Posts Tagged ‘USS Flier Survivors’

Enemy Surprise

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 30 2010

It was the morning of departure.  After Captain Austin and Captain Crowley finalized the last steps to evacuation the message went out to the local people:  if you’re coming, you have 12 hours to get rid of your possessions and report to the base.

The Coastwatchers, of course, were staying.  All of them being on Filipino descent, they at least LOOKED the part, even if they could not speak the language in a tight corner.

Despite being American and having two daughters attending college in the US, Mr. Edwards and his wife and youngest daughter decided to stay too.  Mrs. Edwards, being local to the area, could rely on her family and people to hide her husband if necessary, and the Edwards felt that they could still do a lot of good for the people of the Brooke’s Point area.

The Sutherlands reported to the clearing early in the morning.  Alastair Sutherland was agog that his prayers had come true so precisely, and they were about to go on a submarine.  George, Red and Charlie were ready, as was Henry Garretson, as well as a new member of the party.

He was tall and thin, and likely spoke with an Scandinavian accent.  his name was Vens Taivo Kierson, born in Finland, emigrated with his family to the northwest US when he was about 15, and now experienced world traveler.  He actually left school to become a topper for a lumber company that felled trees for Boeing to build their plane frames.  When aircraft manufacturers started to build frames from steel rather than lumber, he learned to salvage dive and moved to Alaska.  He received a huge bonus from one of his clients when he recovered something from a recent shipwreck which enabled him to tour the Pacific.  Soon, he began working salvage in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and the Philippines.  He fought the Japanese during the (what is now known as) First Battle of Shanghai in 1932, helped the Philippine Army until the invasion of Manila and was Garretson’s partner in the salvage of the SS Panay. Why had the Fliers not seen him before now?

He had been conducting a scouting and trading mission around the island.  A couple of months earlier, a Japanese ship grounded.  The crew got off, but couldn’t take any of the cargo with them.  Kierson salvaged pretty much everything that could be carried off  the ship before the official salvage team could get there.  This haul of rifles, medicine, money, liquor, food stuffs, paper, charts and more was a godsend, and Keirson set off on a tour of the island, gathering intelligence, trading the goods for other needed items and checking in with the local guerrilla factions.

He had one other talent: transforming Japanese mines into ammunition.

Japanese mines of the time period were designed to deactivate if they came loose from their chains and floated to the surface.  This was obviously because a floating mine was dangerous to everyone, friend or foe.  Occasionally, one of these loose mines would come to rest on the beaches of Palawan.  Using a technique he’d invented and developed on Negros, Kierson would dismatle the thing to get at the black powder charge which he would put in the empty ammo shells and top with small, carefully selected and shaped pebbles for bullets, thus keeping the guerrillas on Palawan in ammunition after the official stuff had long since be used up.  It was more than tricky work, and those mines, as it turned out, rarely deactivated when they popped up on the surface, so deactivating the mines was a tricky and dangerous business.

He taught the guerrillas everything he knew, and now, with an opportunity to escape, the guerrillas were insisting that Kierson leave for his own protection.

Eight Fliers, the four Sutherlands, Charlie, Red, George, Garretson and Kierson…seventeen extra people  on an already crowded boat, and more than half unqualified and/or civilians, on patrol for who knows how long.  If Redfin had been assigned a similar length of patrol as Flier, they still had about three or four weeks left.

After breakfast, the group set off for the beach, the Flier’s feet now healed enough that most of them walked a good distance down the mountain.

But an ugly surprise waited for them:  that morning, a Japanese shipping vessel dropped anchor offshore, less than a mile from the planned rendezvous point.  Even more eerie, no one could see any sailors on the decks or pilothouse, it was as if she was abandoned.

Had they been found out?  Was the Maru waiting for Redfin to show herself before blowing them all away?  Was she bait for the rest of the convoy, lying in wait somewhere out of sight?

No one knew, but the three officers of Flier had to make a decision.  If the maru didn’t move by nightfall, would they try to make for the rendezvous point anyway, hoping the maru would miss them in the darkness?  Should they skip the attempt tonight and hope the maru would move during the night or next day and they can try again the following night on the backup date?

In the end, the officers decided to ask the civilians if they would be willing to risk the trip tonight, keeping the small boats further away from the maru and the rendezvous point than previously planned, and using the radio Howell fixed to call Redfin, since there was no way they could safely hang the lanterns in the lighthouse for the “all safe” signal to get Redfin to show herself.    The civilians quickly agreed to try that night.

After sunset, and farewells for a bunch of people who likely would never see each other again, the small crafts took off.   They headed south before looping west in a great arc, keeping a safe distance from the maru.  Howell kept calling with the radio, trying to raise the Redfin, then trying CW Keying (a variation on telegraph) in case there was something wrong.

After an hour of trying to raise the Redfin, Howell suddenly heard a staticy message.  Redfin couldn’t see them, and the CW Keying was coming through more clearly.  Howell abandoned the voice radio to concentrate on the CW Keying, while Russo grabbed a flashlight (some accounts say a shuttered lantern) and began to signal to the Redfin with it.

An hour passed, then another.  It was now midnight.  There was no sign of the Redfin, and no sign of life from the strange maru anchored too closely for comfort.

On to the next island

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

The Fliers woke early the next morning after another miserable, shivering night, and trudged to the east end of the island.  No storms had come to their island in the night, though several had passed all around them, so Jacobson’s shells were still empty, and there was no water.

Liddell and Russo, football players in their school days, pulled vines down from the jungle on the island and the rest tried to assemble a small raft from the tangle of driftwood.  It couldn’t be too large, or the aerial patrols would see it, but too small, not everyone could hang on to it.

In the end, from the descriptions, it sounds like they created a long narrow “deck” of bamboo staves lashed together, with an outrigger frame.  Two men could straddle the deck and paddle (and they created makeshift paddles and found two long poles too), while the other six could hang on to the frame and swim and push the raft along.

The plane flew over in the morning,  and the men simply retreated to the shade of the trees both times, hoping that if the pilot saw anything, he just saw a bunch of driftwood on the beach.  But it never so  much as twitched from its normal path.

Liddell, once the raft was close to finished, likely borrowed Crowley’s watch and used it to look for slack tide.  Slack tide, for those that missed the Lombok Strait entry, is the point at the height of high tide and the lowest point of low tide where the currents caused by a tide slow, stop (as tide reaches the greatest point) then reverse and eventually gain speed.   If they started to swim just before slack, they would be swept away, but not far, and would be swept back when the tides reversed.  Liddell threw small twigs and sticks into the fast flowing channel between them and the next island, timing how fast each twig was swept away.

When he figured the tides were slowing, they hauled the raft into the surf, and Crowley and Howell took the first shift rowing.  The drop off was quick and the currents were still fast, and they were quickly swept south as they crossed the channel.

One third the way across, they heard the afternoon patrol plane overhead, and watched her approach, waiting until she was nearly on top of them to dive under the raft.  This plane flew placidly away too, and they quickly started back for their new beach.

A storm swept over them, and the men opened their mouths to the sky, trying to catch the rain.  Jacobson remembered that the big, heavy drops seemed to fall everywhere except his mouth.  It passed as quickly as it came, hitting their new island.  Jacobson thought longingly about the shells he spread out the night before and wished that someone else had been so considerate on the new island.

The tide changed, the current switched directions and soon they were being swept north of their island and had to pull hard to land on the rocky beach on the north west tip.  They had been swimming for hours and landed after sunset, burrowing into the sand, trying to get some sleep.

It was day three.

For those that were at the Memorial Weekend and whom I had the pleasure and honor of meeting, I just want to say, I enjoyed meeting all of you and getting to hear all your stories, even though many were so sad.  It really did feel like a family, and I hope that we do get together in a year or two, perhaps when the new exhibit opens!

I’ll be making changes to the site in the next few weeks.  Don’t worry, I’ll keep the blog up, but I’m hoping to add some things that will help us keep in touch with each other.