The Sagami Maru and the USS Seawolf

Two ships, launched at the same time on opposite ends of the world, both meet their doom in Philippine waters.
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The Philippines is a wreck diver’s dream. Because it is a nation of islands – about 7,100 of them – located right smack in the middle of the major sea routes from the west to Asia, it comes as no surprise that many of the world’s most important sea battles occurred within its borders.

There’s Battle of Manila Bay where the U.S. Navy under Admiral Dewey smashed the Spanish Far East Armada, the attack by the American TF40 on Coron Bay that sank a whole flotilla of Japanese ships, to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement in history – the waters in and around the Philippine archipelago is literally littered with historic shipwrecks.

But more than just the big encounters between whole navies, there are also little known dramas among individual vessels that in themselves make for some very interesting sea stories – and, for the intrepid wreck diver, amazing dive experiences.


PART I: The Sagami and the Seawolf


One such is the tale of the USS Seawolf and the Sagami Maru. Their story began in 1939 when both ships were launched from the opposite ends of the Pacific and ended three years later in a fateful encounter in the Davao Gulf. During this span, their paths would cross violently more once and in the end they would share the same fate – to rest beneath the waves in Philippine.

Just as their beginnings were different, so was the nature of the ships.

The Seawolf was from the start made for battle. After finishing her trial runs, she was assigned to the Philippine Islands operating out of the Cavite Naval Yard. When war broke out with Japan, she was one of the first submarines to be in active duty in the Pacific theater of operations, hunting Japanese ships off the San Bernardino Straits.

For the Sagami Maru, the way that led to war began quite differently. Once the pride of the Nippon Yushen Keisha (NYK) Shipping Line of Japan, the 7,189-ton steamer was at the top of its class at its launch. With a crew complement of 68 men and room for four VIP passengers, she had twin topside decks, special refrigerated cargo holds, and silk-lined rooms. Later guns would be added to effect her transformation, but in her prime her china and silverware, carrying the flag and life preserver logo of the NYK Line, symbolized the civilian affluence to which the ship was born until war fatefully intervened.

The first encounter between the two ships occurred at 2 am on February 19, 1942 during the Japanese invasion of Indonesia. It was just off the Badung Strait that Lt. Cdr. (later Rear Admiral) Frederick B. Warder on board the Seawolf sighted Sagami Maru as part of the main invasion force. The Seawolf went in for a surface attack, firing two Mark-14 torpedoes at the Sagami and another ship but all four missed or failed to explode.

Before he could make a second run, Warder was spotted by the destroyers and forced to dive. The submarine was subjected to a barrage of depth charges, and while maneuvering to escape runs aground in the strait. Before its attackers can close in for the kill, the Seawolf was able to break free. It again surfaces and the escorts charge in to attack. Warder retreats at full speed and fires two torpedoes from his stern tubes at his pursuers. In the ensuing evasive action conducted by the Japanese ships, the submarine is able to make good her escape.

After that initial meeting it would be another nine months before their paths would cross again.

The day of November 3, 1942 dawned bright over the lightly choppy waters of the Davao Gulf. It had been a productive first week for the hunting Seawolf. Just the day before, it had encountered the outbound 3,500 ton freighter transport, Gifu Maru and sent her to the bottom near point San Agustin at the head of the Davao Gulf. Now, less than 24 hours after, Lt. Cmdr. Warder was once again peering through his periscope at another Japanese prize – one that had escaped him once before.

With a light wind blowing from the north, the Sagami Maru lay at anchor just off the beach in Talomo Bay, blissfully unaware of the danger that lurked just beneath the ruffled and white-capped surface. It was eight in the morning, and the ill-fated ship had less than four hours before it would settle to its final resting place 300 feet at the bottom of the Davao Gulf.

According to declassified U.S. navy accounts of the events of that day, the attack began at 9:21 am when Warder ordered the submarine crew to go to battle stations. He launched his first of three attacks at 10:50 am, with the first torpedo hitting the “machinery spaces just under the stack.” He further recounts that the “ship listed 30 degrees to starboard, towards us, and settled in water about 5 feet. (The Japanese) manned bow and stern guns and commenced firing at us.

(The) ship rapidly righted itself. Water flat inside bay. We withdrew to (the) south and reloaded and came in again for second attack. His shells make much bigger splash than do ours and make a bigger racket on exploding than any I have yet observed. On second approach the after gun was firing about 500 yards to port of us and the forward gun about 500 yards to starboard. Wind freshening and water getting rougher.”

By 11:31 the Seawolf had completed its second attack, this time coming from the port side. One of their torpedoes hit in the “after part of the ship and when the smoke cleared away the after gun platform and the entire topside was clear of people. The forward gun (was) manned but not firing.”

By this time the dock was already lined with people – clearly establishing that even then Filipinos where already inveterate busybodies. Warder makes note of the fact that the Sagami could “take a lot of punishment” as she was “now down by (the) stern about 10 feet but not sinking as she should.” He fires more torpedoes from his stern tubes, delivering the final terminal blows that finally send his adversary to the bottom.

In his final account of the encounter, made just before noon, Warder observes that the Japanese flags and ensigns that just that morning flew atop the ship’s masts were now down. He also reports seeing five boats taking people (from the ship) to the dock.

For its efforts in sinking the Sagami Maru, the Seawolf was pursued and depth charged by at least three planes and two surface ships. Diving to 200 feet and going into evasive maneuvers, she was not able to evade her attackers until over two hours after the sinking.

But even as that day marked the end of the Sagami Maru, the Seawolf went on to many more sea adventures and notching one of the highest totals for enemy shipping sunk by a submarine during World War II. Eventually however, her luck ran out and she was lost at sea while on her way to deliver war supplies and reinforcements to the east coast of Samar on October 3, 1945 – three years and one month to the day of the sinking of the Sagami Maru.

The end for the Seawolf came at a tremendous cost – 102 lives lost, including several Filipino US army rangers. Even more tragically, it is suspected to have been the victim of friendly fire, a fact that may never be ascertained. What is known however is that the Seawolf served with honor and distinction during the war, contributing heavily to the push for the liberation of the Philippine Islands.


PART II: Diving into History


Today, while the Seawolf is marked as still being “on eternal patrol” – a designation for US subs that are missing but have not yet been confirmed sunk – her old adversary still lies in its murky grave off the coast of Davao City.

Dives to the site are being conducted, but the extreme depths make it risky for most divers using ordinary air mixtures. Recent developments in the local dive community – particularly the introduction of nitrox and trimix blending through one of the diveshops – are opening up new areas of opportunities to explore the shipwreck.

Among the interesting sights and artifacts one can still see on the Sagami are the Japanese army trucks and motorcycle sidecars in its cargo holds. A newly discovered forward compartment also contains boxes of ordnance. There is also a resident hawksbill that makes its home near the bow winches.

Topside, the ship is layered with heavy silt deposited by the nearby rivers and creeks. This makes visibility within the ship dangerous for divers. Visibility can go from a few meters to black zero in seconds, trapping the unwary (and unlucky) in the maze of its inner compartments.

There are several entry points into the wreck – the forward and aft cargo holds, the topside decks, the galley area and the broken-off smoke stack – but none of them are recommended except for the most experienced divers using the right gas mixtures for the depths involved.

Diving the Sagami offers a rich and rewarding experience that is hard to duplicate on other dives. Not just because of the sights that can be seen, but more importantly because it is a dive straight into the history of Davao and the Philippines.

 



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16 Comments

anonymous by Tom Reid on 6/14/2008
excellent site. spent the morning reading different articles. good job
anonymous by Paul H. on 9/4/2008

The official date of loss for the Seawolf is Oct. 3, 1944, not 1945.

anonymous by Wayne Kopinski on 12/15/2008

This is a excellent site,I also spent the morning reading the different articals,great work,very interesting,thank you

anonymous by tiny on 4/9/2009

where is the sagami maru pictures

anonymous by me on 4/9/2009

great website many interesting stories

anonymous by roommail2001@yahoo.com on 5/25/2009

is there any body interested to see sagami maru videos im a filipino diver a shoot some vids of sagami maru and my wish is someday there is someone whos interested to take out or make sagami maru float so that everybody can see it thanks

anonymous by clownfish on 8/13/2009

we once dove there coz some locals found it. and a year aftyer the wreck is gone. who could have claimed it? we made a map of it and sketched it

5 miles from the sagami maru wreck,lies a 3 concrete box 25 meters apart,attaching to one another,the dimension is 1x1x1meter.we dont know if it is loaded inside with precious items,if anobody who has the knowledge for this recoveries,we tried to refloat it,using 15 barrels,but it didnt work out.if your interested for this concrete box recoveries,then you could email me.regisroberto12@yahoo.com
Very interesting piece. I have read several accounts of this particular battle over the years and have always foudn it to be interesting. Just to add something more to the story of Sagmi Maru itself, Seawolf had actually been looking for a ship at anchor to test it's theories regarding U.S. torpedo deficiences early in the war. There are actually pictures taken through Seawolf's periscope of the attack and the resulting sinking. As a side note, U.S.S. Seawolf was sunk by the U.S. Destroyer Rowell after an error in recognition signals.
to all interested in shipwrecks recoveries,we are looking for group of interested people who is willing to provide us with the complete equipments,we know the exact location of the ill fated japanese wreck AWA MARU3,which located in sarangani bay,general santos,philippines.it is located 400feet below the sea,we had the coordinates.we have 3 available divers but we dont have the capacity of rentingthe diving equipments. because it is very expensive.just e mail me if your interested so that we could arranged that said exploration. regisroberto12@yahoo.com.this wreck contains tons of au,platinum,and precious items.
anonymous by THEE GEE on 1/21/2010
WHY IS THE USS SEAWOLF SSN NAMES SO IMPORTANT?
anonymous by Pedro Australiano on 1/9/2011
I lived in a bamboo beach hut in Talomo Bay for 3 months in 1985, where I would dive the Sagami and other wrecks over at Samal Island, which is straight across from Davao. I have spent many hours exploring the Sagami Maru with great pleasure, anyone can find her just watch all the fisherman, they will all go and sit over her and fish early in the morning. The top wheelhouse and radio room is in @117 feet of water, while her stern is at @ 180 feet of water, where you will find only one anti-aircraft gun in position with lots of deep water soft coloured corals encrusted over her railings and the gun, I'm not sure how you would gain entrance inside her through the aft cargo hatch as it is full of mud to just 1 meter from the top and as much deep with silt from the Talomo river, she has been stripped out by local divers that live in Talomo beach of any good bronze or brass items and sold for scrap long before I dove her, the best time to dive is early morning with incoming tide for better vis, one thing don't try and get inside the cabins its possibly the last thing you will ever do.. happy diving....Pedro
anonymous by crispin patria tagamolila on 8/11/2011
Very interesting. hope to dive with you their soon sir carlos. see you soon sir, HOOOYAHHHH!!!
anonymous by RINKASHI on 10/22/2012
Many Treasure hunters been searching for this ship. Davao divers found somewhere Mati seas. Whats shocking now after a year or two since the discovery of Sagami Maru or Sikami Maru, we dove the spot and its not there anymore. You know why?

http://yamashitatreasures.com/code.html

JAPANESE TREASURE WW2

B. UNDERWATER TREASURE SITES
112) Siwa Maru,D Island Ship(very large)
113) Tikang Maru (large)
114) Sakima Maru (large) - SAGAMI MARU
115) Maru of the Orient 3 (large)
116) Capt. Kimura 6 ships (very large)
117) Mini Submarine (small)
118) Camouflage Submarine (medium)
119) Cliff wall Submarine (medium)
120) Underground Submarine base (large)
121) Runway Edge Sea Vault (small)
122) Daibatsu of Ginoog and Davao Gulf (large)


japs retrieved it im sure. could have been one of the most remamrkable ww2 yamashita treasure discoveries.
anonymous by teresa on 2/11/2014
i lived in talomo my father know where is the exact location of sagami maru when im 9 years old my brother and father teach to the japanes friend the exact location of sagami maru and they take a vedio of the ship and what is the name of the ship he discovered the ship is sagami maru thats y the japanes make a celebration bcoz he found the ship and the japanes promise he will come back asap and i heard the txt message that the japanes die bcoz og the heart attack bcoz of happenes
Can somwone nice kind intrested person gice me coordinates of the ship graveyard‏,USS Saratoga, HIJMS Nagato, Arkansas, Carlisle, Sakawa, Anderson, Lamson, Apogon och U-båten Pilotfish 386!


Please please help me?
AnnSofie Jönsson

ronja43@hotmail.com

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