As promised, we’re going to have to leave the Flier up on blocks for a couple of months, but the threads of the amazing story of the Flier are already coming together, and from an omniscient point of view, we can start exploring them.
In my book, things are told from Al Jacobson’s point of view, so some information is limited, and some really amazing things I discovered cannot be told at all, but here, we can explore some of those fascinating facts together.
Leaving the San Francisco Bay area, we fly halfway across the 1944 globe to Perth and Fremantle, Australia, the second largest Allied Submarine Base in the Pacific Theater. It was probably also one of the most popular places to be stationed between patrols as well. I’ll explain later. Maybe tomorrow.
66 years ago today, the sailors aboard the USS REDFIN, dressed in their dress whites, attended an ancient ceremony called “Change of Command”. REDFIN’s commanding officer for her first patrol, Cdr. Robert D. King, handed the REDFIN over to her new commanding officer, Marshall H. Austin, who would command REDFIN’s next four patrols.
The Change of Command Ceremony is ancient. The heart of the ceremony is simple: the new commander announcing “I relieve you sir” and the former commanding officer responds, “I am relieved”. But surrounding this simplicity is much pomp and circumstance. The entire crew is present, wearing the formal uniforms appropriate for the time of year and climate. They all stand at attention while the official orders coming from the assigning authorities announces the new commander’s name.
The American Change of Command Ceremony has no real regulations, and is loosely descended from the British Admiralty Change of Command as it existed around the time of the Revolution. That ceremony has existed for centuries and probably could trace its roots back to ancient navies. The reason the entire crew is present when the new orders are read comes from a time when mail could take months to get from one place to another, but proved to the crew that the new commanding officer was indeed assigned their vessel and was not attempting a mutiny or some such thing. The formality supposedly conveys the deep respect the officers and crew have for one another, their departing commander and the incoming commander.
Marshall Austin was born in Oklahoma, the fifth of seven children. In a time where a person had to pay tuition in high school, Austin worked for a dollar a day to pay for tuition and also for a prep school to help him get in the Naval Academy. He graduated from there in 1935, and joined the submarine service in 1940. He was in the Philippines on December 7, 1941. His wife, interestingly enough, was in Honolulu heavily pregnant with their first child.
During his time in the Naval Academy, Austin was in a vocal quartet. That fact alone might have saved the Flier’s lives, as you will later see.
He remained CO of the REDFIN until January 1945, during which time the REDFIN sank six enemy ships, when she was handed over to REDFIN’s plankowner XO Charles Miller. For his war service, Austin was awarded a Bronze Star, two Silver Stars and a Navy Cross.
Austin would serve in the Navy for 16 more years, eventually attaining the rank of Captain, and becoming CO of the Naval Submarine School in New London. One of his students was a young man named Jimmy Carter. He found another line of work after filling his military contract.
After his retirement, he became a consultant on Hollywood submarine shows, traveled extensively, attended a number of REDFIN reunions, and generally enjoyed life.
He passed on in 2005 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
But in 1944, he was probably excited about his first command, and began the flurry of paperwork that always accompanies command. Men being removed off REDFIN and replaced with others, the loading of stores, the daily training runs, getting ready for the new patrol, and settling into his new role.
Soon, an emergency would attract his total attention. But first, the ROBALO has to come into port.