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Accidental tourist: Captured Japanese submarine’s NM tour remembered

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a state where it’s often difficult to find enough water to float anything on top of, much less put something under, just about the last thing you’d expect to see is a submarine. Especially a Japanese sub.

But for a dozen days in January 1943 a captured Japanese midget sub, a mere 81 feet long, visited 12 New Mexico towns, including Albuquerque, in a tour aimed at selling war bonds and war stamps to support America’s military operations during World War II.

“This surprised a whole lot of people, seeing a submarine cruise through our state,” said Dick Brown, who will be doing an Albuquerque Historical Society presentation about the sub’s New Mexico sojourn at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 15, at the Albuquerque Museum, 2000 Mountain NW.

Brown, 76, is a retired engineer and a U.S. Navy veteran who served on submarines during the 1960s. He became aware of the midget sub’s war bond tour, which covered at least 41 states, and its visit to New Mexico when he saw a photo of the sub on Central Avenue in a Route 66 exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum a couple of years back.

“Being a submariner, that really caught my eye,” he said.

A captured Japanese midget submarine is paraded down Albuquerque’s Central Avenue on Jan. 14, 1943, during a stop on the sub’s cross-country war bond tour. An estimated 20,000 people crowded the sidewalks along the parade route. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

Brown, who lives in the East Mountains south of Tijeras, said one of the most surprising things his research revealed was that the sub, transported on a 90-foot truck-trailer rig, apparently went through Tijeras Canyon after its Jan. 14 stop in Albuquerque.

“In 1943, there was a two-lane road through Tijeras Canyon,” he said. “It was steep and had sharp curves. How could a big rig with an 81-foot sub get through?”

It must have, because the sub’s first stop after leaving Albuquerque was Buford, a town next to Moriarty in 1943 but part of Moriarty today.

Other New Mexico stops on the sub’s tour were Lordsburg, Deming, Las Cruces, Hatch, Hot Springs (now Truth or Consequences), Socorro, Belen, Roswell, Artesia and Carlsbad.

The sub, designated HA-19 by the Japanese, had been captured during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Brown said the sub started its cross-country war bond tour in San Francisco on Oct. 27, 1942, and was in Chicago, moored at the Navy pier on Lake Michigan, when the war ended.

Before it went on the road, it got a do over at the Mare Island Naval Shipyards in Vallejo, Calif.

“They cut 22 openings in the hull so that people could see inside,” Brown said. “They took out the 800-pound torpedoes, the 200-pound demolition charge, the motor and batteries. They added stairs and a platform, which folded down and were attached to the sub.”

Mannequins representing the two Japanese crew members were installed.

“I’ve never seen pictures (of the mannequins) but, according to descriptions in newspaper articles, they had fierce samurai expressions,” Brown said.

A Jan. 15, 1943, Albuquerque Journal story reported that an estimated 20,000 people jammed the sidewalks the previous day to watch a parade featuring the submarine move along Central Avenue from Broadway to Eighth Street.

Clyde Tingley, chairman of the Albuquerque City Commission, led the parade, which included the Albuquerque High School band, the 31st Army Air Force band, a Navy R.O.T.C. contingent from the University of New Mexico, representatives of veterans organizations and personnel and equipment from Kirtland Field and the Mobile Air Training Depot in Albuquerque.

After the parade, the sub was displayed on Central between Fourth and Fifth streets.

“The crowd ganged up on the submarine immediately after the parade, tramping on each other’s toes and pushing and shoving to be first to buy war bonds or stamps, which was the price of a look through the (sub’s) glass windows into the interior,” the Journal reported at the time.

The Albuquerque stop resulted in $175,000 in war bond and war stamp sales. Statewide, the sub’s tour brought in $700,000, which would be about $10 million in 2018 dollars. Considering that, the midget sub did a lot more for the American war effort than it had for the Japanese offensive.

Brown said that HA-19 was one of five midget, two-man subs used in the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. Four of them sank. HA-19, depth-charged, shelled, its two-man crew overcome by fumes from the sub’s batteries, ran aground off the coast of Oahu.

One of the crew members drowned while trying to swim to shore, Brown said, and the other was captured by the U.S., as was the sub itself, on Dec. 8, 1941.

Less than a year later, the midget submarine was full speed ahead, raising money for the country it was designed to attack.

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