Archive for the ‘Where was Flier 66 years ago today?’ Category

The Alls interview and the deck logs today

Uncategorized, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Nov 06 2010

For those that missed the update, due to the very urgent and dangerous turn of health a close member of Jim Alls’s family took a few days before our scheduled interview, the October 23 interview was rescheduled.  If all turns out well, and I hope it does this time, the interview will take place on November 13, next Saturday, and I’ll be able to ask all those questions that you have been eager to hear, as have I?

Did they celebrate birthdays?  What were the nicknames?  Where did they go when they were in port?  Did anybody think the Flier was jinxed, or said so out loud? (I know from family members of several Flier crewmen that they sensed their last visit home really would be their LAST visit forever, but whether that was ever spoken aboard the Flier is another question…)  What was it like to be in a submarine?  How did they decorate their space or try to make it more comfortable?  What was it like during Midway?  Did they celebrate holidays if they were aboard for them?  July 4?  Christmas?

Can’t wait.

Now I know I’m behind on this blog.  I really do try, but lateley, I’ve been absorbed by another project: the deck log.  You see, starting in December, with no warning or explination, the deck log switches from the typewritten logs you’ve been looking at to handwritten logs, and continues that way for over four months.  It’s a significant part of Flier’s story, starting from before she enters Panama Canal, through the grounding at Midway, through the repairs at Mare Island, detailing who went home when and what happened to the crew (including one Summary Court Martial for a Flier crewman who got too drunk to perform his duties…and apparently knocked down the MPs who tried to arrest him!  Not the first time we’ll see this type of incident, and this guy won’t be the only one who pulls this stunt!)

But before I could post any of those, and before I could read them to see what I might want to glean for the interview,  I had to transcribe them.  Mind, I’m working with a high-quality photograoh of a xerox of the originals (and the xerox was taken in the 1960’s or 70’s), so that gets even more interesting.  Even using photoshop and tinkering with dozens of settings to pull the handwriting out, some entries are only spare sketches of what they really say.

This is the deck log from 2 November, 1943. The interesting point to this one is at 10 AM, Ervin Borlick, of Chicago Illinois, was discharged at the end of his four years of contracted service. He's featured on the USS Flier Lost Crew page, so you know this isn't the end...

This entry, for 3 November 1944, shows two additiosn to the crew, a J.C. Strain was assigned to the Flier's crew at 10:15 at night, and then, five minutes later, after apparently 18 hours footloose and fancy free in exotic Groton CT, Borick is back, and reenlisted for four more years.

The Next day, 4 Novmber, 1943, another man was assigned to Flier, Mike Ricciardelli of Pennsylvania. They're starting to finalize the crew lists in preperation to go.

5 November, 1943, and an electrician's mate named Basil "B" ROWE reported aboard. Makes me wonder what the "B" stood for since it's in quotations, it might be a nickname. I know there were at least three "Bud" or "Buddy"s on board. Makes me wonder if this was another one.

And on today's date, 67 years ago, they did...nothing. Stayed moored in one place and did nothing. Well, that's probably not true. They were likely running checks, drills, cleaning, securing watchign making sure that when they were finally given the okay to head for war, that Flier was at her best.

For anyone interested in getting a closer look at any of these deck log pages, you can click on them to pull up a much larger image of the deck log.  Also, since these logs are considered the property of the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States, they are in the public domain, so you can feel free to print them and do whatever you like with them. Just please be respectful of the men who’s story is told in these pages.

The Exhibit, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Nov 01 2010

Been an interesting time.

A couple of days ago, the family of Bob Klock, radioman of the Flier, mailed me their uncle’s letters from WWII (and even before!) detailing his time in the submarine force.  It appears that he and Crowley served on the USS S-28 together and bother transferred to the Flier.  Even more fascinating, some of these letters from the S-28 are dated before December 7, 1941.  I’m reading one right now, dated October 20, 1941:

“I don’t know if I’ll get any leave ot not–I’m trying my best.  Maybe around Christmas they’ll give me some.  If so, I’ll be home then–but don’t plan on it very much.  It is pretty hard to get leave off a submarine because we have so few men.”

How many things will change all too soon for this man.  The above letter was sent from San Diego on official S-28 stationary.  At that time, she was part of Experimental Group 2. The ones from the S-28 group span 1940-1942.  As you get older, the censor marks appear, indicating that “Bud’s” letter was opened, read, and passed as not revealing information that could be too sensitive.

This letter is dated December8, 1942, from the S-18  (so he must have changed submarines between October and December.)  Please remember the Bud is his mother’s older son, and she is, from what I can glean from the few letters I’ve fully read, a widow with her Navy son as the family supporter, so if it sounds almost like a letter to a spouse, that is why.

“The world has finally been thrown into a fiery chaos.  I know, darling, that I haven’t been a real good son, but, Mom, I’ll write as often as possible now.  I know you are going to worry but please try to keep it down to a minimum.

“If, by some  misfortune, the West Coast even gets bombed, I wonder if I coudl send Louise [note from me: his girlfriend at this time] home to stay with you.  In that way my mind would somewhat be relieved.  We are certainly getting along fine these days.

“Hope you aren’t working too hard, but then I guess work will keep one’s mind off of other things.  Say hello to Mr. Smith and the gang and tell them we’ll really give them hell.  If Bob [note:  his younger brother] has to come in tell him to try to get a commission in the army or navy (reserve).  I hope he won’t have to, though.

“I don’t know if this letter will reach you because of the censorship but I hope so.

“Now you be a good girl and don’t you dare worry to [sic] much because everything is okay.  Don’t believe too much you hear on the radio.  Hope you, Bobm and grandma are in the best of health.”

Your Loving Son, Bud.”

This letter was eventually passed by the censor and mailed on December 27.  I can only imagine his mother, Violet, was immensely relieved to finally hear from her oldest son.

So sad, reading these letters, knowing that Bud only has a little over two and a half years left.  His photo on ussflier.com is one of my favorites.  I wonder if that is Louise…

It’s strange, looking at these letters.  Klock served on the Argonaut, the S-28,, and the Flier, all of which were eventually lost.  He also apparently served on the S-18, which not only survived, but had no casualties.

Back to the deck log of the Flier,

She stayed out to sea with “No Administrative remarks” until October 31, around 4 pm.  So I included the Deck Log for October 31 and November 1 in today’s entry.

Deck Log for October 31, 1943. Flier returned from wherever she went and tied up to the dock at Electric Boat.

The Deck Log for November 1, 1943. HERE'S an interesting tidbit! Flier named temporary flagship of Sub Division 162 by Commander Burlingame was the CO of the Sub Division. If you happened to come to the Memorial Service, this little note is even more interesting, because Burlingame, (who looked a lot like the Gordon's Fisherman when at sea) was the commissioning CO of USS Silversides, the submarine that stood for Flier at the ceremony.

So thank you to the Klock family for opening this window into the world of Flier and indeed, the Submarine service of WWII on a personal level.  If you are interested in donating material for the eventual exhibit or for future researchers, please contact me a ussflierproject@gmail.com  We don’t have to keep things permanently.  Once these items have been digitized and cataloged, they’ll be returned to the Klock family, and I can do the same for any other Flier (or Silversides) family.

Women on Submarines and Today’s Deck Log

And now for something completely different..., Memorial Ceremony, The Exhibit, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Oct 26 2010

One of the things that most submariners I’ve met have stressed is the fact that they are all one brotherhood.  Granted, the diesel vets enjoy yanking the chains of the nuc vets every so often  “You think it’s rough?  Back in my day…”

But it’s now official: the brotherhood is about to include some sisters whose names don’t begin with “USS”.  The four boats who will carry the teams of women have been chosen, and the women themselves are currently in training.  Their identities are being withheld for now, most likely to allow them to concentrate on their training which would be a lot harder with journalists constantly taking photos and yelling questions every time they dared walk outside.

During the Flier Memorial, I enjoyed talking to two high ranking submariners both of whom are enthusiastic about the prospect of women serving on submarines.  Integrating officers will be easier to accomplish than enlisted, and indeed, right now the Navy has not announced when or if they will integrate the enlisted ranks of the submarine corp (I’m all for all-women crews, an idea floated back in 2007, allows women to serve and eliminates the need for retro-fitting the submarines themselves to accommodate integrated crew–and save us taxpayers about $100 million per sub retrofit)

For more on the subject, see my previous posts about the history of women serving in the military, and women on submarines worldwide as well as this article, released just a few days ago.  (I do try to be fair to both sides, and I myself am on the fence:  I hate, as a woman, being told I cannot do something because I am a woman, but on the other hand, if it ain’t broke…)

USS Flier today is still somewhere off the coast of New England and has no administrative remarks today  (had to use a mimeographed page…)

Finally, I have an announcement and a request.

The announcement is I’m hearing from people who  missed the memorial ceremony and are disappointed that they couldn’t get there.  Well, I put the footage at the end of the Memorial Page on this site, so you don’t have to go looking for it in the backlogs of the blog any longer.

The request: As we’re getting ready to design the exhibit, we’re looking for items that will help bring these men to life for a new generation that’s four generations removed from WWII.  If your Flier family member sent home letters or photos from their time in the Pacific theater, would you consider allowing us to use them for the exhibit or research?  I cannot promise that everything donated will be used, but the more we have to use, the better we will be able to bring these men to life.

The beauty about what we do means that we don’t even need original letters or photos–the information and images of these items will be good enough for what we’re doing.  If you want to send originals for me to scan and I will send the originals back once they’ve been digitized(one family is already choosing this option) or scanning the items yourselves and sending me jpgs or tifs (another family is doing this).  If, of course, your family would be comfortable with donating the letters, we will keep them for future researchers.  These items will help bring these men out of the shadows and making them more than photos on a wall, but men who had girlfriends, wives, dreams, cars, jokes, senses of adventure and fear, and men who did what they felt were right.

If this is something you think you or your family would be interested in, please contact me at ussflierproject@gmail.com  Thank you.

BREAKING: DIVE DETECTIVES TO BE SHOWN IN USA!!!! (Plus: News from the Museum)

And now for something completely different..., The Exhibit, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Oct 19 2010

We interrupt my blog post I’ve been desperately trying to put together for the last few days to announce that YES!!!!  YES! YES! YES!!!!  Dive Detectives will FINALLY be coming to the USA.  Dunno when, dunno on what station, but YAP Films announced on their site (not the Dive Detectives site if you’ve been checking there) that the series has been purchased by an American broadcaster and will be shown later this year!!!!

WOOOO   HOOOO!!!!!

And now back to that blog post I’ve been working on…

So I’ve been off the reservation for several days now.  Vacation was fun, but of course, when you bring the children, there’s a limit to the fun to be had.  I’m starting to understand the various veins and twitches I saw in my parent’s faces while growing up.  Goodbye sitting in the sun for hours blissfully reading or dozing, hello panicked dashing after children convinced that plugging a fork into an electric socket would be fun.

Oh well, it was a fun time.   Back to some updates…

The interview with James Alls is, if all goes according to plan, this weekend in New Castle, Indiana, the hometown of Flier Chief Kenneth Gwinn. Gwinn’s parents owned a diner that I hope is still in business.  If you have a question you’d like to ask Mr. Alls, be sure to comment or e-mail me at ussflierproject@gmail.com  I can’t promise we’ll get to it, but I’ll sure try.  I’ve already got questions about how the Flier was decorated, if they had any pets, did some sailors think Flier was unlucky (survivor Earl Baumgart later claimed he thought she was from day one), if they had any Crossing of the Line Ceremonies,  and on.  If you’re curious about anything, be sure to ask.  I will be filming, audio recording the session and if he gives permission, will be posting excerpts here and on YouTube.

The museum is (tentatively) hoping to open the exhibit this summer. Everything, of course, depends on money, time and schedule, but winter is our best time to build something like this: we’re less busy.

Now, since the Flier story is almost over, I thought we could do something interesting on here for the next while.  I’ll be delving into the stories of some of the Lost Submarines, but in addition, courtesy of Lt. Liddell, his son Kirk, and the National Archives, I have the complete Deck Logs and War Patrol Logs of the USS Flier (of course, the ones about the second patrol were lost in the sinking.)  They’re an interesting read, and I thought we’d start here on the 18th and 19th of October: the day Flier was commissioned into service, and started taking on food.  (There’s an eye opener!)

This is the record of Flier's first day as a Naval boat. The names of all the commissioning crew are written here: Officers first, by rank, the Enlisted alphabetically by last name.It's amazing how many of these men would still be around in ten months for the second patrol, and which ones wouldn't be. There is a second page for this day, but all it says is: "2200: (hours, or 10 pm): Finished Fueling. Received 50,138 gallons on board." You can click on the image to get a MUCH larger one if you're curious about reading it.

This is the record for the following day, when they started to take on stores while still testing systems at the dock. That's a lot of food, and that list will only get longer, not to mention all the stuff they'll unofficially get their hands on if the Fliers were like some of the other boats I've been told about! Then, as newest boat in the fleet, she was toured by some of the top commanders, including Admiral Daubin. (See Entry for 1300 hours). Interesting, since eleven months from this date, he would be investigating the same CO that's giving the tour of Flier, over the loss of this same boat and crew.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the photos taken of the Commissioning parties.  If you see someone you recognize in them, comment or e-mail, that’s what we’re trying to do, identify people, and tell this story.

Homecoming

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Oct 09 2010

The eight survivors of the Flier were sent home.  Al, possibly others, were put on a Clipper Plane for the States.  Pan Am Clippers were the lap of luxury during this time period:  Extensive meals, beds to sleep on, the works.  The line didn’t survive the war: too many planes and airlines rose in the wake of WWII.  But in 1944, this was an experience that only few had ever tasted, and would have been memorable to all the Fliers.

The men of Flier were each going to be given one month’s leave, but first the military needed them to lift the spirits of a nation at war.  They did at least one large press conference in Kansas, but because the existence of the Coastwatchers was one of the most closely guarded secrets in the US at the time, the Flier men were encouraged to talk about their experiences up until they were picked up by the guerillas.  No names of people or places were used, only the most vague details of locations were ever written about, though the personal details about what these men went through and personally did during the first five days of their escape were quite interesting.

While he was in the Bread Basket of the US, Al went bird hunting and kept the liscense.  It’s nearly whole, so I guess he either wasn’t successful, or he didn’t get as much time to hunt as he was hoping.

There were representatives from many of these men’s hometown papers, and in Al’s case at least, he would have a further, in depth interview once he reached home.

Some of these guys faced questions that they either were not allowed to answer or they couldn’t answer.  Like if there were other survivors: this question was not only unknown, but per Naval policy the missing men of the Flier were, in 1944, classified as Missing in Action, rather than Killed in Action.  The newspaper writers were informed that more than the eight men were seen in the water following the explosion, which lead to some speculation about the other’s fates.  Sadly, some of the earliest articles said that it was possible that the entire crew of the Flier could have survived the loss, leading to raised hopes of their families, which were about to be officially, warned against…though not fully crushed.   Not yet.

Flier Investigation Concluded

Uncategorized, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Oct 08 2010

Dello Russo was up next.  Now due to whatever reason, his name was always listed in James D. Russo, in all the records.  His last name was properly Dello Russo, but he wasn’t permitted to list that apparently.  Thankfully, a sharp researcher in Grand Haven figured out his real last name, allowing us to track down his family in time for the memorial.  As a youth, Dello Russo loved to swim to the various islands around the Boston area, which accounts for his ability to swim for the islands.  In fact, he beat everyone to the shore, and was the only person to make it without hanging onto a floating piece of bracken for support.

But I digress.

Dello Russo’s testimony was brief.  As Quartermaster, his job was the drive the submarine from the helm.  Unlike a surface ship, which usually had windows in the room where the steering was done, a submarine is driven blind.  The Quartermaster has to steer based on the angles of the gyroscope and a great deal of trust with the navigator and radar and sonar teams.  All Dello Russo was essentially asked (beyond “Name, Rank, Station”) was where he was located that night.  At the helm.  In the Conning Tower.  That was it.

Donald Tremaine was the last man up for questioning.  I’ve always found Tremaine to be interesting if only because he is nearly a complete cipher.  I’ve never been able to find out anything about him, outside of the fact that he was on the Flier and was assigned to the Maryland during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Anything and everything else is a complete matter of speculation, and when I tried to research him, I got a quick and painful research lesson in just how many “Don(ald) Tremaine”s live in the USA.  But I don’t even have a photo of him, he was the only survivor in no condition to be photographed that day on the Redfin.

Tremaine was a Fire Controlman, which made him an essential part of maintaining, repairing and operating all weapons systems aboard Flier. Tremaine stated that the night Flier went down, he was in the Conning Tower as a part of the Radar Tracking Party in case they made contact.  If I’ve done my research correctly, that means that he was likely standing at the TDC (Torpedo Data Computer-an analog computing system that helped submarines perform the trigonometry needed to aim torpedoes.) that night.  And that was all.

Last up was Lt. Liddell.  After Crowley, Liddell had the most on the line, since he could potentially be held responsible if he hadn’t navigated correctly and allowed Flier to stray into dangerous waters.

He was questioned closely, the investigators wanting to know when was the last fix taken by stars, landmarks, the last reading on the azimuth, how often did he take depth soundings, radar fixes, and on and on.  Judging from his responses, he was a highly skilled navigator, and his skill stood the interrogation.

The strangest part of the tale is simply that when Liddlel and Crowley planned their route that evening, there were two reasons why they did not follow the Crevalle’s route precisely, when that was the route HQ sent them to help them safely transverse Balabac.  The first was Crevalle was heading north, not west, which meant that Flier would have to take a wide arc out of their way to match her track precisely.  But more importantly, Crevalle tracked very close to a pair of reefs, which were clearly shown on the map.  That was too close for comfort for Crowley and Liddell, and they decided to put more distance between Flier and those reefs, which would have been easily mineable.  Today’s charts, however, clearly show that the ocean floor drops steeply down near the reefs and comes up gradually near Comiran Island.  Liddell and Crowley tried to keep her as safe as they could, but this time, her luck ran out.

The remaining portions of the investigation/trial are detailed, and interesting, but maybe only to me.  There was a lot of questioning of Admiral Christie’s staff from this point forward, about intelligence gathering, known Japanese mines, how was information gathered and relayed to submarine COs, the risks of Natsubata Channel verses the other channels in the strait, on and on and on.  They even covered the history of Robalo’s CO, and called in the temporary COs of Robalo and Flier (these men were the CO while the real COs were on R&R and who remained onboard during all of the training sessions prior to patrol departure to observe the training and the abilities of the crews) to inquire how the crew and CO worked together, and how prepared the crews of these lost boats might or might not have been.

The conclusions reached by the investigation was that Flier and Robalo both had been given the best information possible, but their loss was officially attributed to “the fortunes of war”.  Both Admiral Christie and Commander Crowley were absolved of all fault regarding the loss of these boats and their crews, but Admiral Christie’s career had reached its zenith.  Shortly after this investigation, for unknown reasons, he was assigned to a new post: overseeing the Naval Yard in Bremerton Washington.  This sort of assignment was often given to admirals who were on their way to retirement, and despite the fact that four submarines (Flier, Robalo, Harder and USS Seawolf, sunk on 3 October in one of the few friendly fire incidents of WWII–carrying 17 Army Special Forces aboard) had been recently lost out of Fremantle, Christie had a good record of safety and support of his submarine crews.

It is possible that Christie simply got shuffled around in the normal rotation of things, but, while there are no written records, and no one willing to go on record, there were rumors that Christie may have been on the receiving end of some other admirals’ displeasure for the clean slate given to Christie and Crowley.  It’s also interesting to note that Admiral Daubin, the presiding officer, was also shortly relieved of the command of Atlantic Submarines (at which he also had been doing a laudable job) and moved to oversee the Naval Yard at New York.

Who knows?

But now the Navy had to sit and wait.  There were rumors of at least four survivors of the Robalo. Four men, Ensign Samuel Tucker, Signalman Wallace Martin, Quartermaster Floyd Laughlin, and Electrician’s Mate Mason Poston, had dropped a note from their Puerto Princesa prison cell on August 2, which had been smuggled out to the Allies.  Their current whereabouts were unknown.  There were also seven survivors of Flier who potentially could have swam to other islands and be living as castaways or captured.  In addition, Flier was believed to be in 40-50 fathoms of water (240-300 feet of water).  All submariners are trained to escape out of a disabled submarine at that depth, so if some of the Fliers had survived the crash into the seafloor and could reach the escape hatches, is was possible that more might surface after the war.  There was no way to tell.

But the families were going to have to be told something…

This particular Submarine Escape Training Tower is located in New London Connecticut at the Subamarine School. Every man was required to escape from the bottom of it to the top, learning how to use the various escape equipment. So it was possible, not likely, but possible, that other Fliers might have found their way to the surface after the Flier came to rest on the bottom. It would have been a potentially lethal and nearly impossible ascent, but with eight men already proving the impossible could happen, the Navy was willing to leave that door open for now.

Tony Curtis and the Flier Investigation Continues

And now for something completely different..., Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Oct 04 2010

Before we resume the Flier investigation I thought I would take a moment to remember Tony Curtis, legendary Hollywood actor, who passed recently, and whose funeral was held today in Las Vegas.

Why remember Tony Curtis in this blog, about a lost WWII submarine?  Well, Curtis was involved in the US Submarine Force, in a way.  At 17, he was assigned as a member of the crew of the Submarine Tender Proteus, stationed, at the time our story takes place, in Guam.  He was a Submarine Relief crewmember, which meant every time a submarine tied up to the side of his Tender and her official crew vanished for two weeks R&R, the relief crew would become temporary members of that submarine and do all the dirty work that needed to get done, inside and out: scraping barnacles, fixing systems, running tests, upgrading equipment, anything and everything that needed to get done in order for the submarine to be ready for her tests when the crew returned.  It was an important, if labor intensive job.

Curtis, as a member of Proteus, also witnessed history.  Proteus was the Submarine Tender in Tokyo Bay the day the Japanese surrendered on the Missouri.  He apparently watched the ceremony from the signal bridge, a place he would have been familiar with since he was a signalman.

He was a great actor (Some Like It Hot is one of my personal favorite movies) and will be missed, but if you want to read an interesting interview about his time on Tenders during WWII,click here. It’s a great interview from the site Tender Tales, all about the unsung (and now, vanished) heroes of the Submarine Force, the men and ships of the Submarine Tender.

Back to our story.

Two men down, now a Motor Mac was up.  Earl Baumgart was one of the plankowners of Flier, (a sailor who was assigned to a ship from her first day in service) who always believed that she was jinxed.  I saw a letter from him written in 1996, talking about how she never felt right to him and he knew from the first that she wasn’t going to make it.  Short of leaving the Submarine Force altogether, there wasn’t much he could do about it, but I wonder why he thought that.  Did something happen during the launch? Or the Commissioning?  Was it Midway?

Baumgart reported to the Courtroom for his interrogation, and the initial questions were the same as the other men faced: Name, Rank, present duty station (“attached to USS Flier”), location the night Flier went down (“After Starboard Lookout”), had he adapted his eyes for night lookout duty, (yes), what was the visibility, (“Overcast, not too visible”) and so on.

Baumgart really wasn’t on the hot seat, nor could he offer much about the cause of Flier’s sinking, though he was asked whether he saw the same light Miller mentioned seeing that night, but he hadn’t.  Considering that Miller was looking over Flier’s bow, and Baumgart the stern, this isn’t that odd.

The opposition declined to cross-examine Baumgart and he left the room.

Next up was Art Howell, the Radio Technician.  Now, I was quite interested in the Flier crew list when I was writing this book because I noticed that she didn’t carry any radarmen or sonarmen aboard.  Come to find out, these titles were not generally used during this part of WWII because these men, if captured, might be tortured for information about the specs of the Sonar and Radar systems of their submarines.  By keeping their job rating something like “Radio Technician” or “Radioman” it helped them blend into the background, because the Japanese and Allied radios were essentially the same.  So Howell, despite his rating, was frequently on the Radar and Sonar systems of Flier, though his efforts on Palawan proved that he really could fix a radio using anything but coconuts if necessary.

The night Flier sank, he was her Radar Operator for navigational pruposes.  With an overcast sky, this was vital, since one of the ways they could make sure Flier didn’t stray out of her path was to keep a radar eye on the peaks of the surrounding mountains to triangulate Flier’s position and keep her on track.

On Radar, Howell had seen the lighthouse that Miller saw with his eyes on lookout two decks above.  There were no ship’s contacts, no other people around, and Howell fed information continuously to navigation as it came in.  The Radar was working efficiently as well, so the trouble was not with their equipment.

Seconds before the Flier exploded, Howell fed the last coordinates to Liddell at the maptable.  Since the investigation was being held almost exactly one month following Flier’s sinking, it’s understandable that Howell didn’t remember precise coordinates, but he did say that the nearest last was between 5,000-7,000 yards away, and the large island dead ahead (Balabac) was between 14,000 and 18,000 yards away.  Considering Flier was found right in that area, I guess Howell had a good memory.

But now it’s late, and I have a horrible urge to find a copy of Operation Petticoat somewhere.  I’ve always wanted to see it, and now, it seems really appropriate, considering Curtis’s passing.

Tomorrow:  Dello-Russo’s testimony and Liddell along with the conclusion.

In the words of the Flier crew…

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

It was the morning of September 15, and the second day of the investigation.  The men of the Flier, who had sat the entire day before in the passage of the Euryale would finally get to have their say.  Not only would they answer any questions put before them, but they had the opportunity at this time to say anything they wanted in the court,  even if it would reflect badly on their Captain or someone or something else.

First up, was Ensign Jacobson, the youngest of the three surviving officers.

After stating his name, rank and current station (which he still listed as USS Flier) he was asked where he was the night of 13 August.

“At nine o’clock, I went on watch as JOD [Junior Officer of the Deck, see this post for further definition] on the After Cigarette Deck.  At the same time, the other JOD was there so I was on the starboard side of the cigarette deck.  That was my station until I was swimming.”

According to Jacobson’s memoirs which he started writing only a few weeks later, he replaced Ensign Beahr who went down into the Conning Tower. They were due to switch stations again in a few hours.  The other officer to which Jacobson is referring is likely Ensign Meyer, who was on the Bridge.

They asked if he had worn his goggles and adjusted his eyes before reporting (important since, if he hadn’t, it might have opened the doors to a possibility that they were attacked by the enemy from astern, but Jacobson’s non-adjusted eyes didn’t see anything.  It was also a test of following procedures.)  He had.  They asked about visibility, which was cloudy, but he could see all the way to land.  (According to Jacobson’s  memoirs, he could see Comiran, Balabac and Palawan Islands that night.  If true, then despite the overcast he could see about 25 miles).  They then asked him what his opinion was as to the cause of the loss of Flier.  He will be the only person asked to name a potential cause.

“I believe it was a mine that hit the starboard side around the officer’s country somewhere below the surface.”

He was not cross-examined and declined to say anything else.

Next up was Wesley Bruce Miller.

He stated his name rank and as to his present station to which he was assigned, he answered, “I do not know what my present station is.”  (Understandable, all things considered.)

Under questioning, he revealed that he was the forward port lookout that night on Flier, and he had also adjusted his eyes before coming on duty.  When asked about the visibility conditions, he had this to say:

“Well, I could see land at eight thousand yards but it was very poor.  The sky was overcast.  No stars out.  It was cloudy and dark.”

Questioning Lawyer:  “During the time that you were on watch, did you see any ship or any suspicious object in the water?

Miller:  “No sir, I saw nothing in the water.  I could see a light on the beach.  There as a lightouse there but nothing in the water.”

Cross Examined by the other side:  “Was it a light or a lighthouse you saw?

Miller: I couldn’t say.  It as very dim.  it was where the lighthouse was and I imagine it was a lighthouse.”

Now, despite the fact that Jacobson said that he could see several miles and Miller said he could see only a few miles, we have to remember two things:  One, that Jacobson and Miller are standing on opposite sides of their boat and two, that Miller is much higher up than Jacobson.  In addition, Jacobson’s memoirs record that a storm was sweeping in when Flier went down.  It’s possible that those gathering clouds made it more difficult to see on Miller’s side.

The light that Miller saw was likely one of two houses.  The first option is the light at Espina  Point on Balabac itself or more likely, the light on the shore of Comiran Island which Jacobson would visit over fifty years later.

Taken during Jacobson's 1998 trip to the Philippines, this is the light on Comiran Island, which Miller might have seen that night in 1944. I was unable to find any photographs of the Espina Point Light on Balabac Island.

On a strange note, according to Miller’s son, Bruce, Miller was not scheduled to be on lookout duty during the time Flier sank.  A brand new hand on Flier, he was a non-qual, or non-qualified hand, and as such, subject to strenuous tests, qualification exams, and more than a little mild hazing.  Apparently, he was scheduled to be off-duty during this particular shift, only to be told by an older hand that he was now on lookout duty, courtesy of the older hand.

And that’s how Miller ended up in the water.  The name of the hand that accidentally doomed himself is not known.  The things that might have been…

Investigation Continues

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Sep 25 2010

Admiral Christie having gotten through the first round of questioning, it was now Commander Crowley’s turn.

As soon as Christie had withdrawn, Crowley took the stand voluntarily to relate the information he had concerning the Robalo.

“Sergeant  Pasqual de la Cruz, Philippine Army, USAFFE, whim I encountered at the Guerilla outpost at Cap Buliluyan, informed me on August 21st that he had recently returned from a reconnaissance trip to Balabac Island, This trip was made to verify a tumor that some Americans had been captured there.  He received the following information which he told me.  The USS Robalo was sunk by an explosion in the forward battery on 3 July 1944.  The reported position of the vessel at the time of the explosion was forty miles west of  Balabac Island.  There were four survivors of Robalo who were found on the beach of Comiran Island.  From his story, of which the facts are not clear, I arrived at three possible solutions as to the fate of hte survivors:  (1) that the four were surprised on the beach and jumped up, two escaped and two were captured: (2) in the foregoing event, two were captured and two were shot; (3) in the foregoing even all four were captured and two were deliberately shot after capture.  The names of the two survivors made prisoner were purported to me as Lieutenant Tucker and quartermaster Martin.  One of the others apparently was the commanding officer of the Robalo, and no information exists or was given to me as to the identity of the fourth  The reason for the conflicting stories as to the fate of the survivors is that Sergeant de la Cruz received the information from difference sources.  One other thing that he also told me, that the Robalo departed Port Darwin on a date late in June, I which I do not remember correctly.  I believe it was the 29th.  Apparently, it came from a survivor.  The two prisoners are reported to have been sent to the Japanese prison camp at Puerto Princesa, Palawan.  This is all of the information that I have.”

Next up was all the information about the Flier’s final hours, and from this, as well as the previous statement that both Flier and Robalo were recommended to follow Crevalle’s route through Balabac/Natsubata, we can reconstruct what happened.

Crowley stated that he was on the bridge and Lt. Casey was the OFficer of the Deck, however, he, Crowley, had the Conn.  This is significant because the Conn, or control of the engines and rudder, is usually the job of the Junior Officer of the Deck, in this case, Al Jacobson.  Technically speaking, Crowley revealed in that moment that he was unnecesary on the bridge, since there was an Officer of the Deck (OOD) Casey, and Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD), Jacobson.  However, since the Captain is ultimately responsible for his boat, and this was going to be a tricky passage, it wasn’t considered that unusual that Crowley was on deck.  His having the Conn meant that he was responsible for the speed and directino of the boat, not Jacobson.  It’s quite possible that Crowley took the Conn because Jacobson was several feet away from the OOD and the Bridge hatch, through which he could talk to the Navigator, Liddell, whereas, Captain Crowley was sitting just over the bridge hatch and next to the OOD.

He was then asked how many lookouts he had posted.  He had four officers, two forward, two aft, on the bridge, four enlisted lookouts overhead in the periscope shears, the navigator and quartermaster were in the Conning Tower not Control Room (one floor below), on operator on the battle station radar, another radar tracking operator, someone on soundgear and Sonar (same station), and the radar detector was manned.

He named those one each level, though, when it came to the conning tower, not who was at what station.  Those who survived would report their own positions, and a few would report on someone else’s position, though they did not do so unless asked.

The four men on the periscope shears were Wes Miller, Earl Baumgart, Gerald Madeo, and Eugene Heller.  On the Bridge with Crowley were Casey (OOD), Jacobson, (JOOD), Lt Bill Reynolds, and Ens. Phil Mayer.  Inside the Conning Tower manning the various pieces of technology were Lt. Liddell (navigator), Lt. Paul Knapp, Art Howell, Don Tremaine, James Dello Russo, and Charles Pope.   Earl Hudson was Chief of the Watch in the Control Room beneath.

And so now we have the set up.  Looking at the line up of those who were on duty the moment Flier went down there are some interesting items.

They were officer heavy.  According to Jacobson, Ens. Beahr was on duty at the maptable in the Control Room, leaving only Ens. Miner unaccounted for.  With nearly half of the officers exposed outside and the rest in the center of the ship, Crowley was running the risk that a good gun battle could make an ensign or a lieutenant the CO of Flier in case of a shore gun attack, which was possible.  If something happened to pierce the skin of the Conning Tower and straife the deck, the men in the Control Room could, potentially, dive, sealing off the Conning Tower, drowning all within.  It had happened before, (on other boats) and the men were trained to do it if necessary.

Next up, the other Flier crewmemebers, who are currently waiting in the passage outside the improvised courtroom, give their accounts of that night.

Investigation

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 Amazon.com, 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…