Prologue through Chapter 2

-Prologue-

Caribbean: December, 1943

“She’s bringing her guns to bear!” Signalman Rose shouted.

“Damn!” Captain Crowley swore. The merchantman bearing down on them was flying Old Glory, but seemed unable to see or unwilling to believe the recognition signals Rose was frantically sending their way. His boat, less than six months old and in perfect condition, faced her first battle, not with an enemy, but a mistaken friend.

The Captain’s eyes scoured the horizon. The Caribbean here was too shallow to risk an underwater escape: if that merchantman had deck guns, she was guaranteed to carry racks of depth charges. The only solution was a surface run, but that would only prolong the fight, and if that merchantman called in reinforcements…

It had only been two months since this boat’s sister sub, USS Dorado, had been sunk by a friendly plane. He had no intentions of following suit.

There! A small summer squall was building just astern to the portside. If it lasted long enough to reach, they could run there and dive, hiding from the merchantman’s Sonar under the drumming of the rain striking the water’s surface.

“Full speed!” The Captain yelled, calling out the coordinates. “Hang on, boys!” He called up to the lookouts perched on the small deck overhead.

The sub’s engines roared, and she nimbly turned and fled before her attacker, her sharp nose cutting through the waves so cleanly seawater washed high over the deck, spraying the deck crew liberally. Captain Crowley was grateful they were in warm waters. His last command had been in the Alaska’s Bearing Sea, where hypothermia was a constant threat.

SPLOOSH! A fountain of water sprayed up off the bow and a corresponding BOOM followed as the merchantman fired her warning shot. “Give her everything you’ve got!” Captain roared down the bridge to the Conning Tower. “We can refuel at Panama!”

His sub poured on more speed, the seas behind her churned to froth.

“She’s aiming to kill sir!” One of the lookouts shouted.

“Evasive maneuvers!” The Captain ordered while hanging on as his boat suddenly lurched starboard. The merchantman’s next shot went wide, but she was undoubtedly re-adjusting her aim. By the time she got off her next shot, the sub zigged again, evading the hit.

“Hold on baby,” Crowley muttered through his clenched teeth. “Just a few more minutes…”

A heavy shell went screaming past, narrowly missing them. Crowley ducked instinctively, even as it splashed off their starboard side, followed by the boom of the massive guns. Captain heard shouting above, and saw his lookouts and signalman clinging to whatever piece of frame was handy each time the sub careened madly, but still doing their jobs. The bridge lookouts where hauling themselves back into position as fast as they could, hanging on to the bridge wall for support. ‘They may be inexperienced, but they’ll do fine,’ Crowley thought with pride.

Now if only they could survive the next few minutes.

The waves became choppier as they approached the storm. It seemed to have grown since Crowley first spotted it. His boat started buck wildly, throwing her nose higher and higher before sliding down the face of the wave

“The merchantman is losing ground!” A lookout called down to him.

“Thank God,” he muttered. “Mister Adams!” he called down to the Conning Tower as heavy raindrops began to slam against the metal skin of the bridge, “start taking soundings, I want a deep hole to hide in as soon as we can!”

“Taking soundings, aye sir,” the officer said, from deep within the command center of the sub.

They hit the main part of the storm, the skies blackened, and rain fell so thick that he could barely see the bow. The crew topside was soaked to the skin in seconds, and waves swept high over the deck and threatening to wash them away. He gripped the bridge wall in front on him even harder.

Curtains of rain stung the Captain’s exposed face and hands, but swiftly shrouded the submarine. Lightning lashed across the sky. It missed them, but now it was only be a matter of time before Mother Nature finished what the merchantman was trying.

“She’s coming in!” Someone yelled over the thunderous din of the storm. Larger and more vulnerable to the storm, the merchantman was losing ground, despite her best efforts. Soon, she would lose sight of her quarry.

“Sir!” Adams called up, “we have sounding of six–zero–zero feet,”

The Captain lunged across the slick deck, grasping the dive alarm as he yelled, “Take her down!”

“AOUUUGAH! AOUUUGAH!”

The lookouts dropped to the deck in seconds and jumped down the hatch, as the hiss of escaping air from the ballast tanks forced the deck to plunge with heart stopping swiftness. Crowley counted them when they vanished into the interior of his boat, “One, two, three, four, five, six…”

Boom. He heard the muffled last shot of their attacker, firing blindly in the thick grey rain, and smiled. It wasn’t what he’d hoped for this boat’s first battle, but they’d won.

The waves were roaring just feet away as the Captain jumped down after the last crewman, pulling and dogging the hatch after him. Seconds later, they all heard the gurgle and slap of the water covering the bridge. Fifty feet down, and the sub still felt some surge and push of the storm above. One hundred feet down, and all was quiet around them.

“Sonar, report,” Crowley said.

“I can’t hear anything above the din of the storm overhead,” the sonarman responded, pressing the phones to his head, listening intently.

“If we can’t hear anything with our new equipment, they sure can’t with whatever outdated crud they have.” Captain said, shaking the water out of his eyes and hair, and grabbing the towel that the boat’s steward handed him. “Thanks, Findley. All and all, not too bad, considering we’ve only had thirty days training and are still working all the kinks out.”

“Very true sir,” Adams said, “despite this just being a so-called simple run to Pearl, it’s been quite eventful, even before we hit the Canal. The men acquitted themselves very well down here, I must say.”

“As they did up top,” Captain replied. “I am very proud of this crew, and excited for our future!” The last bit he said loud enough for the Conning Tower and Control Room below to hear. It brought a rousing cheer from the new crewmen, and Captain grinned. He had a good feeling about this new boat.

It was just as well that he couldn’t hear the conversation going on in the Crew’s Quarters, just feet away. Several of the men, unassigned to battle stations during the encounter, had retreated to their bunks as practiced, to stay out of the way. It was eerie, lying in the red light of battle, able to do little other than pray that it was not your final day, and it had shaken some of the men badly.

“I thought we were in the safety zone,” one of the new enlisted men said. “I thought all friendly planes and vessels around are

notified to our position and told to avoid the area for miles around us?”

“We are and they were, or better have been,” said an older hand. “I don’t like it; it’s not a good omen.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the Engineering officer, Liddell, said, as he emerged from his inspection of the now-cooling engines. “It’s a crowded sea, these things happen. I was on the Snapper right after Pearl Harbor, and we were attacked by one of our patrol bombers who thought we were a Japanese sub. She’s still fighting. Harder and Scorpion were also attacked just outside the Canal like this and they are doing VERY well. It’s not an omen, it’s just a mistake.”

“Yes sir,” chorused several of the hands. They were wise enough to not mention the Dorado. Moments later, Liddell, called to another duty, left.

“I don’t care,” one of the Motor Macs muttered after he left. “It isn’t a good omen. She feels jinxed to me, and I don’t like it. You didn’t hear it from me, but I say Flier is unlucky. I’m going to get off of her as soon as I’m allowed. She’s not going to make it.”

-1-

Fremantle: August 2, 1944

“Sign here”. The Petty Officer said, handing me the clipboard and receipt.

“Are we all set, sir?” Pope called from down below.

I glanced down the Main Hatch and said, “Get me James.”

Two seconds later, the face of our chief cook, James Westmoreland, appeared at the end of the tube. “Sir?”

“Did we get everything? The last load of coffee? The right stuff?”

“Last load of Hills Bros. arrived two hours ago; we’re all set for stores. I stuck the Redfin with that mistaken load of Navy coffee.”

I glanced up at our sister sub moored to our starboard-side. “Poor Bastards,” I grinned.

“No kidding, sir” he shouted back. “Once we get our potatoes, we’re done.”

“Very good,” I looked back at Pope. “Make it quick.” I ordered.

“Aye sir,” he replied.

The inch-thick steel plate was hoisted into place, sealing the hatch shut from the inside as the bolts were driven home. No one would use that hatch again until we were safely back in port, however long that would be.

They pounded twice on the plate when they finished, the sound ringing up to me in a strange metallic echo. “All set,” I said, signing the receipt. The Petty Officer signaled his men, and they quickly slit the dusty bags open and dumped the potatoes down in a thunderous roll until the eight-foot shaft was filled to the brim. I slammed the heavy steel door down on top, and cranked the wheel until it locked. The Petty Officer and his crew quickly gathered up their burlap bags and headed across the submarine nest to their ship, the submarine tender USS Orion.

“Ensign Jacobson!” someone yelled at me. I looked up to see a young enlisted man waving from the lookout platforms. “Where do I stow these, sir?” He asked pointing to Flier’s broom and flags flying from our periscopes.

“Give them to Mr. Turner, he’s our steward. He’ll show you where they go.”

“Yes sir!” He said, scrambling up the periscope and radar apparatus. This kid was one of our new hands, and excited to finally serve on a submarine. His name was Elton, and he looked like he couldn’t have graduated from high school yet.

Moments later, Elton vanished down the bridge hatch, broom, flag and brag rags tucked under his arm[1]. Flier was now black and anonymous, with no mark, designation, number, or name on her. She could be easily mistaken for a British or Dutch boat by the casual observer, and once in the open ocean, telling friend from foe would be nearly impossible from a distance.

Mooring lines splashed in the water and thudded onto the deck of the Redfin as crewmen started to cast off. Restrained now by just two lines rather than her usual six or seven, Flier pulled heavily against those, as if eager to get underway.

I climbed up to the bridge to take the first watch as we navigated out of the harbor. It was incredible to think that, less than a year ago, I was a struggling engineering student at the University of Michigan, listening to Cmdr. Scott tell us about the submarine force and his adventures on his submarine S-43 during my ROTC classes. He inspired me to request the Submarine Force, along with a dozen others, but only two of us passed the testing and interviews. Now here I was, a commissioned Ensign, starting out on my second patrol, and my first as a fully qualified submariner.

“Morning Ed,” I called to my mentor and friend, Lieutenant John “Ed” Casey, as he climbed to the bridge from the Conning Tower below, his ever-present cup of coffee in his hand.

“Morning Jake,” he said, lifting the mug in greeting. “Thanks for the coffee.”

“You know, personally, I don’t taste a difference, but whatever makes the crew happy.”

“Good boy. You’d taste the difference after a couple of months out on sea, I guarantee it. I think Navy coffee can chew a hole through the mugs and the intestines.”

“Yeesh. I’ve had coffee in my day, but James seems to try and make it into acidic slurry on purpose. What does he do? Double the recommended amount?”

He grinned. “I hope he triples it. Gotta have something to keep me awake during the day, especially if Captain keeps doing those night training runs like that one last night.” He took a loud slurp and sighed contentedly “This is good stuff.”

“Whatever you say, Ed. How’s the family? Heard much from Betty Ann?”

“Letter upon letter, almost as many as I wrote her during our last patrol. Want to see the latest photo?” He was already digging his wallet out of his back pocket. “There we are. That’s my Betty Ann and little Ricky.  She said he’s growing by leaps and bounds, and giggling all the time.” He handed me the photo of a young, pretty girl, proudly standing behind a baby boy, who was hanging on to her fingers as he walked across the lawn, both smiling at the camera. Despite the fact that the photo had to be new, the corners were already bent and frayed, showing how often he must have looked at it since mail call nearly four weeks ago.

“Gee, you’re not a proud father, by any rate, are you?”

“No, not at all.” He smiled, taking back the picture and touching the surface tenderly as though he could touch his family. “He’s grown so much since I saw him last. I was there the day he was born, same month Flier was commissioned, so I got to spend the first few weeks with him. Then I got to see him again last spring, when he was giggling and starting to scoot across the floor. When we get back, I’ll have to find him something for his first birthday and ship it home. With luck, it might even get there in time.”

“If we come back here, you’ll find some great stuff. I sent a lamb’s wool rug and three boomerangs to my parents. Didn’t realize I’d need to get them all inspected and authorized in duplicate to send them home though!”

“Be glad that’s all you had to do. Maybe I’ll find him a stuffed koala or a boomerang.”

“Send him a kangaroo.”

“Somehow, I doubt the Navy would authorize that,” he laughed. “I would also like my wife to still be speaking to me when I get home.”

“Spoilsport.”

He laughed, tucked the photo back into his wallet, and said, “How about you? How’s that large family of yours?”

“Pretty well. Mom said Charles is still doing well on the Boise. I think they’re in that mess in the Marianas right now, but you know how censored the mail is these days, it’s only a guess. My sisters Edna Mary and Marilyn are getting ready for their next year of college, and Muriel is looking forward to her junior year in high school. My brother David graduated from High School this past May and enlisted in the Army Air Force, and might be leaving soon for either Europe or the Pacific.”

“You two scare him off of the Navy?” Ed joked.

“Believe it or not, David gets severely seasick. He loves to sail, but if he’s in Lake Michigan or anything larger, he’s feeding the fish over the side. So I guess he decided to head as far from the ocean as possible. I didn’t realize he was thinking vertically.

“At the moment though, my parents and sisters are all living at the cabin on Spring Lake enjoying the summer, swimming and sailing, and gardening, I just wish I was there with them.”

“Well, maybe next year.”

“We can all hope.”

We stood side by side for a moment, looking over the harbor, until Ed said, “Heard about the S-28[2]?”

“Old news,” I shrugged. “She sank on a training run with all hands near Oahu, didn’t she? Her loss was announced just as we came to port last month.”

“Mmm-hmm.” He paused, and then said, “Did you know that she was Captain Crowley’s command before Flier?”

“Huh… That would explain a few—”

“Good morning, gentlemen,” our XO[3] Lieutenant Jim Liddell, said, as he climbed up through the Bridge Hatch. We quickly stood at attention, and just as quickly Jim said, “At ease. Are your units ready for departure?”

“Yes sir,” we chorused.

“Good,” He turned to look over the fore bridge, and I could almost hear him mentally checking off the various duties that should be done by now on deck: torpedo skids closed and latched, all storage containers closed and latched, bow light folded to deck and secured, the starry Jack still flying at the bow, with crewman waiting to stow her as soon as we cast off…

Yeoman[4] Walter Dorricott climbed out of the Bridge Hatch at Jim and Ed’s feet, holding Flier’s immense Sailing List[5], as well as his ever present clipboard.

“Good Morning sirs!” Yeoman Dorricott saluted when he scrambled to his feet.

“Everyone accounted for?” Jim asked, as we saluted back.

“Yes sir,” Dorricott was grinning widely, smiling at some private joke. Lord knew what it was, and it would likely be dangerous to ask. “As you probably heard, Donald See, fireman first class, reported for duty in the place of Jim Alls, who needs to stay ashore. We also had two last minute additions to the crew, a new Ensign under instruction, Phil Mayer, and a torpedoman named Lucius Wall. That brings our total of new hands to thirteen. ”

“I heard Mayer is fresh out of Sub School, so he’ll be studying for his quals then,” Liddell said.

“Yes sir, along with twenty of the enlisted this tour.”

“All right then. All those who went back to the States accounted for?”

“Yes sir. Georgie Laderbush was the last one back and is stowed and ready to go.”

“It was his mother’s health that called him home, was it not?” Liddell asked.

“Yes sir, all the way back to Maine, and I gather from Georgie that she is still alive, which reminds me,” Dorricott glanced around, leaned in to us, and lowered his voice as we reflexively leaned in to hear him. “Kit Pourciau just received news of his mother’s passing in the last mail call. I gave him time to write a letter home before leaving, since it was too late to arrange for a hardship leave. I have informed COB and asked him to keep an eye on Kit, but if you notice that he’s not his usual self…”

“Thank you Dorricott,” Liddell sighed, raking his hands through his hair. “Now, this issue with the chief…” Liddell raised an eyebrow in our direction.

“I saw him with my own two eyes a moment ago,” Dorricott said, his smile returning.

“Everything’s taken care of sir,” I jumped in. I had bailed Chief Pope out of the local jail after he confused a bathroom and the middle of a busy street. “There will be no charges for the uh…incident…this time.”

“Thank God.” Liddell muttered. He looked at the short list of names quickly, almost muttering to himself. “I notice Baumgart has decided to stay for the patrol despite the incident an.”

“Yes sir,” Ed said, “though scuttlebutt is he’s planning to ask for a transfer and fight the charges when we return from patrol. He feels a few beers shouldn’t have busted him down in grade, especially when others were just as drunk but not demoted. But he’s a professional on patrol, we’re lucky to have him.”

“Don’t I know it. He’ll have to take up his discipline problem with the captain, and I wish him good luck, he’ll need it.”  He eyed Dorricott again, sighed, and said, “All right, what is it? Grin any wider and your face will split in half.”

“Sorry sir, I just got a telegram this morning, it has some good news.”

“Oh?”

“My Barbara had a baby boy sir, I have a son! Medric Thomas Dorricott!”

“Well congratulations, Dorricott!” We all clapped him on the back and shook his hand while he grinned even wider.

“I can’t wait to see the photos in her next letter when we return,” he said, “I wish I could go home to see him, but…”

“I know son, we all want to go home. I know several men who have children they’ve only met through letters and photos. Still, you never know, but congratulations, all the same.” Jim said, swinging down to the deck beneath us, Dorricott at his heels.

Almost on cue, an Admiral from COMSUBSOWESPAC[6], followed by two Marines, and our CO, Lieutenant Commander John D. Crowley, strode out of one of the immense doors in Orion’s hull. They quickly stepped down the steep iron stairs to the deck of the Hake, then crossed to the Redfin. Sailors from both subs and the Orion snapped to attention as they passed.

Crowley stepped smartly across the gangplank to where Liddell and Dorricott stood at attention. Dorricott gravely handed Captain Crowley the Sailing List. Captain turned around, stepped back across to the Redfin, saluted, and handed it to the Admiral. The Admiral accepted the list, said something to Crowley briefly, and then saluted back, the Marines mirroring the action. Captain crossed back to Flier, and the Redfin sailors hauled the gangway away almost as soon as his foot cleared it. Captain Crowley gave the order to fire up the engines, and a minute later, Flier’s engines coughed, then roared to life, spewing black, greasy clouds of diesel smoke across her stern. As the Captain, Jim, and Dorricott hauled themselves up to the bridge Captain gave the order to cast off. Jim plunged into the Conning Tower, as the final two lines were hurled to Redfin’s deck, and Flier’s great bronze props churned the brackish water to foam. The close gap between the subs began to widen as she delicately maneuvered away from our tender while the few of us on the deck waved our farewells.

At the mouth of the harbor, we passed USS Harder, the current and soon to be defeated (if we had anything to say about it) leader of the submarine forces. She appeared to be returning from a night training run, her flag and fourteen brag rags flying boldly from her periscope, and her crew out on the deck, enjoying the sun. Captain waved to her Captain, Sam Dealey, who waved right back.

“I see scuttlebutt is right, as usual, sir,” I said to Captain.

“Yup. Dealey gets to take her out for one more patrol before stepping down.” He replied.

“Chances of scuttling her record?”

“If Flier performs as well as her last patrol, Harder will soon be eating our wake on the scoreboards.”

“I like the sound of that, sir.”

When we were finally free of the harbor and all of the protective mine fields and anti-sub nets, Flier’s props bit deep and she flew through the waves, forcing a fierce wind and fine salt spray against my face that made me shiver despite my coat. We had a full complement of officers and lookouts on deck standing watch. Though we were more than four days from enemy territory, it was not safe to be complacent in these waters.

My morning shift went quickly and uneventfully. Allied planes circled overhead, watching for anyone who was outside the Bombing Restriction Lane. I slipped comfortably back into my watch routine: with the binoculars, sweep the horizon from starboard to port, then the sky from port to starboard, then the sea from starboard to port, then look around with my eyes for a whole picture, all while subtly adjusting in balance for the drifts and drafts of a ship gliding on top of the waves.

We pulled into Exmouth Gulf the evening of our second day at sea for a standard refueling, and stayed the night.

The following morning, I took my first cup of coffee out onto the bridge for some fresh air and sunlight, two things which would become scarce in the coming weeks. Though early, the city and harbor hummed with workers intent on their duties, doing everything they could to ship us back and forth as quickly as possible. There were few Australian accents, since most of the Aussies who had joined the military were in the European and African Theater, but I heard British, American and Dutch accents from various quarters.

As I enjoyed these few quiet moments, I wondered where we were being sent this time. On our first real patrol, Flier had left Pearl Harbor, patrolled near Formosa, through the Philippines and ended in Fremantle. At the moment, Captain was the only person on board who knew what we where we were assigned to go and like all submarine commanders, he was forbidden from telling anyone anything about the mission until we were out of reach of land for the remainder of patrol. No one would knowingly or willingly put their sub brothers in danger, but the Navy took the simple precaution of limiting the number of people who knew where we were going while bars, pubs, and girls were still available.

Captain climbed out into the cool morning air and moments later, the engines thrummed under the decks. “Morning Jacobson,” he greeted me, his coffee cup steaming in the cool winter air, like my own. “Morning sir,” I stood at attention, while still holding my cup. “As you were, Jacobson,” he told me with a half-smile. I resumed my station looking over the half-wall that shielded the bridge. “Permission to hold target practice this morning Sir?” I asked.

“That target Ed told me about last week?” He asked, sipping the coffee.

“Yes sir, we passed it on our way in I believe.”

He took another sip, then said, “Yes we did. Very well, I’ll sail her there for you. We should be there by 1100 hours.”

“Thank you Sir.”

“Dismissed, Jacobson.”

I dropped through the bridge hatch and the cool, salt smell of the harbor vanished instantly under the combined stench of diesel oil, sweat, and cigarette smoke. The new scents of fresh paint and floor wax would fade too soon under the old cooking and body odor smells yet to develop and ripen into a healthy “sub air” mix.

From the crowded Conning Tower, I dropped down again to the Control Room, packed with bronze, steel, and copper instruments and pipes. I stepped through the hatch and found Pope, who was our Chief Gunner’s Mate, finishing his morning chow. I caught his eye, and pointed forward to Officer’s Country. He nodded and tossed his tin tray into the sink, then followed me to the Wardroom, where I found Ed, our Chief Gunnery Officer, finishing his morning meal.

The three of us went across the two-foot wide hall to the “privacy” of Ed’s cramped cabin for a hurried whispered consultation about the morning’s exercise.

“Captain said he’ll sail us up to that target for gunnery practice.”

“ETA?” Ed said, sipping his coffee.

“1100 hours.”

“Good. I think I’m favoring a surprise practice this morning, how about you two?” Ed said.

“I like the idea sir,” Pope said. “It’s the only time we’ll have a safe environment to have a surprise practice. Keep the men on their toes.”

“It’s sort of expected though,” I replied.

“Expected is different from ‘definitely going to’ sir,” Pope pointed out, “and no one on the gunnery crews knows WHEN we’ll get there, so they’ll be able to practice dropping everything, grabbing their gear and getting on deck.”

“Sounds good to me,” Ed said. “Aren’t you due to be on watch when we get there, Jacobson?” He asked me.

“Yes sir,” I said. I always called him sir in front of the enlisted men.

“That’ll help. I’m supposed to be in Conning Tower, so it’ll be easy to announce the gunnery practice when you sight the target. Pope?”

“Technically off duty sir, but I’ll be all right.”

“Sounds like a plan then. Dismissed.”

Pope ducked out of the room, while Ed marked something in a book on his deck. Many more photos of his wife, son, in-laws and extended family were taped to it and the wall next to it.

“Do you have enough photos yet, Ed?” I teased.

“Not nearly, Jake.” He grinned. “You’d better get to work.”

“Yes sir,” I said. “First order of business: BREAKFAST!”

James and our second cook, Clyde, were in fine form this morning. Breakfast featured fresh eggs, (fried and scrambled) sausage, toast, biscuits and gravy, doughnuts, and coffee in the Wardroom. Then, with another cup of coffee to ward off the morning wind, I scrambled back up the ladder to the Bridge, where Flier was pulling out of Exmouth’ s harbor.

A few hours later, the call came from the lookout rings, “Target in sight sir.”

I trained my binoculars on the landscape and saw it: the long, low silhouette in the water.

“Attention all hands! Target Approaching! Man the guns!” Ed’s voice crackled over the ship’s radio as the General Quarters Alarm sounded. In moments, Ed and Pope leapt out of the bridge hatch, and about ten seconds later, the gunnery crews, some still pulling on their flak jackets and holding their helmets to their heads, flooded out and ran to their various stations.

One team, under Pope, leapt to the deck below, ran aft, uncapped and released the muzzle of the large four-inch .50 caliber gun from its support frame.

My team rushed to the 40-mm aft bridge gun. Two men, the pointer and trainer, leapt to the seats on either side of the gun and cranked her hard to starboard, while a loader jumped to the deck below and cranked open the ammo locker and began handing the rounds to the loader on the deck.

Tunktunktunktunk. Ed’s team on the 20 mm machine gun on the fore bridge started their assault on the target. “Move it men!” I called, ramming cotton wads in my ears.

The fourth round slammed into place in the feed, and Flier shuddered under the “Boom!” of the 40–mm.

The water around the target mushroomed in the air as the bullet struck near. Small explosions blossomed all around it as the 20–mm honed in.

“BOOM!” Flier lurched as the 4–in roared beneath me. Soon the water around the target surged and foamed under the assault.

Flier flew past her target, then heeled around hard starboard and shot from the other side. It was nearly impossible to see the target with the water for yards around frothing and exploding.

“Cease Fire!” Ed boomed, and the frantic energy ground to a halt. We couldn’t waste all our ammo on an exercise.

“Excellent work!” He shouted over the wind, “restore the equipment and reload the lockers. That’ll be all.”

In minutes the spent drums and shells had been hurled into the sea and the exterior ammo lockers had been stocked full again from the main ammo locker deep in Flier’s belly. Then the crew vanished through the bridge hatch into the sub, and the sea was quiet with only the six of us on the deck maintaining the watch once more. I concentrated on the silhouette, now easier to see, despite the glittering waves. According to the gunnery officers in Perth, that old wreck had the dubious distinction of being the most shot-at ship in the world.[7] Every passing battle ship, submarine or airplane would target it. It was hardly more than a rusted-out tube now, full of holes.

Flier’s engines roared again and she turned her nose north and west. Australia faded from a crisp red-brown rocky shore to a bluish shadow then vanished in the afternoon haze. She had been a great and gracious hostess, and already, the crew was vociferously wishing to return to Fremantle after patrol.

I knew in my gut that I would see Fremantle again. I just didn’t know that when I did, I would be scarred, severely sunburned, and under a top-secret gag order.


-2-

Gateway to War

Hours after Australia had vanished beyond our stern, Captain ordered an officer’s meeting in the wardroom, leaving COB[8] in charge. Breakfast had long since been cleared away, though the coffee pot was full, and fresh doughnuts beckoned from the sideboard. We helped ourselves and took our seats, waiting for Captain.

He entered carrying new charts rolled tightly under his arm, placed them at his seat at the head of the table. He drew the green curtain doors of the room closed, and Ed did the same with the other doorway. Then Captain grabbed the ship’s com. “Attention All Hands! Our Patrol Area is the South China Sea.”

Through the curtains, I heard the excited conversation of the men, as they digested this small bit of information, while Captain turned to us, his face all business. Though he spoke low to limit people hearing the meeting as they passed by, we all knew everything he said would be common knowledge among the entire crew shortly, and probably before we adjourned. On a submarine, secrets didn’t stay that way for long.

“Our orders are straightforward. We’re to proceed through Lombok Strait, then to Makassar Strait and Sibutu Passage, then, unless told different, we’re to take Balabac Strait via the Natsubata Channel. For the next five weeks, we’re assigned Patrol areas 201 and 202 in the South China Sea, beginning with 201. We’ll switch patrol areas every Sunday.

“If all goes well, after sundown on September 11, we’ll head home, via Mindoro Strait, Sibutu Passage, Makassar, Lombok, and yes, home to Fremantle and Perth by the end of September.” That brought a quiet cheer from us, and moments later, a much louder one from the forward torpedo room. Captain smiled, shook his head, and continued. “As usual, we’re engaging in unrestricted submarine warfare with the enemy, so keep your eyes open for any and all convoys as well as those fools traveling alone.” He leaned forward slightly, causing us to huddle in closely, as he dropped his voice to a mere whisper. “As a Special Assignment, if we can, we are to watch for and sink four supply submarines that are likely operating out of Saigon supplying enemy outposts in the Philippines. HQ has given us a wide hunting ground and is keeping our area free of Allied submarines, so keep your eyes peeled for any signs of any other submarines.”

For three days, Flier plowed northward without seeing a soul. Captain Crowley tested us with emergency dives and surfaces, forcing Flier to go from surfaced to submerged in less than forty-five seconds. This tested the nerves of those of us on watch outside, since the first dive warning we usually received was the loud “hiss” of air escaping the ballast tanks as she began her dive, while we scrambled for the bridge hatch.

Between duty shifts there was always the great food and entertainment to be found on board. During the daytime hours and between training runs, Captain would allow those crewmembers who wouldn’t be allowed on deck after crossing Lombok to come outside for tanning, fresh air, and exercise. After dark, entertainment could be found inside. The Navy gave us our own library, record player with record collection, and a movie theater complete with projector, screen and reels. Most of us had also brought books, stationary for writing letters to family, and decks of cards for the inevitable poker games.  Some had managed to bring special things onboard. Leon Holbrook had talked his sister out of her hand-cranked phonograph and records last time he was home, and they added more variety to our indoor entertainments.

A few days out of Exmouth, the crew started to mesh together as a team. It helped that most of us had already served together on the last patrol, and many had earned their certification, but we had to work together as one unit if we were going to continue to be successful.

This deep in the war, the cross section of the crew was amazing. Several had been on the battleships and destroyers during Pearl Harbor. I knew Don Tremaine had been on USS Maryland and Jarrold Taylor on the Pennsylvania. Some were regular Navy, but others, and me, were Reservists that had been activated. Some had been Skimmers[9] before entering Sub Service, others had tried to join as soon as they were free to volunteer out of boot camp. At 40 years old, the oldest among us was Ken Gwinn, the Torpedo Chief. Almost a fifth of us were under twenty years old, and the youngest was Dick Lambert, a new torpedoman, due to celebrate his seventeenth birthday late this month. We came from all over the country: I heard southern drawls, the unique accent of New England, the familiar cadence of the Midwest. Several men came from New York City, another group from Chicago, and at least four had been born abroad. Some had never seen the ocean before joining the Navy, while others were Navy Brats, and still others, like me, were just obsessed with the water.

One night before we entered Lombok I entered the galley bleary-eyed to get a cup of coffee before my night shift. The Mess Hall had been taken over by the men and the stainless-steel walls were now blanketed with posters, photos, news articles, anything and everything that took our minds off of the danger we were heading into. The carefully prepared and posted menu was now all but covered by a Betty Grable poster, though no one minded, least of all the cooking staff. Rita Hayworth’s smile gleamed from over the water fountain, while postcards from Hawaii, New York, San Francisco, Paris, Perth, and other exotic locales were pasted in between photos and posters of cars, girls from home, and other “lucky” items. The Andrews Sisters finished up their rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” before the record hissed softly on the last groove. Our baker, Melvin, and steward, Turner, were taking the freshly-baked bread out of the oven. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, suddenly remembering my home in Grand Haven, and my mom and sisters baking bread and rolls for dinner.

“Whoa! You’d better open your eyes when you go waltzing through here, sir!” Clyde Banks’s voice called.  The trapdoor to the cool room was open at my feet, and our second chef, along with Elton, looked up at me from the chilly bottom.

“Whoops! Sorry about that, Clyde.”

“No problem sir, I just didn’t want you joining us, it’s rather tight quarters as is.”

“You sure? I think I see a spare inch just to your left there,” I said with a grin.

“Very funny, sir.”

Since the food stores had barely been touched this soon into patrol, Clyde and Elton were trying to stand on the same square foot of space, which was already on top of a bunch of packages of frozen something-or-other. “Actually sir, I was about to send the non-qual[10] to find you,” he said, jerking his thumb back to Elton. “Those pork shoulders seem a bit older than we thought they were when we got them.”

“Making a change in tomorrow’s menu then, I take it?”

‘Yes sir. The whole chickens seem to be holding their own, so I think I’ll swap the scheduled roast chicken for some pulled pork. James already agreed with me, so if it’s all right with you, I’ll make it official.”
“Whatever you want, I know better than to mess with you, since you have the power to serve us all gruel for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you want!” I laughed.

“And don’t you forget it, sir!” he smiled.

“You know, the crew would probably hang ME by the toes for upsetting you!” I laughed, “I can hear Lt. Casey now, ‘We don’t have the best cooks in the Navy just to let some wet-behind-the-ears commissary officer[11] offend them three days out!’”

“You learn quick, sir,” he said, hoisting himself up onto the floor. “I’ll keep that toe-hanging in mind though, it might come in useful.”

“All right, all right, I’d better stop now before I give you any more ideas. Menu change is fine by me, need me to inform Doc?”

“If you would, sir,” he bent down to grab Elton’s forearm to haul him up.

I searched Doc[12] out and quickly informed him. At this point in the patrol, changes in the menu were not a problem, but later, we had to keep track of nutrients and the vitamin supplements that may be needed.

Returning through the Mess Hall, I caught an interesting conversation between Pope and Earl Baumgart. They appeared to be nursing their coffee, among other things.

“All I’m saying,” Baumgart was quietly insisting, “Is she may have slid into the water smooth as cream, but ever since, she’s been plagued with problems.”

“She’s still here, ain’t she?” Pope retorted. “She’s like a kid sister, quick to get into trouble and just as quick to weasel out of it with barley a scratch.”

“Is that what you call Midway? A ‘scratch?’”

“She got out, got fixed, and went on to a spectacular patrol, what more do you want?”

“Wait, what happened at Midway?” Elton said, sweat-faced, slamming and latching the cool room trapdoor.

“Tell you what kid,” Pope said, “put on some Glenn Miller and I’ll tell you.”

Elton jumped on one of the Mess Room tables and shuffled through the shelf full of records. Clyde, finished with his inventory paperwork, winked at me as he passed, pulling his well-worn deck of cards from his pants pocket and said “I have the last bit of my salary burning a hole in my pocket. Who’s up for a game of poker?” He slid onto a bench at another table.

“I’m in” Baumgart slid into place across from Clyde.

“Me too,” Pope strolled over, mug in hand, “especially if Lady Luck will not desert me.” He affectionately patted Betty Grable’s bottom on her poster. “Sir? Are you in?”

“No thanks.” I said, waving my cup. “I’m more of a cribbage man.”

Trumpets blaring out “American Patrol” erupted from the record player. “Hey, can I play?” Elton grinned, turning around.

“Sorry kid. You know the rules. No playtime until you’re fully qualified. Hey, Turner, you play, don’t cha?” Pope said.

“Sure do.” He grinned. A quick glance at Melvin confirmed his duties at bread making were complete. “And I have some dishes the kid can do, unless you still need him.” He looked at Clyde.

“He’s all yours.”

Elton rolled his eyes. “Dishes?” he asked in disbelief.

“I’ve got some oil filters to clean if you’d prefer…” Baumgart offered with a grin.

“No, no, dishes will be fine. At least I can hear the story.”

“Sure thing kid,” Pope turned to Clyde, “Deal ‘em.” I tucked myself in to the table next door. I’d heard bits and pieces during the last patrol when I was a rookie, but this was the first I’d heard the whole tale

Clyde flicked the cards around the table with a practiced grace as Pope lit his cigarette and took a long draw on it.. “Now where was I?” he mused, “Ah yes, Midway.

“Well, first of all, Midway is a tricky base to get into even on a calm day. It’s this ring of reefs surrounding three spits of sand, and the harbor and channel have to be regularly dredged to keep them deep enough for ships and subs. Whenever you come to Midway, they send a pilot who’s familiar with the waters to the sub to help guide you in.

“Of course, the day Flier attempted it, was in the midst of one of the worst winter storms that season. It was one of those storms that howled for days on end. The moment we hit the shallower waters around Midway, the waves started to break over the deck and into the induction valves, flooding the engines. We had to shut down the diesels and push forward on battery power alone. Half the time, the waves and rain were so bad you couldn’t see the islands at all.”

Pope glanced down at his hand, told Clyde, “I’ll take three,” and tucked these in his hand with barely a glace before resuming. “Midway radioed us to stand by for the pilot, but by the time he came out on the tug, it was far too dangerous to transfer the man aboard, so the tug signaled us to follow her wake into the channel. Captain slowed down a bit to let the tug get well ahead of us, then entered the channel. Just after we passed the entrance buoys, this massive wave comes out of nowhere, picks up Flier and shoves her starboard. Captain ordered us hard to port to correct Mother Nature, but another wave grabbed us, picked us up and dropped us on the reef, neat as you please. Shook us so badly, it knocked Baumgart here out of bed, didn’t it?”

“I wasn’t the only one,” he grunted looking at his cards, and throwing a few quarters in the pot. “Dishes and food went flying and no one knew what was going on.”

“To make matters worse,” Pope grinned, warming to his story and the rapidly growing audience drifting in from the Crew Quarters, “some screwdriver got thrown into main terminal, and the short-circuit started a fire that spewed thick, oily smoke up and down the sub. Seawater was flooding in the engine rooms and the Forward Torpedo Room, everything was chaos.

“Meantime, Captain was throwing Flier’s rudder back and forth and trying desperately to either back her back off the reef, or throw her over the reef, and to time her power runs with the waves that engulfed her, but every wave just threw her higher and higher.”

“Full house,” Turner grinned.

“What the—!” Pope laughed.

“Apparently, you’d better be a storyteller or a card player.” Turner smirked, “cause you sure as hell can’t do both at once!”

“Nah, you were just lucky that time. I’ll get you next round.” Pope said gathering and shuffling the cards. “I’m watching you.”

“You’re also just jabbering without finishing the story.”

“Yeah, yeah. So, in the meantime, the anchor detail had gone to the foredeck to try to drop anchor to prevent Flier from climbing higher up the reef, and this huge wave swept two guys, Jimmy and Gerber, overboard and Dag got slammed into conning tower, laying open his side with a deep cut, didn’t you Dag?”

A crowd of men now surrounded the table, and Dag was in the back. “Sure did,” he said, pulling up his shirt to reveal the deep, jagged, red line that trailed down his side. “Don’t forget this one,” he said, pointing at the scar running from his lower lip to his chin, “and my winning SMILE!” He grinned, revealing a mouthful of missing teeth. “Couldn’t shut my mouth and damn near broke my jaw. Took the dentist at Pearl forever to fix me up.”

“Yeah, yeah, go on about yourself, why don’t cha?” Pope grinned before resuming his story with his spell-bound audience. “Flier kept getting battered, she twisted back and forth, and I thought she might start spinning like a top next. Cap ordered the ballast tanks and two fuel tanks dumped, hoping that would lighten us enough that the next big wave combined with our churning props would push us off, but the storm wouldn’t cooperate. The shafts got banged to hell and began leaking water. We were running all trim and bilge pumps and a bucket brigade besides to keep ahead of the flooding in the stern.

“Up on deck, Banchero spotted Gerber in the water, and threw him a life ring, then the crazy fool threw himself in the drink when the ring didn’t fly far enough. Both of them were swept out of sight into the lagoon, and we hoped they would be okay. But Jimmy…well, we didn’t see Jimmy after the wave took him, we couldn’t even throw him a life ring.” Pope’s voice dropped from the jovial storyteller in a moment to soft regret. The game screeched to a halt for a few seconds. Some of Pope’s spellbound audience bowed their heads in a moment of silence, a couple crossed themselves.  After a moment, Pope seemed to shake himself back to reality and continue.

“Suddenly, there was this beam of light shining through the rain, and the silhouette of a massive ship. It was the newest sub rescue ship at Midway, Macaw. Word passed down to us that she was coming, and we set up a cheer. We were saved! Ten minutes later, they send us a three word message: ‘We are aground.’” The room groaned. “Sure enough,” Pope resumed, “there she was, just next to us, with all of her men scrambling all over the deck trying to pry her free too.”

Baumgart won that hand, dealt another, but the story continued with hardly an interruption, and the Mess Room now packed with avid listeners. “For days the storm continued, sometimes calmer, sometimes furious, but never quiet enough to pull either Flier or Macaw free.

“Six days later, on a Saturday, the storm finally cleared and we could see the Macaw’s sister ship, Florikan, standing by outside the reef—”

“WITH the Jack AND the Gudgeon[13], who were trying to get into Midway, but we were blocking the way.” Baumgart interrupted.

“Well, more the Macaw than us, her stern was the one hanging in the channel.”

“Still humiliating,” Baumgart grunted, with several of the old hands agreeing. “Especially when the Kingfish managed to get in during the storm around Macaw and us blocking the channel.”

“Okay, granted, it wasn’t our finest hour, especially when we found out Florikan been specifically sent from Pearl to fetch us and had been sitting out there for three days, waiting for the storm to let up.

“By this time, there was only a skeleton crew on both vessels. During the few lulls, nearly a third of our crew had been evacuated to the Macaw via the most rickety looking boatswain’s seat[14] you’ve ever seen, and from there, most had been evacuated to the main island at Midway, where they found Gerber and Banchero already in the hospital, Gerber nursing a broken arm.”

He paused for a moment to consider his cards, and a new hand piped up, “What happened to the other one, Kohl?”

“Cahl, James Francis Peder Cahl,” Baumgart replied solemnly. “He was found washed up on the beach, but it was too late. He was buried at sea with full honors at Midway Island, while we were still stranded on the reef.”

“Jimmy’s belongings that were in his pockets and such were sent to Flier over the boatswain’s seat, and Captain had to write Cahl’s new wife the news.” Pope said quietly, tossing his hand back at Baumgart. We all sat in respectful silence once again for a few moments until Pope resumed. “Flier was banged to hell. Steering was gone, our rudder bent beyond use. The prop shafts leaked everywhere. Though grounded, the sea around her was deep enough that most waves washed over the deck and some of the big ones broke over the bridge. The engines were clogged with crushed coral sand, and every wave brought a shriek of protest from Flier. We didn’t know if she would float once we pulled her off.

“We had been wearing our lifebelts for those six days, and Captain and the Exec were at each other’s throats—”

“Liddell?” Elton asked, incredulously.

“No, no, Liddell was our Engineering Officer at that time. No, our Exec for that patrol was a guy named Adams. He and the Captain got along like cats and dogs. We weren’t the first ship, or submarine, to ground at Midway, but Captain’s command was on the line. When Scorpion had grounded there for five hours last year, both her captain and exec were removed from command. But the way Adams acted, you’d think we were sunbathing naked on the deck rather than doing everything we could to get free. Captain was already under the gun, trying to do what was right for the remainder of what he probably thought was his last command, and Adams constantly angling for God knows what, didn’t help.

“It eventually took the tug that tried to guide us into Midway, plus the Florikan, AND a floating crane to pry us free of the reef, and then we checked her bow to stern. Surprisingly, despite the fact that she couldn’t steer, couldn’t dive, and couldn’t start her engines, the one thing she could do was float. So, we loaded everyone up for the return tow. Got to Pearl a few days later.”[15]

“Without incident?” I grinned. “Not the way I heard it, Pope.”

“No, no,” chorused a bunch of the old hands. I had not been on the Midway patrol, but I had heard this part of the story again and again, usually from someone trying to explain the phenomenon that was Pope to a new hand.

“Way I heard it, Florikan and Flier ran into another winter storm a few days later, and the tow cable snapped. And SOMEONE volunteered to reattach it himself.” I said slyly.

“Fished the crazy idiot out of the water,” Dag grinned. “He tried to ride Flier like a bucking bronco in the waves, clinging to the deck as she threw him under water then high in the air, then over the side! It’s a good thing you had that lifeline around your waist!”

“I got her reattached though, didn’t I?”

“With A LOT of help!”

“Jinxed,” Baumgart muttered under his breath.

“Oh get off it,” Pope rolled his eyes, “she got through that just fine, and went on to have a spectacular first patrol. Moreover, we got rid of Adams and promoted Liddell, kept the Captain, had the latest technology installed, and to top it all off, we never would have been in the position to stalk those three convoys if we had gone on our original patrol.” Several of the men nodded their heads and chorused, “That’s right.”’

“You know what they say about serving three patrols on the same sub,” Jarrold Taylor broke in, “It’s not good luck!”

“Please! This is her second—”Pope said.

“Third! If you count Midway,” Taylor cut in.

“Trouble stalks her wherever she goes.” Baumgart growled, several other men nodding in agreement. “First Panama, then Midway…”

“Good!” Pope snorted, throwing down his cards. “A submarine who can’t find trouble or who trouble can’t find can’t earn any record or any glory. Look at the Harder! Rumor has it, Jap destroyers made a special target of her and she turned right around and made dinner of four of them, a fleet record!” The argument was growing, expanding into several of the listeners, who were echoing, “That’s right!” “She’ll be a top scorer yet!”

“Hey, are we playing poker or not?” Clyde broke in. “I signed up for a poker game, not an insane debate!”

As the only officer in the room, I decided to head this off before it got any worse, “All right, gentlemen, that’s enough, just—”

“I don’t care what anyone says.” Baumgart stood up at the table, towering over Pope. “I’ve been around submarines for years and on this boat ever since she touched water, and I’m telling you, she’s ji—”

“You had better not finish that sentence Mr. Baumgart,” Captain’s voice rang out. He stepped through the bulkhead, coffee in hand, eyes blazing, with Jim right behind him. The men and I flattened ourselves against the walls, opening a direct path from the Captain to Baumgart. Captain continued in a softer, but authoritative voice, “unless you were not going to say something against my boat.”

Baumgart backed down. “She…she’s a joy to work on sir.”

“Glad to hear it. From this point forward,” he announced to the crew in general, “I will not tolerate any more talk about Flier’s luck, at least so-called bad luck, from anyone. She’s as lucky as any other boat in the fleet and she takes the same chances. Is that understood by all?” We were silent, and all nodded our heads. “All right Mister Liddell,” he turned to his XO, “what’s the movie feature this evening?”

Jim held up the film canister he was carrying in his hand and announced “Destination Tokyo, starring Cary Grant. Let’s go!”

The poker game was cleared away, the sheet hung, and the projector quickly assembled. The men wanted to move past the confrontation. Baumgart slipped out, probably back to the engine room. I didn’t feel like a movie, so I grabbed another cup of coffee before retiring to my cabin to re-read letters from my family.

I woke shortly before dawn of August 7th for my morning shift and splashed my face and hands with water. After a week, I was looking forward to my first shower tomorrow, when Flier suddenly bucked and exploded. My face smashed against the stainless steel mirror over my sink and cursing under my breath, I thundered down the hallway in my stocking feet and shorts with a fire crew on my heels. The fire alarm was blaring, and the red lights rigged on.  I darted out of the firemen’s way when I reached the control room. “What happened?” I hollered at no one in particular, as the firemen continued to dash towards the stern.

“Engine Explosion, number four, sir,” one of the helmsmen yelled, fighting with his planeswheel. “They’re trying to put it out now.”

Captain Crowley, still in his pajamas, skidded into the room. He had heard “explosion”. “How bad?”

“Don’t know yet, sir.” Liddell slid down the ladder from the Conning Tower. “Firemen are putting it out now, no reports yet of status or injuries.”

The Control Room phone rang and Liddell picked up. “Yes?” he listened. “Thank God. Can it be repaired…How long before we know…Ok keep me posted.” He hung up and turned to the Captain and me. “Fire’s under control, and thankfully, no serious injuries. The number four engine is down, but Teddy Baehr is back there and thinks he can fix it, given some time.”

“How much time?” Captain asked

“No idea, sir.”

We were only twelve hours from Lombok.

“If he can’t fix it we’ll have to make for Darwin or Fremantle for repairs. We can’t continue with only three functioning engines this early in the patrol.” Captain said resignedly.

“Yes, sir,” Jim replied.

Crowley’s eyes were bloodshot and tired and he sighed as he raked his hands though his hair and glanced at his watch. “I think I’m going to change and come on duty. Keep me posted of any developments until then.” He turned and went back to Officer’s Country. I doubted he would be able to get back to sleep anyway. The adrenaline coursing through my veins meant I wouldn’t need coffee to wake up for this shift…and possibly the next three.

Flier soldiered northward. On her three remaining engines, she could still make close to full speed, but the loss of one-quarter of her power could pose a serious problem in a tight spot. One of my

roommates, Ensign Herbert “Teddy” Baehr, as Assistant Engineering Officer, was back in the engine room with the Motor Macs, leaving me to plot the passage through Lombok myself. Number Four spitted, screamed and growled several times over the day, while I tried to ignore the possibility that we would have a second scuttled patrol. Captain might have ordered the jinx talk deep-sixed, but if we limped back to Fremantle already with an exploded engine, the talk would be impossible to stop or ignore.

I turned to my maps to distract me. In addition to Commissary Officer, I was Assistant Gunnery Officer, Assistant Torpedo Officer, and Assistant Navigator, Assistant Anything-they-could-come-up-with Officer. At least I was never bored.

Lombok was one of the main passages from the Indian Ocean to the South Pacific.  Ten miles wide at the narrowest, and nearly forty miles long, it was flanked by the island of Bali on the west and Lombok on the east. For a submarine, it was a difficult strait to cross. With every tide, the fast, strong, currents, changed direction, and despite being one of the deepest routes into the Pacific, those currents made Lombok too dangerous to safely transverse submerged. The slopes of Lombok Island and Bali bristled with anti-ship guns, and the strait itself was patrolled by at least two patrol vessels. They were usually rickety wooden vessels with a couple of depth charges, but the real danger was their radio which could light up the shore guns in minutes. The best bet was to cross at night, when we’d be nearly invisible to the store guns, and try to elude the patrol vessels.

This time of year brought another problem, however. Phosphorescent algae were blooming, and if we moved too fast in the water, it might light up our bow and stern wakes like landing lights. Unable to submerge, unable to run, parading through Lombok was a bit like casually strolling out of prison through the front gate, at night, while carrying a small flashlight, and hoping that the guards won’t notice.

We had already planned to arrive at Lombok at dusk, when we would be difficult to see, and then cross during slack tide of oh-dark-thirty. The wait time would allow us to watch and count the patrol boats and track their movements.

When I reported back on duty at the map table that evening, I saw that Jim had given some details and alterations to the chart and also some notes about charting the rest of the upcoming journey.  ‘Of course,’ I thought to myself as I picked up my tools, ‘all this work will depend on…’

“He did it! Hip, Hip, HORAAAY!!” The cheer erupted out of

the engine room, along with the triumphant roar of Number Four. I looked down the hall leading aft to the Engine Rooms, and saw Teddy, on the crest of a human wave of cheering, back-slapping men, congratulating him on his apparently brilliant repair. After the ruckus died down a bit, Crowley and Liddell followed him back to the Engine Room to evaluate the repair. Ultimately, it was up to the Captain to decide if the repair and engine would be reliable enough to continue on for the patrol, or if we needed to turn around. After several long minutes when the entire crew seemed to be focused at the evaluation taking place in the Engine Room, another, louder cheer erupted. Captain apparently decided that the repair was good enough, and moments later, he appeared in the Control Room and ordered Flier full speed to Lombok.

To allow Teddy to rest after his near triple shift, I took the midnight duty as the Junior Officer of the Deck or JOOD. The cool night wind struck me like a blow as I stepped onto the bridge, and lifted the ever-present sheen of sweat off my skin, and soon, I was shivering beneath my coat. The moon, a large waning gibbous, hung low over the eastern horizon, illuminating the eastern shores of Bali, though the strait itself was still shrouded in shadow. If we were quick enough, we would be through the strait before the moon lit the water.

Captain climbed to the Bridge shortly after. “Status?”

“Radar has spotted one patrol boat,” Jim, the Officer of the Deck, said, “about 6500 yards ahead of us in the mouth of the strait, as usual. We can’t see the other one yet. The current has slowed, but slack tide[16] is still a half-hour away according to our calculations. There are no sightings of the algae yet.”

“Very good,” Captain said, “The gunnery crew is standing by. All ahead, standard speed.” A gun battle in Lombok was suicidal, and we all knew it, but the possibility was very real. I took my position on the aft bridge, watching our wake for signs of a following enemy.

Flier slid through the waves, entering the main channel. With sixteen feet of draft beneath us, we had to delicately maneuver through the shallow places near the shore. The plan was to stick as closely as possible to Lombok’s shadowed side and hide in that for the entire transit.

“3000 yards…” I heard Radar in the Conning Tower report on the distance to the patrol boat. The shores and water around was eerily quiet.

“2000 yards…”

Still quiet, with no sign of either patrol boat.

“1000 yards…”

The sea around us suddenly flared brilliant green. “Reduce speed to one-third!” Crowley ordered, and Flier’s props slowed, causing Flier’s nose to dip and create another splash of glowing algae. The new speed still caused some algae glow, but it was much dimmer, and hopefully, difficult to see from the island.

“Status of the chaser?” Captain asked Radar.

“She’s 800 yards and closing, but shows no signs of having seen us. She should pass about 500 yards in front of us, and turn.” I heard from below.

All we could do was sit dark and silent in the shadow, hiding in plain sight hoping the chaser wouldn’t see us. I combed the shores of Lombok with my binoculars, but saw no sign of alarm from the jungle save the occasional scream of some animal or bird.

The low humming I had become gradually aware of evolved into the thrumming of a ship’s motor ahead to port.

“I see her sir,” I heard one forward lookout quietly call.

“All stop,” Captain said in a softer tone speaking directly into the conning tower hatch, and soon Flier drifted slowly to a crawl.

I turned briefly to look over the port bow and saw not the chaser, but the brightly glowing green lines of her bow and stern wakes. She approached at a good clip, in a straight line, never deviating, or showing that she had seen anything.

As she reached the shores of Lombok, I could make out her details. She was a typical chaser for this region: a wooden fishing vessel pressed into hasty service with little arms or armament, except a gun or two and a couple of depth charges. If it wasn’t for her radio, it would be easier to sink her than tiptoe around her.

She sped past us and a couple hundred yards ahead, turned, and began the pass back across the strait. Thankfully, she turned away from us, and re-crossed our bow even further away than before. As the sounds of her engines died away, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.

When Radar reported that chaser was halfway across the strait, Flier pushed forward again. With the algae scattered in patches throughout the strait, we had to move carefully, and more slowly than we would have liked. At times, she seemed to crawl along. Hours ticked by. The moon was high when overhead when Radar reported another hit

“Second target acquired, 5000 yards ahead at three–two–seven relative and heading west.”  She was ahead of us and slightly to our portside then.

“ETA to crossing her path?” Captain quietly asked down the hatch.

“Approximately 34 minutes.”

“Projected course of chaser at that point?”

After a slight pause, “She should be approximately a half-mile from Bali’s shore, and turning.”

“Wonderful,” I heard the smile in Captain’s voice. “Maintain course and speed.”

Flier nosed through the waves, the algae a faint line at her bow and stern. Since the chaser was far enough away, we slowly maneuvered into deeper water further from shore, hoping the algae’s dim glow would be harder to see from further away. Radar watched the chaser as she charged for Bali, but she never deviated from course, nor saw us as we crept across her path.

Well ahead of both chasers now, all we had to do was keep hidden long enough to get out of range of the guns.

The mountains of Lombok and Bali flanked the exit of the strait. The famous volcanic mountains of Bali gleamed silver and black in the moonlight, rippling down to the water’s edge. Some of the guys in Fremantle had said that the women of Bali are as beautiful as their island. If that was the case, I thought, they must be breathtaking indeed.

Soon, the sea opened up before us.  ‘A clean getaway,’ I thought with relief.

By three a.m., with Lombok and Bali rapidly fading against the horizon, Flier roared ahead, her nose rising out of the water from the racing speed. The gunnery crew stood down, and life resumed its familiar pattern.


[1] The “Broom” was a naval tradition that started in the British Navy in the seventeenth-century and was revived by the submarine force in WWII.  It indicated a “clean sweep” patrol, or a patrol that the sub sank every target she engaged or fulfilled their special mission.  The “Brag Rags” were miniature flags made to appear like small versions of the national flags of the ships that were sunk.  Each flag represented one “kill.”  Since submarine patrols were top secret at the time, and their crews forbidden from talking about their patrols, this was one of the few sanctioned ways the crews could compare notes and brag about their accomplishments.

[2] USS S-28 was an older submarine launched in 1922.  After several war patrols near Alaska, she was re-assigned in 1944 as a training vessel based out of Pearl Harbor.  After sinking with all hands on July 4, 1944, it was determined that she sank in waters too deep to be raised, and was left a war grave.  She has never been found.

[3] XO: Executive Officer, second in command.

[4] Yeoman: A Ship’s secretary and recorder.  He took care of all paperwork.  Flier carried two Yeomen, Dorricott and Earl Dressell.

[5] The Sailing List is a list of the name, rank, and serial number of every person on board a submarine any time it leaves the dock for any reason.  In addition to those names were the names and contact information of next of kin for every person, as well as last wills and testaments.  As gruesome as it sounds, these lists were necessary in case the worst happened, and once the list was passed off, no one could come aboard for the sub’s run, no matter how short or insignificant it seemed.  Any time a civilian rode a submarine, their name and last will were also included.

[6] COMSUBSOWESPAC: Short for Commander of Submarines in the South West Pacific

[7] This “target ship” was likely the SS MILDURA and what’s left of her is still visible near Exmouth.  She grounded on a reef by a typhoon in 1907 and was used as a target by warships and planes during WWI, WWII and decades afterwards.

[8] COB, or “Chief of the Boat” is a senior enlisted man aboard.  He advises the CO and XO about the crew and disciplinary matters as well as is in charge of day-to-day operations. While not strictly in the chain of command, the COB and his opinions carry a lot of weight with both enlisted men and officers.  According to Al Jacobson, Flier’s COB was Edgar W. Hudson.

[9] Skimmers: a term for surface sailors.

[10] Non-Qual: A submariner who is not yet qualified.  After submarine school, a submariner is not qualified until he completes his exams on the job.   Each non-qual has a year to finish his qualifications, though many do so much sooner.

[11] Commissary Officer: One of the junior officer positions, he requisitions, receives, stores, and accounts for all ship’s stores.  In addition, he is involved in the meal planning and oversight of the cooking staff, including coordinating with the sub’s Pharmacist’s Mate so he can provide proper supplements.

[12] Pharmacist’s Mate or “Doc”:  the only medical person on a submarine.  Even today, sub work is too risky to allow a highly-trained and valuable person like a doctor or nurse to patrol, so a Pharmacist’s Mate is assigned.  While his job was technically to oversee the crew’s health, provide first aid, and inform the Captain if someone’s condition warranted a transfer to a larger vessel, many Pharmacist’s Mates during WWII also performed surgeries including minor amputations and appendectomies.  Flier’s ”Doc” was Peter Gaideczka.

[13] Jack and Gudgeon were fellow submarines.  Jack would show up again in Flier’s history, and survive WWII.  Gudgeon would be lost with all hands four months after the Midway incident.

[14] Boatswains Chair:  a chair or swing suspended by a cable between two points, or two vessels used to transport goods or people.

[15] The Macaw wasn’t so lucky.  Despite numerous attempts, she could not be pried off the reef.  Salvage crews boarded, assigned to take every item of value and then blow her free of the reef, but during another winter storm on 12-13 February 1944, the sea pushed Macaw into deep water, and she sank, taking five hands with her, including commanding officer Lt Cdr. Paul. W. Burton.  She partially blocked the channel, and was demolished using explosives.  Her wreck has been surveyed and can be dived today at Midway.

[16] Slack Tide: In places where the tides impact the currents, slack tide is the time at the height of high or low tides where the current rushing one directions slows, stops, then reverses as the other tide takes effect.



2 Responses

  1. […] Chapter 1: Fremantle Australia, August 2, 1944 […]

  2. Darrell McAuley says:

    You made an error,on the names of the Yeomans.Earl Dressell is not a Yeomen,he is a Quartermaster 2nd class.The two Yeomans are,Walter Dorricott 2nd class Yeoman and James Elder 2nd class Yeomen(my uncle). Would you correct this error please.

Trackback URL for this entry