Friday, January 08, 2016

Fullbore Friday

By special request by Sam, this FbF we'll return to a legend we last posted on in '05, Fluckey. Just a small part from a great summary from historynet on the 5th patrol;
Submarine captains were usually allowed only four—statistics showed that on the fifth patrol the captain was likely to become either overconfident or overcautious. But Fluckey convinced the admirals that he would be neither. He had unfinished business in the Sea of Okhotsk, as well as a few parting shots in mind.

Commander Fluckey wanted to mount a rocket launcher on the Barb and fire the rockets at factories. He also wanted to blow up a train. Furthermore, Fluckey bet another officer a quart of whiskey that on its twelfth patrol the Barb would sink fifteen vessels—trawlers, luggers, schooners, and sampans included. Not your usual goals for a submarine captain, but Fluckey had proven to be anything but usual.

With fewer Japanese convoys in the area to supply targets, the Barb’s main mission when it departed on June 8, 1945, was to “raise a rumpus,” recalled Admiral Lockwood. Three wolf packs were sent to hunt ships that planes and destroyers now guarded some distance away.

At 1:50 a.m. on June 22, the day after Okinawa fell, history was made when Fluckey gave the command, “Man battle stations rockets!” Twelve rockets whooshed out of the pipe-rack launcher, and thirty seconds later they hit their target 5,250 yards away as chunks of buildings flew into the night. The Barb took off at flank speed to raise more of a rumpus farther north.

At dawn on July 2, the Barb approached the port of Kaihyo To, inside Patience Bay at Shikuka. Peering through the mist with binoculars, the crew counted twenty-three barracks, warehouses, factories, shops, and mills. At eight hundred yards the Barb commenced firing. Fluckey called the assault “Little Iwo Jima.”

The barrage of bullets continued for thirty-three minutes. The 40mm antiaircraft cannon destroyed a pillbox, an observation post, three sampans, and an oil dump. The five-inch gun destroyed a radar and radio station, blasted buildings, and set fires that raged under an immense black cloud. “The island is out of commission,” he said. “No communications, no radar, no power, no buildings, no boats exist.”

Radio Tokyo said Kaihyo To had been bombarded by six warships and a submarine. Fluckey was pleased because it described his objective: maximum harassment with minimum force.

That afternoon they fired a smaller Mark 27 torpedo at a freighter that was nearly overhead, and the torpedo found its way to the ship’s propeller. It was the first time a freighter had ever been sunk by a Mark 27, let alone from the allegedly suicidal range of seventy-five yards. Four down, eleven to go for Fluckey to win his whiskey.

On July 5 they sank another small freighter, and on July 11 they got their seventh vessel, a large diesel sampan, with the five-inch gun. On July 18, using the last of the unreliable Mark 28 torpedoes, the Barb got a frigate, Kaikoban No. 112.

Now it was time for some derring-do that would bring the Barb as much fame as any of its previous kills. On July 20 Fluckey pulled to within one thousand yards of shore in Patience Bay and watched trains all day. He waited for an overcast night, which came on July 23. At midnight, eight saboteurs in two rubber rafts paddled six hundred yards to shore (every single crewman had volunteered) and buried fifty-five pounds of explosives under the track. It was detonated two hours later by a switch triggered by the weight of the train.

“Boom! Wham! What a thrill!” recalled Fluckey in Thunder Below! “The boilers of the engine blew. Engine wreckage flying, flying, flying up some 200 feet, racing ahead of a mushroom of smoke, now white, now black. Sixteen cars piling up, into and over the wall of wreckage in front, rolling off the track in a writhing, twisting maelstrom of Gordian knots.”

Commander Fluckey now had to sink seven vessels in just three days in order to win the whiskey. The torpedoes were gone, but there were some five-inch shells left—and forty-eight rockets.

“Our priority now is Shiritori, where we’ll reconnoiter for a triple rocket massage,” he told his officers. “We’ll rocket Shiritori just after dark, then proceed at flank speed down the coast and rocket Kashiho before dawn. From there we skid across the bay to bombard Chiri. After that I’d like one more crack at luring a single minefield frigate into deep water.”

“Rockets away!” Thirty-six rockets flew toward two factories and Shiritori’s city hall, striking gasoline drums. Fires lit up the night sky. Fluckey invited all hands on deck to enjoy the fireworks before they raced off to their final stop that night.

Two hours later the last dozen rockets blew up more buildings at Kashiho.

Later in the morning they got another sampan, taking a prisoner to obtain information about defenses at their next target, Chiri. On the way into Chiri they got another sampan. They unloaded on Chiri with forty-three five-inch shells; on the way out they got another sampan with the last of the five-inch shells. All that remained were three star shells, which weren’t explosive, but no matter. They fired two into a sampan at the waterline, holing the hull, sinking it, and bringing the tally to six sampans for the day. Fourteen vessels down, one to go.

The Barb received a message from Admiral Lockwood:

fluckey you come home x acknowledge x.

There was no ammunition left except for the 40mm gun and 20mm Oerlikon machine gun. They used the last of the 40mm shells to blow up a lumber mill at Shibetoro, again hitting a fuel tank and causing an inferno. The wind blew the fire onto seventeen sampans, which didn’t count for the bet because they were collateral damage.

Four miles later they came across a trawler. Looking around for something to throw at the trawler, they came up with a crate of rifle grenades. After eighteen lobs, the trawler caught fire but wouldn’t sink. So, finally, Fluckey rammed it with the Barb. “It seemed like driving a car into a burning garage,” he said.

The trawler went down. Some might argue that sinking sampans and trawlers is hardly a challenge, or even a very good use of a well-armed American submarine. But to Fluckey, a bet was a bet, and the trawler was his fifteenth and final kill.

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