By Richard Goldstein,, July 26 2000
Capt. Joseph F. Enright, the skipper of the submarine Archerfish, which sank the largest aircraft carrier of World War II, a Japanese ship whose existence had been unknown to the United States, died Thursday at his home in Fairfax, Va. He was 89.
For directing the sinking of the carrier, the Shinano, Captain Enright, a commander at the time, was awarded the Navy Cross, the service's second-highest award for valor.
Shortly before 9 on the evening of Nov. 28, 1944, while the Archerfish was on surface patrol near the entrance to Tokyo Bay, its radar picked up a ship 12 miles away.
Commander Enright thought it was an oil tanker, but about an hour later he realized it was an aircraft carrier escorted by three destroyers.
The ship was the Shinano, envisioned as one of three superbattleships, together with the Yamato and Musashi, but converted to an aircraft carrier after Japan lost four carriers at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
It displaced 59,000 tons, according to post-war American estimates, making it the largest aircraft carrier that had ever been built, and it had extra armor to defend against torpedoes. The Japanese considered it to be virtually unsinkable.
Three hours before it was spotted by the Archerfish, the Shinano had departed in haste from Tokyo Bay on its maiden voyage.
Final checks on watertight doors had not been completed, and the crew was largely inexperienced, but Japanese naval commanders feared the carrier would be seen by American bombers, which had begun attacks on the Japanese mainland.
The Shinano was sailing west, to Kure, where it was to undergo finishing touches, take on fighter planes and bombers, and then enter the Inland Sea to defend the home islands.
The Shinano's lookout spotted the Archerfish at 10:45 p.m.
Over the next four hours, the Shinano's commander, Capt. Toshio Abe, fearing that he was being pursued by a pack of submarines, zigged and zagged in an effort to escape.
But at 3:17 the next morning, the Archerfish fired six torpedoes at the Shinano from a distance of 1,400 yards. Four torpedoes struck the carrier.
In his memoirs, "Shinano! The Sinking of Japan's Secret Supership," (St. Martin's Press, 1987), Captain Enright described the moment:
"I saw a huge fireball erupt near the stern of the target. Then we heard the noise of the first hit, carried to us through the water. 'Got 'em,' I yelled. As I continued to peer into the periscope, I saw the second explosion rip the target's hull eight seconds later. 'Yahooooo!' I cried to myself."
The Archerfish, named for a freshwater fish in Australia and Asia and with a crew of 81, dived to 400 feet, eluded 14 depth charges from the destroyer escorts and escaped.
The Shinano had been designed to survive perhaps 20 torpedo hits but had been rendered vulnerable by inadequate and incomplete construction.
It sank at 10:55 the next morning with Captain Abe and hundreds of sailors still aboard. The destroyer escorts picked up 1,080 of the carrier's 2,515 sailors and civilian workers.
Neither of the Shinano's sister ships survived the war. The battleship Musashi was sunk in October 1944 and the battleship Yamato was sunk in April 1945.
Joseph Francis Enright was born on Sept. 18, 1910, in Minot, N.D., and graduated from the United States Navel Academy in 1933.
Only a few months before the sinking the Shinano, Commander Enright seemed destined for an undistinguished naval career.
He had served three years aboard the battleship Maryland, then entered the submarine service.
In the fall of 1943, while skipper of the submarine Dace, he received an intelligence report giving the position, course and speed of a Japanese aircraft carrier, the Shokaku.
But he had been unable to maneuver his submarine to make an attack, and had allowed the carrier to pass unscathed.
Upon returning to Midway, he was so chagrined that he asked to be relieved of his command.
The Navy transferred him to administrative duties, and it was not until September 1944, when he was given command of the Archerfish, that he received a chance at redemption.
He retired from the Navy in 1963 and then worked for the Northrop Corporation, helping to design navigational equipment.
He is survived by a sister, two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
In August 1945, Commander Enright visited Dock No. 6 at the Yokosuka Naval Shipyard in Tokyo Bay, where the Shinano had been built.
On Sept. 2, 1945, Commander Enright and his crew were present for the final chapter of World War II. The Archerfish was among 12 American submarines accorded the honor of standing by in Tokyo Bay as Japan surrendered aboard the battleship Missouri.
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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov