Posts Tagged ‘Clyde Gerber’

Flier’s grounding and the First of the Jim All’s films

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 17 2011

Hey everyone,

Sorry this has taken so long.   I’m having to finish the design for the potential exhibit in the next two weeks, and a few other, family related issues have swallowed my time.  I am sorry, I’ve been hating how little time I’ve had to devote to this blog lately.

But I hope the following will at least partially make up for the prolonged absence.

First, I thought for those who have never taken a look at Midway Atoll,  that you might be interested in just how Flier wound up grounded at Midway when so many other submarines came in and out of Midway all through WWII with little trouble.  I ended up doing a lot of research to help myself out here, and I’m indebted to Michael Sturma of Murdoch University in Australia not only for his excellent book, USS Flier: Death and Survival on a WWII Submarine, but also because he kindly forwarded a digital copy of the JAG investigation and transcript into this incident.

Reading about this incident in the Deck Logs and Sturma’s book was one thing, reading it, in the men’s own words, was another thing completely.  It brought new insights I hadn’t thought of.  Between the Deck Logs, the JAG Transcript and Sturma’s book, I put together a little video about how, exactly, Flier ended up on the reef.

Following this incident, and the tow back to Pearl, Crowley would be found responsible for Flier’s damage, but then again, a skipper is responsible for his ship and all of his crew.  He could have been asleep when this happened, and still be found responsible.  The fact that the investigation panel decided that even though he was responsible, it was through no fault of his own, nor negligence, or anything that could be helped.  In short, he’s responsible, but only because he had to be found such.  They permitted him to retain command of Flier, which says a lot about their opinion of his command abilities, and I’m sure, was a great vote of confidence for Crowley himself.

Jim Alls was on that patrol the day Flier ran aground.  For those who don’t know, Mr. Alls came to the Flier Memorial service in Muskegon this past August.  To my knowledge, he’s the only known Flier crewman still alive.  He was there the day she was commissioned and is listed among the commissioning crew, and remained with her until just a few days before Flier left Fremantle on her final, fateful patrol.  The only reason he didn’t go with her was he had his jaw smashed in by a New Zealand soldier a few days before departure.  All submariners are still required to be in peak condition before leaving on patrol, so Alls was left behind in Freo, with a retainer on him so he would re-join Flier’s crew as soon as he was cleared and she was back in port.

And of course, she never came back.

He’s amazing.  I mean, here’s a guy who lies about his age to join the military at 15 years old (making him 16 years old when this happens) then spends the next several years on the most dangerous and complicated equipment in the world in the middle of a war zone.  He has a great memory too, especially about these guys.  I got to interview him and his wife back in November, and he told story after story, about the men, gilly, Panama, Pearl Harbor, poker games, working in the engine rooms, and on and on and on.  Just incredible.

Since he was there the day they were at Midway, I asked him about it.  The thing that stuck out most in his mind was the surgery performed on Waite Daggy, and the burial of James Cahl.  I’m still working on the Cahl film, but here, in the words of someone who was there, is how surgery ended up being performed on a grounded submarine being thrashed by a winter storm.

And because I just can’t help myself, here’s a funny little bit about what happens when you screw up a Christmas Turkey on a submarine…

In case you’re wondering, I tend to complete these and upload them to YouTube as I find time, but it may be a while before they show up here.  As a result, all three of these movies have been available for two days to two weeks.  If you’re interested in seeing them as soon as I upload them, you can subscribe to the ussflierproject account, and YouTube will keep you advised as to when I upload these.  I will eventually feature them here, as I can and it fits, but there you go.

Enjoy!

Career in Crosshairs continued…

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 06 2010

We’ve left Captain Crowley in limbo long enough.

The issue the Board of Investigation had to address was simple:  did Crowley put his boat and men in danger unnecessarily? If the storm was so severe the trained pilot couldn’t be transferred from tug to sub, should Crowley had just waited the storm out?  Or perhaps he should have just skipped Midway altogether and missed the top off?  (While it was normal for ships and subs to  top off fuel and supplies there, there was no specific order to do so, which was another issue that was brought up at this inquiry: whether the stop at Midway was an order or an option.)

Crowley had never been to Midway before; neither had his navigator.  Crowley decided, in the absence of the experienced pilot, to follow the advice of his tug: “Follow Me”.    He assumed that if the local authorities thought it was safe to enter, then it was safe to enter.   Both Crowley and his Executive Officer thought they were well within the channel when Flier grounded, (it later turned out that in the storm, one buoy had been completely lost at sea and the other one had been thrown  out of position, so it was understandable that they thought they were in a safe depth)

After the Flier grounded, the Board of Investigation wanted to know if Crowley had ordered all crew to wear life vests or life belts.  Certainly  the anchor crew and deck crew should have been wearing those at least.

But here, the Board ran into problems.  Some of the crew that were interviewed remembered the topside crewmen wearing lifebelts, some remembered crewmen definitely NOT wearing lifebelts, still others remembered lifebelts being made available, but in the early part of the grounding, most crewmen didn’t think they were necessary.  One man later claimed he felt pressured to testify that everyone was wearing lifebelts.

The Board also wanted to know if Peder Cahl, who had been swept overboard and drowned in the lagoon, had been wearing a lifebelt when he had been sent topside.  Once again, they found a variety of answers: one said Cahl was, but couldn’t remember if it was inflated when he went over.  Another said Cahl definitely had been, still a third remembered that while lifebelts had been made available to all who wanted them, he couldn’t remember if Cahl had been one of them who had taken one or not.

After Cahl, Banchero and Gerber had been swept overboard, Crowley took no chances, and ordered all hands, topside and inside to wear lifebelts.  When Flier had broken away from Florikan on the way back to Pearl, the anchor detail was wearing life belts AND  life lines tethering them to the submarine (turned out to be a good idea, since Charles Pope, who was trying to re-attach the towline ended up being swept overboard).

Crowley accepted the responsibility for all his decisions and their consequences, but wanted to make sure the board knew that he had made the best decisions he could with the information he had in had at that time.  That was all a Commanding Officer could ever do, and sometimes, that simply wasn’t enough.  (My interpretation, not his words).

His career was on the line, and the Board adjourned to decide Crowley’s fate: a desk job, or returning to the States to have Flier overhauled and taken back on patrol.

Meantime, Flier was in drydock, having her engines cleaned and her props fixed.  It was just enough  so she could limp back to the States under her own power.