14 February 2012

Turn 9: All we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant

8–14 February 1942

Will this poster come true in the AL&SWverse?
The mood around ComSubPac’s offices has been decidedly grim for the last few weeks. Scuttlebutt among the staff has it that the admiral (i.e., moi) is under a tremendous amount of pressure from higher brass; the kind of pressure that uncomfortably juxtaposes the concepts of “do better” and “or else.”

And that pressure is understandable. America is fighting a new kind of war—on land, at sea, and in the air; seemingly everywhere on earth at once. And at this early date, it is still scrambling desperately to figure out how to do it. Our natural resources and national wealth are considerable, but certainly not limitless; every ton of steel that is put into new submarine construction is a ton of steel that won’t be available to build a new aircraft carrier, or a new bomber, or a new tank. So, the Silent Service is fighting not just its country’s enemy, but also fighting to demonstrate its basic viability in modern warfare. It has no tradition to fall back on; it can point to precisely zero previous successful submarine campaigns in all of history to bolster its case.

And this simple fact must be acknowledged:  it hasn’t exactly done a great job of it so far. So many near misses. So few emblematic successes. So many boats limping home with scarred hulls and mangled masts—with nothing to show for it. Perhaps—as the sentiment is already beginning to take hold in Washington—perhaps those tons of steel slated for submarines might be put to better use elsewhere. And perhaps you men with the gold and silver dolphin insignia on your chests can better serve by focusing on fishing up downed aviators, by transporting special forces—by, you know, supporting the real warriors.

Do better. Or else.

There is no crisis of confidence within the service, though. Frustration? Undoubtedly. But privately, the admiral has told his staff and some of his skippers that he is convinced it is only a matter of time before the torpedo and other issues are solved, and the service’s score—and reputation—start to climb. The men and machines are up to the challenge, the tactics are sound. The near misses will become solid hits. They have to.

So:  morale remains solid, if not exactly high—as evidenced by an impromptu pier side ceremony in the hours before USS Thresher got underway on her third war patrol. Her men unveiled three red and white trophy flags they’d hastily painted high up on her conning tower. Another miniature flag was visible on the sub’s gun mount—along with a set of distinctly unauthorized shark teeth ringing the end of its barrel. The admiral himself attended. The words he spoke that day to the officers and men of The Troublemaker (as Thresher is now being informally called, to the palpable delight of her crew) are lost now to history; those present would later recall that he seemed calm, and proud.

Meanwhile, at sea, the admiral’s confidence—and the blood and striving of the men under his command—were finally about to start bearing real fruit.

On February 9, the very first attack of the week saw USS Tuna (SS-202) bring down a 5,000 ton oiler near the Marshall Islands. That same night but far to the north, her sister USS Tambor (SS-198) killed the virtual twin of Tuna’s victim.

Do better, or else.

Two nights later, USS Sculpin (SS-191) sank a 5,000 ton merchant. That victory, combined with the 10,000 ton oiler she sank in December, moved her into an even tie with Gudgeon for the most tonnage sunk to date. Colorful though her young career has been, The Troublemaker will not be the only star in this war.

The near misses are becoming solid hits.

USS Sargo (SS-188):  a 5,000 ton merchant. USS Seal (SS-183):  a 6,000 ton merchant.  USS Grampus (SS-207): a 3,000 ton merchant.

The solid hits are becoming—what? A demonstration of viability? A justification for continued existence, and a few more tons of steel?

On the night of the 12th, toward the end of this record setting week, USS Gar (SS-206) found herself stalking a task force of warships in the frigid waters just beyond the Aleutian chain. Gar was brand new; less than a year in commission, and not yet even qualified for combat operations when the bombs fell on Pearl. She just joined the fleet, and now, in her cross-hairs, she had a 600’ long Aoba-class heavy cruiser. The upstart boat, representing her upstart service, calmly and efficiently put three torpedoes into the side of the elegant and deadly symbol of Japan’s imperial might. At least two exploded, breaking the cruiser’s back, claiming the service’s first capital ship kill, and showing undeniably that the sleeping giant was well and truly beginning to stir.

Seven ships sunk, totaling 38,000 tons; 99,000 for the war. A tally sheet equalling in one week January’s entire total. Two subs damaged. February’s career longevity milestone met and exceeded with two weeks remaining.


  1. G'day,

    Excellent writing!

    Very entertaining.


  2. Brilliant stuff, highly "immersive" (hah). Keep it up! Cheers Daniel

  3. Excelent blog and AAR, going to subscribe...lol.