Dan Curran was a former submarine officer who served several tours in SSBNs. Following his return to civilian live he stayed in touch with the submarine world. He was a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW. a special friend and a fine shipmate. He recently passed away and it is with all respect that we publish here his final contribution. At the end of his article is a partial listing of his various naval related articles and reviews. We shall miss him.
Vice Admiral Sagerholm recently authored a comprehensive overview of the Battle of the Atlantic, the longest campaign of World War II. He included the reasons for the German failure at the end. His review won a well deserved first literary prize in 2009’s SUBMARINE REVIEW. The comments presented here are no way a critique of Admiral Sagerholm’s three part overview but are intended to provide some amplification of the Allied effort in the battle of the Atlantic. As we shall see, elements of the German defeat had a profound effect on the American submarine campaign against the Empire of Japan. Part One described the evolution of the German Submarine Force from World War One to the period preceding the Second World War. The early U-boats had nearly crippled the Allied effort. Admiral Karl Doenitz, a World War One German submarine commander, now head of the U-boat command, was determined to avoid the mistakes of the earlier World War. The United States Navy was equally determined to learn as much as possible about the German effort before it entered the war. It was incumbent on the U.S. Navy to have a qualified person on the scene in London.
Charles Lockwood became Chief of Staff to Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Fleet in 1939. From that important job, Lockwood was sent to London, in February 1941, as naval attache and observer for submarines. Lockwood left that assignment after the United States entered World War Two. He also left with the firm knowledge that the Gennan wolf pack tactic had two weak points. First, unbreakable codes were breakable. Second, central control of wolf pack communications was subject to direction finding and triangulation. He also recognized that there was an unknown flaw in both the design and the operation of the German magnetic torpedo detonators (the British had similar problems). Lastly, he learned that the German acoustic torpedoes could be defeated by the Royal Navy’s towed FOXER acoustic countermeasure system. Lockwood carried all of this knowledge, first to his Australian assignment and then to Pearl Harbor after the 1943 death of, Rear Admiral Robert English, then COMSUBPAC. English and several of his staff died in a West Coast plane crash. Ralph Christie was brought in from the East Coast to relieve Lockwood in Australia.
Lockwood immediately faced three submarine torpedo problems. The depth control and the contact pin problems were eventually solved. Lockwood’s knowledge of both the German and the British magnetic detonator problems prompted Lockwood to recommend to Nimitz that the magnetic detonators on the American torpedoes be disconnected. Meanwhile, Ralph Christie, in Brisbane, Australia, had supervised the magnetic detonator tests in Newport. He ordered his captains to keep the detonators connected (later rescinded by Kincaid). Harry Hull (Navy Cross, ex-THRESHER) served under Christie in Australia and was later Lockwood’s torpedo and gunnery officer. Hull told me that Lockwood was right.
As a side note, when Admiral Christie passed away in 1987, Guy Reynolds, President of the Submarine League, then
SUBPAC, presided over Christie’s memorial service. When Harry Hull reported to COMSUBPAC in 1944, he brought the MK 27 acoustic torpedo out with him. He told Lockwood that the torpedoes were for defensive purposes. Lockwood, with the understanding that the acoustic torpedoes could be defeated with countermeasures, told Hull to have his subs use them offensively. Fred Milford reported in a SUBMARINE REVIEW article several years ago, that 24 Japanese ships were sunk using the MK 27. Commander John Alden, in letters to me and THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, stated that the MK 27 numbers could not be substantiated by the Japanese war records but several small craft were sunk by the torpedo. Regardless, the episode showed Lockwood’s aggressiveness and understanding of the limitations of his weapons.
Charles “Swede” Momsen, of submarine rescue fame, had directed the rescue of the crew of SQUALUS in 1939. He commanded one of Lockwood’s squadrons. Momsen urged Lockwood to try wolf pack tactics. Lockwood directed Momsen to lead a wolf pack consisting of CERO, SHAD, and GRA YBACK in the East China Sea. Momsen rode CERO. Lockwood recommended Momsen for the Navy Cross. Momsen also received the Legion of Merit for commanding the first American wolf pack in enemy waters. When Momsen returned, he wanted to command a wolf pack controlled from Hawaii, Lockwood said no, relying on the lessons he had learned in London. The Navy developed its own wolf pack tactics which were used successfully to the end of the war.
From the beginning of the war, the Japanese naval code had been broken and Lockwood worried that our naval codes might be decoded by the Japanese. Nimitz and Lockwood also remained very wary of revealing to the Japanese that their code had been broken. Several opportunities to direct our submarines to major targets were skipped to avoid giving the Japanese any clue as to the status of their code. This was another lesson from Lockwood’s London tour. See W. J. Holmes’ book, Double Edged Secrets, (Naval Institute Press) for more on this subject. As a side note, while researching the Lockwood article, I reached out to as many participants at Pearl Harbor as possible. One officer on Lockwood’s staff was Walter Welham, then a junior medical officer. Captain Welham is the father of my classmate and fellow submariner Walt Welham, both good guys. Captain Welham steered me to Holmes for additional information on Lockwood’s staff.
Admiral Sagcrholm mentions in Part Two that the British had invented radar and the Americans had succeeded in perfecting the radar. There is a little more to that story and the story has an unusual ending. The British developed the first successful working model of radar. The heart of a radar set is a magnetron that generates the radar signal’s frequency. A magnetron needed to be precisely machined. The Allied manufacturing companies of that day could manufacture ten to twenty magnetrons a month when the need was ten to twenty thousand a month. The British asked for American help and specifically asked for Bell Labs and Western Electric assistance. President Roosevelt’s science board reached out to other companies as well. Percy Spencer, American engineer and inventor, was the chief engineer at Raytheon. With a flash of genius, Spencer figured out that the magnetron could be built from laminated parts and soldered together. Raytheon was able to increase production to 2,600 magnetrons per day! Spencer was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Award by the U.S. Navy.
In 1945, Spencer supposedly had a chocolate bar melt in his pocket while working in the radar lab. The official story of Raytheon, The Creative Ordeal, only talks about Spencer experimenting with pop com and other food in the radar lab. With another flash of genius, he had the lab people construct a box with a magnetron. The microwave oven, as we know it, grew out of this activity. Spencer received the original patent for the microwave oven. Raytheon bought Amana Company to build and market the ovens with easily constructed inexpensive magnetrons. An urgent request from the British military led to an inexpensive appliance located in every modem kitchen in the world. It should be noted that Percy Spencer never finished grammar school and learned about electronics in the U. S. Navy during his enlistment in World War One.
In Part III, Admiral Sagerholm mentions the period from January 1942 to the summer of 1942 when the German submarines roamed freely from Boston to Florida. United States had no warfooting activity along the East Coast including no blackouts, no convoys along the coast, and no naval forces. Admiral King ordered all his conventional fleet units north to Halifax to support the North Atlantic convoy operations. The German submarines deployed to the East Coast to exploit the American lack of action.
The Germans named their operation D111m Beat and the German submariners called it their Happy Time as they freely sunk shipping up and down the coast. Millions of gallons of crude oil washed up on the East Coast beaches (no trace remains due to evaporation and microbe action). The British grew quite concerned and complained to General George C. Marshall to intercede with President Roosevelt which he did. However, Roosevelt had already taken action.
The President served as assistant secretary of the Navy during World War One. A shipbuilding program of wooden subchasers was started in 1917 under Roosevelt’s auspices. Before the next war, and in anticipation, Roosevelt, as President, ordered a new subchaser program to be started in 193 7. Churchill wrote in his book The Second World War. Volume Four. the Hinge of Fate:
“For six or seven months, tire U-Boats ravaged American waters almost 1111controlled, and in fact almost
brought us to the disaster of an indefinite prolongation
of the war. ”
The President wrote to Winston Churchill in March of 1942: (quoted from Churchill’s The Second World War. Volume Four)
“My Navy has been definitely slack in preparing/or this s11bmarine war off 011r coast. As I need not tell you, most
naval officers have declined in the past to think in terms of any vessel of less than two thousand tons. You learned this lesson two years ago. We still have to learn it. By May 1, I expect to get a pretty good coastal patrol working from Newfoundland to Florida and through the West Indies. I have begged, borrowed, and stolen eve1y vessel of any description over 80 feet long … ”
The WWI small wooden ships had a length-over-all of 110 feet with a full load displacement of 85 tons. The WWII subchaser length was 110 feet 10 inches and displaced 148 tons. The WWII shops had a designed speed of 21 knots and a crew of three officers and 25 enlisted. Depth charges, K-guns, and 30 caliber guns comprised the small ship’s armament. The ships were built in forty-eight small wooden boat building yards along the East Coast, West Coast, Mid-West, Gulf Coast, and Halifax in the Maritime Provinces. The subchasers were soon patrolling the American coastal waters assisted by the Army Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy coastal units. LCDR Reinhard Hardegen advised the other U-Boat captains after Hardegen’s second Drum Beat patrol:
“The small subchasers are dangerous because of their silhouettes which don’t often show up 011 the periscope.
On the swface they can be detected by their wake but not their shadow. If they would ever learn to patrol at slow speed, they would be fatal.” Hardegen’s advice is quoted from Michael Gannon’s book Operation Drum Beat (Hmper and Row).
By mid-summer of 1942, the increasing number of subchasers, a focused naval strategy (blackouts and coastal convoys) and allied technology forced the Germans back to the mid-Atlantic and their ultimate destruction.
As Admiral Sagerholm pointed out in the final part of his article, the Germans failed to exploit their technologies in time to win the Atlantic battle. The corollary is, of course, that the Americans and their allies rapidly developed their technologies to ultimately destroy the German submarine threat. The only suggestions I can make to Admiral Sagerholm’s overview is in the bibliography. I would substitute the 1959 Donitz book with the 1990 edition that includes the German historian Jurgen Rohwer’s Introduction and Afterword (Naval Institute Press). I would also add Michael Gannon’s Operation Drum Beat to get a view from both the Gennan and the American sides during the Happy Time.
The last comment concerns Admiral Sagerholm, himself. James Sagerholm left an indelible mark in my memory that has lasted for over forty-six years. Basic Officers Submarine School Class 125 consisted mainly of year group 1962 Academy, NROTC, and OCS officers. The class also contained several more senior officers including the Submarine League Executive Director, then Lieutenant Mickey Garverick. James Sagerholm, then a Lieutenant Commander, was the senior officer in the class. On November 22, 1963, Commander Sagerholm entered each Sub School classroom to announce that President Kennedy has been shot and seriously wounded during a visit to Dallas, Texas. Of course, the classes were dismissed and we returned to our living quarters to learn that the President had died from his injuries. We could do nothing but ponder the fate of our country and grieve for the President and his family. Mr. Curran’s works include, among others:
1991: Memoirs Ten Years and Twenty Days by Karl Dtinitz, the 1990 edition, with an Introduction and Afterword by the Gennnn historian Jurgen Rohwer. Rohwer revealed to Docnitz, in 1979, that the British had broken the Gcnnan naval code and had used HF/OF to locate the wolf packs. This was contrary to Donitz’s belief that the 9 CM radar was the chief reason for the accur.icy of attacks on the wolf pack submarines.
1992: Operation Drumbeat by Michael Gannon. Gannon explores, in detail from both the Gennan and U.S. sides, the Gcnnan submarine actively, along the United States East Coast, during the first six months after Pearl Harbor. The Gcnnan submariners called this the Happy Times with no blackouts and no U.S. Navy threat.
2000: The Terrible Hours: The Man Behind The Greatest Submarine Rescue by Peter Maass. The story is centered around Charles “Swede” Momsen and his involvement with the submarine rescue activities and his later duty under Lockwood in the Pacific theater including the first wolf pack operation.
Articles 1998: “Remembering V ADM Charles A. Lockwood”. The article details Lockwood’s activities as the Commander of Submarine Forces, Pacific including the torpedo problems, OPERATION BARNEY, the foray into the Sea of Japan near the end of the war, and his knowledge gained as nova! attachc in Britain before the United States entered World War Two. Admiral Harry Hull assisted me with the article among other Lockwood staff and submarine skippers.
1995: Mr. Curran also published a six port monograph, “The Subchascrs of Manchester-By-The-Sea” in his hometown newspaper, the Manchester Cricket. The story centers on Yankee craftsmen at the local boat yard who built eight wooden subchasers during World War Two. The Naval Institute book Subchaser by Edward D. Stafford is the story of one of the Manchester, Massachusetts subchasers.