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Sink ’Em All: Submarine Warfare in the Pacific
Charles A. Lockwood
Published by American History Classics, 2017.
Sink ’Em All: Submarine Warfare in the Pacific by Charles A. Lockwood. First published in 1951.
Cover, interior design and editing © Copyright 2017 American History Classics.
First e-book edition: 2017.
Further Reading: Agent High Pockets
DUSK OF A RAIN-SWEPT day in early May, 1942, was settling over the little frontier town of Albany, Western Australia, sprawled among the hills surrounding spacious Princess Royal Harbor. The cold winter rains of the land ‘down under’ began early that year.
The Japanese hordes that had overrun Malaya, the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies were now massing at bases in the Malay Barrier for a thrust into Australia. The battered remnants of our once powerful Asiatic Fleet and Allied naval forces had retreated to Fremantle, on the west coast of Australia, to repair battle damage and replace casualties.
Part of the Submarine Force, U.S. Asiatic Fleet, had been dispersed to this most southwestern port. Normally a prosperous wheat, wool and cattle shipping town, the harbor now was empty of merchantmen and only the submarine tender Holland, with a half dozen of her brood, represented the naval power of the United States. The shore defense consisted of perhaps 100 home guards and two ancient 6-inch guns. The west coast of Australia was as wide open as a dead clamshell to enemy invasion and, if Australia fell to the Japanese, it looked as if our next base might be Marie Byrd Land in Antarctica.
This was the bleak outlook when I took over my new, and, so far, my highest, command, Commander Submarines Southwest Pacific, after 18 years of service with submarines.
Lights were beginning to show in the buildings bordering streets that could have been those of a typical Kansas boom town as my jeep slithered and bounced along toward the Freemasons Hotel where Captain Jimmie Fife, my Chief of Staff, and I had planned to have dinner.
As we entered the lobby, a burst of song greeted us from the direction of the lounge; a song that I hadn't heard before but one which sounded like it had stuff in it. A dozen young submarine officers, with a few girls, were gathered about the hotel piano and singing at the top of their lungs:
Sink ’em all, sink ’em all,
Tojo and Hitler and all:
Sink all their cruisers and carriers too,
Sink all their tin cans and their stinking crews...
At first I thought that Australian beer, well known for its potency, was responsible for this sudden burst of optimism but there were very few glasses in hands—none among the girls. This was sheer exuberance of youthful spirit shouting defiance to the swarms of Japanese to northward who had already taken grim toll of our submarines and now threatened to overrun our temporary refuge. Sung to the tune of the Australian song Bless ’Em All, these fighting words were destined to keynote our entire submarine campaign in the Pacific and their defiant ring bolstered many a man's courage in the dark days that were to come.
The heroic last-ditch defense of our Army and Marines on Bataan and Corregidor had been a tremendously inspiring example to all of us, Americans and Australians alike. Many of our submarines had run the Japanese blockade into Corregidor carrying cargoes of food, medicines and ammunition and bringing out evacuees, records, etc. The Trout, a Pearl Harbor-based submarine, early in the war had brought out 20 tons of gold, silver and securities—the Philippine currency reserve.
The stories of heroism and hardship which these evacuees from the Philippines brought, steeled our hearts with the resolve that we, too, would go down fighting. For my own inspiration, I needed to look no farther than my own submarine officers and men, lads to whom nothing appeared too difficult or dangerous to undertake. All they wanted between patrols were a few necessary repairs, stores, diesel fuel, torpedoes and the assignment of a good area for their next patrol—an area where plenty of Jap targets might be found. They were even making bets that we would have all Japan's shipping sunk by July, 1943!
Beyond a doubt, their stouthearted front and resolute faces concealed many secret, questioning thoughts as to their chances of returning from these 50-day patrols into badly charted waters, infested with Jap planes and antisubmarine craft but, thank God, they gave no sign of faltering for I myself was never free from a haunting fear that I was sending them to their deaths. They were all youngsters I had watched grow up in the submarine service and I felt a deep personal responsibility for them. Not once throughout the war, was I able to watch a submarine shove off for patrol without a twinge of sorrow and a period of soul searching as to whether or not I and my Staff had done everything humanly possible to insure the accomplishment of its mission and its safe return. The courage and determination of our submarines was always a sturdy buttress to my sometimes wavering resolution.
I HAD COME A LONG WAY to find the spirit that I found there in our submarines down at the ends of the earth. In March, 1942, I had left my post as Naval Attaché in London in an atmosphere thicker with gloom than one of that city's famous fogs. The Prince of Wales and the Repulse had been sunk off Malaya by Jap planes; the fortress of Hong Kong, often stated to be another Gibraltar, had been overrun; and the disastrous Singapore campaign had drawn to a humiliating close.
In Washington I had found the usual rat race in progress. Indecision existed as to the line of advance to be followed back across the Pacific in regaining our lost territory. Our strategy in both the Atlantic and the Pacific was a matter of debate. I was speeded on my way to the Antipodes with the uninspiring information that we were destined to fight a holding, delaying war in the Pacific until our armies could clean up Europe. That operation, from the state of affairs I had seen in England, would require some years.
At Pearl Harbor I paused only long enough to pay my respects to the new Commander in Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet, Vice Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, check on the submarine set-up there and obtain transportation to Brisbane, Australia. I got passage on an Army bomber which was being flown down for delivery to General MacArthur's meager forces and soon I was out among the lads whose language I spoke and who were really doing the fighting!
After reporting in to Vice-Admiral H. F. Leary, Commander Southwest Pacific Area, at Melbourne, I flew across the dreary stretches of the great Australian desert to Perth on the west coast and reported to Rear Admiral W. R. ‘Speck’ Purnell for duty as understudy to Captain John Wilkes, Commander Submarine Asiatic Fleet, who was due for return to the United States.
It was a grim-faced crowd that I met that first night at the Perth U.S. Navy Headquarters. All of them had taken part in the retreat from Manila to Soerabaja and had been targets for Jap bombings almost daily. Finally, after Java and the Malay Barrier had been invaded, they had made their way, minus most of their personal effects, first to Darwin and then to Fremantle, the seaport of Perth, with their decimated naval forces and the ghost of Patrol Wing 10. This remnant of the Asiatic Fleet had lost most of its planes and surface ships. The surviving forces were in desperate need of torpedoes, ammunition and spare parts. In the bombing of Cavite, the submarines had lost some 233 torpedoes. When Bataan fell, it was necessary to sink the gallant old Canopus, a submarine tender which, on account of bomb damage, we were forced to leave behind. Our two remaining tenders, Holland and Otus, had 20 submarines to care for, which meant that most of the work fell to the lot of the former, since the Otus was merely a C-3 cargo ship in process of being converted to a tender at the outbreak of war.
The tenders were crowded with survivors from other units, hence there was no spare space aboard to accommodate the crews of submarines while refitting. These unfortunates had to live and try to sleep aboard their own boats even when repair gangs were working in them night and day. Nobody got the rest he so badly needed during refit periods and all hands went back on patrol almost as weary as when they came in.
Something had to be done about this and soon. Those submariners needed complete rest, as much as we could give them, between patrols. They must go back fit, mentally and physically, to stand the strain of 50-day patrols in enemy-controlled waters where every man's hand was against them, to sink the maximum number of Jap ships and to bring their own boats safely back to base to prepare for another patrol. There were plenty of material problems confronting us at Perth Headquarters, such as lack of spare parts and torpedoes, and correction of torpedo defects, but paramount to me was the problem of physical reconditioning. If your submarine crews are exhausted and thereby drained of their morale, it won't matter much whether your torpedoes function or not.
The thin faces of the officers and men, their unnaturally bright eyes, told of the tension on their nerves and the drain on their vitality produced by those long weeks submerged in tropical waters—weeks of peering into the sun glare or into the darkness for enemy targets, of sweating out depth charge attacks by Jap planes and antisubmarine vessels. One of our leaders in the Jap-sinking game, Lieutenant Commander W. L. Wright, of Corpus Christi, better known as ‘Bull,’ was just back from a very productive patrol during which he had lost 27 pounds from his already spare Texas frame. Even half of that amount was far too much for anyone to lose in one patrol. The need for proper recuperation facilities was obvious and most urgent.
Admiral Nimitz, at Pearl Harbor, had directed the leasing of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel as a rest camp for submariners and aviators back from war operations. Quotas of personnel from other forces were also rehabilitated there to the extent of the capacity of the hotel. The officers and men, removed from their ships immediately upon return from patrol, were given two weeks in which to relax completely, to lie in the sun, swim and indulge in athletics. Meanwhile their ships were repaired by expert refitting crews and when their rest period was completed, the submariners returned to their boats rested and keen to get back into the war.
Something of this sort, but on a smaller scale, was what I wanted to initiate in Fremantle and Albany—the latter a port 250 miles south of Perth. The idea was looked upon askance in some quarters as being too much in the line of pampering our personnel but the rehabilitation of our crews throughout the war paid large dividends in the form of better performance on patrol, better physical and mental health. As a natural consequence, I am convinced, we lost fewer submarines. The idea of rehabilitation was not new. The Germans initiated it in World War I, and no one ever accused them of pampering their men.
Investigation was immediately started as to availability of rest-camp facilities in the vicinity of our bases. In a short while we leased, through the Australian Army on Reverse Lend-Lease, four small hotels—two on the beaches—into which our men moved immediately with their own cooks and rations, to the great improvement of overall conditions.
The then unused Quarantine Station at Albany was very generously loaned to us by the Australian Immigration authorities to take care of about 250 raw recruits who came to us after only six weeks of training. These lads, I may add, though green as grass, after about six months on patrol in submarines, developed into excellent men, many of them ready for advancement in rating— which shows the speed-up in training which can be effected when stern necessity is breathing down the back of one’s neck.
During May, 1942, I relieved Captain Wilkes and became Commander Submarines Southwest Pacific; also I relieved Rear Admiral Purnell, who had been ordered home, and became Commander Allied Naval Forces based in Western Australia, with the rank of rear admiral.
The Allied naval forces under my command consisted of two Dutch, one Australian and one U.S. cruiser; two Dutch and two Australian destroyers; three U.S. seaplane tenders (ex-old destroyers), a squadron of PBY’s, the Isabel (a converted yacht of World War I vintage), plus my submarine force of two tenders, two rescue vessels, and 20 Fleet-type submarines. The S-class submarines originally with us, had been ordered to Brisbane where they, plus six more S-boats, operated under command of Captain R. W. Christie, on patrols in the New Guinea-Bismark-Solomons area.
FOUR SUBMARINES HAD already been lost. Sealion, Lieutenant Commander R. G. Voge of Chicago, Illinois, was bombed while undergoing overhaul alongside the Submarine Base at Cavite, Philippine Islands. We destroyed her on Christmas Day, 1941, to prevent her falling into enemy hands. S-36, Lieutenant J. R. McKnight, Jr., of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, grounded on Taka Bakang Reef in Makassar Strait on January 20, 1942, and was destroyed. Shark, commanded by Lieutenant Louis Shane, Jr., which had evacuated Admiral Thomas C. Hart and his Staff from Manila to Surabaya, Java, was lost, probably near Menado, Celebes Islands. Perch, Lieutenant Commander D. A. ‘Dave’ Hurt, was mortally damaged by depth charges and scuttled in the Java Sea. After the war, when Commander Hurt and 52 of the ship’s complement were returned from Japanese prison camps, nine had died while POW’s.
My second in command in the Allied force was Commodore John A. Collins, Royal Australian Navy, who as captain of the Australian cruiser Sydney had sunk the Italian cruiser Collini at the battle of Cape Matapan. He was a tower of strength and possessed a fine sense of humor which endeared him to all of us ‘Yanks,’ as we were universally called throughout Aussieland.
Our position in Australia was a curious one for while we were received with the most openhanded hospitality and welcomed as very valuable additions to their meager armed forces, there were many of our new-found friends who did not always appreciate our breezy ways, our jokes—often told at their expense—nor our complete confidence that everything American was better than anything to be found in any other land. An American bluejacket in a pub, having a few drinks with some Aussies, was trying to reassure them as to the state of their defenses. He slapped one of them on the back and said, “Cheer up, Buddy. Everything is going to be all right now—the U.S. Navy is here to defend you.”
“Oh,” said the Aussie, “is that why you’re ’ere? I thought per’aps you were bloody refugees from Pearl ’arbor!”
In the same vein was a wheeze which I heard in London after the Pearl Harbor disaster. Admiral Lord Fraser, now First Sea Lord, then the ‘Controller’ in the British Admiralty and later the British Commander in Chief in the Pacific, loved a good joke, even if it were on himself. One morning when I visited him in his office, the Admiral greeted me with:
“I say, Lockwood, had you heard that the American Navy has requisitioned 30,000 kilts from us on reverse Lend-Lease?”
Nothing would have surprised me at that stage of the war, otherwise I might have smelled a rat, but I swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker.
“No, Admiral,” I said, “what are they for?”
“So you Americans won't get caught with your pants down again!” gently explained the Admiral.
Remembering the blasting of the Prince of Wales and Repulse, the overrunning of Hong Kong, and the evident fact that Singapore was tottering to its fall, that one I could also take with a laugh. In fact, I felt that the Controller was, in reality, saying, “We’re all in the same boat, now.”
THE ENTIRE WEST COAST of Australia was under the military command of Lieutenant General H. Gordon Bennett, with headquarters in Perth, and to him I reported for coordination of our defense. General Gordon Bennett had escaped from Singapore after the capitulation of that base.
My own Staff was top notch, while the submarine squadron and division commanders and the VP squadron commander were likewise officers of high caliber. Many of them were submariners with whom I had served for years and four had been skippers in Submarine Division 13 when I commanded it back in ’35-37. Among the key men in my Western Australia submarine, surface ship and air organization were such stalwarts as Captains Jimmie Fife, S. S. ‘Sunshine’ Murray, Homer L. ‘Pop’ Grosskopf, H. H. ‘Tex’ McLean, Perley L. Pendleton, W. G. ‘Bill’ Lalor; Commanders E. H. ‘Swede’ Bryant, J. A. ‘Joe’ Connolly, W. B. ‘Pinky’ Thorp, J. M. ‘Dutch’ Will, J. V. ‘Pete’ Peterson, John P. Dix, and F. C. ‘Kraut’ Dettmann.
No outfit boasting such an array of talent, given half a chance, could fail to produce. There was not a ‘Yes’ man among them. Each had very definite ideas as to how his particular ships should be employed and how the war was to be won. They were agreed on but one thing, that the war was to be won—and soon. This set-up suited me perfectly, for it insured that in any critical situation, the different angles from which it was certain to be attacked by my top advisors would result in a correct, perhaps brilliant, solution.
BEFORE OUR SUBMARINE offensive, which sank nearly 6 million tons of Japanese shipping, became effective, one serious problem had to be solved: our torpedoes.
Ever since the outbreak of war, our submarines had experienced discouraging results from their torpedo fire. Apparently they were running too deep, i.e., deeper than the desired depth which had been set on the regulator dial. Skipper after skipper reported seeing the air bubble trail from their torpedoes pass under the stern or slightly astern of their targets. Allowing for the time required for the bubbles to rise to the surface and for the advance of the target during that short interval, a bubble trail seen in such a location would indicate that the torpedo itself had actually passed under the target. The S-class submarines used a torpedo equipped with a mechanical contact exploder, hence that type had to strike the target to explode. However, the Fleet-type submarines used a magnetic exploder designed to explode on activation by the magnetic flux of the steel hull just as the torpedo passed under the target ship. If torpedoes were running deeper than the set depth, it meant that those used by the S-class would not strike the target and that those used by the Fleet-type subs would pass so far under the target's hull as to be below the influence of its magnetic field.
In some quarters, including the Bureau of Ordnance, it was evidently believed that these stories from our submarine captains were merely alibis for misses. However, so much evidence was piling up and our submariners were becoming so discouraged by repeated misses which should have been hits, we decided to do a little torpedo testing on our own. Thereupon, at the suggestion of Captain Jimmie Fife, we bought 500 feet of net from a fisherman in Albany, moored it just outside the harbor in King George Sound and fired a series of torpedoes through it from a distance of 1,000 yards, which was about the normal attack range. When the net was examined by divers it was found that our skippers were probably correct in their observations. Measurements showed that torpedoes used by Fleet-type submarines (we had no S-class in Western Australia at that time) were running an average of 11 feet deeper than set. This could make a whale of a difference in the performance of our magnetic exploder and we immediately made the necessary changes in our depth settings.
The Bureau of Ordnance questioned our procedure in making these tests; also the accuracy of our data. However, it did admit, sometime later, that Torpedo Station tests showed a 10-foot error instead of the 11 which we had found.
The result of our tests brought a wave of confidence because we believed the trouble had been located and we had the satisfaction of having found it all on our own. Hope sprang up anew in the hearts of frustrated submarine commanders but, alas, this was not the end of our torpedo sorrows. Bringing our torpedo runs closer to the surface seemed to multiply the number of premature explosions of war heads as well as the number of times in which torpedoes could be heard to thud against the side of a target without exploding. Premature explosions sometimes occurred as soon as the torpedo had armed itself after leaving the tube and sometimes so close to the target that they were mistaken for good hits.
These increased troubles, unfortunately, were destined to be with us for about a year more, during which time our torpedo shops in bases and tenders were working feverishly on the delicate insides of our temperamental magnetic exploder. Bureau of Ordnance sent expert trouble shooters into the Pacific in an effort to help us to eliminate its defects, all to no avail. The whole design was sour. It must have been known in the Department that both the British and the Germans had abandoned this type of unreliable exploder early in the war, yet our experts clung to it like grim death to a dead cat for many months more.
IN SPITE OF OUR DIFFICULTIES in getting hits, occasionally our exploders did function as designed, thereby lifting our morale at the same time they confused the problem. As one submarine captain said, “There’s no better morale booster than the sound of your own torpedoes exploding against an enemy ship.”
While we were getting the bugs out of our torpedoes, the successful accomplishment of several secondary missions also cheered us. Our boats showed themselves capable of doing many things not contemplated in peacetime thinking. The Searaven, Commander Hiram Cassedy of Brookhaven, Mississippi, went in to the south coast of Jap-held Timor one black night to pick up 33 Aussie flyers who were hiding there. The submarine's tiny dory was rowed in to the beach and anchored outside the surf. Ensign G. C. Cook, the boat officer, swam in through the breakers and, with a line, succeeded in getting 16 of those in the best physical condition out to the boat. However, he had twice to go to the rescue of men who got adrift. Next night 17, some in pitiable condition, were got out in spite of a catastrophe when the anchor line parted. The boat was thrown ashore and it required superhuman efforts on the part of Ensign Cook and his boat's crew to launch her through the surf. Six Australians, too weak to be hauled out by a line, were placed in the boat before this truly Herculean feat was attempted.
On the Searaven's way back to Fremantle, this expedition nearly ended in disaster when a fire in her electric control panel put all engines and motors out of commission. She rolled around for two or three days, a perfect sitting duck, in waters where Jap submarines had been sighted frequently, until a sistership could be sent out to tow her in.
The people of Perth were delighted with this rescue. A servicemen's organization gave Cassedy and his crew a fine party as a testimonial. Ensign Cook was rewarded for his daring by the award of a Navy Cross, which, I believe, was the first one given a reserve officer in the submarine forces.
Lieutenant Commander J. C. ‘Jimmy’ Dempsey of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, brought the Spearfish into Fremantle one blustery May morning with a passenger list of about 27 evacuees from Corregidor who were especially happy to be with us. They had embarked in the submarine during the night about 48 hours before ‘The Rock’ surrendered. Captain Sackett, the Commanding Officer of our tender, Canopus, was one of them. His ship had acted as a workshop for all sorts of Army and Marine jobs after being damaged by a bomb in Manila Bay, and had been scuttled when Bataan fell. We mourned the loss of her fine crew, many of whom were never to come back from Japanese prison camps. We likewise mourned the loss of machine shop equipment and spare parts which she carried to the bottom of Mariveles Bay.
Among the Spearfish's other passengers were one Navy and 12 Army nurses. They had made the 15-day trip in the Chief Petty Officers' tiny four-bunk quarters where they slept in watches and occupied their waking hours helping the mess cooks and making pies and cakes in the ship's galley, to the great pleasure of all hands. All were apparently in good health and spirits. One pint-sized girl in a makeshift costume of mixed slacks and uniform, came up the submarine's hatch and onto the dock where she quietly walked from one end of the submarine to the other, looking over it carefully. Noticing that I was regarding her quizzically, she came up and said, “I just wanted to see what the darned thing looks like. I've been inside it, like Jonah in the whale, for 15 days, but have never seen the outside.”
During the first part of this trip, while en route from Fremantle with a cargo of antiaircraft ammunition for Corregidor, Captain Dempsey had added to our tonnage score by sinking two Jap cargo carriers totaling 11,000 tons.
On one trip Permit brought down a stowaway. The man said he was “just a spare pump handle” and could see no use in remaining to be a POW. A general court-martial was indicated in this case but we needed men and I could ill afford to spare officers to form such a court, so we put him to work.
Other additions to our bag kept coming in as submarines returned from their 50- or 60-day forays into enemy-controlled waters—which control we were vigorously contesting.
The Skipjack, Lieutenant Commander J. W. ‘Jim’ Coe of Richmond, Indiana, later lost in the Cisco, sank three freighters off Indo-China for a total of about 12,000 tons. Coe, who had a keen sense of humor, also brought in a diverting yarn about his last overhaul at Mare Island. His ship had submitted a number of requisitions for supplies, among them one for a case of toilet paper, which was returned, stamped ‘Item cannot be identified!’ Whether this happened by mistake or some joker was trying to pull his leg, Jim didn't know, but the two-page letter which he wrote to the Supply Officer more clearly identifying the item, is a classic which will live long in submarine annals.
The Tautog, Lieutenant Commander J. H. ‘Joe’ Willingham of Pell City, Alabama, came in from a patrol which began in Pearl Harbor and ended at Fremantle, with a thrilling tale of having sunk three enemy submarines. She was one of the first of the new submarines which were being sent down to us by Rear Admiral R. H. ‘Bob’ English, Commander Submarines Pacific Fleet, to make good our losses and replace older boats which were due for navy yard overhauls. Such exchange submarines were routed through the Marshalls and other Mandated Islands with instructions to pay particular attention to Kwajalein, Truk and the Palau group. The Tautog had patrolled those hot spots on her way down. She got no shots at surface ships, but had fired at three enemy submarines, all of which Willingham claimed as dead ducks.
The first encounter took place northeast of Johnston Island when Tautog's Officer of the Deck sighted a periscope. It could belong only to an enemy since no other American sub was in that area. The Jap was in good position and probably just about to fire. The OOD, Lieutenant Barnard, handled the situation perfectly by ringing up full speed and swinging away from the enemy with hard over rudder, meanwhile burning up the intercommunication system with frantic orders to the after torpedo room to get the tubes ready to fire. The torpedo crew broke all existing speed records for that maneuver and, when the Tautog's stern swung onto the target, the OOD fired one torpedo which exploded in about the proper place. There was always the chance this might have been a premature explosion but postwar investigation shows that the career of the RO-30, 960 tons, ended there.
Three weeks later, while patrolling submerged one bright morning off the South Pass of Truk, Tautog sighted at about one-hour intervals, two enemy submarines heading for port. He failed to get a shot at the first but did fire at the second and heard an explosion. However that must have been from a premature for the Japanese do not admit the loss of a boat at that time. Later in the forenoon watch a third submarine, also on surface, came down the same course. Her rising-sun flag was proudly flying and numerous personnel were on the bridge. She was probably returning from patrol down Solomons way and anticipating a warm welcome from her division mates—and perhaps some dusky belles—at Truk. Willingham said the Jap was so close that he felt sure he would recognize the Officer of the Deck if he ever saw him again. Joe fired two torpedoes and got one hit which disabled the Jap but did not sink her. Willingham then fired again and we know now that, in the shower of debris and bodies that resulted from the ensuing explosion, all earthly plans ended for the I-28, 2,212 tons.
Another new submarine, the Grampus, Lieutenant Commander E. S. Hutchinson of Germantown, Pennsylvania, came in shortly after the Tautog had stirred up the Japs at Truk, with a story of near disaster which showed that the enemy was tightening up their antisubmarine patrols. I went down to meet Grampus on her arrival at Fremantle and found her with a very neat shell hole about three feet in diameter through the starboard side of the cigarette deck spray shield. It looked as though some large, seagoing rodent had been at work. The shell had evidently exploded on contact, for the port side of the fairwater was torn to shreds. Off Truk one night, Hutchinson had encountered a patrol vessel which immediately made a dash for him. ‘Hutch’ crash-dived with all speed but before the conning tower got under, the Jap registered a hit. Thank God his sights were a little high, for had his hit been three feet lower, Grampus would have been on her way to Davy Jones's locker instead of Fremantle.
About this same time, good news arrived by dispatch one night from the Salmon, Lieutenant Commander E. B. ‘Gene’ McKinney of Eugene, Oregon, who reported sinking a cargo-passenger ship plus the cruiser Yubari off the Indo-China coast. The ship he had identified as Yubari was actually the naval repair ship Asahi— named, no doubt, after that excellent brand of Jap beer—but 11,441 tons, with her invaluable machine shops, made a very handsome item on our list of sinkings. Gene got in a perfect attack on her and had the unusual pleasure of seeing all four of his shots hit—and explode—right where he had aimed them. The Yubari, incidentally, was destined to bear a charmed life until April, 1944, when Bluegill got her south of the Palau group.
LOOKING BACK ON THE first few months of World War II, we, as a nation, had little with which to lessen the sting of our defeats but the courage and determination of our Armed Services. Attacked with blackest treachery, outnumbered at every point, and handicapped by inferior armament, they, nonetheless, fought to the last ditch and died confident that others would seize the weapons from their failing hands to avenge their deaths and to wipe barbarism and imperialism from the face of the earth.
Numerically one of the smallest branches of the Armed Forces, one whose handicaps at the beginning were very great, yet one whose contribution to final victory was out of all proportion to its size, was the Submarine Force.
Starting, initially, with 51 submarines in the Pacific—some long overage for modern combat—the Submarine Forces based in the Central Pacific and in the Southwest Pacific reached their nadir in those first bloody months. Torpedoes were unreliable, spare parts and radar were nonexistent, personnel replacements were nil—even torpedoes had to be rationed.
Meager as was their force at the outset, and great as were their handicaps, singlehanded they fought for almost two years, in enemy-controlled waters, thousands of miles from their bases, to destroy Japanese sea-borne communications and supply lines, and swept on to make themselves the scourge of the ocean to the enemy navy and merchant marine.
Never in the course of the war did the Submarine Forces exceed 4,000 officers and 46,000 enlisted men—about the equal of two Army or Marine divisions. Our peak in submarine strength was 169 Fleet-type and 13 S-type.
Yes, we reached our lowest ebb in those first heartbreaking months but in Australia, as in Pearl Harbor, the tide was making a mounting flood, which, before V-J Day, was to sweep from the seas 1,178 Japanese merchantmen and 214 ships of the once arrogant Imperial Japanese Navy—6,000,000 tons of shipping on which the very life of the Empire depended.
THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY was the turning point in the naval war against Japan. It also helped turn the tide in the submarine onslaught on the enemy. Possession of the Midway Islands was of great strategic importance in the entire Pacific picture and of operational importance to submarines based on Pearl Harbor. Situated 1,200 miles west by north of Oahu, their replenishing facilities added 2,400 miles to the cruising radius of the boats commanded by Rear Admiral Robert English, Commander Submarines Pacific.
Ever since I took command at Perth, I, too, had been seeking a way to increase the cruising radius of my own submarines. The distance to the Indo-China coast, then our best hunting ground, was about 3,300 miles, a 6,600-mile round trip. Since the cruising radius of our subs was in the neighborhood of 10-12,000 miles, at economic speeds, this long trip seriously cut into the fuel available for high-speed operations in the combat areas. If I could arrange, nearer to our targets, a refueling base such as the Central Pacific subs had at Midway, the time necessary for our boats to reach their assigned stations would be cut. They could proceed at higher speeds, their on-station period would be lengthened and more enemy ships would be sunk.
The ports of northwest Australia offered little promise. They had practically no fuel storage facilities and I couldn't spare a tender to anchor in one of them for use as a tanker. Tankers were as scarce as hen's teeth and the only one we had in Fremantle, a Norwegian, had been so badly mauled by Japanese bombs that she would be out of commission for a long time.
Darwin, on the north coast, and Broome, halfway up the coast to Darwin, appeared to be the best available spots for submarine advance bases and therefore I took off by air to inspect them at firsthand. Darwin proved impracticable. Its defenses were meager. There was nothing to stop the Japanese, sitting on Timor, from coming over any time they liked and the city, deserted by its civilian population, was in ruins from Japanese air raids, which still continued. Broome, once the wealthiest pearling town in Australia, was another ill-defended ghost town. It would have been foolhardy for me to risk a tender in either of these two ports.
On one of my trips east I took up the question of an advance submarine base with General MacArthur at Brisbane. He was never too busy to listen to the problems of Allied Naval Forces based in Western Australia and was particularly interested in the latest news of submarine operations.
He discussed current operations and future plans with the greatest frankness. I pointed out to him the urgency of our need for another base but said I couldn't afford to risk one of my few submarine tenders at Darwin so close to Japanese air bases at Koepang and Dilli, on the island of Timor. MacArthur immediately replied that he intended capturing Timor before the end of the year—1942. Unfortunately, for our plans, this optimistic assumption was never realized. The Japanese push, late in 1942, over the towering Owen Stanley mountains of New Guinea toward Port Moresby fully engaged his attention and Timor remained in Japanese hands until the end of the war.
Exmouth Gulf, on the northwest corner of Australia, 700 miles north of Perth, was the answer to my problem, although it did not completely meet requirements. For some time Exmouth Gulf had served as a patrol base for four or five of our Catalina flying boats and there eventually we based a tender, giving the new refueling depot the name Potshot.
Exmouth Gulf is a large body of water with depths suitable for netting against midget subs and torpedoes and, in general, too shallow for submerged attacks by regular-sized submarines. However, our seaplane tenders were wide open to night surface attack and we actually wondered why some Japanese submarine skipper did not make the attempt. The Gulf is almost landlocked but the flat terrain of that section of Australia afforded little protection against willy-willies, the dreaded windstorms of the region, which frequently flattened the frame-built, pearl-fishing villages along that desolate coast. Planes had been damaged at their anchorages but those were hazards we had to accept in return for the partial security afforded by the patrol. For my submarine plans, this location had suitable characteristics but was not nearly as far from Fremantle as was desirable.
Although it added only two days each way to the cruising radius of our submarines, I decided to obtain, if possible, a dumb lighter (one with no motive power) of 500-ton capacity and anchor it in the Gulf, under the guns of the seaplane tender, so our submarines could top off their fuel supply there on their outward journey and use it for an emergency fueling stop on the return trip. With this as a beginning, we could then make further plans for putting a tender there for refitting submarines—and possibly a recuperation camp.
On my return to Perth, I proposed this plan to Vice-Admiral Leary, Commander Southwest Pacific. He concurred and in less than two months the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board ordered a dumb lighter towed from Sydney, via Torres Strait, and had it anchored, full of diesel fuel, in Exmouth Gulf.
This was the initial move toward what later grew into the advance base, need for which was so clearly recognized. As things turned out, its existence was destined to be short lived. The outlay of funds and materials was not great, whereas the experience my Staff and I gained in planning and establishing such bases, was invaluable to us later at Midway, Majoro, Saipan and Guam.
At Perth we still had to struggle with engineering difficulties. The west coast of Australia boasted of nothing in the line of a dry dock. Melbourne or Sydney had to take the more serious docking jobs. At Fremantle, the port of Perth, we had only a small slipway too small to haul out a 312-foot Fleet-type submarine. Until this slipway could be lengthened and strengthened we had to rely on divers or jury-rigged caissons for shifting propellers or making small underwater repairs. The supply question was also difficult. Owing to the many gauge changes on the Australian railways, the freight service across the country was so slow that we found it quicker to ship our torpedoes by boat from Melbourne to Western Australia.
The Australian authorities authorized the necessary alterations to the slipway and Lieutenant Commander W. T. ‘Bill’ Jones, our naval constructor, worked tirelessly with its manager to expedite the work. Divers from our submarine tender at Fremantle were in constant demand for extending the rails into deeper water and one of the main motors of the old Dutch submarine K-8 was pressed into service to augment its power for hauling out larger ships. Progress was slow, partly because there were few Australian workmen assigned to the job and secondly because they were not very energetic workmen. Finally, in early August, I arranged a conference with the authorities which resulted in obtaining augmented civilian working forces which we supplemented by special details from our tender crews. Some of our submarines had not been docked in 19 months, with the result that fouling of their underwater hulls had seriously reduced their speed and had increased fuel consumption. I wanted, at all costs, to avoid the 2,100-mile trip to Melbourne or the 2,500-mile trip to Sydney for docking and bottom cleaning. Nevertheless, with all the pushing that Bill Jones and I could do, it was not until September 30 that our first submarine was hauled out for cleaning and underwater repairs.
As if the sum total of all these difficulties was not sufficient to sear the soul of anybody but the resourceful submariner, we ran into trouble from another source—a new broom. In the first part of July we received from the Atlantic a new Commander Allied Naval Forces based in Western Australia, who relieved me of that responsibility and left me in the billet of Commander Submarines Southwest Pacific.
I had desired from the beginning of my duty in Australia to be assigned only to submarine duties and, when Vice-Admiral Leary informed me this officer was designated to relieve me of top command in Perth, I was greatly pleased. That change, I believed, would permit me to devote full time to prosecution of the submarine war.
The new boss desired to change practically everything in our set-up and operations. First, the organization had to be radically altered. The tenders, the heart and soul of all submarine squadrons, had to be put in a separate task group. Everything had to be patterned on the Atlantic Fleet. I heard how things were done in that Fleet so often that I felt ready to shoot on sight the next Atlantic sailor I met.
Second, the rest camps should have been set up out in the country away from all distractions—not in beach hotels. Certainly the discontent of our crews at being exiled to such recreation camps would have nullified any gain that might have been achieved by keeping them away from wine, women and song. Admiral Nimitz had established a rest camp at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the heart of Honolulu without, I feel sure, any idea of monastic seclusion.
Third, our submarines should use pure English in dispatches. The use of slang such as ‘fish’ or ‘pickle’ instead of ‘torpedo’ was all wrong. Our simple ‘slipstick’ codes, we felt sure, were not proof against decryption by the enemy and our communication officers urged that we use the widest possible range of words in radio messages—naturally, slang words and phrases crept in. While my skippers did not go in for the less reputable of the Anglo-Saxon words, they may have obtained a few ideas from a message which Admiral Bill Halsey sent to a submarine operating with his forces in the Solomons. It read: “I like your guts. You can play on my team any time.”
Lastly, our submarines were not sufficiently aggressive. This I could not take lying down. My skippers were prying into every nook and cranny of Far Eastern waters from Christmas Island, where Searaven sank a Jap ship at the dock, to the South China coast and the roadstead at Kema, Celebes, where Swordfish had sunk one ship and damaged another.
In all Australia we had, at that time, only 31 submarines and even with defective exploders, 260,000 tons of merchant shipping and 10 men-of-war had been sunk or damaged. True, we were not making the records the Germans were piling up in the Atlantic but they, after all, had an excellent torpedo, a reliable exploder and many times the number of targets.
I knew most of my officers too well ever to doubt their courage, determination and skill, and, when our torpedo and exploder troubles were solved, they proved my confidence was not misplaced.
In spite of the additional tension which this temporary change created in the command, operations against the enemy proceeded apace. Sculpin, Lieutenant Commander Lucius H. Chappell of Columbus, Georgia, came in on July 17 with a count of four ships all of which he believed had sunk. In each case, however, he had been kept down so long by depth charging that he had not actually seen them sink. Postwar records credit no sinkings at that time but undoubtedly some of his targets were damaged. Probably some of his supposed hits were actually premature explosions.
It was customary for the Staff to meet each returning submarine at the dock and then I would run through the Commanding Officer's report over a cup of coffee in the submarine's wardroom. This gave me a chance to look over the ship and crew to observe how both had stood up under the punishment they had received. In this case I noted that Chappell looked a little drawn but the rest of the crew looked fine. Three officers, hardly old enough to shave, had grown beautiful apostolic beards.
The Sculpin was scheduled for refit at Albany and I made plans to take passage in her in order to keep in touch with current diving technique, to acquaint myself with the spirit of the command, and to meet our new tender, the Pelias, which was due to arrive there on July 22. She was coming out from the U.S. and I hoped to find her loaded to the Plimsoll mark with spare officers, men and torpedoes to fill our empty magazines.
On the trip south in Sculpin we took another passenger, Lieutenant Colonel Duffy of the Australian Imperial Forces, a member of General Gordon Bennett's Staff, who had flown with me in June to look over the Darwin situation. The Royal Netherlands Navy cruiser Von Tromp— Captain J. B. de Meester—accompanied us to act as escort.
On the morning of July 22 we arrived at Albany but found no Pelias there. As the day advanced, no Pelias showed up and we grew somewhat anxious as an enemy submarine had been reported in the Great Australian Bight. Late in the afternoon I sent out one of the scouting planes stationed at Albany to look for her and it returned without sighting anything. However, the weather was bad to eastward and we believed this accounted for her delay. It seemed unlikely she could have been sunk without getting off an SOS.
Next morning the weather had improved and, at 10 A.M., Pelias—Commander Wm. Wakefield of Humboldt, Kansas—was reported standing in. As soon as she had secured, transfer of details between her and Holland began and at 4 P.M. the latter, with her escorts, sailed for Fremantle.
To my sorrow I found that Pelias had brought almost no reinforcements in officers or men and only her regular allowance of torpedoes. These last mentioned were still in short supply back in the U.S. and our reserve stock was so low that submarines going on patrol were issued only 20 of the 24 torpedoes which they should carry.
However, Pelias, tender for Subron 6, did bring Commander Allen R. McCann, Commander Submarine Squadron 6; Lieutenant Commander H. H. ‘Tex’ McLean, a division commander; and Lieutenant Commander ‘Joe’ Thew, the squadron engineer officer. All three of these officers were submariners of many years’ experience and most welcome additions to our struggling organization. Several submarines had arrived ahead of the squadron commander and were already on patrol in or about the South China Sea.
With the replacement of Otus at Fremantle by Holland, our capacity for effecting repairs to our submarines was greatly improved. In addition to the facilities of our tender's shops we had, through the efforts of Commander ‘Dutch’ Will, our very efficient Force Engineer Officer, obtained the assistance of the State Engineering Works—Mr. G. C. Kekwick—of North Fremantle to absorb some of the Holland's overload. It was my desire to set up a repair unit and storage battery overhaul shop ashore in Fremantle, of capacity equal to that of a submarine tender so we would have a tender free to be moved to ‘Potshot.’ In pursuance of this plan, we leased from the Fremantle Harbor Trust one of the enormous wheat sheds where, in normal times, grain was stored awaiting shipment to England. The manager of the Harbor Trust, Mr. G. V. McCartney, was most cooperative in every way.
Before each submarine left on patrol she had to be degaussed, an operation intended to neutralize the permanent magnetism of her steel hull and equipment so that she would not detonate enemy magnetic mines. Our tenders had no equipment for this purpose so we made use of the RAN auxiliary vessel, the Springdale, anchored in the Swan River at Fremantle. Degaussing was of value in giving a sense of added security to our submariners but we found toward the end of the war that the Japs had no magnetic mines. Hence all this work had been unnecessary except that it possibly might have protected a submarine from a circling run of one of its own torpedoes armed with a magnetic exploder.
In order to keep in closer touch with submarines and to be on hand for the numerous night alarms—usually false—I took up quarters aboard the Holland. She, our oldest tender, was a beehive of activity and usually sounded like a boiler factory most of the night—so much so that Commander Pendleton, her Commanding Officer, had moved most of his men, who normally slept near the shops, onto cots in our newly acquired grain shed.
Our spirits were cheered by performances of Sturgeon, under the redoubtable Bull Wright, and Seadragon, Lieutenant Commander W. E. Ferrall of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The former, on the first day of July off the west coast of Luzon, sank the 7,267-ton transport Montivedeo Maru while the latter, on July 12, 13 and 16 off the Indo-China coast, sank Hiyama Maru, Shinyo Maru and Hakodate Maru for a total of 15,636 tons.
The Seadragon had an old score to settle with the enemy. She was lying alongside Sealion at Cavite docks on December 10, 1941, when the Jap bombers attacked. Two bombs struck the Sealion and sank her. Fragments from the first of these two bombs pierced the side of Seadragon's conning tower, killing Ensign Sam Hunter. He was the first casualty of the Submarine Force in World War II. Seadragon’s superstructure still bore the scars of that bombing and her CO (Commanding Officer) wanted them to remain there as a reminder to all hands of the debts she would always owe a treacherous enemy.
Contacts with enemy ships dropped off somewhat during July, 1942, probably due to wide changes in the routing of enemy ships. They evidently were learning just as our own convoys were learning in the Atlantic, that proceeding via the longest way around frequently made the difference between arriving at their destination or in Davy Jones's locker. The submarines available to us in Western Australia were too few in number and had to cover too many important points to permit the use of coordinated attack groups—or ‘wolf packs’ as the Germans called them.
The approaches to Manila, Davao, Soerabaya, Singapore, Saigon, Camranh Bay, the oil ports of Miri and Tarakan in Borneo, all had to be watched continuously, if possible. An attack group guarding each of these undoubtedly would have paid handsome dividends. Other wolf packs in Makassar Strait and off the Indo-China coast were urgently needed. There just were not enough Fleet-type submarines in the Navy to supply me and Commander Submarines Pacific—whose work was equally important —with a sufficient number to cover our areas properly. This was indeed a misfortune. At the beginning of the war, enemy antisubmarine forces were few and inexperienced, submarine attack methods were not generally known and many merchantmen were poorly armed or not armed at all. Furthermore, the enemy was storing stockpiles with strategic materials from captured territories and laying in reserves of oil and gasoline which were to cost us dear.
A strong force of Fleet-type submarines in this opening period—say, 100 instead of the 39 we actually had—would have reaped a rich harvest. That undoubtedly would have shortened the war, perhaps by six months, thus saving billions of dollars and thousands of American lives.
The other half of my administrative command, Submarine Squadron 5—Captain R. W. Christie—based at Brisbane on the new tender Griffin and operated 11 S-boats in the torrid waters of the Solomons, Bougainville, New Ireland, New Britain and New Guinea. Conditions in that area were particularly difficult because of the lack of air conditioning in these older submarines. This resulted in almost intolerable heat in the boats when submerged. The temperature of the main storage batteries frequently ran up to 125-135 degrees Fahrenheit so that the crews lived in a continual sweat bath from which they emerged at the end of a 30-day patrol looking like something you find under a rock.
When I saw them they were none too cheerful. They had a continual struggle to keep their aged ships in operating condition. The inevitable corrosion and pitting of the strength hulls had so weakened them that their successful resistance to a close depth charging was in grave doubt. Before the war, it had been the plan to allow the S-boats then in the Asiatic Fleet to live out their few remaining years of usefulness and then scrap them at Cavite.
However, they could still do a wartime job of training new crews and acting as electric rabbits for antisubmarine vessels, so eventually the Department decided to relieve the S-boat divisions at Brisbane with Fleet-type boats from Pearl Harbor and Western Australia and send them back to the U.S. This change was carried out in the early fall of 1942 and these weary, battle-scarred veterans departed homeward, leaving behind them a very creditable record of patrols made, enemy ships sunk and coast watchers landed in enemy-held territory.
Midget submarines were another subject continually entering the Australian picture. Hauled out on Clark's Island in Sydney Harbor were two of the Japanese midget submarines, which made an attack on shipping there on the night of May 31. It was believed that four midgets had taken part in this attack launched from I-class submarines outside the harbor. Three had been accounted for and the fourth may have been lost or may have got back to her mother ship. In any case, only two torpedoes had been fired, both of which missed our heavy cruiser Chicago. One torpedo ran up onto the beach without exploding, while the other struck an ex-ferryboat in use as a naval receiving barracks, killing several men and breaking numerous storage battery jars in the Dutch submarine K-9 which was moored close by.
One midget had apparently tried in vain to open the caps which covered the outboard ends of her torpedo tubes. Failing in this she had settled to bottom in a quiet cove and the captain and his mechanic shot themselves. Another had become entangled in an antisubmarine net and, evidently becoming discouraged, the skipper had blown the boat up with his demolition charge. A third was reported destroyed by depth charging.
The midgets themselves were beautifully built little vessels, practically just oversized torpedoes, designed to be carried securely strapped onto the decks of larger submarines. They carried two ‘fish’ and had a bottom hatch through which they could be entered from the mother submarine. Thus they could be carried submerged, right up to the target area and then released. The crew of each consisted of one officer and one enlisted man, who undoubtedly never expected to see home again. Few, if any, ever did.
For the amount of damage these four accomplished at Sydney, their construction seemed wasted effort. We learned after the war that Japan expended thousands of tons of steel and countless man-hours in building hundreds of these craft, intended for special missions of this sort and for the last-ditch defense of the homeland against invasion. Naturally, the diversion of material and labor into this sideshow reduced the resources which could be put into building seagoing types and thus operated to our advantage.
Several times during the course of the war, recommendations were made to the Navy Department that we also engage in a midget building program. These proposals I always opposed for I felt they proceeded from misguided thinking and lack of information as to the real situation in the Pacific. The principal harbors in Japan and the Inland Sea are so shallow as to permit adequate protection by mines and nets and offer no possibility of evading depth charging counterattacks by deep running. Entry into such enemy refuges, therefore, amounted to suicide for submarine and crew, a desperate type of mission which I felt would never be required and which I, myself, never would have advocated. I felt that when our submarines had swept the seas clean of all enemy shipping, the Army and Navy Air Forces would be able to take care of remnants in Japanese-held ports. I was glad indeed that none of these ill-considered brain children ever progressed beyond the drawing-board stage and that we continued to build all through the war, with practically no changes, the excellent all-purpose submarine which had been designed for just the type of warfare that we were waging in the Pacific. Specifications for this submarine were written with great care and after much study, in 1938, by the Submarine Officers' Conference in the Navy Department, aided by such outstanding naval constructors and engineering talent as Captain A. I. ‘Andy’ McKee, Captain Armand ‘the Silent’ Morgan, Captain E. H. ‘Swede’ Bryant and Captain W. D. ‘Legs’ Leggett, Jr.
THE JAPANESE, STUNG by their heavy shipping losses, evidently decided to strike back at Australia. They obviously did not know of our base at Exmouth Gulf for, on the night of July 29, Port Hedland, a pearl-fishing town and Australian Air Force base on the northwest coast, 150 miles away, was raided by nine Japanese bombers from Timor or Ambon.