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

Fourth War Patrol

February 5, 1944 - April 6, 1944

Commander John S. McCain Jr. USN, Commanding Officer


Consistent with the accounts of the earlier war patrols, verbatim excerpts of the Captain's report of this patrol are in the paragraphs commencing with dates/times underlined in bold face. To augment his report, additional first hand commentary and perspectives have been added to the narrative by the former Executive Officer/Navigator Lloyd R. "Joe" Vasey, R. Adm. USN Ret. and by other former crew members who are identified by name where possible. These commentaries and the recollections of the shipmates are presented in Italics (bold) to distinguish them from the commanding officer's official statements.

This work continues in progress. Shipmates and/or their relatives are encouraged to submit additional remarks to help enrich and put a human face on the story of this submarine and her gallant crew.

R & R at Midway

Everyone thoroughly appreciated the two weeks R&R at Midway even though it was far less luxurious than being at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel at Waikiki beach where submarine crews enjoyed a respite while their boats were at Pearl Harbor for repairs in between patrols. Midway was a wildlife sanctuary inhabited by thousands of Laysan albatross, most on the main island , a barren treeless sandpit about a mile across. A favorite past-time of the sailors was watching these beautiful creatures as they fluttered gracefully through the air constantly, but their landings were often awkward as they tumbled across the sand. Dubbed "Gooney birds" by the submariners, they were the size of turkeys and very territorial when nesting. Raucous and nasty tempered, they let out a blood curdling shriek when anyone ventured too close, and more than one shipmate discovered that Goonies could bite like a bull dog when aroused.

Excellent recreational facilities were available on the island. Good beaches, fishing, softball and volleyball were favorites, and movies in the evenings while sitting on the sand dunes. The crewmen were billeted in sparse but comfortable barracks and the officers in the "Gooney Bird Hotel" originally built by Pan American Airlines for passengers to over-night while transiting the Pacific. Ample beer and other spirits were available for everyone. Some might say too abundant, but all hands needed to unwind after weeks of grueling and extremely hazardous operations in enemy waters. In the evenings while waiting for the movies to start, group songfests were popular, often with skipper McCain leading the chorus. "Beautiful Midway" was one of his favorites, and he could still belt out the verses when he retired from the Navy as a four star admiral in 1972.

Meanwhile, ComSubPac had directed the time in port be extended for the Midway repair facilities to do extensive modifications to the bridge structure, including cutting away with blow-torches much of the side plating to reduce the silhouette of the boat making it less prominent for visual and radar detection. Extensive repairs and testing of the radars and other electronic gear were done to correct defects experienced during the last patrol. A newly developed gadget known as a Plan Positioning Indicator (PPI) was connected to the radar to display the submarine at the center of a scope showing flash contacts obtained from radar pulses in a 360 degree circle. Although the technology left much to be desired, the PPI would prove to be a useful tool in helping the skipper to more quickly visualize the position of enemy ships relative to the submarine. This equipment was the forerunner of weather forecasts displayed on commercial television in later years.

On completion of the refit and repairs, provisions, fuel and torpedoes were loaded, followed by an underway training period in an operating area off Midway that included three days of intensive drills with the US submarine HERRING simulating attacks and evasion tactics against each other. Returning to the pier at Midway late one evening to top-off on fuel and final adjustments to radars the boat was ready to depart the next morning for war patrol.

Underway for Patrol in the Southwest Pacific

Departed 3 February 1944 for SouWesPac, Com T F 71 and designated area.

While heading to sea through the channel buoys the crew were informed that Gunnel's orders were to proceed to the Southwest Pacific, conducting combat patrols enroute in designated areas of the Philippines and the Indonesian archipelago. Gunnel would be under the operational control of Commander Submarines Southwest Pacific(CTF 71) based in Freemantle, Australia, and the next R&R period after the patrol would be there. The crew responded with a rousing cheer. R&R in Australia was the dream of every submariner; Australian hospitality to American servicemen was legendary.

After leaving the channel and setting course for the Philippines these happy thoughts were interrupted by the raucous "ahooga" of the diving alarm and the voice of the Officer of the Deck(OOD) shouting over the Intercom,"Submarine half mile on the port beam!" The OOD, Lieut.(jg) Thomas"Buck" Stevens, a "Southern boy from Atlanta"( his words), was unflappable. Tall, rangy and a former professional baseball player, he was alert and decisive, losing not a moment in turning the boat toward the periscope to minimize the risk of being hit by an incoming torpedo, while simultaneously submerging Gunnel.

Sonar conditions around Midway at this time of year were poor, but after an intensive sonar and periscope search with no results, the Gunnel was surfaced with torpedoes at the ready and resumed base course. Although this incident is not mentioned in the official report ,"Buck" Stevens and others on the bridge have never forgotten the sight of an enemy sub momentarily broaching off the beam . All hands on Gunnel were edgy with memories of the three torpedoes that barely missed the boat off Tokyo Bay on the previous patrol.

February 5, 1944, 1200 (Y): Position: Latitude 27° - 43' N., Longitude 179° - 11' E. Miles steamed 189. Fuel used 1686.

The above routine entry in the official report is typical of those recorded for the next few days as Gunnel headed toward Luzon with no contacts along the way other than seagulls and flying fish. Nevertheless, the crew was constantly busy with training and emergency drills as there would be no opportunity for these once in the combat zone. And as with most American submarines, constant emphasis on equipment readiness, personal performance and standards of neatness and self discipline were essential in the demanding environment of a wartime submarine. Former Electricians Mate 2/c Sheldon "Skeeter" Lewis of Redding, California recalled one incident when he tried to cut a corner:

"My bunk was in the afterTorpedoRoom suspended under the torpedo loading hatch. Bill Bowen, Torpedoman 1/c was in charge of the compartment.. My bunk was up pretty high, so I thought I could get away without making it up. One day Bill said, 'Skeeter, how come you are the only one that doesn't have to make up his bunk.' I replied that I was a privileged character. He said, 'that's all I wanted to know.' But my bunk was never left undone again."

February 8:

Not recorded in the journal but recalled later by several shipmates, it was approximately on this date that a small Japanese patrol ship was detected during a routine periscope sweep. On closer inspection it was determined to be one of several picket ships, positioned on an arc hundreds of miles out from the Japanese islands to warn of approaching aircraft. Ever since the famous Doolittle raid in April 1942 when B-25 bombers took off from the US aircraft carrier Hornet and struck the heart of Japan, the Japanese high command placed high priority on forward reconnaissance for advance warning.

At the time, the skipper was ill and confined to his bunk. As acting C.O. and feeling my oats as an eager young submarine officer, I ordered the crew to get ready to launch a torpedo attack. But Torpedo & Gunnery Officer Jim Zurcher said that the vessel was shallow draft with a wooden bottom that would not activate the torpedo's magnetic detonator. He urged instead a " battle surface" to quickly dispose of the target by gunfire from our 5-inch deck gun and 50 caliber machine guns. I went along with this, although with some reluctance because of hazards to our gun crews aggravated by the swells and choppy seas, which had suddenly arisen that day. As fate would have it, on the final periscope sweep before giving the order to surface, I spotted an enemy destroyer beyond the picket, too far for a torpedo shot but well within his own gun range. I cancelled the order to surface, knowing it would be foolhardy to engage a heavily armed destroyer in a surface shoot-out. Many years later, former Torpedoman Jim "Ike" Eisenhower of Tarzana, Calif. wrote to me:

"I was in the forward Torpedo Room when the order was passed to 'stand by for battle surface'. I was the loader for Magnus Wade (of Oakdale, Conn.) whose battle station was to man a 50-caliber gun. We just stared at each other knowing what would be expected of us topside. I was dreading and rehearsing in my mind, my part in the impending action. We may not have shown it, but we were scared. Needless to say, what a relief it was when the word was passed to 'secure battle stations'." Other members of the gun crews standing by to go topside undoubtedly harbored the same thoughts.(Vasey)

February 10, 0047(K): Sighted plane with running lights. Bearing 286 degrees (T), distance 4 miles on course 115 degrees (T). Submerged.

0107: Surfaced.

At this time, Gunnel was Northeast of the Japanese occupied Marianas Islands and within range of Japanese air patrols and small transport aircraft used for ferrying supplies and personnel between island bases.

February 11, 0050(K): Sighted small patrol boat bearing 165 degrees (T), range 6000 yards on course 070 degrees (T), speed 5 knots.

The patrol craft was about 100 miles northwest of the small island Minami-tori Shima. Entirely too small to warrant an attack, the skipper ordered Gunnel to surface and continue on course. The next few days were without incident and only dry statistics are noted in the official journal. A navigational chart kept up to date by the quartermasters and showing the sub's progress was made available for all to see whenever anyone passed though the Control Room. The projected course was westward to pass through the island chain North of the Marianas and then pass through Balintang Channel between northern Luzon and Taiwan. Also displayed was a projected change of base course to the South along the northwest coast of Luzon. Shipmates, especially those from the engineering spaces, appreciated this opportunity to be briefed on the ship's movements and geographic setting.

February 16, 2100(I): SJ Radar contact bearing 100 degrees (T), distance 5 miles, plane flying low.

Undetected and with the plane opening, the sub continued on the surface. Enemy air patrols from both Taiwan and Luzon were expected as the boat neared Balintang Channel.

February 18, 1944, 1200 (I): Position: Latitude 20° - 03' N., Longitude 124° - 10.5' E.

2121: Contact on SD radar, later proved to be Balintang Island, 28,000 yards, and Babuyan Island, 68,000 yards. Checked and adjusted operation of SJ radar, which apparently was not operating properly prior to this time.

February 19, 1944, 0009 (H): Transited Balintang Channel.

0205 (H): Entered South China Sea.

February 20: Commenced patrolling West of Luzon.

February 21, 1938(H): Sighted light of small sampan on surface bearing 235 degrees(T), distance 5 miles.

Gunnel had moved westward to be in a better a position to intercept shipping transiting the South China Sea. A radio broadcast from headquarters advised that North-South traffic at that time was passing through the middle of the South China Sea about 150 miles West of Luzon.

February 23, 1944, 1200 (H): Position: Latitude 12° - 58' N., Longitude 118° - 08' E.

1645: Entered area at Lat. 13° - 02' N., Long. 118° - 31' E. Unless otherwise stated all patrolling was done on surface.

1752: Sighted small fishing sampan bearing 310° (T) distance 6 miles on course 070° (T) speed 9 knots.

Gunnel had moved closer to Luzon and was now patrolling an area covering the approaches to Manila Bay.

February 24, 015(H): SJ radar contact on Lubang Is. bearing 110 degrees(T) distance 25000 yards. Adjusted and calibrated SJ radar.

0520: Dived and commenced submerged patrol to north of Lubang Light.

This small island was athwart the Southwest approaches to Manila Bay and the skipper positioned the sub to best intercept traffic to and from the bay. We reasoned that shipping would pass within visual range of the light, which was illuminated intermittently. It was also a good position for periscope patrol during daylight hours.

1507: Sighted smoke through the periscope. Changed course to normal approach course. I was unable to close this contact so at

1730: Surfaced and put all four main engines on the line. Darkness closed in before I was able to identify this target and the SJ radar failed in operation. That night we closed Lubang Island and tuned the radar to maximum efficiency.

February 25, 1108(H): Sighted small sampan bearing 200 degrees (T) distance 5 miles. Submerged and at

1159: Surfaced clear of target.

1925: Sighted light of fishing sampan.

Gunnel was patrolling off Subic Bay at this time. Much later that night I was awakened by the noise of two additional diesels being started. The skipper called me to his cabin and asked that I set course to proceed at 18 knots to Scarborough shoals 150 miles West of Subic Bay. Then he beckoned me to look over his shoulder and read the highly classified ULTRA intelligence message he had personally decrypted just minutes before when the radioman on watch awakened him to give him the encoded version. The gist of the message was: a German U-boat carrying advanced weaponry and electronic detection devices for the Japanese would be passing the vicinity of Scarborough in about 30 hours. After I read the ULTRA, he crumpled the message in his hand, carefully placed it on the large ashtray on his desk and burned it with his cigar lighter.

The breaking of enemy codes was one of the most tightly held secrets of World War 11, and it wasn't until early 1943 that US naval intelligence authorities in Washington finally agreed that the potential value of providing ULTRA information to submarines far outweighed the risk of compromising the secret of Anglo-American cryptological achievements. Until then the dissemination of these reports to ships at sea was extremely limited, and released only if important strategic objectives or major enemy targets were at stake. It was assumed that there was too much danger of capture and compromise of the ULTRA secret from submarines operating near Japanese waters.

ULTRAs were received "eyes only for the commanding officer" and only specially cleared radio operators handled the incoming encoded messages. On Gunnel, the skipper shared the decrypted information with me while I was Exec; a practice followed by most other sub skippers as well. (Vasey)

February 27, 1944, 0645 (H): Sighted smoke on the horizon bearing 030° (T), distance 14 miles. At

0647 (H): High lookout reported masts of possible convoy well beyond horizon. Executive officer on examination through periscope picked up submarine bearing 020° (T) distance 15,000 yards on southerly course. The captain and crew undoubtedly thought back to their close call with another submarine on their last patrol.

We were patrolling on the surface close to Scarborough Shoal, a patch of shoal water only a mile or so in diameter on top of a sea mount rising from the ocean floor. The skipper and I had calculated the U -boat captain would choose to pass through this vicinity during daylight hours in view of the navigational hazards in the region from uncharted reefs and shoals.

I had remained on the bridge or in the conning tower through the night checking radar contacts and intermittently raising the high periscope since daybreak looking for the U-boat while the skipper stayed awake in his cabin ready to swing into action on a moments notice. When an alert lookout reported the possible convoy I raised my own binoculars and saw the tips of masts of several ships just over the horizon, and then extended the high periscope from the conning tower for a better look at the tactical situation. While surveying the area to right and left of the contacts I was pleasantly surprised to spot the German submarine headed in our direction showing a small angle on the bow. (Vasey)

0650 (H): Submerged (Lat. 14° - 56' N., Long. 116° - 58' E) and commenced approach on submarine. As range closed it became apparent that this submarine had both periscopes raised. Weather was fair with sea force 3 and wind force 4. While taking positon for ninety stern tube starboard track this "U" boat (identified as such, 750 ton) submerged at 2500 yards between observations. Sound conditions were poor which precluded any sound contact on his part.

Not knowing whether the U-boat had spotted our last periscope observation - - and this was a good possibility with choppy seas and a strong wind - or was only making a routine dive, the skipper gave the order, "go deep -- run silent!" Our sonar operators searched and listened intently for evidence of the enemy sub. After a cautionary period we returned to periscope depth and made several sweeps of the horizon, with no results.

The skipper and I especially, were sorely disappointed at the turn of events. To get so close to a final firing position against this high priority target and then have it vanish so rapidly, will always be a mystery. But others on the Gunnel that day with memories of the three torpedoes that barely missed us off Tokyo Bay on the previous patrol, may have had other thoughts. In any sub vs. sub encounter the odds are not reassuring.(Vasey)

0830 (H): Sighted smoke and masts of a fast moving ship at bearing 050° (T) distance 12,000 yards moving east. Came to normal approach course and at

0915 (H):Surfaced with nothing in sight. I assumed that the ship or ships was bound for Manila and put all four engines on the line and gave chase.

1200 (H): Position: Latitude 14° - 31' N,. Longitude 117°: - 22.5' E.

1225 (H): Nothing was sighted so secured the engines and resumed normal surface patrol. In retrospection I do not think that the ""U" boat was connected with the convoy. I believe at the time that he was observing this convoy through his own raised periscopes and that he may have submerged to avoid contact.

February 28, 0530: SJ Radar contacts on Lubang Island. Bearing 102 degrees (T) 80000 yards.

This was an unusually long reach for the radar, probably due to a confluence of favorable atmospheric conditions.

29 February 0000(H): Changed course to patrol in Verde Island Passage.

This passage between Southern Luzon and Mindoro was reportedly used occasionally by Japanese NS shipping to avoid needless exposure to allied attack in the South China Sea while en-route to or from Manila. It was also a route for Japanese warships transiting between the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea via San Bernadino Strait, most notably during some of the subsequent great sea battles leading up to the successful American landing at Leyte.

But these passages were not conducive to American submarine operations due to their irregular and narrow configuration.

0302: Sighted small sampan.

0540: Submerged.

0805: In Calavite Passage sighted two small vessels, fifty to one hundred tons that had the appearance of patrolling. I avoided them and continued on into Verde Island Passage.

1605: Sighted small sampan.

1750: Surfaced in Verde Island Passage.

2045: Sighted small patrol vessel. Avoided.

March 1, 0300(H): Sighted lighted sampan.

0520: Submerged; conducting patrol in the passage.

0646: Sighted small fishing boat with sail up.

1255: Sighted two patrol boats patrolling off Cape Santiago. One patrol boat heard us because he followed the submarine for about an hour alternately running and stopping to listen.

1615: Sighted small sailing vessel with oversize aerial, in eastern end of Calavite Passage.

Believed to be a patrol boat, it was watched until out of sight. Two days earlier a radio message received "Exclusively for the commanding officer" directed Gunnel to rendezvous in this vicinity at sunset two miles offshore with a sailing banca (canoe). The boat was manned by a Filipino guerilla unit, which needed a part for their American-made radio gear. Guerilla units and coast watchers were providing important highly important intelligence information to American forces.

The boat came alongside while the transfer was made.

By a remarkable coincidence, in 1980 Admiral McCain Ret. was visiting Manila and made a social call on his old friend President Ferdinand Marcos, President of the Philippines whom he had known while Commander in Chief of US forces in the Pacific region. In sharing their World War experiences they soon realized that Marcos was the guerilla leader who came alongside Gunnel in his boat.

I first learned of this exchange some weeks later during my own meeting with President Marcos on a visit to Malacanang Palace in my role as head of an American "think tank". After a two hour session discussing Asian security, I was starting to leave when he asked if I ever knew Admiral McCain. Before I could respond, he launched into an account of their conversation and the chance meeting off Mindoro, and then added. "Best of all, when we were about to cast off from the sub a young officer leaned over the side and handed me a large container full of ice cream - a rare treat for me and my men in those days."

"Yes sir," I responded, Admiral McCain and I have been good friends since the war when we were shipmates together. I was the officer who handed you the ice cream that day." With that, Marcos picked up a book he recently authored and autographed it: "To: Rear Admiral Lloyd R. Vasey, an old salt. Thanks for the ice cream Circa 1943".

1925: Surfaced and took course clearing Calavite and Verde Island Passage.

March 2, 1944, 1200 (H): Position: Latitude 15° - 02' N., Longitude 119° - 06.5' E.

1735 (H): Sighted smoke on horizon which inspection after dark disclosed to be small properly lighted hospital ship on southerly course. (Lat. 15° - 33' N., Long. 119° - 35' E. Due to interference, I suspect that this ship was using radar.

March 3, 1944, 0515 (H): Commenced patrolling off Cape Bolinao. Submerged and closed coast.

1200 (H): Position: Latitude 16° - 03' N., Longitude 119° - 36' E.

1530 (H): Sighted smoke through periscope bearing 043° (T) distance 20,000 yards. Later identification disclosed this to be medium sized passenger freighter with one escort of the OTORI class torpedo boat. I was unable to close this target to less than 4,000 yards due to the fact that he pulled me out from the coast and made a radical zig in close. It was headed south for Manila. I decided to surface and run ahead for a night approach. So at

1900 (H): Surfaced and proceeded on course 200° (T) at maximum speed.

1930 (H): Sighted unidentifed light bearing 230° (T) distance 12,000 yards. Continued chase of afternoon target.

2149 (H): Sighted a ship with escort bearing 130° (T) distance 18,000 yards on course 015° (T) speed 10 knots. Shortly we received radar interference from the new target. I then decided to get ahead and close the coast, submerge, and conclude approach by sound and periscope. At this time, search lights at regular intervals and navigational lights appeared along the coast from Cape Bolinao to Pt. Caiman. These searchlights were located at each navigational light at intervals of about one mile and so directed as to illuminate the coast line. It was apparent that he would hug the shore at this point. While maneuvering to get in position, radar interference developed in the direction of Pt. Caiman. There were scattered clouds in the sky and the moon was out, making a periscope approach feasible. At

March 4, 1944, 0107 (H): Submerged and closed the coast to 2.5 miles at Pt. Piedra. Prior to submerging the high lookout reported that another escort had joined the target group apparently coming from Santa Cruz where two lights at the harbor entrance were observed.

0145 (H): Made all tubes ready for firing and steadied on 280° (T) for a stern tube shot. The coast runs north and south at this point. Lat. 16° - 16' N. About this time, the moon became completely blacked out, eliminating use of periscope. I thought of using the passage of the target across the lighted background but was unable to do this because the lights were at the water's edge and either they were darkened or I could not see them because of the height of eye. Sound conditions were very poor due to background noises and the upshot of the matter was that I could not fire. One escort passed down the port side and then apparently lay to on our stern.

This action was an example of how fate played a big part in many submarine attacks in WWII. After a successful 12 hour chase and attaining a good firing position, the Captain was ready to enter the final bearing and give the order to fire when clouds suddenly moved in, obscuring the moon, and making it impossible to see the target through the periscope in the darkness.

0345 (H): Surfaced and sighted this escort well astern of us. Went to four engine speed and moved out from the coast. Patrolled on surface rest of day about twenty miles from coast. At this point the attempted attack is over. The chase lasted approximately 32 hours. You can imagine the frustration of all aboard after spending this much time, energy and emotion tracking a target only to have it escape due to clouds moving in and obscuring the moon. Such was the life of a submariner during the war. Fate played a big part in many attacks. (Ed.)

1228: Sighted patrol plane bearing 080 degrees (T) 10 miles apparently in general vicinity of night's operations. I decided to patrol the next day close to the coast north of Lingayen Gulf.

For the next three days, Gunnel patrolled off Lingayen and close inshore by Cape Bolinao. Other than a number of small sailing vessels, no contacts were encountered. It was suspected that Japanese shipping had been alerted to the presence of an American submarine and was steering clear of this area or remaining in port.

March 8, 1944, 0940 (H): Standing South to patrol in vicinity of Cape Calavite. Sighted flying boat in position Lat. 14° - 25' N., Long. 119° - 46.5 E. Submerged.

0943 (H): Plane dropped two depth bombs.

1440 (H): Surfaced.

1450: Sighted single engine float plane. Submerged. No bombs this time.

1819: Surfaced.

2102: Momentary pip on SJ bearing 220 degrees(T) at 19000 yards. Probably plane. Night was very light with full moon, visibility 20000 yards.

2125: Repetition of above Pip. We have had aircraft on this screen (surface search radar) before in vicinity of Yokohama. Actual sighting of running lights of planes checked this.

March 9, 1944, 0020(H): SJ radar contact 220 degrees (T) in Lat. 13 degrees - 52.5' N, Long. 119 - 46'E at 19,000 yards. Closed this range and sighted the target visually at 16,000 yards. This was a small patrol vessel equipped with radar. At the same time there was interference from two other sources, 060 degrees (T) and 160 degrees (T). No other visual contacts were made but I suspect that this was the same three of the night of 26 February. This radar interference continued for some time, slowly changing bearings indicating a possible search. As previously mentioned the visibility was high.

The Captain suspected we were being boxed in for a combined surface and air attack at first light in the morning. He directed own radar transmitters not be used without his permission. Meanwhile Chief Radarman McSpadden used the SJ radar receiver indicator to good advantage by picking up the harmonics of the enemy radars through electrostatic coupling. The directional bearings on the transmissions were not at all precise, more like a fan, but provided a useful tactical picture of the Japanese movements during the remainder of the night and enabled the skipper to maneuver Gunnel out of the box.

0540: Submerged patrol off Cape Calavite.

For the next two days, Gunnel patrolled close - sometimes uncomfortably close - to the coast in this general vicinity, knowing that small freighters passing the cape may be hugging the shoreline. Other than fishing sampans though, no contacts were detected. It was a demanding time for the navigation team - safely piloting the sub in unfamiliar waters so close to shore, most of the time by using dead reckoning and seamen's eye. But they always rose to the occasion.

March 11, 1944, 0250(H): Sent my number one requesting an extension in the area. On surface, picked up radar interference at bearing 190 degrees(T).

Captain McCain was becoming impatient, frustrated at the lack of success on this patrol. He broke radio silence to send a message (number one) to Commander Submarines, Southwest Pacific requesting permission to remain a few days longer in the patrol area before heading south to Freemantle, Australia. The reply from headquarters approved a modest extension but also advised the commanding officer of reported sightings of Japanese ships headed north, some only a few hundred miles to the south of Gunnel'. He and I studied the charts and determined that Gunnel should turn it's attention south and head through the Mindoro Straits, a good place to to intercept the closest Japanese force. (Vasey)

March 12: Commenced passage of Mindoro Straits.

0515(H): Submerged.

1445(H): Sighted smoke through periscope on horizon bearing 276 degrees. Also picked up a plane on this same bearing which gave every indication of being an air escort for a convoy. We were unable to close this contact.

The contact was never seen, only the smoke, and the air patrol circling overhead. Soon they were both out of sight. Had it been night, the skipper would have surfaced and run at maximum speed to get into an attack position ahead of the contact if possible.

Rather than wasting precious time chasing an unknown contact headed north away from our Australian destination, he decided to continue our transit south. As I recall, a Japanese naval task force was reportedly operating southeast of Borneo, still several hundred away, and headed north to pass through Makassar Strait. After poring over the charts the skipper and I decided our best strategy was to plan an attack shortly after the force exited the strait, entering the Celebes Sea. (Vasey)

March 15, 0500(H): Submerged off of West coast of Mindanao.

1745(H): Sighted five or six small fishing vesssels bearing 040 degrees (T).

1905(H): Surfaced.

March 16: Standing towards Sibutu Passage.

Cruising in the Sulu Sea at the time, we had set course to go through Sibutu Passage, a narrow channel in a chain of small islands off the northeast tip of Borneo, and then through the Celebes Sea to Makassar Strait about 200 miles south. Sibutu was the only deep passage through the chain, but close to enemy facilities on Borneo.

0625(H): Sighted bomber bearing 000 degrees (T)) distance 8 miles, on southerly course. Submerged, no bombs.

1803(H): Surfaced. Took course for Sibutu Passage.

March 17, 0110(H): Sighted small unidentified vessel , 190 degrees (T), 10,000 yards.

0400(H): Completed transit of Sibutu Passage.

0530(H): Submerged.

1810: Surfaced

March 18, 1944, 0535 (H): Submerged and commenced patrol in position: Lat. 01° - 49.5' N., Long. 120° - 35.5' E. - (In the northern approaches to Makassar Strait).

1205 (H): Sighted one auxiliary carrier and two destroyers, range 12,000 yards on base course 260° speed 15 knots. Battle stations.

1206 (H): Normal approach course.

1211 (H): Periscope observation indicated range of 9,000 yards, angle on the bow 10° port. Saw two planes patrolling to left of target. Just before putting down the periscope, I noticed a large cloud of black smoke from the port destroyer screen. Apparently she increased speed on a contact from an unseen plane that spotted the periscope or hull of the submarine because, about a minute after the periscope was lowered, two depth bombs went off at about two hundred yards. I went to 120 feet and this was followed by depth charges, none close, from the destroyer. Went to 300 feet and silent running. The destroyer dropped about 16 depth charges in the next twenty minutes. Thus ended this encounter.

The initial sighting and estimated course of the carrier indicated a good firing opportunity likely in a few minutes. But when the two depth bombs exploded only a minute later, the skipper naturally assumed the aircraft had spotted the periscope poking up in the glassy calm sea. After we leveled off at 300 feet, the pattern of sonar bearings on the task force and the positions of the bomb explosions indicated to me that the enemy was not at all sure of our location. I urged the skipper to return to periscope depth to look over the situation and fire at a target of opportunity. This would have been an extremely risky maneuver with dubious results given the likelihood of an aircraft spotting the submerged silhouette of the sub in the crystal clear water that day. The situation was typical of many urgent decisions confronting submarine commanders during the war. As President Harry Truman often said, "The buck stops here". A few minutes' later propeller noises were heard through the hull as warships passed close by. (Vasey)

1810 (H): Surfaced.

March 19, 0551(H): Submerged and commenced patrol off Strooman Cape.

During the night we had moved east closer to Celebes Island. For the next three days Gunnel patrolled between this area and North Watcher just inside the mouth of the strait. This was a good location for us, but as luck would have it, there were no contacts other than fishing boats until the 22nd.

March 22, 1944, 0535 (H): Submerged and commenced patrol in position, Lat. 01° - 31' N., Long. 119° - 49' E.

0842 (H): Sighted one auxiliary aircraft carrier and two destroyers on course 060° (T) speed 15 knots, at 11,000 yards. Believed the same task force encountered earlier

0847 (H): the angle on the bow was ten degrees starboard and at 9,500 yards came left to about a ninety track and went to 120 feet. Plotted target by sound until change in bearing showed possible right zig.

0852 (H): Periscope observation showed target to have changed course radically to right, angle on bow eighty port, range 8,000 yards. I was never able to reach a position of less range and target changed course again to right. Thus ended second encounter.

1817 (H): Surfaced to clear area.

2240 (H): S.J.Radar contact, position Lat. 01° - 32.5' N., Long. 120° - 46' E. bearing 243° (T), distance 21,500 yards. The next morning periscope observation disclosed these to be four medium sized tankers escorted by four destroyers. Radar tracking gave target base course of 090° (T), speed 12 knots. They zigged from 060° (T) to 120° (T) about six minutes on each leg. First I tried to close these targets on the port bow, then on the flank, and finally on the port quarter. Each attempt at closing resulted in an escort placing itself between the submarine and the major targets, thus frustrating these endeavors to gain an attack position. There was definite radar interference from the escorts and had been since initial contact. Therefore in tracking, the transmitter was energized at irregular intervals to obtain data for the plotting party.

March 23, 1944, 0155 (H): I decided to attempt to get ahead of convoy and make periscope approach shortly after daylight before air escorts joined group.

0455 (H): In effort to get on track of convoy I closed the screen on the port bow of the convoy to a range of 11,000 yards. this brought immediate response because he apparently turned directly towards the submarine and range decreased at a rate indicating that the destroyer was making over thirty knots. The radar transmitter was operated periodically as mentioned above and the constant interference on our screen left no doubt that he was trained on us in bearing.

0505 (H): The range closed to 9,200 yards and in the increasing light we were afraid of visual sighting so I submerged while still six thousand yards off the convoy's track. There is no doubt that this destroyer knew of our presence and closed to attack. I changed to the normal approach course. It was still too dark for a periscope observation.

0530 (H): Picked up high speed screws which slowed down and stopped. Two other sets of high speed screws were heard, one close aboard. This was followed at

Minutes later, with no bomb explosions I became dubious that the enemy was locked on to us when sonar bearings indicated to me that the convoy was headed in our direction. I recommended the skipper go to periscope depth for a look. But he was not convinced as the overall tactical picture from the sonar reports was erratic. (Vasey)

0600 (H): by the slow screws of merchant ships.

0620 (H): Periscope observation showed that the convoy was beyond angle on the bow 160° port range 3,900 yards. Sound conditions were poor, range two or three thousand yards. I most certainly expected to be worked over by the destroyer previously mentioned and made the mistake of not getting the torpedo tubes ready before the convoy was actually over the submarine. I was very much surprised when the heavy screws were picked up as I expected the main body to pass further south. This convoy was distributed with the tankers in a square and a destroyer patrolling ahead, astern, and on either flank. It was a very close formation when I saw it and the destroyers were stopping periodically to listen. The unfortunate circumstance was the imposed dive at 9,200 yards before I was in a position well ahead of the convoy to conduct a proper periscope approach.

0745 (H): Surfaced intending to get ahead for a second attempt. Kept convoy under observation with high periscope.

1136 (H): Submerged. Sighted plane bearing 285° (T) distance 10 miles.

1200 (H): Postion: Latitude 02° - 02.0' N., Longitude 122° - 24' E.

1310 (H): Surfaced on base course of convoy.

1345 (H): SD radar contact 8 miles, submerged.

1802 (H): Surfaced and so ended a most unfortunate and depressing twenty-four hours. A chance to inflict severe damage on the enemy that comes rarely in the life of one submarine. After more than 50 years you can hear the frustration the captain felt. In this short period of time the GUNNEL got close to an auxiliary carrier and four tankers but was unable to get in attack position on any of them.

Captain McCain convened a meeting with a few of us in the wardroom to critique the past few days and discuss various strategies for the remainder of the patrol enroute to Freemantle, Australia, still over 2000 miles even by the shortest route. After chasing the convoy for 24 hours in the opposite direction, Gunnel was now120 miles east of Makassar Strait off the northern coast of Celebes Island. He wanted to head back to Makassar where the action was sure to be found.

The Chief Engineer Lieut. Walter Robinson warned the Captain that the fuel supply would run dangerously low prior to reaching Freemantle and recommended a pit stop at Darwin on the north coast of Australia to take aboard diesel oil.

Ed Leidholdt and I had already laid out several charts on the wardroom table with pencilled plots of optional tracks through the labyrinth of islands and shoals of the Dutch East Indies (now the Indonesian archipelago) enroute Australia. After discussion of the alternatives the skipper decided to continue east another 120 miles and go through Bangka Passage and Molucca Strait, then head south and go across Molucca Sea and Banda Sea, through the southernmost chain of islands and reefs of the Dutch East Indies. Then proceed across the Timor Sea to Darwin, 1200 miles from our present position

He directed radio silence be broken to send a message to COMSUBSOUWESPAC for permission to divert and stop briefly at Darwin enroute Freemantle. A response from Australian military authorities gave permission to enter the port and approved of Gunnel's projected track through the Timor Sea and the barrier reef north of Darwin. (Vasey)

March 24: Standing toward Bangka Passage.

0530(H): Submerged.

1813(H): Surfaced and commenced approach to and of Bangka Passage.

2334(H): Entered Molucca Strait and came to course 066 degrees (T).

March 25, 0535(H): Submerged.

0839(H): Surfaced to take observation through raised periscope.

0847(H): Submerged and continued patrol.

1048(H): Surfaced for more thorough and extended observation.

Gunnel was proceeding cautiously though the strait because of the proximity of enemy bases for surface and air patrols. Additionally, navigation and piloting of a submarine in this area required constant vigilance. Cautionary notes to mariners printed on the hydrographic charts warned of uncharted shoals and reefs.

1048 (H): Submerged.

1300(H): Sighted small sailing sampan.

1814(H): Surfaced and headed for Molukka Sea.

March 26, 0530(H): Submerged position: Lat. 00 degrees 14' N Long 126 degrees 37' E.

Word was passed over the intercom that Gunnel was 14 miles north of the equator and would "cross the line" submerged later that day. All "shellbacks" were directed to prepare to receive His Royal Highness Neptunus Rex, his first assistant Davy Jones, the Queen and the Royal Court in mid-afternoon. Lowly Pollywogs (the uninitiated two thirds of the crew) were duly warned of the rigorous fate awaiting them prior to being certified by His Majesty as full fledged "shellbacks".

Later, The Royal Party suddenly appeared, looking more like pirates than submariners. Neptunus Rex (Chief Ed Podboy) ordered Captain McCain to turn over his command duties to the Royal Navigator (the most venerable Shellback aboard - the Exec). The skipper took this order cheerfully, in fact was eager to be initiated. The last several days had been exhausting and extremely frustrating for him, especially in getting so close to the auxiliary carrier, and then four oil tankers, and unable to get into attack positions despite his dogged perseverance. He needed to unwind. Jim"Ike"Eisenhower, Torpedoman 3/c at the time, picks up on the story:

"The initiation started in the after Torpedo Room. Pollywogs had to strip to their shorts then crawl on their knees to the crew's mess. The Shellbacks literally beat the hell out of us Pollywogs with paddles they made in Midway. Captain McCain, poor guy, and some of the officers got the worst treatment, I think. I was right in front of the Captain and I have never heard so much cussing and threatening in my life: was he ever-catching hell! When a man ever made it to the crew's mess, the King and Queen were waiting. Standing next to the Queen was the Royal Baby(Chief "Spud" Murphy) in a diaper. We were placed in the electric chair and jolted many times for giving the wrong answers to impossible questions. The last event was the pleasure of kissing the Royal Baby's big fat, hairy belly smeared with mustard. You had to kneel in front of the Baby and were asked if you would like to kiss the Baby. If the answer was no, you had to go through the line again. If the answer was yes, kissing lightly was an insult to the Baby and your face was jammed into his belly. A good time was had by all (the Shellbacks)."

The equator was crossed submerged in the Molucca Sea, 00 degrees Latitude, 126 degrees, 37' east Longitude, depth 100 feet. The Royal Navigator had swung Gunnel in a wide circle crossing the equator both north and south during the ceremonies, then surfaced exactly on the line. (Vasey)

March 27: Proceeding on surface through Ceram Sea.

1225(H): Sighted object later determined to be small sailboat. Submerged.

1255(H): Surfaced and closed boat, which close inspection revealed to be sampan with natives aboard. No radio, No nips.

At first it was suspected the boat was a radio-equipped picket, for reporting the movements of allied warships occasionally in the area. Ed Leidholdt, always the volunteer, suggested the skipper bring Gunnel alongside for an inspection. With his .45 at the ready Ed jumped aboard and found only a few scared natives huddled under the deck.

March 28: Proceeding south through Banda Sea.

1820: Passed through barrier.

Captain McCain was referring to the southernmost chain of Dutch East Indies islands and reefs stretching east and west. We were near the eastern end of Timor, 300 miles from Darwin.

March 29, 0600(H): Submerged.

1100(H): Sighted monoplane.

1600(H): Surfaced.

The remainder of the leg to Darwin would be on the surface because it was necessary to weave through a patchwork of shoals, some of questionable location, unsafe for submerged operations. But submariners always had to be ready for the unexpected. While still daylight, a lookout sighted a four engine bomber a few miles away flying on a parallel course -Jim Eisenhower the other lookout - recalls seeing two or three other planes join the first one and identified them as "Billy Mitchell bombers (B-24 Liberators).

Officer of the Deck "Buck" Stevens sent the identification ID for that time of day via flashing light and received an acknowledgement from the plane. Suddenly it made a sharp turn and headed strait for Gunnel. "Buck" sounded the diving alarm. He later wrote:

"I am sure we were in the center of our 'no bomb lane' (a moving sanctuary surrounding the sub) and we did everything to identify ourselves. We weren't entirely submerged when he let fly with a bomb that exploded uncomfortably close. Captain McCain sent a scorching message to headquarters and I'm sure a few people in Darwin and Freemantle caught hell. He told me that if we ever " ran across those bastards ashore in Darwin to beat the hell out of them."

March 30, 1944, 0805 (H): Moored at Darwin. Unloaded torpedoes. Received provisions and 35,000 gals. fuel oil.

Darwin was a ghost town, having been evacuated of civilians earlier in the war when the port was in danger of being captured by the Japanese. Later the port facilities were used for minor logistic support for allied forces such as the services provided Gunnel. The town was off limits for liberty purposes, a disappointment for the crew. Nearby was an Australian military base and the U S Fifth Air Force based a group of B-24 Liberator four engine bombers just south of Darwin.

On arrival alongside the dock, the skipper summoned "Buck" Stevens and Lieut. (jg) "Ski" Schalanski (changed later to Shalane) to the bridge. The latter had been an intercollegiate wrestling champ. "Buck, you have your orders, you and Ski go to the Aussie base and see what you can do." The skipper was still seething, as he believed that Australian bombers had attacked us and this was the third occasion that "friendly" aircraft had bombed Gunnel.

A few hours later the two young officers returned swaggering down the pier in company with Australian military officers, all clutching bottles of Swan beer and joyously singing "Waltzing Matilda". They were the envy of the crew. (Note: subsequent inquiries revealed that RAAF B-24 bombers did not begin ops from bases south of Darwin until July 44, nor were other allied bombers based nearby except for the Fifth Air Force Liberators).

March 31, 1944, 0530 (H): Underway for Fremantle.

1730: Sighted five medium bombers.

April 3, 1944, 1415 (H): Passed Dutch submarine K15.

As the two subs passed on the surface, greetings were exchanged by hand waves. Both had been alerted earlier by radio of the presence of each other. Nevertheless, knowing that some Dutch subs resembled German U-boats in appearance, nothing was taken for granted. A squadron of U-boats was known to be based on Java for operations in the Indian Ocean.The remainder of the voyage was uneventful as Gunnel proceeded down the coast of Western Australian and arrived at the port of Freemantle on,

April 6, 1944, 63 days after leaving Midway Island.

Subs after return from patrol


3 subs just back from patrol show wear and tear of hard weeks at sea.



The experiences of this patrol were typical of those of many other submarines operating in the Southwest Pacific during this period of the war. U.S. subs had already taken a heavy toll of Japanese shipping and warships and the enemy was learning that in order to survive he had to be extremely protective and aggressive. Most of the anti-submarine escorts GUNNEL encountered had radar and radar detection gear which hampered efforts to gain attack positions undetected. Another enemy tactic was to hug the coastal areas and island chains, often frustrating the best efforts of a submarine to find and maintain contact. Some shipping stayed in port at night and came out only during daytime when it was easier to detect submarines with air patrols. For the submarine itself, cruising on the surface in daylight hours when within easy reach of enemy bases was severely restricted by the high probability of being detected and attacked.

Although no damage was directly inflicted on the enemy justifying the award of the Submarine Combat Insignia for this patrol, both the squadron commander and the Commander Submarines, Seventh Fleet after reviewing the commanding officer's official reports, commended "the aggressive and well trained GUNNEL", a fitting tribute to the fighting spirit of a gallant crew throughout a demanding and hazardous patrol in enemy controlled waters. (Ed.)

Patrol Statistics

Miles steamed = 11,928

Fuel Oil expended= 111,832

Patrol Length = 63 Days

Torpedoes Remaining = 24

Fuel Remaining = 4,000

Provisions (days) = 14

Endurance Factor Ending Patrol = Fuel

GUNNEL had just over 2 days fuel left at the end of this patrol !
Of the 63 days spent at sea, she spent 26 days submerged !

Line with ship


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