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On 1 August 1945, it was obvious to Lieutenant Commander E. M. Westbrook, Jr., Commanding Officer of the USS Cod (SS-224), that the war against Japan could not last much longer. Since departing from port on this, his submarine’s seventh war patrol, his only targets had been sailing junks, motor sampans, barges, and similar craft—scarcely worth the time and effort required to sink them. In fact, it had only been in the last few months that submarines had been authorized to enter the shallow waters and narrow straits through which the Jap- •
anese coastwise traffic toiled like ants up and down the obscure shores of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Thousands of tiny praus and sampans, each bearing their few bags of rice or sugar, were the last remaining lifeline to feed the starving mouths of Singapore, Batavia, and all the other isolated outposts of a dying empire. Against these targets, the Cod had waged a successful campaign, boarding and sinking over 20 of the “spit kits” in an action-filled period of 12 days. Now the Cod was nearing the end of her patrol. That very night she was scheduled to rendezvous with another submarine to take on board a special passenger, then turn southward for Fremantle, Australia, and two weeks of rest and refit. This morning, however, there were enough junks in sight to insure a blazing windup to a successful patrol. In accordance with what was by now
In the dying days of World War II, U. S. submarines—among them the USS Lamprey (SS-372)—served as gunboats, wreaking havoc on the junks, sampans, and barges that plied the western Pacific waters in support of the Japanese.
a well-established routine, Captain Westbrook called away his boarding party. On deck trooped Lieutenant (j.g.) Franklin S. Kimball, a veteran of 11 previous war patrols, and five picked men—Chief Electrician’s Mate John Babick, Motor Machinist’s Mate 1/c George McKnight, Torpedoman’s Mate 3/c William Tolle, Seaman First Class Sam Kinfroe, and a Chinese volunteer named Tom See. This last individual had been taken on board from a large junk only five days previously and, having volunteered to serve as interpreter, had promptly been put to work expediting communications between the boarding party and their victims, a situation which was neither covered nor contemplated by regulations. At 0830, the boarding party went on board the nearest large junk. After a quick inspection of her cargo, the party shouted back that it consisted of army supplies—blankets, knapsacks and canvas tarpaulins—clearly contraband. But as Kimball and his men were preparing to send this cargo where it would never contribute to the Japanese war effort, an alarm rang out on board the submarine. The bridge watch disappeared below, hatch covers clanged shut, air roared out of the ballast tank vents, and the twin screws thrashed all ahead emergency as the boat went into a crash dive. Too late. A Japanese fighter plane, having skillfully avoided detection, now roared over with machine guns blazing.
On board the submarine the situation was grave. Although no damage of any consequence had been inflicted bv the aircraft’s small caliber bullets, the Cod was in effect trapped with barely enough water to cover her periscope shears. The diving officer quickly brought her into trim, hovering with but a few feet of clearance under the keel below and over the conning tower above. Peering through the periscope, the Captain could now see four aircraft, two float planes, and two land fighters. Then, to his horror, the upper works of a Japanese destroyer came into view, heading toward him. A glance at the chart showed but 60 feet of water and no place to go. The destroyer’s range closed inexorably to 10,000 yards, while the planes milled around overhead. It looked as though the Cod’s luck had finally run out. For her crew there loomed the prospect of death by drowning when the plates of her pressure hull were blasted by the bombs of the airplanes or the depth charges of the destroyer. For the members of the hapless boarding party, it would mean imprisonment in the infamous prisoner- of-war work camps, if they were not shot or thrown to the sharks out-of-hand.
At this point we should back off and examine fl more fully the significance of the type of operations which had led the Cod into her predicament. As was mentioned earlier, antijunk attacks in shallow water were something of a novelty. Submarine skippers whose experience had been gained in the early years of World War II were distressed at the idea of operating in water inside the 100-fathom curve. Indeed, regulations provided that any submarine crossing this curve into depths at which salvage was possible must destroy their coding machines and all but a few cryptographic publications, rehearse their abandon ship and destruction bills, have demolition charges ready, and make all preparations to destroy the ship should the need arise.
But the pickings in deep water areas had become mighty thin; submarine after submarine had returned with nothing to show for 60 days or more on station. Thus, for the new breed of young lieutenant commanders, eager to make a name for themselves in their first commands, it was to be narrow, shallow water and trifling targets—or nothing.
In the early months of the War, submarines had occasionally engaged in picket boat sweeps, gunning down the small radio- equipped junks which the Japanese used as a forward warning line. But the objective in that case had been to deprive the enemy fleet of its eyes and ears, the better to attack its main body. In the later, shallow water operations, the junks, sampans, and barges had become the main body of the Japanese Merchant Marine, while the sub chasers and occasional destroyer types still operating were the capital ships of what navy remained in Southwest Pacific waters.
As soon as the potential of the coastal small craft traffic was realized and the repugnance of the old line commanders had been overcome sufficiently to authorize a few experimental sweeps, spectacular results were not long in coming as the brash young skippers
sent two rubber rafts in over 1,500 jj ' crews paddling all the way, with a onetenrnt (hS-) and two gunner’s mates in e raft loaded with ammunition and small ofli S l° Prov*de fire support, the executive er and two more men with demolition _ ges in the other to deliver the coup de m‘ssFjn’ carried out at midnight, 0 the raiders only an hour and a half. Com- aer Kinsella recorded some philosophic po^ents in his patrol report: “This is indeed ernployment for as valuable a fighting we aS a submarine, but this is the way
lat ITl?St Set our targets nowadays.” And wiJr- ^e have on each occasion, and always > give the crews chance to abandon, but nQ^c them are worth one of my men, so will in ta^C Unnecessary chances by boarding to P ct cargo or to persuade crew to abandon, ew well placed 40 mm. shots convince them thUCa <hulcFer- The value of these junks, al, gh comparatively small, is very evident
Just viewing their cargo capacity.” erhaps even more spectacular was the ex
took their boats inside the 100-fathom curve and, the ten-fathom curve as well. Among the rnost successful were Commander W. T. Kinsella of the USS Ray (SS-271), Commander F- Schade of the USS Bugara (SS-331), and, °f course, Westbrook and the Cod.
Consider the Ray’s seventh patrol, for ex- aniple, spent in the Yellow Sea from 30 April t° 16 June 1945, in which she sank a diesel uSger, two motor patrol boats, 15 four- rnasted schooners, a diesel sea truck (as these small freighters were called because of the Japanese practice of using them as seagoing counterparts of our own land-based truck eets) and a motor tanker, for a total of 6,050 °ns shipping, the equivalent of a medium- Slzed freighter. Having whetted her appetite °.n dl's run, the Ray really went to work on her 2^ td Patrol, covering the period 21 July to . ^ ugust in the teeming Gulf of Siam. In *■ Sun attacks she sent 35 junks to the orn- All these attacks were, of course, ^ade on the surface. On the 4th of August, commanding officer recorded an “all-time ,w op 2 fathoms under the keel”—water too his t0 cdve *n- He was actually operating ls ship as a motor gunboat far inside the my lines. Once, in order to get seven junks uchored out of reach north of Lem Chong Pra, he
ploit of Commander Arne Schade and the Bugara on her third patrol, also spent in the Siam Gulf, from 14 July to 17 August 1945. Of 62 small craft contacted, 57 were sunk—12 junks, 24 schooners, 16 coasters, three sea trucks, one naval auxiliary, and one treng- ganu, for a total of 5,284 tons. This was accomplished by the expenditure of 202 5-inch shells (of which 159 were hits), 400 20-mm., and 291 40-mm. The Bugara had been fitted out as a so-called “gunboat” with two 5-inch/ 25 guns as her main battery, but she had started the patrol under normal procedures. After boarding and releasing the first few contacts, Schade radioed a protest to Commander Task Force 71 about having to let supplies go through, and permission to attack was given him. Encountering a fleet of junks in the anchorage off Lem Chong Pra (this was before the Ray’s exploit in the same location), Schade put a commando party ashore to the north. He intended to have them work their way around behind the junk crews, who appeared to be camping ashore for the night, drive them off, and burn the junks at leisure. This idea had to be abandoned when the men in the landing party found the jungle so thick they could not get off the beach. The next day, 24 July, the Bugara sank a schooner loaded with airplane wheels, tires, and spare parts. This was followed by interrupting the main Bangkok-Singapore supply line, consisting of boat after boat filled with sugar, rice, and other foodstuffs. Some of these craft had Japanese crews who, Schade observed, “usually go over the side when approached.” Natives in the other crews displayed a different reaction. One crew cheered: “The Japs are finish—no more work for Japs.” The crew of a new 30- ton coaster out of Singapore was delighted when their boat was boarded, and they begged to be kept on the submarine. One interpreter, the graduate of an English university, was retained. The rest cheered when their boat was sunk. The crews were put into fishing boats or towed ashore in the Bugara’s own life rafts. So expert did the gunners become that only two rounds were allowed per target. Indeed, Commander Schade grew quite blase about the business. On the last day of July, while he was chasing a target, a two- engined Japanese float plane flew down his starboard side, but since the pilot did not
bother the submarine, Schade calmly closed and sank his target.
On 2 August, a truly bizarre incident occurred when Bugara’s 46th contact was made: a new 150-ton schooner at anchor with six Malay canoes close aboard. It turned out to be a Japanese ship with a Chinese crew en route to Singapore with a cargo of rice, under attack by Malay pirates who had already killed two of the crew. The Bugara shot up the pirates, took off the Chinese, and sank the schooner. Small wonder that Admiral James Fife, Commander Submarines Seventh Fleet, called this “one of the most colorful submarine war patrols to be made during the War.” The Bugara even put divers over the side on one occasion to straighten out bent propeller blades caused by their tangling with a towed lifeboat. Summing up his intelligence report at the end of the patrol, Schade observed that the Japanese in Singapore were actually starving. So crucial was the junk traffic that the native crews were afraid to return to Singapore after losing their junks. Shade reported, “All lose their heads for losing their ships. Hence, the native crews we put ashore all take to the hills.” The vessels under direct Japanese control usually had one army man on board who was instructed to fly the Chinese flag if approached by U. S. planes or ships.
All told, the Bugara made 18 aircraft contacts, dived seven times in ten fathoms of water, but never was bombed. Her squadron commander in endorsing the patrol report observed: “Bouncing along the bottom in ten fathoms of water while under attack by aircraft is not conducive to good submarine nerves.” Still the submariners kept coming back for more.
Another conspicuously successful patrol was the fourth one made by the USS Blenny (SS-324), under Commander W. H. Hazzard in the same area and time period. In 63 gun attacks and two bombardments the following small craft were accounted for: 42 junks, nine motor sampans, two sea trucks, two 100 foot barges, two 130 foot barges, one tug, two schooners, and two other vessels, for a total of 3,695 tons. The Blenny developed her own variation of a boarding procedure. (It should be remembered that there was practically no contact between submarines, or from submarine to shore; consequently, each boat’s experience could not be communicated to others until
fired U returne<^ t0 Port-) Shots would be ah across the bow to give the crews time to lJQan on, then the Blenny would set fire to the in w*th 30-caliber or 50-caliber machine gun ^ Cr*diary bullets or one or two 5-inch shells. Ushi Cr metfi°d was the “silent” technique jrtifif i?'.®au§e shotgun shells from inside the TNT h ^ Prove<^ t0° slow; later half-pound ca oclcs were used with electric detonating q " ancl wires rigged back to the submarine. nese®0es °f food, salt, gasoline in drums, Japa- an(j Unif°rins, rubber hose, soap, coffee, oil, str CVen memo pads were inspected and deVessel ^ ° av°l^ '•l16 danger of booby traps, fail s Were boarded only when the crews c°uld l° ^Cave sfilP> as Commander Hazzard °ne /jn<^ no nselnl purpose in boarding every a ' lae> too, remarked at the tremendous junk nt ^°0<^ staPles being carried by this ha tra®c- As an indication of the unusual Sey ar(as involved, one of Blenny’s lieutenants Vv^.| ecl an artery and vein in his right ankle p ® Using a fire axe to chop holes in ex- de shell cases. Submarine warfare had b J3?rted radically from what had been taught p at school in New London!
naps more typical was the experience of
the USS Lamprey (SS-372), commanded by Lieutenant Commander Lucien B. McDonald, U. S. Navy, in which the writer served as a junior officer. On her first patrol, junks were sighted but ignored. On the second, a few were boarded but released. On the third patrol, several were boarded but only two were sunk, the rest being simple fishing craft or empty vessels, clearly not engaged in Japanese traffic. At 1855 on the afternoon of 15 August, the Lamprey was closing a large two-masted schooner off Batavia in the Java Sea when word was received to cease hostilities.
Lest it be thought that this type of warfare was a lark, let it be recorded that the USS Lagarto (SS-371) was lost in the Gulf of Siam and the USS Bullhead (SS-332) off the island of Bali during this period, both with all hands, while the USS Bergall (SS-320), making a sweep around the Gulf of Siam, detonated a mine under her maneuvering room which so misaligned the reduction gears that she was forced to retire, and ultimately had to return to the United States to have the damage repaired. All these patrol casualties took place within the area and time period under discussion.
A graduate of Cornell University and Com
mander Alden served in the USS Lamprey (SS-372) and the USS Sea Cat (SS-399) from 1944 to 1950. Subsequent assignments include various duties as Planning & Estimating Officer, and as Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Groton, Connecticut; Production Analysis Superintendent, Ship Superintendent, and Assistant Repair Superintendent, San Francisco Naval Shipyard. Prior to reporting to his present assignment as Quality Assurance Superintendent at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, he was a project officer on several submarines and ASW programs at the Bureau of Ships.
Now let us return to the Cod, whose crew we left in dire straits, under attack by Japanese aircraft and a destroyer. For some unknown reason, perhaps because the Japanese could not believe a submarine would be in such a ridiculous place, the destroyer approached no closer than five miles from the Cod’s hiding place and then disappeared on its way. The planes, too, either got tired or ran low on fuel and went home. And so the Cod surfaced to find no sign of her missing boarding party. A systematic search was started, at first in an air of great confidence but with mounting anxiety as junk after junk was sighted without a trace of the particular one sought. Late that afternoon the Blenny was sighted and told that the Cod's boarding party was lost. A few hours later the Cod went on the air with the news, both on the short-range wolf pack frequency and by ship-to-shore radio back to Australia. A description of the junk was broadcast, and within hours every submarine in the area was being diverted to the search. The Ray, Cobia, Lamprey, Boarjish, Lizardfish, and others reported in and were assigned search sectors. All day on 2 August the hunt continued without results. Commander Westbrook, deeply concerned for his men, made this entry in his journal: “Am now beginning to be apprehensive and will try to calmly write down an ‘estimate of the situation,’ ” which he did. By 3 August, the Cod’s time had run out—she was already overdue to start back to Australia. Her special passenger, Lieutenant F. B. K. Drake of the Royal
Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve, had previously been transferred from the USS Cobia (SS-245) to the USS Boarfish (SS-327). Now the Boarjish, Blenny, and Cod all rendezvoused, and Lieutenant Drake made his final switch to the Cod for the ride to Australia. It was a downhearted crew which reluctantly prepared to leave the area.
We must shift to the Blenny's patrol report for the next event.
1157 Sighted large 3-masted reddish brown sail near Pulo Kapas. White patch on leech of mainsail. Bow bulge like net tender.
1227 Have communication with Cod boarding party.
1237 Took aboard boarding party. All men in perfect shape and considerably more composed than most of our crew, who were outwardly exceedingly jubilant. Was so happy at location of survivors gave junk crew canned goods and fresh bread instead of sinking them, and in accordance with sentiments of boarding party.
Word was radioed to the Cod, whose skipper entered in his log:
1239 Received blessed Blenny’s WOPAC (wolf pack frequency) message saying she had recovered all our party which was okay. Went to four-engine speed. Everyone’s spirits have been wonderfully lifted.
1505 Have all members of junk-raiding party back on board. They were as happy to see us as we were to welcome them home.
And from the Blenny, who transferred the men across by breeches buoy: “Cod’s crew looked like a bunch of Cheshire cats, grinning as if that was all they could do.” Thus ended happily one of the greatest manhunts of World War II.
There is only one other point of view to record, namely that of the boarding party itself. Former Lieutenant F'rank Kimball, now back in civilian life in Salmon, Idaho, fat from submarines and salt water, writes:
The crew of the junk were most friendly and co-operative. They cooked chow and tea for us, though chow consisted of wormy rice which was unhulled, and fried grasshoppers (I thought). The men with me swore the meat was cockroaches, but I never investigated.
The only bad part of the trip, other than being lost was in that we thought the Cod had been sunk by the plane, when we got separated and we had little hope of being found, °r even looked for. At the time we sighted the Blenny we were all discussing solutions to the problem. Some were for setting course for orneo, some for landing and going overland to Burma. The Blenny showed up before a decision had been reached. The Blenny C. O. Tdr. Hazzard) was a former shipmate of ®lne on the Saury and he took me into the Wardroom and served me a quart bottle of mti Bitter! Boy, that was the best beer I ever had.
We did not molest the crew as we hoped not to get our throats cut, so got along fine. We took over the high poop, aft, manned a continuous watch, fished, and caught up on our sleeping.
Actually, outside of the worry involved, it can not be considered to have been a bad lnP- After the storm blew over, the weather ^ne, seas calm, etc.
C n6 ^aC* an understanding with the •u. that in case we got separated, for any eason, we were to rendezvous at an island j?st °T the coast. We had several landing °arding) parties on tap and if while we ^Cre busy, another prize showed up, the boat the*11 a^tCr t'aat jur|k with party No. 2. So, rendezvous was necessary. When we got do aC^c<^ afier boarding our junk, the boat Ve> and we carried out that classic naval t^anpuver- After the plane left, we set sail for e island and were overtaken by a heavy ^rm which cut visibility to practically zero, ■ph’ We. saBed a square, one hour on each leg. e Wlnd and tide took us to sea without our nowledge and when dawn came the coast as almost out of sight on the horizon. It took ^niost two days to beat back to the coast, ich caused us all our trouble.
tva 6 worcl on the Cod’s great adventure rnand ky Captain C. C. Smith, Com- do Cr ‘^'abmarine Squadron 30, in his en- ojsemem to the patrol report. “The obvious tions to using a submarine as a gunboat str t Pract*cally and thoroughly demon- ed during the aggressive series of ten day actions,” he wrote. “At this stage of the War such tactics are essential, despite the obvious objections, if submarines are to continue to do a heavy share of damage to the enemy.”
The episodic development of submarine boarding party tactics was little known and soon forgotten. Although it was of little consequence in the over-all outcome of the War, nevertheless, several valuable lessons can be drawn from this experience. For example, proposals to employ midget killer submarines launched from big mother ships remind us how operations in the Gulf of Siam came to a halt while the submarine force devoted its efforts to finding its lost sheep. This is but a military manifestation of a basic national characteristic, the American concept of the overriding value of each individual. This is the reason the Kamikaze or suicide concept is so completely alien to our national character. This laudable attribute must continue to be given the most careful consideration in the design of weapon systems and space vehicles.
Another lesson taught in the Gulf of Siam was painfully relearned in Korea when we found out to our amazement that armies subsisted on supplies carried antlike on the backs of coolies, and we learned that minefields were laid from junks and sampans. The best efforts of our mechanized forces could not completely stop them.
Today, hostile forces again are at work in the nations of Southeast Asia, and junks and sampans crawl along the coasts and inland waterways maintaining the lifelines of many a guerrilla band or infiltrating “liberation” army. Our submarines will never again be called upon to interdict this traffic, but we are building motor gunboats (PGM) and fast patrol boats (PTF) for just such purposes. Perhaps the problems faced by these new types of fighting craft will be solved, at least in part, by the lessons learned by our submariners when the exigencies of war forced them to use their ships not as submarines but as gunboats.