Originally Posted on January 30, 2010
Sixty Six years ago today, the USS Flier, towed by the Submarine rescue ship USS Florikan, and guarded by two escort ships, was towed back to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Her hull was smashed and dented, though it did hold water. Her shafts and propellers were so damaged they couldn’t turn and leaked. Unable to dive, unable to run, she had been hauled back to Pearl under guard, destined for either the dry dock or scrap heap, her commanding officer’s career on the line after only three months in command, and the whispers began to pick up pace…
“She’s a jinxed boat…”
Eighteen days earlier, Flier left Pearl for her first war patrol in the Pacific. Like many ships and subs, she was supposed to stop at Midway Island to top off her fuel. The canal into Midway was tricky, and incoming vessels always took on an experienced pilot/navigator from Midway who helped guide the ship in.
Flier arrived during one of the worst winter storms on record. It was too dangerous to transfer the pilot from the waiting tugboat, so the tug turned and signaled Flier to follow. Flier’s Captain, John D. Crowley, took Flier in slowly and carefully, determined to thread the canal. What he didn’t know is there was a strong cross current, and unless you took it fast enough, you’d be thrown to the side.
Flier got caught, and the storm whipped waves threw her further up the coral reef that ringed Midway. The tug got back to base, and sent out the USS Macaw, Midway’s brand-new submarine rescue ship to help them off. But soon she too, was aground. Trying to drop the anchor so Flier wouldn’t go any higher on the reef, two men were washed overboard, and another dove in after his buddy.
A week later, the storm blew over. Word reached them that one of the men who had been swept overboard, Clyde Gerber, and the man who went in after him, George Banchero, were in the hospital. The other man swept overboard, James Francis Peder Cahl, had been found washed up on shore, dead, and had already been buried at sea. Sadly, he was one of the few married men on board.
It took the Florikan, the original tug that tried to guide them in, and a floating crane to free Flier from her perch, but no amount of lift would budge the Macaw. To add insult to injury, on the way back, another winter storm hit the Flier and Florikan, and snapped the tow line, leaving Flier at the mercy of the waves for hours.
Three months old, she limped back to Pearl sixty-six years ago today. She had already been fired at by a friendly ship who mistook her for a U-Boat, had been torn up on a coral reef, lost a crewmember, and still had yet to see war. The whispers began…is she jinxed?
Some men said they could tell if a sub was lucky or not. It might not have helped that the wounded Flier likely passed or moored near the USS Silversides who was resupplying in Pearl Harbor between her infamous patrols. Her nickname was “The Lucky Boat”, and she still floats today, a museum ship.
But Flier only had eight months left.