Posts Tagged ‘USS Puffer’


The Book, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Sep 15 2010

In light of the fact that the trial was quite long and easily bogged down, and I’m in the midst of a bunch of family stuff that cannot be put off, we will no longer be following the Flier on the 66th anniversary.  The Board of Investigation into the loss of Flier and Robalo began on Thursday, September 14, 1944, and continued to Saturday, September 16.  A day or so later, the men started their journeys back to the US where they were going to be debriefed, thoroughly interviewed by the press (though with strict guidlelines about what could and could not be said, leading to some interesting news articles), then each to 30 days leave with his family then back to service, whether aboard Submarines or not would be up to the men.

While all this was going on, and before the men were allowed to write many letters home, the news of Flier’s demise was slowly leaking out.  Like the service today, the Navy wanted to wait  until they had informed the family members (by letter or telegraph) before the official announcement, but the fact that there were survivors of the Flier lead to articles saying most or all of the crew had been saved, leading to some crushed hopes for many people stateside.

Since this story will now become so complex, I’ll be spacing things out a bit for a few weeks.  I hope you’ll find it interesting, but it takes the pressure off of me to stay on timeline and allows me to NOT write mini-novels every day for the next two weeks.  We’ll catch up and start doing some more stuff again soon.

Oh, by the way, The “Look Inside” thing is up one my book at, so you can check it out.  The Kindle version will be coming soon (provided I don’t shoot Adobe InDesign).

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog entry…The men reported to the “courtroom” such as it was, aboard Submarine Tender Eurayle.

The last time Captain Crowley had faced a panal of people questioning his ability to command the Flier, he acted as his own defense attorney.  This time, he opted for representation and requested Commander Charles “Herb” Andrews, commanding officer of USS Gurnard who had pulled into Fremantle at about the same time the Flier’s had returned.  He had also been “recruited” into this position less than 12 hours before, so this was going to be interesting for him.

Admiral Christie, likewise, opted for counsel and requested George Patterson to stand with him.

The first morning was a lot of preliminary items.  Crowley confirmed that he was the Commanding Officer at the time Flier was lost.  Admiral Christie confirmed that he was the person who assigned Flier and Robalo the routes they took.

Admiral Christie was the first one in the hot seat.  He was thoroughly questioned by Admiral Daubin about how and why submarines were routed to their various posts from Fremantle.   The reasons why various submarines were routed the ways they were routed were really complex. Even the phases of the moon were taken into account (because the phases could impact depths of water and strengths of tides during various points in the phases) when planning submarine routes.  No submarine could travel with another, no route could become a beaten path lest the enemy start to patrol more often.

Balabac, as it came out during the trial, was fairly well traveled, and had been crossed over 40 times in the 18 or so months since Christie commanded Fremantle.  (about 2-3 times a month)  During the investigation, Christie even referenced the fact that since the first suspicions that Balabac might be mined back in February, the Crevalle (three times), Tinosa, Puffer, Ray Bluefish, Bonefish, Roblalo (during her last completed patrol)and Lapon had all safely crossed Balabac and, as a matter of fact, the route Crevalle used when she crossed it in 8 May 1944 was given to BOTH Flier and Robalo to help them get through the strait (the route is listed point by point in the records).

With the loss of the Flier on the heels of the suspected loss of the Robalo, Balabac was ordered closed until further notice.

Christie also listed the reasons why each submarine was routed through the various places and the disadvantages to each when the decision so send this boat this way and that boat that way were made.  How depths and currents made some places unminable but more traffiked and patrolled.  How Balabac strait could be crossed through a number of channels:  Middle, Main, Lumbucan and Natsubata, but only Natsubata could not be mined in the deep water routes, which is why all submarine captains were recommended to cross there.  It was well known that the water in Natsubata was over 100 fathoms (600 feet) deep everywhere, though a strong cross current was also there, pushing submarines west.

Next up, was Captain Crowley, and we start learning more about what all happened that night…

USS Flier: Court continued

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
May 24 2010

So now we return to the cases of Chester Payne and John Cowie, but first, a map.  Yes, I finally got Google Earth up and running again.  Well, sort of, my wonderful hubby found it and got it up and running for me.  Thanks hun!

Here you can see Flier's approximate route from Pearl to Johnston Island for refueling. They went south for only a short time before turning west. Over the course of the two days it took to get there, she went 733 miles and went through 11,446 gallons of diesel.

That’s not your imagination, Johnston Atoll really is in the middle of no where.  It’s so remote and unvisited that there is no evidence for any native people ever living there, and, following WWII, the military used Johnston Atoll to store and then dismantle a variety of chemical weapons.  Today, it’s a Wildlife Refuge and administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, much like Midway Atoll.

See? Middle of Nowhere.

So that is where Flier is (or was, sixty-six years ago) located.  Back to our story.

There are three types of Court Martials, which is the name for a military court.  If you were a fan of the TV show JAG, what you mostly saw where the two more serious types of court martials, a Special and General Court Martial which was judged by  a panel of officers.  A Summary Court Martial, which is the type on the Flier today, is more informal, judged by one officer (in this case, Lt. Liddell) and the accused is not permitted legal counsel, though they are encouraged to present evidence, interview and cross-examine witnesses and testify or remain silent at their choice.  They also have the right to refuse the Summary Court Martial, though I suspect that would lead to a full-blown Special Court Martial.  But, if you felt the officer judging you would not be impartial, or you wanted legal counsel,  I suppose that was an option.

Depending on the rank of the accused, punishment can range from confinement, hard labor for 45 days, loss of some pay,restrictions, or even demotion in rank.

John Cowie, apparently disobeyed a lawful order while the Flier was on a practice run on 12 May.  What happened is not recorded in the Deck Log, and as they were not yet on patrol there are no War Patrol Reports to draw on.  What happened in the hours leading up to the Captain’s Mast which lead to this Summery Court Martial was a practice radar approach, a battle simulation with the crew firing water slugs out of the Forward Torpedo Tubes, and quick dives and course changes.  As an Electrician’s Mate, I have no idea what legal order Cowie might have defied.

Chester Payne might have been an interesting case.  An African-American from Ohio, Payne was likely stuck in a world that both valued him and disrespected him depending on where he was.

It’s no secret that the navy was fairly well segregated in WWII.  African-American sailors were often assigned to hazardous duty focused on manual labor or, if they were assigned to ships, were often restricted to the “simple” jobs in the Galley as cooks, bakers, mess attendants, and Stewards.   In the submarine service, this presented a rather funny paradox, because these African American sailors were not excused from becoming a qualified submariner.  So while officially limited to supposedly simple job ratings, they were also expected to be able to fire a torpedo, fix an engine, aim and fire a weapon, or any other of the hundreds of complex jobs and understand the hundreds of complex systems aboard a submarine. So in terms of technical aptitude, these sailors were just as able as their white counterparts.  In fact, the officers and COs of Halibut, Trigger, Drum and Haddock specifically sited  several of their African American sailors with serving with distinction during enemy attacks and the two African American sailors on the Puffer, James Pruitt and James Patton were instrumental in helping their boat and crewmates survive the infamous 38 hours depth charge attack.

Secondly, the food aboard a submarine was far more important than on a Navy base or surface ship.  One of the ways the Navy offered perks to the men who might volunteer on a submarine was submariners got the best food available.  Each submarine was given nearly twice the amount of per man/per day money to purchase food stores than a surface ship. My grandfather, who wasn’t on submarines, refused to touch Spam or any other kind of canned meat from the moment he got home, until he died at the age of 89, because he ate it so much during WWII.  Meanwhile, we have records and recipes showing submariners were getting barbecued pork, shrimp creole, teriyaki steak, roast beef and mashed potatoes, pizza, anything they wanted (including an ice cream machine for homemade ice cream.)  The galley staff, in a way, were the heart and soul on a submarine, and their skills highly prized.

So aboard a submarine, African American sailors often found a good measure of equality, and when they went on shore leave with their crew mates, they were billeted in the same hotels or accomdations, often with their white crewmates as roommates.

But step outside the submarine base, or the submariner’s hotel, and they stepped back into a world of strict separations, despite the Naval Uniform.  More than one African American sailor got into trouble displaying–sometimes unwittingly–the freedom and respect he had earned and enjoyed on boat in the wrong quarters of town.

It was a very fine line to walk, but African American sailors acquitted themselves so well, that following WWII and the rapid desegregation of the military by President Truman in 1948, many shot to positions of prominence and authority.

So what did Chester Payne do?  We may never know.  He might have done something innocent or unknowingly that was taken wrongly by the locals in Honolulu.  He might have done something on purpose to make a point, or might have gotten drunk, who knows?  The record does not say.  What it does say is he fought with shore patrol and knocked them overboard (possibly indicating they chased him down to the warf and/or onto the Flier herself), and Captain Crowley decided that the charges were serious enough and the evidence clear enough to warrant a Summery Court Martial.

The two cases took an hour and twenty-five minutes, and the record says this about the conclusion: “…adjourned at 1045 to await action of convening authority.”  Nothing more is said about this case in either the deck log or war patrol reports.

What did Lt. Liddell decide?  Both men were aboard for the second patrol, so he obviously did not decide to remove the men from the boat.   Cowie, during the second patrol, is still an EM2c, though Payne is listed as aCk3c (Cook Third Class rather than Seaman First Class,) and I’m afraid I’m not knowlegable enough in military rankings to know if that’s a lateral move, a demotion, promotion or a job description rather than ranking.  The results are probably in the men’s naval records.

Two and a half hours after the Summery Court Martial, Flier approached Johnston Island to refuel, guided in by one of Johnston’s pilots, Lt. LAMB, USN, who, in the balmy weather, was transferred aboard with no problem, unlike Midway.  They left after only three hours with a full tank of fuel, and set a course for 293 degrees True, a little west-northwest.  She was on her way to the Philippines.

An article about African American sailors in the submarine service in WWII, and a book based about those experiences.