Although Bulloch is a landlocked county 70 miles away from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the courthouse lawn in the center of Statesboro served as the location for viewing a captured Japanese two-man suicide submarine on March 13, 1944. Its arrival was announced by the Bulloch Herald on Thursday, March 9.
How an enemy submarine came to rest on the middle of the courthouse lawn is almost as curious as the story behind the midget Japanese sub itself. Known as "Kaiten," which roughly translated means "Return to the Sky," the suicide crafts were developed late in World War II, weighing more than 8 tons and nearly 50 feet long. While they were designed for two people, in combat, they were piloted by a single person. The Japanese pilots were between 18 and 21 years old and were promised that with their deaths, their families would be rewarded with 10,000 yen and honored for their sacrifice.
Only surpassed in effectiveness by the Kamikaze planes, each Kaiten carried a 3,400 pound warhead. They are credited with sinking a number of ships, including the USS Mississinewa, a fleet oiler that resulted in the loss of 63 men, and the USS Underhill, a destroyer escort that resulted in the loss of 113 men.
The crafts were not designed to survive any impact, so if the warhead didn't detach and explode, the pilots were ordered simply to blow up themselves and their crafts as close as possible to their targets before they sank.
The US captured a number of these vessels as they overran Japanese bases, and this particular craft was returned to the United States for a special money-raising venture thought up by Donald M. Nelson, the chairman of the War Production Board in Washington, D.C.
An organization known as Bundles for America was to benefit from the monies raised on this tour. BFA provided kits to American servicemen that contained daily necessities for the men while traveling. These kits were available at any of the 542 BFA centers and the 4,000 "day rooms" and "canteens" the BFA operated across the nation at transportation hubs.
Once the Japanese submarine was lowered from its tractor-trailer onto a specially constructed platform on Statesboro's courthouse lawn by a crane, steps were set up leading to catwalks that stretched alongside the length of the sub. Portholes were cut into the side of the vessel so its visitors could see inside from a number of locations. Admission to this spectacle cost 50 cents for each adult, with a reduced charge of 25 cents for servicemen in uniform and schoolchildren.
According to the Herald, this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and all were encouraged to visit the sub and help America win the war.
The Herald reported in its next paper that according to Wendell Blake, the president of the Statesboro/Bulloch County Junior Chamber of Commerce, the event was a roaring success, raising a grand total of $474.15 in admission fees. This money, Burke said, would be turned over to the BFA personnel as soon as possible.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. He provides a brief look at the area's historical past.