- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Researchers have found a sunken Japanese submarine just outside Pearl Harbor that they say proves the U.S. Navy's assertions that Americans fired the first shot in the battle that brought the United States into World War II.
The Navy has long contended that it engaged in a sea skimish with Japanese "midget" subs at least 80 minutes before Japanese pilots began their deadly aerial attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Navy has insisted it inflicted the first casualties when its destroyer, the USS Ward, sank the first of five approaching subs at 6:45 a.m.
But there had been no proof of the sinking until Wednesday, when the rusted 78-foot submarine with a hole in its conning tower and still equipped with both its torpedoes was discovered about 3 miles from Pearl Harbor by two research craft on routine training dives.
Historians of the battle have previously noted the irony of U.S. forces firing first in what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called "the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan." Historians have also debated the extent to which U.S. military commanders at Pearl Harbor failed to heed warnings of the Japanese attack. Wednesday's find adds new evidence on both counts.
The two-man sub was found by crews with the University of Hawaii's Underwater Research Laboratory about 1,200 feet beneath the surface in an area described as a "military junkyard." The remains of two Japanese crewmen are believed to be inside the vessel.
"This is a very, very significant discovery. It validates the story from the USS Ward that it put a shell through the conning tower of an enemy submarine that led the attack on Pearl Harbor," John Wiltshire, acting director of the research lab, said in a telephone interview from Honolulu.
Mr. Wiltshire said the sub's discovery also validates that the United States "fired the first shot" in the war with Japan, as the lead Japanese submarine had not fired its torpedoes.
The Sunday morning attack by carrier-based Japanese aircraft lasted two hours, killing 2,390 Americans and wounding 1,178. The attack devastated U.S. forces in the Pacific, leaving 21 U.S. ships and 321 aircraft heavily damaged or destroyed.
Immediately after the sinking of the midget sub, the USS Ward sent this message to military commanders at Pearl Harbor: "We have attacked, fired upon and dropped depth charges [on a submarine] operating in a defensive sea area."
Mr. Wiltshire said the Ward's crew "recognized it was an enemy sub." Nevertheless, commanders at Pearl Harbor did not put the base and ships immediately on alert, waiting for more confirmation.
He said that later Navy commanders tried to cast doubts on the veracity of the USS Ward's report.
"I knew the skipper of the USS Ward, [the late] William W. Outerbridge. He always said he trusted his gunners, and if they said they got a hit, by golly, they got a hit," said Robert J. Cressman, head of the ships' history branch of the Naval Historical Center.
Mr. Cressman has written several books about the Pearl Harbor attack, which include information about the midget submarines. He said the discovery of the sunken sub confirms what most historians believed about the attack.
"Most accounts [of the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor] do acknowledge that, ironically, we fired the first shot," he said yesterday in an interview.
But he and other Pearl Harbor scholars recognize this might not be widely known to the general public. Mr. Cressman denies that the Navy did nothing with the information from the USS Ward.
"But it went up through channels slowly. An alert mindset was not in operation," he said, adding, "They would have had more guns and more planes in the air" to respond to the air strikes had there been a quicker response to the report from the USS Ward.
Yet Mr. Cressman agrees that Wednesday's discovery could be the first definitive proof that Americans fired the first shot at Pearl Harbor. "If the damage is there that bullet hole in the conning tower" could be the long-elusive proof, the Navy historian said.
Mr. Cressman said Japanese aviators "really didn't want the subs involved" in the attack, fearing the subs might be detected. "The very thing they feared would happen did happen," but it did not deprive their aerial assault of the element of surprise , he said.
Mr. Wiltshire said University of Hawaii researchers have been trying to find the missing sub for about 20 years. "I always tell the pilots to keep their eyes open" for the vessel, he said.
He said there have been "many, many expeditions" to find the midget sub during the past 61 years.
In November 2000, a National Geographic expedition headed by Robert Ballard and others on the team that found the wreckage of the Titanic failed to find the Japanese sub.
"It's in a debris area. There are massive amounts of junk out there, making it quite difficult to find," Mr. Wiltshire said.
Mr. Cressman said the lead sub was fired upon as it attempted to follow a civilian cargo ship into Pearl Harbor. As for the other four Japanese midget subs in the attack, he said the three were sunk and a fourth was captured. One of those sunken subs has not been found.
Mr. Wiltshire said it's possible the remains of the two crewmen in the sub discovered Wednesday could be returned to their families in Japan. He said it's also possible the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which funds the University of Hawaii's underwater research lab, could make the site where the sub was located a marine santuary, given its historical importance.

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