Mike Carmody enlisted in the Navy December, 1941 at the age of seventeen. After attending three weeks of accelerated Boot Camp at Newport R.I. he volunteered for submarine duty. Due to the shortage of submarine sailors he was assigned to submarine duty without attending Submarine School.
During WWII he made eleven war patrols on submarine as a Machinist Mate. His militate’ service earned him the Submarine Combat Pin with four bronze stars, the Naval commendation Meda/for valor and numerous other awards. During the Cold War era Ire made several submarine deterrent patrols. He retired from active duty in 1963.
Mike Carmody has written over 20 submarine stories which have been published in several military magazines.
During World War II most submariners could probably recall close calls from friendly fire attacks by aircraft and surface vessels. Luckily, most of these encounters resulted in minor damage.
Submarine sightings struck fear into any observer and often a friendly vessel or aircraft would attack without taking precautions.
My story is about an aircraft attack on USS S-17 (SS-122), commanded by Brooks Harrel, that resulted in major damage and injuries to several of her crew. Before doing so, I will first relate three such incidents that proved fatal to American submarines.
In the latter part of January, 1942, USS S-26 (SS 131) was assigned to escort duty. She departed Balboa, Panama, under the guise of darkness, en route to her patrol area. A naval patrol vessel struck her on the starboard side of the torpedo room. The S-26 sank quickly, taking 46 of her crew with her. The only survivors were the Captain, Executive Officer and a lookout. They were all on the bridge when the collision occurred. Rescue and salvage operations were impossible because of the water depth.
On 6 October 1943, USS DORADO (SS248), a new construction submarine, departed from the New London Submarine Base, Groton, Connecticut, en-route to the Pacific. A few days later, a PBY Mariner Flying Boat from Guantanamo Bay Air Station spotted the DORADO on the surface traveling south in the designated submarine safety lane. Ignoring this, the aircraft attacked and dropped bombs on her. DORADO went down with all hands.
Searchers were sent to the incident location. Tragically, all that was found was a large oil slick and floating debris. 90 men lost their lives in that incident.
In October 1944, USS SEA WOLF (SS 197) was involved in a special mission to land 17 soldiers and supplies on the island of Samar, one of the Philippines. While north of Halmhera SEA WOLF was submerging in a submarine safety lane when two Grumman TBM Avengers from a US aircraft carrier spotted her. Thinking she was an enemy submarine, the planes dropped two bombs and a dye marker. Also involved in the attack was USS ROSWELL, a destroyer escort. ROSWELL made six attacks on the SEA WOLF with hedgehogs and depth charges. The escort heard SEA WOLF’s signal, but continued its attack. SEA WOLF was lost with her crew of 82 men and 17 soldiers.
My personal experience took place in July, 1942, a few days before my eighteenth birthday. It was my third war patrol onboard the S-17 (SS-122).
We were patrolling on the surface, making 5 knots in heavy fog, off the Windward Islands in the Caribbean. The fog was so thick it was impossible to see the bow from the bridge.
I was the high lookout located between the periscopes. The slow forward movement and rocking motion of the ship put me into lolling dreamy state. I asked myself, ” What the heck am I doing on this twenty-two year old pig boat?” The crew totaled 38 men and we had to share one head and a shower. There was no air conditioning, no radar, no hydraulics, no Corpsman, and all dives had to be made by hand.
A large circle was painted on the after deck with different pie shaped colors. The colors were changed every month distinguishing us from the many German U-boats operating in the area.
In an instant I was jolted back into reality by an opening in the fog. We had entered a clearing approximately one and a half miles in width. The Captain instructed us to keep a sharp lookout as we crossed the clearing.
A moment later, I saw a large Lockheed radar equipped twin engine patrol bomber closing in on us. The aircraft was just above the water off our port beam.
The Captain immediately fired off the designated color recon flare. The plane banked sharply and disappeared into the fog. Approximately two minutes later it reappeared and closed in off our port beam. The aircraft was so low I could sec the pilot. I was shocked and surprised to sec the plane’s bomb bay door was open. Four five-hundred pound aerial depth charges were discharged . One after the other they hit the water as I watched spellbound. The first two exploded approximately 200 feet off the boat, showering us with a large spray of water. The next two exploded beneath the hull with a devastating effect. The force lifted the boat out of the water, completely exposing the stem and propellers. I was struck in the face and chest with flying objects. The skipper was also struck in the face and was bleeding. My two top front teeth were knocked out and my upper lip was severed and hanging by thread of flesh .
Below, in the engine room, men suffered broken bones. Others throughout the boat had sustained cuts and bruises.
Through his bloodied mouth, the captain ordered, “Shoot that bastard down on his next pass!” We stood by with our three Lewis machine guns and one BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle).
The aircraft was circling approximately a half mile from us. The pilot eventually realized his mistake and signaled us by light. He apologized and advised us he had radioed for help.
Later, in the Captain’s state room, the skipper sutured my lip back together with the use of the ship’s emergency medical supply kit.
We could only use our port shaft for propulsion. The starboard motor had broken loose from its mounts and was out of line. The Shoats were direct drive, not electric, as were the Fleet Boats. The attack also caused extensive ballast tank damage and considerable loss of hull rivets, making diving impossible.
We steamed to Coco Solo, a Naval Air Facility in the Panama Canal Zone, for repairs and medical treatment. It took four days to reach our destination. Air protection was provided to us by the Navy.
The injured received medical treatment at the base hospital and returned to full duty. The base doctor commended the skipper for the fine job he did in repairing my lip.
During a subsequent investigation the pilot explained to the investigation panel that the German U-boats were displaying colored circles on their aft deck, as were the American submarines .
The only good news that stemmed was that we were being sent stateside to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for repairs.