During World War II, the U.S. Navy's submarine service suffered the highest casualty percentage of all the American armed forces, losing one in five submariners. But despite the odds, these underwater warriors accounted for almost 60 percent of Japanese shipping losses, and were a major factor in winning the war. 16 U.S. submarines-and one German U-Boat-that saw action during WWII are now open to the public. Most have been restored and authentically equipped.
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Final Patrol by author Don Keith takes a fascinating look at these subs and the personal stories of the brave sailors who lived, fought, and often died in them. Now, visitors can climb into these cramped steel cylinders, peer through their torpedo tubes, and imagine diving under the sea-perhaps for the last time-to stalk a fanatical enemy who threatened our nation's freedom.
"...a first-class work."
"...a valuable tribute to the World War II, Korea, and Cold War submarine veterans."
Click HERE to purchase a copy of FINAL PATROL.
PRAISE FOR FINAL PATROL
"An award-winning author has compiled great summaries of U.S. subs and their crews. FINAL PATROL is a first-class work." --Col. Gordon W. Keiser, U.S. Marine Corps (retired) in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine
"Don Keith takes you to a number of historic submarines that are living museums dedicated to the submarine service. In so doing, he instills the human aspect into what life was like aboard a 'diesel boat' in wartime conditions. This treatise is a valuable tribute to the World War II, Korea and Cold War submarine veterans. The book will make you want to get out of your chair and go see for yourself what a diesel boat is all about." -Jeffrey S. Nilsson, CDR, USNR(Ret), Executive Director, Historic Naval Ships Association
"Keith readably tells the stories of the 16 American (and one German) submarines preserved from World War II...Keith's style (is) engaging." --Booklist
Excerpt from FINAL PATROL
Copyright 2006 by Don Keith. All rights reserved.
Any reproduction without prior written consent is expressly forbidden except for brief quotes used in reviews.
In 1941, the latest American submarines that were being built were the most advanced military machines yet developed by man. And crewing each one of those boats were some of the bravest young men in the history of warfare. Amazingly enough, many of them were still in their teens. The average age of most of the boats’ crewmembers was less than twenty-five years old. The “old man,” the skipper, was rarely much over thirty years old.
Their stories, if we take the time to listen to them, are dramatic, moving, and as fascinating today as they were over half a century ago. They are full of human drama and colorful characters. However, many of those adventures have yet to be shared with the general public, and we are quickly losing the veterans who lived them, the ones who can tell them the best. That’s why it is so important that the boats be saved from the scrap heap or demolition, salvaged, preserved and opened. Opened so we can visit them and learn more about them.
And it is also why the memories recounted by their crewmembers must be preserved and passed on. Passed on so that these men and what they did and how they did it can be properly appreciated.
Among the vessels so preserved is the USS Bowfin, dubbed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger.” She was put under construction only eight days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which took place on December 7, 1941. She went on to a brilliant patrol record, including a stint delivering medicine, radio transmitters, ammunition and money to Philippine guerillas in a daring, near-suicidal mission. Later, she was depth-charged to the point that the enemy was certain she was dead. They raked a grappling hook down her deck trying to snag her and drag her to the surface but could not grab her.
It was Bowfin’s crew who had to recover from one of the war’s greatest tragedies. She sank what she believed was an enemy troop ship. Only later was it discovered that the vessel carried 900 Japanese children who were being evacuated from an island that was about to come under attack from the Allies.
Crewmembers of the USS Drum worked feverishly in water up to their knees after a vicious depth charge attack. Even with their sub damaged, they loaded and launched torpedoes and finally sank the enemy aircraft carrier they had their sites on. With cold seawater pouring in around them, they cheered as their skipper reported what he was seeing as he watched their damaged target, listing so badly that her decks were clearly visible through his periscope.
Some of the boats carried odd names. There was Croaker, Clamagore, Requin, Razorback. And there was USS Becuna, affectionately called “Becky” by her crew.
It was aboard USS Silversides, nicknamed the “Lucky Boat” because of her many close scrapes with the enemy, that Pharmacist Mate Tom Moore successfully removed a shipmate’s gangrenous appendix—even though he had never performed any kind of surgery before and had to resort to using knives and dinner forks from the galley for surgical instruments.
Then there was USS Cod, whose skipper, Commander James Dempsey, had sunk the first Japanese destroyer of the war when he was captain of a tiny 1920s-era submarine. And it was the Cod that endured a vicious barrage of seventy Japanese depth charges in only fifteen minutes. Twelve hours later, the air inside the boat was so dank that the men couldn’t even get a match to strike so they could light their cigarettes. There simply wasn’t enough oxygen left. They finally surfaced—into the middle of a tropical thunderstorm. The boat’s sound operator was still so deafened from counting the explosions of the depth charges that he couldn’t hear the thunder, but he could certainly appreciate the sweet, fresh air that spilled down the open hatch once they were on the surface.
One of the other American submarines that you can visit once steamed right into an enemy-held harbor and torpedoed a cargo ship tied up at the wharf. Then, for good measure, she blasted a busload of enemy soldiers that happened to be sitting nearby.
Another skipper torpedoed a train as it sat on the tracks near a pier. Then he had to risk running aground or being bombed from the air as he backed his submarine out of the tight, shallow confines of the harbor.
The USS Torsk was named after a Norwegian fish because, by that time, all the more common fish names had been claimed by other vessels. She and her crew were credited with firing the last torpedo and sinking the last ship of World War II, only hours before the cease-fire was ordered.
Today each of these historic vessels has been preserved and is open to visitors at various memorial sites and museums around the United States. They serve as monuments to all submariners, and especially to those who gave their lives in defense of their country. In all, there currently are sixteen U. S. Navy World War II submarines that can be visited and toured by the public. They are in places like Honolulu and Philadelphia, at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Cleveland, Galveston, Pittsburgh, the Inner Harbor at Baltimore, and in Hackensack, New Jersey. You will even find one in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in the middle of the Cherokee Indian nation. A couple more are resting on the shores of Lake Michigan. And one is in Little Rock, Arkansas, over five hundred miles from the nearest salt water.
Most have been lovingly restored and authentically equipped and are usually maintained in part by volunteers. Each allows visitors to see for themselves the claustrophobic conditions under which these men lived and fought and, in many cases, died. Some of the submarines are listed as National Historic Landmarks. Most are in excellent shape, properly equipped with either original or period fixtures and gear.
Others struggle to keep from rusting away.
All of them are bona fide treasures.
In addition to those sixteen boats, there is one more World War II submarine in this country that you can visit. It is U-505, one of the legendary German U-boats, open to the public at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Millions of people have visited the exhibit over the past fifty years.
Some of the boats we’ll talk about had distinguished Cold War service as well; their lives extended several decades, simply because they had a job to do. And in several cases, the story of how the submarines came to the end of their “final patrol,” how they came to be where they are today, is just as absorbing as the rest of their biographies.
We will talk about how Batfish made her way up the Arkansas River to a mooring spot in a bean field in the middle of the former Dust Bowl. That is where her “final patrol” ended.
How U-505 came down the St. Lawrence Seaway and through five of the Great Lakes to her berth amidst the skyscrapers of Chicago before her “final patrol” was complete. And how she eventually was lowered five floors below street level in an amazing feat of engineering.
How the most recent addition to the ranks of preserved boats, Razorback, had the longest “final patrol” of them all. She was towed from the Mediterranean Sea, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, and then retraced a part of Batfish’s route to end up in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the shadow of the Bill Clinton Presidential Library.
Several came down the St. Lawrence Seaway. Others took a long river route. At least one ended up being towed only a few miles on her “final patrol.”
Maybe, after reading about the boats and their crews, you will take the opportunity to visit one or more of them. If you do, perhaps you will better be able to appreciate the experiences those young men had and the sacrifices they made on our behalf.
Maybe, too, when you visit, you will allow your imagination to be freed. Then you can almost hear the raucous sound of the dive klaxon signaling everyone to man battle stations, to get down the hatches in a hurry as the sea quickly swallows up the boat.
Or gaze through the periscope sight and try to picture an enemy battleship out there on the water, sitting right where your forward torpedo tubes are aimed.
Or feel the not so subtle kick of a torpedo as it is launched and spins away toward its unsuspecting target.
Or hear the awful, ominous click of a depth charge as it arms itself just outside the hull of your submerged vessel, ready to explode and take you, your submarine, and your shipmates to the dark, muddy bottom of the sea forever.
In these pages, we will tell true stories about each of these seventeen submarines. But you will see that these are stories not of steel cylinders and complicated machinery. They are the stories of flesh-and-blood men. Maybe, as you read their stories or visit their submarines, you will learn not only about the vessels these men rode, but also about the crews themselves, about what these brave, dedicated youngsters experienced as they went off half a world away in defense of their country.
That’s all they ask: that we care enough to listen to their stories, to go to see their boats where their final patrols took them.
Then maybe we will finally and fully appreciate what they did.
Click HERE to purchase a copy of FINAL PATROL by Don Keith.