Pearl Harbor: 75 Years On

Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Dec 07 2016

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This mural of Battleship Row under attack was made compositing three photos taken on December 7th, together and filling in details and colorizing the result.  This mural is 10 feet tall and nearly 34 feet long inside the museum.

This mural of Battleship Row under attack was made compositing three photos taken on December 7th, together and filling in details and colorizing the result. The full sized mural is 10 feet tall and nearly 34 feet long, and on display at the USS Silversides Submarine Museum in Muskgon, Michigan

Today people will gather at Pearl to remember the attack that resolutely launched a reluctant America into WWII.

Was it a surprise? Depends on what you mean by “surprise”.

To the American public, many of whom were anti-war, it was a shock in nearly every way. The Japanese were not our enemy; they were rice farmers; they were not capable of this–what the hell happened?! How could they penetrate as far as Hawaii with no one noticing?

To the military and government who had been watching both sides of the world conflict, the who wasn’t a surprise. The “when” wasn’t even that much of a surprise, thanks to the code-breaking capabilities. Everyone in Roosevelt’s cabinet figured that, unless a miracle happened, Japan and the USA would be at war by Christmas, if not sooner.

But Pearl Harbor, I believe, was still a shock in the “where” and the “how” categories.

Lives and ships were lost.  America was nearly defenseless to protect itself across the immense expanse of the Pacific. We had a military the size of Sweden’s, and had been practicing using flour bags for bombs and grenades and wooden rifles for practice due to budget cuts.  For all anyone knew, Japan was ready to move into Hawaii or even the West Coast.  With a large enough army, they could have done so.

As the hours wore on, the news poured in.  We concentrate so hard on Pearl Harbor (at least here in the United States) we sometimes forget that Manila was hit hours later.  Singapore, the seat of the British Navy in the Far East, was attacked, Wake Island, Thailand, Malaysia, the Japanese Empire blossomed, battle by battle. By Christmas, the Japanese would be within striking distance of Australia.

It was a new, terrifying world.

Which thankfully came to an end.

Today, the wounds are still closing. The identities of unknown victims of Pearl Harbor are slowly being identified through DNA advances. Today the Japanese Prime Minister will attend the memorial ceremony to honor the dead.  Today, we will try to stop and strike that delicate balance of remembering the past and honoring those who gave their lives, while nurturing the present reconciliation with Japan.

There are still injustices left from Pearl Harbor.

People on both sides who never met fathers, brothers, and uncles.

People who were locked up in detention camps for being able to trace their ancestry back to Japan.

Two families, Kimmel and Short, who still campaign to clear their ancestor’s name as the scapegoats for Pearl Harbor.

Families who still wait, hoping one day a skeleton marked ‘unknown’ in the Punchbowl will come back with a DNA match, so the name can be restored.


Today, when we pause to remember, let’s try to understand what happened and why, if only to make sure, as often as possible, that it cannot happen again.

The Concealed Loss of S-27, Part 3: The Flight of Raven

Lost Subs, Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Jul 04 2016

This is Part 3 of a series.  You can read Part 1 here and Part two here.

Submarine S-27 becomes Camp S-27 waiting for…

Most of the canned rations had already been removed from the 27, and hauled “home” to Constantine Village.  The offices figured that they had about 30 days’ worth of food at two meals a day.  While Jukes was at S-27’s wreck site, the crew found an old abandoned dory.  Worm eaten though it was, it at least still floated.  A little scavenging supplies and some creativity provided rods and lines, and some enthusiastic fishermen provided fresh fish to supplement the meals.

Another Amchitka Cabin from 1938. Alaska Digital Archives

Another Amchitka Cabin from 1938. Alaska Digital Archives

For his part, young George Herold never doubted that they’d be rescued before the rations were eaten.  But records show some of the older men and officers worried whether enough fish or foraging could feed the crew after a month’s time, if no help came.  No one dared think of winter.  I doubt for morale’s sake they shared their worries to others in public, and certainly, Herold never worried it would take long.

Also taken in 1938, this shows the interior of the cabins the S-27 crew stayed in. Alaska Digital Archives

Also taken in 1938, this shows the interior of the cabins the S-27 crew stayed in. Alaska Digital Archives


But least with all the kerosene lying around abandoned, they were reasonably warm.

Every day, the men had to fall in for roll call, which Herold and many others found rather funny, because, “who would go AWOL anyway.”[i]

The camp settled into a routine. Though Amchitka was well known for the sheer numbers and variety of arctic wildlife, the men saw very little.  Herold himself later said, “ [it] was a funny thing—we didn’t see no animals, or nothing at night there…birds occasionally, but there was nothing on that island at all.”[ii]

Photo taken in later 1941 (perhaps during an expedition into the loss of S-27 or looking into Amchitka's suitability as an Air Base.) Alaska Digital Archives

Photo taken in later 1941 (perhaps during an expedition into the loss of S-27 or looking into Amchitka’s suitability as an Air Base.) This may be the type of dugout that Herold and his friends took for their shelter in Constantine Village.  Alaska Digital Archives

The only life many saw was the occasional plane, miles away, possibly patrolling. From that distance, it wasn’t likely the planes saw the little community. Still, camp life and routine was dominated by the simple idea, with the Japanese so close, don’t make any changes that could be noticed by an air patrol.[iii]

Wednesday, June 24th arrived.  Five days into this adventure, camp muster was called, just as it was every morning.  And after the morning jokes about having to do so, everyone went to their assigned duties, whether that was sentry duty, fishing, cooking the day’s first meal, or just keeping out of trouble.

The weather had been nice for a few days[1], but that day it was foggy, wet and miserable.  The patrol planes based in Dutch Harbor reported that conducting any reconnaissance beyond Atka Island, 120 miles to the east, was impossible.[iv] The wind whipped the seas into a rough condition.

The Church bell suddenly rang out. A plane was coming right for them! The men quickly ducked into the buildings or dugouts they’d found.  Herold heard Nelly yell out, “He’s either going to drop bombs or supplies, take you pick!” [v]

The plane got closer, and closer, until the crew realized it was a PBY Catalina—the American Flying Boat!

A Catalina PBY-5A, the model the men sighted that day. Wikipedia

A Catalina PBY-5A, the model the men sighted that day. Wikipedia

The Raven Lands

In seconds, the “abandoned village” exploded into a mass of shouting, waving men.  One grabbed an American flag and spread it out on the ground for the pilot to see[2].  Several others ran to the sandy beach scrawled “S-27” in large letters. [vi]

The large plane dropped from 1500 feet to 300, then circled, watching this event.  A lamp blinked, and the signalman read the message “WILL SEND POSIT  X  WILL LAND.” [vii]

The Catalina soared out to the sea, banked, and landed beautifully in Constantine Harbor, despite the rough waves.  The pilot, Lt. (j.g.) Julius Raven, popped the hatch and leaned out of the cockpit waving as a couple excited S-27 survivors paddled the worm-eaten dory out to meet the plane.

This sight might have been similar to the crew of the S-27. While it was taken in Unalaska Island, it shows another Catalina using a dory to load and unload passengers and cargo. Alaska Digital Archives.

This sight might have been similar to the crew of the S-27. While it was taken in Unalaska Island, it shows another Catalina using a dory to load and unload passengers and cargo. Alaska Digital Archives.

Raven, his copilot Rock Bannister, and the crew, were returning from a routine patrol, and had gotten lost.  They’d seen Amchitka by chance, and flew over to confirm their position when the village erupted. Several minutes later, Raven reported that Patrol Wing 14, his air group, would send three more planes in the morning to take off the crew of S-27, provided Raven evacuated as many as he could now.[viii]

Evacuation of the 10-15 men he could fit inside required dumping most of Raven’s equipment overboard—something the men happily did.

Jukes and Harold were not evacuated with Raven’s plane.  Herold made sure to good-naturedly jerk the chains of those who went: ‘How come you get to go first?” [ix]

That night, the remaining S-27 crew cooked up every bit of food they wanted.  “…[We] had Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner in one.  We stuffed ourselves and laid back like fat cats,” Herold said. [x]

Late the next morning, three more PBYs, stripped of extra equipment and arms,[xi]  landed in Constantine Harbor. The crew quickly destroyed all the weapons and ammunition they had evacuated off the S-27, before boarding for home.   Extra items, which were deemed no real help to the enemy if they landed (mostly blankets, unused winter clothing and more canned food) were to be left as well.   Herold proudly wore the one thing he had made absolutely sure he got off his old boat: a tailor made set of dress blues which had cost him three-quarters of a month’s salary which he had bought eight months earlier in San Diego. [xii]  [xiii] He’d left behind all his work clothes and toiletries on the S-27,  but took these with him when he boarded the raft back when he evacuated the S-27.

The flight “home” to Chernofsky harbor on Unalaska Island took about six hours. The seas were rough and the Catalina Herold was on hit hard: “After a couple of big bounces, we stayed on the water and swore we’d never get into another airplane”. [xiv]

They were brought to the seaplane tender USS HULBERT (AVD-6), a floating hotel/plane stocking depot/repair stop.  Each man was examined by the on-board doctor, then allowed a bath and a clean bunk for the night.  Considering the water restriction on a submarine, it was likely the first shower most  had in nearly a month.

The USS HULBERT, a destroyer-turned-seaplane tender. Later, she would ground for several days near Attu Island, but would finish out the war.

The USS HULBERT, a destroyer-turned-seaplane tender. Later, she would ground for several days near Attu Island, but would finish out the war.

Fallout at Dutch Harbor

The next day, despite Herold’s self-promise to never fly again, the crew was packed aboard another plane and flown across Unalaska Island to Dutch Harbor.  While in the air, Herold thought of home and realized there was something special about this week.  He’d dropped out  of his last year of school to join the Navy and “see the world”. Pearl Harbor had changed “see the world” to “fight a war”, but this week back home in Patterson, New Jersey,  all his old classmates were celebrating prom and graduation.  [xvi]

Once safely landed at the sub base in Dutch Harbor, the crew of the S-27 were each issued a new sea bag, and forced to leave behind anything they’d brought with this from Amchitka—this included Herold’s carefully-saved blues. [xv]

The ordeal wasn’t quite over, at least not for Jukes and some of his crew.  He, his officers, and several enlisted men were sequestered to attend the official investigation at Dutch Harbor into whether the S-27’s loss was “cause of war” or caused by dereliction of duty.  Jukes and his crew, as experienced submariners, were needed aboard other boats, so rather than waiting, so the trial was scheduled quickly: July 1, 1942 at Dutch Harbor.[xvii]  The outcome of the investigation would determine whether anyone would face charges in a formal court martial.

Jukes had the right to have another submarine commander represent him at the investigation. He chose S-28’s CO, John Daniel Crowley.  Crowley had actually been tasked with finding the S-27 and crew on June 22, but foul weather kept him from seeing anything at his assigned area on Semisopochnoi Island.  Lt. Frank Smith asked the CO of S-35, also newly returned, to be his counsel.

Three days of testimony followed, much of which involved painfully (so very painful…) detailed information about tide tables, their availability and accuracy, current charts and when and how they did and didn’t work, who did what, when, and why.   Fifteen witnesses, some from the S-27, and some from the command at Dutch Harbor, were called, and some these witnesses, like XO and Navigator Lt. Smith, answered over 100 questions during their interrogation.  After the testimony, the board came to their conclusion.

It was dereliction of duty.

Jukes was found to be derelict for failing to exercise due caution and supervision while the S-27 charged her batteries in the fog, and was recommended for court martial.

XO Lt. Frank Smith, navigator, was derelict because he failed to fix the position of the ship, despite the lack of radar, stars, or landmarks and was also recommended for court marital.

Boatswain Kreuger was negligent because he ordered S-27 to assume the pre-assigned course while the visibility was still poor, and failed to ask his CO if any different orders were needed given the circumstances.  [xviii]

Jukes and Butler would face a formal court martial.  Kreuger would be given a letter of Admonition.  The rest of the crew were free.

It was also determined that salvaging the S-27 was impossibly dangerous, due to her condition and location so close to the front lines.  Investigators, landing at Amchitka by plane two days after the crew left, photographed S-27’s remains, which were included in the investigation, and are featured in this series.  They discovered she was breaking up even more and predicted she would sink during the next major storm.

Still, testimony of Lt. Cmdr. Carl N. Anderson, an Alaskan Captain with over twenty years’ experience sailing the Aleutians, helped.  He made the point that the official information given to Jukes was horribly insufficient, and that no tide tables could be accurate in the Aleutians, as circumstances changed tides and currents based on too many factors than could be tabulated. Still, Lt Cmdr. Anderson said, in his experience, when he didn’t know where he was, he would have dropped anchor and waited for the fog to pass or headed straight south, and out to the open sea.


Most submarine losses were realized in retrospect.  A sub which didn’t return to port for long enough was simply assumed lost.  The next of kin would be notified via telegram that the boat was overdue and presumed lost with all hands.  The radio would say the same-“overdue and presumed lost”. The crew would be listed as MIA for the duration of the war, until POW rolls could be inspected to make sure no one had escaped and been captured by the enemy.

In S-27’s case, however, a boat, but not a crew, had been lost.  Lost near enemy territory, and the Navy knew their announcements could be listened to by the enemy.  The news that a submarine, even an old one, was potentially above water and within reach might trigger a conquest of Amchitka, if only to retrieve anything of use from her before retreating back to Kiska and Attu.

So the loss was covered up, as though it had never been.

The crew could not talk about it, or write about it.  George Herold himself was barred from writing anything, and only told his parents confidentially during his first leave home, fourteen months later.

As far as the Navy was concerned, the S-27 simply had stopped going on patrol one day.  Not lost, just not…at all.

It wasn’t until August 10, 1945, that the loss of the S-27 was publicly announced.

Along with three other submarines (which had also grounded and the crews were saved)…

…and 104 other Naval vessels…

…but no one really noticed.


Because on August 10, 1945, THIS was the headline.


So, yes, the news of S-27's loss kind of got lost under the big news of the day, three years later...

So, yes, the news of S-27’s loss kind of got lost under the big news of the day, three years later…


Jukes went on to command two new Gato-class submarines, The Kingfish and the Cutlass,  In a strange twist of fate, eighteen months after S-27 grounded in Alaska, Jukes, commanding Kingfish, stopped by Midway Island on his way home from Kingfish’s sixth patrol, Jukes’s first as Commanding Officer.  It was January 1944, and one submarine and a sub rescue vessel were grounded in Midway’s channel, partially blocking the only route into the lagoon.  The grounded submarine was the Flier and her CO was Commander John D. Crowley, Jukes’s old counsel for his S-27 investigation.

By March 1945, Frank Smith, former XO of the S-27, was the Commanding Officer of the Hammerhead for her final three patrols.  During these patrols, Hammerhead sank five ships, earning her three more battle stars and a Navy Unit Commendation.

The crew of the S-27 was broken up and assigned new boats or duties.  Many were reassigned to Aleutian submarines, including the S-18, 28, and 35.

George Herold about the time of the S-27 loss. Photo courtesy of Herold to the National Parks Service.

George Herold about the time of the S-27 loss. Photo courtesy of Herold to the National Parks Service.

George Herold, along with one other S-27 crewman, Rocco Pia, was assigned to the submarine Finback.  Herold served on Finback for five patrols, sailing out of Dutch Harbor, Pearl and ending in Freemantle, Australia. After Finback, he served aboard Picuda for six patrols. Despite some close calls with depth charges, he survived and continued in the Navy until an accident forced his early retirement in 1949.

Of the entire S-27 crew, only two died during WWII.  Lt. Young, who had lead the expedition to unsuccessfully find the village the first day, died on August 25, 1942, when his plane taking him from Alaska to the continental United States vanished.   [xix]

Lt. Young. From On Eternal Patrol Website

Lt. Young. From On Eternal Patrol Website

Robert Shirah, one of S-27s lookouts when she grounded, later served on submarine Escolar.  The Escolar vanished during her first patrol. Her resting place and cause of her disappearance remain unknown.  [xx]

Robert Shirah, from On Eternal Patrol website.

Robert Shirah, from On Eternal Patrol website.

August 9, 1942, Julius Raven, who had found the survivors, went down on while conducting a search mission for a missing plane [xxi].  He had been awarded an Air Medal for his part in rescuing the S-27 survivors, and after his death, received a Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions against the Japanese. A high speed transport, commissioned in 1945, was named in his honor.[xxii]

S-27 can no longer be seen, and must have sunk relatively close to where it grounded near St. Makarius Point.

Amchitka After

Amchitka itself soon became one of the largest bases in the Aleutians.

In December,1942, Amchitka, despite its drawbacks of muddy and marshy ground, was selected as the new advance airbase in the Aleutians.  A pilot was ordered to destroy the village and church from the air before the ground forces moved in. He had no problems taking out the cabins, but “felt squeamish destroying this sacred building,”. Still, he “made several half-hearted passes…[then] bombed the church flat.” [xxiii]

This is the only image I could find of the interior of the church. It's so beautiful. The name is lost, though the Orthodox Church in Alaska says the records pertaining to this church or chapel were transferred to the Library of Congress, so it is possible the name could be recovered someday. The iconostasis is stunning, even in black and white. In full color, it must have been beautiful. Elements of the decor come from Aletutian motifs one can see on other artifacts. Alaska Digital Archives.

This is the only image I could find of the interior of the church. It’s so beautiful. The name is lost, though the Orthodox Church in Alaska says the records pertaining to this church or chapel were transferred to the Library of Congress, so it is possible the name could be recovered someday. The iconostasis is stunning, even in black and white. In full color, it must have been just breathtaking. Elements of the decor come from Aletutian motifs one can see on other artifacts.
Alaska Digital Archives.

The American ground troops moved in on January 12, 1942, and, despite the foul winter weather, had the first runway completed by February 16.

Taken in March 1943, this shows the location of S-27's Constantine Village 9 months after their departure. This is "Runway Alpha", which would soon be the smallest of three. Each of those dots is a single quonset hut, for those stationed there. US Archives, Wikipedia.

Taken in March 1943, this shows the location of S-27’s Constantine Village 9 months after their departure. This is “Runway Alpha”, which would soon be the smallest of three. Each of those dots is a single quonset hut, for those stationed there. US Archives, Wikipedia.


Soon, two more were constructed, including Runway Charlie.  At 10,000 feet long, it was the longest airstrip in the world at that time.   A year after the submarine rescue, the bare tundra the s-27 survivors got lost in was crisscrossed with the three runways, several hangers, and dozens of roads, buildings, and Quonset huts. It was a base supporting more than ten thousand troops, and the launch point for the re-taking of Attu Island. The Battle of Attu, 11 May – 30 May, 1943, would be one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific.

By August, the Amchitka base personnel lead the way to Kiska, only to discover the Japanese had quietly evacuated the garrison over two weeks earlier, under cover of heavy fog.

After the war, Amchitka became the site of three underground nuclear tests in the 1950’s.  Today, it has resumed its National Wildlife Refuge states (a status it had before WWII began), and is deserted.  However, the marks of its military history remain.  Looking at satellite imagery of Amchitka today reveals a web of airstrips, roads, and foundations of buildings long since removed, but no sign of the S-27 and her crew’s adventure.  The only thing the crew might recognize today is the few Aleut graves, formerly located near the church which was ordered destroyed to make way for the base.  [3]


[1] This is according to Herold.  Official records and testimony from Jukes or the crew make no mention of the weather after S-27 grounded, and three submarines looking for the S-27 on Amchitka and Semisophochnoi that day reported foul weather so bad, they could barely patrol or recon during that week.  But Alaskan weather is variable and highly local.

[2] Whether this flag was salvaged from the S-27 or discovered in the village is not known.  One account, and only one, mentions this flag as an “ensign”.  If it was an ensign, then it was the flag assigned to the S-27, and was salvaged from her, but it would have been identical in appearance to the 48-star “Old Glory”.

[3]  One of the ironies of the church’s destruction was that, as a part of the standard military base, a base church was built, and remained standing for decades after Amchitka closed.  The church didn’t need to be closed, it could even have continued in its function as a church, though perhaps in a wider denominational use.  But this, as we will see, wasn’t the only native church destroyed in the Aleutians during the 1940’s.

Sources Cited:

[i] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg 9


[ii] Interview with Geroge Herold and Harry Suomi, 2014

[iii] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg 9

[iv] (War Diary, Command Task Force 8 6/1/1942 – 6/30/1942, 1942) pg 207

[v] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg 9

[vi] ibid

[vii] ibid

[viii] (War Diary, Command Patrol Wing 4, 6/1/1942 to 7/5/1942 (Enc A), 1942)

[ix] Herold, George, “the first and Only patrol of s-27 (SS-133) The Silent Service in WWII; 2012; pg 54

[x] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg  10

[xi] (War Diary, Command Patrol Wing 4, 6/1/1942 to 7/5/1942 (Enc A), 1942)

[xii] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg  10

[xiii] Interview with Geroge Herold and Harry Suomi, 2014, Transcript, pgs 11 and 12

[xiv] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg  10


[xv] ibid

[xvi] Interview with Geroge Herold and Harry Suomi, 2014, Transcript

[xvii] Imvestigation into the Loss of SS-27

[xviii] Summary and finding of the Facts, Investigation into the loss os S-27

[xix] On Eternal Patrol, Lawrence Hildegard Young,

[xx] On Eternal Patrol, Robert Shirah,

[xxi] War Diary, Command Patrol Wing 4 8/1/1942 – 8/31/1942

[xxii] Wikipedia, entry Julius A Raven, accessed 8 Januaery, 2016

[xxiii] Kohlhoff, Dean Amchitka and the Baomb pg 18

The Concealed Loss of S-27, Part 2: Abandoned on Amchitka

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 29 2016

(This is part 2 of a multi-part series.  You can read part 1 here)

Taken from the bridge of the S-27.  US Navy photo.

Taken from the bridge of the S-27. US Navy photo.


The rocks separating S-27 from Amchikta were tall, almost as tall as the sub’s bridge.  The shore was still a distance off, and no one knew if they could even land.

Jukes asked for volunteers to go ashore and see if the crew could safely land with their inflatable raft.  One officer and one enlisted man, both experienced swimmers, volunteered.

The two set out, their forms soon swallowed by the fog.   It was still night, but the long arctic twilight before sunrise meant that it was slowly getting brighter, even if sunrise was still, technically, three hours away.

Jukes sent another message, but the radiomen improperly coded it.  No matter who intercepted it, it would be complete nonsense. Another, properly coded message was sent:


Taken from later investigations into the grounding of S-27, this map shows the crew's reconing of S-27's grounding, and the two potential routes they took while laying to the night before.  US Navy, Invesntigation into the Loss of S-27

Taken from later investigations into the grounding of S-27, this map shows the crew’s reckoning of S-27’s grounding, and the two potential routes they took while laying to the night before. Image taken from transcript of US Navy Investigation into the Loss of S-27

But now, worrying reports came back from within S-27. Those dry tanks were now leaking.

An hour passed.  Then another half.  Jukes waited on sending a new message since no one seemed to be listening anyway.  For now, he had to organize that which no captain ever wanted to- the abandonment of his first command.

The raft returned.  It was a long journey, but once the party maneuvered past the rocks trapping the 27, it was a clear run to a rocky beach.  They’d anchored lines on the beach, and as soon as these were attached to the S-27, a stable ferry system could quickly evacuate everyone.

While Jukes still hoped s-27 could be towed off, for his crew’s safety, he ordered evacuation. While they moved provisions, clothes, supplies, and themselves into the “ferry”, Cmdr. Jukes and First Officer Lt. Frank Smith began destroying the secret components of S-27.  Though she was far too old to have the latest, greatest gadgets the submarine service would soon be known for, she was still dangerous to leave high and dry where the nearby enemy could find her.

They disassembled the ECM (Electronic Counter Measure), a Typewriter that encoded and decoded messages.  The gear wheels were broken and scattered in the deep water around S-27.  The typewriter portion itself was smashed with a hammer, and hurled as far into the sea as possible.

There were two sonars stations on S-27, one in the torpedo room and one in the conning tower.  These were also smashed with a hammer.  The main sonar head, on the keel, had been smashed between S-27’s hull and the rocks already.  At least one thing was going in their favor in this mess.

The Mark VIII Torpedo Angle Solver (a forerunner to the Torpedo Data Computer) was a small handheld device, and thrown overboard.

This Angle Solver would be nearly identical to the one S-27's officers destroyed.  The artifact is from the USS Bowfin museum in Honolulu.  If you'd like to read more about how this pre-computer computer was used, check out the original US Navy manual at:

This Angle Solver would be nearly identical to the one S-27’s officers destroyed. The artifact is from the USS Bowfin museum in Honolulu. If you’d like to read more about how this pre-computer computer was used, check out the original US Navy manual at:

The safes in Officers Country were opened. Reams of confidential documents, manuals, and handbooks were given to the first wave of evacuating crew with orders to use it as kindling.  All of it.

The Torpedo Data Approach Tables and Data were so sensitive however, they were burned on board.

Anything that might be classified or even possibly secret, was smashed and destroyed with hammers and tools.[ii]



The shore of Amchitka Island, where the men landed, looked “like a calendar picture of a Maine Coast” according to Herold[iii]. A stony beach ran along the waterline, overshadowed by steep hills and cliffs.  The evacuated men built fires with the classified documents and tried to dry themselves and their clothes to prevent hypothermia.  It was in the low 40s, and hypothermia could as easily take a man at that temp as it could below freezing.

Taken from the investigation, this shows the rocks the S-27 was grounded upon, as well as the steep cliff (hidden in shadow) and tundra above.  That wasn't a climb for the faint hearted!  Source: US Navy Photo

Taken from the investigation, this shows the rocks the S-27 was grounded upon, as well as the steep cliff (hidden in shadow) and tundra above. That wasn’t a climb for the faint hearted! Source: US Navy Photo

The sun rose over Amchitka shortly before 8 am.[2]

With the dawn, the men on shore faced the next problem.  They figured they were on a south-eastern  point of Amchitka, and the only known settlement on Amchitka was on the northern side, the village they’d inspected the day before. But where, precisely, relative to this point?  Lt. Lawrence Young, originally from Seattle, set off with five volunteers to find the village. Based on the size of Amchitka, it should only take until early afternoon.

All morning, the rubber raft landed on the shore with a rocky crunch, carrying  only 2-3 men, plus supplies,[iv] which had to be organized and piled on the beach, before the raft, with someone on board to guide her back, was pushed back out to S-27. The raft’s pilots had to be careful tying up near their old boat, because as the swells grew, the submarine rolled more violently, and 27 could potentially roll right over the raft and crew.

Aboard the Sinking Sub

The S-27, bow down in the waves.  As you can see, the water is coming right up to the bridge.  US Navy Photo taken from the Investigation into the loss of the S-27

The S-27, bow down in the waves. As you can see, the water is coming right up to the bridge. US Navy Photo taken from the Investigation into the loss of the S-27

Within the boat, the men queued up to evacuate out, and took as many provisions as the small raft would fit along with them.  Chief Electrician’s Mate, Arthur Kesner took one last look around the boat before heading to the ferry.   “By the afternoon of the nineteenth it was quite a mess…The J.K [Sonar] and Q.C. [Sonar] had all been torn apart and everything was distributed through the control room.  Some clothing and provisions were laying around in the control room we couldn’t get off.”  [v]

With only 2-3 men able to board each trip, ferry needed around twenty round-trips to evacuate everyone.  According to 27’s Navigator and Exec, Lt. Frank Smith, the ride was rough and the men arrived on the beach likely soaked through.

The last few trips were rough.  Waves were breaking all the way across the boat, and would fill it up on the starboard side before you could get it away from the ship.” [vi]

The seas and wind grew more violent as the morning passed, and by noon, with thirty-six of the forty-two man crew onshore, evacuations stopped. In the swells,  S-27 was too unstable, twisting and turning.  The six who remained aboard were all volunteers: Jukes, Smith, a motormac named Raymond Puglsey, one radioman, and two others.

It turned out that their last transmission had been at least partially received by 27’s command in Alaska.  They had sent a reply:  “WHAT IS YOUR POSITION X USE SECRET CRYPTO CHANNEL X AMPLIFY REPORT OF SCREWS DISABLED”.[vii]

That had been nearly seven hours ago.   Now, everyone knew that it didn’t matter which of the props were working or not, 27 was sinking.  Already, her torpedo room, where Herold and Nelly had been sleeping hours before, was filling faster than it could be pumped back out.  It had been sealed and abandoned to its fate.  The flooding slowly pulled the bow down, raising the stern screws and rudders clear of the surface.  Before he’d evacuated to shore, Boatswain Kreuger climbed the rising stern deck and checked the props and rudders.  Not only had the starboard screw been damaged, the starboard dive plane had been ripped clean off.[viii]  The only thing to do was ask for rescue.

It was now 1:45 pm, local time.


It was impossible to tell how much of that message would get through.  Despite mentioning St Markius Point and  Amchitka in the received message, command had asked for position.  Who knew how much of that missive had gotten through?  Or how much of this one would?

3p.m.:  During a short lull in the stormy conditions, three of the six men, the unnamed volunteers, and Moctormac Puglsey, went ashore with more supplies. Now, Jukes, the radioman, plus XO Smith  remained near the radio, waiting for a message.

3:30 pm: Time was up.  On Jukes’s order, the radioman sent a final message:  “DUE TO SEA CONDITIONS AM ABANDONING SHIP.   X   IF POSSIBLE WILL RETURN TOMORROW OTHERWISE CONSTANTINE” The radio was having trouble maintaining a signal by now, though from within or without was anyone’s guess. The only hope was someone would hear them, and send evacuation to Constantine Harbor.

Tying the raft up to the S-27.  US Navy Photo taken from the Investigation into the loss of the S-27.

Tying the raft up to the S-27. US Navy Photo taken from the Investigation into the loss of the S-27.


Lt. Smith remembered leaving S-27 vividly.  “…by that time, the waves were breaking all the way across the bow.  The last boat, the radioman and myself were in, alongside the conning tower, and the captain hauled it forward to the torpedo room right by the bow to get in the boat so we could leave the ship clear of the rocks.  At that time there was very little freeboard on the bow—there was just six to twelve inches with the stern up considerably.” [x]

S-27 was officially abandoned.  The crew huddled together in a makeshift “camp” on an unsheltered cove built at the base of a 50 foot cliff.  Ammo, supplies and clothes had been neatly stacked on the beach, above the tide.   There was good news: there were no injuries.  And some “grog” in the coffee certainly helped everyone warm up. [xi]


8 pm:  After sixteen hours, Lt. Young and his exploration team finally returned.  Amchitka was a featureless plain of rolling tundra, and it was far too easy to get lost. In fact, two men on the expedition had done just that, less than two hours after they left.  While they’d been eventually found, the village had not [xii].  The expedition tomorrow would have to try again.

This photo, taken on Amchitka during WWII shows the rolling tundra.   While Amchitka may be treeless, the plants can still be tall.  If you see the dark square-ish patch in the lower right hand corner, that's the entrance to a dugout cave.  There is a man standing next to it, waist deep in summer foliage.   Source: Alaska Digital Archives

This photo, taken on Amchitka during WWII shows the rolling tundra. While Amchitka may be treeless, the plants can still be tall. If you see the dark square-ish patch in the lower right hand corner, that’s the entrance to a dugout cave. There is a man standing next to it, waist deep in summer foliage. Source: Alaska Digital Archives

Everyone knew the Japanese were on Kiska, fifty miles away, but they had not checked the northern end of Amchitka.  As the sun began its long setting, the men decided, for safety sake despite the possible Japanese presence, the fires would be maintained all night. [xiii]  The cove was fairly sheltered from view from the north end of the island, so they would not be seen by any potential Japanese lookouts.

Still, watches had to be set, and followed.  Due to the cold, each of the enlisted men on watch would only stand for one hour.  The man on watch had to walk up to the top of the cliff for the best view.

Then rain pelted down. It was going to be a miserable night.

The one o’clock watch fell to George Herold.  He remembered that hour vividly:

“When I got to the top of the hill it was dark, and I mean DARK. You could hear the breakers down below and also the boat grinding, scraping and banging on the rocks. I called out “Horton” – but not too loud. I had visions of Jap soldiers sleeping in tents all around me. Scott [Horton] was only a few feet away but he must have seen the same movies I did and thought it was a Jap trick.  I relieved him and [he] went down by the fires and [I] stayed right there, keeping my eye on those fires until I got relieved.” [xiv]

Into the Wilderness

The next morning, the men decided the Japanese, wherever else they might be, were not on Amchitka. This allowed them to simplify the day: thirty-two headed out to the village, carrying as many supplies on their backs and in their arms as they could.  The remaining ten would stand guard over whatever couldn’t be carried.

Amchitka was pure tundra, without a tree or many landmarks at all. The ground was marshy, sucking down the men’s boots as they trudged across the land of moss and lichen. Whatever else may happen, no one was going to get lost today; the men lined themselves in single file, keeping several feet apart from the man in front and behind them.  Leaving at 4:30 in the morning, they arrived at the village by 9 am.

Taken in 1938 by a Smithsonian Archaological expedition, this shows the type of landscape the 27 crew now had to trek through.  Source:

Taken in 1938 by a Smithsonian Archaeological expedition, this photo was taken from the base of Constantine Harbor (on the right) with one of several small lakes on the left.  Source: Alaska Digital Archives

It had been a small village even in its “heyday”.  Six small cottages surrounding an Orthodox church. The Japanese had bombed the place during the invasion.  Three of the houses had been blown apart, and several more bomb craters littered the area.  Still, there were three cabins, and a number of underground storage bunkers.  Herold and two other guys quickly claimed one of these bunkers, and “lived pretty comfortable, I guess.” Submariners are used to sharing tight quarters, three cabins to forty-two men was probably luxurious.

Also from the 1938 expedition, the small village seen from across the bay.  Half of this had been destroyed by June 1942. Source: Alaska Digital Archives

Also from the 1938 expedition, the small village seen from across the bay. Half of this had been destroyed by June 1942. Source: Alaska Digital Archives

Inside the cabins, the men discovered a world frozen in time.  Herold guessed the villagers had left in a hurry, after Pearl Harbor, for “Utensils of all sorts, kerosene stoves and drums of kerosene were left. Plus school books, all in Russian.” [3]

Same expedition from 1938, one of the cabins Herold mentioned.

Same expedition from 1938, one of the cabins Herold mentioned.

Jukes and his officers knew that the men had to be kept busy in order to keep discipline.  Fourteen orders were written up and distributed, organizing the camp, the watch rotations, the kitchen duties.  The sentries were armed with all the small arms removed from the 27, and one was posted in the belfry of the Orthodox Church, with orders to ring the bell if he saw anything.

With camp established, Jukes and some men, headed back to the cove.  He had to inspect S-27, and see if any more supplies could be moved.

Meanwhile, back at Headquarters…

After no further messages from the S-27 were received, Taskforce 8.5, of which S-27 and her sister subs were part, took action. June’s records of TASKFORCE 8, records the following entry, at midnight, June 22:


By the next morning, the three subs were underway, but foul weather kept most of them from being able to see anything.  The S-18, in particular, arrived on the northwest tip of Amchitka Island from June 23, to June 25, (Constantine Harbor adn “Camp S-27” were on the northeast corner). Like her sisters, S-18 couldn’t see through the weather.

S-27’s revisit

more views of s 27

more views of s 27

Among the men who re-boarded the 27 on the 21st, was Boatswain Kreuger, but the submarine hadn’t improved. “I noticed air bubbles leaking out of the ballast tanks and I also know that the torpedo room was flooded because I looked through the eye port from the forward battery compartment. …right after I was up in the torpedo room the captain came aboard and found chlorine gas in the forward battery, which would indicate that the forward battery well was punctured.” [xv]

The torpedoes on S-27 were a double danger.  Though they were secured on their racks and within their tubes, per regulations, as 27 rolled and bashed herself apart, they could come loose from their racks and tubes, potentially leading to an explosion.

On the other hand, once abandoned, if the Japanese found S-27, and were able to salvage the torpedoes, they would know the capabilities of the American torpedoes.  Either way, there was little Jukes could do right now.

When 27 had first grounded, the torpedomen bled off some of the high pressure on the torpedoes.  Later, when saving herself looked impossible, they considered multiple ways to get the torpedoes off the boat, but 27’s unpredictable and violent thrashing made safe handling impossible. Even the four primed in the torpedo tubes could not be fired, in case they hit a rock too close and blew the boat herself apart. When evacuation had been ordered, the torpedo crew strapped down the tin fish in place, hoping for the best after rescue.  [xvi]

Now underwater, there was nothing to be done without a derrick, at the very least.

There was no messages, no help known coming.

Jukes decided to sleep the night on the shore camp, come back one more day, then abandon 27 completely for Constantine.

When he returned on June 22, with a couple other crewmen, 27 had disintegrated even further.  Plates could be heard rattling and striking against each other as she rolled: whole seams had popped open.  One of the crewmen noticed something ominous: the auxiliary intake valve over the battery compartment had popped open from its sealed seat.  The highly explosive chlorine gas in the punctured battery well had filled and pressurized the battery compartment and officer’s country over it. [xvii] She was an explosion waiting to happen.

The rest of the submarine, however, was still dry.  Landing was nearly impossible, since the seas freely broke across 27’s deck at the conning tower, the only place they could land.  Jukes made the call to seal each hatch and leave.

Jukes, Kreuger and the remaining men took the final supplies and headed to Constantine Harbor.

Now, it would be a waiting game.




[1] THE Previous, improperly coded message

[2] According to modern charts, the sunrise would have happened around 6:37 am.  However, this is by Hawaii time, the time zone Amchitka is geographically located in. The S-27 was likely using Alaska time zone for their record keeping, which may explain this discrepancy. (Sunrise and Set times, Amchitka Island, June 1944)

[3] Amchitka went through cycles of human habitation and abandonment. The village and church the 27’s came across had been founded in the 1850’s and vanished off the records after 1867.  Later, another village, the one the crew found, had been founded around 1925 to house the summer fox trapping population.   A Smithsonian expedition reached this abandoned village and took numerous photos of the archaeological expeditions around Amchikta in 1938


Sources Cited

[i] (US Navy Records, 1942)Appendix to Narrative: Messages Sent and Received.

[ii] Jukes, Harold; The Narrative of What Happened to s-27, pg. 4

[iii] the First and Last Patrol of S-27 (Herold, 1989)

[iv] Interview with George Herold and Harry Suomi, transcript, pg 8

[v] Testimony of Arthur Kesner, Investigation into the Loss of USS S-27, pgs. 24-25

[vi] Testimony of Lt. Frank Smith, Investigation into the Loss of USS S-27 , pg 5

[vii] Appendix to Narrative, Copies of Messages Sent and received on June 19, 1942, US Navy

[viii] Testimony of Boatswain Kreuger, Investigation into the Loss of S-27. Pgs17-22

g 17-22

[x] Testimony of Lt. Frank Smith, Investigation into the Loss of USS S-27, Pg. 5

[xi] Herold, George, the first and only patrol os SUS S-27, 1989

[xii] Deck Log, USS S0-27, 19 June, 1942

[xiii] Jukes, Herold, Narrative 1942

[xiv] Herold, George, the first and only patrol os SUS S-27, 1989

[xv] Testimony of Boatswain Kreuger, Investigation into the Loss of S-27, pgs 17-22

[xvi] Testimony of Lt Cmdr Herold Jukes, Investigation into the Loss of S-27. Pg 43

[xvii] Testimony of Boatswain Kreuger, Investigation into the Loss of S-27, pgs 17-22

The Concealed Loss of the S-27, Part 1

Lost Subs, Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 19 2016

June 19, 1942.

Taken before the war, the S-27 was an old 1920's boat. I particularly like the laundry hung out to dry in this photograph. By 1942, of course, that sort of thing was forbidden in enemy waters. Pic from wikipedia.

Taken before the war, the S-27 was an old 1920’s boat. I particularly like the laundry hung out to dry in this photograph. By 1942, of course, that sort of thing was forbidden in enemy waters. Pic from wikipedia.

It was foggy and overcast, further darkening the long twilight that passed for night in summertime Alaska. Little is worse than being cold and damp through.   High on the bridge of submarine S-27, Robert Shirah from Hawkinsville, Georgia, and Stanley Jorgenson from Chicago Illinois, flanked the Officer of the Deck, Theodore Kreuger[1], shivering through their lookout duties.  They didn’t bother with the usual binoculars as they strained their eyes to see through the soup.  In this haze, the lenses fogged over within moments.

S-27 was using the precious six hours of night to run on the surface and charge her batteries.  She was five miles south of the Alaskan island called Amchitka, and as soon as the sun rose, she’d be heading to the island of Kiska, just fifty miles away.  The Japanese had swept through Attu and Kiska two weeks earlier, landing with no resistance. S-27’s job was to see how many troops were invading, and where they had dug in.  Perhaps, even, discover what had happened to the villages and installations out there.

Things were running as usual for this time of day. About half of S-27’s officers were asleep, including her Captain and First Officer. And, as was also usual, the captain had left orders for the night watches. S-27 was to lay to, drifting on the open sea, while both of 27’s engines charged her batteries.  At twenty years old, the submarine had half of the engines the now-standard fleet subs did, and frequently, every minute of the arctic nights were needed to charge her batteries for the long days ahead.

But not tonight. At 12:45 am, less than an hour after reporting for the watch, Kreuger received word that the battery was nearly charged, well ahead of normal schedule.  Kreuger then followed the next set of orders: One engine was left charging, and the other engaged the props.  S-27, five miles from the nearest land, turned to course three-zero-five[2] at two-thirds speed, a whopping six knot crawl[3].[i]  By dawn, everyone expected to leave sight of Amchitka’s south-western shore, assuming the sun could burn its way through the mist in time.  As it was, S-27 slowly nosed her way through threads of grey fog floating over a nearly-black sea, under a darkly clouded sky.  No landmarks, no stars, no radio signals, no sonar…the S-27 was, for a few more moments, utterly blind.

Up above, Jorgenson saw a darker patch of fog just ahead of S-27. Seconds later, he realized it was a rock!

He called a warning to the Officer of the Deck, who hollered below “Left Full Rudder, come to course two-two-five-true[4] and report to the captain that I think I have sighted land on the starboard bow and am changing course…“ Seconds later Jorgenson called “…breakers twenty-five yards forward!” They were close enough to see waves striking the rocks, even in the haze! Krueger ordered, “Back Emergency!” and sounded the collision alarm. [ii]

My take on those last moments before she hit the rocks. Author's own work.

My take on those last moments before she hit the rocks. Author’s own work.

It was already too late.  Caught in a current they didn’t know existed, S-27 slammed into a submerged rock, lifted on a swell, and crashed down in a rocky cradle.  With each surge of water, S-27 torqued and groaned, pounding her props, and wrenching at her hull’s seams.

Bleary-eyed from the sleep he’d just been yanked out of,  S-27’s new commander, Lt. Cmdr. Harold Jukes, climbed onto the bridge.  In the past few seconds, everything had changed. Trapped on the coldest front line of the Pacific War with forty-two souls under his command, Jukes had to make a number of decisions to keep his men alive in an environment none of them had trained for.


The Forgotten Front Line: Alaska


By June 1942, the Pacific War was going well for Japan.  In the 48 hours after Pearl Harbor, they’d attacked Midway Island, Wake Island, Manila, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.  Japan, a nation that had few of the natural resources needed to wage a modern war, now had access to rubber, copper and iron mines, oil wells, food and labor.

But the shocking expansion of the Japanese Empire (called the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”) hadn’t done what Japan had hoped: Australia and America hadn’t capitulated and sued for peace, they’d stood and gathered themselves to fight back.  In April, just four months after Pearl, the Americans had bombed Tokyo itself, shocking the Japanese people. [5]

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbor, had gone to school, lived, and worked in the USA.  He knew the Americans were not yet fighting hard. He knew it took time to repair damaged ships, train the thousands of new recruits rushing to sign up, and re-orient the US economy to war rather than commerce.  There was a still small window of opportunity left before Japan’s limitations would become liabilities, and Yamamoto formed a three-pronged attack.

To the south, Japan advanced through the Solomon Islands, determined to cut Australia off from direct routes to the New World and reinforcements.  Any help coming from the Old World already had to come through U-Boat infested waters.  Isolated, with most of her military-aged men already gone fighting for King and Country in Africa, Australia would be quarantined and contained.

A little skirmish called “the Battle of the Coral Sea” put an end to this leg of the plan.  Still, Australia was somewhat isolated, and the Japanese troops had good footings on islands like Guadalcanal.  It wasn’t a complete loss…

MAp of Japan empire

In the center of the Pacific, the Japanese moved to complete their attack on Midway Island.  Pearl Harbor was too well defended and stocked now.  But Midway, small and lightly used, would push Japan’s front lines within easy reach of Pearl, locking the Americans on their side of the ocean.  Unfortunately for the Japanese, their secret codes had already been broken, and the American Aircraft Carriers would be there to meet them.

And in the north, the Japanese would pounce on Attu and Kiska Islands in the Alaskan Aleutian Chain.  Seizing these islands would secure the Northern Great Pacific Routes, the sea traffic lanes which could have allowed the Americans to send supplies to still-(technically)-neutral Russia, and from there to China, Japan’s enemy. As long as Japan held these islands, they could keep America and Canada in place and even launch attacks on west coasts of Alaska, Canada and America.

June 3 arrived, and the attacks at Midway and Alaska opened.  Carriers and troop transports waiting to attack Attu and Kiska launched an attack on Dutch Harbor, the largest western Alaskan port in the Aleutians.  This attack may have been more a distraction to keep any Alaskan-based troops in the north, rather than running south to assist the Battle for Midway as that started.

Then, to the Japanese, the unthinkable happened: in two days of heavy fighting at Midway, led by their brand new monster battleship Yamato, they…lost.  Not just lost, but lost four aircraft carriers, the pilots, maintenance crews, and all their experience along with.  It was a fatal blow, not just at Midway, but to their arena of the war, even with four more years to come.

Many modern historians believe the Aleutians Campaign was supposed to have started the same day as Midway, but for some reason, there was a delay.  On June 7, the six month anniversary of Pearl Harbor, while America celebrated the victory at Midway, the Japanese quietly landed on Kiska and Attu Islands, formally invading the United States, and taking prisoners.[6]

The news of the invasion was mostly kept from the mainland.  It would only cause panic, and it was mostly subsumed beneath the news of Midway’s victory anyway.  Still, Japanese troops on American soil would have to be dealt with.

S-27, along with several other sister subs, arrived at Dutch Harbor Alaska a week after Midway, on June 12.  These old subs had been assigned to help re-take these islands through recon and sentry duty.  Dutch Harbor was still obviously damaged from the earlier Japanese attack. 17-year-old George Harold from New Jersey, remembered the pier S-27 pulled in at:

“…the pier we tied up to had taken a direct hit with a small bomb. You had to be careful where you put your feet or into the drink you went.” [iii]


This photo, found at this website months ago (it appears to be removed) may have been the exact pier Harrold recalled decades later.

This photo, found at this website months ago (it appears to be removed) may have been the exact pier Harrold recalled decades later.


Summer in Dutch Harbor area was wet and muddy.  Herold saw “…boards for sidewalks and lots of mud…a wooden roller rink and some Aleutian kids skating on it.”[iv]

S-27 had just hours to take on supplies, fuel, and the new charts of the Aleutians she would now be patrolling before setting out again.

Seen attached to its original identifying record, this photograph shows an S-boat in Dutch Harbor taken about a month before this incident. US Navy Photo

Seen attached to its original identifying record, this photograph shows an S-boat in Dutch Harbor taken about a month before this incident. US Navy Photo

Her mission:  inspect the Aleutians, especially Amchika Island, the next island east of Kiska, to see if the Japanese had advanced there, before proceeding to recon Kiska.  The military had to know if the Japanese were consolidating their gains or advancing as fast as possible through the Alaskan islands. At Kiska, S-27 would three other sister S-submarines patrolling various sectors too.

The summer days this far north are eighteen hours long, and the S-27, working in assumed enemy territory, had to patrol submerged during the day, and charge her batteries on the surface during the short night.

S-27 reached Amchitka on 18 August and inspected the old Constantine Harbor with their periscope.  The Japanese had bombed the small evacuated community there, flattening half the structures (three) but leaving the rest, including the old Russian Orthodox Church, still standing.  There were no other signs of Japanese troops.

From here, Jukes had two routes to head west for Kiska: either go around Amchitka to the north, or the south.  Along Amchitka’s northern shore was Rat Island, Little Sitkin Island, and  Semisopochnoi Island.  Scuttlebutt said Semisopochnoi was where the Japanese were building an advance base, which would include a radio, and air patrols.  All of these would limit S-27’s movements and escape options.  So Jukes took his crew south before heading west, where in an emergency, he could head south to unobstructed deep water.[v]


The Fatal Fog

The charts of Amchitka and the Aleutians the crew of S-27 had were the most up to date available, as were the tide tables, but there was still insufficient information[vi].  Every night, Jukes ordered his submarine to set a course at least five miles from the nearest land whenever she surfaced for a night’s battery charge.[vii]  It was no different on this night.   S-27 started her engines, but not her props, and “Laid To” during the charge.  This meant that the S-27 was stationary (or so they thought) during the charge period, so both her engines could charge the batteries as quickly as possible.

The currents in the Aleutians are strange, and unusual.  The most experienced of Alaska’s navigators and captains know the currents change based on the tides, the moon phase, amount and movement of ice and icebergs in the water, among many other factors[viii]. With few tide tables to guide him, Jukes had manually tested the currents all the morning…they mostly registered at 1 to 2 knots, heading in various directions as they moved around Amchitka, but nothing strong, and at five miles south of Amchitka, there seemed to be no real current at all.  Jukes, confident that S-27 would be sufficiently far from land in case of the normal currents they’d encountered earlier, left orders to wake him if trouble or land was spotted.

The night watch began.

However, after the fog rolled in, S-27 drifted into a strong current, heading northwest.

In an era before GPS, ships at sea could navigate through the sun’s position or the stars.

Unless it was overcast.

They could use Direct Reckoning, calculating position based on landmarks.

Unless those landmarks are lost in fog.

They could have used sonar to map the ocean’s floor and find the shoals.

If it didn’t give away their position to the nearby enemy.

They could use radar.

If they had it.  They didn’t. [ix]

They could use the fathometer, to measure the depth of water beneath the hull to keep out of shallow waters surrounding islands.

If they had that, which they didn’t either.  They did have a lead weight on a string if they needed to measure depth.  But the waves had been washing over the deck during the night as the 27 charged her batteries, making such measurements too dangerous for any crewman. [x]

Everyone trusted their earlier measurements of little to no detectable currents, and the distance from any land to protect them, as it always had before.

But at some point, the S-27 moved into a fast current that pushed her, quickly, smoothly, five miles off course.  When the battery was charged, Kreuger gave the order to set the pre-ordered course. The fog gave only seconds of warning.  Now, the S-27 was hopelessly trapped and taking on water.

After sending a distress call to any and all US Navy vessels in the area, asking for a tow off the rocks, Jukes set his men to work doing what they could to save themselves.

For a couple of hours, they tried to back her over the rocks.  Releasing the ballast water and even most of her fuel, only made S-27   more unstable.  George Herold, in his bunk in the Forward Torpedo Room, had been jolted awake in the crash.  Now, as 27 rolled and twisted, his friend Nelly[7] said, “Are we on railroad tracks or something?” [xi]

27’s starboard prop crashed into a rock as she rolled in the surf.  It was soon smashed beyond use. The only remaining prop, on her portside, proved it could not power the boat over the rocks back to deep water.


3:30 am: About three hours after grounding, Jukes and his crew hadn’t heard a word from the outside world.  S-27 was still water tight, but as the foul weather and swells continued, she took tremendous, ongoing abuse.  Short of help arriving before dawn, S-27’s riveted hull probably wouldn’t make it.   With no radio interceptions at all from the outside world, they all silently faced the fact rescue was unlikely.

The crew of the S-27 was on their own.


Part two coming soon…

Taken from the official naval investigation of the incident, this is the S-27 trapped on Amchitka's shore.

Taken from the official naval investigation of the incident, this is the S-27 trapped on Amchitka’s shore.  From this perspective, her bow on the left, hidden behind the rock, and her stern, raised out of the water, is on the right.


[1] I was unable to find Kreuger’s hometown with certainty.  If anyone knows it, please let me know, I’d love to include it.   His place of last enlistment was San Diego in 1936, but many sailors, (including about a quarter of S-27’s crew) re-upped in San Diego.  If the ’36 enlistment was a re-enlistment, that’s most likely not his hometown.

[2] Approximately west north-west.

[3] Not quite 7 mph

[4] Southwest

[5] This is now known as “The Dolittle Raid”

[6] In the aftermath of the Aleutian invasion, many native Aleut populations were evacuated from the Aleutian Islands. By some accounts, people were forcibly resettled, mostly to camps on the Alaskan Panhandle. However, it was too late for the two small settlements on Attu and Kiska. A village of around 45 people on Attu, including 15 children, and the hired schoolmaster and his wife, were captured.  The schoolteacher, Charles Jones, did not survive the invasion, though whether he committed suicide to prevent capture, or was shot by soldiers is still unclear.  His wife, Etta, was separated from the others and shipped to Japan, where she would remain until repatriation in October 1945. In September 1942, as the Japanese mostly left Attu to consolidate Kiska against the incoming American invasion, the remaining Aleut Attu residents were taken to a POW or work camp in Hokkaido, where they spent the rest of the war digging pottery clay for the Japanese war effort.   Sixteen died.  When the survivors returned to the USA and Alaska, after the war, they were not allowed, due to small population, to return to Attu. Attu is uninhabited. [6]

On Kiska, ten American servicemen forming a weather detachment, were also captured.  (One managed to escape and hide for 50 days, before he surrendered, starving and cold.)  Between the Japanese and American efforts, the Aleutians were vacant from Dutch Harbor to the Russian line, allowing either military to build or reinforce the islands.  ( Merrit and Fuller, The Environment of Amchitka, pgs. 120-125)

[7] This is likely Fireman, Second Class Roe D Nelson, from Kansas City, MO



[i] Testimony of Theodore Kreuger, Investigation into the loss of S-27, pg 14

[ii] (Jukes, 1942)pg. 3

[iii] Herold, George, the Loss of USS S-27; Commander Submarine Force, US Pacific Fleet

[iv] ibid

[v] Jukes, 1942, Pg. 1-2

[vi] Testimony of Lt. Cmdr Carl Anderson, investigation into the loss of S-27

[vii] Jukes, 1942, Pg. 1-2

[viii] Testimony of Lt. Cmdr Carl Anderson, Investigation into the loss of S-27

[ix] The above limitations of s-27’s capabilities drawn from Testimony of Lt. Frank Smith, investigation into the Loss of S-27, pgs 4 – 17

[x] Testimony of Boatswain Kreuger, Investigation into the Loss of S-27 pgs. 14- 22

[xi] Herold, George, The The Silent Service in WWII , pg 51


100 Years Ago Today: USS E-2 explodes in drydock

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jan 15 2016

Early in submarine history, submarines were more of working laboratories than anything else.  The men manning these boats were constantly working at the bleeding edge of science, and deadly consequences occurred with no enemy other than the basic forces of nature and chemistry.

Case in Point: the USS E-2

The e-2 on Navy Review on October 1912, three years before the explosion. So4urce, US Navy, via

The E-2 on Navy Review on October 1912, four years before the explosion. So4urce, US Navy, via


Originally named “Sturgeon” while under construction, the re-named “E-2” was commissioned on 14 February 1912, just eight weeks before the  great technical nautical wonder, the Titanic, would set sail on her maiden and final voyage.

She served for a number of years, patrolling around the New England coast, then Guantanamo Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Like most submarines, E-2 was an engine/battery submarine.  While on the surface she would run on her diesel engines (E-2 was one of the first to run on diesel, rather than the more unstable/explosive gasoline engines) and these engines would charge her batteries.  Unlike the engines, the batteries, producing no fumes and needing no oxygen, would run the submarine’s systems while underwater.  When the batteries ran out, the sub had to surface.

The trouble with these wet-cell batteries, however appeared frequently and caused some limitations in maneuvering. Submarines could only dive and surface at less than a fifteen-degree angle or the batteries would have trouble.  Any salt water at all hitting the batteries would cause deadly chlorine gas to form, asphyxiating the crew or even causing an explosion.

In fact, the first sub fatality in the American Navy, the F-4, in 1915, was partially caused by a corroded battery case, leading to a loss of control, and implosion during a dive.

These issues lead American Inventor, Thomas Edison, (yup, same Edison as in light bulbs and Nikolai Tesla’s rival ) as Chairman of the Naval Advisory Board,  to invent a new battery that would be more stable, less prone to the angles of a submarine’s dives and ascents, and eliminate the chlorine gas.  After five years of work, he believed he had a stable working model, which was photographed and proclaimed from this Washington Herald newspaper from October 1915 feature section:

Edison and Battery

Based on a nickel-potash solution, the battery could not produce chlorine gas, nor should it be unstable if doused with seawater for any reason[1].  Lighter, stronger, it could potentially allow submarines to maneuver at up to a sixty-degree pitch, allowing for faster, tighter, maneuvering.  Even more importantly, it could be charged within one hour, allowing submarines to remain hidden longer in enemy waters.[2] With WWI already in full swing, and the US likely heading to war, the possibility for greater flexibility and safety combined was enticing, even if the Edison battery was nearly three times as expensive as the current lead-acid batteries.

By this time, the E-2, the selected test submarine, already had two 400-cell Edison batteries installed,[3]  and was undergoing dock-side tests, charging and discharging her batteries under carefully controlled conditions.  [4]

Earlier Scare

E-2 already had one battery “incident” in her history. Thirteen months earlier, in September 1914, the E-2 was fifty feet underwater when, unbeknownst to the crew, the lead acid of the battery chewed through the battery tanks and into the seawater ballast tanks. Ensign Edward Gillam, E-2’s Commanding Officer, detected the feared chlorine gas leaking from the battery compartment, and drove the sub to the surface, using her pumps, rather than blowing the ballast tanks (the chlorine gas could have released inside in a cloud if he had, killing his crew).[5]  The crew managed to vent the gas but the brief exposure still injured and incapacitated nearly every one of the nineteen hands aboard[6], forcing the submarine to be towed back to port.  (Later tests would show the acid had deeply pitted the entire battery tank, making this leak an inevitability.  This discovery forced all D and E class subs to port to replace and double-line their battery tanks.)

Gillam’s lungs were badly scarred, and would need a year to recover.  E-2 couldn’t remain sidelined that long, so a new CO, Lt. (j.g.) Charles “Savvy” Cooke, was chosen to replace him.[7]

The Tests and Controversy

On December 7, 1915, the E-2 made her maiden voyage with the new batteries.  The initial test was successful: the batteries “produced better speed on less fuel.”[8] The experiments also proved that the Edison battery generated “nearly double the ordinary amount of hydrogen during the process of charging, but on discharge or while lying idle, gives off much less…observers aboard…reported that while in operation not enough gas was produced to be dangerous.”[9]

But Cooke wasn’t comfortable with the amount of hydrogen gas the batteries produced.  Dangerous as chlorine gas was, you could smell it and react, hopefully in time.  Hydrogen gas is odorless, and could build up with no one knowing.  Cooke requested the Navy’s Bureau of Steam Engineering install hydrogen gas measuring devices in the E-2 as a safety feature.  And was denied.  He suggested installing individual voltage meters for all 800 battery cells to see which ones produced hydrogen gas under certain conditions.  And was turned down. By both the Navy and the Edison Company.  (Miller Hutchinson, chief engineer at Edison’s lab, said they would increase the chances of a short circuit).[10]

More tests would be needed, but the early results were encouraging enough that the Edison Battery would be installed on one of the newest boats, the L-8[11], under construction in Portsmouth.  E-2, along with three other submarines, entered Brooklyn Navy Yard on December 30, 1915.  As a standard safety precaution, all four submarines were stripped of their torpedoes and drained of all fuel, and they were each about fifty feet away from her closest neighbor.

The Explosion

On Saturday morning, January 15, several civilian and Naval personnel went inside the E-2, down to the battery compartment.  New canvas pipes and fans had recently been installed to see if the new ventilation would cool the batteries uniformly, and so, that day, the men were measuring the voltage output and temperature of the batteries over a complete discharge, followed by a seven hour charge.[12]  For this first part at least, no one was expecting any hydrogen gas build up, though the fans and vent pipes were kept running as safety protocols demanded.  At least five men, two Navy sailors and three civilian contractors, were inside the after battery compartment, and another ten worked throughout the vessel on multiple projects.

At 1:16 pm,[13] there was a devastating explosion deep within the E-2. One man, standing the deck hatch, was blown twenty feet into the air, before landing on the drydock floor, thankfully with only minor injuries.  The ladder he had been standing on was also blown sky-high, finally landing 150 feet away.

One of the dozens of headlines from the E-2 disaster

One of the dozens of headlines from the E-2 disaster

E-2 roared, the sound of the explosion rumbling and bouncing around the confined space.  Within the battery compartment, four men, Roy Seaber of Cincinnatti, James Peck, civilian from Brooklyn, John Shultz, civilian from Brooklyn, and Joseph Logan, Civilian from Brooklyn, lay dead, and the man in charge of the discharging procedure, Chief Electrician’s Mate LL Mills, was badly injured.  Another nine men lay too injured to move, forced to breathe the searing gas fumes now surging through the submarine.[14]

From the outside, the E-2 looked was perfectly fine.  The hull designed to withstand the ocean’s pressures from the outside had contained the explosion within, though her internal space was “badly shattered.”[15]  Rescuers coming from the dry dock then discovered a new twist: the watertight hull trapped the gasses inside the sub, forcing would-be rescuers, led by E-2’s Cooke, to don diving helmets while other men tried to pump pressurized air into the E-2, forcing the gas out.

Ambulances and medical personnel were on hand when the first of the injured men were hauled out to the open air.  Many were badly burned.  When the bodies of the men near the battery compartment were finally retrieved, they spoke of the severity of the explosion: all were badly burned, one was missing an appendage, and another was crushed.

Within hours, reporters were clamoring for the reason why. The navy offered one initial suggestion: that the hydrogen gas that the batteries built up when charged, had somehow been ignited by a spark.  However “It is too early to state definitely the cause of the explosion,” Said acting Secretary of the Navy, (and future president) Franklin D. Roosevelt.[16]

Another insert from an E-2 article. New York Times, 16 January 1916

Another insert from an E-2 article. New York Times, 16 January 1916

What Happened?

The batteries, as it turned out, had been discharging, and shouldn’t have been throwing off enough hydrogen to spark anything, much less a massive explosion.  Soon, experts came up with other theories to investigate.

An explosion could have been caused by the diesel-oil engines.  However, there had been no diesel onboard to run the engines, and besides, the engines were still intact.  That couldn’t be the point of origin.


Original E-Boat Schematic from illustrated History of US Submarines, found on Labels and highlights were added by author.

Original E-Boat Schematic from illustrated History of US Submarines, found on Labels and highlights were added by author.


Perhaps a nearby air flask had exploded.  An explosion of an air flask, however, should have blasted metal shards throughout the battery compartment, which hadn’t happened. So that theory was abandoned. [17]

Like the previous diagram, labels and highlights of air flasks relative to battery position on the E-2 were added by the author.

Like the previous diagram, labels and highlights of air flasks relative to battery position on the E-2 were added by the author.


Another option, intentional sabotage, was ruled out by January 17.[18]

So what did happen?

That questions would be tackled by the required Naval Inquiry.  The coroner of Brooklyn also announced a civilian inquiry on behalf of the three dead civilians.

Despite not being on board the E-2 at the time of the explosion, and leading the rescue effort, as CO, Cooke’s career was potentially on the line.  Had he, at any time, though lack of training, lack of requested maintenance, lack of reporting, lack of security, lack of anything, put the E-2, and her crew, and the civilians, at risk?   As CO, he was answerable for each and every incident that damaged his boat or crew, though not necessarily responsible.  Responsibility could only be assigned by investigation.

Cooke needed a defense counsel, and chose a fellow submarine officer: Chester Nimitz, future WWII Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Court Case

Now Hutchinson, who lead the installation and testing of the Edison Batteries on behalf of the Edison Labs,  and Cooke, who’s boat and crew were damaged and killed, were at war, each believing the other’s people or devices had to be the cause of the explosion.  During the inquiry and the many press releases surrounding it, many conflicting statements were made:

  • Hutchinson, inspecting the E-2 the day after the explosion, stated that the batteries were intact and undamaged, proving that the explosion, even if it happened in the same vicinity, had to have come from somewhere else.[19]
  • Naval Lt. C.S. McDowell, stated that he too had inspected the remains of the E-2, and said the after compartment of the Edison batteries “were completely ‘blown up’ [and] the forward batteries also damaged.”[20]
  • Cooke revealed his requests for safety devices, each of which had been turned down. [21]
  • Hutchinson announced that the Edison battery was safe, and as proof, it was currently in use in three “non-German” European submarines, currently waging war in Europe.  One of those unnamed subs had sunk seventeen ships thus far.  This surprised many people, as it was assumed the US Navy would have exclusive rights to the Edison Battery if it passed its tests.[22]

While the investigation continued, a fifth man succumbed to his injuries.  But some of the others, crucially, Chief Electrician’s Make Lewis Miles, were slowly improving.

As soon as the survivors were stable, they started to give testimony.  Five men were able to speak, though from reports, they had to speak through a head-full of bandages, only their eyes and mouths visible.[23]

They were adamant about several points, however

1.)     No one was smoking[24]

2.)     There was a blinding flash, then they were all insensible[25]

3.)     There was no smoking or sparking wires on the E-2 on January 15[26]

The two critical testimonies came from Raymond Otto, a second class electrician’s mate from E-2’s crew, and Chief Electrician Lewis Mills, who had been in the battery compartment when the explosion happened.  Otto, who had been partially blasted through E-2’s hatch, and burned his legs, was able to testify around January 19, but Miles, forever confined to a bed, and whose voice permanently restrained to a whisper, couldn’t testify until early February.[27]

Both men, however, recalled the same unusual thing: four of the Edison Battery cells had depleted their charge, and were bubbling moments before the explosion.  The bubbling was hydrogen gas, being produced as the cells, depleted of their charge, had begun to recharge ahead of the others.  If they had produced enough hydrogen gas to stay ahead of the new ventilation system, a random spark (though from what, no one ever saw) could have, may have, caused the explosion.

By the end of January, the civilian coroner’s jury found that the cause of the civilians’ death was an “explosion of gases.” However, they also “were unable to determine the cause of the gases” [28] Despite testimony from naval and civilian experts, the civilian jury was not able to find any new conclusions regarding what gasses or sparks may or may not have sparked the explosion.

In the end, on the 19th of February 1916, the Naval Court of Inquiry wrapped up, though the results were strangely, not made public after conferences with officers of the Navy and Secretary of the Navy, Josephus  Daniels.[29]  The official conclusion did, however, absolve Charles “Savvy” Cooke from any blame.[30]

The press reported that the “court reached substantially the same decision as the board of investigation appointed by the navy commandant immediately after the accident” most likely buildup of hydrogen gas and a stray spark, though the “spark’s” origin was never discovered.[31]

It remained a mystery what happened the afternoon of January 15.


The Navy decided to pull the Edison batteries from the under-construction L-8 in Portsmouth, but turn the E-2 into a floating laboratory, testing the Edison battery further.

They also pulled Cooke from his boat, reassigning him as an engineering officer on the Receiving Ship USS Salem in Boston.[32]  It was a step down in career, though the worst, for Cooke, was the sleepless nights wondering if he could have saved his crew, somehow.  Four years later, he was in command of a submarine again.  This was the brand new USS S-5, and Cooke would be her first CO.  Six months after S-5’s commissioning, Cooke and his crew would be in the news again, for an incident that nearly killed them all. Quick thinking and luck, however, would save them.  Just watch.

(The whole video is worth watching, but the video is cued to the S-5 story which is only about 2 minutes long.)

Cooke would command ships and submarines throughout the 30’s.  On December 7, 1941, he was CO of the battleship Pennsylvania, in drydock when the Japanese attacked. Pennsylvania would survive, though damaged.  The Cassin and Downes, sitting in front of Pennsylvania, would not be so lucky.

As an Admiral through WWII, Cooke oversaw much of the Pacific and Atlantic wars, including witnessing landings at Normandy. He retired in 1948 .  He died on Christmas Eve, 1970, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  [33]

(His son Charles Cooke Jr. would follow his father into the military, and later, consider it “…a badge of honor to have earned a death threat from [President] Richard Nixon…”.  [34]  )

The E-2 would recover, and spend the next two years near the Navy Yards, testing the Edison and Ironside batteries thoroughly. Some naval records state that as the Edison batteries themselves survived the 15 January explosion, though this may be referring to the forward bank of batteries. The batteries were tested cell by cell to try and find the problem, or the origin of the explosion.  None was ever found.  Probably due to the inability to find the cause of the E-2 explosion, and thus, being unable to guarantee a repeat disaster, the Edison batteries were ultimately rejected and never installed in another American submarine.

USS E-2 was recommissioned in 1918, and served in WWI running anti-U-boat patrols off Cape Hatteras.  None the worse for WWI, and having completed longer patrols than ever before, E-2 was decommissioned on 20 October 1921, and sold for scrap on 19 April 1922.


[1] Hill, A.J. Under Pressure: the Final Voyage of the Submarine S-Five  2002, Free Press, New York, New York.

[2] “Battery Approved by Edison’s Expert” New York Times, January 20, 1916.  From New York Times Digital Archives, Accessed 15 January 2014:


[3] “E-2 Commander Testifies He Warned of Gas Menace: Asked Navy Department for Hydrogen Detector and Battery Charge, but Was Ignored” Chicago Tribune, 20 January 1916, Pg. 4.  Retrieved 15 January 2014 from

[4] Hill, A.J.

[5] “US Submarine Crew Had A Narrow Escape” 7 April 1915, New York Times.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from New York Times Digital Archives:

[6] “Blas Wrecks US Submarine While in Dock” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 16 January 1916, pgs. 1 and 2.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from

[7] Hill, A.J.

[8] “Explosion on Submarine Kill Four: E-2 Wrecked by Internal Blast Which Puzzles Experts; Diver Was Equipped with New Type Edison Safety Batteries” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 16 January 1916, pgs 1 and 15.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from

[9] Fort Wayne; 1916 pg. 15

[10] Hill, A.J.

[11] “Blame Battery Trouble for Explosion on E-2: Navy Board of Inquiry Says Excessive Gas was Generated nad Ignited by Spark” Chicago Tribune, 19 January 1916, Pg 2. Accessed 15 Janauary 2014, from

[12] “Navy Heads Warned of E-2 Months Ago” New York Times, 20 January, 1916, accessed 15 January 2014 from New York Times Archive:

[13] “Naval Board Named to Make Inquiry” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 16 January 1916, pg 15.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from

[14] “E-2 Blowup Due to Gas” Washington Post, 19 January 1916 pg 2.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from

[15] “4 Killed, 10 hurt by and explosion on Submarine E-2” The Atlanta Constitution; 16 January 1916, pgs. 1 and 3.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from

[16] Chicago Tribune, 16 January 1916.

[17] “4 Killed, 10 hurt in E-Boat Explosion: Mysterin in Disaster at New York Navy Yard” Washington Post, 16 January 1916, pgs 1 and 4. Accessed 15 January 2014 from

[18] “Court Named for E-2” Washington Post, 18 January 1916, pg 2.  Retrieved 15 January 2014, from

[19] “Edison Expert Asserts Battery Did Not Explode: Chief Enginner Says There Must Have Been Some Other Cause For Blast,:” Chicago Tribune, 17 January 1916, Pg. 4.  Retrieved 15 January 2014 from

[20] “Crew of the E-2 Showed Bravery” 19 January 1916 pg. 4.  Retrieved 15 January 2014 from

[21] Chicago Tribune , 20 January 1916.

[22] “Foreign Navy Uses Edison Battery Too” New York Times, January 17, 1916.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from New York Times Digital Archive:


[23] “US Submarine Survivors Deny anyone Was Smoking: Five of Crew, Recovering in Hospital Say there was a Blinding Flash—Then Lost Senses” Chicago Daily Tribune, 21 January 1916, Pg. 9. Retrieved 15 Janaury 2014 from

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Navy Heads Warned of E-2 Months Ago” 20 January 1916, NY Times

[27] “Deny Exposed Lamp was Burning in E-2: Crew of Submarine presents 20 Points why it Should Be Held Blameless: Inquiy Board Held at Hospital—Take Testimony of Electrician Permanetly Injured in Explosion—Hearing Near the End”.  New York Times, 11 February 1916. Accessed  15 January 2014:


[28] “E-2 Blast Due to Gas: Coroner’s Verditct Condemns Authorities in Charge of Boat” Washington Post, 28 January 1916, pg. 2.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from

[29] “E-Boat Blame Unfixed” Washington Post 20 February 1916, pg 2.  Accessed 15 January 1916 from

[30] Hill, A.J.

[31] Ibid.

[32] ibid.

[33]  Wikipedia.  “Charles M. Cooke Jr.” retrieved 15 January 2016

[34] Smith, Chris.  “Open Space Powerhouse Dies” The Press Democrat, 16 December 2008, retrieved from:  15 January 2016

Veteran’s Day–Thank You

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Nov 11 2015

Veteran's Day poster

Today, 97 years ago, the guns fell silent across Europe.  The trenches could be emptied, No Man’s Land begin the process of grassing over, and the thousands of men and women who had left their homes all over the globe could begin the journey home.  For many other thousands, they would remain buried in cemeteries across Europe.  (A tradition begun by America’s over-fascination with war cemeteries, to European minds…then they started to do it to.)

Today, that day, Armistice Day, is celebrated my many countries to commemorate the war dead of all those who fell defending their country.  in England today, many stopped at 11:11 (Or 11 am)  local time to have a moment of silence for the dead.  Special services, wreath layings, and other commemorations will occur across Europe.  The Poppy, a flower commemorated in the now-famous poem, “In Flanders Fields”, is the flower of the war dead.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
–In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae.  In 2014, the Tower of London hosted this installation of ceramic poppies, one for each Commonwealth soldier lost in WWI.  It filled the moat.


But America never joined them.  Fifty years earlier, we’d torn ourselves apart in a conflict now called “The War Between the States” or the “Civil War” (among other names).  As part of the healing process, a “Decoration Day” in late May had been established, to decorate the graves of the fallen, and remember their sacrifice. Later, it was re-named, Memorial Day.  As the Spanish American war, and The Great War (WWI) followed, those dead were also remembered on that day.

So Congress established Veteran’s Day, a day to commemorate and honor all veterans and their service, those who returned, and those who didn’t.  (Though we did, in honor of the end of WWI, establish the Tomb of the Unknown Solider on November 11)

So please, take a moment today, to remember those in your family tree, community, neighborhood, who answered the call.  Remember all those who left their homes to defend them from various enemies.  No matter what conflict, it takes bravery, whether heading to sea, or the front, or donning a nurse’s uniform and heading to a medical unit, or taking to the skies in increasingly experimental airplanes, to leave the comforts of home for the discomforts and strain of war.

War is expensive, in every way possible.  But those who were willing to stand in the gap and go should be thanked and remembered.

If they are willing to talk, ask them about their services.  Remember the stories they are willing to tell.

But above all, thank them. Even if they came home, their service cost them.


Today, I’m remembering:


My grandfather, Al, who serviced in the 903rd HAM unit in North Africa.  His records, like most Army personnel records were destroyed in 1973 in the Nat’l Personnel Records Office Fire.  I’m still having difficulty discovering what all he did.   He never talked.  I wish he had.  But thank you Grandpa, for your service.

My “Grandpa” James Alls, who appears on this blog occasionally.  He served on the Flier which started this blog.  A bar fight he broke up while on Shore Patrol shattered his jaw.  That injury grounded him for Flier’s second, and as it turned out, final patrol.  I love to hear his stories.  Thank you Grandpa Jim, for your service.

My Uncle Jim, who served in the Air Force in the late 1960’s.  Thank you.

My second great-grandfather in law, Wilhelm Bergmann, who served in the 32nd Indiana Infantry during the Civil War, aka “The German Regiment”.  Thank you for being willing to serve a country in turmoil, just a few short months after coming.

My fifth great grandfather, Henry D, who, as a mulatto man, served three enlistments during the Revolutionary War.  Thank you for serving a brand new nation, even after what you’d been through, and what you would go through.  You still made a difference to your hundreds of descendants.

My submarine friends, both active and retired (hence the reason I’m not naming them here), who prowled the seas and still do so today. Thank you for your Silent Service.

A young man who I watched grow up and now serves somewhere in the world on a US ship.  Thank you, “R”.

A young woman who had to retire too quickly due to injuries, and now studies law. Thank You, “C”

An older man who served multiple deployments and still works with veterans and law enforcement.  Thank you, ‘T”

And my husband.  Who insists, as a former Marine Reservist who never had to deploy, he’s uncomfortable with the term, “Veteran”. Still, you were willing to go.  The fact that injuries forced your early retirement too, doesn’t negate the fact that you signed up, trained, and were willing to go. I thank you for that willingness.

And there are so, so many more.  But this blog entry must close.

For those who served, are serving, or will serve, Thank You.


Thank You All, who stood in the gap.

Have a safe and blessed Veteran’s Day.

If you want to leave a story of your time in service, or a story you’ve heard from a veteran, please leave a comment.  Let’s keep these stories alive. (There will be a lag between submission and posting as I have to screen out comment bots from around the world. I’ll clear you as quickly as I can.)





The Wreck of the USS Flier

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 13 2015

71 years ago today.

70 years ago that Flier, still a new boat, hit a floating mine and sank in seconds, taking more than 70 souls with her the the bottom of the Balabac Strait.

In only seconds, still running full speed and listing to her wounded starboard, she collided with the stony floor, crushing and twisting her bow, until it fell.

Her six torpedo tubes, and the keel, running along Flier’s back, slammed into the ocean’s floor, yanking her to a stop.

Her stern, still driving the Flier forward, bent the upper part of Flier’s superstructure, between frames 10 and 15.  The torpedo tubes, solid brass, held the lower hull. but the upper superstructure cracked and broke under the compression.

The stern, still several feet above the seafloor, dropped.  Based on the side-scan sonar, the force of the stern landing may have flattened Flier’s pressure hull.

During the construction of the USS Flier exhibit at the Silversides Submarine Museum in Muskegon, I had the honor of being able to view the raw footage that Mike and Warren Fletcher brought back from the Flier when they investigated it (I was the museum’s historical consultant for the Flier exhibit). It’s over an hour of footage, which revealed more than YAP was able to display in the dive Detectives: Submarine Graveyard episode.

Several things popped out at me–the debris field on the starboard side, and several former vertical struts for Flier’s wire rails are all pointed to the starboard.  The superstructure was torn off with force.  When you look at the wrecks of the Lagarto and Wahoo, two sisters of Flier, the teak decking has rotted and fallen in large areas, but the steel scaffolding beneath the wood deck remains intact and vertical. On Flier, the entire superstructure, including steel scaffolding, is gone.  What parts of the formerly vertical scaffolding remains is savagely bent to the right forward of the fairwater.

The debris field is extensive on the starboard side.  I cannot speak to the port side, since the filming that the Fletchers did on the port side did not focus enough on the portside floor to see a significant field.

On the starboard side, Flier’s landing blew an impact ditch into the ocean floor. On the crest of the ditch the superstructure landed.  There are large chunks, but there were several small chunks of superstructure.  To be honest, it looks shattered–several pieces that had limber holes (in Flier’s case, the half-moon shaped holes along the bottom of the superstructure forward of the fairwater) are torn so you can only see a portion of one or two holes.

There are parallel horizontal stress cracks running along Flier’s starboard hull–not surprising.

She has a small, square hole between frames 38 and 39–just before her bilge keep begins.  This appears to be stress related.

The most startling thing to me, however, was two things the Fletchers captured on tape.

One was a look inside the control room, while the Fletchers were documenting the blast site.  While they never penetrated the Flier herself, as is tradition out of respect for the Flier’s crew, the camera did glimpse right into the control room.  I diagrammed out where Main Air Manifold pipes, the wiring, and what I believe is a glimpse of the General Quarters alarm.  These were traced over stills from the raw footage, because I do not have the permission to show any of the raw footage, including stills, and I respect YAP’s copyright.


Traced and drawn over three stills from the raw footage brought back by Mike and Warren Fletcher working with YAP Films, this shows what I believe to be a glimpse into the Flier's Control Room shot from a low angle near the ceiling.

Traced and drawn over three stills from the raw footage brought back by Mike and Warren Fletcher working with YAP Films, this shows what I believe to be a glimpse into the Flier’s Control Room shot from a low angle near the ceiling.

Main Air Manifold Pipes detail

Taken aboard the USS Silversides, my old boat when I was curator/archivist/exhibit designer, these are the main air manifold pipes which I traced in green above.

Silversides Periscope Well

Also taken from the Silversides, this is the periscope well, with two alarms. The torn junction box, seen at the bottom and cut off of the frame, I believe is torn on a diagonal in the drawing. This area was traced in red.

The most startling thing, however, was where the two forward ready-ammunition lockers ended up…on top of each other, starboard of the Flier, buried in the sand.  These things held 10 four inch shells EACH, and were welded to the Flier’s forward gun platform in front of the bridge.  That they ended up there, shows how hard she hit bottom.  The two heavy missiles broke free of their framing and launched clear over the side of the boat.

Yet, the ready ammo locker on her portside aft fairwater, remains–though it is now wedged between the engine room air intake and one of the pipes going back to the engine rooms…these are frequently broken as well.   It’s a puzzling wreck in many ways, but one thing if for sure, when she hit, she hit violently.

All in all, the raw footage gave me a lot to think about.  I wish I could explain it all here, but as we are going through some personal changes in our lives at the moment, this project got put to one side.  I would rather wait and debut it at a later date properly, than make a flurried and poor attempt now.  I will continue to sketch and draw and see if I can get permission to show some stills from the Fletcher’s dives, but I also highly recommend the episode crafted around this dive and exploration: Dive Detectives, Submarine Graveyard.  It is available on iTunes.



For the story of the USS Flier, her sinking, survivors, and discovery, check out my book, “Surviving the Flier” here or at Amazon and Barnes and Nobles.



A Revolutionary War Requires a Revolutionary Submarine!

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jul 04 2015

In order to get this done by the 4th I had to forgo the pictures.  I’ll add those soon. For my American readers: Happy Independence Day!  For my international readers, I hope you had a good Saturday!  RJH.

In 1776, the British blockaded New York Harbor. It looked like a forest of trees sprouted just offshore.  The message was clear: nobody in, nobody out, without the King’s men knowing.  New York, and everyone it in, belonged to the crown, and soon everyone else rebelling against the crown’s authority would be forcefully reminded of that fact.

But an audacious plan, with an equally bizzare-looking boat had been hatched. Theflagship of this armada, the Eagle, would be sunk from a timed bomb beneath the water. A new invention, a new weapon, a new method of warfare in what was now, a new country. Many hopes were pinned on the tiny ship, and its new, volunteer pilot. Everything about her, from her construction to her weapon, was invented by one man.

David Bushnell, who wanted to avoid all fame and acclaim for his work.


Bushnell, and his Brother

Born to Connecticut farmers Niamiah and Sarah Bushnell in 1740, David Bushnell was quickly followed by four siblings.  As the oldest, and as was customary at the time, David shouldered a large amount of farm chores as he grew. But David wasn’t the farming type. The boy loved books and machines and any sort of mechanical works he could get his hands on (and probably drove his father crazy taking things apart.)

By all accounts, David was a quiet, introspective, though determined boy. He wanted to go to college, and worked at a shipyard in addition to his family’s farm to make money.

By the time he was 31, he was still at home in Old Saybrook. His father had died five years earlier, followed soon by two of his sisters. His mother remarried, and moved to her new husband’s home, leaving the Bushnell farm to David and his brother Ezra. (I have been unable to find the fate of the fifth sibling, or the names of the sisters. If anyone knows, feel free to contact me or leave a comment!)

David sold his half of the farm to Ezra, and with his savings, finally entered Yale. He was, by far, the oldest freshman there.

At this time, Yale students studied religion, history, natural sciences, mathematics, and a variety of subjects. Bushnell loved science in all its forms, and tried to figure out whether gunpowder could be detonated underwater. The only place to experiment was the school pond—and he apparently terrified a number of onlookers. Shortly after that, he figured out how to create a bomb triggered by a clock, which could be set to blow at a pre-determined time.  The timed bomb had been born.

Bushnell’s senior year was cut short by a little event now called The Battles of Lexington and Concord. While his former classmates enlisted, Bushnell believed he could use his inventions to sink the enemy ships that were continually arriving, if he could invent an underwater delivery device.

An Underwater Turtle

Diving bells, raised and lowered by ropes and winches, were already known. What the Bushnell boys were looking for was a vessel that could raise and sink and move independently.  David’s shipbuilding skills would come in handy, but there were a number of special problems this underwater ship would have that weren’t even touched on the sailing ships David knew!

After all, making a watertight hull was one thing: how to you read depth? And once you invent a depth gauge, how do you make it so you can see it in the dark underwater?

Once David and Ezra figured out how to attach two oars to make a device “that looked like the arms of a windmill” to propel the submarine (one of the first propellers!) , they had to figure out, how do you create water-tight bearings so the man inside can turn it?

How do you get air without opening your hatch? A snorkel complete with self-closing valve that worked to seal the snorkel once submerged.

They decided to use water as ballast, and invented a system of ballast valves and pumps to let water in or out. (Though, according to some records, the “ballast tank” was simply the bottom of the sub, and at times, the ballast splashed around the pilot’s legs as high as his knees! The Atlantic near Connecticut isn’t that warm even in summer!)

They found the depth gauge theorized by a previous inventor actually worked when constructed

The added six small portholes for the pilot’s use—though they still had limited use in the dark or underwater!

They even created an anchor that had a safety feature: if the craft became too heavy, the pilot could sever the anchor’s rope from the inside.  Free of the extra weight, the boat would be buoyant enough to surface.

It was an interesting little craft, all invented to attach a timed gunpowder keg to the hull of a ship.

As the craft looked like two turtle shells glued together,, the Bushnells called the craft “The American Turtle”. By this time, three more men, clockmakers Isaac Doolittle of New Haven and Phineas Pratt of Potapaug (modern Essex) and Dr. Benjamin Gale were in on the construction project. Without the clockmaker’s skills in crafting the machinery, it’s possible the Turtle would have remained forever in Ezra’s shack.

Ben Franklin Provides the Fire

How the Turtle came to the attention of the Continental Army is another story. Turned out, Dr. Gale had a good friend who was coming through the area in October 1775. His name was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin saw the potential of the Turtle, and is, by some accounts, the man who suggested attaching small pieces of a bioluminescent fungi known as foxfire to the various gauges, so you could see them in the dark. (The only problem Bushnell found was the foxfire stopped glowing once they got too cold…like when the Turtle was deep underwater for a long period of time!)

The Turtle was operated by Ezra Bushnell, more muscular and capable of long, hard work. Ezra, thankfully, was also dexterous. With winches and gears in multiple places, a man sometimes had to spin two different winches in opposite directions on two different axis to work the Turtle.

It was now the summer of 1776, and the Declaration of Independence had been officially signed. The colonies were in too deep now—either win, or be condemned as traitors. Under General Howe, Manhattan Island and Long Island were under military control. General Washington decided to try the Turtle to take out Howe’s flagship Eagle.

Turtle was taken overland to the harbor, to avoid the British. Through spy networks, Admiral Howe had already heard about Turtle’s existence, but thought the Turtle was heading to Boston, not New York.  They were not looking for the Turtle in New York’s Waters.

Hopes were high…so you know, things didn’t go smoothly.

The Eagle Mission

The scourge of the the Revolution struck.

Not the British.


Depending on the statistics used, between 50-100% more Continentals were lost to disease than to battle during the Revolution.

Ezra Bushnell came down with a terrible feverish disease, possibly “camp fever” or epidemic Typhoid, and people were not sure he would survive, much less pilot anything. A replacement had to be found.

Bushnell asked General Samuel Parsons, stationed with his men in Brooklyn, for volunteers. He suggested his brother-in-law, Ezra Lee.

Lee trained with the Turtle, and on September 6, took her out for the Eagle mission. In Lee’s words, things didn’t start so well:

“We set off from the City, the Whale boats towed me as nigh the ships as they dare go, and then they cast me off. I soon found that I was too early in the tide, as it carried me down to the [transport] ships. I however, hove about, and rowed for 5 glasses [2½ hours], by the ship’s bells, before the tide slackened so that I could get along side the man of war, which lay above the transports.”

Two and a half hours of treading water just to keep from being swept away…these men were tough.

Once he got alongside the Eagle, Lee discovered Turtle’s drill, that was supposed to help attach the depth charge, couldn’t get through something on Eagle’s hull. Some sources say that it was Eagle’s copper sheathing. Others say she had no such sheathing, but Lee might have accidentally found Eagle’s stern rudder plate.

Of all the rotten luck.

Lee backed up, and tried another section, but now he’d caught the eye of a group of British in a small, rowed boat. They didn’t know what this bizarre thing was, but they didn’t like it. There was no way Lee could outrun the boat, so he took off, releasing the time bomb in his wake. He hoped that, if they took him and the Turtle “..they would likewise pick up the magazine, and then we should all be blown up together…”

The watch didn’t know what that small barrel was, but they didn’t want to tamper with it. They gave it a wide berth, and were no doubt grateful when the timer ended and it blew!

Lee and the Turtle tried to sink another boat on October 5, but it too, was unsuccessful, since the sailors spotted him before he got to his target.  The Turtle was ultimately lost a short time later when the British sank two ships near Fort Lee. One carried wine. The other carried the Turtle.

David Bushnell was not done. He still had his underwater mines, which he called “torpedoes” and decided to set them afloat in strategic areas, using the current to let them drift to enemy ships. He used this technique in 1777 to blow the HMS Cerberus up. The next year, he continued to use the floating mines with enough success that the Royal Navy into ordered all floating wood in the rivers had to be shot at, just to be on the safe side!

During the war, David Bushnell remained with the Continental Army, eventually becoming a Captain.  The National Archives even preserved some of his pay stubs, which just goes to show, no matter how young a military unit it, the first thing they sort out after their founding, is their paperwork!

After the War

Ezra returned home, no one seems to know when.  He died in 1786, three years after the Revolution ended. He married and had children, and tended the family farm.

David Bushnell returned to Connecticut for a short time after the war. His neighbors apparently regarded him with that mixture of hometown pride and quiet laughter over their sadly-slightly-looney-local-mad-scientist.

He went to France, to try and promote submarines like Turtle, but there were no takers. It was still too much ahead of its time. From there, Bushnell disappeared.

During his life and the Revolution, he tried to deflect fame and notoriety as much as he could. Outside of his community, few knew about his unique contributions to the Revolution. The first large, public publicity he had was a speech Thomas Jefferson gave at the Philosophical Society in Philadelphia in 1798. But Bushnell wasn’t there to hear it. Some said he had been a victim of the French Revolution, now raging in Europe. There were many rumors about his fate, each as true as the next.

Truth, as many a storyteller knows, especially historian-storytellers, is more often than not, stranger than fiction.

The Kindly Doctor…Who?

In 1826, the town of Warrenton Georgia, mourned the passing of old Dr. Bush. He’d been living among them since the late 1790s, and had worked to incorporate the town, worked as a commissioner, founded a school, and practiced medicine. A confirmed bachelor, he was quiet, kind, unassuming, and well respected by the whole town. He had no family anyone knew of, so his friends were very interested in Dr. Bush’s will to see how they should break up his estate.

That’s when Dr. Bush sprang the best surprise of his life. He revealed in his will his birth name: David Bushnell of Connecticut. The well known inventor had lived among them for decades with no one the wiser. Dr Bush(nell) was leaving most of his estate to his late brother Ezra’s children. Among his belongings that were packed up and taken north were drawings and, according to some accounts, prototypes for a strange wooden invention.


Bushnell’s Connecticut farm still exists and is a National Landmark.  It sits in modern Westbrook, Connecticut, next to modern Saybrook.

A full-size replica of his Turtle is on display at thee Connecticut River Museum in Essex Connecticut, The Submarine Force Library and Museum on Groton Connecticut, and the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, UK (At least the Brits are good sports about that whole Turtle thing 250+ years on!)

Due to his inventions like the propeller, the ballast pumping system and other innovations, today, Bushnell, the man who did not want acclaim for anything he invented, is known as the Father of Submarine Warfare.


Revolutionary War Statistics:

Normandy Invasion and the Cemetery

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 05 2015

Last year, I wrote this article about the invasion of Normandy, what went according to plan (some things) and what didn’t (most things). Quite honestly, if it hadn’t been for the dogged courage and sheer numbers of Allies that just kept running up that relatively-undefended beach, WWII might have gone on for much, much longer, or even ended differently.


Painted by military artist Joseph Gary Sheahan, 1944.

“Omaha”  Painted by military artist Joseph Gary Sheahan, 1944.  As usual with any image on this blog, click to see it at full resolution.

But no matter what, no matter how well the plan went, everyone involved knew that there would a a high cost in life. Even there, things did not always go as planned.  But how cemeteries like Normandy came about, had a long history, stretching back centuries.

What to do with the Battle Dead

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, in America and Europe, the battle dead were often buried near the battlefield, with little to no marker listing even a name. Most often, these graves were communal, so while you may know where your loved one was buried, he would not even have his own grave.

Taken from a 1905 archaeological excavation from the Battle of Visby.  The battle took place in 1361 on Gotland Island, Sweden.  These five mass graves are unusual as they were buried pell-mell while still wearing their expensive armor.   In most medieveal battles, bodies were stripped of their armor and weaponry before burial, but in this case, it appears that in the hot weather, 2,000+ bodies were more than the survivors or locals could strip before decomposition set in too they were buried wearing all their battle armor.  A tragedy in the 14th century is now a grisly archaeological treasure.  Photo Source: Wikipedia.

Taken from a 1905 archaeological excavation from the Battle of Visby. The battle took place in 1361 on Gotland Island, Sweden. These five mass graves are unusual as they were buried pell-mell while still wearing their expensive armor. In most medieveal battles, bodies were stripped of their armor and weaponry before burial, but in this case, it appears that in the hot weather, 2,000+ bodies were more than the survivors or locals could strip before decomposition set in too far…so they were buried wearing all their battle armor. A tragedy in the 14th century is now a grisly archaeological treasure. Photo Source: Wikipedia.

Only the most influential would be able to have their remains shipped home for a warrior’s funeral (and even then, the corpse would be pickled in a barrel, hello Admiral Nelson!)

In the American Colonies/United States, the dead were buried more or less where they fell. My own fifth-great-grandfather, a man named Henry Dorton (later Dalton), narrowly missed being killed in a 1777 battle/incident now known as “Foreman’s Massacre”. The 22 dead in that incident were left for 24-48 hours until Dorton and those who didn’t die were able to lead others back to the area. The men were buried in a communal, unmarked grave until 1835, when the grave was marked. It wasn’t until 98 years after their deaths that the men were disinterred and moved to a cemetery, again, in a communal grave.

Another example of this mass battlefield burials (or non-burials) in Europe comes from the pen of  Louisa Adams,  First Lady of President John Quincy Adams.  In 1815, however, that was still in her future as she and her son traveled from St Petersburg Russia to Paris, where her husband was now stationed as a diplomat.  During the carriage ride, they had tried to avoid the battlefields and carnage stills strewn across Europe in the wake of Napoleon’s first series of wars.  But they failed.

“About a mile before we entered the town [of Hanau] I had observed a number of mounds like graves with crosses at their feet, in the ditches on the sides of the roads–we entered on a wide extended plain, over which was scattered remnants of clothes; old boots in pieces, and an immense quantity of bones laying in this ploughed field…this was the field of battle in which the Bavarians had intercepted the retreat of Napoleon, and that in this plain ten thousand men had been slain.  Conceive my horror at the sight of such a butchery!”  

The Battle of Hanau, painted by Vernet.  It currently hangs in the National Gallery in London.

The Battle of Hanau, painted by Vernet. It currently hangs in the National Gallery in London.  The road Louisa and her son passed over is likely in the background, heading to the town in the far back on the left.

Louisa was seeing the results of the Battle of Hanau, which had taken place sixteen months earlier.  Obviously, many of the approximately 13,500 dead from that “minor” battle were still visible over a year later.   It didn’t help that, while Louisa and her son traveled across Europe, Napoleon escaped Elba to start the wars again!

Some of these mass graves still come to light even centuries later.  Another Naopleonic-war mass grave was found in 2001 in Lithuania, for example.


The Civil War

Fifty years after Louisa, the Civil War in the United States changed many things in the nation, and the disposition of the war dead was one of them.

For one thing, it was now the Victorian Age. Not that Victoria had anything to do with it directly (at least, not until her beloved Prince Albert died in December 1861, when she turned death and mourning into an intricate art form) but both the British and American cultures had embraced an ideal of “dying a good death”. That is, dying surrounded by family, saying last words, being buried with dignity and grace.

But in the melee of the North verses the South, where Industrial Age Weaponry met traditional battle tactics, the sheer number of bodies that were left behind was far more than even the most hardened war veteran had conceived.  Bodies could be left open to the elements for days. Letters were written of the horror of seeing men, friends and family, laughing and living just days before, now being eaten by wildlife, exposed to the wilderness with no provision for death, burial, or proper remembrance.  The advent of photography on a scale that allowed the aftermath of battles to be photographed in detail also brought home the magnitude of the problem.  (For more on this topic, I recommend watching Ken Burn’s fascinating Death and the Civil War documentary. It’s usually available through PBS.)

As the months stretched into years, small feats of humanity were often the least that could be done for the dead and dying.

So many nameless men come down to us, speechless and dying, that now we write the names and regiments of the bad cases and fasten them to their clothing, so that if they are speechless when they reach other hands, they may not die like dogs, and be buried in nameless graves, and remain forever missing to their friends.” -Katherine Wormeley, civilian volunteer, US Sanitary Commission, and author of The other side of war: with the Army of the Potomac

Still, things were often impossible. The winners would bury their dead with as much dignity and identification as possible, but the enemy dead on the same battlefield would be left exposed, or thrown into a communal grave with no name recorded (in part because the other side would not have the records of who these men were).

A mass of dead after the Battle of Antietam.  I do not know if this is a prepratory mass grave, or where the dead laid after the battle. (If you know the story of this photos, please comment!)   But it was images like this that brought home the horror of war and the desire to have cemeteries, not matter how far from home, that gave a dignified resting place for the soldiers fighting.  Brady photograph.

A mass of dead after the Battle of Antietam. I do not know if this is a prepratory mass grave, or where the dead laid after the battle. (If you know the story of this photos, please comment!) But it was images like this that brought home the horror of war and the desire to have cemeteries, not matter how far from home, that gave a dignified resting place for the soldiers fighting. Brady photograph.

People who expected to lay their families to rest in family graveyards now faced the possibility that their men, who had marched off to defend their way of life, could be buried in a graveyard far from home, be buried in a mass grave with no marker, or worse, be forgotten and left to decay and be scavenged.  The government who called these men up and asked them to fight should, at the very least, people said, make sure that for those who fought for their country, at least had a decent burial in consecrated ground.  And so, in 1862, Abraham Lincoln established the first National Cemeteries, owned and operated by the Federal Government, not churches or localities.  After the war ended, the temporary battlefield dead were exhumed, identified if possible, and re-interred with dignity beneath a single marker.

World War I

Fighting abroad didn’t change this policy.  After WWI, the Americans created twenty-two cemeteries and memorials for their 70.000 war dead. The British, who had not anticipated the sheer numbers of dead modern war could create (the Americans had the “advantage” of the lessons of the Civil War), started WWI with no means of sorting, recording or identifying their dead at all.  For them, battlefield burials had been traditional mass graves near the battlefield or in the nearest cemetery, with little to no identification. Such burials were the norm for the “business” of war in Europe for a number of centuries.

This ended with the establishment of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission under the guidance of Sir Fabian Ware.

The WWI memorials, mostly in France and Belgium, spent years gathering, identifying, and repatriating or burying the dead of WWI.

Sadly, some of the WWI memorials were finished and dedicated as late as 1937, when it was all but certain the “Great War to End All Wars” wouldn’t be.



Battle troops don’t carry coffins, or the means to bury the dead as a part of their primary duties. That was left to the Quartermasters, who also handled supplies. Thankfully, by WWII, military men carried “dog tags” on their person—a set of two. One tag remained with the dead, the second to go with the commanding officer, or burial detail. (Dog tags of various sorts were homemade during the Civil War, then manufactured by entrepreneurs for private purchase.  They became mandatory for the military in 1906 in the USA, were used by the Commonwealth from the beginning of WWI, and used by the Prussians as far back as the 1870s!)  This made tracking and naming the dead in both records and cemeteries much easier and more accurate.

So on June 6, 1944, as men landed on Normandy, the 604th Quartermasters were already assigned to land the next day, to take on the monumental task of burying the dead.

In the aftermath of the Omaha and Utah beach landings, the dead that could be located had been hurriedly buried by departing battle troops, often without the mattress cover to be used as a shroud. The arriving  Quartermasters were assigned to use land already selected near the towns of Cricqueville-en-Bessin and Sainte-Honorine des Pertes, but those towns still remained in enemy hands much longer than anticipated as the re-invasions slogged forward.

So the 604th Quartermasters continued to use the Omaha Beach cemetery.   As the battle troops drove deeper into France, then Belgium, then Germany, the 604th followed, burying men and recording names as they went.

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery.  You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to the beach.  Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated.  Photo Source:

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery. You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to the beach. Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated. Photo Source:

Following the war, with the heroic touchstone that Normandy proved to be, the decision was made to make Normandy one of two permanent WWII cemeteries in France.

To start with, each burial already in the temporary cemetery had to be exhumed, and families asked whether or not they wanted their loved one to remain in France, or be returned to a cemetery of the family’s choice.  In addition, there were single graves or small groups of graves buried with honor in village cemeteries all over France, where the local people had taken it upon themselves to bury airmen, paratroopers, escaped POWs, when they died in their locations.  These graves were often elaborately decorated with flowers and other remembrance tokens of the local French, who honored those who were fighting to re-take France from the Nazis.

Records differ, but between 60-66% of the American dead were returned home, those that remained in France were collected into the Normandy Cemetery and the Brittany American Cemetery.

In Normandy, the lawns of graves include the Garden of the Missing, for those who had been lost at sea, or whose remains had never been found in far-flung individual graves. Today, Rosettes are added to the wall if remains come to light and are identified. Just in front of the Garden, soars a 22-foot tall bronze statue: The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.

A chapel for prayer and reflection sits in the center of the cemetery.

Normandy American Cemetery was dedicated in 1957.  It covers over 172 acres, and still overlooks Omaha Beach, though it is now surrounded by a security wall.  The land it sits on has been gifted, in perpetuity, to the United States, which maintains the cemetery. Among the 9,387 graves include four women,  a father and son, and thirty-three sets of brothers.   One of these sets of brothers were the sons of American President Theodore Roosevelt.  Theodore Roosevelt Jr died of heart attack in July 1945, after helping lead the conquest of Utah Beach.  As he was to be buried in Normandy, his younger brother Quentin Roosevelt, who had died fighting WWI and was buried in a French graveyard, was exhumed and laid to rest beside him.  Quentin is the only WWI soldier to rest in Normandy Cemetery.

It is the most visited of the American Battle Monuments cemeteries.

Today, the dead are returned as part of war. Due to the constantly shifting battle lines of Korea, the dead were often shipped with the wounded to the closest MASH or secure unit to be sent home, rather than buried in foreign soil, which could then be re-taken by the enemy and desecrated or lost.  This is the pattern that is currently followed by the US Military.   There will, in most likelihood, but no more international cemeteries for American military.

But a little, shore-side temporary cemetery, begun in haste as the battle moved forward and left the shore behind, became one of the most famous cemeteries in America’s history.

The Normandy American Cemetery today.  Wikipedia.

The Normandy American Cemetery today. Wikipedia.



[1] A former intern of mine who went on to work at Fredricksburg and Spotsylvania, said that these mass graves still come to light from time to time.

[2] And again, sometimes these identities can be restored years later. In the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” actor Matthew Broderick discovered an ancestor, Robert Martindale, died in the battle of Peachtree Creek, but his remains had not been identified when they were re=interred in the Marietta National Cemetery. That identity was restored through paperwork alone…with the advances in DNA testing, more names can be restored in the future. Watch the exhumation of the Pearl Harbor dead as ithappens this year.

“Cause I Found the Golden Rivet!..”

Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
May 29 2015

Not to be confused with the “Golden Ticket “ from a demented Candy-maker, but the story itself is almost as strange!

Flier cover front only

In one of the early drafts of my book, Surviving the Flier, the main “character” (I use that term loosely since the “character” was an actual man I knew and respected greatly) talked about the various non-quals constantly over his shoulder and behind his back learning Flier’s controls for their final submarine qualifications.

“… [I would ] find a non-qual intently inspecting the air bank gauges, sketching electrical systems, or hovering over my shoulder watching me plot our course on a chart. It was a little nerve wracking, but I had been in that position last patrol, and cut them a break.

“At least I didn’t send them on the “Golden Rivet” goose chase.”

For various reasons, that last sentence was cut, mostly because, while such snipe hunts existed, I couldn’t find evidence of any happening on the Flier.  (Still thought it was a fun sentence through!)

But what was the “Golden Rivet”?


In case you can't tell...yup still have no Photoshop yet.  Gonna have to make that a priority this weekend I hope!

In case you can’t tell…yup still have no Photoshop yet. Gonna have to make that a priority this weekend I hope!



For those who remember the Transcontinental Railroad in history class in school, the final spike of the rail which was driven in on May 10, 1869 was made of solid gold. (There were actually four commemorative spikes: two of gold, one of silver, and one of iron, silver and gold). The legendary gold spike was driven in, photo ops were completed, then it was yanked out, replaced with a standard iron spike and the gold spike was promptly put in a museum, where it remains.


The "Golden Spike" is somewhere between the two trains in the track.  It'll stay there for only a couple of hours.  US Archives Photo

The “Golden Spike” is somewhere between the two trains in the track. It’ll stay there for only a couple of hours. US Archives Photo

That “Golden Spike” lore apparently had an impact on the new Steel Navy now under construction.

The Civil War of the United States (1861- 1865) was really the bridge between the wooden hulled sailing warships of the past, and the upcoming steel-hulled, steam driven ships of the future.

And the “Golden Spike” of the famous railroad connecting the East to the West, apparently morphed into the “Golden Rivet” of the Navy. (Though some say the Navy story is older and impacted the “Golden Spike”)

In any event, the story goes that each ship contained a Golden Rivet, the very first Rivet placed in a ship (or sub). This would perhaps be the Rivet laid at the Keel Laying Ceremony at the start of a ship’s construction. [1]

Admrial Clark Woodward drives the official first rivet of the future USS MISSOURI during the keel laying ceremony. The Missouri is now on display in Oahu, overlooking the wreck of the USS ARIZONA.  US Navy Photo.

Admiral Clark Woodward drives the official first rivet of the future USS MISSOURI during the keel laying ceremony. The Missouri is now on display in Oahu, overlooking the wreck of the USS ARIZONA. US Navy Photo.

It’s all nonsense, of course.  A rivet of gold would be too soft to withstand the strains of a ship at sea.

But that doesn’t stop the experienced sailors from using it to prank the new hands!

Aboard submarines, each new sailor fresh out of school was considered a non-qual, a person who had the book knowledge, but not the on-hand knowledge to be a submariner.   Their final education took place on board the submarine, where they had to prove that they knew each and every system on a boat, from the engines, to the weapons, to the coffee maker…because you never know when you’ll be a torpedoman forced to cook for 80-120 hungry submariners in a pinch.

Thus all the non-quals had to prove they’d been over every inch of the boat.

Cue the “Golden Rivet”.

I ran across more than one account of an old Submariner telling the new non-qual that the last question on the qualifying exams was telling or showing the Captain where the sub’s Golden Rivet was. As it was in a different place on each boat, the non-qual had to find THIS sub’s Golden Rivet as proof.

This story is doubly ridiculous as starting in the Gato-class boats, the hulls were WELDED, not Riveted. Finding a rivet of any kind, much less gold, would be astonishing.

Still, the Gold-Rivet-Snipe-Hunt suggestion was the beginning of a long, hard, grungy search through the bowels of the ship…and that’s if the prank was fairly benign. It was, according to most, left to the non-qual to figure out that there was no such thing…how long it took him was part of the old hands’ amusement.

As pranks and initiations go, this one, in this form, is rather harmless. There are other legends associated with the “Golden Rivet” that are less so, but I’m not going to mention them here.


Commemorative Golden Rivets have been part of the Transcontinental Railroad, The Rigid Airship USS AKRON (ZR-4),  the Golden Gate Bridge (where it famously broke in half and fell into the San Francisco Bay…or an opportunistic pocket!), The Empire State Building ,  among other stadiums, towers and public structures in the early 20th century, but the Golden Rivet on a ship was never real…except in one alleged case in the United Kingdom.


Aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, the older hands would tell the new recruits “Look, here’s the Golden Rivet, the last rivet placed aboard the Britannia.” And when the new hand bent down to look, he got a swift kick to his nether regions.

Thus continued a ship’s tradition…until, the story goes, the day Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, came aboard.

She’d heard about the Golden Rivet, and wanted to see it!

And no amount of hemming, hawing, delaying, or changing the subject would deter her!

Several men of the Britannia, apparently had access to gold leaf on board (it WAS the Royal Yacht after all!) and quickly leafed a rivet in an out of the way spot in an engine room. A few minutes later, Princess Margaret was shown the Golden Rivet, and everyone was happy.

And just to be safe, that rivet remained Gold-plated (or gold-painted) to this day.  While I can find no photos of it, I have found more than one first-hand account of its existence. Short of boarding the now-museum Britannia, to check, I think it’s likely there.

At any rate, it makes a good story.

“We’ve out-clevered ourselves! Quick! Gild a Rivet!”




[1] A few accounts have the “Golden Rivet” as the last rivet.