Dr. Beynon served in USS BOWFIN (SS28 7) and subsequently earned his doctorate at OHIO STATE University. He is a retired university professor having served at Bowling Green State University and the University of Maine at Farmington. He presently resides in Deland, Florida. He is the author of
The Pearl Harbor Avenger -USS BOWFIN
There is a port of no return, where ships
May ride al anchor for a little space
And then, some starless night, the cable slips.
Leaving an eddy at the mooring place …
Gulls, veer no longer. Sailor, rest your oar.
No tangled wreckage will be washed a ashore.
Leslie Nelson Jennings
The attack of the naval fleet at Pearl Harbor was a tragic event. It was described as a “Day of Infamy” by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The anchored ships were devastated by the Japanese naval aircraft. Such an event will live in the memories of those who were there and also on the pages of naval history.
A little known event occurred two days later after Pearl Harbor in the Philippine Archipelago. Once again enemy bombers assaulted the Asiatic Fleet at Manila and Cavite Naval Yard. This second incident was reported as more damaging than at Pearl. A total of 22 vessels and 1800 men were lost. Because of occurring just two days after Pearl Harbor, a presidential decision was made to keep the event secret. It was felt the loss at Pearl plus the losses at Cavite were too much for the American public to absorb.
Although the news of the December 10th attack was not relayed to the general public, those at the scene were eye-witnesses. Among those giving testimony was Carl L. D’ Alessio, a submarine sailor aboard the USS SEADRAGON.
Seaman D’ Alessio recalls hearing air raid sirens about high noon and seeing the enemy planes make reconnaissance runs over the Cavite Naval Yard. The return runs produced a barrage of bombs aimed at destroying the submarines moored at the piers. USS SEALION was a prime target and a direct hit resulted in extreme damage to the boat. The submarine, commanded by Richard G. Voge, was unable to avoid the destruction inflicted upon her. She was without her main engines which were due for major overhaul. The inability to get underway made her a sitting duck. The indefensible boat took two bombs. One was a direct hit on the cigarette deck and the other near the after engine room hatch. The two hits resulted in an immediate flooding of the compartments and SEALION settled by the stem. Damage to the bulkheads resulted in further flooding and the boat listed to starboard. She finally settled on the bottom with half of the main deck under water. Shortly after the bombing a damage survey team reported the boat was totally incapacitated. All motor controls were gone; thereby, rendering the boat not fit for salvage. In addition, Cavite was not able to do any repair work and the only facility was 5000 miles away at Pearl Harbor. A decision was made to strip her of all vital instruments and on Chritmas Day three depth charges were exploded. This ended the voyage of USS SEALION … THE FIRST SUBMARINE LOST IN WWII.
USS SEADRAGON was moored along side SEALION. This proximity caused damage to her also. Fragments of the bombing and pieces of SEALION damaged the conning tower of SEA DRAGON. Along side SEADRAGON was the minesweeper, BllTERN, which was burning furiously. As the SEADRAGON was in the process of being re-painted, the paint cans exploded and caused further damage. As the two vessels continued to burn, and not knowing the cargo of the minesweeper, Captain Pete Ferrell made preparations for his boat to be removed from the area. He summoned the rescue vessel. PIGEON, which hauled the submarine from harm’s way into clear waters. Later on, the tender CANOPUS made minor repairs to the boat after which she sailed for Surabaya, Java for further repair work. Finally she was made sea worthy and returned to retaliate for the attack at Cavite.
SEADRAGON continued her war patrols. She delivered code-breakers to Java, she escorted the tender HOLLAND to Darwin, Australia. And was assigned to guard the sea lane approaches to Darwin. Shortly thereafter, the invasion threat to Australia was lifted and she was assigned regular patrol runs. During the fourth patrol, seaman first class Rector was diagnosed with appendicitis. The boat’s doctor W. B. Lipes, decided an operation was in order. Captain Ferrell was undecided. In order to solve the impasse, the question was put to the patient. “I can do it,” said Lipes, “but it is a chance. If you don’t want me to go ahead …. “”Let’s do it” said Rector. With the patient’s concurrence, the Captain took the boat to 120 feet to provide a smooth, flat operating table in the officers’ quarters. Lipes operating with make shift instruments-dining silverware–and a tea strainer for a mask, proceeded to perform a two and one-half hour appendectomy. All went well. The SEADRAGON finished with a war record of I 0 vessels sunk-43,450 tons of enemy material on the Pacific Floor.
USS BULLHEAD was the last of the 52 submarines lost during the war. Her early patrols were under the command of Walter Griffith (ex BOWFIN Captain). While aboard BOWFIN, Griffith earned two Navy crosses, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, a letter of Commendation and a Presidential Unit Citation. This fearless skipper was assigned to new construction and commissioned BULLHEAD.
Griffith served the BULLHEAD for the first and second patrols. Few targets were found as the boat patrolled the South China Sea. On board was a war correspondent, Martin Sheridan, a reporter for the Boston Globe. He was the only correspondent awarded the privilege during WWII. Sheridan reported on one incident during the second patrol.
A B-24 Liberator popped out of the clouds.
Three bombs were dropped about 75 feet astern of the
boat. Though the boat dove rapidly, it didn’t seem half
fast enough. Men in the maneuvering and the after
torpedo room were shaken up a bit by the underwater
blasts. One serious case of constipation was known
to be cured by the attack.”
BULLHEAD’s second patrol was the last for Captain Griffin. He was relieved of command and joined Admiral Lockwood’s staff. His successor was E. R. Holt Jr. Who sailed the boat from Fremantle on the last day of July. Her orders were to patrol the Java Sea until September 5 and then head for Subic Bay in the Phillipines. In order to follow such orders, Holt had to traverse the Lombok Strait. This narrow passageway lay between Lombok Island and the Island of Bali. It was heavily guarded by Japanese AJS vessels and a shore battery of 6 inch guns on the cliffs overlooking the Strait waters. It was here that Commander Holt reported the boat through the Strait. Between August 6 and August IS several submarine attacks were made on American and British boats. CAPT AINE, enroute to the Java Sea, ordered the BULLHEAD to position herself in a scouting line. Receiving no response, the CAPT AINE reported the following:
“Have been unable to contact BULLHEAD by any means since arriving in area.”
No message meant no BULLHEAD. She was lost. Confirmation came on August 6th, as a Japanese Army Plane depth charged a submarine off the Bali Coast. Near the Northern mouth of the Lombok Strait. The pilot claimed direct hits and a gush of oil and air bubbles. With that information and with no response from BULLHEAD, it was reported the boat was down in action … ALL HANDS LOST. She was the last US submarine lost in the war.
The Silent Service will record the history of USS SEALION and USS BULLHEAD. The submariners who served aboard the boats were truly memorialized by the following:
“For those to whom much is given, much is required And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each of us, recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state, our success or failure, in whatever office we hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:
First, were we men of courage …
Second, were we truly men of judgment
Third, were we men of integrity …
Fourth, were we truly men of dedication?
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
January 20, 1961