on a 1937 government directive “优秀船舶建造助成资金” and were owned and operated by Osaka Shipping Co, initially assigned to run the Japan <--> E Africa route.
The dimensions of this group of ships were as follows:
Displacement: 10,438 long tons (10,605 t) gross
Length: 160.8 m (527 ft 7 in) overall
Beam: 20.1 m (65 ft 11 in)
Draught: 12.5 m (41 ft 0 in)
Propulsion: 2 × Mitsui-B&W Model 12-62 VF-115 diesels, 2 shafts
Speed and armament:
• 8 × 150 mm (5.9 in) L/40 naval guns
• 2 × 76.2 mm (3.00 in) L/40 AA guns
• 4 × 533 mm (21.0 in) torpedo tubes
• 8 × 140 mm L/50 naval guns
• 4 × 25 mm AA guns
• 4 × 533 mm torpedo tubes
• 2 × 120 mm (4.7 in) L/40 AA guns
• 6 × 25 mm AA guns
• 2 × 13 mm AA guns
• 2 × 7.7 mm machine guns
• 4 × 533 mm torpedo tubes
Capacity: 400 passengers (48 first class, 48 special-third class, 304 third class)
12,000 cubic meters freight
Gokoku Maru was the last of this group of special cruisers built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries starting in 1940, launched in April, 1941, and finished on July 27, 1942. It was originally named 興國丸, but was renamed 護國丸 before launching. It was also different from the other two sister ships in that it was armed during construction and two mid-ship heavy-duty cargo lifts were omitted. The ship was commissioned as an Auxiliary Cruiser under the command of the Kure Naval Defense Office “吳海軍鎮守府”.
In Oct 1942, Gokoku Maru was ordered to South Pacific to intercept and destroy enemy shipping. However, because of the expanded naval and air defense from the Allies, this mission was becoming difficult. With the Americans and Australians pushing back from Guadacanal and New Guinea, the duties of the Gokoku Maru shifted to transporting materiels to the South Pacific. In Oct 1943, it was renovated back to the original high-speed cargo ship to transport war materials as well as military personnel. On Nov 10, 1944, Gokoku Maru while sailing from Taiwan to mainland Japan, was sunk by 4 torpedoes fired from an American submarine, the USS Barb (below), near Kyushu.
Here is a detailed account on that fateful day (see http://www.combinedfleet.com/Gokoku_t.htm):
“10 November 1944:
At 0245, LtCdr (later Rear Admiral) Eugene B. Fluckey's USS BARB (SS-220) picks up GOKOKU MARU on her SJ radar.
At 0334, Fluckey fires three MK-18 electric torpedoes at GOKOKU MARU. The first hits aft of the funnel and the second hits forward of the bridge. GOKOKU MARU's port engine room is destroyed. The ship floods, her engines stop, she loses all power and takes on a 30 degree list to port.
Fluckey notices that GOKOKU MARU is not sinking, but heading very slowly towards shore. Captain Mizuno is attemping to beach his ship. Fluckey fires another electric torpedo, but it circles and misses.
Seven miles off Koshiki Jima, E Kyushu. BARB submerges. LtCdr Fluckey closes to 1,400 yards. At 0410, he fires a final torpedo and scores another hit. This time, GOKOKU MARU sinks by the stern at 33-31N, 129-19E.
The number of survivors is unknown, but 326 crew and passengers are KIA including Captain Mizuno. He is promoted Rear Admiral, posthumously.”
Among the dead, 2 were from Danshui. Two other gentlemen also from Danshui, both named 盧, survived to tell the story - possible only years later when it was recounted in a paper published in 2009 [see 陳柏棕: “臺灣海軍特別志願兵之殤--特設巡洋艦護國丸遭難始末” in 臺灣史料研究, vol 33 pp 34-60].