Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday Ship History: USS Gudgeon (SS-211)

Never heard of Gudgeon?

Probably most of the older submariners recall her - the first U..S. warship to sink an enemy warship in World War II, sinking Imperial Japanese Navy Submarine I-73:
27 January 1942:
240 miles W of Midway. LtCdr (later Vice Admiral) Elton W. Grenfell's USS GUDGEON (SS-211) is returning to Pearl Harbor from her first war patrol to the Bungo Straits off Japan. Grenfell receives an "Ultra" message advising of the approach of three Japanese submarines (I-18, I-22 and the I-24).**

The I-73 is enroute back to Yokosuka. Her propeller sounds are picked up by sonar off the GUDGEON's port bow. Grenfell, running submerged, spots the submarine and begins his attack. The I-73, with many of her crewmen on deck, is running a straight course and not zigzagging. Grenfell fires three Mark 14 steam torpedoes from 1,800 yards and scores two hits***. The I-73 sinks with all hands at 28-24N, 178-35E.
The first U.S. submarine to patrol off the Japanese homeland after Pearl Harbor.

In April 1943, she contributed to the guerrilla war being waged against the Japanese in the Philippines when
... she landed six trained guerrilla fighters and 3 tons of equipment for the guerrilla movement on Panay 30 April.
Guerrilla operations had started in the Philippines after Bataan and Corregidor had fallen:
... a number of U.S. Army officers conducted guerrilla operations behind Japanese lines in the Philippines. Colonel Russell Volckman, who later would play an important role in the birth of Special Forces, escaped from the enemy and formed a Filipino guerrilla band in northern Luzon, which by 1945 consisted of five regiments. Major Windell Fertig, a reservist, raised his own guerrilla force that ultimately totaled some 20,000 fighters.
These harassing actions were encouraged by General MacArthur, who saw that resupply of these partisan forces could be performed by submarines, as set out here.

As part of this effort, Gudgeon loaded up some important cargo:
Anyone happening to glance towards the American fleet-type submarine USS Gudgeon (SS-211) during the night of Sunday, 27 December 1942, as she lay moored to the dock at Fremantle, Australia, might have observed an unusual sight. Seven mess boys boarded the submarine, saluted the colors, and then immediately proceeded down the hatch. No sooner were they below decks than Gudgeon, captained by LCDR William Stovall, Jr., slid away from the dock and quietly maneuvered out to sea.

The “mess boys” were in fact disguised Filipino soldiers and intelligence officers, led by Major Jesus Villamor, U.S. Army. Two days earlier, Gudgeon’s crew had loaded her with a ton of equipment specially ordered for the mission their passengers were about to embark upon. Gudgeon’s top- secret task: to deliver the soldiers and their gear to Mindanao and Panay, two key Philippine islands, to help bolster the Philippine guerilla forces resisting the Japanese occupation, without being detected.

After departing Fremantle, Gudgeon set out towards her destination on Mindanao, running on the surface but diving regularly only to maintain her trim and to avoid Japanese patrols. As they approached the archipelago, Major Villamor informed LCDR Stovall that there was a change in plans. Villamor had apparently received intelligence just before departing Fremantle that Japanese patrols had increased in the original landing area. The new destination was on the island of Negros. Furthermore, Villamor announced he and his men would not use the 18-foot dinghy that had been lashed to the exterior of the boat for the beach landing, but would rather put ashore in the inflatable rafts they had practiced with. Stovall was not pleased with these last-minute revelations, especially since he could have taken a shorter route to Negros, and the now-unneeded dinghy had adversely affected his diving characteristics. However, he agreed to the changes, provided that periscope reconnaissance of the shore proved the landing could be made safely for both the landing party and the submarine. The first night, high winds and seas prohibited approaching the original landing site, so the submerged Gudgeon moved quietly along the coast into the next day, scanning for a new location. That night, another likely choice was negated after a number of mysterious lights suddenly appeared on the beach. Subsequently, one of Villamor’s men identified them as Filipino night fishermen. Finally on the third night, 14 January 1943, a deserted beach was identified, and Villamor successfully loaded his men and supplies into the rafts and landed ashore.
In all, 19 submarines participated in a total of 41 secret missions to the Philippine Islands, beginning with Gudgeon’s run in late December 1942. The last officially recorded guerrilla run, by USS Stingray (SS-186) on New Year’s Day, 1945, took place between the re-invasion of the Philippines at Leyte Gulf on 20 October 1944 and the liberation of Manila on 4 February 1945. Of the conventional submarines, only Stingray participated in more than two runs (her total being five), and the two transport submarines, Nautilus and Narwhal, were the true workhorses of the operation, with six and nine operations respectively. In the course of the campaign, U.S. submarines delivered 331 people, evacuated 472, and delivered some 1,325 tons of supplies to the Philippines.
Gudgeon completed 11 war patrols but never returned from her 12th. According to this, Gudgeon met her fate through an air attack:
USS Gudgeon (Lt.Cdr R.A. Bonin) was sunk 18 April 1944 by a G3M "Nell", an IJN aircraft of the 901st Air Group on A/S patrol, 166 nautical miles south-east (bearing 132°) from Iwo Jima, position 22º52'5"N, 143º32E. The pilot claimed to have sighted a surfacing sub and in the attack scored direct hits on the bow and the conning tower with 2-250 kg (550 lb) bombs, leaving a gaping hole in the centre section. A column of oil was thrown into the air and the sub sank quickly, followed by a heavy under water detonation.
There is little doubt at this point that Gudgeon met her fate south-east of Iwo Jima on April 18th.
Commander, Submarine Force Pacific Fleet has more here, but is less inclined to pinpoint the position of her loss. The note does, however, point out her outstanding record:
During her first eleven patrols, GUDGEON was a most active submarine. She sank 25 ships, for 166,400 tons, and damaged 8 more, for 41,900 tons. She started for the Empire but four days after the attack at Pearl Harbor, and there sank a freighter and a submarine. By sinking the Japanese submarine I-73 on January 27, 1942, GUDGEON became the first United States submarine in history to sink an enemy combatant’s ship.
A relative of one of the crew wrote a book about Gudgeon, Find ’Em, Chase ’Em, Sink ’Em: The Mysterious Loss of the WWII Submarine USS Gudgeon

The site "On Eternal Patrol" has a complete list of the crew lost serving in Gudgeon.

Offer up a salute to those brave men - heroes of the Silent Service.

1 comment:

  1. Your historical account of the USS Gudgeon is inspiring and makes an American stand up straight with pride for our U.S. Navy of then and today. During the global conflict of WWII many battles and operations that were little known, or secret, are now coming to light. Thank you for posting this Eagle 1.
    This story also reminds me of a favorite motion picture entitled Run Silent Run Deep. Which centered around the Bungo Straits off Japan. I wonder if that film was inspired by this American submarine.