Posts Tagged ‘Frank Smith’

The Concealed Loss of S-27, Part 3: The Flight of Raven

Lost Subs, Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Jul 04 2016

This is Part 3 of a series.  You can read Part 1 here and Part two here.

Submarine S-27 becomes Camp S-27 waiting for…

Most of the canned rations had already been removed from the 27, and hauled “home” to Constantine Village.  The offices figured that they had about 30 days’ worth of food at two meals a day.  While Jukes was at S-27’s wreck site, the crew found an old abandoned dory.  Worm eaten though it was, it at least still floated.  A little scavenging supplies and some creativity provided rods and lines, and some enthusiastic fishermen provided fresh fish to supplement the meals.

Another Amchitka Cabin from 1938. Alaska Digital Archives

Another Amchitka Cabin from 1938. Alaska Digital Archives

For his part, young George Herold never doubted that they’d be rescued before the rations were eaten.  But records show some of the older men and officers worried whether enough fish or foraging could feed the crew after a month’s time, if no help came.  No one dared think of winter.  I doubt for morale’s sake they shared their worries to others in public, and certainly, Herold never worried it would take long.

Also taken in 1938, this shows the interior of the cabins the S-27 crew stayed in. Alaska Digital Archives

Also taken in 1938, this shows the interior of the cabins the S-27 crew stayed in. Alaska Digital Archives

 

But least with all the kerosene lying around abandoned, they were reasonably warm.

Every day, the men had to fall in for roll call, which Herold and many others found rather funny, because, “who would go AWOL anyway.”[i]

The camp settled into a routine. Though Amchitka was well known for the sheer numbers and variety of arctic wildlife, the men saw very little.  Herold himself later said, “ [it] was a funny thing—we didn’t see no animals, or nothing at night there…birds occasionally, but there was nothing on that island at all.”[ii]

Photo taken in later 1941 (perhaps during an expedition into the loss of S-27 or looking into Amchitka's suitability as an Air Base.) Alaska Digital Archives

Photo taken in later 1941 (perhaps during an expedition into the loss of S-27 or looking into Amchitka’s suitability as an Air Base.) This may be the type of dugout that Herold and his friends took for their shelter in Constantine Village.  Alaska Digital Archives

The only life many saw was the occasional plane, miles away, possibly patrolling. From that distance, it wasn’t likely the planes saw the little community. Still, camp life and routine was dominated by the simple idea, with the Japanese so close, don’t make any changes that could be noticed by an air patrol.[iii]

Wednesday, June 24th arrived.  Five days into this adventure, camp muster was called, just as it was every morning.  And after the morning jokes about having to do so, everyone went to their assigned duties, whether that was sentry duty, fishing, cooking the day’s first meal, or just keeping out of trouble.

The weather had been nice for a few days[1], but that day it was foggy, wet and miserable.  The patrol planes based in Dutch Harbor reported that conducting any reconnaissance beyond Atka Island, 120 miles to the east, was impossible.[iv] The wind whipped the seas into a rough condition.

The Church bell suddenly rang out. A plane was coming right for them! The men quickly ducked into the buildings or dugouts they’d found.  Herold heard Nelly yell out, “He’s either going to drop bombs or supplies, take you pick!” [v]

The plane got closer, and closer, until the crew realized it was a PBY Catalina—the American Flying Boat!

A Catalina PBY-5A, the model the men sighted that day. Wikipedia

A Catalina PBY-5A, the model the men sighted that day. Wikipedia

The Raven Lands

In seconds, the “abandoned village” exploded into a mass of shouting, waving men.  One grabbed an American flag and spread it out on the ground for the pilot to see[2].  Several others ran to the sandy beach scrawled “S-27” in large letters. [vi]

The large plane dropped from 1500 feet to 300, then circled, watching this event.  A lamp blinked, and the signalman read the message “WILL SEND POSIT  X  WILL LAND.” [vii]

The Catalina soared out to the sea, banked, and landed beautifully in Constantine Harbor, despite the rough waves.  The pilot, Lt. (j.g.) Julius Raven, popped the hatch and leaned out of the cockpit waving as a couple excited S-27 survivors paddled the worm-eaten dory out to meet the plane.

This sight might have been similar to the crew of the S-27. While it was taken in Unalaska Island, it shows another Catalina using a dory to load and unload passengers and cargo. Alaska Digital Archives.

This sight might have been similar to the crew of the S-27. While it was taken in Unalaska Island, it shows another Catalina using a dory to load and unload passengers and cargo. Alaska Digital Archives.

Raven, his copilot Rock Bannister, and the crew, were returning from a routine patrol, and had gotten lost.  They’d seen Amchitka by chance, and flew over to confirm their position when the village erupted. Several minutes later, Raven reported that Patrol Wing 14, his air group, would send three more planes in the morning to take off the crew of S-27, provided Raven evacuated as many as he could now.[viii]

Evacuation of the 10-15 men he could fit inside required dumping most of Raven’s equipment overboard—something the men happily did.

Jukes and Harold were not evacuated with Raven’s plane.  Herold made sure to good-naturedly jerk the chains of those who went: ‘How come you get to go first?” [ix]

That night, the remaining S-27 crew cooked up every bit of food they wanted.  “…[We] had Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner in one.  We stuffed ourselves and laid back like fat cats,” Herold said. [x]

Late the next morning, three more PBYs, stripped of extra equipment and arms,[xi]  landed in Constantine Harbor. The crew quickly destroyed all the weapons and ammunition they had evacuated off the S-27, before boarding for home.   Extra items, which were deemed no real help to the enemy if they landed (mostly blankets, unused winter clothing and more canned food) were to be left as well.   Herold proudly wore the one thing he had made absolutely sure he got off his old boat: a tailor made set of dress blues which had cost him three-quarters of a month’s salary which he had bought eight months earlier in San Diego. [xii]  [xiii] He’d left behind all his work clothes and toiletries on the S-27,  but took these with him when he boarded the raft back when he evacuated the S-27.

The flight “home” to Chernofsky harbor on Unalaska Island took about six hours. The seas were rough and the Catalina Herold was on hit hard: “After a couple of big bounces, we stayed on the water and swore we’d never get into another airplane”. [xiv]

They were brought to the seaplane tender USS HULBERT (AVD-6), a floating hotel/plane stocking depot/repair stop.  Each man was examined by the on-board doctor, then allowed a bath and a clean bunk for the night.  Considering the water restriction on a submarine, it was likely the first shower most  had in nearly a month.

The USS HULBERT, a destroyer-turned-seaplane tender. Later, she would ground for several days near Attu Island, but would finish out the war. Navsource.org

The USS HULBERT, a destroyer-turned-seaplane tender. Later, she would ground for several days near Attu Island, but would finish out the war. Navsource.org

Fallout at Dutch Harbor

The next day, despite Herold’s self-promise to never fly again, the crew was packed aboard another plane and flown across Unalaska Island to Dutch Harbor.  While in the air, Herold thought of home and realized there was something special about this week.  He’d dropped out  of his last year of school to join the Navy and “see the world”. Pearl Harbor had changed “see the world” to “fight a war”, but this week back home in Patterson, New Jersey,  all his old classmates were celebrating prom and graduation.  [xvi]

Once safely landed at the sub base in Dutch Harbor, the crew of the S-27 were each issued a new sea bag, and forced to leave behind anything they’d brought with this from Amchitka—this included Herold’s carefully-saved blues. [xv]

The ordeal wasn’t quite over, at least not for Jukes and some of his crew.  He, his officers, and several enlisted men were sequestered to attend the official investigation at Dutch Harbor into whether the S-27’s loss was “cause of war” or caused by dereliction of duty.  Jukes and his crew, as experienced submariners, were needed aboard other boats, so rather than waiting, so the trial was scheduled quickly: July 1, 1942 at Dutch Harbor.[xvii]  The outcome of the investigation would determine whether anyone would face charges in a formal court martial.

Jukes had the right to have another submarine commander represent him at the investigation. He chose S-28’s CO, John Daniel Crowley.  Crowley had actually been tasked with finding the S-27 and crew on June 22, but foul weather kept him from seeing anything at his assigned area on Semisopochnoi Island.  Lt. Frank Smith asked the CO of S-35, also newly returned, to be his counsel.

Three days of testimony followed, much of which involved painfully (so very painful…) detailed information about tide tables, their availability and accuracy, current charts and when and how they did and didn’t work, who did what, when, and why.   Fifteen witnesses, some from the S-27, and some from the command at Dutch Harbor, were called, and some these witnesses, like XO and Navigator Lt. Smith, answered over 100 questions during their interrogation.  After the testimony, the board came to their conclusion.

It was dereliction of duty.

Jukes was found to be derelict for failing to exercise due caution and supervision while the S-27 charged her batteries in the fog, and was recommended for court martial.

XO Lt. Frank Smith, navigator, was derelict because he failed to fix the position of the ship, despite the lack of radar, stars, or landmarks and was also recommended for court marital.

Boatswain Kreuger was negligent because he ordered S-27 to assume the pre-assigned course while the visibility was still poor, and failed to ask his CO if any different orders were needed given the circumstances.  [xviii]

Jukes and Butler would face a formal court martial.  Kreuger would be given a letter of Admonition.  The rest of the crew were free.

It was also determined that salvaging the S-27 was impossibly dangerous, due to her condition and location so close to the front lines.  Investigators, landing at Amchitka by plane two days after the crew left, photographed S-27’s remains, which were included in the investigation, and are featured in this series.  They discovered she was breaking up even more and predicted she would sink during the next major storm.

Still, testimony of Lt. Cmdr. Carl N. Anderson, an Alaskan Captain with over twenty years’ experience sailing the Aleutians, helped.  He made the point that the official information given to Jukes was horribly insufficient, and that no tide tables could be accurate in the Aleutians, as circumstances changed tides and currents based on too many factors than could be tabulated. Still, Lt Cmdr. Anderson said, in his experience, when he didn’t know where he was, he would have dropped anchor and waited for the fog to pass or headed straight south, and out to the open sea.

Concealment

Most submarine losses were realized in retrospect.  A sub which didn’t return to port for long enough was simply assumed lost.  The next of kin would be notified via telegram that the boat was overdue and presumed lost with all hands.  The radio would say the same-“overdue and presumed lost”. The crew would be listed as MIA for the duration of the war, until POW rolls could be inspected to make sure no one had escaped and been captured by the enemy.

In S-27’s case, however, a boat, but not a crew, had been lost.  Lost near enemy territory, and the Navy knew their announcements could be listened to by the enemy.  The news that a submarine, even an old one, was potentially above water and within reach might trigger a conquest of Amchitka, if only to retrieve anything of use from her before retreating back to Kiska and Attu.

So the loss was covered up, as though it had never been.

The crew could not talk about it, or write about it.  George Herold himself was barred from writing anything, and only told his parents confidentially during his first leave home, fourteen months later.

As far as the Navy was concerned, the S-27 simply had stopped going on patrol one day.  Not lost, just not…at all.

It wasn’t until August 10, 1945, that the loss of the S-27 was publicly announced.

Along with three other submarines (which had also grounded and the crews were saved)…

…and 104 other Naval vessels…

…but no one really noticed.

 

Because on August 10, 1945, THIS was the headline.

 

So, yes, the news of S-27's loss kind of got lost under the big news of the day, three years later...

So, yes, the news of S-27’s loss kind of got lost under the big news of the day, three years later…

EPILOGUE

Jukes went on to command two new Gato-class submarines, The Kingfish and the Cutlass,  In a strange twist of fate, eighteen months after S-27 grounded in Alaska, Jukes, commanding Kingfish, stopped by Midway Island on his way home from Kingfish’s sixth patrol, Jukes’s first as Commanding Officer.  It was January 1944, and one submarine and a sub rescue vessel were grounded in Midway’s channel, partially blocking the only route into the lagoon.  The grounded submarine was the Flier and her CO was Commander John D. Crowley, Jukes’s old counsel for his S-27 investigation.

By March 1945, Frank Smith, former XO of the S-27, was the Commanding Officer of the Hammerhead for her final three patrols.  During these patrols, Hammerhead sank five ships, earning her three more battle stars and a Navy Unit Commendation.

The crew of the S-27 was broken up and assigned new boats or duties.  Many were reassigned to Aleutian submarines, including the S-18, 28, and 35.

George Herold about the time of the S-27 loss. Photo courtesy of Herold to the National Parks Service.

George Herold about the time of the S-27 loss. Photo courtesy of Herold to the National Parks Service.

George Herold, along with one other S-27 crewman, Rocco Pia, was assigned to the submarine Finback.  Herold served on Finback for five patrols, sailing out of Dutch Harbor, Pearl and ending in Freemantle, Australia. After Finback, he served aboard Picuda for six patrols. Despite some close calls with depth charges, he survived and continued in the Navy until an accident forced his early retirement in 1949.

Of the entire S-27 crew, only two died during WWII.  Lt. Young, who had lead the expedition to unsuccessfully find the village the first day, died on August 25, 1942, when his plane taking him from Alaska to the continental United States vanished.   [xix]

Lt. Young. From On Eternal Patrol Website

Lt. Young. From On Eternal Patrol Website

Robert Shirah, one of S-27s lookouts when she grounded, later served on submarine Escolar.  The Escolar vanished during her first patrol. Her resting place and cause of her disappearance remain unknown.  [xx]

Robert Shirah, from On Eternal Patrol website.

Robert Shirah, from On Eternal Patrol website.

August 9, 1942, Julius Raven, who had found the survivors, went down on while conducting a search mission for a missing plane [xxi].  He had been awarded an Air Medal for his part in rescuing the S-27 survivors, and after his death, received a Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions against the Japanese. A high speed transport, commissioned in 1945, was named in his honor.[xxii]

S-27 can no longer be seen, and must have sunk relatively close to where it grounded near St. Makarius Point.

Amchitka After

Amchitka itself soon became one of the largest bases in the Aleutians.

In December,1942, Amchitka, despite its drawbacks of muddy and marshy ground, was selected as the new advance airbase in the Aleutians.  A pilot was ordered to destroy the village and church from the air before the ground forces moved in. He had no problems taking out the cabins, but “felt squeamish destroying this sacred building,”. Still, he “made several half-hearted passes…[then] bombed the church flat.” [xxiii]

This is the only image I could find of the interior of the church. It's so beautiful. The name is lost, though the Orthodox Church in Alaska says the records pertaining to this church or chapel were transferred to the Library of Congress, so it is possible the name could be recovered someday. The iconostasis is stunning, even in black and white. In full color, it must have been beautiful. Elements of the decor come from Aletutian motifs one can see on other artifacts. Alaska Digital Archives.

This is the only image I could find of the interior of the church. It’s so beautiful. The name is lost, though the Orthodox Church in Alaska says the records pertaining to this church or chapel were transferred to the Library of Congress, so it is possible the name could be recovered someday. The iconostasis is stunning, even in black and white. In full color, it must have been just breathtaking. Elements of the decor come from Aletutian motifs one can see on other artifacts.
Alaska Digital Archives.

The American ground troops moved in on January 12, 1942, and, despite the foul winter weather, had the first runway completed by February 16.

Taken in March 1943, this shows the location of S-27's Constantine Village 9 months after their departure. This is "Runway Alpha", which would soon be the smallest of three. Each of those dots is a single quonset hut, for those stationed there. US Archives, Wikipedia.

Taken in March 1943, this shows the location of S-27’s Constantine Village 9 months after their departure. This is “Runway Alpha”, which would soon be the smallest of three. Each of those dots is a single quonset hut, for those stationed there. US Archives, Wikipedia.

 

Soon, two more were constructed, including Runway Charlie.  At 10,000 feet long, it was the longest airstrip in the world at that time.   A year after the submarine rescue, the bare tundra the s-27 survivors got lost in was crisscrossed with the three runways, several hangers, and dozens of roads, buildings, and Quonset huts. It was a base supporting more than ten thousand troops, and the launch point for the re-taking of Attu Island. The Battle of Attu, 11 May – 30 May, 1943, would be one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific.

By August, the Amchitka base personnel lead the way to Kiska, only to discover the Japanese had quietly evacuated the garrison over two weeks earlier, under cover of heavy fog.

After the war, Amchitka became the site of three underground nuclear tests in the 1950’s.  Today, it has resumed its National Wildlife Refuge states (a status it had before WWII began), and is deserted.  However, the marks of its military history remain.  Looking at satellite imagery of Amchitka today reveals a web of airstrips, roads, and foundations of buildings long since removed, but no sign of the S-27 and her crew’s adventure.  The only thing the crew might recognize today is the few Aleut graves, formerly located near the church which was ordered destroyed to make way for the base.  [3]

Footnotes

[1] This is according to Herold.  Official records and testimony from Jukes or the crew make no mention of the weather after S-27 grounded, and three submarines looking for the S-27 on Amchitka and Semisophochnoi that day reported foul weather so bad, they could barely patrol or recon during that week.  But Alaskan weather is variable and highly local.

[2] Whether this flag was salvaged from the S-27 or discovered in the village is not known.  One account, and only one, mentions this flag as an “ensign”.  If it was an ensign, then it was the flag assigned to the S-27, and was salvaged from her, but it would have been identical in appearance to the 48-star “Old Glory”.

[3]  One of the ironies of the church’s destruction was that, as a part of the standard military base, a base church was built, and remained standing for decades after Amchitka closed.  The church didn’t need to be closed, it could even have continued in its function as a church, though perhaps in a wider denominational use.  But this, as we will see, wasn’t the only native church destroyed in the Aleutians during the 1940’s.

Sources Cited:

[i] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg 9 http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/SS-132_S-27.pdf

 

[ii] Interview with Geroge Herold and Harry Suomi, 2014

[iii] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg 9 http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/SS-132_S-27.pdf

[iv] (War Diary, Command Task Force 8 6/1/1942 – 6/30/1942, 1942) pg 207

[v] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg 9 http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/SS-132_S-27.pdf

[vi] ibid

[vii] ibid

[viii] (War Diary, Command Patrol Wing 4, 6/1/1942 to 7/5/1942 (Enc A), 1942)

[ix] Herold, George, “the first and Only patrol of s-27 (SS-133) The Silent Service in WWII; 2012; pg 54

[x] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg  10 http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/SS-132_S-27.pdf

[xi] (War Diary, Command Patrol Wing 4, 6/1/1942 to 7/5/1942 (Enc A), 1942)

[xii] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg  10 http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/SS-132_S-27.pdf

[xiii] Interview with Geroge Herold and Harry Suomi, 2014, Transcript, pgs 11 and 12

[xiv] Herold, George, the first and las patrol of S-27 (1989) , pg  10 http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/SS-132_S-27.pdf

 

[xv] ibid

[xvi] Interview with Geroge Herold and Harry Suomi, 2014, Transcript

[xvii] Imvestigation into the Loss of SS-27

[xviii] Summary and finding of the Facts, Investigation into the loss os S-27

[xix] On Eternal Patrol, Lawrence Hildegard Young,

[xx] On Eternal Patrol, Robert Shirah,

[xxi] War Diary, Command Patrol Wing 4 8/1/1942 – 8/31/1942

[xxii] Wikipedia, entry Julius A Raven, accessed 8 Januaery, 2016

[xxiii] Kohlhoff, Dean Amchitka and the Baomb pg 18

The Concealed Loss of S-27, Part 2: Abandoned on Amchitka

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 29 2016

(This is part 2 of a multi-part series.  You can read part 1 here)

Taken from the bridge of the S-27.  US Navy photo.

Taken from the bridge of the S-27. US Navy photo.

 

The rocks separating S-27 from Amchikta were tall, almost as tall as the sub’s bridge.  The shore was still a distance off, and no one knew if they could even land.

Jukes asked for volunteers to go ashore and see if the crew could safely land with their inflatable raft.  One officer and one enlisted man, both experienced swimmers, volunteered.

The two set out, their forms soon swallowed by the fog.   It was still night, but the long arctic twilight before sunrise meant that it was slowly getting brighter, even if sunrise was still, technically, three hours away.

Jukes sent another message, but the radiomen improperly coded it.  No matter who intercepted it, it would be complete nonsense. Another, properly coded message was sent:

“CANCEL MY NINETEEN SIXTEEN FORTY[1] X WEDGED SOLIDLY ST. MARKIUS REPEAT ST MARKIUS POINT AMCHITKA X PORT SCREW WORKING ON MOTOR BUT MOTOR ROOM EXPECTED TO FLOOD ANY TIME X UNABLE TO BACK OVER ROCKS X BELIEVE CAN BE PULLED CLEAR BY TUG X ALL TANKS DRY X POUNDING IS BAD X AM PREPARED TO ABANDON X HEAVY FOG.”[i]

Taken from later investigations into the grounding of S-27, this map shows the crew's reconing of S-27's grounding, and the two potential routes they took while laying to the night before.  US Navy, Invesntigation into the Loss of S-27

Taken from later investigations into the grounding of S-27, this map shows the crew’s reckoning of S-27’s grounding, and the two potential routes they took while laying to the night before. Image taken from transcript of US Navy Investigation into the Loss of S-27

But now, worrying reports came back from within S-27. Those dry tanks were now leaking.

An hour passed.  Then another half.  Jukes waited on sending a new message since no one seemed to be listening anyway.  For now, he had to organize that which no captain ever wanted to- the abandonment of his first command.

The raft returned.  It was a long journey, but once the party maneuvered past the rocks trapping the 27, it was a clear run to a rocky beach.  They’d anchored lines on the beach, and as soon as these were attached to the S-27, a stable ferry system could quickly evacuate everyone.

While Jukes still hoped s-27 could be towed off, for his crew’s safety, he ordered evacuation. While they moved provisions, clothes, supplies, and themselves into the “ferry”, Cmdr. Jukes and First Officer Lt. Frank Smith began destroying the secret components of S-27.  Though she was far too old to have the latest, greatest gadgets the submarine service would soon be known for, she was still dangerous to leave high and dry where the nearby enemy could find her.

They disassembled the ECM (Electronic Counter Measure), a Typewriter that encoded and decoded messages.  The gear wheels were broken and scattered in the deep water around S-27.  The typewriter portion itself was smashed with a hammer, and hurled as far into the sea as possible.

There were two sonars stations on S-27, one in the torpedo room and one in the conning tower.  These were also smashed with a hammer.  The main sonar head, on the keel, had been smashed between S-27’s hull and the rocks already.  At least one thing was going in their favor in this mess.

The Mark VIII Torpedo Angle Solver (a forerunner to the Torpedo Data Computer) was a small handheld device, and thrown overboard.

This Angle Solver would be nearly identical to the one S-27's officers destroyed.  The artifact is from the USS Bowfin museum in Honolulu.  If you'd like to read more about how this pre-computer computer was used, check out the original US Navy manual at: http://www.maritime.org/doc/banjo/index.htm

This Angle Solver would be nearly identical to the one S-27’s officers destroyed. The artifact is from the USS Bowfin museum in Honolulu. If you’d like to read more about how this pre-computer computer was used, check out the original US Navy manual at: http://www.maritime.org/doc/banjo/index.htm

The safes in Officers Country were opened. Reams of confidential documents, manuals, and handbooks were given to the first wave of evacuating crew with orders to use it as kindling.  All of it.

The Torpedo Data Approach Tables and Data were so sensitive however, they were burned on board.

Anything that might be classified or even possibly secret, was smashed and destroyed with hammers and tools.[ii]

 

Onshore

The shore of Amchitka Island, where the men landed, looked “like a calendar picture of a Maine Coast” according to Herold[iii]. A stony beach ran along the waterline, overshadowed by steep hills and cliffs.  The evacuated men built fires with the classified documents and tried to dry themselves and their clothes to prevent hypothermia.  It was in the low 40s, and hypothermia could as easily take a man at that temp as it could below freezing.

Taken from the investigation, this shows the rocks the S-27 was grounded upon, as well as the steep cliff (hidden in shadow) and tundra above.  That wasn't a climb for the faint hearted!  Source: US Navy Photo

Taken from the investigation, this shows the rocks the S-27 was grounded upon, as well as the steep cliff (hidden in shadow) and tundra above. That wasn’t a climb for the faint hearted! Source: US Navy Photo

The sun rose over Amchitka shortly before 8 am.[2]

With the dawn, the men on shore faced the next problem.  They figured they were on a south-eastern  point of Amchitka, and the only known settlement on Amchitka was on the northern side, the village they’d inspected the day before. But where, precisely, relative to this point?  Lt. Lawrence Young, originally from Seattle, set off with five volunteers to find the village. Based on the size of Amchitka, it should only take until early afternoon.

All morning, the rubber raft landed on the shore with a rocky crunch, carrying  only 2-3 men, plus supplies,[iv] which had to be organized and piled on the beach, before the raft, with someone on board to guide her back, was pushed back out to S-27. The raft’s pilots had to be careful tying up near their old boat, because as the swells grew, the submarine rolled more violently, and 27 could potentially roll right over the raft and crew.

Aboard the Sinking Sub

The S-27, bow down in the waves.  As you can see, the water is coming right up to the bridge.  US Navy Photo taken from the Investigation into the loss of the S-27

The S-27, bow down in the waves. As you can see, the water is coming right up to the bridge. US Navy Photo taken from the Investigation into the loss of the S-27

Within the boat, the men queued up to evacuate out, and took as many provisions as the small raft would fit along with them.  Chief Electrician’s Mate, Arthur Kesner took one last look around the boat before heading to the ferry.   “By the afternoon of the nineteenth it was quite a mess…The J.K [Sonar] and Q.C. [Sonar] had all been torn apart and everything was distributed through the control room.  Some clothing and provisions were laying around in the control room we couldn’t get off.”  [v]

With only 2-3 men able to board each trip, ferry needed around twenty round-trips to evacuate everyone.  According to 27’s Navigator and Exec, Lt. Frank Smith, the ride was rough and the men arrived on the beach likely soaked through.

The last few trips were rough.  Waves were breaking all the way across the boat, and would fill it up on the starboard side before you could get it away from the ship.” [vi]

The seas and wind grew more violent as the morning passed, and by noon, with thirty-six of the forty-two man crew onshore, evacuations stopped. In the swells,  S-27 was too unstable, twisting and turning.  The six who remained aboard were all volunteers: Jukes, Smith, a motormac named Raymond Puglsey, one radioman, and two others.

It turned out that their last transmission had been at least partially received by 27’s command in Alaska.  They had sent a reply:  “WHAT IS YOUR POSITION X USE SECRET CRYPTO CHANNEL X AMPLIFY REPORT OF SCREWS DISABLED”.[vii]

That had been nearly seven hours ago.   Now, everyone knew that it didn’t matter which of the props were working or not, 27 was sinking.  Already, her torpedo room, where Herold and Nelly had been sleeping hours before, was filling faster than it could be pumped back out.  It had been sealed and abandoned to its fate.  The flooding slowly pulled the bow down, raising the stern screws and rudders clear of the surface.  Before he’d evacuated to shore, Boatswain Kreuger climbed the rising stern deck and checked the props and rudders.  Not only had the starboard screw been damaged, the starboard dive plane had been ripped clean off.[viii]  The only thing to do was ask for rescue.

It was now 1:45 pm, local time.

“HEAVY POUNDING CONTINUES  X  HELPLESS  X  SEAMS GONE IN BALLAST TANKS  X  ALL ASHORE EXCEPT SIX  X  ALL COMPARTMENTS DRY BUT TORPEDO ROOM  X  WILL STAY UNTIL UNTENABLE  X  CRYPTO AIDS DESTROYED BUT THIS  X  WHEN ABANDONED WILL TAKE CREW TO CONSTANTINE HARBOR THIS FREE OF ENEMY ON EIGHTEENTH” [ix]

It was impossible to tell how much of that message would get through.  Despite mentioning St Markius Point and  Amchitka in the received message, command had asked for position.  Who knew how much of that missive had gotten through?  Or how much of this one would?

3p.m.:  During a short lull in the stormy conditions, three of the six men, the unnamed volunteers, and Moctormac Puglsey, went ashore with more supplies. Now, Jukes, the radioman, plus XO Smith  remained near the radio, waiting for a message.

3:30 pm: Time was up.  On Jukes’s order, the radioman sent a final message:  “DUE TO SEA CONDITIONS AM ABANDONING SHIP.   X   IF POSSIBLE WILL RETURN TOMORROW OTHERWISE CONSTANTINE” The radio was having trouble maintaining a signal by now, though from within or without was anyone’s guess. The only hope was someone would hear them, and send evacuation to Constantine Harbor.

Tying the raft up to the S-27.  US Navy Photo taken from the Investigation into the loss of the S-27.

Tying the raft up to the S-27. US Navy Photo taken from the Investigation into the loss of the S-27.

 

Lt. Smith remembered leaving S-27 vividly.  “…by that time, the waves were breaking all the way across the bow.  The last boat, the radioman and myself were in, alongside the conning tower, and the captain hauled it forward to the torpedo room right by the bow to get in the boat so we could leave the ship clear of the rocks.  At that time there was very little freeboard on the bow—there was just six to twelve inches with the stern up considerably.” [x]

S-27 was officially abandoned.  The crew huddled together in a makeshift “camp” on an unsheltered cove built at the base of a 50 foot cliff.  Ammo, supplies and clothes had been neatly stacked on the beach, above the tide.   There was good news: there were no injuries.  And some “grog” in the coffee certainly helped everyone warm up. [xi]

Onshore

8 pm:  After sixteen hours, Lt. Young and his exploration team finally returned.  Amchitka was a featureless plain of rolling tundra, and it was far too easy to get lost. In fact, two men on the expedition had done just that, less than two hours after they left.  While they’d been eventually found, the village had not [xii].  The expedition tomorrow would have to try again.

This photo, taken on Amchitka during WWII shows the rolling tundra.   While Amchitka may be treeless, the plants can still be tall.  If you see the dark square-ish patch in the lower right hand corner, that's the entrance to a dugout cave.  There is a man standing next to it, waist deep in summer foliage.   Source: Alaska Digital Archives  http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg21/id/12797/rec/2

This photo, taken on Amchitka during WWII shows the rolling tundra. While Amchitka may be treeless, the plants can still be tall. If you see the dark square-ish patch in the lower right hand corner, that’s the entrance to a dugout cave. There is a man standing next to it, waist deep in summer foliage. Source: Alaska Digital Archives http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg21/id/12797/rec/2

Everyone knew the Japanese were on Kiska, fifty miles away, but they had not checked the northern end of Amchitka.  As the sun began its long setting, the men decided, for safety sake despite the possible Japanese presence, the fires would be maintained all night. [xiii]  The cove was fairly sheltered from view from the north end of the island, so they would not be seen by any potential Japanese lookouts.

Still, watches had to be set, and followed.  Due to the cold, each of the enlisted men on watch would only stand for one hour.  The man on watch had to walk up to the top of the cliff for the best view.

Then rain pelted down. It was going to be a miserable night.

The one o’clock watch fell to George Herold.  He remembered that hour vividly:

“When I got to the top of the hill it was dark, and I mean DARK. You could hear the breakers down below and also the boat grinding, scraping and banging on the rocks. I called out “Horton” – but not too loud. I had visions of Jap soldiers sleeping in tents all around me. Scott [Horton] was only a few feet away but he must have seen the same movies I did and thought it was a Jap trick.  I relieved him and [he] went down by the fires and [I] stayed right there, keeping my eye on those fires until I got relieved.” [xiv]

Into the Wilderness

The next morning, the men decided the Japanese, wherever else they might be, were not on Amchitka. This allowed them to simplify the day: thirty-two headed out to the village, carrying as many supplies on their backs and in their arms as they could.  The remaining ten would stand guard over whatever couldn’t be carried.

Amchitka was pure tundra, without a tree or many landmarks at all. The ground was marshy, sucking down the men’s boots as they trudged across the land of moss and lichen. Whatever else may happen, no one was going to get lost today; the men lined themselves in single file, keeping several feet apart from the man in front and behind them.  Leaving at 4:30 in the morning, they arrived at the village by 9 am.

Taken in 1938 by a Smithsonian Archaological expedition, this shows the type of landscape the 27 crew now had to trek through.  Source: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/search/searchterm/Amchitka%20/mode/all/order/nosort/page/1

Taken in 1938 by a Smithsonian Archaeological expedition, this photo was taken from the base of Constantine Harbor (on the right) with one of several small lakes on the left.  Source: Alaska Digital Archives  http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/search/searchterm/Amchitka%20/mode/all/order/nosort/page/1

It had been a small village even in its “heyday”.  Six small cottages surrounding an Orthodox church. The Japanese had bombed the place during the invasion.  Three of the houses had been blown apart, and several more bomb craters littered the area.  Still, there were three cabins, and a number of underground storage bunkers.  Herold and two other guys quickly claimed one of these bunkers, and “lived pretty comfortable, I guess.” Submariners are used to sharing tight quarters, three cabins to forty-two men was probably luxurious.

Also from the 1938 expedition, the small village seen from across the bay.  Half of this had been destroyed by June 1942. Source: Alaska Digital Archives http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/search/searchterm/Amchitka%20/mode/all/order/nosort/page/1

Also from the 1938 expedition, the small village seen from across the bay. Half of this had been destroyed by June 1942. Source: Alaska Digital Archives http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/search/searchterm/Amchitka%20/mode/all/order/nosort/page/1

Inside the cabins, the men discovered a world frozen in time.  Herold guessed the villagers had left in a hurry, after Pearl Harbor, for “Utensils of all sorts, kerosene stoves and drums of kerosene were left. Plus school books, all in Russian.” [3]

Same expedition from 1938, one of the cabins Herold mentioned.  http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/search/searchterm/Amchitka%20/mode/all/order/nosort/page/1

Same expedition from 1938, one of the cabins Herold mentioned. http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/search/searchterm/Amchitka%20/mode/all/order/nosort/page/1

Jukes and his officers knew that the men had to be kept busy in order to keep discipline.  Fourteen orders were written up and distributed, organizing the camp, the watch rotations, the kitchen duties.  The sentries were armed with all the small arms removed from the 27, and one was posted in the belfry of the Orthodox Church, with orders to ring the bell if he saw anything.

With camp established, Jukes and some men, headed back to the cove.  He had to inspect S-27, and see if any more supplies could be moved.

Meanwhile, back at Headquarters…

After no further messages from the S-27 were received, Taskforce 8.5, of which S-27 and her sister subs were part, took action. June’s records of TASKFORCE 8, records the following entry, at midnight, June 22:

“IMPORTANT RADIO MESSAGE FROM S-27 INTERCEPTED SINCE 16 HOURS ZED [4p.m, local time]  19TH X  SAIL TWENTY SEVEN BELIEVED TO BE AGROUND ON AMCHITKA ISLAND OR SEMISOPHOCHNOI ISLAND X INVESTIGATE AND REPORT X  S-18 AMCHITKA X S-35 SEMISOPOCHNOI X S-28 NORTH COAST TANAGA KANAGA AND ADAK ISLANDS BUT TO DO NOT ENTER UNCHARTED WATERS X”

By the next morning, the three subs were underway, but foul weather kept most of them from being able to see anything.  The S-18, in particular, arrived on the northwest tip of Amchitka Island from June 23, to June 25, (Constantine Harbor adn “Camp S-27” were on the northeast corner). Like her sisters, S-18 couldn’t see through the weather.

S-27’s revisit

more views of s 27

more views of s 27

Among the men who re-boarded the 27 on the 21st, was Boatswain Kreuger, but the submarine hadn’t improved. “I noticed air bubbles leaking out of the ballast tanks and I also know that the torpedo room was flooded because I looked through the eye port from the forward battery compartment. …right after I was up in the torpedo room the captain came aboard and found chlorine gas in the forward battery, which would indicate that the forward battery well was punctured.” [xv]

The torpedoes on S-27 were a double danger.  Though they were secured on their racks and within their tubes, per regulations, as 27 rolled and bashed herself apart, they could come loose from their racks and tubes, potentially leading to an explosion.

On the other hand, once abandoned, if the Japanese found S-27, and were able to salvage the torpedoes, they would know the capabilities of the American torpedoes.  Either way, there was little Jukes could do right now.

When 27 had first grounded, the torpedomen bled off some of the high pressure on the torpedoes.  Later, when saving herself looked impossible, they considered multiple ways to get the torpedoes off the boat, but 27’s unpredictable and violent thrashing made safe handling impossible. Even the four primed in the torpedo tubes could not be fired, in case they hit a rock too close and blew the boat herself apart. When evacuation had been ordered, the torpedo crew strapped down the tin fish in place, hoping for the best after rescue.  [xvi]

Now underwater, there was nothing to be done without a derrick, at the very least.

There was no messages, no help known coming.

Jukes decided to sleep the night on the shore camp, come back one more day, then abandon 27 completely for Constantine.

When he returned on June 22, with a couple other crewmen, 27 had disintegrated even further.  Plates could be heard rattling and striking against each other as she rolled: whole seams had popped open.  One of the crewmen noticed something ominous: the auxiliary intake valve over the battery compartment had popped open from its sealed seat.  The highly explosive chlorine gas in the punctured battery well had filled and pressurized the battery compartment and officer’s country over it. [xvii] She was an explosion waiting to happen.

The rest of the submarine, however, was still dry.  Landing was nearly impossible, since the seas freely broke across 27’s deck at the conning tower, the only place they could land.  Jukes made the call to seal each hatch and leave.

Jukes, Kreuger and the remaining men took the final supplies and headed to Constantine Harbor.

Now, it would be a waiting game.

 

Footnotes

 

[1] THE Previous, improperly coded message

[2] According to modern charts, the sunrise would have happened around 6:37 am.  However, this is by Hawaii time, the time zone Amchitka is geographically located in. The S-27 was likely using Alaska time zone for their record keeping, which may explain this discrepancy. (Sunrise and Set times, Amchitka Island, June 1944)

[3] Amchitka went through cycles of human habitation and abandonment. The village and church the 27’s came across had been founded in the 1850’s and vanished off the records after 1867.  Later, another village, the one the crew found, had been founded around 1925 to house the summer fox trapping population.   A Smithsonian expedition reached this abandoned village and took numerous photos of the archaeological expeditions around Amchikta in 1938

 

Sources Cited

[i] (US Navy Records, 1942)Appendix to Narrative: Messages Sent and Received.

[ii] Jukes, Harold; The Narrative of What Happened to s-27, pg. 4

[iii] the First and Last Patrol of S-27 (Herold, 1989)

[iv] Interview with George Herold and Harry Suomi, transcript, pg 8

[v] Testimony of Arthur Kesner, Investigation into the Loss of USS S-27, pgs. 24-25

[vi] Testimony of Lt. Frank Smith, Investigation into the Loss of USS S-27 , pg 5

[vii] Appendix to Narrative, Copies of Messages Sent and received on June 19, 1942, US Navy

[viii] Testimony of Boatswain Kreuger, Investigation into the Loss of S-27. Pgs17-22

g 17-22

[x] Testimony of Lt. Frank Smith, Investigation into the Loss of USS S-27, Pg. 5

[xi] Herold, George, the first and only patrol os SUS S-27, 1989

[xii] Deck Log, USS S0-27, 19 June, 1942

[xiii] Jukes, Herold, Narrative 1942

[xiv] Herold, George, the first and only patrol os SUS S-27, 1989

[xv] Testimony of Boatswain Kreuger, Investigation into the Loss of S-27, pgs 17-22

[xvi] Testimony of Lt Cmdr Herold Jukes, Investigation into the Loss of S-27. Pg 43

[xvii] Testimony of Boatswain Kreuger, Investigation into the Loss of S-27, pgs 17-22