Posts Tagged ‘Perth’

Gold Country

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Sep 11 2010

The Navy quickly realized, once the Fliers returned to Fremantle, that they had a problem.  The Submarine Force was far, far too small.  Eight Flier crewmen (almost 10% of the crew!) were going to be wandering around Fremantle, being seen by men they knew and who knew that these men belonged on the Flier…and it wouldn’t take long before people realized that Flier herself wasn’t in port, which would raise interesting questions.

Questions that, the Navy, in order to keep the other submariners from uneccessary fear and worry, would rather remain unasked.

Captain Crowley had to stay in Fremantle because he needed to prepare his defense.  While the Board of Investigation he was now facing (standard for investigating the presumed or known losses of any given vessel) was not a court martial, it was only one step down, and if it proved unfavorable, he could face a real Court Martial.  Since Admiral Christie was also going to be a defendant in this investigation, the Navy was flying Admiral Freeland Daubin in from the East Coast to preside over the trial.  In fact, he landed in Fremantle 66 years ago today.

Earl Baumgart requested to stay in Fremantle, as he was friends with a local family with whom he was staying. Since he was staying there, and eating his meals there rather than in the hotels and restaurants that the submariners haunted, the Navy decided to honor his request.  Besides, a spare Flier crewman wouldn’t raise that many eyebrows–last minute reassignments were common enough.

The other six–Liddell, Jacobson, Miller, Tremaine, Howell, and Dello Russo–were loaded on a private plane and flown 350 miles inland to a town named Kalgoorlie.  It was also in the middle of nowhere.  In short, it was the perfect place to stash six guys whose location needed to be kept secret for another week or so.

It may not look like much, but there is nearly 350 miles between Perth and Kalgoorlie. Once in Kalgoorlie, there is NOTHING for miles. It is so far from any other non-mining civiliazation that the mines are still "on-site" workers. (As mines are being located in more remote places, some mines find it cheaper and better to fly their workers in for an intense several days shift, then fly them home. Kalgoorlie is so far from anywhere, it's cheaper to haul everyone there, families and all.

Here's another way to look at the distance. In scale, the distance from Fremantle/Perth to Kalgoorlie is roughly the same distance as the Ohio/Michigan border to Whitefish Point in the Upper Penninsula. (as the crow flies). That is a beast of a drive, and in Michigan, you don't deal with desert. (I'm now showing my childhood roots, aren't I?)

Kalgoorlie is still, as it was in 1944, a large mining town with some of the biggest gold and nickel mines around.  It sits near “The Super Pit”, Australia’s largest open pit gold mine.

A satelite shot of Kalgoorlie, now a cluster of a number of towns working several mines, the largest of all is still the Super Pit.

Al Jacobson, who, along with Lt. Liddell, stayed in the mine foreman’s house that week, (the enlisted, I presume stayed in one of the numerous hotels in Kalgoorlie) got a first hand look at a mining operation–or he would have had they stayed there any other week of the year.  The first morning there, he recalled going to the mine with the harrassed looking foreman where all the miners were gathered.  The Union leader yelled, “Are we going to work today men?”  “NO!” was the resounding answer.

Then they all trooped away…to the racetrack.  They weren’t on strike.  Kalgoorlie’s biggest week of the year is the horse races held each September and war or not, they continued, and all mining operations were suspended until then, despite the fact the foreman’s orders were to run the mine at full capacity.

We know Al visited the racetrack on September 9, because he still has the program for that day.

The Cover to the September 9, 1944 Kalgoorlie Races. While this doesn't conclusively prove that Al visited the racetrack that day....

The fact that he recorded the first, second and third place winners in each category for all the races I think does.

Soon, however, they were going to return to Fremantle to face whatever music the Navy decided to play for them.

Location Location…

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
May 27 2010

They’re all on the move today.

Flier is back on the map again (remember she didn’t exist yesterday?) and in the middle of nowhere making for the southern tip of the island of Formosa (now known as Taiwan) where she’ll curve south and patrol along the western shores of Luzon Island in the Philippines (the Philippines looks a bit like a sitting wolf howling at Taiwan.  Luzon would be the wolf’s head, and Palawan would be the foreleg with the Balabac Straits just below the paw.)  Nothing else happened today.  The most interesting thing that happened, according to  both the war patrol report and the deck log, was the daily battery charge.

Robalo is returning from her most recent patrol, her crew looking forward to a well deserved break, and their ship needing a lot of repairs still.  She’s going to pass Exmouth Gulf since she doesn’t need the extra fuel to get all the way back to Fremantle.   She’d been out for 51 days and, despite dealing with major handicaps in terms of broken systems needing constant repairs, she’d managed to do her duty, stalk several convoys, fire twenty of her twenty-four torpedoes and claimed the destruction of one tanker.  (Sadly, this was not awarded to her by JANAC (Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee ) after the war, so officially, Robalo has no kills to her record.)  Once in Fremantle though, she had  a six-page laundry list of major repairs that needed to be done.  Just the major repairs, never mind a few little tweaks here and there.

Redfin, accompanied by the Harder, has left Fremantle and they are bound for Exmouth Gulf, training with each other in different tactics all the way.  They were escorted by the HMAS Adelaide.

What’s really interesting is all the surrounding boats coming and going out for Fremantle which give a glimpse at just how busy a port she was.

As usual, Redfin is the yellow and Robalo is the green. I decided all other submarines will be white for the purposes of these maps, though Harder will appear again in the story, if only obliquely.

From the War Patrol Reports alone of the Redfin and Robalo, we know the positions of Harder, Crevalle, Flasher and Angler, all of which were either coming to or leaving from Fremantle.  Strangely enough, though Redfin and Robalo are on track to pass each other and probably did on the 28th or 29th, they either didn’t see each other or didn’t record seeing each other.  (Redfin would make note of seeing Bonefish and Lapon over the next two days though, which adds another two submarines so the tally of boats in this general area at this time)

When you consider that Fremantle was one of two American Submarine Bases in Australia, and that Freo also served as base for British and Dutch submarines as well as a variety of battle and supply ships for those three countries, the sheer speed and insanity of that port must have been almost unbelievable.

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 navsource.org

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 navsource.org

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 navsource.org

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.

Meet the Redfin

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 25 2010

As promised, we’re going to have to leave the Flier up on blocks for a couple of months, but the threads of the amazing story of the Flier are already coming together, and from an omniscient point of view, we can start exploring them.

In my book, things are told from Al Jacobson’s point of view, so some information is limited, and some really amazing things I discovered cannot be told at all, but here, we can explore some of those fascinating facts together.

Leaving the San Francisco Bay area, we fly halfway across the 1944 globe to Perth and Fremantle, Australia, the second largest Allied Submarine Base in the Pacific Theater.  It was probably also one of the most popular places to be stationed between patrols as well.  I’ll explain later.  Maybe tomorrow.

The USS Redfin as she appeared around 1944. From www.navsource.org

66 years ago today, the sailors aboard the USS REDFIN, dressed in their dress whites, attended an ancient ceremony called “Change of Command”.  REDFIN’s commanding officer for her first patrol, Cdr. Robert D. King, handed the REDFIN over to her new commanding officer, Marshall H. Austin, who would command REDFIN’s next four patrols.

The Change of Command Ceremony is ancient.  The heart of the ceremony is simple: the new commander announcing “I relieve you sir” and the former commanding officer responds, “I am relieved”.  But surrounding this simplicity is much pomp and circumstance.  The entire crew is present, wearing the formal uniforms appropriate for the time of year and climate.  They all stand at attention while the official orders coming from the assigning authorities announces the new commander’s name.

The American Change of Command Ceremony has no real regulations, and is loosely descended from the British Admiralty Change of Command as it existed around the time of the Revolution.  That ceremony has existed for centuries and probably could trace its roots back to ancient navies.  The reason the entire crew is present when the new orders are read comes from a time when mail could take months to get from one place to another, but proved to the crew that the new commanding officer was indeed assigned their vessel and was not attempting a mutiny or some such thing.  The formality supposedly conveys the deep respect the officers and crew have for one another, their departing commander and the incoming commander.

Marshall Austin was born in Oklahoma, the fifth of seven children.  In a time where a person had to pay tuition in high school, Austin worked for a dollar a day to pay for tuition and also for a prep school to help him get in the Naval Academy.  He graduated from there in 1935, and joined the submarine service in 1940.  He was in the Philippines on December 7, 1941.  His wife, interestingly enough, was in Honolulu heavily pregnant with their first child.

During his time in the Naval Academy, Austin was in a vocal quartet.  That fact alone might have saved the Flier’s lives, as you will later see.

He remained CO of the REDFIN until January 1945, during which time the REDFIN sank six enemy ships, when she was handed over to REDFIN’s plankowner XO Charles Miller.  For his war service, Austin was awarded a Bronze Star, two Silver Stars and a Navy Cross.

Austin would serve in the Navy for 16 more years, eventually attaining the rank of Captain, and becoming CO of the Naval Submarine School in New London.  One of his students was a young man named Jimmy Carter.  He found another line of work after filling his military contract.

After his retirement, he became a consultant on Hollywood submarine shows, traveled extensively, attended a number of REDFIN reunions, and generally enjoyed life.

He passed on in 2005 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

But in 1944, he was probably excited about his first command, and began the flurry of paperwork that always accompanies command.  Men being removed off REDFIN and replaced with others, the loading of stores, the daily training runs, getting ready for the new patrol, and settling into his new role.

Soon, an emergency would attract his total attention.  But first, the ROBALO has to come into port.