Posts Tagged ‘Rock Bannister’

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