'Hunt for the Samurai Subs' airs tonight

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- Two World War II Japanese submarines, designed with technology to devastate some of the United States' major cities, were later discovered off the Hawaiian coast of Oahu.

After more than 60 years of sitting on the ocean bottom, the world will finally get to know more about them when their story is told on a special set to air at 9 p.m. today called "Hunt for the Samurai Subs" on the National Geographic Channel. It is part of the channel's Expedition Week.

The broadcast was produced by Mark Fowler, a native of Albany and son of renowned wildlife expert and spokesman Jim Fowler.

"I've had the chance to travel the world," Jim Fowler said. "I've had an instinct for outdoor adventure. I've done some things out of the ordinary."

Having a father who was a professional zoologist and host of Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom," Mark Fowler learned a lot about the world around him at an early age.

"I grew up on the set of 'Wild Kingdom', and it inspired me (to do films)," he said.

The submarines are known as the I-14, which carried two aircrafts while submerged, and the I-201, one of the fastest attack subs of its era. The submarines are widely believed to have been intentionally sunk by the U.S. Navy at the end of the war to keep the technology from the Soviet Union.

Rare 16-millimeter film footage, taken by the Navy in 1946 of the I-14 submarine as it was sunk, revealed a target area never explored before. The two discovered subs were identified by signs of a catapult launch ramp on the forward deck leading to the bow and the ship's numbers painted on the conning tower.

Japan's aircraft-carrying submarines held up to three folding-wing float plane bombers that could be launched by catapult just minutes after surfacing. Each aircraft could carry a powerful 1,800-pound bomb to attack the U.S. mainland.

Though the targets later shifted, none of the missions were carried out. The crafts were on a final mission to attack U.S. naval bases when the war ended with Japan's surrender in 1945.

At 400 feet, the I-400 "Sen-Toku" class were the largest submarines ever built until the introduction of nuclear-powered submarines in the 1950s. With a range of 37,500 miles, they were able to go one-and-a-half times around the globe without refueling, a capability that, to this day, has never been matched by any other diesel-electric submarine.

"They could go all the way around the world," Mark Fowler explained. "The plan was for them to attack our most important cities."

Production of the film required dives at 3,000 feet as well as interviews with several war veterans, experiences the team say they got a lot out of.

"It was very interesting researching all of this," Mark Fowler said. "It's not only the experience, but getting to know the people involved with it. It inspired me to go further."

When Mark Fowler was as young as 8 years old, he found himself with elephants in Africa. So, given the family he comes from, the fact that he has gotten involved in this business is not a big surprise to those he grew up with.

"(Mark Fowler) has had some pretty strong roots," his father explained. "He has never been held back from doing difficult things. The trick is to be passionate about what you are doing. He knows the ropes now."

In 2000, Mark Fowler parlayed the family legacy into a role of producer and co-host of a syndicated 22-episode television series called "Life in the Wild." Since then, he has continued to produce human adventure, wilderness, wildlife, history and science programming for numerous television networks. His other projects include "Operation Deep Climb" and "Elevation."

"We've only begun to explore the oceans and space," he said. "It's about sharing the stories. There's so much out there to learn and explore."

Jim Fowler, who has also worked as the wildlife correspondent on the "Today" show, continues to uphold the family's mission. He has recently found himself working with Chehaw: Nature's Playground in Albany, formerly known as the Parks at Chehaw, to brainstorm ways to bring more revenue into the Southwest Georgia wildlife attraction.

"I'm trying to work into making Chehaw a place people can be proud of," he said. "Chehaw has a tremendous opportunity to benefit folks in that area. It could be a wonderful place, and bring a lot of revenue into the city."

Mark Fowler also lectures with exotic wildlife for NBC's "Today" show, "Fox and Friends" and The Explorers Club -- which he is a member of. He holds a bachelor's degree in environmental studies/natural resource management from the University of Colorado. His company, Wild Life Productions, is located in Santa Monica, Calif.