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Taking the Search to Japan

Soon after they learned of each other’s common interest, George Logue and Marty Schaeffer showed up in Wakkanai, Hokkaido, Japan in 1993. It was from Wakkanai that the attacks on Wahoo had been launched, and these three Americans, who did not speak any Japanese, wanted to construct a memorial to her and the Japanese lost on the ships she had sunk. Logue and Schaeffer had experienced first hand the consequences of the war and wanted closure. They wanted to join with the Japanese and recognize those who had sacrificed most during the war.

To say their presence caused a sensation in Wakkanai is an understatement. While foreigners are not unknown there—Americans were stationed at the Cold War outpost of Wakkanai Air Station until 1972 and crewmen from Russian commercial ships are frequent today—their purpose was something new in Japan’s northern most city. While visiting Wakkanai, Logue, Schaeffer, and Stubler were hosted by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) for a private, at-sea wreath laying. Over the years Wahoo’s location had been inferred from sporadic reports of fisherman catching their nets on an unidentified object lying on the bottom of the Soya Strait.

Fortunately for Logue and Schaeffer, and ultimately for the Wahoo search, several residents in Wakkanai were to prove key to the search. Larry Hagen, who was a Christian missionary living in Wakkanai, was a key organizer for the Wahoo Memorial Service conducted in 1995. It was during this event that the two authors of this article first met. Another Wakkanai resident and an Imperial Japanese Navy submarine veteran, Satoru Saga, became the organizer on the Japanese side for the Wahoo Memorial. Saga counted among his friends Vice Adm. Kazuo Ueda, another submarine veteran. It was ultimately Ueda who was able to access the Japanese archives and speak with the participants of the attack to accurately predict Wahoo’s location.

Contested Area

The search for Wahoo was lengthy and patience was required. Being able to connect with the right people via the Internet was key. We knew approximately where she lay and that she was in relatively shallow water; however, she is in a highly contested part of the world. She lies in Russian territorial waters that belonged to the Japanese in 1943. To the north and west of her is oil. Northeast of her are the Kurils, an island chain that both Russia and Japan claim. But the Russians will shoot to kill to assert their claim to the land. 

The Japanese Contribution

Today, a group of Imperial Japanese Navy submarine veterans meet in an informal reunion each year. Their WWII crafts, “midget submarines,” of that era were about as far as can be from a Gato-class submarine and still be called a submarine. Cramped and dangerous, their task has been described by Capt. Yasuhiro “Tommy” Tamagawa, a reunion participant, as a kind of suicide mission, though not in the traditional “Kamikaze” sense. They had significant range and were designed for multiple patrols. These submarines were ready to be deployed in Japan’s “Island Sea” in a desperate attempt to thwart the expected American invasion fleet in 1945. As the fleet approached, the midget submarine commander and his four crewmen would have made their way to the enemy, lay in wait, and at the last possible moment, fire their torpedoes. Firing the relatively massive torpedoes from these small craft would usually result in the bow broaching the surface, giving their position away. Submariner fatalities were expected to be high; however, the invasion never came.

It is then fortunate and perhaps ironic that this group of submariners was key in ultimately locating Wahoo. Among their number is a retired admiral; a businessman living in the city from where the attacks on Wahoo were launched; a retired captain who has worked as a liaison between the Japanese and American navies since the war; and a naval historical archivist. Instead of merely dwelling on their own exploits, Wahoo became sort of a quest for them too.

If there is one person most responsible for what we know of Wahoo’s fate, it is Vice Adm. Kazuo Ueda (JMSDF, Ret.). Admiral Ueda, along with Saga, scoured the Japanese archives and interviewed the participants on the Wahoo attack. By the mid-1990s, Ueda had estimated the location of Wahoo to within one nautical mile of its actual location. Another group member, Noitaka Kitazawa, was an archivist retired from the Japan National Institute for Defense Studies. While Kitazawa was too young to be in the war, he did assist Keiko Takada and Bryan MacKinnon in locating for the first time actual photographs documenting the attack on Wahoo.

The MacKinnon Organization

The search for Wahoo is a 21st century endeavor aided by electronic mail and the World Wide Web. The MacKinnon Organization30 became a clearing house for information contributed by families, researchers, and government archivists. Over time, a large collection of material has been accumulated. Bryan MacKinnon had been working on locating Wahoo since 1995 and has been in contact with the Japanese veterans group since the late 1990s. The next significant break came in 2002, when Wayne Sampey, who leads the Ocean Wilderness Group of Australia, contacted MacKinnon to assist with the search. Sampey brought decades of diving experience and professional expertise to bear. Sampey obtained sponsors and worked with the American and Russian governments who for the first time formally concurred with the plan to locate Wahoo. It was during this time that the Russians were informed of the Wahoo project’s proposal of where she was located. He also began the dialog with the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park to ensure the project was conducted by approved standards.

On July 28 and 29, 2006, dive team leader Boris Postovalov accompanied by one other diver, Andrei Doroshenko, located Wahoo on their second dive. Postovalov describes what he saw:

It has a rupture [in the midsection] all the way from the conning tower down to the keel. The submarine is laying down flat on the bottom surface and with the exception of this rupture, it looks almost whole. It has no other visible damage. The submarine is completely covered by various sea creatures—clouds of fish all around. It seems there are a few places with minor damage that might have been left by additional depth charging. This additional bombing was really not necessary. The sub was killed by a single powerful direct hit of an aerial bomb. The sub had no chance of survival and no one aboard likely had any chance of survival as a result of the attack.

graphic caption follows
This graphic representation of the damaged
Wahoo is based off a hand drawing provided by the Russian dive team.
Courtesy of the Alion Science and Technology graphics department.

The Russians are Coming

The end of the Soviet Union brought a level of accessibility that did not exist before. The frustrations that both Dick O’Kane and George Logue complained of were gone and replaced by direct accessibility to Russian bureaucracy. Sampey navigated through this and the search received approvals at the highest levels of the Russian government.

During 2002 and 2003, Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd. (SEIC) Explosive Ordnance Disposal Coordination Centre (EODCC) conducted extensive research of military and naval activities in and around the Sakhalin-Wakkanai region. During this time, SEIC EODCC member Ian Bullpitt consulted MacKinnon’s Wahoo Web site to ascertain the possible location of the Wahoo.

In 2004, SEIC and the Russian subcontractor, Romona, conducted a sub-sea survey of La Perouse (Soya) Strait. While conducting the survey, they diverted from their normal survey route to search the “Ueda Location.”  They also included another area that was considered to be a possible site that Japanese fishermen had been snagging their nets on over the years. SEIC produced side-scan sonar readings and images of both sites. The first images from the “Ueda Location” appear consistent with a submarine matching the dimensions of a Gato-class submarine31 and the second set of images appear to be those of a freighter.

In 2005, Bullpitt informed the Wahoo Project Group of these side-scan images. This is the first tangible evidence that the location computed by Vice Adm. Ueda in the 1990s is likely the location of the Wahoo.

Finding and Photographing Wahoo

Later in 2005, the Russian team “Iskra,” led by Vladimir Kartashev, used the SEIC images and attempted to locate the submarine. Initial equipment failures prevented a successful search. Kartashev then contacted Bryan MacKinnon and sought to join with the Wahoo Project’s efforts, including seeking additional funding for the Russian search efforts.

During the last week of July 2006, the Iskra team obtained video and photographic images of the “Ueda Location” that ultimately were confirmed to be Wahoo. The Iskra team effort was a relatively low-tech undertaking. With very limited funding, their search platform was an 18 meter sailboat with about six crew members.

Their diving equipment was basic, allowing for only a limited time at the 200-foot depth where Wahoo lay, and their video equipment was sufficient only for close-up shots.

After these dives, the Iskra team ended its efforts, issued a press release, produced a short video to document their efforts, and is now using this expedition as a funding springboard for further projects in the region. Due to the aforementioned limitations of the Iskra’s team equipment, they were not able to completely document the condition of Wahoo’s exterior and her interior condition is completely unknown. A comprehensive survey to document her condition and perhaps more clues of Wahoo’s final hours would require a return visit by a more sophisticated team.

Wahoo’s Final Hours

From the Russian dive team report and their sketches, Wahoo appears to have been sunk by a single aerial bomb, no doubt causing immediate and catastrophic flooding of multiple compartments. The reason why Wahoo exited the Sea of Japan ten days early during daylight hours may never be known. Speculation has ranged from “exiting due to equipment or torpedo casualty” to “all torpedoes expended, returning to base.” Ideally, a more comprehensive survey would greatly assist in knowing more about her final hours.
Memorials Planned

After the official U.S. Navy announcement of Wahoo’s discovery by Commander Pacific Fleet (COMPACFLT) last October,32 Commander, Submarine Group SEVEN, Yokosuka, Japan, held an at-sea wreath-laying ceremony this year. A separate Memorial Day celebration was conducted at the Wahoo Memorial in Williamsport, Pa., the boyhood home of Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Logue, with Rear Adm. John N. Christenson, Commander Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command, Corpus Christi, (another nephew of Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Logue) speaking.

Surviving crewmembers and family of crewmembers who were either lost or had served on Wahoo are invited to attend the year’s final event on the 64th anniversary of Wahoo’s loss at the USS Bowfin Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Oct. 11, 2007. For details visit or contact Charles R. Hinman, Director of Education, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. Email: For other related World War II submarine information please visit:

End notes for this article can be viewed here

Capt. Thomas A. Logue, Jr., USNR, nephew of Petty Officer 1st Class Robert B. Logue, is a nuclear submarine officer and serves on active duty as the Chairman of the Computer Science Department at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Bryan MacKinnon, grand nephew of Cmdr. Dudley W. Morton, is founder and president of “The MacKinnon Organization,” a non-profit group which researches World War II submarine warfare. He resides in Japan and works for the Global Advisory and Banking Technology Division of Merrill Lynch, Japan.

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