Capture of the Tachibana Maru

Harry Allcroft of Port Charlotte, Fla. holds a Japanese caarbine and a samurai sword he “liberated” from some of the contraband found aboard the Japanese hospital ship Tachibana Maru. Sun photo by Don Moore

The Tachibana Maru was the only Japanese ship captured under sail by the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Harry Allcroft was aboard the destroyer that helped capture her 57 years ago. The 78-year old Port Charlotte man was a 2nd class motor machinist mate aboard the USS Conner, DD-582.

Early in the morning of Aug. 1, 1945, the 279-foot hospital ship smuggling 29 tons of weapons and ammunition and 1,663 Japanese soldiers bandaged to look like injured troops, was straddled by the Conner and the USS Charrette, DD-581, in the Banda Sea in the Southwest Pacific.

“The Navy had received reports from coast watchers that the Japanese were taking soldiers and equipment back to Japan in hospital ships. The soldiers were to be reassigned. The equipment would be refurbished and sent to the front again,” Allcroft said.

The two-destroyer task force was given general coordinates where the Tachibana was operating. Lt. Cmdr. Ernest Peterson, skipper of the Charrette and the man in charge of the operation, headed his ships toward a rendezvous with the Tachibana.

“We first spotted the ship on radar at 10 p.m. the night before. The skipper wanted to board her during daylight, so we stayed below the horizon, just out of sight,” Allcroft said. “the Japanese didn’t have radar, so they didn’t know we were there.”

Running at flank speed, the Conner and the Charrette pulled up on either side of the Tachibana. All guns on both destroyers were trained her way, as well as all 10 torpedo tubes aboard ship, according to Allcroft.

“The ship was flying a huge red cross painted on a sheet of aluminum that flew above the upper deck for all to see,” he said. “We signaled the Tachibana to stop because we were going to board her.

“The Japanese skipper wouldn’t stop, so we fired a warning shot across her bow. He stopped,” Allcroft recalled.

The Tachibana Maru a 279-foot Japanese “hospital ship” was captured two weeks before the end of World War II by two American destroyers. The enemy ship was attempting to to smuggle soldiers, arms and ammunition to the Japanese mainland. Photo provided

A boarding party consisting of a couple of officers with sidearms and a bunch of sailors was sent over in a whale boat to have a look at the contents of the Tachibana and her passengers. Among those in the first boat was Lt. Louis Cartell, a doctor aboard the Conner.

It had been prearranged that if the men from the Conner ran into trouble, they would radio back the code words “Mickey Finn.” That meant they needed help immediately.

“Mickey Finn” came over the destroyers’ radios. Three more whale boats with 75 additional sailors were on their way to the Tachibana which was wallowing motionless in the sea 1,000 feet away.

“I was armed with a seven-shot automatic shotgun with buckshot. Some of the other guys had sub-machine guns,” Allcroft said. “We’d practiced this boarding drill on the way to intercept the Japanese ship. We knew exactly where we were going once we got on board.

“I was headed for the engine room. When we got there, the Japanese engineers were milling around. Six of us pushed them away from the controls so they couldn’t damage anything. We were all armed,” he said.

Their interpreter showed up in the engine room 30 minutes later. It quickly became obvious that the three officers in charge of running the engines would not cooperate.

They were taken up on deck and moved, with most of the rest of the hospital ship’s officers, to one of the destroyers for safe-keeping. Once they were gone, the sailors who worked in the engine room cooperated.

“There were no problems after that. We had 80 of our sailors, armed and aboard ship,” Allcroft said.

Our doctor started checking the “injuries” of the bandaged enemy soldiers. He discovered they weren’t hurt. It was all a ruse to transport healthy front line soldiers from one point to another in a hospital ship.

This was against international law.

“We had a contingent of 16 Marines who took control of hundreds of Japanese prisoners. The Marines held them above deck. They put barbed wire around the windows and doors of one big room where they kept them under guard at all times. They did a great job.”

They were packed in the room like sardines. The enemy prisoners slept on the floor or lay on palm-covered crates marked with red crosses — presumably full of medical supplies.

The Banda Sea was ringed by a number of Japanese inhabited islands. The crew of the two destroyers had to shepherd the enemy ship past these islands and on farther west to Morica Island, where the U.S. Navy operated a prisoner-of-war camp.

“We were nervous as hell to start with – with all these Japanese prisoners on board,” he said. “But everything worked out OK.”

Allcroft and the sailors aboard the two destroyers reached port on Aug. 6, 1945. Although they didn’t know it at the time, that was the day Col. Paul Tibbets, who was at the controls of a B-29 bomber called the Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

“We didn’t’ start opening the boxes aboard the Tachibana Maru until the prisoners were disposed of ashore. We didn’t know what was in those boxes and neither did the prisoners who were sleeping on them.”

When the American sailors opened the crates, they found thousands of rounds of ammunition. In addition there were hundreds of rifles and semiautomatic rifles. Allcroft and his buddies were shocked at their discovery.

A Marine checks out some of the captured arms found aboard the Tachibana Maru. Photo provided

Why didn’t their Japanese prisoners examine the contents of the boxes before they made port and make a bid to recapture the ship?

Allcroft believes one reason is because the Japanese officers had been separated from their men shortly after the Tachibana was boarded by U.S. Forces. Without their leaders, they were confused.

“If the Japanese had figured out was was in those boxes and had someone to lead them, they would have wiped us out.”

Allcroft and his wife, Vera Mae, have been married 57 years and live in Heritage Oak Park in Port Charlotte. They moved here 13 years ago from Wyckoff,N.J.


This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2002 and is republished with permission.

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Comments

  1. Great recount of the capture! I would note that I believe there to be one error in the story. I believe LT Cartell was the doctor aboard the USS Charrette. The doctor who boarded from the USS Conner was LTJG Ellsworth Wareham, MC, USN, the ship’s surgeon. LTJG Wareham boarded second from the Conner. I know this because Ellsworth Wareham is my grandfather and he has told me this story since I was very young. If you’re interested, we recently discovered some photos in his possession of this capture while we were preparing for his 100th Birthday celebration (yes, he’s still very much alive). http://www.thecentralline.llusmaa.org/wareham-100/

    • Jason – I’ll leave your comment up. I’m certainly interested in the photographs you have. Can you email them to my assistant? You’ll get an email from her with the subject title Capture of the Tachibana Maru. She’d prefer to not have her email address publicized.

      Thank you for your valuable input. Thank your grandfather for his service. I hope you consider interviewing him on camera/dvd following the guidelines set by the Library of Congress and submit it to them for the Veterans History Project.

  2. How exciting to find this account because my father also was there and included an entire chapter in his book about this amazing event. He was also able to find video of the chapter which he put in chronological order and included a narrative with it. He has long passed so I cherish having his voice presnt in his book and the video. His name was Harold Edward Jervey Jr. from South Carolina. He was assised to go on board the red cross ship and helped oversee a group that guarded the group of Japanese.

  3. Great writeup-my Dad was on the Charette. However, Mr. Allcroft could not be 78 years old–that would have made him 9 years old. He must be 88! Thank you.

    • Julie,
      If you go back and look at when I wrote the story you will see that it was probably 10 or more years ago.It says at the bottom of the story, when it appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper in Fla. The story wasn’t written recently.
      Don Moore
      Sun Newspapers
      War Tales

    • *Note appearing at the bottom of every War Tales interview tells when it first appeared in the local newspaper.

      “This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2002 and is republished with permission” is at the end of this one.

  4. Very interesting to read this story that my father Albert Keith Baughman had told me. He was a sailor on the Charrette. He and my cousin, John Wilson, both served on the ship at the same time. I would love to hear from anyone that was on the ship or had family members. Pop didn’t relate a whole lot about the war until his later years. He passed in 2010 and was buried with his DD 581 Charrette hat.

  5. my dad, Cnris Bodjanac may have served as a guard /diesel engineer after transfer from a patrol craft escort. I am told his diary reports shooting a jap stealing supplies

  6. John (bud) lovely My brother was a crew member on dd581 He is still with us today (9/28/2016) I wish I had the great things he came home with from this hospital ship.he had some interesting stories about the take over of this jap hospital ship.the war end came soon after this ships boarding.dd581 had a Great War record.i was and still am proud of my big brother bud. Paul a.lovely

    • Please ask him if he knew my dad, Albert Keith Baughman, or cousin John Wilson. They both served on DD581. Dad passed in 2016 and was buried with a Charette DD581hat my brother-in-law gave to him.

    • My Dad was part of this event. Have you seen the film footage shot at that time? We have put it into a video if you are ever wanting to see it. He also wrote a chapter in his book about the event. The book is Tin Can Salior by Capt. Harold E. Jervey Jr. MD.
      Harriet Jervey Morris -Columbia SC

    • Is your brother still alive? If so, please ask him if he knew my father, Albert Baughman. It is pronounced Boffman

      • So pleased that it came on that meaningful day. This was my fathers narrative of the capture. He passed away in 2005. We have his memoirs in his book The Tin Can Sailor. I see him in a new light every time I read the stories in his book. Your father must have known mine since I understand that it was not a very large contingent that went on board. I get a kick out of my fathers southern accent on the tape. He was born and raised in Charleston SC.

  7. At present it is only on VHS tape. I have been meaning to get it on DVD but needed the right motivation to get it done. I teach high school World History and use it in my classroom. Would you be interested in a DVD copy?? Dad and I pieced it together about 15 years ago from footage he got. He put a dialogue and music track under the video footage. It is amazing to see this event.

      • I will get working on this. I am old school and still have LOTS of VHS tape. LOL

      • I JUST DROPPED THE VHS OFF AT WALGREEN’S. IT WILL TAKE UP TO 3 WEEKS BUT THEN I WILL HAVE IT ON A DVD. I WILL ALSO HAVE IT ONLINE SO I AM HOPING I CAN SEND IT TO YOU THROUGH THE INTERNET. I WILL LET YOU KNOW WHEN I GET IT.

      • Oh thank you so very much! What timing to arrive on Veterans Day. I feel like I have a connection right now to my father Seaman 1st Class Albert Baughman who was one of the sailors that boarded the ship. He had told the account to my while he was living. Thank you again!

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