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Yahachi Tanabe

Born1907
Died29 Apr 1990
CountryJapan
CategorySea
GenderMale

Contributor: C. Peter Chen

Yahachi Tanabe was born in 1907. Entering the Imperial Navy Academy at Etajima, Hiroshima, Japan in 1925, he completed his studies in Mar 1928 and was promoted to the rank of sub-lieutenant second class by Nov 1929. In Dec 1931, he was promoted to the rank of sub-lieutenant first class. In Nov 1934, he volunteered for submarine service. As a lieutenant by Dec 1938, he enrolled in the Submarine School for officers, and in Mar 1939 he was assigned to the submarine RO-58. Between Jun 1939 and Nov 1940, he served as the communications officer aboard submarine I-8. After serving as the communications staff officer at Submarine Squadron 2, Lieutenant Commander Tanabe took submarine command courses. On 15 Oct 1941, he was appointed his first submarine command, RO-59, a training submarine operating in the Inland Sea.

On 31 Jan 1942, approximately two months after the Pacific War began, Tanabe was given command of submarine I-168, recently renamed from I-68 in May 1941. During the Battle of Midway, at about 0410 on 7 Jun 1942, he sighted to his starboard bow "several black points [dots] on the eastern horizon" with the first light of dawn. He submerged at 0600 as two American destroyers closed. He approached undetected toward the American group, which consisted of six destroyers protecting the crippled carrier Yorktown, moving at a slow speed of three knots. Tanabe's submarine got as close to Yorktown as 500 yards, but backed off to about 1,300 yards from Yorktown for more effective torpedo range. He fired four Type 89 torpedoes in two salvos within three seconds. Sailors aboard destroyer Monaghan sighted the tracks of the torpedoes, so did those from destroyer Hammann, but there were no time to react. Forty seconds later, Tanabe recorded hearing four large explosions. He assumed all four of his torpedoes hit Yorktown, but only two did; one of them his Hammann, breaking her in two and sinking her within three minutes, while the final torpedo missed Yorktown near the stern. The fourth explosion Tanabe heard was likely the depth charges aboard Hammann detonating as she sank. With so many destroyers around, she endured a heavy depth charge attack. Damaged to an extent that she could not submerge, I-168 surfaced and prepared to make the final stand. Tanabe made what he thought was to be his last radio message, "We sank Yorktown", but luck was on his side as his engineers were able to get the electric motor working. With the destroyers nearly on top of her, I-168 submerged and limped home to Kure, Japan for repairs, arriving at 19 Jun. When I-168 arrived at Kure, the tank only had 1,750 pounds of fuel left.

Author Peter C. Smith noted that "[b]y his dogged perserverance and audacious and skilled attack, Commander Tanabe had achieved more than the entire kido Butai and main battle fleet combined had done". Indeed, although the Japanese Navy aircraft were the ones that disabled Yorktown, it was Tanabe and the crew of I-168 that actually achieved the only major scores of the battle for the Japanese.

On 29 Jun 1942, Tanabe left I-168 for his 4 Aug assignment as the new commanding officer of I-176. Operating out of Rabaul, New Britain, he delivered supplies to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and to Buna, New Guinea. On 19 Oct 1942, his submarine damaged the American heavy cruiser Chester with torpedoes. On 19 Mar 1943, I-176 was attacked and damaged by American aircraft while in harbor at Lae, New Guinea. Later that month, he was transferred to Yokosuka Naval Station in Japan. In Jul, he became an instructor at the Submarine School. On 1 May 1944, he was promoted to the rank of commander. In Jun 1945, he was assigned to the Special Ordnance Section. In Aug 1945, after the Japanese surrender, he was one of the naval officers assigned to plan for General Douglas MacArthur's visit to Atsugi, Japan.

Tanabe retired from the Japanese Navy in Nov 1945 and, with Joseph D. Harrington, wrote the article "I Sank the Yorktown at Midway". Tanabe passed away in his home in Omiya City, Saitama, Japan.

Source: Midway Dauntless Victory.

Yahachi Tanabe Timeline

1 Jan 1907 Yahachi Tanabe was born.
29 Apr 1990 Yahachi Tanabe passed away.




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More on Yahachi Tanabe
Event(s) Participated:
» Battle of Midway and the Aleutian Islands
» Solomon Islands Campaign

Ship(s) Served:
» I-68 / I-168


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