71 years ago today.
70 years ago that Flier, still a new boat, hit a floating mine and sank in seconds, taking more than 70 souls with her the the bottom of the Balabac Strait.
In only seconds, still running full speed and listing to her wounded starboard, she collided with the stony floor, crushing and twisting her bow, until it fell.
Her six torpedo tubes, and the keel, running along Flier’s back, slammed into the ocean’s floor, yanking her to a stop.
Her stern, still driving the Flier forward, bent the upper part of Flier’s superstructure, between frames 10 and 15. The torpedo tubes, solid brass, held the lower hull. but the upper superstructure cracked and broke under the compression.
The stern, still several feet above the seafloor, dropped. Based on the side-scan sonar, the force of the stern landing may have flattened Flier’s pressure hull.
During the construction of the USS Flier exhibit at the Silversides Submarine Museum in Muskegon, I had the honor of being able to view the raw footage that Mike and Warren Fletcher brought back from the Flier when they investigated it (I was the museum’s historical consultant for the Flier exhibit). It’s over an hour of footage, which revealed more than YAP was able to display in the dive Detectives: Submarine Graveyard episode.
Several things popped out at me–the debris field on the starboard side, and several former vertical struts for Flier’s wire rails are all pointed to the starboard. The superstructure was torn off with force. When you look at the wrecks of the Lagarto and Wahoo, two sisters of Flier, the teak decking has rotted and fallen in large areas, but the steel scaffolding beneath the wood deck remains intact and vertical. On Flier, the entire superstructure, including steel scaffolding, is gone. What parts of the formerly vertical scaffolding remains is savagely bent to the right forward of the fairwater.
The debris field is extensive on the starboard side. I cannot speak to the port side, since the filming that the Fletchers did on the port side did not focus enough on the portside floor to see a significant field.
On the starboard side, Flier’s landing blew an impact ditch into the ocean floor. On the crest of the ditch the superstructure landed. There are large chunks, but there were several small chunks of superstructure. To be honest, it looks shattered–several pieces that had limber holes (in Flier’s case, the half-moon shaped holes along the bottom of the superstructure forward of the fairwater) are torn so you can only see a portion of one or two holes.
There are parallel horizontal stress cracks running along Flier’s starboard hull–not surprising.
She has a small, square hole between frames 38 and 39–just before her bilge keep begins. This appears to be stress related.
The most startling thing to me, however, was two things the Fletchers captured on tape.
One was a look inside the control room, while the Fletchers were documenting the blast site. While they never penetrated the Flier herself, as is tradition out of respect for the Flier’s crew, the camera did glimpse right into the control room. I diagrammed out where Main Air Manifold pipes, the wiring, and what I believe is a glimpse of the General Quarters alarm. These were traced over stills from the raw footage, because I do not have the permission to show any of the raw footage, including stills, and I respect YAP’s copyright.
The most startling thing, however, was where the two forward ready-ammunition lockers ended up…on top of each other, starboard of the Flier, buried in the sand. These things held 10 four inch shells EACH, and were welded to the Flier’s forward gun platform in front of the bridge. That they ended up there, shows how hard she hit bottom. The two heavy missiles broke free of their framing and launched clear over the side of the boat.
Yet, the ready ammo locker on her portside aft fairwater, remains–though it is now wedged between the engine room air intake and one of the pipes going back to the engine rooms…these are frequently broken as well. It’s a puzzling wreck in many ways, but one thing if for sure, when she hit, she hit violently.
All in all, the raw footage gave me a lot to think about. I wish I could explain it all here, but as we are going through some personal changes in our lives at the moment, this project got put to one side. I would rather wait and debut it at a later date properly, than make a flurried and poor attempt now. I will continue to sketch and draw and see if I can get permission to show some stills from the Fletcher’s dives, but I also highly recommend the episode crafted around this dive and exploration: Dive Detectives, Submarine Graveyard. It is available on iTunes.