Having finished my command tour or a submarine tender, the EMORY s. LAND, I can now sense more clearly what went on behind the scenes in World War II and can appreciate the efforts of the 14 u.s. submarine tenders and several submarine bases which supported my boyhood heroes — the submarine skippers or that War. The work, sweat and tears expended in repairing, rearming, refueling and reprovisioning those underseas submersibles who carried the fight across the Pacific to Japan herself — now amazes me with their magnitude. How could I not have appreciated such an obvious and fundamental basis for successful submarine warfare? I’m sure that it is because the function of supporting submarines is never glamorous. It is hard work and often a labor of unrequited love — love for the operating “boats.”
Even amongst submarine tenders there is a heroine. She doesn’t produce an exciting story; but it’s a story of dedicated service and support that continued until she was sunk — well after the submarines she had mothered had left her sides. The heroine of this story is nThe Old Lady,n the original OSS CANOPOS (A8-9).
She was one of three located in the Philippines with the Asiatic Fleet when war came to the Pacific, December 8, 1941, Philippine time. All three survived the first major Japanese air attack on the Manila area on 10 December — which caused the loss of the submarine SEA LION. The following day, the tenders HOLLAND and OTOS were directed to leave the Philippines and proceed to Australia. CANOPOS — old and slow — was detailed to remain behind to support the submarines which were defending the Philippines.
CANOPUS remained in Manila, servicing her submarines by night because they were forced to rest submerged on the bottom of Manila Bay during the day — away from the Japanese bombers. Damaged in a Christmas eve air attack, “The Old Lady” moved to Mariveles Bay at the tip of Bataan. Attacked again on the 29th, she suffered a hit from an armor-piercing bomb which would have passed olean through her had it not hit her propeller shaft. The irony was that literally “the flooding put out the fire.” The blast from the bomb had ruptured steam lines which wet down exposed explosives and torpedo warheads and also put out the fires started by the bomb’s explosion.
On the last day of the year, the remaining u.s. submarines were ordered out of the exposed Philippines to proceed south to Australia. However, “The Old Lady” was told to remain. In the face of this unwelcome news, the course of action and the activities which the CANOPOS undertook will long remain an outstanding example of the Navy, the Submarine Force, and the American bluejacket in the face of adversity. “The Old Lady” bad already moved her torpedo shops ashore into Corregidor’s tunnels. And now her craftsmen and technicians began to provide any and all support for all comers. The CANOPUS crew repaired rifles, made aircraft parts, built tunnel supports, fabricated make-shift dental parts -and a thousand other things for the Marines, the Army, Navy Patrol Wing 10 and the Philippine Scouts. CANOPOS became an oasis for the beleaguered defenders of Bataan. All visitors to CANOPUS could find there, ice cream, ice,real china, bed sheets and even dry beds.A remarkable tourist trade flourished as a result.
Because supply records and accounts bad been an early casualty of enemy action, the supply system became a model of simplicity — “If we have it and you need it, it’s yours.” Pay days became unnecessary. There was nothing available to be purchased.
Another air attack on 5 January left CANOPOS with a hole in her side and a pronounced list. “The Old Lady’s” commanding officer, Commander Earl Sackett, ingeniously devised a stratagem. The bole was patched by the ship’s welders, but the list was purposely left on CANOP~S. The bomb holes in the deck and tbe fragment scars were also left intact. The ship’s cargo booms were cast askew and oily rags were carefully ignited below decks — in the daytime — to provide realistic smoke issuing from the — to all appearances -abandoned hulk. Her few anti-aircraft guns were moved ashore to provide protection without drawing attention to “The Old Lady.n In this state of playing “possum”, she looked deserted by day but was always busy at night for the remaining several months of her life.
The CANOPUS sailors were active ashore as well. With sailors from Patrol Wing 10, tbey formed the Naval Defense Battalion. Coached by a few Marines, they were armed with castoff or “borrowed” weapons. This Naval Defense Battalion was also outfitted in sailors’ whites, dyed in coffee. But the desired khaki color was not achieved — rather, the uniforms looked a sickly yellow.
In late January, the battalion saw action countering a Japanese landing behind the American lines. For five days the u.s. battalion opposed a large number of Japanese forces. Often outflanked, our sailors remained unaware or their disastrous position, but instinctively some of the battalion was sent baok to clear the rear area. Suob an unconventional approach to jungle warfare bewildered the Japanese. Later, the naval battalion was relieved by Philippino soouts who drove the Japanese baok to the ooast where the enemy survivors took refuge in coastal oaves.
By mid-February the Naval Defense Battalion bad been incorporated into the Fourth Marines on Corregidor.
The cave-dwelling enemy caused CANOPUS people to invent the “Mickey Mouse Battleship.” Each “battleship” was a forty-foot CANOPUS launch, but protected by boiler plate and armed with machine guns and a light field pieoe. The Mickey Mouse battleships fought the enemy in the seaside caves. During this period, one of the three armed launches was lost to an aircraft bomb while the other two finished their careers as make-shift minesweepers at Corregidor keeping the submarine link to the outside world open to the end.
As the situation in the Philippines rapidly deteriorated and became more desperate, “The Old Lady” could have been dispatched to Australia after her submarines had departed for good. But her chances or surviving the enemy’s air and surface forces enroute were not judged to be good — she was too slow and too vulnerable. So she finished her final tour at Mariveles Bay where she was backed into deep water under her own power and then sunk there by her own crew — as Bataan fell. Then her sailors joined the death maroh to Japanese prison oamps.
“The Old Lady” bad done herself proud. No other support ship or tender bad ever been subjected to suob an ordeal. None bas ever done a better job of fulfilling her mission.
On leaving EMORY S. LAND, I was filled with pride to look back at the accomplishments or my tender versus those of “The Old Lady.” I recognized that CANOPUS had set a standard of resourcefulness, dedication, pride and tenacity which we on the LAND had worked bard to duplicate. Though the EMORY s. LAND was not tested in the hot furnace of war — and I pray that she never will — LAND’s testing has come from a period of incredibly high standards which rise continuously, heavy work loads which increase constantly, and vital operations whose support becomes ever more complex and demanding. But I feel confident that the LAND and her crew have perhaps become the equal of “The Old Lady.” Submarine tenders are proud ships tool
Captain R. Keith Young, USN