Posts Tagged ‘Pearl Harbor’

Pearl Harbor

Day of Infamy Project | Posted by Rebekah
Dec 07 2011

I went to bed last night, warm and feeling safe. Despite the cloud of anxiety I often see in the news in places like Afghanistan or the election result and riots throughout the Middle East, I still slept soundly, knowing that though those events could have a deep impact on my life, I did not fear that I would awaken to find soldiers on my front lawn, attacking, shooting, hurting my family.

I awoke this morning, safe and mildly rested (children didn’t have a restful night).  Still, it was a nice morning, not too cold, though a dusting of snow lay on the tips of the grass and my resting flower beds.  I made a special breakfast for my family, due to a family birthday, then my husband set off for work, like he does every weekday, and I set about my daily tasks, or would have, if I wasn’t so sick with a cold. A morning so unremarkable that if it wasn’t for the birthday and the cold, I’d soon forget all about it, and it would blur into hundreds of other mornings that have happened in my life. (And despite the cold and the birthday, the details of today will soon blur anyway)

Why do I mention these inanities on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor?  Because, the more I learn about history, the more I realize that while each individual person is unique, people and the human condition is so similar thoughout the centuries that history can, and sadly often does, repeat itself.

The people of America and even Hawaii probably felt, on the night of 6/7 December 1941, as I did on this night of 6/7 December 2011.  Storm clouds were swirling, but whether in the Pacific or Europe, they were swirling OVER THERE.  Not here. Most slept well, got up, made breakfast, went about their day’s work.  Since 7 December 1941 was a Sunday, not a weekday, many people were out and about to church, getting breakfast, just enjoying the lovely weather that a Hawaiian December was.

Yet their fate as drawing closer, and by 7 am, though the official attack was well over an hour away, it was already nearly inevitable. But they still felt secure that today was any other day.

That is why Pearl Harbor still reverberates to this day.  The most thorough shattering of a person’s world happens when they discover nothing was as it appeared.  Things appeared safe that morning, but before dawn, at least one enemy submarine was already in the harbor, possibly two. Another sub had already been attacked and sunk by 7 am, though no one believed the report that came in from the WARD.  Enemy submarines at Pearl Harbor?  Unbelievable.  Hundreds of planes were already in the air, roaring towards their target. But no one knew it, and when they were spotted on Radar, they were mistaken for a group of American bombers that were due to land that morning.

Everything, in fact, appeared safe and normal until the last second, when the planes roared over Pearl Harbor.

And the world Americans believed they were inhabiting, one in which life was calm and safe, if difficult,  shattered. Distance was no barrier any longer, and if we could be struck at Pearl, then our territories of the Philippines, and Guam, and Wake Island, and Singapore, and Malaysia, in just 48 hours, where else could the seemingly invensible and innumerable Axis armies strike next?  A U-Boat strike off of New York, or Washington DC? Invading Japanese soldiers in Los Angeles?  Sometimes, we can laugh now at the thought, since we knew the end of the story of WWII, but back then, it was a real fear.

Few historians today doubt that America would eventually be drawn into WWII, it was just a matter of when the danger from the outside would loom large enough to overcome the resistance from within.  As Germany and Japan advanced, soon the Americas would have to defend themselves, but if it took too long, some feared, the Axis would be too strong to defeat by just the Americas alone, and some countries in South America had strong ties to the Axis-maybe they would fight with them instead of with us.

So today, I write this post, on an average day.  My husband is safe at his workplace, the downtown of my city is as quiet as it ever is. We go about our business unperturbed, despite taking the time to remember a day when our world changed forever, leaving a scar on our history, and in the minds of those who still live today. And studying Pearl Harbor and the rest of WWII makes me grateful for the peace and quiet, and so deeply thankful to those who woke to something different in Oahu that morning.  To all those, military, civilian, children, medical teams, who experienced that day, I say, ‘Thank You.’  Not only for what you had to live through, but how you kept going, cleaned up the harbor, repaired those ships, took care of our men for four long years, and now, preserve the history for my and future generations.  I thank those who signed up to protect your family and friends and community, putting yourselves in danger and sacrificing the comforts of home so the rest of us can now live.  I thank you, for giving me, 70 years on, my average, quiet day.

And for those of you who now, sit on the front lines, in our submarines, in our military camps, in our outposts, behind our computer systems, on our planes and base camps, here at home, and around the world, I also say thank you.  For standing in the gap, like your predecessors.  While we stop today to revisit a national tragedy of Pearl Harbor 70 years ago, may we not forget the modern soldiers, marines, air force, coastguardsmen, and sailors, who are doing their best to keep such a thing from happening again.  And may those of us who live under your protection remember you ore often than a few days a year.

The Day that Will Live in Infamy…but it didn’t have to.

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Dec 08 2010

*This was supposed to be posted yesterday, but for a number of reasons, I had to finish it a day late.  We’ll return to the Flier tomorrow (I’ve already started on the next post).  I hope you think it was worth the wait.

It was a quiet Sunday morning.  The winter storms that routinely lashed the sea northeast of Oahu were at it again, pouring rain on Kahuka Point and obscuring most of the horizon with low clouds, though right over Pearl Harbor, the sky was clear.  The fleet lay at anchor, in the neat double rows on Battleship Row, at the small Submarine Base, and even in the dry docks, having their hulls scraped and checked for the corrosion that the saltwater carved into their sides.

The sun had only just risen.  A minimum of crew was on call.  Some were sleeping off the effects of the night before.  Others were at their homes on shore, with their families, undoubtedly looking forward to a relaxing day at church and playing with their children.  A few were already stumbling into kitchens and restaurants and Mess Halls, seeking that morning cup of coffee and a bite of breakfast.

Suddenly, airplanes shot out of the clouds, strafing the ground, dropping bombs on the peaceful ships at harbor.  In moments, the harbor was in disarray, men scrambling to gain their battle stations, but it was already too late.  The ships were already damaged, some severely, both at anchor and those in the dry docks.  Nothing was spared.

The planes headed back out to sea, and there, in the midst of the storm, a small group of ships waited for their return, hiding in the rain, safe from the eyes of radar.  The planes landed safely on the two carriers.

In the Bridge of the lead carrier, the admiral listened with satisfaction to reports of the damage.  When presented with the final report, he smiled, and signed it:

Adm. Harry E. Yarnell


Sunday, February 7, 1932

That’s right.  Pearl Harbor was first attacked on February 7, 1932, nine years before the date that will live in infamy. On December 7, 1941, we as a country pause to remember the attack of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, and the lives lost there, but few know that the attack on Pearl had been eerily foretold nine years earlier.

See, in the beginning of the 20th century, the backbone of the Navy was the behemoth battleships and destroyers.  Aircraft Carriers and Submarines were considered little more than niche vessels which had limited uses.

But one admiral, Harry Yarnell, believed that the Navy had more to fear from an aerial attack delivered from the deck of a carrier, than from ever larger confrontations between larger and larger ships and deck guns. During the annual combined Navy war games at Pearl Harbor, he set out to prove his point.  Every year, Yarnell’s ships in California would leave for Pearl, “attacking” the battleships stationed in Pearl.  (at this time the military’s main Pacific base was in San Diego, not Pearl Harbor, so Yarnell had the larger fleet.)  Usually, the radio traffic between the massive fleet would be intercepted by Pearl, their battleships would leave harbor, and they would “battle” out in the open sea.

In 1932 however, Yarnell left most of his allotted ships in California with orders to maintain radio silence.  He took Aircraft Carriers SARATOGA and LEXINGTON out to sea with a small escort of three destroyers.  They traveled under radio silence, staying away from the traveled freighter lanes, and sought an area where they couldn’t be seen from the radar towers on Hawaii.  During the winter months, storms routinely happened near Oahu, and here, he hid, knowing the radar couldn’t see them, and no freighter would be near.  To top it all off, he also decided to attack on Sunday, a day he knew was the day most sailors would be off duty, and also most likely to be off-ship.

The “bombs” and “strafing” were just flares and bags of flour, but the referees of the war games judged that Yarnell had been more than successful, sinking EVERY ship in Pearl Harbor, as well as figuratively destroying every land-based plane in Oahu.  In addition, 24 hours after the attack, using what few battleships that had been at sea during the simulated attack, the Pearl Harbor team hadn‘t been able to locate Yarnell’s small fleet.  From Yarnell’s point of view, it had been a complete success, and he and his officers argued that, having proved the effectiveness of an aerial attack from a carrier, they should become more central to the plans of the military, instead of outlying support vehicles for the battleships.

But it was also an idea ahead of its time. The admirals, who believed that the battleship was still the workhorse of the navy, protested the results, insisting that if this was a real scenario, their battleships would have found the aircraft carriers and destroyed them first.

In the end, the battleship officers won, and in the years between 1932 and 1941, the military and FDR ordered the construction of another twelve battleships but only four aircraft carriers, the YORKTOWN, ENTERPRISE, WASP and HORNET.  (and only the ENTERPRISE was supposed to be assigned to the Pacific Fleet, where Yarnell feared a Japanese attack.) The Navy was growing, but the retired Yarnell feared that it was growing the wrong sectors.

What few knew, was the Japanese paid attention to this particular war game, and sent a detailed record to Tokyo about how the surprise was accomplished.  Records later showed that the Japanese War College studied this attack in 1936, coming to the following conclusion:

“in case the enemy’s main fleet is berthed at Pearl Harbor, the idea should be to open hostilities by surprise attack from the air.”

Even stranger, in the winter of 1938, Pearl Harbor was attacked AGAIN.  And like in 1932, she was attacked by American forces during the annual war games.  This time, Admiral Ernest King used the Aircraft Carrier SARATOGA (again) to launch and aerial attack to make the point that Pearl Harbor was still vulnerable to this type of attack.  Sadly, the result of his successful maneuver was the same as Yarnell’s in 1932: nothing.

And in May 1940, the fleet, against the recommendation of Pacific Admiral James Richardson moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor.  Admiral Richardson was soon relieved of duty and replaced by Husband Kimmel who also had concerns about Pearl but saw what the price for complaining was.

The stage was set, and the Japanese, believing that they would not be able to withstand the full might of the American Navy if the United States entered the Pacific conflict, decided to take out the fleet at Pearl Harbor, following the pattern set in 1932 by Admiral Yarnell.  Their fleet traveled in radio silence, they traveled off the well-traveled shipping lanes of the Pacific, they hid in the foul winter weather, and attacked just after dawn on a Sunday.

The bombs weren’t flour bags, on this, the third attack of Pearl Harbor, and 2,896 men and women died; military as well as civilians.

And the Japanese caused that which they sought to circumvent: the American entry into war.

As a strange ending to our tale, Admiral Yarnell got the last laugh, though I’m sure he never would have used that phrase.  On the morning of December 7, 1941, most of our battleships and destroyers were in port, and were damaged or sunk.  But all three aircraft carriers in the Pacific*, which the Japanese desperately sought to destroy (because they knew how useful they would be) were not in port.  The ENTERPRISE was at sea, returning from Wake Island, and held up both because of foul weather and because some of her escort had run out of fuel and needed to refuel.  The LEXINGTON was at sea, delivering Marine aircraft to Midway Atoll, and the SARATOGA, veteran of Pearl Harbor attacks, was being repaired at San Diego.  Oops, missed.  A miss that would be crucial.

The other crucial miss of course, was the Submarine Base at Pearl.  Not only was the Submarine Base missed, it was never planned to be hit by any wave of aircraft (even the third wave which the Japanese never launched).  By sundown on December 7, the back of the Navy was broken and the Aircraft Carrier and submarine were the best defense against the Japanese threat.

And today, they are backbone of the modern military.


“The Real Architect of Pearl Harbor” by Capt. Jack Young, USN (ret.) , published in Naval Aviation Spring, 2005.

Short article about the 1932 attack including excerpts from Navy papers referencing the practice attack

Plus all the links above.

*The other four aircraft carriers, WASP, YORKTOWN, HORNET and RANGER, were in the Atlantic.

Flier’s refueling and on-board court (and not King Neptune’s!) pt. 1

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
May 23 2010

The Deck Log for Flier is rather interesting today.  They are still underway en route to Johnston Atoll (and as soon as I can get Google Earth back up and running, I’ll make up something that shows where these places all are, I promise), but two crewmen on Flier are about to have an uncomfortable morning.

From the Deck Log of USS Flier dated Tuesday 23 May, 1944

“0800-1200 [hours]:  Underway as before.  0920 A summary court-martial, Lieut. J.W. Liddell, Jr.USNR, senior member, met to try the case of PAYNE, Chester <personal identification redacted by me> S1c, USN, and COWIE, John William, <personal identification redacted by me> MM3c USNR, and adjourned at 1045 to await action of the convening authority…”

My guess is this is not one case, but actually two different ones, now tried at the same time, both of which originated during the crew’s two weeks in Pearl Harbor.

Those must have been some two weeks.  They arrived on May 8, and over 12 days, took on eight new hands (POURCIAU, Kit Joesph, S1c on 5/9; HELLER, Eugene Wilson S2c on 5/9; MOENCH, Vernon Leo S1c on 5/9; Ensign LEIGHTLEY, Albert L and Ens. MINER, Herbert A, both of whom their orders arrived on 5/9 but neither man reported until the next morning; CHRISTENSEN, Christian John, S1c on 5/14; BOHN, Thomas LeRoy MM3c on 5/14; and finally VOGHT, James Frank RT2c on 5/14) , transferred one man off (MURRAY, Bruce Franklin S1c for disqualification and reassignment) went on three practice patrols, and held THREE Captain’s Masts for three crewmen of three different offenses: PAYNE, Chester, for fighting short patrol and knocking them overboard; COWIE, John William for disobeying a lawful order; DONOVAN, Thomas Armstrong, for being Absent Without Leave for 2 days, 20 hours and 30 minutes.

A Captain’s Mast is a non-judicial affair where the commanding officer can investigate minor offenses allegedly committed by those under his command.  It is not a trial, though the commanding officer in question can dismiss the charges, refer the case to a court martial, or impose a punishment according to the rules of military law.

Despite happening the  last, Donovan’s offense was dealt with while still at Pearl.  The Captain’s Mast on Friday 19 May 1944 fined him $50 for the absence, to be docked from his pay at the rate of $25/month for 2 months.  Considering the fact that he was likely making less than $100/month at the time, that was a fairly severe punishment.  To be fair however, Donovan’s absence was probably longer than he wanted.  According to the records, his absence was first noticed at the 5:55 am muster of the crew on 5/11.  They went for a day patrol, then came back.  The next morning, they left early again, then didn’t come back until the evening of 5/13.  The records specifically state that Flier moored at the Submarine Base at 1537 hours (for non-military, that’s 3:37 pm) but Donovan reported aboard at 1500 hours.  Not sure if this is an indication of slightly shoddy record keeping or Donovan’s desperate swim to the Flier as she crossed Pearl!  (kidding).  For the 2 days, 20 hours and 30 minutes Donovan was gone, Flier was in port for only about 12 hours of that.

Payne’s and Cowie’s Captain’s Masts however (PAYNE’S held on 5/10 for charges occurring at some unmentioned time, but likely during the 48 hours they had been at Pearl, and COWIE’S held on 5/12 for charges likely occurring while on a practice patrol around Hawaii) had more serious consequences:  they were referred to Summary Court Martial, or SCM.  More on what that is and what it entailed tomorrow.

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.

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.

Robalo’s new CO

Uncategorized, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 29 2010

How submarine commanders were trained changed radically during WWII.

Following WWI, the surrendered U-Boats the German Navy was forced to hand over to the Allies produced many drastic changes in how submarines were designed the world over.  They became faster, deeper diving, stronger, and had more and better weapons installed.   But as often happens when technology advances, the thinking and planning of the people who now possessed these new weapons,  didn’t.   Not until it was forced.

These new “fleet submarines” (so named because they were to guard the surface fleet, not because they were THAT fast) were warships in their own right, but the navies of the world still concentrated on the old big guns:  Battleships, Destroyers, and Cruisers.  Submarines, in addition to their traditional coastal guarding duties were now assigned to range out ahead of these big guns and report any enemy activity so the surface fleet could take care of it.   Because of this thinking, Submarine Commanding Officers were taught to keep their boats hidden, be cautious at all costs, and not engage the enemy unless absolutely necessary and they were fairly well guaranteed a good enough shot to sink their prey.

Then December 7 happened, and the rules changed.

The Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese Attack of Pearl Harbor. Notice that all destruction is confined to across the harbor, there is none nearby. The submarine on the left is the USS Narwhal.

Of the Pacific Fleet, only the submarines and aircraft carriers were left untouched, and of those two, only the submarines were untouched by design.  The Japanese were hoping to sink both the American Aircraft Carriers on active duty in the Pacific, but fate prevented them (The Enterprise was supposed to dock at Pearl the evening of the 6th but was caught in a storm with her fleet, delaying her.  The Lexington had been hustled out of harbor to beef up defenses at Midway which was considered a more likely target of any Japanese attack.  The Saratoga, the third aircraft carrier in the Pacific, was having a scheduled refit at Mare Island.)  The submarines were completely ignored during the attack at Pearl, and all four submarines at Pearl (Tautog, Narwhal, Cachalot and Dolphin) were completely unscathed since the enemy planes never once shot or bombed them, even when the guns of these boats lit up and started taking down enemy planes.  The Tautog is now credited with taking down the first Japanese airplane over Pearl that morning.

Suddenly, the linchpins of the Navy are burning, sunken, and so badly damaged most couldn’t safely put to sea.  The Saratoga was released from her refit, but three aircraft carriers were not enough to cover the entire ocean when it quickly became obvious that the Japanese hit not only Pearl, but Midway, the Philippines, and intended to continue.

Enter the submarines, the last resort and now best hope.  The four in Pearl and those near Pearl and Midway and off the coast of California were quickly mobilized, and sent to sink every ship they could find.

Suddenly, the commanders that had spent all of their time and training being quiet and cautious were caught in a quandary.  Some adjusted, others were quickly removed and sent to other stations while younger, more aggressive officers were just as quickly promoted.  Some of these transformed boats whose records were lackluster into boats who would become icons.  (Read about Dudley “Mush” Morton and the USS Wahoo, and his famous “Wahoo is Expendable” speech  if you don’t believe me).

So sixty-six years ago today, the Robalo was handed over to a new, aggressive skipper after just one patrol.  His name was Manning Kimmel.  He was  30 years old, a graduate of the Naval Academy (class of 1935) he served on battleships and submarines, quickly rising through the ranks of the latter.  In addition to having every mark of a great submarine commander, Kimmel might have had another reason to take the war to the Japanese.

Manning Kimmel, new CO of USS Robalo.

Kimmel’s father was Admiral Husband Kimmel, who was the Naval Commander of the Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  In the wake of the attack, many people and congressmen wanted to know who was to blame for our base being caught so off-guard, and eventually, Kimmel and his Army counterpart, General Walter Short, were officially censured for being unprepared, were reduced in rank (Husband Kimmel’s 4-star rank was reduced to 2-stars) and forced to retire.  There have been many people in the decades following who have supported these punishments and those who say both men were unfairly blamed for the attack.   In fact, Admiral Chester Nimitz later said it was a blessing that the fleet had been in harbor that day, rather than put to sea looking for a possible attack as some congressmen later asserted that Kimmel should have done. (Amazing how congressmen know better than anyone how to do someone else’s job, then and now, isn’t it?)  When they were sunk, the fleet was sunk in 40 feet of water a few hundred yards from dry docks and repair facilities, rather than in irretrievable in deep oceans.

In 1999, Congress passed a non-binding resolution exonerating both men and posthumously re-promoting them, but Presidents Clinton and Bush did not sign it, and there is currently no indications from President Obama whether or not he will.

But in 1944, the Kimmel name was solidly linked to the death and destruction of Pearl Harbor.  Manning Kimmel would indeed prove to be an aggressive skipper, but he might have been motivated to clear or elevate the family name as much as protecting to country.  That question would arise in about six months.

RIP USS F-4 and her crew

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 25 2010

Today marks the 95th anniversary of the very first submarine lost in the modern US Navy’s Submarine Force.

The USS F-4 was one of 4 sisters of the F Class submarines.  Built in Seattle, she was the first submarine named “Skate”, but her name was officially changed to F-4 before her launch.  She had only two short years of service on the Pacific Coast, before 25 March, 1915.

The USS F-4

The fours sisters were the very first naval vessels home ported at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and were towed there in 1914 by destroyers.  (they were already becoming too large to be ferried aboard Submarine Tenders as seen in the Tender Post.)But because Pearl Harbor was still being made suitable as a naval base, the submarines were moored next to their tender Alert in nearby Honolulu Harbor.

The USS Alert with her nest of submarines, ca. 1914, Long Beach, CA. The outermost submarine is the F-4.

On the morning of March 25, 1915, the F-1, F-2, and F-4 left Pearl Harbor on routine diving exercises.  The hazard pay of “a dollar a dive day” had just been instituted by the Federal Government, giving every man of a submarine crew an extra dollar of pay for every day a submarine dove successfully, up to $15/month (the approximate equivalent of $22/dive or  an extra $330/month,) with an additional$60 $(1320) to their families if they didn’t come back.  Submarine commanders, to keep their crews in practice and happy,  frequently scheduled diving practice!

But that morning, the F-4 didn’t return.

After an hour of no one seeing or hearing from here, a speedboat was sent out to see if she could be spotted on the surface.  A short time later, her sister, the F-3 was sent to cruise submerged in the general area the F-4 was last seen, sounding her bell, and listening for F-4’s reply.  Nothing.  Soon, their tender Alert and several more speedboats where scattering, looking for any trace of the missing sub, and a wire was sent to Pearl informing then that F-4 was overdue.

In the afternoon they found it: an oil slick and air bubbles on the surface of the water.  F-4 was probably sunk and slowly leaking, but was the crew still alive?  Rescue efforts were quickly stalled when she was found in 300 feet of water.  No diver had ever been deeper than 60 feet before.  They tried to drag the F-4 to nearby shallow water, then dredging her, but she was stuck fast and couldn’t be moved.  In 72 hours, rescue attempts were abandoned, but the Navy decided to salvage the F-4 if they could to discover what happened to her, and, since it was peacetime and the sub most likely went down due to mechanical malfunction, how they could prevent it from happening again.

But no ship had ever been salvaged from such a deep depth.  And if the Navy was going to be able to understand what happened, they had to raise her with a minimum of damage.  Lt. Cmdr.  Julius Furer was assigned the task of bringing F-4 up and he quickly searched out the most recent technology he could.

The first thing he heard of was a new kind of dive technique where divers paused at pre-determined points during an ascent and waited, which seemed to prevent the “bends”, a painful side-effect of deep diving that often caused death.  (Today, we know that the bends are caused by gases which naturally occurs in the body and dissolves in the blood.  At high pressures, like the depths of the ocean, more gasses dissolve in the blood and if a person ascends or depressurizes too quickly, the gasses form bubbles that can cause intense pain in the joints through paralysis and death.  Stopping and resting at pre-determined depths allows these gases to dissapate naturally.)  There were a group of experimental divers at the New York Navy Yard that Furer requested to come and help with the salvage.

It took nearly a month to get the first one there, and he dove to the F-4 to find her laying on her side, apparently undamaged.  The F-4 couldn’t be raised all at once, but the plan was for the divers to place tow cables under the bow and stern and lift and move her to shallow enough waters to fully salvage her.

It was nerve wracking work, and when one diver got tangled in the cables on April 17 and another diver, F.W. Crilly had to pull him to surface quickly, earning them a 20-hour trip in a decompression chamber, Crilly received the Medal of Honor, the highest award the US can bestow.

Eventually, Furer invented a new salvage technique:  Pontoons attached to cables were filled with water and sunk to either side of the wreck.  Once they were attached to the wreck with cables slung under the hull, air was pumped into the pontoons, forcing the water out, and the pontoons to the surface cradling the F-4.  This also allowed for more than two supporting cables, more evenly distributing the weight of the submarine and keeping the cables from breaking.  This worked, and on August 30, five months after F-4 went down, she was towed under the pontoons to a dry-dock.

An altered photograph showing how the USS F-4 was eventually raised and taken back to Pearl Harbor. This method of deep sea salvage would be used again in 1939 when the USS Squalus sank.

Only four of the 21 crewmen could be identified, and the other 17, including her CO, were buried in four coffins in a mass grave in Arlington (the story of the grave and her marker is also interesting and will have to wait.)

What the investigation revealed is that some of the rivets in the hull had corroded, allowing seawater into the battery compartment, releasing chlorine gas.  Captain Ede tried to blow the ballast tanks and steer F-4 into shallow water, but the engines overheated and quit, and F-4 descended past safe depths.  The intense pressure caused the hull to implode and drown her brave crew.  They were gone before anyone knew to look for them.

Here you can see the implosion of F-4's hull that was discovered once the dry dock was pumped free of water.

The F-4 herself was buried at Pearl Harbor, where she has remained ever since.  Her sisters were towed back to the mainland, and overhauled to fix the rivets, battery compartments, engines, propellors, and  the hundreds of little things that cost 21 men their lives.

All photos on this post are taken from

For the memorial page to F-4’s crew on eternal patrol, click here.

The best article I’ve read about the sinking and salvage of F-4.

The Story of the grave of the unidentified F-4 Sailors

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:

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.

Exhibit Update

The Exhibit, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 09 2010

Well, the formal proposal is finished.  11 custom graphics for it.  And of course, as is normal, I realized after I sent it that I forgot a few things and had to send several addendums in follow-up e-mails.  Oh well.

One of the fun things to do with the proposals is establish a basic exhibit, then build layers on top of it.  It’s rather like a menu.  If you get past the baseline you can start to pick and choose what you want for additions.  Whether you want floor graphics, or touchscreen interactive documentaries or quizzes, or what.  It’ll be interesting to see what this will end up looking like.  Once I get clearance to show what we have in mind, I’ll post it here.

One of the most interesting things about this exhibit is working with the crew of the USS Redfin, the submarine that not only rescued the Flier survivors, but who also, four months previously, dropped off the Coastwatchers that sheltered them and set up the rescue.   The Redfin survived WWII, then went on to serve until 1969.  Her crew gets together every year to tour, swap stories, and in general, have a good time.  They’re very good at that, and very welcoming (not to mention, hilarious).

When they had their 2008 reunion in Muskegon, they asked me to talk about the Flier and Redfin’s rescue.  It was one of the best evenings in my life.  The next year, they contacted us to say that one of their number had located the Redfin’s bell and, on the condition we put it on display, they wanted to donate it to the museum and in particular, to the long-talked about Flier exhibit.

Submarines tended to leave their bells behind when they left on patrol.  If they remained mounted to the exterior of the submarine, it could ring during the concussions of a depth charge attack, allowing their enemy to hone in and target the sound.  If they brought it inside, it would just use up valuable storage space.  Moreover, if they never came back, their bell could serve as a memorial.  Some of these bells are used for that purpose today.  Some, due to the fact they’re made of nearly 100 pounds of solid brass, were sold and melted down.   (The bell for the USS Narwhal was rescued from the scrap metal heap only a few years ago and is now at the Bowfin Museum inPearl Harbor,  Hawai’i: )

It is tradition to ring a bell in memory of lost boats and their crews.  The Redfin bell will do that for the lost Fliers and nearly 3500 men who have given their all in the submarine service.

The Flier’s bell is still missing.  It may have been destroyed decades ago.  It may exist somewhere, long forgotten in someone’s attic.  If anyone ever finds an old brass bell engraved “USS Flier 1943 (or possibly 194)” we would love to hear from you so she can sit next to her sister.

And where was Flier 66 years ago today?  About halfway back to the United States.