Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


My father was on PUFFER during WWll I became interested in the history of PUFFER around 1999, near the 1OOth anniversary of the U.S. Submarine Service. I have compiled and written the history from primary sources: PUFFER Vets’ interviews, war patrol reports, letters and diaries from the period, and other documents written by the crew.

In the six year process of researching and writing a history of PUFFER, I have discovered an error in the initial writing of the boat’s history. The written history began with the unpublished United States Naval Administration in World War 1/-Submarine Commands compiled and written in 1945 and 1946 by Richard G. Voge, W. J. Holmes, W. H. Hazzard, D. S. Graham, and H. J. Kuehn. It was later published in 1949 in condensed form as United States Submarine Operations in World War II by Theodore Roscoe. Both suggested a large number of crew members were transferred from PUFFER after the first war patrol. Hard data will prove the historians wrong. The events during the first war patrol of PUFFER that led to this false conclusion are open to interpretation. I have interviewed crew members that were there and read the history, and will give my interpretation of the events.

There are four questions that must be answered to clarify the history. The answers to the first and second questions are intimately related.

1. Did Commander Jensen or other officers mentally lose control of themselves, of the crew, or both? Similarly,did some crew members fail to follow orders or lose control of their mental faculties?
2. Were the officers and crew broken up?
3. Were other crews broken up after similar situations?
4. Were new crew members welcomed or shunned?

After torpedoing a tanker, a severe depth charge attack by the escort forced PUFFER to a depth in excess of 500 feet. The boat was submerged for nearly 38 hours. The crew hung on enduring additional depth charges, sauna like temperatures and humidity, lights and hope faded as the batteries died, and oxygen in the air dwindled.

1. In order to conserve oxygen men were ordered to lie down in their bunks. For a man in a hypnotic environment (low oxygen) to return to activity was very difficult – it was both mentally and physically painful to merely return to a standing position let alone to do work. Men were literally unable to stand their watches. The ability to follow orders was more could not than would not. As the effects of adrenaline (insomnia, mood changes, helplessness and depression) heightened the mental consequences of hypoxia (negativity, indecision, disorientation, and belligerence), the Commanding Officer and some crew members became morose. Some men were angry at first and later gave up any hope of survival. Four crew members totally lost control of their mental orientation.

Thirty one hours into the ordeal, Jensen complimented the crew in the war patrol report:

Due to tension, bad air, heat, humidity, hard work on the bucket brigades, etc. the crew were practically out on their feet, but carrying on like veterans.

A decision had to be made. Reasoning and emotions were affected by the low oxygen condition. Commander Jensen, unable to make a decision, decided to take a vote among the officers and crew with three choices: a) scuttle the boat; b) fight it out with the deck gun; and c} wait it out until darkness. Democracy became anarchy as emotions ran wild and crew members argued for their choice or could not decide. Somehow the decision to wait until darkness prevailed. Jensen retired to his cabin for a few hours rest with the words to the crew, “I’ve done all I can do boys. If you know how to pray, pray.” These words further demoralized the crew. Although in a state of extreme exhaustion other officers and crew, who had remained active, sustained a better mental orientation and persisted.

To Jensen’s credit he directed PUFFER and crew as it surfaced, evaded the waiting escort and returned the boat to Darwin.

The original historian on Voge’s staff(H. J. Kuehn interviewed Jensen) alluded to the problems Jensen and some crew suffered under the physically harsh and mentally stressful conditions. The history stated:

Be careful and slow to form an estimate of men ‘s value until he had been observed under stress. To a great extent the men who were on their feet, working to save themselves and the ship, when the long dive was over, were not the normal leaders of the crew.

According to Blair in Silent Victory:

When PUFFER came into port, Christie had nothing but praise for the ship and her captain. He wrote in his diary that ‘strength of cl1aracter … skill and experience and knowledge, the excellent state of training, saved the ship … A brilliant job carried through by guts, determination and the inspired example of the Commander Officer.’

Christie’s staff, meanwhile, conducted a thorough investigation of the episode. Those taking testimony then discovered the extent to which Jensen had lost control of the crew.

2. Commander Jensen was relieved of his command. That fact was certain. The statement that the officers and crew were scattered is false.

The original history text by Voge and staff reported:

There were several important suggestions by the officers. When a submarine had gone through such an experience, the crew should be broken up. The common experiences of such an ordeal knits them together in such a bond that no one else can penetrate the inner circle. Men who subse- quently made several patrols on PUFFER were still not members of the gang, if they hadn’t been through “THE depth charging. ”

Why did the original historians invent a break up of the crew, when it simply did not happen? Are officers included in the crew? Why was the psychological bonding effect on the crew invented to justify the break up of the crew? I conjecture it was the desire to present immediately after the war as positive an explanation as possible and avoid including the negative aspects of the first patrol events. A scientific explanation served well by diverting attention from the real command issue and enlarged the situation to include the crew.

Roscoe paraphrased the original text; the bond became stronger as knits became welded; the officers became PUFFER ‘s officers.

PUFFER’S officers arrived at a number of conclusions, and these were noted by Force Command. When a submarine had gone through such an experience, its crew should be broken up. The sharing of PUFFER ‘s ordeal welded her men in a fraternal, almost mystic bond, and no new comer was able to penetrate the inner circle. Men who subsequently made several successful patrols on PUFFER were still ‘outsiders ‘- not members of the gang. They hadn’t been through “THE depth charging”.

From the first two accounts it is not completely clear if Submarine Command took action. Command took suggestions and noted conclusions from PUFFER officers. However, Blair in Silent Victory amplified on the earlier texts, made the breakup a reality, and extended the breakup of the crew to explicitly include the officers. ”In view of this and other factors, one PUFFER officer suggested that the wardroom and crew be scattered to other boats.” Blair continued by quoting a letter (written in the early l 970’s) by Frank Gordon Selby, the new Commanding Officer of PUFFER, ” .. .I had at least a SO percent turnover in officers and in crew.” With the addition of this information, the scattering of the crew and officers became a reality.

The record shows there was less than a 50% turnover in officers. Lawrence Bernard was supposed to stay on PUFFER, but was replaced four days before the start of the second war patrol. Bernard had been taken off the S-39 a year earlier with pneumonia like symptoms. His breathing problems returned after the extended submergence of PUFFER. Selby very nearly had only one new officer. Excluding the change in command, PUFFER received a two out of six new subordinate officers, Frank Golay and S. Morrow Decker. Franklin Hess, Carl Dwyer, William Pugh and Kenneth Dobson remained. In reality the suggestion to scatter the wardroom was ignored and greatly exaggerated.

Selby’s sentence quoted by Blair was structured in such a way that it was easily interpreted to mean at least 50% of the enlisted crew was transferred. In the nearly 30 years that passed between 1943 and the early 1970’s, Selby may have read and believed the two earlier histories of PUFFER, re-circulating and confirming the inaccurate transfer assumption back to Blair. John Allen (MoMM2c), interviewed by Blair, estimated a 25% turnover in the crew, but Blair ignored his recollection.

My father joined PUFFER for the second war patrol. As a result of researching his history on PUFFER, I found the muster roll lists simply do not verify the scattering of the crew. The muster reports clearly show that only 20 of the 71 crew (about 28%) were trans- ferred to new construction, other submarines, or relief crew duty. Five of the 20 returned to PUFFER after a one patrol respite. At this time in the war with an expanding number of boats, about 25% of a crew was routinely rotated off a boat after a war patrol- PUFFER’S total was only two or three more than typical. Four crew members had broken down mentally under the stress of the first patrol- they probably accounted for the slightly larger than usual number of men transferred.

Even though the muster rolls were available to recent authors, the transfer of PUFFER crew persisted as reality. William Tuohy, Pulitzer Prize winning author, in The Bravest Man- The Story of Richard 0 ‘Kane & U.S. Submariners in the Pacific War, also relied heavily on the Voge text in 2001. Tuohy paraphrased the original text and revived the breaking up of the crew. The

Force Command concluded that when a submarine had been through such an ordeal the crew should be broken up,ยท otherwise newcomers would be considered ‘outsiders’ by those who went through “THE depth charging”.

The myth was repeated in 2006. In an extremely well documented text Michael Sturrna in Death at a Distance-The Loss o(the Legendary USS HARDER concluded PUFFER transfers had occurred. Sturrna wrote, citing Blair and Roscoe, “The PUFFER’s captain was subsequently relieved of command and more than half of the crew reassigned to other submarines.”

3. In USS PAMPANITO: Killer-Ange/ published in 2000, Michno paraphrased Roscoe’s account of the first patrol. His account leads a reader to believe the entire crew of PUFFER was sent to other boats or duties.

In fact, after the depth charging PAMPANITO took, it was possible that her entire crew might be redistributed. Such was the experience of USS PUFFER (SS268) … after studying the situation, submarine command determined that when a boat had gone through such an experience, its crew should be disbanded and sent to other boats. The sharing of the ordeal welded the men together in a mystic bond, and no newcomer would ever be able to penetrate the circle.for he had not gone through the experience.

PUFFER’s crew, PAMPANITO’s crew, and no other crew underwent a complete dispersion during the war.

4.72% of the crew continued on the second war patrol. My father, Donald B. McDonald (S2c) joined the crew for the remainder of the war. He was welcomed to the forward torpedo room by Fred Clouse (TM2c), William Willie Wilson (Sic) and Russell Tidd (Sic). He did torpedo training as Mike Punchy Kutscherousky’s (TM2c) understudy. Jobs still needed to be done; the outsiders were as important to the survival of the boat as THE first war patrol crew. There was not talk about the first war patrol; it was the Silent Service. After a year and a half, dad still knew virtually nothing about the first war patrol. Wilson did not talk about it during seven war patrols; dad did not ask about it. Dad suspected the crew had been ordered not to talk about it. But dad found no mystic bond among the crew.

Selby wrote in the Personnel Section of the second war patrol report:

The crew conducted themselves like the veterans they are. No Commanding Officer could ask for a finer group of men to work with. It is considered remarkable that only two or three of the crew were still showing signs of the nervous ordeal they underwent 011 the previous patrol. These men will be left in for a rest.

Of the seventeen new men who came aboard without previous war patrol experience all but two fitted into the crew very nicely. The high caliber of firemen received was particularly noted. The two mentioned are not temperamentally qualified for submarine duty and will be so designated.

Selby’s endorsement of the crew spoke highly of the first patrol crew, verified the small number of new men who came aboard for the second patrol, and debunked the mystic bond myth. Fifteen of the new crew members were welcomed and fitted into the crew nicely. The continued historic inaccuracy that the officers and crew of PUFFER were dispersed must be corrected. This myth, which has been propagated by various authors, casts a shadow on the heroic actions of the officers and crew members who saved PUFFER. These actions should not be forgotten or in any way diminished.


Blair, Clay. Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War against Japan. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1975. Page 501.

Blair, Clay. Research notes for Silent Victory: American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. Laramie, WY 82071-3924. Accession Number 8295, Box No. 77, Folder No. 42. U.S. Pacific Ocean Submarine Fleet- PUFFER.

Michno, Gregory F. USS PAMPANJTO: Killer-Angel. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000. Page 113.

National Archives II. College Park, MD. Records Groups 24 (RG24). PUFFER Muster Roll lists: September 30, 1943 and November 24, 1943.

Roscoe, Theodroe. United States Submariner Operations in World War II. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1949. Page 278.

Stunna, Michael. Death at a Distance: The Loss of the Legendary USS HARDER. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006. Page 99.

Tuohy, William. The Bravest Man-The Story of Richard 0 ‘Kane & U.S. Submariners in the Pacific War. Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing Limited, 2001. Pages 168-71.

Voge, Richard G. et al. United States Naval Administration in World War II-Submarine Commanders, Volumes I and 2. Unpublished, available at Navy Library, Washington, D.C.


Allen, John. August, 2001 at the World War Two Submarine Veterans Convention.

McDonald, Donald B. Ongoing telephone conversations and interviews.

Tidd, Russell. Ongoing email and written correspondence, 2001 to present.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League