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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

Just then, one of the lookouts yelled a chilling report down the hatch.

"One of the escort destroyers is headed our way! He’s coming fast!"

Enright quickly ordered everyone below except for the officer of the deck, then the captain climbed back up to stand beside Andrews. As Enright watched the destroyer grow larger in the lenses of his binoculars, he heard the radar report called up. The menacing ship was less than five miles away and closing at 35 knots.

Again, the skipper was faced with a quandary and not much time to resolve it.

He could dive now and he would definitely lose the contact of his dreams. If he stayed on the surface, he knew the destroyer coming at them had enough weapons to blow Archerfish out of the water.

The Japanese Navy had drawn the second jack. They now had a pair of them showing. Should Joe Enright stay in the game and take his chances in the highest stakes poker he had ever been involved in?


Enright decided not to do a thing, to continue paralleling the carrier’s course while ignoring the destroyer. He could picture the faces of his crew below, anxiously awaiting his command to dive.
The warship was now on what looked like a collision course with Archerfish. There was no doubt they would soon both arrive at the same point in the Pacific Ocean at the same time. Still, the Japanese destroyer captain had not fired a shot or even challenged them with a light. Enright could not imagine why.

"One more minute, John," he said calmly. Cold spray was hitting him in the face and he could feel his heart racing with the excitement of the moment. This run was the most exhilarating thing the young commander had ever experienced in his life. "Stand by to get below if we have to pull the plug."

One more minute and they would dive, hoping the destroyer was running at them blindly, seeking the source of the radar beam they had doubtlessly intercepted. Now, even in the semi-darkness, they could easily see the unlighted destroyer, even without their binoculars.

Thirty seconds passed. In half a minute, the destroyer would be right on top of them.
But then, the two officers on the submarine’s bridge distinctly saw a bright red light flash on, coming from the direction of the aircraft carrier. It shone vividly from the top-most point on the giant ship and stayed lit for a full ten seconds. Went out. Flashed on for ten more seconds. Went out again.

Enright’s first thought was that it was an order for the destroyer to open fire. He fully expected to hear the booms and see the flashes from the warship’s decks any second. He made ready to order the dive.

But Andrews had his binoculars to his eyes once again and there was an odd expression on his moonlit face.

"She’s turning, Skipper. She’s going back toward the carrier."

Amazingly, she was doing so without ever firing a single shot.

It seemed like no time before Andrews reported that the destroyer had resumed its screening position next to the carrier.Radar confirmed his assessment. Then, moments later, they called up the word that all four ships had changed course and were now running in a direction that would take them farther away from the Archerfish, almost due south. XO Bob Bobczynski had a thought on the sudden veer to the south, though.

"I’ll bet her true course is two-one-zero, like she was doing when we first spotted her," he said. "Something also tells me if we just head on down, we’ll intersect when he makes the turn and zigs back this way."

"So we stay on a course of two-one-zero at flank speed, gain ground on him, and pick him up when he comes back toward us?" Enright confirmed.

"Right. And if we lose sight of him, we can keep him on radar. He doesn’t seem to give much of a damn about it."

So that became the new tactic. Once again they had thrown the standard rules of engagement out the window and followed their educated hunches.

At about 11:30, Captain Enright ordered his radioman to wake up Pearl Harbor, where it was 4:30 in the morning, with a message to Admiral Lockwood that they were stalking big game here off Honshu. Then, he went back up to the bridge.

The black "bump" was now almost out of sight on the horizon, even when they used their binoculars. Joe Enright rubbed the bridge of his nose and gritted his teeth. If they had guessed wrong, that gigantic aircraft carrier would not only be out of sight. It would soon be out of radar range as well, gone for good, lost. Just like Shokaku.

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