Posts Tagged ‘Al Jacobson’

In the words of the Flier crew…

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Sep 27 2010

It was the morning of September 15, and the second day of the investigation.  The men of the Flier, who had sat the entire day before in the passage of the Euryale would finally get to have their say.  Not only would they answer any questions put before them, but they had the opportunity at this time to say anything they wanted in the court,  even if it would reflect badly on their Captain or someone or something else.

First up, was Ensign Jacobson, the youngest of the three surviving officers.

After stating his name, rank and current station (which he still listed as USS Flier) he was asked where he was the night of 13 August.

“At nine o’clock, I went on watch as JOD [Junior Officer of the Deck, see this post for further definition] on the After Cigarette Deck.  At the same time, the other JOD was there so I was on the starboard side of the cigarette deck.  That was my station until I was swimming.”

According to Jacobson’s memoirs which he started writing only a few weeks later, he replaced Ensign Beahr who went down into the Conning Tower. They were due to switch stations again in a few hours.  The other officer to which Jacobson is referring is likely Ensign Meyer, who was on the Bridge.

They asked if he had worn his goggles and adjusted his eyes before reporting (important since, if he hadn’t, it might have opened the doors to a possibility that they were attacked by the enemy from astern, but Jacobson’s non-adjusted eyes didn’t see anything.  It was also a test of following procedures.)  He had.  They asked about visibility, which was cloudy, but he could see all the way to land.  (According to Jacobson’s  memoirs, he could see Comiran, Balabac and Palawan Islands that night.  If true, then despite the overcast he could see about 25 miles).  They then asked him what his opinion was as to the cause of the loss of Flier.  He will be the only person asked to name a potential cause.

“I believe it was a mine that hit the starboard side around the officer’s country somewhere below the surface.”

He was not cross-examined and declined to say anything else.

Next up was Wesley Bruce Miller.

He stated his name rank and as to his present station to which he was assigned, he answered, “I do not know what my present station is.”  (Understandable, all things considered.)

Under questioning, he revealed that he was the forward port lookout that night on Flier, and he had also adjusted his eyes before coming on duty.  When asked about the visibility conditions, he had this to say:

“Well, I could see land at eight thousand yards but it was very poor.  The sky was overcast.  No stars out.  It was cloudy and dark.”

Questioning Lawyer:  “During the time that you were on watch, did you see any ship or any suspicious object in the water?

Miller:  “No sir, I saw nothing in the water.  I could see a light on the beach.  There as a lightouse there but nothing in the water.”

Cross Examined by the other side:  “Was it a light or a lighthouse you saw?

Miller: I couldn’t say.  It as very dim.  it was where the lighthouse was and I imagine it was a lighthouse.”

Now, despite the fact that Jacobson said that he could see several miles and Miller said he could see only a few miles, we have to remember two things:  One, that Jacobson and Miller are standing on opposite sides of their boat and two, that Miller is much higher up than Jacobson.  In addition, Jacobson’s memoirs record that a storm was sweeping in when Flier went down.  It’s possible that those gathering clouds made it more difficult to see on Miller’s side.

The light that Miller saw was likely one of two houses.  The first option is the light at Espina  Point on Balabac itself or more likely, the light on the shore of Comiran Island which Jacobson would visit over fifty years later.

Taken during Jacobson's 1998 trip to the Philippines, this is the light on Comiran Island, which Miller might have seen that night in 1944. I was unable to find any photographs of the Espina Point Light on Balabac Island.

On a strange note, according to Miller’s son, Bruce, Miller was not scheduled to be on lookout duty during the time Flier sank.  A brand new hand on Flier, he was a non-qual, or non-qualified hand, and as such, subject to strenuous tests, qualification exams, and more than a little mild hazing.  Apparently, he was scheduled to be off-duty during this particular shift, only to be told by an older hand that he was now on lookout duty, courtesy of the older hand.

And that’s how Miller ended up in the water.  The name of the hand that accidentally doomed himself is not known.  The things that might have been…

Gold Country

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Sep 11 2010

The Navy quickly realized, once the Fliers returned to Fremantle, that they had a problem.  The Submarine Force was far, far too small.  Eight Flier crewmen (almost 10% of the crew!) were going to be wandering around Fremantle, being seen by men they knew and who knew that these men belonged on the Flier…and it wouldn’t take long before people realized that Flier herself wasn’t in port, which would raise interesting questions.

Questions that, the Navy, in order to keep the other submariners from uneccessary fear and worry, would rather remain unasked.

Captain Crowley had to stay in Fremantle because he needed to prepare his defense.  While the Board of Investigation he was now facing (standard for investigating the presumed or known losses of any given vessel) was not a court martial, it was only one step down, and if it proved unfavorable, he could face a real Court Martial.  Since Admiral Christie was also going to be a defendant in this investigation, the Navy was flying Admiral Freeland Daubin in from the East Coast to preside over the trial.  In fact, he landed in Fremantle 66 years ago today.

Earl Baumgart requested to stay in Fremantle, as he was friends with a local family with whom he was staying. Since he was staying there, and eating his meals there rather than in the hotels and restaurants that the submariners haunted, the Navy decided to honor his request.  Besides, a spare Flier crewman wouldn’t raise that many eyebrows–last minute reassignments were common enough.

The other six–Liddell, Jacobson, Miller, Tremaine, Howell, and Dello Russo–were loaded on a private plane and flown 350 miles inland to a town named Kalgoorlie.  It was also in the middle of nowhere.  In short, it was the perfect place to stash six guys whose location needed to be kept secret for another week or so.

It may not look like much, but there is nearly 350 miles between Perth and Kalgoorlie. Once in Kalgoorlie, there is NOTHING for miles. It is so far from any other non-mining civiliazation that the mines are still "on-site" workers. (As mines are being located in more remote places, some mines find it cheaper and better to fly their workers in for an intense several days shift, then fly them home. Kalgoorlie is so far from anywhere, it's cheaper to haul everyone there, families and all.

Here's another way to look at the distance. In scale, the distance from Fremantle/Perth to Kalgoorlie is roughly the same distance as the Ohio/Michigan border to Whitefish Point in the Upper Penninsula. (as the crow flies). That is a beast of a drive, and in Michigan, you don't deal with desert. (I'm now showing my childhood roots, aren't I?)

Kalgoorlie is still, as it was in 1944, a large mining town with some of the biggest gold and nickel mines around.  It sits near “The Super Pit”, Australia’s largest open pit gold mine.

A satelite shot of Kalgoorlie, now a cluster of a number of towns working several mines, the largest of all is still the Super Pit.

Al Jacobson, who, along with Lt. Liddell, stayed in the mine foreman’s house that week, (the enlisted, I presume stayed in one of the numerous hotels in Kalgoorlie) got a first hand look at a mining operation–or he would have had they stayed there any other week of the year.  The first morning there, he recalled going to the mine with the harrassed looking foreman where all the miners were gathered.  The Union leader yelled, “Are we going to work today men?”  “NO!” was the resounding answer.

Then they all trooped away…to the racetrack.  They weren’t on strike.  Kalgoorlie’s biggest week of the year is the horse races held each September and war or not, they continued, and all mining operations were suspended until then, despite the fact the foreman’s orders were to run the mine at full capacity.

We know Al visited the racetrack on September 9, because he still has the program for that day.

The Cover to the September 9, 1944 Kalgoorlie Races. While this doesn't conclusively prove that Al visited the racetrack that day....

The fact that he recorded the first, second and third place winners in each category for all the races I think does.

Soon, however, they were going to return to Fremantle to face whatever music the Navy decided to play for them.


Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 31 2010

Hey everyone, if I can get 64 more people to visit this site before midnight tonight, that’ll be 4,000 visits this month, a record, and quite a nice one, wouldn’t you agree?

Back to the story.

Midnight passed, and the moon rose higher, causing the people in the kumpit to fear the maru might see them if they were really looking.  Howell kept working the CW Keying on the small radio, and Russo kept flickering the flashlight out into the night, though less enthusiastically than two hours before.

Suddenly Howell, checking his cry of success, told Russo to stop signaling, Redfin saw them!

They heard her before they saw her, she was steaming on the surface from out at sea.  Austin, on deck, ordered Redfin to reverse just before they came up on them to stop the giant steel sub from knocking over these small wooden boats.  They lowered the deck to just above the surface of the water, and Al was so eager to get onboard that he forgot his formal Navy manners and didn’t ask permission to board, just grabbed the first Redfin’s hand that reached for him and scrambled on board.  Of was 0043 (or 12: 43 am) August 31, 1944.  The Flier’s ordeal was over, after 18 days.

Everyone was quickly brought on board, including Mrs. Edwards, embarrassed to be seen without her carefully kept shoes.  Every pair except her best had long since rotted away in the humid environment.  She kept her best pair in their box so she would not have to be rescued, if rescue ever came, barefoot…only to discover, as Redfin approached, that a couple of years barefoot in the Philippine jungle caused her feet to swell so much her shoes would not fit!

Alastair was amazed to be on board a real submarine, though Heather, by most accounts, watched silently from her mother’s arms.

Redfin’s CO had news for everyone too:  faced with Americans needing evacuation, Redfin received orders two hours before to grab the evacuees and head straight for Darwin, Australia, the nearest Allied port, and not to attack anyone or reveal themselves in any way between now and then.

So when the Coastwatchers asked for a few donations (the Redfin agreed during Crowley and Austin’s radio interview the night before to giving a gallon of lubricating oil for the kumpit) the Redfins turned over everything that wasn’t needed for survival for seven days.  The list of things given is really amazing:

(2) .30-caliber Browning Automatic Rifles

(2) .30-caliber machine guns

(2) .45 caliber Thompson Machine Guns

(4) Springfield .30 caliber rifles

(10) .45 caliber Colt Pistols

(3) .30 Caliber M-1 Carbine Rifles

20,000 rounds of  .30 caliber ammo

3,000 rounds of .45 caliber ammo

2,800 rounds of .30 caliber ammo for the carbines

Writing Paper


Typewriter Ribbons

(3) Bags medical supplies including sulpha drugs, quinine and atrabrine to fight malaria




Canned Fruits and Vegetables

200 cartons cigarettes (it was 1944, lots of people smoked)

Playing Cards

Diesel Oil

Sulpheric Acid

Radio Tubes

Toilet Paper


And that’s just the list from the official inventory.  According to the Redfins, the men gave some of their change of clothes and one even handed over his pair of 9-1/2 shoes for Mr. Edwards when he heard Mr. Edwards had none.

If the Japanese feared Brooke’s Point before, they would doubly now, since Coastwatchers and guerrillas were well armed, had real ammo, and were well fed, entertained, clothed and shod.  This list, I think, shows something else: how little these people had been operating with for years.  It really makes their story just as amazing as the survivors.

That Japanese ship just sat there though.  Captain Austin,  who was shocked to see Palacido, who he had dropped off two months earlier a hundred miles south, suggested that his men might need some deck gun practice.  If he did, would Palacido  be sure to be responsible and clean the beach of any and all supplies and capture any men who washed up?

Palacido eagerly agreed, and the men left on the kumpits, now heavily laden with the equivalent of four years of Christmas.

The refugees were hustled downstairs and the civilians were quickly assigned cabins where they were required to stay unless they were escorted by a member of the crew to the head or the Mess.  It may sound cruel, but it was a necessary step to ensure everyone’s safety in case of trouble.  Civilians would not be rushing around, getting in the way of crew members who would be trying to help.

George, Charlie and Red, despite being military, were also confined to cabins, since they were not qualified by the Sub School to be on a submarine.

Only the Fliers were permitted some freedom, though it was limited since they had no duty stations, the three Flier officers were not going to be part of the decision making of this crew, and at most, they were free to throw themselves in any unoccupied bunk to try and rest.

Redfin soon shuddered under the  thunder of her three deck guns.  The first flash blinded the gunners themselves, who had to rely on the directions given by the lookouts overhead.

The Maru, now in danger, quickly picked up her anchor and headed south,hugging the the coast all the way.  She must have had a very shallow draft, since she glided over coral reefs Austin didn’t dare send Redfin into, or even shoot a torpedo at (they had a tendency to blow up coral reefs ather than ships over coral reefs)

It was over, the Redfin turned her nose south west, heading away from Flier’s last route through Makassar, and away from Flier’s last position.  Of the eight men who would forever remember their shipmates, only one would ever see those islands again.

And Captain Crowley, once again through no fault of his own, faced investigation into the loss of his boat.  The same boat.

Guerilla Headquarters

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 21 2010

The waters north of Bugsuk Island are riddled with reefs and shallow places.  The charts clearly mark more places that are “exposed at low tide” and “passable at high tide” and “passible by shallow-bottomed boats” than they do the actual path through.

Sula LaHud, who the Fliers quickly re-named “Sailor” in respect for his amazing talents, knew the way, and darkness or treacherous waters were nothing to him, this was his home after all.  He was a Moro Trader, and according to what I can find, a Moro is a general term for a Muslim resident from (mostly) southern Palawan Island.  They apparently do not call themselves Moro, though they will recognize that you are referring to them if you use it (they don’t consider it an insult), and from what little I can find, they have never been united under any one leadership, or political entity.  I guess it’s like being from Michigan, and being called a Troll.  We don’t call ourselves that, but if someone does, we know two things: 1,) They are also Michganders and 2.) They are from the Upper Penninsula.  (People from Lower Peninsula in Michigan are Trolls cause we live under the (Mackinaw) Bridge, get it?)  But we don’t call ourselves that and we certainly aren’t united politically that way (The Troll Party of Michigan.  We believe in eating anyone who crosses our bridge.   Hey, where did everyone go?)

Oh dear, I really am sleep deprived.

Anyway, this man was apparently well known to everyone as one of the best traders and navigators in the area, and Al and the other Fliers marveled at how easily he slipped his boat through the waves, even though, just before sunset, they could see corals just inches below the waters on either side of the boat, but the boat would slide past them quickly with only a few words passing between Sailor and his two young helpers.

Taken from my book, "Surviving the Flier", and based on a map originally drawn by survivor Al Jacobson, this shows the path from the morning they were taken into the care of guerillas to landing at Brooke's Point. Note the really twisted path the boat had to take from the northern tip of Bugsuk Island to the southern tip of Palawan. If you saw this on Google Earth overhead (which I can't access on this computer right now) you would see this path corresponds to the only dark blue (deep water) path from Bugsuk to Baliluyan.

They landed without incident at Cape Baliluyan at 3 am that morning, and the guerillas were waiting for them.  They ran down to the beach, unloaded everyone and everything from Sailor’s kumpit, dragged it under cover and got everyone to the shelter as quickly as they could.

These men, the Fliers quickly learned, were mostly college students or graduates, or even teachers before the war, but now they fought against the Japanese stranglehold on the island.  They did this so well on the southern half of Palawan that they nicknamed it “Free Palawan”.  The Japanese knew they were there, and though they strongly held the northern half of Palawan (where the POW camp was) and Balabac Island, they tended to steer clear of this area so long as the guerillas weren’t too obvious about what they were up to.

There had been almost no news in this area since the fall of Manila in 1942, and these men were desperate for news of the outside world and hung on to every word the men could tell them about the defeat of the Japanese in Guadalcanal, the Bismark Sea, the Coral Sea, the Marianas, even as near as the Philippine Sea.  All news was censored and highly classified here, and these men knew none of what had happened and were jubulient to learn that, despite appearances here, the Japanese hold was weakening.

The next morning, after breakfast, the head of these Guerillas, Seargent Pasqual De la Cruz, gave them a gift.  All the guerillas donated every spare bit of clothing they had so the Fliers could walk around in something other than their boxers and t-shirts.  Again, these men had no new clothing in four years, and they didn’t know how soon they might get more, so this was an incredibly generous gift.  Each Flier man found a pair of pants that would fit him, and Al was one of the few who found a shirt that fit (though he said it was so tight it would not button across his chest).

Then de la Cruz started to question the Fliers, asking their names, ranks, serials, boat’s name, how long at sea.  There wasn’t much Captain Crowley was permitted to tell him, even though he was an Ally.  One never knew if he would be captured and tortured in the next few days or weeks after all.  But during this time, everyone discovered something no one suspected up until now:  De la Cruz had sent his men to find submariners from a boat he heard rumors of sinking OVER A MONTH BEFORE.  Sarmiento and the Bugsuk Battalion was looking for sailors that had escaped another submarine, not Flier.

De La Cruz, away from the other Fliers, gave Captain Crowley news saying he had spent the better part of the last two weeks on Balabac Island chasing down rumors of captured navy men.  He didn’t know the name of the boat, though he was certain it was a submarine, but he did hear two names: Tucker and Martin, and that they had been captured while the others with them had been killed (depending on who he interviewed, either they were killed trying to escape or killed in cold blood after their capture.  There were also rumors of two more men, but he didn’t get their names).  He also told Crowley that the submarine these two had been on had been in Darwin Australia on or around June 28.  If Crowley got back to the Allied territory, he was supposed to pass that information on.

After a dinner of, yup, more rice, and a special treat of thinly slicked and cured carabao meat (Jacobson said despite being so thin either the meat was so tough or their jaws were so weak they could barely chew it) it was time to go.  Sarmiento decided to go back to Bugsuk to keep an eye out for more survivors and resume his duties.

The Fliers were on schedule to get to Brooke’s Point, the Coastwatcher’s place, the following morning.

But there ended up being a snag.  Shortly after leaving Cape Baliluyan, Sailor’s boat came across a Japanese patrol boat.  With twelve people on such a little craft (eight Fliers, Sailor and his two boys plus de la Cruz who came to give a report to Brooke’s Point) the Filipinos knew that there was no way the Japanese patrol would think this was a fishing boat if they spotted it.  Sailor pulled his craft closer to shore, where he had to maneuver more delicately through the corals, and had the boys drop the sail to make their craft harder to see.

The patrol boat took its sweet time, plodding slowly down the coast of Palawan, and by the time Sailor thought it was safe enough to raise the sail, the wind had died.  De la Cruz, the boys, and Sailor took turns rowing through the sea, but they just couldn’t make enough progress.

In the end, Sailor decided that since they weren’t going to make Brooke’s Point before the first aerial patrols the next morning, it was better to stop for the night.  Sailor knew of a family that lived nearby, and so they landed at Rio Tuba, a tiny two-hut village three miles up the Tuba River.  The men were quickly ushered into one of the houses, where they fell asleep.

Book Proof!

The Book, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jul 28 2010

It’s here!  It’s here!  It’s here!

Actually, it was here on Monday.  But between the camera being dead, and my schedule and finishing a surprise that I hope the families of the Flier crew will love, I hadn’t gotten around to taking proper photos.

But I have now.  Here we go.

There's the front cover. What do you think? (Seriously, I'd welcome the feedback)

There it is in all its glory.  This is  a proof, meaning it’s for the author’s eyes only, and it’s a last gasp chance to make sure everything is perfect, all photos, graphics, wording, everything.

It’s a good thing too, because despite my every effort, I’ve had to replace five photos that came out too dark and a handful of typos and some stuff I forgot about last minute, including three thank yous and seven bibliographic references.  Thank goodness, they only charge for one more upload rather than per correction!  (If you purchase this book and happen to find a typo or something PLEASE don’t tell me for at least a week!  I’ll need the time to adjust to not-panic drive!)

This is a pretty cool book, even if I am prejudiced.  Here’s the start to Chapter One:

The opening to Chapter One. That is an actual photo of the crew of the Flier likely receiving their awards for the stellar job done on the first patrol. I wish there was a date for this, whether it happened shortly after Flier arrived, or shortly before she left, but a number of men on the Flier received commendations such as Bronze Stars and Silver Stars, and Crowley received a Navy Cross. If you're curious about the coffee reference in the opening pages, that's a true reference. Al remembered this strange thing about the Flier crew: they insisted on Hills Bros. coffee, and nothing else. Though he couldn't taste a difference, he said some of the crew were dead serious about that coffee.

And another random spread in Chapter 2 with a map included.  I was able to put over 20 maps, photos and diagrams, though they are not evenly spaced throughout the book.  Since obviously, none of the men were carrying a camera during their escape, there are few photos in the middle of the book.

From Chapter Two where Al and the other officers learned where the Flier was going for her second patrol. In order to keep submarines as safe as possible, only the Commanding Officer was told where they were going before the submarine left port. If, like Flier's case, they had to stop somewhere to refuel, no one else was told where they were headed until after the submarine had left the last vestiges of Allied civilization behind. Thanks to the later investigation and the Operation Orders of the Flier, we know where they were supposed to head, and how and when they were supposed to get home, had Fate not intervened.

Despite the title and the fact that this book is centered around the doomed second patrol of the Flier and the escape of the eight Fliers themselves, there are a number of backstories and flashbacks in this book to try and flesh out Flier’s life and that of her crew before the explosion.  The most frustrating thing was, of course, with eighty four men onboard Flier, I couldn’t feature or name them all during the course of the book, but I hope this shows a good cross section of who these guys were.

So its 294 pages long, 14 of which is Bibliography alone  (I might shrink the text in the Bib to give me more room if I need it).

As soon as the proof is re-sent with the final final FINAL (I hope) revisions, we’ll finish up the e-books starting with the Amazon Kindle version.  I’ll let you know when we get that up for those who are interested in that sort of format rather than a hard copy.

We were hoping to do a Barnes and Noble Nook version, but we can’t seem to find any information on how to convert these books into that format.  If you know, please contact me about how to do that.

Audiobook version will be coming.  It just might not be ready for the launch.  Sorry.  It’s coming, I promise.

Well, now back to work.  I have a deck log to photograph, a DVD to create, and another Exhibit to design.  I’m swamped.  (in a good way)

And where was Flier, Redfin and Robalo? Robalo is definitely lost now, though how many of her men remain alive and/or free or imprisoned is still a matter of debate.  Flier is in drydock having her starboard mechanical everything thoroughly gone over, and the Redfins are reporting back on duty.  The Coastwatchers are well and settled in Brooke’s Point, establishing one radio station on the beach and one on the side of Addison Peak a mile or so inland.  They have no idea Balabac Straits are definitively mined (it was assumed, not known that Balabac was mined at this time) and their radios are having problems again anyway, so they haven’t told HQ.  This fact will have deadly consequences for more than the submariners.

Homeward Bound

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 27 2010

Flier is on her way home, via Sibutu Passage, Molukka Passage, and Lombok Strait.  With only four torpedoes left, I’m sure they were anxious to get back to home port.

The night that Flier received permission to go home, They threw a victory party with an extensive menu to celebrate their successful patrol.

Thanks to the families of Al Jacobson and James Liddell, we have those menus AND the only known (that I know of at least) drawing of the Flier insignia.  This bears the initials “RM” or so it appears.  That does not match any names in the roster of those that went down.  It makes me wonder who did it.

I think it’s funny that despite the fact that “Flier” is named for a common type of sunfish found all over America, the men designed a sailor-hat wearing fly to be their insignia.

The menu is AMAZING.  Just look at the amount and variety of food.  And this, mind you, is after 40 days at sea.  That menu is made from the LEFTOVER food in their stocks.  Little wonder that the kitchen staff on a submarine were coveted and highly regarded by their crewmates.

Just take a gander at all this food! Chicken a la King, Shrimp Cocktail, Beef Broth, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Buttered Corn, Beef Steak, Roasted Pork, Chocolate Cake, Cold Chocolate (I wonder if that was as opposed to Hot Chocolate?) I'm getting hungry just typing this! I do wonder about the music selection and what that means...

The two men named on the menu for their musical selection are being transferred off Flier when they get to port, they just don’t know it yet.

The Flier is heading for Fremantle, the most popular destination for submarines.  Pearl Harbor was nice, but, from what I’ve read, most of the women there were already married, engaged or in a steady relationship.  Most of the eligible Australian men, however, had volunteered for the military and been shipped off to the European and African theaters years before, leaving the girls behind.  Most of the veterans I’ve interviewed said Fremantle and her sister city of Perth were open and welcoming to the American military men, and especially submariners, since they had top secret missions and faced danger on their patrols.  There are many fond memories of these Australian cities I’ve heard, and several stories that stopped abruptly when the veterans realized, in their reminiscing, that their wives and/or children were listening intently. ( “I went to this party at the Swan Hotel and saw this gorgeous brunette across the room and…and…she stayed across the room.  That’s all.”)

The book is progressing.  I’m being picky and paranoid about the editing process now, trying to catch every grammatical and content error I can.  I don’t know if it’ll be perfect, but I’m sure trying.

As soon as that’s done, I have to get to work on the information for the temporary exhibit and the memorial book.  And here I thought I was going to have a relaxing summer.  Oh well.  It’s not often one gets to do something like this, help define and tell history on such a personal and close level.  I’m also going to try to update this website soon with information about the temp exhibit and the Memorial service.  Keep watching!

Flier’s Final Bite

Uncategorized, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 25 2010

Flier has been busy patrolling the entrance to Manila Harbor for the past two weeks.  Since the plans to invade the Philippines were well underway (though, as far as most of the military was concerned it was just scuttlebutt, which, as usual, turned out to be right) the Navy needed their submarines in strategic positions to watch the traffic, since they had to know where any minefields might be, and to attack convoys, in order to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy.

By this time in WWII, the submarines, which comprised less than 2% of the Navy in terms of number of personnel involved, had had a devastating effect on the Japanese.  As of the end of June, 1944, the submarines had destroyed 712 freighters, warships and submarines, totaling 3,109,998 tons.  (By the end of the war, they would have taken 1,1150.5 ships totaling 4,850,624 tons.)  In 1943, the Wahoo snuck  into the Sea of Japan, which was supposedly impregnable, and destroyed ships in there, scaring the Japanese military and government.

Now Flier lurked outside the entrance to Manila harbor, merrily tracking convoys that went in and out.  It was a dangerous mission, partially because convoys going to Manila had no problems using up their entire inventory of depth charges on sub hunting because they could get more just a few miles away. After a week an a half of this, they moved off to the south, heading to the Sulu Sea.

Flier at this point had reached her patrol area, and was going back and forth, covering as many traffic lanes as she could. If she could attack, she did, but she was also supposed to track convoys for other submarines, find out what was going on and reporting on the strength of the Japanese installations if she could. Good luck following that red line. It took me a while to draw it.

It was here, late on the 22nd of June, that Flier ran across a nice large convoy, and their final victim.  It was  a large convoy of nearly nine freighters and six escorts.  They were traveling slowly enough that Crowley decided an end-around attack starting at night was going to be their best bet.

They sped ahead, and settled in their quarry’s path.  For whatever reason, they were not zig-zagging as radically as usual, and were traveling four miles from the shore.  The forward escorts whipped past Flier, who sitting low in the waves.  It was just past a new moon, and the slender crescent had already set, so Flier was all but invisible.

She took aim and fired six bow torpedoes at the first two ships in the closer cloumn, nailing both twice.  They dropped out of formation and made for the beach, even as their sterns started sinking beneath the waves.  The ships behind them scattered, trying to avoid both their sinking comrades, and getting out of the way of the hidden submarine.  As cruel as it sounds, they were not about to hang around and try to help the stricken ships and their crews, not as long as the submarine was still in the area.  Thankfully, they were near an island a short swim away, but that would be true even in the certain death of open ocean.

The escorts meanwhile, roared to the vicinity dropping depth charges in their wakes, which Al Jacobson found rather funny, since Flier was surfaced, not submerged, and the only way the depth charges would have worked would have been if one landed on the deck (and even not then).  Some even passed close to the stern, not seeing their quarry.

It was too dark to see the ships they’d crippled, since there were no fires, and the lights had gone out, but sonar called up saying the ship had disappeared from radar.  The lookouts scoured the area, but couldn’t see the further ship either.  There were two possibilities: she had gone down, or she had sucessfully beached herself, and Radar couldn’t distinguish her from the bulk of the island.  Only dawn would be able to tell the difference.

Flier had eight torpedoes left: four  in her bow and four in her stern, so Crowley decided to try again on the same convoy, and raced around them for another end-around.  An hour later, in the early hours of the 23rd, , they were in position again, only a few miles from the first attack.  A couple of the escorts remained to guard the cripple, but the rest were on high alert.  Flier repeated her trick, floating in the waves passively as the escorts passed, then, getting bearings from the bridge, and using Radar to establish range, Crowley fired the last four bow torpedoes at the two lead ships, or so he thought.

Al, watching from the aft bridge, counted down the time to detonation, then…nothing.  Four duds.  Earlier in the war, that had been disturbingly common, but those problems were fairly well fixed by now.

The convoy's approximate path is in the white.

Suddenly, there were two flashes and the stern of the second ship lit up, and the bow of the THIRD ship was hit.  Turned out, Crowley was giving coordinates of the first two ships, but Radar was giving the ranges of the CLOSEST ships.  The lead ship of the convoy was saved by a stroke of luck and miscommunication.

Flier turned around, ready to fire her last four torpedoes in her stern at the third ship which, while damaged, was not bad enough to sink, when the escorts started racing around.  This time, whether by sheer chance or design, they were going to run Flier over, and there was no time to get deep enough to pass under the escort, and certainly not enough to evade the depth charges they were sure to drop.

Captain asked Liddell for the coordinates widest gap between the escorts, and moments later, Flier’s four engines went to full speed, and she whipped between two of the escorts, all but waving as she passed by.  Larger, slower, and clumped together, the escorts were unable to safely fire deck guns, or drop depth charges, even if they did see Flier, or turn to pursue.  Crowley decided the escorts were too alerted now to try again for the large pack, but decided they would maybe re-visit the victim of their first attack.  As they retreated south, Jacobson watched the shp that took two torpedoes sink beneath the waves.  One more for Flier.

The escorts that were guarding the dead-in-the-water victim were on high alert.  Whatever she was carrying must be valuable to keep guarding a dead ship that would normally be abandoned.  Crowley approached from the north, but the escorts were running Sonar and Radar sweeps constantly, and heard them coming.  Flier retreated, and circled around to the south.  Same thing.  They approached submerged, and were found.  Crowley was about to try slipping between two of the escorts, like he had earlier, when their victim suddenly capsized, and sank quickly.

Two more for Flier.

The escorts, unable to help, ran for the remainder of their convoy.  Crowley called up the Jack, which had taken Flier’s place guarding the entrance to Manila Harbor, to tell him about that convoy.  Jack managed to destroy two more.  Of the nine freighters that Flier had seen, only four or five were able to make it to Manila.

Flier was unable to figure out what happened to their ship that was hit, and then vanished off the Radar screens.  She was only able to claim the two, and had to run south to keep up on their schedule.

Four ships in one patrol.  By now, it was almost unheard of. Flier was quickly shaking off her jinxed label.

The Map

Lost Subs, The Exhibit | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 14 2010

I am looking at the most extraordinary nautical chart today.

Over the weekend, I visited with the Jacobson family, and one of the items they allowed me to borrow was a chart of the Balabac Straits.  This, on its own,  would be interesting enough, but thanks to both Al Jacobson’s son, and Jim Liddell’s son, this chart is extraordinary.

From what I have been able to find out, after the Flier survivors reached the States, they went home to their families then on to their new assignments.  With the exception of Cmdr. Crowley and Lt. Liddell who were stationed together on USS Irex and remained close friends after the military, the survivors lost contact with one another.

But in 1994, with the help of Dr. Elaine Foster who located all eight Flier Survivors, they decided to meet together at Cmdr. Crowley’s home in Baltimore.  Only Crowley, Liddell, Jacobson, Miller and Russo were able to make it.

It was in a video recording of that meeting that I first saw this chart.  Lt. Liddell’s son came with his father, and recorded as the men pinned this chart up on the wall in Cmdr. Crowley’s living room and talked about where they had gone down and where they had swum.

In 1944, Cmdr. Crowley had to guess where the Flier went down, and he guessed “Comiran Island bearing 190 degrees T at 6700 yards”.  That bearing put the location of the sinking at 7 degrees, 58 minutes, 45 seconds North Latitude and 117 degrees, 13 minutes, 10 seconds East Longitude.  I marked that position below.

Now, the men also debated whether they swam in a straight line to the islands ans even which islands they landed on.  During WWII, Crowley decided that they must have landed on Mantangule, which you can see above, but Al, after studying the maps, was more inclined to believe that they landed on Byan, the tiny speck of green to the left of Mantangule.

They debated this for a while, and decided that the sinking position was correct, though they did land on Byan, not Mantangule, and probably either swam around the Roughton Reefs in the current, or swam between them.

It was a fascinating bit of video to watch.

In 1998, Al decided he wanted to go back to that area in the Philippines and see the places he didn’t mean to pass through in 1944. While there, he took this same chart along with him, and traced the route that he took in visiting his old haunts.  I can follow his 1998 boat coming down the eastern side of Palawan, passing within photo distance of Cape Baliluyan (where he met up with a guerilla outpost) snaking through the reefs until he made it to Comiran Island where they spotted the light that the lookouts on Flier saw moments before she went down, to the spot where she went down, back to Byan Island and Bugsuk Island, then back up the eastern coast of Palawan.  I also have the photos from this trip, which is helping me get a sense of what happened.  I’ll see if I can get permission to post them.

The most interesting thing to me is when Al got to the accepted coordinates of Flier’s sinking, he decided the surroundings didn’t match his memory from that night.  See, Al wasn’t watching the stern of Flier just before the mine hit, he was admiring the surrounding scenery.  It was, to his dying day, one of the most beautiful this he had ever seen.

So he asked the captain of his charter boat to keep moving until the scenery matched.  When it did, he marked it on the chart, but also recorded the GPS coordinates of it.  It was south(ish) of the accepted WWII estimate by more than a mile.

Al hoped someday that he could come back with professional gear and divers to look, but his health did not permit it.  When the Dive Detectives came calling after Al passed on, this chart was one of the things that they were given in the hope that the wreck could be found.

Al was always known for his thoroughness in his research and planning.  I wonder if he knew just how closely he had nailed the location.  From what I’ve been told,  when the Dive Detectives ship dropped the weighted sandbags down on the 1998 coordinates, they landed on the Flier herself.

Provided the Navy does not object to the display of this chart (they’re a little touchy about revealing the locations of their wrecks for security reasons) this map will hopefully make it into the exhibit.

Flier’s First Bite

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 07 2010

Captain Crowley decided to do an “End-Around Maneuver”.  This maneuver was rather common on sumbarines, due to the handicaps of convoys and the speed of a surfaced sub .

WWII Submarines, unlike today, were much faster on surface than submerged, around 20 knots, depending on the boat.  A convoy can only travel as fast as its slowest member, limiting them to slow speeds.  A submarine would track the course of a convoy, race ahead of them out of sight, then settle in their way and attack them when they passed by.

Flier’s convoy came, unwittingly giving Flier an idea set up.  One column of freighters passing in front of her bow, another passing her stern.  Crowley and Liddell planed to fire two spreads of three torpedoes at two freighters passing the bow, then swing the periscope around and fire two spreads of two torpedoes astern before heading deep.  The first six shots went off beautifully, but when Crowley turned the Periscope around, a freighter was only a few hundred feet away, too close to fire a shot.  As they aimed for another two ships, three explosions went off from the first spreads, and the escorts flew to protect their convoy and find the attacker.

Flier went deep without finishing her shots, rocked by depth charges.  Al remembered being ordered to his cabin, where, in the stifling heat and humidity, he stripped to his skivvies to try to remain comfortable.

It was a three hour siege.

When it was over, there were only six ships in the convoy, and Captain decided to try and finish off a couple of more.  But the escorts were on high alert.  Flier approached from the side, and the escorts charged.  She circled around behind, and they found her.  After a day and a half of feinting, ducking, and maneuvering, they gave up, and headed back to the site of the sinking for any materials they could deliver to HQ.

After a day and a half, the sea was still thickly coated with scorched oil.  They found six lifeboats, marked in the kanji for the ship’s names.  They found  a package of documents inside one of the lifeboats, wrapped and bundled neatly in one of the boats, which they retrieved.

A wooden pilot house still floated on the waves.  Inside there was a gyroscope.  It had been made in New York City.

Flier claimed two kills on her new record, which, given the scarcity of good targets in 1944, was an incredible boost to the men’s morale.   The artifacts and eyewitness accounts of the sinking were enough for the Navy to agree that Flier likely took down those ships.

The records after the war named one of those ships: Hakusan Maru.

Flier Underway

And now for something completely different..., Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 30 2010

Sixty-six years ago today, Flier pulled away from Mare Island, passed under the Golden Gate bridge and left America behind. The people who waved her good-bye didn’t realize that for the vast majority of the people aboard, and the sub itself, that good-bye was permanent.

It would take nine days to get to Pearl Harbor, with Crowley testing his boat and crew the entire way, because like any submarine coming straight from the continental US, Flier was scheduled for two weeks of further training and provisioning before being sent off for their first real patrol once again.

*       *        *

As this story starts again, I’m finding that it’s sometimes difficult to write about.  As I’m getting to know the families of those who still patrol aboard the Flier, these men are becoming more real, and I can’t help but feel a touch depressed, since I know that this story, for one family already, and soon for 76 more, will have a tragic ending.

In talking with Al, I know that sometimes he felt he had to live a certain life to honor those who didn’t make it.  He gave to his family, his community, his employees.  I sometimes wonder if the other survivors felt the same way.  I only know what happened to four of the men:  Captain Crowley had a long and successful career in the Navy, Lt. Liddell founded a company that today employs hundreds, Baumgart became a police and fireman.  Where Miller, Howell, Tremaine and Russo ended up, I don’t know.

I hope, but re-living this journey 66 years later, I can honor these men’s memories and sacrifices.

*      *        *

In other news, in a few days, I’ll be heading out for a business trip to meet the family of one of the survivors to see photos, letters, and other items from Flier’s history.  I’m really excited to go, but due to safety and privacy reasons, I won’t say when where and who until it’s all over (and I won’t say who unless given permission!)  But as the story of the Flier unfolds, I hope to have some new images and things to share.

Finally, in regards to my post a week ago about USS Virginia returning to port and how the submarine squadrons are arranged, I received a note from Lt. Evans of Submarine Group Two who told me that  USS New Mexico will be assigned to Squadron 8 along with the Boise, the Newport News, and the Oklahoma City.