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Somewhere on the island of Timor, a transport landed and discharged a group of Australian Air Force personnel. These men were sent to beef up the base maintenance group which had arrived at Timor earlier in September 1941. They quickly settled into their barracks, enjoyed good solid meals served by Timornese waiters. They experienced another culture, drinking in both their beauty and their beer.

About this same time the submarine SEARAVEN (SS 196), with an American crew of about 65 men and officers, was operating in and around the seas that surrounded the Philippine Islands. Fully aware of the possibility of war, all units of the Asiatic Fleet were on a full wartime footing. What part did fate play in the lives of these groups?

On December the 7th, Pearl Harbor Day-actually 8 December in the Western Pacific, SEARAVEN was preparing to enter the Cavite Naval Shipyard for a short upkeep and overhaul period.

Suddenly bombs rained down on the capital city of Manila, on the American ships in Manila Bay. The war was on!!!!

The superior Japanese forces moved rapidly, extending their will and their power throughout the entire Southwestern Pacific region from the Northern Philippine Islands to the Great Barrier just north of Australia. The Philippines, Borneo, Celebes, New Guinea, Java, and Timor were the constant targets of the Japanese Navy men o’war and the swift and deadly Zeros of the carrier forces. Continual bombing and strafing were followed by an invasion of paratroopers and finally, a landing of Army troops. This is the fate that befell Timor, and it became a Japanese stronghold.

SEA RAVEN put to sea to conduct war patrols against the Japanese Empire. Between 11 December 1941 and early April 1942, SEARAVEN had completed two patrols against the enemy and was credited with one ship sunk and one ship damaged. (Remember, the submarine torpedo was found to be a very unreliable weaponry.)

At this time, Corregidor, the last bastion of the American/Philippine defense, was in dire straits. The defenders desperately needed food, fuel, and ammunition. Wheat, rice, flour, and canned goods were carried to MacArthur’s forces by other submarines and a few thousand clips of .50 caliber machine gun ammunition found their way in along with the food.

Preparing for her third patrol, SEARA YEN drew a highly explosive mission. She was to transport over 50 tons of 3″ 50 calibers dual-purpose, high explosive anti-aircraft shells to Corregidor. This very dangerous cargo was divided between the forward and after torpedo rooms, necessitating the removal of the ladders to the top side area and loss of a full load of torpedoes. Under way for Corregidor, SEARAVEN drove north to deliver the vital cargo to the beleaguered MacArthur forces.

Prior to arrival at the final destination, SEARAVEN was informed that Corregidor had fallen to the enemy. She was ordered to put about and return to the business of sinking enemy shipping.

Meanwhile, fate intervened. SEA RAVEN received new orders to proceed to a rendezvous point off the island of Timor and endeavor to effect a rescue of some Australian Air Force personnel, who, after destroying the communication towers, the landing strip, ammunitions, and fuel oil storage left the area in a state of ruin. These Aussies then took to the jungle seeking a means of escape.

Headquarters in Australia had informed the group that a rescue from their end was not possible. The promised corvette and later promised flying boats had all been destroyed by Japanese bombings of Broome and Darwin. They were on their own in a wild jungle, pursued by the Japanese Army.

Arriving off the shores of Timor, SEARAVEN reconnoitered the beach and surrounding jungles by periscope during the day, hoping to find evidence of the survivors or a visual signal from them. Surfacing later in darkness, they approached the vicinity of the rescue position as close to the beach as possible. A fire was seen on the beach, leading the submariners to believe this was the location for the rescue.

Three volunteers undertook the task of going onto the beach and bringing out the Australians to the submarine. Ensign George Cook was assigned as boat officer and was in charge of the operation. Joseph L. McGrievy, Signalman First Class {SS), and Leonard B. Markesan, Quartermaster First Class (SS) had agreed to go with him. A small 16-foot wherry, carried in the submarine’s superstructure, was hoisted over the side to make the trip. Bad luck struck immediately. The diesel engine failed to start, and no amount of elbow grease, cussing, or repair work would get it to cough to life.

Paddles were hastily manufactured out of the tops of the ammunition boxes. With three very unwieldy oars in the band, the volunteers headed for the beach. The currents were swift; the sea was rough; the useless engine was an obstacle to rowing, and sharks as big as torpedoes were observed knifing through the water. The Japanese were all-round and there were no further signals from the beach.

The first attempt of rescue was a dismal failure. Cook swam to the beach, heading for a fire that was observed from seaward. Landing on the shore, he shouted out his name, called for the Aussies, and continued to strive toward the fire area. Arriving in full sight of the fire, he saw a group of shadows hustling into the jungle darkness. Unsure, for they could have been the enemy, Cook returned to the small boat, and the volunteers beat a hasty retreat to the safety of SEARAVEN.

With dawn approaching, SEARAVEN headed to the open sea, changed course to the south, charged batteries, and headed toward Australia. Before submerging, they sent a report to headquarters, reporting the events of the night. Surfacing that night, they were informed that the rescue was still in order.

As SEARAVEN again reached the rescue area, the small boat was hoisted over the side once again, this time without the engine, which had been removed and jettisoned the night before. The three volunteers, Cook, McGrievy, and Markeson, outfitted with some first-class paddles, were on their way to the shoreline. When they reached a spot near the line of breakers, about 75 yards off the beach, a makeshift anchor was tossed over the side. The three men went over the side, heading for the beach, trailing long lines behind them. These lines were their only connection with the small boat.

Reaching the beach, the Americans were horrified by the sight of 33 Australians in various stages of near-death. Most of them suffered from malaria and malnutrition; many had tropical ulcers under their armpits or between their legs and three of them were stretcher cases.

It was decided the healthy men would go out first; they would live to fight again. The wounded and sickly would wait until the second trip.

The selected group was led out through the surf by the three Americans, with Cook returning to the small boat in order to be available to hoist the weakened men into the boat. McGrievy and Markeson swam alongside the men who were going hand over hand along the line. All 16 men in the first group made it to the boat, but not without a close shave and two near casualties. Two of the men, weakened further by the exertion of hauling themselves along the line, swallowed a lot of salt water. They let go to see if they could get to the boat on their own. They found themselves being swept further away from the small boat. Cook, standing on the stem of the boat, directed McGrievy and Markesan to get them back in line. The two American swimmers got to the Aussies and wrestled them back toward the boat. Even in their weakened condition, they fought the rescuers, and it took almost superhuman strength to get them back to the boat.

Time was the major enemy. When the small boat reached the submarine, dawn was not too far away. The passengers were hurriedly lowered below deck, given first aid, bowls of hot tomato soup, sandwiches, and cigarettes. The small boat was hoisted in, as the Commanding Officer decided the risk was too great to try another rescue trip at this time.

The remainder of the party still on the beach were notified that the submarine would return the next night and pick them up. Knowing the Japanese Army was within a half day’s march of their position, these brave men sent a cheery message, “Okay, Yank; good on ya.”

SEA RAVEN returned to deep water, charging batteries en route. The Australians were hurriedly indoctrinated into life aboard a submarine. Information slips were handed out to instruct them as to what to do in case of emergency, where and when smoking would be permitted and the all-important task of how to blow the head (how to flush the toilet).

The Aussies were greatly concerned about the safety of their mates left on the beach. They knew the Japanese were not too far away, for they had received a note from the Japanese stating that they would be treated with kindness if they would surrender. The submarine crew tried to reassure them that the small boat would be able to beat the laps to the punch. A peaceful day was spent submerged off the island, and plans were formulated as to how we would get the stretcher cases off the island. The Commanding Officer insisted that the volunteers not take the boat to the beach.

The decision was made to take one additional man who would remain with the boat and assist in helping the injured into the boat. The three swimmers would secure the wrists of the badly injured with bandage material, loop the bound arms around the neck of the swimmer, and then swim them through the surf to the small boat. All agreed this was the best solution to the problem.

After dark, SEARAVEN surfaced and again headed for a position as close to the breakers as would be considered prudent. The submarine reached an acceptable position, and the small boat was hoisted over the side for a third trip to the beach. John Lorenz, a very hefty and strong Chief Machinist Mate, was the fourth man in the boat. He remained with the boat while the three swimmers swam to the beach to effect a rescue of the stretcher cases. Reaching the beach the volunteers were greeted with a cheer and a “Thanks Yanks, for coming back for us”.

McGrievy took the first man on his back and entered the water. He had tried his best to instruct a semi-conscious man how he would have to act as they came to the breakers. Reaching a depth of water where the patient became less of a load, McGrievy took the line in hand and began the long trip through the surf to the anchored boat. Getting through the surf was a major undertaking, making sure the injured passenger did not swallow too much water.

When the swimmer reached the small boat, Lorenz made short work of getting the injured man into the bottom of the wherry. In a few minutes, Markeson arrived with his passenger, and close behind Cook deposited his man into the boat.

At this moment, the seas decided to change a very smooth rescue into a tragedy. The wind began to blow, and the seas began to mount. The small boat started to drag anchor and finally, turned her broadside to the waves. In a flash, the boat was swept toward the beach, smashing through the breakers and depositing the boat, the four Americans, and the three injured Aussies onto the sands of the beach.

Fighting time, the rescuers got the injured men into the bottom of the boat and shoved the bow toward the breakers. All bands took hold of the boat, wherever they could grab. They were battered back to the beach on the first three tries. Finally, gathering their last bit of strength, asking the Almighty for a helping hand, they made another try. An invisible hand picked up the stern, and shoved the boat and its battling crew into calmer waters. From there, the rowers were able to make forward progress. After getting all hands into the boat, they made their way back to SEARAVEN.

Transferring the rescued men onto the submarine and getting them below deck almost ended in another tragedy. The first man brought aboard was a semi-comatose Aussie, who drifted in and out of consciousness. He was shoved aft on the deck in order to facilitate getting the others aboard. Finally, the small boat was hoisted in and the topside was secured. SEA RAVEN prepared to head to sea and dive, for dawn was not too far away.

As a sailor came topside to close the after battery hatch, he thought he heard someone moaning and trying to call “Hey mate, what about me?” The seaman spotted the stretcher in the after-deck area. After alerting the Captain on the bridge, SEARAVEN was slowed and a bunch of willing hands came topside to lower Phil Kean to the safety of below decks.

En route to Australia, a major fire broke out in the maneuvering room when a loosened bolt fell into the contacts in the main power electrical system. The crew fought the tire for an hour, finally taking all the unused extinguishers left aboard the ship and throwing them into the engine room. With the hatches and ventilation secured, the fire snuffed itself out.

Radioing headquarters for help, the crew turned to, and after hours of hard work were able to jury rig the auxiliary engine to the main electrical system and produce enough power to proceed at about two knots.

After several hours of slow progress, HMAS MARYBOROUGH, an Australian corvette, took SEARAVEN undertow, returning the rescuers and the rescued to the port of Freemantle.

The injured men were taken from the submarine under highly secretive orders. The Allied governments did not want the Japanese to know that American submariners were being utilized as rescue and delivery vessels. The Aussies went to the hospital to recover and SEARAVEN went back to patrol to take up the business of sinking enemy shipping.

Fate-what a strange power. It often intervenes in the lives of strangers. Never underestimate its power!!!!

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