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.