Posts Tagged ‘War Patrol’

Flier’s Final Bite

Uncategorized, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 25 2010

Flier has been busy patrolling the entrance to Manila Harbor for the past two weeks.  Since the plans to invade the Philippines were well underway (though, as far as most of the military was concerned it was just scuttlebutt, which, as usual, turned out to be right) the Navy needed their submarines in strategic positions to watch the traffic, since they had to know where any minefields might be, and to attack convoys, in order to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy.

By this time in WWII, the submarines, which comprised less than 2% of the Navy in terms of number of personnel involved, had had a devastating effect on the Japanese.  As of the end of June, 1944, the submarines had destroyed 712 freighters, warships and submarines, totaling 3,109,998 tons.  (By the end of the war, they would have taken 1,1150.5 ships totaling 4,850,624 tons.)  In 1943, the Wahoo snuck  into the Sea of Japan, which was supposedly impregnable, and destroyed ships in there, scaring the Japanese military and government.

Now Flier lurked outside the entrance to Manila harbor, merrily tracking convoys that went in and out.  It was a dangerous mission, partially because convoys going to Manila had no problems using up their entire inventory of depth charges on sub hunting because they could get more just a few miles away. After a week an a half of this, they moved off to the south, heading to the Sulu Sea.

Flier at this point had reached her patrol area, and was going back and forth, covering as many traffic lanes as she could. If she could attack, she did, but she was also supposed to track convoys for other submarines, find out what was going on and reporting on the strength of the Japanese installations if she could. Good luck following that red line. It took me a while to draw it.

It was here, late on the 22nd of June, that Flier ran across a nice large convoy, and their final victim.  It was  a large convoy of nearly nine freighters and six escorts.  They were traveling slowly enough that Crowley decided an end-around attack starting at night was going to be their best bet.

They sped ahead, and settled in their quarry’s path.  For whatever reason, they were not zig-zagging as radically as usual, and were traveling four miles from the shore.  The forward escorts whipped past Flier, who sitting low in the waves.  It was just past a new moon, and the slender crescent had already set, so Flier was all but invisible.

She took aim and fired six bow torpedoes at the first two ships in the closer cloumn, nailing both twice.  They dropped out of formation and made for the beach, even as their sterns started sinking beneath the waves.  The ships behind them scattered, trying to avoid both their sinking comrades, and getting out of the way of the hidden submarine.  As cruel as it sounds, they were not about to hang around and try to help the stricken ships and their crews, not as long as the submarine was still in the area.  Thankfully, they were near an island a short swim away, but that would be true even in the certain death of open ocean.

The escorts meanwhile, roared to the vicinity dropping depth charges in their wakes, which Al Jacobson found rather funny, since Flier was surfaced, not submerged, and the only way the depth charges would have worked would have been if one landed on the deck (and even not then).  Some even passed close to the stern, not seeing their quarry.

It was too dark to see the ships they’d crippled, since there were no fires, and the lights had gone out, but sonar called up saying the ship had disappeared from radar.  The lookouts scoured the area, but couldn’t see the further ship either.  There were two possibilities: she had gone down, or she had sucessfully beached herself, and Radar couldn’t distinguish her from the bulk of the island.  Only dawn would be able to tell the difference.

Flier had eight torpedoes left: four  in her bow and four in her stern, so Crowley decided to try again on the same convoy, and raced around them for another end-around.  An hour later, in the early hours of the 23rd, , they were in position again, only a few miles from the first attack.  A couple of the escorts remained to guard the cripple, but the rest were on high alert.  Flier repeated her trick, floating in the waves passively as the escorts passed, then, getting bearings from the bridge, and using Radar to establish range, Crowley fired the last four bow torpedoes at the two lead ships, or so he thought.

Al, watching from the aft bridge, counted down the time to detonation, then…nothing.  Four duds.  Earlier in the war, that had been disturbingly common, but those problems were fairly well fixed by now.

The convoy's approximate path is in the white.

Suddenly, there were two flashes and the stern of the second ship lit up, and the bow of the THIRD ship was hit.  Turned out, Crowley was giving coordinates of the first two ships, but Radar was giving the ranges of the CLOSEST ships.  The lead ship of the convoy was saved by a stroke of luck and miscommunication.

Flier turned around, ready to fire her last four torpedoes in her stern at the third ship which, while damaged, was not bad enough to sink, when the escorts started racing around.  This time, whether by sheer chance or design, they were going to run Flier over, and there was no time to get deep enough to pass under the escort, and certainly not enough to evade the depth charges they were sure to drop.

Captain asked Liddell for the coordinates widest gap between the escorts, and moments later, Flier’s four engines went to full speed, and she whipped between two of the escorts, all but waving as she passed by.  Larger, slower, and clumped together, the escorts were unable to safely fire deck guns, or drop depth charges, even if they did see Flier, or turn to pursue.  Crowley decided the escorts were too alerted now to try again for the large pack, but decided they would maybe re-visit the victim of their first attack.  As they retreated south, Jacobson watched the shp that took two torpedoes sink beneath the waves.  One more for Flier.

The escorts that were guarding the dead-in-the-water victim were on high alert.  Whatever she was carrying must be valuable to keep guarding a dead ship that would normally be abandoned.  Crowley approached from the north, but the escorts were running Sonar and Radar sweeps constantly, and heard them coming.  Flier retreated, and circled around to the south.  Same thing.  They approached submerged, and were found.  Crowley was about to try slipping between two of the escorts, like he had earlier, when their victim suddenly capsized, and sank quickly.

Two more for Flier.

The escorts, unable to help, ran for the remainder of their convoy.  Crowley called up the Jack, which had taken Flier’s place guarding the entrance to Manila Harbor, to tell him about that convoy.  Jack managed to destroy two more.  Of the nine freighters that Flier had seen, only four or five were able to make it to Manila.

Flier was unable to figure out what happened to their ship that was hit, and then vanished off the Radar screens.  She was only able to claim the two, and had to run south to keep up on their schedule.

Four ships in one patrol.  By now, it was almost unheard of. Flier was quickly shaking off her jinxed label.

Flier’s First Bite

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 07 2010

Captain Crowley decided to do an “End-Around Maneuver”.  This maneuver was rather common on sumbarines, due to the handicaps of convoys and the speed of a surfaced sub .

WWII Submarines, unlike today, were much faster on surface than submerged, around 20 knots, depending on the boat.  A convoy can only travel as fast as its slowest member, limiting them to slow speeds.  A submarine would track the course of a convoy, race ahead of them out of sight, then settle in their way and attack them when they passed by.

Flier’s convoy came, unwittingly giving Flier an idea set up.  One column of freighters passing in front of her bow, another passing her stern.  Crowley and Liddell planed to fire two spreads of three torpedoes at two freighters passing the bow, then swing the periscope around and fire two spreads of two torpedoes astern before heading deep.  The first six shots went off beautifully, but when Crowley turned the Periscope around, a freighter was only a few hundred feet away, too close to fire a shot.  As they aimed for another two ships, three explosions went off from the first spreads, and the escorts flew to protect their convoy and find the attacker.

Flier went deep without finishing her shots, rocked by depth charges.  Al remembered being ordered to his cabin, where, in the stifling heat and humidity, he stripped to his skivvies to try to remain comfortable.

It was a three hour siege.

When it was over, there were only six ships in the convoy, and Captain decided to try and finish off a couple of more.  But the escorts were on high alert.  Flier approached from the side, and the escorts charged.  She circled around behind, and they found her.  After a day and a half of feinting, ducking, and maneuvering, they gave up, and headed back to the site of the sinking for any materials they could deliver to HQ.

After a day and a half, the sea was still thickly coated with scorched oil.  They found six lifeboats, marked in the kanji for the ship’s names.  They found  a package of documents inside one of the lifeboats, wrapped and bundled neatly in one of the boats, which they retrieved.

A wooden pilot house still floated on the waves.  Inside there was a gyroscope.  It had been made in New York City.

Flier claimed two kills on her new record, which, given the scarcity of good targets in 1944, was an incredible boost to the men’s morale.   The artifacts and eyewitness accounts of the sinking were enough for the Navy to agree that Flier likely took down those ships.

The records after the war named one of those ships: Hakusan Maru.

Flier’s First Bite pt. 1

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 06 2010

Sorry for the long delay, sometimes I just need about two more hours in the day, either that, or it’d be nice if my body could survive on less sleep, but I’m sure a lot of people understand that!

So to catch up with our boats, Robalo is in Fremantle and is enjoying their R&R for two weeks, and so she’s not in the map below.

Redfin has passed through Lombok the night of June 2, 1944, and then passed through Makassar Strait, and is getting ready to drop off her Special Mission.  To this end, if I’m not mistaken, Redfin is forbidden to approach or engage any targets they may find until that mission is over, lest they get themselves sunk and take the Signal Men/Coastwatchers with them.  The most she can do if she sees someone, is radio the position, speed and direction to HQ which will then see if they can find another submarine that will cross their general path and take them out.

Map of USS Redfin and USS Flier on 1 June 1944-6 June 1944. Robalo is in Fremantle, and is not shown.

Flier meanwhile, has had her first taste of battle and victory.

On 2 June, USS Silversides, on her way back home to Pearl, spotted a convoy heading northwest.  They were headed east, but Captain Coye knew (since submarine captains were informed of each other’s movements, not some super-stealth submarine psychic powers) that the Flier was a few miles north of them and headed west, he told Flier to be on the lookout for this convoy.

Flier changed her course to intercept, but after a few hours, spotted a different convoy headed southwest.  The sea was glassy calm, and the periscope would make a highly noticable wake, so Flier decided to stalk her prey from a distance and attack at night.

They tracked their prey, keeping just out of sight.  One of the advantages a submarine had was being so low to the water, they were difficult to see, but surface ships, with their high superstructures and smokestacks belching trails of smoke could actually be seen while technically over the horizon.

In the afternoon, their convoy dropped a number of depth charges, though they did not show any signs of having spotted Flier, so they continued their stalking.

Suddenly, there was a second ship approaching over the horizon, heading south.  Flier had a choice:  Convoy 1 or convoy 2?  They chose the new convoy for several reasons:  1.) they were heading right for them and would soon be in a favorable range and position 2.) their first convoy might be under attack already.

Complex map of the two submarine track and three convoy tracks over four days in June 1944. This map reflects only subs and convoys recorded in the War Patrol Reports of USS Silversides and USS Flier. There may actually been more than these in the area at that time.

Very soon, they could see that the convoy was made up of eight ships, and had a number of Able King Freighters available.  But they were heavily escorted and operating at top speed.  They didn’t seem to care about the other convoy, now clearly under attack and firing deck guns into the night.  Convoy 2 fired their deck guns once in the general direction of Convoy 1 but otherwise, charged headlong.  Whatever they were carrying was valuable, and they were heading right into Flier’s web.

Location Location…

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
May 27 2010

They’re all on the move today.

Flier is back on the map again (remember she didn’t exist yesterday?) and in the middle of nowhere making for the southern tip of the island of Formosa (now known as Taiwan) where she’ll curve south and patrol along the western shores of Luzon Island in the Philippines (the Philippines looks a bit like a sitting wolf howling at Taiwan.  Luzon would be the wolf’s head, and Palawan would be the foreleg with the Balabac Straits just below the paw.)  Nothing else happened today.  The most interesting thing that happened, according to  both the war patrol report and the deck log, was the daily battery charge.

Robalo is returning from her most recent patrol, her crew looking forward to a well deserved break, and their ship needing a lot of repairs still.  She’s going to pass Exmouth Gulf since she doesn’t need the extra fuel to get all the way back to Fremantle.   She’d been out for 51 days and, despite dealing with major handicaps in terms of broken systems needing constant repairs, she’d managed to do her duty, stalk several convoys, fire twenty of her twenty-four torpedoes and claimed the destruction of one tanker.  (Sadly, this was not awarded to her by JANAC (Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee ) after the war, so officially, Robalo has no kills to her record.)  Once in Fremantle though, she had  a six-page laundry list of major repairs that needed to be done.  Just the major repairs, never mind a few little tweaks here and there.

Redfin, accompanied by the Harder, has left Fremantle and they are bound for Exmouth Gulf, training with each other in different tactics all the way.  They were escorted by the HMAS Adelaide.

What’s really interesting is all the surrounding boats coming and going out for Fremantle which give a glimpse at just how busy a port she was.

As usual, Redfin is the yellow and Robalo is the green. I decided all other submarines will be white for the purposes of these maps, though Harder will appear again in the story, if only obliquely.

From the War Patrol Reports alone of the Redfin and Robalo, we know the positions of Harder, Crevalle, Flasher and Angler, all of which were either coming to or leaving from Fremantle.  Strangely enough, though Redfin and Robalo are on track to pass each other and probably did on the 28th or 29th, they either didn’t see each other or didn’t record seeing each other.  (Redfin would make note of seeing Bonefish and Lapon over the next two days though, which adds another two submarines so the tally of boats in this general area at this time)

When you consider that Fremantle was one of two American Submarine Bases in Australia, and that Freo also served as base for British and Dutch submarines as well as a variety of battle and supply ships for those three countries, the sheer speed and insanity of that port must have been almost unbelievable.