Today, sixty-six years ago, the Robalos have reported back to duty aboard the Robalo. This is when the Navy would remove some of the experienced hands to be reassigned to new boats, submarine repair ships, or back to the US for a new submarine construction. Two men at least were removed: John Wayne Philpot, MoMM1c who transferred to USS Hammerhead, and Jerome Cole Wareheim, who transferred to the Guitarro. I don’t know how many men transferred aboard Robalo, but one name I do have: Kimball Elwood Graham, formerly of USS Redfin. They will start their training runs in preparation for their third patrol.
Redfin, having dropped off her Special Mission at Ramos Island, is patrolling the southern Sulu Sea and already has seen some action. On the 11th, she damaged a tanker, and took 6 depth charges from her escort, but didn’t sink her. On the 13th, they sighted two convoys, both large and well armed. The morning convoy was made up of two heavy cruisers, four destroyers and a torpedo boat. The afternoon convoy was immense. It was made up of 6 Aircraft Carriers, 4 Battleships, 5 Heavy Cruisers, 1 Light Cruiser and 2 Destroyers. The usual course for convoys was to zig-zag along their way to make it more difficult for submarines to target them, but both these convoys were very far away and steering a very radical, erratic course, so the Redfin could not catch up nor calculate their course with enough accuracy to race ahead of them for an end-around attack. Some of the crew were somewhat relieved since, with that many heavy warships, they were sure to receive a thorough pounding. The Redfin radioed the convoy’s position in, and later discovered that these ships were on their way to the Marianas, and took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea five days later.
Today, Flier is emerging from her second scrape with a convoy and heading down around the southern coast of Luzon Island. On the afternoon of June 13, 1944, Flier spotted a convoy headed straight for them. They were coming on strong with little zig or zag to their course, and as it ended up, one column of the convoy passed in front of their bow, and the other passed her stern. It was a near-perfect setup to fire a quick spread of ten torpedoes and head for the deep.
Except while the convoy was coming, Flier’s stern planes failed, likely causing her to lost control of her depth for several minutes. Here they are in the path of a major convoy and they can’t even keep her level. Under depth charge attack, if they couldn’t keep her under control she could easily slip below her crushs depth and implode.
After several minutes, they fixed the stern planes just in enough time to target the two lead ships crossing their bow. They fired a spread of four torpedoes from the stern, then swung the periscope around to discover the lead ship was passing in less than 300 feet away from the bow, so close that Flier herself would be caught in the concussion if she attempted to launch torpedoes, so started to re-aim for the next ships. Two explosions from the first wave went off, and heard two hits off their first wave. It was going to be a successful trip.
Suddenly, an order was mis-heard and Flier was “ducked” and the periscope went beneath the water. The Sonar heard the escorts converging on the Flier, and the men abandoned the attack and dove deep. It was a heavily armed convoy, headed for Manila and spared no punishment. For five hours, Flier was pounded with over one hundred depth charges, a record at that point. Since Flier had been patrolling down the coast of Luzon, they were effectively pinned between the escorts and freighters on the sea-side and the coast on the other.
They became creative. The Escorts would pound a few depth charges, then pull away to run their active sonar and find them. Once they figured out where Flier was hiding, they ran at the spot and dropped several more depth charges.
But surface ships have a dead zone for their sonar, that extended all the way around their ship a could of hundred feet. The moment the escorts’ engines started up and converged on Flier, the wash from their engines and the dead zone created an opportunity for Flier to dash beneath or between her hunters and run to safety, then stop, and wait for the escorts to find them again. Itw as a dangerous game of cat and mouse that Flier played to the limits of her ability. Al Jacobson records that at one point they were so close to their hunters passing overhead that they could clearly hear the swish of the propellors as they shook Flier as they passed just feet overhead.
It was miserable inside the Flier. They were conserving all of their energy for the engines and shsut off the air conditioning. In the warm, tropical waters, Flier quickly heated, and water condensed on every metal surface of the Flier and the men broke out in heavy sweats in a futile effort to cool themselves off.
After five hours, the escorts herded their charges south to Manila and Flier was unable to keep up, so they surfaced to re-start the battery charges.
Al reports that they had been trapped underwater for so long that when he opened the bridge hatch and stepped out into the fresh air, the air actually smelled bad!
One more ship added to Flier’s count. Three ships in a patrol was becoming a rare feat in 1944. Crowley and his crew were rapidly redeeming Flier’s reputation.
* As a side note, following the war, this sunken ship was not given to Flier’s score. Flier’s account and the Japanese records did not match sufficiently enough to give her the credit. There were many reasons for why this happened, and maybe I’ll go through them at another time.