The BONEFISH SS223 First War Patrol
by Cornelius Russell Bartholomew
"OOOGAH ... OOOGAH . . . " The sound frightened the crew of
the USS BONEFISH (SS223). The sixteen war veterans sprung into action
surprised by the unforeseen dive. The forty-four other crewmembers, half
of them a year or less off farms or from cities, rushed to their diving
stations not knowing what was happening. The veterans expected emergency
dives in the war zone but not a few miles west of the Panama Canal. The
unexpected dive became a part of every watch as the training intensified
en route to Brisbane, Australia. Three months after her commissioning,
May 31, 1943, BONEFISH arrived in Brisbane and stayed for six days of
upkeep and final tests. The crew enjoyed their stay because they
realized the war zone was only a few hundred miles away. Leaving
Brisbane, the route inside the Barrier Reef was followed to Darwin,
Australia. Uneasiness had spread throughout the crew because an enemy
airplane had attacked an U.S. Navy submarine along the some route two
days earlier. After topping off with fuel, BONEFISH departed Darwin on
16 September for her assigned war patrol area in the South China Sea. The
crew trained as the diesel's droned on. The sighting of a ship's most at
0440 A Mon 18 September gave every crewmember a dry mouth.
First skipper: Thomas Wesley Hogan
(Ensign here, LCDR when he took command)
It was north of Damor Island in the Banda Sea that the mast was
identified as belonging to a sailboat. The sailboat, the first of
numerous ones, was thought to be fishermen.
"OOOGAH...OOOGAH," blared at 0816 AM when a lookout sighted
an enemy airplane. All eyes turned upwards as BONEFISH crash-dived to
two hundred feet. An hour later a periscope look and radar showed the
area clear and the BONEFISH surfaced. Twelve hours later a small patrol
craft came over the horizon and it was chased until contact was lost in
a rainsquall. The following day was uneventful.
On 20 September as the sky was beginning to lighten at 0458 AM a
large enemy ship was sighted. Tension rose as BONEFISH maneuvered into
the attack position ahead of the enemy. The foe traveling at twenty
knots suddenly turned toward BONEFISH forcing her to dive. After
dropping one depth charge, the first for a majority of the submarine
crew, the attacker sped away. Surfacing for a chase, the excited
submarine crew kept alert. During the pursuit an unescorted 10,000-ton
tanker, a more lucrative target, hovered into view.
The tanker was stalked and as BONEFISH gained a position ahead for a
submerged attack, three sailboats appeared. Diving to avoid detection,
the apprehension ran high as the bow tubes were made ready for firing.
The tanker reached the sailboats, turned ninety degrees and raced toward
black threatening clouds. Surfacing Bonefish's engines bellowed black
smoke as she tried to overtake the enemy. The tanker disappeared into
the black clouds and was lost to sight and radar. Disappointed and
figuring that the sailboats had alerted the tanker crew, it was decided
to check sailboats when time and circumstances permitted. After a
peaceful transit of the Sibutu Passage on 21 September, the Balabac
Strait was run the next day and BONEFISH entered the South China Sea.
Under the watchful eyes of veterans the training and qualification of
the crew continued when time permitted. Saturday, 25 September at 0610 a
five ship escorted convoy was sighted.
The tension ran high as BONEFISH tracked the convoy at the same time
notifying the USS BOWFIN(SS287) which was in the area. Reaching an
attack position, BONEFISH dove and waited for the zig-zagging convoy.
The formation changed course toward the Bowfin's area. Surfacing and
using full power to pursue, the Bonefish's lookouts and
officer-of-the-deck sighted large plumes of black smoke and heard
explosions. The crew felt cheated until two stragglers, a 9000-ton
tanker and the same size transport were discovered. Using full power, an
attack position was gained.
"OOOGAH ... OOOGAH " sounded at 1846. The stern tubes were
made ready as the stress on the crew increased. Torpedo tubes number
seven; eight, nine and ten were fired starting at 1918. As the first
torpedo exploded under the tanker's bridge, two escorts crossed the
enemy ship's bow and raced toward the BONEFISH. A second hit was
observed and a third torpedo was heard exploding before the submarine
pulled the plug to go deep. Three violently bursting depth charges shook
BONEFISH. The next three depth charges exploded farther away. The crew
heard groaning and cracking sounds like a ship breaking up. As the
escort's high-speed screws faded from sonar, the exuberant crew was
ready to continue the hunt. Two days later on a clear night at 0208 AM
smoke was sighted. The smoke turned into a five ship escorted convoy in
three columns. The enemy was tracked until BONEFISH was in firing
"OOOGAH...OOOGAH", jarred those sleeping awake at 0545 AM.
The bow torpedo tubes were made ready. The convoy changed course so the
stern tubes were readied. Four torpedoes were sent on their way toward
the leading ship, a large Transport. The crew heard four tin fish
explode. Sonar picked up light high-speed screws rushing to attack the
BONEFISH. Rigged for silent running she went deep as eight depth charges
rattled the submarine. Coming up to periscope depth four more depth
charge shook BONEFISH.
The high-speed screws of the escorts crisscrossed the BONEFISH all
day while twenty-one more depth charges were dropped. At 1630 the
submarine eased upto periscope depth for a look. An enemy float airplane
dropped seven exploding bombs forcing BONEFISH deep. The stimulated crew
was growing weary of the enemy's explosive reaction. Before surfacing
several leaks were repaired. During the next five days and intense
search by the BONEFISH turned up several small patrol boats and she was
forced to dive by an zero type enemy airplane. But her luck changed
A sic ship convoy with escorts was picked up on radar and then
visibly. BONEFISH ran on the surface using three engines but could not
get ahead of the convoy before it passed out of view behind the Paula
Cecir De Mer Island. Let down, the crew intensified the search. October
6th was a rainy day with a moderate sea and swells increasing when radar
picked up a contact. The radar blips were three heavily loaded cargo
ships in a triangular formation.
"OOOGAH...OOOGAH," echoed through BONEFISH at 0609 AM.
Starting at 0706 AM torpedo tubes number one, two and three were fired
at the flank ship. One exploded under the ship's main mast. Torpedo
tubes four; five and six were fired at the lead ship. Torpedo four ran
erratic but the other two were seen exploding under the center of the
target. The third ship tried to ran BONEFISH. Her first depth charge
shook the BONEFISH at 0716 AM. The second depth charge exploded astern.
At 0944 AM with not contacts in sight or on radar, BONEFISH surfaced and
found wreckage from the two ships that sunk. The swells continued to
increase so BONEFISH moved out of the area.
The following morning a HINO MARU type cargo ship was found and
tracked. In the downpour of rain, BONEFISH submerged and got into firing
position. Number one torpedo tube was fired at 1811. Thirteen seconds
later it prematurely exploded vary close jarring the BONEFISH and
rattling the crew's nerves. Number two torpedo passed ahead and number
six torpedo passed astern of the enemy ship. Numbers three, four and
five torpedoes passed under the enemy ship and exploded beyond the
target. The torpedoes had been set to run at ten and fifteen feet.
Deciding the enemy ship was smaller than the original estimate, the
BONEFISH surfaced to attack using her four inch fifty caliber deck gun.
The gun prepared for the battle with their mouths feeling like they
were filled with cotton. Their fears changed as adrenalin made them
desire the enemy ship like a hunter yearn for a trophy. The chase
started in a tropical downpour. The enemy disappeared from sight in the
darkness and was lost by radar a few minutes later. The crew's
frustration remained high through the next day. But the following day 10
October turned out to be the most electrifying day of the first patrol.
An enemy airplane forced the BONEFISH to crash dive at 0819. Back on
the surface, a lookout sighted a mast on the horizon at 1043. Tracking
commenced and visual observation through the raised periscope showed the
mast belonged to a large troop transport. The other ships were heavily
loaded cargo ships of about 4000 tons each. All the ships had soldiers
milling around on deck. BONEFISH dove ahead of the convoy and checked
and rechecked the firing set up. With only four torpedoes left BONEFISH
waited. Starting at 1402 torpedo tube number one was fired followed by
number two, three and four (periscope
One cargo ship frantically blew its whistle as the first torpedo
exploded under her mast. The second torpedo blew the ship apart. Number
three torpedo exploded under the troop ship's mast and the fourth blew
her stern off. The enemy fired their guns in all directions making the
sky look like a fireworks display. A cargo ship turned toward BONEFISH.
BONEFISH took a steep down angle as the first depth charge exploded.
The next three depth charges chipped paint off the inside bulkhead.
During a lull in the foes attack, cracking and groaning sounds were
heard from the area of the sinking ships. Loud explosions made the
BONEFISH crew jubilant because they knew the sinking ships boilers were
bursting. Their attitude changed as two more depth charges sprayed them
with paint chips. The depth charge put extreme pressure on the hull and
a strain on the crew. Minutes later eleven depth charges, three very
close, rattled and shook BONEFISH as she used evasive tactics. More
breaking up noises from the area of the sinking ships were heard on
sonar. Another depth charge made the lights blink and caused another
shower of paint chips. As the submarine hid under a negative gradient at
150 feet, twelve additional depth charges exploded but farther away
giving the crew hope. The last nine depth charges were heard at 1601.
The attack that started at 1043 AM ended at 1720 when the crew received
a shot of Brandy after the Captain ordered, "SPLICE THE MAIN
BRACE." Surfacing at 1821 the fresh air smelled sweet to the joyful
crew. The last torpedo had been fired but the battle wasn't over.
Heading for Australia, BONEFISH stopped an investigated a sail boat
in Makassar on 13 October. The next day in the Java Sea an abandoned
canoe of excellent workmanship was picked up and lowered into the
forward torpedo room. That evening at 1732 a two-masted schooner of
about ten tons was sighted. It was decided to attack her with gunfire.
The first burst from the 20MM cannon was over the schooner and
resulted in enemy soldiers jumping overboard. The target was riddled
with 20MM fire but refused to sink. A Molotov Cocktail was used to set
the schooner on fire. It sank. Two days later an enemy airplane forced
BONEFISH to crash dive. The following day, 16 October, the transit of
Lombok Strait was completed leaving the war zone behind.
BONEFISH arrived in Fremantle, Australia on 21 October a week short
of five months since commissioning. She had steamed half way around the
world to reach her first patrol area in the South China Sea.
While on war patrol BONEFISH had logged another 12,000 miles and
fired twenty-four torpedoes. Torpedoes sank five ships; one by gunfire
and 5,800additional tons of shipping were damaged. Seventy depth charges
and seven aerial bombs battered the submarine. The Captain was awarded
the Navy Cross and each member of the crew awarded a Navy Submarine
Combat Pin. For the aggressive manner in which the patrol was conducted,
the BONEFISH received a Navy Unit Commendation.
The bone-weary crew with frazzled nerves relished the awards and the
two weeks at the King Edward Hotel, a submarine rest hotel.
Post war records revised downward the total tons that had been
claimed sunk and damaged. But the crewmembers that made that first war
patrol know their tonnage claim was correct. The Creator gave each of us
an individual blueprint for life that makes us experience the events of
life through our own senses. That can't be changed.