In the predawn darkness of 8 July 1945, the Dutch submarine O-19 raced across the surface of the South China Sea toward the Philippines. Her mission was to deliver training mines and stores to a new advanced submarine base, in preparation for what was expected to be the final act of a long and bloody war.
Visibility had been poor for several days, preventing her navigator from taking a star fix. He and the O-19’s captain, Jacob Frans Drijfhout van Hooff, had no choice but to rely on imprecise dead reckoning—not critical in the open seas, but as the O-19 neared the Spratly Island reefs, it was a gamble.1 Their orders to not begin offensive operations until they delivered their cargo added to their rush. To increase the speed of the 264-foot sub, her ballast tanks were blown dry, the final ingredient for disaster.
Just as the mid-watch was relieved, the O-19 crashed to a halt with a scream of ripping steel, followed by her two bronze propellers clattering against the coral of Ladd Reef, a three-mile-long scimitar of sand and rock just inches below sea level. Crewman Siem Spruijt, having just left the bridge, was about to crawl into his bunk when he was thrown against the bulkhead.2 Word quickly spread among the 55-man crew that the O-19 had run aground.
The boat stopped with a hard up angle and pronounced starboard list. Her engines were thrown into full reverse, but she refused to move. Van Hooff broke radio silence to alert the U.S. commander of Task Force (TF) 71 of their predicament and to request the aid of an ocean tug.3
As news of the O-19’s situation worked its way through channels, van Hooff ordered the boat’s secret documents be made ready for destruction, as the sub would be easy pickings for the first Japanese ship or plane to happen by.
In an effort to back the boat off the reef the crew tried to lighten the bow. Four torpedoes in the forward tubes were withdrawn, and the compressed air in their tanks was vented and exploders removed. They were then reloaded and ejected along with the O-19’s anchor.4 All ballast and unnecessary weight was shifted aft.
Knowing that the best hope for freeing the sub was pulling the bow up and backward, van Hooff ordered a 1.5-inch stainless steel cable tied around the conning tower. It then was connected to the 480 feet of anchor chain to be used as a towing line when the tow ship arrived. The rig provided a tow length of 660 feet.
By 1015 all auxiliary fuel and fresh water tanks had been emptied. Worried about a Japanese attack, the crew kept ammunition on board. Signalman Leo Charles Davenport, communications liaison for the O-19, became increasingly concerned about the possibility of capture given the proximity of Japanese air bases. He worried that without rescue, the only place they were going “was a POW camp.”5
With dawn and low tide, the O-19 crewmen were able to stand on the reef and look up at their grounded sub. Braving barracudas in the knee-deep water, they were horrified to discovered that the 20 vertical mine-laying chutes in the boat’s ballast tanks had become impaled on coral outcroppings.6
Several hundred miles away, the USS Cod (SS-224) also was racing toward Subic Bay. In the midst of her seventh war patrol, crewman Jack Hemphill had fallen ill.7 Hemphill had recently reported to the Cod from a relief crew where he had been painting sub hulls, and Cod Chief Pharmacist Mate Robert M. Purtill believed his patient was suffering from acute lead poisoning. Attempts to treat Hemphill had failed, and as his health rapidly deteriorated, the Cod’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Edwin M. Westbrook, received permission to break off the patrol and rush to the closest medical facilities.8
As the Cod dashed east toward Subic Bay, Westbrook received a new message ordering the Cod to change course toward Ladd Reef. Although concerned for Hemphill, Westbrook understood the need to rescue the 55 men on board the O-19. He requested regular updates on Hemphill’s condition as the Cod headed for the stricken Dutch submarine.
The Cod arrived at Ladd Reef on the night of 8 July. Diving Officer Frank Kimball wrote in his diary that “the sub was high and dry and it looks hopeless.”9 Signals from Davenport on the bridge of the O-19 told the Cod to be careful to avoid running aground herself.
On board the Cod, preparations had been made to bring all hands on board. Empty bunks and fresh clothes were prepared, and cook George Sacco had hot soup, sandwiches, and coffee ready in the mess.10
Speaking to Westbrook by signal lamp, van Hooff requested the Cod attempt a tow at high tide the next morning. Westbrook replied positively, provided air cover was available. Westbrook noted in his report that van Hooff had “not lost his sense of humor”: When told the Cod would move out to the safety of deeper waters for the night, van Hooff closed his blinker communications with, “We will certainly be here.”11
Van Hooff then ordered Davenport to send a radio message confirming the Cod was on the scene and asking if “salvage facilities” would be available if they were unsuccessful in freeing the O-19. Early the next morning he received a reply from CTF-71 that Westbrook was not to “jeopardize Cod” and that it was “unlikely that further salvage facilities would be made available.”
In the predawn light, the Cod’s view of the stranded submarine was obscured by a “terrific rain squall” that cut visibility to 200 yards.12 Motor Machinist Mate Norm Jensen, who joined the Cod just prior to departure to document her patrol in movies and still images, was given permission to come topside to record the rescue. He wrote in his diary that the weather was not ideal for filming.13
Weather was a problem for the rest of the crew as well. One moment a rain squall would tear across the reef, followed by sun and blistering heat, followed again by heavy overcast. Some crewmen on deck wore foul weather gear, while others, including Lieutenant Chuck Podorean, worked in only their boxer shorts, unaware that the overcast would not filter out the sun’s powerful UV rays. Podorean later was bedridden for more than a day with sun poisoning.
But the rain squalls abated and both submarine crews got to work. At 0806 the Cod received a line from the O-19 and soon had a wire cable secured through her bull nose.14 Five minutes later the Cod began backing up as the O-19 ran what was left of her screws in reverse and crewmen rapidly fired her 88-mm deck gun to provide an additional jolt. The boat didn’t budge. The Cod was unable to tow “directly astern” because of the powerful currents, and the O-19’s two bronze propellers were so badly damaged that, in the words of one Dutchman, “they looked more like cabbages.” At 1155 the Cod tried again, but a minute later the cable snapped.
After lunch van Hooff rowed to the Cod in the O-19’s dingy to confer with Westbrook. The two decided the Cod would “take aboard 80 fathoms of the O-19’s anchor and lash 10 fathoms of it to mooring line with marlin.” Then the Cod would send the O-19 a line from a throwing gun, followed by 21-thread mooring line, and then her anchor chain. The Dutchmen would connect the tow rig to the chain wrapped around the O-19’s conning tower. At high tide the next morning, the Cod would “approach again, take the free end of the chain aboard, and start pulling.”15
Westbrook held little hope for this desperate gamble and cautioned van Hooff that “we might pull your conning tower completely off your sub.” The O-19 captain replied, “I’d rather bring most of my command home than none of it!”
The plan was made more difficult when both ends of the chain were dropped and caught on the reef. The O-19 crewmen spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to retrieve it.
Back on board the Cod, Westbrook wrote in his patrol report, “This [rescue effort] is wearing on the nerves.”16
On 10 July the O-19 was sent further instructions from CTF-71 to transfer her crew and scuttle the O-19 if the Cod was not successful in freeing her.17
There was a brief glimmer of hope when O-19 Chief Engineer Pim Kiepe came up with a plan to blow compressed air into the ballast tanks with the Kingston valves at the bottom of the tanks closed, thus pressurizing the tanks.18 By quickly opening all the valves simultaneously, the resulting blast of escaping air could make the O-19 “jump several inches.” If done while the Cod was pulling, the results might be sufficient to free the O-19. All they needed was to retrieve the tow line that had been lost to the reef.
Westbrook sent Chief Torpedoman Dan Krusenklaus and Torpedoman Second Class Robert Eustache in a rubber boat to bring a new line to the O-19. On the way, waves caused Eustache to drop part of the line, which immediately snagged on the coral. Kruse said later, “I pulled and pulled, but the line wasn’t going anywhere.” Unable to free the line, Eustache tied a life vest to the end still on board the raft and let it slip over the side. “At least we know where it’s at,” he said. “The tide was running so damn fast that we drifted all the way across that reef,” Kruse noted. The Cod had to come around the reef to pick them up.19
With the line stuck on the reef, the O-19 had to perform her “Kingston valve jumping maneuver” without the Cod’s tugging. Before it was attempted, two stern torpedoes and 15 training mines were jettisoned. The Hail Mary play failed. “O-19 had not moved an inch,” Kiepe later wrote, adding that the sub’s mine hatches lodged on the reef outcropping made “it impossible to shift [her].”20
By 1100, crewmen managed to fish the line out of the water and connect the O-19 and the Cod with a composite of manila line, stainless steel cable, and chain. As the Cod began to reverse her engines at full speed, the towing rig took tension and rose out of the water for a brief moment. A sharp crack echoed across Ladd Reef as the lines parted for a final time.
Realizing freeing the O-19 was hopeless, her crew began to transfer to the Cod. Kruse was part of the transfer and by his own admission, “got to the point where I was getting pretty damn good” at navigating the reef in a raft. During one of the shuttle trips Kruse discovered the O-19 had on board a large store of “booze.” Being the responsible seaman, he brought back “all the alcohol [he could carry] to the Cod.” It did not take long for it to “disappear,” he later said.21
Jensen remained topside to record the boat transfer. He recounted that watching the spectacle was one of the saddest things he had ever seen.22 He understood that the O-19 had been the crew’s home since the war began, and now they would have to see her be destroyed.
While the transfer was in process, Podorean and three enlisted men arrived on board the O-19 with two self-destruct demolition charges to begin the process of rendering the Allied sub worthless to the enemy. With the timers set, Podorean, his crew, and van Hooff, were the last to leave the O-19. The red, white, and blue flag of the Netherlands that had flown from the conning tower was folded under van Hooff’s arm. On board the Cod, Westbrook saw the flag and asked van Hooff to hand it to him. He then ordered it flown alongside the U.S. flag on the Cod’s jackstaff for as long as the submarine would be home to two crews.
The charges were set to explode after 90 minutes. Jensen stayed on the bridge to capture the moment they went off, but many of the O-19 crew could not bear to witness the scuttling and headed below. The charges detonated at 1537, followed by black smoke billowing from the open hatches. The Dutchmen remaining topside began to sing their national anthem, wiping tears from their eyes.
Unsure of the extent of damage caused by the charges, Westbrook ordered two torpedoes be fired. Podorean aimed the first fish at the O-19’s conning tower. After pushing the firing button he scrambled to the bridge to see the results. He found the deck crowded with crewmen who had never seen a torpedo explode. After a 34-second run the torpedo hit the coral, jumped out of the water, and exploded directly against the O-19’s hull. The ear-splitting explosion threw massive chunks of the sub skyward, and the sea around the Cod was showered with debris. Those on deck frantically tried to find cover.
After backing farther, the Cod aimed a second fish at the O-19’s after torpedo room, which still held several torpedoes. It was hoped one or more might also explode to add to the destruction. After a 43-second run, “a terrific explosion . . . atomized O-19’s stern.” The combined effects of Cod’s torpedoes and one or two Dutch torpedoes threw even larger pieces of the O-19 skyward. Many on board the Cod observed that despite the power of the explosions, the reef still firmly gripped the O-19.23
Cod’s gun crew then went into action, pumping 16 five-inch rounds into the wreckage. The entire operation was recorded by both Jensen’s movie camera and the Cod’s own 16-mm movie camera operated by Ensign John Wallace. At 1702 the Cod set course for Subic Bay.
Knowing that food could comfort, Sacco prepared fried chicken and side dishes for the 152 men now on board the Cod. Dessert included ice cream from the on-board ice cream machine. Crewman Adrien ten Bosch was impressed with the quality and quantity of the food. Aside from excellent bread baked on board the O-19, Dutch submarine meals generally consisted of heating canned hashes and stews, he said. Bosch demanded his Dutch shipmates surrender their desserts to him, explaining to his hosts that in Dutch society only women and children would eat ice cream. As the youngest O-19 crewman, he felt this was fair because his older shipmates often told barkeepers ashore that he was too young to drink.
During the three-day trip to Subic Bay, the Dutch were amazed at the Cod’s crew comforts. The engine room crew even gave up their bunks to their guests and slept among their diesels. Kiepe wrote that he and several other Dutchmen took turns on the bow and stern planes and stood deck watch.24 The Cod spent most of the time on the surface, only conducting brief trim and cautionary dives.25
With the air conditioning taxed to its limit by the large crew, Westbrook ordered the Cod’s main air induction valve closed and opened the forward torpedo room hatch, allowing the powerful draw of the diesels to pull outside air through the boat. The only downside was that the ship’s yeoman had to scramble to grab loose papers sucked out of his tiny office by the wind tunnel outside his door.
Once in Subic Bay, the O-19 crew were ordered to return to their base in Fremantle, while van Hooff and Kiepe remained to testify in an inquiry into the O-19’s loss. Hemphill was examined by doctors and released for duty, and the Cod returned to her war patrol.
The O-19’s crew arrived at the joint Allied submarine base in Fremantle to news of the atomic bombings and word that Japan was considering the Allied ultimatum. A few days later, on 13 August, the Cod also returned to Fremantle. A delegation of Dutchmen greeted her at the pier and invited the crew to a thank-you party the following day. While the party was in full swing, officials announced Japan’s surrender.
Within weeks the great naval migration homeward began. The Dutch returned home to find devastation. The Cod crewmen returned to civilian life, and the Cod was mothballed. Westbrook was awarded a medal by the Queen of the Netherlands for his gallant efforts to aid the O-19, and in recognition of her flying the Dutch flag, the Cod was declared an honorary member of the Netherlands Navy submarine force.
In the early 1950s, as the chief naval intelligence officer in Singapore, Westbrook ordered a PBY flyover of Ladd Reef to film what remained of the O-19 and the USS Darter, which suffered a similar fate on another reef in the vicinity. Both boats, much the worse for exposure and demolition, were still fixed to the coral; they would disappear only when local scrappers claimed them in the late 1990s.
Westbrook kept in touch with van Hooff, the two often exchanging letters and visits. Westbrook died in 1974 just after returning from a visit with his Dutch counterpart in Holland. The two enjoyed a sense of humor about their experience. Westbrook often observed to van Hooff, “You lost your boat and became an admiral, I saved you and only made captain!”
The Cod would serve as a reserve training boat in Cleveland before becoming a floating memorial to U.S. veterans in 1976—loved by many as a lakefront tourist attraction and National Historic Landmark. The Cod’s civilian stewards reenact the O-19 rescue at an annual Dutch Friendship Day held on the Saturday closest to the July rescue. The 75th anniversary celebration will be held at noon on 11 July 2020.
1. Norm Jensen, Camera Diary, 1945, USS Cod Archives.
2. Siem Spruijt, “Fatal War Patrol of O-19,” Dutch Submarines, 10 February 2020,
3. J. F. Drijfhout van Hooff, “Report on Loss of O-19,” 13 July 1945, USS Cod Archives.
4. Van Hooff, “Report on Loss of O-19.”
5. Leo Charles Davenport, interview, 13945/5, Imperial War Museum.
6. Elke Scholte, interview, 14585/5, Imperial War Museum.
7. Howard “Doggie” Dishong, 24 Torpedoes and 13 Buttons, rev. ed. (Unknown, 1981).
8. USS Cod Seventh War Patrol Report, 8 July 1945.
9. Franklin Kimball diary, 1945, USS Cod Archives, Cleveland, OH.
10. “USS Cod Seventh War Patrol Report,” 8 July 1945.
11. “USS Cod Seventh War Patrol Report.”
12. Jensen, Camera Diary.
13. Jensen, Camera Diary.
14. “USS Cod Seventh War Patrol Report,” 9 July.
15. Van Hooff, “Report on Loss of O-19.”
16. “USS Cod Seventh War Patrol Report,” 9 July 1945.
17. Van Hooff, “Report on Loss of O-19.”
18. Van Hooff, “Report on Loss of O-19.”
19. Dan Krusenklaus, “Kruse’s Submarine Years,” audio tape interview, USS Cod Archives.
20. Pim Kiepe, “The End of the O-19,” USS Cod Archives.
21. Krusenklaus, “Kruse’s Submarine Years,” audio tape interview, USS Cod Archives.
22. History Channel, “Silent Service,” 10 February 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8Ih0oF8YNY&t=885s.
23. Schotle, interview.
24. Pim Kiepe, “The End of the O-19,” USS Cod Archives.
25. USS Cod Seventh War Patrol Report, 11–13 July 1945.