Friday, January 31, 2020

USS Barb, WWII: "Galloping Ghost of Chinese Coast"

USS Barb — Pacific killer submarine: "tighten the steel belt around Japan"

The barbus is a ray-finned fish genus, noted for its pair of barbels on its mouth used to search for food at the bottom of the water. The USS Barb (SS-220), was a Gato-class diesel submarine, the first ship of the USN to be named for the barbus. During WWII in the Pacific, she was credited with sinking 17 enemy vessels totaling 96,628 tons including the Japanese aircraft carrier Un'yō. Others think the numbers to be higher.

When she fought in the Pacific, Commander Eugene "Lucky" Fluckey was the skipper. He was known to the crew as "Dead Eye Fluckey." Together, Fluckey and his crew were known as the "Galloping Ghost of the China Coast."

This is one of "Luckey" Fluckey's mottoes:

"I've always believed luck is where you find it, but by God, you've got to go out there and find it."

Commander Fluckey received the Medal of Honor and four Navy Crosses for his service as the Barb's commander. He would rise to the rank of rear admiral.

Fluckey took command of the Barb in January 1944. By the time he joined the Barb, the Japanese had gone about as far as they could. The Marines were about to start jumping the island chain toward the Japanese home islands, the Army was heading into New Guinea, and the mission of submarine warfare was to "help tighten the steel belt around Japan" and "strangle her."

The Gato-class diesel submarine was a major threat to the Japanese in WWII.

For starters, she was fast, to 21 knots surfaced and nine knots submerged. Her surface speed beat out many opposing submarines and most certainly his prey, tankers and merchant transport-cargo ships and naval men of war.

The Barb was also lethal: she had 10 torpedo tubes, six forward and four aft. She carried 24 torpedoes. Barb also was armed on the deck: one three inch .50 cal gun, a Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannons. Significantly, Barb would get a rocket launcher with 5-inch shells for shore bombardment, the only sub to get one. More about that later; it's significant.

A note on torpedoes back then.  Said briefly, they were very unreliable. Fluckey had the the Mark 14 to start. It was a bad torpedo, not trusted by crews. It often ran 10 ft. deeper than set, often exploded prematurely, often failed to explode, and was known to circle back to strike the firing sub. Many submarine captains would not even fire them.

Barb received Mark 14s the Navy said were "repaired," but there was still that sinking feeling among crew members with regard to how well it was fixed.
  This makes the Barb's achievements under Fluckey all the more notable.

The Barb would later get the Mark 27. It used an electronic secondary battery propulsion system with a passive acoustic control system, a system that would home in on the sound of the target ship's propeller's. Furthermore, this torpedo had only one propeller which made her more quiet.

There has been a lot written about Fluckey, his crew and the Barb. I'll mention that the stories of the Barb under Fluckey's command vary. I found it hard to keep his achievements straight. I'll not walk you through all his kills, though they are exciting. I will highlight that while Fluckey was in command, Barb sank the greatest tonnage of any American submarine in WWII.

I commend Eugene Fluckey's book to you: Thunder below: The USS Barb revolutionizes submarine warfare in WWII and The Galloping Ghost, by Carl LaVO. There are other books and many magazine articles about the submarine's exploits as well. 

I want to focus your attention on Fluckey's view of submarine warfare. He and his crew became known for developing innovative ideas, new tactics and new strategies. Some say they transformed, revolutionized the way submarines stalk and kill their enemies.

The old-timers saw their mission as reconnaissance: find targets, radio them in. Or, lie submerged and wait for the enemy to come by.

Not so Fluckey. He saw the submarine as an offensive weapon, a hunter-killer. He liked to keep his boat on the surface, creep up on the enemy, attack at night, hit-and-run.  He took advantage of his boat's speed. He would stalk and kill by all means available, deck guns and sub-surface torpedoes. He would tip-toe up to a flank escort's stern, then sprint in and out between the transport ships and sink them up the line. Business complete, he would turn his submarine to the sea and high-tail out.

Fluckey pressed his crew hard. Incredibly, his crew suffered no loss of life, not even one Purple Heart. In a few instances, they achieved that by the skin of their teeth.



Fluckey became known as among the most daring submarine commanders in the Navy.

On Fluckey's first patrol, Barb's eighth, which lasted 52 days, he submerged only for one day. His crew got five freighters. Barb also used the ship's guns to destroy two trawlers. Sam Moses, writing "Hell and High Water" for historynet, said this about this first patrol:



"Indeed, (Fluckey's) report on the patrol was so full of new ideas, so gung ho, positive, and entertaining, that the commander (Submarine, Pacific Fleet), Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood, gave it to President Roosevelt, who happened to be at Pearl Harbor on the Barb’s return. FDR enjoyed it so much he asked that all of Fluckey’s future patrol reports be sent along to him."



Prior to this patrol, Admiral Lockwood asked Fluckey:

"How many ships do you think you can sink?"

Fluckey responded, "Will five be enough, admiral?," to which Lockwood responded, "Yes, five will be enough."

As I mentioned, on his first patrol the Barb sank five as promised.

Submarine patrols last many weeks. The trick was to hunt, kill and remain alive for ther next attack.

William P. Gruner, a Naval Academy graduate and former submarine skipper in WWII, wrote an extensive history entitled, "US Pacific Submarines in World War II." He wrote:

"Fleet submarines were designed for a patrol endurance of 8 weeks (56 days). Endurance was limited by personnel, weapon, food and fuel consumption considerations. Most patrols were of 42 to 56 days duration."

Fluckey commanded the Barb on five patrols in the Pacific. He received the Medal of Honor for one of those patrols and a Navy Cross for the other four.

Broadly speaking, he liked to do things that were different instead of just the repetitive things. He felt doing things differently increased chances of success.

My research tells me Fluckey's outlook was along these lines:
  • Relentlessly sweep back and forth. Hunting never ends. Don't wait. Hunt.
  • Fight at night, preferably from the surface. He could see much farther through the periscope while on the surface than while submerged.
  • A human's night vision was a secret weapon. Fog not an obstacle. 
  • The submarine is like a motor torpedo boat.
  • Use deck guns and torpedoes. He knew the guns would work; early on the torpedoes were unreliable.
  • You cannot hide from me. He studied the charts, even when they were from 1894. Enemy ships tried to hide in anchorages inshore, in shallow, often uncharted waters. He went in on the surface, struck, and escaped.
  • Use the submarine's speed on the surface. Underscored the run part of hit-and-run. Once he broke the world's record at 23.5 knots to escape through shallow, mined, rock-filled, uncharted waters.
  • Get in there, zigzag, weave around the enemy ships at night. Loop around to get a good look at the targets, fire and run.
  • When being chased, hide among junks if they are around. If not, then hightail it to open seas and dive.
  • Where possible, fire multiple torpedoes at multiple ships and create confusion. Throw the enemy off balance.
  • Postulate the enemy's plan, find the vulnerabilities. Use your head and figure it out. Look for solutions. Assess how the enemy will respond.
  • Subscribed to the "General Prudential Rule: "A captain at sea may render a departure from such rules necessary to avoid immediate danger."
  • Demand a great deal from the crew. He would say "SLIPKEEP" to his crew: "One slip and it's for keeps." Stay alert.
  • Reward them: "The captain has been entrusted by the most considerate US Navy with sufficient bourbon whiskey to provide two ounces to each man as a depth-charge ration ... Whenever we sink a ship, we splice the main brace. Hip-Hip-Hooray! The bar is now open."
In his book, The Galloping Ghost, Carl LaVO wrote:

"(Fluckey viewed submarines as) a kind of torpedo boat that ought to operate on the surface, where it could use its fast speed to outmaneuver ships in hit-and-run attacks and could dive quickly when planes approached, only to pop back up minutes later."

Fluckey said:

"You see more ships and sink more ships" if you are on the surface.

Gruner wrote:

"The most serious tactical problem in sinking a Japanese ship was that of finding one." 

Fluckey did not stay below the surface waiting for the enemy. He went out and found them.

Prior to his first patrol when in command, Fluckey met with Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood, the Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet. Lockwood asked, How many ships do think you can sink?" Fluckey responded, "Will five be enough, admiral?" Lockwood responded, "Yes, five will; be enough." On that patrol, Fluckey, his crew and his boat sank five as promised. He was not arrogant. He was confident, aggressive, demanding.

I'll close by introducing you to two historic operations undertaken by Fluckey and his crew.

The first operation had to do with the employment of rockets against shore installations.

After Barb's fourth patrol under Fluckey's command, she went to Mare Island near San Francisco for a yard overhaul and alterations. One significant alteration was installation of a five inch Mark 51 rocket launcher on the deck. The Barb received 72 rockets. This photo shows two crew loading rockets into the Mark 51 launcher on Barb's deck. The Mark 51 reportedly could fire twelve 5 in. rockets in less than a half minute.The Barb was the only submarine in the fleet to have such a launcher. 

Fluckey was among the precious few to imagine using it for shore bombardment. This was part of Fluckey's vision, that he could use his submarine on the surface such that in its own small way he could mimic a destroyer. Fluckey wanted to use this rocket launcher for saturation shore bombardment.

The submarine then patrolled north of Hokkaido and east of Sakhalin. This was Fluckey's fifth and final patrol with the Barb. He made history by firing 12 five inch rockets at the town of Shari , northern Hokkaido, from about three miles away, all landing in the town center. The next month, Fluckey expended 68 rockets against three more towns on Sakhalin, then known as Karafuto. The rockets hit civilian industrial sites, a few small shipyards and military stations.

James R. Holmes, reporting for "The Diplomat," described the rocket encounters this way:



"Barb’s most novel cruise found it harrying the coasts of Hokkaido in the war’s waning months. A rocket launcher had been mounted on the sub’s deck during a yard period. Barb’s crew pummeled the port of Shari with 5-inch rockets, dueled Japanese gunners at Kaihyo, demolished canneries in the town of Chiri, and set the shipyard at Shibertoro ablaze with gunfire.

In his report for this patrol, Fluckey made this prescient forecasts:

"The torpedo has fulfilled its purpose. Its day in this war is passing. It is believed that in the not too distant future, with the anticipated increase in tempo of air operations and the lack of air opposition that life-guard duties will be taken over more capably and more efficiently by PT boats. That those of us not specially equipped for the last good area must stagnate and slowly slip into oblivion, or look to a new main battery - rockets. The rocket is not a toy. Its possibilities are tremendous, strategically and tactically,"

The concept of ballistic and cruise missile submarines was effectively born. The world's first operational nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) was the USS George Washington which carried 16 Polaris A-1 missiles in late 1959 and conducted its first patrol in mate 1960. Since the 1960s, strategic deterrence has been the SSBN's sole mission.

The second operation I wish to highlight has to do with sending crew ashore to destroy an enemy train.

While at Patience Bay in Sakhalin Island, Fluckey noted constant rail traffic. He pulled within 1,000 yards of the shoreline, about 0.5 miles. He decided he to send a shore party to the rail line at night to plant explosives. One of his crew had worked on the rail line in West Virginia. He offered a plan which Fluckey, an Annapolis graduate with an engineering degree, studied and, of course, adjusted.

Fundamentally the crewman's idea was used. They used scuttling charges. These were aboard in case they had to destroy the boat, so they had power. They wired the charge and a micro-switch to a battery.  The raiding party would then place the scuttling charge and micro-switch wired to the battery underneath the rail. When a train road over this section of rail, the rail would sag down just enough to set off the micro-switch and complete the circuit, triggering the blasting cap to detonate the explosive.

Fluckey selected eight from his crew, led by Lt. William Walker, USNR. Fluckey took the Barb to within 950 yards of the shore, in shallow water. The raiding party paddled their rafts ashore. They walked to the rail line. They dug through the dirt, buried the explosives, hooked up the mechanism.

Fluckey pulled the Barb to within 600 yards (0.3 miles) of the shore, in less than six feet of water. The raiding party signaled it was finished and was preparing to return. Then a crewman aboard the Barb spotted a train coming down the tracks, Fluckey grabbed a megaphone yelling at the party to paddle as fast as it could.

The train hit the trap, blew sky high, shattered, and the cars buckled, burst into flame, and exploded. Twelve freight cars, two passenger cars, and one mail car derailed and piled up. Five minutes later the raiding party boarded the Barb and Fluckey slowly, at about two knots, snuck away, having to remain surfaced because of the shallow waters. The Barb had destroyed the train and all its contents.


This photo is of a painting of the explosion done by Rainier Hanxleden.



In effect, the Barb's crew had become commandos. This would be the dawn of the emergence of Navy SEALs in 1962 and later the SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV). This photo shows a submarine carrying a SDV on her deck. SEALs in the submarine can climb into it, launch it, conduct a mission, and return.

To conclude, Car LaVO wrote this:

“He was the first submarine skipper in history to employ a submarine to launch guided missiles at an enemy target ... He also thought submarines could be used for landing saboteurs on shore, and they blew up a 16-car train on a northern island off the Japanese mainland. He also is credited for creating havoc by hit-and-run tactics, so that the Japanese never knew where the attack was coming from, and that’s how he got this moniker, ‘the Galloping Ghost.’ ”

Fluckey received the Medal of Honor. L-R: Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, Cmdr. Eugene Fluckey, Mrs. E.B. Marjory Fluckey.

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