Originally Posted February 2, 2010
Sixty-six years ago this week, Captain John Crowley of USS Flier was facing one of the worst and likely most humiliating events of his life. His career hung on a thread, and he probably thought that his career as a wartime captain was over.
It wasn’t the first time a submarine had grounded at Midway. But the results had not been good for a commanding officer. On 13 August, 1943, almost exactly five months earlier, the USS Scorpion, which had been training near Midway for her third patrol, grounded on the reef. It took five hours and one tugboat to remove her, and that short period of time damaged enough of the hull and ballast tanks that Scorpion was forced to return to Pearl Harbor for repairs. Scorpion’s Commanding Officer and Executive Officer were both relieved of command.
Flier had been grounded for six days. Her grounding had lead directly to the grounding of the six-month old Macaw (and since Macaw was still hard aground, Crowley faced the possibility he would be held partially responsible for her eventual loss if she could not be recovered). One of his crewmen had died. It didn’t look good.
The Official Board of Investigation (one step down from a Court Martial) was convened on the Submarine Tender Bushnell on February 1. The first day, the convening officers visited Flier, now high and dry in the drydocks at Pearl Harbor. The tally was immense, and Flier looked like she’d been worked over by a severe attack. Major damage had been sustained to the flat keel, vertical keel and bilge keels, as well as the rudder, port strut, port propeller shaft, both propellers and the main ballast tanks. Moderate damage was sustained to the hull frames, tank bulkheads, stern torpedo tubes, reduction gears, liquidometer, and fathometer. In addition, the saltwater cooling system to the engines was thoroughly clogged with coral dust.
Flier could float, but that was about it. Her props couldn’t turn, she couldn’t shoot stern torpedoes, she couldn’t measure the depth of the water around her, her engines could start, but would quickly overheat, and her internal frames which would keep her from collapsing in on herself in deep water were compromised.
Final cost of repairs: $312,000, (nearly 11% of her original build cost!) and Flier would have to be shipped to California–she was too damaged to fix at Pearl.
It was going to be a long few days.