We’ve left Captain Crowley in limbo long enough.
The issue the Board of Investigation had to address was simple: did Crowley put his boat and men in danger unnecessarily? If the storm was so severe the trained pilot couldn’t be transferred from tug to sub, should Crowley had just waited the storm out? Or perhaps he should have just skipped Midway altogether and missed the top off? (While it was normal for ships and subs to top off fuel and supplies there, there was no specific order to do so, which was another issue that was brought up at this inquiry: whether the stop at Midway was an order or an option.)
Crowley had never been to Midway before; neither had his navigator. Crowley decided, in the absence of the experienced pilot, to follow the advice of his tug: “Follow Me”. He assumed that if the local authorities thought it was safe to enter, then it was safe to enter. Both Crowley and his Executive Officer thought they were well within the channel when Flier grounded, (it later turned out that in the storm, one buoy had been completely lost at sea and the other one had been thrown out of position, so it was understandable that they thought they were in a safe depth)
After the Flier grounded, the Board of Investigation wanted to know if Crowley had ordered all crew to wear life vests or life belts. Certainly the anchor crew and deck crew should have been wearing those at least.
But here, the Board ran into problems. Some of the crew that were interviewed remembered the topside crewmen wearing lifebelts, some remembered crewmen definitely NOT wearing lifebelts, still others remembered lifebelts being made available, but in the early part of the grounding, most crewmen didn’t think they were necessary. One man later claimed he felt pressured to testify that everyone was wearing lifebelts.
The Board also wanted to know if Peder Cahl, who had been swept overboard and drowned in the lagoon, had been wearing a lifebelt when he had been sent topside. Once again, they found a variety of answers: one said Cahl was, but couldn’t remember if it was inflated when he went over. Another said Cahl definitely had been, still a third remembered that while lifebelts had been made available to all who wanted them, he couldn’t remember if Cahl had been one of them who had taken one or not.
After Cahl, Banchero and Gerber had been swept overboard, Crowley took no chances, and ordered all hands, topside and inside to wear lifebelts. When Flier had broken away from Florikan on the way back to Pearl, the anchor detail was wearing life belts AND life lines tethering them to the submarine (turned out to be a good idea, since Charles Pope, who was trying to re-attach the towline ended up being swept overboard).
Crowley accepted the responsibility for all his decisions and their consequences, but wanted to make sure the board knew that he had made the best decisions he could with the information he had in had at that time. That was all a Commanding Officer could ever do, and sometimes, that simply wasn’t enough. (My interpretation, not his words).
His career was on the line, and the Board adjourned to decide Crowley’s fate: a desk job, or returning to the States to have Flier overhauled and taken back on patrol.
Meantime, Flier was in drydock, having her engines cleaned and her props fixed. It was just enough so she could limp back to the States under her own power.