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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

But then something dawned on him. It was only one of the submarines in the pack that was using her radar. They were intent on misleading anyone who detected the signals into believing there was a lone hunter out there. That boat would then act as a decoy while her mates circled, while they swam into position for the mass killing.

Abe immediately ordered his topside watchstanders to be on the lookout for the submarines. The moon was almost full, shining brightly through occasional clouds, and the Americans were likely running on the surface, as was their practice after night had fallen. The ship and her escorts had already assumed the predetermined zigzag evasion course, moving at a quick 20 knots, faster than any American submarine could go. Abe had also once again reminded the destroyer escorts that they were not to venture out from their assigned positions, that they were not to try to sink any of the subs that might be out there watching them, no matter how tempting they might be.Instead, their job was to stay close to Shinano, forming a protective screen. They were not to go off chasing some obvious decoy that might be attempting an enticing ruse, luring them away from the carrier they were supposed to be guarding.


A nervous ripple spread throughout the ship as the public address system alerted everyone to the submarines’ presence. Captain Abe, though, was still not worried. He could see the nearby dark shapes of the three protective destroyers, diligently guarding his ship. Each carried 36 depth charges, more than enough to deal with the Americans. He also knew from watching the construction that Shinano was truly as well armored as any ship that had ever been built. She was deceptively fast, too. It would take far more than a swarm of slow American "pig boats" with their inferior MK-14 torpedoes to cripple such a floating fortress.

Abe checked the bridge clock, right next to the unsmiling face of his Emperor. 10:45 PM. They would be safely into the Inland Sea by 10 AM the next day, less than twelve hours away.

Just then one of the lookouts reported seeing something, an unidentified vessel about nine miles away. Without the brightness of the moon, no one would ever have been able to see it, but sure enough, several others squinting through their binoculars spied something that appeared to be the sail of a submarine. Abe ordered the signalman to flash a coded recognition message toward the vessel. He did. There was no reply. Whoever and whatever it was, it was certainly not an Imperial Navy vessel.

Suddenly, one of Shinano’s escort destroyers broke rank, abruptly left its screening position, and began a 35-knot dash for the interloper. The destroyer’s lookouts had spotted the dim smudge on the moonlit horizon as well. Her captain knew without a doubt that he could quickly and easily take it down. The mystery vessel was already within range of the destroyer’s powerful deck guns and, even if it was a submarine and should dive for the deep, this deadly ship would be on top of the shadowy vessel in minutes. They would be dropping depth charges well before the Americans could go anywhere deep enough to save themselves.

If those were Americans in that submarine out there, they only had about five more minutes to live.

Ensign Justin "Judd" Dygert was serving as officer of the deck aboard Archerfish. When he heard the radar report of a moving contact at just over 14 miles away, he swung his binoculars in that direction. He couldn’t see anything but moonlight on the water and black darkness on the horizon. Above him, a young torpedoman, Marteen W. "Bob" Fuller, was stationed on the lookout platform that was attached to the periscope shears. Captain Enright later noted that Fuller had the superior eyesight of a younger man or he might never have spotted the dark shape so quickly. The contact might well have gotten away in the lost time.

"Contact two points off the starboard bow!" Fuller shouted with conviction.

Now, with that information, Enright and several others could just make out the "bump" on the horizon that Fuller had somehow picked out of the darkness. The captain ordered the sub’s bow swung around so they could "track from ahead" and called for full power from the sailors in the maneuvering room. At the same time, every man in the fire control tracking party rushed to his station. Lieutenant John Andrews climbed quickly to the bridge to relieve Ensign Dygert as the officer of the deck. Over the coming hours, Andrews proved just as effective as a cheerleader as he was as an OOD. Dygert went below to help plot their course in relation to the contact.In the conning tower below, Lieutenant Davis Bunting had the torpedo data computer (TDC) up and running and was already entering the coordinates as they were being reported.

Now, the first tasks were to try to determine what kind of course the contact was following, how fast it was traveling, and, of course, what kind of vessel it was. The blip on the radar screen indicated it was something sizeable. If it could be seen from fourteen miles away at night, even as a distant, dim bump on the horizon, then it was definitely something worth pursuing for a bit.
Finally, when they had gained some distance on the contact, Enright ordered "all stop" so they could plot and use the TDC to get a feel for the course and speed of the "moving island."
Southwesterly, two-one-zero degrees. Twenty knots.

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