Patrol highlights written by Frank J. Kelly, who served as Torpedo & Gunnery Officer and TDC Operator (lieutenant(jg)) on this patrol.
After our refit in Majuro we sailed on 6 October ’44 and headed for our 1st assigned area which was the Bonin Islands. We sailed back and forth in that area for a week, but did not have a contact. We were ordered out of there and left for the southern tip of Kyushu (Japan). The battle of the Philippines was going on at the time and we were to head off Japanese carriers coming down from Japan.
We arrived in our new area on 22 October. We had just missed three Japanese ships heading south. We found out later that all three of them were sunk by other subs before they reached the battle.
The action had moved further south so we were assigned an area off of Okinawa, west of Naha. On the nights of 30 and 31 October we tracked two Japanese hunter/killer groups but didn’t want to waste a torpedo on them (too shallow draft).
On 3 November we saw 10 medium freighters leaving Naha heading southwest. We couldn’t follow them due to mined areas. We sent info to subs further south to be on the lookout for them.
We headed north and on 4 November we shot at a small freighter but didn’t get any hits. (Captain assumed he must have been empty and the fish went under him.)
But on 7 November our luck changed. At 6:00 am we sighted smoke coming out of the south and after tracking it for a while determined it was heading north. We started trailed the smoke (while submerged) and at noon we were fairly well out from land, so we surfaced and headed for the smoke. The Captain had already figured we wouldn’t be able to get close to them until nighttime, so we started an end around and got up ahead of them at 9:00 pm.
There were six medium freighters with about 10 patrol boats as escorts. Since this was going to be a night surface attack we had decided that we would fire all six tubes forward, then swing around and fire all four tubes aft. Firing that many fish meant we could fire at three ships in the starboard column. So at 22:18 (10:18 pm) we started firing. After firing only three forward, we swung around and fired all four of the after tubes.
About this time all hell was breaking loose! Since it was pitch dark and we were doing this by radar we were having a terrible time making out the difference between a ship target and an escort. But then explosions started. Of the three forward fish we got two hits on the second ship and one hit on the third ship. Of the four aft fish we got one hit on the first ship, one hit on the second, and one hit on the third ship.
The escorts were going crazy, steaming all over the place dropping depth charges (they thought we were submerged). We were reloading aft and we still had three fish we were trying to shoot. Unfortunately, it was very hard to find a target in the wild melee going on.
A couple of times we would think the radar would show us what we thought was a cripple and we would head in for the kill, only to find out it was a escort looking for us and we would have to turn away and get out of the way. After about 20 minutes of this, the captain figured we had done enough damage and we got out of there. There wasn’t any way for us to verify how many of those ships went down (because of the dark) but we knew we had gotten five hits on those three ships and that was good enough.
We kept patrolling north of Okinawa for another week, but didn’t see anything to go after. Our gun crew got into a little action on 13 November, sinking a 50-ton sampan and, on 14 November, we were ordered out and left for Midway.
Special Note: We left for Midway on 14 November and it took nine days of 24-hour sailing at 15 knots (average) to get there. That computes to3,100 miles, plus or minus. (The Pacific Ocean is a bigplace.)
Also, we were cruising in a storm the whole nine days—no sun, no moon, no stars. We were on dead reckoning for all that time, without a star sight or moon sight. When we finally got a fix we were way south of where we thought we were. Midway is not very easy to find when you don’t have a star sight to do your navigation. In those days we didn’t have LORAN or GPS to help.
Also, since submarines have open bridges, I was under the rain for four hours twice a day! Yuck!
From Midway we sailed to Pearl Harbor. When we got to Pearl I don’t remember if we had our R&R there or not, because our boat was eventually sent on to San Francisco (Bethlehem Shipyard) for a three-month overhaul. Billfish had made six war patrols by then and needed a lot of work.
In San Francisco they did just about everything to our boat, including removing all four diesel engines, motors, and battery cells, did all the ordalts that needed to be done, took off our 4-inch deck gun and replaced it with a 5″/25 (barrel only 125″ long). Installed new radar equipment and gave us a new periscope radar system.
Since San Francisco was my home town I had a 2-1/2 month R&R there where I knew a lot of natives. When I think about that 2-1/2 months it could very well have saved my life, because I probably would have made two more war patrols in that time and the odds for coming back weren’t very good for seven war patrols.
Anyway, we got the boat back together, took it out and tested it pretty thoroughly for leaks and did a lot of calculations to get the ship in a state of slight negative buoyancy so we would be able to control our diving.
Another interesting fact:
Submarines have to be able to dive and then, later, they have to be able to surface (very important).
It has to do with positive and negative buoyancy.
That’s why the engineering officer has to keep track of facts like the following:
Since the last time we got the boat in trim—
How much fuel have we burned?*
How much food have we eaten?
Have sanitary tanks been blown overboard?
Have we fired any torpedoes?
Have we fired rounds in our guns?
Was there anything else that we did to take on weight or take off weight?
So, having computed how much weight loss or weight gain during the last 24 hours we would add or deduct water form the trim tanks and then, every morning just before dawn, we would make a trim dive and get our boat in trim so we could 1) submege and, 2) hold our boat at periscope depth (66′) at 1/3 standard speed (2 to 3 knots) in near zero buoyancy. (Obviously, we would want to surface later, so the boat couldn’t be heavy overall, either.)
* Fuel weighing seven pounds per gallon would have presented an insolvable problem if it wasn’t replaced with eight pounds per gallon of sea water. So, instead of getting seven pounds lighter, we got one pound heavier with each gallon used.