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. Harder (SS-257) during her 5th War Patrol in Japanese-controlled waters. Floodlighted by a bright moon and disclosed to an enemy destroyer escort which bore down with intent to attack, CDR Dealey quickly dived to periscope depth and waited for the pursuer to close range, then opened fire, sending the target and all aboard down in flames with his third torpedo. Plunging deep to avoid fierce depth charges, he again surfaced and, within 9 minutes after sighting another destroyer, had sent the enemy down tail first with a hit directly amidship. Evading detection, he penetrated the confined waters off Tawi Tawi with the Japanese Fleet base 6 miles away and scored death blows on 2 patrolling destroyers in quick succession. With his ship heeled over by concussion from the first exploding target and the second vessel nose-diving in a blinding detonation, he cleared the area at high speed. Sighted by a large hostile fleet force on the following day, he swung his bow toward the lead destroyer for another "down-the-throat" shot, fired 3 bow tubes and promptly crash-dived to be terrifically rocked seconds later by the exploding ship as the Harder passed beneath. This remarkable record of 5 vital Japanese destroyers sunk in 5 short-range torpedo attacks attests the valiant fighting spirit of CDR Dealey and his indomitable command.

CDR Samuel David Dealey,
Medal Of Honor Recipient

 

Submarine Hero - Samuel David Dealey

by Edward C. Whitman

Of the seven submariners granted the Medal of Honor in World War II, three received the award posthumously. And among those, the one who sank the most Japanese tonnage before being lost in action was Sam Dealey. His quiet heroism - attested by a Silver Star and a Navy Cross with three gold stars - in addition to his Medal of Honor - remains an inspiration to the Submarine Force nearly sixty years later.

Samuel David Dealey was born in Dallas in 1906 of a prominent Texas family. His uncle was a founder and publisher of the Dallas Morning News, and Dealey was appointed to the Naval Academy from his home state. After "bilging out" for low grades, he won reinstatement and eventually graduated with the class of 1930. After Submarine School and a relatively undistinguished series of peacetime assignments, he was given command of the non-combatant submarine, S-20, used to support at-sea experiments off New London. However, when war broke out, his practical qualifications led to assignment as Commanding Officer of the new-construction Gato-class submarine USS Harder (SS-257), which he commissioned on 2 December 1942, not quite a year after Pearl Harbor. After a shakedown off the East Coast, Dealey survived a "blue-on-blue" attack by a Navy patrol bomber in the Caribbean to bring Harder to the Pacific in the spring of 1943.

Harder left Pearl Harbor on her first war patrol on 7 June, bound for the coast of southern Honshu.Dealey In his first attack on a two-ship convoy late on the night of 21 June, Dealey was driven deep by an aggressive escort and crashed into the muddy bottom - an inauspicious beginning, even though it now appears that one target may have been damaged. Dealey backed himself out of the mud, and two nights later had his first real success in torpedoing the ex-seaplane tender Sagara Maru (7,000 tons) and crippling her so badly that she was beached on the Japanese mainland and abandoned as a total loss. Over the next four days, Dealey made seven attacks on three different convoys, but post-war analysis credits him only with possible damage to one ship.

Harder returned to Midway on 7 July with one of her four diesel engines completely broken down. She was one of 12 Gato-class boats fitted originally with the troublesome Hooven-Owens-Rentschler (HOR) engines, whose original design was licensed from the German firm MAN (Maschinenfabrik-Augsburg-Nürnberg) in the 1930s. After some hasty repairs and bearing a generous inventory of spare engine parts, Harder returned to sea for her second war patrol off Honshu in late August and in 14 days made nine attacks, which netted Harder a total of five ships for 15,000 tons in the post-war accounting. Once again, the ship suffered engine problems throughout the patrol but returned safely to Pearl Harbor, via Midway, on 7 October 1943.

At the end of that month, COMSUBPAC, VADM Charles Lockwood, sent Harder, USS Snook (SS-279), and USS Pargo (SS-264) to the Marianas as a wolfpack to attack Japanese shipping in preparation for the invasion of Tarawa (20 November). At that stage of the war, "coordinated operations" among submarines were still hampered by poor communications. Thus, after collaborating with Pargo in attacking a freighter on the 12th - with results never clearly established - and sinking a small minesweeper with gunfire that night, Dealey was soon separated from the rest and operating independently. On 19 November, he picked up a convoy of three large freighters with accompanying escorts north of the Marianas and positioned for an attack, altogether firing ten torpedoes in his first attempt, scoring hits on two of his targets. Driven down by the escorts, he surfaced later that night to chase the freighter that had managed to escape undamaged. Eventually firing 11 more torpedoes at the fugitive for two hits and four circular runs - and then driven off by defensive gunfire from the tenacious Japanese crew - Dealey broke off the engagement and returned to Pearl Harbor for lack of torpedoes. Later, it was established that all three ships had sunk, the third - Nikko Maru - late that night, giving Dealey and Harder a total bag of 4 ships and over 15,000 tons for their third war patrol. Once again, however, one of Harder's HOR engines had failed completely, and the other three were only kept alive by cannibalizing spare parts from the fourth. Thus, shortly after she arrived in Hawaii on 30 November, Harder was sent back to Mare Island to be completely re-engined with General Motors diesels. Dealey brought Harder back to Pearl Harbor in late February 1944 and took herout for her fourth war patrol on 16 March, accompanied by USS Seahorse (SS-304). Initially assigned lifeguard duty for downed U.S. aviators in the western Caroline Islands, Harder was vectored on 1 April to rescue an injured pilot on a small enemy-held island just west of Woleai, which had been hit that day by an American carrier strike. Under an umbrella of friendly air cover, Dealey nosed Harder toward the beach until he could ground the bow up against the encircling reef and hold it there by working both screws. Then, in the face of Japanese sniper fire only partially suppressed by the circling aircraft, a rubber boat was sent in to retrieve the flier, ENS John Galvin, who was brought to safety in what soon became a legendary rescue.

Continuing his war patrol, Dealey next scored his first of four successes against the toughest target of all - a Japanese destroyer. Spotted by an enemy aircraft north of the Western Carolines on 13 April, Harder became the quarry of a patrolling enemy destroyer IJS Ikazuchi, which closed to within 900 yards before Dealey fired a spread of torpedoes that sank his attacker within five minutes. His ensuing contact report quickly became famous: "Expended four torpedoes and one Jap destroyer." Four days later, Dealey also sank the 7,000 ton Matsue Maru near Woleai - and then surfaced again near the island on 20 April to bombard the beleaguered Japanese garrison with his 4-inch deck gun. Harder ended her fourth war patrol at Fremantle, Australia, on 3 May 1944.

Next, Dealey was ordered to take Harder on patrol off the Japanese fleet anchorage at Tawi Tawi in the southwestern tip of the Philippines, and he left Fremantle on 26 May. Asked to pick up some friendly guerrilla fighters from nearby northeastern Borneo, Dealey headed into the Sibutu Passage on the night of 6 June and came upon a convoy of three empty tankers and two destroyers, one of which detected him and initiated a pursuit. Again, Dealey let the enemy close to within 1,100 yards before firing three torpedoes, and IJS Minatsuki became his second destroyer victim. Then, although thwarted in both an attack on the second destroyer and his attempt to re-attack the convoy, Dealey came across the destroyer Hayanami the next morning south of Tawi Tawi, attacked with three torpedoes, and toted up another one. Following this encounter, Harder transited the Sibutu Passage to pick up the guerrilla force on the night of 8 June, and headed back early the next day.

In the narrowest part of the Passage, Dealey spotted what appeared to be two more patrolling Japanese destroyers and made an undetected approach. Firing four torpedoes at the overlapping targets, he was rewarded with two hits on the IJS Tanikaze, which sank almost immediately. Dealey thought he had scored a hit and sunk another destroyer also, but post-war records failed to confirm that there was a second one present. On 10 June, Harder sighted a large Japanese task force that included three battleships, four cruisers, and their screening destroyers, but she was spotted by an enemy airplane, and one of the escorts pressed an attack. Dealey sent three torpedoes "down the throat," heard several explosions, and thought he had scored another kill before diving to avoid two hours of relentless depth-charging, but Japanese records later showed that the enemy was able to avoid his torpedoes. Dealey returned to Darwin on 21 June after an outstanding patrol that firmly established his reputation as the "Destroyer Killer," with what was then thought to be a total of six to his credit. (It was really four.) Of greater strategic importance was the ensuing decision by Japanese Admiral Soemu Toyoda to abandon the Tawi Tawi anchorage as too exposed to enemy submarines, a sortie that then precipitated the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

In a curious incident that still raises eyebrows today, RADM Ralph Christie, who commanded US submarines at Fremantle, ordered Harder back to sea on the day she arrived, ostensibly to seek out and attack a Japanese cargo ship that carried nickel ore from Celebes to the homeland once a month - but also to give Christie an opportunity to participate personally in a short war patrol. Assigned on 27 June to intercept a damaged Japanese cruiser returning from the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Dealey was unable to close for an attack and was similarly outmaneuvered by the "nickel ship" three days later, when Japanese patrol aircraft forced him down and kept him there. Harder, Christie, and Dealey returned to Darwin without further incident on 3 July, and the whole episode was treated simply as an extension of the ship's fifth patrol.

During their time together, however, RADM Christie took Dealey aside and noted his opinion that after five successful war patrols, it was time for Dealey to relinquish command of Harder to his Executive Officer and move on to another job. Dealey demurred. With about a third of Harder's crew about to be replaced, he felt a personal responsibility to break in the new men before turning the boat over to a fledgling Commanding Officer. Ultimately, Christie agreed that Dealey could take Harder out for one more patrol, her sixth.

Accordingly, after a two-week rest in RADM Christie's quarters, Dealey left Fremantle on 5 August 1944 commanding a three-boat wolfpack, in which Harder was joined by USS Haddo (SS-255) and USS Hake (SS-256). Their objective was the destruction of Japanese shipping off the west coast of the Philippines, south of the Luzon Strait. Hearing that a lucrative Japanese convoy was holed up in Paluan Bay in northern Mindoro, Harder and Haddo joined three other submarines lying in wait, all under Dealey's command. When the convoy came out early on the morning of 21 August, the resulting mêlée - punctuated by intense depth charge barrages by the Japanese - left four enemy merchants totalling 22,000 tons on the bottom, with all five U.S. boats unscathed. Of the four victims, two were attributed to Haddo, commanded by Chester Nimitz, Jr., son of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, while Dealey - unusually - failed to score.

Dealey and Nimitz then moved northward to Manila Bay, arriving that same evening, and shortly after midnight picked up three small targets on radar. These were three 900-ton frigates, late of the convoy that had been so badly manhandled off Paluan Bay. Haddo and Harder coordinated their attack and by dawn had sunk all three, with subsequent analysis crediting Harder with IJS Sado and giving both submarines a share of IJS Matsuwa and IJS Hiburi. The two boats then moved northward along Luzon to rendezvous with Hake, but on the morning of 23 August, Nimitz expended his last torpedoes in sinking the destroyer Asakaze, which had been escorting a Japanese tanker, and departed for his advance base at Mios Woendi to replenish. Believing that Asakaze had only been crippled and towed into Dasol Bay south of Lingayan, Harder and Hake lay in wait outside.

On the morning of 24 August, two ships emerged from Dasol Bay - a minesweeper and the old Thai destroyer Phra Ruang. Hake maneuvered to attack the destroyer, but broke off when it turned back into the bay. Meanwhile, the Japanese minesweeper continued out, pinging continually, and Hake moved off to evade, as her Commanding Officer, Frank Haylor, caught a last glimpse of Harder's periscope at 0647. At 0728, Haylor heard a string of 15 depth charge explosions in the distance; then nothing.

Remaining in the area all day, Haylor brought Hake to the surface that night and tried to contact Harder, with no success. Over the next two weeks, Haylor continued his search, but no sign of Dealey and Harder ever materialized, and it became apparent that the enemy minesweeper had been successful on 24 August in ending their extraordinary run. Indeed, after the war, Japanese records showed that an antisubmarine attack that morning off Caiman Point had resulted in oil, wood chips, and cork floating in the vicinity. Dealey's death and the loss of the remarkable fighting team he had created in Harder produced waves of shock and grief that engulfed the entire Submarine Force. In the final analysis, Sam Dealey and Harder had sunk 18 enemy ships, with total tonnage in excess of 55,000 - enough to put him among the top five US submarine skippers in World War II. He and his men would be sorely missed.

Perhaps smarting from his decision to allow Dealey to undertake a sixth war patrol at a time when several colleagues thought he was tired and overly fatigued, RADM Christie nominated Dealey for a posthumous Medal of Honor immediately after the loss was reported. Sad to tell, this action became mired in a controversy that stemmed from an earlier decision by General MacArthur to award the Army Distinguished Service Cross to Dealey for his prior accomplishments in the theater. This had been opposed at the time by VADM Thomas Kinkaid, COMSEV ENTHFLT and MacArthur's naval commander, and he disapproved Dealey for the Medal of Honor on the grounds that he had already been honored adequately. This dispute was one of several that led to growing personal animosity between Admirals Christie and Kinkaid, culminating eventually in Kinkaid's relieving Christie in December 1944. Only when Christie left Kinkaid's command and returned to Washington was he able to push his case for Dealey's Medal of Honor - with General MacArthur's support - and it was awarded posthumously to Dealey's wife, Edwina, in 1945.

Finally, in 1953, the Navy named the USS Dealey (DE-1006), first of a class of new, post-war destroyer escorts, in Sam Dealey's honor, perhaps an ironic choice in view of his wartime renown as the "Destroyer Killer." In another striking connection, an even more prominent World War II naval hero - and later President of these United States - met his own death in 1963 on Dealey Plaza in Dallas, named after Sam Dealey's uncle.

Dr. Whitman is Senior Editor of UNDERSEA WARFARE.

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