The following event was only ever recorded in the memoirs of Al Jacobson.
“We headed for Lombock [sic] Striat, which was out passage through the Indonesian chain of islands. When we were about twelve hours from Lombock Strait, we ahd an engine explosion, which we at first thought would force us to turn around and go back. However Herb [Beahr], the assistant engineering officer, said he could and did fix everything.”
Flier’s jinx, if it existed, might have been trying to stop them, who knows? Submarines having trouble with a boat’s engines was certainly nothing new. Occasionally, a submarine would call HQ and tell them of recurrent or permanently damaged engines and, more times than not, HQ would instruct that submarine to head home and those engines would be thoroughly looked at. This was the Standard Operating Procedure or SOP for any piece of critical equipment on a submarine like periscopes, Sonar, Radar, Radio, Generators, Batteries…. HQ wouldn’t let you home if the ice cream machine quit working, but the big pieces would earn you a trip back to the barn. (I wonder if the coffee maker would be considered critical enough to go home?)
So when one of Flier’s four engines “exploded” just twelve hours outside of Lombok Strait in the early afternoon of August 7, Captain Crowley had a choice: try to fix it and continue, or turn back for home? While a submarine could operate just fine on three engines (and according to the deck log, Flier frequently did just that), he certainly would not be foolish enough to start a patrol with a 25% handicap. If the engineering hands couldn’t fix that engine, he’d have no choice but to call HQ and likely be ordered back to Fremantle for a fix. If that happened, Flier’s reputation would likley have suffered as a thoroughly “jinxed boat.” Flier’s reputation, however, was not Crowley concern: his boat’s preparedness was.
But the Submarine Force is known to be among the best men that the Navy has available to them, and the Flier’s crew shone at this moment. While Flier pushed north on two or three engines to keep on schedule for crossing the Strait, Ensign Herbert “Teddy” Baehr and his team of twenty Motor Machinist’s Mates (Or Motor Macs) worked on the engine.
Flier had been assigned a specific time window to get through Lombok. Submarines were shuttled through Lombok on a fairly specific and rigid schedule, each being given about a 24 hour window to go through with a 12-24 hour window on either side between boats. While the crossing was fairly short if you could do it quickly, that 24 hour window was yours to find the best time to cross for your boat. It’s quite likely that Captain Crowley gave the Motor Mac crews that 12-hour window to fix her up, and if sucessful, he was planning on crossing at high slack tide, approximately 2 am on 8 August.
If not, back to port for an overhaul.
Baehr and his crew were, however, successful. Though Jacobson never mentions what, precisely the “explosion” was, and perhaps he never really found out, the repairs were sucessful enough that Captain Crowley gave his blessing to continuing on to patrol.
If they hadn’t, how things might have been different…