Editors Note: Mike Rindskopf is truly qualified to review this interesting submarine story. He arrived in Brisbane on 13 May 1943 after DR UM ‘s fifth patrol; and departed for the third and final time on her eighth patrol on 2 November 1943. He worked with the authors for three years honing their submarine skills and reviewing their drafts. He served as on site liaison with the Naval Institute Press, and was the recipies of the first autographed copy of the book on 15 November 2004. His “I was there and did that” in the fore-word says it all.
Authors need an attractive subject, preferably one that has not been overworked. They should have unique knowledge of their subject. They should be willing to conduct thorough and sometimes tedious, difficult research. It is desirable that they write in their native language which is also OUR native language. They should be amenable to critical comments.
David Jones and Peter Nunan meet these provisos in spades. No one has written of Australia’s and Brisbane’s contribution to the war effort as have they. They know their country, their city, and the bureaucrats who ran it. Their research, with the help of many, has included some l 56 bibliographic references; and no fewer than 412 annotations. They write in Aussie English, but we can read that; and finally, I speak from experience when I say they listen when advice is offered.
U.S. Subs Down Under is a history, and like most, is chronological. There are many first-person anecdotes, but only one from any of the 57 skippers whose exploits are described, and that from Captain Bladen G. Claggett (CO DACE). Sadly, all but three have left us.
After describing how Australia, a country at war for more than two years, reacted to the Pearl Harbor attack, submarines came over the horizon with the first tender, GRIFFIN, with her brood of S-boats arriving in Brisbane in April 1942. The travails of these World War I submarines can only evoke admiration in the reader. Every one of these boats had continuing serious materiel problems, sometimes during work-up for a patrol in Moreton Bay, sometimes enroute to the northern combat areas, sometimes during patrol. On the other hand, their Mk I 0 torpedoes, although of relatively short range, were effective.
That these 11 boats sank six ships, including the heavy cruiser KAKO, with the loss of only one, S-39, at that by grounding, is an achievement of which every skipper, officer and man can be proud. The harrowing tale of S-39, impaled on the reefnear Rossel Island, is well documented because the wife of a classmate of mine, Executive Officer Guy Gugliotta, wrote so well in PIG BOAT 39 of the efforts to get her off the reef, of the destruction of classified material, and the dramatic rescue by the Australian corvette HMAS KA TOO MBA without loss of life.
As older Fleet boats came from other Asiatic areas, and then new construction submarines arrived, usually via Pearl Harbor, the S-hoats were assigned special missions in support of Coast watchers before being assigned training duties as U.S Forces island hopped to the north to be closer to their operating areas. Ultimately, they were sent to CONUS where they resumed their training function.
The Fleet boats brought with them a more effective fire control system, longer legs to reach farther into Japanese controlled waters and to stay on station for an effective period, and a reliable engineering plant. However, they also brought Mk 14 torpedoes with their Mk 6 Magnetic Exploders which together were atrociously inadequate. The reports of torpedoes running deep under targets without exploding, of torpedoes exploding prematurely, of torpedoes striking targets broadside and breaking up without exploding took two years to correct. It also involved CINCPAC, COMSUBPAC and the Task Force Commanders in Fremantle and Brisbane, Rear Admiral Ralph Christie and Commodore James Fife.
The continuing tug of war between these two veteran submariners with respect to assignment of forces and command relationships with COMSEVENTH FLEET and even General MacArthur is well documented by Commodore Fife’s oral history completed later by Columbia University. But there was another aspect of their divergent command concepts worth noting. Commodore Fife employed a truly hands-on system by ordering his boats to new positions nightly, in part based upon “Ultra” intercepts of Japanese traffic. The skippers who found and sank targets were in Fife’s cheering section. During this period, DRUM received many “Fife to DRUM” messages, some of which resulted in sinkings.
The tales of the individual exploits of many of the Brisbane boats; and the later descriptions of several wolf packs which scoured the seas north of New Guinea, and east to the vicinity of Truk are carefully selected to demonstrate the hard work involved in bagging targets, and the skill of skippers and their well-honed crews.
One of the significant contributions by the City of Brisbane to the well-being of the submariners was the establishment of rest camps in the mountains west of the city as well as along the seacoast. Although I stayed at Surfer’s Paradise with its incomparable wide white beach, and even visited Sydney in a well shot up DC-3, my favorite was Toowoomba, with its golf course, its rum and milk at the tum, and its generally healthy environment. These camps flourished until New Fann Wharf was closed down in 1945.
In spite of the fact that losses offleet boats mounted during 1943, the inexorable march to victory became visible when Brisbane’s long-time friend FULTON departed for Milne Bay, New Guinea in late October 1943, even while DRUM was refitting, and preparing to leave Brisbane for the third and final time. Subsequently, submarine advance bases were established at Manus Island, Mios Woendi, and Subic Bay.
Final success came during the move forward when DACE and DARTER together made one of the truly magnificent contributions to victory. As the titanic Battle for Leyte Gulf was unfolding, these two submarines detected and effectively reported to higher command one of the major Japanese Task Forces approaching to thwart the U.S. operation to retake the Philippines. During the 3-day battle, DACE and DARTER together sank two heavy cruisers and severely damaged another HIMJS TAK.AO. Sadly, however, in a chase to finish her off, DARTER ran aground on Bombay Shoal and was lost. Commander Bladen G. Claggett, CO DACE immediately withdrew from the chase and successfully rescued the entire complement of DARTER, commanded by his Naval Academy classmate, Commander David H. McClintock.
The story does not end with the closing down of Support Base 134 at New Farm Wharfin April 1945, and its return to Australian control by year’s end. The British arrived with HMS BONAVENTURE and six XE-Class midget submarines which had had significant success by immobilizing for nine months the German Super Battleship TIRPITZ in Norwegian waters. It was not easy gaining command authority to send these pesky 4-man craft into combat, but in the waning days of the War, they used their lockout divers to cut vital Japanese undersea cables in Southeast Asia, forcing the enemy to resort to radio communications, which could be intercepted. I salute Lieutenant Commander Max Shean, RANR (Ret).DSO and bar, for his service in Royal Navy submarines, for commanding XE-4, and contributing a meaningful foreword. He is correct to state that U.S. Subs Down Under is accurate. In fact, I found but one technical misstatement. The Mk 14 torpedo armed closer to 400 yards than 800. This is a good read for submariners, veteran and active alike, and non-submariners as well. Enjoy!
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