T H E K A
N G A R O O E X P R E S S
USS GROWLER SS-215
by Eugene Mazza
This is some information that was gathered from many people and books from the United states and Australia tied together to make the report have some feeling. The only rights that I claim are the color photos showing the USS Growler riding the high seas with the Kangaroo leading the way. The "Kangaroo photos" are from an oil painting, artist unknown, that has been my personal property for the past 55 years.
I do not profess to be a writer - I just gathered the pictures and information. I sincerely thank those people that took part in the development of this report. My appreciation can only be shown by providing this report. I should also point out that this report is only about the USS Growler's fourth war patrol.
STATISTICS OF THE USS GROWLER
P. 1870 (surf.), 2424 (subm.); l 312'; b. 27'; dr. 19' 3" (mean);
s. 20.25 k. (surf.), 8.75 k. (subm.); td. 300 ft.; a. 1-3"/50, 6-21" tt.
fwd., 4-21" tt. aft;
cpl. 5 officers - 54 enlisted men; cl. GATO
Keel laid by the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT 10 February 1941;
Launched 22 November 1941; Sponsored by Mrs. Robert L. Ghormley;
Commissioned 20 March 1942; Lcdr. Howard W. Gilmore in command
Growler in post launch yard fitout at
Electric Boat (EB) some time late '41 or early '42.
What appears to be shore line in the background is the construction shed over the ways at EB
(photo courtesy of Ric Hedman)
The Growler's fourth patrol started on new year's day, 1943. That day saw Growler sail from Brisbane for what was to prove one of the most gallant actions in Naval history. Entering her patrol area on 11-January, again athwart the Truk-Rabaul shipping lanes, she waited only five days before sighting an enemy convoy.
Maneuvering inside the escorts, Growler fired two torpedoes and saw them hit. Then, as her war diary reports, she was in the unfortunate predicament of being about 400 yards from the destroyer and had to dive with being able to continue the attack. She was credited with the sinking of the Chifuku Maru, a passenger-cargo ship.
The patrol continued with two more attacks but no sinkings. Shortly after 0100 on 7 February, Growler stealthily approached a gunboat for a night surface attack. The Hayasaki, a 2,500 ton fighting man-o-war, made specially to combat subs, suddenly turned to ram. Lcdr. Gilmore then took the only move he could to save his ship. He brought Growler left full rudder and rammed the enemy amidships at 17 knots, ripping her side plating wide open. Growler heeled over to 50 degrees, bending sideways 18 feet of the bow and disabling the forward torpedo tubes. The Japanese unloaded murderous gunfire, at point blank range, on the conning tower personnel killing the JOOD, Ensign W. Williams and lookout Fireman W.F. Kelley - and wounding the Captain.
The courageous sub seemed lost. Lcdr. Gilmore cleared the bridge except for himself. Desperately wounded, he realized that he could not get below in time if his ship were to be saved. "Take her down!," he ordered. The XO, Lcdr. Schade, closed the hatch and the Growler slipped beneath the surface as Lcdr. Gilmore, Ensign Williams and Fireman Kelley floated in the sea.
Lcdr. Gilmore sacrificed his life for his crew and ship. He wrote another stirring tale of inspirational Naval history. Lcdr. Gilmore became the first US Submariner to receive the congressional medal of honor - one of seven submariners to receive it.
Severely damaged but still under control, Growler returned to Brisbane, Australia, under the command of her XO, Lcdr. A. F. Schade. On 17 August, she docked along side the USS Fulton, AS-11, for very extensive repairs. Growler had spent ten days limping back to New Farm Wharf in Brisbane, pushing water up before her staved bow. The distance from Rabaul to Brisbane is about two thousand miles and Growler's speed could not exceed much more than eight knots. Torpedoes were hanging from their tubes which Lcdr. Schade said, "scared the hell out of us."
Below is a picture of the USS Growler tied up along side the USS Fulton.
NOTICE THE ANGLE ON THE BOW
The bow repairs took three months. The construction of the new bow was performed by the Australian civilian workers of the Evans Deakin Shipyard. When the work was completed, the Aussies were so proud of their work, they requested and received permission to weld a metal kangaroo on each side of the Growler's bow. The Australians dubbed her the "Kangaroo Express."
The picture below shows the new bow being lowered onto the Growler hull. Note that as yet, the metal kangaroos have yet to be welded to the bow.
This next picture show the USS Growler riding the high seas with the kangaroo leading the way.
I realize that it is difficult to see the kangaroo on the bow but believe me, there was one on the bow of the Growler when she started her fifth patrol. I'll try to show the kangaroo more clearly in the following photo.
I sincerely hope that this report and pictures bring back memories of day gone by.
Once again, thank all of you who had a share in this presentation.
EUGENE A. MAZZA
(photo courtesy of Ric Hedman)