A letter to my son

Posted by EyeDoc


As you know our family suffered a great loss on Jan 12, 1945. It is the day my father and your grandfather’s ship was attacked in Saigon by the Americans. He lost his life at age 31, together with many other physicians on board. They were all draftees from Taiwan as members of the Medical Corps of the Imperial Japanese Navy. You have never met him of course. Even I was only one year and 2 months old at the time when he perished, so I do not remember anything about him at all. Your grandma seldom mentioned him except in passing that they had a successful medical practice in 淡水Dansui, named 興亞醫院. That the patients sometimes paid in foodstuff in lieu of cash. And that he enjoyed a cold beer with lobsters after seeing patients. This peaceful life did not last long, though. Your grandfather soon received a draft notice ordering him to report to duty and to go on a transport ship in Kaohsiong. The ship 神靖丸 (Shinsei Maru) left the Port of Kaohsiong on Dec 1, 1944. I remember seeing, years later, a postcard which he mailed home in late Dec, 1944, from Hong Kong before sailing on to Saigon. Grandma had written an autobiography (in Chinese) and the parts that describe this period with her reaction to the news of his death were emotionally charged as you can imagine. I will try to translate it for you at some point.

And thanks to the internet, now I have a somewhat complete story of what happened on that fateful day as well as the circumstances leading up to it. I have now put together a narrative for you, so you can learn a most important chapter in our family history.

I am sure you recall the movie “Midway” which we watched together not long ago. In which I have pointed out one character, Admiral William Halsey, to you and mentioned that this person was the one responsible for the attack on Shinsei Maru. However, that was an over-simplification. The Battle of Midway occurred on June 4 –7, 1942, soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec 7, 1941). The Pacific War intensified after Midway and the battleground gradually moved westward through Guadalcanal, the Solomons, and eventually to the Philippines. The Japanese Empire was in retreat. And the Pacific Third Fleet Commander during that period was Admiral Halsey. This sets the background.

What I have found about Shinsei Maru are the following:

The ship was built in 1943 in 函館船渠 (Hakodate Dock Co) in Hokkaido with a tonnage of 2,700 tons. It was owned and operated by 栗林商船株式会社(東京) - Kuribayashi Shosen, Inc of Tokyo. Both companies are still in existence today.

It was docked at Cape Saint Jacques when hit by a torpedo from a Grumman F6F Hellcat and sank at 9:55AM, Jan 12, 1945. According to a book "Diary of a Military Doctor" written by a survivor Dr WU Ping-Chen, out of 59 doctors, only 18 survived; all 3 pharmacists died; 80 physician’s assistants, 25 survived; 200 medical workers, 52 survived. All together, of the 342 Taiwanese on board, 247 died. In addition, 12 soldiers - 6 died and 30 crew members - 10 died.

Inside Port Saint Jacques, in addition to Shinsei Maru, 6 other ships were also destroyed. Outside Port Saint Jacques, and inside Saigon Harbor, 9 ships in each location were also sunk. Port Saint Jacques is 120 km by land and 80 km by sea from Saigon.

The air raids were quite intense according to a US Naval Analysis interrogation report of Japanese Naval officers who witnessed the wave-after-wave attacks on Jan 12, 1945. And in the same report, the officer in charge of the transport operation for the whole region turned out to be one HORIUCHI Shigetada, Rear Admiral, I.J.N. He was a permanent officer of 31 years service. His principal war time combat experience was in the First Southern Advance Fleet in the latter half of 1942 and was charged with air protection of convoys during the last eight months of the war. Despite his extensive experience, he certainly had failed his duty in providing air and sea escorts for the transport ships. And yet he blamed it squarely on the High Command, see: http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/USSBS/IJO/IJO-47.html

“Q. What were your most important missions?
A. The most important missions in my area were: first, to protect the shipping of oil from the south to the EMPIRE; second, the supplying of the PHILIPPINES. I must confess that both missions failed. It is my opinion that although the officers assigned to convoy duty fully appreciated the vital strategic importance of maintaining supply lines to keep the Combined Fleet able to operate at all, the high command took the counsel, short sighted, of the Combined Fleet Staff in allocating insufficient strength to the maintenance of the vital supply lines. Convoy officers were only specialist auxiliaries of the Main Force and became therefore important (sic, should be 'impotent')."

He died in 1984 at age 87, without having to pay for his war-time dereliction of duty. Indeed, the Shinsei Maru convoy (of perhaps 5 transport ships all together) was escorted by only one tiny mine sweeper (the No 102) en route from Kaohsiung to Hong Kong. And by another 500-ton gun boat, sunk in an air raid, from San Ya to Saigon. I hold him, on the Japanese side, personally responsible for the demise of Shinsei Maru.

So who were those US raiders and where were they based? We can surmise from WW-II time-line in the Pacific recorded in http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/pacificwar/timeline.htm#1945 which listed the following (partial list):

January 3, 1945 - Gen. MacArthur is placed in command of all U.S. ground forces and Adm. Nimitz in command of all naval forces in preparation for planned assaults against Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Japan itself.
January 4, 1945 - British occupy Akyab in Burma.
January 9, 1945 - U.S. Sixth Army invades Lingayen Gulf on Luzon in the Philippines.
January 11, 1945 - Air raid against Japanese bases in Indochina by U.S. Carrier-based planes.

Notice the last entry: The key is “US Carrier-based planes”. The question is which carrier(s)?

According to http://www.cv6.org/1945/1945.htm:
“Enterprise's first strikes of 1945 were against airfields on Luzon, Philippines, followed by raids into Indo-China, and five major strikes on shipping and installations along the Indo-China and South China Sea coasts.” Therefore USS Enterprise is the prime suspect; although there were other carriers as well. This is further confirmed by http://www.sandcastlevi.com/sea/enterprise/voych09c.htm:

“By December 1944, the Enterprise was officially operating as a night attack carrier with the USS Independence. In this role, she participated in attacks in January 1945 as part of the invasion of Luzon. During this operation, the American carriers sank a total of 300,000 tons of Japanese shipping and destroyed over 600 aircraft, to a loss of 200 American planes."

There is another entry on Jan 12, 1945, in http://www.cv6.org/ship/logs/vtn90/vtn90-4501.htm#19450112

This is the VT(N)-90 Squadron (The Avenger dive-bombers) based on USS Enterprise:

“Thursday [i.e., Jan 11, 1945] evening we had an extensive briefing session on the Camranh Bay and Cape St. Jacques areas which were considered among the most likely hiding places for the Jap fleet.”

And on Jan 12, 1945: "The pilots on the strike were Lt. Kippen [Russell F. Kippen], Ens. Jennings [Joseph F. Jennings], Ens. Landon [James D. Landon], Lt(jg) Ashton [John M. Ashton], Lt(jg) Cromley [William L. Cromley], Lt. White [Melber A. White], Lt. Cummings [Ralph W. Cummings], Lt. Collins [C. B. Collins], Lt(jg) Brooks [Charles E. Brooks] and Ens. Atkinson. Four VT and 12 VF from the Independence also joined us in the attack. The convoy was located in Kanfong Bay and turned out to be a group of fifteen ships (the convoy and its escorts). There were three DDs, four DEs, three SA, two FTC, two TB and one CL of the Katori class (though the latter was not positively identified until later). Kippen led the attack, going for the CL and scoring a straddle with some damage done. Jennings went after a DD scoring two hits and strafed an SA. Landon made runs on a DD and an SA getting a direct hit on the stern of the latter, leaving it settling and dead in the water. Ashton and Cromley both attacked SAs with no hits, and both were hit by enemy fire in the wing or elevators. Both returned, scared but safe. Lt(jg) Brooks and Lt. Cummings both went for DEs and DDs but scored no hits.”

There was, however, no mention of an attack on Cape Saint Jacques. It is unknown if this was an omission or a wartime confusion. It did mention that the mission was joined by fighter planes from USS Independence (i.e., the VTs and the VFs). It is possible that one of the 12 VF fighters (i.e., the Hellcats), rather than the ones from the Enterprise, might have been responsible for sinking Shinsei Maru. The fighters from USS Independence did destroy 9 merchant vessels during several tours of duty. The pilots mentioned in the log above all died later when attacking Okinawa and Taiwan.

Even more details can be found in http://www.armchairgeneral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=25513&page=47

In which the destruction of Shinsei Maru was recorded, among a very long list, as “… oil tanker Kumagawa Maru and transports Shinsei Maru and Toyu Maru off Cape St. Jacques, 10°20'N, 107°45'E…"
"Combined, TF 38 sank 41 ships on this day.”

This was known as “Operation Gratitude” carried out by Task Force 38 under Vice Adm John S. McCain (who was the grandfather of Senator McCain). And TF38 turns out to be a large scale operation consisting of 5 Groups. And one of which TG38.5 had USS Enterprise and USS Independence as the core carriers. The VT squadron mentioned above was part of this group.

We know the Third Fleet Commander at that time was William Halsey, Jr (1882–1959). In January, 1945. As a fleet commander, Halsey was then responsible for the death of Shinsei Maru. More directly involved, in executing the war plan as the commander of TF38, was John S McCain Sr (who died in 1945). The pilot of the Hellcat who administered the fatal blow to Shinsei Maru remained un-identified.

The Enterprise suffered severe damages not long after; the last one on May 14, 1945 incurred by a Japanese Kamikaze pilot. 14 died and 34 were wounded.

And unexpectedly in the archives of 神奈川新聞 (Kanagawa News) http://www.halmoni-haraboji.net/exhibit/archives/disp00/S0016.html, I came across the following:

1955.05.26 - 戦時中米軍機にサイゴン港で撃沈された神靖丸の引揚 元日本兵300名の遺骨を発見 元乗組員の生存者は「軍が台湾高雄市で徴収した台湾現地人で身分は医務工員だ」

This is a collection of headlines. Surprisingly, news on May 26, 1955 reported that the wreckage of Shinsei Maru was discovered and the remains of 300 Japanese soldiers found. There is a key phrase here "引揚, Hi-Ki A-Ge", which means “sent back to the home country”. The survivors (in reference to 1945) were identified as soldiers from Kaohsiung City in Taiwan and were Taiwanese medical workers. No one informed our family of this discovery, though. There was no international communication between Taiwan and outside world at that time, at least not for our family.

We have known since 1989 when Grandma finally located your grandfather, enshrined together with 28,000 other Taiwanese war-dead, in 靖国神社Yasukuni Jinja in Tokyo. In late October this year, I have also visited Yasukuni and was directed by a friend to the nearby 千鳥ケ淵戦没者墓苑 Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery. Which, to my utter surprise, was built in 1959 to receive the remains of WWII war-dead, including those recovered from Indo-China. In one instant, I realized that this was where the remains sent back from Vietnam in 1955 were buried. It has 6 floors all underground. This is your grandfather’s final resting place!

The Americans started air raids on transport ships on Jan 11, 1945 and Japan surrendered on Aug 15, 1945 – a mere 7 months later. According to one of the survivors Dr WU, they were all on deck enjoying the scenery, then your grandfather decided to go below deck to study. And soon after, the torpedo hit. The ship sank head first and that was where the doctors’ quarters were located. Your grandfather could not escape his fate – and our family suffers the consequence to this day. It is important to remember that we must not dwell on this tragic past (we never have, not your grandma, nor I). I am also so very grateful that Grandma stayed with us for so long; although Christmas dinners without her will never be the same. One consolation maybe that they are now finally together, after 63 years.



8 則留言:

BH 提到...

Dear Eye Doc:

Thank you for this detailed post about Shinsei Maru. All the offsprings of Shinsei Maru service men will benefit from this post and this blog.

Thanks a million to your perseverance in researching all the information about Shinsei Maru. I really respect and admire all your endeavors.

It is surely very touching to read your personal letter to your son here. Now my children and niece, nephews can have a clear idea about their grandpa's fatal death since they can't read Chinese.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!
May God grant us "Peace on Earth!"

EyeDoc 提到...

This letter was first sent to my son on June 21, 2007, now appended with new information. Perhaps others who also do not read Chinese can now understand the part of Taiwan history that was totally neglected.

Most information was collected through the internet. It was during those searches that we came across BH's Mother's Day article. Until then, my family did not realize that there were still Shinsei Maru families out there. Since then, through this blog and BH's tireless efforts, many families have come forward and made contacts.

This blog was intended to provide information for the families. In learning more, my family has come to accept the inevitability of the historical events and made peace. As my late mother put it, we were merely less fortunate than others.

And with the discovery of the burial site of Shinsei Maru physicians and workers in Tokyo, the word "closure" now actually means something.

Much remains to be done, though: we still have not been able to compile a complete list of those on board the ship. We will continue the search and hope to reach even more families.

Patrick Cowsill 提到...

"US Naval Analysis interrogation report of Japanese Naval officers who witnessed the wave-after-wave attacks on Jan 12, 1945."

Do you have this interrogation (complete or in parts) kicking around? I'd love to read it. Right now, I'm working on a thesis on the topic of Taiwan's involvement in WWII. I'm using an alltagsgeschichte (German word) framework, meaning the history of everyday life. I'll have to be a reconstructionist here. I'd be interested in including your story.

EyeDoc 提到...

Hi Patrick:

You can contact the following for a hardcopy of the report:

LAFAYETTE, CO 80026-1244

Although most materials are now posted on line, see:


No 115/503: The interrogation of Vice Admiral, IJN, FUKUDOME Shigeru (Commander, Second Air Fleet, July 1944 to 15 January 1945) is especially illuminating.

Your microhistory approach will work out well. Time, though, is of essence. In the case of Shinsei Maru, there are only a handful of family members who can still recall the details of its sinking. Unfortunately, another of them passed away just recently. The same applies to other Taiwanese WWII survivors including my uncle who served in Hainan. He, sadly, also passed away recently.

Patrick Cowsill 提到...


I will get on this. But I've found with historiography that I do not need to worry about time, as it doesn't really work against the approach of the historian. I think I was confusing the anthropologist with the historian.

I'll get back to you; and hope to take on/take down your account of the draft in terms of identity and also as a starting point - did Taiwanese hope to gain something by fighting for/serving the Japanese, did they see themselves as Japanese citizens, etc? Or, were their hands tied, so that they couldn't do anything else? There is an interesting story to be told here inside the alltagsgeschichte framework. Your blog is an invaluable source of information toward this goal. I want to be finished by June. We'll see how it goes.

Patrick Cowsill 提到...


Where did you come up with this term microhistory? That's exactly where I was headed. Did I mention it? I can't remember.

EyeDoc 提到...

Sounds like you are serious about the Shinsei Maru topic. You may email me directly if you need any help: hmcheng542@msn.com

Shuo-Ting 提到...


I am touched by your letter to your son so much. It is meaningful and thoughtful filled with love.

- Nelson Yan