Posts Tagged ‘USS Macaw’

A new Flier-related (sort of) website

Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 11 2011

I had a wonderful surprise today.  Every few weeks I Google the names of several ships that featured largely in Flier’s history: Robalo, Redfin, Jack, Harder, Silversides, Orion, and of course, Macaw.   Usually, I find nothing, occasionally a new photo.

But today, I found a whole new website about USS Macaw, written by the son of Macaw’s Executive Officer, the most senior officer who survived the sinking.  It was incredible to read through and see the photos of this scarcely known ship.  The one on the home page was the best for me, a photo of Macaw as she sat, grounded, at Midway.  Wow.  THIS is why I keep sifting through the Internet to find stuff on Flier and all her connections.

So, I hope you visit the USS Macaw Website.

P.S.  It seems that particular area of Midway’s channel was VERY dangerous. Not only Flier, Macaw and that water barge (see March 23rds entry) grounded there, but so did USS Tarpon, another submarine on December 10, 1942.

From the War Patrol Report of USS Tarpon: December 10. 1942

1018(Y):  Grounded just before entering channel to NOB, Midway, bering 166 1/2 (degrees) T from W. H-beam pile, distant 850 yards.  Particulars of grounding covered in seperate correspondence.

1034(Y): Backed clear, proceeded up channel

1100(Y): Moored NOB Midway.  Diver inspected underwater condition of hull.


You’d think, with this warning 13 months earlier, someone should have blown that channel a little wider in 1943!  The strangest thing of this tale has to be the Executive Officer and Navigator of Tarpon that morning was Paul Burton.

Who, 13 months later, would be at Midway.  Commanding the new Submarine Rescue Ship USS Macaw.

I wonder if he felt a shiver go down his spine that morning in December.  13 months later, an unlucky number that (Flier would also sink on August 13, yeesh) He would drown in nearly the same spot.

Flier’s grounding and the First of the Jim All’s films

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 17 2011

Hey everyone,

Sorry this has taken so long.   I’m having to finish the design for the potential exhibit in the next two weeks, and a few other, family related issues have swallowed my time.  I am sorry, I’ve been hating how little time I’ve had to devote to this blog lately.

But I hope the following will at least partially make up for the prolonged absence.

First, I thought for those who have never taken a look at Midway Atoll,  that you might be interested in just how Flier wound up grounded at Midway when so many other submarines came in and out of Midway all through WWII with little trouble.  I ended up doing a lot of research to help myself out here, and I’m indebted to Michael Sturma of Murdoch University in Australia not only for his excellent book, USS Flier: Death and Survival on a WWII Submarine, but also because he kindly forwarded a digital copy of the JAG investigation and transcript into this incident.

Reading about this incident in the Deck Logs and Sturma’s book was one thing, reading it, in the men’s own words, was another thing completely.  It brought new insights I hadn’t thought of.  Between the Deck Logs, the JAG Transcript and Sturma’s book, I put together a little video about how, exactly, Flier ended up on the reef.

Following this incident, and the tow back to Pearl, Crowley would be found responsible for Flier’s damage, but then again, a skipper is responsible for his ship and all of his crew.  He could have been asleep when this happened, and still be found responsible.  The fact that the investigation panel decided that even though he was responsible, it was through no fault of his own, nor negligence, or anything that could be helped.  In short, he’s responsible, but only because he had to be found such.  They permitted him to retain command of Flier, which says a lot about their opinion of his command abilities, and I’m sure, was a great vote of confidence for Crowley himself.

Jim Alls was on that patrol the day Flier ran aground.  For those who don’t know, Mr. Alls came to the Flier Memorial service in Muskegon this past August.  To my knowledge, he’s the only known Flier crewman still alive.  He was there the day she was commissioned and is listed among the commissioning crew, and remained with her until just a few days before Flier left Fremantle on her final, fateful patrol.  The only reason he didn’t go with her was he had his jaw smashed in by a New Zealand soldier a few days before departure.  All submariners are still required to be in peak condition before leaving on patrol, so Alls was left behind in Freo, with a retainer on him so he would re-join Flier’s crew as soon as he was cleared and she was back in port.

And of course, she never came back.

He’s amazing.  I mean, here’s a guy who lies about his age to join the military at 15 years old (making him 16 years old when this happens) then spends the next several years on the most dangerous and complicated equipment in the world in the middle of a war zone.  He has a great memory too, especially about these guys.  I got to interview him and his wife back in November, and he told story after story, about the men, gilly, Panama, Pearl Harbor, poker games, working in the engine rooms, and on and on and on.  Just incredible.

Since he was there the day they were at Midway, I asked him about it.  The thing that stuck out most in his mind was the surgery performed on Waite Daggy, and the burial of James Cahl.  I’m still working on the Cahl film, but here, in the words of someone who was there, is how surgery ended up being performed on a grounded submarine being thrashed by a winter storm.

And because I just can’t help myself, here’s a funny little bit about what happens when you screw up a Christmas Turkey on a submarine…

In case you’re wondering, I tend to complete these and upload them to YouTube as I find time, but it may be a while before they show up here.  As a result, all three of these movies have been available for two days to two weeks.  If you’re interested in seeing them as soon as I upload them, you can subscribe to the ussflierproject account, and YouTube will keep you advised as to when I upload these.  I will eventually feature them here, as I can and it fits, but there you go.


First Book Excerpt: Chapter 2: Remembering Midway

The Book | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 14 2010

For those who have been curious to read portions of my book, here we go.  I’d appreciate CONSTRUCTIVE help only.  If you think there’s a problem, please be specific.  I don’t want to stop doing this because a lot of people just want to say “This Sucks!” and leave it at that.  Not helpful.  If you think it’s good, tell me, if you think there are places where I could use some clarification, or it’s too wordy, or anything else tell me that too.

For my submariner friends out there, let me know if this sounds like something that could have happened in a sub.  The tons of research I have to do in order to attempt to depict submarine culture is no match for your experience.  Let me know if I got it right, wrong, or how to fix it.

This is a large excerpt from Chapter 2: Gateway to War.  The Flier is now north of Australia, on her way to Lombok Strait, the dividing line from Allied to disputed waters.  Al, off duty, is passing through the Mess Hall on his way back to his cabin, when he gets caught up in the conversation between two of Flier’s “plankowners”  (these are men of a submarine’s original crew, the one that she was commissioned with).  They end up  telling the new hand, Elton Brubaker, 17 years old and on his first tour, about the time Flier grounded at Midway, over several hands of poker.

To read the excerpt, click here, or check out the Book Excerpt page for the link at the bottom.

If you don’t want to leave a comment publicly, please feel free to e-mail me at

USS Macaw Conclusion–Pt. 2

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 14 2010

By 2:30 am, the situation on the Macaw was desperate.  The air in the pilothouse was foul from the steady depletion of oxygen.  According to witnesses on Midway, some men were desperate enough to climb up to Macaw’s Crow’s Nest.  Search and Rescue parties were being organized on Eastern Island, but had to wait for daylight.

Water was washing into the pilothouse and breaking over the roof.  The men of the Macaw were trapped and it was only a matter of time before their options ran out.

Macaw's near sister ship, Florikan (the one that towed Flier back to Pearl). Macaw would have appeared similar to this before she grounded.

The men grabbed whatever floatation device or piece of wreck they thought would float, and threw themselves into the sea, likely praying to God that they would see morning.

By dawn’s light, the search for survivors began.  Men were found washed up of reefs, clinging to buoys, even deep in the lagoon miles away.  Seventeen survivors in all.

Sadly, five men, including Macaw’s CO were not found, and are presumed lost at sea.

And now, Macaw posed an even bigger hazard.  Sunk in the middle of the channel, she was tall enough that her masts protruded above the water, and her superstructure lurked just below, to snag or puncture the hull of any vessel entering or leaving.  She was going to have to be moved, or destroyed.  It took eight months, 1,068 diving hours, and nearly a ton and a half of explosives, but eventually, most of Macaw was reduced to a twisted, flattish mass of metal deep enough beneath the surface to allow ships to safely pass over her grave.  Her loss was officially announced on March 20, 1944.

Midway Island remained an active Naval base for a number of years, finally closing in 1993.  Today, it is maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which keeps a staff on the islands, and, since 1996, has permitted people to visit Midway, though tourism is restricted to 100 people on the islands any given day.

It is a bird sanctuary, a protected fish lagoon, and is one of the last pristine environments.  The Wreck of the Macaw is one of the diving sites available for non-invasive touring.  Despite the shallow depth of the Macaw (25 ft. at the bow, 55 ft at the stern) conditions at the mouth of the channel make diving her impossible for all but the very skilled most days.  (The weather needs to be calm and it needs to be high tide before she can be safely visited) Her bow is the only recognizable portion.

The Bow of the USS Macaw

The wreck was thoroughly (and non-invasively) explored and documented in 2003, and is protected and maintained by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Incidentally, a water barge broke loose from its mooring and wrecked on the approximate location of Flier in 1957.  It too, can only be visited occasionally during the season.

For more information,

USS Macaw–Consclusion pt. 1

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 13 2010

While Flier was still wending her way back to the States to be repaired and overhauled, another storm hit Midway Islands.

Macaw had remained hard aground for nearly three and a half weeks, thwarting every attempt to budge her. Twenty-five feet of her stern projected into the carefully cleared channel, not obstructing it, but posing a grave threat in all be the calmest of weather.  Ships and submarines had to carefully nudge past her when they came for fuel or repairs.  During bad weather, many vessels chose to stay outside Midway until the weather cleared (sometimes days later) or pass Midway altogether.

Satellite Photo of Midway Island with a marker showing the approximate location of the Macaw (and earlier, Flier) wreck. Note how close it is to the channel, with the Eastern Buoys missing, it would be easy to think you were in the channel, when you were about to run aground.

Most of Macaw’s crew had long since evacuated, and some of their places were taken by salvage crews from Midway itself, and the salvage vessel USS Clamp (Which had already been en route to Midway for other salvage operations).  It was looking like Macaw might never come free, so the best option was to remove and salvage as much of her equipment as possible and disassemble the hull to clear the channel.

Then the storm hit, and accomplished what had been deemed impossible: move the Macaw.

First she listed, then she began to slide backward into deep water.  The crew onboard were told not to abandon ship, since it was feared that the men would be crushed on the reef, or killed by the violent weather before they could clear the Macaw herself, but soon, Macaw was sliding into the deep water of the channel, and the crew climbed higher and higher into her superstructure and pilot house.

Captain Paul Burton had twenty-two lives  and his own in his hands, and the best he could do was try to keep his crew high enough to keep clear of the pounding waves.  But as midnight approached, and Macaw slid deeper into the canal, the waves broke over her deck, her superstructure, and were licking their way up to the pilothouse where the men sheltered.

All those on Midway could do was keep spotlights on the Macaw and watch.

Career in Crosshairs

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 04 2010

Originally Posted February 2, 2010

Sixty-six years ago this week, Captain John Crowley of USS Flier was facing one of the worst and likely most humiliating events of his life. His career hung on a thread, and he probably thought that his career as a wartime captain was over.

It wasn’t the first time a submarine had grounded at Midway. But the results had not been good for a commanding officer. On 13 August, 1943, almost exactly five months earlier, the USS Scorpion, which had been training near Midway for her third patrol, grounded on the reef. It took five hours and one tugboat to remove her, and that short period of time damaged enough of the hull and ballast tanks that Scorpion was forced to return to Pearl Harbor for repairs. Scorpion’s Commanding Officer and Executive Officer were both relieved of command.

Flier had been grounded for six days. Her grounding had lead directly to the grounding of the six-month old Macaw (and since Macaw was still hard aground, Crowley faced the possibility he would be held partially responsible for her eventual loss if she could not be recovered). One of his crewmen had died. It didn’t look good.

The Official Board of Investigation (one step down from a Court Martial) was convened on the Submarine Tender Bushnell on February 1. The first day, the convening officers visited Flier, now high and dry in the drydocks at Pearl Harbor. The tally was immense, and Flier looked like she’d been worked over by a severe attack. Major damage had been sustained to the flat keel, vertical keel and bilge keels, as well as the rudder, port strut, port propeller shaft, both propellers and the main ballast tanks. Moderate damage was sustained to the hull frames, tank bulkheads, stern torpedo tubes, reduction gears, liquidometer, and fathometer. In addition, the saltwater cooling system to the engines was thoroughly clogged with coral dust.

Flier could float, but that was about it. Her props couldn’t turn, she couldn’t shoot stern torpedoes, she couldn’t measure the depth of the water around her, her engines could start, but would quickly overheat, and her internal frames which would keep her from collapsing in on herself in deep water were compromised.

Final cost of repairs: $312,000, (nearly 11% of her original build cost!) and Flier would have to be shipped to California–she was too damaged to fix at Pearl.

It was going to be a long few days.