Posts Tagged ‘Fremantle’

Flier at Sea:

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
May 22 2010

Today, Flier is still heading south-southwest, heading for her re-fueling point on Johnston Atoll.

Submarines didn’t go X miles per gallon.  They burned X gallons of fuel per mile.  Keep in mind that these boats are running the equivalent of four locomotive engines, sometimes at the same time, but they still chewed through their diesel.  Approximately 9.7 gallons per nautical mile, as a matter of fact.

So most submarines had a refueling point where they had relatively safe waters to fuel up and give them  that much more reach into their patrol areas.  They were not supposed to re-fuel on their way back to their home port, but if necessary, the option was there.  A submarine leaving Pearl had Midway and Johnston Atolls, depending if they were patrolling more northern or southern routes.  From Fremantle, there was Darwin Australia.

So sixty six years ago today, that’s where Flier was.  There’s a rather interesting note in tomorrow’s deck log.  A tantalizing clue, I just wish I could find out more.  Maybe the families of those involved might though.

Redfin on Patrol

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 19 2010

Sixty six years ago today, the USS Redfin departed Fremantle for her second patrol.  Only CO Austin would know where they were supposed to go, and who they were supposed to hunt.  While all submarines were given the standard order to sink any and all enemy ships they came across, especially the freighters, some submarines were given additional orders to seek out specific convoys or submarines or to do something in preparation for a future Naval attack.

A photo alledgedly taken aboard the USS Redfin,of the crew retrieving a torpedo while training. Torpedos were too expensive to waste on training, so they would retrieve any they fired in training to bring back. From

The submarines had a unique position in the Navy.  While the surface fleet concentrated on taking down the Imperial Navy’s ships in massive battles on the open sea, the submarine fleet was slowly choking Japan’s economy and military from the factory floor.

Japan did not have enough natural materials to maintain or expand her military on her home islands.  This was part of the reason why they conquered parts of China, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Indo-China Peninsula, Malaysia and sought to keep expanding.  By holding these territories, they had access to the oil, rubber, steel, copper, coal, and any other raw materials needed to keep building and launching ships, submarines, airplanes, and repair the ones damaged in battle.

So the submarine force had an overarching command:  SINK THE FREIGHTERS.  Every freighter bound for Japan held the means to make more war machines and repair the ones coming back to dock.  Every ship of steel sent to the bottom, one less aircraft carrier or battleship.  A tanker of oil gone:  fewer ships, subs or airplanes could fuel up and go out on patrol.  By 1944, Japan’s war factories were having trouble getting materials needed on schedule, and sometimes, they had to make do with less repairs or fewer new items being completed.

These freighters started to become so important, they traveled only in convoys heavily guarded by armed escorts.  That didn’t matter at times, the submarines still attacked, and their mandates were so strong they were ordered to shoot the freighters rather than the escorts if able to do so.  It was better to have several escorts bringing a few or no freighters to Japan than take out the escorts and hope that someone else found the unguarded convoy and took out the freighters.

It was dangerous.  Each escort was armed with depth charges and deck guns.  If a submarine was suspected or detected, the escorts did not hesitate to drop dozens of depth charges in an area to get a submarine.  And in 1944, the depth charges were more effective than they had ever been, thanks to a congressman named Andrew May.

Congressman Andrew May, who, in effort to comfort and reassure the American people, put the submarine force in grave danger. From his wikipeida page.

Andrew May (D-Ky) was the chair for the House Military Affairs Committee.  During a press conference in May 1943, May revealed that the Japanese had been setting their depth charges too shallowly, so submarines were simply diving to their greatest depths and rode out the attacks in safety.  The press published this fact, and soon, the Japanese quickly adjusted their aim.  By some accounts, the Navy believed that nearly 10 submarines and 800 additional men may have been lost due to this blunder.

As usual, the men didn’t dwell on this fact.  It was their job to go out there and sweep the seas clean and come home with more brag rags to fly.  Like the Musketeers, it was all for one and one for all, whatever they were asked to do.


Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 08 2010

Sixty-six years ago today, Fremantle faced one of her darkest hours.

In 1942, the Imperial Navy of Japan spent 11 days raiding in the Indian Ocean, before thought to be secure under British Naval and Air Force command.  They were wrong.

The Japanese, at the cost of 20 of their airplanes, sank a British aircraft carrier, two cruisers, two destroyers, a sloop, 23 merchant ships, and more than 40 airplanes.  The Allies were never secure in their part of the ocean again.

In March 1944, the Japanese again tried to raid into the Indian Ocean.  This time they were not so lucky, but the standing orders were to kill any merchant sailors they came across except those (and the orders were specific who) who could be interrogated for useful information.

On March 6, an American Submarine (and the records don’t say who, and I don’t have the right resources to discover it right now) detected at least two very large Japanese ships coming through Lombok heading for the Indian Ocean.  What Fremantle didn’t know what these ships, the Kinu and the Oi, were on their way to keep nearby Sundra Strait free and clear for the return of the raiders who were ALREADY hundreds of miles deep in the Indian Ocean.

Fremantle did some quick calculations and realized that it would take at least three days to get to Fremantle, but more likely the attack, if it did come, would come on March 11, the night of the full moon, which would give the best light to night-attacks.

The submarines were the best line of defense.  Each crew, including the Redfin and Robalo, was quickly assembled, provisioned and all but thrown out of harbor to protect everyone.  The Submarine Tenders, the moment all of their charges were in the open ocean, weighed anchor and fled for Albany, 200 miles south.  The merchant ships in port were quickly scrambled and sent to weigh anchor in the sea lanes just outside of Fremantle.  If this was a real attack, warning would hopefully come quickly enough that these ships could flee south or west, and if it never came, they were nearby.  The British battleships and destroyers were also anchored in these same sea lanes.  The harbor was closed, and, some say, rigged with explosives so if all defenses failed, the Japanese would at least not find a viable harbor to start their own base.

For days, while the submarines ranged far and wide searching for the enemy, everyone in Fremantle was on pins and needles.

Meanwhile, the raiders, consisting of three heavy cruisers, who WERE in the Indian Ocean, had found a British merchant vessel, the Behar, approximately halfway between Fremantle and Sri Lanka.  She was carrying a cargo of zinc.  The cruisers fired three shots, sinking the Behar, but not before she managed to get off a distress call.

Fearing that Fremantle might hear the call and rally some troops, the raiders turned and fled back home.

Most of the Behar’s crew, initially picked up by the cruiser Tone, were eventually murdered.  Only 15 people survived, including the two women onboard.  They had been dropped off near Jakarta Indonesia, the night before the rest were killed.

Fremantle didn’t hear the call, only one Fremantle-bound freighter did, but as days passed with no enemy in sight, panic slowly subsided and people started to resume normal life, though with a greater degree of passion to help the war effort than had been seen in months.  By March 16, traffic had resumed in Fremantle’s harbor.

On March 17, the freighter who had heard Behar’s call, dropped anchor, but by then, no one was worried about raiders sneaking up on them, though security protocols were drastically tightened.

Redfin’s crew must have viewed this interlude as an interesting training run.  I don’t know what Robalo’s crew may have thought about it, but being interrupted after only two days vacation, I’m sure they weren’t thrilled, though they did their duty.  At least it didn’t count against their R&R!

For more information see:

Japanese Indian Ocean Raid 1944

E-Book “Australia in the War of 1939-1945: Chapter 13–Pacific Drive, Indian Ocean Interlude” You’ll need to scroll down to page 388 for the best account of this little-known emergency.

The Unsung Heroes of the Submarine Service:The Submarine Tender

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 05 2010

One question I was frequently asked when I worked at the Silversides was “Why are submarines “boats” and other ships “ships”?

Make no mistake, subs are boats, not ships, and if you call a sub a ship in a submariner’s hearing, they are sure to correct you, maybe gently, maybe humorously, but they WILL correct you.

If any water vessel is deployed from a larger vessel, the smaller vessel is called a boat and the larger vessel is a ship.  The very earliest submarines were often unable to operate for long distances, so if they needed to be transported long distances, they were hauled aboard a large ship, hence the original term “boat” for a submarine stuck around long after submarines were capable of going places large surface ships couldn’t manage.

An example of the initial ship-boat relationship. This is the USS Caesar, transporting submarines to the Philippines from Virginia 1908-1909. The two subs on board are either Shark and Porpoise (SS-8 and SS-7) which would date the photo to April-June 1908 or Adder and Moccasin (SS-3 and SS-5) which would date the photo to July-October 1909.

This symbiotic relationship soon lead to a subset of the Submarine Force:  The Submarine Tender.  Foot for foot, the submarine is the most complex piece of equipment in the Navy, and needs experienced technicians to repair and maintain them.  Early sub were used for coastal defenses, and had little to no room for provisions, bunks, or living space, so crews would come back at the end of the day.  As submarines moved about, the ships on which they were moved became the homes for the submarine crews and the base from which repairs were made, provisions were acquired, and eventually, these type of “mother ships” evolved into a new ship class within the Navy:  The Submarine Tender.

These ships were traveling submarine bases.  Provided the boat didn’t need to be dry-docked, the submarine tender could repair, re-load, restock, refuel,  replace personnel, and send the submarine back out.  The Submarine Tender could drop anchor and turn any port into a submarine base in a matter of hours to days, and after Pearl Harbor, these ships became the front lines of the war in many ways.  As the Allies pushed further into the Pacific and took back territory, a submarine tender could be sent in to a newly liberated area and create a submarine base days closer to the front, shaving days off a patrol and turn-around time between sub patrols.

It was the Submarine Tender Holland that pulled up stakes and raced south to Fremantle, establishing a new base.  By the time Redfin dropped anchor there two years and a half years later, two sub tenders, the Orion and the Griffen were the heart of the US Submarine Base.  Other submarine tenders established or enhanced bases at  Pearl Harbor, Brisbane, Midway Island, Guam, Saipan, Majuro Atoll, Marianas Islands, Dutch Harbor Alaska,  and more.

WWII was probably the Golden Age of the submarine tender.  Between training, salvage, repair, and tending duties, 28 tenders served, and 4 were lost.  A submarine tender, Pigeon, was the first naval vessel to earn the Presidential Unit Citation for towing and saving the submarine Seadragon from her burning warf during the Japanese bombing of Cavite Bay.  Pigeon won a second one a few days later.  Another tender, Canopus, feigned being an abandoned hulk off the coast of the Philippines during the Japanese invasion, while repairing and reprovisioning submarines by night.  She was later scuttled to keep her out of enemy hands after the surrender of Bataan.  The Orlotan helped raise and repair ships in Pearl Harbor and then helped salvage Japanese submarines off Guadalcanal.

As technology advanced, submarines became more self-reliant, and when repairs beyond the submarine’s crew were needed, they could be accomplished in port or in dry-dock.  There are only two submarine tenders left in the Navy’s arsenal, USS Emory S. Land, and USS Frank Cable, both are over 30 years old, and have no replacements planned.

The USS Orion in a photo dated September 1944, likely at Mios Woendi. Here you see the "Mother Ship" configuration with her nest of submarines which she was tending.

in 1944, the Orion was the tender that re-fitted the Redfin and Flier as they sat next to each other before Flier’s last patrol, and Griffen could have repaired the Redfin and Robalo.  Without these ships, submarines would have been more limited and more vulnerable.

For more information about Submarine Tenders, check out A Tender Tale:

Trading Crews

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 04 2010

Between patrols, submarine crews were usually re-organized a bit.

After Sub School, the potential submariners were shipped to their new boat or new station, wherever it was located:  Goton CT, Manitowoc WI, Mare Island, CA, Honolulu HI, Brisbane Australia, Fremantle Australia, Midway Island.  Then, when a submarine was scheduled to leave, as much as 1/3 of a crew would be reassigned.  Experienced hands would be pulled off to man new submarines under construction, to man shore stations for a while (a type of mental rest, working for a few months on submarines (usually repair, cleaning between patrols, ect.) without the stress of the enemy hunting you) or man another sub scheduled to go on patrol.  The open places were usually occupied by men straight out of Sub School or experienced hands that were expected to learn or experience another submarine and its command structure and culture.

After Sub School, and once they were assigned to a submarine, a non-qualified submariner (often called a “non-qual”) had a year to finish qualification on board a practicing submarine.  Unlike surface ships where a radioman was expected to know a radio and a baker to bake, and a gunner to man the weapons systems, a submarine radioman, in addition to knowing the radio, had to know EVERY other system on the submarine.  Same with the baker or the gunner crews.  The cook had better know how to fire a torpedo and repair the engines, and the enginemen (MotorMacs) and Torpedomen had to know how to make coffee and use the kitchen if necessary.

The reasoning was simple:  a submarine crew is small and often works in remote areas where the nearest friendly ship may be days away.  If something happened that wiped out a portion of the crew, permanently or temporarily, the rest of the crew had to be able to take over and man every system in an emergency,  including repairs if necessary.

On the Redfin, after Commander Austin came aboard, the traditional crew shuffle took place.  It was only a few people for two reasons:  1.) the submarine itself was only on its second patrol and the crew was still learning to work together and 2.) with a new commanding officer, the crew needed to have as little disturbance as possible.

One of the men who was detached from the Redfin at this point though, was Kimball Elwood Graham.  Where he was immediately reassigned is unknown, but he will come back into play later.

On another note, 68 years ago yesterday, the USS PERCH went on eternal patrol.  Commissioned in 1936, she was one of the older submarines in the fleet during the war.  She was in Cavite Bay when the Japanese bombed the submarine base, and scouted and patrolled the area while the submarine base began its long flight south.  Damaged in a severe depth charge attack on March 1, Perch‘s crew tried for three days to repair her while dodging and diving to avoid other enemy destroyers.  On March 4, with two cruisers and three destroyers closing in to attack, and the Perch unable to dive, her captain, David Albert Hurt, knowing that despite her age, Perch was a valuable trophy if captured, ordered “Abandon Ship, Scuttle the Boat”.  And sank his boat.  The entire crew was captured and remained POWs for the remainder of the war, six dying in captivity.

Strangely, Perch was not done yet.  On November 23 (Thanksgiving Day) 2003, the Perch was discovered by a team of divers who were looking for the wreck of the HMS Exeter which was sunk on March 1, 1942 (the same day Perch was severely damaged).  They found a large object on the bottom of the ocean, and went down to check, and found the Perch, sitting upright.  Unlike the Flier, whose wreck was authenticated by the Navy, Perch’s remains have not been authenticated, but the strange thing is the evidence is fairly conclusive.

See, prior to WWII, all submarines had a brass plaque affixed to their fairwater with the name of the submarine attached.  After Pearl, these were removed and, on new constructions, placed inside the subs.  Perch was never in port long enough to have hers removed, so the divers found it still attached to the side of the boat: “USS Perch: United States Submarine”.  By pure chance, Perch became the fourth submarine discovered since WWII, and the only one to be found by accident.

For more information, please see On Eternal Patrol’s page on USS Perch

All photos of the wreck are copyrighted, and can be viewed here.

Introducing Perth/Fremantle

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

After December 7 and 8, the submarine force had a problem: both their bases had been severely damaged.

The submarine base inside Pearl Harbor was actually in perfect condition, but Pearl itself had been blown away, which caused numerous problems with logistics.  The hospitals were overflowing, the water covered in burnt oil and gas and debris, the entrance partially blocked with the wreck of the Nevada.  The sub base had not been targeted because on December 7, submarines were a minor force in the Navy, which relied heavily on its destroyers, battleships and cruisers, most of which now needed extensive repairs, if not refloating off the harbor’s floor.  Soon however, the Pearl Base was up and running, there was just one problem: it was very far away from key areas of the upcoming war.  They needed a base closer to certain portions of the war, near Asia.

Taken from over the USS Spadefish, the USS Tinosa arrives at Pearl in 1944. By then, most of the damage of December 7 had been removed. From

The Submarine Base in Manila had sustained heavy damage, and the USS Sealion, hit by an airplane bomb, was a complete loss and  scuttled.  Moreover, while it looked like Japan had taken out Pearl as a pre-emptive strike to keep the American Navy from attacking, they had every intention of invading the Philippines, and did so just days later.  The submarines represented the most technologically advanced ship in the Naval arsenal and had to be moved before any were captured.  Over the course of several months, they were sent south, and before Corrigdor fell, they took with them key personnel, the president of the Philippines and his family, and famously, the “Golden Ballast” of the USS Trout:  20 tons of Gold and Silver bars and pesos, the hard assets of 12 Manila banks, to keep it away from Japanese hands.  (Submariners on that tour said when they dropped off their cargo was the most thorough inspection the Trout or the crew ever received!)

The USS Trout and her men unloading the "Golden Ballast". Trout was lost in 1944 somewhere northwest of the Philippines to unknown causes. She has never been found. Photos from

The fleet headed south, first establishing  two submarine bases in the island of Java and another the city of Darwin in north Australia.  Java however, was soon invaded, and Darwin’s tides were too great for a large base, and city too small to support a large military contingent.

The submarine tender USS Holland moved to Fremantle, and soon, the second biggest Allied Submarine Base was booming.

Fremantle and her sister city Perth, are located on the mouth of the Swan River which opens to the Indian Ocean.  Guarding the mouth is Rottnest Island, which soon bristled with nests of anti-aircraft, large bore guns to protect the city and the Naval Base.

Fremantle already had drydocks, machine shops, a railroad and entertainment facilities.  The American and soon British and Dutch navies filled the surrounding warehouses with the additional necessary facilities.  An auxiliary base was also established 200 miles further south at Albany.

The American Naval Base was on the North Warf of Swan River, while the British and Dutch occupied the southern Victoria Warf.  Drydocks and Submarine Tenders could handle even the worst of damage: see the Growler below

The USS Growler was stalking a Japanese Freighter when the freighter turned and rammed the Growler then peppered her with machine gun fire. Her Captain, mortally wounded and surrounded by his dead lookouts, yelled, "Take Her Down" and shut the hatch from the surface. For this action, he was postumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the first submariner to attain it. At Fremantle, the nose of the Growler (damaged on the left) was simply cut off, and replaced (see right). Growler re-entered service, and was lost November 1944 near the Philippines in a depth charge attack. She has not been found.

Like Pearl Harbor, the Navy rented luxury hotels Wentworth, King Edward, Ocean Beach and Majestic, for the submariners to stay in while they were on leave.  Private apartments and penthouses were soon rented too for certain officers and men.  In addition, many submariners, reassigned to Perth multiple times, made friends with the local residents and often stayed with their families.  The Navy purchased the entire output of a brewery, the Emu Brewery, which was rationed to the submariners when they came in port.  There was swimming, horseback riding, sports, and excursions into the local nature.  Most of all, as I talk to submariners, there was the hospitality and gracious nature of the Australians that burns most brightly in their memories.

The Sub base at Fremantle, showing the Sub Tender Pelias surrounded by her sub charges. Photo from

The Australian military had largely left Australia to fight with Britain in 1939, but with the Japanese expansion, many feared an imminent invasion, so the addition of the foreign militaries was welcome.  Moreover, since many young eligible men were at the war fronts in Europe and Africa, many local women enjoyed the influx of companions for dances, dates, and social events.  The Americans, at least, enjoyed the Australian company, and there were a significant number of marriages between American sailors and Australian women.  (This was one area where Fremantle outshone Hawaii:  many of the women near the naval base in Hawaii were already attached or married to sailors, while a far lesser proportion of Australian women seemed to be similarly attached: at least, from what I’ve been told that is).

It was the most desired base to be placed between patrols (you certainly didn’t want Midway: no girls!), and would be the base for the end of Flier’s story.  Here her crew would spend their last free weeks, from here she would leave on her last patrol, from here would two other soon-to-be sunken submarines that will come into play, and here would the survivors eventually return, and be hustled back out again, lest they frighten the outgoing sailors.

Here the Redfin is running training runs with her new captain and crew, here is the goal of the USS Robalo, now entering Allied waters, and here the Japanese eye is watching closely.

Meet the Redfin

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

As promised, we’re going to have to leave the Flier up on blocks for a couple of months, but the threads of the amazing story of the Flier are already coming together, and from an omniscient point of view, we can start exploring them.

In my book, things are told from Al Jacobson’s point of view, so some information is limited, and some really amazing things I discovered cannot be told at all, but here, we can explore some of those fascinating facts together.

Leaving the San Francisco Bay area, we fly halfway across the 1944 globe to Perth and Fremantle, Australia, the second largest Allied Submarine Base in the Pacific Theater.  It was probably also one of the most popular places to be stationed between patrols as well.  I’ll explain later.  Maybe tomorrow.

The USS Redfin as she appeared around 1944. From

66 years ago today, the sailors aboard the USS REDFIN, dressed in their dress whites, attended an ancient ceremony called “Change of Command”.  REDFIN’s commanding officer for her first patrol, Cdr. Robert D. King, handed the REDFIN over to her new commanding officer, Marshall H. Austin, who would command REDFIN’s next four patrols.

The Change of Command Ceremony is ancient.  The heart of the ceremony is simple: the new commander announcing “I relieve you sir” and the former commanding officer responds, “I am relieved”.  But surrounding this simplicity is much pomp and circumstance.  The entire crew is present, wearing the formal uniforms appropriate for the time of year and climate.  They all stand at attention while the official orders coming from the assigning authorities announces the new commander’s name.

The American Change of Command Ceremony has no real regulations, and is loosely descended from the British Admiralty Change of Command as it existed around the time of the Revolution.  That ceremony has existed for centuries and probably could trace its roots back to ancient navies.  The reason the entire crew is present when the new orders are read comes from a time when mail could take months to get from one place to another, but proved to the crew that the new commanding officer was indeed assigned their vessel and was not attempting a mutiny or some such thing.  The formality supposedly conveys the deep respect the officers and crew have for one another, their departing commander and the incoming commander.

Marshall Austin was born in Oklahoma, the fifth of seven children.  In a time where a person had to pay tuition in high school, Austin worked for a dollar a day to pay for tuition and also for a prep school to help him get in the Naval Academy.  He graduated from there in 1935, and joined the submarine service in 1940.  He was in the Philippines on December 7, 1941.  His wife, interestingly enough, was in Honolulu heavily pregnant with their first child.

During his time in the Naval Academy, Austin was in a vocal quartet.  That fact alone might have saved the Flier’s lives, as you will later see.

He remained CO of the REDFIN until January 1945, during which time the REDFIN sank six enemy ships, when she was handed over to REDFIN’s plankowner XO Charles Miller.  For his war service, Austin was awarded a Bronze Star, two Silver Stars and a Navy Cross.

Austin would serve in the Navy for 16 more years, eventually attaining the rank of Captain, and becoming CO of the Naval Submarine School in New London.  One of his students was a young man named Jimmy Carter.  He found another line of work after filling his military contract.

After his retirement, he became a consultant on Hollywood submarine shows, traveled extensively, attended a number of REDFIN reunions, and generally enjoyed life.

He passed on in 2005 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

But in 1944, he was probably excited about his first command, and began the flurry of paperwork that always accompanies command.  Men being removed off REDFIN and replaced with others, the loading of stores, the daily training runs, getting ready for the new patrol, and settling into his new role.

Soon, an emergency would attract his total attention.  But first, the ROBALO has to come into port.