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USS Ronquil Torpedo Hatch Damage
Photos courtesy of Bill "Wee Willie" Blessing, former crew member

The following related information is from Submarine Operations of W.W.II, page 426:

"BURT'S BROOMS" (Operation Hotfoot) 

When Admiral Halsey was planning "Operation Stalemate" for the capture of Palau, plans were also projected for the first full-scale carrier-air attack on the Japanese mainland, The strike was to be made by Task Force Thirty-eight in November (1944), and the operation was titled "Hotfoot", Mitscher's aviators, of course, wished to approach the Tokyo area undetected, The greatest obstacle to a surprise raid was the picket-boat line which the Japanese maintained several hundred miles south and east of the Honshu coast, Although this picket fence could be blown to kindling by assaulting destroyers or fast-shooting planes, the presence of either DD's or carrier aircraft in the vicinity would undoubtedly alert the mainland. Some of the pickets were sure to get off a warning and Mitscher's punch would be "telegraphed". Submarines seemed the answer to this "Hotfoot" problem. SubPac blockaders had been attacking and sinking Japanese picket boats off Honshu since early in the war. A few more submarine attacks would not be likely to arouse suspicion. The "Hotfoot" plan included a submarine sweep in advance of TF38- a quick clean-up to clear the route of picket boats.

Preparing for this "Hotfoot" detail, ComSubPac assembled a group of submarines at Saipan early in November. Skippers were readied and submarines were groomed for the impending mission. Supposedly this fleet-support mission was to last no longer than several weeks. But the enemy delayed the operation by throwing everything he could muster into the Philippines campaign. Mitscher's carriers were kept busy as Halsey pursued fleeing Japanese forces hither and yon and the naval airmen rained blows upon the foe in the Luzon area. So "Operation Hotfoot" was postponed from week to week and the submariners waiting at Saipan sat on their hands. Eventually the "Hotfoot" strike was canceled. 

Meantime to get his submarines into action, ComSubPac proposed an accessory plan, Why not have them sweep the strategic "Hotfoot" area as an overture to the delayed strike? CinCPac approved this plan, and the anti-picket sweep was ordered. Seven submarines - Ronquil, Burrfish, Sterlet, Silversides. Trigger, Tambor and Saury were organized into the wolf-pack. Commander T.B. "Burt" Klakring was placed in charge of the pack, And "Burts Brooms" left Saipan on November 10, with orders to sweep an avenue approximately 180 miles wide, over which Mitscher's carriers could move toward Japan with relative safety from detection. The submarines were directed to sink every picket boat encountered and to "leave no holidays." 

The "Brooms" went out to raise a dust, but the sweeping proved more of a task than expected. Bad weather kicked up the November ocean and sent green seas booming over decks and conning towers. Accurate gunnery was next to impossible. A submarine's low freeboard restricts employment of the deck gun, for the gun crew can keep its footing only in comparatively calm water. Buffeted by foam capped seas, the "Brooms" ploughed into the Japanese picket line. The targets bobbed and jumped like bubbles in a kettle, and the submarines bounced, rolled and bucked like birch canoes in a rapids. Clutching their leaping mounts, the sub gunners saw black spots before their eyes. Only four picket boats were sunk, and those at considerable risk of life and limb. In the bargain, the operation backfired, Either the pickets were unduly alarmed by the sweep, or the Japanese coast guards grasped the opportunity to test their A/S system. At any rate, all available planes and patrol craft were rushed to the threatened area. Instead of clearing an avenue, the sweep attracted attention and multiplied the swarm of pickets in the target area.

As this result was the antithesis of the one desired, it was apparent that future sweeps would require different tactics. Also apparent was the fact that gun attacks could not be successfully conducted in rough seas by submarine gunners who had to cling to their mounts like bronco busters "Pulling Leather." 

Several "Broom" gunners were almost swept overboard a type of sweeping that was not in the assignment. The Japanese trawlers in the picket line were heavily armed and the attacking submarines encountered unexpectedly hot fire. One man aboard Tambor and two aboard Burrfish were wounded. Ronquil damaged her own stern with a 5-inch shell. Wrenched shoulders, Charley horses, and bruised shins were minor casualties. Liniment and adhesive tape were nothing to pointers. trainers and ammunition passers, but the surface actions were too risky to justify the meager accomplishment.

All in all "Burts Brooms" had a knockabout time of it, but the experience was informative and therefore valuable. Headquarters learned that a voice radio better than the one in current use was needed. So were heavier deck guns. Future picket-boat sweepers would be provided with adequate weapons, more ammunition, and better protection. Hope this helps, Bill said he didn't think it was that big of a deal, guess the WWII vets have a hard time fathoming how much we want the information only they can give us about our qual boats.


The following is the text from a Ron Martini BBS post made by Joe MacDonald on February 03, 2001.  It provides some background on how all this information came together:

Around the first of January a post shows up on this BBS by a fellow named Bill Blessing and calling himself “ Wee Willie “. 

Bill rode the Ronquil SS396 thru her first 4 War Patrols and I read in Submarine Operations of WWII the Ronquil had shot herself in the stern so I asked him about it and got the following reply’s. 

January, 4 2001 
Yes I remember it well, I was 2nd loader on the 20 Mil. At the time. The sea was running high, waves coming over the bow, A 5 in. shell exploded premature right over the torpedo loading hatch putting three holes through the pressure hull, not big ones. Exec. And a MM went on deck after we had got the hell out of there and to check the damage, The MM was washed overboard but we got him back aboard really shook, Wasn’t worth a damn after that, would not go topside until we were tied up at the dock. They machined plugs for the holes and the exec. went back topside and put them in. Had to head for the barn then because we could only dive to about 70 Ft. I got a picture of it somewhere, if I can find it I will put it on the BBS. Willie 

January 28 2001 
Joe, Finally got the picture out I promised you, hope it goes through ok. I would post it on the BBS but don’t know how to get a picture there. You can post it if you want to. 

It was our 2nd Patrol 10-15-44 while on battle surface, waves washing over the deck knee high, firing straight astern when the 5 in. misfired and blew right over the After Torpedo Loading Hatch. Following damage, 1 ½ “ hole in hull between 107 & 108 frames, hull gouged in numerous places, ½” hole in Torpedo Loading Hatch, numerous gouges in Hatch, Lube oil line ruptured in several places, 10# blow line to number 7 M.B.T. ruptured, rupture in high salvage line, numerous gouges in low salvage line to Maneuvering room, capstan control rod bent and gouged, gouges in springs, bearing support, ball hook and padeye of A.T.R. hatch, loading skid and three feet of decking and superstructure missing, Anchor light broken and life line parted, Stanchion and Life Line perforated, numerous holes in decking and Superstructure between frames 107 –115 Port and Starboard. 

I hope this is accurate, kind of like trying to explain religion to the pope, but reading in Submarine Operations of WWII this Patrol was a Wolfpack called “Berts Brooms” it consisted of Seven Subs that included Ronquil, Silversides, and Sterlet, they were to clean a 150 mile wide alley free of patrol craft with “no Holidays” this was the route Doolittle was to take with his Carrier, they wanted him to remain undetected, funny how it all ties together, I know they did a good job repairing the damage because in 1961 we had a Diving Officer lose the bubble and after going too deep, went for a big up angle, I watched the Depth Gauge on the ATR Hatch go to 625 Ft. the Dr. Mate took his seabag to the Tender when we got in. I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I really appreciate it when these guys will take the time to fill me in on what really happened, I hope Bill will inspire some of the other WWII Vets. To fill us in, I’m really proud of the things we accomplished on Ronquil, but the “been there done that guys hold center stage” 


[Note: Joe later corrected his references to Doolittle to Mitscher. - Ed.]

Bill Blessing - Guam rest camp, 1944

Bill and wife at Ronquil reunion - 1997

Thanks to Joe MacDonald (JoeMac) for the idea for this page and for coordinating with Bill Blessing who was aboard Ronquil when it all happened.