–by Patrick McGuire, USCHS History Intern

The attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941 is one of the most infamous moments in the history of the United States. The attack has always been thought of as primarily an air attack launched from Japanese aircraft carriers; however, in recent years more attention has been drawn to the involvement of five Japanese midget submarines that were launched from the Japanese fleet and meant to help in the attack on the United States Pacific Fleet.

The captured HA-19 midget submarine was photographed at Mare Island Naval Base in California on September 10, 1942. Official U.S. Navy photograph.

One such midget submarine was the Type A Ko-hyoteki class submarine designated HA-19.  A small submarine at just 78 feet long, HA-19 had a two-man crew consisting of commanding officer, Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, and Chief Warrant Officer Hiyoshi Inagaki. HA-19 was launched along with the four other midget submarines at 03:30 on December 7, 1941 and encountered problems from the start, nearly sinking due to a broken gyrocompass, which made it nearly impossible to navigate. Ensign Sakamaki attempted to carry out his mission despite the malfunctions but was forced to surface where HA-19 was spotted by an American patrol craft. After failing to make it into the harbor, HA-19 ran aground on coral reefs twice and each time was blown off by the American attempts to destroy the sub. The sub eventually managed to get away farther off the coast of Oahu, but due to poor air quality in the small vessel both Inagaki and Sakamaki lost consciousness.

The government sent the HA-19 around the United States on war bond rallies from 1942 to 1945. Admission to view the submarine was secured through the purchase of war bonds and stamps. The submarine visited the U.S. Capitol on April 3, 1943. Library of Congress.

When both men woke several hours later they found that they were close to land and intended to scuttle the submarine and swim to shore in hopes of rescue. Chief Warrant Officer Inagaki jumped into the ocean first as Ensign Sakamaki primed the sub to explode. When Sakamaki entered the water, Inagaki was nowhere to be found and the sub failed to explode. Sakamaki swam to a western beach of Oahu and again lost consciousness. He woke on the morning of December 8, 1941 to find himself under guard by two American Military Police who had discovered him while on patrol. Sakamaki became the first prisoner of war captured by the United States during World War II. Hiyoshi Inagaki’s body washed up on the beach of Oahu a few days later. After a third attempt to destroy HA-19 which was again caught on a reef, the submarine drifted free and ran aground on the shore of Oahu where Navy and Army personnel salvaged the wreck.

A postcard printed to publicize the submarine’s tour showed the trailer on which it was transported and exhorted American’s to avenge Pearl Harbor by buying war bonds. Photo courtesy of Arnold Putnam.

HA-19 was sent back to the mainland where it spent the remainder of the war touring the United States as part of a War Bond Drive, providing Americans physical reminders of what the Empire of Japan had done to them and continued the rally cry of “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

A sailor posed next to the conning tower of the HA-19 on the Capitol grounds. The war bond rallies focused on the supposed small stature of the Japanese and their “midget” submarines and likened this smallness of size to smallness of character and to the perceived perfidy of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Library of Congress.

On April 3, 1943, HA-19 arrived in Washington D.C. for the war bond drive and for a brief time sat in front of the United States Capitol Building for people to see. On arriving in Alexandria, Virginia, one man was reported to have paid $16,000 to see the inside of the submarine and within 20 minutes over $40,000 had been raised. By the end of the day $1,061,650 of war bonds had been sold.


The Washington Post: Saturday, April 3, 1943 edition