Killed By A Match

12 Aug

Have you seen the Centrum Silver commercial that talks about how sensitive to light your eyes can be?  The narrative goes something like this:  “Your eyes – even at a distance of ten miles, the length of 146 football fields, they can see the light of a single candle.  Your eyes are amazing.”  I’ve done some checking, and the claim appears to be true; some sources say you can see a candle at much greater distances – up to thirty miles!  So, ten miles (which happens to be 176 football fields, not 146, unless you include the end zones) appears to be a reasonable claim.

Each time I see that commercial I am reminded of a story from a book I read last winter entitled Japanese Destroyer Captain, by Tameichi Hara. Before relating the story, here’s a brief description of the book and of Hara:


“This highly regarded war memoir was a best seller in both Japan and the United States during the 1960s and has long been treasured by historians for its insights into the Japanese side of the surface war in the Pacific. The author was a survivor of more than one hundred sorties against the Allies and was known throughout Japan as the “Unsinkable Captain.” A hero to his countrymen, Capt. Hara exemplified the best in Japanese surface commanders: highly skilled (he wrote the manual on torpedo warfare), hard driving, and aggressive. Moreover, he maintained a code of honor worthy of his samurai grandfather, and, as readers of this book have come to appreciate, he was as free with praise for American courage and resourcefulness as he was critical of himself and his senior commanders.” [1]

Tameichi Hara

Tameichi Hara

Hara received his naval training at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy at Etajima, graduating in 1921.  In the 1930s, while serving as a surface warfare instructor Hara was dissatisfied with the success rate of Japan’s excellent Mark 93 (aka “Long Lance”) torpedoes, so he rewrote the Japanese torpedo doctrine.  In doing so he dramatically improved the success rate – and deadliness – of Japan’s torpedoes.[2]  As captain of three ships over the course of the war – first the destroyer Amatsukaze, then the destroyer Shigure, and late in the war, the light cruiser Yahagi – he was in command of a ship participating in every major naval battle of the Pacific war: Empress Augusta Bay, Coral Sea, the invasion of the Philippines, Guadalcanal, Savo Island, and Midway. In the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal his ship Amatsukaze sank the USS Barton. [3]  On the night of 2 August 1943 Hara’s Amatsukaze was following Japanese destroyer Amagiri when Amagiri cut John F. Kennedy’s PT – 109  in two. Hara ordered his men to fire on the PT boat. [4]

IJN Light Cruiser Yahagi, the last ship commanded by Captain Hara; sunk in Operation Ten-ho

IJN Light Cruiser Yahagi, the last ship commanded by Captain Hara; sunk in Operation Ten-ho


Battleship Yamato under aerial bombardment, April 1945.

Three waves of American aircraft hit the Yamato with a total of twelve bombs and seven torpedoes.  Yamato capsized at 1420.   When the roll reached approximately 90°, one of the two bow magazines detonated in a tremendous explosion.  Yamato sank beneath the waves at about 1423.

Three waves of American aircraft hit the Yamato with a total of twelve bombs and seven torpedoes. Yamato capsized at 1420. When the roll reached approximately 120°, one of the two bow magazines detonated in a tremendous explosion. Yamato sank beneath the waves at 1423, taking all but 276 of her 3,332-man crew down with her.[9]

As the war’s end neared Hara commanded the light cruiser Yahagi, and was chosen to participate in Operation Ten-Go.  This last-ditch plan was to send most of Japan’s remaining ships in a naval kamikaze attack on the Allied naval forces supporting the invasion of Okinawa.  At dawn on April 7, 1945 the superbattleship Yamato, accompanied by Yahagi and nine destroyers, departed their home port of Kure, Japan, with enough fuel to reach Okinawa – but not enough to return.  Their movement was detected almost immediately by American submarines; American aircraft from carriers near Okinawa were soon in the air to meet the enemy.  The Japanese force lacked any significant air support, and the resultant battle was completely one-sided; Japan lost between 3,700 and 4,250 sailors, while the U.S. lost just twelve airmen.  Hara’s Yahagi capsized and sank at 1405, hit by twelve bombs and seven torpedoes.  Hara survived, and from the water he watched waves of American aircraft attack Yamato, until she capsized and sank at 1423, signaling the effective end of Japan’s naval involvement in the war. [5]

But years before, in the early days of World War II when Japan was enjoying success after success, Hara was the captain of the destroyer Amatsukaze. In early March, 1942, his assignment was to ply the Java Sea in search of Allied ships, particularly submarines.  The following story occurred on the night of 3 March.

“Around 2030 I saw a dim, flickering, yellowish light Several thousand meters away on Amatsukaze’s starboard bow. It blinked Once and swiftly disappeared, like the flick of a lighted match. I pulled out my pocket binoculars and gazed in the same direction. Yes, someone was on deck smoking a cigarette. I estimated the distance as 4,000 meters almost due north and forward of Amatsukaze’s course.

“The destroyer quickly picked up speed and dashed forward through the dark with all hands ready at battle stations. The target was made out to be a surfaced submarine. It was moving to the east at fairly good speed. We boosted speed to 26 knots and swung left to bring Amatsukaze on a parallel heading with the sub at a distance of 2,300 meters. Our searchlight showed the target to be a medium-sized submarine.


IJN Destroyer Amatzukaze; Hara commanded this ship at the outbreak of the war, and it was the ship on which this story takes place.

“ The first salvo roared. All the shells were over. The next moment, I saw two sinister lines of foam running a few feet ahead of our bows.  ”Torpedoes!”  someone shouted, and a chill went down my spine. My dread was forgotten a few seconds later when two shells of our second salvo landed on the target.  Amatsukaze was up to 30 knots, and the enemy torpedoes had missed us.

“There was a third salvo, which scored one more hit, as fire broke out on the conning tower of the submarine. The flaming ship vanished quietly into the waves.

“We swung rapidly to port and dashed to the submersion scene. Six depth charges were dropped. The sea billowed and boiled in the dark, and all was still but for the rain. There was no question about the fate of this enemy.

“We cleared out at 2345 after combing the area for possible sonar contacts. There were no signs that the sub was alive.

“Weather cleared the following day, and we returned to the scene of the night’s action, 39 miles, bearing 245 degrees from Bawean Island. This spot too, was marked by a long path of heavy oil. It rose to the surface like smoke belching from an undersea volcano. The crew was again called out to see the results of their teamwork. They were not as exhilarated as on the previous evening, but they looked contented and satisfied. While the crew was thus assembled on deck, I took the opportunity to speak to them: “You have seen the good results of our combined efforts. I am thoroughly satisfied with your fine job. We have been through much together in the months since this war started, without losing a single soul. Let us hope our good fortune may continue. You have done a fine job, but more will be expected of you from now on.

”Look at the stream of oil! That oil comes from an enemy submarine that has been turned into a huge casket for its crew of more than 100 men. They died because of the unpardonable stupidity of one man who smoked on the surfaced deck. I saw the match he lit and that gave us the initiative.

”Enemy seamanship was good. Their torpedo marksmanship was terrific. Despite all our advantage, Amatsukaze survived only by a very close shave. But for one stupid, careless man breaking blackout by smoking, this destroyer might well have been sunk and all 250 of us killed. This is war. I trust that each of you has learned a lesson from this.

“As you may know, I have been an inveterate smoker for 20 years. But last night when we sank this sub, I stopped smoking. I mention this-not to urge such stoicism on you,  but to let you remind me of my pledge whenever I am tempted to do it again.  As your skipper, I am responsible for your lives and thus I cannot afford smoking any longer.

“Now let us offer a humble prayer for our victims. Though enemy, they died for their nation and thus are deserving of our prayers.”

“After the brief prayer, I called up Ikeda, who had spotted the submarine adrift on March 2 and rewarded him with a bonus of ten yen (roughly $4) from my pocket, a package of towel, soap and cigarettes, and a certificate noting that he had earned 10 priority shore leaves. The meeting ended with an ovation for Ikeda. A number of his colleagues thronged about him with congratulations.” [6]

USS Perch under way.

USS Perch under way.

It’s a bit difficult to identify which sub was engaged by Amatsukaze in this story.  It is known that on the night of 1 March  Amatsukaze spotted the submarine USS Perch in the same general area, dropped depth charges, and reported that the sub had been sunk.  However, Perch wasn’t sunk; she was heavily damaged and put on the bottom at 147 ft.  Extensive oil loss and flooded compartments gave the appearance of a sub breaking apart.  Perch surfaced in the early hours of March 2, but again sought refuge on the sea bottom two hours before sunrise, in 200 feet of water, after being spotted on the surface by two Japanese destroyers.  Again depth charges rained around her, and again she managed to evade destruction.  Perch remained on the bottom until after dark on 2 March, when, after an hour of effort, she was able to break loose from the bottom and surface.

The crew of the USS Perch aboard the JIN Destroyer Ushio.  All 59 crew members of Perch were rescued by the Japanese and were sent to Japan; six died of malnutrition but the remainder survived the war and returned home at war's end.

The crew of the USS Perch aboard the IJN destroyer Ushio. All 59 crew members of Perch were rescued by the Japanese and were sent to Japan; six died of malnutrition during their imprisonment but the remainder survived the war and returned home at war’s end.

This time the damage was extensive, and leaking hatches left Perch unable to dive safely.  On the morning of 3 March Perch was again spotted by Japanese destroyers, which fired on her and rapidly closed.  Unable to train her damaged gun, fire torpedoes or dive, it was decided to scuttle the ship.  All crew members were removed, hatches opened, and after she was abandoned the ship sank quickly.  All crew members were picked up by the Japanese destroyers, eventually being sent to Japan to work as slave labor in the mines and factories there.  [7]

On a side note, the wreckage of USS Perch was discovered accidently by an international dive team  on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2006, off the coast of Java.  The team had been searching for the HMS Exeter when Perch was located. The wreckage of Perch now rests in 190 feet of water. [8]

Plate found on the sail of the sunken USS Perch that led to identification of the wreck.

Plate found on the sail of the sunken USS Perch that led to identification of the wreck.

So, was Perch the submarine sunk in Hara’s story?  Most researchers don’t think so.  The details of the last days of Perch don’t quite coincide with the story told by Hara.  Perch was scuttled in the morning of 3 March; Hara’s story took place that night. Some researchers suggest that it may have been a Dutch sub – but I’ve been unable to find any sunk in that area on that date, or that are unaccounted for.  At this point the target in the story above remains a mystery.

Whatever the case, the light from a single match, seen from four thousand meters (about two and a half miles) away, led to the sinking of a gallant Allied warship.  It was a ship killed by a match.


If you or your family member served aboard Tryon, or if for another reason you’re interested in Tryon, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment so that we can communicate further.

If you have a comment, correction, annecdote or story related to this or any other post, please be sure to leave a comment. I enjoy nothing more than hearing from others that share an interest in this most pivital time in world history.

And thanks for taking time to check out my blog. I sincerely appreciate it.


[1]  United States Naval Institute Bookstore: Japanese Destroyer Captain

[2]   Hara, Tameichi. Japanese Destroyer Captain: Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Midway – the Great Naval Battles as Seen through Japanese Eyes. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute, 2007. Print. Pp. 28-30.

[3]  Wikipedia – “Tameichi Hara”

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  Japanese Destroyer Captain, pg. 284. 

[6]  Japanese Destroyer Captain, pp. 82-3.

[7]  Wikipedia – “USS Perch (SS-176)

[8]  “On Eternal Patrol – The Discovery of USS Perch (SS-176)”

[9]  “IJN Battleship YAMATO: Tabular Record of Movement”


7 Responses to “Killed By A Match”

  1. Malcolm Keating Coffey August 18, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    My father, Keating Coffey, LJG, served on the Tryon late in the war probably from Jan-December, 1945. I have a letter written to my mother on August 20, 1945 which is 14 days after Hiroshima and 5 days after Japan’s surrender. Mentions being amongst 1000 islands which must be Micronesia near Guam. Why no mention of the war’s end is a mystery to me. Anybody have any corroborating information?

    • rememberthetitans August 19, 2015 at 10:21 am #

      Hi Malcolm – thanks so much for visiting my blog. I hope you found some useful info on here. I did indeed find your dad listed as a deck officer aboard Tryon by Mac Perry in The South Pacific Express (Although he misspelled the last name as “Coffee”). Based on information from Tryon’s war diary, she was anchored in Apra Harbor, Guam, at the time of the announcement that Japan had agreed to the terms of surrender on 15 August 1945. While anchored at Guam she received orders to sail for Manila, Philippines. Tryon weighed anchor at around 1800 on 16 August, arriving in Manila around noon on 21 August. Based on coordinates listed in the war diary, I found that Tryon was sailing through the Sibuyan Sea south of Manila on Aug. 20. So the islands your dad was seeing were the Philippine islands. The fact that he didn’t name the Philippine Islands specifically as the islands he was sailing through, and didn’t supply any response to the agreement to terms of surrender with the Japanese, would lead me to believe that they were still under war-time censorship at that point, even though the war was seemingly over. As you know, the Instrument of Surrender was not signed until 2 September 1945, and it’s possible that censorship rules continued to be in effect. Censorship rules prevented giving any information that could provide the location of the ship or actions they were participating in. There is very little interesting information in letters from my dad that were saved by my grandmother – he mostly wrote about people from home, and often asked for things he wanted to be sent to him. Truthfully, I find his letters amazingly uninteresting to read! If I were going to guess why your dad’s letter failed to include more details about where he was, or give his reaction to the agreed-upon terms of surrender, that would be the reason.

      Here are coordinates giving Tryon’s location at specified times on 20 August 1945, military time (from war diary):

      0800 12°47′ N 124°15′ E
      1200 12°46′ N 122°33′ E
      2000 13°08′ N 121°57′ E

      You can look these coordinates up on Google Earth and see precisely where Tryon was at the given times on that date.

      Did that answer your questions? Let me know if you have other questions.

      • mac August 19, 2015 at 11:19 am #

        I am overwhelmed with your detailed response. I took a flyer believing it would lead nowhere, and I thank you so much for taking the time and effort to help me out. Turns our that Mac Perry was also a LJG and born in 1911 as was my father. They probably sailed together. Any current ideas of how to obtain a copy of the book. And, I am somewhat computer illiterate and can’t determine your name, who you are and what your connection is to the Tryon. Any information would be fun to have.
        Mac Coffey
        5044 Paradise Dr.
        Tiburon, CA 94920

      • rememberthetitans August 20, 2015 at 10:24 am #

        Hi Mac. I’m happy to help out people with questions about Tryon whenever possible. My name is Tim Hughes (I don’t think that is stated anywhere on the blog, and I probably need to correct that), and my dad served on Tryon from 4 May 1943 to the end of the war, so that’s my connection to the ship. I’ve had a long-term interest in Tryon, but it wasn’t until the past few years that I managed to find much about her. I had a chance connection with the Buys brothers, whose dad was an officer aboard Tryon, and that kind of got the ball rolling. They provided me with a great deal of information regarding Tryon. Since then I’ve managed to accumulate quite a bit of other information about her. My blog posts haven’t been as regular as I would like, but I’ve still been able to gather additional info on Tryon, which I’m pleased to be able to share with others.

        Mac Perry was detached from Tryon 11 July 1944, so it’s unlikely that he served aboard Tryon with your dad, based on the dates you provided. To finish The South Pacific Express Perry relied on the information he gleaned from his friends that had stayed on board after his departure. However, Ekdal Buys, the father of the Buys brothers mentioned before, remained aboard Tryon until the end of the war, so I’m sure that he would have known your dad. My father was a rating, Electricians Mate Second Class, so he probably would have had limited contact with your father.

        Regarding the book, they are hard to come by, and I searched for one for several years before actually finding one. The best I can advise you is to watch for one on Ebay – you never know when another will come up for auction.

        Let me know if you have any other questions – if I don’t know the answer I’ll try to help you find it!


      • mac coffey August 20, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

        Thanks so much for all the information you have provided. My questions have been answered, the most significant one being where was my father when Harry dropped the bomb, an act that might have saved his life as he was trained to command landing boats on enemy beaches. The Tryon had 4 aboard.

  2. Carolyn Conley September 24, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    Wow!! What a great job of research!! I’m very impressed. You’ve got a great book here!

    • rememberthetitans September 24, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

      Thanks so much, Carolyn! As I’ve said many times before, it’s a labor of love. It’s interesting to me how the more I learn about Tryon and the Pacific war in general the more all the WW II parts fit together. The people, the ships, the locations – they all tie together. All the pieces connect – as huge as the Pacific Theater was, it was still a finite space with a limited number of players. The more I learn the more it all comes together as one grand, tragic, epic drama. I enjoy sitting back and taking it all in!

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