Flier has been busy patrolling the entrance to Manila Harbor for the past two weeks. Since the plans to invade the Philippines were well underway (though, as far as most of the military was concerned it was just scuttlebutt, which, as usual, turned out to be right) the Navy needed their submarines in strategic positions to watch the traffic, since they had to know where any minefields might be, and to attack convoys, in order to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy.
By this time in WWII, the submarines, which comprised less than 2% of the Navy in terms of number of personnel involved, had had a devastating effect on the Japanese. As of the end of June, 1944, the submarines had destroyed 712 freighters, warships and submarines, totaling 3,109,998 tons. (By the end of the war, they would have taken 1,1150.5 ships totaling 4,850,624 tons.) In 1943, the Wahoo snuck into the Sea of Japan, which was supposedly impregnable, and destroyed ships in there, scaring the Japanese military and government.
Now Flier lurked outside the entrance to Manila harbor, merrily tracking convoys that went in and out. It was a dangerous mission, partially because convoys going to Manila had no problems using up their entire inventory of depth charges on sub hunting because they could get more just a few miles away. After a week an a half of this, they moved off to the south, heading to the Sulu Sea.
It was here, late on the 22nd of June, that Flier ran across a nice large convoy, and their final victim. It was a large convoy of nearly nine freighters and six escorts. They were traveling slowly enough that Crowley decided an end-around attack starting at night was going to be their best bet.
They sped ahead, and settled in their quarry’s path. For whatever reason, they were not zig-zagging as radically as usual, and were traveling four miles from the shore. The forward escorts whipped past Flier, who sitting low in the waves. It was just past a new moon, and the slender crescent had already set, so Flier was all but invisible.
She took aim and fired six bow torpedoes at the first two ships in the closer cloumn, nailing both twice. They dropped out of formation and made for the beach, even as their sterns started sinking beneath the waves. The ships behind them scattered, trying to avoid both their sinking comrades, and getting out of the way of the hidden submarine. As cruel as it sounds, they were not about to hang around and try to help the stricken ships and their crews, not as long as the submarine was still in the area. Thankfully, they were near an island a short swim away, but that would be true even in the certain death of open ocean.
The escorts meanwhile, roared to the vicinity dropping depth charges in their wakes, which Al Jacobson found rather funny, since Flier was surfaced, not submerged, and the only way the depth charges would have worked would have been if one landed on the deck (and even not then). Some even passed close to the stern, not seeing their quarry.
It was too dark to see the ships they’d crippled, since there were no fires, and the lights had gone out, but sonar called up saying the ship had disappeared from radar. The lookouts scoured the area, but couldn’t see the further ship either. There were two possibilities: she had gone down, or she had sucessfully beached herself, and Radar couldn’t distinguish her from the bulk of the island. Only dawn would be able to tell the difference.
Flier had eight torpedoes left: four in her bow and four in her stern, so Crowley decided to try again on the same convoy, and raced around them for another end-around. An hour later, in the early hours of the 23rd, , they were in position again, only a few miles from the first attack. A couple of the escorts remained to guard the cripple, but the rest were on high alert. Flier repeated her trick, floating in the waves passively as the escorts passed, then, getting bearings from the bridge, and using Radar to establish range, Crowley fired the last four bow torpedoes at the two lead ships, or so he thought.
Al, watching from the aft bridge, counted down the time to detonation, then…nothing. Four duds. Earlier in the war, that had been disturbingly common, but those problems were fairly well fixed by now.
Suddenly, there were two flashes and the stern of the second ship lit up, and the bow of the THIRD ship was hit. Turned out, Crowley was giving coordinates of the first two ships, but Radar was giving the ranges of the CLOSEST ships. The lead ship of the convoy was saved by a stroke of luck and miscommunication.
Flier turned around, ready to fire her last four torpedoes in her stern at the third ship which, while damaged, was not bad enough to sink, when the escorts started racing around. This time, whether by sheer chance or design, they were going to run Flier over, and there was no time to get deep enough to pass under the escort, and certainly not enough to evade the depth charges they were sure to drop.
Captain asked Liddell for the coordinates widest gap between the escorts, and moments later, Flier’s four engines went to full speed, and she whipped between two of the escorts, all but waving as she passed by. Larger, slower, and clumped together, the escorts were unable to safely fire deck guns, or drop depth charges, even if they did see Flier, or turn to pursue. Crowley decided the escorts were too alerted now to try again for the large pack, but decided they would maybe re-visit the victim of their first attack. As they retreated south, Jacobson watched the shp that took two torpedoes sink beneath the waves. One more for Flier.
The escorts that were guarding the dead-in-the-water victim were on high alert. Whatever she was carrying must be valuable to keep guarding a dead ship that would normally be abandoned. Crowley approached from the north, but the escorts were running Sonar and Radar sweeps constantly, and heard them coming. Flier retreated, and circled around to the south. Same thing. They approached submerged, and were found. Crowley was about to try slipping between two of the escorts, like he had earlier, when their victim suddenly capsized, and sank quickly.
Two more for Flier.
The escorts, unable to help, ran for the remainder of their convoy. Crowley called up the Jack, which had taken Flier’s place guarding the entrance to Manila Harbor, to tell him about that convoy. Jack managed to destroy two more. Of the nine freighters that Flier had seen, only four or five were able to make it to Manila.
Flier was unable to figure out what happened to their ship that was hit, and then vanished off the Radar screens. She was only able to claim the two, and had to run south to keep up on their schedule.
Four ships in one patrol. By now, it was almost unheard of. Flier was quickly shaking off her jinxed label.