Our friend Patrick Justiz sent over a heads-up on a most interesting video he spotted on UTube (HERE). It features the wreck of a Kawanishi E15K "Shiun" (Norm) in Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon.
First of all, there is no doubt that the aircraft is indeed a "Shiun"; the peculiar retractable wing float offers concrete proof.
More stills from the video feature a general view of the aircraft and the cockpit.
Note above the contra-rotating propeller with the twin blades
Pilot's control stick
The instrument panel is missing
Rear deck of the pilot's seat
Classic Navy Type 92 flexible machine gun, on a ring mount
Unfortunately, no tail marking is visible
Arawasi first featured a "Norm" article by Komine Bunzo in the very first issue of our magazine, in July 2005. It has been many years since that first homemade and home-printed issue, and in the meantime, we have gained enough experience and access to many more sources to write more thoroughly about this much-overlooked type.
So, before you get in your hands a new special on the "Shiun" in print, let's talk about this wreck in Chuuk Lagoon.
"...the E15K1 was ordered into limited production as the Navy Type 2 High-speed Reconnaissance Seaplane Shiun Model 11. Six prototype and service trial E15Ks were built and evaluated from 1941 to 1942. Production finally got underway in 1943, but the first operational E15K1s did not enter service until April 30, 1944, when six were assigned to the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron of the 61st Air Flotilla.
On June 1 the first of its Shiuns arrived at Palau Island in the South Pacific."
The Komine article, based on the combat report of the unit, talks in detail about the "Shiun" unit in the Palaus and makes it clear that none of the aircraft assigned and operated by the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron was lost in or around Chuuk.
Furthermore, the unit was disbanded on August 12 and two "Shiun" floatplanes were to be returned to the Navy Aviation Arsenal in Yokosuka. Could the Chuuk floatplane be one of these two "Shiun"?
The Google map below with the location of Chuuk Lagoon and Palau Islands, shows that the only way the seaplanes could have returned to Japan starting from Palau and stopping at Chuuk is via Saipan or Guam in the Marianas. But Saipan had fallen to the U.S. forces on July 9, 1944, and Guam on August 10, so this return route was virtually impossible. More probably the seaplanes returned via Davao in the Philippines, the same way they arrived in Chuuk in the first place.
The other "suspect" that could have operated the aircraft is the Light Cruiser Oyodo.
"Like the Tone-class heavy cruisers, the Ōyodo-class ships were intended to be scouting cruisers and hence the entire deck of the ship aft of the superstructure was devoted to aircraft facilities. The weight saved by not fitting torpedo tubes was invested instead in a hangar that could house four floatplanes, with two more stowed on deck, and a heavy-duty 44-meter (144 ft) catapult that was necessary for the new Kawanishi E15K Shiun floatplane (Allied reporting name "Norm") that was intended to perform reconnaissance for the submarine flotilla in areas where the enemy had air superiority...However, the aircraft performed poorly and only fifteen were completed before it cancelled in February 1944. Ōyodo did carry two or three Aichi E13A "Jake" reconnaissance floatplanes during her career."
Many sources (Japanese and non-Japanese) insist that the ship only experimented with the catapult specifically installed for the "Shiun", never actually received any "Shiun" floatplanes and they were never put into action by the ship.
Nevertheless, an article by Ishikawa Koji published in issue #200 (January 1964) of Maru Magazine mentions:
"...the 14-shi high-speed reconnaissance seaplane was also officially adopted in 1943 and was named "Shiun", but the retractable float on the wing tip often retracted unexpectedly. For this reason, even after the type was loaded on Oyodo, there were frequent accidents when the seaplanes rolled over during alighting, but it was difficult to completely solve the problems due to limitations such as the thickness of the main wings."
"Frequent accidents" and "rollovers" mean that Oyodo carried more than one "Shiun", but did they see any action and were they ever in Chuuk?
According to combinedfleet (Imperial Cruisers (combinedfleet.com)), Oyodo on "9 July 1943:
Arrives at Shinagawa. Embarks the troops of the South Seas 4th Guard Unit and material. Departs Shinagawa for Truk with CarDiv 1's SHOKAKU, ZUIKAKU and ZUIHO, escort carrier CHUYO, seaplane carrier NISSHIN, CruDiv 7's MOGAMI, CruDiv 8's TONE and CHIKUMA, light cruiser AGANO, DesRon 2's TAMANAMI, DesDiv 4's ARASHI and HAGIKAZE, DesDiv 17's ISOKAZE, DesDiv 61's HATSUZUKI and SUZUTSUKI."
The whole force arrived in Chuuk and on "19 July 1943: Departs Truk on a troop transport run with seaplane tender NISSHIN, CruDiv 8's TONE and CHIKUMA, CruDiv 7's MOGAMI, light cruiser AGANO, DesDiv 4's ARASHI and HAGIKAZE , DesDiv 17's ISOKAZE, DesDiv 61's HATSUZUKI and SUZUTSUKI.
21 July 1943: Arrives at Rabaul. Disembarks troops, later refuels ISOKAZE.
24 July 1943: Departs Rabaul with TONE, CHIKUMA and MOGAMI, light cruiser AGANO and DesDiv 61's HATSUZUKI and SUZUTSUKI.
26 July 1943: Arrives at Truk.
This is the first mission of Oyodo during which she visits Chuuk Lagoon.
The ship will stop by Chuuk again in October and early December.
On "30 December 1943: Transport Operation "BO-3": Departs Truk on a transport run to Kavieng, New Ireland with light cruiser NOSHIRO (flagship of Rear Admiral Hayakawa Mikio), DesDiv 10's YAMAGUMO and DesDiv 30's AKIKAZE. OYODO carries 1,000 tons of cargo including several artillery pieces and 500 troops.
1 January 1944: At 0445 (JST), arrives at Kavieng, unloads her cargo with a 2-hour delay as the last vessel of Hayakawa's squadron. After 0842, soon after departure, she and the escorting AKIZUKI are attacked by aircraft from TG 37.2's USS BUNKER HILL (CV-17) and MONTEREY (CV-26). Until 0919 OYODO expends 194 15.5-cm, 240 10-cm and 4640 25-mm rounds. She receives one direct hit (dud) and light damage as a result of near misses, but two men are killed and four wounded. OYODO's floatplane is damaged and cannot carry out the recce flight ordered by RAdm Hayakawa once the attack is over."
Maru Special #5 (March 1976) which has exactly the same information in Japanese, mentions that "Oyodo's high-speed reconnaissance floatplane was damaged and could not carry out...".
"High-speed reconnaissance floatplane" is a direct reference to "Norm", not of course, to "Jake" or to "Pete".
Furthermore, we read in combinedfleet that on "6 March 1944: Refit. OYODO is converted to a Combined Fleet flagship. OYODO is designed to carry six high-speed Kawanishi E15K1 "Norm" reconnaissance floatplanes, but the aircraft are not as fast as expected and the strategic situation changes before they can be delivered. It is decided to equip OYODO with a shorter catapult and two Aichi E16A1 "Paul" reconnaissance planes, but these are not ready on time either. OYODO receives two standard IJN Type 0 Aichi E13A1 "Jake" three-seat reconnaissance floatplanes."
The above means that Oyodo sailed to missions in Chuuk with the catapult specifically designed for the "Shiun". It definitely carried seaplanes since one or more of them were damaged on January 1st, 1944. And it was after the installation of the short catapult that she received a compliment of "Jake" seaplanes. All this information leads to the natural conclusion that Oyodo at least from July 1943 until March 1944 carried and obviously operated a number of "Shiun" floatplanes.
Definitive confirmation that the "Shiun" wreck in Chuuk Lagoon was operated by Oyodo will hopefully be included in our forthcoming magazine article.