In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, before the Imperial Japanese Navy’s warplanes reached Pearl Harbor, another group of vessels was moving toward the Oahu naval base. One of these was the ill-fated HA. 19, a Type A Ko-hyoteki-class midget submarine. Piloted by a crew of two, Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki and Chief Warrant Officer Kiyoshi Inagaki, HA. 19 launched from the Type C cruiser submarine I-24. HA. 19’s string of bad luck began that morning with a broken gyrocompass.
Though the submarine eventually made it to the entrance to Pearl Harbor, without a compass to guide their way, her crew grounded her just outside the harbor entrance after striking a reef three times. With the main attack underway, HA. 19 was discovered by the destroyer USS Helm (DD-388) at approximately. 0817. Helm’s crew fired on the sub and missed, dislodging it from the reef. A second shot also missed, allowing Inagaki to dive and avoid further attacks.
On several attempts, HA. 19 tried to enter the harbor but kept hitting the surrounding reefs. During a final attempt, she was struck by depth charges, which damaged her torpedo launcher and periscope. Though Inagaki and Sakamaki tried to return to I-24, HA. 19 was unable to make the run. Grounded one last time after the engine died, Sakamaki issued the abandon ship order, though an attempt to scuttle the submarine failed. Sakamaki survived and was captured, but Inagaki’s body washed up on the shore the following day.
As for HA. 19, the midget submarine remained stuck on the reef for another day, when American bombers attempted to bomb her. The explosives missed but dislodged the vessel and she washed ashore. In the hands of the Americans, HA. 19 would go on to serve a very special purpose, one that likely disgraced the Japanese sailors who had inadvertently handed their midget sub over to the enemy.
Disassembled into three separate parts, HA. 19 was taken to the submarine base at Pearl Harbor. When the military was finished investigating, the captured midget submarine was given a new task: to help sell US War Bonds to finance the war against her home nation.
American War Bonds and the Tour of HA. 19
War bonds sold to the general public have been used by numerous nations to finance their military expenses. As World War II loomed, President Franklin Roosevelt purchased the first Series E Defense Bond on May 1st, 1941. The United States used various means to sell bonds, including rallies hosted by Hollywood stars. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, a new attraction was sent on tour: the Japanese midget submarine HA. 19.
In September of 1942, the dismantled submarine was shipped to the US mainland, loaded aboard a flat-bed trailer in California, and sent on a nationwide tour. Before setting out on the tour, 22 viewing ports were cut into her hull, allowing curious visitors the opportunity to see inside the submarine for the price of a $1 savings stamp. From a catwalk constructed alongside, paying customers could peer into one of the ports and see two life-sized dummies wearing Japanese uniforms and “fierce samurai expressions” sitting at the controls. Wherever she went, HA. 19 was sure to raise significant amounts of money.
The Belen Rush
At the beginning of 1943, just over six months after the American victory at Midway turned the tide of the war, HA. 19 came to New Mexico and far west Texas on its nationwide tour. The vessel made stops at Lordsburg, Las Cruces, El Paso, and Fort Bliss before continuing to the small city of Belen. On January 13th, 1943, the captured midget submarine rolled into Belen for a stop scheduled to last just an hour. The response was immense.
Reports claim the crowd that welcomed HA. 19 to Belen was around 2,000 people strong. By the time she departed, more than $3,200 had been raised in a town of around 8,000 people, many of whom were off fighting in the war.
HA. 19 Today
After traveling to 2,000 cities and towns in 41 states, HA. 19 was finally given a permanent home, first at the Key West Naval Station in Florida, and since 1991, at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. She remains on display there, though there’s no War Bond admission to be able to view the fascinating piece of Pearl Harbor and World War II history.