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Summer 2004 Cover of Undersea Warfare Magazine

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Pacific Reach 2004
U.S. Foreign Navies Practice Submarine Rescue, Foster Cooperation and Improve Interoperability

SSGN Conversions: Embodying the Sea Power 21 Vision

Heading North!
Traveling the Artic Region, U.S. Submarines Find Adventure, New Challenges, and New Friends

Saviors and Suppliers: World War II Submarine Speacial Operations in the Phillippines

RIMPAC 2004
Enhances Stability and Increases Interoperability in the Pacific Rim

Those in Peril - the S-5 Incident

Bringing Science to Life
Teaching Science Using Submarine Technology and the ex-USS Narwhal (SSN-671)

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Saviors and Suppliers World War II Submarine Special Operations in the Philippines
by Thomas Holian

Map of the Philippines

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.

Photo caption follows

The fleet-type submarine USS Gudgeon
(SS-211) in San Francisco Bay, California in August 1943. Gudgeon was sent on the first official guerrilla submarine mission to the Philippines, and later completed one more. Gudgeon’s CO on the second occasion concluded his official report by stating: “As long as a torpedo shortage exists, it seems feasible and highly desirable that every submarine bound for the Philippines or the South China Sea carry what men and equipment it can to [the Philippine guerrilla] troops who are on the spot and capable of seriously harassing the enemy.”

One year before Gudgeon slipped out of Fremantle, General Douglas MacArthur, responsible for the defense of the Philippine Islands, was forced to declare the capital, Manila, an open city in the face of Japanese invasion forces. At his new headquarters on the fortified island of Corregidor in Manila Bay, MacArthur searched for effective ways to fight back against the wave of Japanese invaders threatening to take over the island nation. The general quickly realized that, should the invaders secure the whole country, the best hope for retaking the islands would be to enlist the support of native forces to harass the enemy while the U.S. military prepared for its counter-offensive. Soon enough, messengers were sent out to encourage loyal Filipinos to set up guerrilla units to gather intelligence and keep the Japanese forces distracted. Unfortunately for MacArthur, it soon became clear that these guerrilla forces were doomed to failure in their initial state of preparation. Brave and loyal though they may have been, they did not have the strong leadership necessary to perform meaningful operations. Nor did they have any means for receiving badly-needed supplies from outside the country.

A solution to the latter problem began to take shape in MacArthur’s mind as he watched submarines slink into the small anchorage at Corregidor during the Japanese siege of that stronghold. The boats were on special missions to deliver supplies and to evacuate people and equipment while under constant threat from Japanese air and surface attack. The first boat to arrive was USS Seawolf (SS-197), commanded by LCDR Frederick “Fearless Freddy” Warder. Warder’s greatest concern was about mines in Manila Bay. The U.S. Navy had mined the area in anticipation of the Japanese invasion, and the locations of the mines were not well documented. Worse, with the Japanese now in control, nobody knew if they had mined the bay as well. Warder, guessing that the Japanese didn’t expect a counter-attack soon, gambled that they had not mined the area. He also assumed that the Japanese did not anticipate American submarines operating behind their lines. Both gambles paid off, and after Warder delivered his cargo of ammunition, he was able to leave Corregidor with 25 rescued Americans (mostly pilots), 16 torpedoes, and various spare submarine parts. Impressed by Gudgeon’s success, General MacArthur began to wonder whether similar submarine missions could be used to supply Filipino guerrillas.

Photo caption follows

“Fearless Freddy” Warder (on the right), CO of USS Seawolf (SS-197) during the early stages of the guerrilla campaign, was the first to sneak much-needed ammunition and supplies to the defenders on Corregidor. Warder is shown here with Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz at the U.S. Naval Reserve Training Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1961. By this time, Warder had risen to the rank of Rear Admiral.

Under direct orders from President Roosevelt, General MacArthur was finally evacuated from Corregidor for Australia in March 1942. The submarine resupply missions continued until the fall of Corregidor in May, but during this interim, MacArthur had begun hearing that meaningful groups of Filipino guerrillas had formed and were awaiting supplies and instructions. Remembering his experience in Corregidor, MacArthur started inquiring about whether submarines could be used in top-secret supply missions to the Philippines. His staff informed him that the standard fleet-type boats could carry between five and 10 tons of supplies, plus six passengers, when leaving Australia on regular combat patrols. In view of the sizable requests MacArthur was receiving from his guerrillas, he pushed for a better alternative. His staff suggested he ask for the services of the Navy’s two much larger transport-type submarines, USS Narwhal (SS-167) and USS Nautilus (SS-168). To MacArthur’s dismay, he learned that those submarines were so old and in such disrepair that Narwhal would not be available until November 1943, and Nautilus needed a complete overhaul before she could put back to sea. Instead, ADM Chester Nimitz suggested that, with a modified wartime weapon load-out, the fleet-type submarines could carry up to 34 tons of cargo and 25 passengers, and would be better suited to the narrow passages in and around the islands anyway. MacArthur agreed with this approach, and as recounted above, Gudgeon was underway for the Philippines by late December.

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.

 

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