Published 2009 by U.S. Naval Institute
Reviewed by CAPT. Herbert I. Mandel, USN (Ret.)
Captain Mandel, during WWII. served in FINBACK ’42-’43 at Midway, Exec of CROAKER. 1944, CO PERMIT (Dec 1944-Nov 1945) and Chairman of Fund Raising Submarine Memorial “Wall Of Honor” Groton, CT.
There were one hundred fifty eight submarine service Prisoners of War. Only about two dozen of them are still alive. These prisoners were taken from seven boats out of the fifty two that were lost. From interviews with survivors, there is great detail of the final moments of PERCH, GRENADIER, TULLIBEE, S-44, SCULPIN, ROBALO, and TANG.
There is historical content in the details of this carefully researched work. The Bibliography is complete with official reports, interviews, published articles and books about the Pacific submarine war. The photographs, furnished by the survivors, brings the book to life. To complete the detail there are charts of the location of each sinking. There is also a chart of the complete home islands prisoner of war system, including the unlisted interrogation camp at OFUNA, about thirty miles South of Tokyo.
There are complete rosters of the seven submarines, with complete lists of their prisoners and lists of survivors. The interviews with survivors, most of whom, after a period of hospitalization and rest, resumed a normal life. Many of the survivors on liberation, were down to ninety pounds. Although many were disease ridden with beriberi, malaria, etc. the major killer was malnutrition. The American prisoners were not able to survive on a few hundred calories of rice balls, when they could get them.
The real flavor of the book begins with Chapter Three “The First Months of Hell”. Japan was not a signatory of the Geneva Convention of 1929, regarding treatment of prisoners.
Chapter Seven “We Became Terrific Liars” was the new code. Say anything to stop the pain. The wilder the better. This writer recalls hearing of a movement in the Navy Department to modify the code, “Name, rank, serial number”. In this I would defer to Senator McCain. Submarine prisoners were not officially listed as military prisoners.
Families knew only the customary “Overdue and Presumed Lost”. The author starts with the story of PERCH. March 2, 1942, contact was made with a large convoy twenty miles North East of Surabaya. After the approach and attack phase, the subsequent depth charging was so severe that the ship could not submerge. The damaged submarine was sunk. The CO, LCDR Dave Hurt ordered all hands over the side. After being picked up they were taken to MAKASSAR, where the interrogation and brutality began.
While there, survivors of destroyer POPE were brought in. This included LCDR Wreford Blinn, CO, Exec. LT Richard Antrim, LT Robert van Rensalear Basset, Jr., LTJG William Oscar Spears, Jr., LTJG John Michel, LTJG Lowndes, LTJG Jack A. Fisher, ENS Donald E. Austin. ‘The aim of the questioning was codes and ciphers, fire control equipment (torpedo data computer), and electronics. On matters of commercial design and data from Jane’s Fighting Ships, we told the truth which helped us when we were lying”, according to a paper written by LCDR Fitzgerald, CO, GRENADIER, who never cracked. Prisoners were transported North to the home islands in two former merchant ships. They received better treatment in the ships than they did in the camps although they came to be known as hell ships. Both were eventually sunk.
PERCH officers at Makassar were LCDR Dave Hurt (CO) LT Bev van Buskirk, Exec., LT Kenneth G. Schacht, LT John Ryder, LTJG “Jake’ Van Der Grift. S-44 had received great recognition in the South West Pacific. She was credited with sinking 8800 ton heavy cruiser off New Hanover Island. Aug. 10, 1942. She had further successes off Savo Island during the Guadalcanal campaign. After an extensive shipyard overhaul, she was ordered to the Aleutians.
Leaving Attu, she was ordered to the Northern Kuriles. On the surface sighting a dark silhouette, a surface gun attack was started. The silhouette turned out to be the 860 ton escort destroyer ISHIGAKI. S-44’s hull was pierced by gunfire. CO Frank Brown’s only recourse was to allow as many of his crew as possible to escape. S-44 went down Oct. 7, 1943. Of the 58 men, only two of the crew were recovered for the camps.
GRENADIER was on the surface the morning of April 21, 1943, West of Penang in the approaches to the Straits of Malacca. She was surprised by a two engine bomber coming in low from an island. The submarine immediately dived. The plane made his drop and caused mortal damage. The ship bottomed, fought free, surfaced but could not move. With two surface ships approaching, and not being able to get away, the ship was scuttled, and all hands went over the side. GRENADIER crew were taken in to Penang for their initial interrogation. Picked up were LCDR John Fitsgerald (CO) LCDR George Whiting (Exec.) LT Harmon Sherry, LT Kevin Harty, LT Al Turner, LT Al Toulon. LT John Critchlow, LT Arthur McIntyre. After staying at Penang, all of the crew were taken to OFUNA.
March 3, 1943 Major Pappy Boyington, Marine Corps Ace, and LT George C. Bullard were brought in to Ofuna. Bullard flying off HANCOCK had been shot down Feb 17 during a carrier strike on Truk SCULPIN, patrolling off Truk was hit by surface gunfire Nov. 18, 1943. Fred Connaway (CO) was immediately killed. Captain John Cromwell, Group CDR, was aware of the coming island campaigns. He elected to go down with the ship. Forty one of the crew were held at Truk Nov 20-30, 1943 .These included LT George Brown (Exec), ENS John Gamel, and ENS Charles Smith, Jr. About hat f of the men were packed below decks in carrier CHUYO for the trip to Japan. Enroute CHUYU was torpedoed and sunk by SAILFISH, the former SQUALUS (renamed). SCULPIN, sister ship, had located the distress buoy, and stood by when SQUALUS went down while on trials off Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1939. ENS Gamel and ENS Smith were aboard.
TANG like TULLIBEE (one survivor-sunk Mar. 26, 1944) was hit by her own torpedo. After gaining hits on six ships and two large tankers, CDR Dick O’Kane returned to the convoy after his final reload. On Oct 24, 1944 the last torpedo to be fired circled around to hit TANG. Picked up were CDR O’Kane, LT Hank Flanagan, LT Larry Savadkin. Several of crew, officers and men were trapped on the bottom. Three were to make the only successful use of the Momsen lung.
In addition to baseball bat beatings there were instances of surgery without anesthesia. When the liberation finally came the author continues his coverage in great detail. Each submariner was welcomed by a Submarine Force host with a car with dolphins imprinted. There were War Crimes Trials in 1947. A total 137 were tried.
A Vice Admiral received a severe sentence for failure to supervise. One of the Camp Commandants and several of the more brutal guards received prison sentences. Mitigating statements made by two of the CO’s were “One of the camp commandants shared his meager rations with us”.
Several of the liberated prisoners said ‘”They treated their own men the way they treated us.”‘ It is not possible to read this book calmly knowing a number of the principals. In 1948 I relieved CDR George Whiting in command of MEDREGAL. In 1957-59 CDR Kevin Hardy and I were in the same office Joint Staff, CinCPac, in Pearl Harbor.”(Grenadier)
Ernie Plantz. PERCH, now living in Gales Ferry, CT was recognized by the Governor, received an advanced business degree and is active in the Thames River Chapter, Submarine Veterans of WWII. Joe Baker (SCULPIN) went on to college, and a career in banking, He is well known in the area where I now live (Western MA). My admiration knows no bounds!
For serious students of the Pacific War this book fills a gap hitherto untold.