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History and Heritage

USS Canopus Part 2: Far Behind Enemy Lines

The tender gets orders no Sailor wants to hear

An eerie quiet fell over the harbor. The submarine tender USS Canopus sat dormant, and heavily listing - the enemy satisfied she had been sufficiently bombed out of action.

Under cover of darkness, Radioman 1st Class Randall Edwards and his shipmates emerged from the Bataan jungle that had provided them shelter and protection from the aerial onslaught for nearly a month.

Against staggering odds, Canopus was still operational - useful to the U.S. submarines that dared sneak into range to receive her support services. The crew worked through the nights providing machinery repair, torpedoes, even ice cream - there was nothing, it seemed, that could stop these Sailors from doing their part.

The plan was genius in its simplicity, yet daunting in its execution: with ropes secured to the main mast, Canopus' crew would literally pull the ship over, convincing the enemy she was only barely afloat and certainly unable to function. It worked ... for now.

By April 1942 nothing more could be done. For nearly five months, the crew braved daily barrages of bombings and strafings, yet miraculously, morale remained high.

With the last of the torpedoes and any other supplies salvaged, the decision was made to scuttle Canopus once and for all. Under her own power, the ship steamed out of Mariveles Harbor and slipped beneath the waves.

Braving the currents, Edwards and some shipmates swam more than a mile to the still U.S.-held island of Corregidor. "Go back to Bataan," the Marines barked as Edwards sloshed ashore. "There's not enough food here."

Those Canopus Sailors brave enough to make the swim were grudgingly welcomed by the Marines - any reinforcements would be needed to hold off the advancing imperial juggernaut.

Transforming itself into a Navy battalion, these Sailors dug in to help fortify the coastal defenses. With limited supplies and the surrender of Bataan and Corregidor imminent, Edwards and his shipmates received the order no service member wants to hear: "You are now on your own."

Read USS Canopus Part 1: Far Behind Enemy Lines.