Battleground Atlantic : How the Sinking of a Single Japanese Submarine Assuredthe Outcome of World War II
On June 24, 1944, U.S. Navy warplanes patrolling the Atlantic attacked and sank a Japanese submarine, the I-52. It was an event of enormous strategic importance. The I-52's mission was to return to Japan with the ingredients of a radiological bomb. Purchased from the Germans, this doomsday weapon-classified secret by the U.S. government for years after the war-could have contaminated vast areas of America for decades, killing millions slowly and painfully. Japan had intended to use it in an attack on the California coast until the mission was detected in an Allied intelligence coup equal to the breaking of the Enigma code.
The I-52's resting place was discovered in 1995 by ship salvager Paul R. Tidwell. Author Richard N. Billings has worked with Tidwell-whose attempts to salvage the I-52's precious gold cargo continue-in bringing her secret mission to light. Finally, this is the story of how the I-52 mission may have influenced President Truman's decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Billings promises more than he delivers in this scattershot account of the Japanese submarine I-52, which American warplanes sank in June 1944 off the Cape Verde Islands. The author claims the I-52 was transporting two tons of gold bullion to Germany as payment for Nazi weapons and 500 kilograms of uranium oxide. Billings asserts that the purchase was part of a Japanese plan to drop a radiological (dirty) bomb on Los Angeles or San Francisco in a desperate attempt to stave off defeat. The Germans finally shipped the uranium oxide in April 1945 on board the submarine U-234, which surrendered to the USS Sutton on May 15 in the south Atlantic. This makes for an intriguing tale, but the evidence to support it is thin--the I-52's gold was never found and Japanese atomic bomb experimentation is unconfirmed. Billings compensates by eking drama out of salvager Paul Tidwell's unsuccessful efforts to recover the gold after he discovered the I-52 in 1995, and by padding the account with extraneous details of WWII military history. Billings, a former Life magazine editor and author (Schirra's Space), raises important questions, but doesn't provide convincing answers. (Apr.)
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April 04, 2006
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Excerpt from Battleground Atlantic by Richard N. Billings
After resting in silence these many years the I-52 was missing no longer. Evidence of her presence had spilled upon the ocean floor as she neared the end of her spiral plunge, so the path to her watery grave was clearly marked. Twisted shards of steel ripped from the hull lay alongside intricate pieces of plumbing and other mechanical parts. Without warning, a death scene was revealed: kitchen utensils and bunks from the crew quarters, shoes never in pairs, a sweater whose wearer had long since vanished.
Approaching from the southwest, the visitors ran abreast of the starboard bow and noticed how the World War II Japanese submarine was listing to port, yet her conning tower appeared to be unscathed. On the bridge, where the captain had stood, there were windows with watch standers' binoculars still in place. On the afterdeck, trained on an avenue of anticipated attack, a 25-millimeter machine gun looked loaded and ready to fire.
Paul Tidwell motioned for a closer look and his Russian pilot cautiously obeyed, knowing that a bump at the wrong time and place could cause the wreck to topple and entomb them. The markings on the boat were faded but readable--a symbol resembling the letter I and the number 52. The I-52 was last heard from in June 1944.
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