Posts Tagged ‘Mare Island’

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.

Flier’s Midway Damage

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 02 2010

I promised I’d post something showing just how badly Flier was damaged during her grounding at Midway Island, January 1944, and so here we go.

As far as I can tell, there are no photographs of the damage, it’s possible they were not taken, equally possible they were later destroyed or lost in the shuffle  (which anyone who works in archives or records keeping can tell you, misfiling a record is a good as destroying it.)

Red indicates major damage, yellow moderate damage, blue the engines and cooling systems clogged with coral sand. Original diagram taken from, Submarine Archives, USS Gato submarine.

Above, this is a basic cutaway of a Gato-class submarine such as Flier.  Major damage was done to the Flat Keel, Vertical Keel and Bilge Keel, most of which doesn’t appear above.  What this means:  the entire bottom of the submarine had been bashed beyond use.  You can see the bilge keel on the above diagram, the red stripe just beneath the cutaway, so imagine Flier being dented and destroyed from bilge keel to bilge keel.  Significant segments of the outer hull plating on the sides (and probably towards the stern, since the stern took the lion’s share of the beating) were also destroyed.  So Flier essentially had her entire skin removed and replaced.

Admittedly, some of this damage HAD to be repaired at Pearl Harbor:  the engines and cooling systems had to be cleaned out of the coral sand that was clogging them, and the propellers replaced and the rudder and shafts restored so she could make the run.

But the delicate instruments, the liquidometer (sub speak for gas gauge) and fathometer (which tells you how deep the water is beneath you) and most troubling, the damage to the hull frames and ballast tanks was going to require a nearly entire rebuild.

Flier's sister sub, Silversides, under construction at Mare Island. Notice the circular construction of the submarine. These are the hull frames, which would keep the submarine from imploding on itself in deep depths. In many ways, they are like the ribs of a submarine. Since Flier's hull frames were damaged, they would have to be replaced.

Above you can clearly see the hull frames on the submarine Silversides, early in her construction.

Here, red indicates the major damage to the ballast tanks, and yellow the moderate damage to the hull frames. Not all the ballast tanks or hull frames were necessarily damaged, but my resources don't list the specific ballast tanks or frames that were. What is highlighted are frames and main ballast tanks that might have been damaged.

It was truly a massive amount of damage. A few submarines were retired rather than repaired if the damage was bad enough, but since Flier was a brand new submarine, and every submarine was needed at the war’s front, she was overhauled and quickly turned back out.

On a new front, while reading the transcripts of the investigation , I discovered that only four officers were left on the Flier when she was put back into commission after her repairs: Crowley and Liddell as CO and XO, Lt. John Edward Casey, Torpedo Officer, and Ensign Herbert (Teddy) Baehr, Asst. Engineering Officer.  All the rest, Jacobson, Paul Knappe, Bill Reynolds, Herb Monor, and likely one other, were assigned to Flier now, and would report around the 15th of April.  Why one more?  Because we know one more officer was assigned to Flier at Fremantle, so it’s more than possible that one was removed at Fremantle to make room for him, but his name is not known (at least to me).

But most of this is behind Flier finally.  She’s brand new again, better in fact, for anytime a submarine was taken to Mare for a scheduled overhaul (or emergency overhaul in this case) all her technology was updated to the latest available.   No doubt all her crew were anxious to take her to sea and earn her stripes.

And my apologies to anyone who got excited reading the former title of this post and thinking I was revealing Flier’s fatal damage that sent her to the bottom of Balabac.  I have not seen a wreck survey or photographs and would only post that with permission if I had.  My apologies.

Changes to Flier’s Crew

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

My apologies for not posting yesterday.  We had computer problems, so I wasn’t able to post anything.

Back to the Flier, while she is sill in drydock being fixed, there were changes happening in the crew.

For the past four weeks, a large number of the Flier’s crew were sent, likely in shifts, to their hometowns for some R&R, and most were going to stay with the USS Flier when she re-launched.  Since they had served together for so short a time, the Navy didn’t want to break up the crew just yet.

But in the Officer’s ranks, changes were brewing.  The grounding at Midway exposed problems between Captain Crowley and his Executive Officer, Benjamin Adams.

Often, a submarine’s Executive Officer, in addition to being second-in-command, would, after a period of time and recommendation of his CO, be promoted to command his own submarine.  It was very important for these prospective officers that their submarines perform well with a minimum of disciplinary problems (because the XO was often in charge of crew discipline as well).  Sometimes, like when the Scorpion grounded at Midway, the Exec would share in any discipline that HQ handed out to the captain.  In the case of the  Scorpion, both her captain and her Exec were removed from command and returned to the States.

Having narrowly escaped being removed from the command, perhaps Adams was feeling less than confident in his assigned boat or CO.  Perhaps he started to believe in the new rumors of Flier’s jinx.  Perhaps their personalities would have eventually clashed, and this event just caused it to appear quickly. According to Clay Blair Jr.’s “Silent Victory” and Michael Sturma’s “USS Flier: Death and Survival on a WWII Submarine”, Adams was viewed by some to be a funny ladies man who wasn’t really willing to work.  They finally had an “irreconcilable dispute” in which Adams threatened to leave the Submarine Force for the Surface Fleet if necessary to leave the Flier and Crowley.

Whatever the reasons or the cause, in the end, Adams found a CO who was willing to take him on, and the Navy, more interested in having harmony on submarine crews than forcing people to work together who were unsuited, allowed Adams to transfer to the Albacore, a submarine undergoing routine overhaul in Mare Island at the same time.  Albacore’s recent XO, William Ralph DeLoach,  had been detached from Albacore and was likely to be given a new construction in the States.  (as an aside, though DeLoach served in the Navy until 1969, I cannot discover what submarine he was transferred to, though by 1953 he was apparently the commander of Submarine Squadron 10.)

The USS Albacore after her refit at Mare Island, May 1944

Adams and Albacore’s CO, Jim Blanchard, got on well together and Adams served on the Albacore for at least two patrols (the 9th and 10th).  During this time, the Albacore sank the Japanese Aircraft Carrier Taiho, a huge blow to the Japanese fleet.  Both Adams and Blanchard would have detached from Albacore before her fateful 11th patrol.  Adams would later command USS Rasher for her sixth patrol.

The Japanese Carrier Taiho, the first Japanese carrier to feature an armored deck and hurricane bow. The Albacore fired six torpedos at her, only one hitting her in the bow. While this did not sink her, it did cause the forward aricraft elevator to fill with a mix of seawater and diesel. Albacore left the area, thinking they had barely scratched the Taiho. Seven hours later, diesel fumes had filled the entire ship despite every effort to dissapate it, and she exploded. No one, not even the Japanese knew what happened until a POW revealed her fate to the Americans. By that time, the Albacore had already been lost.

With the Executive Officer’s position now open on the Flier, the search was on for a new Exec, and one was found inside the family.  James Liddell, Flier’s Engineering Officer during the Midway patrol, was now promoted to the Executive Officer’s position.  Liddell and Crowley ended up being well suited as Command Officers, and they would end up paired together not once, but twice, something that was nearly unheard of.

With the promotion, there was one officer’s position open on the Flier, and that would be filled on April 15.

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.

Under the Golden Gate

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

So where was Flier 66 years ago today?

She was passing under the Golden Gate Bridge and churning the final few miles to the Naval Base at Mare Island.  Mare Island was the West Coast’s submarine base, they were building and launching several a month, in addition to the scheduled overhauls most long-serving submarines were scheduled for every two years or so.  They had building ways for the new construction, dry docks for the overhauls and repairs of any kind.  Every kind of laborer, shipwright, welder, metalsmith, and technician was employed at Mare Island, and they churned out submarines, ships and any kind of naval vessel you could think of at an amazing rate.

The USS Silversides and USS Trigger under contruction at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, where Flier was headed. (Though in actuality, these photographs were taken over two years before Flier's grounding.)

Mare had been a Naval Base since shortly after California’s entrance into the US.  It built and repaired boats for the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII (it was built up immensely to handle the demand for services by the Navy), Korea and Vietnam.

Flier would spend the next two months up on blocks, being thoroughly checked, overhauled, and made fit again.

It would not be cheap, nor easy, and Crowley, like any other submarine captain, would be right there every day overseeing all of it.  Submarine captains were allowed and encouraged to make numerous decisions about their submarine and her fittings every time they were in port.  Where the guns the sub was assigned would be mounted.  How the ladders going up and down the floors would be mounted (I once lead a Trigger veteran through the Silversides and he remarked how rare it was to see a ladder mounted on the long side of the hatch, instead of on the short side, as the Trigger’s was) or anything else they wanted.

While Flier was in port, she would have the latest technology installed in her if any of her systems were out of date (they were, computers then being like computers now, on the cutting edge for the blink of an eye), and anything else desired.

A Pen and Ink Drawing by Sckirken showing a submarine in Dry Dock #1 at Mare Island. Flier would have looked soemthing like this while undergoing repairs.

Most of the crew, since they had not been out for a patrol yet, would remain attached to the Flier, though many of them would be sent home to visit for several weeks while she was up  on blocks.  In retrospect, that was probably a good thing.

Al, meanwhile, was still in Submarine School, still wondering who his first sub would be.  An established warrior with a record like the Bowfin, or the Barb, or the Finback, or one of the dozens of submarines under construction at New London, Mare Island, or Manitowoc?

While we leave Flier up on blocks in California, we’ll start meeting two other submarines that ended up being vital to the story of the Flier: the Robalo and the Redfin.

Career in Crosshairs Concluded

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

Flier’s whereabouts sixty-six years ago today are unknown…where she was depends on which records you believe.

It’s one of the interesting things about history: despite it being “over and done” what we “know” happened sometimes changes depending on what records and/or memories we depend on.

According to the book: “USS Flier: Death and Survival on a WWII Submarine” by Michael Sturma (from where I got most of my information about Crowley’s Board of Investigation, by the way)  Crowley’s Board of Investigation concluded on the 7th (today) and gave its verdict on the 8th, (tomorrow) and the Flier left Pearl Harbor for the States shortly thereafter. Those dates were found in the Naval Proceedings records held at the Judge Advocate General.

According to Flier’s own War Patrol Report Prologue however, she left Pearl on the 7th, which means that the Board of Investigation had to have concluded and given its verdict before Flier left.

Regardless of when it concluded and Flier was permitted to leave Pearl for  Vallejo, California, the finding of the Board was this:  Crowley was responsible for his boat grounding, but it was not due to culpable negligence.  He would be allowed to continue to command the Flier.

But for now, she had to be taken back to the States for major repairs at the largest submarine yard on the West Coast: Mare Island in Vallejo (just northeast of San Francisco).  Thankfully, the waters between Pearl and California were fairly secure, and heavily trafficked and patrolled, so it was unlikely to hide any Japanese ships or subs (later discovered to be untrue, but that was unknown at the time).   Flier was sent without an escort.

She limped out of harbor so badly dented and damaged people onshore must have wondered what kind of amazing story she had to tell if only her crew would be permitted.

It wasn’t one they were likely to repeat even if they had been allowed.