USS PAMPANITO (SS-383)
by ENC(SS)(DV) C. Mike Carmody, USN(RET)
Republished with permission from the October 2007 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, a publication of the Naval Submarine League, PO Box 1146, Annandale, Virginia 22003.
During WWII we had many second chances or close calls while serving on submarines. The following stories are about seven torpedo attacks against the two submarines I served on during the war. Fifty-two submarines didn't get a second chance and were lost. Some submarines, like SALMON, BLACKFISH, HALIBUT and BASS, returned so badly damaged, they had to be sent to the scrap pile. Their crews really got a second chance. The seven torpedo attacks I was involved with were all confirmed. Of course, there were many false alarms caused by porpoises or wave crest. Our Captain always said, "Take evasive action, better safe than sorry."
Torpedoes --First Attack
The first enemy torpedo attack took place in early 1942. I was a seaman lookout on the old submarine S-17 (SS122). We were patrolling the Anegada Passage in the Caribbean Sea and saw what appeared to be a fishing boat coming towards us. Unfortunately, we weren't equipped with radar. As we closed within a thousand yards of the target we realized it was a U-boat. We both dove. Once submerged, we fired one torpedo by sound. No detonation was heard. We then distinctly heard the high whining sound of a torpedo passing down our starboard side. German post war records revealed the U-boat we encountered was U-161. They further revealed the U-Boat's captain, Achilles, reported being fired on by another submarine and he returned fire. The entry was dated March 5, 1942. U-161 was later sunk by a Navy PBY flying boat off the coast of Brazil on September 27, 1943. It was traveling on the surface when it sunk with all hands.
The second attack took place off the Carolina coast, USA, in January 1944. I was assigned to the newly constructed submarine, USS PAMPANITO (SS 383). Shortly after completing sea trials we departed from New London Submarine Base, Groton, CT on January 15, 1944. Our destination was Panama. A few days into the voyage we were off the U.S. Carolinas. We were in the same vicinity where another newly constructed submarine, USS DORADO (SS 248), was previously lost with all hands. She fell victim to friendly aircraft fire in October 1942.
Post war records revealed that in January 1944 U-boat 214 was operating in the same general area as PAMPANITO. PAMPANITO was running south at flank speed, twenty one knots, during the night. The sea was quite calm for January. The officer of the deck was Lt. Clifford Grommet. The lookouts spotted a torpedo wake approaching PAMPANITO's port side. Lt. Grommet took evasive action and called for full left rudder. He also requested the captain to come to the bridge. The torpedo missed PAMPANITO's bow by a few yards. Our soundman heard the torpedo props, the U-boat blowing its ballast to surface, and ahead away from the area. We sent off a quick radio report of the U-boat's location. Our sharp lookouts and quick evasive actions of Lt. Grommet definitely saved the boat from sure destruction. German post war records confirmed that in July 1944 the British Frigate HMS COOK sank U-boat 214 off the southwest coast of England. All hands were lost.
Third, fourth and fifth attacks
Three torpedo attacks took place off Japan. PAMPANITO's second war patrol, in June 1944, took us to Bungo Suido, Japan's largest submarine base. We were zigzagging in a moderate sea, with a full moon shining. At 0330, June 23th, Lt. Davis and Gunners Mate Tony Hauptmann, sighted a torpedo wake approaching our port side. Left full rudder and flank speed were ordered to parallel the torpedo's track. Just then a second torpedo passed down our starboard side. The first torpedo detonated about twenty seconds after it passed us. It most likely sank and hit bottom. The captain attributed these misses to the alertness of the lookouts and fact we were zigzagging.
On July 5th we made a submerged attack on a convoy of four ships off the island of Nii Shima, south of Tokyo. A destroyer and very close air cover heavily guarded the ships. A spread of six Mark 18 electric torpedoes was fired at the convoy. Three hits were heard. No observation could be made because of the tight air coverage. The destroyer immediately retaliated by dropping eleven depth charges. They weren't even close, indicating the destroyer had no clue where we were. The soundman heard noises of a ship breaking up. Post war records gave us credit for sinking the TOYOKOWA MARU, a fifty one hundred ton cargo ship.
After sinking the TOYOKOWA MARU our patrol area was changed, taking us to an area off the island of Hachyo Shima. Just before dawn on July 16th a torpedo wake was sighted by lookout Hubert Brown. The officer on deck was Lt. Swain. He ordered an evasive turn to parallel PAMPANITO with the torpedo track. The torpedo narrowly missed us, crossing our bow by three to five yards.
Our Captain preferred to run on the surface at every opportunity. This enabled us to cover a larger area of patrol. A fleet submarine consumed about twenty gallons of fuel per mile when running on four main engines. We always ended up with a fuel shortage when it came time to return to base. Surface runs made the boat more susceptible to attacks by enemy submarines and planes. We certainly received our share of torpedo and bomb attacks.
The sixth torpedo attack took place at Exmouth Gulf, Australia. We had just terminated a very exciting and memorable fourth war patrol. We sank two ships with our replacement captain, Mike Fenno, a four striper. He was the hero who spirited the gold and silver bullion out of Corregidor aboard the submarine TROUT. He replaced our regular captain, Pete Summers. Captain Summers was relieved of command due to battle fatigue after completing 10 war patrols. We made a hairy rescue, during a storm, when Chief Merryman was washed overboard. He was very fortunate to have been saved. We also survived a devastating typhoon named Cobra. Three destroyers were sunk in that storm while coming to the aid of a carrier in distress. A total of 804 destroyer men were lost. When the storm weakened we headed south and crossed the equator.
On Christmas Eve 1944, we entered Lombock Strait, a very dangerous passage between the islands of Bali and Java. Two American submarines were lost in this strait during the war. We had already logged sixteen thousand miles and were at sea for seventy days. At dawn, Christmas day, we entered the Indian Ocean. We were almost completely out of food and extremely low on fuel. We had two more days of travel to locate a secret fueling place in one of the wildest areas of northwestern Australia. It was known as Exmouth Gulf. On December 27th we spotted North West Cape, the entrance to Exmouth Gulf. We entered the channel that led to a small creek where a fuel barge was anchored. Naval convicts manned the barge. Most of our crew were topside when we entered the channel. To our amazement, a torpedo fired from sea, by a Japanese submarine, came parallel to us approximately eighty yards off our port side. It was a bad shot. We watched in awe as it ran aground on the creek's bank. This was the sixth torpedo miss for me. How many more second chances would we get? This completely exposed area was no place to dally. We took on 1,500 gallons of fuel oil and departed Exmouth under the cover of darkness, for our two-day trip to Freemantle, Australia.
On our fifth patrol we sank two ships in the Gulf of Siam. Our boat sustained damage. We were directed to Subic Bay, Philippine Islands. We followed the submarine tender, USS GRIFFIN, to Subic Bay on February 12, 1945. The town of Olongapo was still being liberated by U.S. troops. Our boat was the first to be refitted at Subic Bay. While there, we experienced two Japanese air raids per night. We had to maintain three men on topside watch at all times because of Japanese suicide swimmers. One night they blew up an anchored PBY patrol bomber anchored near us. The bomber's crew was sleeping inside when the incident occurred. During the night we could see Manila being bombed and shelled. It looked like a large fireworks display.
On February 25th we departed Subic Bay to start our sixth war patrol. On this patrol we came the closest to being sunk by an enemy torpedo. We operated between Saigon and Singapore. This was our most boring patrol due to the lack of enemy targets. The only contact we had was with an enemy hospital ship. We had to let it pass unmolested. We sank some mines that were adrift. One surprise we got was when we received a radio message to rendezvous with the submarine SEA ROBIN on March 11th. It seemed our 34 bags of Christmas mail kept missing us. It arrived in Australia just after we left. The SEA ROBIN was elected to find us and deliver the mail. The mail was transferred to us by means of a hi-line between the two submarine. Sixty-eight transfers were made and took all night to complete. The bags were so heavy they all had to be divided in half to prevent them from hitting the water. Food, like fruitcakes, fried chicken and heavy presents caused the weight problem. At dawn we bid farewell to our good mail carrier. The crew was very happy to receive the mail and Christmas presents, even though they were three months late.
On March 25th we entered the Philippine sea and sailed for Saipan. Again, our orders were changed. We were ordered to Wake Island. We were to join three other submarines and ambush a Japanese supply submarine that was bringing supplies to Wake Island. While en-route, we met the submarine SNOOK (SS 279). She was heading to her 9th patrol. We exchanged confidential information and departed. That night SNOOK failed to make her daily radio report to Pearl Harbor. She disappeared into the vast sea and her fate was never known. According to Japanese post war records, no enemy action was reported in that area.
The next day Signalman Second Class, Herman Bixler, was on lookout duty when he saw a torpedo wake approaching at an angle towards our stern. To avoid being hit, the officer of the deck rang up flank speed. The torpedo struck our stern and porpoised over the turtle back. The torpedo's warhead pointed skyward and sank stern first in our wake. All hands in the after compartments heard and felt the loud clank. I had just put number three and four engines on line when the torpedo struck. I too, heard the loud bang and felt the boat jolt. Crewmembers who were aft and not on watch came running forward through the engine room. It certainly was luck that the torpedo failed to detonate. It must have been the glancing blow that prevented it from detonating, or it was a dud. This was PAMPANITO' s 6th and closest second chance and my 7th second chance.
On April 16th the submarine SEA OWL radioed us that she had observed a Japanese supply submarine diving in her vicinity. That night, SEA OWL observed the same submarine surface and enter Wake Island via Peacock Point. Before dawn, she fired a spread of three torpedoes into Wake Island's lagoon. She got one hit on the submarine while it was unloading cargo and sank it. The Japanese captain had evaded the four American submarines that were blockading the island. God was definitely on our side. We figured we were living on borrowed time. We wondered if this Japanese submarine might have sunk SNOOK. No one will ever know. We departed Wake Island and pointed our bow north to Pearl Harbor. We then returned to San Francisco for overhaul and refit.