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Surface and Destroy

Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific

Michael Sturma
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Surface and Destroy
    Book Description:

    World War II submariners rarely experienced anything as exhilarating or horrifying as the surface gun attack. Between the ocean floor and the rolling whitecaps above, submarines patrolled a dark abyss in a fusion of silence, shadows, and steel, firing around eleven thousand torpedoes, sinking Japanese men-of-war and more than one thousand merchant ships. But the anonymity and simplicity of the stealthy torpedo attack hid the savagery of warfare -- a stark difference from the brutality of the surface gun maneuver. As the submarine shot through the surface of the water, confined sailors scrambled through the hatches armed with large-caliber guns and met the enemy face-to-face. Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific reveals the nature of submarine warfare in the Pacific Ocean during World War II and investigates the challenges of facing the enemy on the surface.

    The surface battle amplified the realities of war, bringing submariners into close contact with survivors and potential prisoners of war. As Japan's larger ships disappeared from the Pacific theater, American submarines turned their attention to smaller craft such as patrol boats, schooners, sampans, and junks. Some officers refused to attack enemy vessels of questionable value, while others attacked reluctantly and tried to minimize casualties. Michael Sturma focuses on the submariners' reactions and attitudes toward their victims, exploring the sailors' personal standards of morality and their ability to wage total war. Surface and Destroy is a thorough analysis of the submariner experience and the effects of surface attacks on the war in the Pacific, offering a compelling study of the battles that became "intolerably personal."

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2999-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    For a submarine crew there was no maneuver more exhilarating, or more fear-inducing, than a surface gun action. Relying on surprise and speed, the submarine would suddenly punch through to the surface, while half-drenched sailors scrambled through the hatches to reach their guns and ammunition lockers. A crack team aimed to get off the first shots within twenty seconds of surfacing. Men who were usually kept cramped beneath the sea were at last unleashed to encounter the enemy face-to-face.

    For Ignatius “Pete” Galantin the human face of the enemy materialized when the USSSculpinbattle surfaced to attack a sampan...

  5. Part I. Unrestricted Warfare

    • 1 Pearl Harbor
      (pp. 11-24)

      The first American submarine gun actions of the war took place during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The USSTautogand the USSNarwhal, two of only five submarines in port at the time, shared credit with a destroyer for shooting down a low-flying Japanese torpedo plane. The submarines, tethered to the base finger piers for refit, managed to muster gun crews as the Japanese planes swept in. On theTautog, after the three-inch gun seized up, enlisted men manned a .50-caliber machine gun and were credited with single-handedly bringing down another plane as it buzzed overhead.¹

      The devastation...

    • 2 Trouble with Trawlers
      (pp. 25-40)

      The survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor included Thomas Patrick McGrath, a crew member of the battleship USSCalifornia, which was sunk by two torpedoes. During the attack, an enraged McGrath had fired a pistol at Japanese dive-bombers from theCalifornia’s signal bridge. McGrath later declared, “I want to go out on the first ship that’s going out after those bastards.”¹ Even though he had no submarine training, McGrath joined the crew of the USSPompanowhen it sailed on its first war patrol on 18 December 1941.

      At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, thePompano,...

    • 3 Wahoo
      (pp. 41-49)

      The discovery of the USSWahoowreck in 2006 sent a ripple of excitement through naval history circles. The submarine went missing in October 1943, apparently sunk by a combination of Japanese planes and patrol ships while exiting the Sea of Japan. In July 2006 Russian divers located the wreck under 600 feet of water on the floor of La Perouse Strait. The U.S. Navy confirmed the submarine’s identity on 31 October, ending a mystery that had persisted for over sixty years regarding the precise location of theWahoo’s sinking.¹ But while the final resting place of the submarine and...

    • 4 Atrocities
      (pp. 50-60)

      Mush Morton was not the only Allied submarine commander to order the shooting of survivors. Before theWahoo’s assault on theBuyo Maru, the British submarineTorbaymade analogous attacks in the Mediterranean. On its second patrol in the Aegean Sea during July 1941, theTorbaymade a series of gun attacks on schooners and caïques carrying German troops, sometimes killing survivors. Paul Chapman, aTorbayofficer, later described one of the attacks, tersely noting, “The troops were not allowed to escape: everything and everybody was destroyed by one sort of gunfire or another.”¹

      TheTorbay’s commander, Anthony Cecil Capel...

  6. Part II. Battle Stations Surfaced

    • 5 Sampans and Schooners
      (pp. 63-72)

      At least one American officer had made a patrol with Tony Miers and his British submarineTorbayin the Mediterranean. Reginald Marbury “Reggie” Raymond graduated toward the top of his class at the Naval Academy in 1933 and later assisted Charles Lockwood, then serving as American naval attaché to Britain. Raymond accompanied theTorbay’s eleventh patrol in April 1942 as an observer. One of Raymond’s fellow officers, Paul Schratz, later recalled that the stories Raymond told about Miers’s gun attacks “were enough to turn anybody’s hair.”¹ It was a gun attack by an American submarine, though, that cost Raymond his...

    • 6 Pickets and the Picayune
      (pp. 73-88)

      The Allied submarine offensive continued to gather momentum during 1944, with Japan suffering its most catastrophic shipping losses of the war. In the first six months of the year U.S. submarines sank more than 300 enemy merchantmen, amounting to a million tons of shipping. By the end of the year the tally approached the combined total for 1942 and 1943.¹ In addition, U.S. submarines sank significant numbers of warships, including seven aircraft carriers and thirty destroyers.

      In the assessment of submarine commander Lawson “Red” Ramage, the disruption of oil and other supplies from the Dutch East Indies did much to...

    • 7 Straits of Malacca
      (pp. 89-100)

      Tony Miers, the former skipper of HMSTorbaywhose exploits won him a Victoria Cross, arrived at Fremantle as British liaison officer in November 1943. He had sailed from Pearl Harbor on the USSCabrilla, spending two months at sea with the American crew. In a letter to Admiral Claud Barrington Barry, Miers boasted, “I was easily the most aggressive officer on board (although the oldest).”¹ Perhaps in part because he was miffed at being forced to share a miniscule cabin with three junior officers, he gave a less than flattering report on theCabrilla’s commander, Douglas Thompson Hammond, describing...

    • 8 Boarding Parties
      (pp. 101-112)

      Like the British, the crews of U.S. submarines frequently made use of boarding parties. In the opening years of the war this most often involved inspecting craft in the aftermath of an attack with a view to retrieving any intelligence-worthy material or prisoners. After the USSPompanoattacked a patrol boat on 2 September 1942, for example, skipper Willis Thomas directed a party armed with revolvers to row over in a rubber boat to get a prisoner for interrogation.¹

      Again like the British, American boarding parties were often fond of casting themselves in the role of pirates. Some submariners had...

    • 9 Mopping Up
      (pp. 113-128)

      The USSBlennyepitomized the tactics adopted by submarines in the closing months of the war, departing Fremantle on 5 July 1945 to patrol the Java Sea and off the eastern coast of Malaya. TheBlenny’s skipper, William Hazzard, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1935 and became one of the last in his class to get a command. Having arrived in the Philippines in February 1940, he made ten war patrols before putting theBlennyin commission in September 1944. Under Hazzard, who characterized himself as full of nervous energy and an “eager beaver,” theBlennydisrupted trade between...

  7. Part III. Face-to-Face

    • 10 Survivors
      (pp. 131-145)

      The German U-boat skipper Reinhard Hardegen once observed, “We were waging war against merchant ships, not against the crews, and there is a great difference.”¹ No doubt many submarine commanders agreed, but there was also a great difference between not actively trying to kill survivors and doing something to assist them. Acts of compassion tended to be selective and fickle. Commander Otto Kretschmer of theU-99once became so haunted by the sight of a single man on a raft that on the following day he backtracked his submarine until he found the man. His crew provided the survivor with...

    • 11 Japanese Prisoners
      (pp. 146-158)

      In the Hollywood movieDestination Tokyo, released shortly before Christmas in 1943, theatergoers were given a rare glimpse into the world of the “Silent Service.” The film, starring Cary Grant, focused on the fictional submarineCopperfinas it carried out a mission of reconnaissance for the Doolittle bombing raid on Tokyo. In one action sequence Japanese Zeroes attacked theCopperfinas it traveled on the surface through the Aleutian Islands. TheCopperfin’s crew managed to shoot down the planes, but when one of the sailors tried to assist a downed Japanese pilot, he was stabbed to death. The submariners promptly...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 12 Submarines and Bombers
      (pp. 159-169)

      The moral and ethical dilemmas of World War II are encapsulated in the Allied bombing campaigns carried out against Germany and Japan. Over 99 percent of Japan’s civilian casualties were the result of air raids; by the end of the war, air attacks had killed 600,000 civilians.¹ One of General Douglas MacArthur’s aides, Bonner Fellers, described the bombing of Japan as “one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all of history.”² At least some submariners were equally appalled. Tom Paine, an officer with the USSPompon, declared, “[T]here is no humanity in destroying cities.”³ James Calvert,...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 170-178)

    Writing of Allied bomber attacks on Hamburg, Keith Lowe suggests that the Second World War might in some senses be framed as a battle between the urge to total destruction and the attempt to keep such extreme instincts in check.¹ The submarine gun war exemplifies a similar battle between competing impulses. Contrary to the often clinical representations of the submarine war in the Pacific, submariners prosecuted the war with an often callous indifference to human life. In a postwar interview, Charles Loughlin, skipper of the USSQueenfish, conceded that “some of our submarines did some pretty bad things during World...

  9. Appendix: Submarine Gun Attacks in the Pacific, 1942–1945
    (pp. 179-182)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 183-218)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-236)
  12. Index
    (pp. 237-254)