Posts Tagged ‘Coastwatchers’

REDFIN!

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

Pencils

Typewriter Ribbons

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

Flour

Yeast

Coffee

Canned Fruits and Vegetables

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

Playing Cards

Diesel Oil

Sulpheric Acid

Radio Tubes

Toilet Paper

Soap

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.

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.

To Brooke’s Point, now hurry up and wait

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 23 2010

Sorry about last night.  Our wireless router decided to bite the dust, so we were offline for quite a while.  Thank goodness for my genius husband, he rigged the desktop to hardwire into the the Internet so I’m back, but it did screw up the timeline a little bit.

So we left the Flier survivors asleep at Rio Tuba, and by sunrise the next morning, they were treated to another meal by their gracious hosts, who turned out to be a married couple with their daughter who had recently married a young man from Brooke’s Point area.

The daughter and her husband planned to leave that morning on foot to walk the fifty plus miles to Brooke’s Point,but when the family discovered that was where the kumpit was heading, they asked if there would be room for the newleyweds…and all the bride’s dowry.

On a sixteen foot boat that was already hauling twelve people, there wasn’t really, but custom dictated that they agree, and so the Fliers found themselves sharing the little deck space with two more bodies and all the bride’s worldy goods including sacks of rice, bundles of clothes, kitchen goods, and live chickens.

The kumpit was so weighed down that she only cleared the water by a few inches and could only sluggishly lumber through the waves.  In fact, she was so slow, Sailor opted to leave her in the care of de la Cruz and the two deckhands and run north for a couple hours to visit his wife and kids, then swim out to the kumpit later.

They spent a cramped night aboard, and the following they got to Brooke’s Point, where they met the Captain of the guerillas based at Brooke’s Point, Captain Nazario Major.  As it turned out, the abandoned house they sheltered at on Bugsuk Island belonged to Major before the war, and he was the one who poisoned the cistern in case the Japanese landed.

Brooke’s Point had been a small coastal village before the war, but now appeared bombed and burnt, with little sign of its inhabitants.  Posters looking for American and Scottish families Edwards and Sutherland were scattered around, dropped by planes, offering significant monetary rewards for turning them in to the Japanese.  Only Major’s home remained near the beach.

Mrs. Major invited everyone in for a meal, and while they were eating, Mr. Edwards and Captain Armando Corpus, the leader of the American Army Coastwatchers came in and introduced themselves.  Due to the fact that Mr. Edwards was being hunted by the Japanese and there were too many Coastwatchers to stay on the beach, they lived a few miles inland on the slopes of Addison Peak, where the Fliers would be taken after the meal.

Captain Crowley asked during this meal if the Japanese knew there was such a large contingent of guerillas here, and everyone laughed.  They knew all right, and had actually landed a group of 20 soldiers on the beach on July 20, looking to quash the rebellion.  The official report of that day read like this:

“Enemy casualties-20.  Our casualties-sore trigger  fingers.”

They hadn’t been back.  Nonetheless, if the white skin of the Fliers happened to be seen by a passing patrolboat, the chances of another landing would be high, along with larger numbers of soldiers.

After lunch, Edwards and Corpus took off for the mountain camp  on foot, but the Fliers were in no condition to take that hike, so a carabao cart had been sent for them.

Before leaving however, Howell, the Radio Technician, discovered that the Coastwatchers beach radio was broken and unable to work, limiting the Coastwatchers ability to contact the outside world.  Howell asked and received permission to stay on the beach to fix the radio there.  Thankfully, there was another one on the mountain, but having the second one was important.

The carabao ride was fairly funny to Al.  The carabao decided to wallow in every mudpuddle it found, and there were a lot of puddles.  The young boy entrusted with bringing the Fliers to Addison tried to encourage the carabao to move in every way he could including beating it with a stick, but the carabao moved when it wanted to, and no sooner.

They finally reached the encampment near sunset.   There were two houses there, once built by Mr. Edwards  for his family, and one built by Captain Major for his if the Japanese invaded the beach.  The Coastwatchers stayed in the Major home in the meantime.

The enlisted guys were invited to stay at the Coastwatchers house and the officers to stay with the Edwards house, which already included Harry Garretson, an American salvage diver who was trapped in the Philippines and now bedridden with malaria.

It was a good camp, and now came the hard part: waiting to see what HQ would do.   Would they be rescued, or would they be asked to wait behind enemy lines for a while–or until the end of the war?

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.

Dropping the Watchers

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

66 years ago today, Flier had come to the pass between Formosa Island (now Taiwan) and the north Philippines.   Today she spotted something rather strange for 1944: an unescorted ship.  Hardly anyone dared venture through the waves alone now, and Flier tried to close in on her, but being unescorted, the surface ship was running at full speed, and her head start was just too great.  Flier gave up the chase, and is preparing to turn south.

Redfin, meanwhile, is getting ready to drop off the Signal Service Coastwatchers.  They passed through the northern Balabac Straits and anchored near the northeast corner of Ramos Island.  The Coastwatchers were unloaded with a radio, food, supplies, hundreds of dollars, in boxes, waterproof bags, and any other means they could move them.

Seen here, the positions for Flier and Redfin 66 years ago today. Robalo is still in Australia.

Despite practicing the unloading at Perth and Exmouth Gulf, the rough and shallow seas made the actual process very difficult.  The raft flipped more than once, and, unknown to the Coastwatchers, some of their food and nearly half the money (with which they were expected to buy more food, supplies or cooperation and the local’s silence) got lost in the surf.

Before they left though, someone took a Phillipine Peso bill, and all six Coastwatchers signed it.  Larry Coleman, a young Redfin sailor, was entrusted with the note, before the Coastwatchers left for the last time.

The plan was to live behind enemy lines for as long as HQ needed them to, moving to stay ahead of the enemy patrols.  When the time came to be extracted, if any of them were still alive, they would be pulled out by ship or submarine.  With over 200 submarines actively working the Pacific, they probably, logically, expected they were seeing the last of Redfin as she pulled away from shore and sank into the waves.

Exhibit Update

The Exhibit, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 09 2010

Well, the formal proposal is finished.  11 custom graphics for it.  And of course, as is normal, I realized after I sent it that I forgot a few things and had to send several addendums in follow-up e-mails.  Oh well.

One of the fun things to do with the proposals is establish a basic exhibit, then build layers on top of it.  It’s rather like a menu.  If you get past the baseline you can start to pick and choose what you want for additions.  Whether you want floor graphics, or touchscreen interactive documentaries or quizzes, or what.  It’ll be interesting to see what this will end up looking like.  Once I get clearance to show what we have in mind, I’ll post it here.

One of the most interesting things about this exhibit is working with the crew of the USS Redfin, the submarine that not only rescued the Flier survivors, but who also, four months previously, dropped off the Coastwatchers that sheltered them and set up the rescue.   The Redfin survived WWII, then went on to serve until 1969.  Her crew gets together every year to tour, swap stories, and in general, have a good time.  They’re very good at that, and very welcoming (not to mention, hilarious).

When they had their 2008 reunion in Muskegon, they asked me to talk about the Flier and Redfin’s rescue.  It was one of the best evenings in my life.  The next year, they contacted us to say that one of their number had located the Redfin’s bell and, on the condition we put it on display, they wanted to donate it to the museum and in particular, to the long-talked about Flier exhibit.

Submarines tended to leave their bells behind when they left on patrol.  If they remained mounted to the exterior of the submarine, it could ring during the concussions of a depth charge attack, allowing their enemy to hone in and target the sound.  If they brought it inside, it would just use up valuable storage space.  Moreover, if they never came back, their bell could serve as a memorial.  Some of these bells are used for that purpose today.  Some, due to the fact they’re made of nearly 100 pounds of solid brass, were sold and melted down.   (The bell for the USS Narwhal was rescued from the scrap metal heap only a few years ago and is now at the Bowfin Museum inPearl Harbor,  Hawai’i:  http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/09/24/news/story19.html )

It is tradition to ring a bell in memory of lost boats and their crews.  The Redfin bell will do that for the lost Fliers and nearly 3500 men who have given their all in the submarine service.

The Flier’s bell is still missing.  It may have been destroyed decades ago.  It may exist somewhere, long forgotten in someone’s attic.  If anyone ever finds an old brass bell engraved “USS Flier 1943 (or possibly 194)” we would love to hear from you so she can sit next to her sister.

And where was Flier 66 years ago today?  About halfway back to the United States.