Tatsuta Maru

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Tatstua Maru postcard.jpg
Tatsuta Maru, c. 1931
Civil naval ensign ([Hinmaru])Japan
Operator: NYK Line house flag.svg Nippon Yusen (NYK)
Builder: Mitsubishi Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Nagasaki, Japan
Yard number: 451
Laid down: 3 December 1927
Launched: 12 April 1929
Completed: 15 March 1930
In service: 1943
Out of service: 9 February 1943
Fate: lost in war
Status: torpedoed and sunk by submarine
General characteristics
Tonnage: 16,975 gross register tons (GRT)
Length: 178 m (584 ft)
Beam: 21.9 m (72 ft)
Draught: 13 m (43 ft)
Propulsion: 4 Sulzer diesels, quadruple screws
Speed: 21 knots (39 km/h)
  • 222 first class
  • 96 second class
  • 504 third class
  • 822 total
Crew: 330
Notes: Steel construction

Tatsuta Maru (龍田丸?, Tatsuta maru), was a Japanese ocean liner owned by Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK). The ship was built in 1927–1929 by Mitsubishi Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. at Nagasaki, Japan. The vessel was named after an important Shinto shrines.[1]


Tatsuta Maru and her sister ship Asama Maru were built for NYK’s premier high-speed trans-Pacific Orient-California fortnightly service, coming into operation from autumn of 1929[2] In NYK advertising she was characterized as "The Queen of the Sea."[3] Principal ports-of-call included Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kobe, Yokohama, Honolulu, Los Angeles & San Francisco.[4]

The 16,975-ton vessel had a length of 583 feet (178 m), and her beam was 71 feet (22 m). The ship had four diesel motors, two funnels, two masts, quadruple screws and a service speed of 21 knots.[5] Asama Maru was the first Japanese passenger liner to be propelled by diesel engines.

She provided accommodation for 222 first-class passengers and for 96 second-class passengers. There was also room for up to 504 third-class passengers. The ship and passengers were served by a crew of 330.[6]

The shipyard number of the first diesel-powered passenger liner built by NYK was 450 (Asama Maru)[7] and 451 was the yard number of her sister ship, Tatsuta Maru.[6]

View of the ship's first class dining room.
View of the ship's first class reading and writing room.

Tatsuta Maru was launched on April 12, 1929. When almost complete, she was severely damaged by fire on 7 February 1930,[8] but the damage was repaired quickly and she soon was completed.

Civilian career[edit]

Tatsuta Maru undertook her maiden voyage on March 15, 1930,[6] sailing from Yokohama to San Francisco,[4] and subsequently commenced regularly scheduled trans-Pacific services via Honolulu. On November 12, 1936, she became the first civilian vessel to pass under the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, the longest in the world at the time.[9]

In 1938, the transliteration of her name was official changed to Tatuta Maru in line with new Japanese regulations on the Romanization of Japanese.

In January 1940, Tatuta Maru was scheduled to carry 512 seamen from the German transport SS Columbus, who had been interned in the United States after the scuttled their ship rather than to have it fall into the hands of the British. However, due to political pressure applied on the American government, they were not allowed to board. In June of the same year, she arrived in San Francisco with 40 Jewish refugees from Russia, Austria, Germany, and Norway who had managed to reach Japan overland via Siberia.

In San Francisco on March 20 1941, Tatura Maru disembarked Colonel Hideo Iwakuro dispatched by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo to assist Ambassador Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura in his negotiations with the United States. On July 26, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to seize Japanese assets in the United States in retaliation for the Japanese invasion of French Indochina. Tatuta Maru was in San Francisco at the time, and American authorities confiscated a shipment of over nine million dollars in bonds by the Yokohama Specie Bank. On July 30, the American government granted Tatuta Maru a license to purchase enough fuel oil for the voyage back to Japan. This was last official oil export from the United States to Japan before the start of World War II.[9]

On August 30, Tatuta Maru transported 349 Polish Jewish refugees who had arrived in Japan via Siberia from Kobe to Shanghai, where they were received by the Shanghai Ghetto. On October 15, under contact to the Japanese government, she was temporarily designated a diplomatic exchange vessel, and was used in the repatriation of Allied nationals to the United States. Travelling under total radio silence, she arrived at San Francisco on October 30, and after embarking Japanese nationals, returned to Yokohama on November 14. This was the last civilian passenger voyage between Japan and the United States before World War II.[9] She departed Yokohama on December 2, ostensibly on a second repatriation voyage; however, her captain is aware beforehand that the voyage is a hoax, and on December 6, he received orders to reverse course. Shortly after returning to Yokohama, she is requisitioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy.[4]

Military career[edit]

Tatsuta Maru, marked with symbols of safe passage while working as a repatriation ship as seen through the periscope of the U.S. Navy submarine USS Kingfish (SS-234) in October 1942.

In early 1942, Tatuta Maru made several voyages been Japan and the Philippines and Borneo as a troopship. In July 1942, Tatuta Maru was again temporarily designated a diplomatic exchange vessel, and was used in the repatriation of the prewar diplomatic staffs of Japan and the Allied nations. She departed Yokohama with UK Ambassador Sir Robert Craigie and 60 other British diplomats, along members of many other foreign diplomatic delegations and civilians. On reaching Shanghai and Singapore, she took on many more repatriates, so that when she reached Lourenço Marques in Portuguese East Africa on August 27, she was carrying over 1000 civilians. These were exchanged for Japanese civilians and diplomats, and Red Cross parcels for British prisoners of war in Japanese hands. On her return to Japan, she was re-requisitioned for use as a troopship, shuttling men and supplies from Japan to various points in Southeast Asia. On January 19 1943, she was assigned to carry 1180 Allied prisoners of war from Hong Kong to Nagasaki. The prisoners were so overcrowded that there was no room to lay down[9]. This earned Tatuta Maru the epithet of "hell ship."

On February 8, 1943, Tatsuta Maru departed Yokosuka Naval District for Truk accompanied by the destroyer Yamagumo. The ships were spotted by the American submarine Tarpon 42 miles east of Mikurajima.[4] After being hit by up to four torpedoes, Tatuta Maru, she sank with a loss of 1,223 troops and passengers and 198 crewmen. As the sinking occurred at night during a gale, Yamagumo was unable to find any survivors.[6]

See also[edit]



External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°45′N 140°25′E / 34.750°N 140.417°E / 34.750; 140.417