An Apogon Sailor's Story
Reprinted Courtesy of James H. Sauls, Jr.
|James Sauls served during World War II
aboard the USS Apogon,
completing five war patrols.
Recently he completed his autobiography and included some SeaWolf Productions images in the book. He has kindly agreed to a reprint of this excerpt.
Chapter 10: Apogon & My Third War Patrol
On June 19th, 1944, Apogon headed out to sea. Captain W.P. Schoni, Commanding officer. Lt. Commander Arthur C. House was also aboard as a PCO (Prospective Commanding Officer). This would be my third war patrol.
For this patrol Apogon joined other submarines in a "Wolf Pack" named the "Mickey Finns." The senior officer and commander of the wolf pack was Captain O'Regan of the submarine Guardfish. Other subs in the wolf pack were the Thresher and Piranha.
Apogon had a mascot aboard for this patrol - a jet-black cocker spaniel named Lucky. He was owned by Charlie Burton. Lucky had the run of the boat and all of us accepted him as a member of the crew, but there were a couple of problems. House breaking a dog on a submarine is difficult at best and each time we surfaced, Charlie took Lucky topside to go potty. This worked well most of the time, but once in a while, when dawn was breaking and the skipper was eager to submerge, Lucky hadnít yet done his thing. Charlie would ask the Skipper not to dive until Lucky peed. The Skipper would wait impatiently while Charlie would stand there on deck pleading "Pee Lucky, pee." Finally Lucky would and Charlie would take him below decks so the Skipper could give the order to dive. The great problem in not diving at the first sign of daylight is that a submarine is especially vulnerable to aircraft attack.. If Japanese pilots had seen us they would not have been so generous as to allow time for Lucky to pee before attacking. Oh yes, the other problem. We were submerged all day long so it was necessary that we watch where we stepped. Once in a while we could hear the Skipper screeching from one end of the boat to the other as, time after time, he discovered that Lucky had pooped in his bunk. He accused Charlie of putting Lucky up to it, but Charlie always denied that he did. How did you do it Charlie?
June 25 th. The first combat zone of our war patrol was the Philippine Islands area. As we neared our destination, orders were received from Captain O'Regan to form a scouting line at 15 mile intervals. So north to south the Guardfish, Piranha, Apogon and Thresher moved to their assigned scouting positions.
June 27th, at 0713, Apogonís lookouts spotted a Japanese plane at 25,000 yards. It apparently didn't see us, so we remained on the surface and continued our patrol.
At 1320, a number of oil drums were seen floating in the water.
At 1715 a raft made of planks lashed to oil drums was sighted by one of our lookouts. It had a piece of canvas rigged as an awning and under it were four Japanese sailors. They were alive, but when the skipper called to them, they would not respond. We left them and continued on our patrol. The Skipper considered it too early in the patrol to take on prisoners. At this time we were 85 to 90 miles NW of Pajaros Island.
At 1850, another raft with four more Japanese sailors was seen. We hailed them but they would not answer either, so we left the area.
At 1940, saw still another raft. The survivors on this one were in bad shape and a number of their sailors were in the water hanging onto the sides of the raft. Four or five more of them were up on the raft. When the Captain called to them they, too, ignored us so once again, we continued on our patrol.
I believe our Skipper would have provided food and water if the Japanese sailors had requested it, perhaps not. Leaving them to be rescued by their ships or to die at sea seemed a cruel thing to do, but we were at war and our purpose was to destroy the enemy, not aid him. Even so, I felt terrible that they rejected the possibility of our helping them. One of our crewmen, who had lost a brother to Japanese brutality after he was captured, actually pleaded with the skipper for permission to machine gun the sailors. He received an immediate, abrupt answer, "Permission denied." snapped the Skipper.
June 28, at 0645, Plane coming in. We radioed the contact to Guardfish and dove.
At 0725, we surfaced and continued on our way.
At 1035, an "Aircraft Diving!" message was received from Guardfish. We continued our patrol on the surface.
July 1, 1944, at 1501, radar contact! A small ship. We were too slow, too close and lost contact. Probably a patrol boat.
July 2, at 0522, dove for submerged patrol. At 1949, we surfaced. Ah, sweet, fresh air. After more than 14 hours submerged, the air inside the boat was thick, blue and hard to breathe. There was so little oxygen in the air while we were submerged that when a match was struck it would not light.
July 3, at 0522, dove for submerged patrol. At 1402, we saw North Island and Y'ami Island of the Bataan group of Islands and, at 2013, we surfaced.
Happy 4th of July! At 0525, we dove for submerged patrol. At 0836, 10 landing barges were observed. At 0925 our sound man reported four patrol vessels. We immediately went to battle stations, just in case they were escorting a larger ship.
At 0954, planes were seen coming in and we went deeper. No bombs were dropped.
At 1137, we counted six sampans and a number of patrol boats that were looking for us. We heard pinging and echo ranging. Directly overhead we heard their shipís propellers. We expected a salvo of depth charges but, for some reason none were dropped, Whew! For the rest of the day surface craft and planes searched for us but our luck held. Finally, at 1959 the Skipper gave an "all clear" and we surfaced.
The sea was calm. The air was clear and a big moon lit up the sky, but the high temperature and humidity caused our boat to remain hot and muggy for the rest of the night. At 2004, we sighted land, Koto Sho. Later a patrol boat saw us and after a lengthy full-speed-ahead run, we escaped. We cut our speed and relaxed. It had been a long, hot, exhausting day and evening.
July 5, we were challenged by still another patrol boat, but Apogon increased to flank speed and went right by him. At 0539, we dove for our daily patrol. All day long we heard explosions in the distance and many aircraft were seen overhead, each time the Skipper stuck the periscope above the surface of the water. The entire area was well covered by the enemy. We saw Muto San and Taibu San, Formosa. We continued on patrol in the Formosa (now called Taiwan) area, making numerous contacts with patrol craft and airplanes. We ran on the surface, charging our batteries and searching for the enemy each night and remained submerged all day every day.
On July 11, at 2007, Apogon surfaced and shortly thereafter received a report from Thresher that they had made contact with a Japanese convoy.
At submarine school it was discovered what to me was quite a surprise. I had exceptionally good night vision, so whenever an important approach or search was made on the surface at night, I was called to the bridge as a lookout. It sounds funny to recall it now, but at the time, my shipmates referred to me as "Radar Eyes." I accepted that as a compliment.
When Thresher made contact I was immediately called to the bridge. As I searched my sector I suddenly saw what appeared to be small lumps on the horizon. I counted them but couldnít be sure of the number. I reported to the Officer of the Deck: "Four or five ships on the horizon." I shouted. Then I reported the bearing. Seconds later at 2314, contact was made by our radar at 29,800 yards. There were indeed numerous targets and I saw them before they were picked up by our radar. Maybe I did have radar eyes after all!
"All ahead flank!" commanded the Officer of the Deck as he reported the contact to the Skipper. The engines roared to maximum speed, as the captain rushed to the bridge. Our speed took us to a point ahead of the convoy and across to the convoyís starboard side. The tracking party studied the enemy ships zig-zag course. Guardfish radioed, having also made contact with the convoy.
Captain Schoeni's war patrol report described his approach: "At 2345, the Moon rose at about 60% full. The sky was clear and far too bright for a surface attack. Thresher reported her position as 20,000 yards on starboard quarter of the convoy. I received orders to attack and so commenced dropping back. I could see black blobs of ships and occasional smoke. At 0240, July 12, after diving, I passed between two escorts at 17,000 yards. I could now make out three columns of ships. Three AK's (freighters) in the port column, three AK's in center column and I was dead ahead of two AKs in starboard column. I set up to fire six torpedoes at the center column which was led by a large passenger (Troop) freighter. I then planned to fire my stern tubes at the starboard column. At 2,000 yards I commenced firing three torpedoes at the large passenger freighter, one at the overlapping ship, one at the ship just astern of the target and one back of the target. I thought all had missed when I heard the first of three explosions, eight to 10 seconds apart. Hits! Sound reported a destroyer coming in at high speed on our port bow about 800 yards away. I swung the scope around to look back at the stern targets and saw that one of the large AK's of the center column had turned toward me. He turned on a red light and headed my way. I made a quick sweep looking for the stern tube targets. A destroyer passed me at about 400 yards. Swung scope back to the closest AK. He was really close and closing. He had evidently seen my periscope wake. I commenced lowering the scope but when it was about half way down, the AK rammed us. Grinding and metal tearing noises continued for about five seconds and Apogon took a hard 15 degree heel to port. Water flowed into the conning tower through the radar mast and from around both periscopes. A few seconds later seven depth charges were dropped and they exploded almost on top of us. They shook us up quite a bit and pushed us down deeper." So ended the skippers report.
Most of us were knocked off our feet when the Japanese ship rammed us, and again when each of the depth charges exploded. All lights were knocked out and we were now in total darkness. It was as black as midnight and water was gushing into the boat. I reached for flashlights on the bulkhead and passed them around to my shipmates.
Although we were in extreme danger, there was no panic. We were professionals now, well aware of the dangers we faced in submarine warfare. There was excitement of course, as we did all we could to save ourselves by stuffing blankets and pillows into the periscope and radar wells to stop the flow of water, running our pumps and trying to stop the many leaks into the boat and to adjust our trim. We continued going down like a rock at a steep down angle with a port list tilt of now more than 15 degrees. The hull groaned as it was squeezed inward by the increasing pressure of the water. We rapidly approached our safety depth and when we quickly sank below it at 400 feet, we began to consider the possibility that maybe our incredible luck may have finally run out.
At Submarine School in New London, Connecticut we had learned how to escape from a sunken submarine at a depth of 100 feet, but there would be no escape in this water as the water beneath us was over two miles deep. We knew that if this proved to be the end, ours would be the death that each man had successfully put out of his mind for the length of time he had been in the sub-service, simply by refusing to dwell on it. Deep inside each of us knew that in water this deep, if we continued sinking, the water pressure on our boat would increase until the hull collapsed inward, crushing all of us. Not a pleasant way to go. Some men shouted obscenities at the enemy above, some relieved their tension by making wisecracks and some managed a chuckle or two after each joke. Others were quiet. I fell into that category as I didn't think it would do any good to shout obscenities or to laugh and I didn't think our situation was funny, so I remained quiet.
Stoneman, one of our shipmates from Texas, was different. He decided to pray. Not silently like the rest of us were praying, not a soft mumble, but a loud, on the knees, pleading directly to God almighty, evangelistic nearly shouting-type prayer.
"Oh God," he prayed, "If you will just get us out of this mess, I"ll never drink another drop of booze again, I'll never run around with a bad woman again, I'll never do anything wrong again," and so on and on and on he shouted until finally I reached over and tapped him on the shoulder. I said to him: "Stoneman, just shut up! Shut up NOW !" Mercifully, he did.
We knew we had a competent Skipper who would see us through this nightmare but we also knew that competence has its limits. It's not magical as some believe. Humans tend to draw a circle around themselves and believe that nothing of a serious nature can ever happen to them. While experiencing a grave moment like this, we all knew, even as it was happening, that each friend or relative back home and each shipmate aboard were the only things in the world that really mattered. In times of great risk like we were now experiencing, my shipmates and I really were devoted to each other and most of the time we were aware of that, but it took real trouble to focus that knowledge. I believe that each shipmate's respect and devotion to the other and their determination to survive has somehow brought many a crew home to safety, when competence was exhausted and could do no more.
At 430 + feet we began leveling off. Finally, our electricians were successful in getting our lights back on, and the desperate work in the control room caused the incoming water flow to slow from a rate of 50 gallons or more per minute to approximately 15 gallons per minute. That's still an awful lot of water, and pressure on the hull at this depth caused water to come into our boat from numerous leaks, and in a powerful spray.
There was no thought of silent running now. Our pumps ran furiously at maximum speed. Our noisy port shaft knocked loudly as enemy ships pinged down on us from above. We expected more depth charges to be dropped at any moment, but they must have been confident that they had sunk us. Gratefully, they dropped no more bombs on us. We finally leveled off. Later, we heard surface explosions in the distance followed by 26 exploding depth charges. One of our wolf pack subs must have torpedoed an enemy ship and was itself now under attack.
Eighteen long exhausting hours after our submerged attack began, hot and dripping sweat, we made our way back up to periscope depth. The periscopes were not operating so the Skipper couldn't search the surface of the water, nor the sky above. The sound man listened carefully and, when no propeller noise from ships was heard, so notified the Skipper.
At 2042 Skipper gave the command, "SURFACE! SURFACE! SURFACE!" and up we went. The first man up the hatch from the conning tower spun open the hatch cover to the bridge, and those of us assigned to lookout duty dashed top side taking up our stations, immediately searching our assigned sector. The engines were started and we headed away from the area.
The night air was fresh and sweet and as I breathed it into my lungs deeply I looked up beyond the moon and stars shining brightly above and somehow knew I would be heard as I whispered:
"Thank you God Thank you for sparing our lives."
Much damage had been done to our boat. The periscope shears, periscopes and radar masts all were bent to port at a surprising 47 degree angle and were 100 percent out of commission. The holding bolts on the periscope shears were snapped off completely, and 6 to 8 feet of No 1 scope had broken off the bottom of the Japanese ship that rammed us.
We headed back to port but we still had thousands of miles to travel through enemy territory before reaching safety. The Skipper feared that we could not survive an additional bombing or depth charge attack, so he had us stay submerged blind every day, all day long. At sunset we surfaced, and ran as fast and as far as possible on the surface every night. Our amazing luck continued to hold.
July 16th, Happy Birthday Apogon. You're one year old today. We celebrated her birthday submerged.
July 19, shipmate Winarski came down with appendicitis, and we detoured from our Pearl Harbor destination to Midway Island.
July 22, Apogon tied up to a pier at Midway to refuel and to enjoy ice cream and fresh fruit. Winarski was examined and at his request, was permitted to stay aboard to be treated later in Pearl Harbor.
It was here on Midway Island that our mascot Lucky chased a jeep and unfortunately caught up with it behind the front wheels. Today, somewhere on Midway Island, is a small grave and marker: "Lucky," Crewman, USS Apogon 308. We left Midway Island, and in a short while picked up beautiful Hawaiian music coming out to us at sea from Honolulu. It was great to be alive. My third war patrol was now over. I had survived still another one. We sank one troop transport, damaged one freighter and ripped a hole in another with our periscope.
As we approached Pearl Harbor we received a radio message that President Roosevelt would be entering the harbor just about the time we completed docking, and that we must fall in on deck in our dress white uniforms. "Ye Gads, didn't they know we weren't ready for that? Our boat was severely damaged! This was the submarine service, "the dungaree navy" my shipmates said. "We donít dress up like other sailors." Grumble, grumble, grumble.................................
An Apogon Sailor's Story Part II
Copyright SeaWolf Productions 2001,2002