TMC(SS) Patrick Meagher USN RET, qualified and served on USS CUSK SS-348, USS ANDREW JACKSON SSBN-6/9B. and USS BARBEL SS-580. Chief Meagher served on active duty with the Submarine Force from 1960 through 1977. He is a Life Member of USSVI and a11 Associate Member of USSVWWII.
I was fortunate to be trained by and to have served with a number of our WWII Submariners and in particular John Borglund. Most are gone now. And so I decided to tell his story, and pass on his legacy along with his shipmates onboard USS SALMON SS-182 during her 11 ‘h war patrol, to be remembered and honored by our current generation of submariners.
I first heard about the last war patrol of USS SALMON SS-182 (October 1944) and near fatal depth charging from a former member of her crew while I was onboard USS ANDREW JACKSON SSBN-6 l 9B. That person was John Borglund. Lt. John Borglund, SC, USN reported onboard ANDREW JACKSON (Blue) during our off-crew period in the fall of 1965. Those of us that first saw him when he reported in at our off-crew office were impressed by the rack of ribbons from WWII service capped off with a Presidential Unit Citation, Silver Dolphins, and a WWII Submarine Combat Pin on his dress blue uniform. John turned out to be a quiet and somewhat reserved Supply Corps officer about five foot seven, older, our guess he was probably in his mid to late 40’s, with former enlisted service on submarines. No one onboard ANDREW JACKSON had served with him previously or knew anything about him, however given the impressive display of WWII submarine service decorations he wore on his left breast, we were pretty sure he was a man who drew deep water. Those familiar with SSBN off-crew routine know you try to spend as little time around the off-crew office as possible and for that reason I didn’t see much of Mr. Borglund during off-crew. The Storekeepers couldn’t tell us much other than he knew his business and was working a couple of special projects for the skipper, CDR Alfred J. Whittle Jr.
Following New Years we flew to Rota, Spain to relieve the Gold Crew after their fourth patrol. Following change of command we moved aboard the boat and continued the upkeep period that had commenced upon arrival. As was the custom for the Weapons Department we were standing port and starboard duties. About a week into the upkeep, on my duty night, I was sitting in the crews mess after the movie, it had to be after 2200 I think, and Mr. Borglund walked into the mess in civilian clothes. We assumed he had been out the gate as he was wearing a coat and tie (in Spain during Franco’s era, you had to wear a coat and tie ashore after 1800) and had obviously had a few drinks. He pulled a coffee cup from the rack, and drew a cup of coffee, turned to us seated there and asked, “How you guys doing tonight?” Following some small talk, it was obvious he was in a talkative mood, he asked, “Any of you ever hear about the SALMON in WWII?” None of us seated there knew anything about the old SALMON although several of us told him we knew about her latest incarnation as USS SALMON SS-573 home ported in San Diego and on the way to receiving the only Golden E ever awarded to a submarine. He then asked if we would like to hear about SALMON’s last war patrol which of course we did.
John was quite animated as he told us about SALMON’s last attack on a tanker on October 30, 1944 off the coast of Kyushu Japan.
What followed was a near fatal depth charge attack that drove SALMON, a thin-skin 250 foot test depth boat, down to nearly 600 feet. Unable to remain submerged due to flooding and damage, John told us SALMON Battle Surfaced, manned the deck guns, while the crew below decks started repairs, got the engines started and on propulsion, the ballast tanks blown dry, and the list off the boat. The Japanese escorts apparently didn’t see SALMON when she surfaced and she got about a 20 minute reprieve before she was finally spotted. John went on to tell us how SALMON shot it out in a three hour running gun battle with three Japanese escort vessels. Around midnight one of the escorts headed for SALMON attempting to cut off her escape into a rain squall. SALMON in turn headed directly for the escort and they ended up passing bow to bow about 50 yards apart at a closing rate of over 25 knots. He told us that all the deck guns unloaded on the escort as they passed her by. The 20MM gunner on the sponson forward of the bridge shot the entire drum of sixty rounds of mixed High Explosive, Incendiary, and tracer into the bridge of the escort. The .50 and .30 Cal machine gunners swept the decks of the escort, and the four inch deck gun got off several shots as they passed by. SALMON left the escort astern and smoking and escaped into the rain squall.’
SALMON was escorted to Saipan by two American submarines, passed on to the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, and passed on again to the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco where inspectors determined she was too badly damaged to repair. The entire crew was then transferred to the new construction submarine USS STICKLEBACK SS-4 J 5 at Mare Island Naval Shipyard
John told us that about the time SALMON surfaced, most of the crew thought they were going to be killed or captured and the boat sunk. As the Chief Pharmacist Mate he broke out all the medicinal alcohol, you know, the brandy in the little bottles, and passed it out throughout the boat. When the boat finally got to Hunters Point and the crew started to transfer off John realized that the medicinal alcohol was title B for accountability and so he just wrote it off as destroyed during the depth charging.
What a story! I had served with a number of WWII submariners in the Steam Torpedo Shop, Submarine Base Pearl Harbor in 1960, and onboard USS CUSK SS-348 in 1961-62. At that time our COB, a Chief Quartermaster, the Chief Engineman, and two First Class Electricians had made war patrols. One of the Electricians by the name of McGee had even served on an S-boat. We would occasion-ally hear war stories from them, and as a young Non-Qual TM3 on the CUSK, I certainly looked to them as the leaders in tight spots we got into occasionally. Mr. Borglund was no different. Our skipper, CDR. Al Whittle Jr., assigned John as Battle Stations Diving Officer. Not something you would typically do with a Supply Corps officer, however given John’s submarine experience, it made perfect sense. Reports from the battle station planesmen indicated he was an excellent diving officer and never got rattled or excited if things started going bad with depth control during Battle Stations. I left the JACKSON after two more patrols and returned to the Pacific Fleet. I never saw John Borglund again however his story has stayed with me all these years.
In 1988 I purchased John Alden’s The Fleet Submarine in the U. S. Navy, A DESIGN AND CONSTRUCT/ON HISTORY and discovered in appendix 6 the actual war damage report of SALMON. I knew the general story about SALMON, however the detailed report of her damage contained in appendix 6 astounded me the first time I read through it. The fact that she survived and came home with her crew is a testament to the strength of those boats and their crews.
In 1993 I met another SALMON sailor, a Motor Mac, at a Skippers Night Dinner hosted by the USSV WWII San Francisco Chapter. We shared our experiences of sailing with John Borglund on different boats with over 20 years between them. My new friend was quite surprised to learn that John had gone on to a commission in the Supply Corps. Having lost contact with him many years before he was unaware that John had passed away in 1982.
As far as SALMON was concerned, she was decommissioned on September 24, 1945 and stricken from naval records on October 11, 1945 and sold for scrap minus her conning tower. SALMON’s conning tower went on to have a key part in Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll in 1946 during Test Shot Baker, the shallow underwater burst against a fleet of ships at anchor. The bomb named Helen of Bikini was contained in a steel caisson made from SALMON’s conning tower and was suspended ninety feet below the hull of LSM-60 for detonation.3 Quite an ending for a tough old boat!