Compiled from Original Diaries and War Patrol Reports
USS BALAO, (SS 285) departed on patrol from Guam on 27 February in company with USS TENCH (SS 417), USS GUARDFISH (SS 217) and USS SEA DEVIL (SS 400). comprising Task Group 17.2.2 (Barney’s Bums). Her eighth war patrol, under the command of Captain Bob Worthington, covered the 34 days from 27 February through 1 April 1945.
On 28 February a message was received reporting that a B-29 had ditched in an area near to the Task Group track. The following day the Task Group was ordered to search for two lifeboats from the ditched aircraft which had been spotted by air. On 2 March, since other U.S. ships and aircraft in the search area had already recovered seven crewmen, the group was ordered to discontinue the search and resume transit. However, at 0730 on the next morning the group was ordered to reverse course and resume the search. This order was countermanded at 1030 and the transit resumed after a considerable expenditure of time and fuel.
The group arrived at the assigned patrol area at 0000 on 7 March at which time BALAO had expended 29,000 gallons of fuel in transit alone. In addition to the lifeboat search, communications among the group proved to be particularly frustrating during this transit. Several radio bands were employed with indifferent success, as well as flashing light and radar. The surface search radar, the SJ, was employed as follows: BALAO would observe an interference spoke at a particular bearing, train the antenna to that bearing and key the radar transmitter in Morse code. Recognitions signals were exchanged to identify the two submarines. This was probably the most reliable of the communication methods employed but the radar operators were not always up to speed on CW procedures or the proper use of recognition signals and the SJ radar failed with great regularity.
On 9 March BALAO was patrolling in her assigned area off the southwestern tip of Kyushu. At 0910 masts and smoke were sighted through the periscope and she commenced a submerged approach on a tanker guarded by two escorts. This attack was greatly hampered by the target’s proximity to the shore and poor visibility. Four torpedoes were fired but without success. Two possible dud hits were heard at approximately the correct time. A moderately accurate depth charging was the only reward for this engagement. By 1225 the escorts and AO had cleared the area so BALAO headed back to try again. This chase proved unsuccessful as well and was abandoned that evening.
A contact report was received from USS JALLAO (SS 368) on a target group of four ships and two escorts and BALAO took up the chase. Subsequent communication from Jallao on the next morning (10 March) reponed that USS KETE (SS 369), twenty miles ahead, had taken up the attack. At 0403 BALAO witnessed a tremendous fireball about 14 miles ahead indicating that Kete had found her target. BALAO attempted to c1ose the action on the surface but the dawn arrived before she could get in an attack position. A second ship was observed to be blown sky-high at 0538. BALAO arrived submerged in the area of the previous action at 1326 but nothing remained but bits of wreckage. KETE was lost on 20 March due to enemy action.
The CO included a diary entry on 13 March indicating that the boat had tracked by radar, a particularly aggressive enemy rain squall, which had been pursued at 19 knots.
On 18 March BALAO conducted a surface gunnery attack on a small Japanese whaling vessel with 5-inch, 20mm and 40m cannon. The first round of 5-inch detonated prematurely; exploding just after the round had cleared the deck, resulting in numerous shrapnel holes topside. The second round was a misfire. While the bore was being cleared, fire was maintained with the 20mm and 40mm guns. Eight 5-inch rounds were required to sink this ship. Four survivors were recovered, one of whom died shortly after being brought on board. One of the three remaining survivors was the captain of the whaler who spoke a lin1e English; another was a 19 year old boy. The three POWs were kept in separate spaces, the captain in the after torpedo room, the 19 year old in the mess decks and the third (known as Sour-Puss) in the forward torpedo room.
Later that day a message was received giving the position of a Japanese convoy. BALAO surfaced at 1100 and proceeded to intercept. Smoke was sighted on the horizon at 1400. By 1538 the convoy could be identified as four large ships in the main body with two escorts. This identification was subsequently modified as being four large ships and four escorts. During the evening hours BALAO ran on the surface to achieve a firing position while avoiding the escorts. At 0020 on the 19th BALAO crossed to the shallow-water side of the convoy since she would not be expected inshore.
The main body was organized as two columns with larger ships leading each column. Firing position was attained at 0252 and four torpedoes were fired at the leading ship in the near column and two at the leading ship in the far column. BALAO then swung around and fired four shots from the stern tubes at the trailing ship in the near column. Due to the intensity of the action there was a slight breakdown in procedures and no times of fire were recorded. Four hits were heard, the leading ship in the near column was seen to be in flames and the trailing ship in the near column was observed to blow up. Hits on other targets could not be verified but it was believed possible that one or more hits had been attained on one of the escorts. BALAO submerged to reload and then surfaced to return outside the 20 fathom curve before first light. There were no effective counterattacks, probably because the Japanese had expected that any attack would come from the deep-water side.
Later that afternoon, while on submerged patrol, BALAO sighted two sets of masts. On closing these potential targets they proved to be Japanese trawlers. BALAO surfaced at 1743, immediately sighting two more trawlers. All four trawlers were taken under gunfire and sunk. A life raft was thrown over the side to aid survivors and one young prisoner was taken aboard. He subsequently proved to be an 18 year old Chinese lad named Too Wing. This was too much for the crew who immediately nick-named him Biplane.
The third torpedo attack took place on 21 March against a convoy of two merchant ships and four escorts. The convoy was tracked by BALAO on the surface throughout the early morning hours but each time BALAO attempted to get to a suitable firing position an escort would close in and force her to withdraw. Captain Worthington surmised that he had been detected and tracked at least part of the time by enemy radar. At 0545 he decided that, with the approach of dawn, “it was now or never” and commenced closing with the main body. As soon as this decision was made the starboard escort commenced to head for BALAO. The CO rang up full speed and commenced to cross ahead of the convoy in order to shoot from the far side, possibly taking them by surprise.
At 0615 BALAO arrived in a firing position only 1000 yards off the convoy track, maneuvering for a stern shot. Minutes later one of the escorts came out of the fog, 1400 yards astern, and turned toward BALAO. Changing setup rapidly BALAO fired four stern tubes at the destroyer. At almost the same time, the destroyer opened fire on BALAO with her forward gun. BALAO immedi-ately increased speed and opened out under cover of a smokescreen that, as Captain Worthington said, blended nicely with the fog. Four explosions were heard but it could not be determined which, if any, were from torpedo hits on either the escort or the main body following astern, and which were the impacts from the escort’s gunfire.
BALAO opened out to 5000 yards from the main body but at least one of the escorts was tracking BALAO by radar, eventually closing to within visual gunfire range. At 0712 the escort recommenced firing. BALAO dove after releasing a radar decoy. When submerged, a bubble target and an NAC noisemaker were also released. By 0759 it appeared that the escort had been evaded since the pinging had stopped and screw noises could no longer be heard. However, the respite was to be short-lived. Twenty minutes later the escort was again heard, commencing to close. Sound conditions were excellent and there were only forty fathoms of water in which to evade. By 0915 BALAO was under heavy depth-charge attack. Twenty-one explosions were heard in close succession.
Captain Worthington stated in his patrol diary that, “They were close but not blockbusters.” The explosions were above and astern and the boat got an immediate ten degree up-bubble from the blasts. Immediately after the attack, pinging resumed, apparently right on top of BALAO but no attack followed. By 1020 sound contact on the escort was lost. The tenacious escort however had not yet broken off the fight. At 1105 strong pinging was again heard, apparently in preparation for another attack, which surprisingly failed to materialize. In a few minutes the escort could be heard drawing off in the direction of the convoy. Since there was the possibility of a sleeper lying in wait, BALAO delayed coming to periscope depth until 1240. On conducting a visual and radar sweep, no contacts were observed.
At 0938 on 26 March BALAO battle-surfaced to attack a small Japanese freighter by gunfire, submerging again at 0956 after destroying the target. This left BALAO low on fuel and with only four rounds of 5-inch ammunition and four forward torpedoes remaining. She was subsequently directed to return to Guam for refit, arriving on 1 April.
After the war, a group was convened to accurately establish the actual tonnage sunk in the Far Eastern Theater, based on Japanese records. This was the Joint Army Navy. Assessment Group. The findings of this group were that only one of the ships, claimed by BALAO on her 19 March torpedo attack, was credited This was the Hakozaki Maru a 10,400-ton transport. It is probable that the second ship, reported as hit and burning by BALAO, managed to run herself aground before she sank. In accordance with JAN AG rules, this was not credited as an enemy sinking.
Vice Admiral C. A. Lockwood, USN, COMSUBPAC, in his forwarding letter to the patrol report called it “a splendid, aggressive patrol resulting in the sinking of two large ships by torpedo fire and five trawlers and one small ship by gunfire. The excellent marksmanship of the gun crew is of special note.”
Captain Worthington was awarded the Navy Cross for this patrol. His citation reads:
“The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the NAVY CROSS to
COMMANDER ROBERT KEMBLE
UNITED STATES NAVY
for services as set forth in the following
“For extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. BALAO during the Eighth War Patrol of that vessel in the enemy Japanese-controlled East China and Yellow Sea Areas from February 27, 1945 to April 8, 1945. Maneuvering his vessel in shallow waters, Commander (then Lieutenant Commander) Worthington launched seven aggressive torpedo and gun attacks against enemy shipping, sinking three ships and five trawlers totaling 20,238 tons. Although subjected to unusually heavy hostile countermeasures, he carried out skillful evasive tactics and brought his vessel safe to port. His leadership and courageous devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
For the President,
Isl James Forrestal
Secretary of the Navy”