Posts Tagged ‘Lost Submarine’

USS Amberjack: Lost around 16 February 1943

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 17 2014

The Amberjack sat on her building ways on December 7, 1941.  One of many planned submarines, she was soon finished, tested, commissioned and sent to the Pacific, where she and her sisters were, in many respects, the largest and most complete line of defense against the Japanese.

AMBERJACK just before her commissioning. navsource.org

Her first patrol was extremely successful for a new crew.  AMBERJACK’s commanding officer, John Archibald Bole, had commanded the S-21 before the war, but the AMBERJACK was one of the new fleet boats, will all the luxuries the S-boats lacked: air conditioning, clothes washers, refrigerated food storage, and a bunk for (almost) every man.  Amberjack, like her sisters, was also longer, wider, deeper diving, and farther ranging than the old S-boats.  Bole was expected, especially with the new unrestricted warfare declaration for the submarine force, to go deep in Japanese territory and bring the war to the enemy before the surface fleet could even start to refloat and recover.

Her first patrol was amazingly successful.  Leaving Pearl on 20 August, 1942, AMBERJACK headed for New Ireland and the Solomon Islands.  Three days in, she fired at her first target, but the torpedoes missed.  She didn’t miss her second chance, which came the next day, and broke the troop ship SHIROGANE MARU in two, sending her to the ocean’s floor.

Three weeks and two failed attack later (including AMBERJACK’s first thorough depth charge attack,) she fired two torpedoes at a coal freighter.  One blew the bow open, but the ship doggedly cdrive herself forward, trying to escape.  AMBERJACK took up the chase, with both vessels firing deck guns at each other an hour in.  The freighter hoped to scare off her hunter, the Amberjack tried to finish the job.  Both stayed too far out of range to do any damage.

The sun set, and AMBERJACK lost sight of her target.  The freighter may have breathed a sigh of relief.  But AMBERJACK’s new Radar system pinged the freighter 8,000 yards off the starboard bow.  AMBERJACK moved closer, startling the freighter, who zigged out of the way of AMBERJACK’s first shot.  Amberjack fired again, and caught her prey, the SENKAI MARU.  She sank, many of her crew evacuating on lifeboats for nearby Kavieng.

A few days later, lurking in Kavieng Harbor, AMBERJACK fired at four vessels sitting anchored, hitting and sinking the Tonen Maru II.  A whale (slaughter) factory ship now converted tanker, it sank to the bottom of the harbor…which was too shallow to fully engulf the TONEN.  Amberjack claimed her kill, believing the TONEN MARU too damaged to be used again.

(Indeed, five days later, the Allies, who had long since cracked the Japanese military’s secret codes, intercepted this message, which AMBERJACK included in her War Patrol Report:

Excerpt from War Patrol Report, First War Patrol, USS Amberjack, SS-219, page 18. From fold3.com. The Japanese eventually raised the TONEN MARU (II), and put her back to work. Submarine PINTADO put a permanent end to her on 22 August, 1944.

 

But now AMBERJACK was running into trouble.  She decided “it was not advisable to linger around” (you think?) and headed to sea.  But the calm seas betrayed her.  AMBERJACK’s ballast tanks had started to leak under the pressure of the patrol’s many attacks and counterattack, and streams of bubbles trickled out of ballast tanks #2 adn #6.  The planes guarding Kavieng Harbor tracked her down, dropping multiple depth charges, forcing AMBERJACK to stay down.  In addition, the attack periscope was broken and nearly useless, and sonar had been knocked completely out, renderning AMBERJACK deaf (and to a submarine, half-blind as well).

Bole decided to head for the nearest safe port, Espritu Santo Island.  While her own crew tried to repair her ballast tanks to get her safely to Australia, the Navy decided, “As long as you’re here, could you swing by…” AMBERJACK would transport aviation gas (in a modified fuel tank), bombs and fifteen pilots to Pacific battlefield Guadalcanal (and halfway there the Navy woudl say, “Wait, never mind, drop them off a Tulagi instead.” [1]

She returned to triumph at Brisbane, claiming three sinkings for her first patrol, a very respectable record.

Her second patrol was more disappointing.  No torpedoes hit their targets (this was during the time the Mark XIV torpedoes were proving they had multiple problems) and AMBERJACK had several close calls.  She returned to Brisbane on January 11, 1943, claiming no kills.

There was, however, an interesting surprise on this patorl, the morning of November 29, 1942.

Just south of Shortland Island, the AMBERJACK, patrolling submerged, saw a bizarre submarine.  Before the war, all navies kept records on the silhouettes and capabilities of other navy’s ships.  The Americans knew about the Japanese K and J type submarines (the submarines that acted as mother subs for the midget subs that attacked Pearl Harbor in conjunction with the airplanes on December 7, 1941. ) and had provided photographs and silhouettes of these submarines to American submarine crews.

But heading into Shortland’s south harbor, was a Japanese submarine AMBERJACK’s CO had never seen.   She was too far away to attack, and moved so fast, AMBERJACK soon gave up the chase, but she looked so different, the CO drew a picture, complete with labels to show the unusual aspects of the submarine, and included it in the War Patrol Report.  Here it is: Ship Contact #5, the strange submarine:

Taken from the Appendix of Second War Patrol, USS AMBERJACK, 1942-1943. from fold3.com. You can clearly see some of the unique aspects of what will later become known to the American's as a B-type Japanese Submarine. Image is larger, and more detailed. Click for larger copy.

As it would turn out, this was one of Japan’s newest submarines, the B1 Type submarine.  They were similar to the Gato-class submarine the American Navy was using, in that they were numerous and the workhorses of the Japanese Submarine Force.  But there were some interesting differences the Japanese were experimenting with.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/I-15.jpg?resize=584%2C148

The B1 type submarine (the I-15 in this case), which is the class of submarine AMBERJACK saws the morning of 29 November 1942. Wikipedia Commons.

 

That “island” in front of the conning tower?  That’s an airplane hanger for a small scouting plane, the Yokosuka E14Y1 Glen Seaplane, which was used for scouting missions.  AMBERJACK apparently wouldn’t see the collapsable airplane crane that was lashed to the foreward deck, and of course, the launching catapult was folded flush under the deck when the plane wasn’t in use.

How does a plane fit in there?  They were modular, and the wings were removed and stowed alongside the body.  This cross section, courtesy of this blog, shows how this submarine was put together.

Cross Section of a B1-type submarine, similar to the one spotted by AMBERJACK. From this blog

The B-type Japanese submarines were a really interesting bunch, and would accomplish a number of fascinating missions, including going to Europe, lifeguarding Japanese pilots…off Hawaii’s coast, and attacking the US Mainland (successfully).

The submarine AMBERJACK spotted that morning was likely the I-31, one of several submarines that were supplying the Japanese forces on Guadalcanal and other Solomon Island strongholds, by smuggling in men and supplies from Truck (Chuuk Atoll) to Guadalcanal, to Shortland Island, and back.  I-31 was the only Japanese submarine to dock at Shortland, coming from the southerly direction of Guadalcanal, as AMBERJACK reported.  I-31 was only 6 months old when she was spotted, and only had another six months or so to live.  On 12 May, 1943, while running cargo between Japanese installations on the Alaskan Islands of Attu and Kiska, she fired a torpedo at the American Battleship, PENNSYLVANIA, survivor of Pearl Harbor.   PENNSYLVANIA’s aerial escort dropped a smoke bomb to mark the submarine’s postition, and three nearby destroyers, the USS PHELPSUSS FARRAGUT ad USS EDWARDS hunted her down.  Ten hours of relentless cat-and-mouse-and-depth-charges later, the I-31 was forced to surface–and cut down by EDWARDS’s guns.  She sank in nearly 6,000 feet of water, and has not been discovered as of this date.

But all of that was in the future, and AMBERJACK, who spotted the strange new submarine I-31 that morning, had a shorter lifespan than the sub she’d just reported.

AMBERJACK’s third patrol was her final one, and what she did was pieced together by the Navy afterward.

She left Brisbane on January 26, 1943, to once again patrol the Solomon Islands and provide support for the ongoing Guadalcanal Campaign.  The JApanese were frantically evacuating over 117,000 troops from Guadalcanal, and using submarines as cover.  AMBERJACK’s mission would have involved reconnaissance in addition to “unrestricted warfare” (i.e. “If it flies a Japanese Flag and you can get a good shot, SINK IT!” On February 3, she radioed base, reporting that she’d made contact with a Japanese submarine south of Shortland Island (again) on Feb 1 (Was likely the I-9 running between Guadalcanal and Shortland, arriving at Shortland that day), and sunk a two masted schooner on the 3rd. The next day, the 4th, she radioed home to say she had hit a freighter, which as apparently carrying a large supply of explosives, with the results one would expect from blowing apart an explosives-laden freighter.

This sinking inspired this painting "Night Battle" by E.V. Vandos. Part of the Naval History Department. From navsource.org

However, in the process, A Lt. Stern was hit in the hand from gunfire from the freighter’s crew.  When Pharmacist’s Mate Arthur Beeman ran to help the Lt., he was hit and killed.

The next day, she radioed to report that after her last report, she’d been chased and forced down by two determined Japanese destroyers.  On surfacing, AMBERJACK discovered a Japanese Aviator floating in the sea.  His plane had come down, and AMBERJACK took him aboard, intending to bring him back to Brisbane.  (Apparently) in response to HQ’s question, AMBERJACK decided they did not need to replace their Pharmacist’s mate immediately, and would finish out their patrol.

It was the last message AMBERJACK ever sent.

For three week, HQ sent message after message to AMBERJACK, telling her to move here, or there, or perform reconnaissance on various islands.  AMBERJACK never responded, but this wasn’t unusual: submarine CO’s were allowed to not respond if they felt the chance the Japanese would intercept a radio message and use it to track down a submarine was higher than the value of responding to a simple “move here”, message.  But on March 5, with AMBERJACK’s scheduled patrol winding down, HQ ordered her to respond and check in.

No response.

Five more days passed, and AMBERJACK was due to arrive in port.  Submarines were supposed to radio ahead with an ETA so the various aerial and sea patrols did not attack and sink a friendly submarine returning from patrol.  AMBERJACK never showed.

The Navy decided that she must have been lost sometime after Valentine’s Day, 1943. The families would have to be told.

Then, fifteen days later, on March 25, military intelligence, still reading Japan’s “encrypted” radio messages, intercepted and decrypted a notification that proved to be AMBERJACK’s final chapter.  She’d been lost on February 16, two days after her final message.  The message, as it now appears in AMBERJACK’s file, appears below:

Taken from "Report of the Loss of AMBERJACK". From hnsa.org

AMBERJACK’s loss was publicly announced around 13 June, 1943, nearly four months after her loss.

In honor of AMBERJACK and her lost crew, AMBERJACK’s name was given to a new, planned TENCH-class submarine.  Completed after the war, AMBERJACK (II) had a long and successful career during the Cold War.  Eventually, she was sold to Brazil, who changed her name to the Ceara.  I cannot find any publicly available documentation about AMBERJACK (II)’s disposition, so it is possible that she is still around somewhere in Brazil’s Naval dockyards.

AMBERJACK (II) following her GUPPY conversion ca. 1947-1948. navsource.org

 

In the 1970’s a memorial to AMBERJACK and her lost crew was erected in Charleston, South Carolina.

 

The Amberjack Memorial as it currently appears in Charleston, South Carolina. Image courtesy of Ted Kerwin, flickr.com. Creative Commons attribution license.

 

To date, her wreck has not been found or documented.

To the crew of the AMBERJACK, “May you rest your oars, sailor”.  And Thank You.

For more information:

On Eternal Patrol’s Page honoring AMBERJACK’s lost crew

 

[1] Tulagi is a small island just north of Guadalcanal, which the Marines had taken after a one-day battle the August 7, earlier that year.  It also was the base to a PT-boat contingent, including one PT-109 and it’s soon to be commander, a young John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

 

 

 

Flier Investigation Concluded

Uncategorized, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Oct 08 2010

Dello Russo was up next.  Now due to whatever reason, his name was always listed in James D. Russo, in all the records.  His last name was properly Dello Russo, but he wasn’t permitted to list that apparently.  Thankfully, a sharp researcher in Grand Haven figured out his real last name, allowing us to track down his family in time for the memorial.  As a youth, Dello Russo loved to swim to the various islands around the Boston area, which accounts for his ability to swim for the islands.  In fact, he beat everyone to the shore, and was the only person to make it without hanging onto a floating piece of bracken for support.

But I digress.

Dello Russo’s testimony was brief.  As Quartermaster, his job was the drive the submarine from the helm.  Unlike a surface ship, which usually had windows in the room where the steering was done, a submarine is driven blind.  The Quartermaster has to steer based on the angles of the gyroscope and a great deal of trust with the navigator and radar and sonar teams.  All Dello Russo was essentially asked (beyond “Name, Rank, Station”) was where he was located that night.  At the helm.  In the Conning Tower.  That was it.

Donald Tremaine was the last man up for questioning.  I’ve always found Tremaine to be interesting if only because he is nearly a complete cipher.  I’ve never been able to find out anything about him, outside of the fact that he was on the Flier and was assigned to the Maryland during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Anything and everything else is a complete matter of speculation, and when I tried to research him, I got a quick and painful research lesson in just how many “Don(ald) Tremaine”s live in the USA.  But I don’t even have a photo of him, he was the only survivor in no condition to be photographed that day on the Redfin.

Tremaine was a Fire Controlman, which made him an essential part of maintaining, repairing and operating all weapons systems aboard Flier. Tremaine stated that the night Flier went down, he was in the Conning Tower as a part of the Radar Tracking Party in case they made contact.  If I’ve done my research correctly, that means that he was likely standing at the TDC (Torpedo Data Computer-an analog computing system that helped submarines perform the trigonometry needed to aim torpedoes.) that night.  And that was all.

Last up was Lt. Liddell.  After Crowley, Liddell had the most on the line, since he could potentially be held responsible if he hadn’t navigated correctly and allowed Flier to stray into dangerous waters.

He was questioned closely, the investigators wanting to know when was the last fix taken by stars, landmarks, the last reading on the azimuth, how often did he take depth soundings, radar fixes, and on and on.  Judging from his responses, he was a highly skilled navigator, and his skill stood the interrogation.

The strangest part of the tale is simply that when Liddlel and Crowley planned their route that evening, there were two reasons why they did not follow the Crevalle’s route precisely, when that was the route HQ sent them to help them safely transverse Balabac.  The first was Crevalle was heading north, not west, which meant that Flier would have to take a wide arc out of their way to match her track precisely.  But more importantly, Crevalle tracked very close to a pair of reefs, which were clearly shown on the map.  That was too close for comfort for Crowley and Liddell, and they decided to put more distance between Flier and those reefs, which would have been easily mineable.  Today’s charts, however, clearly show that the ocean floor drops steeply down near the reefs and comes up gradually near Comiran Island.  Liddell and Crowley tried to keep her as safe as they could, but this time, her luck ran out.

The remaining portions of the investigation/trial are detailed, and interesting, but maybe only to me.  There was a lot of questioning of Admiral Christie’s staff from this point forward, about intelligence gathering, known Japanese mines, how was information gathered and relayed to submarine COs, the risks of Natsubata Channel verses the other channels in the strait, on and on and on.  They even covered the history of Robalo’s CO, and called in the temporary COs of Robalo and Flier (these men were the CO while the real COs were on R&R and who remained onboard during all of the training sessions prior to patrol departure to observe the training and the abilities of the crews) to inquire how the crew and CO worked together, and how prepared the crews of these lost boats might or might not have been.

The conclusions reached by the investigation was that Flier and Robalo both had been given the best information possible, but their loss was officially attributed to “the fortunes of war”.  Both Admiral Christie and Commander Crowley were absolved of all fault regarding the loss of these boats and their crews, but Admiral Christie’s career had reached its zenith.  Shortly after this investigation, for unknown reasons, he was assigned to a new post: overseeing the Naval Yard in Bremerton Washington.  This sort of assignment was often given to admirals who were on their way to retirement, and despite the fact that four submarines (Flier, Robalo, Harder and USS Seawolf, sunk on 3 October in one of the few friendly fire incidents of WWII–carrying 17 Army Special Forces aboard) had been recently lost out of Fremantle, Christie had a good record of safety and support of his submarine crews.

It is possible that Christie simply got shuffled around in the normal rotation of things, but, while there are no written records, and no one willing to go on record, there were rumors that Christie may have been on the receiving end of some other admirals’ displeasure for the clean slate given to Christie and Crowley.  It’s also interesting to note that Admiral Daubin, the presiding officer, was also shortly relieved of the command of Atlantic Submarines (at which he also had been doing a laudable job) and moved to oversee the Naval Yard at New York.

Who knows?

But now the Navy had to sit and wait.  There were rumors of at least four survivors of the Robalo. Four men, Ensign Samuel Tucker, Signalman Wallace Martin, Quartermaster Floyd Laughlin, and Electrician’s Mate Mason Poston, had dropped a note from their Puerto Princesa prison cell on August 2, which had been smuggled out to the Allies.  Their current whereabouts were unknown.  There were also seven survivors of Flier who potentially could have swam to other islands and be living as castaways or captured.  In addition, Flier was believed to be in 40-50 fathoms of water (240-300 feet of water).  All submariners are trained to escape out of a disabled submarine at that depth, so if some of the Fliers had survived the crash into the seafloor and could reach the escape hatches, is was possible that more might surface after the war.  There was no way to tell.

But the families were going to have to be told something…

This particular Submarine Escape Training Tower is located in New London Connecticut at the Subamarine School. Every man was required to escape from the bottom of it to the top, learning how to use the various escape equipment. So it was possible, not likely, but possible, that other Fliers might have found their way to the surface after the Flier came to rest on the bottom. It would have been a potentially lethal and nearly impossible ascent, but with eight men already proving the impossible could happen, the Navy was willing to leave that door open for now.

RIP USS Triton

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 16 2010

Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve updated.  I’ve been away from home, traveling and interviewing for the book, and visiting family since they live in the area.  It kept me away for a bit.  This entry was supposed to be posted yesterday, March 15, but I’ll post it here today.

Sixty-six years ago today, the USS Redfin and the USS Robalo sat again in Fremantle, the threat of imminent invasion over.  The Tenders returned from Albany, and shipping resumed its normal pattern.   The Flier of course, is still being repaired in Mare Island for another month.

The Redfins continued their training getting ready for their departure in a few days, and the Robalos were released again to R&R.

It was also the first anniversary of the loss of the USS Triton.

The USS Triton was a new submarine on December 7, 1941.  She was patrolling around Wake Island (which, due to the International Date Line, it was actually December 8 ) and saw smoke rising.  The crew thought little of it, believing it was more construction, until they heard a radio transmission that night telling them Wake was under attack and to stay out of range of the shore guns lest she be mistaken for an enemy submarine and fired upon.  Her first war patrol started at that moment, and over the next few days, she evaded enemy ships and nearly sank one.

The USS Triton coming to dock in Dutch Harbor Alaska on 16 July 1942. Taken from navsource.org

The six patrols Triton completed took her to nearly every corner of the Pacific:  she tracked destroyers in Alaska, guarded the corridor between Wake and Midway Island, sank ships in the East China Sea, and called Pearl Harbor and Brisbane Australia home.

On March  15, 1943, the Triton, operating near, but not with, the Trigger, apparently attacked a convoy of ships.  Trigger also attacked a convoy, quite possibly the same one.  (These convoys, if they were large, could cover many square miles of ocean each.)  Trigger was thoroughly depth charged, but after it was all over, could hear three destroyers continually bombarding a distant patch of ocean for another hour.  The Triton was never heard from again, and vanished with all 74 hands.

After the war, Japanese records revealed that this convoy bombed an area near where Triton was patrolling until an oil slick and debris bearing American markings floated to the surface.  This was considered sufficient proof  that Triton was destroyed.  She has never been found.

The USS Triton page on On Eternal Patrol