Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on Jul 20, 2004 in Books and Movies

Gallant Lady: A Biography of USS Archerfish – Book Review

By Don Keith

He could only hope that devilish Japanese skipper had not just called his bluff.

Captain Toshio Abe was livid. The captain of the destroyer must have lost his mind! He was clearly disobeying orders, dashing off to chase what was looking more and more like a decoy, intent on drawing away the screeners so the rest of the pack could shoot at Shinano like a very large fish in a very small barrel. Even as the disobedient destroyer bore down on the unidentified American ship, the brazen enemy continued beaming his radar as if he didn’t care if the whole world knew he was out there. Even more proof the contact was a blatant chunk of delectable bait.

"Must I remind everyone again that our mission is not to go chasing rogue submarines?" Abe snapped. He quickly ordered a course correction, to the south, and then, in the same breath, told his second-in-command to light the big, red truck light on the carrier’s mast, calling the destroyer back from his foolish run.


Now, with the course change, Abe was more certain than ever that they could outrun the pack of American submarines. Once the subs had been left far behind, Shinano and her screeners could swing back around and eventually resume the course for Kure and the sanctuary the Inland Sea would offer.

Just when it appeared all was going well, Abe received word from the engine room that one of the shaft bearings was running dangerously hot. If they did not slow the screws, they ran the danger of warping the shaft and causing damage that would take weeks to repair. Again, Abe felt his temper soar, but he knew there was no choice. He okayed slowing the boat to the 18 knots his engineers recommended. It was not lost on the captain that 18 knots was also about the top surface speed for most of the American submarines. Anyone chasing them would now be able to at least match speed with his carrier.

There was also news from the radio room that a strong, nearby signal had been heard, on a frequency used by the American subs. It was encoded, of course, and the operator had no idea of the message’s contents. Abe had a clear suspicion, though. The American boat they had been dodging was likely giving the carrier’s position and course to his pack members and bragging to his headquarters about the large quarry he had been shadowing.

Just before 3 o’clock in the morning, Abe ordered that their course be adjusted once again, to 270 degrees, due west. This invalidated the information the decoy submarine had transmitted to his friends. Besides, they needed to head back toward the home islands, toward the entrance to the Kii Suido Strait, the narrow passageway into the Inland Sea. This would allow them to make the transit from open sea to strait as soon after sunrise as possible.

Admiral-to-be Toshio Abe had no idea that when he ordered the change to a westward tack, he had just put his colossal new ship on a virtual collision course with the Archerfish.

Almost immediately after Shinano’s initial zag to the south, Chief Yeoman Gene Carnahan on the Archerfish reported the course change to Joe Enright and the rest.
"Range is 13,000 yards," he added.

Enright felt his heart race. If the big vessel was zigging and zagging as he and Bobczynski had guessed, they had to be careful. Archerfish did not want to be spotted if their quarry abruptly turned back their way. If the Japanese commander and his screener captains were convinced the American sub had given up the chase, all the better. At the same time, they certainly didn’t want to lose contact with the convoy, even for a short while.

If the big ship’s course were supposed to be 210 degrees, toward the Philippines, it would make yet another turn soon, more to the southwest. Archerfish had to race ahead, paralleling the carrier, matching her speed as closely as they could, and be ready when that turn came so they would have a shot. The target still had to turn or slow down if they were going to bag it. Otherwise it would be difficult for the sub to have an optimal chance to fire any torpedoes.

At about 2 o’clock in the morning, the 29th of November, Enright and his XO finally noticed a slight change in the speed of the ship they had been shadowing.She had slowed. Not a lot, but enough to make a difference. Certainly not enough for Archerfish to do an "end around" and jump ahead. But at least, after all the long, tense hours, something had changed. They could not imagine what the Japanese commander was up to but it was an interesting development. The moon had set behind a bank of clouds already and Enright knew dawn was not that far away. They would become visible to the lookouts on the warships well before the sun appeared.

At about 2:30 AM, Joe Enright ordered his radioman to give Admiral Lockwood and his staff back at Pearl Harbor a quick update on their progress. Or the lack thereof. The message was receipted for at 2:41. By that time, Lockwood and his staff were up and fully awake, anxious to get word on what the submarine was stalking and whether or not they had attacked yet. Lockwood radioed back, "Good luck, Joe. Keep after him. Your picture is on the piano." It was good to have an admiral with a sense of humor.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13