Posts Tagged ‘John Crowley’

The Crevalle’s Last Transit through Balabac

And now for something completely different..., Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 21 2010

Sorry about the long wait.  One of my little ones has been quite sick and fussy, and as much as I enjoy this project, my kids come first, as is natural.

I’ll take this moment to say that I may be a bit sporadic over the next few days.  The final revisions of the book is due in ten days, and I’m making some changes based on some things I’ve found recently.  I’ll do my best, but if it seems like I’m shorter and less detailed than normal, that’s why.

I wrote last that I would talk about about the Crevalle’s last transit of Balabac Straits, which happened on May 8, 1944.  This is an important transit because when the Flier was ordered to go through Balabac at top speed, the Navy also sent detailed route that the Crevalle supposedly used.  There were no orders attached to this route, and according to the investigation, Admiral Christie and his staff included this information only as a helpful guide to get through, since, whenever Crevalle took soundings during the transit, it was over 100 fathoms deep, which was considered too deep for Japanese sea mines. (They were wrong, but that’s another story.)

So what happened?

Well, since Flier was lost, there had to be an investigation, and a lot of interesting things came out, which I was able to read about.  (You can too, if you like.  Just go to pg. 60 for the Investigation’s transcript).  For one thing, the Navy recorded in the transcripts the exact directions they gave as derived from Crevalle’s passing.  I could bore you with the whole thing, but why bother when I can plot it out on a map.

In this map, the track of the Crevalle on May 8 is in bright blue. The track of the Flier is in the customary red. Where that track ends in the lower left-hand corner is approximately where Flier was heading for on her last night. Had she suceeded, she would have been there a 2:30 am on the morning of 14 August

Now, during the investigation, Captain Crowley gave several reasons as to why they chose not to use that path.  To begin with, Crevalle approached from further north than Flier, and they had to get through the Strait more quickly than diverting that far north would have allowed.  Secondly, Crevalle passed much more closely to Roughton Reef than Crowley was comfortable with. Unlike modern charts, the charts there men were working with had few, if any soundings.  Roughton Reefs was a known hazard, but Comiran wasn’t as much.   Since Crowley wanted more space between his boat and the reef, and also wanted as much sea space around him as possible to give him the greatest amount of maneuvering room in case of small fishing or patrol vessels, he and his navigator Jim Liddell plotted a course closer to Comiran.  For safety, they would take continuous soundings so they could stay in the deep water.   Once past Comiran Island, they would meet up with the Crevalle’s track for the rest of the passage.  After all, the most dangerous part of the passage was still to come: passing down the coast of Balabac and beyond the southern tip.

Flier never made the conjunction with the Crevalle’s track.  She went down too early.  Just before she hit the mine, she took a sounding of 42 fathoms deep, too shallow for comfort.

It is just as likely that Flier hit a floating mine as well as a tethered mine, and that even if Flier had diverted enough to follow Crevalle’s track to the nth degree, she still might have hit a rogue mine.  As Al was to find out, those were quite common in this area.

Still, as I did research to find out what Crevalle was doing when she crossed the Balabac Straits, I found out a couple of interesting things:

1.) The directions the Navy gave Flier made it sound like Crevalle was crossing Balabac heading west like Flier, but she wasn’t: she was heading east on a special mission.

2.) So I had to work my way back through the directions cross-referencing the few indications in the Crevalle’s war patrol reports of her route through Balabac I discovered that the directions were not translated exactly: for example, at one point, Crevalle traveled due north, or 0 degrees True.  The correct translation of that if going in the opposite direction would be head 180 degrees True, or due south. The directions the Navy gave the Flier, however, record they should head 184 degrees true, or slightly west of south, not due south.

3.) Crevalle also went through the night of a full moon. Flier went though during a waning crescent.  The significance might not be much, but tides are stronger during the full and new phases of the moon, and depending on the tides when Crevalle passed near Roughton Reef, that tide might have been purchased Crevalle a few more feet of clearance than Flier would have.

Does all this nit picking really make a difference though?  Well, not really, since we’re discussing history, and sadly, no matter what we do, nothing will bring the Flier and her crew back.  If it was mine,  especially if is was a rogue mine, then there was no fault on anyone’s head, just bad luck.

But I found those instances quite fascinating and helped me figure out why the decisions to go through Balabac where they did were made.

Incidentally, Crevalle was never supposed to go though that strait.  On 6 May, her CO was called and informed that due to a very pressing rescue mission, her patrol was being terminated early, and she was being re-routed to Negros Island to pick up some refugees and some papers.  There were only supposed to be 25 refugees, but they ended up taking 40, and the package of Japanese papers.

Those papers held the Z Plan, the plan to eliminate the Allied Navy once and for all.  They had washed up onshore of a neighboring island after the plane that was carrying those plans crashed into the sea.  The story of how these plans were collected, given to the Crevalle, then RETURNED, is really quite fascinating.  It ended up being one of the greatest intelligence coups of WWII.  Enjoy!

The Map

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

I am looking at the most extraordinary nautical chart today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a fascinating bit of video to watch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flier’s First Bite

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

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

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

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

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

It was a three hour siege.

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

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

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

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

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

Flier Underway

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

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

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

*       *        *

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

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

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

*      *        *

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

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

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.