BATTLE STATIONS SUBMERGED
by Lieutenant Commander R. C. Benitez, USN
The tomb-like silence that reigned in the conning tower was suddenly shattered by a series of explosions. "Depth charges! Depth charges!" exclaimed one of the quartermasters.
"Depth charges, hell," said the Captain. "Those are Darter torpedoes, and she's getting her licks into the Japanese fleet."
It was 0532 in the morning of October 23, 1944. The above was part of the conversation that took place in the conning tower of the USS Dace, Submarine #247, as the first shot in the Battle for Leyte Gulf was fired by her sister ship in the wolfpack, the USS Darter.
The Dace and the Darter had left their forward base on October 3, 1944, on the second phase of a scheduled fifty-five day war patrol. Their destination was Palawan Passage, the body of water lying between the island of Palawan and that shoal-infested area of the South China Sea known as the Dangerous Ground. Their mission was to guard the passage; to report all contacts; and to attack enemy ships.
The mission of the two submarines represented part of the over-all plan evolved by our high command to safeguard the landings to be made at Leyte. Our leaders felt that the Japanese fleet, in an attempt to stem the tide of American island-hopping victories, would in all probability attack our Leyte beach-heads. The problem was to determine the origin of the attack and the day on which it would take place. As a partial solution to the problem, a line of submarines was stretched from the island of Palawan to the China coast, with the expectation that the Southern Japanese Fleet would pierce that line. A submarine contact report, if received in time, would give the necessary warning and provide the necessary time in which to integrate the American task forces then plying the waters of the Philippines. Once these mighty forces could be brought to bear against the Japanese fleet, there could be no doubt as to the outcome, and even the most pessimistic could foresee a sweeping American victory. Submarines had proved their scouting value before. Would they be equal to the occasion once more? Our high command fervently hoped so.
Passage to the area was uneventful. Occasionally a Japanese patrol plane would force us down during the day, but the majority of the transit was made on the surface both day and night. We arrived in the Palawan area on October 10.
Endless days of routine patrol went by all too slowly. The Darter was usually to the south, the Dace to the north of the passage. Those were interminable days of constant periscope and surface watch. Always waiting --- waiting for the tip of a mast; for the smudge of smoke on the horizon; for the radar contact that heralded the arrival of a target. The days dragged on, their sameness only broken by the personal problems of eighty-five men imprisoned in a steel, cigar-shaped hull three hundred and eleven feet long. Occasionally something happened to relieve the monotony that characterized our days. For example....
One evening the Captain and the Executive Officer of the Dace, who shared the same stateroom, entered the room and were rather startled to see the Number One mess boy busily typing a letter on the ship's typewriter. The typewriter was firmly secured on the Captain's desk. A big, black cigar protruding from the boy's mouth gave forth big puffs of black smoke which had by this time entirely enveloped the room. The colored boy, who was a favorite in the Dace because of his ever present good humor, personal bravery, and devotion to all hands, was unperturbed. The Captain, with smoke-filled eyes, first peered at the mess boy, then at the typewriter, and finally at the cigar. Then, after carefully surveying the situation, he said, "Really, my boy, I do not wish to inconvenience you. But if it isn't too much trouble -- could I use my desk now?"
There is a doubt that the above would be an acceptable solution to a problem in a course in leadership. However, it worked in the Dace. From that day on the mess boy only used the desk when he knew that the Captain and the Executive Officer would be too busy in the conning tower or on the bridge to come below to the room.
Submarine warfare, however, was not characterized by eternal dullness. During each war patrol something always happened to liven up the monotony, and this patrol was no exception. One morning we finally sighted a convoy. We were unable to close it during the day, but immediately after surfacing late the same afternoon we gave chase. We regained contact near the Borneo coast and that night delivered a torpedo attack. It was pitch black and the Japs never knew what hit them. We sank an oiler and a transport, and after lying low the next day we eventually returned to our patrol station in Palawan Passage. We resumed our incessant vigil.
The morning of October 19 found both submarines on the surface. Information was being exchanged between them when the tip of a mast was sighted by a Dace lookout. The Darter had at the same time become aware of the stranger. As if by a combined signal, but actually independent of each other, both ships submerged. The stranger soon identified herself -- a Fubuki type destroyer -- and she was accompanied by one of her sisters. Both submarines were apart from each other, yet we in the Dace knew that every one of our movements were being duplicated in the Darter.
"Battle stations submerged!" The persistent, frightening, yet challenging tone of the General Alarm brought men tumbling from their bunks. There were seconds of orderly confusion as the men hurriedly manned their battle stations. In a matter of seconds a slumbering ship became awake, alive, animated. Gone was the lethargy and the drowsiness, and in its stead there came into being an alertness and watchfulness that boded ill for the stranger who had dared intrude into our area.
"Make ready all torpedo tubes!" There was feverish activity in the torpedo rooms as the torpedo crews readied their deadly missiles. Expert hands adeptly manipulated wrenches, levers and valves to assure a run that would be straight, hot and normal.
"Stand by for a set-up!" The conning tower was a beehive of activity as the fire control problem was plotted, developed, solved.
The contact was made at 1010; we dove seconds later; we fired at 1045. As the third torpedo left its tube, the Captain at the periscope observed the target make a radical change of course away from us. We checked fire. It was useless to fire on a target that had taken evasive action. The Captain noticed a signal being hoisted on the leading destroyer as a few depth charges were heard to explode nearby. The Japs had become aware of our presence; the game of the mouse and the cat was about to start.
It started in the usual manner with the mouse on the run and the cat in hot pursuit; but -- almost immediately he lost us. For the next twenty minutes we flirted with him, but it gradually became apparent that we were losing ground. Finally, with the destroyer at a range of two thousand yards and with a target angel of zero, we decided that we did not want to play anymore. We went deep and managed to avoid them at deep submergence. The mouse was in its hole safe and unobserved, but he was not content. He wanted to see what was happening so he came back up to periscope depth. There was nothing in sight; the game was over. We had tracked them out on a southerly course, so of course we headed north.
Later on that night the Darter and the Dace rendezvoused and exchanged information. The Darter, as well expected, had also fired at the Jap but she had fired seconds before we did. The radical change of course that had spoiled our fire control problem had taken place when the Jap turned towards the Darter to comb her torpedo wakes.
We began to consider the events of the day. "A destroyer sweep in the Passage," thoughtfully mused the Captain. "Something is afoot. Perhaps bigger game will follow, but -- who knows?" The Captain was right. Who did know? Only the Japanese, for never in our most heroic Walter Mittyan dreams could we have foreseen what the next few days would bring. Yet fate, with its characteristic impartiality, had singled us out to play a major role in one of the decisive battles of the war. Unmindful of what the future held in store for us, we continued in our appointed task.
Man-made plans, however, were rapidly pyramiding themselves one upon the other. A chain of events was being expertly forged by the Japanese; and as each link took its place, the chain began to take shape, to expand, to grow from a dormant, inert mass into a well knit, expertly made instrument that represented the Japanese plan for a sorely needed victory. With the last link in place the Japanese considered the preparations complete. With a low, low bow towards the north and with a loud "Banzai," the first contingent of the Japanese fleet sailed north from Brunei Bay, Borneo.
October 21 was just another routine day for us in the Dace -- another day like so many others that we had spent on this and other patrols. The eternal vigilance was maintained, but we were beginning to grow weary and tired of our task. Thoughts turned to the return trip, which according to our orders was to start in two days. Australia was a very popular base of operations, and our thoughts were more on that island, on fresh food, mail from home, and the two weeks
of shore leave than on the war. We surfaced at dusk and commenced another surface patrol in the Passage. All was serene until shortly after midnight, at which time the Executive Officer was summoned to the conning tower by the Captain. Without a word of comment he was handed a despatch from the Darter. It said, "Fast ships on northeasterly course."
The curtain had risen on the part we were to play in the life and death drama that was to have its finale in the Battle for Leyte Gulf.
The despatch had said fast ships so there was no time to lose. At full speed we set a northwesterly course to intercept. Amplifying reports soon came in. They informed us that the contact was a task force; that the Darter was trailing but could not overtake; that the enemy base course was 020 T, his speed 20 knots. Those reports represented an excellent solution to a problem in wolf-pack tactics. Our long arduous days of pre-patrol training were paying off. To the south there was the Darter in contact, trailing, supplying vital information. To the north there was the Dace interpreting that information to gain an attack position. Before long we had even been supplied with the Japanese zigzag plan. We could not miss. All we had to do was intercept at dawn.
Intercept at dawn! That was all we had to do, but as the hours passed the navigational problem before us loomed larger and larger. Our calculations gave us an intercept point on the eastern half of an area that up to this time we had gladly avoided. That area was the Dangerous Ground, and our incomplete foreign charts, populated as they were with countless reefs, shoals, and rocks, were mute evidence of the appropriateness of the name which the area bore. Using maximum speed through those treacherous waters we could arrive at the Japanese 0500 position at 0430. The time element was perfect; we could make a dawn attack. But before we could attack we first had to arrive at the proper intercept point. To reach that point we had to travel about four and one-half hours, in waters where we had found the current to be unpredictable. At the end of that time we had to be at the intercept point; near to it would not do. We had to hit it right on the nose.
The thrill of the chase had gripped the boat. "Hell, man, this is a task force and we got them cold." "Here is where we pick up our citation."..."We will murder those bums. This happens only once in a lifetime." The men were right; it was the chance of a lifetime, and we in the conning tower echoed their thoughts as we kept going forward at full speed while leaving a phosphorescent trail on the back waters of Palawan Passage.
To the Navigator, however, the night seemed interminable. There was no moon so he was denied the consolation of star sights by the moonlight. "What if I don't male contact? What if I foul this one up?" he asked himself. For the Nth time since midnight he looked at the chart; he checked the courses, the speeds, the times. The Captain came down from the bridge and asked, "How are we doing?"
"Right on schedule. We will hit the intercept point right on the nose--" was the reply. The Captain. busy with his own thoughts, turned away and did not hear the Navigator's low but fervent "---I hope," which followed his answer to the question put to him by the Captain.
Time, however, was not standing still. It was still dark when at 0430 the Dace was slowed and the Captain notified that the ship was in position. At slow speed we began to patrol back and forth along an east-west line. If all went according to plan we would be in contact in less than thirty minutes. Once more we went to battle stations.
Minutes passed -- the ship moved back and forth slowly along the scouting line. Minutes passed -- the radar operators eagerly scanned the radar scope for signs of the target. Minutes passed -- the bridge watch, their eyes glued to their binoculars, tensely strained to make out dim shapes in the half darkness that enveloped us. Minutes passed -- and it was suddenly 0500. It was 0500, and we wanted to believe that we were on station. But -- where were the Japs? It was all too soon 0505; then 0510; then 0515. Still no contact. The realization that perhaps we had made a fatal error began to grip us. Australia, shore leave, home -- they all seemed terribly unimportant now.
Our fears, however, had no factual basis. Seconds later we received a message from the Darter which said, "Enemy changed course to left at dawn."
We had been outmaneuvered: we were hopelessly out of position. The Darter, because of her slower speed, had slowly fallen astern during the night. Her fire control party became aware of the unusual change in course at dawn, but they could not immediately assume a change in base course by the enemy. They knew that we were in position and that false information would draw us out; that change in course had to positively verified. Verification came too late for us to take any action. It had been a gamble and we had lost. With the change in course the Japs had also increased speed and the Darter soon lost contact. The Dace immediately started a sweep to the westward in the Dangerous Ground. It was to no avail. The Japs had disappeared as effectively as if they had been swallowed by the sea. Near noon we dismally secured the search. It is true that we had succeeded in sending a warning, and that our high command had become aware that the Japs had begun to move north. But our role had been a negative, unsatisfying one. We has wanted to hit that Jap task force awfully bad.
We began to move south. This was our last day on station and that night we were to start our trip back to the base. Charts for the trip were broken out; the fuel and the lubricating oil were closely checked; another count was made on the provisions. We could have saved ourselves all this trouble, for at noon we received a despatch that a Jap convoy had been sighted heading south in the area. We immediately changed our plans and decided to postpone the return trip until we had worked on this convoy. We arranged a rendezvous with the Darter to coordinate a search and attack plan.
At midnight we met as per schedule. Messages were exchanged by line-throwing guns, and both Captains went below to read over the communications. The bridge watches were talking to each other through megaphones when their conversation was cut short by a report from the Darter radar operator: "Radar contact - maximum range. It looks like rain," he said.
The information was immediately relayed to us on the Dace. "An overeager operator," we said at first. But upon checking ourselves we not only confirmed the contact but identified it as ships. There was no doubt that they were ships and that we had made contact at maximum range. Only by the grace of God were we in contact, but this was no time to think of what might have been. Both ships were ordered to close the enemy. Minutes later the radar scope gave us a beautiful picture of many ships, and once again we knew that this was no ordinary convoy. Once again we were in contact with a Japanese task force.
The Captain and the Executive Officer were admiring the radar scope, exclaiming over the beauty fo the picture, when with dramatic suddenness the picture disappeared from the screen.
"Now what the hell!" said the Captain. "What is this, a game?"
"Not quite, Captain," answered the unperturbed radar operator. "The radar has conked out!"
This is just fine, we all thought. Here we are in contact with a task force, and our radar decides to take a rest five minutes after we make contact. It just had to be fixed, that is all there was to it. And although it had been a major breakdown, in an hour and half the radar was back in commission. With a great sigh of relief we saw the Japs appear on the radar scope once more.
We tracked the remainder of the night. The Darter, being the senior ship, began making contact reports shortly after the contact was identified. The flow of information was maintained throughout the night, and thus our high command received vital information on the movements of the Japanese fleet. There was no doubt that this was the "A" squad, and it was so reported. The plan had worked. The Japanese had crossed the submarine line; the subs had made contact. From here on it was only a question of maintaining contact as the Japs moved northward, and of eventually bringing to bear our forces at the right time and at the right place. The day had arrived when we could predict the total destruction of Japanese sea power.
We in the Dace, although somewhat aware of the tactical situation, were not too concerned with the over-all picture. Our main thought was to hit the task force, and consequently we were very pleased to receive a foolproof plan of attack from the Commanding Officer of the Darter. His plan was simple. We had determined the enemy fleet to be in two columns, with the left column slightly ahead of the right column. He proposed to have the Darter dive ahead of the left column and the Dace dive five miles bearing 045 T from the Darter. The attack was to take place at dawn. By this arrangement he placed both submarines in a position of maximum effectiveness. If the Japanese maintained base course, both submarines would be able to attack their respective columns. If the Jap fleet changed course to the left, the Darter would miss the left column but she would be in position to hit the right column. Under these conditions, the Dace of course would be out of the picture. If they changed course to the right, The Darter would then be left out but the Dace would hit the left column. It was a clearly effective plan. This time a change in the base course at dawn would find us ready. We had profited from our lesson of the day before. This time we knew that one of us was sure to hit at least one ship out of that Japanese fleet that consisted of five battleships, ten heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and fifteen destroyers.
It was David against Goliath once more, for against that force we could muster only two submarines. The odds were not exactly even but we were more than willing to take the chance. None of us would have traded places with any other man in the Submarine Force. As the night approached its end, however, tension heightened throughout the boat. The jokes became fewer and fewer as the conversation gradually died out. Each man was busy with his own thoughts as the ship crept closer and closer to its attack position. At 0500 the word was passed to man battle stations. It was a useless command. The men during the night had slowly gravitated towards their stations, and in a matter of seconds each man was reported at his appointed place.
A faint glow to the east heralded the approach of dawn as the radar man at 0510 reported the Darter disappearing from the radar scope. She had submerged. We continued northward, feeling alone and naked in the wide expanse of Palawan Passage. Minutes later the diving alarm broke the stillness of the tropical dawn. The Dace slid beneath the sea in the most fateful dive of her career.
Neither the Darter nor the Dace had long to wait. The Japanese, as unwilling and unsuspecting participants, propelled themselves on the stage and were promptly greeted by a salvo of torpedoes from the Darter. A series of rapid explosions indicated to all in the Dace that the Darter had made a successful attack.
"It looks like the Fourth of July out there!" exclaimed the Captain. "One is burning," he continued. "The Japs are milling and firing allover the place. What a show! What a show!"
It must have been a grand show. Those of us unable to see what was happening on the surface hung on to the Captain's words as he continued to describe what he saw.
But we were not out there to record a major event in world history for posterity. We were there to work and soon had no time for unnecessary talk.
"Here they come," said the Old Man. "Stand by for a set-up! Bearing, mark! Range, mark!, Down scope! Angle on the bow, ten port."
Upon the fire control officer and his assistant largely depended the number of hits that we scored, and they had to work fast and efficiently. Ranges, bearings, and angles on the bow followed in quick succession as the problem developed.
The Captain singled out the third ship in line -- the biggest he could see. We thought it was a battleship; it turned out to be a heavy cruiser, but that was immaterial. Our fire control problem had been solved, and with the Captain's words, "Let the first two go by, they are only heavy cruisers," we began to fire. We fired six torpedoes from the forward tubes. Almost immediately they began to strike home -- one -- two -- three - four explosions. Four hits out of six torpedoes fired!
The offensive phase was over. Now it was time to start running, and we wasted no time in doing so. Hardly had the sixth torpedo left its tube when we ordered deep submergence. On our way down, a crackling noise that started very faintly but which rapidly reached staggering proportions soon enveloped us. It was akin to the noise made by cellophane when it is crumpled. Those of us experienced in submarine warfare knew that a ship was breaking up, but the noise was so close, so loud, so gruesome that we came to believe it was not the Jap but the Dace that was doomed. Anxious, agonizing seconds elapsed as we awaited the reports from the compartments that all was secure. They finally came. We were all right. But then a new, terrifying thought gripped us -- could the Jap be breaking up on top of us? We were making full speed in an attempt to clear the vicinity of the attack, but that crackling noise was still around us; it was audible to every man on board; we could not escape it. Then relief came with a rush. We were leaving the noise astern. We had not only hit but had sunk a major Japanese warship. The crackling and crumbling noises as she broke up were unmistakable.
Our elation was shortlived, for hardly had we settled down at our running depth when a string of depth charges exploding close aboard announced the arrival of the Jap destroyers. At first we thought that they had made a mistake, for this attack was contrary to our expectations. We had fully expected that the destroyers would concentrate on the Darter and leave us alone. Another strong, just as loud as the first one, exploded close aboard. This time the doubt was dispelled. There was no mistake on their part. We were the target.
"Most inconsiderate of the Darter," said someone."The dirty stinkers!" exclaimed another."Hold your hats -- here we go again!" came from still another."Wham! -- Wham! -- Wham!" said the Japs.They were going off all around us, and they were close. The boat was being rocked considerably. Light bulbs were being shattered; locker doors were flying open; wrenches were falling from the manifolds. The Japs were very mad -- and we were very scared.
At one point during the evasion we believed that we had gotten away. Nothing had happened for about ten minutes, and we were trying to sneak away as quietly as possible. The Captain took this opportunity to send a messenger to the forward battery for a cup of coffee. The forward battery was being manned by our Number Two mess boy. This boy had made quite a few patrols, and early in this patrol had shown signs of battle fatigue. The events of the past two days, of course, had not helped the nerves any. The messenger reports that, as he entered the compartment, a string of depth charges went off very close to the boat. The mess boy, upon hearing the explosion, is reputed to have jumped about two feet up in the air, yelling in loud and anguished tones, "For gosh sakes, let that man in!"
Finally they left us. We stayed deep for a while but later came up to periscope depth. We began to work our way back to the scene of the attack. At the time, of course, we did not know that the Darter had sunk an ATAGO class cruiser and damaged a second heavy cruiser, but as we continued northward we sighted masts. It was the Jap cruiser crippled by the Darter -- lying dead in the water. She was being jealously guarded by two destroyers and two airplanes. We attempted to get in another attack during the day but were unsuccessful because of the effective screen provided by the destroyers and the airplanes. We were not too concerned, however, as we had the cruiser in view at all times and we knew that that night we could team up with the Darter to finish her off. We surfaced before the Darter. The navigator got a fair fix. The Darter surfaced, we made contact and began to lay plans for finishing the cripple.
The Jap cruiser, however, still had some life in her. Accompanied by the two destroyers she got underway on a southwesterly course at a speed of six knots. We began our attempts to polish her off but soon realized that it was not going to be an easy task. The two destroyers were over officious, perhaps trying to atone for the lack of care they had given the big ships that morning. We went in and out, trying to draw them out, but all to no avail. We were beginning to come to the realization that the only hope of success was in a submerged attack when we received a despatch from the Darter. There were just three words but they were pregnant with meaning. They were:
"We are aground."
The Captain of the Dace was faced with a grave decision; either to continue in his attempts to sink the cruiser or to go to the rescue of the Darter. His decision was not arrived at hastily, but when announced it had the approbation of every man on board. We were to go to the assistance of the Darter. It was hard to give up pursuing a ship that we knew would probably sink with one torpedo hit, and it was hard to give up what we had started so brilliantly the day before; but it would have been doubly hard to abandon our comrades to certain death on the shoals of Palawan Passage.
In about an hour and a half later we were within stone's throw of the Darter. There was no doubt that she was aground. She was so high that even her screws were out of the water -- she seemed like a ship in dry-dock. We soon realized that getting close to her would not be an easy task. We decided to approach from the stern, that is, to travel over the Darter's water. We took position astern and slowly began to close her. The current took charge and we had to make a second approach. The Captain of the Darter became quite concerned over the audacity of the Captain of the Dace. He kept telling him to stay out a bit; not to come so close; to beware of the reef. We paid no attention and continued to close until we could pass over our bow line. By the use of that line and by the use of the engines we were able to keep away from the reef that, only fifty yards away on our starboard side, exerted its utmost to draw us to it.
The fact that the Darter could never get off the reef was obvious from the outset. As soon as the bow line went over, the transfer of personnel began. In the darkness gnome-like figures on the deck of the Darter were seen to go down her side into the rubber boats awaiting them below. Minutes later they reappeared at the side of the Dace where willing hands hoisted them aboard. There was little conversation. It was a grim and distressing task. There were only two six-man rubber life boats available and it was slow work. We had started at about 0200 and it was not until 0439 that the captain of the Darter, the last man to leave the ship, appeared at the side of the Dace.
No time was lost in clearing the immediate vicinity, for not only were we in mortal fear of the reef, but upon reporting on board the Captain of the Darter informed us that he had set demolition charges on his ship. Upon hearing this report we set the annunciators at full speed and never changed them until we considered ourselves a safe distance away.
The allotted time for the charges to go off began to draw near. With bated breath and blinking eyes we saw the second hands of our watches draw nearer and nearer to the zero time. It finally got there. We braced ourselves, expecting the morning stillness to be shattered by a terrific explosion. But only a ridiculously low and inoffensive "Pop" came from the Darter.
"For heavens sake! What a farce!" someone said.
What had happened? something had obviously gone wrong, and the Darter, instead of exploding before our eyes, was very much in evidence on the reef. Some said that the charges were no good. Others that the ship was not ready to die. What difference did it make then? That was no time to philosophize nor to enter into the relative merits of our demolition charges. That was time for action. There was only one possible answer -- blow her up with our few remaining torpedoes.
We took position on her beam and fired two torpedoes, one at a time. Both torpedoes exploded on the reef without as much as rocking the Darter. This confirmed our unexpressed fears that she was too high on the reef.
We had two more torpedoes; we went directly astern of her and fired. The story was repeated. Both torpedoes went off against the reef. It was now 0530. The first streaks of dawn were beginning to appear in the eastern sky. What to do next? We had to destroy that ship, and there was only one thing to do -- hit her with the gun.
"Gun crew, man the gun!" was passed over the General Announcing System. We were still in the vicinity of our attack of the day before, and we were engaged in a gun action. It was not without some trepidation that we had ordered the gun manned, for now there were about twenty-five men on the topside. A crash dive would be a risky undertaking and might result in some of the men being left topside. It was a chance that we had to take. The men had been warned to swim to the reef in case they found themselves in the water. It was a small consolation, but the rapidity of the fire and the percentage of hits scored on the target belied any misgivings that the men might have had. We were scoring telling hits on the Darter and we were beginning to feel a bit easier in our minds about the whole undertaking when a much dreaded cry came from the conning tower, "Plane contact -- six miles!"
"Clear the deck -- Diving alarm -- Take her down" was the immediate command.
The instinct of self-preservation took charge of all of us. Our twenty-five inch conning tower hatch, the only means of ingress into the Dace, attracted everyone topside as if it had been a magnet. Some walked down; others slid down; still others were pushed down. Some came down feet first; others head first; still others sideways. The officer of the Deck managed to close the hatch bare seconds before the boat went under.
We all braced ourselves for the bomb explosion that we felt sure would follow. Seconds passed -- anxious seconds whose tension was heightened by the fear that perhaps we had left some of the men on deck. We did not have long to wait, but for the second time that day an awaited loud explosion resolved itself into a distant "Pop". We again wondered what had happened. Perhaps if we were to write a book on the subject we could not express it any better than that unknown enlisted man who at the time said,
"That dumb ass of a Jap pilot! He made his drop on the Darter!"
He was correct. The same good fortune that accompanied us during the patrol was still with us; that same Providence that had looked over us from the time that we had left our base had not yet abandoned us.
The Japanese pilot had sighted two submarines on the surface. He could not tell that the Darter was aground. He saw one of the submarines diving. Believing that his chance of success was greater with the slower boat, he had decided to bomb the Darter instead of the Dace. The consensus of opinion was that he had made an excellent choice and we hoped that he had been able to do what we had failed to do earlier that morning with our torpedoes and our gun.
Our troubles, however, were not yet over. There was still one big unanswered question in our minds. Was everyone on board, or was there at this time some poor soul thrashing in the waters above us? We took a quick count. Everyone was accounted for. We checked again and this time there was no doubt about it. We had all made it.
Serious and dangerous as the incident had been, the ever present humorous incident was not lacking this time either. One of the officers shortly after the dive went to the control room. As he looked around he became aware of the large number of bruised faces, cut lips, and battered arms and hands among those who had been on deck when the diving alarm sounded. He noticed one enlisted man who seemed to have suffered more than the rest. For the sake morale he approached him and asked him how he managed to get down the hatch.
"Hell, I don't know," was the reply. "One second I was on deck with a shell in my hands. The next second I was in the control room. I don't remember doing anything -- I guess I was just sucked down!"
We soon came up to periscope depth to see what happened to the Darter. the Jap pilot had done a miserable job, she was still on the reef. That boat had apparently made up its mind that she was not going to to be destroyed either by Americans or by the Japanese. The Jap plane was still flying around her, so we decided to move on as we knew that the Japs would soon send a surface ship to investigate.
Our fears were confirmed at about 1000 that morning. At that time a destroyer made a very cautious approach to the Darter from the east. We had surmised that she would come from that direction, and of course had taken station -- to the west. We had no more torpedoes so were content to watch the activity from a safe distance. Since the Darter was between the Dace and the Jap destroyer we were unable to tell what actually happened that day but we feel sure that the ship was boarded. In the afternoon the destroyer withdrew.
While observing the Darter during the day we had come to the conclusion that it was still possible to destroy her by putting a boarding party on board that night. This time we would use the Dace's demolition outfit. We surfaced when it was dark and began to close the grounded ship.
We proceeded very carefully as we were not quite sure what the Japs had left behind. Warily we got closer and closer. Both Captains were on the bridge. The radar operator was reporting that the range to the Darter was then two thousand yards, when the sound of echo ranging was heard. It was a single ping, clearly defined. The possibility that a Jap submarine was there waiting for us immediately entered our minds. We lost no time in clearing the vicinity at full speed since we felt it unwise to risk the Dace and the combined crews for the sake of a ship that had been stripped by her crew and that the Japs had already boarded.
As we opened up from the Darter we looked back upon the last two days. It all seemed like a dream. It had all started two nights back when we had received the first contact report from the Darter. Since that time we had accomplished our primary mission of giving timely warning; we had sunk two Jap heavy cruisers and damaged a third one; we had lost a submarine but had rescued the crew whom we now had on board. Here the dream came to an abrupt end.
They were on board all right! There were eighty of them, and they were very much in evidence. It was impossible to walk through the boat without stepping on one of them. It was not surprising. We had one hundred and sixty-five men on board all told. There was nothing to do but make the best of a bad situation.
We distributed the Darter men throughout the boat. We told each man to pick a cot and to remain there unless he had to go to the head. Meals were brought to the men in their chosen places since it was easier to serve them than to have a constant stream of men in the messing compartment. It was gratifying to see how well the men adapted themselves to the situation. Day after day the same man would be found occupying the same spot -- one time sitting, the next time stretched out, the time after that doubled up. The Dace men willingly shared the available bunks with them, and needless to say the bunks were warmed up the twenty-four hours of the day. The officers fared no better. The wardroom was just as crowded, and to leave a good seat or spot was to lose it for the rest of the day.
This fear of losing a seat was well illustrated by the antics of one of the Darter officers. Shortly after reporting on board, the Darter officers started a poker game that used to last all day and most of the night. They were good enough to stop to allow the mess boys to set up for meals, but that was all. If at any other time any of us wanted to sit in the wardroom we had to play poker. One of the Darter officers played constantly, in spite of the fact that he was a constant loser. Day after day he would get up from the table at the end of the game and hold forth on his tough luck, the poor cards, the sharp characters that he had to play against, and so forth. After a few days we became irked at this daily tale of woe. One day in which the tears were practically flowing, one of us asked him, "If you lose so much -- if playing hurts yous o much -- how come you sit in day after day?"
"Buddy," was the reply, "the only way I can get a seat in this d--- boat is to buy it, and I intend to sit on a cushion from here to Australia no matter how much it hurts my feelings or my pocketbook!"
It took us eleven days to get back. During that time we were always crowded, dirty, and tired. The good food soon disappeared. We had eleven days of it, but we were happy. Few submarines had accomplished what we had done.
It was a great thrill for the Dace to return from that patrol. On our day of arrival battle flags were proudly flying. Hoisted at the extended periscope was the biggest flag we had been able to make on board. It was lettered "TASK GROUP M" in honor of Comdr. David H. McClintock, U.S. Navy, the Captain of the Darter. Beneath the letters were small Japanese flags that told graphically the story of the patrol. The most uninterested observer could have told that day that a "hot" ship had returned from a successful patrol.
The story of the Darter and the Dace ended officially that day, but it will always live in the hearts of those one hundred and sixty-five men who manned them. To mention any names, to single out any individual for what was accomplished, would be an injustice to the others not so mentioned. We have always felt that our deeds were not the deeds of one man or of a group of men, but rather the work of all of us, from the seaman to the Commander, from the mess cook to the Captain. We prefer it that way.
The ships themselves are now thousands of miles apart -- the Dace in New London, decommissioned -- the Darter, still on the reef in Palawan Passage. We hate to think of them so alone, so deserted. We who manned them are today separated, perhaps forever. But there are days when in our dreams we meet on board to relive, if only in our hearts, the glorious deeds of the past.
Taken from the January 1948United States Naval Institutes Proceedings
Thursday, November 29, 2012
How the Dace rescued Darter, an eyewitness account - Full text article
I know it's been previously posted, but since this story is probably not to be found anywhere else but the typewritten copy in my Grandfather's file cabinet, here's the fully Google-search-able text of the story of the U.S.S. DARTER on that fateful day, and the miraculous rescue by the sister sub U.S.S. DACE. It's a really good story and I want it to be "out there" on the world wide web, so on the off chance anyone else who has interest in this stuff is looking for info on this incredible story of danger and survival, here it is. With credit given to its original writer, an officer on board the U.S.S. DACE.