The Aikoku Maru was 498ft/151m, 10,437-ton ship originally designed as a large passenger-cargo ship for Osaka Shosen K.K. and completed on August 31st 1941. The word ‘Maru’ designates a merchant vessel. As part of the Japanese Navy’s secret mobilization plan for wartime acquisitions, the Aikoku Maru was requisitioned by the Japanese Navy immediately following its completion, secretly chosen to form ‘Sentai 24’ with two sister ships and they were given the mission to attack enemy lines of communication and destroy commercial shipping. She and her two sister ships were Japan’s best, able to cruise at 17 knots and out-distance most ships of her time. She was painted with a dazzle camouflage configuration designed to break up sharp angles, minimize the contrast of light and shadow, hide the bow wave, making it appear shorter and slower, and thereby confusing any observer as to its heading by eliminating its shape from its background.
The Aikoku Maru and her sister ships comprising ‘Sentai 24’ had a short, but illustrious military career serving as heavily armed merchant raiders off the sea lanes between Australia and Latin/South America; finally serving with German merchant raiders in the Java/Indian Ocean areas. From April of 1942 until the middle of 1943, she was involved in the sinking and/or capture of the British battleship Ramilles, cargo ship Elysia, cargo ship Genoa, and the cargo ship Hauraki (to be re-named the Hoki Maru, and also sunk at Truk Lagoon). Overall, she and her sister ship, the Hokoku Maru claim to have sunk 23 Allied merchant ships totaling 183,612 tons. On July 11th 1943 she reports being hit by three torpedoes fired by the USS Halibut while enroute to Truk from Yokosuka. On July 16th 1943 she was attacked by the USS Tinosa that fired 3 torpedoes, but none of them hit the ship.
The Aikoku Maru arrived at Truk Lagoon shortly before Operation Hailstorm carrying part of the Japanese Army’s 1st Amphibious Brigade. While anchored just east of Dublon Island on February 17th 1944, she was attacked by planes from the USS Intrepid and USS Essex that hit her with 500-lb. bombs causing her to explode violently and sink immediately. Japanese versions report that a Grumman aircraft crashed near the bridge of the ship causing a big pillar of fire and smoke resulting in a large explosion. These sources also list the number of army troops killed at 730 together with 11 of the ship’s crew.
She rests on an even keel with the superstructure at 130ft/40m, deck at 160ft/48m and the sea bottom at 210ft/64m. The foreship has literally been blown away. Anti aircraft guns sit atop the aft deckhouse and her stern gun still points upwards.