Who sank IJN destroyer Shinonome, December 1941?
The IJN destroyer Shinonome (1,950 tons) was a powerful ship, completed in 1927 as one of the Fubuki
Class fleet destroyers. At the outbreak of war in the Pacific, she was
under command of Commander Hiroshi Sasagawa. His ship had been assigned
to Destroyer Division 12 under the command of Commander Nobuki Ogawa,
which was initially deployed as escort for the valuable troop
transports steaming towards the virtually unprotected shores of the Malaya
Peninsula. On December 16, she left Cam Ranh Bay (French Indochina) for
Miri, British North Borneo, together with the other two ships of
Destroyer Division 12, the IJN destroyers Shirakumo and Murakumo,
the light cruiser Yura, the seaplane depot ship Kamikawa Maru,
a few sub-chasers and two minesweepers. In addition, a cover force (Rear-Admiral Takeo Kurita)
with two heavy cruisers Kumano and Suzuya, a light cruiser Kinu and the destroyer Fubuki
were sent out as reinforcement. The invasion fleet reached Miri in the
night of 15 and 16 December 1941, where the troops went ashore almost
unopposed. The 2,500 men of the Kawaguchi Detachment were able to
capture Miri and Lutong without much fighting.
The next day proved to be far less comfortable for the Japanese
invasion force. In the early morning of December 17, 1941 a flight of 2
Vl.G.I, operating from Singkawang II airbase, found several Japanese
ships near Miri. That same morning the 1st "Patrouille" (Flight
Commander Van den Broek) of 2 Vl.G.I attacked these ships from 4,500
meters but claimed no hits. The crews reported heavy AA fire and two of
the Glenn Martin bombers returned slightly damaged .
In the meantime, the word of the invasion had also reached Tarakan Island
on the eastern coast of Borneo, where the three Dornier flying boats of
Naval Air Group GVT-7 (Marine Luchtvaart Dienst)
were immediately prepared for attack. These three aircraft, (with
registrations X-32, X-33 and X-34) were Dornier Do-24K's, capable of
carrying a payload of 1,200 kg. They attacked in the early morning of
December 17. The flying boat X-34 (Luitenant ter Zee 3e klasse A.
Baarschers) never made it to Miri. He had to made an emergency landing
in the jungle, while it was heading for the Japanese invasion fleet
near Miri. He later reached, together with two of his crew members, a
refugee camp at Long Nawang, only to be massacred there by Japanese
troops in August 1942. The other two flying boats X-33 and X-32 were
able to attack the fleet. The X-33 (Officier-Vlieger 2e klasse J.G.
Petschi) attacked a Japanese transport ship without succes, while X-32
(Officier-Vlieger 2e klasse B. Sjerp - unit commander) did far better.
He dropped 5 bombs of 200 kg each, scoring two hits on a IJN destroyer Shinonome
and a near miss. The latter apparently did most of the damage, as the
target was immediately rent by a thunderous explosion, and fires broke
out aboard. A few minutes later, when the smoke cleared, the waves
closed over the Shinonome, who had disappeared beneath the surface,
taking below its captain, Commander Hiroshi Sasagawa, and the entire crew of 228 men.
IJN destroyer Shinonome
After the war, a committee was formed to assess the casualties the
Allied naval and airforces had inflicted on the Japanese Navy and
merchant navy during the war. They reached a remarkable conclusion
regarding Shinonome's loss. This warship was supposedly sunk by a Dutch mine. Although the
author has little doubt about the true cause of the sinking, it is
interesting to see how the committee reached this conclusion. In 1998,
an article was posted on the Nihon Kaigun website, narrating the
history of Destroyer Division 12 during its short career . The passage about the Shinonome
mentions that the Commander of Destroyer Division 12, Commander Nobuki
Ogawa, thought she had been lost to a mine or an internal explosion. He
nor anyone else had apparently observed the air attack by the flying
boats. The Assessment Committee adopted this theory, and never gave
other possibilities much thought. There may be a few reasons why the
Imperial Japanese Navy thought a mine was responsible:
- There were no survivors of IJN destroyer Shinonome to account for her loss.
- The stormy weather prevented the Dutch aircraft from being sighted, and therefore caused the confusion.
I put in a few hours of research to try to find
out if there were any mines in the vicinity, but I am pretty sure there
were none in the area. The Dutch minelayer Prins van Oranje
made a sortie to British Borneo to pick up Japanese inhabitants, but
there is no record of any mine being laid. The same goes for the
British Royal Navy in Singapore, which restricted her operations to the
waters of Malaya.
 The description of this event according to P.C. Boer's excellent book "De Luchtstrijd rond Borneo":
DECEMBER 17, 1941:
After the reconnaissance report from 2 Vl.G.I, Air Headquarters ordered
1 Vl.G.I, which operated from Samarinda II airbase, to attack the same
target. In the early afternoon three flights (Flight Commanders
Beckman, Butner and Vrijburg) flew to Miri. When they reached the
target area, they observed a burning Japanese warship. Though the crews
thought that this must have been the result of 2 Vl.G.I's earlier
attack, P.C. Boer credits this damaged ship to the Dorniers of Naval
Air Group GVT-7, since we already saw that van den Broek's crews
claimed no hits during their first raid. The first two flights (Beckman
and Butner) bombarded the ships with no results ("far from near
misses") but were attacked by Mitsubishi F1M fighters. One of the crews
of the third flight claimed a hit on a Japanese transport but this
Glenn was also attacked by F1M floatplanes, one of which was shot down.
The last plane to attack the Japanese fleet was the Glenn Martin of the
Flight Commander of the third flight (Vrijburg).No Japanese fighters
and AA fire this time, so Vrijburg took his time to drop his two 1000
pounders on a large destroyer. They could not again find the ship after
the attack and claimed it as destroyed, which was not confirmed by Air
Headquarters by the way.
DECEMBER 18, 1941:
Two flights of 2 Vl.G.I (Flight Commanders Theunissen and Cooke)
repeated the attack in the early morning of this day. The weather was
excellent and so were the bombing results. The first flight
(Theunissen) to attack scored two hits on a large transport which,
according to Japanese records, was badly damaged but did not sink.
Again the Glenn Martins were intercepted by F1M floatplanes but the air
gunners shot down one of them. The second flight (Cooke) hit a
"cruiser" and the belly gunners of the Glenns observed it as it went
down. Cooke's flight was also attacked by Japanese fighters and this
time the Glenn Martin M571, flown by Lieutenant Groeneveld, was shot
down. Groeneveld and his crew bailed out and eventually ended up at
Long Nawang (Borneo) where they were executed by Japanese troops in
August 1942. P.C. Boer credits Cooke's flight with the sinking of IJN
since this attack was made near Lutong (4 24'N - 114 00'0) whereas the
Dorniers made their attack near Seria (20 miles north-east of Miri).
The 1 Vl.G.I also tried to attack the Japanese fleet again later that
day, but by now the weather conditions had changed completely. Only two
planes managed to reach the target area but were unable to locate the
 This is the article written by Allan Nevitt "Fleeting Glory: The Fubukis of DesDiv 12" at Nihon Kaigun. There are more errors in this article, in the passages about later operations by this division.
Note This article was written by JAN VISSER (The Netherlands). Much thanks also goes to BERT KOSSEN (the Netherlands).
Also see: The restless sky over Tarakan Island, January 13th 1942.
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Copyright © Jan Visser 1999-2000
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