USS GURNARD (SS 254)

By: John Geck (Former CrewMember)
Edited, reprinted, encoded by Paul Wittmer for this web site.

The USS GURNARD (SS 254), was built at the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut, her keel being laid on September 2,1941 and launched on June 1, 1942 with Suzanne Lingoff, daughter of Commander Frank Lingoff, US Navy (retired) being her sponsor.

I was transferred from the USS 0-4 (SS 65) in June 1942 to the GURNARD and she was Commissioned on September 18,1942 with Commander Charles H, Andrews, US Navy being her first Commanding Officer.

Gurnard had an overall length of 311 feet, an extreme beam of 27 feet, a standard displacement of 1,526 tons, a mean draft of 15 feet, a submerged displacement of 2,424 tons, a designed surface speed of 20.25 knots, a submerged speed of 8.75knots and a designed compliment crew of 6 officers and 54 crewmen.

She was originally armed with one 3 inch 50 caliber deck gun, two 50 caliber machine guns, two 30 caliber machine guns and ten 21 inch in diameter torpedo tubes, (6 tubes forward and 4 tubes aft) and a total arsenal of 24 torpedoes (10 in the tubes and 14 reloads on skids). Her designed safety depth was 348 feet.

After a rigorous and vigorous training in New London, GURNARD set sail on November 2, 1942 For Roseneath, Scotland and arriving there November 15, 1942. During the Trans-Atlantic crossing, GUNARD encountered two questionable contacts, both, due to not being identifiable, were considered To be German U-boats as to their being picked up on radar but disappearing within seconds from the radar screen.

GURNARD was prepared for sea and her first war patrol commencing November 28,1942, and scheduled for the Bay of Biscay. After 24 days on station, without sighting an enemy ship. GUNARD Returned to Roseneath, December 27,1942.

GURNARD departed Roseneath January, 25, 1943, arriving New London, February 7, 1943 where a refit and replacement of the four HOR main engines was conducted. After making her seaworthy again at the Electric Boat Company, GURNARD departed New London March 20, 1943 with Pearl Harbor, Hawaii as her designated port for the start of her second war patrol.

A stop was made enroute to the Panama Canal and the Pacific and at Key West, Florida for degaussing and at the Canal Zone for a day of liberty. Arrival at Pearl Harbor was May 26, 1943 where a new type of radar was installed.

 

2nd WAR PATROL:

(Combat Insignia Awarded)

Departing Pearl Harbor June 12,1943, GURNARD paused at Midway Island enroute to her patrol station off Toagel Mlungui Passage, west of the Babelyhuap Island in the Palau Island group. On the morning of June 29, 1943 at 1200 hours GURINARD sighted a six ship Japanese convoy being escorted by two destroyers and a patrol plane.

Closing the convoy as it neared the Passage. GURNARD fired spreads of torpedoes in quick succession from her bow and stern tubes at the two freighters. Splashes of enemy shells were now seen close to GURNARDS periscope as one of the escorting destroyers headed directly for her. While diving deep and rigging for a depth charge attack, breaking up noises were heard on sonar but results could not be observed as the enemy, dropped 24 depth charges, some very close but with no effect.

During this attack on the enemy, GURNARD was credited with the sinking of an 8,200-ton freighter and the damaging of another freighter of 7,400 tons.

Still in the same area the morning of July 1, 1943, GURNARD intercepted four enemy merchant ships accompanied by six destroyers. Both forward and aft torpedo tubes were fired at a large escort ship and one merchant ship. One torpedo of the first spread sunk a destroyer of 1,000 tons and that detonation being followed by a heavy cloud of dense smoke. The second salvo resulted in a hit on a second target as well as a "bonus" hit on a third ship attempting to maneuver out of the way. Smoke from the sinking destroyer hampered visibility and GURNARD was now forced to dive as four aircraft bombs fell nearby.

During this attack GURNARD was credited with sinking the 1,000-ton destroyer and damaging two freighters, one of 7,300 tons and the other of 6,100 tons.

Running deep, the Submarine now headed boldly for the center of the convoy. Three heavy depth charge attacks, the first enough to jolt her, left her unharmed. Evading the attackers GURNARD came to periscope depth at 1122 hours and to every ones surprise, a Japanese aircraft carrier with an air escort was spotted. After maneuvering submerged to gain an attack position, three torpedoes were fired at 1220 hours at less than 2,000 yards, and two torpedoes were observed to hit the carrier before being driven deep by depth bombs from the escorting planes. On the way to going deep, a parting shot was fired from the stern tubes and many rumbling noises and a terrific explosion was heard through the hull.

This area proved to be a lucky charm as in 48 hours GURNARD sunk or damaged over 47,000 tons. Not only being a well protected Naval Base, the Palau Islands was a safe haven for their merchant fleet and traffic entering or leaving the harbor was always protected by a large contingent of destroyers, gunboats or aircraft.

On the morning of July 2, 1943, GURNARD attempted a surface chase of two distant Japanese merchant ships. Attacked by a patrol plane, she was forced to dive before attaining an attack range.

July 6, 1943 found GURNARD moving off to the northwest of the Palau Islands and working her way back toward Toagel Mlungui Passage. GURNARD made contact and maneuvered to take a position to attack a convoy but two depth charges from an unseen aircraft exploded close aboard causing momentary, loss of power to the Submarines' diving planes and steering. GURNARD immediately took a steep "up" angle and headed for the surface. Before she would break the surface within easy gun range of the enemy warships, her upward motion was finally stopped at the depth of only 55 feet.

She now "dropped like a rock" with a steep down angle on her planes. Before depth control could be regained, she surpassed the designed safety depth of 348 feet and it is believed she passed 700 feet. The depth gauge was well up against the limit pegs and the sea pressure gauges used to calculate depths beyond the depth gauges were only designed to calculate a depth of 650 feet.

In spite of this harrowing experience, GURNARD suffered no major damage and all the leaks caused by the stress of the extreme depth pressure were sealed. Concern through all of this could be observed on the faces of every crewmember and a sigh of relief could be heard when depth control was finally regained. No panic was experienced through this ordeal, as everyone was busy putting into use the training that is so diligently practiced daily for use in any emergency that may occur.

On JULY 11, 1943 at 0254 and in the same area, GURNARD contacted and plotted another convoy consisting of four cargo ships with two escorts. Maneuvering for a shooting position, it was gained at dawn and the Japanese cargo ship Taiko Maru of 11,925 tons was sunk. Evading the escort's depth charges, GURNARD at 0500 was able to come to periscope depth and an attack was commenced at two other ships in the convoy.

Successive torpedoes were fired at both targets and the result was the sinking of a 6,400-ton freighter and the damaging of another 5,700-ton cargo ship. Again, a depth charging was begun by the escorts but this attack seemed haphazard attempt to try to scare GURNARD away so they may be able to pick up any survivors.

With all her torpedoes expended. GURNARD was granted permission from Com-Sub-Pac to return To Pearl Harbor for a much needed rest period and repair of damage done at sea by the enemy. Pearl Harbor was reached on July 26,1943 and the entire crew with the exception of members being transferred to other facilities or new Construction enjoyed a two-week rest at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel while GURNARD rested in the shipyard's dock, being refitted and repaired.

This patrol lasted six weeks and it was far from being boring. The 61,025 tons of sunk or damage done to the Imperial Japanese Navy and Merchant Marine may not have been a record for tonnage by a single boat but it ranked near the top at this point of the war.

 

3rd WAR PATROL:

(Combat Insignia Awarded)

After repairs and new equipment modifications were made, GURNARD was again ready; to go to sea and face the enemy, and the Third War Patrol was commenced September 6,1943. With an escort leading to assure safe passage for the next 24 hours, GURNARD sailed from Pearl Harbor to an area in the South China Sea.

As per usual, a stop was made at Midway Island for topping off of fuel and supplies. While there the newer members of the crew were fascinated and amazed at the antics of the Islands' Gooney Birds and after a couple of hours the maneuvering watch was set, the mooring lines taken aboard and again an escort for security was assigned.

The purpose of the escort, which was either a destroyer or other patrol craft, was to alert all friendly surface and aircraft that the vessel being escorted was friendly and an Ally, thereby ensuring that the Submarine would be safe from friendly fire and harm. The escort usually would lead the way out to Sea for twenty-four hours then be relieved by an aircraft which would protect her for a couple more hours.

Enroute to her patrol station September 18,1943, GURNARD sighted an enemy merchant ship being Escorted by a destroyer. While making her approach to gain a favorable position for an attack, the Submarine was detected and was forced to go deep by an intense depth charge attack, which caused little damage but allowed the enemy to escape.

On station in the shipping lanes north of the Pescadores Channel, in the Formosa Straits, GURNARD sighted an unescorted Japanese cargo ship September 30, 1943. A four-torpedo salvo produced a "dud" hit. After another fruitless attack, GURNARD dove deep to evade a destroyer and an enemy aircraft, which happened to come on the scene. A depth charge attack of twenty-four charges shook bits of paint and cork from the bulkheads and several light bulbs were shattered due to the vibration. Though damage was slight and many nerves frayed, the enemy was successfully eluded and the hunt for more enemy ships was on the agenda.

Smoke on the horizon was spotted 1112, October 7, 1943. This was seen to be from two merchantmen, which GURNARD began, to plot and track. Every thing seemed to be right for an attack, when two more cargo ships with an escort now joined the original two to form a convoy. By 0139, October 8, 1943, GURNARD was in a favorable position for an attack. Approaching undetected on the surface, GURNARD fired two torpedoes from the forward tubes and quickly coming about, another spread was fired from the stern tubes. The attack caused the sinking of the cargo ship, Taian Maru of 10,800 tons and then followed by the sinking of the transport cargo ship, Dainichi Maru of 5,813 tons. GURNARD departed the area at full speed on four main engines under heavy enemy gunfire.

At 2225, October 9.1943 and in the same area, GURNARD had radar contact with a Japanese merchantman. Closing the target, the submarine made an attack at 0120 the next morning and two torpedo hits appeared to do only minor damage but after a fast surface chase. A favorable position was achieved and GURNARD fired her last two torpedoes without effect. It was verified later that the tonnage of this vessel was 9,000 tons. With her torpedo arsenal depleted, permission from Com-Sub-Pac was granted for her to return to Pearl Harbor and GURNARD moored there October 28,1943.

Again, GURNARD had a very successful patrol. Which resulted in the sinking or damaging 27.000 tons of enemy shipping thereby depriving her many outposts of much needed equipment for the war effort. GURNAPD was turned over to the Navy yard and a relief crew while the crew spent 14 days of rest, relaxation and recreation at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach.

 

4th WAR PATROL

(Combat Insignia Awarded)

After the rest period and ship overhaul were finished, a short two week training session was held to familiarize replacements for crew members who were transferred back to the "States" for new boats being placed in commission.

The fourth patrol commenced November 28, 1943 with the stationing of the maneuvering watch, the Captain taking the bridge, the gangplank taken aboard and the mooring lines released. As usual an escort in the form of a destroyer or other escort was assigned to lead the way for GURNARD to safely proceed out to sea for the next twenty-four hours.

Again a short stop at Midway Island for replenishing fuel and other needed items and after four hours GURNARD was pointed to her next patrol area, the southeast coast of Honshu. Japan. Heavy seas due to a monsoon hampered the trip to the patrol area. As many hours would be spent submerged to escape the violent ocean. A surface attack after dark December 22, 1943 left a 7,000-ton Japanese merchantman, the Haferland-go, damaged. GURNARD at 0700, December 24,1943 sighted a five ship convoys consisting of four merchantmen and an oil tanker. After the torpedo attack was over, GURNARD had sunk the 5,000-ton cargo ship Seizan Maru, the 6.000-ton cargo ship Tofuku Maru and the 6,000-ton oil tanker, Naruo Maru.

An unusual sight showed up on GURNARDS radar screen on the evening of December 27,1943. A single large merchantman with no less than ten enemy destroyers, as her screen appeared. After repeated attempts to pierce the heavy escort screen, GURNARD finally succeeded. At 2350 she fired her last four torpedoes and two hits on the 11,000-ton troop transport, Gokou Maru, left her dead in the water. In fifteen minutes the ship began to slowly limp on her way and GURNARD immediately radioed the position, course and speed of the wounded target to alert any other American or Allied Submarines that may be in a position to intercept her.

Again permission was granted by Com-Sub-Pac for GURNARD to return to Pearl Harbor for an overhaul and rest and relaxation at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

The total casualties of this patrol of thirty-six days were 35,000 tons and again some members of the crew were transferred "Stateside" for new construction.

 

5th WAR PATROL

(Combat Insignia Awarded)

Some new innovations were introduced to GURNARD such as a much better radar system and a new and more accurate sonar system. After the usual short training session to familiarize the new replacements of the crew, GURNARD set sail with her escort on April 16,1944 for her fifth war patrol which would occupy the patrol area in the Eastern Celebese Sea, south of Mindanao in the Philippine Islands. GURNARD was on station by May 4, 1944 and two days later, May 6,1944, a convoy of four Japanese troop ships. carrying an infantry division, heading south from Shanghai, was sighted and a chase to intercept the enemy was started.

These four ships were moving troops intended as reinforcements for New Guinea in the hopes of Stopping or delaying, General McArthurs expected offensive to retake the Islands. Closing in on the starboard beam of the convoy GURNARD fired two, three-torpedo salvo's which hit all four transports. During this engagement, the 7,500 ton Aden Maru and the 4,000-ton Tajima Maru were sunk and the other two ships were severely, damaged. GURNARD, as one of the escorting destroyers headed for her, went to deep submergence and rigged for the expected depth charge attack and during the charging that followed breaking up noises were heard indicating that the GURNARDS' torpedoes had found their targets.

After 98 depth charges had been eluded. the enemy broke off their attack. GURNARD came to the surface shortly after to discover one of the damaged transports still afloat and burning. Shortly after midnight, she shelled the stricken ship with her deck gun without results. Another expended torpedo finally sunk the transport and GURNARD was credited with the sinking of the 5,400 ton Tenshinzan Maru and the damaging of the 4,000 ton Amatsusan Maru with the loss of thousands of Japanese Soldiers, who would have made a formidable re-enforcement for the New Guinea garrison. This blow was considered to be a "material influence" on Japanese strategy in the area.

Patrolling off the approaches to Davao Gulf, May 18, 1944, GURNARD sighted what seemed to be a large cruiser or battleship zigzagging at a high rate of speed and escorted by two destroyers. Poor visibility, due to a rainsquall made this large and fast target a difficult problem not only to plot but also to chase. All the speed GURNARD could muster was used to get ahead of the target and after the speed, course and angle on GURNARDS bow was calculated one of the escorts passed close to GURNARDS bow, forcing her to delay, firing.

Taking advantage of the last opportunity to fire, GURNARD disbursed a spread of six torpedoes from her forward tubes. One of the poppet valves, designed to flood the torpedo tube upon firing to compensate for lost weight, failed to function properly and due to the malfunction GURNARD started to broach but depth was maintained by flooding the negative and bow buoyancy tanks.

GURNARD went deep and could not observe the results of her labor. Two torpedo explosions were heard, before the escorts started to unload 32 depth charges, some too nicely placed for comfort. The results of this attack were the crediting to GURNARD the damaging of a 32,000-ton battleship.

At 0925, May, 24,1944, GURNARD sighted two Japanese cargo ships with two escorts south of Mindanao. An unsuccessful attack on the merchantmen resulted in an extreme depth charging by the well-schooled escorts.

In the early afternoon of the same day, GURNARD sighted a second enemy convoy consisting of two oil tankers, two cargo ships and three escorting destroyers. Slipping past the "not too alert" escorts fired four torpedoes at the 10,090 ton Tatekawa Maru, leaving the target ablaze and settling. GURNARD had to go deep to escape the now aroused escorts.

Breaking up noises signaled the sinking of the target but the escorts still had to be eluded. It was later learned that this oil tanker was one of the ships being assembled for the forthcoming battle of the Philippine Island.

May 31,1944, south of Mindanao, GURNARD made a contact on three battleships with surface and aircraft escorts. She closed at her maximum submerged speed, but this proved to be insufficient. Unable to close the distance between them and GURNARD, the chase had to be aborted and the targets had to be forfeited to some other American or Allied submarine that may encounter them. GURNARD surfaced and as per regulations, radioed the course and speed of this prized target.

On this aborted contact, Captain Andrews stated in his report "to have in sight the target all Submarine Officers dream about and yet unable to close them to a firing range remains a bitter disappointment".

GURNARD was ordered to relinquish her patrol area to a relief and set course for her new homeport, Fremantle, Australia. The course took GURNARD through the Lombok Straits, considered to be one of the most hostile areas in the South Pacific. A dash through the Strait was made in the dark of night and at full speed of the four main engines.

A stop was made at Darwin. Australia for refueling and the patrol ended at Fremantle June 11, 1944. Again this was a highly successful patrol with the sinking or damaging of 62,990 tons shipping and it also set back the advancement of troops direly needed in the area by the loss of the four troop transports.

I received orders June 12, 1944 to be detached from the USS GURNARD (SS 254) and report to the USS BESUGO (SS 321), a newly built Electric Company Boat and awaiting commissioning in Groton, Connecticut.

It was hard to say "Good-bye" after almost two years to the best people I had ever met and had gone through good and bad times together. I was and still am proud to have had the opportunity to have been a Crewman on the GURNARD and share the commendation in the form of a NAVY UNIT CITATION.

I and fourteen other Naval Personnel from other boats in Fremantle were given vouchers to travel from Perth, Australia to New London, Connecticut via Brisbane, Australia, Midway Island, Hickham Field, Hawaii and debarking San Francisco. California.

After the long and uncomfortable journey from Fremantle to San Francisco aboard the Army aircraft. it was a pleasure to fly civilian aircraft from San Francisco to Boston, Massachusetts and even the bus ride from Boston to New London was more comfortable.

USS GURNARD (SS 254) and each crewmember was awarded the Navy Unit Citation for smashing 178,00 of Japanese men-o-wars and merchant ships during her second, third, fourth and fifth war patrols, and reads as follows:

US NAVY UNIT CITATION

"For outstanding heroism in action during her Second War Patrol in the Palau Islands, the Third War Patrol in the South China Sea, the Fourth War Patrol off the Coast of Honshu, Japan and the Fifth War Patrol in the Eastern Celebes Seas, holding relentlessly to her missions in defiance of watchful aircraft patrols and surface escort vessels, the USS GURNARD daringly pierced the enemy's screen to strike at heavily protected convoys and combat units in these restricted waters.

She boldly closed range and sent her gunfire and torpedoes into one target after another despite continual hostile bombing and depth charge attacks and sank eleven Japanese ships including a destroyer for a total of 71,500 tons. She damaged ten additional vessels, one 32,700-ton battleship and one a 17,000-ton aircraft carrier to score a total 107, 200 tons.

Executing these hazardous patrols with the indomitable aggressiveness, courage and skill, characteristic of her gallant Officers and Men, the GURNARD achieved a record of heroism in keeping with highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."

DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF
KADZIMER BUZCEK TM 1/C
"STILL ON PATROL"
USS BULLMEAD (SS 332)
"REST YOUR OARS SKI"

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