RAY departed Preeaantle, West Australia, on her Fifth War Patrol on 9 July 1944, bound for the South China Sea via Lombok Strait, the Java Sea and ltarimata Strait. I had relieved LCDil Brooke J. Harral, USN, on 28 June for a, first patrol in co … nd. Brooks had turned over a fine ship; I vas full of confidence. As it turned out, bovev”‘r, I was not happy with a, first torpedo attack.
The early morning of 18 July, RAY made contact with a fully loaded uneacorted tanker in the Java Sea. In a aeries of six attacks over a three hour period 1 the tanker was sent to the botto• after eight bite–but with an exorbitant expenditure of 22 torpedoes. This forced RAY to return to Freemantle for a reload. I expected ao11e harsh words fro11. COMSUBS SEVENTH FLEET, llear AdiDiral Ralph W. Christie, but hi& only co1111ents were, “You sank the bastard. didn’t you? When do you want to go back to sea?”
Two days later, RAY beaded north for Lombok Strait to resume her patrol.
On 3 August, RAY was heading west in the Java Sea when an intelligence •esaage vas received informing of a troop transport leaving Balikpapan for Makasar that evening. Her coure.e and speed were also given. A quick calculation indicated that RAY could intercept the transport.
At 0330 on 4 August, RAY made a radar contact, bearing 300°T, range 21,000 yards. Tracking vas com~~.enced. The transport wae on schedule! It vas a bright night with a full 11.oon, eo in a few ll.inutes a convoy of two ships vaa eighted. RAY was on their track and cloaeed for the attack. At 13,000 yards range, RAY vaa eub.erged to radar depth and at 8, 000 yards was taken to periscope depth. The convoy consisted of a transport of 7,000 tons, a saall freighter and two escorting PC boats. RAY was swung off the transport’s track for a stern-tube shot. The HK 18 wakeless electric torpedoes in the after torpedo tubes were ideal for the glassy sea conditions topside.
At 0427 • RAY fired four torpedoes on a 70°S track at a range of 900 yards. They were spread along the target’s length. 40 seconds later 1 saw the first torpedo hit in the after part of the ship. Sonar indicated her screws had stopped; evidently her power plant was knocked out. Seven seconds later • a second torpedo was observed to hit under the stack. Following this the target broke in two. The nearest escort was headed for RAY with “a bone in his teeth”, so RAY was taken deep and rigged for depth charge. RAY had started down when another hit was heard and timed for the fourth torpedo fired. A minute later, the first depth charges went off, not too close, thanks to the electric torpedoes used. Meanwhile, sonar reported noises of the transport sinking. RAY continued to draw away from the escorts who were rolling off depth charges as she pulled clear. By 0530, RAY was back at periscope depth with nothing in sight.
Inasmuch as I felt RAY would be the object of a hunt, RAY was kept submerged for the remainder of the day and then headed back into the Java Sea. That evening a curious message was received from COHSUBS SEVENTH FLEET asking if RAY was all right and if ·eo, to report with a one-word plain language .eaaage. To this I replied with “OKAY!”. Later • after returning to Freemantle, I learned that our ·code-breakers” had intercepted a Japanese message reporting the loss of the transport along with several thousand troops and that the escorts had sunk the submarine that had been responsible. That had Admiral Christie worried and hence the message.
RAY passed through Karimata Strait and headed north along the coast of Borneo on 9 August. Four days later, while patrolling off the northwest coast in the morning, a radar contact was made on a plane at 12 miles. Aircover for a convoy? RAY submerged to avoid detection and upon surfac~ng thirty minutes later sighted smoke bearing 153 T. A convoy was apparently moving northeast along the coast of Sarawak. The convoy was 5 miles off the Borneo Coast in less than 60 feet of water. It had an air screen, yet a submerged approach was out of the question. So RAY surfaced and went ahead on three main engines to get in position for a night attack.
The nortwest coast of Borneo is bordered by a large shelf of shallow water extending out 50 miles. This is what RAY headed into after dark. Within two hours radar contact was made bearing 226°T, 18,350 yards. Tracking soon revealed that the convoy consisted of twelve ships, five of which were escorts. The leader appeared to have radar; just what wasn’t needed in the shallow water! The convoy, hugging the coast, had its escorts in a semi-circle on the seaward side. Getting in was going to be tough!
At 2310, battle stations were set and an approach begun. RAY was flooded down with decks awash to reduce her silhouette. The sea was flat with a light haze hanging over it. With range 5,000 yards to the center ship of the convoy; escorts were on either bow of RAY and at 2, 700 yards. Getting by them without being detected seemed unlikely so it was decided to “blast” our way in. RAY was turned for a stern tube shot and, at 2350, four Mk 18 torpedoes were fired from aft 0 at an escort minelayer on 110 P track, range 2,000 0 yards, 0 gyros, spread for 400 feet. The first torpedo jumped out of the water shortly after firing. All four missed–erratics.
1 felt discouraged at this point, but also very angry, so another end run was commenced at 18 knots. By 0044, RAY was ahead of the convoy. A larger tanker was selected as the primary target. A large freighter overlapped her bow and was 800 yards closer. RAY penetrated the ring of escorts and passed astern of the port bow destroyer, with range to the target at 4, 000 yards. Getting closer seemed necessary but the same minelayer was beaded for RAY, at 3,500 yards. Being in only 12 fathoms of water, some means of escape had to be considered. So at 0100, RAY commenced firing six Mk 14 torpedoes from the forward tubes on a 95°P 0 track, range 3,800 yards, 0 gyros and spread for 700 feet. RAY was turned away at flank speed, 2,800 yards from the near escort, who never apparently spotted RAY.
At 0102 a torpedo hit was observed in the freighter to the left of the tanker. Almost simultaneously the tanker was hit amidships with quite a large explosion. Eight seconds later there was a second hit forward of the MOT, then a third hit was observed just forward of the ships superstructure. This hit threw a huge ball of flame, about 150 feet wide, high into the air, which persisted for several minutes. No ship could survive the explosion we heard. The tanker appeared to be broken in two, and continued to burn furiously. Attention was then focussed on the freighter. She was smoking heavily. At 0111, with last range to the tanker at 8,000 yards, radar reported that two “pips” had disappeared from the radar screen. Their positions were those of the tanker and the freighter. Every other ship in the convoy was found to be in place, with a large gap in the convoy’s center where the two torpedoed ships had been. Both seemed to have sunk at that time. With the moon up by the time torpedoes could be reloaded, the idea of another attack was discarded and RAY headed north to get out of the shallow water.
For the next four days, RAY patrolled off the west end of Balabac Strait, remaining submerged during daylight. On 18 August at 0943, a medium bomber was sighted to the south. Aircover for another convoy? At 1049, sonar picked up echo ranging and seven minutes later, smoke was sighted 0 bearing 182 T. The bomber was circling over the smoke as an approach was begun. RAY was in a good position dead ahead of the convoy. Ther~ were a few whitecaps on the water but the day was clear, so RAY ran at 120 feet depth in between periscope observations, avoiding detection by the air screen.
The convoy consisted of at least eleven ships, five of which were tankers, two were transports, and the rest were freighters–with five escorts. I could see three columns of ships with the biggest ones in the center column. Three destroyers fomed an outer sound screen ahead of the convoy while two minelayers protected the outside flanks. This might have been the remnants of our convoy of 14 August, joined by a few more tankers and transports.
The approach went like clockwork. RAY penetrated the destroyer screen without being detected. With torpedoes in only the forward tubes, RAY was headed for the center column to get the biggest ships. At 1250, six Mk 14 torpedoes were fired at a la~e tanker on a 110°P track, range 1,800 yards, 0 gyros, spread for 600 feet. At 1251 the near escort speeded up and came at RAY. I took a last look at the target to see the torpedoes nicely intercepting and about to hit. Then RAY started down to 370 feet at full speed. At 1252 three hits were heard and timed in the tanker. A fourth hit was timed for a freighter in the far column. This was definitely a torpedo hit; I’d heard enough of them by now to know.
At 1254 the first of forty-three depth charges began to explode above us and they were close. But we had a nice thermal layer at 270 feet which enabled RAY to draw away from her attackers. At 1340 there was a heavy explosion that rocked the boat. This was followed by loud breaking-up noises. The tanker probably sank at that time. By 1526, the depth charging had stopped and RAY was brought to periscope depth. Three secorts were observed searching to the north of RAY. They remained in RAY’s vicinity all afternoon forcing her to stay down until dark. When RAY surfaced that evening I remember saying to Bill Smith, my Executive Officer, .. Let’s go after the convoy, fire our last four torpedoes and go home through Balabac Strait .”
Fortunately, the enemy changed those plans. What I didn’t know was that Balabac Strait was mined and had claimed the lives of ROBALO and FLIER in the last few days. In fact, the Commanding Officer of FLIER, Commander Jack Crowley, and a handful of survivors from his sub were at that time marooned on a small island in Balabac Strait. They bad witnessed RAY’s torpedo attack, later verifying the sinking of the tanker. Had RAY attempted to return to Freemantle via Balabac, she might well have met the same fate.
RAY headed up Palawan Passage in pursuit of the convoy, avoiding the three lagging escorts, but contact was not regained, forcing the conclusion that the ships had anchored for the night. All day of 19 August, there was no sign of the convoy. At dawn on 20 August however, the bridge watch sighted the smoke of the convoy to the east of RAY and an end-run on four main engines was commenced. All that day, RAY worked her way toward the head of the convoy but never ¥de it by dark, being driven down by the convoy’s air cover. At sunset, the ships were seen to enter Paluan Bay on the northwest coast of Mindoro.
At 2036, while RAY lolled around at slow speed off the harbor, a radar contact to the east was aade. Radar interference was also detected and we communicated by keying the SJ radar. The contact was identified as HARDER, skippered by the indomitable Sam Dealey. RAY was then headed toward HARDER to pass on information about the convoy. Our two ships were closed to 25 yards as Sam and I conversed by megaphone. We agreed that RAY would join his wolfpack for a dawn attack. RAY would approach the convoy froa the west, HADDO from the northwest and HARDER from the southwest as the convoy sortied from Paluan Bay. That meeting with Sam Dealy was memorable for me because HARDER was sunk by an anti-submarine vessel only four days later.
The next morning RAY submerged at 0457, 3 miles south of Cape Calavite Light–! mile off the coast. The water was deep so the large ships would hug the shore as they rounded the Cape. At 0545, sonar picked up “pinging”. Then I raised the periscope to see the convoy standing out of Paluan Bay. At 0555, three explosions were heard in the direction of the convoy. Torpedoes from the HARDER? They were followed by thirteen depth charge explosions. Through the periscope, I could see the destroyers making their attack, but could see no evidence of damage from HARDER’s torpedoes.
The water was smooth so I had to make periscope observations quickly with very little scope above the surface. The setup looked fine. HARDER had drawn the attention of all escorts, except a destroyer that was about 4,000 yards to seaward of the convoy and aft of the leading ship-a 7,000 ton transport coming down our alley.
At 0618, RAY’s last four torpedoes were fired from the forward tubes on a 60°P track, 1,300 yards range, spread for 600 feet. During the firing, the target changed course away to conform to the coastline. This caused the first three torpedoes to miss ahead; I saw their tracks. The fire control solution was corrected using another periscope observation before firing the fourth torpedo. The last torpedo hit amidships right under the stack causing a terrific explosion as her boilers erupted. This stopped the transport dead in her tracks. She was mortally wounded and was soon to go down to her grave. My TDC operator, Lt. Leonard Erb, had indeed scored a “bullseye” with that final shot!
The attention of the escorts had been diverted from HARDER to RAY with the heavy torpedo wakes on the glassy sea. 1 observed the escorts closing with a fury, then RAY went deep to 380 feet at full speed. At 0623, she received the first of one hundred and twenty-six depth charges, sixty-four of which were definitely intended for her. The first few attacks were very close and shook her up badly, but the “Mighty RAY” was tough and took them in her stride. By easing down below 400 feet, our attackers were gradually lost astern. lt was later learned that HADDO, commanded by LCDR Chester W. Nimitz, Jr., had sunk two ships of the convoy and GUITTARO and RATON further north each got a ship later in the day.
At 0809, RAY came to periscope depth 3 miles from the spot of her attack on the transport. Nothing was in sight, but one escort was milling around close to the coast probably picking up survivors. RAY remained submerged for the rest of the day and was then headed for Freeaantle, where she arrived on 31 August–thereby earning an extra liquor ration, one for August and one for September. RAY had been on patrol a total of 51 days (with 2 days of reloading at Freemantle) and travelled 14,237 miles.
‘ COMSUBS SEVENTH FLEET creaited RAY with sinking five ships, (three tankers and two transports) for 43,365 tons and damaging two freighters for 11,500 tons. After a shaky start, it had turned out to be an outstanding patrol.
Excerpted from: “The History of a Fighting Ship U.S.S. RAY (SS271)” by Rear Admiral William T. Kinsella, USN (Ret.)