This effort by EMC (SS) John Clear USN (Ret) is truly remarkable. For over 40 years, although declassified, the remarkable exploits of the U.S. Submarine Force during WWII sat on microfilm in a few museums and files, essentially untouched. His initiative revealed factual accounts of each U.S. submarine war patrol during WWII. In my view, that delay in publication was a travesty which should not have occurred for our WWII submarine veterans.
The Cold War is over. It should not take four decades before the importance of U. S. Submarine efforts during that period are made public.
VADM Roger F. Bacon, USN (Ret)
I first became acquainted with the WWII U.S. Submarine War Patrol Reports microfilm collection at the Naval Undersea Museum, Keyport, WA in the summer of 2006, while volunteering as a docent at the museum. This little known and very infrequently used collection is housed within the 3n1 floor, non-lending library of this outstanding facility which is one of only a small hand full in our nation where these reports can be viewed.
Being a retired SubLant and SubPac Chief, whose naval career had included tours of duty on three of these WWII veteran submarines, I was interested in their war time history and achievements. With help from the museum’s staff (in particular Jennifer Heinzelman, Collections Manager), I soon became well versed with the library’s microfilm reader as to how to set-up and peruse the film rolls of the 255 U.S. submarine’s war patrol records. These numerous microfilm rolls are housed in large collection drawers there within the library.
What immediately struck me in reading these histories from the microfilm copies of the original paper reports was the succinct manner in which these histories had been recorded at the time of and where these events occurred. Some of these reports were almost casual in their presentation of these awesome events. As an example: one of my previous tours of duty was on the USS SEALION SS-315 which just happened to be the only submarine in history to sink an enemy battleship in wartime. To read the pertinent pages from within this particular report of this patrol one would think that this type of occurrence was rather commonplace and not of such monumental importance as it had been. Well known submarines and individual heroes of these times seem to be alive in their patrol report depictions. The officers making the input and the yeomen that typed up these multi-copy reports on their old Underwood typewriters did so with an almost clinical detachment, ultimately providing an insight as no other form of written historical log or book has given us.
Again with the aid of the staff I was able to print out some of these pages but it was a very slow and cumbersome chore. It wasn’t until I was able to reconnect the microfilm reader’s output directly to a computer and hence save pages in a digital format that this effort began to come together and make sense. From my research I had found that nearly half of these microfilmed reports were photographed in 16mm and the rest in 35mm, in that, again, I found another problem. The 16 mm pages were an easy and direct save to on the p.c., but the 35mm had to be worked on with an average of three shots and then laboriously stitched together with the computer’s software. To say that this slowed down the procedure is an understatement. Fast calculations showed that I had about 5 years of 8-hour days ahead of me at the rate that I was proceeding.
By the fall of the year I had been hooked on this project. One day, while talking with an active duty LCDR an Jennifer, I decided that this project had to be taken on in earnest in order to more easily share these historic times with the many rather than just the few that had access to these microfilm libraries. I wanted to get these stories out while we still had some of our WWII submarine veterans with us, whose stories were told within these pages.
Further research found that recent technology had been developed that could now take on this conversion in a manner that would not require the manual, laborious efforts thus far expended. This newer technology was basically a huge machine that could read and convert these microfilm rolls faster than I ever could hope to accomplish. Two major companies were queried as to cost. The pricing, while fair (quoted at over six thousand dollars), was not something that the museum, nor its supporting foundation, would be able to fund. With the help of a long time friend, Dan Martini EMCM (SS), USN Ret., a partnership was formed and registered in Jefferson County of Washington State with the express purpose of handling this project. The museum agreed to lend out the microfilm rolls (some 255) to the company that we had agreed upon and the partnership would pay the cost of the conversion process.
It was at about this time that Vice Admiral Roger Bacon, of the museum’s foundation, had heard of our project and wanted to help make the project move into reality. Admiral Bacon’s father had been a highly respected WWII submarine Commanding Officer and thus Admiral Bacon’s interest in these reports had been in mind for many years.
The initial run received from the conversion company came down to 28 full DVDs containing all of the 1,600+ war patrol reports of the 255 submarines involved. We were provided with two master copies, one in .jpg (picture) format and the other in .pdf (Adobe Reader) format. These reports were assembled in hull number sequence, oldest to the newest of the participating WWII subs. As per SubPac’s instructions, the vast majority of the war patrol reports were written within the required guidelines as follows:
(B) Narrative (date & time)
(D) Tidal information
(E) Navigational aids
(F) Ship Contacts
(J) Anti-submarine measures, sonar, countermeasures, and evasive tactics
(K) Major defects
(N) Sound gear & conditions
(0) Density Layers
(P) Health, food & habitability
(R) Miles steamed, fuel used
(T) Factors of endurance remaining
(U) Communication, radar and sonar
It was also at this point that we registered our newly converted war patrol reports and were issued an ISBN number of 13: 978-0-615-17769-4. Together with an intellectual copyright being filed (to protect the digital conversion).
By early 2007 we had the final masters on hand and began further production from these sets. Admiral Bacon (as our mentor) financed the first (costly) five sets and donated these to the Newport, RI and Monterey, CA Naval War College libraries, the St. Mary’s, Georgia Museum, USS Nautilus Museum, Groton, CT and the USS Bowfin Museum, Honolulu, HI. The partnership in turn provided a master set to the Naval Undersea Museum and to some eight submarines stationed at Bangor Submarine Base, WA during our quarterly NSL NW meetings.
Later that year, during the 2007 USSVI Alaskan Cruise Convention, these patrol reports were first introduced, in their new user-friendly digital format, to the submarine community at large. We also posted this informtion on the internet at the same time. It was the partnership’s agreement, to provide at no cost, any copy of any submarine reports to any WWII sub vet or his immediate family, several hundred individual boat’s patrol reports were thus sent out. Many submarine authors, (Tom Clancy, et al), researchers, and historians were among the initial purchasers.
By 2009 it was decided to make these reports available for free viewing to the general public directly on the internet. Rich Pekelney of the Historic Naval Ships Association, (HNSA), was contacted and uploaded all of the reports onto their website with a bravo zulu sent back to the partnership and our mentor Admiral Bacon. While able to view the reports for free via the internet, these pages are not easily copied or printed out.
In quick order, further improvements in computer software allowed the reports to be further converted to a compressed pdf format greatly reducing the production time and lowering the overall cost to less then 1/10 of the initial offering. The total of the reports including all of the appendices (which include some fifteen cross references, by boat, C.0 . etc.) are now on just 4 DVD’s in this compressed .pdf format.
We have archived the initial run in the .jpeg format to allow for further cleaning up (in time) of some of the reports that were either too light, dark, smudged or had any other problems in their reading quality.
The outcome of this effort has provided an easy to use reference of the thousands of pages that if printed out on single sided paper, would be a book at over 22 feet across, a massive work!
The company, (now a corporation), has continued to provide these reports at an extremely low cost to a worldwide audience. Our initial desire to acknowledge our WWII Submarine Veterans still alive has been well met and we will continue in our stated efforts through Submarine Memorabilia, Inc.