Posts Tagged ‘Lombok Strait’

USS Flier passes through Lombok

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

Is it a bad thing that I’m now DREAMING about the Flier? Strange dreams too, like putting her in a giant fish globe complete with giant fish so people can see her to say good bye.  Or that I find a photo that shows she was painted some odd color or strange design, like plaid.

Today, Flier passed through Lombok Straits and headed into enemy territory.  Al mentioned in his memoirs that is was a passage of the usual kind where they eluded two sub chasers who gave chase but with their radar they escaped them easily.

I was lucky enough to ask Al what he meant by that phrase in one of our last interviews.  It was tape recorded, but I’m not posting it here because when my husband and I got together with Al and his wife, there was a lot of laughing and a lot of tangents.  That man loved to laugh and tell stories.  Maybe if I can edit it down to something coherent after the ceremony, I’ll post it.

Al explained what he meant by that though, and I’ll post the summary here.

Lombok was a difficult strait to navigate.  It is still one of the largest passageways for water exchange between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, so Lombok has very strong currents that switch direction with every tide.  With Lombok Island to the east and Bali to the west, the volcanic mountains were covered with Japanese anti-ship artillery.  Two sub chasers, usually small wooden boats pressed into service with minimal weaponry and no armor, patrolled the Strait, one generally staitioned on the narrow souther mouth, and another stationed somewhere in the middle.  The northern mouth was over 40 miles wide, and was more difficult to effectively patrol.  If these chasers hadn’t been armed with a radio to call in for the mountain backup, it would have been easier to sink them.

To add insult to injury, during these months of the year, there tended to be pockets of phosphorescent algae in the water.  So if you were going on at a high speed and hit one of these pockets, the sea around you would flare a brilliant greenish light saying “Hit HERE!” to anyone looking to shoot at you.

It was difficult, but three to four subs made that crossing every week, and only one, USS Bullhead, ever came to grief.  (Sadly, Bullhead was sunk there just a few DAYS short of the end of the war.)

Crowley waited until just before slack high tide which was due to occur around 2 am on the 8th.  Slack tide is the time period near the height of high tide or the lowest point of low tide.  At this point, the currents would slow, stop, then gradually reverse and gain speed.  By crossing at slack high tide, Flier bought herself a few more feet of clearance between her and the bottom and lessened the impact any currents would have on her navigation.

She had to go through surfaced.  Lombok was not deep enough to go through submerged, between the topography of the bottom and all the other factors listed above.

Captain Crowley, like many captains before her, took her through the strait as quickly as he could while sweeping for the sub chasers using radar.  When they found one, they stopped, waited until it passed in front of them (sometimes more than a mile ahead), watched it turn, then cross back before starting back up again and passing through the chaser’s stern wake.  When they found the second one, they repeated the process until they were completely crossed.

In order to pull this off, there were no lights on outside.   In an era where a significant proportion of American adults smoked, smoking was likely banned on the Flier this night, so no eagle eyed lookout might see the glowing butt high in Flier’s bridge or lookout deck.  Due to the fact that the moon was supposed to rise around 11, Crowley probably crossed Lombok closer to Lombok than Bali in order to keep her hiding in the shadows the mountains cast into the strait, but also to confuse the radar of the submarine chasers.  A submarine next to land blends into the land on a radar screen.  (A ship too, for that matter, a fact that was exploited by both sides)

After a couple of hours, Flier was finally “free” in enemy territory.  From now on, she’d run on surface at night and dive during the day to avoid the aircraft patrols.  She’d be on alert at all times, both for targets and for threats.  She was on her own.

Last chance…

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

The following event was only ever recorded in the memoirs of Al Jacobson.

“We headed for Lombock [sic] Striat, which was out passage through the Indonesian chain of islands.  When we were about twelve hours from Lombock Strait, we ahd an engine explosion, which we at first thought would force us to turn around and go back.  However Herb [Beahr], the assistant engineering officer, said he could and did fix everything.”

Flier’s jinx, if it existed, might have been trying to stop them, who knows?  Submarines having trouble with a boat’s engines was certainly nothing new.  Occasionally, a submarine would call HQ and tell them of recurrent or permanently damaged engines and, more times than not, HQ would instruct that submarine to head home and those engines would be thoroughly looked at.  This was the Standard Operating Procedure or SOP for any piece of critical equipment on a submarine like periscopes, Sonar, Radar, Radio, Generators, Batteries…. HQ wouldn’t let you home if the ice cream machine quit working, but the big pieces would earn you a trip back to the barn.  (I wonder if the coffee maker would be considered critical enough to go home?)

So when one of Flier’s four engines “exploded” just twelve hours outside of Lombok Strait in the early afternoon of August 7, Captain Crowley had a choice: try to fix it and continue, or turn back for home?  While a submarine could operate just fine on three engines (and according to the deck log, Flier frequently did just that), he certainly would not be foolish enough to start a patrol with a 25% handicap.   If the engineering hands couldn’t fix that engine, he’d have no choice but to call HQ and likely be ordered back to Fremantle for a fix.  If that happened, Flier’s reputation would likley have suffered as a thoroughly “jinxed boat.”  Flier’s reputation, however, was not Crowley concern: his boat’s preparedness was.

But the Submarine Force is known to be among the best men that the Navy has available to them, and the Flier’s crew shone at this moment.  While Flier pushed north on two or three engines to keep on schedule for crossing the Strait, Ensign Herbert “Teddy” Baehr and his team of twenty Motor Machinist’s Mates (Or Motor Macs) worked on the engine.

Flier had been assigned a specific time window to get through Lombok.  Submarines were shuttled through Lombok on a fairly specific and rigid schedule, each being given about a 24 hour window to go through with a 12-24 hour window on either side between boats.  While the crossing was fairly short if you could do it quickly, that 24 hour window was yours to find the best time to cross for your boat.  It’s quite likely that Captain Crowley gave the Motor Mac crews that 12-hour window to fix her up, and if sucessful, he was planning on crossing at high slack tide, approximately 2 am on 8 August.

If not, back to port for an overhaul.

Baehr and his crew were, however, successful.  Though Jacobson never mentions what, precisely the “explosion” was, and perhaps he never really found out, the repairs were sucessful enough that Captain Crowley gave his blessing to continuing on to patrol.

If they hadn’t, how things might have been different…

Flier’s new Friend

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jul 01 2010

One of the things that happened occasionally on a submarine was they took “prisoners”.  Now sometimes, a submarine would find survivors of a wreck or torpedoed ships (usually not their own, if a submarine was not having the stuffing depth charged out of them, they often couldn’t afford to surface near a wreck shortly after an attack lest the boat be swamped by the surviving sailors and either be compromised and possibly sunk or damaged as well, or worse, hijacked,) and if there were only a few people, they would be taken aboard.  If they were Japanese, they were extremely valuable, but sometimes they were native people of the area the submarine was passing through.  Once they were taken aboard they had to complete the patrol and be escorted off the submarine once she came into port where the person would be taken into the custody of the Marines, and interrogated.  Beyond that, I don’t know what happened to these people.  It wasn’t a common situation, but it also wasn’t rare.

Hours after Flier ran across the Robalo, they found a sailboat, and closed with it for inspection.  What inspection, and why this vessel, the records I have access to don’t say, though I know this was a fairly common practice.  One man volunteered to come with them to Australia, and the others requested food.  Al’s memoirs mention that they had limited stores by this time (I guess they used up a good portion of their food stores on that sumptuous feast!) but shared everything they could spare, mostly canned food.

The man they took with them was a young, “brown-skinned male…nationality unknown”.   He spoke through gestures and communicated with the crew.  From what I was able to find out, this man was by and large housed in the Forward Torpedo Room where the guys there took a liking to him, teaching him some English, and were very vocal about the Marines who came to escort him off when they arrived in Freo to treat him well.

That being said, the first English phrase they taught him was “All Marines are Lousy”.  It’s tame really, compared to some of the stories about English lessons I’ve heard from other boats!

They never recorded his name, and after he was escorted off the Flier, his fate becomes unknown.  I wonder if those records are in Australia somewhere.

After handing over the food to the remaining crew of the sailing vessel, Flier crossed Lombok, likely that night, and was in free ocean at last, sixty-six years ago today.