USS Gunnel SS-253 Port side view 1945
ss-253 image

First War Patrol

October 19, 1942 - December 7, 1942

Operation Torch

The invasion of North Africa

On October 19th the GUNNEL set out for Fedala French Morocco. She arrived several days before D-Day to photograph the proposed beachhead and make a general reconnaissance of Casa Blanca and Fedala.

GUNNEL, under the command of Lieut. Commander John S. McCain Jr., was one of five American submarines assigned to Operation Torch, a major allied invasion of North Africa, the largest amphibious operation up to that time; a prelude to the subsequent defeat of Axis forces in Italy and the Mediterranean, setting the stage for the allied landings two years later across the beaches of Normandy to liberate France and subsequently crush the German war machine.

GUNNEL departed New London, Connecticut on her first war patrol at midnight on 18 October 1942 under sealed orders and on a secret course for Fedala, French Morocco, a town about 15 miles north of Casablanca. Mel Dry the Executive Officer/Navigator at the time, later reminisced on the importance of the mission during a speach shortly after the war at the Norwich, Connecticut Rotary Club: "One of my experiences on the USS GUNNEL could serve as an example of a submarine war patrol in which not a torpedo was fired, but a secret mission was well done."

Prior to departure from New London, a wooden crate 6' x 2' x 2' had been delivered to the boat and carried into the control room, where in the words of Ed Leidholdt: "It was cussed and discussed throughout the voyage as the men maneuvered awkwardly around it in the performance of their duties. Only the Captain and possibly also the Exec, had received any briefing regarding its eventual disposition. The crew called it "the secret weapon" and speculated endlessly about what the box might contain."

The submarine set course for North Africa, and in the words of Mel Dry: "The Captain then explained our intended part in the Casablanca campaign. We were to be a lighthouse or guide post for our invasion force. We were to proceed to Fedala, a town about 15 miles north of Casablanca,(1) arriving there five days in advance of the day set for the landing. We were to determine the best landing places and make a complete photo reconnaissance (with a camera which could be attached to the eyepiece of the periscope) of the area. We were to remain undetected at any cost and were ordered to fire no torpedoes at any French vessels until a specified time.This didn't mean we couldn't fire at a U-boat if we found one."

"During the crossing of the South Atlantic the Captain called for volunteers for a commando squad in case the sub was spotted by fishing craft -- despite best efforts to avoid detection --during the final approaches to the Moroccan coast. The orders: sink, and neutralize the crews. The finalists included Ed Leidholdt, Rembrandt Witt and Lieut. Lloyd "Joe" Vasey (does anyone remember the others?). Excitement ran high as the commandos trained, fashioned blackjacks, readied the rubber boat and small arms,and blackened faces with charcoal in anticipation of their first boarding. Sorely disappointed their services were not needed, some of the commandos later had the opportunity to show their mettle during war patrols in the Western Pacific." (Ed Leidholdt, Joe Vasey)

Mel Dry continued: "As navigator I found travelling 3000 miles and having to make a land-fall while submerged a new and interesting experience. After five days of submerged reconnoitering and picture -taking by day and nights spent on the surface dodging Moroccan fishermen we had developed some fairly good pictures of our objective. These were made ready for transfer to the first amphibious group."

"One day while we were photographing the Fedala Harbor, two French destroyers were observed moving and stopping. No doubt they were apparently listening on their sound gear. Everyone thought they had heard us, but we made like a dark hole and it was lucky for them we were not allowed to shoot." ( Bill Stamper)

Ed Leidholdt continues: "Meanwhile the lid of the wooden crate was finally removed the afternoon of 7 November. Curious heads continually poked into the control room to witness the solution of the mystery. What they saw was a steel frame of approximately the same dimensions as the crate and, mounted on the frame, five small searchlights that resembled the automobile headlights of the time.To each headlight was attached a shutter that could be opened and closed by a 2.5- foot lever. It was clear that this was a signaling device.

"GUNNEL surfaced that evening at a pre-designated time and position two miles off Fedala, and the contraption was taken to the top of the superstructure of the boat, above the conning tower, where a sturdy bracket had previously been welded for mounting it securely. The contrivance could be rotated 180 degrees to cover the area from south to north. The method of operation was obvious to a trained signalman. It was disclosed at that time that the lights were infra-red and could not be seen by the naked eye ; they were visible only to the incoming fleet, equipped with special infra-red binoculars. This phenomenon was new to GUNNEL personnel and, they hoped, to the enemy as well."

The night was very dark, no moon and ideal for the occasion. But the action was soon to start as noted in the skipper's patrol report:

November 7, 1942, 2250 (Z): Pinging of large number of ships heard. Start making prearranged signal on infra red signaling device.

Shortly, Signalman 1/C Leidholdt,standing on the bridge, sighted through binoculars a number of ships approaching from the west. Mel Dry described the ensuing scene: "The armada arrived exactly on schedule, and a sight I'll never forget was my first glimpse of this huge fleet visible for only brief moments during flashes of lightning. All ships were completely darkened but we knew that our fleet was spread out from 500 yards to 25 miles in front of us."

"The Captain had previously ordered me to commence flashing the two- letter signal "FM" over the l80 degree arc. Throughout the night, the bridge watch observed the arriving vessels as they proceeded to their assigned positions, lowered their landing craft into the water, and loaded them with troops." (Ed Leidholdt)

Communications and recognition soon became a matter of life and death for the GUNNEL as the approaches to the coast became congested with landing craft and maneuvering warships. American submarines were a rare commodity in the Eastern Atlantic, and nervous allied gunners were inclined to shoot at anything resembling a submarine.

2315: Challenged US Destroyer No. 600 and received proper reply. From then on, one ship after another passed in the dark. Lightning flashes indicated a much larger force than I anticipated.

Historian Samuel Eliot Morrison, in THE TWO OCEAN WAR,stated: "One of the most amazing things about this bold operation (Torch) was the secrecy with which so great an expeditionary force -- 105 sail (ships) in the Western Task Force (French Morocco) alone......was assembled and transported.......The Germans knew that something was in the wind, but never guessed what."

One hair-raising experience was described in SUBMARINE OPERATIONS IN WORLD WAR II by historian Theodore Roscoe: "Suddenly they (GUNNEL) were under the guns of a passing cruiser -- so obviously under the cruiser's guns, that McCain with no chance to exchange signals, had to bellow his submarine's identity through a megaphone.

" 'And if those boys shoot', he shouted down the conning tower, 'we'll give them a torpedo!' Happily the megaphone carried the word to the cruiser's bridge. A close call! It seems the British Admiralty had changed the recognition signals during the night, and the beacon submarines were not advised of the switch!"

"Not mentioned by Roscoe was an earlier message from the American task force commander reporting that Vichy French warships-- cruisers, destroyers and submarines --were sortieing from Casablanca harbor. GUNNEL's bridge watch had been alerted to this dangerous situaton unfolding and when the "passing cruiser" was first seen emerging from the mist like a grey ghost, an alert watchstander initially reported it as French.

"Just before first light the GUNNEL, its mission as a reconnaisance and beacon submarine successfully completed (2) was ordered by the task force commander to fly the American flag from the jack-staff, illuminate with a spotlight and clear the area at maximum speed, proceeding on the surface to an area off the coast in the vicinity of the Canary Islands. It was a thrilling sight for the bridge watch to see the Stars and Stripes proudly flying in a stiff breeze as the sub started through the armada of American ships." (Joe Vasey)

While American surface ships were still blasting the fortifications at Fedala and Casablanca in the early dawn, and engaged every French vessel they could find, GUNNEL's topside watch standers had a ringside seat to the spectacular fireworks display as noted by Bill Stamper: "I went on watch at 0400 and was in the conning tower by 0345. The excitement by everyone was apparent and when I climbed to the after lookout platform was astounded by the many ships. I was not prepared for the rush of sound that the huge shells made on passing overhead. Nor did I know that we could follow them by the halo- like glow that they made passing through the atmosphere (several of the one- ton projectiles fired by the battleship Masssachusetts passed directlty over the sub). There were a few rounds that headed back toward the fleet. I recall that the Vichy French battleship Jean Bart was in the area."

"The Captain allowed crew members topside in relays to enjoy the show.While some were on the bridge and the entire GUNNEL crew all feeling like heroes for having reeived a "Well done" from Commander Submarine Squadron Commander 50 then on board the cruiser Augusta, an American plane mistook GUNNEL for a French submarine or U-boat" (Mel Dry)

November 8, 1942, 0430 (Z): Left area on surface at 18 knots, course 045° (T).

0735: Submerged when strafed by Army P-40 plane. This is the first time the GUNNEL was fired upon, but not the last.

"A short time before I was to be relieved as aft lookout, I saw something passing before my binoculars. I pulled them down and realized that we were being strafed by one of our own planes. He had dropped out of the overcast shooting. None of us had any trouble making a fast trip down the conning hatch as we dove to safety." (Bill Stamper)

Chief Torpedoman Ralph Bottoms in charge of the forward torpedo room recalled his impression of the scene below decks when the aerial bomb suddenly exploded underwater, severely jolting the submarine: "Some of us crew members were always horsing around and I thought one of the guys had lost his temper and hit me on the jaw. The sudden concussion had knocked me down and I hit the floor plates. A red curtain seemed to fall over my eyes temporarily. The boat was going down at a very steep angle and all kinds of objects were falling off the shelves and out of the lockers.Finally we were able to surface by blowing all ballast tanks and reversing the motors."

Mel Dry commented: "We dived just in time to prevent any damage or personnel casualties. Cursing the zoomies we surfaced in about 20 minutes and proceeded as directed. A friendly plane which witnessed the encounter decided to protect us by giving us escort out of the area."

"The pilot of this single-engine float plane, carried by cruisers at the time, initially contacted the sub via flashing light with a witty greeting: 'Good morning sallow face, I am here to protect you.' Later another plane identified as French (2-engine pusher type?) approached the sub from the coast but was chased away by our air escort, who pursued it toward the coastline. We never saw or heard from this brave soul again." (Joe Vasey)

0750: Surfaced. Watched bombardment of Casablanca through glasses.

1202: Submerged from unidentified plane. 1203 plane dropped bomb which exploded over the conning tower knocking paint off bulkhead.

When the American bomber was sighted heading for the sub from the direction of the sun, Excutive Officer Mel Dry -- who had been called to the bridge -- ordered a crash dive when the plane, ignoring our recognition signals, dipped a wing and turned into its dive toward the boat. He later recalled: "Again we dived just in time, but when his bomb went off we were passing 150 feet at such angle we thought we'd never get levelled off. It was a close one -- some of the folks in the conning tower were nicked on the face by flying paint chips."

Bill Stamper was in his bunk in the forward torpedo room trying to get some rest after standing watch as a lookout on the bridge. "I was awakened by the diving alarm,and word was passed that a plane was bombing us. We took a really dangerous down angle, but we didn't seem to be going down. There was a report from a "talker" in the after torpedo room that the screws were breaking the surface.We seemed to just hang there and finally dropped, and the bomb exploded when it hit the water. Several of the lookouts that saw the plane reported it as ours.

Not surprisingly the men on duty in the engine rooms, accustomed to the regular banging and roar of the powerful diesels were initially unaware that the boat was under attack. Rudolph Velle, Fireman 3/c at the time picks up on the story: "Being relegated to the after engine room with all engines on the line, we didn't know or hear we were bombed until afterwards. Such was life in the engine rooms with the deafening noise of the engines pounding on our eardrums incessantly."

There was even more danger for GUNNEL that day than was known by anyone aboard the submarine at the time. In a conversation with Bill Stamper after the war, skipper McCain informed him that he had met the captain of a Vichy French submarine who claimed to have fired two torpedoes at GUNNEL off Casablanca.

1800: Proceeded to assigned patrol area.(in the vicinity of the Canary Islands)

"Under orders to look for Vichy French warships, the sub spent the next few days running down and identifying numerous contacts, including fishing trawlers and merchantmen from the so-called "neutral" nations -- Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland. No French naval vessels were seen. On one occasion the Captain maneuvered the submarine to run parallel with periscope exposed, 300 yards abeam of a slow-moving Spanish freighter suspected of hauling war supplies for Germany.Taking turns at the periscopes, GUNNEL crewmen shed no tears, watching the Spanish sailors donning lifejackets in a state of panic." (Joe Vasey)

One evening while the sub was submerging near the Canary Islands, the forward engine room personnel reported they were unable to completely close the main air-induction flapper valve; water was coming in. The Captain called for a volunteer to go topside after surfacing to check the problem. Chief Motor Machinist Mate Harry Kaczur recalled that evening vividly: "Since it was my engine-room responsibility he did not need a volunteer . Machinist Mate Walter Farmer and I would go topside and do what was necessary. We took a bucket of tools in case it was necessary to remove the "soft patch" and infra-red flashlights. Knowing that the sub might have to dive while we were topside, we tied life-lines to our bodies and the other ends to part of the conning tower but were prepared to cut loose quickly if necessary.We had our life jackets on and knew we would be picked up when the sub was surfaced and all was clear.

"Thank God this was not necessary. We were successful in removing a long piece of driftwood which caused the problem. On the way down the hatch to the control room,I presented it to the Captain as a memento. He rewarded each of us with a shot of medicinal brandy; we both looked frozen from the cold night. Walter Farmer gave me his. He did not drink spirits."

November 11, 1942 2148 (Z): Sighted green flare bearing 032°(T) and increased speed to 18 knots. Never able to pick up anything. Each previous experience (2-3), I went down on the initial bearing but decided this time to put the flare on the bow.

"Several more flares were seen over the next ten days, most at night; distances were extremely difficult to estimate. They resembled a Fourth of July pyrotechnic, exploding without warning a few hundred feet over the water, with the green flares spiraling downward for 20 - 30 seconds ,obviously suspended under mini-parachutes. Since no aircraft were detected during any of the incidents, the flares were believed to be U- boat contact or rendezvous signals, with the American sub as the quarry -- not a very comforting thought for any of us. Additional lookouts were detailed to GUNNEL's bridge watch while we were on the surface, and the sub made emergency dives on several occasions, attempting to get bearings and ranges via sonar. But sonars were not precise in those days and ranges were limited." (Joe Vasey)

November 13,1942 1800 (Z): Received from Comsubron-50:- 1219Z/13 RELEASED FROM DUTY

"GUNNEL was temporarily assigned to the operational control of the Royal British Navy and directed to proceed to a base at Greenock (Roseneath), Scotland, on a route as directed by Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM). These orders were a disappointment to the crew, who had been hoping the sub could stop off at Casablanca for liberty and then proceed to Australia, where the hunting was known to be good." (Mel Dry)

1900: Proceeding on surface as routed by F.O.S.

November 16, 1942, 0738 (Z): Proceeding on prescribed route to Base. Sighted submarine (apparently German) bearing 062° (T) about six miles on parallel course 284° (T). Submerged immediately and came to course 062° (T). Submarine apparently sighted us about the same time for he submerged at 0740. Continued toward him on course 062°, rigged for silent running. Nothing was seen or heard.

1035: Gave up and surfaced. Main engine gear train carried away on No. 1 main engine.

"The engine casualty became apparent when an unusual noise was heard in the after part of No. 1 engine. It was immediately secured by the engine room watch. The control room crew was alerted to the seriousness of the problem when Chief Motor Machinist Mate E. W. Murphy passed through their station on his way to see the Captain. It was clear from Murphy's grim expression and lack of his usual banter that whatever he was holding in his hands, cupped together in front of him, represented some major casualty in the engine room. It would soon be learned that Murphy was carrying pulverized metal from the gear train to No.1 main engine" (Ed Leidholdt)

Subsequent examination revealed the entire main gear train had carried away. Gear teeth on each gear, inspected visually, were found to be sheared off and otherwise distorted......Identical casualties occurred in the other three main engines on November 19.......November 20.......and November 25.......(Captain's Patrol Report)(3)

At the time of the casualty to the last engine,the sub was in an extremely hostile environment one thousand miles from the Scotland base. Bill Stamper later commented, "I believe the skipper of another submarine named his engines after four of the Apostles. Our HORs were in Lucifer's class."

"In spite of the exhaustive efforts of GUNNEL's highly skilled 'motor macs',it was impossible to revive the engines. The boat now depended for all its electrical power on the auxiliary engine,affectionately known as the 'dinky' and the 'Cannonball' and normally used solely for auxiliary power (lighting, air conditioning,etc.).Re-rigged by the engineerss for propulsion, it was capable of only 4 to 5 knots on the surface --and 2.5 knots submerged. Under this puny source of power, GUNNEL limped toward England, often submerged by day and on the surface during darkness, through a U-boat infested area just West of Spain and off the Bay of Biscay." (Ed Leidholdt)

"Meanwhile,it was necessary to break radio silence and report the submarine's predicament to FOSM amd US naval authorities. GUNNEL was directed to proceed to the Falmouth naval base on the southern coast of England,and the British offered to send an escort or even a tug to tow the sub. Both offers were promptly and unequivocally declined by Captain McCain as he chomped down hard on his cigar." (Joe Vasey)

"In order to preserve precious battery power for emergencies (dives and submerged opertions when enemy forces were suspected or encountered), lighting and the use of fans were cut to a minimum,meals were reduced to the simplest of fare,and personnel were charged with monitoring their individual consumption of fresh water. If the "Cannon ball" failed, GUNNEL would be dead in the water,without lights, refrigeration or other electrically powered essentials. One of the motor macs tried to inject some levity into the situation by placing a statue of Buddha on a pedestal in front of the "dinky" and requiring all who passed to bow respectfully" (Ed Leidholdt)

Harry Kaczur remembers one occasion when it almost failed to live up to the high expectations of the crew. He and other engineers were trying to get some rest after their exhausting and heart wrenching attempts to get a few more hours of operation out of the main engines. "Someone shook me and said,'Get up, Chief, we have troubles.' My answer was that if the Free French were bombing us, I wanted to go down with my boots and saddle [clothes] on. It was Motor Machinist Mate Al Kottenstette from the after engine room, who said the problem this time was with the auxiliary engine.

"The Captain called and asked if repairs were feasible. I reported I had a spare cylinder head and felt that was the extent of the damage.When we dove, the cylinder head was replaced and the engine successfully tested for several hours. We were lucky that no further damage occurred to the engine, bearings, seals, etc."

November 18, 1942, 1110 (Z): Proceeding to Base on prescribed route. Sighted object on horizon bearing 208 ° (T), distance about 5 miles. Submerged. Object, later identified as US submarine, on parallel course passed 2,000 yards on ninety track, straight bow shot a big disappointment.

November 19, 1942, 1640: Sighted ship bearing 159° (T). 1658: Identified as Anti-Submarine screen of expected convoy north bound.

"Shortly we detected through the high periscope the masts of several other ships coming over the horizon; at first they looked like match sticks. Allied convoys were known to pass occasionally through this area, monitored and under routing and operational control of the Admiralty. GUNNEL also held intelligence reports of small German convoys to and from Southern Africa and beyond about once a month. The Captain licked his chops at the prospect that German ships might soon be in the cross-hairs of his attack scope. It seemed inconceivable that the Admiralty would route an allied convoy through our vicinity without letting us know. Captain McCain ordered 'battle stations' and all torpedo tubes readied for firing.

"But caution was the better part of valor, and frequent observations were made through the attack scope endeavoring to identify the nationality of the three anti-submarine escorts as they drew closer. The communications officer, Ed Kneisel, frantically searched the ship recognition manuals carried by all allied warships and could find nothing that even faintly resembled the three escorts, nor was there anything helpful in the manual covering German, Italian, and French warships. The British liaison officer on board GUNNEL for this patrol was called to the scope and flatly declared, 'We have nothing even remotely resembling these ships in the Royal Navy.' Our Exec, Mel Dry, looked through the scope, and hastily examined the manuals, as did I after the Captain pulled me away from the Torpedo Data Computer(TDC) to observe the escorts. (Joe Vasey)

"By this time the three ASW ships had detected GUNNEL, and the pinging of their ASDICs (active sonars) was resonating sharply off the sub's hull. This was at 3,000 yards or less as they zeroed in on us; the convoy had already made a 90-degree turn away. Chomping on his unlit cigar, the Captain announced: 'If those b_____s drop depth charges we are going to give it to them.'

Fortunately, before the moment of truth was reached, the Captain spotted the British ensign flying on the closest escort as it changed course radically causing its flag to stand out stiffly in the wind. We found out later that these ships had 'fixed sonar', necessitating sharp zig-zags to keep zeroing in on GUNNEL. We were lucky." (Joe Vasey).

1708: Fired red smoke bomb, trained stern tubes on nearest corvette and awaited results.

"The small bomb attached to a rocket fired via the underwater signal tube arched high in the air before unleashing a mini-parachute suspending the bomb beneath with red smoke trailing as it descended. This was a common submarine submarine emergency signal in allied navies.The lead corvette immediately responded via Morse code over the sonar, ordering the submarine to surface, pointed away from the ships. GUNNEL promptly complied and on broaching was in the center of a triangle with the guns of all three warships pointed at us.

"The senior in command aboard H.M.S. Londonderry shouted via a loud hailer (electric megaphone), 'Good thing you fired that red smoke, old chap -- we were about to blast you out of the water.' Without further ado, GUNNEL resumed its prescribed routing. Days later on reaching port, we discovered that the US had recently transferred three large Coast Guard cutters to the Royal Navy -- not yet noted in the recognition manuals, at least up to the time we departed New London" (Joe Vasey)

At this point the GUNNEL had been fired upon at least 2 times by friendly forces and apparently the captain was not going to take any chances.

1725: Surfaced and proceeded on prescribed route. No. 3 main engine out of commission, casualty same as reported for No. 1 main engine.

November 20, 1942, 1600(Z): No. 2 main engine out of commission, same casualty as previously reported. Auxiliary engine becoming more important as cruise progresses.

November 21, 1942; Proceeding on prescribed route, submerging by day. Discovered broken tooth on drive gear of No. 4 main engine. Auxiliary engine now veritable favorite of whole ship's force. It subsequently took us into port at five knots charging the batteries and air banks faithfully each night. In separate correspondence I have adequately expressed my feelings.

"As the submarine drew nearer to the English coast , the unidentified green flares were still seen occasionally, usually at night, causing increased concern in view of our vulnerability. Early one morning GUNNEL picked up on radar -- allied submarine's one advantage over the U-boats at that time -- the presence of another vessel in the vicinity. Lookouts then made out the contours of a submarine in the distance. It could not be positively determined through the haze whether the craft was British or German, but its failure to send a recognition signal raised the strong possibility that it was a Nazi U-boat. Both submarines continued uninterrupted on their courses in opposite directions." (Ed Leidholdt)

"In compliance with directions from FOSM, GUNNEL surfaced shortly before first light November 26 at a designated position 20 miles from Falmouth, England, to rendezvous with a British naval ship that would escort us to port and through the circle of nets, booms, and minefields surrounding the harbor. A vessel was promply detected via radar, 2-3 two miles away, headed toward us. It was still quite dark and misty when the lookouts identified a surface ship closing fast. Captain McCain ordered the signalman to send the allied recognition signal via blinker tube, and it was repeated a few times with no reply. He ordered the torpedo tubes readied for firing; we were already at battle stations. Finally, after what seemed an interminable wait,a message was received via large searchlight, not blinker tube as we expected: 'Is that you old chap -- welcome to jolly old England.' Our escort turned out to be a converted Norwegian ocean-going fishing trawler with a Norwegian skipper, who was just as jolly as his greeting. He soon closed within hailing distance, and his offer to tow the sub was quickly declined by our Captain. Then he invited our skipper to join him for a 'hearty breakfast and spot of gin.' This attractive offer was also declined. However, Bill Stamper recalls that he did send over via motor dory a huge baked salmon which was enjoyed by everyone." (Joe Vasey)

Charles E. Napier at signal lamp Charles E. Napier
at the signal lamp.
November 26, 1942, 0930 (A): Secured at dock in Falmouth, England, awaiting Squadron Engineer. Decided to proceed to Roseneath on auxiliary engine. For the record, this was Thanksgiving Day. After such a nerve-wracking voyage the crew had much to be thankful for.

"It was with enormous relief to all aboard that GUNNEL arrived safely on Thanksgiving Day in Falmouth Harbor, with its backdrop of verdant slopes on which sheep were grazing. However the security at the harbor entrance and the large number of barrage balloons (4) being flown around the port left no doubt that this, too, was a war zone." (Ed Leidholdt)

Bill Stamper remembers the grim evidence of German air raids on the port -- several ships with masts and superstructure sticking out of the water.

"GUNNEL tied up to a pier used by the Royal Navy to berth its famous motor torpedo boats which operated against enemy forces in the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay." (Ed Leidholdt)

Many townspeople as well as British naval personnel were on hand to greet the sub. Harry Kaczur recalls the scene when he came to the bridge: "Captain McCain turned to me and remarked, 'Look at all those skinny children on the dock. Isn't that awful? What can we do about it?' I suggested we make cookies and hot chocolate and have the children aboard to tour the boat and feed them. He thought this a tremendous idea and called Chief of the Boat James "Doggie" Renner and Ships Cook 1/C Dan Morris (?) to the bridge and directed they put the show on the road immediately. This brought great happiness to the kids, as well as smiling faces and "God bless the Yanks" from the people on the dock."

The townspeople graciously welcomed the crew to Falmouth with an invitation to a dance that evening.They showed their appreciation of the American sacrifices in the war in every conceivable way. Harry Kaczur recalls that as our submariners walked along the narrow sidewalks, the English would step aside into the street and chant,"God Bless the Yanks." Severe food shortages existed throughout the U.K., but this didn't stop them from inviting our sailors into their homes to share their meager daily food rations, a typical dinner being a small boiled potato,a morsel of mutton, and occasionally a vegetable.

December 3, 1942, 0815 (A): Underway for Roseneath at five knots, escorted by HMS Cape Of Portland.

"The Captain had declined the British offer of a tow to Roseneath; however, allied submarines were required to be under escort in transiting the Irish Sea. This was a very busy waterway and nervous skippers of merchant ships did not look kindly on submarines.

The transit was uneventful as GUNNEL followed 1,500 yards in the wake of the Cape of Portland, except for the need to avoid the drifting mines that were routinely dropped in shipping channels by German planes almost every night. They were four feet in diameter, black spheres with horns protruding as in the movies. Gunners Mate 1/c Urban "J" Walker and his team eagerly demonstrated their expertise as riflemen and exploded several, no doubt saving more than one ship from an unpleasant encounter." (Joe Vasey)

December 7, 1942: Arrived at base.

The base was Roseneath on the Firth of Clyde River. GUNNEL moored alongside the submarine tender USS Beaver, the depot ship for the boats of Submarine Squadron 50. All hands looked forward to mail, and to liberty in Glasgow, but there wasn't much rest for the engineers who worked around the clock for several days installing new pinion gears for the main engines which had been sent from the States.



2 subs of SUBRON 50 in Roseneath

Two subs from SUBRON 50 tied up at Roseneath. USS BEAVER AS-2 is in the background.

Memorial at Navy Base Two, Roseneath Scotland
Memorial at Roseneath, Scotland overlooking the former Navy base. Dedicated September 2000
Photos from the book
"United States Navy Base Two: Americans At Roseneath 1941-45"
by Dennis Royal


"At Roseneath, Gunnel tied up to a pier at a facility used by the British Navy for ship repairs and was assigned the use of a nearby shed for the shop work required to repair the main engines. Four new gear-train assemblies had been flown across the Atlantic and delivered to the pier. Under the able supervision of the Chief Engineer Lieut. Ben Strauss and senior Chief 'Spud' Murphy, the engineers worked around the clock for the next two weeks. All hands in the engineering department worked together unstintingly to expedite the repairs, including the auxiliary gang led by Chief Machinist Mate Bryan W. Powell." (Ed Leidholdt)

Ed Kaczur recalled some of the heartbreaks and problems the engineers had to overcome: "I asked our submarine tender moored nearby, the USS BEAVER, to magnuflux (X-ray) all gears and the results were not surprising. All main engine gears had minute cracks, were rejected and sent back to the manufacturer. While awaiting the next set of gears, lockers and other equipment were removed from their moorings in the engine rooms to make room to rig chain falls needed to lift the heavy equipment.

"This was normally a shipyard or tender job, but our crew was determined to do it and we did. Finally, with new gears installed, all engines were tested for many hours with frequent stops and inspections. All went well and Lieut. Strauss reported 'ready for sea' to the Captain."

"Liberty in Glasgow had beome a favorite pastime for those not working on the engines, and several romances were in full bloom. The most romantic and enduring of all began when our gallant Exec, Mel Dry, pulled rank on one of Gunnel's officers during a cotillion in Glasgow, cutting-in with a brilliant flanking maneuver to dance with his beautiful partner. Kitty and Mel were married soon after the war.

"After rest and recreation for the engineers -- some even made a rail trip to London -- Gunnel departed Roseneath on 10 January. Captain McCain was proud of his crew's performance and had requested permission from command authorities to conduct a patrol in the Bay of Biscay enroute to New London, to give the crew the opportunity to do what all submariners are trained to do: sink ships. The request was denied. By this time the flood of reports of HOR casualties from other skippers finally convinced authorities in the U.S. that the root of the problem was faulty engines, not faulty operating procedures as some bureaucrats had originally insinuated. Now, the Bureau of Ships of the Navy Department was eager to get Gunnel into a US shipyard and diagnose the problem." (Joe Vasey)

After transiting the Irish Sea, the excitement soon resumed as recalled by Ed Leidholdt: "During a memorable crash dive to escape a sudden night strafing attack by a low flying German aircraft while on the surface charging batteries, the upper hatch of the conning tower jammed in a partially open position. Watch standers later reported they could hear the whistling of the machine gun bullets as they scrambled down the bridge hatch."

"Awakened by the diving alarm and sensing an emergency from the steep down angle and loud voices, I literally flew into the control room from the forward battery compartment to be of assistance. It was a scene I will never forget. Two men were on the ladder struggling in vain to close the lower hatch, but the torrent of water was already too much for them to even see the hatch wheel or its lanyard. Drenched from the incoming sea-water, the Captain was giving orders to use the maximum 3200 # air pressure to blow forward trim and all ballast tanks for an emergency surfacing. The fact that German aircraft might still be around was irrelevant at that point; fortunately they had departed when we did surface.

"Spotting the wooden handle of the hatch lanyard dangling on the edge of the water-fall, I jumped on the off-side of the ladder, grabbed the handle and immediately felt two sets of arms around my waist. Together we heaved and were able to tilt the hatch cover from its vertical position when the incoming water slammed it shut" (Joe Vasey)

"With the rush of high pressure air blowing water from the ballast tanks, the boat seemed to shudder and shake as if undecided whether to sink or rise, reaching a depth of 50 to 60 feet before she started up. Hitting the surface, the boat promptly heeled over some 20 degrees from the weight of the flooded conning tower. It had been flooded within a foot or two of the top before the bridge hatch cover could be seated and dogged securely. The men in the conning tower survived by crouching atop the navigation plotting desk and breathing from an overhead air pocket.

"When control room personnel had seen the green light on the "Xmas Tree" panel indicating closure of the upper hatch, the conning tower drain was opened and air pressure used to blow water into the partially flooded pump room just below the control room.The safety of the men in the conning tower was the immediate concern; we were relieved to find out they were alive and well." (Ed Leidholdt)

"The pump room had four feet of water. Fireman 3/c Robert W. McGowan, on watch there at the time, later told Bill Stamper that he was actually swimming to stay afloat.

For the next few days, fire-control men, radar techs and electricians worked around the clock disassembling equipment and flushing everything with fresh water -- they were the real heroes of this transit. The Torpedo Data Computer was mechanical in those days, and it was completely disassembled, with parts and blue prints lying around the conning tower deck. It is nothing short of remarkable that this complex equipment was reassembled and operated perfectly -- a tribute to the professionalism of EM1/C Allan Braun and his techs." (Ed Leidholdt, Joe Vasey)

"Throughout the crossing, GUNNEL encountered severe North Atlantic storms. In two storms, dangereous 'rogue' waves washed completely over the bridge,threatening the safety of the OOD, quartermaster, and two lookouts on duty there and partially flooding the conning tower and control room." (Ed Leidholdt)

"The situation below decks was uncomfortable, and hazardous at times, as noted by Bill Stamper: "I bunked in the forward torpedo room and it seemed that when we 'broke' through one big wave we would burrow under the next. The GUNNEL would moan as if in pain and we could feel the yaw and pitch. She would twist not unlike a bronc trying to throw an unwanted rider.

"A few days before we arrived in New London, the seas took a turn for the worst and from my bunk in the torpedo room I heard a thump and moan. Quartermaster 1/C Hunt had been thrown to the deck. The only way to get out of that particular bunk, high above the others, was head first. He landed on the back of his head and neck and was injured severely." (Bill Stamper).

"The patient was carried on a canvas stretcher through the compartments to the tiny sick bay in a corner of the after battery room where he received 'TLC' from Pharmacist Mate 1/C Herman C. Williams until he could be transferred to a hospital. "Doc" Willians already had his hands full tending to minor injuries, seasickness and several cases bordering on malnutrition, including an officer who appeared to have yellow jaundice. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies were problems in the submarine force until more sophisticated techniques for provisioning were developed." (Joe Vasey)

January 22, 1943 arrived New London.

Note: As of this writing, we have been unable to locate a copy of the Commanding Officer's official report on the passage from Roseneath to New London. The comments above are the recollections of shipmates. During a speach to the annual Submarine Birthday Ball attendees at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu in 1972, Admiral McCain, then serving as Commander-in-Chief , U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC), related the story of the strafing attack by German aircraft and the ensuing flooding incident.


1 - Herring proceeded to a position 15 miles south of Casablanca. Three other American submarines were assigned to other areas off the coast for important missions in support of Torch. The main show was at Fedala-Casablanca.

2 - By this time German naval headquarters had alerted U-boats to the lucrative targets in the area; within three days six American ships were torpedoed off Fedala.

3 - Five other subs in the squadron with the same diesels -- Hamiliton, Owen, Rentschler (HOR) -- had similar casualties, due to faulty engine design. All eventually re-engined in American shipyards.

4 - Large balloons tethered to the ground and hundreds of feet in the air,surrounded military bases, cities and industrial areas of the U.K., forcing German planes to fly high -- exposed to anti-aircraft barrages.


As stated in a letter from the Commander Submarine Squadron 50 to the Commander US Naval Forces Europe:

"The GUNNEL's first war patrol covered a passage from the United States to Base TWO, United Kingdom, during which she was assigned to a special mission as part of Task Force Thirty-Four (34). Developments were such that no targets were presented. However the officers and crew of the USS GUNNEL can be justly proud of the part they played as a reconnaissance and beacon submarine in the successful execution of an extremely difficult landing of a large expeditionary force on a strange and poorly charted coast. The effect of this effort on the progress of our war effort cannot be overestimated. "

midway_flag1.jpg - 136895 Bytes
Prior to leaving, officers of the Royal Navy attached to a squadron of PT boats presented Cmdr. McCain and the GUNNEL with their drinking, or gin pennant. It became a custom of the GUNNEL to fly this pennant on entering and leaving port. Their hospitality in Falmouth had been overwhelming. The bottles of gin stowed under the floor boards of the PT boats to celebrate their own victories, were the only hard liquor in town.
The picture above was taken on Midway Island on January 11, 1944.

Main Engine Lose Statistics

No. 1 M.E. November 16 after 444.3 hours of operation
No. 3 M.E. November 19 after 526.5 hours of operation
No. 2 M.E. November 20 after 480.9 hours of operation
No. 4 M.E. November 25 after 527.8 hours of operation

Patrol Statistics

Miles steamed = 7,501

Fuel Oil expended= 69,110

Patrol Length = 49 Days


Line with ship


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Copyright @ 1997 - 2007 James M. Lavelle