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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

It was big all right, but whatever it was, the thing was moving extremely fast for its size. Captain Enright ordered a course to match the contact’s, 210 degrees, and for flank speed, about 18 or 19 knots while the boat was on the surface. He wanted to keep the target in the "moon streak" on the water, not his submarine.

Now "O-boat Joe" had his first crucial decision to make. Textbook tactics demanded that they drive to a position in line with the contact’s course, dive, and wait for him to come their way. Then when he was within prime torpedo range, a thousand to two thousand yards, they would shoot.

That’s the way a cautious card player would do it. But this was no time to play it wary, not even if he was holding two pairs and the other guy had a jack showing. No, it was time to draw a card and hope for a full house.


"John, let’s stay on top and see if we can figure out what that thing is," Enright told Andrews. "Maintain flank speed and let’s see if we can get ahead of him and figure out if he’s zigzagging and what kind of escorts he’s got."

"Aye, sir!"

The dance was on.

Finally, in the light of the moon, Enright could see his gigantic new contact better. He had hoped for a warship of some kind. Now, his hopes fell as he turned to his executive officer, "Mr. Bob" Bobczynski, who had joined him on the bridge.

"Looks like an oil tanker. I can’t think of anything else that might be that shape," the skipper said.

"Agreed, Captain. At least for now."

If it was a tanker leaving Tokyo Bay, it was likely empty, headed back to the Philippines for a refill. Not the juiciest of targets, not the warship that he craved, bristling with guns and loaded with ordnance or troops, but still something worth pursuing.

The radar operator reported a small blip now showing up to the left of the target. That made the diagnosis even more likely. It was a lone tanker with a single escort. With that information, Enright decided on a daring surface attack. Whatever it was, he and his boat needed to sink it. They would have to be within 3000 yards of their target to be effective, but, with the moon behind the tanker and with Archerfish’s bow always pointed toward the target, they should be able to sneak up and shoot.

"Turn right to a course of two-seven-zero. Stop when we are five miles from the target’s track," Enright ordered. Then he gave the command that every man on board had been waiting for. "Man battle stations."

"Man battle stations torpedo!" Andrews sang out.

There was no doubt the enemy knew by now that Archerfish was out there stalking. They apparently didn’t care.

Meanwhile, the boat was racing at top speed across the ocean’s surface, trying to take a position ahead of the prey, ready to fire torpedoes when they had the best shot at the empty tanker. Then they could turn tail and run.

About 9:40 PM, everything changed. Several of the lookouts reported the contact didn’t look like a tanker at all, but appeared to be some kind of aircraft carrier. Bobczynski and Andrews concurred. There were also at least three destroyers running interference for the immense ship. Excitement ran throughout the boat as the word was spread. They were no longer stalking a 5,000-ton tanker but a prime warship contact. Enright and his XO studied the Recognition Manual, looking at the classes of carriers they knew the Japanese had. Nothing in the book looked anything like the target they were watching out there in the moonlight.

A surface attack was out. Now, their only hope was to try to run on the surface as fast as they could, trying to get far enough ahead of the swift-moving giant to give them time to dive and get set up for a shot. And even then, they needed the leviathan to be running some kind of zigzag that might bring it closer to them. Already, with Archerfish straining to run at 19 knots, the Japanese ships were going faster, about 20 knots, and that one-knot difference was enough to cause the sub to steadily drop behind.

As he squinted through his binoculars, Joe Enright felt a hint of d骠 vu. He had had the Shokaku in his sights, too, and she had slipped away.

Then, as if to confirm his earlier thought that the mystery vessel probably knew of Archerfish’s existence because of their radar signal, the ship flashed a challenge light in their direction. Enright ignored it.

He told Andrews to keep the lookouts sharp and report any change in the course or condition of the targets. Then he went below to the conning tower. The radar scan confirmed what he was seeing visually up there on the bridge. The massive ship they were tailing was definitely pulling away from them.

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