Mike Carmody enlisted in the Navy December, 1941 at the age of 17. He never went to Submarine School. During World War II he made 11 war patrols as a machinist mate. He rates the submarine Combat Pin with 4 bronze stars. He also made peacetime Cold War patrols. He was Chief of the Boat 011 DIABLO (SS479). He is a hard hat diver second class and was scuba instructor at the Escape Training Tank New London, Sub Base. He retired after 22 years active duty. He has had over I 5 title stories published to date.
During WWII the two submarines I served in had the good fortune of making several sea rescues on three separate occasions. Unfortunately, all of the rescues were not successful. Being in the water and apart from your ship can be scary. You can experience this feeling if you ever fell overboard or went on swim. call in the ocean. First you hope the riflemen are keeping a sharp lookout for the dorsal fin that always seems to appear. When you are eye level with the water surface and looking up at the ship you realize how vulnerable you are. It’s also surprising how fast the wind and tide carry the boat away from you when you are in the water.
My first rescue experience came in the north Atlantic during the worst winter weather recorded in 50 years. It was my fourth war patrol in the old submarine S-17 (SS 122). We were U-Boat hunting in mid-January of 1943. We really felt the cold more because the three previous patrols were tropical, Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. I was a Fireman First Class but I also had to stand lookout watches on a rotating basis.
The watches were one hour on and four hours off because of the bitter cold. The icy wind was causing the waves to crest at about ten feet. I was ascending the ladder to relieve a lookout when a freak wave swamped the boat. Our bathtub-type conning tower filled with water and washed two lookouts overboard. Captain Harrel was on the bridge with the 0.D. and they managed to hang on. The Captain backed the boat down with full left rudder and came almost along-side the two men. Just then, a large swell deposited one of the lookouts almost on deck and the other one nearby. We managed to lift them both aboard. This rescue took only between ten and fifteen minutes, but neither of the lookouts could be revived. Both of these young men died on deck from exposure and shock. It was a miracle that no one else was washed overboard during the rescue. Our deck was only six feet above the water and in those days we had no life lines or safety harnesses.
The next rescue took place on September 12, 1944 in the South China Sea, about 30 miles off the Japanese island of Hainan: but the story really started many months earlier in a prison of war camp in Tamark, Rangoon. The bridge over the River Kwai was just completed by allied POWs thus making the final connection to the 265 mile railroad through Burma and Thailand. Now Japan wanted I 0,000 allied slave laborers sent to Japan to work in the coal and copper mines. 2250 were selected from the River K wai Bridge area. Of the 61,000 white POWs on the railroad project, 12,600 had already died. Asian and coolie laborers already lost 100,000 due to the harsh treatment and cruelty. The white POWs then started on the 1800 mite trek to the docks of Singapore. Upon arrival they were divided into two groups and put into the stifling cargo holds of the ocean liners RAKUVO and KACKIDOKI MARU. Water and food were next to nonexistent. Sanitary facilities were benjods (toilets) that hung over the side of the ship in full view of the passengers. These ships also carried over 1500 Japanese civilians, and 275 dignitaries, all fleeing Southeast Asia. The KACHIDOKI MARU had over 200 wounded Nippon soldiers and over 500 boxes of ashes of their war dead. The military cargo was bales of raw rubber, tin, scrap iron and bauxite. Other ships were 2 loaded tankers, 2 loaded cargo freighters, and the destroyer SIKINAMI and 3 destroyer escorts.
The ten ship convoy got underway at 0700, September 6, 1944. On September I I 1h they merged with a convoy from Manila of 3 freighters and three more escorts, now 16 ships. The Japanese merchant marine code had been broken and this secret was called ultra. Admiral Lockwood’s staff was plotting the convoy and alerted 3 U.S. submarines of the convoy’s course. The Ultra message never mentioned that the ships had 2250 allied POWs aboard.
Early on the morning of September l 21h, the submarine GROWLER attacked the convoy and sank 3 ships, including the destroyer SK.IKINAMI. On the evening of the 121 the SEALION II attacked the convoy and sank 3 ships, including the prison hell ship RAKUYO MARU. The convoy, in a panic, had scattered, thus putting P AMPANITO way off course. After 18 hours, at 2200 on the 121h of September PAMPANITO headed in on the surface at full speed.
Just before firing, we had a hot run in #4 torpedo tube. This is when a torpedo accidentally starts running inside the tube, a very dangerous situation. Ignoring the hot run, Captain Summers fired the 5 bow tubes, then turned 180 degrees and fired the 4 stem tubes. Seven hits were observed: the captain and bridge crew watched in fascination the exploding ships: the prison ship KACHIDOKI MARU got hit twice and sank. The freighter SKINKO MARU got hit twice and sank, the tanker ZUIHO MARU got hit with two fish and exploded, the freighter KIMIKA WA MARU took one hit. We departed the area at flank speed white reloading and expelling the hot running armed torpedo from #4 torpedo tube. Suddenly the boat was rocked by a devastating explosion close aboard. Unknown to us, a radar equipped Japanese aircraft dropped a five hundred pound bomb, missing us by about one hundred feet. This explosion caused considerable damage and forced us to dive and stay down for three hours. We surfaced and again persued the convoy, making contact just before daybreak. We fired three torpedoes at the convoy, all missed and we were again forced to dive by the escorts. Three days later we returned to the area of our night surface attack and observed smoke on the horizon. It was September 15th in the late afternoon, visibility unlimited, but radar showed a storm approaching. Planes forced us to dive twice and when we finally surfaced we entered the debris field of thick oily sludge where we observed the still burning tanker ZUIHO MARU finally slip beneath the waves. The wreckage floating by included many benjos (toilets), bales of raw rubber and many bodies. Then a lookout spotted a half-sunk life boat with people in it. We armed the men on deck and approached with caution to take a few prisoners. You can imagine our amazement when someone started calling out in English when they saw the American flag. They were white men but we couldn’t tell because they were covered with thick crude oil. We started taking them aboard. We cut off their rag-like clothing and as best we could, we cleaned them up with rags soaked in clean fuel oil. More wreckage and men were sighted. They were all weak and near death. They averaged about 80 pounds in weight. Our men were diving into the water to assist in getting them alongside. They were all starving, diseased, and many were badly burned, several injured and two were blind. Some were in a crazed state. We broke radio silence and called other submarines that were in the area. In two hours the SEALION IT came into view and started the rescuing effort. With darkness coming up and the sea getting choppy we were forced to terminate the rescue. We took count and found that we had 73 POWs aboard. The final total rescued was 159, but 7 died enroute to Saipan and were buried at sea by the four submarines.
Post war records show that a large Japanese factory whale ship named KJBIBI MARU and escorts rescued around 600 allied POWs and around 900 Japanese civilians. All were sent to Japan on the whaling ship. In Admiral Nimitz’s speech he said that this rescue by PAMPANITO was the first real proof of the atrocities that were being committed against Allied prisoners by this barbaric enemy.
We were in the 55’h day of patrol #4 with our new four striper Cap’ n Mike Fenno. He was a naval legend because of his exploit in 1942 when he escaped from Corregidor with tons of gold. There was hardly any visibility and the waves were 15 footers. We didn’t know it then but this was the beginning of typhoon Cobra. The lookouts had reported that we were leaving an oil slick. Fuel oil soundings of #4 fuel ballast tank indicated that it was many thousand gallons short of its recorded reading. We figured a broken flange topside from the last depth charging. The captain explained to Chief Merryman and me, as fuel king, that this had to be repaired. We decided to convert the tank back to a ballast tank while we were at it, about a forty five minute job. First we had to remove a 4×8 steel deck plate aft of the conning tower. I couldn’t wear my life belt because it could easily get snagged on the maze of piping under the deck, but I had it with me in case I had to make a hasty egress. The chief sat on the deck opening, handing me the tools. I just completed the job when I plainly heard the lookouts shouting that a big one was coming-it was a 35-foot wave. The next thing I knew I was under water and fighting my way to the deck opening. When I stood up the chief, the deck plate and the bag of tools were gone. I climbed out and took hold of the antenna line and ran aft. I could see the chief on a wave crest. The captain kept calling for me to return to the conning tower-he didn’ t want another man in the water, but I was the only one who could see the chief. Whenever he rose on a wave I pointed to where he was. The boat maneuvered within range of the chief and he was able to grab a life ring that was thrown to him. He was pulled alongside and was really getting beat up against the ballast tanks before we could get him on deck. The captain said it was a miracle we were able to retrieve him in such bad weather and limited visibility. His life belt was tom when he was washed overboard and wasn’t much help in keeping him afloat. We both got a double shot of medical brandy to steady our nerves. We then all rigged ship to combat Typhoon Cobra.