Foreshadowing Flier’s Final Rendezvous–Concluded

Posted by Rebekah
Apr 22 2010

We set up yesterday’s account of the Redfin’s last stop on her second patrol, will come back to haunt her later in August.

But quickly, 66 years ago today, Flier is, Guess where?  Yup, still doing exercises and tweaks at the shipyard.   She has a week left to find and fix anything and everything her crew’s hearts desires.  (Add an ice cream machine…)

Robalo (green) has passed through the Sibutu Strait, with Redfin on her heels a few hours later, and has actually just finishing transiting the Balabac Strait.

Robalo (green) has just finished safely crossing Balabac Straits, one of several submarines which will do so between now and August 13, when Flier will sink. Redfin has reached her rescue rendezvous point, which will have disasterous effects. Map from Google Earth, positions gleaned from War Patrol reports for USS Robalo and USS Redfin from hnsa.org

The Redfin, (yellow) has arrived at their classified location, Dent Haven, Borneo.  She’s been ordered to pick up six British nationals (refugees or intellegence agents, depending on the source used).  They were supposed to send a specific signal (probably a pattern of blinking lights) to the Redfin, and Redfin would blink a specfic signal back to confirm they were the rescuing vessel.  Once all identities were confirmed, Redfin was going to send four crewmen to shore in a rubber raft, (the water near shore was far too shallow to allow Redfin to approach much closer than a half-mile) grab the refugees, paddle back and head for home.

It started perfectly.  The signal from shore blinked, Redfin responded, and four men, George Carinder, Robert Kahler, Kenneth Harrington, all lead by Ensign Eugene Helz, set out on thier raft.  The currents and winds pushed the raft north, and they landed a distance away from where they had planned on.  Helz noticed several lights, and decided to re-signal just to be safe, since it was known the Japanese were in the area.  The reply was garbled, so he re-signaled, and recieved the correct reply.

They decided to proceed with the rescue.  Helz got out of the raft with Carinder covering him, leaving Kahler and Harrington behind, and called for the Brits to come out to meet them.   No one responded, and thinking that perhaps, they landed a bit north for the refugees to hear him, Kahler and Carinder proceeded down the beach.

Suddenly, a Japanese soldier ran out from the trees behind them, and attacked.  Carinder parryed the blows the soldier was raining down, but didn’t dare shoot because the raft was directly behind him.

Harrington grabbed the machine gun in the raft, and ran to his crewmates and killed the soldier as soon as he could make sure his crewmates would not be hit. 

But more Japanese were now shooting from the trees, where the Americans could not aim properly.  The three sailors ran for the raft and shoved off, figuring that that British subjects, if they ever existed, were dead or in hiding.  They were going to have to row for the Redfin, a half-mile away, fighing the currents and the winds that had already pushed them north, all the while dodging the rifle shots, and praying the Japanese did not have any larger bore shore guns or cannons hidden in the trees.

Back aboard the Redfin, Captain Austin faced a difficult decision.  Submarines were the secret weapons of the Navy, and his number one priority was to make sure his submarine was not captured, and he had to keep the safety of his crew in mind as well.

The rescue had been compromised, that was obvious, but the question he had to ask was, was this attack an attack of opportunity, and these soldiers had just stumbled on an American submarine close to shore and decided to take advantage, or had this been a trap from the beginning, and a Japanese submarine, or destroyer or something was nearby ready to take them and his boat all prisoners?  The water wasn’t even deep enough to safely sink Redfin to keep her out of enemy hands if worse came to worse.

One of his options included abandoning his men to their fates, and leaving, protecting the rest of his men and his boat. 

As long as the water remained free of any other ships, Captain Austin decided to stay and rescue his men if he could.  It took hours, but eventually, all four made it back to the Redfin, and Austin quickly fled the area, abandoning any more rescue attempts, and reported what happened to Fremantle.

POSTCRIPT:  As it turned out, this was more an attack of opportunity.  On June 8, the Harder was sent to the same point, and sucessfully picked up the British men.

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