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Editor’s Note: Mr. Grumer left the Navy after World War II. He had command of SKATE toward the end of the war. His post-war career was with Lockheed in California. He wrote this article/or the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, WA before his death several years ago. It is published here with permission of Mr. Bill Galvani of that Museum.

The year was 1943 and U.S. fortunes of war were improving. On September 5th the new fleet submarine USS SKA TE (SS305) arrived in Pearl Harbor for training, deperming and a sound survey to make her less detectable by Japanese MAD and sonar gear. She had been built at Navy Yard Mare Island, California, and placed in commission on April 15 under the command of Commander Eugene B. McKinney. McKinney was a veteran submarine skipper. He had commanded the fleet submarine SALMON for five war patrols in the South China Sea. In SALMON he had skirmished inconclusively with two Japanese destroyers and sent a large repair ship, a passenger-cargo ship and a converted salvage vessel to the bottom.

The new arrival found that the Pacific Fleet had undergone many changes since the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. Early in the morning of that day, over 350 fighters, bombers and torpedo planes from six Japanese carriers had done their jobs and departed. Rendered hors de combat were eight of the nine battleships of the Pacific Fleet. Added to this loss were most of the military aircraft on the island. Fortunately, our three Pacific Fleet carriers were not in port that day. LEXINGTON and ENTERPRISE were at sea and SARA TOGA was at San Diego for repairs.

Two days later Japanese land-based aircraft sent HMS PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE to the bottom off the coast of Malaya, 6,000 miles away. Suddenly, both military and armchair strategists throughout the world were convinced that even large well armed surface ships were vulnerable to air attacks launched from hundreds of miles away. Until the attack on Pearl Harbor, the keystone of U.S. naval strategy for over 100 years had been based on control of the seas, and in the early twentieth century it was the job of our battleships to exercise that control. Now, the time had come for a drastic revision of U.S. naval strategy. The new strategy was patterned after that first employed by Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, CinC of the Japanese Combined Fleet. Almost a year before the attack, Yamamoto had ordered his staff to develop plans for a carrier air strike on Pearl Harbor. His instructions were clear. The operation was to depart from the generally accepted doctrine of employing carriers as a protective force for battleships and instead use them as an offensive air weapon.1 With no battleships to form a new battleline, our naval command now had to look to aircraft carriers to carry the war to the enemy.

The attack on Pearl Harbor had other important effects. President Roosevelt had quickly appointed Admiral Ernest J. King to the post of Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet, with headquarters in Washing-ton. In turn, Vice Admiral Chester W. Nimitz became Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet. Significantly, both King and Nimitz were ex-submarine officers with an appreciation of how submarines could best be used. Prior to the attack, our submarines had been attached to the Scouting Force, Pacific Fleet to be deployed as advanced scouts for the battle force. Now, without a battle force to scout for, and without the speed to keep up with a fast carrier task force, the Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet, was formed. Its commander in 1943, Rear Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, Jr. reported directly to Commander, Pacific Fleet. Fortuitously, the long range, long endurance, speed, and large torpedo load design requirements for the scouting mission were nearly ideal for new submarine missions in the vast Pacific.

Actions had been rapidly implemented after Pearl Harbor to rebuild the Pacific Fleet. By mid 1942 repairs had been made to most of the damaged and sunken ships. In addition, new ships, planes and men began to join the fleet at an accelerating pace. Of particular importance to Pacific Fleet power was the addition of both large fleet carriers and smaller carriers converted from other hulls. By mid 1943 war production held promise of being able to provide sufficient resources to continue the offensive already underway in the South Pacific, and to open a new offensive in the Central Pacific. Toward that end, CinCPac staff was busy creating plans to dislodge the Japanese from their mid-Pacific island outposts. By beingat the right spot at the right time, SKA TE had the opportunity to conduct her first three war patrols concurrently with Fifth Fleet attacks on Japanese held island groups from Wake to Truk.

It had so happened in the late summer of 1943 that Rear Admiral Charles A. Pownall, Commander Carrier Task Force Fifteen, had requested ComSubPac to assign submarines to patrol off the Japanese held islands of Wake, Marcus and the Gilberts during planned air strikes. They would be used to search for and rescue U.S. airmen forced or shot down at sea, and to provide navigational information to the airmen. Although such usage would divert submarines from their primary task of sinking enemy ships, ComSubPac agreed. Accordingly, SKA TE and two other submarines were assigned to perform what became known as Lifeguard Duty.

Fleet operations to regain the Central Paci fie began with an attack on Wake Island in early October 1943, and then rolled relentlessly westward. The strike on Wake had three objectives: to test new strategic concepts and tactics using the strengthened Pacific Fleet; to neutralize Japanese air power at Wake; and to regain an offensive posture. Before the war, the Japanese had viewed Wake as a steppingstone between the Japanese mainland and Midway, Hawaii and the U.S. west coast. Accordingly, like Pearl Harbor, it had been attacked on December 7, 1941, and occupied two weeks later.

At midday on September 25•h SKA TE departed Pearl with orders to patrol off Wake. Upon arrival on station on the morning of October 4th she closed the atoll and submerged to conduct photreconnaissance. Two days later Task Force 14 under the command of Rear Admiral A. E. Montgomery arrived off Wake to carry out a carrier air/cruiser bombardment. SKA TE was on the surface west of the atoll ready to perform lifeguard duties. The strike commenced at early dawn. Quoting from SKA TE’s patrol report

“0448 On to the Gilberts

While SKA TE was engaged in performing life-guard duties, the Pacific Fleet staff was busy preparing plans and assembling resources for the next step across the Pacific. In planning an offensive to drive the Japanese from their islands, two major problems confronted the planners. First was the fact that over the years the Japanese had taken or fallen heir to island groups which gave them control of the Central Pacific. The keystone to that control was Truk, their fleet’s main base. Providing a defense in depth were strategically located bases on island groups throughout the Central Pacific. A related problem was the manner in which land was distributed throughout the vast expanse of the Central Pacific. Approximate distances to some of these bases are: Pearl Harbor to Wake 2050 nm; to Johnston Island 780 nm; to Kwajalein and Tarawa 2050 nm; and to Truk 3050 nm. The distance from Wake to Truk is about 1100 nm and from Kwajalein to Truk about the same. It was clear to the planners that if the Japanese bases were to be taken, attacks would have to be made by carrier based aircraft and surface ship bombardment, followed by amphibious landings.

By the time SKA TE returned to Midway for refit in late October 1943, the fleet had been reorganized. Vice Admiral Ramond A. Spruance had been given command of Fifth Fleet. It was composed of 118 warships, including 13 battleships, 19 carriers, a large number of lesser combatants, plus transports, supply ships and auxiliaries. Its first major operation was Operation Galvanic. The objective was seizure of the Gilbert Islands, a group of coral atolls lying about 2,000 miles west-southwest of Pearl, and far to the east of Truk. Of the numerous bits of coral reef protruding above the ocean in the Gilberts, Tarawa, Makin, and Apamama were the main atolls to be taken. Of these, the primary objective was Tarawa. Fifth Fleet struck all three atolls on D-day, November 20, 1943. By that time Japanese defense forces in the Central Pacific had been greatly weakened by both ship and aircraft losses in the South Pacific. Consequently, reinforcement from there and from Truk were unavailable. Makin the northernmost atoll was taken in two days by the Army’s 2Th Division following air attacks and bombardment by battleships of the invading force. Similar attacks were made on the islet of Tarawa, and that atoll was taken after bitter fighting by our marines on Betio islet. Within ten days of Galvanic objectives had been achieved.

Ten submarines participated in Galvanic. Of these, nine were placed along the route east of Truk to intercept reinforcements proceeding to the attack area. NAUTILUS, however, was more directly involved. She performed reconnaisance and lifeguard duties off Tarawa immediately prior to the attack, and then transported eight officers and 70 marines to assist in the taking of Apamama. In a case of mistaken identity during darkness while enroute with her marine detachment, her conning tower plating was holed by a five inch shell from a less than friendly destroyer. Nevertheless, she was able to dive to escape and carry out her mission.

An assessment of Galvanic ‘s complete and rapid success proved the validity of the new coordinated carrier and land based air, surface ship, amphibious and support team strategy. With success in hand and a force in being, plans were made to accelerate the planned capture of the chain of Marshall Islands extending some 350 to 750 miles to the north-northwest, and closer to Truk. The date set for the new operation, Flintlock, was late January of the new year. While major segments of the fleet were bing readied, minor harrassing strikes were made against the Marshalls and as far west as Nauru, 350 miles beyond the Gilberts.

With activity heating up in the Central Pacific, more submarine operations were planned for that area. SKA TE departed Midway November 15, 1943 to conduct her second patrol in the area to the north of Truk. She arrived on station a week later and commenced reconnaissance and a search for targets. It was during this patrol that SKA TE began to earn her reputation as the “Big Game Hunter of World War II”. A number of distant ship contacts were made off the north entrance to the atoll, but could not be approached close enough to permit an attack until mid-morning of the 301h. While patrolling on the surface, a task group was detected. Course was changed to intercept what was soon identified as a converted aircraft carrier escorted by two destroyers with heavy air cover. Two additional destroyers and two large carriers were soon seen to be following the first carrier. When the range to the large carriers had closed to about 9,000 yards, SKATE submerged and headed in for a bow shot. Coming to periscope depth at 1106, it was observed that the targets had zigged and that it would be necessary to fire from the stem tubes. Six minutes later when a look through the periscope showed the two large carriers to be overlapping, three torpedoes were fired at a range of about 1,500 yards. The patrol report read, “One minute and fifty seconds after firing a large geyser of water arose just forward of the center of the nearest carrier and the entire ship heeled to port. The explosion was heard but no smoke. The near carrier appeared to hold course and speed while the overlapping carrier turned sharply about 90 to port.”3 The escorts rushed in to drop a pattern of depth charges and then unexplainedly returned to their escort positions.

Suffering no damage, SKA TE resumed her patrol. A number of air and ship contacts were subsequently made, and although twice depth-charged, she was unable to get in any further attacks until the night of December 20•h. At 2123 a single large ship with two escorts came within radar range. Running on the surface to gain position ahead of the group she submerged to attack at dawn. At 0620 four torpedoes were fired at the large ship. A mishap during the firing caused the submarine to broach in plain sight of the escorts and as the escorts closed for the kill the Captain ordered the Diving Officer to “take her deep”. The torpedoes were still on their way as SK.A TE passed below periscope depth and no further visual observation could be made. However, the sonar operator soon reported three hits. Thirty-eight depth charges shook the ship during the next five hours. Specks of dirt were loosened in the periscope optics and the deck mounted JP sound head was knocked out, but no major damage was inflicted. When SK.A TE surfaced shortly after noon a glow of burning oil was reflected in the sky, and later that night a tremen-dous explosion was heard and flames shot high into the air. The 6,400 ton freighter of the TERUKA WA MARU class had carried her last cargo.

The patrol continued without undue excitement until early in the morning of Christmas Day. Contact with a small group of ships was made while patrolling on the surface. Unidentified at the time was a very large ship escorted by two destroyers. SK.A TE submerged to close the target and fired a spread of four torpedoes. Quoting from the patrol report, “After a (torpedo) run of about two minutes there was one definite explosion followed by another muffled explosion.” A brief depth charging discouraged further observations and shortly thereafter the target group disappeared over the horizon.

Post-war disclosures by Japanese sources confirmed the identity of the target as the battleship HUMS YAMATO. As she sped away her Commanding Officer reported by despatch, “On 25 December 1943 at 180 nautical miles north ofTruk, at latitude 10° 5’N. And longitude 150° 32’ E., one torpedo hit was received from a single enemy submarine. A hole about 5 meters depth, extending downward from the top of the bulge connection (at the armor) and 25 meters in length, between frames 151 and 173, was produced. Water flowed into the No. 3 (turret) upper magazine from a small hole in the longitudinal bulkhead caused by caving in of water-line armor.”

YAMATO was 863 feet long with beam 127 feet, draft 35.6 feet and displacement 73,000 tons. She mounted nine 18.l inch guns in three turrets and had a top speed of 27 knots. YAMATO and her sister ship, MU SAS HI, were the largest and most powerful warships built by any nation. Extensive design analyses and tests conducted prior to and during construction made them as unsinkable as the state of the art would permit. To that end the designers provided multiple longitudinal bulkheads which incorporated one armored bulkhead in addition to the normal heavy armor belt protecting vital engineering and ordnance spaces. Because of her defensive capability, YAMATO barely hesitated after being hit by SKATE’s torpedo.

The torpedo that did the damage was the infamous Mk. 14-3A steam torpedo armed with a Mk. 16 warhead loaded with 600 pounds of Torpex. Although depth was set for I 0 feet, the torpedo appar-ently ran at half that depth. The reason for failure of the other three torpedoes is unlmown. However, in view of the size of the target and the position of the single hit along the hull, it is likely that the blame rests on the unreliable Mk. 14-3A torpedoes and their faulty Mk. 6 exploders.

SKATE returned to Pearl on January 7, 1944 to receive congratulations from ComSubPac for putting one Jap carrier and one battleship on the injured list and sinking one maru.

Operations Flintlock and Hailstone

After the Gilberts had been taken, CinCPac established Fli11tlock as the next major step in the Central Pacific. Flintlock entailed the capture of the Japanese held Marshall Islands including their major base at Kwajalein atoll. The Marshalls differed from the Gilberts in that there were many more coral atolls and islets occupied by military installations, and they were spread over a much larger area.

CinCPac’s plan called for gathering forces from California, Hawaii, Samoa, the Ellice Islands and other bases, and set D-day as January 31, 1944. The three major bases to be seized were Roi-Namur, Majuro and K wajalein. Seizure of Eniwetok was planned for later. In accordance with the plan, a massive armada descended on the Marshalls. Fifth Fleet’s Task Force 58 advanced with 6 large carriers, 8 battleships, 6 cruisers and 36 destroyers. The landing force of297 ships and 53,000 assault troops followed. Bombardment of enemy air bases commenced on D-3 day in the area between Roi-Namur in the north, Majuro in the south and Eniwetok in the west. Kwajalein was quickly occupied after a Sproance haircut had obliterated all the palm trees and buildings on the atoll. Majuro offered no resistance, and by D-1 all bases were neutralized. By late February 2 the main objectives had been occupied, eight weeks ahead of schedule.

The following day a Marine Liberator flew from the Solomons to Truk and took the first photo-coverage of the great base since the Japanese had taken it over from the Germans after World War I. Perhaps more important than the photos was the warning given Admiral Koga that the Americans would soon attack major elements of the Combined Japanese Imperial Fleet at Truk. Faced with depleted resources, Koga decided not to risk a decisive engagement until his carriers could be replenished with planes and pilots, and wisely began a withdrawal to the west. His move was timely for Admrial Spruance’s staff had planned Operation Hailstone for a carrier strike on Truk. D-day had been set as April 15.

Jn late January, Lieutenant Commander William P. Gruner relieved Commander E. B. McKinney in command of SKA TE. He inherited an outstanding crew and a great ship. Gruner’s seven war patrols as Executive Officer of PIKE, SUNFISH and APOGON made him well qualified for command. 0-day for the Marshall operation, Fli11tlock, was just a week away when SKA TE left Pearl to proceed once again to the Truk area. The date for Fifth Fleet’s strike on Truk was still in the offing. When Flintlock went off like clockwork, CinCPac advanced D-Day for Hailstone to February 17 while SKA TE was still enroute. ComSubPac had participated in the Planning for Hailstone and had assigned nine submarines to the operation. Near Truk were SEA RA VEN and DARTER, SEAL was off Ponape, and six other subs were placed along escape routes from Truk. Their objectives were reconnaissance and the sinking of Japanese ships attempting to flee Truk when Fifth Fleet struck. When the date for the strike was advanced, ComSubPac sent despatch orders to SKA TE to take station about 150 miles northwest ofTruk. SKA TE’s orders carried the proviso that she had to be west of Longitude I 52° E. by midnight of the 161h. At that time the area to the east of 152° E. would become a “blind bombing zone” where SKA TE would be fair game for any aircraft-Japanese or U.S. That posed a problem. Stormy weather with head seas had set in, but it was necessary to maintain speed as best possible to avoid the blind bombing zone. That meant running on the surface with no opportu-nity to dive to “check the trim” (i.e. compensate for fuel used and other weight changes). To quote from the Patrol report5 of February 12, “1000-Wind has shifted during the night from east to southwest, through the south. Sea is rough, wind about 25 knots, increasing.” An attempt was made to hold to two engine speed, initially about 13 knots, but green water was coming over the open bridge. At “1048-A large wave coming over the port side almost knocked the starboard lookout out of his platform high on the periscope shears.” The lookout was William A. Shelton, the gunner’s mate who had helped rescue the airmen during the first patrol. Shelton’s fingers clung to the platform supports while the green water strove to wrest him from the ship. When the water momentarily subsided, the deck watch helped him down to the bridge level and lowered him into the conning tower. His back had been badly wrenched in the ordeal and he spent the rest of the patrol in his bunk. Despite the casualty it was necessary for SKA TE to keep plowing through the seas. “The control room is very wet from water pouring down the conning tower hatch. Speed has been gradually reduced until at 1100-We are able to make only 8 knots. The conversion of (ballast tanks) 4A and 4B to fuel ballast tanks has greatly reduced the sea keeping qualities of the ship. Seas from ahead sweep right over the deck although they are not unusually high. Safety and negative (tanks) have been blown dry with no appreciable improvement.”

On the morning of the 15th the report noted, “Seas have shifted to the northwest and we have increased speed. If the wind stays where it belongs we should be able to make our schedule.” Two radar contacts were made that day on planes that did not close. The next afternoon a plane contact at 13 miles forced SKA TE to dive. Confident that she could now cross the critical longitude before midnight, the opportunity was taken to get a trim. Then with a good trim, SKA TE descended to over 400 feet and unhappily found the water temperature in the area to be constant to at least that depth. That meant that no layer existed to hide under from enemy sonar should she get attacked.

Luck plays an important role in war as in life. Within minutes after surfacing at 1635 a lookout sighted the superstructure of a large ship, bow on, at a range of 12 miles. At the same time, a plane contact at 13 miles dictated immediate submergence. Due to the low height of the periscope lens above the surface, the target could no longer be seen. Meanwhile, somehow alerted, sporadic Jap depth bomb or charge explosions could be heard. None were close enough, however, to do any damage. At 1722 the foremast of a Japanese cruiser came into periscope view. She was accompanied by destroy-ers on either beam and had possible air cover overhead. It appeared that the group would pass beyond torpedo range, but thirteen minutes later the cruiser’s luck ran out. She zigged toward SKA TE to present a 30° angle on the bow at a range of 5,000 yards. She appeared to be a Kako class heavy cruiser with single stack, two turrets forward, one turret aft, and a scout plane at rest on the catapult between them. The starboard destroyer was well positioned for protecting her as it was headed directly for SKA TE when she fired four torpedoes from the bow tubes at a range to the cruiser of 2,300 yards. Actions then accelerated. SKA TE sought greater safety at depth as she rigged for depth charge. Three torpedo explosions were heard as she started down. A last look through the periscope showed the cruiser to be in a direct line with the setting sun so that only a smoke pall could be seen which extended from bridge to stem. Sonar reported a fourth hit as the starboard escort put on speed to attack. Seconds later the escorts started a heavy and continuous depth charging which lasted for the next 45 minutes. Their attack then slackened, but continued off and on for another hour as the submarine withdrew to the east.

It was important for SKA TE to confirm the results of this attack on an important Japanese combatant so she surfaced at 2115 to return to the scene. Flames and explosions were sighted in the distance, so a course was taken to circle the target group to attain a down-moon position for a second attack should it be required. At 0240 the wounded cruiser, later identified as AGANO, gasped her last breath and sank beneath the waves. Midnight had now passed and the area had changed to a blind bombing zone. As SKA TE sped west toward safe operating territory she transmitted a report of the sinking. A few hours later Task Force 58 finished the job by sinking the escort destroyer MAIKAZI with her load of cruiser survivors.

This attack became the finale of SKA TE operations directly involved with the Fifth Fleet. However, she did make several more attacks on Japanese shipping during the balance of this patrol, but none resulted in confinned sunk or damaged ships. In one night surface attack on a small escorted convoy off Palau she instilled the fear of the Lord into the enemy when another faulty Mk. 14-3A torpedo exploded prematurely shortly after being fired. Thereupon, every ship in the convoy participated in a fireworks display rivaling a Mexican Cinco de Mayo celebration. Colorful tracers and star-shells flew in all direction to illuminate the area.

To further her reputation as a big game hunter, SKA TE, on her fifth patrol, sank the large FUBUKI class destroyer USUGUMO in the Okhotsk Sea. Then on her last patrol under the command Command Rich-ard B. Lynch she penetrated the mine field protect-ing the Sea of Japan to sink the large submarine 1-122. Finally, to end her career, this famous ship became a target for both air and underwater nuclear weapon tests at Bikini in July 1945. Although surviving with extensive damage, this fine warship was later intentionally sunk off the California coast.

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