Rounding out the Robalo for now

Posted by Rebekah
Apr 26 2010

We’ll finish the story of the Robalo today, though it will play out for a few more days.

Shortly after deciding to stay on patrol for 48 more hours to see if his radio tech could fix the Sonar, Robalo sighted a convoy and chased them for several hours, but were always too far away to set up an attack.  Given Robalo’s condition, that might have been a good thing!

Almost 36 hours after deciding to stay out, Robalo’s Radio Technician fixed the Sonar, and Kimmel decided to stay out for as long as the Sonar stayed fixed.  If something happened to the Sonar or the only semi-working periscope, they were going to turn around and head for home immediately.

Robalo stayed out for the remainder of her patrol, which ended up being very dangerous, but successful, and some said, overly agressive.  When she returned to Fremantle, she submitted SIX PAGES of items that needed fixing, most as a direct or indirect result of the APril 24 airplane bombing and a depth charge attack that later occured.

According to some sources, there were other submarine commanders and Admiral Christie were concerned that Kimmel might be a bit too eager to redeem his family’s honor, or too aggressive in attacking the enemy, or risking his ship.  After all, the argument went, most submarine commanders would have returned home after surviving a bombing like that. 

But, it could not be argued that Robalo had sunk a valuable freighter, and survived. 

In addition, submarine commanders were encouraged to be aggressive and take out the enemy.  The Wahoo had been commanded by Dudly “Mush” Morton who accomplished incredible feats, sinking 20 ships (including one patrol where they sank 8, ) and sucessfully invading the Sea of Japan before Wahoo met her fate in 1943.  The Harder was commanded by Sam Dealey who had taken out an impressive talley of 12 ships in three patrols and was in the midst of a very successful fourth patrol.  Creed Burlingame and later John Coye of the Silversides had ranked up 11 and 14 ships between them, respectively, and Coye showed no signs of stopping.  None of those scores came without significant risk to men and boat, and risks that were sucessful were rewarded with medals, commendations, and promotions, for the men of the boats as much as for the officers.  There were often more complaints from a submarine’s crew about a passive skipper who let convoys pass them by than there were captains who took semi-crazy risks to attack.

But where did the line that seperates a superbly aggressive submarine commander who knows just how far he can push his boat and crew (before either push back) from an overly aggressive and dangerous one, fall?

Kimmel came close to losing his command of the Robalo, partially for his own good and the safety of his crew, but the fact that Kimmel’s own writing showed that he was aware of his boat’s weaknesses and ready to turn if anything more happened, and likely recommendations from his men, allowed him to take the Robalo out again.

But the question of his possible aggressiveness would raise questions in September, when he couldn’t defend himself.

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