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Vice Admiral Lawson Paterson "Red" Ramage, USN (Ret.) (1909-1990)

Lawson P. Ramage (1909-1990)An intrepid submarine skipper in World War II, Ramage was awarded the Medal of Honor for a daring predawn surface attack while in command of the USS Parche (SS-384) in July 1944. He won Navy Crosses while commanding the USS Trout (SS-202) and Parche. Admiral Ramage also recalls witnessing Pearl Harbor attack while a member of the staff of Commander Submarines, Scouting Force, Pacific Fleet. After the war, he commanded a submarine division, submarine squadron and the attack transport USS Rankin (AKA-103), as well as holding staff positions and attending war colleges. He discusses his flag officer assignments, which included the following: special assistant to the CNO (Admiral Arleigh Burke); Assistant CNO for Fleet Operations and Readiness; Commander First Fleet; and Commander Military Sea Transportation Service during the Vietnam War.

Based on 12 interviews conducted by Dr. John T. Mason Jr., from August 1973 through June 1974. The volume contains 560 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1975 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use.

An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).

Admiral Ramage: We started on this chase about eight o'clock in the evening and time was going on and we weren't getting any more information from the Steelhead and we weren't getting any contact with the convoy. I kind of got greatly agitated and kept insisting that we better contact the Steelhead and ask him what's going on because he should have been relaying messages to us unless the convoy was still on its initial course and speed. Obviously we would have been making contact by that time had it been.

So I was quite convinced that probably the convoy had changed course from a southwesterly course which we were going on to one of southeasterly, heading more or less into the islands around the northern end of Luzon, which they normally did make quite a radical change of course and cover themselves in the lee of the land at night.

Parks was reluctant to open up and query the Steelhead.

I kept insisting. Finally he said, "If we haven't heard anything from them by 12:30 we'll go ahead and ask." So 12:30 came, no message. So we called Steelhead and asked where he was and what was going on and where was--the convoy and, sure enough, as I had suspected, the convoy had changed course shortly after the initial message and was heading southeast. So we were way off in left field, or right field I should say. We were about 30 or 40 miles away from the convoy which we had to make up.

So we swung around and started heading in and it wasn’t until about three o'clock in the morning that we finally made contact with the convoy. Then of course, we were coming up on their starboard quarter.

Doctor Mason: The convoy ships were darkened, I suppose.

USS Parche (SS-384) returning to Pearl Harbor after her 2nd War Patrol, August 16, 1944Admiral Ramage: Oh yes, all darkened. They were heading on a southeasterly course and of course we were coming in from about almost west or on an easterly course to intercept them.

Finally we were coming more or less straight up from the stern or off their quarter but anyway, we spotted they had an escort on their beam and one a little further forward on their bow, on the starboard side. We had no idea where the Steelhead was but we presumed that she was over on the port hand, which is where she should have been according to regular patrol doctrine.

As we came on up we noticed that there was another escort moving out in our direction from the head of the convoy coming right out to the side. This then gave us two escorts about parallel and about a couple hundred yards off the beam of the convoy and another escort directly ahead of us. So we formed the fourth ship in this particular square.

I decided there was no point trying to go in around these escorts, so I made a reverse spinner and turned outboard and came around and under all of them to get inside of the escorts.

Doctor Mason: They were destroyers?

Admiral Ramage: I couldn't see what they were. All we could see was the pips on the radar; it was still pretty dark. But no sooner had we made this turn around and come on a course heading into the convoy that we found that they had changed course ninety degrees to the southwest and now we were dead ahead of them and closing fast, so fast in fact that we hadn’t really had time to get a set-up on them. Of course, we were naturally at general quarters when we got up there hut the ships were closing right fast. This one particularly was right on us and before we could do anything we were alongside them and going by at 20 knots at about a hundred yards.

So I said, "O.K., we’ll swing around and get him." He saw us naturally, so we bore off to his port. We came around and let fly a couple of torpedoes at him but he was still turning and we were turning so that wasn’t a very well organized shot and apparently both those torpedoes missed.

About that time we saw what looked like two carriers off to the west of southwest and we said, let's go get those two big ships. So we headed over that way and took aim on the first leading one of these ships and let go four torpedoes. Every one of those hit, one, two, three, four, right down the side of the ship. We were firing now to kill with every shot; we weren't firing spreads. This happened to be a tanker and she went straight on down.

In the meantime while we were getting lined up on that, I should say before we fired, the torpedo officer was still following the initial ship and as we turned around she became on the stern and he said he had a good set-up on the stern tube. So I said, "O.K., let him have one torpedo out of the stern."

He did and we know we got a hit. We don’t know really whether that ship sank or not. But that was our first hit. Then before the bow tubes got one, two, three, four. So now we had cleared all the torpedoes out of the forward tubes, six torpedoes gone there. So we swung around and brought the stern to bear on the second ship that happened to be a tanker also. We let three go at that and all three of those hit but the ship only went down by the bow and got a small fire going but they were light, they were going south.

About that time we saw — that took care of all the torpedo tubes. We had fired ten torpedoes; all the tubes were empty. We saw this other transport now about dead ahead of us. So they called up from below and said they had two torpedoes ready, reloaded forward, I said, "All right. Fine." So we fired those two torpedoes at the transport and we caught her well on the bow and the beam and she went on down.

Then we decided we better go back and get that tanker. Of course, now we still had no torpedoes forward again, and they were busy reloading aft. As we came up under the stern of this tanker, we cut as close as we could in order to keep out of the way of his deck gun which was still up there, but he couldn’t train down on us. The ship was well down by the bow and the gun was practically pointing in the air. We came tight under there and crossed his stern and we were heading out to what we saw was another ship, a good-sized ship, on the other side of this group. All of a sudden he began shooting. Of course, now he could see. The whole place was alight with gunfire, everybody was shooting at everybody and anything. But nobody I felt could see us except for this rooster tail that we were laying out there, going through at twenty knots.

Doctor Mason: Were they using illumination?

Admiral Ramage: No, there were mostly rockets and stuff. I didn't see too many — well, the searchlights I guess were flying around there but I didn't pay too much attention to that. I was watching more particularly where I was going and I could see the silhouettes of the ships. This light was sufficient for me to see where everybody was.

But when they began shooting right down our wake, it began to get a little bit hot. In this case we decided we had best put him out of his misery. As soon as we got enough distance, got our 700 yards or so, we let go with three torpedoes out of the stern and put that tanker down.

So now we had two tankers and a transport and a hit in the first ship.

Doctor Mason: Where were the escorts all this time?

Admiral Ramage: They were all running around there. Now just as we get to this point, we see this escort trying to ram us. So I said, "Let's hang on here for more speed from the engineroom." And everything we had. to get across this fellow's bow. As soon as we got across his bow I turned hard right to come parallel with him and throw our stern out from under him away from him. We slid down and passed each other about 50 or 100 feet or so, enough where we could shout at each other — everybody was screaming.

Then, there was another escort just beyond. I didn’t want to run into him. This one was fast closing. Now, as soon as we cleared this fellow, we saw this other big transport dead ahead and they said they had torpedoes loaded again, two torpedoes forward. So I said fire this one right down the throat. We were lined up directly at him and let two torpedoes go. I could see that one of them wasn’t going right, but I think the other one hit. I don't remember exactly just now. I've got the record of it. But anyway, we held fire for a minute to get a better bearing on it and fired another torpedo and we got two into the bow of this fellow which put him down by the bow.

Then we continued, just coming this way — the convoy coming this way and we came this way and passed this fellow, then here is the other one. We fired down the throat of this ship and got him down by the bow. So then we continued down to him and swung out to the left to bring our stern to bear on his starboard side. We let one more go there and that hit him directly amidships and put him down.

Now we had four ships sunk and one damaged and it was beginning to get a little bit light, a little too light. And we couldn't see any other ships that were of any consequence, mostly there were just these escorts now, just charging around, and firing flares and shooting whatever small arms they had, small weapons. So we decided to pull clear and get ready to dive for the day, to get us some distance between them and where we were going to dive, which we did.

As we did we saw them signaling to each other, trying to take a reading of what happened. One of the quartermasters said, "I guess they have a lot of reports to fill out, too."

When this whole thing started the wolf pack commander was up there on the deck and there just wasn’t room enough for everybody up there, so I said clear the bridge. I got rid of everybody up there including the lookouts. I had just one quartermaster with me, two of us on the bridge. He was more or less keeping a look aft as I kept a lookout forward.

But the whole operation went by so fast it’s hard to reconstruct everything that happened in such a short order.

Doctor Mason: How much time was consumed then?

Admiral Ramage: According to the record they say 46 minutes but that is from the time we got up and made the first turn and started in. I think actually from the time of shooting I think I looked at the record it was about something like 30 minutes.

Doctor Mason: How many ships did they have in this convoy?

Admiral Ramage: I think they had about nine. We picked out the five ships of any size. Of course, the Steelhead had been working on them all night. He had them fully alerted.

Doctor Mason: But he hadn't gotten any?

Admiral Ramage: He got credit for a couple but I think they gave him credit for two of the ones we got. I don't know. But at least according to the book they gave us both credit for the same ships. Whether he hit anybody or not I don’t know. At least he had been firing at them from pretty well out. He never got into them; he was about 3,000 yards out when he was firing. So I don't know whether he got anything or not. But of course when the final intelligence reports came in they had the names and everything of the ships that went down during this period.

Another interesting . . .

Doctor Mason:  The aftermath to that you might as well include at this point, too. For this you got the Medal of Honor, didn't you?

Admiral Ramage: Yes, of course that was . . .

Doctor Mason:  That was much later . . .

Read the report of this action here (.pdf).




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