Posts Tagged ‘USS Silversides’

USS Trigger Fades into the sea

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 30 2010

In 1941, three fearsome sisters were being constructed at Mare Island: The Silversides, the Trigger and the Wahoo.   They were sisters in every respect, they were built in the same yard, they were numbered consecutively (Silversides: SS-236; Trigger: SS-237; Wahoo: SS-238)  They were launched and commissioned within weeks of each other, and they looked like each other, down to the limber holes and lookout rings.

And according to Edward Beach, no three sisters created more havoc for the Japanese.  Between them, they sank 62 Japanese ships totaling 236,670 tons.  At least one CO from each sister is a top-scoring WWII submarine commander.

Wahoo went down in 1943, but the Trigger almost made it.  She made 12 patrols, and sank 18 ships for a total of 86,552 tons.  (This makes her the 11th most successful submarine in terms of ships sunk and 7th most successful in terms of amount of tons sunk.)

USS Trigger rigged out with her bunting just after she was launched at Mare Island.

In March of 1945, the war was drawing to a close.  The Philippines had been retaken.  There was a new submarine base at Guam so the subs didn’t have to travel all the way to Australia to re-fuel (a change not exactly welcomed by the crews: there were not many women on Guam and forget the pubs, bars, and theaters!).  Trigger, under the command of her fourth and brand new CO, David R. Connole, left Guam for her newest patrol area: near and around the Ryukyu Islands of Japan.  Two of the islands in this chain were Iwo  Jima, which was in the midst of the Marine Invasion, and Okinawa, which was next on the list.

She sank two ships, and was closely observing convoys through a particular strait (trying to figure out where the safe passage around the minefields were) when HQ ordered her to join a Wolf Pack (a group of submarines working together) named Earl’s Eliminators.  (The Sea Dog and Threadfin operating under the command of Sea Dog’s CO Earl T. Hydeman).

Later that day, she sent in a weather report, but no acknowledgment that she’d heard her orders.  HQ re-sent the message.  She never responded.  She was ordered to proceed to Midway on April 4, but did not respond.  When she hadn’t been heard from or arrived in Midway (or anywhere) by May 1, she was considered “overdue and presumed lost”.

After the war, a cross reference of Japanese ship records and American submarine records revealed Trigger’s likely fate:    A Japanese plane had spotted a submarine and lead two destroyers to the spot, where they attacked until an oil slick appeared on the surface (usually a sign of a ruptured and sunken sub).  Nearby, the Silversides, Hackleback, Threadfin and Sea Dog all heard the depth charges, but only Threadfin was lightly attacked.  Silversides heard the death of her second sister, without knowing it for nearly another year.

Trigger has never been found.  She does, however, live on in an unusual manner:

One of Trigger’s most famous crewmen was Edward L. Beach.  He was an officer assigned aboard during her commissioning, and was the last of these original officers to leave the Trigger over two years later.  He had served as her Executive Officer for one of those years.

Following the war, Beach, who had transferred to the Tirante before the fateful 12th patrol, continued to command submarines, including becoming the First Commanding Officer of Trigger II in 1952.

But what he’s now known for is his writing.  He wrote “Run Silent, Run Deep”, a novel based on fictional submarines, but the Trigger he immortalized in his second book, SUBMARINE!  Her men will forever live on in these pages.

The Memorial Page for Trigger’s final crew

The Unsung Heroes of the Submarine Service:The Submarine Tender

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 05 2010

One question I was frequently asked when I worked at the Silversides was “Why are submarines “boats” and other ships “ships”?

Make no mistake, subs are boats, not ships, and if you call a sub a ship in a submariner’s hearing, they are sure to correct you, maybe gently, maybe humorously, but they WILL correct you.

If any water vessel is deployed from a larger vessel, the smaller vessel is called a boat and the larger vessel is a ship.  The very earliest submarines were often unable to operate for long distances, so if they needed to be transported long distances, they were hauled aboard a large ship, hence the original term “boat” for a submarine stuck around long after submarines were capable of going places large surface ships couldn’t manage.

An example of the initial ship-boat relationship. This is the USS Caesar, transporting submarines to the Philippines from Virginia 1908-1909. The two subs on board are either Shark and Porpoise (SS-8 and SS-7) which would date the photo to April-June 1908 or Adder and Moccasin (SS-3 and SS-5) which would date the photo to July-October 1909.

This symbiotic relationship soon lead to a subset of the Submarine Force:  The Submarine Tender.  Foot for foot, the submarine is the most complex piece of equipment in the Navy, and needs experienced technicians to repair and maintain them.  Early sub were used for coastal defenses, and had little to no room for provisions, bunks, or living space, so crews would come back at the end of the day.  As submarines moved about, the ships on which they were moved became the homes for the submarine crews and the base from which repairs were made, provisions were acquired, and eventually, these type of “mother ships” evolved into a new ship class within the Navy:  The Submarine Tender.

These ships were traveling submarine bases.  Provided the boat didn’t need to be dry-docked, the submarine tender could repair, re-load, restock, refuel,  replace personnel, and send the submarine back out.  The Submarine Tender could drop anchor and turn any port into a submarine base in a matter of hours to days, and after Pearl Harbor, these ships became the front lines of the war in many ways.  As the Allies pushed further into the Pacific and took back territory, a submarine tender could be sent in to a newly liberated area and create a submarine base days closer to the front, shaving days off a patrol and turn-around time between sub patrols.

It was the Submarine Tender Holland that pulled up stakes and raced south to Fremantle, establishing a new base.  By the time Redfin dropped anchor there two years and a half years later, two sub tenders, the Orion and the Griffen were the heart of the US Submarine Base.  Other submarine tenders established or enhanced bases at  Pearl Harbor, Brisbane, Midway Island, Guam, Saipan, Majuro Atoll, Marianas Islands, Dutch Harbor Alaska,  and more.

WWII was probably the Golden Age of the submarine tender.  Between training, salvage, repair, and tending duties, 28 tenders served, and 4 were lost.  A submarine tender, Pigeon, was the first naval vessel to earn the Presidential Unit Citation for towing and saving the submarine Seadragon from her burning warf during the Japanese bombing of Cavite Bay.  Pigeon won a second one a few days later.  Another tender, Canopus, feigned being an abandoned hulk off the coast of the Philippines during the Japanese invasion, while repairing and reprovisioning submarines by night.  She was later scuttled to keep her out of enemy hands after the surrender of Bataan.  The Orlotan helped raise and repair ships in Pearl Harbor and then helped salvage Japanese submarines off Guadalcanal.

As technology advanced, submarines became more self-reliant, and when repairs beyond the submarine’s crew were needed, they could be accomplished in port or in dry-dock.  There are only two submarine tenders left in the Navy’s arsenal, USS Emory S. Land, and USS Frank Cable, both are over 30 years old, and have no replacements planned.

The USS Orion in a photo dated September 1944, likely at Mios Woendi. Here you see the "Mother Ship" configuration with her nest of submarines which she was tending.

in 1944, the Orion was the tender that re-fitted the Redfin and Flier as they sat next to each other before Flier’s last patrol, and Griffen could have repaired the Redfin and Robalo.  Without these ships, submarines would have been more limited and more vulnerable.

For more information about Submarine Tenders, check out A Tender Tale:

Under the Golden Gate

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

So where was Flier 66 years ago today?

She was passing under the Golden Gate Bridge and churning the final few miles to the Naval Base at Mare Island.  Mare Island was the West Coast’s submarine base, they were building and launching several a month, in addition to the scheduled overhauls most long-serving submarines were scheduled for every two years or so.  They had building ways for the new construction, dry docks for the overhauls and repairs of any kind.  Every kind of laborer, shipwright, welder, metalsmith, and technician was employed at Mare Island, and they churned out submarines, ships and any kind of naval vessel you could think of at an amazing rate.

The USS Silversides and USS Trigger under contruction at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, where Flier was headed. (Though in actuality, these photographs were taken over two years before Flier's grounding.)

Mare had been a Naval Base since shortly after California’s entrance into the US.  It built and repaired boats for the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII (it was built up immensely to handle the demand for services by the Navy), Korea and Vietnam.

Flier would spend the next two months up on blocks, being thoroughly checked, overhauled, and made fit again.

It would not be cheap, nor easy, and Crowley, like any other submarine captain, would be right there every day overseeing all of it.  Submarine captains were allowed and encouraged to make numerous decisions about their submarine and her fittings every time they were in port.  Where the guns the sub was assigned would be mounted.  How the ladders going up and down the floors would be mounted (I once lead a Trigger veteran through the Silversides and he remarked how rare it was to see a ladder mounted on the long side of the hatch, instead of on the short side, as the Trigger’s was) or anything else they wanted.

While Flier was in port, she would have the latest technology installed in her if any of her systems were out of date (they were, computers then being like computers now, on the cutting edge for the blink of an eye), and anything else desired.

A Pen and Ink Drawing by Sckirken showing a submarine in Dry Dock #1 at Mare Island. Flier would have looked soemthing like this while undergoing repairs.

Most of the crew, since they had not been out for a patrol yet, would remain attached to the Flier, though many of them would be sent home to visit for several weeks while she was up  on blocks.  In retrospect, that was probably a good thing.

Al, meanwhile, was still in Submarine School, still wondering who his first sub would be.  An established warrior with a record like the Bowfin, or the Barb, or the Finback, or one of the dozens of submarines under construction at New London, Mare Island, or Manitowoc?

While we leave Flier up on blocks in California, we’ll start meeting two other submarines that ended up being vital to the story of the Flier: the Robalo and the Redfin.

Sixty-Six Years Ago…the Jinx Begins

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

Originally Posted on January 30, 2010

Sixty Six years ago today, the USS Flier, towed by the Submarine rescue ship USS Florikan, and guarded by two escort ships, was towed back to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Her hull was smashed and dented, though it did hold water.  Her shafts and propellers were so damaged they couldn’t turn and leaked.   Unable to dive, unable to run, she had been hauled back to Pearl under guard, destined for either the dry dock or scrap heap, her commanding officer’s career on the line after only three months in command, and the whispers began to pick up pace…

“She’s a jinxed boat…”

Eighteen days earlier, Flier left Pearl for her first war patrol in the Pacific.  Like many ships and subs, she was supposed to stop at Midway Island to top off her fuel.  The canal into Midway was tricky, and incoming vessels always took on an experienced pilot/navigator from Midway who helped guide the ship in.

arrived during one of the worst winter storms on record.  It was too dangerous to transfer the pilot from the waiting tugboat, so the tug turned and signaled Flier to follow.  Flier’s Captain, John D. Crowley, took Flier in slowly and carefully, determined to thread the canal.  What he didn’t know is there was a strong cross current, and unless you took it fast enough, you’d be thrown to the side.

Flier got caught, and the storm whipped waves threw her further up the coral reef that ringed Midway.  The tug got back to base, and sent out the USS Macaw, Midway’s brand-new submarine rescue ship to help them off.  But soon she too, was aground.  Trying to drop the anchor so Flier wouldn’t go any higher on the reef, two men were washed overboard, and another dove in after his buddy.

A week later, the storm blew over.  Word reached them that one of the men who had been swept overboard, Clyde Gerber, and the man who went in after him, George Banchero, were in the hospital.  The other man swept overboard, James Francis Peder Cahl, had been found washed up on shore, dead, and had already been buried at sea.  Sadly, he was one of the few married men on board.

It took the Florikan, the original tug that tried to guide them in, and a floating crane to free Flier from her perch, but no amount of lift would budge the Macaw.  To add insult to injury, on the way back, another winter storm hit the Flier and Florikan, and snapped the tow line, leaving Flier at the mercy of the waves for hours.

Three months old, she limped back to Pearl sixty-six years ago today.  She had already been fired at by a friendly ship who mistook her for a U-Boat, had been torn up on a coral reef, lost a crewmember, and still had yet to see war.  The whispers began…is she jinxed?

Some men said they could tell if a sub was lucky or not.  It might not have helped that the wounded Flier likely passed or moored near the USS Silversides who was resupplying in Pearl Harbor between her infamous patrols.  Her nickname was “The Lucky Boat”, and she still floats today, a museum ship.

But Flier only had eight months left.