The first order of business after arrival ashore was “the great foot race” between Ensign “Buck Stevens” and Chief Podboy witnessed by throngs of Australian observers and American submarine crews. It was a close race won by Podboy, and finally settled old scores. For the next two weeks, all hands enjoyed the recreational facilities --- swimming, sightseeing tours of Freemantle and Perth and even hunting and fishing excursion beyond. But most popular were the parties and dances arranged by servicemen’s clubs and the American Red Cross. Many romances blossomed during this period just before GUNNEL sailed from Freemantle on the fifth war patrol.
Consistent with earlier accounts of GUNNEL war patrols, verbatim statements from the commanding officer’s official Patrol Report are in paragraphs commencing with times in bold face (date/times underlined).
Although not mentioned directly or indirectly in the CO’s remarks, GUNNEL sailed from Freemantle for Sunda Strait on 3 May 1944 under highly classified orders premised on information from Japanese “code breakers” at Fleet headquarters in Hawaii. ULTRA,“Eyes only for Jack McCain” messages were the underlying basis of most of GUNNEL’S tactical movements for the next few weeks.
ULTRA was a strictly taboo subject for discussion in World War 11. No references or hints of ULTRA, or message contents, were permitted in submarine war patrol reports. The “Silent Service” strictly obeyed these rules, and for over half a century after the war.
Commander McCain, made it a practice to let his Executive Officer Lieut. L.R “Joe” Vasey read ULTRA messages in view of his responsibilities as navigator and second in command, but no one else. Most submarine CO’s did likewise.
In compliance with the rigid restrictions governing ULTRA information at the time, the commanding officer’s official remarks recorded in this report are understandably very austere. Rear Admiral L .R. “Joe” Vasey USN Ret. has therefore expanded on many of the CO’s remarks and provided the rationale for some of the command decisions. In doing so, he re-plotted GUNNEL’S movements on navigational charts to insure consistency with his recollection of key events.
His commentaries, are printed in bold italics. Comments that may be received from other former members of the crew will also be in bold italics and with specific attribution noted.
Research of the historical records as well as personal contacts with men who served aboard GUNNEL has been made to insure the faithfulness of GUNNEL’s story to the best of our ability.
This work continues in progress and inputs from former members of the crew are encouraged and most welcome.
Cmdr. John S. McCain Jr.
Lt. Lloyd R. "Joe" Vasey
Executive Officer& Navigator
Lt. Clarence J. Zurcher
Torpedo & Gunnery Officer
Lt. Walter P. Robinson Jr.
Engineering & Diving Officer
Lt(jg.) James L. Schilansky
Ensign James M. Thornton
Ensign William F. Beebe
Ensign Sanford L. Knotts
Unknown to the crew, the GUNNEL was sailing under super-secret orders known only by the commanding officer. Earlier in the day, while alongside North Wharf at Freemantle, he had hurriedly returned aboard after being called to see V.Admiral Ralph Christie, Commander Submarines, Southwest Pacific. The admiral showed the CO an urgent ULTRA message from Fleet headquarters advising that a Japanese task force in the South China Sea was enroute Singapore for fueling and then expected to proceed south through Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. Admiral Christie directed our skipper to get underway ASAP in company with the US submarine ANGLER and “by whatever means stop the Japanese warships from transiting the strait.” In response to McCain’s question if Gunnel could lay in wait just North of the strait and Angler to the South, the answer was an emphatic “no”. The shallow waters of the northern approaches were heavily mined except for a narrow channel the location of which was unknown to allied forces.
The two submarines were to proceed to Exmouth Gulf several hundred miles north of Freemantle and wait for further orders before going on to Sunda. McCain being the senior of the two skippers would be in tactical command during the operation.
May 5, 1944, 2225(H): Anchored Exmouth Gulf. Doctor arrived aboard to examine Chief Torpedoman Robert David Pickard. Recommended that he be transferred to base for treatment.
The anchorage was less than a mile offshore in 30 fathoms of water. An Australian Army encampment on the beach housed a small US naval detachment headed by Lieutenant Welford USN which provided fuel to transiting allied submarines in need of a “pit stop”.
Chief Pickard in charge of the after torpedo room on prior patrols and Chief of the Boat on this run was confined to his bunk with a high fever from an unknown ailment and the doctor wanted him moved ashore to the medical dispensary at the nearby base. Because of sea and wind conditions, the move was delayed until alongside the oil barge where the transfer to a small boat would be easier and safer.
May 6, 1944, 0815(H): Moored along side oil barge and commenced fueling.
The ANGLER then moored alongside GUNNEL and also started fueling.
Later in the morning, a small boat arrived from the base with an invitation for the two submarine skippers for luncheon ashore with the Aussies. They eagerly accepted and jumped into the boat.
1430(H): Transferred Pickard, Robert David, CTM(PA), Chief of the Boat to sick bay for treatment.
It was a sad occasion to see a shipmate leave under these circumstances. Our super-efficient Chief Pharmacist Mate D.R Waidley had done his best for the patient, but the prognosis at this point was uncertain.
Later that afternoon the executive officers of the two submarines, “Joe” Vasey and Annapolis classmate Jim Greene of ANGLER, were concerned the two skippers had not returned as scheduled nor had the base responded to signals by flashing light. It was decided to launch a small rubber inflatable raft, propelled by a tiny outboard and two paddlers to “rescue the skippers from Australian hospitality”.
When the boat finally hove into view on return, it was a sight out of the movies. The two skipper seated at the stern were singing “Waltzing Matilda”, with a parrot perched on Jack McCain’s shoulder allegedly “liberated” from the Australian army. After they clambered aboard, ANGLER’s commanding officer C.I “Swede” Olsen suddenly snatched the parrot from McCain’s shoulder and disappeared down the hatch of his sub.
May 7, 1944, 1200(H): Received by air, spare parts for SJ radar.
1530(H): Completed repairs on SJ radar and underway for Sunda Strait.
The skipper had received orders to get underway with Angler and patrol in Sunda Strait. Later, he called me to his cabin and informed me of a super-secret allied naval attack planned against the oil refineries, shipyard and engineering works in Surabaya, Java. As revealed subsequently, the attack force included the US aircraft carrier Ranger, British carrier Illustrious, British and French battleships, plus cruisers, destroyers and oil tankers. All were to assemble in Exmouth Gulf for final instructions. The air strike would be launched from the Indian ocean side of Java. Exact date dependent on weather and other factors.
As revealed later, in addition to GUNNEL and ANGLER, six other American submarines were also assigned to guard various straits and passages in the island chain between the Indian Ocean in the south and the Java Sea and Flores Sea to the north, including Lombok Strait at the Eastern end of Java. All essentially had the same basic orders --- initial covert reconnaissance, and then to stop enemy warships from transiting the straits. Japanese forces were expected to try to move into the Indian ocean and attack the allied force after the strike, or beforehand if Japanese intelligence got wind of the operation.
May 8, 1944, 0830(H): Sighted unidentified aircraft bearing 128 degrees T, distance 10 miles. Conducted fire control problems and drills.
Being south of Java at this time, and within range of Japanese bombers, we assumed the plane was enemy. This was the first of many air contacts over the following two weeks.
May 10, 1944: Enroute Sunda Strait.
1945(H): Radar interference supposedly from friendly submarine.
A reasonable assumption since we knew allied submarines may be in the vicinity. But watch standers were directed to be especially vigilant, reminding them that a squadron of German U-Boats was operating out of Singapore and Japanese subs were believed to be based at Surabaya, Java; the U-Boats were primarily for offensive operations against allied shipping in the Indian Ocean. We were crossing some of their transit routes.
May 11, 1944, 0600(H): Enroute Sunda Strait.
0035(H): Sighted land bearing 035°T, distance 19 miles. This was subsequently identified as Payung Mt. Sugar Jig radar not operating properly.
We were on the surface at the time .The mountain peak was clearly visible to the naked eye. It marked the southern approach to Sunda Strait.
Periodic problems with the SJ surface search radar continued for the next several days. As navigator, I called on the radar operator occasionally for bearings and ranges on peaks and other prominent landmarks to assist in plotting Gunnel’s movements in coastal and confined waters. There were no navigational aids or friendly lighthouses in this area, and the water depths displayed on the oceanographic charts were sparse and unreliable; unsatisfactory for submerged operations. But when the radars were turned on it was only fleetingly as there was the danger that the radar rays could be DF’d by the enemy.
From this time on Ed Leidholdt and I had scant opportunity for sleep as we continually plotted GUNNEL’S positions , often by necessity depending on “dead reckoning” and “seaman’s eye” in a strait known for its strong and unpredictable currents, especially below the surface.
0345(H): Entered assigned area.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 06-32' S Longitude 104-53' E.
1945(H): Surfaced. SJ radar inoperative.
2345(H): Repairs effected, closed Princes Is. to test and check radar.
May 12, 1944 0600(H): Submerged, conducted patrol vicinity of Krakatau Island.
Krakatau was an active volcanic island straddling the center of the strait. The continuous volcanic eruptions often sounding like a string of giant firecrackers made it impractical to use our sonars productively.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 06–32’ S, Longitude 105–21.5 E
2325(H): Sighted small boat, Latitude 06–21 S, Longitude 105–34E. Avoided.
May 13, 1944 0535(H): Sighted small boat Latitude 06–21 S, Longitude 105–16.5 E. Avoided.
May 14, 1944
A message from Freemantle advised that ANGLER had withdrawn from the area due to severe illness of her crew. All hands were nauseous and watch standers had extreme difficulty manning their stations. We immediately assumed the dreaded Parrot Fever was the culprit and breathed a sigh of relief the bird was not aboard GUNNEL. As it turned out the physical condition of ANGLER’S crew worsened and the sub was ordered to return to Freemantle. Subsequently, the water supply on ANGLER was determined the culprit according to skipper “Swede” Olsen.
With our partner the ANGLER gone we reoriented GUNNEL’S operations for optimum coverage of the narrows, in position to launch torpedo attacks on any enemy ships attempting to transit. Submerged during daylight hours and usually on the surface at night, the erratic and turbulent currents created formidable challenges for our navigation team. But they always kept their cool and stayed on top of the problems, deprivation of sleep notwithstanding.
May15, 1944 0600(H): Dived.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 06-09’ S, Longitude 105-39 E
GUNNEL patrolled in the confined waters of Sunda Strait for the next several days, remaining close to the narrowest part of the Strait except when sailboats, fishing vessels and suspected patrol boats were detected when we took evasive action on the surface or submerged to avoid disclosing our presence.
On May 18th, a message from submarine headquarters at Freemantle advised of a successful allied naval attack on Japanese facilities at Surabaya. Japanese naval forces were expected to try to pass into the Indian Ocean for a retaliatory strike against the allied strike force. Excitement was high aboard GUNNEL as the Captain passed this information over the intercom to the crew.
May 20, 1944, 0600(H): Submerged.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 06–04 S, Longitude 105–44.5 E.
1800(H): Sighted smoke on horizon north of eastern pass of Sunda Strait. Latitude 06-01.5 S, Longitude 105–56 E. This smoke disappeared and there were no further indications of a target. I suspect this was an A/S vessel on its way to the north. If so, it passed through Sunda Strait west of Stroom Rock.
1825(H): Sighted small fishing vessel.
2129(H): Sighted small boat with lights. Latitude 06–14 S, Longitude 105–39.5E.
May 21, 1944, 0007(H): Sighted three white flares.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 06–19 S, Longitude 105–24 E.
1315(H): Sighted considerable wreckage. Latitude 06-19 S, Longitude 105–25 E.
As the Captain described the wreckage he saw through the periscope, a somber silence prevailed in the conning tower. All of us reflected on the Battle of Sunda Strait a year earlier when the American and Australian cruisers HOUSTON and PERTH, trapped and vastly outnumbered by overwhelming Japanese forces made a gallant fight to the tragic end. Both were sunk by enemy torpedo attack and gunfire at near point-blank range with almost total loss of their crews.
May 22, 1944, 0605(H): Dived in postion bearing 220°T, distance 12 miles from lookout tower on Twhartway Island and commenced passage of Sunda Straight west of Stroom Rock. Experience of U.S. Sub and own conclusions based on traffic on the day of transit and previous observations, indicated that this course was the least likely to be mined.
During the night Captain McCain had received an ULTRA message advising that the Japanese naval force heading toward Sunda Strait had changed course northward and was already out of reach. GUNNEL was reassigned to a new patrol area in the South China Sea off the coast of Indochina, and directed to proceed north via Sunda Strait.
This was a bitter disappointment for all of us. Captain McCain commented, “It would have been like shooting ducks in a bath tub.”
As the navigator I had been monitoring the movements of all surface contacts detected during the last ten days, and already had a good idea of the best courses to take us safely through the minefields. My estimate was reconfirmed this morning as the skipper and I took turns at the periscope for periodic observations of small vessels in transit.
0900(H): Sighted small steam launch on southeasterly course apparently bound for Anyer Kidul. This launch was first sighted south of Kandang Island.
1010(H): During the day sighted numerous small sailing boats.
1101(H): Sighted small inter-island steamer, one hundred tons, north west of Twhartway Island on southerly course to pass west of Stroom Rock.
1135(H): Two or three miles north of Stroom Rock sighted PC boat lying to, apparently listening. The range was four thousand yards. Rigged for silent running and changed course to 075°T. Latitude 05-53.3 S, Longitude 105-52' E.
1210(H): Periscope depth, quick observation disclosed patrol boat dead astern, about two thousand yards. Currents and navigational restrictions, namely close proximity of Winsor Rock, necessitated a change to northerly course. The PC boat never heard us because subsequent observations showed him headed for his original position. This concluded our transit of Sunda Strait. Numerous sailboats were sighted during the afternoon.
Post-analysis indicated GUNNEL had passed right under the patrol boat, running silent and as deep as feasible in the circumstances. This was the narrowest part of the channel, deep enough for a submarine to operate but with no leeway for maneuvering. We were all a bit edgy and walking in our stocking feet to avoid making any noise that might be detectable.
1935(H): Surfaced ten miles north east Twhartway Island. All ahead standard speed seventeen knots in order to clear shallow water (11 fathoms) before daybreak.
2010(H): Sighted unidentified light.
May 23, 1944: Enroute Karimata Strait.
0035(H): Passed Etna Bank abeam to port distance ten miles.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 4–42 S, Longitude 108–22’ E.
2345(H): Commenced patrol South of Discovery Rock.
May 24, 1944: Enroute Karimata Straits.
0549(H): Submerged patrol across southern entrance to Karimata Straits.
Karimata, East of Singapore and just west of Borneo, was a passage most frequently used by large ships transiting between the South China Sea and the Java Sea. There were other routes but water depths were often shallow and poorly charted. Captain McCain opted to patrol across the southern entrance during daylight hours, searching for targets of opportunity.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 04–08 S, Longitude 109–37’E.
1835(H): Surfaced and commenced transit of Karimata Straits.
May 25, 1944: 0600(H): Submerged sixty-four miles west of Karimata Straits.
During the night, as I recall, the captain received an ULTRA message reporting a Japanese submarine enroute Singapore to Japan. The skipper eagerly changed course out of Karimata Strait and headed northwest toward Singapore. Subsequently, closer examination of the charts and our position relative to the track of the Japanese sub showed he was already too far north beyond our reach, and approaching the patrol areas of other American subs.
0940(H): Sighted small sailboat. Latitude 01–31 S, Longitude 107–55 E.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 01–29.5 S, Longitude 107–50 E.
1840(H): Surfaced. Took course for area off of French Indochina coast.
May 26, 1944: 1200(H): Position: Latitude 02–12N, Longitude 07–21 E.
1400(H): SD radar contact closed from 10 to six miles. Submerged.
Thought to be a Japanese patrol plane operating from Singapore.
2025(H): Sighted unidentified light: Latitude 02–52 N, Longitude 108–05 E.
2245(H): Sighted Soebi Ketjil Island light on southern Natuna Island group.(gp. FL. White, 2 ev. 10 secs.)
May 27, 1944, 1625(H): Enroute to area.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 05–44 N, Longitude 108-48 E.
1625(H): Sighted U.S. submarine, Latitude 06–41 N, Longitude 108–48 E.
Detected by radar at 30,000 yards, we initially thought it was a large enemy ship and excitedly commenced plotting his movements. At 18,000 yards, observations by high periscope confirmed the contact as a surfaced submarine headed toward us. As it drew closer, the skipper and I agreed it was an American sub. Nevertheless, the two submarines approached each other warily like two sniffing dogs, while changing course frequently to ensure eyeball recognition. Finally, recognition signals via flashing light confirmed the sub as USS LAPON.
As LAPON approached close aboard, the commanding officer (Cdr.L.T “Steamie” Stone) nervously shouted through a megaphone : “Jack, have you seen Jim (Cdr.W.J Davis, C.O of Raton). I fired two torpedoes at a Japanese submarine this morning and am sure it wasn’t Jim.” The response by McCain as remembered by Capt. Robert C. “Bing” Gillette USN Ret., former Exec and Navigator of Lapon, was in character: “I hope you didn’t sink him as I’m supposed to meet him later”.
Jack McCain then asked if Lapon had a spare bottle of nitrogen we could borrow.
1708(H): U.S submarine maneuvered alongside and transferred nitrogen bottle which later was found to be empty.
The sea was flat calm with no wind and the transfer was easily accomplished. After the flask was taken below a burst of profanity could be heard from our auxiliary men on discovering it was empty.
The near tragedy in the early morning hours of May 27 recounted in the commentaries that follow was the only confirmed instance in World War II of a U.S. submarine firing on a fellow American sub. Yet for compelling reasons brought out in their comments, the accidental firing on the Raton was never mentioned in official reports, and was a taboo subject for discussion until a half century later when key officers of the two submarines wrote their accounts of the day’s events for the U.S. Naval Academy alumni magazine SHIPMATE in 1991, setting the record straight for naval historians and submarine buffs. Relevant excerpts follow.
Raton’s former skipper Rear Admiral Jim Davis USN Ret. put it all in perspective:
“At the time, RATON was patrolling in an area adjacent to LAPON and GUNNEL areas .……A day or two before the incident we had received an “ultra” message…….I considered this message to me (‘For Jim Davis eyes only”) for Raton’s action only. On the morning of the incident……I had just started up the ladder in the Control Room and I could feel the ship turning when we were shaken by two strong underwater explosions. My first reaction was we had been caught on the surface by a plane.”
Jim Davis remembers a dramatic message received later that day:
“The Communications Officer handed me a message. It was from LAPON (to headquarters) and as I recall it started off, ‘Oh my God X Missed, repeat missed, possible Uncle Sugar submarine etc.’ A quick check of her position and the mystery of the two early morning explosions was solved. I couldn’t believe it, and as I recall I was a little upset.
After we returned to Australia, I don’t recall ever discussing the incident either with Adm. Christie or any member of his staff. Neither did I ever discuss it in detail with ‘Steamie’ Stone…….However, we became good friends.
The reason I am writing this account after so may years is that in a recent book (1989) an account of the incident is recorded in which it is stated that ‘RATON went into her (LAPON) area’ with no explanation why…….with a strong inference that RATON was at fault……On the basis of that ‘ultra’ message to me I believed that we were required to enter LAPON’S area in order to carry out orders. I further believe that the chief cause of this unfortunate incident probably had its birth in the Staff Headquarters back in Australia”.
Robert C.“Bing” Gillette LAPON’S former Executive Officer provides some illuminating insights on the incident from the perspective of his submarine:
“This message (referring to an ULTRA received by LAPON), unlike the RATON message, was not addressed to ‘Eyes only Jim Davis’ so LAPON immediately set course and speed to intercept the Japanese submarine……The possibility that the friendly submarine in the area to South would respond was not considered as it was beyond belief that Headquarters would send a submarine into a submarine occupied area without first telling the incumbent to pull clear……it confirms in my mind that the, Operations Department in Perth really were asleep and couldn’t have done a better job of setting up a potential catastrophic event even if that had been their intention.”
As for the firing of torpedoes, Gillette provides additional convincing rationale for the decision made by LAPON’S commanding officer.
“At about 0500, the periscope watch sighted what he thought was a sailboat. After further observations (at the first light of dawn) I identified it as Japanese when I saw what I believed were portholes installed in the bridge structure. The effect was that what appeared to be portholes were openings through the bridge structure which the light of the false dawn was showing through. The identification was reinforced by the fact that the target was sighted on time, on the projected track, and at the expected dawn diving position as computed from the “ultra” message…….
LAPON was immediately swung right to bring the four stern tubes to bear……. The attack was developing rapidly. At this time the skipper, ‘Steamie’ Stone took over the scope and made ready to fire. He agreed with the identification and adjusted the set up slightly and fired the first two torpedoes of the spread of four at which time he ordered ‘checkfire’. I remonstrated saying that he was ruining the spread to which he replied, ’I think it’s one of our own’. There was an immediate silence throughout the boat…….
The memory of the deathly silence that prevailed on LAPON during the four minute torpedo run will never be forgotten. The episode was one that we all wanted to forget and to my knowledge, other than Roscoes’s book SUBMARINE (incomplete account), had never been reported until Jim Davis’s fine article in SHIPMATE.”
And finally, D.W Sencenbaugh, former Officer of the Deck of RATON remembers that the traditional warrior spirit and sense of humor of our submarine sailors remained unfazed by this near tragic event:
“Later when we returned to Perth, we found dents in the hull while in the marine railway. This convinced the RATON crew that we had been hit by a couple of duds…….I have been convinced over the years, that there were a couple of guardian angels holding on to the big brass balls within the exploders…….
“This incident also caused some altercations on the streets of Perth. As I recall, the LAPON sailors used to meet RATON sailors, pointing out what good shots they were. The RATON sailors agreed thoroughly with that estimate, and fights erupted on the spot.”
May 28, 1944: Enroute to area.
0941(H): Entered area. Latitude 10–00 N, Longitude 110–24 E.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 10–33 N, Longitude 110–23 E.
May 29, 1944: Enroute (on surface) to patrol area off Cape Padaran and Camranh Bay.
Camranh Bay was an important operational and logistic staging locale for Japanese forces in Southeast Asia, including anti-submarine ships and aircraft that conducted surveillance patrols regularly.
0618(H): Flushed out number four fuel ballast tank for use as main ballast tank.
1040(H): Sighted U.S sub (15,000 yards) Latitude 10–20 N, Longitude 110–00 E.
Initially detected by radar at 24,000 yards the contact was identified visually at 15,000 yards as a submarine, and subsequent recognition signals confirmed it as RATON. The two skippers were anxious to swap sea stories on events of May 27.. Mc Cain maneuvered GUNNEL to parallel RATON close aboard until the skippers were within comfortable shouting distance for a half hour of Monday morning quarterbacking, all in good submarine style humor. Jim Davis normally a soft spoken man, left no doubt about his unhappiness with being shot at by a friend.
May 30, 1944: Enroute to patrol off Phanrang Bay.
0450(H): Sighted small fishing vessel.
0510(H): Submerged bearing 075, distance 12 miles from Cape Padaran. Sighted innumerable sailboats off north coast of Padaran and in Phangrang Bay.
0930(H): Sighted possible smoke over horizon. Changed course to close. Nothing materialized from this contact.
0953(H): Sighted plane type “Dave” apparently patrolling five to ten miles off shore.
1030(H): Sighted large sailing vessel, fifty tons.
1050(H): Sighted small tug.
1105(H): Sighted smoke on horizon north of Camranh Bay. I was unable to develop this contact.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 11–25.5 N, Longitude 109–10 E.
1330(H): Sighted small inter-island steamer, 100 tons, close inshore.
1955(H): Surfaced and conducted night patrol, ten miles off beach.
May 31, 1944 0520(H): Submerged 19 miles from Padaran, bearing 250 degrees (T).
1200(H): Position: Latitude 11–30 N, 109–11 E.
1325(H): Sighted smoke over horizon. Changed course to close and identified contact as small steam trawler, (50 tons) which stood out from Camranh Bay and changed course to the north. Unable to close.
1933(H): Surfaced. Conducted surface patrol ten miles off shore.
June 1, 1944 0520(H): Submerged for patrol off Camranh Bay.
0820(H): Sighted possible smoke on horizon. No further contact.
1200(H): Position: latitude 11–43 N, Longitude 109–20 E.
1955(H): Surfaced. Conducted surface patrol off coast 10 miles.
June 2,1944 0516(H): Submerged.
1007(H): Sighted small 50 to 100 ton cargo vessel.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 11–54 N, Longitude 109–22.5 E.
1505(H): Sighted small tug off Hon Nha.
1800(H): Sighted aircraft through periscope type “Rufe”.
2140(H): SJ radar contact on patrol boat, south of Hon Nai. This vessel remained in that position all night.
June 3, 1944 1200(H): Position: Latitude 11–58 N, Longitude 109–22 E.
1720(H): Sighted small fishing vessel, gasoline, headed for Camranh Bay.
1950(H): Sighted light of small fishing boat. Took course to proceed up coast towards Cape Varella.
2200(H): Changed course to 070 degrees T to patrol northern sector of area.
June 4, 1944: Underway on surface to northern sector.
1200(H): Position 13–55 N, Longitude 113–09 E.
June 5, 1944: Underway on surface to patrol northern sector of area.
Based on our observations and lack of targets during the past several days the skipper was convinced that no ships had entered or left the bay. Along the coast only large junks and small vessels were transiting north-south and anything of importance was hugging the coast in the shoal waters just offshore.
He decided we should move northeast 200 miles or so into the center of the South China Sea (SCS). We knew from earlier briefings at headquarters that major naval forces and large merchantmen transiting between Japan, Java or the Malacca Straits would more often than not pass through the middle portion of the SCS unless headed for a specific destination on the coast such as Camranh Bay while enroute. Even though it was a gamble considering the wide expanse of the SCS, the skipper’s intuition proved accurate as we discovered over the next few days.
0920(H): Sighted plane, type “Nell”, Latitude 13–49 N, Longitude 116- 11 E. at 10 miles on southerly course. Submerged.
1110(H): Plane bearing 090 degrees T, 18 miles. Did not dive.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 13-48 N, Longitude 116–05 E.
June 6, 1944: Underway on surface patrolling north.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 16–22 N, Longitude 116–29 E.
June 7, 1944 0045(H): Target on SJ radar, apparently plane, at 19000 yards bearing 339 degrees T. The rate of change of bearing precluded any other type of target and the visibility that night was excellent due to a very bright moon. This plane was moving south.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 14–47 N, Longitude 115-20 E.
1453(H): In Latitude 14-25 N, Longitude 114–50 E sighted vertical stick in water that looked exactly like a dummy periscope.
1655(H): In Latitude 14–13 N, Longitude 114–31 E sighted another stick similar to one mentioned above.
Indications that Japanese forces has been conducting anti-submarine drills in this vicinity recently.
1807(H): Contact SD radar 6 miles. Submerged.
1809(H): Depth bomb fairly close.
We were jarred severely by this bomb, fortunately with only minor damage to a few gauges. The Japanese were using larger depth bombs than earlier in the war.
1825(H): Depth bomb not close.
1930(H): SJ radar contact on plane at 4,150 yards. Submerged.
June 8, 1944: Underway on surface standing south patrolling.
0743(H): SJ radar contact at 31,000 yards, bearing 200°T. At same time sighted aircraft bearing 190°T on easterly course. Submerged.
0832(H): Surfaced on course 187°T.
0906(H): In Latitude 11°-59' N and Longitude 112°-29' E, SJ radar contact bearing 245°T range 29,450 yards. Observation through high periscope disclosed this to be one small aircraft carrier and at least three other unidentifed ships. Tracking gave a base course of 205°T speed 11.5 knots. Commenced working around this group on surface.
1002(H): Plot shows speed to be fourteen knots.
1101(H): Radar indicated four pips on bearing 065°T range 30,000 yards apparently on southerly course. These pips were very indistinct and never confirmed. I continued working around first group. Visibility closed in and intermittent rain squalls were frequently encountered.
1113(H): SJ radar noted heavy interference on bearing 65°T and a small target on that bearing at 29,000 yards. Lowered visibility precluded visual sighting of this contact.
1200(H): Position Latitude 11°-36' N, Longitude 112°-28' E.
1217(H): Officer of Deck inadvertently dived on SD radar contact at 24 miles. Just prior to this dive plot indicated a change in course to the right and a possible increase in speed.
1230(H): Surfaced on course 270°T and went ahead on all four engines. This course should have regained contact in a relatively short period of time. Following no contact, we developed search curve to include possible courses to right up to 280°T
The skipper had done a good job of working around this formation in low visibility and frequent rain squalls. It was unfortunate the Officer of theDeck inadvertently dived when the plane was still at 24 miles with no indication he had spotted GUNNEL. Even though we surfaced 13 minutes later, our subsequent searches failed to regain contact on the task force. It is possible that the enemy DF’d GUNNEL’s radar signals and radically changed course. In any event, this was the only worthwhile torpedo target opportunity during the entire patrol.
1709(H): No contact so changed course to 170°T to intercept convoy further along initial path and developed search curve.
The convoy referred to by the commanding officer was the group of ships northeast of us detected by radar at 1101(H) while we were working our way around the carrier task force to the south, seeking to attain a firing position. Although the convoy was never seen visually, our radar plot over a short period indicated the ships of this group were on approximately the same course and speed as the task force. The distance between the two groups was 30 miles. We assumed the task force was providing air cover for the convoy to the north as both proceeded southward.
1818(H): In Latitude 11°-28' N and Longitude 111°-00' E sighted unidentified aircraft, distance 15 miles bearing 310°T. Submerged.
June 9, 1944: Underway on surface, developing search for contact of previous day
0855(H): Sighted plane bearing 280 degrees T range 14 miles. Submerged. Latitude 09–09 N, Longitude 109-11 E.
1000(H): Sighted plane, 7 miles, bearing 190 degrees T. Submerged.
1052(H): Sighted plane bearing 120 degrees T, range 13,000 yards. Submerged. I decided to continue patrol submerged in hopes that convoy would close our position.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 08–53 N, Longitude 109-06 E.
1240(H): Surfaced for observation.
1430(H): Surfaced and sighted US sub through high periscope bearing 257 degrees T at range of 14 miles.
1500(H): Closed and exchanged information. Decided to continue search to south along base course, other sub 15 miles to west of this line and US sub 15 miles to East.
This submarine (name not recalled) had also been in contact with the convoy. The skippers exchanged useful information and agreed on a search plan for the next several hours as the two subs continued southward on parallel courses.
June 10, 1944: 0517(H): Changed course to 035 degrees T to return to area.
With no further indications of the convoy, the skipper thought it best to return to the coast of Indochina and resume patrolling off the approaches to Camranh Bay and along the coast.
1200(H): Position: latitude 07–13 N, Longitude 107–59 E.
June 11, 1944. Underway to patrol off of Nui Ong Can.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 08–30 N, Longitude 109–07 E.
June 12, 1944. Underway to patrol off coast.
0500(H): SJ radar completely out of commission. With the exception of four hours this condition existed until 19 June at which time repairs were effected.
The SJ surface search radar was introduced into the submarine force in 1943. As indicated earlier, it was a valuable instrument which supplemented the outmoded SD air search radar when the submarine was on the surface. Its beam was more powerful, range greater and its parabolic reflector antenna was beamed for surface vessels, not for aircraft as that of the SD. Moreover, the SJ could be even more useful when it’s capabilities were enhanced with the Plan Position Indicator (PPI), a viewing scope that roughly showed the relative positions and distances of all radar “blips” within reach of the radar – a geographical presentation on a cathode ray tube.
Radar troubles plagued all submarines throughout the war, even though the radarmen operators were highly skilled and motivated. The equipment was still in a relatively early stage of development.
0800(H): Sighted plane bearing 320 degrees T, 11 miles in Latitude 11–44 N, 110–12 E. Submerged.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 11-36 N, Longitude 110–12 E.
1555(H): SD contact 12 miles. Submerged.
1745(H): SD contact 15 miles. Submerged.
June 13, 1944: Underway to patrol off coast.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 13–04 N, Longitude 111–05 E.
June 14, 1944: Underway to patrol off coast.
0345(H): Sighted sail boat.
0520(H): Submerged for patrol off Nui Ong Can.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 13–53 N, Longitude 109–23 E.
2032(H): Sighted small sail boat.
June 15, 1944: Sent dispatch requesting five day extension of patrol.
Deeply frustrated at the lack of success so far, the skipper broke radio silence and recommended to headquarters our war patrol be extended five additional days provided we made a pit stop for fuel at Exmouth Gulf on the NW Australian coast enroute Freemantle. Permission was granted.
0520(H): Submerged and patrolled south of Cape Varella.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 12–51 N, 109–38 E.
June 16, 1944: Underway patrolling off Cape Varella.
0515(H): Submerged for patrol off Hongom Peninsula.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 12–44 N, Longitude 109–34 E.
This position was eight miles off Varella. Coastal traffic was known to pass close to the cape. Along this section of the coast, deeper water extended closer to shore, a more comfortable environment for our submerged operations as well. Accurate navigation was always a challenge. A pagoda shaped hill near Cape Varella proved valuable for taking bearings while submerged, also at night when the visibility permitted.
1435(H): Sighted unidentified plane through periscope.
June 17, 1944: Underway patrolling Southeast of Cape Varella.
0515(H): Submerged for patrol off Hon Doi.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 12–39 N, Longitude 109–31 E.
1420(H): Sighted small 500 to 1000 ton coastal steamer approximately ½ mile off shore, on northerly course, making 14 knots. Range never less than 7000 yards.
Captain McCain attempted to close the target but its relative position and speed away from us ruled out getting within torpedo range. In darkness, we would have closed at high speed on the surface and at least attacked this small steamer with our deck gun from outside of the shoal water in which he was traveling.
1952(H): Surfaced. Underway to patrol off of Ong Can.
This small bay was 70 miles north of the cape. We were able to operate submerged fairly close to shore in this vicinity.
June 18, 1944, 0515(H): Submerged, patrolling off Nui Ong.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 13–52N, Longitude 109–23 E.
1800(H): Surfaced and went alongside three sailboats. Nips, etc.
The skipper had long suspected sailboats were used as lookouts. The three boats looked innocent enough as we went alongside and could clearly see several fishermen huddled in the bilges next to their catch of the day.
2018(H): SJ contact on target that later proved to be small sailboat. His sails must have been coated with some type of reflecting paint.
June 19, 1944: Underway on surface patrolling Empire-Saigon route.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 12–13 N, Longitude 110–14 E.
1635(H): SD target 11 miles. Submerged.
1713(H): SD target 8 miles closing. Submerged.
Japanese air patrols from Camranh Bay had been persistent periodically since our arrival off Indochina, obviously aware that one or more American submarine were lurking offshore.
June 20, 1944: Underway on surface patrolling Empire-Saigon route.
1200(H): Position: Lattitude 10–50N, Longitude 110–04 E.
1333(H): Sighted large oil tank bearing. Conducted 4” 50 and 20mm practice.
The gunnery drill provided a pleasant diversion for the crew as well as an opportunity for the gunners to sharpen their marksmanship. Crewmen were permitted topside in relays to observe the shooting and enjoy the fresh air.
1700(H): Departed area for Karimata Straits.
With Freemantle over 3000 miles, the skipper planned the return trip through the Java Sea so as to crisscross the shipping routes between Singapore and Surabaya Java, and then pass through Lombok Strait into the Indian ocean.
June 21, 1944: Enroute Karimata Straits.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 07–02 N, Longitude 108–17 E.
June 22, 1944: Enroute Karimata Straits.
1200(H): Position: 02–30 N, 106–57 E.
1424(H): SD target 8 miles, submerged.
June 23, 1944: Enroute Karimata Straits.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 01–23 S, Longitude 107–47 E.
1300(H): Submerged to make approach on Straits for transit at night.
1735(H): Surfaced Latitude 01–45 S, Longitude, 108–13 E. Sighted sailing junk. Boarded same which was loaded with rice.
Our perennial volunteer Ed Leidholdt and another shipmate jumped aboard with 45s in hand and found no radio gear or other suspicious activity. The junk was loaded with rice and manned by Chinese.
1935(H): Commenced transit of Karimata Straits.
June 24: Underway transiting Karimata Staits.
0500(H): Completed transit, took course for Lombok Straits.
0928(H): Sighted small sail boat.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 04-27 S, Longitude 109–54 E.
At this time we were in the Java Sea north of Central Java and headed toward Lombok Strait 50 miles to the southeast.
June 25, 1944: Enroute Lombok Strait, patrolled Surabaya-Singapore route this date.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 04-33 S, Longitude 112–12 E.
June 26, 1944: Enroute Lombok strait, patrolled Surabaya-Singapore route this date.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 05-03 S, Longitude 111–40 E.
June 27, 1944: Enroute Lombok Strait.
0615(H): Sighted small boat.
0930(H): Sighted unidentified aircraft, bearing 190 degrees T distance 12 miles. Submerged.
1200(H): Position: Latitude 06–05 S, Longitude 116-02 E.
1430(H): Sighted small sailboat.
June 28, 1944: Enroute Lombok Strait.
0219(H): Commenced transit of Lombok.
Between the islands of Lombok and Bali, this passage was often used by allied submarines transiting through the southern chain of Indonesian islands to and from the Indian Ocean. The Japanese knew this and kept an ASW boat in the strait patrolling the narrowest portion backed up by one or more six inch gun batteries on the bluffs overlooking the strait.
We decided to run through the passage at best speed on the surface taking advantage of the prevailing strong southerly currents and visibility in our favor. The skipper was on the bridge conning, with Ed Leidholdt and two lookouts. I was in the conning tower navigating and plotting our positions on a chart while communicating with the bridge verbally through the open hatch.
0400(H): SJ radar contact bearing 245 degrees T, 6800 yards. This was a patrol boat and he closed the range to 5600 yards on suspicion.
I plotted courses circumventing the patrol boat and close to the abrupt shore line where GUNNEL’s silhouette would not be prominent and where our radar image would be indistinct amidst the clutter of the land background.
All the while our gun crews were standing by below deck eager to go topside and engage the enemy if ordered by the Captain. Submarine skippers had been cautioned by headquarters against “initiating” a gunfight in Lombok which would invite overwhelming return fire from the shore batteries. (A few months later while I was on ANGLER transiting the Strait, we were suddenly bracketed by gunfire from shore batteries and the patrol boat).
0420(H): Patrol boat apparently decided situation normal and continued patrol of Strait to north.
0444(H): Completed transit and took course for Exmouth Gulf.
1150(H): Sighted friendly sub and closed.
We closed within hailing distance of the USS Robalo commanded by Lieut Commander M.M Kimmel USN (son of former Pacific Fleet Commander,Admiral Husband Kimmel) -- close enough to allow the two skippers to exchange operational information as well as pleasantries.
The crew of the GUNNEL would never see their friends on ROBALO again She was sunk on July 26, 1944 two miles off the west coast of Palawan, probably by striking an enemy mine. She was on her third war patrol at the time. Four of her crew survived the sinking, swam ashore and were subsequently captured by the Japanese. All were later lost, apparently when the Japanese destroyer transporting them to another prison camp never reached its destination.
The remainder of the patrol was routine and uneventful as
GUNNEL continued toward Freemantle via Exmouth Gulf for a brief pit stop.
July 4, 1944: Arrived Freemantle.
All hands were delighted to return to Freemantle and looked forward to enjoying the R&R. Disappointed of course that no targets had been sunk on this long and arduous patrol, like all submariners they considered their safe return to port from extra hazardous operations a blessing and a successful reward in itself for duties well done.
Captain McCain was deeply disappointed there had been no opportunities for him to fire torpedoes on this patrol. He was a courageous and outstanding skipper beloved by his crew, whose only fault if any on this run was that his energetic luck of the draw did not pay off, an experience shared by most other skippers on some of their own war patrols.
After more than two years in command, longer than most skippers, Commander McCain received orders to fly to the US for a well deserved 60 day home leave followed by re-assignment to command the new submarine DENTUDA being fitted out at the Portsmouth New Hampshire naval base.
During this patrol GUNNEL sighted a total of 34 vessels (not counting small sail boats). Of these, 4 were other US submarines, 2 were enemy military vessels (1 small aircraft carrier and 1 patrol craft). The rest were a variety of small fishing boats, steam launches, or trawlers.
A total of 23 aircraft were spotted, one of which dropped 2 depth bombs (one close and one not so close).
The captain noted in his report that the health of the crew was fair, with several minor skin infections. He noted "The food was good and well prepared, due to the excellent management of Charles Junior HEWITT, SC1c, USN".
The captain also praised CPhM(PA) D. R. WAIDLEY for his skillful and effective handling of a possible case of blood poisoning. He said "He undoubtedly prevented a serious illness in the case of Lieut. Zurcher."
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