Editor’s Note: Part I appeared in the April 2011 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW
All of the attacks described this far were made by Pacific Fleet boats on their way to or from Empire waters, frequently on the actual picket line. The next two, however, were made by SoWesPac submarines far to the south.
GATO (SS 212) with Robert J. Foley in command was off Rabaul on her eighth patrol heading from Fremantle to Pearl Harbor and a welcome overhaul when on J 5 February 1944 a heavily-built wooden trawler of about 150 tons was sighted, bearing antennas on its two masts, a 20 mm gun forward, and a machine gun on the deckhouse. The sub’ s battle surface caught the enemy by surprise, and its guns were never manned. GATO’s 3″ hits set fire to the engine spaces, the fuel tanks blew up, and the gutted craft burned to the waterline with about 10 bodies on deck and 30 crewmen in the water. (The victim was the 36-ton picket TAIYO MARU #3, assigned to the 4th Fleet. Apparently it was unable to make a radio report and no survivors were recovered.)
On 4 April 1944, SCAMP (SS 277) under John C. Hollingsworth on her seventh patrol was near Palau on the way from Brisbane to Pearl Harbor when she encountered a 200-ton armed trawler with an antenna strung between its masts. Hollingsworth moved in, firing his 4″/50 deck gun and starting a fire with two hits. The trawler fired back at 4,500 yards, but its shots fell well short. It then maneuvered skillfully to keep its stem toward the sub. Hollingsworth broke off after firing 91 rounds when the gun failed to return to battery, leaving the enemy with a small starboard list and the fire under control. “This was the first gun action for this boat,” he wrote, “and was good training and a boost for morale.” (The opponent was the picket boat SUITEN MARU of 131 tons, which was also assigned to the 4th Fleet. Following its damage by SCAMP it ran into a mine at Palau and sank.)
Back north a month later, on 4 May TUNA (SS 203) under James T. Hardin on her tenth patrol was heading toward her assigned area when a small trawler was sighted. Hardin decided to attack it with his 5″/51 deck gun. He commenced fire with both 20 mm guns at about 1800 yards and when the trawler responded, opened up with the big gun. After the first 5″ hit, the enemy was down by the stem and in ten minutes had sunk. TUNA’s deck force proceeded to pick up three prisoners, one of whom soon died from his wounds. While attempting to recover floating crates, Chief of the Boat John K. Huff, CTM lost his footing, sank and drowned. There is no mention in the patrol report of a memorial service being held.
HADDOCK (SS 231) was passing by en route back from patrol and prepared to join the attack, only to see the target blow up. Skipper John P. Roach then closed the wreckage and sent off his rubber boat under Lt. G. W. Kittridge, while Lt. Cdr. W. T. Gennershausen and Lt. (j.g.) R. J. Williams jumped in and swam. Together they collared two more POWs and took aboard the pair from TUNA as well. The patrol report says the prisoners proved docile and helpful with information, and were turned over to the authorities at Midway. (The Japanese records identify the victim as the picket TAJIMA MARU of 89 tons and say eight crewmen were killed, which implies that the rest of the crew was picked up.)
An interesting sidelight is that the submarines had been ordered to capture the trawler and search it for new code books and other intelligence material, but TUNA sank it instead. Neither boat’s patrol report nor their endorsements allude to this episode, and eleven pages have been redacted from the declassified copies of HADDOCK’s report. Postwar revelations provided by W. J. Jasper Holmes in his book Double Edged Secrets explain the unusual exertions made by both subs to recover prisoners and material.
An unusual example of humanity occurred when SKA TE (SS 305) on her fourth patrol, with William P. Gruner, Jr. in command, attacked a sampan on 19 May 1944. Making a battle surface, they left the craft in sinking condition after firing 67 rounds from the 4″/50 deck gun. Both 20 mm weapons jammed, but .50 cal. hits set the vessel afire. The sub picked up three survivors, including the Japanese captain and a Korean sailor. GRUNER gave eight others still alive a rubber boat and some food before going on his way. (The victim was the 31-ton MEISEi (or MEISHO) MARU, a fishing boat under naval control; the records do not specify the extent of damage.)
In June 1944 three pickets are listed as having been attacked by surfaced submarines. On the 3n1 SHINKO MARU #10 of 72 tons was sunk with 20 killed along with the 102-ton SHOEI MARU #7 Go with 23 dead. Eight days later in the same general area KAIGYO (or KAIKA TA or KAIKEI) MARU #8 of 173 tons fought with and depth charged a submarine with unspecified damage. No U.S. submarine reported any of these attacks, but they were all within the area assigned to GO LET (SS 361) on her second patrol in command of James S. Clark. The sub was never heard from after leaving Midway and is believed to have been sunk by Japanese anti-submarine forces on 14 June. GOLET has never been officially credited with a sinking on her only two patrols.
More engagements followed. On 4 August 1944 Orme C. Roberts on the first patrol of STERLET (SS 392) missed a patrol vessel with three stern torpedoes, was depth charged, missed again with his last torpedo, battle surfaced and destroyed the enemy with gunfire. About 30 survivors, all with close-cropped heads, refused to be picked up from the wreckage. (The victim was MIYAGI MARU , a 248-ton member of the picket force; Japanese records say only that the entire crew of 23 was lost.)
On 13 August ARCHERFISH (SS 311) under William H. Wright was returning from her fourth patrol when she encountered a picket with the typical configuration and armament 500 miles from land. Keeping well out of range of the enemy’s guns, Wright methodically pounded it with his 4″/50 and smaller guns, ultimately expending his entire 120 rounds of 4″ plus 1,200 rounds of 20 mm and 300 of .50 cal. ammunition. After the first five rounds the Japanese vessel ignited a smoke canister, jettisoned its depth charges, and charged the submarine. Additional hits left it splintered and dismasted; its fire slackened but never ceased. (It was the picket AJI (or AMJJI) MARU of 107 tons, which suffered six men killed but survived to fight again.)
APOGON (SS 308) under Arthur C . House on her fourth patrol was en route from Midway to her patrol area on 23 September I 944. House had already taken the precaution of firing his guns for practice when he sighted a modem-looking trawler, which he attacked and photographed. The 4″ gun suffered three misfires, so House closed and opened fire with his 40 mm and 20 mm guns while bringing up fresh 4″ rounds from below. The 20 mm weapon then jammed as the enemy returned fire from its own 20 mm and machine guns. “From here on in I don’t know who was chasing who,” House recorded. After 96 rounds of 4”, of which 15 were misfires, 320 of 40 mm, 90 of 20 mm, and 2,500 of .30 cal. ammunition had been expended, the target started to bum, exploded and sank, leaving the sub with a few bullet holes in the superstructure and side plating. “This was APOGON’s first gun action,” House noted. “Target had plenty of guts and kept firing and trying to close the range until the end.” (The opponent was the 91-ton picket CHOYO MARU #6, which reported fighting a surfaced submarine before sinking. Japanese records say there were 11 casualties.)
The new BESUGO (SS 321) under Thomas L. Wogan (previously in command of TARPON) came upon a small patrol vessel on 6 October 1944 soon after leaving Midway on her maiden patrol. The craft was stopped and drifting, an easy torpedo target. Wogan fired three fish, but all missed without alarming the Japanese ship. However, it quickly came to life when BESUGO made a battle surface and opened fire with all guns. The 5″/25 proved ineffective due to heavy swells and poor visibility, so Wogan closed and registered 20 mm hits until both guns jammed. The enemy continued charging in and swept the submarine’s deck with its machine gun. One round hit the shears and its fragments wounded a lookout in a leg and the gunnery officer in a hand. The skipper decided the better part of valor was to break off and make haste to reach his assigned patrol area on time. “NOT an auspicious beginning for our fighting career,” Wogan recorded in his report. (The victor was NANSHIN MARU #22 of 88 tons, which apparently suffered little damage and no casualties.)
On 13 October 1944 Donald A. Scherer was returning his boat, the veteran PERMIT (SS 178), from Brisbane to Pearl Harbor on her fourteenth and final patrol when he spotted a deep-sea tuna-type fishing vessel with a 3″ gun forward and gear on the fantail that did not look like fishing equipment. He promptly sent it to the bottom with a salvo of two torpedoes, took some photos, and departed, leaving a few survivors in the wreckage. The division commander characterized the operation as “a fine attack and a real blow” to Japanese anti-submarine activities. (Japanese records are sketchy, but the victim was probably the l 394on KINPO (or KINHO) MARU #1, a picket assigned to the 4th Fleet.)
BURT’S BROOMS AND THE FIRST PICKET SWEEP
When Operation Hotfoot, the first carrier strike on the Japanese homeland since the Doolittle raid, was being planned for November 1944, Admiral Lockwood proposed that his submarines could facilitate the mission by conducting a sweep in the area west and north of the Volcano and Bonin Islands to destroy any pickets or other ships that could provide the Japanese advance warning of the raid. Although the strike had to be cancelled, Lockwood decided to conduct the sweep anyway as a practice exercise. Seven submarines near the ends of their regular patrols were hastily summoned to Saipan to replenish and constitute Task Group 17.24, unofficially named Burt’s Brooms, under the command of Thomas B. Burt Klakring, ComSubDiv 101.
The group was a heterogeneous collection of old and new boats armed with a variety of deck guns in various locations: SAURY (SS 189) under Richard A. Waugh on her eleventh patrol, TAMBOR (SS 198) under C.O. William J. Germershausen on her twelfth run, SIL VERSIDES (SS 236) now under John S. Coye on her twelfth patrol, TRIGGER (SS 237) under Frederick J. Harlfinger II on her tenth patrol, BURRFISH (SS 312) under William B. Perkins, Jr. on her fourth patrol, STERLET (SS 392) and Orme Robbins on their second patrol, and RONQUIL (SS 396) under Henry S. Monroe, also on her second patrol. SAURY and TAMBOR were actually on their way to the States and retirement from combat. All had the usual assortments of defects accumulated during their patrols, and the crews would hardly have been enthusiastic about having their prospective refits or overhauls delayed. Few of the commanders had any previous experience fighting picket boats.
Klakring assembled the skippers on the tender FULTON on 9 November to plan the operation. The submarines would conduct the sweep for eight days in seven parallel lines at a seven-knot speed of advance, with the longer lines assigned to the newer boats. When a target was contacted the two nearest boats would concentrate on it and attempt to overwhelm it before it could get out a warning. The skippers would maintain contact with and receive orders from the group commander by VHF voice radio. Thus organized, the group set forth on the I 01h. A harbinger of problems to come transpired two days later when surprise contact was made with a U.S. force of three heavy cruisers and six destroyers that had not been informed that the submarines were at sea. The weather in the area was normally bad enough but became even worse as a typhoon set in.
SILVERSIDES made the first enemy contact on 15 November when a mast was sighted. After summoning STERLET to the scene, Coye dove and started his approach for a torpedo attack only to have the target suddenly start taking evasive action. For STERLET had arrived and Robbins, unaware of Coye’s intentions, was closing in on the target. It was a 120-foot trawler with a clipper bow, composite superstructure, high bridge, well-deck forward, and a high tripod mast or lookout platform aft, painted tan except for a black lower hull. Robbins thought it was circling and dropping depth charges on SILVERSIDES, so he charged the enemy and opened fire with his 4″/50 at 7,000 yards. The picket returned fire but its shells fell short until at 6,500 yards they started to straddle STERLET, which hastily turned away to get out of range of the cagey Japanese. With shells still falling all around him at 7,500 yards, Robbins pulled the plug. SIL VERSIDES people thought he must have dived because of a plane contact and broke off their approach, then surfaced and tried to call in TRIGGER and TAMBOR.
When STERLETS surfaced again both SILVERSIDES and TRIGGER were in sight. The three subs formed a line and resumed the attack on the wily opponent, which maneuvered so radically that both STERLET and SIL VERSIDES soon exhausted their supplies of 4″ ammunition. TRIGGER too was straddled by the enemy while Harlfinger fired his entire load of 112 4″ rounds with many near misses but no hits. “The 4″ gun shooting was heartbreaking,” he recorded, and asserted that the time wasted in VHF communications had allowed the target to escape. Only Coye of SIL VERSIDES claimed hitting the enemy, noting rather defensively: “We presented a far larger and more vulnerable target than he did.” (The evasive opponent was HACHIRYU (or NACHIRYU) MARU #12 Go of 97 tons, which not unreasonably reported fighting a l 0-hour battle with six submarines! Its damage was described as medium.)
Later that day SAURY encountered another picket and Waugh chose to make a night surface attack, firing four torpedoes. All missed, whereupon the target retaliated with some depth charges and departed at high speed. At about midnight it was discovered by T AMBOR, which also missed hitting it with three electric torpedoes from the stem tubes followed by three air fish from forward. The Japanese responded with gunfire, so Germershausen decided to wait until dawn and surprise the enemy with a battle surface attack. The opponent proved to be a wooden-hulled diesel trawler, which was quickly riddled by hits from the 5″/51 and 20 mm guns. However, it returned fire with its own guns and hit the trainer of the five-incher, Robert E. Baggett, in the leg. TAMBOR closed the sinking craft and sprayed the wreckage with 20 mm and .50 cal. gunfire as well as I 0 bazookas that missed. Two prisoners were picked up; there were no other survivors. In addition to the bazookas, TAMBOR expended 65 5″ rounds and about 1,000 each from the smaller guns, but was then put out of further action by being ordered to deposit Baggett and the prisoners at Saipan before continuing on to Pearl Harbor. (The picket was KOJO (or TAKASHIRO) MARU of 91 tons, presumed by the Japanese as lost with all hands on 16 November 1944 after reporting both of its battles with submarines.)
Approaching noon on the 161h, RONQUIL came upon two small ships close together, with another submarine in sight in the distance, later identified as BURRFISH. Monroe ordered all guns manned, but the seas were so heavy that the 5″/25 gun crew was knee deep in water and several of the men were thrown against the lifelines. Nevertheless, at 1,600 yards they opened fire at the nearest target and were soon joined by the 40 mm, 20 mm, and .30 cal. guns. The enemy was slow to respond with his own gun of about 40 mm size, and after at least one 5″ and many smaller caliber hits he slowed down and sheered away. As the second Japanese closed in to 800 yards, RONQUIL ‘s 20 mm gun jammed, but the enemy was held off by 40 mm hits. Monroe then shifted back to the first target, which appeared to break in two after a direct 5″ hit, still firing sporadically with its smaller machine guns. With the second target now at 600 yards and with all of his weapons except the .30 cal. temporarily out of action, Monroe cleared the main deck and turned away to reload. Once the bigger guns were back in operation, more hits were registered on the remaining target, which withdrew and seemed to be circling around the spot where the first one had apparently sunk. (This was probably the 95-ton picket OEBISU (or OJU or TAIKAI) MARU #3. lt was obviously badly damaged here but may not have sunk at this time. The second target was FUSA MARU. Both pickets reported being in battle with a submarine at this time and FUSA MARU said it was unable to steer. The next day it reported being in another battle with two submarines, as described below).
BURRFISH now appeared on the scene and the two subs tracked the tough little opponent by radar through the pitch-black night. RONQUIL tried a surface torpedo attack but the two fish missed. At dawn the two submarines renewed the gun attack in heavy rain. Twice the first loader on RONQUIL ‘s 5″ gun, Thomas W. Connaughton, was swept off his feet and over the side, saving himself the second time only by catching onto the rail with one hand. With all guns in operation at ranges between 3,500 and 700 yards, one good 5″ hit was registered and three bazookas were fired but missed. The Japanese vessel continued to spray RONQUIL with its guns and tried to ram, fortunately without causing any casualties or damage.
BURRFISH was not so lucky. Four rounds of 4″ ammunition could not be removed from their containers and the after 20 mm gun had to be whacked repeatedly with a leather maul to get it to start firing. Perkins later explained that a high percentage of his shots “missed the target because of heavy seas and lack of firing experience.” The enemy caught him off guard by making a quick turn across BURRFISH’s stern at 700 yards and spraying the bridge and shears with its machine guns. Coxwain M. A. Foster was hit in the leg and Seaman R. D. Lopez in the side so badly that he needed to be gotten to the nearest medical facilities ashore. ComSubPac accordingly ordered Perkins to discontinue the operation and return to Saipan.
Just at this time RONQUIL was firing directly astern at the elusive target when a pillar of black smoke and debris shot up 50 feet above the deck and the after torpedo room watch reported that the hull had been holed. One of the sub’s own rounds had exploded prematurely, producing two holes in the pressure hull so that it could not dive. The target was forgotten and two men, Lt. Cdr. Lincoln Marcy and CMoMM William S. Bellows, hastened aft on deck to see what could be done. Bellows was promptly swept overboard but was recovered and taken below while Marcy returned alone and drove plugs into the holes. No sooner was this done than a Nell appeared, forcing the boat to dive to I 00 feet as a bomb fell close by. The makeshift patches held then and later as two more planes drove RONQUIL down again. Refusing to quit, Monroe remained on the sweep until 18 November, when ComSubPac ordered it tenninated. (The plucky picket was the FUSA MARV of 176 tons, which had reported being damaged and unable to steer after the first RONQUIL engagement but recovered enough to claim sinking one of two submarines in combat the next day. The 111-ton HOSHO MARU #3 also reported being in battle with a surfaced submarine at this time and location, but was unhurt. Neither RONQUIL’ s nor BURRFISH’s patrol report mentions a second enemy vessel being present, but it may simply have been overlooked in the confusion. Both pickets returned home safely; the records give no details of the damage actually suffered by FUSA MARU).
At the same time as the above carnage was taking place, about midnight on 16 November, a few miles away Robbins in STERLET made contact with another ship and conducted a night surface radar approach in “visibility like the inside of a suitcase.” At the last minute he identified the target as a 100-ton SCS-1 type and fired four stem torpedoes. The first three missed but the fourth hit and broke the victim in two. A minute later a monumental explosion jolted the submarine upward as the enemy’s depth charges detonated. (This vessel cannot be positively identified. It may have been the OEBISU MARV #3 or its remains, still afloat after being presumably sunk by RONQUIL earlier in the day.
TRIGGER had also been chasing around trying to locate two contacts reported by SAURY, and tracked one through the early hours of 17 November, intending to attack it in the morning. At 1115 Harlfinger spotted a converted tuna-type boat lying to and armed with a 3″ gun. Making a submerged periscope approach, he fired three Mk 18-1 torpedoes in succession, all of which missed. Three hours later he surfaced with two targets in sight, both under way, and was closing in with all guns manned when a plane suddenly appeared, forcing him to dive leaving the guns unsecured and ammunition exposed on deck.
Thus the great picket sweep ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Clay Blair characterized it as a complete disaster while W. J. Holmes noted that intelligence showed that the Japanese had reacted by rushing in ships and aircraft so that “there were probably more pickets in the area after the sweep than there wer.e when it started.” Klakring summed up the problems in a post-mortem report: VHF radio range too short to maintain communi-cations, poor circuit discipline, inadequate fire control equipment, need for more gun training and practice firing, etc. He called for the installation of 5″/25 guns both forward and aft and the provision of a simple gun director, and recommended that all shellmen be trained as first loaders in order to reduce ammunition handling. Not mentioned was the obvious observation that having an embarked group commander only complicated communica-tions, dampened the individual skippers’ initiatives, and delayed actions. Many of these rudimentary improvements were implemented on various boats before the end of the war, especially on a group destined to conduct another picket sweep about three months later.
NEW ANTI-ESCORT WEAPONS INTRODUCED
SENNET (SS 408) under George E. Porter, Jr. had a very unusual and short maiden patrol when she was sent out in January 1945 to test ten secret Mk 27 or CUTY homing torpedoes and some Mk 32 proximity-fuzed shells for the 5″/25 gun. The torpedoes were fired by sonar at depths of 150-170 feet, necessarily very close to the target. The results were reported in a top-secret supplement to the patrol report. The first was fired at a tanker on 21 January after SENNETS’s entire regular load of six Mk 18-1 torpedoes missed, and nine were fired between then and 26 January against patrol vessels or picket boats for a single hit. That hit was made on 23 January with the sub circling directly under a pair of the targets, which were almost certainly armed with depth charges. (According to Japanese records, the 85-ton picket KAINAN MARU #7 was hit by two torpedoes and sunk with the loss of 11 killed. The survivors, including three wounded, were rescued by the HOSHO MARU #3of 111 tons.)
Later the same day the sub got into a gunfight with that very picket. Porter’s report describes this encounter as “undoubtedly the worst exhibition of a gun action that I have ever observed.” He had to keep the boat’s stern within 20 degrees of the Force-4 seas in order for a deck gun to be manned at all, the SJ radar went out, the gun trainer’s sight flooded as did replacement binoculars, and 50 percent of the Mk 32 shells prematured. To Porter, these were “more disconcerting than the gun fire returned by the enemy.” Two hits were observed before contact was lost in the darkness. (Japanese records do not describe the damage, if any, to the HOSHO MARU #3.)
Adding insult to injury, task group commander G. E. Peterson’s endorsement to the report said that 30 percent of VT fuzes would normally premature, but the increased failures were due to bad shooting because the shells were fired too close to the water. SENNET returned to Saipan to be rearmed, replenished, and sent right back to sea on another picket sweep.
THE SECOND PICKET SWEEP
This operation was more sophisticated and in some ways more successful than Burt’s Brooms. It originated as part of the February 1945 assault on lwo Jima, Operation Detachment, which was to be preceded by a carrier strike on Honshu targets. The initial sweep was planned as a two-pronged operation: the main thrust to clear a path for the carriers, and a diversionary feint to attract Japanese interest in the wrong direction. The submarines were all new or recently overhauled and specially armed with 5″125 and 40mm guns mounted both forward and aft, plus additional smaller weapons and improved voice radios. This operation would occupy the first few days of their patrols, which were primarily intended to provide plane guard services for the many aircraft attacking Japanese targets.
The main group, TG 17.17 or Mac’s Mops, was headed by PIPER (SS409) under Bernard F. McMahon on her first patrol, plus BOWFIN (SS 287) on her seventh patrol, with Alexander K. Tyree in command; POMFRET (SS 391) on her fourth patrol, under John B. Hess; STERLET (SS 392) under H. H. Lewis, on her third run; and TREPANG (SS 412), commanded by Allen R. Faust on her third patrol. These boats each carried a partial load of CUTY torpedoes to be used against the pickets or other targets.
The diversionary section, TG 17 .13 or Latta’ s Lances, was led by Frank D. Latta in LAGARTO (SS 371) on her maiden patrol, with the veteran HADDOCK (SS23 I) on her eleventh patrol, and SENNET (SS 408) under George E. Porter, Jr., just returned from their short first patrol as described above. Latta was instructed to use only his group’s guns and to give the targets enough time to radio their warnings and thereby induce the Japanese to draw forces away from the real clearance area. The subs had all gathered at Saipan for briefings and final topping-off of fuel and supplies in preparation for leaving the next day, when their plans were disrupted by a tragic accident. Five officers from LAGARTO and HADDOCK were seriously injured in a car crash while driving around the island on 6 February, including the skipper of the HADDOCK, John P. Roach, who died a few days later. Replacements for the junior officers were flown up from Guam, and command of HADDOCK was assumed by the division commander, William H. Brockman, who was undoubtedly delighted at the unexpected opportunity to go on patrol one more time but wisely left Latta in charge as the group commander. In spite of the disruption, the two sections got under way on schedule the next day.
To sum up the operation, neither Mac’s Mops nor the carrier task force encountered any pickets, so in that sense the main sweep was a success, as was the diversionary action. Oddly enough, the boats were credited with 10 separate special operations characterized as picket sweeps between 25 January and 4 April 1945. STERLET, PIPER, and TREPANG each received two such awards and the others one each except for BOWFIN, which was inexplicably and unjustly omitted, as will be seen.
First blood was drawn by Latta’s Lances. Despite their unsettling start, the three submarines worked well together, and on 13 February encountered their first pair of pickets. All three soon registered hits on both targets, then HADDOCK concentrated on the smaller ship, which was soon afire, but straddled its tormentor with automatic weapons without causing any damage. Having expended his entire load of 148 5″ shells, Brockman closed in to finish off the opponent with 40 mm fire, but before he could get near enough, it sank with one Japanese sailor still firing a rifle as it went down. The larger picket was sunk by SENNET at point-blank range. All told, Porter had fired 214 5″ and 384 40 mm rounds. There were no survivors from either target. (The victims were the 76-ton SHOWA MARV #3 GO and 109-ton KOTOSHIRO MARV #8.)
The next night HADDOCK detected two more pickets and was directed to hold contact until morning, then to make a submerged torpedo attack while the other Lances attacked on the surface. Brockman launched a single CUTY, but it failed to hit. LAGARTO and SENNET fired at the two pickets until both had exhausted their 5″ ammunition and had to break off the action. In the process SENNET received two hits by .50 cal. bullets and an unnamed crewman was wounded in the back by shrapnel. (The pickets EIFVKU MARV and KANNO MARU #3, both of98 tons, reported engaging in a battle with surfaced submarines, the latter suffering four men wounded.) The Lances then broke up and proceeded on their individual patrols.
The subs in Mac’s Mops, however, stayed together and accounted for a few picket boats among other sinkings later during their patrols. On 17 February BOWFIN sighted two pickets. Letting the smaller one go, Tyree concentrated on the other, which turned out to be an abandoned sea truck type, masts fallen and still smoldering aft where four depth charges were visible. There was no sign of life and the seas were too rough to board the wreck, so Tyree blasted it with 40 and 20 mm shells, whereupon its depth charges exploded and it turned over and sank. McMahon in PIPER had come across this derelict the day before, judged it “well underway to Davy Jones,” and passed it by. (Japanese records say several pickets were sunk or damaged by aircraft 16-18 February in that general area.) POMFRET encountered a similar gutted wreck two days later and picked up a Japanese sailor from a rowboat, further evidence of U.S. air competition with the submarines to sweep the ocean clean of Japanese shipping.
On 25 February PIPER fired three torpedoes at each of two small targets of unknown type, one of which blew up with a tremendous flash. (It was probably the picket HOSHO MARU #3 of 111 tons, sunk with 25 killed; twelve survivors were rescued by the ISUZU MARU #3.) The next victim was a large sea truck type armed with four guns and having cargo stacked aft. This was sighted and avoided by POMFRET on 2 March but hit later that day by a CUTY torpedo from BOWFfN, which left it listing and dead in the water. The crew then jettisoned the cargo and abandoned the craft as it capsized and sank, leaving about I 0 men in a lifeboat and a few still in the water. Tyree took photos of the scene and went on his way. (This was the picket CHOKAI MARU of 136 tons, reported sunk in a battle with a surfaced submarine on this date. The Japanese may have been using it more as a cargo carrier than a picket in an attempt to compensate for the huge shipping losses incurred to date.)
BOWFfN encountered another pair of pickets on 4 March and bored in, firing her 40 mm weapons and one of the five-inchers, even though the gun crew was nearly drowned by solid water and spray. Both enemy vessels returned fire and the gun trainer, TM2/c R. E. Lee, was hit in both legs by shrapnel, with bones in the left limb shattered. Tyree broke off the attack and retired, having fired 12 5″ shells and 64 rounds of 40 mm with at most only two 40mm hits on one of the targets. The Japanese were “too tough for us inside 5,000 yards,” Tyree wrote. “We were humiliated and had suffered serious injury to one man as well. C.0. had underesti-mated the enemy.” Lee was transferred the next day to SENNET for transportation back to Saipan. (According to Japanese records, the pickets FUKUKYU MARU #I of 152 tons and FUKUYOSHI (or FUKUKICHI) MARU #2 Go of 98 tons reported battling surfaced submarines, but no damage or casualties were cited.)
On 9 March McMahon proposed that the Mops conduct another coordinated sweep when not tied down to plane guard stations. The others readily fell in line and carried out the impromptu sweep between 11 and 15 March, with negative results. In addition to the actions described above, the members of Mac’s Mops had more adventures during their long patrols than can be mentioned here.
MORE NOTEWORTHY ATTACKS
In the meantime, individual submarines continued to challenge more pickets. Skippers often ran into unexpected opposition when they first ran into one. Charles M. Henderson in BLUEFISH (SS 222), returning to Guam at the end of the boat’s seventh patrol, attacked one on 19 March 1945. Keeping at a safe distance of 8,000 yards, he thought a 5″ hit had set the target’s stem afire. However, at closer range it was seen to be a white smoke screen, from behind which the Japanese bracketed the sub with 40 mm fire. Henderson prudently broke off, having expended 70 rounds of 5″ ammunition with one premature explosion. (The picket was the 96-ton MYOJIN MARU #7, which reported the engagement but made no mention of casualties or damage.)
On 28 March 1945 John J . Foote, skipper of THREADFIN (SS 410) returning from her second patrol, made what he described as our first battle surface on a group of two small trawlers and four large sampans or luggers. The 5″ gun soon made hits, setting a lugger afire while the trawlers and a sampan sprayed the sub with 20 mm and machine gun fire. Confusion then resulted when the gun crew misinterpreted an order and started to return below deck. Once that was straightened out and all guns were back in action, a sampan was set on fire and hits were registered on both trawlers even though the SJ radar inconveniently went out of commission. After expending 31 rounds of 5”, 89 of 40 mm, and 420 of 20 mm, the engagement was broken off when the APR detected an incoming aircraft. In his report, Foote noted that two men had suffered broken eardrums and admitted that poor fire discipline and communication problems had contributed to the less than satisfactory results. Back at Midway, inspectors found a small hole where the Japanese had hit the forward superstructure.
(Japanese records say that seven pickets had left Kagoshima on 24 March for their patrol areas. The FUJI MARU #2 Go of 225 tons discovered and attacked a surfaced submarine, receiving one hit. It was followed by the 76-ton DAI MARU #6 Go, which received six hits. The 128-ton MYOJIN MARU #2 Go moved in to cover the others and returned fire with the sub. As REIKO MAUR of 88 tons tried to get behind the enemy, the damaged FUJI MARU #2 Go managed to get close enough to rake the submarine with gunfire. Three of these pickets sent radio messages during the battle: one reporting fighting two submarines and another claiming the sub had been sunk. Although the extent of damage and casualties is not specified, DAI MARU #6 Go had to be escorted to Shimizu, where it was sunk by aircraft on 30 March.)
The veteran SIL VERSIDES (SS 236), now on her thirteenth patrol, had already engaged in encounters with pickets under previous commanding officers, as noted above. Now it was John C. Nichols’s turn to share those experiences. On the night of 11-12 April 1945 he made torpedo attacks on a small cargo ship and its escort, claiming one hit out of seven fish fired. The victim, which had two goal posts, a prominent forecastle and well deck, and a single stack, was seen to sink. (According to Japanese records, this was the 269-ton picket SHIRA TORI MARU and its sinking with the Joss of 16 men was confirmed by its fellow picket SUMIYOSHI MARU #7, which retaliated by depth charging the submarine.)
A week later on the 19th as he was returning to Midway Nichols came upon two more pickets, a converted trawler and one resembling a sub chaser, and launched a gun attack. Holding the range between 4,500 and 6,500 yards to avoid return fire, he fired 94 rounds of 4″ and 200 of 50 cal. ammunition but registered only two hits on the trawler before breaking off because of repeated 4″ misfires. (The damaged picket was the 180-ton KAIRYU MARU, which suffered two men killed and three badly wounded. Its undamaged consort was NANSHIN MARU #38of80 tons.)
PARCHE (SS 384) was on her fourth patrol with Woodrow W. McCarthy in command when on 13 April 1945 they encoun-tered a wooden steam trawler with nets out. It had a clipper bow, two tall masts, and a high bridge amidships, and was armed with two machine guns. Repeated hits with 5″, 40 mm, and 20 mm shells soon left it afire and sinking by the stem with masts down, superstructure a shambles, and two men in a lifeboat. Soon thereafter a sea truck was sighted with canvas up, a high forecastle, bridge aft, and two machine guns. It was holed repeatedly by 5″ shells and set ablaze by 40 mm hits. McCarthy closed in to 600 yards when two Zeros appeared so suddenly that he had to dive and go deep with guns still loaded. (Japanese records identify the 133-ton picket KOSHO MARU #2 and the IOI-ton army cargo carrier MIYOKAWA MARU #165 as sunk here. McCarthy’s observation of nets and the picket’s uncharacter-istic weak response imply that it may have been returned to its original fishing duties, at least temporarily.)
A few days later Raymond Berthrong in CERO (SS 225) on her seventh patrol engaged some more typical opponents. On 19 April he sighted two pickets, stopped and apparently unaware of his submerged approach. A single torpedo demolished the first one, leaving only the bow afloat with five men still on the gun platform, one defiantly waving the Japanese ensign. As the second vessel approached, apparently to pick up survivors, Berthrong took photos and broke off contact. (Japanese records say the 75-ton ISUZU MARU #3 was sunk with 23 killed and four wounded, while FUKUKYU MARV # 1 of 152 tons rescued seven survivors.)
On 22 April 1945 CERO made a gun attack on another pair of pickets, which headed for the sub and began firing when still l 0,000 yards off. Berthrong opened fire on the first one with his 5″ gun at 7,500 yards and at the second with the 40 mm weapon. The first picket, burning, turned away and both guns were concentrated on the second until all 5″ ammunition was expended. The enemy slowed, settled by the stem and sank, leaving about 30 men in the water. Two prisoners were taken, but the rest refused to be picked up. The first target managed to extinguish its fire and escaped. (The picket AJI (or AMIJI) MARU of 107 tons was reported to have been sunk by its own depth charges after fighting a surfaced submarine. The second vessel was the 20 I-ton T AKAMIY A (or TAKAKU) MARU HO GO, which reported the engagement and probably picked up survivors. Its damage and casualties, if any, are not recorded.)
SMALL-CRAFT ATTACKS BECOME COMMONPLACE
As the war drew closer to its end and targets became increas-ingly scarce, submarines made many more gun attacks on fishing boats and small craft of all types, which the Japanese were forced to use as cargo carriers. In many cases the targets were unarmed native Indonesian, Malay, or Chinese vessels that were boarded and inspected to determine if they were carrying Japanese goods. If so, the crews were taken off or allowed to abandon ship in small boats before the craft were sunk by gunfire or demolition charges. On the other hand, bona-fide gun battles with picket boats and other well-armed small craft continued to the end of the war.
On 27 May 1945 Hiram Cassedy, in command of TIGRONE (SS 419) on her second patrol, had a memorable battle with an opponent that was not a regular picket boat, but which is an excellent example of the aggressiveness of armed Japanese small craft. This one was a sailing vessel, probably of the type known as a motor-sail. As Cassedy opened fire with his 5″ and 40 mm guns, the enemy doused its sails and returned fire with a 25 mm weapon and machine guns, repeatedly raking TIGRONE despite taking several 40 mm hits. Cassedy pulled back to 2,500 yards as heavy seas caused injuries to three members of the 5″ gun crew. Although hits set fires on the enemy vessel, a hard rain extinguished them. Finally a direct 5″ hit disabled all of the Japanese weapons except a single machine gun, set the target afire again, and left it dead in the water. Moving in again, TIGRONE registered more hits until all 5″ ammunition was exhausted and both 40 mm guns jammed, finally sweeping the target with 20 mm and .50 caliber fire. It was left burning with two gaping holes below the water line and depth charges visible on the stern. Cassedy summed up his evaluation of the fight in these words: “This action revised my ideas completely. I had been under the false impression that 40 MM would clear the topside of machine guns and in addition do far more damage than the 20 MM guns. That is a fallacy.” The ideal armament, he concluded, was the 5″ for its destructive value and small caliber machine guns for clearing the decks. He also noted that the submarine had sustained several 25 mm and machine gun hits, fortunately without damage. (The Japanese opponent was the navy cargo craft YA WA TA MARU #3 of only 19 tons.)
TENCH (SS 417) on her second patrol, with Thomas S. Baskett in command, on 7 June 1945 engaged a picket with the number 113 on its hull. As the submarine approached, the enemy opened fire with its machine guns at 3,000 yards. Baskett withheld fire from his 5″/25 gun until the range was down to 2,300 yards, then sank the target with 30 hits out of 43 rounds fired, leaving no survivors in sight. “Target was remarkably tough,” he noted in the patrol report. (The victim was the 92-ton picket HANSHIN MARU, sunk with the loss of 20 crewmen.)
DENTUDA (SS 335) under John S. McCain, Jr. was on her first patrol when she encountered a pair of pickets on 18 June 1945. DENTUDA carried the unusual annament of a 37 mm gun (a temporary substitute for the standard 40 mm weapon) as well as a regular 5″/25 deck gun. One picket dropped four or five depth charges and opened fire with machine guns and a larger weapon, which McCain countered at 3,900 yards. After firing 50 rounds for two hits that left the target smoking, the 5″ gun failed to return to battery and the 37 mm went out of commission. With the 5″ gun back in service, the crew registered a direct hit on the second picket, producing a cloud of black smoke. With only 25 rounds remaining in the magazine, McCain broke off and went on his way, leaving the two smoking pickets in his wake. (These were HEIWA MARU and REIKO MARU, both of 88 tons. Although some records are in conflict, the fonner probably sank here; the extent of damage to the other is not specified but does not appear to have been serious.)
One of the most aggressive attacks against Japanese small craft was made by skipper Charles F. Chuck Leigh during the fourth patrol of SEA POACHER (SS 406) late in the war. Leigh’s preferred approach was to creep up undetected behind the victim after dark and blast it with all weapons at very short range. He claimed that this method produced practically 100% hits. Between 20 and 27 July I 945 he disposed of six Japanese sea trucks or other small craft until his ammunition supply was practically exhausted. At least one of the victims appears to have been a picket boat.
On the night of 22-23 July he encountered what he identified as a wooden sea truck. Closing stealthily to 350 yards, he poured seven rounds of 5″, 86 of 40 mm, 270 of 20 mm, 300 of .50 caliber, and 350 of .30 caliber ammunition into the surprised Japanese vessel, setting it afire. Forty minutes later it blew up and sank. (According to Japanese records-which conflict in some details-this was probably the 70-ton KIRI MARU #2 Go. It is also the last picket known to have been sunk by a submarine during the war.)
In the overall course of the war, Japanese small craft like the picket boats were of relatively little consequence. To the surface and air forces they were minor targets of opportunity. Only in the case of the Doolittle raid and the two organized sweeps were the picket boats enough of a nuisance to achieve fonnal notice. To submariners they were something of a conundrum, regarded by many as too small to waste a torpedo on, and by others as too dangerous to risk engaging in a gun battle. The leaders blew hot and cold, often at the same time, applauding the successes of aggressive skippers while warning them not to risk their boats or jeopardize their assigned missions. Not until the regular Japanese merchant marine had been largely swept from the seas were small craft generally considered worthwhile gun targets. As the foregoing examples indicate, the Submarine Force apparently never established a formal doctrine for employment of the guns, leaving it up to individual skippers to decide how to act on a case-by-case basis.
The 3″/50 caliber deck gun, with which most submarines went to war, was a dual-purpose weapon mainly intended as a last-ditch defense against enemy aircraft or surface ships that could not otherwise be evaded. Charles Lockwood was influential in rearming as many boats as possible with the few 5”/51 guns originally installed on the three old V-1 class subs or 4″/50s from S-class boats no longer in combat service, and championed the development of the 5″/25 as a specific submarine weapon. Skippers were also given the option of having their deck gun installed either forward or aft, or even in both locations if a boat’s stability allowed it. Later some skippers were permitted to carry extra weapons, even bazookas and rockets, but many boats still carried 3-inchers when the war ended.
However, fire control of the deck-mounted guns was marginal even in the best weather, and in rough seas they were often more of a hazard to their own crews than to the enemy. Only at the end of the war were a few subs fitted with rudimentary fire-control systems, but these so-called gunboats never saw combat. Smaller rapid-fire weapons were steadily improved during the war, and the 40 mm Bofors in particular proved a valuable addition to submarine armament, but 20 mm, .50 cal., and .30 cal. machine guns remained useful until the end of the war.
For the most part, however, the focus of the Submarine Force was naturally on torpedoes. Encounters with pickets were few and sporadic, so skippers had little opportunity or incentive to develop real expertise in fighting them. Given the inherent unsuitability of the submarine as a gun platform, the pick-up nature of submarine gun crews, the dearth of formal gunnery training, and the lack of opportunities for gun practice, it is not surprising that too many rounds were fired for few hits, jams and misfires were prevalent, ammunition defects were common, and gunnery was generally poor.
On the other side, the Japanese guardboat force was well organized and equipped to perfonn the important function of early warning against enemy approaches to the main islands. Despite the inherent weakness of the individual vessels and their inferior annament of old-type guns and a few depth charges, they were surprisingly effective in repelling our submarines. Typically working in pairs for mutual support, they were able to call in aircraft that often arrived before a submarine could do much damage. Their gunfire was effective at unexpectedly long ranges, forcing subs to stand off where their own more-powerful guns had difficulty making hits. The Japanese skippers often maneuvered skillfully and aggressively to divide or distract enemy fire. When hit, their damage control was effective enough to save many vessels that submarine skippers were sure they had sunk. Even when overwhelmed, they went down fighting. The lowly pickets thus proved to be real warships, worthy opponents of our submarines.
- The material on specific U. S. submarine attacks has been taken directly from the original patrol reports; other general information is from standard reference works. Japanese infonnation is mainly from several detailed reports and other archival sources. I am indebted to William G. Somerville of England and Erich Muehlthaler of Germany for translating these documents.
In Japanese usage ship names that include numbers are written with the number preceding the name, e.g, #23 NITTO MARU, but this makes alphabetizing awkward, so most U.S. writers prefer to put the number last. Where alternative spellings for names are given, these generally result from different readings of the same Japanese kanji by different translators. The usage of suffixes such as Go etc. defies simple explanation.