Archive for the ‘Lost Subs’ Category

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

The Concealed Loss of the S-27, Part 1

Lost Subs, Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 19 2016

June 19, 1942.

Taken before the war, the S-27 was an old 1920's boat. I particularly like the laundry hung out to dry in this photograph. By 1942, of course, that sort of thing was forbidden in enemy waters. Pic from wikipedia.

Taken before the war, the S-27 was an old 1920’s boat. I particularly like the laundry hung out to dry in this photograph. By 1942, of course, that sort of thing was forbidden in enemy waters. Pic from wikipedia.

It was foggy and overcast, further darkening the long twilight that passed for night in summertime Alaska. Little is worse than being cold and damp through.   High on the bridge of submarine S-27, Robert Shirah from Hawkinsville, Georgia, and Stanley Jorgenson from Chicago Illinois, flanked the Officer of the Deck, Theodore Kreuger[1], shivering through their lookout duties.  They didn’t bother with the usual binoculars as they strained their eyes to see through the soup.  In this haze, the lenses fogged over within moments.

S-27 was using the precious six hours of night to run on the surface and charge her batteries.  She was five miles south of the Alaskan island called Amchitka, and as soon as the sun rose, she’d be heading to the island of Kiska, just fifty miles away.  The Japanese had swept through Attu and Kiska two weeks earlier, landing with no resistance. S-27’s job was to see how many troops were invading, and where they had dug in.  Perhaps, even, discover what had happened to the villages and installations out there.

Things were running as usual for this time of day. About half of S-27’s officers were asleep, including her Captain and First Officer. And, as was also usual, the captain had left orders for the night watches. S-27 was to lay to, drifting on the open sea, while both of 27’s engines charged her batteries.  At twenty years old, the submarine had half of the engines the now-standard fleet subs did, and frequently, every minute of the arctic nights were needed to charge her batteries for the long days ahead.

But not tonight. At 12:45 am, less than an hour after reporting for the watch, Kreuger received word that the battery was nearly charged, well ahead of normal schedule.  Kreuger then followed the next set of orders: One engine was left charging, and the other engaged the props.  S-27, five miles from the nearest land, turned to course three-zero-five[2] at two-thirds speed, a whopping six knot crawl[3].[i]  By dawn, everyone expected to leave sight of Amchitka’s south-western shore, assuming the sun could burn its way through the mist in time.  As it was, S-27 slowly nosed her way through threads of grey fog floating over a nearly-black sea, under a darkly clouded sky.  No landmarks, no stars, no radio signals, no sonar…the S-27 was, for a few more moments, utterly blind.

Up above, Jorgenson saw a darker patch of fog just ahead of S-27. Seconds later, he realized it was a rock!

He called a warning to the Officer of the Deck, who hollered below “Left Full Rudder, come to course two-two-five-true[4] and report to the captain that I think I have sighted land on the starboard bow and am changing course…“ Seconds later Jorgenson called “…breakers twenty-five yards forward!” They were close enough to see waves striking the rocks, even in the haze! Krueger ordered, “Back Emergency!” and sounded the collision alarm. [ii]

My take on those last moments before she hit the rocks. Author's own work.

My take on those last moments before she hit the rocks. Author’s own work.

It was already too late.  Caught in a current they didn’t know existed, S-27 slammed into a submerged rock, lifted on a swell, and crashed down in a rocky cradle.  With each surge of water, S-27 torqued and groaned, pounding her props, and wrenching at her hull’s seams.

Bleary-eyed from the sleep he’d just been yanked out of,  S-27’s new commander, Lt. Cmdr. Harold Jukes, climbed onto the bridge.  In the past few seconds, everything had changed. Trapped on the coldest front line of the Pacific War with forty-two souls under his command, Jukes had to make a number of decisions to keep his men alive in an environment none of them had trained for.

 

The Forgotten Front Line: Alaska

 

By June 1942, the Pacific War was going well for Japan.  In the 48 hours after Pearl Harbor, they’d attacked Midway Island, Wake Island, Manila, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.  Japan, a nation that had few of the natural resources needed to wage a modern war, now had access to rubber, copper and iron mines, oil wells, food and labor.

But the shocking expansion of the Japanese Empire (called the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”) hadn’t done what Japan had hoped: Australia and America hadn’t capitulated and sued for peace, they’d stood and gathered themselves to fight back.  In April, just four months after Pearl, the Americans had bombed Tokyo itself, shocking the Japanese people. [5]

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbor, had gone to school, lived, and worked in the USA.  He knew the Americans were not yet fighting hard. He knew it took time to repair damaged ships, train the thousands of new recruits rushing to sign up, and re-orient the US economy to war rather than commerce.  There was a still small window of opportunity left before Japan’s limitations would become liabilities, and Yamamoto formed a three-pronged attack.

To the south, Japan advanced through the Solomon Islands, determined to cut Australia off from direct routes to the New World and reinforcements.  Any help coming from the Old World already had to come through U-Boat infested waters.  Isolated, with most of her military-aged men already gone fighting for King and Country in Africa, Australia would be quarantined and contained.

A little skirmish called “the Battle of the Coral Sea” put an end to this leg of the plan.  Still, Australia was somewhat isolated, and the Japanese troops had good footings on islands like Guadalcanal.  It wasn’t a complete loss…

MAp of Japan empire

In the center of the Pacific, the Japanese moved to complete their attack on Midway Island.  Pearl Harbor was too well defended and stocked now.  But Midway, small and lightly used, would push Japan’s front lines within easy reach of Pearl, locking the Americans on their side of the ocean.  Unfortunately for the Japanese, their secret codes had already been broken, and the American Aircraft Carriers would be there to meet them.

And in the north, the Japanese would pounce on Attu and Kiska Islands in the Alaskan Aleutian Chain.  Seizing these islands would secure the Northern Great Pacific Routes, the sea traffic lanes which could have allowed the Americans to send supplies to still-(technically)-neutral Russia, and from there to China, Japan’s enemy. As long as Japan held these islands, they could keep America and Canada in place and even launch attacks on west coasts of Alaska, Canada and America.

June 3 arrived, and the attacks at Midway and Alaska opened.  Carriers and troop transports waiting to attack Attu and Kiska launched an attack on Dutch Harbor, the largest western Alaskan port in the Aleutians.  This attack may have been more a distraction to keep any Alaskan-based troops in the north, rather than running south to assist the Battle for Midway as that started.

Then, to the Japanese, the unthinkable happened: in two days of heavy fighting at Midway, led by their brand new monster battleship Yamato, they…lost.  Not just lost, but lost four aircraft carriers, the pilots, maintenance crews, and all their experience along with.  It was a fatal blow, not just at Midway, but to their arena of the war, even with four more years to come.

Many modern historians believe the Aleutians Campaign was supposed to have started the same day as Midway, but for some reason, there was a delay.  On June 7, the six month anniversary of Pearl Harbor, while America celebrated the victory at Midway, the Japanese quietly landed on Kiska and Attu Islands, formally invading the United States, and taking prisoners.[6]

The news of the invasion was mostly kept from the mainland.  It would only cause panic, and it was mostly subsumed beneath the news of Midway’s victory anyway.  Still, Japanese troops on American soil would have to be dealt with.

S-27, along with several other sister subs, arrived at Dutch Harbor Alaska a week after Midway, on June 12.  These old subs had been assigned to help re-take these islands through recon and sentry duty.  Dutch Harbor was still obviously damaged from the earlier Japanese attack. 17-year-old George Harold from New Jersey, remembered the pier S-27 pulled in at:

“…the pier we tied up to had taken a direct hit with a small bomb. You had to be careful where you put your feet or into the drink you went.” [iii]

 

This photo, found at this website months ago (it appears to be removed) may have been the exact pier Harrold recalled decades later.

This photo, found at this website months ago (it appears to be removed) may have been the exact pier Harrold recalled decades later.

 

Summer in Dutch Harbor area was wet and muddy.  Herold saw “…boards for sidewalks and lots of mud…a wooden roller rink and some Aleutian kids skating on it.”[iv]

S-27 had just hours to take on supplies, fuel, and the new charts of the Aleutians she would now be patrolling before setting out again.

Seen attached to its original identifying record, this photograph shows an S-boat in Dutch Harbor taken about a month before this incident. US Navy Photo

Seen attached to its original identifying record, this photograph shows an S-boat in Dutch Harbor taken about a month before this incident. US Navy Photo

Her mission:  inspect the Aleutians, especially Amchika Island, the next island east of Kiska, to see if the Japanese had advanced there, before proceeding to recon Kiska.  The military had to know if the Japanese were consolidating their gains or advancing as fast as possible through the Alaskan islands. At Kiska, S-27 would three other sister S-submarines patrolling various sectors too.

The summer days this far north are eighteen hours long, and the S-27, working in assumed enemy territory, had to patrol submerged during the day, and charge her batteries on the surface during the short night.

S-27 reached Amchitka on 18 August and inspected the old Constantine Harbor with their periscope.  The Japanese had bombed the small evacuated community there, flattening half the structures (three) but leaving the rest, including the old Russian Orthodox Church, still standing.  There were no other signs of Japanese troops.

From here, Jukes had two routes to head west for Kiska: either go around Amchitka to the north, or the south.  Along Amchitka’s northern shore was Rat Island, Little Sitkin Island, and  Semisopochnoi Island.  Scuttlebutt said Semisopochnoi was where the Japanese were building an advance base, which would include a radio, and air patrols.  All of these would limit S-27’s movements and escape options.  So Jukes took his crew south before heading west, where in an emergency, he could head south to unobstructed deep water.[v]

 

The Fatal Fog

The charts of Amchitka and the Aleutians the crew of S-27 had were the most up to date available, as were the tide tables, but there was still insufficient information[vi].  Every night, Jukes ordered his submarine to set a course at least five miles from the nearest land whenever she surfaced for a night’s battery charge.[vii]  It was no different on this night.   S-27 started her engines, but not her props, and “Laid To” during the charge.  This meant that the S-27 was stationary (or so they thought) during the charge period, so both her engines could charge the batteries as quickly as possible.

The currents in the Aleutians are strange, and unusual.  The most experienced of Alaska’s navigators and captains know the currents change based on the tides, the moon phase, amount and movement of ice and icebergs in the water, among many other factors[viii]. With few tide tables to guide him, Jukes had manually tested the currents all the morning…they mostly registered at 1 to 2 knots, heading in various directions as they moved around Amchitka, but nothing strong, and at five miles south of Amchitka, there seemed to be no real current at all.  Jukes, confident that S-27 would be sufficiently far from land in case of the normal currents they’d encountered earlier, left orders to wake him if trouble or land was spotted.

The night watch began.

However, after the fog rolled in, S-27 drifted into a strong current, heading northwest.

In an era before GPS, ships at sea could navigate through the sun’s position or the stars.

Unless it was overcast.

They could use Direct Reckoning, calculating position based on landmarks.

Unless those landmarks are lost in fog.

They could have used sonar to map the ocean’s floor and find the shoals.

If it didn’t give away their position to the nearby enemy.

They could use radar.

If they had it.  They didn’t. [ix]

They could use the fathometer, to measure the depth of water beneath the hull to keep out of shallow waters surrounding islands.

If they had that, which they didn’t either.  They did have a lead weight on a string if they needed to measure depth.  But the waves had been washing over the deck during the night as the 27 charged her batteries, making such measurements too dangerous for any crewman. [x]

Everyone trusted their earlier measurements of little to no detectable currents, and the distance from any land to protect them, as it always had before.

But at some point, the S-27 moved into a fast current that pushed her, quickly, smoothly, five miles off course.  When the battery was charged, Kreuger gave the order to set the pre-ordered course. The fog gave only seconds of warning.  Now, the S-27 was hopelessly trapped and taking on water.

After sending a distress call to any and all US Navy vessels in the area, asking for a tow off the rocks, Jukes set his men to work doing what they could to save themselves.

For a couple of hours, they tried to back her over the rocks.  Releasing the ballast water and even most of her fuel, only made S-27   more unstable.  George Herold, in his bunk in the Forward Torpedo Room, had been jolted awake in the crash.  Now, as 27 rolled and twisted, his friend Nelly[7] said, “Are we on railroad tracks or something?” [xi]

27’s starboard prop crashed into a rock as she rolled in the surf.  It was soon smashed beyond use. The only remaining prop, on her portside, proved it could not power the boat over the rocks back to deep water.

 

3:30 am: About three hours after grounding, Jukes and his crew hadn’t heard a word from the outside world.  S-27 was still water tight, but as the foul weather and swells continued, she took tremendous, ongoing abuse.  Short of help arriving before dawn, S-27’s riveted hull probably wouldn’t make it.   With no radio interceptions at all from the outside world, they all silently faced the fact rescue was unlikely.

The crew of the S-27 was on their own.

 

Part two coming soon…

Taken from the official naval investigation of the incident, this is the S-27 trapped on Amchitka's shore.

Taken from the official naval investigation of the incident, this is the S-27 trapped on Amchitka’s shore.  From this perspective, her bow on the left, hidden behind the rock, and her stern, raised out of the water, is on the right.

Footnotes

[1] I was unable to find Kreuger’s hometown with certainty.  If anyone knows it, please let me know, I’d love to include it.   His place of last enlistment was San Diego in 1936, but many sailors, (including about a quarter of S-27’s crew) re-upped in San Diego.  If the ’36 enlistment was a re-enlistment, that’s most likely not his hometown.

[2] Approximately west north-west.

[3] Not quite 7 mph

[4] Southwest

[5] This is now known as “The Dolittle Raid”

[6] In the aftermath of the Aleutian invasion, many native Aleut populations were evacuated from the Aleutian Islands. By some accounts, people were forcibly resettled, mostly to camps on the Alaskan Panhandle. However, it was too late for the two small settlements on Attu and Kiska. A village of around 45 people on Attu, including 15 children, and the hired schoolmaster and his wife, were captured.  The schoolteacher, Charles Jones, did not survive the invasion, though whether he committed suicide to prevent capture, or was shot by soldiers is still unclear.  His wife, Etta, was separated from the others and shipped to Japan, where she would remain until repatriation in October 1945. In September 1942, as the Japanese mostly left Attu to consolidate Kiska against the incoming American invasion, the remaining Aleut Attu residents were taken to a POW or work camp in Hokkaido, where they spent the rest of the war digging pottery clay for the Japanese war effort.   Sixteen died.  When the survivors returned to the USA and Alaska, after the war, they were not allowed, due to small population, to return to Attu. Attu is uninhabited. [6]

On Kiska, ten American servicemen forming a weather detachment, were also captured.  (One managed to escape and hide for 50 days, before he surrendered, starving and cold.)  Between the Japanese and American efforts, the Aleutians were vacant from Dutch Harbor to the Russian line, allowing either military to build or reinforce the islands.  ( Merrit and Fuller, The Environment of Amchitka, pgs. 120-125)

[7] This is likely Fireman, Second Class Roe D Nelson, from Kansas City, MO

 

References:

[i] Testimony of Theodore Kreuger, Investigation into the loss of S-27, pg 14

[ii] (Jukes, 1942)pg. 3

[iii] Herold, George, the Loss of USS S-27; Commander Submarine Force, US Pacific Fleet

[iv] ibid

[v] Jukes, 1942, Pg. 1-2

[vi] Testimony of Lt. Cmdr Carl Anderson, investigation into the loss of S-27

[vii] Jukes, 1942, Pg. 1-2

[viii] Testimony of Lt. Cmdr Carl Anderson, Investigation into the loss of S-27

[ix] The above limitations of s-27’s capabilities drawn from Testimony of Lt. Frank Smith, investigation into the Loss of S-27, pgs 4 – 17

[x] Testimony of Boatswain Kreuger, Investigation into the Loss of S-27 pgs. 14- 22

[xi] Herold, George, The The Silent Service in WWII , pg 51

 

The Wreck of the USS Flier

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 13 2015

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.

 

Traced and drawn over three stills from the raw footage brought back by Mike and Warren Fletcher working with YAP Films, this shows what I believe to be a glimpse into the Flier's Control Room shot from a low angle near the ceiling.

Traced and drawn over three stills from the raw footage brought back by Mike and Warren Fletcher working with YAP Films, this shows what I believe to be a glimpse into the Flier’s Control Room shot from a low angle near the ceiling.

Main Air Manifold Pipes detail

Taken aboard the USS Silversides, my old boat when I was curator/archivist/exhibit designer, these are the main air manifold pipes which I traced in green above.

Silversides Periscope Well

Also taken from the Silversides, this is the periscope well, with two alarms. The torn junction box, seen at the bottom and cut off of the frame, I believe is torn on a diagonal in the drawing. This area was traced in red.

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.

 

 

For the story of the USS Flier, her sinking, survivors, and discovery, check out my book, “Surviving the Flier” here or at Amazon and Barnes and Nobles.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

98 Years ago–the E-2 blows up in Dry Dock

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Jan 15 2014

(I wanted to post this in commemoration of E-2’s explosion, 98 years ago today…I made it with 15 minutes to spare.  Pics will have to come tomorrow…I’m too tired right now!)

 

Early in submarine history, submarines were more of working laboratories than anything else.  The men manning these boats were constantly working at the bleeding edge of science, and deadly consequences occurred with no enemy other than the basic forces of nature and chemistry.

Case in Point: the USS E-2.

Originally named “Sturgeon” while under construction, the re-named “E-2” was commissioned on 14 February 1912, just a few weeks before the other great Technical nautical wonder, the Titanic, would set sail on her maiden and final voyage.

She served for a number of years, patrolling around the New England coast, then Guantanamo Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Like most submarines, E-2 was an engine/battery submarine.  While on the surface she would run on her diesel engines (E-2 was one of the first to run on diesel, rather than the more unstable/explosive gasoline engines) and these engines would charge her batteries.  Unlike the engines, the batteries, producing no fumes and needing no oxygen, would run the submarine’s systems while underwater.  When the batteries ran out, the sub had to surface.

The trouble with these wet-cell batteries, however appeared frequently and caused some limitations in maneuvering. Submarines could only dive and surface at less than a fifteen-degree angle or the batteries would have trouble.  Any salt water at all hitting the batteries would cause deadly chlorine gas to form, asphyxiating the crew or even, causing an explosion.

In fact, the first sub fatality in the American Navy, the F-4, in 1915, was partially caused by a corroded battery case, leading to a loss of control, and implosion during a dive.

These issues lead American Inventor, Thomas Edison, as Chairman of the Naval Advisory Board,  to invent a new battery that would be more stable, less prone to the angles of a submarine’s dives and ascents, and eliminate the chlorine gas.  After five years of work, he believed he had a stable working model, which was photographed and proclaimed from this Washington Herald newspaper from October 1915 feature section:

 

Based on a nickel-potash solution, the battery could not produce chlorine gas, nor should it be unstable if doused with seawater for any reason[1].  Lighter, stronger, it could potentially allow submarines to maneuver at up to a sixty-degree pitch, allowing for faster, tighter, maneuvering.  Even more importantly, it could be charged within one hour, allowing submarines to remain hidden longer in enemy waters.[2] With WWI already in full swing, and the US possibly heading to war, the possibility for greater flexibility and safety combined, was enticing, even if the Edison battery was nearly three times as expensive as the current lead-acid batteries.

By this time, the E-2, the selected test submarine, already had two 400-cell Edison batteries installed,[3]  and was undergoing dock-side tests, charging and discharging her batteries under carefully controlled conditions.  [4]

Interestingly enough, the E-2 had already experienced battery failure with her old led-acid batteries. In September 1914, the E-2 was fifty feet underwater when, unbeknownst to the crew, the lead acid of the battery chewed through the battery tanks and into the seawater ballast tanks. Ensign Edward Gillam, E-2’s Commanding Officer, detected the feared chlorine gas leaking from the battery compartment, and drove the sub to the surface, using her pumps, rather than blowing the ballast tanks (the chlorine gas could have released inside in a cloud if he had, killing his crew).[5]  The crew managed to venting the gas but the brief exposure to the gas still injured and incapacitated nearly every one of the nineteen hands aboard[6], forcing the submarine to be towed back to port.  (Later tests would show the acid had deeply pitted the entire battery tank, forcing all D and E class subs to port to replace and double-line their battery tanks.) Gillam’s lungs, however, were badly scarred, would need a year to recover, and a new CO, Charles “Savvy” Cooke, was chosen to replace him.[7]

On December 7, 1915, the E-2 made her maiden voyage with the batteries.  The initial test was successful: the batteries “produced better speed on less fuel.”[8] The experiments also proved that the Edison battery generated “nearly double the ordinary amount of hydrogen during the process of charging, but on discharge or while lying idle, gives off much less…observers aboard…reported that while in operation not enough gas was produced to be dangerous.”[9]

But Savvy wasn’t comfortable with the amount of hydrogen gas the batteries produced.  Dangerous as chlorine gas was, you could smell it, and react, hopefully in time.  Hydrogen gas is odorless, and could build up with no one knowing.  He requested the Navy’s Bureau of Steam Engineering install hydrogen gas measuring devices in the E-2 as a safety feature.  And was denied.  He suggested installing individual voltage meters for all 800 battery cells to see which ones produced hydrogen gas under certain conditions.  And was turned down. By both the Navy and the Edison Company.  (Hutchinson said they would increase the chances of a short circuit).[10]

More tests would be needed, but the early results were encouraging enough that the Edison Battery would be installed on one of the newest boats, the L-8[11], under construction in Portsmouth.  E-2, along with three other submarines, entered Brooklyn Navy Yard on December 30, 1915.  As a standard safety precaution, all four submarines were stripped of their torpedoes and drained of all fuel, and they were each about fifty feet away from her closest neighbor.

On Saturday morning, January 15, several civilian and Naval personnel went inside the E-2, down to the battery compartment.  New canvas pipes and fans had recently been installed to see if the new ventilation would cool the batteries uniformly, and so, that day, the men were measuring the voltage output and temperature of the batteries over a complete discharge, followed by a seven hour charge.[12]  For this first part at least, no one was expecting any hydrogen gas build up, though the fans and vent pipes were kept running as safety protocols demanded.  At least five men, two Navy sailors and three civilian contractors, were inside the after battery compartment, and another ten worked throughout the vessel on multiple projects.

At 1:16 pm,[13] there was a devastating explosion deep within the E-2. One man, standing the deck hatch, was blown twenty feet into the air, before landing on the drydock floor, thankfully with only minor injuries.  The ladder he had been standing on was also blown sky-high, finally landing 150 feet away.

E-2 roared, the sound of the explosion rumbling and bouncing around the confined space.  Within the battery compartment, four men, Roy Seaber of Cincinnatti, James Peck, civilian from Brooklyn, John Shultz, civilian from Brooklyn, and Joseph Logan, Civilian from Brooklyn, lay dead, and the man in charge of the discharging procedure, Chief Electrician’s Mate LL Mills, was badly injured.  Another nine men lay too injured to move, forced to breathe in the searing gas fumes which now suffocated through the submarine.[14]

From the outside, the E-2 looked was perfectly fine.  The hull designed to withstand the ocean’s pressures from the outside had contained the explosion within, though her internal space was “badly shattered.”[15]  Then the rescuers coming from the dry dock discovered a new twist: the watertight hull trapped the gasses inside the sub, forcing would-be rescuers, led by E-2’s Savvy, to don diving helmets while other men tried to pump pressuriezed air into the E-2, forcing the gas out.

Ambulances and medical personnel were on hand when the first of the injured men were hauled out to the open air.  Many were badly burned.  When the bodies of the men near the battery compartment were finally retrieved, they spoke of the severity of the explosion: all were badly burned, one was missing an appendage, and another was crushed.

Within hours, reporters were clamoring for the reason why. The navy offered one initial suggestion: that the hydrogen gas that the batteries built up when charged, had somehow been ignited by a spark.  However “It is too early to state definitely the cause of the explosion,” Said acting Secretary of the Navy, (and future president) Franklin Roosevelt.[16]  But the batteries, as it turned out, had been discharging, and shouldn’t have been throwing off enough hydrogen to spark anything, much less a massive explosion.  .  The only two other immediate theories were the explosion was caused by the diesel-oil engines…but no diesel had been onboard and the engines were intact…or an air flask nearby had exploded…but an explosion of one of those should have blasted metal shards throughout the battery compartment, which hadn’t happened.[17]  Another option, intentional sabotage, was ruled out by January 17.[18]

A Naval inquiry would be required, and the coroner of Brooklyn also announced and inquiry on behalf of the three dead civilians.

Despite not being on board the E-2 at the time of the explosion, and leading the rescue effort, as CO, Savvy’s career was potentially on the line.  He needed a defense counsel, and chose a fellow submarine officer: Chester Nimitz, future WWII Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Now Hutchinson and Savvy were at polar ends, each believing the other’s people or devices had to be the cause of the explosion.  During the inquiry and the many press releases surrounding it, many conflicting statements were made:

  • Hutchinson, inspecting the E-2 the day after the explosion, stated that the batteries were intact and undamaged, proving that the explosion, even if it happened in the same vicinity, had to have come from somewhere else.[19]
  • Naval Lt. C.S. McDowell, stated that he too had inspected the remains of the E-2, and said the after compartment of the Edison batteries “were completely ‘blown up’ [and] the forward batteries also damaged.”[20]
  • Savvy revealed his requests for safety devices, only to be turned down. [21]
  • Hutchinson announced that the Edison battery was safe, and as proof, it was currently in use in three “non-German” European submarines, currently waging war in Europe.  One of those unnamed subs had sunk seventeen ships thus far.  This surprised many people, as it was assumed the US Navy would have exclusive rights to the Edison Battery if it passed its tests.[22]

While the investigation continued, a fifth man succumbed to his injuries.  But some of the others, crucially, Chief Electrician’s Make Lewis Miles, were slowly improving.

As soon as the survivors were stable, they started to give testimony.  Five men were able to speak, though from reports, they had to speak through a head-full of bandages, only their eyes and mouths visible.[23]

They were adamant about several points, however

1.)     No one was smoking[24]

2.)     There was a blinding flash, then they were all insensible[25]

3.)     There was no smoking or sparking wires on the E-2 on January 15[26]

The two critical testimonies came from Raymond Otto, a second class electrician’s mate from E-2’s crew, and Chief Electrician Lewis Mills, who had been in the battery compartment when the explosion happened.  Otto, who had been partially blasted through E-2’s hatch, and burned his legs, was able to testify around January 19, but Miles, forever confined to a bed, and whose voice permanently restrained to a whisper, couldn’t testify until early February.[27]

Both men, however, recalled the same unusual thing: four of the Edison Battery cells had depleted their charge, and were bubbling moments before the explosion.  The bubbling was hydrogen gas, being produced as the cells, depleted of their charge, had begun to recharge ahead of the others.  If they had produced enough hydrogen gas to stay ahead of the new ventilation system, a random spark (though from what, no one ever saw) could have, may have, caused the explosion.

By the end of January, the civilian coroner’s jury found that the cause of the civilians’ death was an “explosion of gases.” However, they also “were unable to determine the cause of the gases” [28] Despite testimony from naval and civilian experts, the civilian jury was not able to find any new conclusions regarding what gasses or sparks may or may not have sparked the explosion.

In the end, on the 19th of February 1916, the Naval Court of Inquiry wrapped up, though the results were strangely, not made public after conferences with officers of the Navy and Secretary of the Navy, Josephus  Daniels.[29]  The official conclusion did, however, absolve Charles “Savvy” Cooke from any blame.[30]

The press reported that the “court reached substantially the same decision as the board of investigation appointed by the navy commandant immediately after the accident” most likely buildup of hydrogen gas and a stray spark, though the “spark’s” origin was never discovered.[31]

The Navy decided to pull the Edison batteries from the under-construction L-8 in Portsmouth, but turn the E-2 into a floating laboratory, testing the Edison battery further.

They also pulled Savvy from his boat, reassigning him as an engineering officer on the Receiving Ship USS Salem in Boston.[32]  It was a step down in career, though the worst, for Savvy, was the sleepless nights wondering if he could have saved his crew, somehow.  He wouldn’t be given command of another submarine until after WWI…and then he would, once again, be in the news for a submarine incident that almost, again, took the lives of him and his crew.  Quick thinking on Savvy’s part, however would save them.  Just watch.

 

The E-2 would recover, and spend the next two years near the Navy Yards, testing the Edison and Ironside batteries thoroughly (some naval records state that as the Edison batteries themselves survived the 15 January explosion (one count that suggests the batteries were nto the cause of the explosion itself) they had to be tested cell by cell, to find the problem.  None was ever found.).  The Edison batteries were eventually passed over.  USS E-2 was recommissioned in 1918, and served in WWI running anti-U-boat patrols off Cape Hatteras.  None the worse for WWI, and having completed longer patrols than ever before, E-2 was decommissioned on 20 October 1921, and sold for scrap on 19 April 1922.



[1] Hill, A.J. Under Pressure: the Final Voyage of the Submarine S-Five  2002, Free Press, New York, New York.

[2] “Battery Approved by Edison’s Expert” New York Times, January 20, 1916.  From New York Times Digital Archives, Accessed 15 January 2014: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FB0910FF3C5E11738DDDA90A94D9405B878DF1D3

 

[3] “E-2 Commander Testifies He Warned of Gas Menace: Asked Navy Department for Hydrogen Detector and Battery Charge, but Was Ignored” Chicago Tribune, 20 January 1916, Pg. 4.  Retrieved 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[4] Hill, A.J.

[5] “US Submarine Crew Had A Narrow Escape” 7 April 1915, New York Times.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from New York Times Digital Archives: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F70611FB355A15738DDDAE0894DC405B858DF1D3

[6] “Blas Wrecks US Submarine While in Dock” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 16 January 1916, pgs. 1 and 2.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com.

[7] Hill, A.J.

[8] “Explosion on Submarine Kill Four: E-2 Wrecked by Internal Blast Which Puzzles Experts; Diver Was Equipped with New Type Edison Safety Batteries” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 16 January 1916, pgs 1 and 15.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[9] Fort Wayne; 1916 pg. 15

[10] Hill, A.J.

[11] “Blame Battery Trouble for Explosion on E-2: Navy Board of Inquiry Says Excessive Gas was Generated nad Ignited by Spark” Chicago Tribune, 19 January 1916, Pg 2. Accessed 15 Janauary 2014, from fold-3.com.

[12] “Navy Heads Warned of E-2 Months Ago” New York Times, 20 January, 1916, accessed 15 January 2014 from New York Times Archive: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FB0C1EFD3B5B17738DDDA90A94D9405B868DF1D3

[13] “Naval Board Named to Make Inquiry” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 16 January 1916, pg 15.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[14] “E-2 Blowup Due to Gas” Washington Post, 19 January 1916 pg 2.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from Fold3.com

[15] “4 Killed, 10 hurt by and explosion on Submarine E-2” The Atlanta Constitution; 16 January 1916, pgs. 1 and 3.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com.

[16] Chicago Tribune, 16 January 1916.

[17] “4 Killed, 10 hurt in E-Boat Explosion: Mysterin in Disaster at New York Navy Yard” Washington Post, 16 January 1916, pgs 1 and 4. Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[18] “Court Named for E-2” Washington Post, 18 January 1916, pg 2.  Retrieved 15 January 2014, from fold3.com

[19] “Edison Expert Asserts Battery Did Not Explode: Chief Enginner Says There Must Have Been Some Other Cause For Blast,:” Chicago Tribune, 17 January 1916, Pg. 4.  Retrieved 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[20] “Crew of the E-2 Showed Bravery” 19 January 1916 pg. 4.  Retrieved 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[21] Chicago Tribune , 20 January 1916.

[22] “Foreign Navy Uses Edison Battery Too” New York Times, January 17, 1916.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from New York Times Digital Archive: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F30B17FB355C13738DDDAE0994D9405B868DF1D3

 

[23] “US Submarine Survivors Deny anyone Was Smoking: Five of Crew, Recovering in Hospital Say there was a Blinding Flash—Then Lost Senses” Chicago Daily Tribune, 21 January 1916, Pg. 9. Retrieved 15 Janaury 2014 from fold3.com.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Navy Heads Warned of E-2 Months Ago” 20 January 1916, NY Times

[27] “Deny Exposed Lamp was Burning in E-2: Crew of Submarine presents 20 Points why it Should Be Held Blameless: Inquiy Board Held at Hospital—Take Testimony of Electrician Permanetly Injured in Explosion—Hearing Near the End”.  New York Times, 11 February 1916. Accessed  15 January 2014: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9D02E3DF1F38E633A25752C1A9649C946796D6CF

 

[28] “E-2 Blast Due to Gas: Coroner’s Verditct Condemns Authorities in Charge of Boat” Washington Post, 28 January 1916, pg. 2.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[29] “E-Boat Blame Unfixed” Washington Post 20 February 1916, pg 2.  Accessed 15 January 1916 from fold3.com

[30] Hill, A.J.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Hill, A.J.

On Eternal Patrol: USS Barbel lost 4 February 1945

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 04 2012

<sigh> it seems like no matter my intentions, eventually I get bogged down by sick kids, and constant mommying. Or exhaustion.  I worked 20 hours a week through college, did extracirriculars, worked two jobs every summer.  I thought I was tired then!  It’s nothing compared to active young ones!  I love it, but I now must apologize to the men of USS E-2, USS S-26, USS S-36, USS Scorpion (I), and my readers.  To the subs and your crews, your stories are not forgotten and will be posted (albeit retroactively).  To my readers, I know, I keep apologizing.  One day, I’ll get this right! Thanks for the understanding.

USS Barbel, SS-316, was built and Commissioned April 13, 1944.  She actually commissioned with her sister Razorback (now on display at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum) and beat Razor to the war zone.

She had three successful war patrols under her commissioning officer, Cmdr. Robert A. Keating.  In an era when submarines were so successful they were starting to put themselves out of work, Barbel was a busy hunter.  During her first patrol she claimed four kills, three on her second patrol, and two on her third patrol, for a wartime total of nine ships in just five months.  Actually, rather impressive.  (The Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC) later lowered that total to six, discounting one on the first patrol and two on the second)

During this time, the Allies were storming the Pacific.  The battle of Leyte Gulf happened during Barbel’s second patrol, and by her third patrol, the Allies were already deeply in the Philippines, landing on Mindoro Island.  Soon, the Japanese would be completely cast out of that nation.

Submarine bases were changing and moving too.  When USS Flier was pulling out for her last patrol on 2 August 1944, there were really only three (maybe four, if you counted Midway and no one wanted to R&R there.  No girls, only gooney birds.  Lousy dates!) bases: Pearl Harbor, Freemantle/Perth Australia and Brisbane, Australia.  But so much changed in the few weeks between 12 August when Flier left for eternity and 21 August when Barbel came in from her first run that she actually had R&R on Majuro Atoll with the submarine tender USS Bushnell (AS-15) who set up base that much closer to the front lines only a short time earlier.

After her second patrol, she R&R-ed in Saipan Harbor where she was refitted and sent out on her third war patrol in just seven days.

After her third patrol, she pulled into Fremantle, where her CO was replaced by Cmdr. Conde Raguet, and she headed back into the fray on 5 January 1945.

She was assigned to operate in a wolfpack with submarines USS Perch (II) and USS Galiban,  guarding the western entrances to Balabac Strait.  Since the losses of USS Robalo and USS Flier in or near Balabac Strait  in August 1944, Navy HQ decided to close it to all Allied traffic, but since the Japanese laid the minefields in the first place, they still used it.  So, submarines were assigned to guard either the western or eastern entrances, both which provided lots of entertainment.

According to “The History of USS Barbel” filed by the Navy in 1956, on 3 February, Barbel radioed Galiban as well as Tuna and Blackfin (who must have been in the area) that she was dodging more aerial patrols that usual.  Three times already that day, planes had buzzed overhead, dropping depth charges which she thus far, evaded.  Cmdr. Raguet said he would communicate more the following night (presumably, the 4th of February.)

No one heard from her that night.  Or the next.  On the 6th of February, Tuna sent a message to Barbel, ordering her to surface and rendezvous at a particular place and time on the 7th.  Barbel never answered and never showed.  This was reported to HQ and they listed Barbel as lost on 16 of February, 1945.

After the war, a record surfaced.  On 4 February, a Japanese pilot, spotting an Allied submarine SW of Palawan in the vicinity of Balabac Strait, dropped his two depth charges on her.  One missed.  The other hit the sub’s bridge, and she “plunged under a cloud of fire and spray.”  No other submarines were in that area or recorded an attack that day.  It’s likely this description was the Barbel’s fate.  Her loss date was therefore listed as 4 February 1945.  Her crew of 81 lie with her.

Following her loss, she was honored with a little sister: USS Barbel (II) SS-580.  The lead ship in the first designs of teardrop shaped hulls, Barbel (II) had an…interesting career.  Reading what little is in the public domain about her reminds me why I so admire the men (and now women) who crew these boats, and why I could never do what they do.  Barbel was decommissioned in 1990 and sunk as a target in 2001, but her triplet sister, Blueback (SS-581), is on display at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, if you ever want to see her.

Barbel (I)’s memorial is along the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery near Evansville, Wyoming.

To her 81 men, may I say, “Sailor, Rest Your Oar” and thank you, from a grateful citizen.

Photos of USS Barbel’s Memorial

Deck Logs of USS Barbel, including her official history (first three pages)

The Lost crew of USS Barbel

On Eternal Patrol: USS Argonaut SS-166 Lost January 10, 1943

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Jan 10 2012

We’ll return to the Pearl Harbor story in a bit.  I love researching, and often find answers quickly to some questions, but the lead up to Pearl and resulting Blame Game have lead me down a bit of a rabbit hole and I’m really deep in.  I haven’t forgotten, but today, I’m starting the new year on the lost submarines of the US Navy and some unique stories.  I still will follow and bring to light more about Flier, but she had a number of remarkable sisters, whose stories also deserve to be told, and Pearl Harbor deserves a thorough post(s), and I have to thoroughly understand what I’m finding before I can write about it coherently, so I shall return to it soon

 

USS Argonaut was in a class by herself when she rolled down the ways on 10 November 1927.  The largest submarine yet built by the US Navy (and still the largest non-nuclear submarine built by the USA), she was designed to lay mines and have more powerful engines.  But like many good-idea-on-paper- projects, Argonaut and her sisters Narwhal and Nautilus, soon proved to be more problematic than they were worth.  While the minelaying devices were “ingenious” they were also “extremely complicated”. They also took up the final two compartments of the submarine.

Diving slowly, and cumbersome underwater, Argonaut and her sisters quickly became the only submarines of their class, and the submarine designers moved on to the Cachalot class boats, and soon, the Salmon class boats, working their way to the classic Fleet style submarine which would become the workhorse of WWII.

With such difficulties, Argonaut was moved to Pearl Harbor, and carried out routine duties, patrols, and participated in the Navy games.  A young officer, Richard “Dick” O’Kane came aboard in 1938 and qualified and served on Argonaut for four years.  (If you’re new to submarine history, just Google his name, as well as the names USS Wahoo and USS Tang—he had an interesting career!)

At the same time, a young radioman named Walter Klock, commonly called “Bud”, was assigned to the Argonaut for his first sub assignment.  Klock had a camera, and, prior to the WWII restrictions, photographed a bit of life on Argonaut, including what must have been a “Crossing of the Line” ceremony. This ceremony, which generally takes place any time a ship or sub crosses a main line, (Equator, Arctic/Antarctic circles, International Date Line, Prime Meridian, ect.) allows those men who have crossed said lines before to introduce the new guys, or “polliwogs” to it.  Prior to WWII on a submarine, this ceremony could get quite…interesting…and Klock sent home the photos to prove it.

Anyone recognize your ancestor?

 

On the left, may I present, ladies of King Neptune's Court. (Not sure about the other two...or the "ladies"...or anyone in this series of photos...) In the center...at least he looks like he's having fun. On the right...I don't know, and I don't know that I want to. I've heard guys say it takes a special kind of person to be a submariner...this might be proof! The Crossing of the Line Ceremony was already well established by 1938 when these series of photos were taken, and continued though WWII on some surface ships, though submarines could not risk being on surface for long enough to do this. Some captains banned them, some did small things, I've only heard of one sub doing a full on Neptune's Court and gauntlet INSIDE the submarine during WWII. Sometimes I wonder if they still do this sort of thing. Then I re-look at these and the other photos and think,...maybe what happens at sea, REALLY ought to stay there. Photos courtesy of family of Walter "Bud" Klock.

There were other times.  Shirley Temple visited the men of Argonaut as well, and Klock wrote to his mom about the many fine dances and other things to do in Hawaii.  A native Minnesotan from St. Paul, he stayed in Honolulu so long he said 60 degree Januarys were freezing him to death!

 

Shirley Temple and Argonaut next to an older S-boat (possibly the S-28, or S-26, it's hard to see). From the collection of Watler "Bud" Klock. UPDATE: For more on Shirley Temple and this visit to the Argo, see my post here.

Klock eventually moved on to the S-28 and was in San Diego in November1941, but his old boat remained behind.  The morning of December 7, she was on patrol near Midway Island, where she reported hearing many explosions.  Fearing that the Japanese were attacking Midway in addition to Pearl, HQ ordered Argo to take a close look, where she discovered two Japanese destroyers bombing the island, but doing little else.

Argonaut, with her difficulties, was not as suited to do the same patrolling that her Fleet sisters were assigned, but the Navy had special plans for them.  Shortly after Argo’s return following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was shipped Stateside, where her minelaying equipment was removed, her troublesome engines replaced, and her new job revealed: troop transport.   Her large size made her and her sisters ideal for getting troops and supplies in and out of enemy controlled areas, and her first mission was urgent.  So urgent, that Argonaut had little time to drill before she, her crew, and their top secret guests headed out to sea.

 

On December 10, 1941, the Japanese invaded the small Makin Atoll (Now Butaritari Island) and took it over (no resistance made it easy).  It would be a seaplane base, extending Japanese reach over Allied held territories, and was fortified with about 160 troops, planes, machine guns and a few ships.  By August 1942, the US Navy, needing Japanese attention as splintered as possible during the initial landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi, decided to send 211 Marines to Makin to destroy the fortification, take prisoners and gather intelligence.  Such a surprise attack required a submarine landing and pickup and the Nautilus and Argonaut, were ready (though barely).  121 Marines boarded the Argonaut, 90 on Nautilus, and on August 8, they left Pearl heading for Makin, near (modern) Papua New Guinea.

Taken from Argo's sister Nautilus, the Marines exercising on the sub decks in preparation for the raid, and the Marines disembarking on the morning of 17 August for their rafts and Malkin. Photos from National Archives

For five days, they pushed hard without diving, trying to make the best time possible and allowing the Marines to exercise on the deck.  But August 16, they sighted Makin, and at 3 am on August 17, the raid began.  The men on the Argonaut couldn’t do much after the Marines headed ashore on their rubber rafts except lay low, watch, and pray.  By 5:43 am they had their first message: “Everything lousy.”  Four minutes later: “Situation expected to be well in hand shortly.”

Nautilus, relying an order from the Marines, asked Argonaut to fire on a ship in the lagoon, but most of the day was spent just watching.

By 7 pm, the Marines were straggling back.  Initial information was good: they’d managed to destroy move of the Japanese garrison, and kill the vast majority of the soldiers stationed there.  But in other ways, it was a failure: no POWs and little intelligence. Several boats were reported having trouble working against the waves to get out to the Argonaut and Nautilus, and the submarines decided to stay on station another day looking for stragglers.  The next night, another four rubber boats, and a native boat with more Marines onboard came alongside.  Some of these Marines were seriously wounded and transferred to the Nautilus who, for this patrol only, had a doctor onboard.  Everyone arrived back in Pearl on 26 August.  Argonaut’s hasty prep work, however, had shown.  Between her arrival home and the 31st of August, her CO submitted over 58 work items that needed attention, including a serious leak from a fuel oil tank which would requite  a 6-7 week repair.

On the left, a returning Malkin Marine shows off the Japanese rifle he took, and ended up using to defend himself with. Center, sailors of the Argonaut read their mail that accumulated the three weeks they were out at sea. It's one of my favorite photos of the crew together. On the right, the Malkin Raiders and Argonaut crew retuning to Pearl. All photos National Archives

After repairs, she was sent to Brisbane, Australia, and from there she went out on her third war patrol on 2 January, 1943.  Before leaving Pearl, however, Argonaut’s crew decided to leave her bell behind, a move that would have interesting implications.

On 10 January 1943, Argonaut was in the Bismark Sea, and attacked five freighters and their escorts.  An American Army plane spotted her attack, and saw one of the escorting destroyers take a direct hit from Argo’s torpedoes.  The destroyers went on the offensive, launching a depth charge attack which apparently, destroyed Argonaut.  This attack perhaps broke her back (or rather, broke her keel, breaking her into two or more pieces. ) forcing Argo’s nose to break the surface for a moment.  The destroyers continued to fire at her until she slipped beneath the waves, never to surface again.  All 102 of her crew remain with her.

The Army plane, returning to his station, reported what he had seen, and also reported her loss, leading to Argo’s loss being reported relatively quickly by 26 February.  Due to his report, she was credited with damaging that destroyer, but after the war this score was revoked, since none of the ships in the convoy reported being damaged on 10 January.  It’s possible the torpedo was a premature explosion, which plagued many sub commanders early in the war.

Klock heard about the loss of his old boat while serving on his new one, Flier, in New London.  Since censorship of the war forbade all mentions of ship names, he normally could not tell his mother what had happened, but fate intervened.  A friend of his was going on leave back home, and Klock wrote a letter to his mother in plain language, hoping his friend could sneak it out and deposit it in the civilian post without the censors intervening.  It must have worked, for found among Mrs. Violet Klock’s papers was the following letter dated Easter, 1943: (Excerpt of full letter)

A friend of mine is flying out of the war zone tomorrow so I’m going to take a chance on getting this letter out.  Don’t repeat any of this or my name will be mud.  We are doing okay out here-the job gets rather tedious at times, but we are winning.  We sank four ships on our last two runs out.  We had one close call but nothing to become alarmed about.  That made a total of six sunk for this particular ship.  Not bad-huh? 

There isn’t much chance of me returning to the states for quite a while as we are operating out of a pretty hot spot.  But don’t worry about me—submarines are the safest thing to be on-we’ve only lost two or  three.  Incidentally, the one I as on for so long in Honolulu, the Argonaut got sunk.  She sunk [sic] several ships first though so paid her way fully.

The raid on Makin had unusual ramifications: the Japanese returned and REINFORCED the island with nearly four times the original troops the Raiders faced, forcing the Marines to return in November 1943 and thoroughly clean the place out.  The graves of the 18 Marines confirmed dead were found as well as the grave of one of the 12 Marines formerly listed as MIA.   Of the other 11, they were never located.  Eventually, records were found that show at least nine were captured by the Japanese and executed on Kwajalein Atoll.  The fate of the other two remains unknown.

Nearly 20 months after Argonaut’s loss, a Submarine Memorial Chapel was built and dedicated on the Submarine Base in Pearl.  (The story of how that got built is another whole post) The bell hanging in her steeple comes from Argonaut, and still rings today for services. As the bell is considered the “voice” or sometimes “soul” of a boat, it’s probably one of the more touching memorials a sub could ask for.

Finally, in honor of the lost Argonaut, a new Tench-class submarine was named in her honor:  USS Argonaut (II) SS-475 was commissioned on 15 January 1945, just over two years since the loss of her older sister.  Argo II actually made it to the Pacific theater for one patrol, rescuing a downed American pilot and sinking a 25-ton fishing vessel with her deck guns (for which she received no JANAC credit since they apparently didn’t consider anything lighter than 500 tons as a “ship”).  Argo II later served in the Atlantic during the 50’s and 60’s with the occasional Medditerranean deployment.  Sold to Canada in 1968, she served them a further six years as the HMS Rainbow before being scrapped in 1977.

 

After the war, Argonaut (I)  and her crew were assigned to the state of California for their memorial.  Dedicated in 2001, the USS Argonaut and USS Grampus combined memorial stands in the National Submarine Memorial West in Seal Beach, California.

The resting place of Argonaut and her crew has yet to be found.

 

Memorial page for USS Argonaut and the Malkin Raiders lost on Malkin

The Grunion’s Ghost

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 02 2010

To finish the post on the Grunion…

The USS Grunion, under the command of Cmdr. Mannert Abele, left their families on the East coast on 24 May 1942, and took their brand new boat to her assigned base in Pearl Harbor.  The trip to Pearl was eventful, since they ran across survivors of the USAT Jack which had been torpedoed by U-Boat 558.  These sixteen men reported that they had seen thirteen more in the waves right after the sinking, and Grunion changed course to head for the site of the sinking.  They found nothing, and after searching for twenty-four hours, continued on to the Panama Canal.  (They likely dropped off the survivors there, though they do not mention it).

They arrived at Pearl, trained for a few days, and headed off for their first patrol, in the Aleutian Island Chain, off Alaska.

USS Grunion, during her testing phase in 1941. Her bridge and periscope shears would be remodeld between when this photo was taken and when she sank, likely at Pearl Harbor. Photo from navsource.org

Why the Aleutians?  Well, one of the fears shortly after WWII began was the Japanese might try to attack North America not by crossing the ocean (since they had already done that once) but by skirting around the north and coming down the western coast.  These fears were actually well founded, and the Japanese invaded Attu and Kiska Islands in early June, 1942.  The American military struck back and re-took Attu Island in 1943, but on this date 68 years ago, the Grunion was sent to patrol through enemy territory.

They were highly successful, taking out two enemy patrol vessels.  On 22 July, Grunion was assigned to patrol the entrances to Kiska.  Crowley’s S-28 was in the area, also patrolling the entrances to Kiska.   On 30 July, the Grunion, tracking a ship later revealed to be the Kano Maru, came under attack.  At some point on the 30th of July, possibly early in the morning, they sent a message to their headquarters reporting they were under heavy anti-submarine attack.  HQ ordered Grunion back to Dutch Harbor, the submarine base in Alaska immediately.

Also on 30 July, HQ contacted the S-28 and the S 32, two submarines patrolling nearby and asked them to report immediately to the Kiska area.  They never saw Grunion, nor were they expecting to, and neither of them reported seeing a ship that day.  Commander Crowley, on the S-28 however, reported seeing a periscope around 10:45 am, and another (or the same one) at 2:38 pm that afternoon. S-28 never tried to identify that submarine as friend or foe and neither did the other (Japanese submarines were likely in the area.)  Both also recorded hearing underwater explosions between 2:36 pm and 10:31 pm on 31 July.  Both boats assumed that what they were hearing was the bombardment of Kiska Island.

After her transmission on 30 July, Grunion was never heard from again, and she was considered lost in August of that year, though the military, not hearing of any submarine attacks in the area and knowing of no mines, had no idea what happened.

Following the war, the Japanese records showed no anti-submarine attacks in that area around that date either, leaving the military to assume that Grunion may have been the victim of a mechanical failure or an unknown minefield.

But the sons of Commander Abele never gave up looking for their father, but they were faced with a huge problem:  that area of the ocean is large and treacherous.  Even during the summer, the weather may not hold.  S-28’s reports showed days of thick fog or storms when they couldn’t get a bearing.  it is also deep and full of reefs and shallow places.

Through an amazing lucky chance, a map to the final attack of the Grunion and her fate was discovered, and the Abele brothers set out to search for her remains based on the accounts of men who saw her final battle from the deck of her intended victim.  Published in the 60’s in a little known Japanese magazine, the map lead them almost straight to her, and over two seasons searching, once with sonar, once with an ROV, the Grunion finally came to light. (I’m truncating a lot of the story here, and will post a far better place to read the full story).

She’s been blown apart and rests almost ten times deeper than Flier.  Her bow is gone, and she imploded as she descended.  There is some evidence that she slid down the mountainside that she rests on.

The wreck is so deep there is no natural light down there. This artist used the photos and video brought back from the site to create this painting of what the Grunion looks like today. From ussgrunion.com

Perhaps, all those years ago, those underwater explosions that Crowley heard aboard S-28 was the Grunion’s dying breath.  Perhaps not.  But either way, it is interesting that Crowley was sent to the same area Grunion reported suffering a severe anti-submarine attack, and later, both the Grunion and the Flier, his future boat, would be found through the dogged determination of those left behind.

Grunion's periscope, photographed from above. From ussgrunion.com

S-28 was also lost during the course of the war near Hawaii.  Perhaps she will be the next one to come to light?


The Official Website of the USS Grunion, containing the story of her location, confirmation and photos of the wreckage, as well as theories as to what happened to her.

NavSource.org pages on the Grunion, containing many images and maps about Grunion

On Eternal Patrol’s website about Grunion, with photos of her crew.

Sailors, rest your oars.

Grunion’s Ghost

Lost Subs, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jul 31 2010

I was planning on making a larger and longer post today, but didn’t expect to find some interesting information which, if true, will make for a fascinating story.

Today is ths 68th anniversary of the disappearance of USS Grunion.

In many ways, she and Flier had similar stories:  they were both Gato boats, both built in Groton Connecticut (though two years apart) both had short careers and both left behind people determined to find them.  And both were, ultimately, found.

But as it turns out, there may be a link between Flier and Grunion far more interesting.  Because on July 31, 1942, Commander John D. Crowley was not the CO of Flier, he was the CO of the antique boat S-28, and was only a few miles from Grunion.

There’s a bit of an interesting point here that I’m still working on the maps for.  But the Grunion family have been so intrumental in finding all of our Flier families, and a number of them will be coming to the ceremony on August 13.