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 13: Apogon & My Sixth War Patrol
After Apogon left Hawaii she traveled on to Midway Island where, as usual, I supervised taking on fuel. On May 28th, 1945 Apogon headed toward our new patrol area. The Skipper opened his sailing instructions. "Gooooooooood Damit" he roared. "Not the Kurile Islands and the Okhotsk Sea again!" This patrol would be another "Wolf Pack" consisting of the submarines Manta, Dace, Cabezon, and Apogon. On June 10, 1945 we arrived on station. We all hoped that this patrol would be more productive.
On June 12 we sighted land Ė Kita Uruppu Suido and Kita Jima Islands. Topside, the only sound was the gentle rumble of our diesel engines as we moved steadily through the cold, calm water. Although we moved into the blackest of night our decks were lit up from the phosphorous rich water that glowed brightly on both sides of the boat. The glow began at the point where the bow sliced into the water and extended seaward, from the hull, for a width of about 10 or more feet on each side of the boat and all the way aft, to the propellers and beyond. What a beautiful sight. I enjoyed watching this phenomenon from the bridge as often as possible. It was true that should enemy planes fly by, they could have seen us clearly outlined by the waters light, but the skipper chose to ignore the danger, trusting our radar and or lookouts to spot enemy planes before they could bomb us.
It was on nights like this that I loved to look up at the moon and stars and think about life and ask the unanswerable questions. Isnít there a better way than war for nations to settle their differences? What is life all about? Why must wars be fought? What are my shipmates and I doing in this terrible part of the world so very far from home, and what will home be like when we do get back? On this patrol, Apogon stayed on the surface most of the time as submarines had entered a new phase of aggressiveness at this stage of the war.
Submarine Skippers on duty prior to the beginning of WWII were a totally different breed of men. I am told that they felt that only capital ships (battleships, carriers, destroyers, etc.) were worthy targets and that freighters, tankers, and troop ships were not. That may not have been true, but it was generally believed about the pre-war submarine skippers. And there were certain courtesies of war which held that a targeted shipsí crew should be given time to "abandon ship" before sinking it. While that was admirable and humane, the rule makers didn't understand the reality of submarine warfare. If any Skipper sat around waiting for an enemy crew to abandon a target ship before sinking it, he would be committing suicide. Escort vessels and or enemy aircraft would be all over the submarine before the target ship's crew could have even begun abandoning it.
I believe that our nation should only resort to war as a dead last solution to an international problem. BUT, once war is declared, fight it to win. A number of submarine captains were disciplined for lack of aggressiveness early in the war, but no such charge could accurately be made against Lt. Commander Arthur C. House. He was a warrior. After the war he was promoted to Admiral, and when he retired he moved back to his home in Florence, South Carolina, living there until his death in 1997. Rest in peace Admiral. It was my pleasure to have served under your command.
We continued our patrol of the Kurile Islands and then went on into the Okhotsk Sea. The good weather continued. On June 14 we conducted a submerged search for one of our pilots who was reported downed in our patrol area off Paramushiro To. After 18 hours we surfaced. What a long, long day. Sadly, we did not find the pilot.
On June 16, at 1235, Dace, and Apogon were scheduled to rendezvous one evening, and all hands on Apogon had quite a wake up call when Dace appeared just 1,650 yards to our stern and closed to 900 yards before Apogon's lookouts or radar spotted her. Apogon could not get up speed to escape as our speed at that time was only 5 knots on the surface. Had that been an enemy sub, I wouldnít be here to tell the story. This was an extremely bad performance from our people and the Skipper let us know it, again and again and again. Fortunately, I wasn't on lookout at the time. After an exchange of information and movies, each submarine proceeded back to it's own patrol area.
On June 18. at Lat. 50-30- N. Long. 155-09-45 E. 2110, Contact! Radar reported a target at 17,000 yards. "Battle Stations! Battle Stations! Tracking party to the control room", commanded the Captain. At 2138 six blips were visible on the radar screen, and because of the calm, flat, sea and a heavy fog which reduced visibility to zero this was ideal weather for a submarine attack. Patrolling this area in the past had never offered a better opportunity for success.
"It's a dream picture," the skipper later wrote, "Here is where the fun commences." We felt elated that at last we would have the opportunity we had for so long awaited. This finally was our date with destiny. There were six ships in the convoy, four ships in a ragged column, with an escort vessel ahead and one astern. Apogon set up to fire 10 torpedoes. Our position was reported to the other subs in the Wolf Pack. Dace, reported that she too had picked up the convoy. Apogon went in for the kill. Her torpedo depth was set at 6 feet to run 1,500 yards to the targets.
At 2427, "FIRE ONE! FIRE TWO! FIRE THREE!", commanded Capt. House. His command was repeated by the torpedo man "NUMBER ONE FIRED! NUMBER TWO FIRED! NUMBER THREE FIRED! The torpedoes left their tubes as they were fired.
"TORPEDOES RUNNING HOT AND NORMAL!" yelled the sound man.
"SHIFT TARGETS --- FIRE FOUR! FIRE FIVE! FIRE
SIX!", Captain House ordered.
Each command was answered immediately by the torpedo man. "NUMBER FOUR FIRED! NUMBER FIVE FIRED! NUMBER SIX FIRED!"
At 2234, WHAM! a torpedo exploded.
At 2235, WHAM! WHAM! two more exploded.
At 2238, WHAM! another exploded.
"FIRE SEVEN! FIRE EIGHT! FIRE NINE! shouted the captain. The torpedo man replied and each torpedo left it's tube running hot and normal.
"FIRE TEN!" The number Ten torpedo fired and it took off running hot and normal, then jammed into the outer torpedo tube door that hadnít fully opened.
2334, WHAM, A HIT!
2234-41 WHAM, ANOTHER HIT!
2234-50 WHAM, STILL ANOTHER HIT!
SIX LOUD, SUCCESSIVE EXPLOSIONS FOLLOWED! We scored BIG tonight!
The jammed Number Ten torpedo prevented the torpedo men from opening the torpedo tube door all the way, or closing it. It continued to run hot, it's engine screaming but it was helplessly jammed against the outer door.
One Blip disappeared from the radar screen. We stayed within 7000 yards of our target while trying to work the Number Ten torpedo clear of the door. "Close the hatch from the after torpedo room to the rest of the boat in case #10 torpedo explodes" ordered the Captain. the hatch was closed. Then the decision was made to pull the "Hot Fish" out of it's tube and back into the torpedo room even though it was still running hot. That was done, and a lone torpedo man stayed in the after torpedo room and proceeded to calmly remove #10's detonator. Whew! We were safe! Good job torpedo man!
On June 19, four of the six ships in the convoy had been sunk by Apogon and only two ships remained afloat. At 2448, we heard a series of explosions after "Dace" launched its attack. One Blip disappeared from the radar screen, and only one target remained. That one was undoubtedly a destroyer that had been escorting the convoy, and it attacked Dace by firing depth charges at her. Dace finally escaped.
We began tracking the remaining ship, approached it and prepared to fire. We had it cold, but at the last minute the Captain held up. He knew the terrible frustration of the endless search for enemy ships at sea with little or no results to show for the effort. He also knew that Cabezon hadnít had an opportunity to participate in the sinkings, and that there were no more ships in this convoy to sink. So Captain House invited the Cabezon skipper to apply coup de grace. Apogon stood aside and at 0212, Cabezon delivered the death blow, the stroke of mercy, to the remaining ship of the Japanese convoy. At 0225 the ship sank. Strike all six ships in that convoy!
Today the sea was unbelievably flat. Had it not been for the thick fog, a ripple in the water could have been seen for miles. At 0716, #10 tube was tested and found to be okay. The detonator was put back in place, the torpedo rolled back into its tube and made ready for firing next time. Apogon continued patrolling its area.
On June 24, lookouts saw a floating mine. We fired 50 Cal. machine guns at it and many of our bullets hit it, but for some reason it did not explode. Apogon closed to investigate an object that was identified as a dead whale. Poor whales. They suffered from the war.
On July 2, we contacted two small ships and commenced tracking them. At 0300 we were attacked by one of the targets at 2,830 yards. Apogon closed and our gun crew began firing our 50's and 40mm guns. The targets turned out to be two submarine chasers! They blasted us with machine guns and heavy automatic fire, hitting us many times. We were outgunned so the Skipper executed the best maneuver under the circumstances, "Lets get the hell out of here," he commanded.
As Apogon headed away from the patrol craft, our gunners continued firing and hit the nearest target repeatedly. It soon caught fire and began settling by the stern. Our gunners hit the other target, but it continued to attack us.
EXPLOSION! We were hit! Apogon took a starboard list. The enemy shell had exploded below our superstructure, and any damage there could be fatal if we had to submerge before the damage could be repaired. Again our incredible luck held. Emergency repairs were completed rapidly and we got out of harmís way.
On July 15, Apogon was cleared to depart the area for Midway Island. Arriving in Midway once again we flew our small Japanese merchant ship flags, showing that we had sunk five enemy ships, four cargo ships, and one sub-chaser. We were welcomed by a Navy band, and lots of brass came down from the sub base headquarters. We ate the fresh fruit and ice cream that was brought aboard for us, and began reading our mail that had been brought aboard right after the ice cream and fruit..............................................
An Apogon Sailor's Story Part I
MORE BIKINI "GHOST FLEET"
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