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Brown May 19, 1943
Justin Taylan 2005
Built by Tama Shipbuilding Company for Mitsui & Co. Ltd. Launched during 1939 as a passenger and cargo ship operating from Japan to New York. Named "Ayatosan Maru". Other wartime spellings of the ship include: Ayutosen Maru or Ayutosan Maru. After the sinking, known to the Allies as "The Gona Wreck" or "Gona Wreck".
Requisitioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and by May 1941 converted to an armed high-speed transport.
Assigned to Operation "E" the invasion of Malaya as part of a convoy including transports Sakura Maru, Awajisan Maru and Ayatosan Maru transporting the Japanese Army 5th Division, escorted by Sendai, Ayanami, Isonami, Shikinami, Uranami with minesweepers W-2 and W-3 plus subchaser CH-9. On December 7, 1941 arrived off Kota Bharu.
On December 8, 1941 at 12:45am, the transports begin unloading troops and at 2:10am are attacked by seven RAAF Hudson bombers from 1 Squadron. During the attack, Ayatosan Maru is strafed and suffers a near misses that cause a 6' x 3' hole above the waterline and cut a cable for the no. 4 hold crane that interferes with unloading and a fire aboard that was extinguished.
On December 10, 1941 damaged Dutch submarine HNLMS O-16 claims to have damaged Ayatosan Maru. On December 12, 1941 HNLMS O-16 again claimed to damage her.
On July 2, 1942 part of a convoy along with Yasukawa Maru, Kazuura Maru, Myoko Maru, Ryoyo Maru, Sasago Maru and Ayatosan Maru escorted by torpedo boat Tomozuru from the Philippines to Rabaul.
On July 20, 1942 at 8:00pm the Ayatosan Maru was part of a convoy part of the Operation "RI" departed Rabaul bound for the north coast of New Guinea for a landing off Gona. The convoy included transports Ayatosau Maru, Kinryu Maru and Ryoyo Maru escorted by minelayer Tsugaru, subchaster CH-32 and destroyers Asanagi, Yuzuki and Uzuki. On July 21, 1942 at dawn the convoy arrives off the coast of New Guinea and begins unloading.
On July 21, 1942 six B-26s from the 22nd Bombardment Group including three B-26s piloted by Crosson, McClaran and Patterson from the 2nd Bombardment Squadron plus three B-26s piloted by Michaelis, Hughes and Augustine from the 408th Bombardment Squadron locate and attack a Japanese convoy off Salamaua bound for Buna. The bombers scores a direct hit on Ayutosen Maru near the stern and two near misses, causing the transport to begin taking on water. Others bomb Kinryu Maru but fail to hit the ship. Anti-aircraft fire was intense but inaccurate. All six B-26 return undamaged.
Father Benson recalls in Prisoner's Base and Home Again:
Afterwards, the shipwreck was bombed by American aircraft, which mistook it for an active vessel. On July 31, 1942 B-17s hit "a nearby transport which had been previously damaged". On September 24, 1942 B-17s bombed a "wrecked vessel at Gona". On December 7, 1942 B-17s attack a "wrecked vessel off Gona". On December 8, 1942 P-38s hit a "wrecked vessel off Gona". On December 15, 1942 B-24 bombs a "wrecked ship at Gona". On December 16, 1942 "B-24s attack a wreck off Gona". All these attacks were made against this shipwreck, incorrectly believing it was an active vessel.
After the Gona area was occupied by Allied forces, the shipwreck was used to range artillery and as a target for American aircraft on training missions to practice bombing. At least two American aircraft were lost attacking the shipwreck.
On December 10, 1943 P-70 Havoc 39-790 mushed into the sea with one wingtip hitting the sea, causing it to cartwheel and sink. On April 10, 1944 A-20G Havoc 43-9410 crashed near the wreck after one of its practice bombs ricocheted into the right engine, causing it to catch fire and crash.
Until the early 1990s, part of the ship's mast was still above water. Today, all the wreckage is submerged below the waterline, becoming a huge man made reef.
8° 35' 37" S
148° 16' 44.27" E
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