Friday, October 14, 2005

Dispatched To Eternal Patrol By The Chaos of Battle

In the 1990 film The Hunt for Red October based on Tom Clancy's 1984 thriller, future U.S. Senator Fred Dalton Thompson (R-TN) plays Rear Admiral Joshua Painter aboard aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. One of the greatest lines of the entire movie is when Admiral Painter says, "This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we will be lucky to live through it."

The line expresses with perfection the likely fate of the submarine USS SEAWOLF (SS-197) on her 15th war patrol, during the invasion of Morotai.

The Navy admits SEAWOLF (her location then unknown) was probably sunk by units of her own navy. It was Tuesday, October 3, 1944. SEAWOLF and NARWHAL (ss-167) exchanged 'SJ' radar recognition signals at 0756. Two planes1 from USS MIDWAY (CVE-63), responding to the torpedoing and sinking of USS Shelton (DE-407) by Japanese IJN submarine (RO-41) eighteen miles away, bombed an unidentified submarine around 11 AM. The planes dropped a dye marker at the sub's last location. Soon, USS Rowell (DE-403) , arrived and saturated the area (which was within a designated submarine safe passage lane) with its depth charges.

In the ensuing chaos, faint (probably morse code) signals detected from below were interpreted as enemy attempts to jam Rowell's sound gear. The lethal attack continued until a large air bubble, oil slick and some floating debris were spotted. Later, the Navy realized SEAWOLF3 was overdue, and all 79 lives aboard had been lost.

SEAWOLF, known as Submarine Raider of the Pacific, and her crews had served their country proudly from the very first days of the war in the Pacific. Her missions had been expensive for the enemy, daring for her crew and distinctive for her bold commanding officers, including "Fearless Freddie" Warder3, who penetrated over 40 miles into a heavily protected harbor to engage the enemy. During her first fourteen patrols, SEAWOLF had sunk 27 enemy ships, and damaged 13. She had received the Navy Unit Commendation for her fourth patrol. On her thirteenth patrol, a Top Secret photographic reconnaissance of Peleliu (Palau), she rescued two downed aviators during air raids. On her fourteenth patrol, SEAWOLF delivered cargo to guerrilla activities in the Philippines.

Notes: -1- Another sub, USS STINGRAY (SS-186) had also been attacked by planes from the Midway in the designated safety lane that day, but was luckier and survived the war. -2- Albert Bontier, unlucky new captain of SEAWOLF when she sank, had been assigned to command the aging sub after having been relieved of duty for running RAZORBACK aground off New London. SEAWOLF was en route to Samar with 17 U.S. Army agents and tons of "supplies" aboard when sunk. -3- As commander of the Atlantic submarine force, Rear Admiral Frederick B. Warder's flagship was SEAWOLF's nuclear namesake, SSN 575.


At 18 October, 2005 03:32, Blogger OP said...

Thanks for the history lesson Vigilis. I've read quite a bit about WW-II and I was not aware of a friendly fire sub sinking until now. Very tragic, completely unnecessary, yet not surprising at all given that we send ordinary human beings into combat and expect them to be perfect. The fog of war.


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