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National Museum of the Pacific War
Fredericksburg, Texas

The National Museum of the Pacific War has three main features related to Japan's special (suicide) attacks:

  • midget submarine that tried to make torpedo attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but was captured on following day along with pilot Kazuo Sakamaki
  • short video about 23 kamikaze planes shot down in one hour and 40 minutes by destroyer USS Hugh W. Hadley (DD-774) on May 11, 1945
  • Memorial Courtyard plaques that honor ships sunk or damaged by Japanese kamikaze aircraft

The museum is located in the historic small town of Fredericksburg, Texas, home of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who served as Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet during WWII. His grandfather ran the Nimitz Hotel, which served as the original building for the museum when it opened in 1967. The National Museum of the Pacific War expanded greatly with the re-opening in December 2009 of the George H. W. Bush Gallery, which has 32,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Museum personnel explain that a complete tour of the museum's extensive exhibits can take from three to seven hours. Three main buildings house the exhibits. The Bush Gallery has 36 separate exhibition spaces such as ones dedicated to Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Marianas, and Iwo Jima. The former Nimitz Hotel has displays related to Admiral Nimitz's life and naval career. The Pacific Combat Zone, about two blocks away from the Bush Gallery, has plain metal structures to house a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber and Patrol Torpedo (PT) Boat 309. The Pacific Combat Zone also has an area where war reenactments are staged about five times a year. The museum grounds also have a Memorial Courtyard with over 1,200 commemorative plaques honoring ships and individuals, a Plaza of the Presidents with individual monuments to honor the ten presidents who served in WWII, and a classic Japanese garden that was a gift from Japan to Admiral Nimitz for his respect for the Japanese people and their culture in the postwar period.

Japanese midget submarine
captured after Pearl Harbor attack

 

One of the highlights of the National Museum of the Pacific War is the Japanese Ha-19 Ko-Hyoteki (Type A Target) midget submarine captured after the Pearl Harbor attack. It toured the US throughout the war to promote the sale of war bonds, and the museum displays several photos of the midget sub during the war including one taken in front of the Gillespie County Courthouse in Fredericksburg and another one in front of the Nimitz Hotel. After the war, it served as an outdoor exhibit at the submarine base in Key West, and it was later moved to the Key West Lighthouse Museum for outdoor display. In 1991, the submarine was moved to the Nimitz Museum despite interest by the US National Park Service in displaying it at Pearl Harbor.

The Ha-19 midget submarine is the centerpiece of the Pearl Harbor exhibition area where a short video is run continuously and projected above the submarine. The submarine on display no longer has its conning tower. In the hallway next to the museum store, visitors can look inside the submarine through a small view port.

The Pearl Harbor exhibit has an information board entitled "The Five Midget Subs" with a description of the firing of USS Ward (DD-139) on one of five midget submarines assigned to the Japanese Advance Expeditionary Force of 28 fleet submarines. The midget subs' mission was to enter the harbor, divert attention from the air attack, and launch torpedoes. One is believed to have torpedoed USS Oklahoma. The caption under a photo of Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki states that he piloted one of the two-man midget submarines. His vessel (Ha-19, not the one attacked by USS Ward) ran aground when its gyrocompass malfunctioned, and Sakamaki became the first Japanese prisoner of war during the Pacific War.

The exhibition areas on Leyte and Okinawa have few details about Japanese kamikaze attacks. The only information about Japanese kamikaze in the Philippines is one paragraph at the bottom of a information poster on Taffy 3:

The First Kamikaze Attack

Taffy 3's surviving carriers and a southern group commanded by Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague came under kamikaze attack. Santee and Suwannee were hit first, but both stayed afloat. Taffy 3's St. Lo was not so lucky. A kamikaze crashed through her flight deck setting off bombs and torpedoes. She sank in 30 minutes.

The Okinawa exhibition area has more historical information about kamikaze than the Leyte exhibition section. One information poster entitled "Kamikazes: Operation Ten-go" states that 700 Japanese planes, half kamikazes, struck the American fleet in waves on April 6, 1945. Despite heavy losses to American fighters and antiaircraft fire, enough got through to sink three destroyers, an LST, and two ammunition ships. Eleven other ships suffered serious damage on that date. From April 6 to June 22, 1945, the US fleet endured ten mass kamikaze attacks. Two fleet carriers, Bunker Hill and Enterprise, were badly damaged and forced out of the war. The poster incorrectly gives July 27 as the date of the sinking of the destroyer USS Callaghan, which was the last Allied warship sunk by a kamikaze. The correct date is July 29. The last section of the poster is on "The Biggest Kamikaze of All," which describes the suicide mission of Japanese battleship Yamato, light cruiser Yahagi, and eight destroyers. On April 7, 1945, Yamato, Yahagi, and four destroyers were sunk by American carrier aircraft. Over 3,900 Japanese sailors lost their lives in the suicide mission.

Another information poster in the Okinawa exhibition area highlights the key role that destroyers played in detecting incoming kamikaze air attacks and directing American fighters to intercept enemy planes. Over a dozen radar picket stations ringed Okinawa to detect and intercept incoming kamikazes. The museum has a destroyer's Combat Information Center (CIC) with a radar scope and other equipment used to spot approaching aircraft. The wall of the CIC area has a radar scope with a continuously running two and a half minute video about the kamikaze attacks on the destroyer USS Hugh W. Hadley (DD-774). Following are excerpts from this video with the dialogue omitted:

At 0755 on May 11, 1945, the destroyer USS Hugh W. Hadley was 35 miles northwest of Okinawa at Radar Picket Station #15. Her mission was to protect American ships and troops from Japanese aircraft. Suddenly, a CIC officer spots a large group of bogies (unidentified and possibly enemy aircraft) on radar at about 85 miles, so he requests that Combat Air Control (CAP) aircraft be sent to investigate. CAP takes care of them, but another large group approaches Hadley. There are so many that some get through. At 0910, Hadley loses all power when a kamikaze hits the ship and penetrates the hull at the waterline. Three minutes later, the last of three kamikazes reaches Hadley. By 0919, the destroyer is listing badly, and fires have broken out. Hadley will never again sail under her own power, but she stopped the kamikazes for now. USS Hugh W. Hadley destroyed 23 kamikaze planes in 1 hour and 40 minutes, a World War II record.


Video about USS Hugh W. Hadley's
battle with Japanese kamikazes on May 11, 1945

The 25 Japanese flags painted on USS Hugh W. Hadley's superstructure are on display across from the CIC area. Each flag represents a downed enemy aircraft, including the 23 planes destroyed by Hadley on May 11, 1945. The Okinawa exhibition area also shows fragments of kamikaze aircraft that hit three different US ships.

The commemorative plaques honoring ships, groups, and individuals in the museum's Memorial Courtyard include several ships that mention shipmates killed as a result of kamikaze attacks. These include the following plaques with excerpts shown of the wording related to kamikaze attacks:

  • U.S.S. Suwannee (CVE-27) - In Remembrance of the 161 crewmembers killed October 25-6, 1944 by Kamikaze attacks in Leyte Gulf during the invasion of the Philippines.
  • U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner (DD-692) - In Memory of our 16 Shipmates Killed in Action at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, Philippine Islands, 6 January 1945, when the SUMNER was hit by a kamikaze plane.
  • U.S.S. Saratoga (CV-3) - In memory of 123 United States Navy men killed during an attack made by kamikaze suicide planes on the carrier.
  • U.S.S. Bush (DD-529) - Dedicated to the Men who Served and In Memory of our 94 Shipmates Who Gave their Lives while Serving aboard. Sunk by Kamikazes in Combat at Okinawa While on Duty at Radar Picket Station #1, April 6, 1945.
  • U.S.S. Callaghan (DD-792) - Fate: Lost the lives of 50 men. CALLAGHAN sank at 02:35, 29 July 1945, with the loss of 48 members of her valiant crew. She was the last ship sunk by a kamikaze in the war just 49 minutes before she was to return home.


U.S.S. Bush (DD-529) commemorative plaque
on wall in Memorial Courtyard at
National Museum of the Pacific War

Each commemorative plaque for a ship generally includes a photo, brief history, and mention of number of crewmen killed. Some ships were heavily damaged or sunk by kamikaze aircraft but do not mention Japanese kamikaze specifically. These ships include Reid (DD-369) (sunk on December 11, 1944), Bismark Sea (CVE-95) (sunk on February 21, 1945), and Newcomb (DD-586) (heavily damaged on April 6, 1945).

The large plaque remembering Hugh W. Hadley (DD-774) has much information about the destroyer and crew including the following excerpt regarding the ship's exploits in fighting kamikaze planes on May 11, 1945:

"CHAMPION KAMIKAZE KILLER"

11 May 1945, 0755 to 0935
23 of 25 Kamikaze Kills in 1 Hour & 40 Minutes
Radar Picket Station #15, Northwest of Okinawa
ALL-TIME Gunnery Record of ANY Ship
in a Single Engagement
801 rounds of 5"/38; 8,950 rounds of 40 MM
5,990 rounds of 20 MM
Hit by 3 Kamikazes, one 500 lb. Bomb,
& one smaller Bomb.

The USS LCS(L) 118 commemorative plaque gives the history of a smaller landing ship that helped fight against kamikaze attacks during the Battle of Okinawa:

The USS LCS(L) 118 patrolled 49 days on dangerous radar picket stations and was directly or indirectly involved in 15 kamikaze attacks. She was credited with destroying four enemy aircraft and rescuing 114 survivors from the USS Luce DD 522, sunk by kamikaze attack. She completed fourteen night suicide boat patrols, ten harbor aircraft and smoke screens and participated in two shore bombardments. She was the lead vessel in the fire fighting and salvage of LST 884 severely damaged by kamikaze attack. For her invaluable service and devotion to duty she was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation. Individual awards to ship's force were one Silver and six Bronze Star medals.

The bottom of the USS LCS(L) 118 plaque summarizes the battle history of 130 LCS(L) ships built in 1944 and early 1945. These ships nicknamed "Mighty Midgets" provided "fire fighting and support for 21 stricken ships hit or sunk by kamikaze attacks, but not without a heavy price. Five ships lost to enemy action and one to grounding. Twenty-four others damaged by suicide aircraft, suicide boat attacks and shore fire with 431 killed and wounded."

Fredericksburg has a population of slightly more than 10,000 and is located 70 miles north of San Antonio and 75 miles west of Austin. Adult admission costs $12 for a two-day pass to all of the museum's buildings. The museum has a bookstore that sells a wide variety of books and DVDs related to the Pacific War. The Bush Gallery has a large museum store that also sells many books in addition to other souvenir items. However, neither store has a book or pamphlet available on the museum's history and exhibits. The National Museum of the Pacific War web site provides an overview of the museum layout with separate pages describing the main parts and showing photos. The web site includes a page with a detailed history of Fleet Admiral Nimitz, but it has little information on specific museum exhibits.

Date of most recent visit: July 25, 2010