Sixty six years ago today, the USS Redfin departed Fremantle for her second patrol. Only CO Austin would know where they were supposed to go, and who they were supposed to hunt. While all submarines were given the standard order to sink any and all enemy ships they came across, especially the freighters, some submarines were given additional orders to seek out specific convoys or submarines or to do something in preparation for a future Naval attack.
The submarines had a unique position in the Navy. While the surface fleet concentrated on taking down the Imperial Navy’s ships in massive battles on the open sea, the submarine fleet was slowly choking Japan’s economy and military from the factory floor.
Japan did not have enough natural materials to maintain or expand her military on her home islands. This was part of the reason why they conquered parts of China, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Indo-China Peninsula, Malaysia and sought to keep expanding. By holding these territories, they had access to the oil, rubber, steel, copper, coal, and any other raw materials needed to keep building and launching ships, submarines, airplanes, and repair the ones damaged in battle.
So the submarine force had an overarching command: SINK THE FREIGHTERS. Every freighter bound for Japan held the means to make more war machines and repair the ones coming back to dock. Every ship of steel sent to the bottom, one less aircraft carrier or battleship. A tanker of oil gone: fewer ships, subs or airplanes could fuel up and go out on patrol. By 1944, Japan’s war factories were having trouble getting materials needed on schedule, and sometimes, they had to make do with less repairs or fewer new items being completed.
These freighters started to become so important, they traveled only in convoys heavily guarded by armed escorts. That didn’t matter at times, the submarines still attacked, and their mandates were so strong they were ordered to shoot the freighters rather than the escorts if able to do so. It was better to have several escorts bringing a few or no freighters to Japan than take out the escorts and hope that someone else found the unguarded convoy and took out the freighters.
It was dangerous. Each escort was armed with depth charges and deck guns. If a submarine was suspected or detected, the escorts did not hesitate to drop dozens of depth charges in an area to get a submarine. And in 1944, the depth charges were more effective than they had ever been, thanks to a congressman named Andrew May.
Andrew May (D-Ky) was the chair for the House Military Affairs Committee. During a press conference in May 1943, May revealed that the Japanese had been setting their depth charges too shallowly, so submarines were simply diving to their greatest depths and rode out the attacks in safety. The press published this fact, and soon, the Japanese quickly adjusted their aim. By some accounts, the Navy believed that nearly 10 submarines and 800 additional men may have been lost due to this blunder.
As usual, the men didn’t dwell on this fact. It was their job to go out there and sweep the seas clean and come home with more brag rags to fly. Like the Musketeers, it was all for one and one for all, whatever they were asked to do.