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Admiral “Fearless Freddy” Warder is now 95 years old and living in Florida. Professor Stavros is a historian and is married to Admiral Warder’s granddaughter. He has given THE SUBMARINE REVIEW this human interest article based on the Admiral’s personal correspondence.

Somewhere in a small town in central Florida is a typical and modest house. One would drive by it without talcing any note whatsoever. In one of the back rooms that are no longer used for living, amongst the circa 1950’s furniture, hangs a now fading testament of a life; dedicated and committed to a great cause. The telling memento is a photograph, in black and white, of Chester Nimitz sitting on USS MISSOURI signing the surrender ending World War II. The inscription reads: “To Rear Admiral F.B. Warder, U.S. Navy, with best wishes, warmest regards and great appreciation of your contribution to the war effort in the Pacific during the long retreat from the Philippines in World War II which made possible the above moment.”

As everyone knows it is easier to travel a road clearly paved to victory. But Frederick Warder’s story, at least during his crowded hour, is the story of determination when no person could reasonably expect such an outcome. As the first commander of the now-famous submarine, SEAWOLF, Warder struggled with huge problems well noted in the many excellent books written about the period. The chaos caused by the early Japanese onslaught and the astoundingly deficient torpedoes that the early Submarine Force used as they went into battle is but two.

But throughout the tension-building years towards WWII, and during the dark days before the first glimmers of hope created at the Coral Sea and Midway, Warder maintained a confidence that enabled him and the crew of SEA WOLF to excel. This confidence is displayed in some personal correspondence that his family is now looking over.

Before the war, Frederick Warder oversaw the building of SEA WOLF. While doing so he injured his knee in a fall from a ladder at Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire. On a couple of occasions that knee injury almost caused him to lose SEA-WOLF. There was talk of a transfer over to SEARA VEN before the ships were even completed. Later in the Philippine islands his good friend Richard Vogue, commander at the time of SEA LION stood by, as ordered to take over SEA WOLF on account of Warder’s bad knee, an unexplained stomach ailment, an ear infection, and his aching teeth. In November of 1941, the situation became critical. He wrote home to his wife Mary that he was “getting more shots than ever before” in his life. The next week while on maneuvers he suffered from prickly heat. In a later letter, he stated that removal from SEA WOLF on account of his health “would have broken my heart”. He noted that he was the last of the original captains in his division and hoped that he did not “go the way of the other captains. One of which was shot by accident.”

This is an early example of the tenacity that later resulted in Warder becoming one of the early aces of the war. Other things contributed to his success. An excellent crew that was trained well. Admiral John Wilkes, who was in charge of Submarine Division 202 and a person not prone to high praise, complimented Warder on the “well-running boat” which Warder penned to his wife was “quite a concession”.

Warder and the crew worked well together. At times both made up for some slight imperfection. According to Warder, he had “good men in the ship but their activity on the beach has been a bit trying on me-and no damn good on my service reputation”. Service reputation or not he defended his men to the brass when deserved. Indeed this, according to a family member, was the first time he was fitted with the moniker “Fearless Freddy”. Before the war, when questioned about their activities by MPs, some (possibly semi-inebriated) enlisted men said, “Why we’ve been flinging fish with Fearless Freddy.

“On another personal issue, he wrote of the toll the venereal list was taking on the unmarried men. But then, possibly to offer reassurance, he wrote Mary, “It speaks pretty well for the faithful-ness of the married ones (and the respect they have for their families) that more of them have come down with nothing.”

But it wasn’t all Warder looking out for the crew. A few unnecessary blowups must have occurred for Warder confided in another letter to his wife, “You know my disposition is not of the sweetest and I think they [the crew] like my sour moments very well indeed.” But these confessions are overshadowed by his constant high praise for the crew in several letters. He especially praised William Dragon, his Gumery and torpedo officer, as a “tower of strength”. He also gave blanket praise in this private correspondence to his superiors when he wrote in many letters, “My bosses are the best.”.

Work for Captain and crew of SEA WOLF intensified as the war, unbeknownst to them, closed in. During gunnery practice, SEA WOLF always scored at or near the top. The letters back home reflect the added tension for Warder even as he attempted a casual tone. While he admitted to getting only “two hours of sleep” per night he went on to say, “I cannot discuss the international situation. I don’t believe there are many who could intelligently. Let’s remain optimistic and hope for a good long quiet leave together and a leisurely shore duty.

The disaster of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the war dashed those hopes. On December 8, 1941, SEAWOLF began its first war patrol as it pulled out of Cavite Naval Base at 5:00 PM. About two hours later the ship began to navigate the protecting minefield. Much to the consternation of Warder, the Army, as usual, illuminated the buoys with powerful searchlights. The lights only managed to blind the bridge personnel creating a few tense and dangerous situations. Warder recommended that this practice be stopped.

After clearing the minefield SEA WOLF began its zigzagging. This also irritated Warder. Wanting to get into action as soon as possible he noted that it “delayed the convoy considerably”. On December 9 during the regular radio skeds, Warder reported another problem; he heard “nothing but static on the loop [radio]” which might have been caused by Japanese jamming which inhibited some American communications. There was nothing to do but carry on. SEAWOLF headed toward San Bernadina strait.

Late that night, just before the strait, SEA WOLF surfaced in the middle of a rain squall. As the men came out for the watch rain battered their faces. Visibility became a problem and seas became heavy with a wind force of 4. This is the weather that Warder listed as “typical”. The ship could not be controlled at a depth of 60 feet. The weather became such a problem in the latter part of the patrol that SEA WOLF maintained a depth of 120 feet at times. Even at that depth, the captain reported that “force of sea appreciable” and when attempting periscope observations described the seas as “almost mountainous”.

Despite the weather, Warder figured that the straits could be cleared by day and took SEA WOLF to full speed bypassing SCULPIN and S-39. His energetic approach paid off as SEA-WOLF cleared the straits at about 5:00 AM on the morning of the 10th. They set a course due north. Then sound reported two ships in the area. Warder investigated at periscope depth but could not see anything. He attempted no further investigation of the matter, stating his experience proved that the majority of such reports were false. Later Warder figured men working in the torpedo rooms and the engine room had caused the alarms. He also noted that the alarms came from the same sound operator. That attention to detail while under the duress of combat resulted in the success of SEA WOLF. For the time being Warder wanted to get to his patrol area as soon as possible and rough seas, narrow straits, and probable false alarms were, not going to get in his way.

However, much to his chagrin, Frederick Warder’s anxious journey north ran into engine problems. Engines 2 and 4 began to leak oil. During SEAWOLF’s submerged travel of the 10th, the crew disabled those engines and began repairs. Despite every effort, the engines remained unfixed when SEA WOLF surfaced after sunset. SEA WOLF traveled on engine number one at only nine knots. After two hours of this Warder, in his urgency to get to his patrol area, continued charging batteries with both auxiliaries and took engine 3 for main propulsion along with engine 1. Now SEAWOLF cruised at 12 knots. It took two more excruciating hours before SEA WOLF ran on all four engines and made a speed of 17 knots.

As December 10th turned into the 11th, SEA WOLF received an order from COMSUBS directing it to a new patrol area; the Babuyan Channel north of Luzon. They arrived at that destination on the morning of the 12th. SEA WOLF continued to get thrashed by a sea condition of 6 and a wind force of S. Then, finally, after several false alarms and many periscope observations, SEA WOLF made contact with its first possible prey when a sound operator picked up pinging bearing 278 degrees. Warder immediately turned SEA WOLF in that direction and discovered a Japanese destroyer patrolling north of Palaui Island west of Aparri.

The alarm sounded and the crew rushed to battle stations. They fed information into the Torpedo Data Computer. But after 30 minutes of tracking SEA WOLF could not close the range for a suitable attack. Warder decided to secure from battle stations and proceed undetected into Aparri in order to collect information on the disposition of Japanese forces. After surfacing SEAWOLF again detected pinging and briefly made a surface pursuit but once again found no shipping. After the crew secured from battle stations late that night, SEA WOLF cleared Camiguin Island and closed on Aparri for the planned reconnaissance.

At 4:47 on the 13th SEA WOLF dove in the waters off of Aparri Harbor. One and a half hours later sound operators again picked up pinging. They had located another destroyer but SEA WOLF could get no closer than 12,000 yards. While tracking the destroyer inside the 30-fathom line the crew observed enemy patrol planes attempting to find American submarines. Even though the planes dropped flares twice, SEA WOLF remained undetected.

The first six days of this first war patrol for SEA WOLF had been fairly anti-climatic. December 14 proved to be different. The ship headed towards San Vicente. SEA WOLF submerged and about one hour later loud pinging suddenly began. Quickly the crew shut down all blowers, fans, air conditioning, and refrigeration. The temperature began to rise, making the men uncomfortable in the well over 100 degrees heat. Warder ordered evasive action and then more bad news. A second ship began pinging. SEA WOLF crept out to the 100-fathom line.

Four hours later, at 1:30 PM, SEA WOLF returned and Warder spotted a seaplane tender or a street supply ship” at San Vicente. He ordered the crew to battle stations. Warder estimated the range to be 5,500 yards. Then they heard new pinging. In spite of the enemy now attempting to track SEA WOLF Warder pressed home the attack. They fired the four bow tubes at a range of 3,800 yards.

The torpedoes had a depth set at 30 and 40 feet. Unknown to the crew, poor design and bad manufacturing caused the torpedoes to run about 15 feet below the setting. All four went ineffectually under the ship although sound reported two explosions subsequent to firing.

The crew reloaded the tubes in about seven minutes. Warder then ordered a dive to 90 feet. He positioned the ship for a salvo from the stern torpedoes. These were set for a depth of 15 feet. By now 20 minutes had elapsed and the range grew to 4,500 yards. The crew fired four torpedoes. Men in the engine room reported four muffled explosions. Warder, brutally honest, was skeptical about any possible success from the daring attack.

Three minutes after the attack pinging began. SEA WOLF, then inside the 30-fathom line, needed to escape. Then the inevitable Japanese counterattack began. The first set of depth charges exploded well distant”. Warder ordered the men to depth charge quarters. After five or six more depth chargings things became quiet. SEA WOLF turned north and silently left the area.

The rest of the patrol consisted of a few false alarms and ship maintenance. During the 18-day patrol, Frederick Warder began an intermittent letter to Mary Warder which he mailed upon his return. He informed Mary that as an officer he must self censure his mail. This he said would probably result in his giving her even less information than regulations allowed. On December 17 Warder included a little bravado writing, unlike Perry, I will not be able {because of censorship) to write ‘we have met the enemy and they are ours,” but I can say that we have had a splendid baptism and have had success at the northern latitudes.”

Continuing the letter on Christmas Eve, Frederick Warder felt more separated from his wife and family. This is understandable on such a day which families traditionally share together. He described in great detail the Christmas tree that the men fashioned using a “broomstick, medical applicators, medical cotton, green and pink file paper” etc. He told her that it reminded him of all the happy Christmas pasts they had shared. He looked forward with confidence to more family Christmas’ in the future.

On December 26, the first war patrol officially ended as SEAWOLF surfaced, cleared the minefield, and laid anchor at Mariveles. Warder had returned to a changed world. Cavite Naval Base was gone, destroyed by the Japanese on December IOlll. His good friend and classmate Richard Vogue’s submarine was wrecked and scuttled. Another close friend and classmate Morton Mumma had relieved himself from command. Despite all of these disasters, not to mention the torpedoes that did not work, Warder remained optimistic. He wrote home shortly after his arrival at Mariveles, “I’m very proud of my crew. They are going to beat the hell out of these gents [the Japanese] in time. In the meantime they are going to be very annoyed.”

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