Posts Tagged ‘James Liddell’

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!

Flier Investigation Concluded

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knows?

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

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

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

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.

On to the next island

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 16 2010

The Fliers woke early the next morning after another miserable, shivering night, and trudged to the east end of the island.  No storms had come to their island in the night, though several had passed all around them, so Jacobson’s shells were still empty, and there was no water.

Liddell and Russo, football players in their school days, pulled vines down from the jungle on the island and the rest tried to assemble a small raft from the tangle of driftwood.  It couldn’t be too large, or the aerial patrols would see it, but too small, not everyone could hang on to it.

In the end, from the descriptions, it sounds like they created a long narrow “deck” of bamboo staves lashed together, with an outrigger frame.  Two men could straddle the deck and paddle (and they created makeshift paddles and found two long poles too), while the other six could hang on to the frame and swim and push the raft along.

The plane flew over in the morning,  and the men simply retreated to the shade of the trees both times, hoping that if the pilot saw anything, he just saw a bunch of driftwood on the beach.  But it never so  much as twitched from its normal path.

Liddell, once the raft was close to finished, likely borrowed Crowley’s watch and used it to look for slack tide.  Slack tide, for those that missed the Lombok Strait entry, is the point at the height of high tide and the lowest point of low tide where the currents caused by a tide slow, stop (as tide reaches the greatest point) then reverse and eventually gain speed.   If they started to swim just before slack, they would be swept away, but not far, and would be swept back when the tides reversed.  Liddell threw small twigs and sticks into the fast flowing channel between them and the next island, timing how fast each twig was swept away.

When he figured the tides were slowing, they hauled the raft into the surf, and Crowley and Howell took the first shift rowing.  The drop off was quick and the currents were still fast, and they were quickly swept south as they crossed the channel.

One third the way across, they heard the afternoon patrol plane overhead, and watched her approach, waiting until she was nearly on top of them to dive under the raft.  This plane flew placidly away too, and they quickly started back for their new beach.

A storm swept over them, and the men opened their mouths to the sky, trying to catch the rain.  Jacobson remembered that the big, heavy drops seemed to fall everywhere except his mouth.  It passed as quickly as it came, hitting their new island.  Jacobson thought longingly about the shells he spread out the night before and wished that someone else had been so considerate on the new island.

The tide changed, the current switched directions and soon they were being swept north of their island and had to pull hard to land on the rocky beach on the north west tip.  They had been swimming for hours and landed after sunset, burrowing into the sand, trying to get some sleep.

It was day three.

For those that were at the Memorial Weekend and whom I had the pleasure and honor of meeting, I just want to say, I enjoyed meeting all of you and getting to hear all your stories, even though many were so sad.  It really did feel like a family, and I hope that we do get together in a year or two, perhaps when the new exhibit opens!

I’ll be making changes to the site in the next few weeks.  Don’t worry, I’ll keep the blog up, but I’m hoping to add some things that will help us keep in touch with each other.

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!

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.

USS Flier: Court continued

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
May 24 2010

So now we return to the cases of Chester Payne and John Cowie, but first, a map.  Yes, I finally got Google Earth up and running again.  Well, sort of, my wonderful hubby found it and got it up and running for me.  Thanks hun!

Here you can see Flier's approximate route from Pearl to Johnston Island for refueling. They went south for only a short time before turning west. Over the course of the two days it took to get there, she went 733 miles and went through 11,446 gallons of diesel.

That’s not your imagination, Johnston Atoll really is in the middle of no where.  It’s so remote and unvisited that there is no evidence for any native people ever living there, and, following WWII, the military used Johnston Atoll to store and then dismantle a variety of chemical weapons.  Today, it’s a Wildlife Refuge and administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, much like Midway Atoll.

See? Middle of Nowhere.

So that is where Flier is (or was, sixty-six years ago) located.  Back to our story.

There are three types of Court Martials, which is the name for a military court.  If you were a fan of the TV show JAG, what you mostly saw where the two more serious types of court martials, a Special and General Court Martial which was judged by  a panel of officers.  A Summary Court Martial, which is the type on the Flier today, is more informal, judged by one officer (in this case, Lt. Liddell) and the accused is not permitted legal counsel, though they are encouraged to present evidence, interview and cross-examine witnesses and testify or remain silent at their choice.  They also have the right to refuse the Summary Court Martial, though I suspect that would lead to a full-blown Special Court Martial.  But, if you felt the officer judging you would not be impartial, or you wanted legal counsel,  I suppose that was an option.

Depending on the rank of the accused, punishment can range from confinement, hard labor for 45 days, loss of some pay,restrictions, or even demotion in rank.

John Cowie, apparently disobeyed a lawful order while the Flier was on a practice run on 12 May.  What happened is not recorded in the Deck Log, and as they were not yet on patrol there are no War Patrol Reports to draw on.  What happened in the hours leading up to the Captain’s Mast which lead to this Summery Court Martial was a practice radar approach, a battle simulation with the crew firing water slugs out of the Forward Torpedo Tubes, and quick dives and course changes.  As an Electrician’s Mate, I have no idea what legal order Cowie might have defied.

Chester Payne might have been an interesting case.  An African-American from Ohio, Payne was likely stuck in a world that both valued him and disrespected him depending on where he was.

It’s no secret that the navy was fairly well segregated in WWII.  African-American sailors were often assigned to hazardous duty focused on manual labor or, if they were assigned to ships, were often restricted to the “simple” jobs in the Galley as cooks, bakers, mess attendants, and Stewards.   In the submarine service, this presented a rather funny paradox, because these African American sailors were not excused from becoming a qualified submariner.  So while officially limited to supposedly simple job ratings, they were also expected to be able to fire a torpedo, fix an engine, aim and fire a weapon, or any other of the hundreds of complex jobs and understand the hundreds of complex systems aboard a submarine. So in terms of technical aptitude, these sailors were just as able as their white counterparts.  In fact, the officers and COs of Halibut, Trigger, Drum and Haddock specifically sited  several of their African American sailors with serving with distinction during enemy attacks and the two African American sailors on the Puffer, James Pruitt and James Patton were instrumental in helping their boat and crewmates survive the infamous 38 hours depth charge attack.

Secondly, the food aboard a submarine was far more important than on a Navy base or surface ship.  One of the ways the Navy offered perks to the men who might volunteer on a submarine was submariners got the best food available.  Each submarine was given nearly twice the amount of per man/per day money to purchase food stores than a surface ship. My grandfather, who wasn’t on submarines, refused to touch Spam or any other kind of canned meat from the moment he got home, until he died at the age of 89, because he ate it so much during WWII.  Meanwhile, we have records and recipes showing submariners were getting barbecued pork, shrimp creole, teriyaki steak, roast beef and mashed potatoes, pizza, anything they wanted (including an ice cream machine for homemade ice cream.)  The galley staff, in a way, were the heart and soul on a submarine, and their skills highly prized.

So aboard a submarine, African American sailors often found a good measure of equality, and when they went on shore leave with their crew mates, they were billeted in the same hotels or accomdations, often with their white crewmates as roommates.

But step outside the submarine base, or the submariner’s hotel, and they stepped back into a world of strict separations, despite the Naval Uniform.  More than one African American sailor got into trouble displaying–sometimes unwittingly–the freedom and respect he had earned and enjoyed on boat in the wrong quarters of town.

It was a very fine line to walk, but African American sailors acquitted themselves so well, that following WWII and the rapid desegregation of the military by President Truman in 1948, many shot to positions of prominence and authority.

So what did Chester Payne do?  We may never know.  He might have done something innocent or unknowingly that was taken wrongly by the locals in Honolulu.  He might have done something on purpose to make a point, or might have gotten drunk, who knows?  The record does not say.  What it does say is he fought with shore patrol and knocked them overboard (possibly indicating they chased him down to the warf and/or onto the Flier herself), and Captain Crowley decided that the charges were serious enough and the evidence clear enough to warrant a Summery Court Martial.

The two cases took an hour and twenty-five minutes, and the record says this about the conclusion: “…adjourned at 1045 to await action of convening authority.”  Nothing more is said about this case in either the deck log or war patrol reports.

What did Lt. Liddell decide?  Both men were aboard for the second patrol, so he obviously did not decide to remove the men from the boat.   Cowie, during the second patrol, is still an EM2c, though Payne is listed as aCk3c (Cook Third Class rather than Seaman First Class,) and I’m afraid I’m not knowlegable enough in military rankings to know if that’s a lateral move, a demotion, promotion or a job description rather than ranking.  The results are probably in the men’s naval records.

Two and a half hours after the Summery Court Martial, Flier approached Johnston Island to refuel, guided in by one of Johnston’s pilots, Lt. LAMB, USN, who, in the balmy weather, was transferred aboard with no problem, unlike Midway.  They left after only three hours with a full tank of fuel, and set a course for 293 degrees True, a little west-northwest.  She was on her way to the Philippines.

An article about African American sailors in the submarine service in WWII, and a book based about those experiences.

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.

Welcome Aboard Flier

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 15 2010

Sixty six years ago today, Al Jacobson, fresh from Submarine School, reported aboard the USS Flier for his first assignment.

Five of the officers were left from the Midway incident:  Commander Crowley, Lieutenant Liddell (now promoted to Executive Officer), Ensign Herbert Beahr (called “Teddy”) Engineering  Officer, and Lieutenant John Edward (called “Ed”) Casey, The Gunnery Officer, and Herbert Miner, Communications Officer.

Joining them was Al Jacobson, 22, fresh out of school, and the Ensign under Instruction.  As he was not a qualified submariner yet, he was going to have a rough time: if he wasn’t on duty, eating or sleeping, his job was to study every cog, knob and system on the Flier until he could run them all if he had to.  In addition, his formal duties included Commissary Officer (in charge of ordering and planning food for the crew in cooperation with the cooking staff), Assistant Gunnery Officer (Helping Lt. Casey, the main Gunnery Officer , direct and man the deck guns)  Assistant Torpedo (Helping Casey with the Torpedoes) and Assistant Navigator (helping Lt. Liddell with the Navigation).  It was  a large undertaking, to be sure, but no more than most  new officers.

Also Lt. Paul Knapp, of San Francisco, taking the position of Engineering Officer.  He would be working with the three Motor Mac Chiefs (Edgar Hudson was still aboard.  By the time of Flier’s second patrol, there would be two more: William Brooks and James Snyder, though I have no evidence of when they joined the crew) to keep Flier running in top shape.  With four engines, four generators, two massive batteries, and a complex electronic system linking them all together, it was an important job.

Lt. Bill Reynolds of Industry, Pennsylvania, assigned to the Communications Officer Position.  He would oversee the communications that went in and out of the submarine, coordinate other known received communications, such as locations and positions of Allied and enemy convoys, weather reports, special communications, and more.  While the submarine risked discovery each time she sent a message, she could receive messages without risk of discovery.

There was also likely one more officer aboard Flier, but his name I cannot find: Once the Flier reached Fremantle, thirteen men were detached, and thirteen more joined the crew.  One of these new recruits was Ensign Philip Mayer, Officer Under Instruction, (like Al will be for the first patrol), so it stands to reason that there may have been one other officer on Flier for the first patrol that had been removed before the second.

That being said,  Flier carried nine officers on her second patrol, she had bunks for only eight.  So it’s just as possible, that this missing officer was not assigned to Flier at all.  If anyone knows the answer, please let me know.