A Time to Remember…Memorial Day

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
May 23 2015
The Manila Cemetery, where the American War dead of the Pacific rest, and where those lost and not recovered are remembered on the "Tablets of the Missing"

The Manila Cemetery, where the American War dead of the Pacific rest, and where those lost and not recovered are remembered on the “Tablets of the Missing”


As we pause for a few moments this weekend to remember those who laid down their private civilian lives to take up arms, then never came home, let’s remember…

Each of those men and women had parents.

Some had siblings.

Some had spouses or fiances or other loved ones

Some had children.

Some had aunts and uncles and cousins.





Brothers and sisters in arms.



The truth is, the cost of war is higher than gold and blood. It can also be counted in the lives of those who receive that dreaded letter, or telegraph, or personal call at any hour of the day or night.

“We’re sorry to inform you…”

One life is over, and another life must begin living with a memory where a loved one once had been.

If the cost is so high, why pay it?

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery.  You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to the beach.  Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated.  Photo Source: fold3.com

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery. You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to the beach. Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated. Photo Source: fold3.com

Because of the value of freedom.

As a historian, I’ve read so many accounts from all over the world and time from different people. The freedom to become something that isn’t dictated by the status of your parents, or your “class” or what you look like, or where you live is so amazingly unusual.

And the ability to do that, to be free to become something radically different from where you started, no matter where, is worth protecting.  So much so, that men and women still voluntarily chose to give up their civilian freedom to become a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Coast Guardsman, or Marine.



As a country, we’re imperfect, because we’re made of imperfect people.

Thankfully, courage doesn’t rely on perfection.

Neither does love.

And neither does gratitude.

Freedom can get snuffed out in a generation, or even through an action, or inaction. Over the years of our history,  this country has put freedom to be who we can be as individuals living together to test after test. Those tests have stretched us, changed us, molded us, and even once, tore us apart.



One hundred and fifty years ago, the United States of America became divided. Over the next four years, the process of war killed more Americans than the previous wars.

The losses cut across state lines.

Class lines.

Racial lines.

Ethnic lines.

The losses were so staggering there was hardly a family who did not have a memory of a life cut short haunting them.


In the aftermath, there was one thing that unified nearly all American no matter where they came from or what they looked like:




It was a Reconstruction that was riddled with imperfections and even yes, injustices, but together we started with the one thing we could agree on: honoring our war dead as we had to move forward with only their memories.

Sometimes, in the safety and plenty here, we can forget it can vanish. We can forget that our freedom requires vigilance. It requires, at times, those who are willing to leave their homes and comforts behind and embrace the hardships of war. And some of those who make the sacrifice, sacrifice all.

And those left behind must rebuild.


Memorial Day used to be May 30, a day chosen, as the story goes, because all over the USA, flowers would be in bloom, allowing those who could, to honor their lost family members by decorating their graves, or their stones commemorating a lost grave, somewhere out there.


It turned into a three-day weekend in 1971, and unofficially became the start of summer.

But Memorial Day, born out of loss, was always meant to do three things:

  • Honor those who sacrificed all so we can live free.
  • Comfort those who continue to live and grow with memories where once there was a loved one.
  • Remind ourselves, and be grateful for the freedom we live under. Freedom that, at times, does require courageous people to choose hardship of war, or potential war, over comfort of home so that others will not have the war arrive at home.

Is it a time that we will gather with friends and family? Sure.

Is it a time we will open our grills and pools and laugh and enjoy some extra time together? Sure.

I don’t think any veteran would begrudge that. It’s part of what they chose to fight to protect.


For a moment, sometime this weekend, might I ask that we all pause and remember that freedom was hard to win, it’s difficult to maintain, and it’s impossible to guarantee without remembering how we got it in the first place, and what it cost on so many levels.

In 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance Act, signed by President Clinton, encourages all Americans to pause at 3p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in the service of our nation.

As a historian, may I also encourage you that if you know a veteran, and they are willing to talk about those who never made it home, ask for their stories, to keep these men and women alive.  It doesn’t have to be the story of how they didn’t return, but rather, who they were while they served together.

They deserve to be remembered.  And we, those of us who remain in our freedom in part because of them, need to remember, and remember to be grateful. Whatever our flaws as individuals, communities, and a nation, we still strive to preserve our freedom for ourselves, and our children.

The Newest Indiana in the Fleet! Welcome PCU INDIANA (SSN-789)!

Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
May 20 2015

(Yes, Photoshop and my new computer are still non-compatible. Musashi will come, but Memorial Day will come first, which is perfectly fine, there’s lots of stuff going on. USS INDIANA for example.)

May 18th  marked the “keel laying ceremony” for the PCU[1]Indiana! Being a Hoosier by address, this is big news in my neck of the woods.

The official Navy image of what the completed INDIANA will look like.  US Navy Image.

The official Navy image of what the completed INDIANA will look like. US Navy Image.

This will be the fourth Indiana by name, and the first Indiana in nearly 68 years time. (See below for the previous Indianas in the US Navy)

A keel, in ship’s parlance, is a long beam that runs along the length of the ship. In the sailing days, the keel was the “backbone of the ship”, with ribs coming up from the keel and the skin of the hull over that. As wooden vessels transitioned to steel in the late 19th century, this keel became a long steel beam, with steel ribs and hull plating. In all cases, the keel was what gave the ship its strength and structure, any problems with the keel would create problems later.


These are two submarines under construction on July 4, 1944. On the left is the TIRU which will enter service.  On the right is the Wahoo (II), which will be scrapped as the war ended before her construction.  However, you can clearly see the keel running down the center of the WAHOO (II)'s back, where all the sections of her frame will be attached to.  (It is also a good cross-section of a WWII era submarine, the central circular section is the pressure hull where the men will live and work, the 'bulges" on either side are the ballast tanks/diesel tanks.  US Navy Photo via navsource.org

These are two submarines under construction on July 4, 1944. On the left is the TIRU which will enter service. On the right is the Wahoo (II), which will be scrapped as the war ended before her construction. However, you can clearly see the keel running down the center of the WAHOO (II)’s back, where all the sections of her frame will be attached to. (It is also a good cross-section of a WWII era submarine, the central circular section is the pressure hull where the men will live and work, the ‘bulges” on either side are the ballast tanks/diesel tanks. US Navy Photo via navsource.org

If the Launch of a ship is her birthday, then the keel laying, is in a way, the ship’s official conception date. (Never mind that a lot of work has already been done up to this point!) From this date forward, the ship is “officially” under construction.

 The Keel Ceremony and a Ship’s (Boat’s) Sponsor

A ship (or boat, as we’re discussing a future submarine here) has no crew or Commanding Officer at this point, so she her keel ceremony is overseen by her “sponsor”.

This sponsor is a civilian who acts as a “godmother” to the ship or submarine whose keel is being laid.  Sometimes the sponsor is the wife, mother, or daughter of a submarine dignitary, or congressional personnel, and this person will return for her Launch, and commissioning. According to Don’t Shoot the Albatross!: Nautical Myths and Superstitions by Jonathan Eyers, the ship’s sponsor is “…a sort of ship’s mascot—even if most of her crewmates probably wouldn’t want her to join them on board.”

Some of the last several sponsors of submarines include:

Then-First Lady Laura Bush at the Keel Laying Ceremony for the USS TEXAS in 2004.  The Texas has been in service since 2006.

Then-First Lady Laura Bush at the Keel Laying Ceremony for the USS TEXAS in 2004. The Texas has been in service since 2006.


  • USS TEXAS (SSN-775): Laura Bush The then-current First Lady and Texas resident
  • USS HAWAII (SSN-776): Linda Lingle, Governor of Hawaii in 2006, when the she boat was under construction.
  • USS NORTH CAROLINA (SSN-777): Linda Bowman, wife of Adm. Frank Bowman, director of Naval Reactors.
  • USS NEW HAMPSHIRE (SSN-778): New Hampshire-resident Cheryl McGuiness, widow of Pilot Thomas McGuiness , lost aboard American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11, 2001, when the plane hit the Twin Towers.
  • First Lady Michelle Obama writes her initials during the Keel Ceremony of the upcoming submarine ILLINOIS.   Official WH Photo.

    First Lady Michelle Obama writes her initials during the Keel Ceremony of the upcoming submarine ILLINOIS. Official WH Photo.

  • USS MISSISSIPPI (SSN-782):: Alison Stiller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy
  • USS JOHN WARNER (SSN-785) : Jeanne Warner, wife of living-namesake John Warner[2]
  • USS ILLINOIS (SSN-786): Michelle Obama, current First Lady and Illinois resident.

Ship’s sponsors come from all over, but regardless of why each person is chosen, it is a great honor to be so. The INDIANA’s sponsor is Diane Donald, wife of retired Adm. Kirkland Donald, who was a submariner. Mrs. Donald is a long-serving member of the Submarine Force Spouse Organization.

During the Keel-laying ceremony the ship’s sponsor traditionally conducted some sort of symbolic work on the keel. During WWII, they might help place a rivet (not the “Golden Rivet” of Sea Story Lore).

Modern shipbuilding methods have forced some changes to the “Keel Laying Ceremony”…including the lack of a keel. But the ceremony is still the first landmark in the life of a ship.

Admrial Clark Woodward drives the official first rivet of the future USS MISSOURI during the keel laying ceremony. The Missouri is now on display in Oahu, overlooking the wreck of the USS ARIZONA.  US Navy Photo.

Admrial Clark Woodward drives the official first rivet of the future USS MISSOURI during the keel laying ceremony. The Missouri is now on display in Oahu, overlooking the wreck of the USS ARIZONA. US Navy Photo.


The Keel Authentication/Laying Ceremony

Many subs today are built in modular sections, and then welded together in the shipyard. Sometimes, by the time the “Keel Ceremony” is conducted, the ship is over half-built in various sections. The PCU JOHN WARNER was reportedly 59% complete by the time her keel ceremony took place in 2013. The INDIANA has been under construction since 2012, and is officially 48% complete as is.

And since there is no Keel to lay, per se, the sponsor no longer has a rivet to rivet. So sometimes, the “Keel Laying Ceremony” is now a “Keel Authentication Ceremony” and marks the welding of the first modules of the boat together. The ship’s sponsor will write her initials in chalk on a steel plate, and a welder will weld the initials onto the plate. The plate will then be attached to the submarine’s hull, permanently uniting the boat and sponsor.

In INDIANA’s case, the welder who did the steel rendering of Mrs. Donald’s initials was Mrs. Heather Johnson, a 37-year old welder with ten years’ experience. This marks the first time a female welder participated in this part of the Keel ceremony.

Indiana's Sponsor Mrs. Donald watches her initials getting welded durign part of the Keel ceremony for the Indiana.

Indiana’s Sponsor Mrs. Donald watches her initials getting welded during part of the Keel ceremony for the Indiana.  You can see the chalked initials on the steel.  Many sponsor choose “block style lettering” (see Mrs. Bush above) for their keel block, but Mrs. Donaldson did not.  Ms. Johnson later said it was more challenging, but she was able to do it with all the practice she’d put in leading up to the ceremony.

Now the INDIANA has been ceremonially put under construction.  Her construction will likely take another two or more years, putting a tentative delivery date sometime in 2017 to 2018. (This is my calculation, not anything official, just based on the past several VIRGINIA-class boats)


The First USS INDIANA (BB-1)

Indiana (I) underway.  US Navy Photo.

Indiana (I) underway.

The lead ship of the INDIANA-class battleships, INDIANA (I) holds the distinction of the being the very first modern battleship in the US Navy (BB-1). She was built by William Cramp and Sons Shipyard in Philadelphia between 1891 and 1893, and commissioned in 1895. She served through the Spanish American War, then was decommissioned. Technology had advanced in five short years, and she was now obsolete, and was modernized receiving a second commission in 1906. She served several years as a training vessel, before before being decommissioned a second time in 1914.

That year, iof course, saw the beginning of “The Great War” now WWI. The INDIANA was called up again, and served as a training ship until 1919 when she was decommissioned so her name could be given to a new construction. Deliereately grounded near Chesapeake Bay, ex- INDIANA (I) served as an aerial target by the fledgling Navy Pilots. She sank during these tests, though the water was too shallow to swallow her. Her hulk was sold in 1924, and she was removed and scrapped.


The Second INDIANA (BB-50)

A painting of what the second Indiana and her sisters would have looked like.  US Navy History and Heritage Center

A painting of what the second Indiana and her sisters would have looked like. US Navy History and Heritage Center

This SOUTH DAKOTA-class ship never tasted water. Her name having been borrowed from Indiana (I) , her keel was laid on 1 November 1920, the fifth-such battleship

In an effort to prevent another World War (yes, we all know that didn’t work!) signers of the Washington Naval Treaty, the USA, Britain, Japan, France and Italy, voluntarily limited their navy’s ship size to 35,000 tons. Germany was barred from having any large naval vessels by the Treaty of Versailles. By keeping the size and number of ships capped, some felt that they could avert another conflict by one large power starting another war.

The treaty was signed on February 6, 1922, and by its terms the Indiana (II) and her sisters were too large. Even though most were over 30% complete, they were scrapped.

The second battleship INDIANA shortly before her construction was cancelled due to the Washington Naval Treaty.  US Navy Photo

The second battleship INDIANA shortly before her construction was cancelled due to the Washington Naval Treaty. US Navy Photo


The Third INDIANA (BB-58)

The third Indiana, which would serve during WWII

The third Indiana, which would serve during WWII

The terms of the Washington Naval Treaty were due to end in 1936, with provisions for re-upping another term. By the, Japan had terminated their portion, and many in the militaries around the world could see that another war was all but certain now.

The South Dakota-class battleships were tried again. Indiana (III) (BB-58) was laid down in November 1939, but was born into war. In her five-year career from 1942 – 1947, she participated in the Solomon Islands campaign, the Marianas Islands Campaign, the fights for Tarawa, Kwajalein, and Truk Atoll, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Iwo Jima nad Okinawa.

Despite her five-year age, by this time, she was one of the older battleships that had survived WWII, and was put in reserve status. Formerly decommissioned and scrapped in 1947, Indiana (III) has several artifacts on display around Indiana: her mainmast and guns at IU, her anchor at the Allen County Warm Memorial in Ft. Wayne, her bell at the Heslar Naval Armory in Indy, and her prow at Memorial Stadium at IU.



[1][1] PCU—Pre-Commissioning Unit. A ship gains the “USS” (United States Ship) only after commissioning. Until then, she is a PCU unit, and the Navy officially does not take responsibility for her yet. The Navy may assign her first Commanding Officer, they may be overseeing her construction, they may provide a crew for her sea trials, but until she’s commissioned, she is not a USS anything. In fact, at this point, she’s officially, SSN-

[2] The JOHN WARNER is only the third sub to be named for a living namesake. The previous two such boats were the HYMAN RICKOVER and the current JIMMY CARTER. And yes, like the WARNER, their sponsers were also the namesake’s wives: Mrs. Elenore Ann Bednowicz Rickover and Mrs. Rosalyn Carter

The Razor’s Edge: the Most Dangerous U-Boat of WWII

And now for something completely different..., Lost Submarines of the World | Posted by Rebekah
May 18 2015

May 8, 1945: Victory over Europe Day. The day the German military laid down their arms and surrendered to the closest assigned base, or port.

Eleven days later the final German submarine surrendered.

Rare color photo (the Navy actually took a number of color photos and film during WWII, but a lot has since gone missing.)

Rare color photo (the Navy actually took a number of color photos and film during WWII, but a lot has since gone missing.) of the U-234’s surrender.  US Navy Photo


She was the largest U-boat left in Germany’s arsenal, and carried a number of high-profile passengers. The media went crazy over the Luftwaffe officers processing down the gangplank in their smart leather overcoats and visible medals.  Unlike previous surrendered submarines, no one was permitted to speak with these Germans on pain of death.  Still, the images made for great newsreels, and this was the fourth U-boat in port anyway.  The media was more than happy to take photos and footage and leave the interrogating to the professionals.

That frenzy covered the truly deeper, more terrifying story of what the U-boat had been doing, and what she was carrying when Germany surrendered.

Yanagi: The Secret Submarine Highway

Unknown to many people then (and even now), Japan and Germany had a submarine highway between their two countries. U-Boats and Japanese submarines would transit between each country by rounding the Horn of Africa and crossing the Indian Ocean[1].

Before the war, exchanges took place openly using cargo vessels. Then, parties resorted to the Trans-Siberian railroad across technically-neutral Russia[2]. That ended after the Nazis invaded in June 1941 and discovered Russians were no pushovers. The final resort, submarines, began making the trek. Soon, blueprints for U-Boats, Jet Engines, Enigma Machines, blueprints for Japanese weapons, experts in a variety of fields, even critical rare supplies, slinked around Africa, back and forth.

Many of these long-haul trips ended in disaster, with the submarines more often than not getting sunk on either the German or Japanese ends of the voyage by Allied submarines. Still, the transport continued.

And this is where the U-234 comes in. Originally a large minelaying submarine, the 234 was refitted in late 1944 as a Japanese-transport submarine. Her mineshafts were refitted into cargo holds, and she was fitted with a snorkel so she would not have to surface as she crept past the British Isles and out to the open sea.

By the time U-234 sailed on April 15, 1945, Germany was in a desperate state. It’s likely that U-234 was Germany’s last gasp to assist the only remaining ally standing against the Allies.

Dangerous Cargo

Besides carrying 6-9 months of fuel and provisions, U-234’s cargo included

  • The jet aboard the U-234.  You can clearly see the Swastika on the tail.

    The jet aboard the U-234. You can clearly see the Swastika on the tail.

  • An Me262 plane, disassembled and crated.  (This was the world’s first operational jet, see at right.  By some accounts, there were two aboard.)
  • Components for the V-2 Rocket/Missile
  • A Henschel glide Bomb,
  • new electric torpedoes (that did not leave a wake or warning when fired)
  • 26 tons of Mercury
  • 7 tons of optical glass
  • 74 tons of lead
  • technical blueprints and plans of various weapons (according to some accounts, this was not just a few drawings, but 6,615 POUNDS worth of such drawings), [3]
  • Over 1 ton of mail for various German diplomats, technicians and experts already working in Japan.
  • and a number of sealed barrels, weighing in at 1,200 pounds.


The High-Profile Passenger List: Possibly even more dangerous than the cargo.

  • Lufwaffe General Ulrich Kessler, to be assigned to Tokyo as an Airforce Attache, helping the Japanese create and train a jet-squadron using the crated craft and drawings on 234.
  • Oberleutnant (1st) Erich Menzel of the Luftwaffe. Attache to Kessler, Menzel was a skilled navigator and bombardier, with combat experience against British, American and Russian troops. and Lietenant of the Luftwaffe.
  • Colonel Sandrattz von Sandrart, of the Luftwaffe. Anti-aircraft Specialist, who was assigned to boost Japan’s defense systems against the constant bomber attacks.
  • Colonel Kay Neishling of the Luftwaffe; Naval Judical and investigative officer was heading to Japan to evict spies out of the German diplomatic corps.
  • Fregattenkapitan (Lt. Cmdr.) Gerhard Falcke; fluent in Japanese, was an architect and construction engineer who was to oversee building the new factories for jets and ships.
  • Kptlt (Lt. Cmdr) Richard Bulla. A former crewmate to 234’s captain, Bulla’s expertise lay in new armaments and weapons, and the latest in carrier aviation
  • Oberleutnant (Lt.) Heinrich Hellendoorn, an artillery officer, was to serve as Germany’s observer
  • Franz Ruf, civilian, industrial machinery specialist tasked with designing aircraft complenets and other small devices.
  • August Bringinwald, civilian, who helped oversee the jet’s production, and was to do the same in Japan.
  • Heinz Schliege, civilian scientist: a Radar, Infared and countermeasures specialist, his mission was the help the Japan manufacture many of the smaller devices depicted in the blueprints. He was also the custodian of the blueprints, and ordered to destroy them then kill himself if 234 was captured

Two Japanese Naval Officers,

  • Cmdr. Hidero Tomonaga, aviator turned submarine specialist who had come to Germany aboard the I-29 in 1943.
  • Cmdr. Genjo Shogi, and aircraft specialist who had spent years in Europe as a military attache in several countries.


The Japanese officers oversaw the loading of all the equipment for their military. The sealed barrels were of particular interest, and they painted “U-235” on them. The U-boat sailors laughed at this, believing the Japanese officers had already forgotten their proper hull number: 234. The officers had not forgotten-they were marking the barrels by periodic symbol. As in, this symbol:


Uranium Isotope 235 is fissionable, unlike most of Uranium's isotopes.

Uranium Isotope 235   (U-235) is fissionable, unlike most of Uranium’s isotopes.

The cargo manifest, known only to a few onboard, revealed these barrels contained 560 kilos of Uranium Oxide, aka “Yellow Cake Uranium”. To this day, there are debates about what this was meant for[4], but no matter what, its successful arrival could have meant the prolonging or even stalemate in the Pacific War.[5]


The Voyage

U-234 departed on her mission in April 15, 1945, commanded by Ly. Johann “Dynamite” Fehler[6], one of the top remaining U-boat commanders left in Germany. And yet, due to the high mortality of the U-boat service, this was Fehler’s first submarine combat mission.[7]

Despite the lofty goal of reaching Japan in three months time, many of the crew doubted they would succeed. As second watch officer Karl Ernst Phaff later said, “[We believed] ..the chances were fifty-fifty. In reality, they were much worse, but that we did not know. Because losses were never revealed.”

Another said, “It was clear that the war was lost, our morale was non-existent.”

Nonetheless, U-234 headed out, her bow for Japan. Fehler’s first order of business: use a different route than he’d been assigned, in case the Allies were listening and had set an ambush. It was a wise move, he avoided the first ambush by a British sub, and 234 made it to the Atlantic.

It was cold in the north Atlantic waters, unless you were in the engine rooms. The extra 12 people made a cramped situation even more so. Since 234 had to sneak around Britain, she ran deep most of the day, only coming close enough to the surface to expose her snorkel when she had to run her diesels. The air was typical submarine air: foul.

Still, many of the crew remember the initial part of the trip as working as well as it could. The Japanese lieutenants Tomonaga and Shogi were particularly remembered as being gracious and friendly, inviting many of the crew to visit their homes and families once the U-234 got to Japan.


Germany Collapses

Meanwhile, back in Germany, the two fronts from Russia in the east and the Allies in France, closed rapidly on Germany. On April 30, Hitler and his new wife Eva Braun committed suicide and their bodies were burnt by their comrades to keep them out of Allied hands. Many other Nazi High Command committed suicide or went into hiding (most of whom were captured, some were not.

May 8 was Victory in Europe day. All German military units were ordered to surrender. Millions of war survivors rejoiced.

VE Day celebrated in London, Imperial War Museum, Britain.

VE Day celebrated in London, Imperial War Museum, Britain.

Far out in the Atlantic, the U-234 missed the first announcement of Germany’s total surrender and continued on course for Japan. Two days later, Cpt. Fehler heard a shortwave radio transmission from Submarine Admiral Karl Donitz…”My U-Boat Men, six years of war lie behind us. You have fought like lions. An enemy with oppressive material advantage has contained us on our exceedingly small territory From this remaining base a continuation of our struggle is impossible. U-boat men, unbroken and immaculate, you must lay down your arms after a heroic fight. Long Live Germany. “

Fehler and his crew could not believe it. The tuned into foreign radio stations, including English-speaking ones. Each one announced Germany’s utter defeat.

Still Fehler refused to believe it. While this was his first U-boat command, he had been an officer aboard the infamous raider Atlantis, whose modus operandi was to disguise itself as a friendly merchant vessel to lure British ships within range before revealing her camouflaged guns. He knew all too well the power of a convincing radio message.

They managed to raise a fellow U-boat, the U-873, which had been en route to the Caribbean. 873’s commander was Friedrich Steinhoff, a dedicated (some said fanatical) Nazi. He confirmed the news: Germany was defeated, Hitler was dead (Donitz was, in fact, the leader of the German government, such as it was in these days), and all submarines were to surrender to the nearest Allied port. 873 herself was just 24 hours from Portsmouth New Hampshire, to join the already surrendered U-805, and the U-1228 was following the 873 by about 24 hours.

Now what? All German naval vessels currently at sea, were ordered to surrender as soon as possible. For the U-boats in the North Atlantic, they were to head to the closest of the four approved ports: Britain, Gibraltar, Canada, or the USA.

But U-234 was caught in a strange trap. She was nearly equidistant from them all, and with enough fuel and provisions to go…pretty much anywhere they wanted. No matter what they did, it would likely be days before they COULD surrender to anyone.

Some of the crew argued to go home. Others, to Argentina or the Caribbean. Whatever the decision, the crew had to decide where to go, surface and fly the black surrender flag before radioing their positions and course for Allied intercept. Anything else, and the 234 could be sunk as pirates.

All Fehler wanted to do was return home, and he reasoned that he might get home faster surrendering to the Americans.

Now for the final wrinkle: the two Japanese officers.


Surrender and Death

Japan and the Allies were still in open war. Once the U-234 was captured, these men would be taken as POWs, and high value ones at that, fully trained and versed in both German and Japanese technology, plans, and tactics.

Captain Fehler had to arrest the Japanese officers, as part of the surrender, and locked them in a cabin, but he wanted to reassure them and he wouldn’t just turn them over.

“ I informed the two Japanese about the situation. And I gave them my word that I would try my best not [to] let them fall into allied hands, but to try to put them ashore somewhere in neutral territory, as Spain, Portugal, Canary Islands or somewhere else. Apparently, they did not trust my word, or believed the idea was not feasible…” -Lettter from Capt. Fehler

But until they chose an option, they would have to remain confined to quarters, under guard.

Had this been a Japanese submarine, it is very likely the sub’s crew, would have scuttled the sub and gone down with her, rather than be captured with such valuable information. But this was not the German way[8].

So the Japanese officers took their own lives. According to Tomanaga’s widow, they chose to overdose on sleeping pills rather than any ritualized seppuku or bloodletting out of consideration for the boat and crew. They left behind a suicide note[9]. The also left behind wives and children in Japan who had not seen their fathers in years, and now, never would.


Funeral, then Surrender

Capt Fehler later remembered the next morning:

“When they were discovered on the next morning, nothing could be done for them anymore. We kept their bodies on board for 20 more hours until daybreak the next morning. I had them sewed up in canvas hammocks and they were given over board in the proper seaman’s way with prayer and covered by Japanese flags…We had to carry the bodies to the engine [room] as there we had sufficient space to sew them up in their canvas coffins.”-Letter from Capt. Fehler

It was May 13. , Germany has been defeated for a week. Occupation troops for Europe were being assigned. Calculations for Operation Downfall (the invasion of Japan) are being made. Non-occupation troops would be shipped to Japan as fast as possible to push the war’s end. [10]

In the western Atlantic, the race was on. Between Allied Intelligence before the surrender, and information gained after, both Canada and America knew the 234 was one of the most valuable submarines left at sea. Destroyers from both countries were out, intercepting and escorting enemy subs to Nova Scotia, Maine and Massachusetts. Whoever intercepted 234 first would gain her, her cargo, and her passengers. 234 radioed her position and course, with the orders to report in again within 24 hours.

Aboard the 234, Fehler, for whatever reason, jettisoned some of the cargo: acoustic torpedoes, Enigma machines, classified documents were thrown overboard. His choices of cargo to keep and cargo to retain was never explained, even by Fehler. The sealed containers marked U-235 remained in their hold.

May 14: The Canadians radioed 234 first, demanding she report her position, speed, and course again. Fehler radioed a position more northern than they were, and an 8 knot speed west, heading for Halifax. Canada sent ships to intercept, while Fehler, at almost 16 knots, fled SW to America.

In America, the destroyer SUTTON, escorting the U-1224 which had also surrendered, was re-routed back to sea to intercept the 234. The destroyer SCOTT remained with the 1224.

In an almost hysterical moment, SUTTON came upon Canadian ships WASKESIEU and LAUXON, in the search area based on 234’s initial report.  For over 11 hours the three ships co-operated in a search grid, until the Canadian Navy reported 234’s (supposed) position north.

The two Canadian ships departed, leaving SUTTON behind. Four hours later, SUTTON’s radar picked up the 234 running on surface. At 2241 (10:41 pm) the SUTTON overtook the 234. Once the ship and sub sized each other up, they discovered they were nearly the same size—if anything, the 234 was bigger.

U-234 pulls alongside the SUTTON.  US Navy Photo

U-234 pulls alongside the SUTTON. US Navy Photo

It would take five days to get back to the States, but the 234 was captured, along with her valuable cargo. 234’s Captain, officers, passengers, and most of the crew were transferred to SUTTON, and a skeleton crew was left to help the transferred American sailors sail the 234 back the States.

When the Canadians angrily radioed again demanding the 234 confirm her position and course and not slip away again , it was an American sailor who answered![11]


A Cruel Irony

The media went crazy over the high-ranking German personnel that disembarked. They were so top-secret that the Navy forbade the press to come within speaking distance of anyone. The Marines on guard duty were ordered to shoot anyone who tried. Nonetheless, the crew and passengers were paraded down the dock to the waiting bus in full sight of the cameras.

The Furor over the high-value prisoners, especially the Luftwaffe General, neatly hid the cargo within the boat. A cargo manifest that, after the war, mentioned the tech drawings, weapons, medical supplies, lead, mercury, steel…but no Uranium.

Truth was, at this time, no one knew how much Uranium would be needed to make an atomic bomb. Special units in Germany were collecting Uranium anywhere and everywhere it was abandoned in Germany’s unorganized retreat.   The U-234’s cargo was an incredible coup.

In the days following the surrender, Watch Officer Ernst Pfaff, in charge of the manifest, was ordered to oversee the opening of the sealed containers inn a closed room in front of a number of military and one civilian man. The civilian seemed to be in charge, or at least treated with great respect. Later, Pfaff learned this man’s name: Robert Oppenheimer. History calls him the Father of the Atomic Bomb.

While no one knows for certain, as the Uranium Oxide vanished, many historians believe it was purified into almost 16 pounds of weapons-grade uranium. And that 16 pounds could have become 10-15% of the warhead of “Little Boy”.


August 6, 1945.  Hiroshima's bomb, "Little Boy" had a Uranium core.

August 6, 1945. Hiroshima’s bomb, “Little Boy” had a Uranium core.

Thus, part of the cargo meant to help Japan win the war, became part of its destruction.

This watercolor painting by Naval Artist Standish Backus depicted scenes the Naval investigators found in Hiroshima a month after the blast.  From the Naval History and Heritage Collection.

This watercolor painting by Naval Artist Standish Backus depicted scenes the Naval investigators found in Hiroshima a month after the blast. From the Naval History and Heritage Collection.

Fallout and Epilogue

To this day, historians are divided about whether the cargo or the passengers of the 234 were more dangerous. Had 234 been sent to Japan in January, not April, and had she made it, it is possible the war could have concluded in a very different way.  The Japanese could either have had the components of a “dirty bomb” of their own to use, or even new jets and the ability to make fuel for them.

As had happened after WWI, all the captured U-Boats were thoroughly dismantled and inspected for new technologies. Not shockingly, German sub tech like Snorkels appeared within a few years aboard American diesel boats.

The U-234 was sunk as a target by the USS GREENFISH (SS-351) on 20 November 1947 off Cape Cod.

U-234's final moments.  The bow of the Greenfish is in the foreground.  USN Photo via navsource.org

U-234’s final moments. The bow of the Greenfish is in the foreground. USN Photo via navsource.org




For more Information:

A great article about U-234 with sketches done by men aboard the escorting ships.  https://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/authors/thiesen/SeaHistory142%20EliotWinslow1.pdf



Hitler’s Last UBoat Documentary (2001)




Tales from the Atomic Age by Paul W. Frame. Originally published in the May 1997 issue of Health Physics Society Newsletter. Accessed May 14, 2015 from : https://www.orau.org/ptp/articlesstories/u234.htm

Lieuteant Eliot Winslow Kaitanleutenant Johann-Henirch Fehler and the Surrenser of the Nazi’s Top-Secret Submarine, U-234. Originally published on Sea History, 142, Spring 2013https://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/authors/thiesen/SeaHistory142%20EliotWinslow1.pdf

Letter from CApt Fehler, pg. 2. Accessed: http://greyfalcon.us/the%20U.htm

Wikipedia Entries on U-234; USS SUTTON; USS SCOTT; Karl Donitz

Scalia, Joseph M, Grmany’s Last Mission to Japan; The Failed Voyage of U-234. Naval Institute Press, 2000

War Diary of USS SUTTON (DE-771) 4/1/45 – 5/31/45. US Archives Via fold3.com

Billings, Richard N;  Battleground Atlantic: How the SInking of a Single Japanese Submarine Assured the Outcome of World War II Penguin Group 2006

Johann-Heinrich Fehler: http://www.sharkhunters.com/EPFehler.htm



[1] In case this seems overly long, this was the only route that avoided the Suez Canal and the heavily-patrolled Straits of Gibraltar, two choke points where they would be seen.

[2] Russia and Germany signed the German-Soviet Nonagression Pact in 1939. Then Hitler decided to throw it aside.

[3] Among these drawings were plans for everything the U-234 carried, plus building plans for the needed factories, plans for the newest ships and submarines on the Germany side, bombsights, analog computers for bombsights, airplane mounted radars

[4] Hitler and the Nazis had an atomic program for an atomic bomb, so this could have been weapon-grade uranium to give to the Japanese to complete their project. On the other hand, it is also possible that it was a catalyst for a type of synthetic aviation fuel. As we saw with the Musashi post, Japan’s military was suffering for a number of reasons, but lack of fuel was one of the greatest problems, and this would have helped.

[5] By some accounts, this was not the first time Uranium had been shipped to Japan from Germany.


  • In April 1944, the I-29, by some accounts, was loaded with uranium bound back to Japan. She was sunk in the Balintang Channel, Luzon Strait, on 26 July 1944 by American submarine SAWFISH.


  • August 1, 1944, the I-52 was loaded with nearly 1,000 pounds of Uranium Oxide in Lorient, France, (part of the Nazi dominions.) Due to Allied advancements from Normandy, the I-52 is directed to finish her loading and provisions in Norway. She departs for Japan instead, and rendezvous with the U-530 on June 22, for a top off of fuel and provisions. The radio traffic between the two boats tipped Allied Intelligence to their location, and five destroyers were dispatched to attack. U-530 escaped, I-5 did not. In 1995, her wreck was located was in 17,000 feet of water 1,200 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands.


  • Some accounts say that the U-1224 (re-commissioned in the Japanese Navy as RO-501)and the U-862 (surrendered to the Japanese Navy at Singapore and was re-commissioned as the I-502) were also involved in shipping Uranium to the Far East, but these accounts have fewer records at this time. At any rate, U-234’s shipment was at least the third try, they were so desperate for the stuff.


[6] He had gained his nickname because no matter what his assignment, he tried to find some way to incorporate explosives—much to the chagrin of his commanding officers.

[7] By this time, 70% of U-boats and 75% of U-boat sailors had already been lost. And the Allies were not letting up.

[8] Some people wonder why the Europeans and Japanese had such a different views to surrender and POW treatment in wars. While much has been made of the Samurai code of “bushido” which lionized death before surrender and the shame, not much has been written about the history of Europeans that shaped the opposite point of view, probably because to a European or American, not shame in surrender makes intrinsic sense. But the concept of surrender to POW status has a long history.

There were a few forces shaping attitudes to battle and warfare in Europe and the Christian ethic of a “Just War”, where you are trying to force your will on your opponent, but that, once that happens, killing and destruction for the sake of killing and destruction was horrific, and a warrior could not be honorable if he reveled in such a thing.   So if someone, or an army, or town surrendered to you, you had won the ‘Just War” as far as they were concerned, and no futher killing was necessary. Besides, there was money to be made at this point.


What you really wanted to do was capture as many people of status as you could.  You may not have killed them, but you had them, and if their families, towns, duchys, country wanted them back, they were going to have to pay a hefty fee.  (you might settle for a POW exchange if they had a bunch of yours they were trying to ransom to you, but really, everyone just wanted the ransom money.)

This ransom, depending on who they had captured, could ruin a family, a town, a county, or an entire country’s economy, which was kind of the point.  You’d be ridiculously wealthy, and they’d be too poor to engage in war with you again for a number of years, which maintains the peace you’d imposed on them anyway.


A famous example: when King Richard Lionheart was captured 1192, his captor, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI of Germany, demanded 65,000 pounds of silver in ransom. That was, at the time, three times England’s annual GDP. Everyone in England (plus the Aquitaine region of France which was part of England at that time), from the nobility, to the serfs, to the formerly-exempt clergy, was heavily taxed to raise these funds, and it was up to Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Richard’s mother) and Prince John Lackland (Richard’s brother and legal regent of England) to enforce these taxes…plus invent new ones, plus confiscate Church treasures, plus sell properties… to raise these funds. (And now you know where the high taxes in the Robin Hood tales come from. In those stories, Prince John wasn’t evil for levying those taxes so much as he was for levying the taxes and seriously considering paying Henry VI a discounted rate if he KEPT Richard…which actually happened!)  It took two years to finally raise enough funds.  Holding a high-ranking prisoner could be a lucrative business.

And of course while you’re holding the King of England (or Earl, Duke, Count, or all the men of a certain town,) you had to treat them relatively well so they survive to the payment of the ransom. To be captured was not shameful in Europe, it was part of the “business” of war in a way.

Did the murder of POWs happen in Europe?  It did.  One has to look no farther than Henry V of England killing POWs after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 for an example.  He spared the highest nobles he had (for the ransom).  (Keep in mind, that at this point in time, while the English army is made up of English noble men -at-arms (knights in armor) the bulk of the army was peasant longbowmen.  On the French side, the peasants should never be trusted with any sort of weaponry, so the whole army was, in fact, feuding noble armies who were as busy fighting each other as the English.  This means where there were few hig-value POWs to be taken in the English army, EVERYONE in the French army was literally, worth taking…unless you are in a tight spot. )

In this particular case, however, Henry V had more French POWs than he had English Military under his command, and it was feared the POWs would figure this out, re-arm themselves and fight their way free, leaving the English, already deep in French territory, vulnerable or dead.  In addition, there were still free French troops in reserve in the area.  If the POWs started a fight, these reserves could also join in, killing the English.  and the Free French were making rallying calls nearby.

This was an unusual practice, and while Henry’s decision is highly criticized now, there appear to be few contemporary chroniclers, even French, who called him out at that time for any excessive brutality for this massacre.  That being said,  the English knights refused, point blank, to take part in the slaughter, which they viewed as un-chivalric , indicating that this was against some understood morals of the time.  The prisoners were therefore killed by English archers, who were peasants. By some accounts, after the free French troops fled, the killing appears to have stopped, so this tactic may have been a form of psychological warfare in a tight spot.  Records show that Henry V ended up shipping  hundreds of POWs home to wait for ransom, which proves the rule: in Europe, battle was meant to take prisoners and bankroll their release, not kill for the sake of killing.

It was this kind of battle, and this type of battle “ethic” (of a sort) that lead to the high proportion of POWs in European battles relative to Japanese.  Thus most of the German military (many of the enlisted of whom were Nazi in name only) were not fanatical enough to want to commit suicide—they’d be returning home, and there was no shame in that.

To be captured in Japan was to be shamed before your family, your community, and your nation.

In Japan, this disdain for POWs was a relatively new phenomenon in some ways.  The Japanese had participated in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905) and in WWI (1914-1918 when the Japanese fought with the Allies to keep the Pacific clear against the German Imperial Navy) .  They took prisoners and were taken prisoner in turn.  These early 20th century POWs were treated with respect, and most were repatriated.

Under traditional Bushido (“The Way of the Warrior” ), surrender was apparently allowable, but death in battle was lionized.  Suicide after was permitted as a way to gain honor, especially if you were one of the few survivors.  Thus you could join your dead brothers-in-arms in a way, both in memory and legend.  Samurai and their families who performed ritualized suicide to join their masters were highly honored in Japanese society.

But as surrender was allowable, though not as honorable as death or suicide, POWs were treated with some respect, hence the better-treatment of the Russian/WWI POWs.

In the aftermath of WWI, Bushido apparently developed to be 1.) something all people could attain through the right behavior, allowing even the lowest-born Japanese person the ability to be honored like a Samurai if they followed Bushido closely enough 2.) the “new” Bushido was much more harsh.  Under the new Bushido, surrender was not something that was “less-honorable” but instead, “dishonorable”.  If you were captured, suicide was the only way to restore lost honor.  A surrendered person under this new bushido, was essentially selfish. It meant your own life was more valuable to you than protecting these people and communities. Therefore, many Japanese military people (and civilians, as the Allies advanced) preferred death to capture or surrender.  They were, in a sense, less than human.

Which is why, in a reflection of this philosophy, Allied POWs and captured civilians were treated so poorly.  (and no, I’m not excusing this treatment, just revealing some of the reasons behind it)

And why the Japanese officers aboard the U-234 chose to commit suicide, rather than surrender.


[9] Text of the Suicide Note Left by Lts. Tomanaga and Syozi according to Paul Tidwell and Richard Billings, authors of, The Secret of I-52”

 It was a great pleasure for us to be able to be together at all times with you and your boat, whether in life or death.

                  But because of fate, about which we can do nothing, it has become a necessity for us to separate ourselves from you and your boat.

                  We thank you for your constant companionship and request the following of you:

  1. Let us die quietly.  Put the corpses in the high sea.
  2. Divide our private possessions among your crew and please take the largest part yourself also.
  3. Inform Japan of the following as soon as possible:

“Cmdr (Freg. Kapt) Genzo Syozi

 ”     ”      ”   Hideo Tomonaga

committed suicide on     May 1945 on board U-234.”

                  In closing we express our gratitude for the friendliness of you and your crew and we hope that everything will go well for the Commanding Officer and all of you.

                                             (signed) Genzo Syozi

                                             (signed) Hideo Tomonaga”


[10] Italy surrendered to the Allies back on September 8, 1943, and Germany on May 8, 1945.   As recently as February 1945, at the Yalta Conference, Roosevelt and Churchill talked about 1947 being the year to end the war with victory over Japan. At that time, they figured that they would have to transport every capable man, vessel and weapon to Japan and fight the Japanese (likely civilians as well as military) inch by inch across the home islands. At this time, while multiple countries were pursuing what would become the atomic weapons, no one had yet gotten to a point where it could be used.

[11] Even though the Germans gave up peaceably, not everything went according to plan. While collecting small arms from the Germans aboard the U-234, Radioman 3c Monroe Konemann was shot in the small of the back when “a German pistol went off in the hand of an American sailor,”. U-boat doctor Franz Walter treated Konemann, but quickly saw he needed surgery (no room on a U-boat) and another doctor’s assistance. Walter and Konemann were transferred to the hastily called Frigate FORSYTH, which had joined SUTTON during the boarding of U-234.   FORSYTH’s doctor, Ralph Samson of Columbus Ohio, and Waltar worked on Konemann, who was soon stable enough to be transferred to a hospital. FORSYTH was detached from the U-234’s escort, and transferred Konemann to a hospital in New Foundland. Sadly, Konemann died of internal hemorrhaging ten days later. Still, Waltar’s efforts to save Konemann were well noted by both the SUTTON and FORSYTH crews.

Sub Skipjack’s MIA …Toilet Paper?!

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
May 07 2015

Quick Note: If you haven’t seen NOVA’s “Nazi Attack on America” which aired last night ( May 6, 2015) on PBS , I really encourage you to catch it on pbs.org or the PBS app. It’s an amazing story, about just how close the German U-Boat Navy got to our shores during WWII (which was largely hidden by the military/government/media for morale reasons) It also shows how history is made, then reconsidered as new evidence comes to light. Besides, who can resist a Ballard and Ritchie Kohler flick? (I doubt Kohler remembers me, but I was curator of the Silversides Submarine Museum when Kohler and John Chatterton came to film part of their Deep Sea Detectives show aboard our USCGC McLANE for the episode “Caught in a Killer Storm: Bedloe and Jackson” (Season 5, Episode 7). They were very professional, courteous, and shot some wonderful footage aboard McLANE on her second-to-last time out on Lake Michigan[1] .)

I’m breaking from the MUSASHI posts for reasons detailed below[2], but while I’m prepping the wreck phase of the Musashi, I thought I’d share one of the most unique and well-known WWII-era letters in the submarine force. (This story even has its own Snopes Entry!) And it concerns this “unidentifiable” item:

2015-05-07 13.38.06 HDR

Nothing compares to the original letter, Cmdr James Coe was very…eloquent.


The Letter


SS184/SS36-1                                                                                                                                     June 11, 1942

From :                   The Commanding Officer

To:                          Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, California

Via:                        Commander Submarines, Southwest Pacific

Subject:               Toilet Paper

Reference:         (a) (4608) USS HOLLAND (5184) USS SKIPJACK

(b) SO NYMI cancelled Invoice No. 272836

Enclosure:           (a) Copy of cancelled invoice

(b) Sample of material requested

  1. This vessel submitted a requisition for 150 rolls of toilet paper on July 30, 1941 to USS HOLLAND. The material was ordered by HOLLNAD from the Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Iland, for delivery to USS SKIPJACK.
  2. The Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, on November 26, 1941 cancelled Mare Island Invoice No 272836 with the stamped notation, “Cancelled—cannot identify”. This cancelled invoice was received by SKIPJACK on June 10, 1942.
  3. During the 11 ¼ months elapsing from the time of ordering the toilet paper and the present date, the SKIPJACK personnel, despite their best efforts to await delivery of subject material, have been unable to wait on numerous occasions and the situation is now quite acute, especially during depth charge attack by the “backstabbers”
  4. Enclosure (B) is a sample of desired material provided for the information of the Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island. The Commanding Officer, USS SKIPJACK cannot help but wonder what is being used in Mare Island in place of this unidentifiable material, once well known to this command.
  5. SKIPJACK personnel during this period has become accustomed to the use of “ersatz” i.e. the vast amount of incoming non essential paper work, and in so doing feel that the wish of the Bureau of Ships for reduction of paperwork, is being complied with, thus effectively killing two birds with one stone.
  6. It is believed by this command that the stamped notation “cannot identify” was possibly an error, and that this is simply a case of shortage of strategic war material, the SKIPJACK probably being low on the priority list.
  7.  In order to cooperate in our war effort at a small local sacrifice, the SKIPJACK desires no further action to be taken until the end of current war, which ahs created a situation aptly described as “war is hell”


Skipjack TP Crisis

The Original Letter, from the Navy History and Heritage Website.


And if you just read it and said, “The Navy can’t identify toilet paper?!” You read it right. The story gets even funnier with more research.

 Before the War

Coe wasn’t the CO of SKIPJACK in July of 1941, when the requisition was made. SKIPJACK was in Mare Island California under overhaul.

Cmdr. Charles Freeman became CO of SKIPJACK on July 29, and based on the requisition, asking for 150 rolls of TP was one of the FIRST things he did (was this a continuous problem?)

Ten days later, SKIP left California, heading out to patrol Wake, Midway, the Marshalls, among other things, ultimately heading to be part of the sub fleet in the Philippines. and by December 6, 1941, was sitting in drydock in Cavite Naval Yard, Manila, with her engines disassembled for repairs, still no requisitioned toilet paper in sight.

Unbeknownst to SKIPJACK, while she was doing all this, back in California, someone in supply stamped the usually-routine requisition form “ Cancelled-cannot identify” and shipped it off to Manila and the SKIPJACK.

And then December 7 happened.


The War…and still no “relief” in sight…

Pearl ii

Digital Photo Collage of Pearl Harbor, colorized.  Own Work.


We talk about Pearl Harbor here in America, but it was really just the first in a series of attacks the Japanese carried out in 24 hours on December 7 (in the Philippines it was already December 8, due to the International dateline. ) SKIPJACK survived the attack, and headed out on patrol a day later, on only one of four engines, (the other three were reassembled and repaired at sea on patrol by her crew) and yes…still no toilet paper.

She completed two war patrols as the Americans scrambled to evacuate south as the Japanese landed and advanced too quickly for reinforcements. SKIPJACK refueled wherever the American base was when she needed to come in: Manila, then Balikpapan in Borneo,  then Darwin, Australia, then finally Fremantle, where the second-largest submarine base in the Allied Pacific would be located.

It was now March, 1942…and STILL no toilet paper!

Cmdr. Freeman was detached, and Cmdr. Coe, formerly of the S-39, came aboard as CO, and SKIP headed out on her third patrol, sinking four ships over 50 days….yup, you guessed it, still no single, double or any ply.

SKIP returned to Fremantle, where I’m sure her crew was happy to depart for the various hotels and resorts the Navy had rented for them…all of which would have toilet paper!

As SKIP was prepping for her fourth war patrol, the requisition form, with its cancellation, (having likely bounced all around the Pacific pursued by the Japanese and trying to trace the sub base’s constantly mobile location), finally reached SKIPJACK.

And the next day, Coe’s most famous Naval correspondence was born.


A Legend is Launched

The scuttlebutt goes that Coe wrote it up, passed it to the boat’s Yeoman, Evert Tuttle, to type up and send out. Tuttle did so, but before sending it out, asked the XO and OD (Executive Officer and Officer of the Deck, for civilians) about it for advice.  The three of them went back to Coe and asked, “Do you really want to send this?”

Coe allegedly replied, “I wrote it, didn’t I?”

The letter was sent, and SKIP headed out on patrol….you guessed it, STILL no toilet paper (I have to believe the men of SKIPJACK by now were hoarding any TP roll they came across at their hotels!)

Cmdr. Coe of the Toilet-paperless SKIPJACK was awarded the Navy Cross eleven days after composing that letter for his leadership of the S-39, but I think he and his crew should be commended for working under such additionally arduous conditions…but as the letter states, at least this deficiency allowed the SKIP to find a use for all the additional (and useless) paperwork the SKIP was given! (I’ve held some of the original papers from submarines, the onion skin was quite thin…)[4]

Sent through official channels, hundreds of people heard about (and read) the “Toilet Paper Letter” long before it officially arrived at Mare Island. President Roosevelt’s son aboard the USS WASP  even heard about it, and got his father a copy! The reaction at the Mare Island Supply Depot when the letter finally arrived was spectacular: according to the one member of that office, all the officers of the Supply Depot were compelled to “stand at attention for three days because of that letter.”

It was way too late by then, the letter was legend.[5]

Now normally, when submarines came into port, they were met with a band, their mail, fresh fruits and veg, and ice cream.

But due to the letter, the SKIPJACK received an unusual greeting: pallets and pyramids of toilet paper rolls stacked on the dock, seven feet high. Toilet paper streamed from the dock lights. The band wore toilet paper neckties, and the brass section had toilet paper rolls instead of dampeners in their horns! The crew said TP continued to stream out of the horns as the band played.

And that became her signature return all during the war. Other sbus might be greeted with fruit and mail, milk, and other culinary delights. The Navy made damned sure the SKIPJACK never went without the other end of the necessities of life ever again.


SKIPJACK survived the war after ten patrols. Sadly, Cmdr. Coe was detached from the SKIPJACK and became the first CO of the new submarine CISCO. CISCO was lost during her first patrol, her circumstances and resting place still a mystery.

But his infamous, sarcastically humorous letter survives…everywhere.[6]



“The Infamous Toilet Paper Letter” http://www.submarinesailor.com/history/toiletpaper.asp (accessed 7 May, 2015)

Wikipedia entries for SKIPJACK, James Coe, USS S-39

Official Navy History for USS SKIPJACK; War Patrol Reports of the Same

USS Skipjack Toilet Paper Memorandum: http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/research-guides/z-files/zc-ship-files-in-the-navy-department-library-s/uss-skipjack-toilet-paper-memorandum.html



[1] Bedloe and Jackson were sisters to the McLANE, hence the reason they came. The particular day they were scheduled to shoot, was also part of our window to tow/push McLANE to Grand Haven for the Coast Guard festival, so they actually got shots of McLANE out at sea (or rather, lake) than simply docked as she usually is. To my knowledge, after she returned from that festival, she’s never moved again.

[2] I’m breaking from the Musashi in part because my computer decided to blow the motherboard hours after posting, and now, of course, my wonderful computer-tech savvy husband is reloading programs and drivers and the remnants of the hard drive from my old computer to the new one (and discovering just HOW MANY large psd files, duplicate files, ect that I have put on the old machine…sorry dear!)

So while I’ve only just gotten to the point where I can create the images for the Musashi wreck post, it’s going to take a while…and this is one of my favorite sub stories from WWII.

[3] Well known enough to have its own Snopes Entry! http://www.snopes.com/language/document/skipjack.asp


[4] Now, was the SKIP without Toilet Paper entirely? I doubt it. Checking the “Habitability Remarks” sections of her first four patrols reveals no complaints in this area. That being said, subs were notorious wheelers and dealers (think Radar and Klinger on M*A*S*H). They likely traded some of their high-end goodies for some TP and resorted to the reams of “essential paper” the Navy supplied when that ran out. Still, having to give up some good supplies for what should have been a basic supply (and easily identifiable) must have been aggravating. I sure would like to check SKIP’s Deck Log, which had more of the personal day-to-day records form this time…there might be some choice remarks in there!

[5] That letter would eventually become the basis for a scene from “Operation Petticoat”, as well as a part of Edward Beach’s book, Submarine!

[6] Another copy of that letter hangs on display at the Navy Supply School at Pensacola Florida with a nearby sign: DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU! The original letter from Coe is, according to my resources, in the archives of the Bowfin Museum at Honolulu. And of course, the Internet. It will never go away now!

Musashi: The Final Days

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 21 2015




“In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” —Quote attributed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, in an interview with Japanese Cabinet member Shigeharu Matsumoto, 1940.*

It would prove to be prophetic.

Having been educated in the United States, and lived and worked there as part of the Japanese Naval Attache, Yamamoto knew the American culture. He also knew that, unless the US, Britain, and the Netherlands (the major naval and colonial powers in the Pacific in 1940) were knocked out so hard and fast they sued for peace (and left Japan alone with all her new territories), Japan would ultimately be doomed.

Created for a presentation, this shows the rapid expansion of the Japanese Empire (red circle)  from December 7/8 1941 to the cusp of the Battle of Midway, June 1942

Created for a presentation, this shows the rapid expansion of the Japanese Empire (red circle) from December 7/8 1941 to the cusp of the Battle of Midway, June 1942.  (click to see animation)

And sure enough, for six months the Japanese appeared invincible. In the USA, we talk about Pearl Harbor, but the truth is, PH was the first of a series of attacks, on Wake, Midway, Manila, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia. Three weeks after Pearl, the Japanese Empire stretched south to the Malaysian Islands, east to Wake Islands, deep into China (where the Japanese had maintained control of Manchuria since 1931) and into Singapore, Burma, and more.  (click on globe to see animation of Japanese Empire Expansion for the six month window Yamamoto mentioned)

But Japan’s Achilles heel was supplies. They had no oil or any way of getting any in the homeland. They did not have enough mines for the raw metal needed for modern warships. These they could get from their new territories, shipped aboard hundreds upon hundreds of freighters. But while they practically invented WWII aerial combat, they did not foresee the submarine’s future role slicing through these ocean highways, and destroying Japan’s newly-needed lifeblood.

By October 1944, Japan was fighting a more and more defensive war, desperately trying to make continuing the fight so costly to the Allies that they would settle for peace on somewhat favorable conditions for Japan. The unconditional surrender the Allies were determined to gain was unthinkable and so Japan used every resource to delay, to push back, to bloody every battlefield, to gain leverage for a treaty, not a surrender.

The Philippines were the largest of the last conquered territories protecting Japan and her remaining resource highway from Singapore to home. If the Americans re-took the Philippines, the highway would be under direct attack.  The Americans landed on Leyte Island with 1,500 ships: carriers, battleships, destroyers, carriers, tankers, troop ships, supply ships, all determined to take back the Philippines.

The Musashi and her sister Yamato, bigger than any ship in America’s arsenal in the Pacific and with larger and heavier guns, could pound Leyte apart, so Japan created a three-pronged attack: Sailing from Borneo, Musashi and her battle group would split in two: Musahi and Yamato both forming a “Center Force” that would eventually attack Leyte from the north, after sailing through the Sibuyan Sea. This force would be commanded by Adm Takeo Kurita from his flagship, Cruiser Atago.  Another force, mostly made of smaller, outdated battleships, would attack from the South (the Southern Force).

But these forces were doomed, unless the bulk of the aircraft carriers, battleships and destroyers, now supporting the landing, were off hunting even larger quarry than the biggest battleships ever afloat.

leyte Gulf Map


Hence the “Northern Force”, made up of the remaining four aircraft carriers, plus enough escorts to make it convincing.

Aircraft Carriers of Pearl Harbor

After the Battle of the Philippine Sea four months earlier, the Japanese had lost the vast bulk of their planes and pilots.  Both were scarce back home, even the gas needed to fuel the training planes so the new pilots could learn to take off, maneuver and land in the most basic of ways was hard to come by. The remaining hundred or so planes available at sea were prominently displayed on the four decks of the incoming carriers, to make their bluff look like the actual threat to the Leyte Invasion was sailing south from Japan herself, not from Borneo.

And to make sure the Americans would pay attention, front and center of the Northern Force sailed the most delectable bit of floating battle bait the Japanese had left:  Zuikaku, the final remaining aircraft carrier that participated in Pearl Harbor. Every American, from  Admiral “Bull” Halsey on down,  really wanted ZUIKAKU.  If the warships could be pulled away to fight this incoming threat, only troop, supply, and other support ships, with their auxilliary defense would remain: easy pickings for the Japanese

The trap was set, and sprung.  ZUIKAKU and her Northern bluff force set sail from Japan on October 20, chattering on the radios, trying desperately to catch attention.  MUSASHI and her sisters set sail from Borneo On October 22 under radio silence. If all went well, the American war fleet would intercept the Northern Force’s communications, and head out to intercept, leaving Musashi, Yamato, and her sisters to sneak in behind and  strike the landing force, driving the now-undefended Americans off the Philippines.



The plan was nearly scuttled by submarines before it got started. Darter and Dace were patrolling Palawan Passage during the October 22-24 window.  A huge patch of reefs, atolls, and other shallow water (known as Dangerous Ground) sits in the eastern part of the South China Sea, forcing every ship to either sail near modern-Vietnam, or through this  deep channel.  It was a great hunting ground, and today was no exception. Just after midnight on October 23, submarines DARTER and DACE saw this sight:


Taken a few hours earlier, this is just a small portion of the Center Convoy photographed leaving Brunei in October 1944.  Wikipedia Commons

Taken a few hours earlier, this is just a small portion of the Center Convoy photographed leaving Brunei in October 1944. Wikipedia Commons

Thirty one heavily armored surface ships in mostly two columns traveling together against two submarines.  Submariners have a term for this:  gift-wrapped.

Making a long story short, over the next few hours, the sisters shadowed the force, then ran ahead and waited for the task force to come to them**.   At 5:24 am, Darter sank the Atago, forcing Adm. Kurita to swim for it, and establish a new flagship aboard Yamato.  Ten minutes later, Darter hit Cruiser Takeo, setting her on fire, leaving her heavily wounded.   Twenty minutes after that, Dace hit the cruiser Maya with four torpedoes.  She must have hit the magazine, for Maya exploded and sank in minutes.  Akashimo rescued 769 surviving Maya-crewmen.

On the left, the same photo, labeled with casualties.  On the right, a diagram of the convoy's layout at the time the Darter and Dace struck.

On the left, the same photo, labeled with casualties. On the right, a diagram of the convoy’s layout at the time the Darter and Dace struck.

Takao was unable to continue, and two destroyers, Naganami and  Asashimo, were detached to escort her back to Singapore.  Akashimo transferred her Maya crewmen to the Musashi, supplimenting her own crew for the coming battles. Naganami, Asashimo and Takao turned back south, while the remaining convoy raced north.

So as dawn broke, of the thirty-one warships, twenty-six remained.  Darter and Dace, assigned to patrol Palawan, decided to take off after the wounded Takao, where shortly thereafter, the Darter would run aground, to become a seamark to this day. (An interesting story all of its own)


Darter aground, taken 14 October, while Musashi was under attack in Sibuyan Sea.  Even today, parts of Darter's hull remains perched on the reef, despite several demo attempts and subsequent salvage by multiple parties.  Photo from Naval History and Heritage Command.

Darter aground, taken 24 October, while Musashi was under attack in Sibuyan Sea. Even today, parts of Darter’s hull remains perched on the reef, despite several demo attempts and subsequent salvage by multiple parties. Photo from Naval History and Heritage Command.

But the damage had been done.  Not in the sinkings, not in the damaged ships or even subs.  Just as patrol boats are dangerous not for their weapons, but for their radios, so are submarines. Darter and Dace sent warnings of the  coming battle convoy, and now the Americans were on alert.

Intrepid, Enterprise, Franklin, Cabot, Essex, and Lexington, already scouting with planes, put more into the air, sending them deeper west into Philippine territory hunting this war  convoy. Task Force 34 (four battleships, five cruisers and fourteen destroyers) were sent south through the Surigao Strait in case Yamato’s convoy came that way.

October 23 ended, October 24 dawned, and the scouting planes found their target sailing through the Surabaya Sea.


Taken from the scout planes, this was one of the first photos taken of Center Force on the morning of October 24, 1944.  One of these is Musashi.  From

Taken from the scout planes, this was one of the first photos taken of Center Force on the morning of October 24, 1944. One of these is Musashi. If you think it’s hard to see them here in this photo, imagine how difficult it was for the pilots–and there’s no risk of anit-aircraft fire from my blog, unlike these ships!  Image taken from”USS Intrepid Report of Air Ops in Ryuku Is, Formosa and Philippines 10/10-31/44 Including Action Against Jap Fleet 10/24-26/44″  National Archives via fold3.com

Six Flights of Death for a Tough Ship

Since this post is concentrating on the fate of the Musashi and how it plays into what the Allen Team found last month, this is an abbreviated record of M’s last day,  culled from combinedfleet.com; the book Battleship Musashi, and Naval Anti-Aircraft Guns and Gunnery.  As the story of Musashi’s final hours come from men on two sides of the war, under enormous stress at the time, details will vary.  Nonetheless, what you will see is that before she went down, Musashi took more damage than any other ship up to  that time and kept going.  I’d argue, perhaps, that she took more damage before sinking than any other warship of WWII.  The first scout plane to find Musashi and her force was from carrier Intrepid, so her planes got first crack at the two biggest battleships afloat.

First Wave

10:30 AM:  Intrepid’s planes  hit many of the ships in the convoy, and Musashi was no exception.  Four bombs narrowly miss, two striking the water on either side of Musashi. A fifth smacks Musashi’s no. 1 gun turret, bouncing off the armor plate and into the sea, leaving a perfect circle of popped paint as its only mark.  One torpedo strikes starboard amidships, forcing her into a 5.5 degree starboard side list.  Counter-flooding reduces the list to just 1 degree. All in all, she barely felt it



The following diagrams are drawn from information provided in several sources, including Musashi’s Tabular Record of Movement from combinedfleet.com; Musashi’s entry on Wikipedia, and the book, Battleship Musashi by Akira Yoshimura.


List after attack 1

List figure 1



Second Wave

12:03 PM: Nearly 100 Intrepid fighters hit. Several bombs explode within M, forcing her crew to abandon some of the port-side engine rooms, and losing the inboard port prop (this prop was seen on the Allen film footage starting around 56:30 mark). Another strike floods MUSAHI portside, forcing her to list to the OTHER side now. After counterflooding and balancing, she is only 1 degree to port list, but her bow is six feet lower.

Just to keep up with her convoy, Musashi’s remaining three props are throttled up, but she can only make 22 knots…she’ll be left behind.

Taken from the air, this shows the MUSASHI under attack.

Taken from the air by an INTREPID pilot, this shows the MUSASHI under attack.  Note the battle name this was going under when the report was written: the Second Battle of the Philippines.

A stray bomb fragment flies into the middle gun of #1 turret, and detonates the shell just loaded inside, disabling the whole turret.

She’s down, but she’s not out, and can still fight. Admrial Kurita, in charge of the central Force, slows everyone down to 22 knots to keep Musashi within the convoy.

Musashi Torpedo Damage 2

Second wave, at this point, suffering five torpedo hits, most ships would have succumbed.


List AFter Attack 2

From this point forward, Musashi will list to the portside, some planes will concentrate on the portside to try to take her down


Third Wave

1:30 PM: The wave from the Essex and Lexington arrive. After straifing, Helldivers score two hits starboard abreast the #3 turret.The TBM Avengers score four starboard hits,

  • Starboard forward of #1 Turret
  • Starboard Bow area, flooding storerooms.
  • Portside forward of #1 Gun Turret, destroying fuel tanks, flooding log and sounding rooms (knocking out SONAR and destroying records, and filling the tempory hospital area with carbon monoxide.
  • Portside, Amidships

And still more hell in store for Musashi and her crew: Three flights of Helldivers hit, scoring:

  • 4 portside bomb hits near #1 turret
  • Torpedo Hit, Starboard Bow area, flooding storerooms
  • Portside, forward of #1
  • Portside, Amidships
Musashi tortpedo damage 3

How much damage Musashi suffered in the third wave is still debated.

List AFter Attack 3

By now, Musashi is several thousand tons heavier than she’s designed for. Even in the intact engine rooms, this is putting more pressure and stress on Musashi’s engines and systems.



1:50 PM. All that damage, just 20 minutes. Several pump rooms are damaged, but by filling nearly every intact trim and void area, the Musashi now can only make 20 knots, and her bow is 13 feet closer to the water than it had been three hours earlier.


Fourth Wave

2:12 PM: And again! 8 Hellcats, 12 Helldivers from Essex arrive, but concentrate on Yamato and Nagato, ahead of Musashi. The pilots are amazed that Musashi is still afloat. Any other ship would have sunk long ago, but not only is Musashi still afloat, she’s still under power, and apparently valuable enough several ships of the convoy have surrounded her to provide air cover.  During the fight, Musashi still fires with her anti-aircraft guns, and frantically repairs her systems.


Fifth Wave

2:55 PM: Now the Enterprise and Franklin send in their fighters. Enterprise pilots radio thatMusashi  (or rather, a Yamato-class battleship) was lagging behind the convoy and trailing oil. By now, she appears to only make 8 knots speed.

Nine Helldivers score 4 hits:

  • 3 in the port bow, causing internal damage
  • 1 destroys the Chief Stewards office.

Eight Avengers soar in and score three torpedo hits:

  • One hit on starboard bow
  • One hit portside bow
  • One hit starboard abreast of M’s funnel
The entire Central Force maneuvering during the attack, including Musashi.  Taken bya  USS FRANKLIN pilot

The entire Central Force maneuvering during the attack, including Musashi. Taken bya USS FRANKLIN pilot

Within Musashi, the crew shores up damage in Damage Control Central, but the lose the No. 3 hydraulic room to flooding. Above, the American pilots later reported “Several bombs and torpedo hits were scored and after the attack, [Musashi] was reported burning, dead in the water, and down by the bow.” (Rep of Ops in the Philippines Area, including attacks on Jap Fleet, USS ENTERPRISE, October 1944)  Probably the pilots expected she’d be gone when they returned.

But they were wrong.

Musashi tortpedo damage 5

Now damages is piling up in certain areas, carving out huge holes.


Musashi was still making 16 knots on her three remaining props. With counterflooding to correct her starboard list to 1-2 degrees, she slows to 13 knots. She’s not yet down for any count.

But the day was still young, and the next flight of planes from the Intrepid, Franklin and Cabot flew in as the Enterprise planes left…there would be no break and no time to repair or recoup.

Musashi at 315 detail

Taken at 3:15 PM, this is MUSASHI, under attack


Sixth Wave

3:25 PM:. Of the 75 planes from three carriers that drop over Central Force, 37 take on Musashi directly. And they were brutally accurate:

  • 500 lb bomb strikes the right wing of the air defense station and destroys the first bridge. “One of the bomb hit the anti-aircraft control room over the No. 1 bridge. The bridge let out a huge roar as it collapsed like a demolished building…took the lives of the chief navigator and anti-airaft commander as well as five other senior officers. Captain Iguchi sustained serious injuries to his right shoulder”( –Battleship Musashi: the Making and Sinking of by Akira Yoshimura).  Adm Inoguchi would have to move to the second bridge to command MUSASHI.
  • Three bombs detonate in a row portside and abreast of turrest #1 and #2, ,destroying two single and one triple Anti-aircraft guns and mount, plus the main comm roon telegraph room #1, and telephone room, PLUS penetrating boilers #4 and #8.
  • Two bombs explode forecastle deck starboard abreast starboard area, taking out two single and one triple 25 MM AA guns.
  • Another bomb hits in the middle anti-aircraft shelter, damaging the flag deck.
  • Bom hit explodes in the portside crew space, and destroys the nearby ship’s hospital.
  • Bomb strike on Turret #1
  • Bomb Strike starboard in the Officer’s Wardroom,

Then the Avengers with their Torpedoes strike:

  • Portside, flooding #8 Boiler Room
  • Portside, abreast of #1 turret
  • Three torpedoes striking Portside Amidships, also flooding No 8 boiler and No 12 as well as Engine Room 4, killing the outboard Portside prop.  a 30 foot long hole is open along Musashi’s portside.
  • Last two torpedoes strike the portside near the #6 magazine, flooding both the magazine and the nearby gyro room.
Musashi tortpedo damagei 6

The final attack, the amount of damage is really astonishing.

List AFter Attack 6

By this time, many men were moving everything movable, including equipment, gear, even the wounded and, sadly, the dead, to the starboard side, in a vain attempt to keep Musashi from capsizing.



Yet the crew cannot believe she’s still going.  They counterflood and fire-control for all they are worth.

In an attempt to save the Central Force, Adm Kurita orders the rest of the force to head west, as though in a retreat, leaving Musashi to her fate.  The planes report this maneuver to HQ, and the flights are called off.  Three hours later, they would discover the Northern Bluff Force…too late for Musashi.

on the left, Musashi, shortly before she sank.  On the right, Musashi, taken as she left Brunei two days earlier.

On the left, Musashi, shortly before she sank. On the right, Musashi, taken as she left Brunei two days earlier. If you look, the strange angles of the superstructure compared to the Brunei photo show the severe list Musashi is fighting.


The End

Still, it took three hours for Musashi to give in.  All counterflooding efforts were taken, including moving the dead and injured starboard side to try and add weight there, and releasing the portside anchor and chain.  But she kept taking in water, it was hopeless.

As the crew prepared to abandon Musashi, those who had fought the whole battle below decks came out into the air, and were shocked at the sight that met them: “Oil and sweat stained sailors emerged from various hatches. They hesitated for a moment when they saw the carnage above, and then, with pale faces, they emerged onto the blood-spattered deck. The crewmen in the ship’s stern had mistaken the explosions of the torpedoes and bombs as fire from the ship’s own guns—they had no idea how bad the damage was. Over 200 injured men were carried from the rear hatches.”  (-Battleship Musashi)

Thankfully, Admiral Kurita returned within two hours, and detailed three destroyers to remain with Musashi.  If she could beach herself, she could still be repaired and saved.  If not, at least someone was there to take on the survivors.

Her Port list remained between 5 and 10 degrees for three hours, then suddenly, rolled to 30 degrees in 15 minutes.  At 7:30 pm, the crew started sliding into the sea, some injuring themselves on the barnacles that clung to Musashi’s hull.    Second in command, Capt. Kato, assumed command on orders of Adm Inoguchi, who chose to go down with the Musashi.

“The ship tilted suddenly, stirring up a large wave as the vast hull swung to port. The bow pointed down into the water, with the stern towering prominently above the rest of the ship. The crewmen still clinging to the wreck under the darkening skies of sunset were moving further and further toward the stern as the bow plunged into the sea…after the bow had sunk below the ocean’s surface, the ship’s bridges were submerged, and only the stern remained above water.”

Musashi vanished, leaving 1,376 survivors, from both her own and Maya’s crews, behind on the surface.  She would take 1,023 men with her to the depths. Moments after she disappeared, her survivors felt one (some accounts say two) explosion(s) from underwater.

List AFter Attack final

In many ways, these diagrams are still too clean. By this time, Musashi was heavily smoking, putting out a number of fires, and the superstructure was partially collapsed.



There were still three battles to go in the fight for Leyte Gulf, but Musashi’s time was now up.  The total number of torpedo and bomb hits she took is debated, but nonetheless, is impressive.  By some accounts, it took 19 torpedoes, 17 bombs and 6 near misses to take her down…other accounts vary, but not by much less. In addition, her crew took down 18 American planes while fighting.

That’s where Muashi’s story according to the eyewitnesses ends, and the examination of her wreck begins…more to come….




Wikipedia Entries on IJN MUSASHI, IJN YAMATO, Adm. Yamamoto, Leyte Gulf, USS DARTER, USS DACE,

Battleship Musashi: the Making and Sinking of the World’s Biggest Battleship by Akira Yoshimura

Battleship Yamato by Jamusz Skulski

Naval Anti-Aircraft Guns and Gunnery by Norman Friedman

Combinedfleet.com; particuarly the entries on MUSASHI, YAMATO, TAKAO, ATAGO, MAYA, the Battle of Palawan Passage and The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Sibuyan Sea

Presentation on Kenneth Gwinn of the USS FLIER; personal work created for Henry County Library Presentation, New Castle, IN; 2014

Documentary “Battle 360: Battle of Leyte Gulf” 2008

Documentary: “History of Battleships: Bismark to Yamato” 2002

Documentary “Yamato: Sinking the Supership” NOVA 2005


*Yamamoto and MUSASHI were actually connected.  Yamamoto had actually disliked YAMATO and Musashi’s construction, saying that investing so much capital into a ship which could not be replaced in case of loss, was a folly.  That being said, Musashi was Adm. Yamamoto’s official flagship.  She’s the one that dropped him off for a tour of the troops in 1943, and the one who picked up his ashes for transport back to Japan after Adm. Yamamoto’s plane was shot down.

**A Maneuver called “End Around”


And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 19 2015


UPDATE:  This post was supposed to be all about MUSASHI (and it will be) but first I want to acknowledge the passing of an amazing lady in the submarine community: Mary Bentz.  Mary lost her uncle aboard the submarine GRUNION, and helped locate surviving family so they could stay informed of the hunt and later memorial after GRUNION was found.  Not satisfied with stopping there, Mary and her husband Dick became part of a small, tightly knit community of genealogists who worked constantly (but went into overtime when a sub was discovered) to find surviving family members of the 52 lost subs of WWII.  When FLIER came to light in 2009, she joined my small FLIER group, finding the final families.  She was amazing, and so encouraging to someone like me, young and in my first museum/research job following college.  She even pulled records out of the National Archives for me once, since I live too far away to go.  The memorials for submarines GRUNION, WAHOO, LAGARTO, FLIER, R-12, PERCH and others, could not have happened as well as they did without her.  Even though she was not a sailor, I feel it’s okay to say, “Sailor Rest Your Oar”.  Know that you’ll be missed deeply,  Mary, not only by me.  I can only hope to have half the impact you did. Rest in Peace. 


Musashi Depth ChartI know I usually talk subs, but when any WWII wreck comes to light, it’s exciting news, and the MUSASHI is no exception!

One of the last, large WWII battleships still hiding is hidden no longer.  After eight years of research in three countries, the team of Paul Allen has found the MUSASHI and are currently surveying the wreck (or rather the large debris field near the two largest parts of the MUSASHI remaining.)  And even better still, rather than sharing selected clips and images for press releases then saving most of the footage for a documentary (where only a selection of footage will be used) the Allen team gave a live tour, including clips from earlier dives so the average person could see MUSASHI all for themselves if they wanted.

First of all: depth.  How deep is MUSASHI, visually?  According to the Allen team, she’s 3,887 feet/1,185m  deep, or almost 3/4 mile down (1.185 km, gotta love metrics here!)

I know many loved my “Sub Wreck Depths” diagram, so I made it a sister with famous battleships (plus the Submarine FLIER, of course, this is a USS FLIER blog, or a FLIER-inspired blog!).  Up on the upper right you can also see a scale model of the MY OCTOPUS, the ship that’s the base for the ongoing survey of MUSASHI  (the size of the wreck insignias are not in scale to each other, but the depth is at the correct scale, and OCTOPUS is correct scale for the depth.)   I was going to put the German Battleship BISMARCK on this diagram, but quickly discovered it would have to be much, much, much taller.  As it is, the original document was nearly 100 cm long!  (In the original document, the OCTOPUS is 4 cm Stem to Stern–if you click on the image, it’ll show larger)

The OCTOPUS herself is a fascinating vessel, and she’s already been used for other vessel surveys and recoveries, including HOOD (see bottom of chart).  I loved the portions of the tour that included the OCTOPUS itself and the technology that made finding MUSASHI possible.  The amazing improvements in sonar tech and HD camera ROVs was incredible as well.

When FLIER was located, the search ship essentially gridded out the most likely area based on the best research available from survivors, and “mowed the lawn”–moving back and forth across the planned grid dragging the sonar array behind it.  Doing this can be somewhat risky.  Most Sonar has to be a minimum distance from the sea floor, and cannot work past a certain height above a seafloor.  This makes working in any wreck or underwater mountainous areas very difficult to accurately depict. The new Sonar, in use on the OCTOPUS is FREE SWIMMING.  They program the grid location and parameters in, program what height they want it to remain above the ocean floor (say, 500 feet) then let her go!  She swims off, and uses her Sonar to maintain that consistent distance from the ocean’s floor, giving the resulting Sonar images STARTLING clarity.  Even seeing them on the screen aboard the OCTOPUS through a camera and on a youtube window, it was so crisp.

While MUSASHI sank in one piece, she is savagely broken on the ocean’s floor.  About her forward third is still intact (Bow to first Barbette) but the stern is upside down, and the items on the stern deck are found hundreds of meters away.  The Bridge is an astonishing distance away.

Below you’ll see some rough notes I took on the wreck survey as it happened, and later, during a re-recording.

Over the next few days, I’ll do more posts about MUSASHI’s wreck, similarities between her wreck and some other WWII wrecks (especially YAMATO, there are some surface similarities between the wrecks of the two sisters.)  For those who don’t regularly dig through wrecks, I hope, considering MUSASHI’s smashed condition, that what I write and diagram out will serve as a guide to help understand the Paul Allen team’s footage and photos.  There is, of course, no substitute for the original footage and their narration thereof, I can’t recommend it enough.  See their youtube channel here, and their official website here.

Hey Mr. Allen, if you’re looking for another challenging shipwreck in the Philippine area, ever hear of the SUBMARINE ROBALO?  We don’t know where she sank (and there’s lots of debate over when…which directly affects where!).  Finding her wreck would settle a lot of questions, not to mention bring peace to the eighty-one families who lost a man aboard her…we still don’t definitively know what happened to the four named survivors…Musashi Diagram i

These were some notes I took about the M. while I watched the live recording, and the available photos and footage that the Allen team made available.  These are moy obersations only, but I thought it might help to see the various pieces of the M. agasint this plan of her in her approximate 1944 configuration.

These were some notes I took about the M. while I watched the live recording, and the available photos and footage that the Allen team made available. These are my observations only, but I thought it might help to see the various pieces of the M. against this plan of her in her approximate 1944 configuration.  Click on it for a full size version (large)


Veteran’s Day and the Tomb of the Unknowns…or how “The War To End All Wars” was initially remembered, and how that eventually evolved into America’s Veteran’s Day, and Memorial Days around the Globe.

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Nov 11 2014

Before I get to the end, I just want to say, “Thank you” to all Veterans, past, present and future.  As a civilian, I want to say thank you for being willing to do what you do and allow me and my family to live in freedom safe from war on my doorstep.  I hope everyone enjoys this post detailing the memorials that sprang up after WWI, and how they developed into Veteran’s Day as we recognize it today.


Memorial Day, (in America celebrated on the last Monday in the month of May) began as a way to honor the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. Graves were decorated, people remembered those who lost their lives in the conflict, and honored the Civil War dead  Before long, the war dead of 1812, Barbary and the Revolution were also being honored.  But then a conflict known as WWI began.  Though the United States mostly stayed out of the conflict until April 1917, WWI raged across Europe for four years, destroying pretty much anything in its path.  Even 90 years later, portions of France are still pockmarked from exploding mines and bombs, and the re-buried trenches have started to collapse on themselves, snaking their way across now-peaceful farmland. To look at these photos now, and realize just how terribly torn the land had to be in 1918 to remain so marked now, is sobering.

While the final treaty ending WWI wasn’t signed until 24 July 1923, the fighting ended (temporarily then permanently) on 11 a.m., November 11, 1919.  On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, arms were laid down and the soldiers began the long process of returning home, and remembering the nearly 35 million souls, both civilian and military who had perished.

File:Frederick Etchells - Armistice Day, Munitions Centre.jpg

Armistice Day, Munitions Centre, painted by Frederick Etchells. Oil Crayon on canvas, currently in the collection of the Canadian War Museum, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. This painting, depics the celebrations in Canada when the announcement of the Armistice was announced. The crowd waved flags of the many Allied nations, while dancing to the music of the organ grinder. Image from Wikipedia.

It became known as Armistice Day at first, and was celebrated as the end of the War to End All Wars.  The effects of WWI were long, and far reaching, and even a year later in 1919, and people all over the US and Europe sought a way to celebrate and commemorate their lost men.

The concept of a Tomb of an Unknown Soldier or Unknown Warrior was also started at this time.  A British Chaplain by the name of David Railton was working in France and came across a rough wooden cross marking a grave.

The war Grave of an unknown soldier of WWI. It was such a grave as this that inspired the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Britain and France, and later, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in America. Image from the National Library of Scotland


The cross read “An Unknown British Soldier”, and Railton had the idea of bringing one of these unidentified boys back and burying them in Westminster Abbey, alongside the Royalty, artists, explorers, authors and other notable and distinguished personages of Britain, to stand for all the men who would never come back home.  It took a very short while for the idea to take root and get going, and on November 11, 1920, both Britain and France laid an unidentified man to rest in locations befitting the highest honors their countries could bestow. (In England, inside Westminster Abbey, in France, Under the Arc de Triumphe.)

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in France, as it appears today. Image Source: Wikipedia.


In France, eight bodies were exhumed from the fields of Flanders , Artois , the Somme, Ile de-FranceChemin des Dames , ChampagneVerdun and Lorraine , placed in oaken caskets and brought to a bunker in Verdun.  The caskets were rotated and shuffled many times until no one could remember which casket’s remains came from which battlefield.  The next morning, during the ceremony, the orphaned son of a lost fighter of WWI, Auguste Thin, was handed a bouquet o red and white carnations and asked to select one of the caskets on behalf of France.  Now a soldier himself, Auguste chose the sixth one he passed in honor of his own Sixth Corp and 132nd Regiment (1+3+2=6, or so his logic went).  The chosen remains were interred under the Arc De Triomphe, where the flame is still re-kindled every night by French veterans.

In the British case, a set of unidentified remains were exhumed from the battle graveyards of the four major British Graves, Aisne, Arras, the Somme, and Pyres.  Each set was covered with a Union Jack flag and taken to a chapel where Brigadier General Wyatt and Colonel Gell of the Graves Registration Department placed their hands on one set, neither knowing anything about which remains came form which battlefield.  Those  remains not selected were respectfully reburied, but the chosen one was placed in a plain coffin and escorted with full honors to a castle in Bologne. There, the coffin was further enclosed  in a  casket made of timbers from the Royal Palace of Hampton Court, bound with iron and a Medieval sword, selected by King George V from the Royal Collection, and a shield bearing an inscription “A British Warrior who fell in the Great War for King and Country.”

A replica of the oaken coffin the Unknown Warrior was placed in. One can see the Iron banding, and the sword beneath the epitaph shield. The replica is on display in in railroad car in which the original casket with the Warrior was transported from Dover to London. The car was also used to transport many remains repatriated after WWI including executed nurse Edith Cavell and executed civilian ship’s captain Charles Fryatt. This photo, taken by Hugh Nightengale on June 5, 2012, shows the sixty red poppies adorning the replica are in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. The Queen’s Mother lost her brother during WWI, and left her bridal bouquet on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior on her way out of the chapel after her wedding–a tradition continued by every royal bride since, including her Majesty Elizabeth and Kate Middleton. Image Source, Wikipedia.

He was laid to rest, after a long, ceremonial trip, in the West Nave of Westminster Abbey, where soil from each major battlefield covered his grave and 100 women who had lost their husband and all sons to the war stood in attendance, along with the Royal Family.  Today, he rests beneath a black granite stone, engraved with brass melted down from war ammunitions, and wreathed with silken poppies.

I got to see the grave a few years back when I spent an incredible five hours touring Westminster (and it wasn’t nearly long enough).  There are graves EVERYWHERE there, and despite what my parents taught me about being polite in graveyards and not deliberately walking on anyone, you can’t help it.  Except for that grave.  No one, king or commoner, Brit or foreigner, is allowed to step on it, and it’s just incredible how it sits at  the Western door to the Abbey and despite the babble of voices checking out the graves of the Tudors, Edwards the Longshanks, Oliver Cromwell, Chaucer, Dickens, and so so so so many more, that section of the church, voices just fall silent, and people so very carefully, respectfully, move around the soldier, and give him his peace. Foreign heads of state often lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, and he has been decorated with many foreign decorations and awards in the 91 years he’s slept, including the American Medal of Honor. (The only time any of this caused a problem was when a Nazi official laid a Swastika wreath at the tomb in 1933.  A British WWI Veteran  threw it in the Thames.)

File:Tomb of the Unknown Warrior - Westminster Abbey - London, England - 9 Nov. 2010.jpg

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior a it appears today. The wreath of silk poppies is a permanent fixture, the three wreaths at the foot and the candelabra bases were placed there the day this photograph was taken–the 90th anniversary of the Warrior’s internment. Image Source: Wikipedia

To this day, November 11 is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, and the day to honor Britain’s fallen.  This year, with the Centennial anniversary of the start of WWI, the Tower of London hosted a new public installation, “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Read”.  It’s field of poppies–888,246 handmade ceramic poppies were planted in the dry moat, each memorializing a men who was killed or went missing during WWI.  It’s taken from August to November 11 to install each Poppy..  The last was placed this morning at 11 am in Britain.

All 888,246 poppies have now been planted in the dry 16-acre moat, heralding the completion of the poignant memorial

The field of poppies circles the ancient castle. It put things in perspective, at least, for me. This photo is from this article in the UK’s Daily Mail.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior idea soon inspired America.  Four of America’s  warriors from different battlefields were disinterred  and brought to a city hall in Chalon-en-Champagne, where US Army Sgt. Younger laid a spray of white roses on one casket, which was returned to the USA and laid in state until Armistice Day, 1921, when he was laid to rest among the best and brightest of our honored military dead in Arlington National Cemetery.  The ceremony was attended by US President Harding, and, representing WWI ally Britain, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Beatty, who awarded the American Unknown with the highest honor Britain can bestow, the Victoria Cross, which was placed with him before burial.  The marble sarcophagus was built over top his grave in 1926.

The Casket of the WWI Unknown, as he disembarked from the USS Olympia on the shoulders of his fellow servicemen. Colorized Photo, Wikipedia.

The marble for the grave was quarried in Vermont, and it known as Yule Marble, among the whitest, purest marble available.  The Unknown is buried in the earth, with the tiered monument placed above and around him.   Most visitors to Arlington National Cemetery can see the writing on the original tomb: “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known But to God”.  on the reverse of that, on the side facing the Capitol, are carved three allegorical figures:  A female Victory flanked by a male Valor figure, and a female Peace figure.


The rarely-photographed east and southern sides of the Unknown’s original Tomb. Here you can clearly see the Allegorical figures and the inverted wreaths and doric columns that adorn the side. Image from flickr, taken by Tim Evanson. Date of photo: 5 April 2012.


After WWII, the Tomb was expanded.  One unidentified soldier from the European Theater and one from the Pacific Theater was exhumed, placed in identical caskets aboard the USS Canberra, where corpsmen and Medal of Honor recipient William Charette, not knowing which casket was from which theater, chose one to join his WWI brother.  A similar method was used to selected the Korean unknown from four candidates as was the Vietnam Unknown.  (In 1998, using DNA technology, the Vietnam unknown was identified and released to be buried with his family)

At first, there was no guard at the Tomb, but as reports came in of people standing on, or even eating Picnics on the Tomb (!) a guard was posted during the public hours.  This guard was expanded to the current 24/7 watch on July 2, 1937, and it has been guarded continually ever since.  Very few of the volunteers who come forward to be one of the guards make it through training, and even fewer are accepted.  Those who are live in a barracks below the Tomb, and must abide by strict rules, some, (like the prohibition against alcohol and swearing) for the rest of their lives.  The pin designating such a guard is the second most rarely awarded pin in the military*.  If, at any time during their lives, both active and retired, a guard, current or former, conducts himself in such a way as to dishonor the Tomb, the pin is revoked.

Their uniforms are unique, lacking all marks of the guards’ own ranks, lest they inadvertently outrank any of the Unknowns.  The changing of the guard is a carefully orchestrated, precise ceremony that is counted down to the second.  The guards change every 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on the time of day and the weather) and continues around the clock regardless of weather.   While there is a contingency plan for the guards to watch over the Tomb from a special location in the Trophy Room overlooking the Tomb in case of inclement weather (provisions specifically mention winds in excess of 120 mph) , no one has yet done so…despite blizzards, hurricanes, and superstorm Sandy.

A Changing of the Tomb Guard in the midst of winter. Photos alleging to be during Superstorm Sandy are posted on the Internet, but most are not real…though the Old Guard reported that the guard went on through the storm. Image Credit: US Army

One final interesting fact about these devoted guards is their uniform must be absolutely perfect at all times,in honor of the fallen Unknowns.  Such meticulous attention to detail means they spend FIVE HOURS A DAY on maintaining their uniforms to the proper standard for guard duty.  That’s in addition to their actual guard duty, and assisting with the many wreath laying ceremonies that take place at the Tomb.


Armistice Day was supposed to help us remember the war that ended all wars, but sadly, WWI ended up being a prelude.  After WWII,  Armistice Day developed into a National Day of Veterans Remembrance in many countries of the world.  It is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom which celebrates with two minutes of national silence.

But since the US already had a “Memorial Day” to honor our war dead, Armistice Day evolved rather differently here.  With more veterans in the American population due to WWII and the the Korean conflict, Armistice Day officially changed to Veterans Day in 1954, a day in which we honor all our veterans, those that died, and those that lived and returned.  In the USA, it is celebrated through a variety of observances, the most famous of all has to be the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.  This year (2014) as President Obama is abroad, Vice President Joe Biden will lay the wreath.


So today, I honor all those who have served, are serving, and will someday serve in our Armed Forces, keeping us safe and defending our freedoms with their years, training, and sometimes, their lives. May we keep reminding ourselves of history so that you may never again find yourselves in another World War.

You, and your services, are Never Forgotten.

More Links:

Photos of WWI Battlefields, 90 years on

Underground tunnels discovered in WWI Battlefields

Newly uncovered WWI Diary with haunting drawings made at the front

Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier

Facts about Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Website of the Old Guard, the men who guard the Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Other photos and links to various Tombs of the Unknowns around the World

As an end note, America founded more Tombs for Unknown Soldiers int he latter half of the 20th century.  In 1954, America  founded a Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier in Philadelphia, and the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier in Biloxi Mississippi in 1981.  (Arlington National Cemetery, of course, was founded as a burial site, originally, for Union Soldiers, many of whom were also unidentified.)

*In case you’re curious about the rarest award in the military, it’s the Astronaut Pin.

The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast a Ghost no more! The USS HOUSTON is found!

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 19 2014

The US Navy announced today that a wreck in the Sundra Strait is indeed the USS HOUSTON.  The “Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast” is found after 72 years.

If you’ve ever wondered how she got there, and her gallant crew’s impossible fight for survival, read on.

February 1942:

The Japanese empire is spreading with terrifying rapidity.  Pearl Harbor was just the first move in a terrifying campaign.  Within hours, Wake, Guam, Manila, Singapore, Siam among others, were attacked.  Just over two months later, Japan’s military controlled a massive portion of the Pacific.

The cruiser HOUSTON had been assigned to Manila’s Naval yard but on the morning of December 8 (December 7 in America, over the International Dateline) she was patrolling near Borneo–thus missing the attack.

The next few months were in disarray.  The American Navy quickly retreated to what they believed to be more defensible ports, but the Japanese were faster than anyone had dared dream.  And with the American, British, Australian, and Dutch forces in various stages of disarray, retreat, and damaged vessels and planes, their collective defensive positions couldn’t match the Japanese juggernaut that had been planned for years.

The HOUSTON, now one of a small collection of ships which had not been destroyed in December 1941, fought in the Battle of Makassar Strait, and many smaller skirmishes, while escorting and evacuating ships and troops out of soon-to-be-conquered territories.  She survived ships exploding next to her while at anchor under air raids.  The Japanese reported her sunk so many times, the crew nicknamed the HOUSTON “The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast”.  No sooner had the Japanese declared her destroyed than she appeared miles away, causing havoc for the enemy.

Then came the Battle of the Java Sea.  The Allies had built a new base in Surabya, on the coast of the Java Sea.  Any further south, they would have to retreat to Australia, or worse, even India of Hawaii.  Thousands of miles from the active front, the Allies would be at a disadvantage–patrols would have to be several hundred miles and weeks longer, just getting from base to the front.  Supply lines would be stretched longer, and longer lines were, by nature, thinner, and more vulnerable.  Therefore, the newly formed American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Command, were determined to hold the Malay Line.

But the Japanese, with no oil fields of their own, needed to control the Dutch East Indies with not only oil fields, but rubber and metals the Japanese required to build their ever larger military that had to cover an area much bigger than ever before.  They couldn’t afford the Allies controlling those resources, nor having a base so close to their desired empire.  And here, in these weeks, the Japanese finally proved the point of Aircraft Carriers as dangerous weapons compared to the battleships and cruisers most other militaries had spent millions of resources and time building.   Air raids destroyed ship after ship, pre-war bases, and even, on February 19, the city of Darwin Australia.


One of the last photos of the USS HOUSTON and several other ships in Darwin just days before the Japanese attack. navsource.org


As the closest Australian port to the Malaysian Islands, Darwin’s harbor was now so choked with half-sunken hulks and her infrastructure so utterly burned that if the Japanese pushed the Allies out of Malaysia, they would HAVE to retreat thousands of miles to south Australia, India, or even Hawaii or the American West Coast.

Then the Japanese took Bali–the Malay barrier was starting to fall.


Taken less than a month before her loss, the HOUSTON at anchor in Tjilatjap, Java. Her flag is at half mast as the crew buries men who were killed during an air strike that disabled HOUSTON's turrets a few days earlier. Photo credit: Naval History Association, National Archives


February 24: Allied Intelligence learns the Japaneses are preparing a force apparently headed to Bali.  Unable to intercept with surface ships, the Allies send in their few older submarines that had escaped the carnage at Manila.  They are successful at tracking and sinking a few of the ships, and reporting movements of the enemy.  That’s when the submarines discovered this initial convoy was only one of THREE.  Two more were sailing from the north and northeast.

Admiral Helfrich ordered all available ships and submarines to gather in the Java Sea.  The surface attack fleet woudl be under the command of Captain <SOMEONE>

He had three Dutch Submarines (O-19; K-8; K-10) One British (HMS TIRANTE), and two American boats (USS S-37; USS S-38) that weren’t already attacking the lead force available.  In addition, he had two Heavy Cruisers (USS HOUSTON ans HMS EXETER) three light cruisers (HNLMS De RUYTER, HNLMS JAVA, HMAS PERTH) and nine destroyers (HMS ELECTRA, HMS ENCOUNTER, HMS JUPITER, HNLMS KORTENAER, HNLMS WITTE de WITH, USS AIDEN, USS JOHN D EDWARDS, USS JOHN D FORD, and USS PAUL JONES)  .  Twenty ships in total from four different navies.

And coming was the Japanese Heavy Cruisers NACHI and HAGURO; Light Cruisers NAKA and JINTSU; Destroyers YUDACHI, SAMIDARE, MURASAME, HARUSAME, MINEGUMO, ASAGUMO, YUKIKAZE, TOKISUKAZE, AMATSUKAZE, HATSUKAZE, YAMAKAZE, SAZANAMI, and USHIO.   Twenty-eight ships.  One Navy.  One coordinated, trained goal: conquer the Malaysian Islands.

The Allies fought bravely over the seven hour battle, but it was, in the end, a rout.   The Japanese jammed radio frequencies, preventing the Allies from coordinating with each other.   Two of the light cruisers (De RUYTER and JAVA) and three destroyers would eventually be lost due to this battle (KORENAER was lost, JUPITER hit an Allied minefield in the chaos and sank, WITTE de WITH was severely damaged and sank a few days later.)  2,300 sailors died in those seven hours.  By contrast, the Japanese only suffered 36 casualties, and one damaged destroyer, the ASAGUMO.

HOUSTON went into this battle already damaged, two of her eight guns had been damaged in an air raid (see photo above). When the ABDA forces finally were forced to flee in the early hours of February 28, she an the Australian ship PERTH, following the last orders of Admiral Doorman before he went down on the DeRUYTER, fled to Tanjung Priok in Jakarta.  The remaining surviving ships headed east and skirted between Java and Japanese-held Bali, heading south.

The efforts of the Allies did not stop the Japanese, but it did delay the Java invasion by a day, a day that allowed many to flee to Australia or to the highlands of Java itself.

HOUSTON and PERTH limped into Jakarta at 1:30 pm on February 28.  They pulled in near the Dutch Destroyer Evertsen, who had been docked there for a few days  .  As the captains of the PERTH and HOUSTON quickly disembarked to warn their respective Naval Officials of what had happened the HOUSTON sailors desperately moved ammunition from their damaged turrents to the remaining working ones. The work stopped at one point, as a Japanese bomber bombed a patrol at the harbor’s entrance.  It missed, but it was a horrible reminder of how close the enemy was.


The HOUSTON in her short-lived WWII Configuration Source: National Archives


Despite this, the HOUSTON’s own crew reported everyone was in high morale:

“…The morale of the ship’s company was excellent .  The ship had been continually engaged with no opportunity for rest since the opening of hostilities with Japan…These duties were carried out under conditions wherein normal supply and repair facilities were entirely lacking.  Operations under the command of an in company with ships of other Allied Navies rendered the normal peacetime traniing and doctrine inapplicable.  Admiration for the Captain and Executive Officer, and the intense pride of each individual in the performance for the HOUSTON in preceding engagements overcame all adverse influences to morale and spirit through the ship was maintained at an incomproably high level.  In contrast, with the high state of morale, the physical condition of both officers and men was poor and in some cases treatment for exhaustion was necessary…Meals had been necessarily been irregualar and inadequate…”   USS HOUSTON Report

At 1930 (7:30 pm local time) the HOUSTON and PERTH, with only six hours to get few supplies or fuel, were ordered to return to Java, to Tjilatjap to help evacuate the many civilians trying to flee the invasion from the north.  It is also possible that HOUSTON and PERTH had been selected to evacuate Admiral Glassford and his staff from the temporary Allied Headquarters there.   The Dutch Destroyer EVENSTEN, which they had docked near, was to join them, but needed another hour before departure.

And, only by chance, PERTH and HOUSTON ran into the main Japanese invasion fleet heading, not for north and northeastern Java, as was believed and reported, but WEST Java, directly in the small convoy’s way.  Twenty Japanese warships and fifty-eight Japanese troop transports against three damaged and depleted ships from three different Allied countries.

Today, it’s called the Battle of Sundra Strait.

(The Above movie includes survivors accounts of what happened in this battle and later)

It was dark, only 45 minutes from midnight.  The battle was lit by the full moon and the flares of the massive guns from all sides.  PERTH,  already in the lead, took lead and soon vansihed in the smoke from the gunfire.  When HOUSTON saw her again, she was already sinking, just 30 minutes into battle.  HOUSTON was now alone.

She fired all her batteries at the enemy which attacked in small groups of ships at a time, while the troopships tried to land and disembark their cargo.  HOUSTON’s gunners and pointers, half blinded by the flashes and constantly shifting battle groups in and out of the smoke, found it hard to keep a target in sight for long.  But while the HOUSTON could fire at anyone and everyone, the Japanese had to be much more careful–at least three of their own ships were destroyed by friendly fire.

High above in the superstructure,  the Japanese scored a hit, sending the superstructure into flames for twenty minutes before it could be gotten under control.  Down below, a torpedo ripped into HOUSTON’s after engine room, destroying it.  Rescue parties had to turn back, the steam was burning everything in sight–no further communications were recieved from the engine room.  The venting steam and heat however, blinded t he Anti-aricraft director and forced temporary evacuation from the aft guns.

Then another torpedo took out the Communications and Plotting Room.  The fire and heat forced what few survivors there may have been to abandon and seal those sections–each man on the HOUSTON was now their own fighting unit, independent of each other, but on one floating platform.

Ten minutes later, a direct hit blue the powder magazine in Turret Two, forcing the Conn to evacuate.  Over the radio, survivors remembered heare “Fire in Turret Two’s Magazine”  “Flood Turret Two’s Magazine”  “Fire in A-415-M”   “Flood A-415-M”  “Fire in A-410-M”  “Flood A-410-M”

to this day, no one knows how these fire stared.  But flooding Turret Two’s magazine, left Turret One with no more ammunition.

Fire broke out in lifejacket storage.  With flames licking out of her, HOUSTON became a glowing target, one which the JApanese could not miss.  She took hit after hit.

Five minutes after Turret Two was hit and encircled by enemy ships in point blank range, Captain Albert Rooks announced “Abandon SHIP!”  Moments later, a shell struck the communications deck, and killed him.


Another Torpedo hit on HOUSTON’s Starboard side brought HOUSTON to a halt, dead.

A survivor later recalled:

“..The Japanese had encircled the Houston, illuminated it with searchlighst and were raking the HOUSTON wiht shells and machine gunfire.  And exploding shell killed Captain Rooks.  Then some shrapnel hit me.  I entered the water with the goal of distancing myself from the ship.  The Japanese contined to rake the survivors.  I’d swim under for as long as I could, surface, glance at the HOUSTON and submerge.  Finally, the HOUSTON adn the Japanese vanished….”-David Flynn

The men scrambled to their stations to abandon ship.  The Executive Officer, now Captain was last seen going aft to make sure the men could get into lifeboats.  Moments later, that section took a severe shelling and he was not seen again.

Twenty minutes after ABANDON SHIP had sounded, an hour after PERTH had sunk, ninety minutes after the battle had started, HOUSTON listed Starboard, rolled, and sank.

Of HOUSTON’s 1,061 men, only 368 were ever found.  All of these men were captured.  of PERTH’s crew of 681,  328 remained, all but four (who died after reaching shore) were captured.


The end of the HOUSTON, as painted by a Japanese propaganda postcard. From navsource.org via Arnold Putnam


In the dark, none saw the Dutch Destroyer EVERTSEN.  Warned by the flashes and flares far ahead in the night, EVERTSEN sailed around the PERTH and HOUSTON’s battle, heading south to warn those expecting them.  Then she suddenly encounted two more Japanese destroyers, who chased her through the night.  AFter a few hits, and with her stern aflame, EVERTSEN tried to beach herself.  her crew escaped into the Javanese forest, where the survivors were taken prisoner.

Three ships were gone, with them, their crews, and no one in the Allied bases evacuating Java or establishing themselve in Australia knew what had happened.  Altogether, 1,071 Allied had gone down with their ships, and 675 survived.   And they had fought hard: sinking or forcibly grounding four troopships, damaging one cruiser, killing ten men and wounding 37 (and another minelayer had been sunk in friendly fire in the confusion.)

The survivors were taken to Jakarta, now, only a few days later, in Japanese hands.

It wold be 1945 before the fates of these ships would come to light in the faces and collective memories of the surviving POWs.  Meanwhile, the city of Houston Texas, learning of their namesake’s ship missing status, raised enough funds to build a second HOUSTON in her honor–and a second ship, the small aircraft carrier SAN JACINTO. (and now  a third HOUSTON, submarine SSN-713 serves in the Navy).


But the resting places of these ships would take longer.

PERTH was found earlier, and by 2013, it was noticed that she had been so stripped by salvagers that her superstructure is largely gone.  As neither Indonesia or Australia are part of the international pact that criminalizes such slavage, there is not much to be done but guard her for the future.

diagram of the wreck of the HMAS PERTH, who lies close to the HOUSTON. You can see the severe damage she took in the course of her short 30 minute fight in the Sundra Strait. Photo credit: Perthone.com


And today, after nineteen underwater surveys and years over documentation, the confimation of HOUSTON’s resting place has been announced.  Sadly, her wreck proves that people have also been salvaging from her for a long time, but now that her identity has been confirmed, the Navy can better preserve and protect this ship and her gallant crew.  Her resting place has been fiarly well known for years, but only now, with the documentation, can the NAvy confirm her, and claim her as a war wreck and grave. And as a certified graveyard, she is protected from further intentional damage by our international pacts.

USS Houston final resting place

The US Navy lays a memorial wreath at the site of hte HOUSTON's grave on June 11, 2014, before the news is publicly announced. Photo Credit: MC Christian Senyk of the Associated Press from this article.

(Wreck footage begins at 50 second mark)

Thank you HOUSTON, PERTH, EVENSTEN and your men for performing beyond the call of duty.  May we never forget.



Office of Naval Intelligence: The Java Sea Campaign, Combat Narrative. 

USS Houston, Senior Survivor (former Gunnery Officer) US Archives, fold3.com

The Ghosts that Died at Sundra Strait by Walter Winslow, HOUSTON survivor.  (Google Books)

A Survivor’s Story: David Flynn USN

USS Houston Survivor’s Association


USS PERTH AND USS HOUSTON WRECKS (one of the documenting phtoographers was Kevin Denlay, who helped find and document the USS PERCH, a US Submarine whose wreck was found in 2006.)








The Griffon hunt heats up: First a “bowsprit” and now a debris field–has Griffon been found at last?

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 24 2014

Last summer, I covered the search for “Le Griffon” (or le Grifon, Griffen, Griffin, non-standard spellings of the 17th century are so much fun) in Lake Michigan.

The Griffon is the holy grail of Great Lakes Shipwrecks.  While it’s highly unlikely that it’s the oldest shipwreck out there (there have to be some native vessels like canoes resting down there too, after all) it’s the oldest named boat known to be in the Upper Great Lakes, and even more interestingly, it is the first ship built by Europeans on the Great Lakes using native timbers.  Her discovery, if confirmed, could shed light on the very earliest shipbuilding in the New World, and even more interestingly, a ship built on temporary shipyards constructed because no one could get around Niagara Falls!  (The “shipyard” was destroyed shortly thereafter.)

Back in 2001, Steven Libert found a timber jutting out of the sandy Lake Michigan bed, one that was obviously squared off with wooden pegs embedded within it. He believed that it was a portion of the Griffon, hopefully, the bowsprit or the mast and the rest of her was buried beneath.

But the archaeological laws in Michigan are complex.  The shipwreck barely lies within the Michigan property lines that run through Lake Michigan.  The Michigan laws state that all archaeological finds beneath Lake Michigan belong to the state itself.  This is in part to prevent salvage or destruction or theft before scientific study.

The side effect, however, is that discoverers, like Libert, can often be pushed out of any subsequent explorations, and he wasn’t about to let that happen. In a twelve-year-long negotiation, Libert kept the location of the suspected “Griffon” a secret while he negotiated with the state to be part of the exploration.

But, in another twist, the French government, claiming that the Griffon, or any remains thereof, having been built by a Frenchman in French-claimed territory at that time, belongs to France.  It lead to an international exploration last summer.

The French archaeologists on the exploration declared that the exposed beam shared many characteristics with French bowsprits from the late 17th century.

But the Griffon was not beneath the “bowsprit”.  After digging around the base, the bowsprit came free, revealing nothing but sand and bedrock below.  It was a disappointment, and a huge question: where was the Griffon? IF this “bowsprit” was her, where was the rest of her?  If it wasn’t the Griffon, and the initial core tests which indicated it was from the late 17th century were accurate, what on earth was this thing?

As the permitted time to explore closed, the “bowsprit” was taken to Michigan State University for further tests, the results to be shared with the state archaeologists and the French team.

Samples were sent to be carbon-14 dated in Florida, and a CT scan in a Gaylord Hospital allowed for tree ring analysis without having to take a sample and thus potentially destroy some other evidence.

The “bowsprit” inside the CT scanner from Ostego Memorial Hospital in Gaylor MI. “Please hold your breath and remain as still as possible” Betcha that was easy this time around.

Nothing came back definitive, but at the same time, nothing came back excluding the “bowsprit” from potentially belonging to the “Griffon”  That is to say, the carbon dating suggests that the beam could be as old as the Griffon is supposed to be [1](the most recent carbon-14 test suggests the tree was cut down between 1680 and 1740, well within the margin of error for a 1679 “Le Griffon”) but in order to exclude a more modern date, different tests will be needed.

And there were 29  clear tree rings documented in the CT scan done by Otsego Memorial Hospital’s CT scanner. These were sent to Cornell University so Carol Griggs, an expert at the Tree Ring Laboratory at Cornell, can compare it to other trees of the same location and time period in Cornell’s database.  The hope was she could match these tree rings to another tree of the same region and species to “date” the bowsprit to a specific time period.  But in the end, she concluded at least 50 tree rings are needed to make a definitive match to a specific time period, so this test, too, fell through.

So nothing has yet said, “Nope—this is too young to be part of the Griffon”, which really, is the best you can hope for at this point. Of course, nothing has definitively said, “Yes this IS the Griffon!” either. What role this “bowsprit” will play in history’s future depends on what happens next.

Is it the Griffon?  There are now two camps about that.

In the “yes/it’s possible” camp are Steve Libert, its discoverer,  and the three French archaeologists headed by Michel L’Hour, director of the Department of Underwater Archaeological Research,  who joined the expedition last year.

Evidence that this is the Griffon’s bowsprit includes the beam’s general length and width, and shape of the buried end of the post.

Keep in mind, wood does not rot in the same manner in Lake Michigan as it does in the salt water of the oceans.  The cool water of the Lake keep wood in better condition for much longer.  While 19th century wooden shipwrecks are often mostly disintegrated by the 21st century, in Lake Michigan they are mostly intact.

So the buried end of the “bowsprit” shows signs of being beveled to an edge, but not sharpened to a point.  Buried as it was, this beveled edge is most likely deliberate, and original to the “bowsprit”.

A photo from the French Ministry of Culture showing the beveled, buried, end of the “bowsprit”. From this article.


This beveling on the end is consistent with how bowsprits were shaped to be fitted to the ship itself.  The other end, with the two man-made holes and pegs could be the attachement the “elbow” used to belong to, which would then attach to the flagpole.  This type of bowsprit is at least consistent with the “La Belle”, built by La Salle five years after “Le Griffon”.



Among the individuals in the “no” camp is state archaeologist, Dean Anderson, and two scientists who were on the 2013 expedition: Misty Jackson and Ken Vrana.  They believe that the “bowsprit” is most likely a stake from a “pound stake net”.

What’s a “Pound Stake Net”?

A pound stake net is a net strung among a number of submerged, vertical stakes pounded into the sandy Lake Michigan bed 35 or more feet below the surface.  Shaped like nested hearts, or hearts in bowls, these nets allowed large schools of fish to swim inside in large numbers, but few could find the way out.



These diagrams of Atlantic Pound Stake Net designs show how such things worked. Schools of fish could easily enter the large opening of the “Heart” end of the nets, but them swim through the small opening at the end of the heart into the “bowl” where they would be unable to find their way out again. From here, it’s easy to retrieve your catch. The locations of the poles are also easily seen on the left and center diagrams. If the “bowsprit” really is a pole from this method of fishing, others may be nearby, or records of recovered poles may exist. Diagram from NOAA.  Click to see larger resolution.


A diagram from this article which better shows how a pound stake net works, and what it looks like from the surface. http://www.chesapeakeboating.net/Media/Feature-Stories/What-Lies-Beneath.aspx


These nets were so successful at capturing fish that whole populations of fish, especially the prized lake Whitefish, disappeared in the Green Bay region, where the “bowsprit” was recovered.

During the summer 2013 expedition, no one mentioned the Pound Stake Theory, because none of these recovered stakes had the type of cross-way pins that the “bowsprit” did.

But a modern fisherman, Bob Ruleau of Wisconsin, submitted a photograph of a pound stake his nets had recovered years earlier.  His recovered artifact revealed that pound stakes had, at times, been spliced together using cross-wise pins. (see the photo here)

Moreover, each pound stake was pounded in deeply once, using a pole driver, a method that would lead to a single erosion ring right at the surface of the lake bed.


A Pole driving boat in Lake Erie. According to the caption, this boat would both drive the stakes, using a pile-driver set up, and remove them at the end of the season. Makes sense in a way–winter is brutal on such semi-submerged objects, so may as well remove them, and reuse the following season. Photo from NOAA

Photograph supplied by Bob Ruleau who also supplied documentation on the splicing of the pound stakes, this photo more clearly shows how the floating pile driver would pound the stakes in. You can also see the stakes also protrude from the water by about 5 feet. If the “bowsprit” is one of these stakes, it must have broken off some time ago.

The “bowsprit” has this type of fairly clean erosion line, leading many to believe that whenever and however the “bowsprit” was driven into the lake bed, it was driven extremely forcefully.  How could the ship-side end of the bowsprit be driven so forcefully that there is only one clear cut erosion line, but no remains of the ship?

The erosion line on the “bowsprit”. Photo taken by Laura Herberg from IPR for this article

Is it possible that the “bowsprit” broke off, and embedded itself in a small amount of sand, and thus created a catalyst for a dune to form around it within afew days?  The storm that sank the Griffon was four days long, and very violent, so such a thing would be possible.

Or is is a partially spliced pound stake left over from 19th century fishermen looking to make a large catch?

Only one way to find out.

Libert went back to the site and began to search around. Now, he’s announced that there is a large field of debris about 120 feet (36 meters) south-west from the original “bowsprit”, and hopes to gain the archaeology permits in time for another exploratory excavation in September of this year.

While the new “debris field” has yet to yield any definitive artifacts like cannon marked with the correct French seals, it does, apparently, have a partial ship’s pow, several kinds of nails and hand hewn boards.  The nails within the debris field are consistent with a known La Salle shipwreck from the Gulf of Mexico, the “La Belle”.  If this is the case, it’s a circumstantial point to this “debris field” potentially being the Griffon.

If all goes well, this fall could be a very exciting year for Michigan archaeology!

Maybe I should do an entry on the “La Belle” and how what we’ve learned about her by studying her shipwreck could impact the search for the Griffon.


More information:

Bowsprit or Pound Stake Net remains?

Wooden Beam Gets CT Scan (This article supplies great photos of the “bowsprit” in the CT machine–really gives nice views of the formerly exposed end with the cross pins and holes)

Article about the new debris field from MLive, the Michigan digital paper cooperation.  They follow this story closely

 Daily Mail’s article about the new debris field; great photos

70 years after D-Day, May We Pause to Remember…

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 06 2014

When my kids bounced on me this morning, it was already past 7.  My brother lives in Germany, and has told me that they’re six hours ahead, likely five hours ahead in Normandy.  It struck me, on this 70th anniversary of D-Day, that for those families at home, getting up this morning 70 years ago, the invasion that would come to be one of the seminal moments of history, was already secure.

It was 1 am here in the Midwest, when the boots of Americans, Canadians and Englishmen hit the beaches and parachuted out of the skies, and glided in on wooden gliders (that tended to break on impact).  By 7 am here in America and Canada’s eastern regions, the German stations were silent, manned by the dead that remained when the prisoners were taken.

An Aerial view of Omaha beach taken June 6, 1944. This is only one beach of five, and I think gives a glimpse of the massive scope of this part of the operations. Wikipedia.


As I’ve been watching documentaries and reading articles and papers about D-Day the past two weeks, I’m amazed at what went wrong, (a lot!), what went right, what the Germans had done that we didn’t expect (steel rebar-reinforced bunkers crossed with paranoid over-engineering), and what we did that the Germans didn’t expect (The Ghost Army and Operation Bodyguard), and how that all played out on the actual field of battle.  As one military tactician said, “No battle plan survives reality”. All sorts of improvisation moment-by-moment on June 6, saved the day.

A unique color photograph showing some of the ships getting ready to sail for the Normandy invasion. The Higgins boats that will deliver the infantry men to the beach are in the foreground off to the right. Wikipedia commons.

The reality was, Hitler didn’t expect the Allies to land at those beaches.  There were two main reasons for this.  The first was he and his advisors knew that any invasion would need to be reinforced by supply ships and more troops, and therefore, the Allies, when they landed, wherever they landed, would need to land in a place that had a deep-water bay and port that those ships could use.

He didn’t forsee that the Allies were already working on floating, pre-fab wave breakers to make an artificial bay, and floating pre-fab docks for an instant port.

The other reason was simple: Hitler expected us to land at the port city of Calais…because we told him so.  All sorts of tent cities, and inflatable (not a typo—inflatable) weaponry and vehicles were stationed all around Dover where the German submarines and spies could easily see them, all ready to head to Calais. All sorts of double agents reported the movements of phantom troops heading to Dover with orders for Calais.  Lots of radio traffic was intercepted all saying the same thing, Calais…Calais…Calais.  Hitler built up Calais and the surrounding area, leaving the rest of France, including the soon-to-be-famous Norman beaches 150 miles away, relatively undefended.

But that didn’t mean that it was going to be easy.  Hitler and Rommel had built “The Atlantic Wall” to keep the Allies out—a massive string of bunkers shielding massive guns and machine guns nests intended to drive out any invaders.  Submarines spent the spring and summer of 1944 quietly watching the targeted beaches, looking for positions, landmarks, painting the landscape to help teach the coming troops, many still on their way from Canada and America, where they were and where the Germans were going to be.  Whoever stepped foot on the beaches first, regardless of when or where, was going to face a hailstorm from even the few Germans left to defend it. The troops, from Eisenhower on down, knew it.

A photo of one of the bunkers the Allies were up against on June 6, 1944. The Germans had, unknown to us, invented steel rebar reinforced concrete structures, making them much tougher to destroy than we were expecting. This bunker still exists off of Normandy's beaches, still structurally sound 70 years on. Photo Credit "Bunker" by strengthsofcow. Flickr.com, Creative Commons License.

Due to the top secret nature of D-Day, known that day as Operation Overlord, the men involved couldn’t inform their families.  Many wrote letters to be sent if they didn’t return, and the first groups to hit the beaches had more than 90% fatality rates, so many of those letters did find their ways home.

Beginning at midnight, the invasion quietly began with paratroopers and minesweepers, and by dawn, the largest naval invasion force ever assembled and coordinated, swept into the narrow lanes cleared through the minefield surrounding France, disembarking troops to re-take the captive nation.  Many of these troops had been in school on December 7, 1941, when America entered the war.  And too many wouldn’t make it past the beaches.

Just hours later, the engineers sank their artificial floating blocks to form the sheltered bay and linked the pre-fab floating docks for the ships together.  LST ships, specially designed for this type of landing, hit the beaches (literally), discharging their cargoes of tank and trucks safe from the massive guns and machine gun nests now silent along the ridge.

A rare photo of the pre-fabbed docks that were created for this invasion. one of them was destroyed by a storm a day later, but by then, it didn't matter as much, the beach head was secure and most of the supplies that needed to come off of the ships down these docks had already done so. Source: US Archives via Wikipedia.

So much had gone wrong.  The Aerial bombs intended to destroy the German positions had missed by three miles due to fog, the naval bombardment hadn’t accounted for the steel skeleton within the concrete German bunkers, preventing their destruction, and the floating tanks designed to come in before the troops and demolish what remained of the German positions, could not withstand the rough water, and sank in the bay.  When the troops ran down the ramp of their Higgins boats, they faced the full fury of the nearly unscathed German positions.

And yet…yet…the insistent constancy of the brave men continuing to run across the hedgehog-studded beach through the hail of gunfire had won the day.  Despite what the Germans threw, the men kept coming, running, improvising attacks that took the Germans from their vulnerable side—from behind.  By noon, the worst of the initial landing was over.

Another view that gives an idea of hte scope of the landings once the beach was secure. Wikipedia Commons.

Now the fighting would take place hedgerow by hedgerow, fighting through the ancient stone walls and bushy fences built by a millennia of farmers.  Many would consider this much more dangerous than the beach landing, but that was still largely in the future by noon on June 6.

The cost had been high: over four thousand Allied dead that morning[1], and they had to be take care of.  With no access to embalming or means to take the dead home to their families, the names were recorded and the dead were interred in unofficial cemeteries.  The English, Canadians, and Americans took care of their own, and also the Germans who had fallen in the battle and retreat.  Still, a fifty-mile long battlefield was extensive, and many were missed for days, and then many were unable to be identified.

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery. You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to Omaha beach. Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated. Photo Source: fold3.com

After the war, everyone returned.  Wounds had to be bound up, and the dead collected.  The country of France gave land, in perpetuity, free of taxes or fees, to France, America, Britain, Canada, and even Germany, to allow them to inter the dead.

This is La Cambe Cemetery. On June 5, 1944, it was two adjoining farm fields. Following June 6, it became a dual cemetery. On one side, (I'm guessing the right) was the American dead. On the other side, German soldiers rested. After the Americans chose the Omaha Beach site for their official cemetery, they disinterred their dead from La Cambe, leaving the German dead behind. France then allowed Germany to take full possetion of this property, creating LaCambe German War Cemetery (see below). Source: fold3.com

As an American, when I think Normandy Cemetery, I instantly picture the row upon rows of white crosses set perfectly within a carpet of green at the Normandy American Cemetery.  As vast as it is, however, when you go to the Normandy cemetery, you only see ONE-THIRD of the casualties in Normandy.  When the remains of the men who died in Normandy were recovered in the years following the war, their families were given the choice to have their loved ones returned home or allowed to remain with their brothers in arms there in Normandy.  Nearly two-thirds of the families asked for their sons and brothers and husbands to come home.  In addition to those who died on or after June 6, a number of airmen who were shot down and died as early as 1942, were also returned by the French people who had buried them in honor within their own cemeteries.  Despite all the records, there were still over 1,500 missing men, and their names were inscribed on a wall near the entrance to the cemetery.  As the years have passed and more remains from this time were recovered, bronze rosettes were set next to those names whose remains were identified.  Many names, however, remain unmarked.

The walls upon which the names of the American missing are inscribed at the Normandy American Cemetery. There is a bronze sculpture in the center entitled "Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves". Photo from Wikipedia


The truth is, however, there are thirteen cemeteries honoring the dead of just the Norman invasion of WWII.

The Americans have the one Normandy American Cemetery.

The crosses of the Normandy American Cemetery. Wikipedia.

The Canadians maintain two cemeteries: Bény-sur-Mer Canadian Cemetery and Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery.

Teh Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Cemetery. Wikipedia Commons.

There are four British Cemeteries: Bayeux War Cemetery, Ranville War Cemetery, Banneville-la-Campagne and St. Manvieu War Cemetery

, have now set free the Conqueror's Native Land." In addition, there is a German section, where 466 German soldiers rest, their graves also maintained by the same Commonwealth War Graves Commission that maintains this cemetery.   Wikipedia Commons."”]And the Germans needed six cemeteries for their dead: La Cambe German War Cemetery; Champigny-St. André German War Cemetery, Marigny German War Cemetery, Mont-de-Huisnes German War Cemetery, Orglandes German War Cemetery, and Saint-Désier-de-Lisieux German War Cemetery.

The German La Cambe cemetery. Of the 12,000 German soldiers buried here, most fell between June 6 and August 20, 1944. The soldiers here originally rested in 1,400 unofficial or quickly organized battlefield cemeteries all over northern France. The youngest men here were 16. The oldest were 72. The large hill to the right topped by the cross is a mass grave for 296 German men, most un-identified. (It may be the site of that circular path in the 1946 La Cambe photo above). The tombstones here are low and flat, you can see them behind the large basalt crosses in the foreground. Wikipedia Commmons.

Today, as many heads of state gather over those bluffs, remembering that day when young soldiers charged through blood-soaked sand to re-take a tiny piece of France, may we all pause.  So many young people, from the infantry men who faced near certain death, to the paratroopers landing behind enemy lines, to the doctors and nurses who had to treat horrific injuries in field hospitals and ships at sea, chose to re-enter the war, and take down the Nazi regime because they believed in a good beyond themselves, and greater than their individual lives, that had to defeat the evil the Nazis wanted to take world wide.  They chose to face death and the death of those around them, in order that those left behind them at home could continue to live free, and those living under enemy rule could re-gain the freedom lost.

The cost lies under so many “white trees” along that fifty-mile beach, and all over Europe and the Pacific, and within America’s borders.

Freedom truly isn’t free.  And that proud tradition continues today with our men and women in uniform.

To those who gave their all and sleep beneath stones, thank you for giving it all up for me, and my family, and us all.

To those who continue to serve, thank you, and I pray that you do not need to lie beneath a tombstone for my sake, but thank you for being willing to do so.  May we honor your service now and always.

And to those who lived through hell, who question, “why me?  Why did I survive when so many good men and women did not?” I say, “I don’t know.  But tell me about them and what happened.”  May those of us who come after, listen to the cost, remember those who passed, and know that we stand on the shoulders of those willing to see and live beyond their own small world.


Thank you.


For more information:
The 607th Quartermaster Graves Registration History.  These personal photos taken in the aftermath of D-Day and the subsequent weeks and years show how the temporary cemeteries were created and later consolidated.  Warning, these are personal, uncensored photos.  Some may find the visual records of how these dead soldiers wer interred disturbing, but they are a unique view into this part of American military history.

[1] As a comparison, in the eight years of fighting the Revolutionary War, the Americans had lost about 8,000 soldiers.  Half of that number fell in just a couple of hours on June 6, 1944.