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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

Right on schedule, Shinano eased out of the yard on November 28 and passed the sea buoy at the entrance to Tokyo Bay at about six in the evening. Because parts had not arrived on time, only eight of her twelve boilers were operating. That meant she could not run at full speed, but everyone agreed the 24 knots she could make if pressed would be more than enough to outrun any American submarines. The ship’s 1100 compartments had still not been fully tested to Abe’s liking but his bosses were satisfied with her seaworthiness. About 300 shipyard workers were still aboard as they pulled away, finishing up as much as they could as Shinano steamed toward the Inland Sea. In all, the carrier had over 2500 officers, sailors, and workers riding her out of the bay that evening.

Anyone watching her departure that day would have noticed, in addition to her stunning size, two other striking things about Shinano’s appearance. One was her unusual rounded bow, a special design to allow her to better cut through the water while cruising. Some said it made the carrier look as if she wore a clown nose. Others said, quietly, that it made the ship downright ugly.
The other oddity was the way her tall smokestacks were canted 27 degrees from the vertical to her starboard side instead of standing straight up or leaning to the stern as they do on most ships. This was a concession made when the decision came to build her as an aircraft carrier with its elevated flight deck instead of as a battleship. The pronounced tilt was necessary to vent the stack gases away from the ship’s superstructure but the effect was to make Shinano look as if she were continually listing drunkenly to port.


As Abe and his escorts passed the offshore island of Inamba Jima and moved into open waters, he felt a strong renewal of confidence. They would make the Inland Sea by tomorrow morning. They would then steam on with the fleet to the Philippines. And there, with the help of the new super-carrier, they would win the great naval battle that would once again redirect the course of this war to the favor of the Emperor and the ancestors.

Back on Midway, Lieutenant Joseph Enright had had a change of heart. While doing his duty as executive officer of the Midway sub base, he had gotten word that his mother had died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Again, he recalled how proud she and his father had been when he graduated from the Academy, when he got his "dolphins," when he received his command on the Dace.

Shortly after his mother’s death, he wrote a letter to Admiral Lockwood requesting another chance as a submarine skipper. He was still awaiting a response when he found himself involved in a red-hot poker game one night at the Brass Hat Club in "Gooneyville." He knew immediately he was in over his head. These guys were serious and the money in the middle of the table looked like a small fortune to him. Then, late in the game, with lots of luck and a daring bluff, he won a sizeable pot from one of the other players, a submarine squadron commander named Leo L. Pace. Joe had held his ground, staring at two pairs in his own hand while Captain Pace showed a couple of jacks on the table. And, as he swallowed hard but tried to look calm and cool, Joe drew the perfect card, giving himself a full house, and claimed the pot.

Pace just sat there, looking at the cards on the table in front of him, watching Enright pull the money his way. The squadron commander finally looked up and grinned.

"Joe, if you had the chance, would you run a submarine the way you play poker?" Pace asked, looking Enright straight in the eye.

"Yes, sir!" Enright answered quickly and emphatically.

Pace rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He knew Enright was a good officer. They had first met at the Naval Academy where Pace was a duty officer while Joe was a student there. Unbeknownst to Enright, his letter to Admiral Lockwood seeking reinstatement had been routed through Pace as well. And now the commander had observed the skill and daring with which the young man played cards.

"Tell you what," Pace said. "You can have Archerfish when she comes in."

The commander was as good as his word. Enright was well pleased with his new boat and crew and it was clear his re-assignment was a popular choice. When Archerfish left Midway, a big crowd of Joe’s friends was on the dock to wish him well. There was the inevitable paperwork to complete, the inspections to carry out, an eight-day training exercise to perform, and all the other work necessary in order to get ready to go back out on patrol, but Archerfish and her eager new skipper finally left on the next war patrol on October 30, 1944.

Once on station south of Tokyo Bay, the boat had two primary assignments: serve lifeguard duty for downed B-29 pilots who were supposed to resume pounding the Tokyo area over the next few days, and report weather conditions to the 73rd Bomber Wing so they could better plan their raids. The boat arrived at her lifeguard station in mid November, a few days after Shinano came out of her shed and conducted her builders’ trials. That was the day "Tokyo Rose" shot her portrait and put the fear into Toshio Abe.

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