Is There A Sunken Japanese Submarine Near The Farallones?

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

By Capt. Alan Hugenot 

Bill Anderson, was on board the destroyer USS Willard Keith (DD-775) on a day in 
March 1945 when it depth charged and sank a submarine not far from the Farallone 

Anderson has been using his 33-foot boat Echo Hunter - equipped with a depth 
sounder and sonar - to search for the submarine. He regularly makes sub-hunting 
forays from the Pillar Point Marina in Half Moon Bay. Over the last nine years, 
Anderson has found seven suspicious sites, any one of which could be the 
submarine. One of the wrecks looks more promising than the others because its 
coordinates were provided by a helpful Navy officer in Washington D.C., who has 
access to classified files. 

“We think we found a Japanese submarine; [at least] we found what looks like a 
submarine to our equipment,” Anderson told a press conference at Half Moon Bay 
on Oct. 2. The suspect object is located 235 feet deep 10 miles off the San 
Mateo Coastline, approximately 20 miles west by northwest of Pillar Point.

Anderson remembers the sinking as if it were yesterday. Returning from a patrol 
mission down the coast to Catalina Island, Anderson said, the destroyer’s sonar 
picked up the sound of a submarine’s propellers. The general alarm went off, and 
the ship made a fast turn to come back over the target location and drop a 
pattern of about a dozen depth charges. 

Next, the bridge announced that they had scored a hit, Anderson told the press 
conference. The destroyer returned five minutes later to the same location to 
check for signs of a sinking and to listen for the submarine. As they crossed 
over the site, there was the rainbow sheen of fresh diesel on the sea surface, 
and it looked as if a submarine had been sunk.

Returning to Treasure Island later that evening, the crew of 350 men were 
mustered up on deck, and according to Anderson, “We were told never to say a 
word, not to anybody.” When asked why the Navy would suppress news a destroyer 
had thwarted an enemy attack, Anderson told the news conference, “They didn’t 
want to alarm the public.” 

Approximately one week later, the destroyer left for Okinawa. There were no 
casualties on the USS Willard Keith, but, by the time the men had returned when 
the war was over, they all just wanted to forget all the fighting. It was later 
that Anderson remembered the sinking of the sub off the Farallones.

Anderson believes they sank a submarine that day, and he has heard stories from 
local divers who also think there is a sunken sub out there where the attack 
took place. At age 76, Bill has been searching for the sub every summer since 
1993. And back in 1995, the television show “Unsolved Mysteries” aired a segment 
on his search. 

The current object could be the missing Japanese Submarine I-12, or nothing at 
all. It could be a sunken barge or an old shipwreck, any one of over 400 known 
wrecks within the Gulf of the Farallones National Seashore. 

The special long-range submarine I-12, has never been accounted for, but left 
Japan prior to the American attack on Okinawa on Oct. 11, 1944. The submarine’s 
mission was to conduct independent operations in the central and eastern Pacific 
between Hawaii and California, and she did sink the Liberty Ship John A. 
Johnson, in October 1944, but was last seen in the Central Pacific, thousands of 
miles away from San Francisco. Did her commander Kaneo Kudo carry out the basic 
pre-war strategy taught to all I-boat captains of the “advance force:” to 
penetrate deeply into American territory when the Americans attacked the 
homeland (Okinawa), and so advanced to the Farallone Islands, to attempt to 
attack shipping leaving San Francisco? These I-class boats were specially built 
with a 16,000-mile range so that they could sail from Japan to the U.S. and back 

In the 1976 book “I-Boat Captain,” Japanese author, Zenji Orita - who later 
commanded the submarine I-47 - writes about his experiences as a junior officer 
aboard the I-15 on Dec. 17, 1941, when his submarine stationed itself just west 
of the Farallone Islands, only 10 days after Pearl Harbor. At the time, they 
were part of a task force of nine I-class submarines that were sent to attack 
shipping off the U.S. West Coast. The I-12 was not among them. Orita also writes 
about a second trip to the U.S. West Coast where, on Feb. 25, 1942, as a junior 
officer aboard I-17, he participated in the shelling of the Elwood oil terminal 
near Santa Barbara, Calif. 

Currently, Anderson is hoping to find a larger, more stable search vessel from 
which he can deploy a remotely operated vehicle. He now has the exclusive use of 
a remote-control vehicle from VideoRay, a Pennsylvania company. A spokesperson 
for VideoRay, Kayla Patenaude, told the San Mateo County Times, “We need to 
[find] a good boat from someone who would sponsor the trip for just two or three 
days; if it can’t happen in the next couple of weeks, we’ll have to wait until 
next spring,” she said.

  Capt. Alan Hugenot
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