Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Daniel .A. Curran is a former submarine officer, an attorney, a retired electronics industry executive, and is now a senior research fellow at the Marine Policy Center, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The nation was stunned on January 24, 1943. The Sunday New York Times front page reported:


Special to the New York Times:
Washington, January 23-Rear Admiral Robert H. English, Commander of the Pacific Fleet’s Submarine Force, 55 year old hero of submarine patrol duty in the first World War, was one of nineteen men on the plane still missing on its flight from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco, the Navy disclosed today.

A month later, Charles A. Lockwood, Jr. assumed command of the Submarine Force Pacific. In the coming years, Lockwood, an experienced submariner, would direct operations against the vital sea lanes of the Japanese home islands. More than 50 years have passed since the success of the American submariners and the end of World War Two. Perhaps it is time to look back on the life of Lockwood, the director of these operations, called “Uncle Charles” by his men. Operation Barney, the foray through the mine-infested entrance to the Sea of Japan by nine U.S. submarines, detailed here, is an example of Lockwood’s persistence and dedication to his men and their high regard for him.

Lockwood, a 1912 graduate of the Naval Academy, served in submarines early in his career. He had nine submarine commands in the period 1914 to 1928, including UC-97, an ex-German submarine that he returned to the United States across the Atlantic for a war bond tour of the Great Lakes after World War One.Unlike Bob English, whom Lockwood followed in several other assignments, Lockwood missed combat action in the first World War. In 1933 and 1934, Lockwood served as head of the Seamanship Department at the Naval Academy. Bill Germershausen, who served under COMSUBPAC in the Pacific, writes about Lockwood at the Naval Academy:

“I have some very fond memories of that great sailor. My earliest recollection of him goes back to my days at the Naval Academy when I was a midshipman and he was head of the Department of Seamanship and Navigation. He was a commander (then) … he ran an excellent department and I enjoyed that part of the course.”

Shortly before the entry of the United States in World War Two, Lockwood was the naval attacM in London. There he learned first hand about British submarine warfare and some of the shortcomings of the German U-boat operations. These lessons, especially the early abandonment of the magnetic torpedo exploders by both the Royal and German navies and the overuse of radio communications by German submarines, would be carried forth in his Pacific command.

At the beginning of World War Two, Rear Admiral Thomas Withers commanded the north and central Pacific submarines from Pearl Harbor. The south and southwest Pacific areas were covered by Captain John Wilkes out of the Fremantle base near Perth, Australia, and Captain James Fife in Darwin, Australia. Later, in the summer of 1942, Captain Ralph Christie, with a number of old S-boats, set up a base in Brisbane. Christie was soon sent to the Newport, Rhode Island Torpedo Station. In May 1942, Bob English relieved Withers, who went to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to direct the submarine building program. Also in May, Lockwood relieved Wilkes and pinned on his admiral’s stars a short time later.

Lockwood, in Australia, was saddened by the death of English and his staff, all experienced submariners. He immediately wrote a personal note to his former submarine boss, Vice Admiral R.S. Edwards, Chief of Staff to Admiral King.

“If it is true (that the plane is lost) I hope no one thinks of sending me to Pearl Harbor. By all means let someone else have Pearl Harbor.”

Lockwood’s message passed his own order to Hawaii. Lockwood left Australia, relieved by the recently promoted Rear Admiral Ralph Christie. Christie returned from Newport, where he worked to resolve the Mk 14 torpedo exploder problems.

During the first year of the war, 1942, United States submarines fought bravely against an aggressive enemy. The Asiatic submarine bases, along with most of the supplies and spare parts, were lost with the Philippines. Intelligence was scant and, of great distress to the Submarine Force, many of the torpedoes were duds. In the second year of the war. the Submarine Force was now working out its technical, logistical, and organizational problems.

Lockwood assumed the Pacific: command in February 1943, with a series of tough challenges. Not least were the troubles and frustration with the exploders in the Mk 14 torpedoes, the submarine’s principal weapon. Harry Hull, SUBPAC’s torpedo and gunnery officer remembers the torpedo problems:

“Admiral Lockwood had some very firm views but he was always willing to talk to people about them. Admiral Christie was involved in the testing of the magnetic exploders (in Newport) and he knew they bad been thoroughly tested and made to work. He insisted on keeping them active in his area (Australia). Admiral Lockwood came to the decision that there were more problems with them than we need have and so he bad them inactivated. Admiral Lockwood was probably right on this. Christie eventually determined that the production engineering bad not been done properly by the Newport station and the manufactured torpedoes were faulty.”

Hull recalls Lockwood’s personal involvement and aggressiveness:

“He was … very aggressive with the Mk 27 torpedo (Cutie) which was really brought out as a defensive weapon. The idea was that the Mk 27 … wouJd run out of the (torpedo) tube quite silently, and the concept was if you were going to be depth charged, you would do your best to get the destroyer or whatever on your stem and pull the wire and that Mk 27 wouJd swim out of the (after) tube, go up and polish off the guy who was bothering you.

“Admiral Lockwood said,” Well, that’s fine. Why don’t we also challenge the destroyers and go hunting them with the Mk 27 and let it swim out the bow tubes and go after the destroyer’s screws?’ I can’t give you the statistics on that but we did, of course, carry out his instructions. I think several successful attacks were made in which the use of the Mk 27 torpedo was very definitely offensive and aggressive rather than defensive after depth charging had begun.”

One of Lockwood’s most perplexing problems, later in the war, was operational, not technical. The Japanese merchant fleet operated safely between the Asian mainland and the home islands in the Sea of Japan, u where her essential raw materials and food passed as smoothly as they had before the war. Minefields protected both entrances to the Sea of Japan. The loss of Mush Morton and WAHOO in 1943, exploring the outer edges of these minefields, was a bitter loss to Lockwood. With his personal push, the Admiral encouraged and supported the scientists and engineers to perfect a mine-detecting sonar, called FM (frequency modulated) sonar, designated the QLA. The sailors called it “Hell’s Bells” for the sound the return echo made when it detected the deadly weapon.

Operation Barney was conceived and emerged as a bold plan. Lockwood would send nine submarines, he called the “Hellcats”, with the new sonar, into the Sea of Japan, through the minefields in the Tsushima Strait, 12 to the south of the main Japanese islands. The admiral assigned William (Barney) Sieglaff to plan the operation, hence the name Operation Barney, while he, Lockwood, concentrated on the mine-detecting sonar. The operation was a qualified success, however, one submarine, BONEFISH, was lost (but not to mines). After 15 days of destruction and general hell raising, 28 Japanese ships, totaling 70,000 tons, were sunk before the remaining eight American submarines escaped through LaPerouse Strait, 13 north of the main islands.

Later, with Colonel Hans Christian Adamson, Lockwood wrote a series ofboolcs. This included Hellcats of the Sea in 1955. This book, the story of Operation Barney, was made into a movie starring the future president, Ronald Reagan, and first lady, Nancy Davis.

Art Roshon, from the University of California, Division of War Research Laboratory, worked on the QLA sonar for the mission.

” … those Hellcat skippers were a terrific bunch, and the enthusiasm {obsession) of the Admiral certainly was reflected by there … I can tell you that when the Hellcats headed for their unusual patrol, each of us in the group ‘sweated it out’ until we were informed that the operation bad been successful. Admiral Lockwood did the same. ..”

E. (Steiny) Steinmetz, who commanded one of the Hellcats, writes:

“When we stopped at Guam to top off, we remained for several days at sea training with a company tech aboard. Like all new equipment, QLA had to be debugged. Considerable adjusting and tuning plus instruction in maintenance was involved. The problems were solved and it worked.

“Uncle Charlie personally asked me if I was satisfied and would I have any qual~ about trying it out during a special mission designed to locate the limits of the Tsushima Strait minefields. I told him no (qualms).

“As we prepared for the Sea of Japan patrol, Admiral Lockwood rode all the subs involved when we conducted our practice against the dummy minefields … He was a morale builder.

“During this period … he met with the Hellcat skippers. He admitted sending us into the Sea of Japan was almost an obsession with him. He told us of the opposition to it but that Admiral Nimitz agreed with him to conduct the operation but he definitely could not go on it. He (Lockwood) said the only decoration he coveted was the Submarine Combat Pin-fairly earned. We believed in him, I know of no skipper who felt reluctant (to go on the operation). I felt that if he was convinced that QLA would get us through the minefields, then so be it-let’s go.”

Bill Germershausen, commander of SPADEFISH, also remembers:
“10 1945, when I was CO of SPADEFISH, we were in Guam training for the Sea of Japan operation. Lockwood came aboard and personally trained our FM sonar operator in its use in detecting mines. This is a good example of his personal involvement in the boats. The crew held him in high regard.”

Neal Pike was the chief electronics technician in SPADEFISH. He remembers how the QLA was originally designed as an alternative to the single frequency sonar to be used for target ranging. Pike writes:

” … Further tests revealed that (the FM sonar) was detectable at long distances on the standard equipment. The decision was made not to use the new equipment in the war zone. In came Admiral Lockwood with the idea to use this equipment as mine detectors. The (University of California Division of War Research) laboratory ran tests and determined that the new equipment could, indeed, detect mines very effectively. Admiral Lockwood made the decision to equip a number of boats … for the express purpose of sending U.S. submarines into the Sea of Japan … (where) commerce was proceeding … almost normally. A little over a year was spent equipping and training other boats to use this new equipment for mine detection.

“… Admiral Lockwood apparently considered me to be a technical expert on the QLA sonar. A number of times he took me with him in his plane to the other boats having problems with the QLA sonar. Each time we got the equipment in operation and Admiral Lockwood was gratified that he and his submariners were able to solve some of the problems with the then state-of-the-art equipment so it could be used to its fullest capacity.

“As a result of Admiral Lockwood’s vision and personal dedication to preparing for the operation, SEADOG, CREVALLE, and SP ADEFISH, the first of the nine Hellcats, traveised the Tsushima Strait, submerged, dodging tethered mines with the use of the new sound gear to detect and avoid the mines as we encountered them. On June 4, 1945 at 2054 Japan time, the three boats … entered the Sea of Japan to be the first U.S. submarines to enter that body of water since 1943 and the first through the Tsushima Strait .. The Sea of Japan was closed to normal commerce for the short remainder of the war. Admiral Lockwood had defeated the Japanese Navy in its own private sanctuary.”

Operation Barney took place six weeks before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Immediately after VJ (Victory over Japan) Day, Lockwood and his submariner staff met to discuss the lessons of the war and the submarine of the future. Harry Hull recalls the meeting:”

“At the end of the war, After VJ Day, Admiral Lockwood said to all of us on the staff, ‘Everybody take a week or ten days off and go out and relax and get your vigor back, and then come back and let’s sit down and write out the lessons of this war so we don’t have to learn them all over again.’ … the immediate concept of the nuclear bombing was, ‘All right, let’s harness this for propulsion and let’s have a true submersible instead of this slightly maneuverable mine’, which the diesel submarine was. This, I’m sure, was beaded for being our principal recommendation.

“we all worked up our recommendations and we had a big meeting, at which Admiral Lockwood presided. When it all got through, Pete Yarborough, the submarine captain doctor on Lockwood’s staff, said, ‘Admiral, may I say something!’ and the Admiral said, ‘Of course,’ and Pete Yarborough said more or less something along these lines. He said, ‘In this war, you have tested the human machine to the atmost. .. the temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide content, oxygen content, all the rest of these things, simply the atmosphere in which you live in a submerged submarine is pretty awful and, with the primitive means that we had of trying to control the atmosphere, we didn’t give our people the best conditions to work under … Now, if you are proposing to build a true submersible and send it out for a sixty day submerged patrol, the first thing you have got to do is make the ship habitable and then you have got to consider how you are going to occupy and house your crew for those sixty days. Every man has got to have a bunk, he’s got to have some private space to himself and you have got to have things for him to do besides get in his bunk when his watch is over.’

” … You can thank Pete Yarborough for making this statement at the end of the general staff briefing with Admiral Lockwood and Admiral Lockwood’s enthusiastic endorsement of it … ”

After the war, Lockwood was assigned as Inspector General of the Navy. Germershausen recalls:

“When the war ended, ‘Uncle Charlie’ was transferred to Washington … he bad no stomach for this job and he and his friend Rear Admiral C.W. Styer retired (in 1947) to Monte Sereno (California) where they bad neighboring homes. He settled down to write books on his naval experiences. My wife and I were entertained at this estate, twin Dolphins a number of times … ”

After a distinguished naval career, he embarked on a writing career. The first book was Sink Em All in 1951. Later, with Colonel Adamson, he wrote a series of best sellers on submarines and World War Two. In the year of bis death. 1967, he published his biography and a book on the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Lockwood is buried in Golden Gate Cemetery in San Bruno, California, a short distance from the grave of his life-long friend and former commander, Chester W. Nimitz.

His books are not his final tribute. USS LOCKWOOD (DE, later FF, 1064) was launched in 1967. Co-sponsors were the Admiral’s widow, Phyllis, and his daughter, Mrs. John Canty. In 1970, the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island established the Charles A. Lockwood, Ir. Military Chair of Submarine Warfare. The Naval Submarine League honors the Admiral with the Charles A. Lockwood Award for Professional Excellence. Three awards are presented annually-to an officer, a chief petty officer and to an enlisted rating E-6 or below.

Aggressive, technically competent, persistent, as loyal to his men as they were to him, student of the past and prophet of future submarine operations, are all hallmarks of Charles A. Lockwood, Jr., a brilliant naval officer and one of the most successful submarine commanders of all time.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League