I-52 Project


I-52 is a WWII Japanese submarine sunk by American acoustic torpedoes and depth charges launched from an Avenger Torpedo Bomber in 1944. I-52 is sitting on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, more than three miles down (17,000 feet). The I-52 project is the deepest underwater recovery ever attempted. In many ways, it is also the largest story ever pulled from the depths.

Facts of the I-52's final voyage are well documented in history, but the full story of why this strange maiden voyage took place is shrouded in mystery, twisted by international intrigue, cloaked in wartime secrecy and layered with human drama. There is valuable cargo, tons of gold and opium, valuable metals, secret wartime documents and human remains. The mystery continues to this day. Recovery of the I-52 will change the recorded history of WWII.

I-52 is Japanese but was sunk in the Atlantic. There were German scientists aboard. This voyage required that a German Wehrmacht Enigma encoding machine be carried. And, there was gold, more than two tons of the precious metal. Metals that were valuable to the war effort, tin (228 metric tons), tungsten, molybdenum and magnesium were part of the cargo, as were quinine, fifty-four tons of rubber and over two tons of opium.

More important than I-52's cargo, the multinational intrigue and the mystery surrounding her final voyage are the human stories that take this historic account to epic proportions. It is the recovery of human remains and personal artifacts that link this moment in history to our world today. Families of I-52 officers and crew are awaiting the return of their loved ones' essence to the homeland. Paul Tidwell, US Army veteran and accomplished deep sea salvage expert, is committed to returning all salvageable human remains to Japan. For Tidwell, the prime emotional driving factors in this twenty-year salvage project include the hundreds of human stories attached to this sunken war boat. From personal interviews with family members, Tidwell has compiled stories such as the tragic love story of Japanese Commander Uno Kameo. In 1999, a frantic flight placed Tidwell at the deathbed of the American pilot, Lt. Cdr. Jesse Taylor, who sunk I-52. Taylor's last action was his personal assignment of the I-52 story to Tidwell.

The submarine is resting at a depth that preserves paper and some other substances. The pressure and lack of light minimizes the diluted contents of the surrounding water and prevents most bacterial growth. The watery envelope that holds the military boat is acting as a protective vault for I-52's secrets.

Working with Japanese authorities for several years, Tidwell got approval to recover human remains from the sub and return them to Japan. Over the years he established relationships with family of officers and crew of I-52 and has pledged to protect and return all retrievable remains and personal effects. In 1995 Tidwell affixed a Japanese Naval Ensign to the submarine's hull and brought back film of the Rising Sun flag adorning the conning tower of the downed behemoth.

Tidwell is an accomplished and respected Deep Sea Underwater Salvage expert with a considerable number of successful deep water salvage projects under his belt. When completed, this will be the deepest successful salvage ever attempted and one of the biggest stories in modern warfare. This is the stuff of which legends are made.

I-52 Project

Sonobuoy Sound Recording

The reports on the left address the use of the Sono-buoy's that were deployed against the unsuspecting Japanese submarine I-52.

The use of all the advanced technology at the time made the difference in winning the war against submarines.

The TPM Avenger piloted by Jesse Taylor was equipped with radar, an acoustic torpedo, and sono-buoys, all new technology.

The sono-buoys allowed the ASW aircraft to track submarines and thereby allowing for additional attacks, like the one made by Lt. Bill "Flash" Gordon in his attack on I-52.

I-52 Project

The Secret of I-52

By: Paul Tidwell and Richard Billings
©All Rights Reserved

The Secret Mission of the I-52

The sinking of the last three Yamabuki submarines, finally accepted by Abe and Kojima in August 1944, made it all too clear that this desperate effort to run the Allied blockade had failed, leaving tons of essential weapons and supplies in German naval warehouses. On June 22, as the I-52 was approaching her ill-fated rendezvous with the U-530, Kojima had broached the complex subject of cargo allotment in a radio message to Tokyo (which was routinely read by U.S. Navy intelligence). Kojima's advisory, designated Committee Wire 600, was for the benefit of officials who were to decide ultimately what was to be shipped. "The German Navy has recently taken under consideration plans for loading the Momi (I-52)," Kojima advised, "and we would like to have you open the negotiations ... and send us instructions." He attached a "proposed order of loading," which had been submitted to the German Navy:

(A) Articles to be placed in the tube compartment.

  • (1) Documents and drawings (urgent articles), 500 kilograms.
  • (2) Two each of 103 and 108 types of 30 mm machine guns, 1,000 kilograms.
  • (3) Two sets of the LOTOPS 7 "D" bombsight, 180 kilograms.
  • (4) "FUG" "25" types of wireless plotting devices, 900 kilograms.
  • (5) Wireless condenser, 1,200 kilograms.
  • (6) Vacuum tubes for wireless, 620 kilograms.
  • (7) Luminous paint and luminous materials, 200 kilograms.
  • (8) Parts for electrical fuses for aerial machine guns, 70 kilograms.
  • (9) Atabrine, 1,000 kilograms.
  • (10) Hemoglobin and coloring matter, 60 kilograms.
  • (11) Balsam, 120 kilograms.
  • (12) Spark plugs and electric generators, 1,350 kilograms.
  • (13) ____oxide, 500 kilograms.
  • (14) Steel balls and precision steel balls, 470 kilograms.
  • (15) Lithium chloride, 500 kilograms.
  • (16) 20 mm machine-cannon type "151" (electrical action), 500 kilograms.
  • (17) Fifteen sets Wurzburg type electric transformer, 3,000 kilograms.
  • (18) Bosch jet nozzle and pipe for use in motors, 3,500 kilograms.
  • (19) "B-2" type of speedometer, 470 kilograms.
  • (20) Tool used in making machine guns from "Rheinmetel", 20 kilograms.
  • (21) Industrial micro-measuring instrument, 4 kilograms.
  • (22) Drawings for all of the above, 150 kilograms.
  • (23) Insulating material "Tororitsuto", 1,200 kilograms.
  • (24) Two sets of all wave receivers, 40 kilograms.
  • (25) Hobbing tool for gears, 3 kilograms.
  • (26) Iron cartridge case, 1,450 kilograms.
  • (27) Bosch jet and pipe for use in motors, 3,290 kilograms.

(B) Besides the items given under (A), above, we have some things of large dimensions, and we are planning to construct a water-tight compartment on deck.

  • (1) Wurzburg electric transformer, weight not known other than above.
  • (2) "JUMO" 213-A type aviation motor, 1,700 kilograms.
  • (3) One set of high-angle fire control apparatus, 2,27? Kilograms.

(C) To be stored in the keel compartment (articles immersed in sea water).

  • (1) Optical glass, 26 tons.
  • (2) Special steel for use in airplanes, 500 tons.
  • (3) A large amount of aluminum.

An advisory to Tokyo on July 13 from the chief inspector of the Japanese Navy in Berlin indicated that hundreds of tons of special steel and mercury were to be loaded on Momi at the German naval base at Kiel. But even if there had been room aboard the I-52, it is doubtful she could have made it safely to Kiel, on the north German Baltic coast. It was academic, of course, as was a request on August 7 from the Bureau of Military Affairs in Tokyo for shipment on the I-52 of articles lost on the I-29. (A "GI Comment" on a copy of the June 22 loading list summarized the dilemma of the Japanese Navy: "I-52 believed sunk 24 June enroute Europe. I-29 sunk 26 July enroute Empire from Singapore while returning from Europe.")

I-52 Project


Lt. Commander Jesse Taylor

Lt. Commander Jesse Taylor flew off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Bogue on the night of June 23, 1944. The mission was to look for Japanese or German submarines and attack if any were sited. Taylor's Avenger was armed with two depth bombs and one Mark 24 acoustic torpedo, nicked named "Fido" for fidelity. The Fido was one of the navy's most secret ASW weapons. At approximately 2347 hours radar operator Ed Whitlock reported a blip at ten miles to the starboard. At one mile from the target Whitlock launched two smoke light attached by a parachute and a purple coded sono-buoy. Taylor then ordered Andy Emmons, the gunner, to release a flare. Taylor began his attack by dropping two hydrostatic depth bombs narrowly missing I-52 starboard side. Taylor dropped an orange coded sono-buoy and came around to drop deploy the Fido. He could immediately here the propeller beats coming from the sono-buoys.

Andy Emmons—William "Flash" Gordon—Ed Whitlock
Pictured above on the Carrier USS Bogue

Approximately 28 00hre (28 minutes after midnight JG William Gordon took off from the deck of the USS Bogue. Gordon had been waiting in the ready room in the event the other pilots made contact, that call came. Gordon had chosen not to wear his red goggles (standing orders) and was slightly blinded when his eyes could not properly adjust to the night-time conditions.

Gordon had a special passenger on his flight to the contact area with I-52. Price Fish, a civilian from the Underwater Sound Laboratory in New London , Connecticut. He received special commission from Captain Vosseller to accompany Gordon on this flight operation so he could get a first hand experience in the deployment and operation of the sono-buoys.

At the time of Taylor's attack it was believed that there may be two submarines in the area. It was likely, they believed that they were going to attempt a rendezvous.

Gordon arrived at the scene of the attack at 0100hrs.

The illustration above was copied from the official report of the original Naval Intelligence records. This shows exactly how Jesse Taylor maneuvered through the attack, first dropping two Mark 54 depth bombs and one Mark 24 acoustic torpedo.

Another aircraft, TBM number 12, piloted by JG Hirsbrunner was launched at 2203hrs. At 2245hrs his radar picked up a "Disappearing radar contact" bearing 130 degrees distance 50 miles. He was ordered to assist Taylor and did not pursue the contact.

After putting all the documents together from the USS Bogue Group 22.2 and the action reports from all the pilots, Tidwell was able to create a master map of where everyone was located. He then referred to the German U-530 logs and discovered the captain had entered into the log that he was submerged when the attack on I-52 took place, 0245hrs (their ships clock was on Irish Time– 3 hours difference)

This was a a little puzzeling at first because how could Hirsbrunner's radar pick up another target, supposedly U-530. In addition his report indicates he was between 15 and 20 miles from the attack. The problem is if he was submerged how did he travel the distance in little over an hours time of his departure from I-52. I laterdiscovered another Radio Intercept that shows that U-530 had a snorkel installed before her mission to rendezvous with I-52.

This explains both points. The disappearing radar contact, which is common because snorkels were hard to detect when swells were present and , secondly, a snorkel allows the U-boat to travel at near surface speed running on it diesel engines, while staying submerged.

Although at the time, the pilots were given little intelligence and were unaware of the importance of sinking I-52.

I-52 Project


Paul Tidwell began his research in January of 1990, after moving from New Orleans to the Washington, DC area.

The bulk of the research was conducted in the National Archives in Washington, DC. and other research facilities in the Washington, DC area. This was only the beginning of his journey that would take Tidwell to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean diving to a depth of more than17,000 feet to I-52 in a Russian three-man submersible named Mir. His quest also included negotiations with the Japanese government in which he received permission from the "War Graves" division to continue with the I-52 project.

In the beginning Tidwell began searching through many different record groups thousands upon thousands of documents, not knowing if he would ever find anything worthwhile. As weeks and month passed combing through many different record groups, focusing on both world wars. Tidwell came across an Utra Top Secret document that contained a note typed in an Intelligence Summary report. The document describes that I-52 is carrying two tons of gold.

Look below and find samples of just a fraction of the type of records that were studied for the I-52 development.

research research research
research research

I-52 Project


The I-52 project was founded on the idea of creating a project that consists of salvaging shipwrecks and developing entertainment properties. Not all shipwrecks are worthy of salvage but the stories surrounding them may have potential as entertainment projects in the motion picture or television industries.

The I-52 project is a primary example of this concept. There has been one documentary developed my NBC and National Geographic Television and an another documentary developed by NHK Television in Japan.

The National Geographic documentary Submarine I-52 Search for WW II Gold (Amazon.com) has been seen by millions of people around the world.

In addition, the I-52 project has been featured world-wide in over 225 newspapers along with magazines like Newsweek, Time, Discover Magazine, National Geographic Magazine, Naval History, U.S. News and World Report, Guinness Book of World Records 2000, to name a few.

While new prospects for salvaging I-52 have emerged, the story surrounding the mission on her voyage to Nazi occupied France continues to hold a tremendous amount of interest in the United States and Japan.

The entire story has yet to be disclosed. Paul Tidwell has been informed by the US and Japanese governments information that is being treated as very confidential. Although I-52 remains on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in more than 17,000 feet of water, the project is causing more interest in the story and the possibility of recovery has reached new heights.

Paul Tidwell

Paul Tidwell emerging from one of the deep diving Russian 3 man submersibles on his first trip to I-52 ,at a depth of 17,580 feet. When asked what his first thoughts were when the photograph was taken, he said, "I'm Alive."

Paul Tidwell

The image above was taken by our Zeus camera made by Insite and the lights are from DeepSea Power and Light. Our camera was panned back toward the Mir. You can see the pilot looking out. All of this was done at 17,500 feet.

Paul Tidwell

Tidwell on left is interviewing Bob Fuhrman, former head of Intelligence for the "Manhattan Project". This part of the story is CONFIDENTIAL … For Now!