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At Singapore, 2,200 British and Australian Prisoners Of War (POW) were loaded into cargo hold no. 2 and a load of rubber was loaded into cargo no. 1 then departed bound for Japan.
On September 12, 1944 in the South China Sea off Hainan Island a submarine wolf pack including USS Sealion, USS Barb, USS Queenisfh, USS Pampanito SS-383 and USS Growler SS-315 attacked the convoy.
Rakuyo was hit by two torpedoes fired by USS Growler (SS-315). Her second torpedo hit Rakuyo Maru's bow, and penetrated No. 1 hold filled with rubber. A third torpedo run directly into her engine room, and the main engine and auxiliary equipment including the generators stopped, and she became unable to make way and began to sink at 6pm. Sunk at 6:20pm at roughly Lat 18-32N, Long 114-29E.
Fates of the Survivors
After the sinking, by 9:00pm Japanese escort vessels rescued some of the Japanese crew and passed through a group of POWs, likely killing many in their wake. When they departed, approximately 1,200 POWs were in the water.
Three days after the sinking on September 15, 1944 in the afternoon, USS Sealion and USS Pampanito spotted considerable wreckage was spotted from the ship and men in life rafts. After identifying the survivors as Allied prisoners, they immediately called for other nearby subs to aid in the rescue. Despite traveling at flank speed, USS Barb and USS Queenfish arrived at the scene five days later. In total, the four U.S. Submarines rescued 159 British and Australian prisoners of war. These survivors were brought to Saipan despite a fierce typhoon.
One of the survivors stated:
"We were sleeping topside on the Rakuyo Maru. At about 2 o'clock in the morning a two-funneled destroyer was hit by a torpedo and blew up. (This was the attack made by the GROWLER.) There was a lot of gunfire and flares, and then everything was quiet. At about 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. a red flare went up on the port side of a tanker right ahead of us. Then a torpedo struck and the tanker burst into flame, literally blew up, and threw flaming oil high in the air.
Then the ship on the port bow (presumably a transport) swerved in and almost collided. She looked disabled, for she just seemed to drift toward the burning tanker and caught fire aft. In a moment there was a puff of smoke around the bridge and she was in flames forward.
Then there was a thud forward on our ship followed by another thud aft, and the Rakuyo Maru began to settle in the water. The Japs took to the boats at once and about five minutes later we went into the water, too, and climbed aboard some rafts. The tanker was burning fiercely and we tried to keep away from fire on the water. A half-hour later the tanker sank.
The Rakuyo Maru took a list to starboard but looked as if she would remain afloat for a while. Some survivors started back, but before they could get to her she began to keel over and settle. So we changed our minds about getting provisions and water. She sank about 6 p.m.
Shortly afterwards a destroyer picked up Japs in long boats. We were held off with revolvers. Later another destroyer came up escorting passenger-freighters. They rescued the remaining Japs and all three ships steamed off. I believe they were loaded with raw rubber."
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