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2,564 Tons (surfaced)
3,644 Tons (submerged)
356' x 31' x 17'
6 x torpedo tubes
2 x 140mm naval guns
(one removed Feb 1944)
2 x 25mm AA guns
Cargo: 300 metric tons
Built at Kure Navy Yard in Kure. Laid down March 18, 1942 as a Type C-3 Cargo Submarine No. 625. During construction renumbered I-52 and provisionally attached to Kure Naval District August 20, 1942. Launched November 10, 1942. Commissioned December 28, 1943 into the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as I-52 under the command of Commander Kameo Uno. Assigned to SubRon 11, Sixth Fleet.
On January 6, 1944 I-52 refuels at Tokuyama in the 3rd Fuel Depot. On January 24, 1944 Admiral Koga Mineichi issues Special Naval Order (Taikai-rei) No. 322 announcing I-52 will depart in early March 1944 on a "Yanagi" special mission to the Nazi Germany U-Boat base at Lorient, France to exchange of strategic materials. During February 1944, the stern deck gun was removed and replaced with a pair of Type 96 25mm anti-aircraft guns plus Type 22 air-search radar is installed forward of the conning tower.
During early March 1944, a total of 146 gold bars packed in 49 metal boxes and weighing two tons are embarked aboard the submarine from the Bank of Japan, Osaka Branch. This gold is to be payment to Nazi Germany for the material and samples exchanged. Also fourteen engineers and technicians to study German technology including staff from Nihon Kogaku K. K. to study German anti-aircraft gun sights and the German HA director. Also personnel from Mitsubishi Electric and the Mitsubishi Instrument Company plus one engineer to study Daimler Benz engine building techniques for torpedo boats.
On March 10, 1944 at 8:50am departs Kure via Sasebo bound for Singapore and that same day is reassigned to SubRon 8, Sixth Fleet, at Penang. For this mission, I-52 is code named "Momi"/"Tanne" ("Fir") and is the fifth Japanese submarine to attempt the long journey from Japan to France. For most of the voyage, the submarine stays submerged during the day and runs on battery powered electric motors to avoid detection and surfaces at night to charge batteries and run on the diesel engines.
On March 21, 1944 arrives Singapore and enters dry dock and loads extra cargo including 120 tons of tin ingots, 102 tons tungsten, 54 tons caoutchouc (unvulcanized natural rubber), 9.8 tons molybdenum, 11 tons tungsten, 3.3 tons quinine, 2.88 tons opium and 58 kg caffeine.
On April 23, 1944 departs Singapore via the Sunda Strait and enters the Indian Ocean. On May 15, 1944 passes the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and transmits their first message to Nazi Germany.
Meanwhile on May 22, 1944 U-530 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Kurt Lange departs Lorient bound for Trinidad and is scheduled to rendezvous with I-52 west of the Cape Verde Islands. On June 2, 1944 U.S. Navy (USN) Tas Group 22.2 under the command of Capt. Aurelius B. Vosseler aboard USS Bogue (CVE-9) departs Casablanca, Morocco.
On June 4, 1944 I-52 crosses the equator. On June 6, 1944 Japanese Naval attache Admiral Kojima Hideo in Berlin, Germany radios Tokyo and I-52 that the Allies have landed at Normandy, France and the voyage to Lorient is too dangerous and instead I-52 might have to proceed to Norway and relays the rendezvous time with U-530 scheduled for June 22, 1944 with U-530 at at 2115 (GMT) at Lat 15N, Long 40W. In the same transmission, Kojima indicates that I-52's position that day is approximately Lat 35N, Long 23W. This radio message is intercepted by U.S. Ultra intelligence that decodes the message and transmits the information to a USN anti-submarine warfare group near the Azores.
On June 9, 1944 U-530 is provided with the rendezvous time with I-52. On June 12, 1944 I-52 radios the Japanese Embassy in Berlin an updated position and plan for the rendezvous. Meanwhile, on June 15, 1944 TG 22.2 proceeds to Lat 15N, Long 40W with orders to intercept and destroy both submarines. On June 16, 1944 I-52 radios that the submarine is at Lat 10N, Long 31W at a speed of 11 knots.
On June 23, 1944 at 9:15pm at approximately Lat 15N, Long 40W roughly 870 miles off Cape Verde Islands the rendezvous begins between U-530 and I-52 that embarks a German officer KpLt. (Cdr) Alfred Schäfer, two German radio operators, OFkMt Kurt Schultze and OFkMt Rolf Behrendt with German naval code and a FuMB 7 "Naxos" radar detector. During the transfer, the radar detector falls into the sea but is retrieved by a Japanese sailor. Afterwards, U-530 departs westward bound for Trinidad. I-52 departs on the surface bound for Lorient and is redesignated with code name "Ginmatsu"/"Föhre".
At 11:39pm, a TBF Avenger piloted by LtCdr Jesse D. Taylor from VC-69 assigned to USS Bogue (CVE-9) spots I-52 on radar at roughly Lat 15-16N, Long 39-55W and drops flares then two Mark 54 depth charges but the submarine manages to dive and evades the attack. Afterwards, the Avenger drops sonar buoys and tracks the submarine before releasing a Mark 24 "Fido" acoustic homing torpedo and at 11:50 the Avenger crew hears a large explosion.
On June 24, 1944 at 12:54am another TBF Avenger piloted by Lt. William D. Gordon arrives and drops more sonar buoys and hears sounds of a damaged submarine. At 1:54am drops another Mark 24 "Fido" acoustic homing torpedo that explodes and they hear the submarine breaking up at 2:13am. When lost, I-52 was sunk with the entire crew of 95 plus 14 passengers plus three German sailors at roughly Lat 15-16N, Long 39-55W.
Later that morning, USS Janssen DE-396, USS Haverfield DE-393 observe a large oil slick where the submarine had sunk. USS Janssen recovered a ton of raw rubber bales, a rubber sandal, a piece of Philippine mahogany, black silk fishing line and other debris on the surface and sharks are observed in the area.
On July 30, 1944 a radio signal is received by a German radio near Lorient indicating I-52 is 36 hours from Lorient. The next day, two identical signals are received. On August 1, 1944 three German M-Class minesweepers and a T-class torpedo arrive at Point Leben to escort for I-52 that never arrives. At Lorient, 35-40 tons of cargo await the submarine including secret T-5 acoustic torpedoes, a Jumo 213-A engine for the FW-190D-9, radars, vacuum tubes, ball bearings, bomb sights, chemicals, alloy steel, optical glass and 1,000 pounds of uranium oxide. On August 8, 1944 due to the Allied D-Day landings in France, I-52 is directed to divert to Norway.
On August 30, 1944 the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) declares I-52 presumed as sunk July 25, 1944 in Bay of Biscay. On December 10, 1944 this submarine was officially removed from the Japanese Navy List. This was the last attempt by the Imperial Japanese Navy to send a submarine on a "Yanagi" special mission to Nazi Germany.
On May 3, 1995, a team of Americans led by Paul Tidwell that charter the Russian research vessel Akademik Mstislav Keldyshy using a MAK-1M side scan sonar and located the I-52 virtually intact at a depth of 17,000' roughly 1,200 miles west of the Cape Verde islands.
Note, there are no known wartime photos of I-52 and a 1925 photo of Kaidai-class submarine I-52 (later renumbered I-152) is often mistaken for this submarine.
Combined Fleet - IJN Submarine I-52: Tabular Record of Movement
Lost Subs - From the Hunley to the Kursk, the greatest submarines ever lost and found pages 130-133
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