First War Patrol
Copyright © 1999 Ronald D. Stalma
It was January 8, 1945, when the USS Springer departed from Mare Island. She made her way to Pearl Harbor, arriving on January 15. While at Pearl for nineteen days, her crew devoted thirteen of these days to training, and for the remaining six days the men enjoyed R&R. On February 4, 1945, she departed Pearl Harbor for Guam, with escort PC579. While at sea, the Captain conducted daily training dives, battle surfaces, gun firings, and fire control drills. Twelve days later, on February 16, Springer arrived at Apra Harbor, Guam, where they moored her alongside USS Holland. Topping off in stores while taking on 55,000 gallons of fuel, and 200 gallons of lube oil, the crew members were eager for some action. At 3 P.M. on February 17, Springer departed Guam to patrol the Okinawa Gunto area. She soon found out the difference between calm and stormy seas.
Springer's first taste of warfare was not with the enemy, but with the sea. Springer and her crew rode out several very heavy storms at sea. Later, the communications officer had opportunity to exchange calls with Batfish, Burrfish, and Drum, who were in the area also. Twice she set an intercept course according to reports of enemy traffic radioed from the Tilefish and Spikefish. As she made her way past Okino Daito, enemy planes were a constant threat, forcing her to dive when the lookouts sighted aircraft overhead. On February 22, Springer dove to transit the passage undetected between Okinoyerabu and Yoron. While working her way toward Naha on February 28, the transmitter broke down while attempting to broadcast a weather report. After troubleshooting the equipment, it was determined that a switch in the master oscillator had jumped its contacts. This occurred when the friction rod clutch on the extension rod came loose. Six hours later when they had repaired the transmitter, she was forced to execute another dive, as another plane was observed coming in fast.
While below the surface, Springer experienced what they called a "hot run" in torpedo tube No. 1. Despite careful attention to the instructions in the manual "Routine Maintenance for Submerged Torpedo Tubes," the interlock had broken while testing the fusing circuits. The ready to fire lever had raised before the impulse air had been bled down. So, the firing key was hit while attempting to bleed down the air line. Although run time was short, the heat generated caused the water check valve to warp, so that it did not seat properly. Her able crew quickly repaired this damage. Later that day, while at periscope depth, she spotted four small patrol craft. They were making an anti-submarine sweep doing five knots at a range of 13,000 yards. The periscopes were very troublesome on this patrol. Periscope No. 1 had a leaky packing gland. To prevent excessive leaking, the gland had to be tightened to the extent where rotating the scope was almost impossible. Scope No. 2 was useless in high power mode until they exposed it more than thirty seconds. Also, the oil seal had been leaking on the hoisting pistons since the beginning of the patrol. Every piece of equipment on a submarine is important to its survival, the periscopes were a vital part of her capability to focus on undersea approach and attacks.
The next day March 1, transmissions were picked up from our zommies over Okinawa, while Springer lay north of the approaches to Naha Harbor. The Captain decided that the Japanese aircraft would be busy engaging our aircraft, so he kept to the surface, searching for shipping leaving the Harbor. Again, she was forced to make a "quick dive" when two planes were sighted coming in fast for a bombing run.
March 2, Springer made radar contact with the four patrol craft she sighted the day before. The patrol craft were still doing five knots, at a distance of 10,000 yards. She had to dive when a twin engine plane came on strong. They noted that on March 3, it was the fifth time that a plane was sighted diving close abroad, without dropping any bombs. The Captain concluded that the enemy wanted Springer to believe that she was undetected, so they could reroute their convoys.
On March 11, after passing Kuma Shima, the lookouts sighted two tempting targets at a range of 22,000 yards. They later identified these ships as a Katori type cruiser, and a large destroyer making seventeen 1/2 knots. However, a large angle on the bow at the time of contact prevented the target from being closed. At once Springer gave chase to her first potential victim, as she cranked up her main Elliot electric motors. Two massive 126-cell storage batteries, which could deliver 5,320 amps, powered the motors, sending 2,740 horsepower to the propellers. She could do eleven knots submerged for one hour, or travel 95 miles at five knots, before the storage cells would be exhausted. After dark, the sub surfaced to follow the target. Two float planes from a cruiser closed in at a range of three to four miles. Without delay, she was forced to dive to avoid the planes. Thirty-five minutes later, she surfaced to give chase again. This time, being on the surface, she could bring her four main engines on line. These Fairbanks-Morse 10 cylinder diesels were one of the most reliable engine types used during the war. They could deliver 1,600 horsepower each, and with all four on line, Springer had 5,400 horsepower available to her props. At 2:30 P.M. a radar contact closed from fourteen to five miles, reluctantly Springer dove again. Considering that the cruiser had at least a 40-mile lead, the Captain abandoned the chase, which was very discouraging to all hands. The Springer was not without other mechanical problems on this patrol. On March 13, she made a dive with the master gyro out of service, and it took six 1/2 hours to get it back on line. The next day sound, picked up a trawler that was pinging, and listening with sonar, apparently on an antisubmarine patrol. As the trawler had not yet contacted Springer, the Captain decided to test out a new "Top Secret, Acoustically Controlled, Submarine-launched, Anti-escort Weapon," fired from tube No. 7. Designated as the Mark 27, it was nick-named the "cutie," because of its small size. Springer went deep, down to 200 feet and fired the "cutie" while rigging for depth charge. This was the first time the Captain used one of these newer, "Top Secret" torpedoes. The Mark 27 was a Mark 24 (fido) mine, modified for submarine launching. It had a speed of twelve knots, with a duration of twelve minutes, and 5000 yards. Because of mechanical problems, this may have been one of Springer's most difficult attacks. MOMM Andrew Stalma said this concerning the dive; "I remember once we bothered a ship on an antisubmarine sweep. The Captain decided to use one of the new acoustic homing torpedoes, or "cuties" as they called them. We carried three of this type of torpedo on this run. It was this torpedo's counterpart the Mark 24 (fido), which when dropped from our aircraft, devastated Hitler's U-boat force. Being top secret, they told our Navy pilots that these were a new type of delayed-action mine, and to drop them into the wake of a submarine. We had spies in the area of the German submarine pens who would report when a U-boat made its way out to sea. Our planes then went hunting dropping the Mark 24's (fido) in the wake of the U-boat. Fido would run right up to the screws and blow a hole in the aft section of the U-boat. The Mark 24's were refitted as Mark 27's, so they could be fired from a submarine to combat overhead ASW attacks. They re-designed the Mark 27 to go out of the torpedo tube under its own power, and then go hunting after it traveled a preset distance from the submarine. I remember rubbing my hand across one's nose and watching the rudders move around. Even so a submarine had to rig for silent running and dive deep, in case the acoustic torpedo decided to circle back. So we dove down to two hundred feet, shut everything down, and opened the outer, door and it glided out. In the meantime, the Captain had given an order to the electrician to slow down to almost a dead stop when trouble started. We were sinking farther as the engines slowed, and we started to take on water because of more than one problem. We usually cruised around the patrol areas for long periods with the auxiliary engine. That way we could conserve fuel, and charge the batteries with the main engines. The auxiliary engine had a piping defect, in that it did not throw out enough water to keep things cool. The horizontal spray ring on the No. 4 exhaust valve did not let enough water flow over the valve disk, to cool the valve seat. To make matters worse, when we needed to crack the overboard bypass valve, the flow of cooling water almost stopped, and the No. 4 exhaust valve overheated, and was damaged.
As we went deeper and deeper, the pressure increased on the inboard valve because of the damaged exhaust valve. The bonnet on the inboard valve ruptured where it was bolted on, and a four-inch stream of water started to spray out. Also, at that time, a forward trim tank vent-valve was leaking, which caused the trim tank to take on extra water. We slowly went deeper and deeper, and the first-class motor machinist mate started getting nervous. With a gleam in his eye, he looked at the water spray. Then he ran to the electrician, trying to convince him to put more speed on to bring the boat up. This happened several times, and each time, the electrician would say 'we can't do that unless the captain tells us we can'. He kept running back and forth, saying the same thing. I thought for sure he was going to crack up. Then to top off our excitement, the outboard plug blew out of the No. 1 generator cooler when we reached a depth of 400 feet. This caused the No. 1 generator to ground out at the cable terminals. When we made it down to six hundred sixty-five feet, the Captain ordered more speed put on to keep us from sinking further, and we vacated the area."
Sound picked up what may have been the torpedo hitting the target, but there was no confirmation as the target disappeared; most likely sinking quickly. At 1330 they surfaced when contact was lost, and ran out from land to repair the inboard and exhaust valves on No. 4 engine. Springer continued patrolling the area until six days later, when on March 17, at 11:55 P.M., they established radar contact with three ships at a range of 22,000 yards. They started tracking at 12 midnight March 18, on the rear target that was on a southerly course. It seems as if the target were using radar at intervals. All three targets originally were making around fifteen knots, and this target was doing eleven knots heading toward Aguni Shinto. At 12:37AM the other targets had moved away on a western course, and it seemed that they were easing Springer away from the main target. So Springer changed course and headed west with no contact. They headed back towards Aguni Shima, and three hours later the first target was sighted. It was decided that it was time the Springer went into action. The Captain gave orders to use a surface approach.
Acquiring a target was no easy thing. Even with her advanced Torpedo Data Computer (TDC), plotting a target was not easy. Many variables were to account for when plotting a target. If the crew correctly calculated the computations, and the torpedo acted as expected, and if the target did not succeed in out maneuvering the torpedo, it would intersect the target track at the moment the target arrived. You can very well see the importance of a submarine crew working together as one. Commander Kefauver maneuvered Springer into position, and after a few range and bearing observations, and precise calculations, they fed the targeting data into the TDC. The TDC set the gyro angle in the torpedoes, the crew was tense. At 3:03 A.M. Springer fired four torpedoes from bow tubes No. 1, 2, 3 and 4. They fired them in eight-second intervals, with a 3/4 divergent spread at a range of 3000 yards. Torpedo tubes No. 1 and No. 3 fired Mark 14 torpedoes, and tubes No. 2 and No. 4 fired Mark 23's. They observed No. 1 torpedo running 30 degrees to the left of the track. Two of the four torpedoes were right on track, and she scored her first hits of the war from tubes No. 3 and No. 4. With multiple explosions, the target started burning and firing twin mounted guns at random. Nevertheless, she did not appear to be sinking. The target had been calling the beach 9000 yards away for help, so Springer moved in close and dove at 4500 yards. Kefauver decided to finish her off with a Mark 14, and fired torpedo tube No. 5 at a range of 900 yards. The torpedo was running hot and straight, correctly on bearing, but it ran under the target. The target still was moving, doing 3/4 knot at a range of 520 yards. Springer turned, reversed course, and when at 750 yards, fired three Mark 18's from aft tubes No. 8, 9, and 10 set at zero depth, with a 3-degree divergent spread, at ten-second intervals. Another explosion rocked the Springer, when the fish from No. 10 tube found its mark. Sound reported gurgling and breaking up noise, then two more explosions. Identified as the 1500 ton Transport Number 18, the ship disappeared from radar. Transport No. 18 was a landing craft/amphibious tank-carrying craft. At the time of her sinking, Transport 18 had a cargo of 8 kaiten. Springer was unaware that she had sunk such a valuable cargo.
Two days later, on March 19, Springer departed the area for Guam. She rode out another rough storm that bent the antennae mast back, sending it sagging to the deck. After temporarily repairing the mast, Springer continued on her way in the storm, arriving at Guam on March 25, at 8:00 A.M. She had completed a war patrol of fifty-days duration, twenty-six of them spent in the patrol area, covering a distance of 7,572 miles, and used 76,860 gallons of fuel. Because the patrol was considered successful, they authorized her first Combat Star. RDS