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Posted on Jul 20, 2004 in Books and Movies

Gallant Lady: A Biography of USS Archerfish – Book Review

By Don Keith

Quartermaster Bill Sykes began calling out the range and bearing of the target from the calibrated wheels on the night ?scope as Enright focused on their contact. Lieutenant Davis Bunting entered the information into the torpedo data computer, keeping it updated. The skipper had already decided to set the torpedoes to run at a depth of ten feet. "The book" didn’t say to do it that way. It recommended a running depth of 25 to 30 feet when attacking a carrier. Enright had no idea that the target’s "blisters" would be ineffective at that depth. He was once again relying on gut, assuming that punching a hole higher up on the side of a target that massive would tend to help capsize the vessel. He also knew the torpedoes he was using had a history of running deeper than their settings called for them to do. He figured that he could score a hit, even if they ran deeper than they were supposed to. They certainly wouldn’t under-run her.


Because the night ?scope was larger and more likely to be spotted by lookouts on the target ship and her escorts, Enright used it sparingly, raising it, taking a look, and lowering it. On one of the quick looks, he noticed the carrier seemed to be leaning sharply, as if she were in the midst of a huge turn so sharp she was banking like an airplane.

Bunting and the TDC said differently.The carrier was still on its original course. It would be much later, when Enright learned of the unusual canted stacks on Shinano, that he realized why the vessel looked to be turning even when she was plowing straight ahead.

Now, with the range only a couple of miles, everyone on Archerfish knew he had to be ready. As the carrier drew to within range and ran past them, they would have only a brief opportunity to see a glimpse of her beam and to shoot all six forward torpedoes. They were now at an angle sharp on her bow, making the target appear much shorter than they knew she was. It was hardly a perfect shot but it was likely the best they could get considering her speed.

The next time Enright raised the ?scope and took a look, the words "Fire one!" were already forming on his lips. But when he spotted the carrier again, he couldn’t believe his eyes. This time there was no mistaking the fact that the target had made a pronounced zig. That unexpected turn had given Archerfish a perfect setup. In another two minutes, the massive vessel would be in the absolute best part of the ocean for the sub’s fish to find her.

With his ideal view, the commander described to those nearby what he could see of the vessel. As he later wrote, "Never before or since have I seen such an apparition!" They were still trying to figure out which of the remaining Japanese carriers this mammoth could be. Enright even grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and quickly sketched out a rough picture of the odd-looking giant that now filled his ?scope lens.

"She looks like this," the captain said. Everyone who looked at the drawing stared blankly. It looked like nothing any of them had ever seen and it certainly didn’t resemble anything they were looking at in the identification manuals.

"Skipper, the Japs don’t have anything like that," one of the men finally said.

"The hell they don’t!" Enright snorted. "I’m looking right at it!"

Just then, there was something new to worry about. As Enright stared intently at the target, he noticed that one of the screening destroyers had pulled close to the carrier, apparently to receive a message. But then it eased away and started back toward its station. It didn’t take long for Enright to realize that the warship, in returning to its screen, would pass very near Archerfish’s periscope.

Close enough to see it if it didn’t run right over it!

Enright’s eyes grew wide when he saw the ship so near and he dropped the ?scope quickly. He asked that the boat be lowered another few feet, just to make certain the destroyer could pass over without striking any part of the sub. Every man aboard held his breath, listening to the awful groan of the warship’s engines as it passed directly overhead, and likely less than twenty feet from the highest point on Archerfish.

The destroyer moved on, unaware how close it had come to running into the enemy.

Finally, Enright could raise the ?scope again and call out the co-ordinates for the TDC. His stomach fell when he located the huge vessel again. The delay while they dodged the destroyer had allowed the carrier to get past the prime shooting point. He heard Sykes call out the new information for Bunting and the TDC while he held the ?scope’s crosshairs on the middle of the carrier’s beam.

She was no longer a perfect target but she was still wide enough to blow sky high if they did their jobs correctly.

Coolly, calmly, Joe Enright gave the command to fire the torpedoes. The sub bucked slightly as the first weapon whooshed away. Then, eight seconds later, she shuddered again as the next one left its flooded tube. In short order, all six fish were headed toward the target.

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