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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

Enright held his breath as he stared through the ?scope at the huge target. It seemed to take forever for the torpedoes to make their run. Just as he was sure all six had somehow improbably missed the island-sized objective, he saw a beautiful sight. A stunningly bright fireball exploded near the target’s stern and climbed up her cliff-like side. An instant later, everyone aboard Archerfish heard the muted boom, then felt the pronounced shockwave rock the sub, even from a mile away.

Next, fifty yards from where the first blast had erupted, another explosion ripped up the towering side of the carrier.

As much as Enright wanted to wait and see the other torpedoes strike home, to watch the carrier sink, he noticed the destroyers were already turning and heading for his position. Amazingly, as they prepared to go deep, they distinctly heard a total of six explosions. All Archerfish’s weapons had apparently struck home.


The jubilation didn’t last long. Now, everyone was busy as they dove toward 400 feet.Those three destroyers would be dropping their "ash cans" within moments and it would almost certainly get very rough very quick.

Still, Joe Enright could not get that last view he had out of his head. Two fish had hit hard and the carrier was already listing. Even now, the sonarman was reporting the unmistakable noises of water rushing into a ship, of a huge structure breaking up under the forces of the sea.

When the boom of the depth charges finally came, they were distant. The destroyers had no idea where their attacker was hiding. The explosions soon stopped. The screeners had returned to the carrier, likely to pick up survivors.

Even though he was exhausted, Joe Enright had trouble going to sleep that morning. Adrenaline still rushed through his veins and he couldn’t help reliving each step of the chase and attack. He had relied on his gut, on his well-honed instincts, and he had won. He couldn’t wait for Captain Pace and Admiral Lockwood and the others who had given him this chance to learn what had happened. He only wished his mother was still alive back in North Dakota so he could tell her about what he and his shipmates had accomplished this night.

Archerfish and her crew had bagged their biggest quarry. But they still had no idea just how big it really was.

Commander Toshio Abe’s initial thought was to try to get his wounded carrier to shallow water and ground her. However, the explosions had already cost them fresh water for the boilers so they were dead in the water.

Next, he ordered two of the destroyers to stop looking for their attackers and tie up to Shinano in an attempt to tow her to shallow water. There was no way they could pull anything so massive.The lines snapped and the attempt was abandoned.

The SOS transmitted from the carrier’s radio room that morning was the first time the name of Shinano was ever mentioned in any radio transmission. When American code-breakers heard the SOS and translated the name, they assumed the distressed ship was a cruiser.They were typically named for rivers.he Shinano River was Japan’s best-known stream.

When it became clear that the carrier was going down, when Abe was finally willing to concede that Shinano could possibly be sunk by enemy torpedoes after all, he reluctantly called his officers to a meeting on the bridge. ordered them to abandon the ship but closed the meeting with the words, "I shall remain aboard."

Out of respect, they did not try to talk him out of his wish to die with his ship.

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