Memorial Day: Submarine Lifeguard League

 

My late father enlisted in the Navy as a 17-year-old. Shortly before his 18th birthday, he completed Submarine School and was in combat as an 18-year-old. The Submarine Lifeguard League in the Pacific rescued about 500 airmen from all services.

When the numbers were added up after the surrender and using Japanese records, U.S. submarines had sunk 1,314 enemy vessels of 5.3 millions tons including a battleship, eight carriers, eleven cruisers and innumerable destroyers and escort ships.

The U.S. submarine service had about 50,000 men in all capacities or 1.6% of the total Navy and accounted for 55% of Japan’s maritime losses. U.S. losses had been 52 boats from all causes, 45 fleet boats. About 16,000 submariners made war patrols ; 375 officers and 3,131 men died, or 22%.

I remember my dad on this day as well as all veterans regardless of where and when they served. His ribbons and Submarine Combat Pin and a photo of him topside.

 

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  1. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    And the record holder for most rescues in one war patrol was Tang.

    Twenty-two during the Truk raids of April-May 1944.  They are shown here in Pearl Harbor when Tang finished its second war patrol. The  23rd man in the picture (standing in the center) is Richard H. O’Kane, Tang’s skipper.

    You can read more about this (and the Allied siege of Truk) here.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I remember this post, Doug, and so appreciate it each time you re-post it. Thanks.

    • #2
  3. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge
    Gazpacho Grande'
    @ChrisCampion

    Thanks Doug!  Great post.  And another great reminder to stop being lazy and show some gratitude, damn it. 

    • #3
  4. Chris Williamson Member
    Chris Williamson
    @ChrisWilliamson

    Young men working together on a common goal, coordinating their actions in The Arsenal of Democracy, looking out for each other, and rescuing other young men…What a story…and thanks for the  youtube link….

    • #4
  5. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    During WW2 the problem of rescuing downed aviators 1st arose. Even for surface ships it could be a challenge. Since it was very impractical for a big ship like a carrier to speed towards and lift a pilot out of the drink (issues like the massive wake & high sides of the carrier being foremost) the job typically devolved to the destroyers. A system of rewards were established to incentivize the small ships- typically 25-30 gallons of ice cream for the crew (and often a bottle or two of whiskey for the officers). In the hot South Pacific ice cream was a valuable commodity. Carriers had ice cream making machines & larger freezers so they could easily dispense the reward- but smaller ships typically lacked such amenities. Destroyers were known to race each other to save the valuable pilots & collect the reward.

    ironically Japan did very little to try to rescue downed aviators even though they started the war with the best trained aviators in the world. They had an excellent training system which produced elite pilots but had little capacity to churn out the large numbers needed to replace the losses they began to face when fighting the Americans. Up until they encountered the US fleet Japan had suffered very few losses of planes or pilots-including their battles with the Royal Navy. But in 1942 and 1943 their pilot corps was decimated and their pilot corp quantity & quality began to suffer significantly. The Japanese pilot replacement program was on par with much of their logistics.

    • #5
  6. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    My dad served on Balao Class subs. The Balao Class subs had a range of 11,000 nautical miles and a 75-day patrol capability.

    There was one upside though. Because of the dangerous and grueling nature of submarine duty, the Navy did its best to ensure that submariners got the best food the Navy had to offer. They also found room to install an ice cream freezer as a small luxury for the crew.

    Here is some film of the USS Skate on its 7th war patrol. Once a sub left Pearl or Australia on a war patrol life on board was a bit different than on a surface ship. Beards and casual attire were a part of submarine life.

    • #6
  7. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    MiMac (View Comment):
    A system of rewards were established to incentivize the small ships- typically 25-30 gallons of ice cream for the crew (and often a bottle or two of whiskey for the officers). In the hot South Pacific ice cream was a valuable commodity. Carriers had ice cream making machines & larger freezers so they could easily dispense the reward- but smaller ships typically lacked such amenities.

    Two WWII Pacific ice cream stories that might interest you:

    1. Dick O’Kane has his crew “find” an ice cream machine when Tang was fitting out. It was installed in the boat, and Tang was one of the few submarines with an ice cream machine.
    2. At Ulithi, an anchorage in the Carolines, the US Navy  had a concrete-hull ice cream barge capable of producing 500 gallons of ice cream every six hours and storing 2000 gallons aboard. It sounds like a lot, but when you consider a Fletcher-class destroyer has a compliment of 300 men, which means you need 11 gallons to give everyone aboard one scoop of ice cream.
    • #7
  8. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    One more video from the USS Skate on the way home, mail and ice cream.

    • #8
  9. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    My dad went back to boats after earning a university degree, this time as an officer. He was offered a full commission.

    • #9
  10. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    My dad went back to boats after earning a university degree, this time as an officer. He was offered a full commission.

    Regular or reserve?

    • #10
  11. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    My dad went back to boats after earning a university degree, this time as an officer. He was offered a full commission.

    Regular or reserve?

    Regular

    • #11
  12. Tedley Member
    Tedley
    @Tedley

    MiMac (View Comment):

    ironically Japan did very little to try to rescue downed aviators even though they started the war with the best trained aviators in the world. They had an excellent training system which produced elite pilots but had little capacity to churn out the large numbers needed to replace the losses they began to face when fighting the Americans. Up until they encountered the US fleet Japan had suffered very few losses of planes or pilots-including their battles with the Royal Navy. But in 1942 and 1943 their pilot corps was decimated and their pilot corp quantity & quality began to suffer significantly. The Japanese pilot replacement program was on par with much of their logistics.

    Japan did not adequately prepare in many ways.  Not having a large-enough pipeline to train new pilots or rescue downed pilots were major shortcomings.  They did not have an effective logistics train to support the soldiers in any of their conquered territories.  They were also very lax about having a plan to defend their cargo ships traveling between Japan and Southeast Asia, and as it turned out, they were ineffective at it.  As the war went on, US submarines were able to sink an expanding number of cargo ships that were carrying critical supplies of food, oil, and raw materials from the conquered territories trying to reach Japan.  For example, they had planned to use rice from Vietnam and Indonesia to supplement what they could grow domestically or get from Korea.  By 1944, our submarines, in tandem with aircraft flying from recently reconquered bases nearby, were so lethal that the flow of cargo to Japan was dramatically cut down to, if memory serves, something like 10 percent of what was expected.  They helped starve the Japanese industry and prevent construction of new armaments, ships, and aircraft, as well as making life progressively more difficult for the Japanese citizen.

    • #12
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