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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

In March of 1943, two months before a new boat named Archerfish was christened up the coast in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Joe Enright was designated Prospective Commanding Officer of a brand new Gato-class submarine, USS Dace (SS-247). This was the first sub constructed in Electric Boat Company’s Victory Yard in Groton, Connecticut. A great many of the workers who helped build her were women. As Enright noted, "’Rosie the Riveter’ had been replaced by ?Wendy the Welder.’"

Joe Enright was a lanky, round-faced man, with pale blue eyes, a quick wit, and a broad, easy smile. He was well liked by his crew on O-10 and by the other officers with whom he attended the prospective commanding officers’ school, just as he had been at the Academy. He was also clearly on the verge of becoming the promising submarine commander that the 1933 "Lucky Bag," the Annapolis yearbook, had predicted. Both he and his new boat were on a fast track for action. He had been promoted to lieutenant commander in October of 1942. He reported to the Supervisor of Shipbuilding at Electric Boat Company to take over the Dace in March of 1943. The boat was launched on Easter Sunday, April 25. She was commissioned in July, did torpedo testing in Newport, Rhode Island, in August, and left for the Panama Canal on September 6, two-and-a-half months ahead of Archerfish’s trip through "the big ditch."


Like many sub commanders, Joe Enright was his own man. He insisted on having a few comforts in his cabin that were not exactly "regulation." He had a two-foot by four-foot patch of carpet on the floor because he didn’t like the feel of the cold deck on his bare feet. The North Dakota winters had given him more than enough of that. He also made sure the polished metal mirror was replaced by one made of real glass. He told anyone who asked, "I’ll take full responsibility if I get hit with flying glass while I’m shaving during a depth charging."

With his glass mirror and "carpeted" stateroom and brand new boat, the young commander was more than ready to take on the Japanese. Enright later wrote, "I was elated. (Getting the Dace command) was another of my lucky breaks. I was one of the first of my class to get command of a new sub right from the building yard." He was also delighted to find that his crew included an executive officer, Bill Holman, and a number of other officers and crewmen who had already served on war patrols in the Pacific. Even as confident as he was, the skipper knew how valuable the war experience of his shipmates would be for a rookie captain.

Lieutenant Commander Enright’s elation was to be short lived.

Dace steamed into Peal Harbor on October 10 and was off on her first war patrol seventeen days later. When Enright and his officers opened their orders, they were quite pleased. They had been assigned to patrol area number 5, a busy box in what had been termed the "Hit Parade," south of the major Japanese home island of Honshu. There would be targets aplenty and the young commander was sure he could quickly prove that the faith his superiors had placed in him was justified.

However, for one reason or another, they never seemed to be able to get into position to shoot at anything. At one point, they received solid intelligence that gave them the location, speed and course of a Japanese aircraft carrier steaming nearby. It was the Shokaku, one of the carriers from which the attack planes bound for Pearl Harbor had been launched. The Japanese carrier had also participated in the Battle of the Coral Sea. It would be sweet revenge and quite a coup for its promising young commander if Enright and Dace could send that flattop to the bottom on their very first patrol.

Later, Enright admitted that he made one crucial mistake. He worked the attack "by the book" instead of following his gut instincts. Whatever the reason, in the process of shadowing Shokaku, Dace allowed the carrier to slip safely past and she was gone. They never even got a chance to fire a torpedo at her.

Joe Enright had missed miserably on his first big opportunity.

It was a bitter pill for the confident young commander to swallow. As they pointed Dace back toward Midway, he doubted he would ever again have such a perfect target presented to him. By the time he stood on the bridge on December 11, watching their tiny destination island come into view, Enright had already convinced himself it was all his fault, that he was the weak link that had let Shokaku slip away.

The next day, after a sleepless night, an embarrassed Enright asked Captain J. B. Longstaff, the senior submarine officer on Midway, to relieve him of his command of the Dace. He told Longstaff that a skipper who could do a better job should replace him. Longstaff passed along Enright’s request and the Navy granted it.

Enright became executive officer of the submarine base at Midway. He knew he was now "on the bench," out of the game. He certainly wasn’t doing the one thing he had trained all those years to do.

One of the hardest things had been to tell his parents what had happened. They had come out from North Dakota by train the previous July to proudly watch as their son’s new boat was commissioned. The letters from his mother almost always mentioned how pleased she and his father were of what he had accomplished.

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