On the evening of 13 May 1944, in Truk Harbor in the Caroline Islands,
Lieutenant Commander Yoshitaka Takeuchi watched impatiently as a file of seamen
struggled up the gangway of the 1-16. Each man was sweating under the load of a
75-pound bag of rice in a sealed rubber container. As one of the largest
submarines ever built in Japan, the 1-16 provided ample stowage space, both
below decks and in a tunnel-like structure designed to accommodate a
retractable-wing floatplane. The submarine got under way at 0800 the next
morning, bound for Buin on the southeast tip of Bougainville. Her mission was to
supply a battered garrison on the verge of starvation. Takeuchi estimated his
arrival time as 2000, 22 May.
This estimate, addressed to Commander Submarine Squadron Seven on Saipan,
received wider distribution than the sender intended. Intercepted and decoded by
CinCPac intelligence and promptly forwarded to Admiral William F. Halsey, it
resulted in a priority dispatch from Commander South Pacific Area to Commander
Escort Division 39, in Tulagi Harbor, Florida Island. CamCortDiv 39, Commander
Hamilton Plains, in turn issued orders to his tactical command--three recently commissioned
destroyer escorts, newly arrived in the Solomons. Two of the
ships, the USS George (DE-697) and USS Raby (DE-698), were in his division. The
USS England (DE-635), of which I was executive officer, was a part of Escort
Our three little ships sortied on the afternoon of 18 May and began heading
toward the position --5° 10' South, 158°
10' East--designated in Admiral Halsey's message for our rendezvous with the
unsuspecting 1-16. The next morning, the crews of our three ships enjoyed one of
those incomparable days that the South Pacific occasionally puts on exhibit. The
sky was clear, the wind was from the east at a gentle force three, and the sea
seemed to be serenely at peace. The illusion of peace was shattered in an
instant. In the early afternoon, as the England was preparing to enter the
search area, Soundman John D. Prock announced, "Contact: Bearing 305°
, range 1,800 yards."
The officer of the deck reacted promptly: "Call the captain and the
exec. Prepare for hedgehog attack. Tell the OTC (officer in tactical command,
who was Commander Hains on board the George) that we have possible submarine on
the starboard bow. We are investigating." Having been told, I scrambled
into the combat information center (CIC) to set up the dead reckoning tracer (DRT)
plot, then headed for the open bridge. Ensign A. D. ("Gus") Daily took
over as recorder operator. The captain and I shared the conn on the bridge
during attacks. By the time I arrived, the range was 700 yards.
"Hedgehogs ready to fire," came the report from the forecastle.
"Echoes sharp and clear," Prock reported confidently. "Believe
target is submarine."
"This will be a nonfiring run," ordered the skipper. "Keep a
sharp eye on him. Let 's be certain it is a sub." The England surged ahead.
At 400 yards, the target turned hard left and kicked her screws. Now we were
sure. We opened out and notified the OTC that we had a definite contact. He
ordered the England to attack and the George and Raby to circle at 2,000 yards,
ready to assist if needed and to have the submarine surrounded in the event we
lost contact. This became standard operating procedure.
The time was now 1337. We headed in for a firing run--our first against a
live enemy target. At 1340, the bearing was 180° and
the range 460 yards. At 1341, the England fired. The first salvo of hedgehogs
arched away and dived into the sea. We waited and listened but heard nothing.
The hedgehog was designed so it wouldn't explode unless it hit a submarine. No
sound meant no hits. Since the target was moving hard right, we had probably
failed to lead her enough and missed to the left.
We opened, regained contact, and turned for our second attack. This time, one
hedgehog hit and exploded at 130 feet, but there was no evidence of damage. Down
below, Commander Takeuchi now knew what kind of weapon we were using (the
hedgehog was still fairly new in these waters) and that we were sure of our
contact. He followed up our course and tried to hide in our wake. For a few
minutes, he succeeded. Then at 1410, we regained contact, bearing 218°
, range 740 yards. We fired on a center bearing with an estimated depth of 200
feet, but our estimate was wrong. As we passed over the target, the Fathometer
showed 325 feet.
The fourth run was a bow attack. Takeuchi was making about three knots and
throwing his rudder from side to side erratically. He fooled us, and again we
missed. But if Takeuchi knew more about us, we also knew more about him. And,
with what we had learned, we decided it was time to put an end to the game. We
opened out, turned, and came in for the kill. Our information looked perfect,
and at 1433 the fifth salvo was up and away. After a few seconds with bated
breath, we heard it-V-R-R-OOM:--four to six hits in such rapid succession that
they seemed simultaneous. Bull's-eye!
Two minutes later, when the cheers were just beginning to die down – WHAM!
The England shuddered. The fantail was lifted a full 6 inches, then plopped
heavily back into the water. Men throughout the ship were knocked off their
feet, and the talker in CIC lost his headphones. The concussion was felt almost
as sharply on board the George and Raby a mile away.
We had, with cataclysmic certainty, heard the last of one Japanese submarine.
Sobered, and more than a little taken aback by that final blast, we no longer
felt like cheering. But we did stand a little straighter. The England had made
her mark, and we new boys were no longer quite so new.
The tremendous underwater explosion must have occurred deeper than 500 feet,
because it was 20 minutes before the first debris appeared. First, there were
many shreds of cork. Then came some deck planking and some pieces of finished
wood that appeared to be the remnants of cabinets. These were followed by a
prayer mat with Japanese characters, a chopstick and some bits of wood with
grains of rice embedded, along with traces of blood. Finally, and most
conclusively, up came a sealed rubber container with its expected bag of rice.
Almost an hour later, a small oil slick appeared. It grew steadily in size, and
at sunset oil was still bubbling to the surface in quantity, along with more
debris. By the following day, the oil slick was 3 miles wide and 6 miles long,
mute evidence of the England's first encounter with the enemy.
On 20 May 1944, Admiral Soemu Tayoda, Commander in Chief Combined Fleet,
issued the order, "Prepare for Operation A-Go." His plan called for
Japanese naval units to draw together and, in effect, ambush the American fleet
during its next offensive. The point of concentration chosen--Tawi Tawi in the
Sulu Archipelago and the other dispositions taken indicated that the Japanese
expected an American line of advance in the direction of the Palaus--along the
path that Admiral Halsey's carriers had, in fact, taken on two previous raids
into the Western Pacific.
Among the recipients of the "A-Go" plan had been Rear Admiral
Nabauro Owada, Commander Submarine Squadron Seven, headquartered on Saipan. His
reaction was recorded in his war diary: "In the A-Go operation, the greater
part of Sub Ron 7 will be concentrated in the area south of the Caroline
Islands, and will engage in patrols, reconnaissance and surprise attacks against
enemy task forces and invasion forces."
With Submarine Squadron Seven' s role in mind, Admiral Owada had already made
his preparations. He would establish a patrol line and blocking force across the
assumed path of enemy advance. Captain Ryonosuka Kato, Commander Submarine
Division 51, was ordered to sortie from Saipan on 17 May, in the RO-105, with
RO-104, RO-109, RO-112, and RO-116 in company. At the same time, separate orders
had been issued to the RO-108 and RO-106 to depart Truk cm 15 May and 16 May,
All seven boats thus deployed were of the latest type of Japanese fleet
submarines, built between 1942 and 1944. Slightly over 200 feet in length, with
a 20-foot beam, displacing 525 tons, they carried a crew of 40 and were armed
with four 21-inch torpedo tubes and two paired 25-mm antiaircraft guns. They had
no radar, but did have a very useful radar detection device. They also had very
effective sound gear and could tune in on, and range on, U. S. sound
frequencies. Safe diving depth was supposedly only 246 feet, but this was
Early in the morning of 20 May, the admiral ordered the formation of
"Scouting line NA," to extend from position 01°
30' North, 150° 30' East to position 00°
30' South, 148° 30' East. All submarines were to be
on station at 0000, 21 May. This dispatch also received unintended,
unauthorized, and lethally prompt distribution. Fron CinCPac to ComSoPac to
ComCortDiv 39, the message went on its way. Late in the afternoon of 20 May, the
England received the following:
"Seven Japanese submarines are believed to be preparing to form
a scouting line in a position between Manus and Truk. Seek out-attack--and
destroy the five submarines in our territory. Do not cross line unless in
hot pursuit of sure contact. Make no report until entering port."
The "do not cross" line referred to in this dispatch was the line
which served to divide the Pacific Ocean Area, under General Douglas MacArthur.
The five submarines in "our" territory were fair game. The two in
"their"--or, as some would have it, "his"--territory were
forbidden fruit. Odd as it seemed at the time, and even more bizarre in
retrospect, these targets were off limits. But, with five prospective birds in
hand, ComCortDiv 39 was not disposed to quibble about two in the bush. He
proposed quite simply to start at the northeast end of the Japanese line and
work down it--leaving it to be seen what might develop in the way of "hot
pursuit." Shortly after dark on 20 May, he had his ships moving northward.
At 0350 on the morning of 22 May, Commander Hains’s "small fleet"
was on a base course of 321° , in line of bearing,
at 4,000--yard intervals. At 0351, the George reported a radar contact, bearing
303° , range 8 miles. Thirty seconds later, as we
went to general quarters, we had a blip on the England's screen. It looked like
a surfaced submarine. The OTC ordered the George and Raby to close and the
England to open out to the northeast, to box the target from that direction.
The George pressed in, and at a range of 4,000 yards, she illuminated the
target with her searchlight. On the bridge of the RO-106, Lieutenant Shigehiro
Uda, whose radar detector had failed him, crash dived. After a fleeting glimpse
of a conning tower on its way under the surface, the George swung back to port,
picked up sound contact, and went in to attack. At 0415, she fired a salvo of
hedgehogs,, missed, and then lost contact.
Commander Hains, with some edginess apparent in his voice, asked if the
England knew where the submarine was. We answered briefly, if not completely
honestly, "Affirmative." The truth was that we thought we knew where
she was. Fortunately for us, a few minutes later, we did. At 0425, we had a
solid contact, bearing 193° , range 2,500 yards. We
went in with echoes sharp and clear but missed with our first covey Of
hedgehogs. We opened, turned, and headed back in quickly. Lieutenant Uda,
changing his tactics, reversed course and came to meet us, bow on. We were
betting that Uda, like Takeuchi before him, had gone deeper--250 feet. At 0501,
after continuing to track the target, we fired a full salvo. V-R-R-OOM! Three or
more hits, at 275 feet. Five minutes dragged by; then as we regained contact and
started another run-WHAM!
For the next hour, the three ships combed the area thoroughly. As day broke,
with violent rain squalls, we saw what our noses had already smelled--a heavy
slick about 600 yards in diameter, with oil bubbling to the surface in a steady
flow. The George reported debris, cork, and deck planking. The rain became
heavier. With visibility obscured, we took our departure. The next day, one of
our patrol planes out of Manus reported the slick still there and still
increasing in size as the shattered hulk of the RO-106 continued to bleed.
Thinking it probable that, like the RO-106, the other submarines in the
"NA" line would be surfacing after dark, we recommended to Commander
Hains that we broaden our radar search by opening our night scouting interval to
16,000 yards. Henceforth, we operated at night on a line of bearing that
measured from flank to flank, 16 miles. At dawn general quarters, we shifted
back to a sound search formation, with 4,000-yard intervals.
On the morning of 23 May, it was still dark when I came on the bridge to take
star sights for celestial navigation. Shortly after 0600 I called the captain to
ask permission to go to general quarters. As Lieutenant Commander Pendleton
arrived to take the conn, we were steaming up the "NA" line on a base
course of 036° with the George as guide 8 miles away
on our port beam and the Raby another 8 miles beyond her. Anticipating the OTC's
order to go to day formation, we were ready to shift our helm at his word. But
when the first sound crackled over the radio, it was from the Raby: "We
have a radar contact bearing 085° , range 8,000
yards." The OTC ordered the Raby to attack, while the George and England
were to close at best speed. With 16 miles to cover, we rang up flank speed and
hoped for something even faster.
As the Raby bored in, Lieutenant Susume Idebuchi, on the bridge of the
RO-104, was more fortunate than his friend Uda. His radar detector picked up the
Raby's emissions, and at a range of 6,000 yards, he pulled the plug. Her radar
screen gone blank, the Raby forged on and, at 0610, made sound contact. Seven
minutes later, she fired her first salvo of hedgehogs-and missed. There were
three more runs, three more salvos, and three more misses. We listened to the
reports, cranked on more turns, and held our breath.
After almost an hour of patient observation, Commander Hains decided it was
time for a change. He called off the Raby and sent in the George. At 0707, the
George fired her first salvo. She not only missed but lost contact as well. When
the England at last arrived on the scene, the George and the Raby were circling
and echo ranging anxiously. Two hundred feet beneath them, the alert Idebuchi
guessed what had happened, ceased pinning, and began making his quiet way the
hell out of there. Heading away at five knots, he almost made it. Then, three
minutes after we took our place in the ring, the George regained contact. The
submarine was outside our circle and slipping off to the northwest.
Again, the George attacked, and again she missed. Between 0730 and 0810, she
made three more firing runs and each time came up empty. Like the Raby, she
found herself baffled by an opponent who was tricky, elusive, disconcertingly
sharp--and lucky. After two frustrating hours, Commander Hains yielded to what
was beginning to appear as the inevitable. With a touch of exasperation, he
ordered the George to sheer off and give way to the England.
We missed on our first firing' run, then went back for another attack. At
0834, the hedgehogs plunged resolutely into the sea, and in a few seconds, we
were rewarded with a V-R-R-R-OOM: of unprecedented and magnificent proportions.
We estimated 10-12 hits, at 300 feet. The first ripple of hits was followed, in
the next half minute, by several more minor explosions. Then, three minutes
later, came the now-to-be-expected WHAM! Once again, a crashing underwater
explosion sent the England reeling.
At 1045, the first debris began to bob to the surface, along with a steady
flow of oil. We lowered a boat to collect the grisly evidence. After half an
hour, we had sufficient wreckage, plus oil samples, and I decided to go below
for a cup of coffee.
Our third success had produced a muted response: some grim satisfaction but
little jubilation. We were, it would seem, beginning to take time for second
thoughts. And when, on my way to the wardroom, I was intercepted by a young
seaman, I could sense what was coming.
"Mr. Williamson," he asked, "How many men on those
"It depends on the type of sub," I replied, "Somewhere
between 40 and 80."
"Sir, how do you feel about killing all those men?"
I gave him the only answer I could. Sherman was right. And the real hell of
it is, once we are in a war, we have no choice. Or a bleak one--kill or be
killed. I had taken the first option--without apology, but not without
compassion. Any further judgment was, as I told him, beyond my province, and
beyond his as well. I believed it then, and I believe it now. My young
inquisitor seemed relieved. At least he thanked me. But somehow, when I finally
reached the wardroom, that cup of coffee didn't taste as good as I thought it
The three destroyer escorts continued to search in the area until dusk, then
formed a night scouting line and resumed their sweep to the southward.
At 0815, 23 May, about the time the England was launching her first attack on
the RO-106, Commander Submarine Squadron Seven received a report of an
intercepted message from a U. S. patrol plane: "Submarine sighted in
position 149 degrees--50' E., 01 degrees-25' N." Admiral Owada, concluding
that this might be one of his boats, slightly off station, issued an order at
0852: "RO-106, 105, 104 will secretly shift to line of bearing 135 degrees,
deployment distance 60 miles."
By this time, the RO-106 had already shifted position, 2,700 fathoms straight
down, and the RO-104 was 20 minutes on her way to the same destination. The
RO-105, if she received the order, delayed too long in executing it. At 1020 on
the morning of 24 May, with the George, Raby, and England still steaming
southward, the George reported a radar contact dead ahead, range 14,000 yards.
All ships went to 20 knots and began to close in on the target. In the RO-116,
Lieutenant Commander Takeshi Okabe got word from his radar detector operator
and, with the George 9,000 yards away, crash dived. At this point, the England
was 8 and one half miles away to the east, with the target bearing 274°
. At 0147, we reached the George and Raby, reduced speed, and joined in the
sound search. At 0150, we had a contact bearing 307°
, range 1,750 yards. Immediately, the target started evasive tactics.
Commander Okabe, 200 feet beneath us, continued to kick one screw and then
the other, with frequent shifts of rudder. In addition, as we closed range and
shortened our pinging interval, he would ping with his sound gear, thereby
fouling up our echoes. He heard the England pass overhead without firing and
followed up her wake. After we completed a second run without firing, we
believed the submarine was turning left. But when we turned and headed for her,
the target swung around and came for us. At 700 yards and closing fast, we
continued pinging at the interval normally used for 1,000 yards. The ruse
worked: there was no counterranging and no last-minute maneuvering. When we
fired at 0214, the target appeared to have just about stopped. Three to five
hedgehogs exploded at 180 feet. The initial V-R-R-R-OOM: was followed almost
immediately by rumbling noises and several more minor explosions. But as we
hauled off and waited for the expected conclusions, we heard nothing. We
continued to search the area, without avail, until at sunrise, 0702, we saw the
confirming evidence. But it was comparatively sparse--a few small patches of oil
and some deck planking. Another confirmation was the presence of many, many
sharks in and near the area where we found debris. We had seen excited sharks in
every sinking except the first. At 0817, we got underway to resume the patrol.
we returned to the area the following morning, and any doubts we might have had
were now removed. The oil and debris covered an area of several square miles. We
picked up oil samples and retrieved some deck planking with the belts embedded,
a chopstick, a piece of mahogany, some varnished wood with Japanese characters,
and a pair of oil-soaked gloves.
On 25 May, at about the time that the RO-116 was departing the area the hard
way, Admiral Owada received a signal from the RO-109, informing him that, in
view of the likelihood of discovery in the area of the "NA" line, she
was withdrawing 60 miles due north. This unauthorized, but highly judicious,
departure probably saved the Japanese Navy one submarine. Meanwhile, a new
American force was making its entrance. On 22 May, Admiral Halsey had formed a
hunter-killer group composed of the escort carrier Hoggatt Bay (CVE-75) and
destroyers McCord (DD-534). This group, with Captain W. V. Saunders of the
Hoggatt Bay as OTC, was ordered to proceed to the vicinity of the "NA"
line and, in conjunction with our three destroyer escorts, to complete the
mission of "Seek out and destroy."
Since Commander Hains had, as ordered, made no reports, Captain Saunders
arrived on station early in the morning of 26 May with no knowledge of what we
had been doing. Commander Hains consequently detached the England at 0200, with
orders to rendezvous with the Hoggatt Bay at dawn and convey a full report. We
reported as directed and at the same time notified Captain Saunders that
ComCortDiv 39, with all three ships extremely low on fuel and ammunition, had
been ordered to the nearest friendly port for replenishment. The nearest
friendly port being Manus in the Southwest Pacific Area, Admiral Halsey had, as
required, obtained permission from General MacArthur for our
"intrusion" into his bailiwick. We were to head for Seeadler Harber,
there to meet with the USS Spangler (DE-696) en route from Purvis Bay with more
Presented with this opportunity to cross the "do not cross" line
lawfully, Commander Hains decided to make the most of it. Instead of making
directly for Manus, we would take a course that would, quite by coincidence, run
down the southwestern extremity of the "NA" line, then veer eastward.
This exercise of initiative paid off. At 1930 on the evening of 26 May, the
submarine hunters formed a night scouting line on base course 220°
. At 2303, the Raby reported a radar contact bearing 180°
, range 14,000 yards. One minute later, the England had contact. We went to
general quarters and made preparations for illumination by star shells, main
battery fire, and torpedo attack. At the same time, we discontinued echo
ranging, hoping to approach undetected. I had always wanted: ever since I had
learned of antisubmarine warfare--to sink a submarine with a torpedo. As we
changed course to head for the target, she changed course toward us. I planned
to launch our torpedoes at 3,000 yards, but on board the RO-108, Lieutenant
Kanichi Kohari finally got a warning. Just as we came up on 4,000 yards, our
We headed for the point of submergence and began echo ranging. At 2318, we
had a good sound contact, bearing 277° , range 1,700
yards. In CIC, where we had been conning the ship, issuing star shell elevations
and fuse settings, and giving directions for torpedo attack, we shifted into the
more familiar routine, and I headed for the bridge. As the salvo of hedgehogs
flew through the darkness, I waited with what I hoped looked like confidence but
was actually closer to desperation. With this pattern gone, we would have
exactly one more shot of hedgehogs left in our locker. It wasn't needed. Four to
six hedgehogs exploded at 250 feet. Twenty seconds later, we heard several more
underwater explosions, followed by loud rumbling noises. The elapsed time from
first radar contact to final explosion was 19 and one half minutes. The long
night passed, and at daybreak we put a boat over to collect the usual evidence.
The debris, with scattered patches of oil, covered 2 square miles. Near the
center, a fountain of oil bubbled to the surface.
The three destroyer escorts arrived at Manus at 1500, 27 May. That night and
the following day, we took on fuel, provisions, and ammunition. At 1800 on the
28th, with the USS Spangler (DE-696)--also of Escort Division 39--added to the
company, the group got under way to return to the "NA" line and resume
Meanwhile, on 26 May, ComSubRon Seven on Saipan received an intercept of a
plain language transmission from an American plane, reporting an attack on a
Japanese submarine, as a result, the admiral issued an order for his entire line
to shift 60 miles to the west. But of the seven submarines addressed, four were
no longer around to receive the order, one had already departed the area, and
one, the RO-105, either did not receive the message or chose to ignore it. The
only boats to report arrival on the new station were the RO-109, which had taken
its own head start and called in on 30 May, and the RO-112, which arrived on the
In the early morning hours of 30 May, the pace began to quicken for the
American ships on patrol. In Captain Saunder's hunter-killer group, the
Hazelwood, screening the Hoggatt Bay, picked up a radar contact at 0156, bearing
230ø, range 10,000 yards. On board the RO-105, Captain Ryonosuka Kato (ComsubDiv
51) and the submarine's skipper, Lieutenant Junichi Knoue, received prompt
information- The Hazelwood had just started to pick up speed when the radar blip
disappeared. A few minutes later, the Hazelwood achieved sound contact and made
a depth charge attack. She missed.
Our group of destroyer escorts was then in the general area but outside of
radar range. When the Hazelwood asked for our position, Commander Hains offered
our assistance. Since the George and Raby were closer to the spot, he ordered
them to close on the Hazelwood, while the England and Spangler were ordered to
continue to patrol down the line. It was with extreme regret, from our
standpoint, that we were excluded. For more than six hours, starting shortly
after 0400, the destroyer and two destroyer escorts attacked with hedgehogs and
depth charges. "It seemed", the frustrated Commander Hins said later,
"that no matter from what direction the search was made, the contact was
always behind a wake."
What Hains didn't know at the time was that his opponent was one of the
senior Japanese submariners, determined to use every bit of his experience and
cunning to the bitter end. And with Captain Kato giving the orders, this was
only the beginning. More hours passed. The Raby and George continued to fire
their hedgehogs and continued to miss. The deadly cats-and-mouse game went on
through the night.
While all of this was occurring, the England and Spangler were continuing to
patrol in routine fashion. We had run to the end of the submarine scouting line
and were now returning. At 0300 in the early morning of the 31st, as we
approached the point where the George and Raby had left us, we began to hear
voices on the radio. But we couldn't make radar contact and had no idea of their
location. We gathered from the snatches of conversation that came through to us
that they had a submarine contact and were actively stalking. Desiring to be
helpful, we called in to offer our services and ask for a position.
Our polite gesture evoked a rude (and probably unauthorized) answer. The
respondent, after a day and a night of stress and disappointment, was not only
tired but irritable. He snapped back indignantly: "We are not going to tell
you where we are. We have a damaged sub, and we are going to sink him. Do not
come near us." Rebuffed, we gave up any idea of crashing the party and
returned to patrolling. Then fate, acting through a desperate Captain Kato, took
a hand. After almost 25 hours of deep silence, with only a few snatched breaths
the RO-105 had to have air. Calculating his position to a nicety, Kato suddenly
surfaced, midway between the George and the Raby.
Both ships immediately obtained radar contact, at 2,000 yards. The alert, but
now weary Captain Kato and Lieutenant Knoue maneuvered their submarine to remain
between the two destroyer escorts so they would be in each other' s line of
fire. Commander Hains ordered his ships to clear the line of fire, illuminate
the submarine, and open fire. Fate now led the England to the scene. As a seaman
on board the Raby switched on a 24-inch searchlight and started to train it, his
hand slipped and the beam tilted upward. Thirty miles to the northwest, we saw
the vertical pencil of light in the sky and began to close at best speed. If
Nelson could turn a blind eye to an undesirable order, we figured we were
entitled to turn a deaf ear--particularly to a message that was, in any event,
The RO-105 remained on the surface for five minutes, while the George and
Raby maneuvered to clear their line of fire, then submerged again, unscathed. At
0315, the Raby regained sound contact and made two dry runs and one hedgehog
attack, with no success. At 0415, the OTC decided to hold off while retaining
contact, then resume attacking at dawn. As the England and Spangler bore down at
flank speed, we met with another, but somewhat gentler, rebuff. We ware asked to
stand off, at 5,000 yards, and wait for orders.
At first light, the OTC went back on the offensive, with the George making
the first run. She fired at 0649, but achieved no hits. The Raby followed and
fired at 0659 she also missed. The OTC called in the Spangler for her debut. She
gave it her best, but the salvo of hedgehogs disappeared with no effect. At
0729, Commander Hains picked up the mike and said resignedly, "OK, England,
it's your turn."
We were ready. When the signal came, we had edged in to 2,000 yards and had a
good contact. We went in on a stern chase, pinging through the submarine's wake.
At 0736, our salvo was on its way. A few seconds later-V-R-R-R-OOM: Six to ten
charges exploded at 200 feet. On the bridge of the George, Commander Hains also
exploded; "Goddamit, how do you do it?"
After five minutes and 43 seconds, we heard the usual WHAM: The explosion was
violent and very deep. At first, not even a swirl of water came to the surface.
Then, as we continued to comb the area, a fountain of oil bubbled up, 500 yards
from the point of attack. The debris gradually followed. Once more, we lowered a
boat and recovered oil samples, pieces of deck planking, shreds of insulating
cork, a fragment of interior wood painted red, bottle stoppers (one with a
Japanese label) and a bar of soap. Once more, too, we saw dozens of excited
sharks. The RO-105, after withstanding 21 separate attacks over a period of 30
agonizing hours, had gone to her final port of call, defiant to the last.
Departing the scene late in the afternoon of 31 May, the four destroyer
escorts resumed patrol. But with six submarines destroyed (including the food
carrying 1-16), and and two beyond reach (the RO-109, for unknown reasons, left
station and departed for Truk that same day, and the RO-112 was safely in
sanctuary, across the line) the remainder of the cruise was, in a word,
The epitaph for Submarine Division 51, and the final comment on the 12 days
of the England, was provided on 13 June 1944, As the U. S. forces moved in for
the invasion of Saipen, Vice Admiral Takeo Takagi sent an urgent appeal to
Admiral Owada. All the available strength of Submarine Squadron Seven was to be
immediately stationed east of Saipan, to intercept and destroy the American
carriers and transports "at any cost". Aamiral Owada replied,
"This squadron has no submarines to station east of Saipan."
On 25 June, the RO-104, RO-105, RO-106, RO-108, and RO-116 were posted as
missing, presumed sunk. Captain Ryonosuko Kato was posthumously promoted to rear
admiral. In the United States, the feat of the England went almost unnoticed,
save for a message from Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in
Chief, U. S. Fleet. With unaccustomed flair, the admiral announced,
"There'll always be an England in the .United States Navy."