Naval Records and History
Ship's Histories Section
HISTORY OF USS DARTER (SS-227)
Ship's Histories Section
HISTORY OF USS DARTER (SS-227)
(excerpt from complete account)
Commander McClintock took his sleek command out of Brisbane on her fourth and final patrol on 1 September 1944, pausing at Darwin on the 10th. Operating with USS DACE SS-247, DARTER set up a reconnaissance line to intercept any enemy forces which might interfere with the Morotai landings. On the 24th she left for Biak for replenishment and, after four days in port, headed back to her patrol area of Palawan Passage and Balabac Strait.
The two "D's" fell in with a rich convoy of seven enemy ships with only three escorts on 12 October in the center of Palawan Passage. Waiting three hours for the ships to get into position, DARTER fired four torpedoes at two overlapping tankers from 6000 yards, and then dived to escape the air cover. Three hits were heard, as planes dropped seven bombs close by without damage.
The convoy scurried into the safety of Balabac Strait, where the submarine could not follow. Sending a contact report to DACE, DARTER took up her position to await their sortie. Finally, near midnight on the morning of the 14th the ships ventured out, being spotted first by DACE. Since DACE had made the first contact, DARTER stood aside to let her make the first attack, seeing her make four hits. By this time, the convoy made it into Kimanis Bay, with the destroyers effectively blocking any chance for further attacks.
The two subs then took up a patrol in Palawan passage, and on the 18th switched to the west approaches to Balabac Strait. Their vigilance was rewarded on the morning of the 19th when two destroyers approached, and DARTER found herself between the two. She fired four stern tubes at one, but missed her entirely when a turn threw the torpedo track off. The ensuing depth charges did no damage.
As the 21st opened, the radio brought news of the invasion of the Philippines, and immediately the two submarines headed for Balabac Strait, hoping to catch Japanese heavy units from Singapore since the shortest route to the landing beaches lay through the Strait and the Mindanao Sea. Just before midnight the first enemy warship came into view, three heavy cruisers headed through the Dangerous Ground making 23 knots. After six hours the pursuers were 19 miles behind, and so they broke off, heading south to intercept any other units.
The two subs were cruising along close together on the surface, recharging their batteries, when DARTER made radar contact on a group of fast surface ships at 16 minutes past midnight. Grabbing a megaphone, the captain of DARTER shouted to DACE, "We have a radar contact. let's go!"
Calling for full power, both ships were soon making 19 knots in hot pursuit of the enemy force of eleven heavy ships, headed up Palawan Passage. The enemy warships were making 22 knots, but soon slowed to 15, and soon an attack was worked out. DARTER was to have first choice, hitting the left flank column at dawn. USS DACE took up a position five miles ahead to attack the starboard column. Since the channel was narrow, the submarine skippers were reasonably sure that there would not be a large course change during the night.
DARTER ran ahead for 20,000 yards, and picked out the leading enemy cruiser as her target. Although neither submarine knew it, the force they had contacted included the two largest warships in the world, the secret Japanese super-battleships YAMATO and MUSASHI, both of whom boasted 18.1-inch guns in their main batteries.
The attack was ridiculously easy. Diving to periscope level, DARTER worked her way inf or a clear shot at the leading cruiser in the port column, and at 0532 began firing. The first three torpedo tracks were spread in order to take care of any unexpected maneuvers of the big ship, the heavy cruiser ATAGO. By the time that the next three were ready to fire, ATAGO was roaring by so close that the deadly missiles couldn't miss, and so they were fired straight into its length.
Wasting no time, DARTER swung hard to bring her stern tubes to bear on the second cruiser, and as she did so heard the satisfying roar of five explosions. Firing her stern tubes, Commander McClintock swung his periscope back on the "sight of a lifetime," ATAGO lying dead, a mass of billowing black smoke from her #1 turret to the stern. Bright orange flames licked out along the water's edge as the bow began to go under. To add to the crew's joy, four more hist sounded through the submarine as four of the torpedoes struck the second heavy cruiser, TAKAO.
Retaliation began within five minutes, but none of the depth charges came close, although the breaking-up noises from the cruisers were so loud that it seemed that they must be sinking directly overhead.
DACE got off her first attack, and at 0557 the submariners in DARTER could hear four more hits. DACE had eliminated the heavy cruiser MAYA from the Japanese register.
When the depth charging slacked off, DARTER tried to get int o finish off TAKAO, but was unable to get in past the destroyers. Since the Japanese were so close, the submarine could not surface to get an accurate navigational position, and was forced to cruise submerged until nightfall.
TAKAO managed to get underway erratically by 2200, and DARTER started in on the surface to finish her off, but intercepted radar signals caused her to delay, and she went under, running at full speed to get into position.
Suddenly the radio operator on board DACE was electrified by a radio message from DARTER in plain English, "Hard aground." DARTER, running submerged at 17 knots, had hit Bombay Shoal. It had been 30 hours since she had been able to get a good position, having been running on a dead reckoning chart during the whole attack.
The submarine shoaled at 0005 hours, and between then and high tide at 0146 the crew worked feverishly, destroying all confidential matter and dumping everything movable overboard in an effort to lighten the ship. For an hour after the full tide, they worked to get free, but nothing helped. With sunrise expected momentarily, it was decided to abandon the ship, sending the crew aboard DACE, who was standing by.
Demolition charges were planted, and as soon as the last man was safely on board DACE, they were set off. For some reason, however, they failed to explode properly, leaving the submarine in good condition for any Japanese studies. DACE then opened fire with her deck gun, putting 21 hits into DARTER along the waterline before a plane forced her to dive.
A Japanese destroyer then appeared, and may have boarded the sub. The submarine ROCK tried to complete the job of firing ten more torpedoes later, but again the torpedoes went off before hitting the target. NAUTILUS finished the job of destruction on the 31st with 55 six-inch hits.
DARTER's loss was a result of a calculated risk, one of the tactical losses which must be expected in wartime. Her loss was well balanced, however, by the discovery of the Japanese task force and loss of two cruisers sunk and one badly damaged. In order to keep the entire crew together, all of the men on board DARTER were ordered to take over the new submarine MENHADEN, then building at Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
USS DARTER earned four Battle Stars on the Asiatic-Pacific Area Service Medal for participating in the following operations:
1 Star: Truk Attack -- 16-17 February 1944
1 Star: Battle of Surigao Strait -- 24 October 1944
1 Star: Submarine War Patrol -- 22 March - 23 May 1944
1 Star: Submarine War Patrol -- 21 June - 8 August 1944
The ship also received the following Navy Unit Commendation, Pacific, for her Fourth War Patrol:
"For outstanding heroism in action during a War Patrol against enemy Japanese Fleet units. Aggressive and relentless in tracking her targets, the USS DARTER daringly penetrated hostile waters and succeeded in contacting a Japanese task force. In an excellently planned and brilliantly coordinated attack, she opened fire. As a result of these salvos, launched boldly by the DARTER despite the superior fire power of the hostile concentration, the enemy was forced to retire, thus reducing appreciably the enemy's naval strength subsequently brought to bear against our forces. The splendid combat readiness of the DARTER and the gallant fighting spirit of her officers and men throughout this hazardous action reflect the highest credit upon the United States Naval Service."
Compiled: July 1953