The USS Bonefish's crew returned from a two-week rest leaves in
Perth, Australia on 3 January 1944. The 4"50-caliber deck gun and
number three main engine had been overhauled by the USS Pelias' Relief
Crew. The fresh camouflage paint, gray on vertical surfaces and black on
horizontal surfaces, made Bonefish look like a new submarine, not a
veteran battered by depth charges and bombs. Only thirty-two of the
original sixty-nine members of the commissioning crew remained aboard.
After seven days of intense underway training, Bonefish was loaded for
the third war patrol.
On 12 January Bonefish got underway for the 1600-mile journey mostly
through enemy waters to the assigned patrol area in the South China Sea.
The intense training continued until Bonefish was forced to dive by an
enemy aircraft two days south of Lombok Strait. Enemy planes were not
expected south of Lombok, making the crew uneasy. The second crash dive,
a day south of Lombok, kept the crew's adrenaline flowing. Surfacing at
1953 on 18 January with the crew at Battle Stations and using four main
engines, Bonefish entered the hazardous Lombok Strait.
She dodged patrol craft and avoided being detected by the shore
battery crews. Entering the Flores Sea, an intense hunt for an enemy
submarine was conducted for three days. Not finding the submarine being
used for antisubmarine warfare, Bonefish continued north. A sixty-ton,
two masted sailing ship was ordered to heave to after the seven-man crew
on deck acted suspiciously. It took a burst across her bow from a Tommy
Gun to make the crew lower the sails. Two soldiers scurried below deck.
The crew was ordered to abandon ship because the vessel had a radio used
to broadcast U.S. submarine positions.
As the first burst of 20-millimeter armor piercing and incendiary
shells raked the wooden bull, the crew jumped overboard. Round after
round holed the sailing trip. Thirty-nine enemy soldiers were counted
going over the side as the vessel sank. With the crew's esprit de corps
soaring, Bonefish continued north.
Suspecting an oil leak, three volunteer engineers in daylight checked
the topside fuel fittings. The trio set an Olympic dash record when a
RUFE type airplane forced the Bonefish to crash dive. The plane dropped
two aerial bombs and was joined by two additional planes. Hide and seek
with aircraft became a daily ritual wearing on the crew's nerves.
Bonefish entered the South China Sea on 26 January and arrived at her
patrol area off Kamranh Bay on 3 February. Harassment by aircraft and
dodging fishing vessels, twenty-six of the latter in one day, rough seas
and torrential rains hampered the patrolling. At 1010 on 5 February, the
mast of a large cargo ship loomed out of a rain squall.
The cargo ship was followed by sixteen more enemy vessels heavily
laden and steaming in two groups. One group had cargo carriers, troop
ships with landing barges and patrol ships. The other group consisted of
tankers, cargo carriers; patrol ships and was followed by an Asakaz
Class Destroyer. Overhead, RUFE type aircraft circled. The convoy went
inside the Isles de Pecheurs making Bonefish race toward intercept when
the convoy came out from behind Hon Nai Island.
Running submerged at full speed between periscope looks and rigged
for depth charge; Bonefish reached firing position in the shallow and
restricted water. As the convoy appeared all torpedo tubes were made
ready. Four torpedoes from the bow tubes sped toward the 19,000 ton
tanker and two torpedoes raced toward the largest cargo ship. Turning
for a stern shot, the Bonefish took a steep down angle dipping
Nine tons of water poured into the forward torpedo room before a
sluggish torpedo tube poppet valve could be closed. The destroyer and
escorts swarmed toward Bonefish.
The destroyer was at 1500 yards when the submarine was brought under
control. The crew heard two torpedoes explode against the tanker and one
against the cargo ship before the first two heavy depth charges shook
Using evasive maneuvers and running silent, the crew's
stoutheartedness turned to fright. Two more depth charges rattled the
hull as the destroyer's propellers churned the shallow water above the
submarine. One patrol craft pinged, one listened while the destroyer
charged and dropped three more depth charges. The lights in Bonefish
blinked. On Bonefish's sonar crackling sounds in the vicinity of the
torpedoed targets were heard. The crew felt the tanker and cargo ship
had sunk. Six more depth charges shook the Bonefish. Airplanes dropped
depth bombs around her. The attackers turned back to the convoy. After
planning up to periscope depth, large columns of smoke were observed in
the area of the torpedo attack. A RUFE aircraft sighted the periscope
and the destroyer and escorts reversed course and raced toward Bonefish.
Going deep the attackers were evaded and the torpedo tubes were
reloaded. Repairs were made to electrical circuits, radar, pit log and
the leaking hull fittings. Again planning up to periscope depth, none of
the enemy was in sight. Surfacing at 1929, the Officer-of-the-Deck and
lookouts scrambled to the bridge.
The overcast, black tropical night was turned into daylight when a
patrol plane dropped a flare. The Bonefish set a record crash diving. On
each of the next three days during inclement weather enemy aircraft
forced Bonefish to make emergency dives. And not one enemy ship was
encountered. On 9 February patrolling off the mouth of Kamranh Bay, a
convoy was sighted through the periscope, lifting the crew's soggy
The attack approach was laborious because of fog, rain and heavy
seas. The convoy consisted of a 15,000-ton tanker, a large troop and
cargo ship, four medium size cargo carriers, a Sigure Class Destroyer
and five escort vessels.
The destroyer patrolled on a zigzag course well out to seaward and
the escorts were ahead and behind the convoy. A RUFE aircraft circled
over the convoy as Bonefish closed the range to the tanker. Rigging for
depth charge, all torpedo tubes were made ready. The loudly knocking
trim pump had to be run to maintain depth control. The tanker was at
3,000 yards when the pinging destroyer belched black smoke
An with a burst of speed charged Bonefish. A spread of six torpedoes
was fired from the forward tubes at the tanker. One torpedo refused to
leave the tube. The apprehensive crew knew the extreme danger of being
caught in shallow water by the offended destroyer. At 1331 the first
depth charge slammed the Bonefish, showering the crew with paint chips.
The destroyer's propellers churned the sea furiously above the
Bonefish. Four more depth charges forcefully shook the submarine. The
next four depth charges exploded astern as the Bonefish made quick turns
to evade the angry enemy. Three more escorts like hungry dingo dogs
joined the attack.
The attackers were relentless from 1336 until 1355 while Bonefish
strived to reach deep water. One to four depth charges were dropped
during each of the fifteen attacks. The twenty-nine depth chares sprang
leaks, exploded light bulbs and continued to spray paint chips. Going
deeper Bonefish ran aground in mud at 240 feet. Miraculously the
submarine got free and the extended sonar wasn't damaged. Crackling
noises, dull explosions and breaking up sounds associated with a ship
sinking lifted the crew's spirits. But the next uncomfortably close
depth charge caused more leaks in hull fittings. Another depth charge
hammered the hull. An aerial bomb exploded astern as Bonefish reached
deeper water. The destroyer's eerie pinging faded. Slowing to one-third
speed, the crew secured from battle stations, thankful that the strong
hull withstood the vicious enemy mauling. The torpedo tubes were
reloaded, repairs made and debris caused by the forty-nine depth charges
and nine aerial bombs was cleaned up. Surfacing after sunset, none of
the enemy ships were in sight. The clean air tasted sweet. Weary from
depth charges and inclement weather, the crew's zest returned four days
later when a convoy was sighted.
An Asakaz Class Destroyer, two patrol boats and two RUFE aircraft
escorted the two large cargo ships. The convoy slipped behind Hon Nai
Island and Honnai Point preventing a torpedo attack. Later that day, 11
February, a small cargo ship not worthy of a torpedo was allowed to
pass. The rain stopped. It was decided to destroy the Cape Paderan Radio
Station by gunfire even, though large swells rocked the submarine.
The Radio Station was outlined by moonlight, but the rolling seas
made it difficult to keep it in the gun sights. A high capacity
projectile with a point detonating fuse was loaded into the
4"50-caliber gun. On the bridge the Captain ordered, "Commence
The foot firing mechanism malfunctioned. The Gun Captain jerked the
hand-firing lanyard. It broke. Tripping the firing mechanism by hand,
twelve rounds were fired. One hit and several near misses were observed
while the enemy shore battery fired back. The engagement was broke off.
The crew's disappointment continued during the next seven days of
patrolling. Rough seas and inclement weather prevented any attacks on
enemy ships. The allotted time in the area was up. Bonefish started the
long journey back to Australia with some torpedoes aboard.
Enemy planes and patrol craft were encountered every day in the Sula
and Celebes Seas and Makassar Strait keeping the crew's nerves frayed.
Off North Watcher Island on 27 February Bonefish tried to intimidate a
small patrol craft to leave her shallow water haven. The gun crew was
ready, but the enemy didn't take the bait. On the evening of 3 March
Lombok Island was sighted.
Bonefish waited until the moon had set after midnight on 4 March to
make the dash through Lombok Strait. Two groups of patrol boats were
sighted at about 5,000 yards on each beam. The blackness of the night
allowed Bonefish to evade the enemy by passing between the groups. The
crew's spirits rose as the Indian Ocean was entered and a course was set
for Fremantle. But liberty plans were abruptly halted.
The Commander Task Force 71 ordered Bonefish to refuel and take on
supplies at Exmouth Gulf then intercept the Japanese invasion fleet
headed toward Western Australia.
Patrolling in the Indian Ocean, the crew's adrenaline flowed as they
prepared to attack the enemy fleet. During the five days of patrolling
the only excitement was exchanging recognition signals with a U.S.
Navy patrol bomber. On 12 March, Bonefish was ordered to Fremantle. The
phantom fleet was discovered to be an error in intelligence. The
disappointed crew shifted their thoughts to liberty. Arriving Fremantle
13 March, Bonefish had steamed 6,000 miles and spent forty-five days in
enemy controlled waters.
For the aggressive torpedo and gun attacks, a star was added to the
crew's Submarine Combat Pin and to the Navy Unit Commendation Medal
awarded after the first war patrol. The fatigued men read their mail,
ate fresh fruit and drank gallons of fresh milk before setting a course
for the well deserved two-week stay at a submarine rest camp.