USS Flier passes through Lombok

Posted by Rebekah
Aug 08 2010

Is it a bad thing that I’m now DREAMING about the Flier? Strange dreams too, like putting her in a giant fish globe complete with giant fish so people can see her to say good bye.  Or that I find a photo that shows she was painted some odd color or strange design, like plaid.

Today, Flier passed through Lombok Straits and headed into enemy territory.  Al mentioned in his memoirs that is was a passage of the usual kind where they eluded two sub chasers who gave chase but with their radar they escaped them easily.

I was lucky enough to ask Al what he meant by that phrase in one of our last interviews.  It was tape recorded, but I’m not posting it here because when my husband and I got together with Al and his wife, there was a lot of laughing and a lot of tangents.  That man loved to laugh and tell stories.  Maybe if I can edit it down to something coherent after the ceremony, I’ll post it.

Al explained what he meant by that though, and I’ll post the summary here.

Lombok was a difficult strait to navigate.  It is still one of the largest passageways for water exchange between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, so Lombok has very strong currents that switch direction with every tide.  With Lombok Island to the east and Bali to the west, the volcanic mountains were covered with Japanese anti-ship artillery.  Two sub chasers, usually small wooden boats pressed into service with minimal weaponry and no armor, patrolled the Strait, one generally staitioned on the narrow souther mouth, and another stationed somewhere in the middle.  The northern mouth was over 40 miles wide, and was more difficult to effectively patrol.  If these chasers hadn’t been armed with a radio to call in for the mountain backup, it would have been easier to sink them.

To add insult to injury, during these months of the year, there tended to be pockets of phosphorescent algae in the water.  So if you were going on at a high speed and hit one of these pockets, the sea around you would flare a brilliant greenish light saying “Hit HERE!” to anyone looking to shoot at you.

It was difficult, but three to four subs made that crossing every week, and only one, USS Bullhead, ever came to grief.  (Sadly, Bullhead was sunk there just a few DAYS short of the end of the war.)

Crowley waited until just before slack high tide which was due to occur around 2 am on the 8th.  Slack tide is the time period near the height of high tide or the lowest point of low tide.  At this point, the currents would slow, stop, then gradually reverse and gain speed.  By crossing at slack high tide, Flier bought herself a few more feet of clearance between her and the bottom and lessened the impact any currents would have on her navigation.

She had to go through surfaced.  Lombok was not deep enough to go through submerged, between the topography of the bottom and all the other factors listed above.

Captain Crowley, like many captains before her, took her through the strait as quickly as he could while sweeping for the sub chasers using radar.  When they found one, they stopped, waited until it passed in front of them (sometimes more than a mile ahead), watched it turn, then cross back before starting back up again and passing through the chaser’s stern wake.  When they found the second one, they repeated the process until they were completely crossed.

In order to pull this off, there were no lights on outside.   In an era where a significant proportion of American adults smoked, smoking was likely banned on the Flier this night, so no eagle eyed lookout might see the glowing butt high in Flier’s bridge or lookout deck.  Due to the fact that the moon was supposed to rise around 11, Crowley probably crossed Lombok closer to Lombok than Bali in order to keep her hiding in the shadows the mountains cast into the strait, but also to confuse the radar of the submarine chasers.  A submarine next to land blends into the land on a radar screen.  (A ship too, for that matter, a fact that was exploited by both sides)

After a couple of hours, Flier was finally “free” in enemy territory.  From now on, she’d run on surface at night and dive during the day to avoid the aircraft patrols.  She’d be on alert at all times, both for targets and for threats.  She was on her own.

One Response

  1. […] Crowley’s watch and used it to look for slack tide.  Slack tide, for those that missed the Lombok Strait entry, is the point at the height of high tide and the lowest point of low tide where the currents […]

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