Joseph Francis Enright Sr., 89, a retired Navy captain and submariner who was a highly decorated combat veteran of World War II, died July 20 at his home in the Virginian Retirement Community in Fairfax after a stroke.
As commanding officer of the submarine Archerfish, Capt. Enright achieved what a U.S. Naval Historical Center writer called the "largest single victory of the submarine war" when he and his ship torpedoed and sank the Japanese supercarrier Shinano on Nov. 29, 1944. For this action, the Archerfish received a Presidential Unit Citation, and Capt. Enright received the Navy Cross, his service's highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor.
The Shinano is believed to be the largest and most heavily armored carrier ever built, and some naval historians have reported that it had a final displacement of more than 69,000 tons. It went on to achieve the dubious honor of becoming probably the largest warship ever sunk. Laid down as a Yamato-class battleship, the Shinano was converted to a carrier after Japan suffered huge carrier losses at the Battle of Midway.
It had been hailed by Japanese, builders, engineers and naval officers as simply "unsinkable." At the time of its sinking, it was only 10 days out of Tokyo Bay on its maiden voyage.
Capt. Enright maneuvered his boat at 20 knots on the surface for more than six hours, managing to avoid contact with either the Shinano or its four escorts, before positioning himself in front of the carrier at 1,400 yards. The Archerfish unleashed six torpedoes and scored four hits. The sub continued to shadow the carrier for eight more hours, at which point it rolled over and sank.
The Archerfish's assignment at the time of its discovery of the Shinano was to perform rescue operations for B-29 Superfortress bombers that were flying between Allied-held islands and targets in the Japanese home islands. Capt. Enright had been informed that there would be no bombing raids the 29th, so he had gone hunting on his own.
After sinking the carrier, the Archerfish finished its 48-day war patrol at Guam and eventually returned to San Francisco in March 1945 for repairs. But the ship returned to the Pacific fray, becoming one of the 12 submarines in the historic armada anchored in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2 to witness the Japanese sign the instruments of surrender aboard the battleship Missouri.
After the war, Capt. Enright held a variety of land and sea posts. He commanded submarine divisions and squadrons, taught engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and served as chief of staff of the Atlantic Fleet's submarine force. He also had served on the staff of the chief of Naval Operations and had commanded the missile cruiser Boston before retiring from active duty in 1963.
After that, he worked for the Northrop Corp. in Massachusetts and the Sanders Corp. in New Hampshire. He returned to the Washington area in 1995.
In 1987, he co-authored the book "Shinano! The Sinking of Japan's Secret Supership."
Capt. Enright was born in Bismarck, N.D., and was a 1933 graduate of Annapolis. He joined the submarine force in 1936. He became a submarine commander in 1942 and took command of the Archerfish in September 1944.
He was a member of the Scandinavian American Hall of Fame.
His wife of 49 years, Virginia Robertson Enright, died in 1986, and a son, Joseph Jr., died in 1998.
Survivors include a sister; two grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.