Theday.jpg
Article from the New London newspaper, "THE DAY"
dated: Sunday, July 11, 1999
Reprinted with permission

EB subs played crucial role in WWII
They sank enemy boats, carried supplies and rescued downed fliers

By VIRGINIA GROARK
       

Groton - In the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 1944, a crew member of the USS Flasher spotted smoke on the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. It was the first enemy ship the Flasher had spotted since it was dispatched to the Pacific to help the Allies defeat their enemy. When the smoke was spotted, the crew of the submarine went to work, tracking their target, an ex-gunboat of the Japanese. After 13 hours, the Flasher launched its first torpedo of World War II and moments later the 2,900 ton class boat went to the bottom.

The ex-gunboat was the Flasher's first victim during World War 11. In the following months, the submarine, which was built at Electric Boat, would sink more tonnage of enemy vessels than any other ship in World War II. On one day alone, she sank 28,600 tons of shipping off French Indo-China. Submarines, including many that were made at EB, played a critical role in World War II. They sunk enemy boats, carried supplies and reinforced guerrillas in the Philippines, according to the 1945 Electric Boat annual report. They also participated in reconnaissance missions and rescued 504 allied aviators from enemy controlled waters, including former President George Bush. Though they were used in the war in Europe, the majority of submarines were put to use in the Pacific after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor severely impacted the United States' Pacific naval fleet.

63 percent of sinkings
After the 1941 bombing, the submarines were considered the "only naval forces that could penetrate enemy controlled waters and operate offensively against Japanese sea power," according to the Naval History Division. Though submariners constituted only 1.6 percent of the Navy personnel, they were responsible for 63 percent of all Japanese merchant ships sunk, according to "The Legend of Electric Boat." The submariners were also responsible for destroying 276 combat vessels and sinking a total of 10.7 million tons. Submarines that were made by Electric Boat played a critical role in the fleet, sinking 39 percent of the total tonnage of Japanese ships sunk unassisted by the United States' submarines, according to "The Legend of Electric Boat." EB's Victory Yard, which opened July 22,1942, was recognized for its outstanding record for speed in submarine production "and thus materially hastened the successful ending of the war in the Pacific," according to the company's 1945 annual report. "Almost before (Japanese) bombs stopped falling on Pearl Harbor, our long range submarines streaked toward Tokyo to cut off enemy troop supplies at the source," EB's 1945 annual report states. "While America accumulated her might, our submarines maintained a stranglehold on Japan's lifeline. By September 1943 their effect on enemy shipping had pyramided to such proportions that according to a naval official of highest rank, our submarines had accounted for 77 percent of all (Japanese) shipping sunk since the beginning of the war." In fact, two of the top performers in the war - Flasher and the USS Tautog - were built at EB. While the Flasher sunk the most tonnage, the Tautog sunk the most boats, with 26 enemy vessels to her credit, including three submarines.

The "long illustrious career" of the Tautog began in March 1, 1939, when her keel was laid at Electric Boat. The second of three submarines in the 1938 program that were built by EB, she and her sister ships - the USS Tambor and USS Thresher - were the beginning of the 10-tube class of submarine, according to the Office of Naval Records and History.

Launched on Jan. 27, 1940, the Tautog was commissioned July 3, 1940, and skippered by Lt. J.H. Willingham. After a training period in Long Island and a shakedown cruise that took her to Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast, the Tautog underwent a six-week overhaul at Portsmouth and then worked out of New London on a 10-tube mine-laying problem, making the Tautog the founder of the mine plant doctrine. During 1941, the Tautog conducted missions in the Virgin Islands and operations in Newport, R.I., before setting course for Pearl Harbor in May of that year. In the fall of 1941, the submarine received sealed orders to patrol off Midway for 45 days along with the Thresher. The submarine was submerged for 15 to 16 hours a day for 38 consecutive days, according to the Office of Naval Records and History "Most provisions ran out and the patrol was one of the hardest on personnel that Tautog ever made," the report said. The Tautog returned to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 5, 1941, just two days before the Japanese attack. Emerging unscathed, the boat underwent a refit period and then set course for Midway again on a reconnaissance mission. The 41-day patrol was the only one in which the Tautog did not sink a ship though it may have hit a medium sized freighter on Jan. 13, 1942. In the ensuing years, the Tautog went on to sink 26 enemy vessels, setting a record for submarines during World War II. The keel of the Flasher was laid Sept. 30, 1942, and the boat was launched nine months later. The submarine was commissioned in September 1943 and the following day underwent an intensive shakedown near Newport, R.I. "Captain (Reuben T.) Whitaker was testing his ship to make sure nothing would go wrong when the time came to dive fast and deep to serve the ship or to lose a heavily laden enemy merchantman because of a minor engine casualty," a report from the Office of Naval Records and History states.

The work paid off. The Flasher departed New London Nov. 6,1943, for Florida, where the crew received training before setting off for Pearl Harbor. Following two weeks of extensive refresher training there, the Flasher set off for her first war patrol, which lasted 54 days. In addition to sinking the ex-gunboat in January 1944, the Flasher sank freighters, tankers, transports, destroyers, cargo vessels and other enemy ships over the course of 14 months. Her performance earned her numerous awards, including six Battle Stars on the Asiatic-Pacific Area Service Ribbon and the Presidential Unit Citation. The Flasher's success was touted at EB where workers were updated on the performance of the submarine. When Arland Davenport Barnes, a personnel manager at EB, received a letter from the commander of the submarine, he read a portion of it out loud over the plant's broadcast system and posted excerpts from it on the company's bulletin board. "The employees in the plant thoroughly enjoy letters such as yours not because they want praise for themselves but because they take pride in knowing that something which they have helped create has really had a part in the fine job which the Navy is doing in the Pacific, " Barnes wrote in a June 1944 letter to Whitaker.

Hundreds of citations
EB's important role in the war did not go unnoticed. In fact, more than 768 citations were awarded to EB submarines. Ten EB submarines went on to win Presidential Unit Citations. The USS Greenling, which was commissioned in Groton in January 1943, sank four ships by torpedo fire, one sampan by gunfire and damaged a 22,000-ton converted carrier. In addition to the Presidential Citation, her commander received the Navy Cross and many awards were given to her crew members, according to EB's 1945 annual report. The USS Sea Lion won the citation, for sinking the 30,000-ton Kongo, a Japanese battleship, marking the first time a lone Navy vessel of any kind had sunk a, Japanese battleship unassisted, according to Sea Power, the official publication of the Navy League. The Sea Lion also rescued 54 Australian and British prisoners of war and survivors of the Japanese prison ship, Rykuyu Maru, which the Sea Lion sank during her second war patrol, according to the annual report. The USS Barb won the presidential citation for its impressive performance during the war. Its commanding officer also won the Congressional Medal of Honor and several awards were given to its crew. "In addition to scoring devastating hits on major targets among enemy ships the Barb braved the perils of a tropical typhoon to rescue fourteen British and Australian prisoners of war who had survived the torpedoing and sinking of a hostile transport ship en route from Singapore to the Japanese Empire," the annual report states. The USS Salmon was honored for one of its "many daring war patrols" in which it came in contact with a large hostile tanker. The submarine "boldly approached in defiance of four vigilant escort ships cruising within 1,000 yards of her target and launched her torpedoes to score direct and damaging hits," according to the report. But the Salmon was damaged by depth charges, forcing it to come to the surface "to effect emergency repairs and fight it out," the report said.

Charged opponent
"Firing only when accurate hits were assured and confusing the enemy by her evasive tactics, in a brilliant surprise attack she charged her opponent with all available speed and opened fire with every gun aboard, destroying most of the (Japanese) topsides." While maintaining its fire, the Salmon escaped during a rain squall. In addition to the presidential citation, its officers and crew won 34 medals, including three Navy Crosses.

The USS Dace, whose keel laying marked the opening of EB's Victory Yard in July 1942, was also recognized for its performance in the war. The Dace along with the EB's USS Darter sank two heavy Japanese cruisers and badly damaged a third. making it inoperable for the rest of the War.

Performance significant
The performance of the Dace and Darter was significant because the bits came at a time when Japan was trying to deploy her navy forces to save the Philippines. In addition to the presidential citation, the officers and crews of the submarines won 10 awards.

While touting the accomplishments of EB's submarine during World War II, the annual report also emphasized the need to remain prepared by developing weapons in future years.

"Twice within a single generation America has been forced into a world war because our enemies considered us unprepared," the report states. "From bitter experience we in the United States now know that we must maintain the development of key security weapons in proportion to our devotion to a world peace.

"The responsibility of the Electric Boat Company, as pioneer builders of United States submarines, is to help maintain America's leadership in submarine invention and development through a moderate building program keyed to, the proved concept that to keep peace, America must keep pace."

---end---