Robalo’s new CO

Posted by Rebekah
Mar 29 2010

How submarine commanders were trained changed radically during WWII.

Following WWI, the surrendered U-Boats the German Navy was forced to hand over to the Allies produced many drastic changes in how submarines were designed the world over.  They became faster, deeper diving, stronger, and had more and better weapons installed.   But as often happens when technology advances, the thinking and planning of the people who now possessed these new weapons,  didn’t.   Not until it was forced.

These new “fleet submarines” (so named because they were to guard the surface fleet, not because they were THAT fast) were warships in their own right, but the navies of the world still concentrated on the old big guns:  Battleships, Destroyers, and Cruisers.  Submarines, in addition to their traditional coastal guarding duties were now assigned to range out ahead of these big guns and report any enemy activity so the surface fleet could take care of it.   Because of this thinking, Submarine Commanding Officers were taught to keep their boats hidden, be cautious at all costs, and not engage the enemy unless absolutely necessary and they were fairly well guaranteed a good enough shot to sink their prey.

Then December 7 happened, and the rules changed.

The Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese Attack of Pearl Harbor. Notice that all destruction is confined to across the harbor, there is none nearby. The submarine on the left is the USS Narwhal.

Of the Pacific Fleet, only the submarines and aircraft carriers were left untouched, and of those two, only the submarines were untouched by design.  The Japanese were hoping to sink both the American Aircraft Carriers on active duty in the Pacific, but fate prevented them (The Enterprise was supposed to dock at Pearl the evening of the 6th but was caught in a storm with her fleet, delaying her.  The Lexington had been hustled out of harbor to beef up defenses at Midway which was considered a more likely target of any Japanese attack.  The Saratoga, the third aircraft carrier in the Pacific, was having a scheduled refit at Mare Island.)  The submarines were completely ignored during the attack at Pearl, and all four submarines at Pearl (Tautog, Narwhal, Cachalot and Dolphin) were completely unscathed since the enemy planes never once shot or bombed them, even when the guns of these boats lit up and started taking down enemy planes.  The Tautog is now credited with taking down the first Japanese airplane over Pearl that morning.

Suddenly, the linchpins of the Navy are burning, sunken, and so badly damaged most couldn’t safely put to sea.  The Saratoga was released from her refit, but three aircraft carriers were not enough to cover the entire ocean when it quickly became obvious that the Japanese hit not only Pearl, but Midway, the Philippines, and intended to continue.

Enter the submarines, the last resort and now best hope.  The four in Pearl and those near Pearl and Midway and off the coast of California were quickly mobilized, and sent to sink every ship they could find.

Suddenly, the commanders that had spent all of their time and training being quiet and cautious were caught in a quandary.  Some adjusted, others were quickly removed and sent to other stations while younger, more aggressive officers were just as quickly promoted.  Some of these transformed boats whose records were lackluster into boats who would become icons.  (Read about Dudley “Mush” Morton and the USS Wahoo, and his famous “Wahoo is Expendable” speech  if you don’t believe me).

So sixty-six years ago today, the Robalo was handed over to a new, aggressive skipper after just one patrol.  His name was Manning Kimmel.  He was  30 years old, a graduate of the Naval Academy (class of 1935) he served on battleships and submarines, quickly rising through the ranks of the latter.  In addition to having every mark of a great submarine commander, Kimmel might have had another reason to take the war to the Japanese.

Manning Kimmel, new CO of USS Robalo.

Kimmel’s father was Admiral Husband Kimmel, who was the Naval Commander of the Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  In the wake of the attack, many people and congressmen wanted to know who was to blame for our base being caught so off-guard, and eventually, Kimmel and his Army counterpart, General Walter Short, were officially censured for being unprepared, were reduced in rank (Husband Kimmel’s 4-star rank was reduced to 2-stars) and forced to retire.  There have been many people in the decades following who have supported these punishments and those who say both men were unfairly blamed for the attack.   In fact, Admiral Chester Nimitz later said it was a blessing that the fleet had been in harbor that day, rather than put to sea looking for a possible attack as some congressmen later asserted that Kimmel should have done. (Amazing how congressmen know better than anyone how to do someone else’s job, then and now, isn’t it?)  When they were sunk, the fleet was sunk in 40 feet of water a few hundred yards from dry docks and repair facilities, rather than in irretrievable in deep oceans.

In 1999, Congress passed a non-binding resolution exonerating both men and posthumously re-promoting them, but Presidents Clinton and Bush did not sign it, and there is currently no indications from President Obama whether or not he will.

But in 1944, the Kimmel name was solidly linked to the death and destruction of Pearl Harbor.  Manning Kimmel would indeed prove to be an aggressive skipper, but he might have been motivated to clear or elevate the family name as much as protecting to country.  That question would arise in about six months.

2 Responses

  1. TOM KIMMEL says:

    On December 7, 1941 the President of the United States was asked: “How did the Japanese catch us with our pants down?” The Congress of the United States later asked: “one enigmatical and paramount question . . . . [w]hy was it possible for a Pearl Harbor to occur?” On December 11, 1941, the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, thought he had the answer and sent it to the President immediately: Army and Navy Intelligence in Washington, DC had learned the entire Japanese attack plan days before the attack, and sent it to Admiral Kimmel, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii, who did nothing about it.

    Supreme Court Associate Justice Owen Roberts, Chairman of the Roberts Commission, the tribunal immediately appointed to investigate the Pearl Harbor disaster, tried but could not prove that Kimmel had this information and failed to act on it. But then Roberts put blinders on and failed to follow Mr. Hoover’s logically suggested written investigative leads in Washington, D.C., as to whether this information was available in Washington and simply not sent to Hawaii. And then later, Roberts inexplicably lied to Congress about where he got the original allegation against Kimmel.
    Tom Kimmel

  2. TOM KIMMEL says:

    The disparity of treatment of Kimmel and Short in Hawaii v. MacArthur and Hart in the Philippines was, and still is, egregious. Consider that, while K&S were humiliated, disgraced, and scapegoated, MacArthur, after losing most of his aircraft on the ground nine hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in April 1942 for his defense of the Philippines, and Hart was given special legislation passed in June 1942 that allowed him to be retired at his highest held temporary rank of four-stars, without the subsequent approval of the Senate. Both MacArthur and Hart had MAGIC, unlike K&S, which gave indications of the time, place, reason, and deceit plan of the Pearl Harbor attack as well as indications of the attack on the Philippines.

    MacArthur’s aircraft story is well known. So, let’s concentrate on the less known story of Hart’s submarines:

    The following is an OCR scan from CRUISE OF THE LANIKAI, by Admiral Kemp Tolley, pages 53 and 54.

    Perhaps MacArthur had something in his humiliating reference to Tommy’s “fleet.” When Hart looked out the third story window of his Marsman Building headquarters on Manila’s waterfront, naval might in sight was something less than impressive. Spotted around the bay were the seaplane tenders Langley and Childs, submarine tenders Canopus and Holland and the destroyer John D. Ford. With the exception of 15-year-old Holland, the others were prime vintage-at least 20, and Langley, 30. Looking through his binoculars at Cavite, nine miles across an arm of the Bay, Hart would not be much further bucked up by what he saw there: the 20-year-old destroyers Pillsbury and Peary under repair after a collision, two overhauling submarines and the submarine tender Otus.'”

    Also in the Bay were World War I minesweepers Lark, Quail, Tanager, Finch, Whippoorwill, Bittern, and Pigeon, the latter configured as a submarine rescue vessel, and the 20-year-old tankers Pecos and Trinity. Patrolling off the harbor entrance were World War I coastal gunboats Tulsa and Asheville. The only “modern” ships, if one may be so charitable as to thus classify them, were the 1928-built keelless little soup plates, the Yangtze River gunboats Luzon and Oahu. Properly speaking, none of the nineteen were effective warships in the offensive sense, although essential adjuncts to a rounded fleet. Only six of them would survive the next five months.

    Also at Cavite was feeble featherweight Lanikai, feverishly trying to meet the President’s deadline. Miraculously, she would be among the few survivors.

    What did gladden professional submariner Hart’s soul was the thought of those 29 fat “pig boats,” two of them patrolling at sea, the others alongside one or another of the three tenders or anchored out. Only two were for the moment unavailable-under repair at Cavite.

    • Commissioned 19 March and far from completion by 8 December, Otus was being converted from the merchantman SS Fred Morris. Hart had complained bitterly to Stark that she had come out loaded with 7,000 tons of the finest lubricants, destination Japan, in very special drums, over twice the usual size, costing five times the usual price.


    Six of the 29 were ancient, uncomfortable World War I types, badly deteriorated and prone to breakdowns. But the others were so spanking new that final alterations and additions still were being made. It would be many months before the horrifying truth had been brought to light -not a single torpedo in that potentially powerful force was worth, in plain sailor’s language, “one good goddam.”* In the field of military armament, the supposedly technically superior Americans had been left far behind by the supposedly “imitative monkeys” of Japan. Radar and proximity fuses were still around the corner to help even the score.

    The original war plans called for an early withdrawal of naval forces to Dutch and British bases, but MacArthur’s optimism about holding indefinitely had rubbed off on Hart in spite of himself. Against the advice of that half of his staff that took a dim view of the effectiveness of the Far East Army Air Forces, Hart recommended to Washington on 27 October that he remain based at Manila and fight the inevitable war from there. With the foot-dragging that Hart wrote Stark was so characteristic of the Navy Department’s business with the Far East, they dallied until 20 November in saying “NO!” By then, it was too late to carry out alternate plans and shift thousands of tons of spares, fuel, and torpedoes south.

    Following the new guidelines, war’s outbreak found the old light cruiser Marblehead well south, at Tarakan, Borneo, along with five destroyers. Destroyer tender Black Hawk was at Balikpapan, Borneo, with four destroyers. New light cruiser Boise was off Cebu, and heavy cruiser Houston at Iloilo, Panay, where newly appointed Commander Task Force 5, Rear Admiral William Glassford, joined her at teatime on D-Day, the eighth. By the twelfth, he was leading a motley force south as fast as the slowest ship (Trinity) would go-ten knots: Boise, Holland, Otus, Isabel, Gold Star, Trinity, Pecos, Langley, Barker, John D. Ford, Pope, Paul Jones, PmTott, and Stewart. Independently headed for Makassar were Tulsa, Asheville, Lark, WhiPpoorwill, and Seadragon. Nobody had troubled to inform the Dutch at Makassar, so they can be excused if they were a little exercised over rumors that the better part of the Japanese navy was headed their way.

    * One old submariner from among the top scorers felt so aggrieved 30 years later that he gave me an assessment which would probably receive a hearty, “Hear! Hear!” from many of his contemporaries: “A monopolistic torpedo station, controlled by grossly inefficient Civil Service bureaucrats, nominally commanded by weak-kneed naval officers, had provided the U.S. Navy with next to worthless torpedoes at the start of a major war for national survival.”

    Here are the submarines Hart had:

    1.Salmon 13.S-36 19.Seadragron

    2.Seal 14.S-37* 20.Sealion

    3.Skipjack 15.S-38* 21.Searaven

    4.Sargo 16.S-39 22.Seawolf

    5.Saury 17.S-40 23.Permit

    6.Spearfish 18.S-41 24.Perch

    7.Snapper 25.Pickerel

    8.Stingray 26.Porpoise

    9.Sturgeon 27.Pike

    10.Sculpin 28.Shark

    11.Sailfish 29.Tarpon


    • 1-6 Division 21; 7-12 Division 22; 13-18 Division 201; 19-22 Division 202; 23-29 Division 203—Clay Blair, Silent Victory, 1975, p.82.

    • Also submarine tenders: Canopus (lost), Holland, and Otus

    • Porpoise was in Subic Bay

    • S-36 was in Linguayen Gulf; S-39 was near San Bernardino Strait

    • There were 24 submarines anchored, or alongside the tenders or piers in Manila Bay, two were anchored just outside Manila Bay, S-37* and S-38*. See p. 133 Silent Victory.

    As Admiral Tolley wrote these were some of the newest and best submarines we had in the service at that time. My dad, Capt. Thomas K. Kimmel, USN (S-40, Balao, Bergall, retired-deceased), Manning’s brother (Drum, Raton, Robalo) was the diving officer on S-40, which most definitely was not one of the new ones.

    Hart left 26 of his 29 submarines in Manila Bay with no special instructions, and no special precautions–S-40 was one of them. Hart did not have a fleet worthy of the name with one significant exception—his submarines. Since American submarines were a major, if not the major contributor to victory over Japan, clearly Japan would have advanced their war effort by an order of magnitude had they attacked Hart’s submarines instead of the eight battleships at Pearl Harbor. Indeed, they would have done better to attack the four submarines at Pearl Harbor.

    “The submarine defense of the Philippines was, on the whole, abysmally planned and executed. Eight major errors may be listed.

    “1. Faulty peacetime training.

    “2. Poor upkeep and maintenance.

    “3. Basing submarines in Manila.

    “4. No initial deployment for war.

    “5. Weak instructions for war.

    “6. No defense of Lingayen Gulf.

    “7. Unnecessary loss of material and men.

    “8. Failure to [immediately test the Mark XIV torpedo].”

    • Clay Blair, Silent Victory, 1975, pp.156-160

    In 1973, the man in charge of the “Three-Small-Ships Incident,” Admiral Kemp Tolley, quoted his 1971 luncheon conversation with his former boss, the Commander in Chief of the Asiatic Fleet Admiral Thomas Hart as follows,

    Tolley: Would you tell Admiral [Harry] Hill if you think we were set up to bait an incident, a casus belli?

    Hart: Yes! I think you were bait! And I could prove it. But I won’t. And don’t you try it, either.

    Admiral Tolley quoted Admiral Hart further as follows,

    About the [three small ships incident] the counsel of the Joint Congressional Committee, [Seth] Richardson, knew about it but did not bring it out. I was afraid they would ask me about it. Then the fat would have been ignited, for Senators Brewster and Ferguson were mainly bent on discrediting FDR.

    My relationships with [Admiral Stark] were close and I did expect that he would someday begin to talk about [the 3-small-ships incident]. He never did. . . I feel I should take the same attitude… I destroyed my record on the subject.

    Admiral Hart did not reveal any of the preceding information to any Pearl Harbor investigation in spite of the fact that he led one—The Hart Inquiry. Admiral Hart was the beneficiary of special legislation in June 1942 that allowed him uniquely to permanently retire at his highest held temporary rank of four stars without the normally required approval of the Senate after Presidential nomination.

    Hart served as Stark’s counsel at the Naval Court of Inquiry.

    Tom Kimmel

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