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Death at a Distance


Death at a Distance: The Loss of the Legendary USS Harder


At daybreak on August 24, 1944, the USS Harder (SS-257), captained by Commander Samuel D. Dealey, was submerged off Dasol Bay on the west coast of Luzon Island in the Philippines. Her wolf pack partner, the USS Hake SS-(SS-256), captained by Lieutenant Commander Frank E. Haylor, was nearby. Based on the information they had received the previous day from wolf pack partner Lieutenant Commander Chester Nimitz, Jr. in USS Haddo (SS-255), Dealey believed that a damaged destroyer had been towed inside Dasol Bay and the enemy might attempt to tow her up to Manila at daybreak. As the wolf pack leader, he therefore stationed the two boats to lie in wait, and gave Hake the first crack at sinking her. Nimitz left the pack the previous day to reload and refit at Submarine Base Able on Mios Woendi.

The information Dealey had about what was waiting inside Dasol Bay was imperfect. The "damaged destroyer" the pack was stalking was the Asakaze, one of nine Kamikaze-class destroyers built for the Imperial Japanese Navy following World War I. Nimitz had used his last torpedoes to immobilize her the previous day. When last seen by Nimitz, six steam and sailing ships had taken the immobile Asakaze under tow, and were heading for Dasol Bay. However, unknown to all the wolf pack members, the damaged destroyer continued to take on water and at 2230 hours she sank twenty miles from Cape Bolinao.

The Asakaze had been escorting a Type 1TL Standard Merchant Tanker. Its name was Niyo Maru. After her protector had been crippled, the Niyo Maru prudently headed for the safety of Dasol Bay. Meanwhile, in response to distress signals from the Niyo Maru, the Third Expeditonary Fleet had dispatched escort vessel CD-22 and patrol boat PB-102 (ex-USS Stewart) from Cavite to intercept and assist Niyo Maru. The PB-102 got there first and brought her into Dasol Bay. The CD-22 joined them later. 1

On August 24, 1944, at 0630 hours, Haylor aboard the Hake sighted two ships making headway out of Dasol Bay. Haylor mistakenly identified the PB-102 as the old Thai destroyer Phra Ruang and the CD-22 as a minesweeper. As the Japanese ships began to exit the bay they spotted both the Harder's and the Hake's periscopes. The PB-102 turned and headed back into the harbor with the Niyo Maru. The CD-22 headed straight for the periscopes. Haylor did not like the setup, so the Hake broke off its approach and turned away. The Harder continued into the bay and fired three down-the-throat torpedoes at the CD-22. All three missed the mark. At 0728 hours, the CD-22 picked up the Harder with her Type 3 sonar and commenced a series of depth-charge runs with her Type 94 DC throwers with each charge set to detonate deeper than the last. The fifth salvo brought a large amount of oil and pieces of cork and wood to the surface. The Harder and her crew of 79 were gone. 2

When Commander Samuel D. Dealey and the USS Harder sailed from Fremantle on August 5, 1944 for their sixth war patrol, no one anticipated it would be their final one. Dealey was at the pinnacle of his career. During the Harder's fifth war patrol Dealey had successfully executed a dangerous special mission and had claimed the destruction of five enemy destroyers. He had become the "Destroyer Killer." News of his death and the loss of Harder surged through the submarine force like a lightning bolt. Everyone was shocked. His boss, Rear Admiral Ralph Christie described his loss as "...the most ghastly, tragic news we could possibly receive." 3 By all accounts, Sam Dealey was a hero, and both he and the Harder would be sorely missed.

After the Harder's fifth patrol, Ralph Christie had recommended Dealey for the Congressional Medal of Honor. The basis for it was because the Harder's fifth war patrol had become the most brilliant of the war. Dealey's rampage had further reduced the enemy's already severely decimated inventory of destroyers. His actions in the Philippines caused Admiral Toyoda to move fleet elements away from Tawi-Tawi earlier than planned. This premature departure disupted the enemy's overall battle plan and contributed to their staggering defeat in Battle of the Philippine Sea. In addition, the dangerous special mission he had successfully carried out required great navigational skill and courage, and had saved lives. Because of the need for secrecy, details about the special mission could not be mentioned in any public documents.

The citation for the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Dealey posthumously is telling of Dealey's legendary status:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Harder during her Fifth War Patrol in Japanese controlled waters. Floodlighted by a bright moon and disclosed to an enemy destroyer escort which bore down with intent to attack, Commander Dealey quickly dived to periscope depth and waited for the pursuer to close range, then opened fire, sending the target and all aboard down in flames with his third torpedo. Plunging deep to avoid fierce depth charges, he again surfaced and, within nine minutes after sighting another destroyer, had sent the enemy down tail first with a hit directly amidship. Evading detection, he penetrated the confined waters off Tawi Tawi with the Japanese Fleet base 6 miles away and scored death blows on two patrolling destroyers in quick succession. With his ship heeled over by concussion from the first exploding target and the second vessel nose-diving in a blinding detonation, he cleared the area at high speed. Sighted by a large hostile Fleet force on the following day, he swung his bow toward the lead destroyer for another "down-the-throat" shot, fired three bow tubes and promptly crash-dived to be terrifically rocked seconds later by the exploding ship as the Harder passed beneath. This remarkable record of five vital Japanese destroyers sunk in five short-range torpedo attacks attests the valiant fighting spirit of Commander Dealey and his indomitable command.

In between his fifth and sixth patrols, in his book Death at a Distance: The Loss of the Legendary USS Harder, Michael Sturma reveals for the first time that Sam Dealey was sent to Pearl Harbor by airplane on another secret mission. Sturma writes, "Perhaps because of the extreme secrecy involved, no previous writer on Dealey has noted this trip or its implications." 4 At the time, President Franklin Roosevelt was visiting Honolulu to discuss strategy with General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz. Did Sam Dealey meet with the President? While he was at Pearl Harbor, Dealey spent time with Eugene Fluckey. What did they talk about? I won't give you any spoilers here. The book's discussion of these events is fascinating.

A lot had been going on in Sam Dealey's life before he set out on his last patrol. His fifth patrol had been very stressfull for both him and his crew. It was a double-barreled patrol, often described as "Patrol 5A" and "Patrol 5B." On Patrol 5A, he completed Operation Python, an Allied Intelligence Bureau initiative involving the Allied commando unit Z Force. The objective of the mission was to to insert a team of Z Force commandos at a location on the northern Borneo coast. These commandos would go ashore and rendezvous with six other Z Force commandos who were being hunted down by the Japanese and transport them back to the submarine via folboats. Three other American submarines had attempted to complete this operation, but for various reasons were unable to do so. It took a lot of planning and training, but Dealey was able to get the job done. He would also claim the destruction of five enemy destroyers during this patrol. When they made it back to Australia at Darwin on June 21, 1944, Ralph Christie was there to meet them. They reloaded, refit, topped off, and bid farewell to the Python men, then headed to sea for the Patrol 5B leg of this double-barreled patrol that night with Christie aboard. Christie had been wanting to make a war patrol on the Harder for a while.

The Harder's crew were not happy about having to spend more time at sea. They had just completed one of the most difficult patrols they ever made, and they were all tired and wanted to get back to the safety of Perth to rest and recuperate. Charles Lockwood wrote in 1956 that the "...badly worked-over submarine and crew should have returned to Fremantle for a bang-up hero's reception and a much needed rest." 5 Twice before the Seventh Fleet Commander had denied requests from Christie to go on a war patrol. Christie had made the decision to just go on patrol first and then report it later. Christie was keen to "...intercept a nickel ship in the Celebes Sea that sailed down to the Gulf of Boni and loaded with ore weekly at Pomaela." 6 The Christie fiasco resulted in an extra twelve days on patrol for the Harder. No torpedoes were fired, but the Harder was depth-charged by an escort vessel and aircraft. They made it back to Darwin on July 3, 1944, dropped off Christie, and headed back to Fremantle that night.

During the Patrol 5B trip Christie discussed Dealey's future with him. After Dealey's fifth war patrol, Christie had planned to rotate Dealey back to the United States and pass command of the Harder to the first officer, Frank Lynch. However, Dealey wanted to conduct one more patrol in command of the Harder. After that, he would turn the boat over to Lynch. In addition, Dealey insisted that Lynch sit out the next patrol to get rested. When Dealey completed his sixth patrol and returned to Fremantle with the Harder, he would make a decison about his future. He could opt for new construction or he could take a new operational or non-operational position within the Navy. Sturma discusses Dealey's decision process and the options that were available to him in great detail. Which option would Dealey have chosen if he had lived? I think you will find the likely answer to be quite surprising.

What affect did all the issues facing Dealey have on his performance during his last patrol? Was fatigue a factor for him and his crew? Why did Dealey insist that Frank Lynch sit out the sixth patrol and what affect did his absence have? Had Dealey simply become too reckless? There were seventeen new crewmen aboard during the Harder's sixth patrol - did this affect her performance in the final showdown in Dasol Bay? Why did Dealey want to go on a sixth war patrol in the Harder? Did the Japanese technology known as Jikitanchiki (Magnetic Detector) play a role in the Harder's sinking? Michael Sturma addresses each of these issues in his book. The discussion is engrossing and revelational.

Sturma writes in straightforward and clear manner. An extensive bibiliography documents his extensive research. In the book you will find frequent anecdotes and arcane bits of information about Sam Dealey and the Harder you won't find elsewhere. A book dedicated to Sam Dealey and the Harder has been long overdue. I am certain Sturma's book will be the authoritative publication about the Harder for many years to come. This is the second book by Michael Sturma I have read. The first was The USS Flier: Death and Survival on a World War II Submarine. Both of them are of the same high quality. I anxiously await receiving his most recent book from Amazon, Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific.

Footnotes:

1. Hackett, Bob, Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall, "IJN Escort CD-22: Tabular Record of Movement", published online at Combined Fleet.

2. Ibid.

3. Sturma, Michael, Death at a Distance: The Loss of the Legendary USS Harder, p. 1.

4. Ibid., p. 158.

5. Lockwood, Charles A., and Hans Christian Adamson, Through Hell and Deep Water, p. 278.

6. Sturma, op. cit., p. 139.