USS PAMPANITO (SS-383)
THE FOURTH WAR PATROL
OCTOBER 28 - DECEMBER 30, 1944
During the refit period at Pearl Harbor, Pampanito was overhauled and repaired. The VHF radio equipment that had caused problems with wolfpack communications on the last patrol was replaced, and a new model SJ radar reflector was added. The crew spent the period between October 17 and 25 training with their new skipper. All loading of ammunition and provisions was complete by October 27.
Commander Paul Summers, Pampanito's skipper for her first three war patrols, had been sent home on emergency leave to recover from the pressures of ten consecutive, demanding war patrols: three on Pampanito and seven on USS Stingray (SS-186). Captain Frank Wesley (Mike) Fenno, Jr. volunteered to relieve Summers as commanding officer of Pampanito on October 7th.
Captain Fenno was himself an experienced submarine officer with a remarkable and unique war record. He had been the skipper of USS Trout (SS-202) on patrol off Midway Island on December 7, 1941 when he received a radio transmission reporting the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He assumed that the distant bombardment he heard from Midway was a large Japanese invasion force. The invasion turned out to be two Japanese destroyers that pounded Midway heavily and left the scene before Captain Fenno could initiate a counter attack. In February, 1942 Trout was ordered to Corregidor, the island citadel at the entrance to Manila Bay in the Philippines, to deliver 3500 rounds of much needed anti-aircraft ammunition. There, Troutdrew ten torpedoes and took on the most unusual ballast of World War II, over twenty tons of gold and silver. It had been taken from Manila banks and moved to Corregidor for safekeeping from the approaching Japanese invasion force. Five hundred eighty-three gold bars and heavy canvas bags containing eighteen tons of silver coins were carefully loaded in Trout's bilges to be delivered to Pearl Harbor. En route, Fenno tracked and sunk an enemy freighter through high seas. Later the same day Trout avoided a surprise torpedo attack from a Japanese patrol vessel and quickly sank the attacking vessel. Fenno left Trout after four patrols and went on to command USS Runner (SS-275). Trout, then under the command of Lt. Commander A. H. Clark, was lost with all hands on her eleventh patrol.
On October 28, 1944, a wolfpack of four U.S. submarines left Pearl Harbor and sailed west to patrol the Japanese convoy routes from the southern coast of Hainan Island north to Hong Kong. The wolfpack, nick-named "Fennomints" after pack commander Fenno in Pampanito, consisted of USS Sea Cat (SS-399), USS Pipefish (SS-388), and USS Searaven (SS-196). Sea Cat, under the command of R.R. McGreggor, was a brand new submarine on her first war patrol. Searaven, commanded by Lt. Commander Raymond Berthrong, was an older boat on her thirteenth war patrol. Pipefish, commanded by Lt. Commander William Deragon, was making her third run. All four submarines were "Portsmouth boats," built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
The pack stopped briefly at Midway to refuel before leaving at four engine speed for Saipan. A change of plans was received on November 3, and the pack cut back to two engine speed, about 14 1/2 knots. Pipefish, however, reported an emergency case of appendicitis on board. She was released from the pack and headed full speed for Saipan. On November 6, 1944 Pampanito celebrated her one year anniversary at sea. The pack completed further repairs and refueling at Saipan before leaving for the Bashi Channel patrol area. They arrived on November 17. The submarines patrolled in parallel lanes with Sea Raven to the west of Pampanito and Pipefish and Sea Cat to the east. They maintained surface patrol with a zig-zagging course, constant SJ radar search, and high periscope observations each fifteen minutes. As the pack moved to the extreme western edge of the patrol area Fenno anticipated frequent visits from patrolling enemy planes so he switched to a submerged patrol routine during daylight hours. The group was joined by USS Archerfish (SS-311) for remainder of the trip to Saipan where they took on fuel and supplies and were rejoined with Pipefish.
On the night of November 18, Pipefish reported a contact. The submarines converged on a three ship convoy; a cargo ship with an escort leading and a smaller ship astern. Pampanito tracked the ships for over ninety minutes waiting for Pipefish to attack. Sea Raven took up a position about three miles off Pampanito`s port quarter and also began tracking the targets. Pipefish sent out a message that she was breaking off the attack because she had picked up SJ radar interference and suspected that an enemy submarine was in the area. Fenno, with a clearer picture of the situation, sent out the message "Am attacking" and moved in from the convoy's port side.
He fired a six-torpedo spread from the bow tubes with the running depth set alternately for six and eight feet because of high seas. Pampanito swung around and the stern tubes brought to bear. While firing the four stern tubes, two hits were observed in the cargo ship, one amidships and one in the stern. Lookouts reported a bright orange flash followed instantly by an enormous pillar of black smoke rising over 500 feet in the air. The fire went out in two minutes and the target disappeared from the radar. Shinko Maru #1, a 1200-ton cargo ship sunk quickly by the stern. Another hit was heard on the second target, but it remained afloat and moved out of visual range. Both of the remaining vessels were picked up on radar heading at top speed toward nearby Hainan Island. Pampanito was pulled back from the chase to reload the torpedo tubes, and Sea Raven was ordered in to attack. For the next two hours Sea Raven attacked twice with no success until the ships finally moved into the shelter of the Hainan coast.
The patrol routine resumed, and on the morning of November 30, Pampanito again moved into attack position after a well escorted convoy was picked up. The convoy had been tracked for over two days but a firing position was very difficult to establish because it was moving fast and zig-zagging widely. It was made up of four ships in a column plus a destroyer in the lead with two smaller escorts to port and starboard of the column. All the escorts were equipped with sonar; Pampanito's sound operator estimated that there were a total of five escort vessels whose sonar pings could be detected. The seas were flat calm and a full moon had risen, further complicating matters. Just before dawn, Fenno got into position and fired the bow tubes at the two leading ships in the column. He then swung around to get a bearing on the destroyer, but the targets moved out of range before another attack could be set up. When Pampanito surfaced after reloading the torpedo tubes the rest of the wolfpack could not be located. She had become separated from the pack during the chase; the other subs had been unable to keep up and the convoy's speed had put Pampanito well ahead of the pack. Pampanito returned to the original patrol lane and located Sea Raven later that night.
Over the next two days the weather turned from flat calm to force 7 sea with strong northerly winds and mountainous waves. Two hours before dawn on December 3, Sea Raven sent out a contact report and the pack converged. Sea Raven attacked first and reported one vessel sunk with two hits. Next, Sea Cat reported she had sunk another ship and Sea Raven commenced her second assault. Pipefish also reported she was attacking and Pampanito, moving in last, took up a position well ahead of the targets. Pampanito's lookouts reported two bright explosions ahead over the horizon four minutes apart in the direction of Sea Raven's attack. Another explosion was heard in the direction of Pipefish. Pampanito went to battle stations at dawn as three of the ships and two escorts moved into range. Extra care had to be taken not to broach in the thirty-foot seas as a four-torpedo spread was fired from the after tubes at the two leading ships. A second attack was aborted as an escort charged in, driving Pampanito down deep. A string of six depth charges exploded, none close.
When Pampanito surfaced two hours later, she and the other subs commenced a search for the remaining ships in the convoy. Later that night Sea Cat sank a ship damaged earlier by Sea Raven. After checking with the reports of the other subs, it was believed that five ships in the convoy had been sunk.
The next day was spent searching for the remaining ships, but they could not be located. Sea Raven, having no more torpedoes, was released from the group and departed for Midway. The three remaining submarines in the pack resumed the patrol routine as the foul weather continued. On December 10, a mine was sighted and Pampanito tried to sink it with the 20mm gun, but the attempt was unsuccessful in the high seas. Lookouts spotted several other mines over the next few days and reported their positions to the rest of the pack.
On December 14 it was noticed that Pampanito was leaving an oil slick astern. A work party was detailed and they found a pipe had parted. They worked to convert a fuel tank into a main ballast tank, but the high seas made this a difficult job. In spite of the care taken one man, CMoMM William Merryman, was washed overboard, but was quickly rescued.
On December 17 Pipefish located a large solitary freighter and the pack gave pursuit until the cargo ship slipped into the safety of a sheltered bay on the Hainan coast. Diminishing fuel supplies caused Pampanito to leave the patrol area for refit. McGreggor in Sea Cat assumed command of the pack, and on December 18 Pampanito set course south through the Karimata Strait and into the Java Sea. She was headed for Fremantle, Western Australia, a long haul where every drop of fuel was precious. Pampanito moved on into the Indian Ocean through the Lombok Strait west of Bali and down the west coast of Australia to Fremantle where she arrived on December 30. Much to the crew's surprise, they were joyously greeted by a cheering group of the former POWs rescued by Pampanito on her third patrol. This liberty is one that all of Pampanito's crew still talks about today.
Pampanito's fourth patrol had been a success and officers and crew were congratulated, with Captain Fenno being awarded the Bronze Star. The patrol had been a long one both in terms of time and miles: she had been out sixty-three days, covering 16,406 miles.
The Fifth PatrolReturn to the History Page