Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pearl Harbor + 64: The Submarine Stories

Sixty-four years ago today, the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor changed the face of World War II and, by bringing the US into the war as a full-fledged Allied power, altered the course of history.

The USS Arizona (BB 39) rests today in the same spot she was in 64 years ago, a permanent reminder of what happened that day, and a stunning memorial to those who lost their lives. As someone who has been fortunate enough to visit the memorial in person, I can only say that no pictures or descriptions do it justice, and I highly recommend visiting it to anyone who has the opportunity to spend some time on Oahu.

The stories of the American submarines at Pearl Harbor are an interesting sidebar to the larger narrative. The USS Bowfin submarine museum's website has a page dedicated to the events of Dec. 7, 1941 as told from a submariner's perspective.

The four boats present that day were USS Narwhal (SS-167), USS Dolphin (SS-169), USS Cachalot (SS 170), and USS Tautog (SS-199).

One of the men present that day was Admiral Bernard Clarey, who on December 7, 1941 was Dolphin's XO. The USS Bowfin website has his comments about that day. The stories of Pearl Harbor are singularly awe-inspiring. This is no exception. Here's an excerpt from his recap (my emphasis):
There were four submarines in port that morning, which had arrived two to four days previously from patrols at Midway and Wake. Two of the submarines were given credit along with a destroyer for shooting down one enemy plane. These submarines were undergoing repair and refitting period with some of their machinery dismantled and some removed for ship work. Few naval vessels are more vulnerable to air attack as a surfaced submarine with hatches open and electrical and water lines connected to the shore. Yet the four submarines caught at their Pearl Harbor base gave a good account of themselves that day and in the following four and a half years of the war.

On that fateful Sunday, the submarines of the Pacific Fleet were widely dispersed. Of the 22 which comprised the force, 16 were modern fleet type, up to date submarines. Six others were many years older. There also were 39 submarines in the Far East at the time based in Manila.

Throughout the attack, the officers and crew of the Submarine Base were in the thick of the fight. Those who were not manning guns were rushing ammunition to the gun crews, serving in the Navy Yard with fire fighting details or working with hospital and ambulance crews and rescue parties. Some 1500 blankets and 2000 mattresses were distributed to sailors of the shattered surface fleet. Divers from the escape training tank and the submarine rescue vessel Widgeon rushed to assist in the rescue of men trapped in damaged ships.

The Submarine Base itself did not come under direct attack that morning. In light of subsequent events in the war, the Japanese must have felt many times over that they should have knocked out the Submarine Base and as many submarines as possible.
Indeed. The submarine force was responsible for sinking more than half of all Japanese shipping during the war.

My grandfather, Edward F. Steffanides was one of the men at Pearl Harbor the day of the attack. He was serving aboard USS Cachalot. Cachalot did what she could to get into the fight that day, as detailed in her after-action report:

U.S.S. Cachalot
Serial (C-050) Pearl Harbor, T.H.
December 10, 1941.

From: The Commanding Officer.
To: The Commander-in-Chief, United States Pacific Fleet.

Subject: Raid of December Seventh - Report of.

Reference: (a) Cincpac Conf despatch 102102 of Dec 1941.

1. During period of raid this vessel was moored at Berth 1, Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor, T.H. undergoing scheduled Navy Yard overhaul.
2. Raid commenced at 0755. At 0803 enemy planes passed within range and arc of fire. Opened fire with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns.
3. Between 0845 and 0905 dive bombing and strafing attacks made by enemy. Replied with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns.
4. Between 0945 and 1000 joined in fire against enemy bombers with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns.
5. No positively known damage inflicted upon enemy by this vessel's fire.
6. No material damage received by this vessel.
7. MEYERS, C.A.., S2c, USN received bullet wound in right lung during strafing attack. He was treated at the Navy Hospital. Latest report is that MEYERS is not seriously wounded.
8. Enemy bombing and torpedo attack heavy in vicinity of dock abreast of vessel. Nearest bomb twenty feet off starboard quarter. It did not explode. Nearest torpedo 100 yards astern.
9. Mechanism resembling arming fan for a bomb found on dock abreast of vessel. Threads are metric. Disposition of material - Turned in to CSS 4 Gunnery Officer.
10. The commanding officer was greatly pleased with the composure under fire; ability and energy displayed by his crew during this raid.



CSS 4 - CSD 43
The after action reports for the other subs are also very interesting. You can read them at the links below:

USS Tautog
USS Narwhal
USS Dolphin

There are many incredible stories about Pearl Harbor. Those are just a few of them.

Never forget.

Cross-posted from The Noonz Wire.


At 3:26 PM, Blogger jeff said...

Wasn't there a story about one of the submarines, Narwhal I think, where the seaman who was responsible for raising the flag (at the stern) kept getting chased back to the conning tower - until he finally made it out and got the flag up.

Or is this one of the no doubt vast collection of Hollywood Apocrypha about Dec. 7th?

At 4:46 PM, Blogger Stout said...

my great grandfather was on the Uss Dophin. He was a torpedo man and a gunner he was credited with shooting 1 or 2 jap planes that day . His name was Richard Wright Stout Sr.


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