Posts Tagged ‘Admiral Christie’

Flier Investigation Concluded

Uncategorized, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Oct 08 2010

Dello Russo was up next.  Now due to whatever reason, his name was always listed in James D. Russo, in all the records.  His last name was properly Dello Russo, but he wasn’t permitted to list that apparently.  Thankfully, a sharp researcher in Grand Haven figured out his real last name, allowing us to track down his family in time for the memorial.  As a youth, Dello Russo loved to swim to the various islands around the Boston area, which accounts for his ability to swim for the islands.  In fact, he beat everyone to the shore, and was the only person to make it without hanging onto a floating piece of bracken for support.

But I digress.

Dello Russo’s testimony was brief.  As Quartermaster, his job was the drive the submarine from the helm.  Unlike a surface ship, which usually had windows in the room where the steering was done, a submarine is driven blind.  The Quartermaster has to steer based on the angles of the gyroscope and a great deal of trust with the navigator and radar and sonar teams.  All Dello Russo was essentially asked (beyond “Name, Rank, Station”) was where he was located that night.  At the helm.  In the Conning Tower.  That was it.

Donald Tremaine was the last man up for questioning.  I’ve always found Tremaine to be interesting if only because he is nearly a complete cipher.  I’ve never been able to find out anything about him, outside of the fact that he was on the Flier and was assigned to the Maryland during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Anything and everything else is a complete matter of speculation, and when I tried to research him, I got a quick and painful research lesson in just how many “Don(ald) Tremaine”s live in the USA.  But I don’t even have a photo of him, he was the only survivor in no condition to be photographed that day on the Redfin.

Tremaine was a Fire Controlman, which made him an essential part of maintaining, repairing and operating all weapons systems aboard Flier. Tremaine stated that the night Flier went down, he was in the Conning Tower as a part of the Radar Tracking Party in case they made contact.  If I’ve done my research correctly, that means that he was likely standing at the TDC (Torpedo Data Computer-an analog computing system that helped submarines perform the trigonometry needed to aim torpedoes.) that night.  And that was all.

Last up was Lt. Liddell.  After Crowley, Liddell had the most on the line, since he could potentially be held responsible if he hadn’t navigated correctly and allowed Flier to stray into dangerous waters.

He was questioned closely, the investigators wanting to know when was the last fix taken by stars, landmarks, the last reading on the azimuth, how often did he take depth soundings, radar fixes, and on and on.  Judging from his responses, he was a highly skilled navigator, and his skill stood the interrogation.

The strangest part of the tale is simply that when Liddlel and Crowley planned their route that evening, there were two reasons why they did not follow the Crevalle’s route precisely, when that was the route HQ sent them to help them safely transverse Balabac.  The first was Crevalle was heading north, not west, which meant that Flier would have to take a wide arc out of their way to match her track precisely.  But more importantly, Crevalle tracked very close to a pair of reefs, which were clearly shown on the map.  That was too close for comfort for Crowley and Liddell, and they decided to put more distance between Flier and those reefs, which would have been easily mineable.  Today’s charts, however, clearly show that the ocean floor drops steeply down near the reefs and comes up gradually near Comiran Island.  Liddell and Crowley tried to keep her as safe as they could, but this time, her luck ran out.

The remaining portions of the investigation/trial are detailed, and interesting, but maybe only to me.  There was a lot of questioning of Admiral Christie’s staff from this point forward, about intelligence gathering, known Japanese mines, how was information gathered and relayed to submarine COs, the risks of Natsubata Channel verses the other channels in the strait, on and on and on.  They even covered the history of Robalo’s CO, and called in the temporary COs of Robalo and Flier (these men were the CO while the real COs were on R&R and who remained onboard during all of the training sessions prior to patrol departure to observe the training and the abilities of the crews) to inquire how the crew and CO worked together, and how prepared the crews of these lost boats might or might not have been.

The conclusions reached by the investigation was that Flier and Robalo both had been given the best information possible, but their loss was officially attributed to “the fortunes of war”.  Both Admiral Christie and Commander Crowley were absolved of all fault regarding the loss of these boats and their crews, but Admiral Christie’s career had reached its zenith.  Shortly after this investigation, for unknown reasons, he was assigned to a new post: overseeing the Naval Yard in Bremerton Washington.  This sort of assignment was often given to admirals who were on their way to retirement, and despite the fact that four submarines (Flier, Robalo, Harder and USS Seawolf, sunk on 3 October in one of the few friendly fire incidents of WWII–carrying 17 Army Special Forces aboard) had been recently lost out of Fremantle, Christie had a good record of safety and support of his submarine crews.

It is possible that Christie simply got shuffled around in the normal rotation of things, but, while there are no written records, and no one willing to go on record, there were rumors that Christie may have been on the receiving end of some other admirals’ displeasure for the clean slate given to Christie and Crowley.  It’s also interesting to note that Admiral Daubin, the presiding officer, was also shortly relieved of the command of Atlantic Submarines (at which he also had been doing a laudable job) and moved to oversee the Naval Yard at New York.

Who knows?

But now the Navy had to sit and wait.  There were rumors of at least four survivors of the Robalo. Four men, Ensign Samuel Tucker, Signalman Wallace Martin, Quartermaster Floyd Laughlin, and Electrician’s Mate Mason Poston, had dropped a note from their Puerto Princesa prison cell on August 2, which had been smuggled out to the Allies.  Their current whereabouts were unknown.  There were also seven survivors of Flier who potentially could have swam to other islands and be living as castaways or captured.  In addition, Flier was believed to be in 40-50 fathoms of water (240-300 feet of water).  All submariners are trained to escape out of a disabled submarine at that depth, so if some of the Fliers had survived the crash into the seafloor and could reach the escape hatches, is was possible that more might surface after the war.  There was no way to tell.

But the families were going to have to be told something…

This particular Submarine Escape Training Tower is located in New London Connecticut at the Subamarine School. Every man was required to escape from the bottom of it to the top, learning how to use the various escape equipment. So it was possible, not likely, but possible, that other Fliers might have found their way to the surface after the Flier came to rest on the bottom. It would have been a potentially lethal and nearly impossible ascent, but with eight men already proving the impossible could happen, the Navy was willing to leave that door open for now.

Investigation Continues

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Sep 25 2010

Admiral Christie having gotten through the first round of questioning, it was now Commander Crowley’s turn.

As soon as Christie had withdrawn, Crowley took the stand voluntarily to relate the information he had concerning the Robalo.

“Sergeant  Pasqual de la Cruz, Philippine Army, USAFFE, whim I encountered at the Guerilla outpost at Cap Buliluyan, informed me on August 21st that he had recently returned from a reconnaissance trip to Balabac Island, This trip was made to verify a tumor that some Americans had been captured there.  He received the following information which he told me.  The USS Robalo was sunk by an explosion in the forward battery on 3 July 1944.  The reported position of the vessel at the time of the explosion was forty miles west of  Balabac Island.  There were four survivors of Robalo who were found on the beach of Comiran Island.  From his story, of which the facts are not clear, I arrived at three possible solutions as to the fate of hte survivors:  (1) that the four were surprised on the beach and jumped up, two escaped and two were captured: (2) in the foregoing event, two were captured and two were shot; (3) in the foregoing even all four were captured and two were deliberately shot after capture.  The names of the two survivors made prisoner were purported to me as Lieutenant Tucker and quartermaster Martin.  One of the others apparently was the commanding officer of the Robalo, and no information exists or was given to me as to the identity of the fourth  The reason for the conflicting stories as to the fate of the survivors is that Sergeant de la Cruz received the information from difference sources.  One other thing that he also told me, that the Robalo departed Port Darwin on a date late in June, I which I do not remember correctly.  I believe it was the 29th.  Apparently, it came from a survivor.  The two prisoners are reported to have been sent to the Japanese prison camp at Puerto Princesa, Palawan.  This is all of the information that I have.”

Next up was all the information about the Flier’s final hours, and from this, as well as the previous statement that both Flier and Robalo were recommended to follow Crevalle’s route through Balabac/Natsubata, we can reconstruct what happened.

Crowley stated that he was on the bridge and Lt. Casey was the OFficer of the Deck, however, he, Crowley, had the Conn.  This is significant because the Conn, or control of the engines and rudder, is usually the job of the Junior Officer of the Deck, in this case, Al Jacobson.  Technically speaking, Crowley revealed in that moment that he was unnecesary on the bridge, since there was an Officer of the Deck (OOD) Casey, and Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD), Jacobson.  However, since the Captain is ultimately responsible for his boat, and this was going to be a tricky passage, it wasn’t considered that unusual that Crowley was on deck.  His having the Conn meant that he was responsible for the speed and directino of the boat, not Jacobson.  It’s quite possible that Crowley took the Conn because Jacobson was several feet away from the OOD and the Bridge hatch, through which he could talk to the Navigator, Liddell, whereas, Captain Crowley was sitting just over the bridge hatch and next to the OOD.

He was then asked how many lookouts he had posted.  He had four officers, two forward, two aft, on the bridge, four enlisted lookouts overhead in the periscope shears, the navigator and quartermaster were in the Conning Tower not Control Room (one floor below), on operator on the battle station radar, another radar tracking operator, someone on soundgear and Sonar (same station), and the radar detector was manned.

He named those one each level, though, when it came to the conning tower, not who was at what station.  Those who survived would report their own positions, and a few would report on someone else’s position, though they did not do so unless asked.

The four men on the periscope shears were Wes Miller, Earl Baumgart, Gerald Madeo, and Eugene Heller.  On the Bridge with Crowley were Casey (OOD), Jacobson, (JOOD), Lt Bill Reynolds, and Ens. Phil Mayer.  Inside the Conning Tower manning the various pieces of technology were Lt. Liddell (navigator), Lt. Paul Knapp, Art Howell, Don Tremaine, James Dello Russo, and Charles Pope.   Earl Hudson was Chief of the Watch in the Control Room beneath.

And so now we have the set up.  Looking at the line up of those who were on duty the moment Flier went down there are some interesting items.

They were officer heavy.  According to Jacobson, Ens. Beahr was on duty at the maptable in the Control Room, leaving only Ens. Miner unaccounted for.  With nearly half of the officers exposed outside and the rest in the center of the ship, Crowley was running the risk that a good gun battle could make an ensign or a lieutenant the CO of Flier in case of a shore gun attack, which was possible.  If something happened to pierce the skin of the Conning Tower and straife the deck, the men in the Control Room could, potentially, dive, sealing off the Conning Tower, drowning all within.  It had happened before, (on other boats) and the men were trained to do it if necessary.

Next up, the other Flier crewmemebers, who are currently waiting in the passage outside the improvised courtroom, give their accounts of that night.

The Coastwatchers

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 26 2010

Al and the Fliers were now on the slopes of Addison Peak, waiting for pickup.  The moment Captain Crowley knew he had the ability to send  a message to Brisbane Australia (the Coastwatchers, being an Army unit, not a Navy unit, had the clearances, frequencies, ect. to contact McArthur’s headquarters, not Admiral Christie’s, but of course, were willing to forward it to Fremantle) he sent a message saying Flier was lost with some survivors, and that they likely hit a mine in Balabac Strait, and needed pick up.  Up until this point, it was suspected/assumed that Balabac was mined because it was such a used strait with such limited paths through making it nearly ideal for mining.  But now, Crowley was convinced it was, and despite the convenience,  should be avoided at all costs.

The message was embedded in the usual weather report (the Japanese could always be listening in, but since what the Coastwatchers sent was, more often that not, weather reports, it wasn’t too likely they’d listen closely), sent to Brisbane and quickly forwarded to Fremantle.

Fremantle, to put it lightly, wasn’t happy.  Not. At. All.

The next night, they sent a blistering scolding to the Coastwatchers, who weren’t even their men, telling them that they were highly disappointed in the quality of the men’s observations and that they were supposed to be watching the straits for things like mines, and they expected much better in the future.

For the commander of the group, Armando Corpus, who had suffered from depression before during this mission, it might have been the last straw.  If he followed the pattern established earlier in this mission, he likely withdrew from the other men and talked openly about how he was useless to do anything.  The other men, lead by Palacido who was the de facto leader of the group, tried to tell him it wasn’t their fault, certainly not Corpus’s alone, and that he was a valuable leader of their band.

From what I have seen, the Fliers certainly never held the Coastwatchers responsible for what happened to their boat, it was the fortunes of war.  Moreover, the Straits had been mined before the Coastwatchers got there.  Personally, I think the accusation a bit unfair, but a lot of these facts came out after the war, and 1944 wasn’t exactly a relaxing time for anyone in the Submarine Force.  Fresh off the realization that Robalo isn’t answering her repeated calls, nor calling in to report when she’d be in port, and is therefore, likely lost, to hear Flier was certainly lost in the same general area, had to be a devastating blow.  To add to that, submarine Hake reported that her hunting partner, submarine Harder, had taken a severe depth charging from the escorts of their last targets, and wasn’t answering Hake’s calls.  Hake suspected Harder was  lost with all hands, including legendary skipper Sam Dealey.  So news of all three submarines lost with their crews was hitting Christie’s office at once.  It might have been too much to take for whoever composed the scathing message.

The Fliers meanwhile were sitting back and relaxing for the first time.  As their feet healed, they started to participate in the activities of the mountain encampment and meet the people around here, including trapped missionaries, survivors of the Bataan Death March, and salvage divers.

But more on that tomorrow.