Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Tucker’

Flier Investigation Concluded

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

Dello Russo was up next.  Now due to whatever reason, his name was always listed in James D. Russo, in all the records.  His last name was properly Dello Russo, but he wasn’t permitted to list that apparently.  Thankfully, a sharp researcher in Grand Haven figured out his real last name, allowing us to track down his family in time for the memorial.  As a youth, Dello Russo loved to swim to the various islands around the Boston area, which accounts for his ability to swim for the islands.  In fact, he beat everyone to the shore, and was the only person to make it without hanging onto a floating piece of bracken for support.

But I digress.

Dello Russo’s testimony was brief.  As Quartermaster, his job was the drive the submarine from the helm.  Unlike a surface ship, which usually had windows in the room where the steering was done, a submarine is driven blind.  The Quartermaster has to steer based on the angles of the gyroscope and a great deal of trust with the navigator and radar and sonar teams.  All Dello Russo was essentially asked (beyond “Name, Rank, Station”) was where he was located that night.  At the helm.  In the Conning Tower.  That was it.

Donald Tremaine was the last man up for questioning.  I’ve always found Tremaine to be interesting if only because he is nearly a complete cipher.  I’ve never been able to find out anything about him, outside of the fact that he was on the Flier and was assigned to the Maryland during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Anything and everything else is a complete matter of speculation, and when I tried to research him, I got a quick and painful research lesson in just how many “Don(ald) Tremaine”s live in the USA.  But I don’t even have a photo of him, he was the only survivor in no condition to be photographed that day on the Redfin.

Tremaine was a Fire Controlman, which made him an essential part of maintaining, repairing and operating all weapons systems aboard Flier. Tremaine stated that the night Flier went down, he was in the Conning Tower as a part of the Radar Tracking Party in case they made contact.  If I’ve done my research correctly, that means that he was likely standing at the TDC (Torpedo Data Computer-an analog computing system that helped submarines perform the trigonometry needed to aim torpedoes.) that night.  And that was all.

Last up was Lt. Liddell.  After Crowley, Liddell had the most on the line, since he could potentially be held responsible if he hadn’t navigated correctly and allowed Flier to stray into dangerous waters.

He was questioned closely, the investigators wanting to know when was the last fix taken by stars, landmarks, the last reading on the azimuth, how often did he take depth soundings, radar fixes, and on and on.  Judging from his responses, he was a highly skilled navigator, and his skill stood the interrogation.

The strangest part of the tale is simply that when Liddlel and Crowley planned their route that evening, there were two reasons why they did not follow the Crevalle’s route precisely, when that was the route HQ sent them to help them safely transverse Balabac.  The first was Crevalle was heading north, not west, which meant that Flier would have to take a wide arc out of their way to match her track precisely.  But more importantly, Crevalle tracked very close to a pair of reefs, which were clearly shown on the map.  That was too close for comfort for Crowley and Liddell, and they decided to put more distance between Flier and those reefs, which would have been easily mineable.  Today’s charts, however, clearly show that the ocean floor drops steeply down near the reefs and comes up gradually near Comiran Island.  Liddell and Crowley tried to keep her as safe as they could, but this time, her luck ran out.

The remaining portions of the investigation/trial are detailed, and interesting, but maybe only to me.  There was a lot of questioning of Admiral Christie’s staff from this point forward, about intelligence gathering, known Japanese mines, how was information gathered and relayed to submarine COs, the risks of Natsubata Channel verses the other channels in the strait, on and on and on.  They even covered the history of Robalo’s CO, and called in the temporary COs of Robalo and Flier (these men were the CO while the real COs were on R&R and who remained onboard during all of the training sessions prior to patrol departure to observe the training and the abilities of the crews) to inquire how the crew and CO worked together, and how prepared the crews of these lost boats might or might not have been.

The conclusions reached by the investigation was that Flier and Robalo both had been given the best information possible, but their loss was officially attributed to “the fortunes of war”.  Both Admiral Christie and Commander Crowley were absolved of all fault regarding the loss of these boats and their crews, but Admiral Christie’s career had reached its zenith.  Shortly after this investigation, for unknown reasons, he was assigned to a new post: overseeing the Naval Yard in Bremerton Washington.  This sort of assignment was often given to admirals who were on their way to retirement, and despite the fact that four submarines (Flier, Robalo, Harder and USS Seawolf, sunk on 3 October in one of the few friendly fire incidents of WWII–carrying 17 Army Special Forces aboard) had been recently lost out of Fremantle, Christie had a good record of safety and support of his submarine crews.

It is possible that Christie simply got shuffled around in the normal rotation of things, but, while there are no written records, and no one willing to go on record, there were rumors that Christie may have been on the receiving end of some other admirals’ displeasure for the clean slate given to Christie and Crowley.  It’s also interesting to note that Admiral Daubin, the presiding officer, was also shortly relieved of the command of Atlantic Submarines (at which he also had been doing a laudable job) and moved to oversee the Naval Yard at New York.

Who knows?

But now the Navy had to sit and wait.  There were rumors of at least four survivors of the Robalo. Four men, Ensign Samuel Tucker, Signalman Wallace Martin, Quartermaster Floyd Laughlin, and Electrician’s Mate Mason Poston, had dropped a note from their Puerto Princesa prison cell on August 2, which had been smuggled out to the Allies.  Their current whereabouts were unknown.  There were also seven survivors of Flier who potentially could have swam to other islands and be living as castaways or captured.  In addition, Flier was believed to be in 40-50 fathoms of water (240-300 feet of water).  All submariners are trained to escape out of a disabled submarine at that depth, so if some of the Fliers had survived the crash into the seafloor and could reach the escape hatches, is was possible that more might surface after the war.  There was no way to tell.

But the families were going to have to be told something…

This particular Submarine Escape Training Tower is located in New London Connecticut at the Subamarine School. Every man was required to escape from the bottom of it to the top, learning how to use the various escape equipment. So it was possible, not likely, but possible, that other Fliers might have found their way to the surface after the Flier came to rest on the bottom. It would have been a potentially lethal and nearly impossible ascent, but with eight men already proving the impossible could happen, the Navy was willing to leave that door open for now.

The Robalo and the Coastwatchers

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jul 19 2010

Well the days of R&R for the Fliers and the Redfins are drawing to a close, so we’ ll leave them to their amusements and go to the Coastwatchers and the Robalo.

The Coastwatchers, who left the Redfin and landed on Ramos Island on June 8, found more trouble than they had been prepared for.  To begin with, it was the rainy season, and they day after they landed, it POURED.  Rain, plus electronic components wrapped in non-waterproof cases equals…well, nothing I can write here.

They had to open all the containers and spread everything out all over the  campsite to dry.  It was hot and extremely humid and as anyone who has ever tried to dry clothes on the line in those conditions, or in a steamy bathroom can tell you, it takes forever.

In the meantime, the local people found them.  One of the first men who found them was a Filipino who had escaped the Japanese Prison Camp at Puerto Princesa on Palawan.  He was the first to tell them about the conditions of the prisoners there.  He also told them that the Japanese were camped too close and that it was too dangerous to remain.  In addition, according to the official report, he told them to not trust any non Christians, since they will happily report their presence for little money.

On June 23, they moved to Mantangule Island, using several kumpits they hired for the journey.  They day after they landed on Mantangule, it rained.  Again.  They had to dry out all of their equipment.  Again.

While they were doing this, Sgt. Corpus left the camp in the care of Sgt. Palacido the second in command, to head for Brooke’s Point, to make contact with the guerilla command in that area.  He also had a message for one Mr. Edwards of Brooke’s Point (He’ll show up again).  It said that his two oldest girls had been safely delivered to the USA and college.

By July 6, when the Fliers were enjoying their first days of freedom and the Redfins were one day from Darwin and the Robalo was already four days past her final transmission, the Coastwatchers finally got their equipment dry enough to contact headquarters and tell them they were fine, and where they were now located.

On July 8, Sgt. Palacido de la Cruz of the Cape Baliluyan guerillas, George Marquez (remember these two, they’ll show up again) along with the police chief of Balabac City found the Coastwatchers on Mantangule, and listened to their first radio news broadcast since the war fell.  In the Philippines, it was easy to believe the Japanese were winning, since their grip was still tight, but it was rapidly breaking elsewhere.

Two days after that, Corpus returned from Brooke’s Point with Captain Nazario Mayor of the Brooke’s Point guerillas (and he’ll reappear too) along with his guerilla contingent with many kumpits and fishing boats, to move everyone to Brooke’s Point.  They said the Japanese, while not stationed on Mantangule, patrolled nearby regularly and would probably find the Coastwatchers before the month was out.  Considering how frequently everyone else found them, they might have been right.  Mayor even said he was shocked to find they were still alive.  He had all but convinced Corpus that his men were certainly killed or captured in the week he’d been gone.

So they packed up one more time, and headed to Brooke’s Point, landing sixty-six years ago today.  But already there was a disturbing rumor that Pasqual de la Cruz started to look into.

Robalo had not returned any calls or radioed her position.  No one was alarmed yet.  Some submarines went several days between transmissions, since it could be too dangerous if they were near an enemy installment.

But on or shortly after July 3, a story started to circulate among the native peoples of Balabac City that there had been four to six submariners that washed up on the beaches of Comiran Island.  Their submarine had exploded and sank in Lumbucan Channel, south of Comiran Island.  Two had been captured, at least two more shot while escaping or shot after capture, and possibly two escaping.  The story was very muddled, some saying only four had made it to Comiran, some four captured and two executed, some all six captured with no executions, and de la Cruz was on his way to Balabac Island to check the truth of this story.

Courtesy of the family of Al Jacobson, and Mr. Jacobson's trip to the Philippines to retrace his and the possibly Robalo survivors steps, we see here the actual beach of Comiran Island. This place is so tiny it doesn't matter how closely you zoom in on Google Earth, it won't show. The only two ways through Balabac Strait is either through Natsubata Channel north of this island, or Lumbucan Channel, south of it. If the 1944 rumors de la Cruz heard are true, Robalo might be under Lumbucan Channel. But some of those rumors listed other places she went down. The proper name for this island is Comiran, despite the caption above.

It was slow going, for apparently all witnesses to this story were Japanese, who obviously were not going to verify anything to him.  He found enough corroborating information to make him think the story was likely true in essentials, and he had some details to back it up.

It took most of the end of July and the first half of August, but he managed to get two surnames of the alleged captured submariners who were being held in Balabac City: Lieutenant Tucker and Quartermaster Martin.  He kept those names to himself as well as two more pieces of information he was able to glean: the name USS Robalo, and the fact her last point of call had been Port Darwin on or around June 29.  This trip took him some time, but it would end up likely saving the lives of some, if not all of the Flier survivors.

I thought a map of the current complex movements might help. You'll be looking at a lot of this area over the next six weeks. Please remember that until the wreck of the Robalo is found, that anything that may or may not have happened to her is part detective work, and mostly speculation.