Historical Reflections

HISTORICAL REFLECTION

 

SUBMARINE HEROES

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk    of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Parche in a predawn attack on a Japanese convoy, 31 July 1944. Boldly penetrating the screen of a heavily escorted convoy, CDR Ramage launched a perilous surface attack by delivering a crippling stern shot into a freighter and quickly following up with a series of bow and stern torpedoes to sink the leading tanker and damage the second one. Exposed by the light of bursting flares and bravely defiant of terrific shellfire passing close overhead, he struck again, sinking a transport by two forward reloads. In the mounting fury of fire from the damaged and sinking tanker, he calmly ordered his men below, remaining on the bridge to fight it out with an enemy now disorganized and confused. Swift to act as a fast transport closed in to ram, CDR Ramage daringly swung the stern of the speeding Parche as she crossed the bow of the onrushing ship, clearing by less than 50 feet but placing his submarine in a deadly crossfire from escorts on all sides and with the transport dead ahead. Undaunted, he sent 3 smashing "down the throat" bow shots to stop the target, then scored a killing hit as a climax to 46 minutes of violent action  with the Parche and her valiant fighting company retiring victorious and unscathed.

"Red" Ramage

Lawson P. "Red" Ramage,
Medal Of Honor Recipient

 

Lawson P. "Red" Ramage

by Edward C. Whitman

The third Medal of Honor awarded to a submariner in World War II was earned by then-CDR Lawson P. "Red" Ramage for a blistering night surface action against a Japanese convoy south of Taiwan in July 1944. For sheer excitement, it ranks among the greatest "shoot-em-up" tales in our Navy's proud history.

A tall, genial redhead, Ramage was born in Monroe Bridge, Massachusetts on 19 January 1909 and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1931. After several years on surface combatants, he entered the Submarine School in mid-1935 and served for two years on USS S-29 (SS-134). Following a year at the Postgraduate School and a tour as Executive Officer on the destroyer USS Sands (DD-243), Ramage found himself on the Pearl Harbor staff of Commander, Submarines, Pacific, when war broke out on 7 December 1941.

He made his first war patrol as Navigator of USS Grenadier (SS-210) in early 1942 and then assumed his first command - USS Trout (SS-202) - in June of that year. In his initial war patrol on Trout, in August 1942, now-LCDR Ramage scored several hits on the Japanese light aircraft carrier Taiyo near Truk, the first damage inflicted by a U.S. submarine on a Japanese carrier. Although Taiyo survived the encounter, Ramage went on to sink three ships, totaling 5,800 tons, during his four war patrols on Trout. This total might have been significantly higher were it not for the duds and premature detonations that plagued U.S. torpedoes early in the war, and after seeing several of his attacks thwarted in this way, Ramage became an outspoken and effective critic of torpedo performance.

 USS Parche

He returned to the United States in May 1943 to assume command of the new Balao-class submarine USS Parche (SS-384), which he commissioned in November and brought out to the Pacific early in 1944. Parche departed Pearl Harbor on her first war patrol in March 1944, teamed with USS Bang (SS-385) and USS Tinosa (SS-283) to form a "wolf pack" preying on Japanese shipping in the Luzon Strait, between Taiwan and the northern Philippines. After several unsuccessful pursuits, Parche drew her first blood on 4 May in a joint attack on a Japanese convoy in which two sinkings were credited to Ramage and his men, for a total of 11,700 tons.

"Red" Ramage's Medal of Honor exploit occurred during Parche's second war patrol, when she joined USS Steelhead (SS-280) and USS Hammerhead (SS-364) for another wolf pack patrol in the Luzon Strait during June and July 1944. For six weeks after leaving Midway on 17 June, the group had little success in locating the enemy, and their only kill was a small patrol craft sunk by Ramage with his deck gun. On 30 July, however, Hammerhead encountered a large convoy and moved in to attack after attempting to send its position to the other two boats. Hammerhead failed to score any kills, and even more unfortunately, her sighting report was so confused and misleading that Parche and Steelhead spent a full day searching for the convoy while being harassed by enemy aircraft. Finally, early on the morning of 31 July, Parche and Steelhead found their quarry on radar, and Steelhead - under CDR Dave Whelchel - attacked first, scored several hits, and withdrew to reload torpedo tubes.

Seeing his own chance, Ramage took Parche into the middle of the convoy on the surface and precipitated a 46-minute melee in which he single-handedly took on both enemy escorts and merchantmen, firing 19 torpedoes in the process. Clearing the bridge of everyone but himself, Ramage threaded his way through two escorts and attacked first a freighter and then two tankers, scoring hits on all three. By now thoroughly alerted, the Japanese formation dissolved into a confused welter of wheeling ships and escorts, with Parche maneuvering violently in their midst, both to get off shots of opportunity and to avoid a storm of enemy deck-gun fire of every caliber. At one point, while Parche was engaged with two anti-submarine escorts, a small freighter loomed out of the night attempting to ram her. Ramage slammed the rudder hard over, and the two vessels passed port to starboard at a distance of only 50 feet. This maneuver put Parche directly in the path of an oncoming passenger-cargo ship, the Manko Maru, and with little other choice, Ramage loosed three bow shots "down the throat" of the oncoming threat.

 Scratch Another Japanese Merchant

Two torpedoes hit, slowing the victim down, but it took a quick turn to bring the stern tubes to bear for the coup de grace that sent Manko Maru to the bottom. At this point, as the remaining Japanese vessels fired fruitlessly into the night in all directions, and with no valuable targets nearby, Ramage pulled Parche out of the fight totally unscathed. Meanwhile, Whelchel, in Steelhead, returned to the fray on the other side of the convoy and sank at least one more ship before being forced under by hostile aircraft at first light.

While several other ships were damaged in this relentless attack, postwar reconstruction credited Parche and Steelhead with sinking two merchantmen each and collaborating on a fifth for a total of 39,000 tons of enemy shipping. And for his utter fearlessness, daring, and extraordinary tactical skill in successfully challenging an entire Japanese convoy to a night surface action, "Red" Ramage was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by a grateful nation.

After the war, Ramage served in a number of Submarine Force positions, including command of Submarine Division TWO and Submarine Squadron SIX, as well as venturing into the surface navy as Commanding Officer of the attack transport USS Rankin (AKA-103). Following his promotion to Rear Admiral in July 1956, he served on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations; as the Commander of Cruiser Division TWO; and as Deputy SUBLANT. In the latter capacity, he directed the successful search for the sunken USS Thresher (SSN-593) in April 1963. Later promoted to Vice Admiral, Ramage became the Deputy CNO (Fleet Operations and Readiness) and served as Commander, FIRST Fleet, during the Vietnam build-up in 1964-1966. He retired in 1969 as the Commander, Military Sea Transportation Service. VADM Ramage died in 1990 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The guided missile destroyer USS Ramage (DDG-61), commissioned in July 1995, honors his memory.

Dr. Whitman is a technical director at Anteon Corporation's Center for Security Strategies and Operations.

 

USS Parche (SS-384)

Parche's 2nd War PatrolUSS Parche (SS-384), a member of the mid-war USS Balao (SS-285) class, was built at the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Navy Yard and launched on 24 July 1943. She was commissioned on 20 November 1943 with CDR Lawson P. Ramage in command. Parche completed six war patrols during World War II, sinking 31,696 tons of enemy shipping and earning five battle stars and two Presidential Unit Citations. In 1946, Parche was used as a target ship at the Bikini atomic bomb tests but survived both the air and underwater blasts. After decontamination, she was assigned to Naval Reserve training duty first in Oakland, then in Alameda, California. In December 1962, her classification was changed to auxiliary submarine, AGSS-384, which was retained until she was stricken from the Navy Register in 1969. Parche was sold for scrap in July 1970. Her principal characteristics are listed here:

Displacement:
    Surfaced:         1,526 tons
    Submerged:     2,391 tons
Length:   311' 6"
Beam:     27' 0"
Draft:      15' 3"
Speed:
     Surfaced:     20 knots
     Submerged:     9 knots
Complement:    66 men
Armament:   
       10 21" torpedo tubes
       (6 forward, 4 aft)
       1 5"/50 deck gun
       1 40 mm gun
       1 20 mm anti-aircraft gun
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