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Presumed Lost

Presumed Lost: The Incredible Ordeal of America's Submarine POWs during the Pacific War

Presumed Lost: The Incredible Ordeal of America's Submarine POWs during the Pacific War, by Stephen L. Moore, focuses on the final patrols of the following seven lost boats:

Moore provides a thorough account of each boat's final war patrol and the fate of their crews. In each case, there were survivors after the boat had been lost in action. Moore tells us where the survivors were taken by their Japanese captors, how they were quartered and treated while in captivity, and how and when they were liberated.

Each of the first four boats was sunk by damages inflicted by enemy surface vessels or aircraft, and there were one or more survivors from each submarine who became Japanese prisoners. Tang and Tullibee were each sunk by a torpedo they had fired at an enemy vessel, which made a circular run and sank the submarine. Nine Tang crewmen survived and became Japanese prisoners; only one Tullibee crewman survived and was taken prisoner.

The Robalo struck a Japanese mine in Balabac Strait and sank. Based on information in a note found by an American prisoner on August 2, 1944, at Puerto Princesa Prison Camp on Palawan Island in the Philippines, and other information provided by the wife of a Filipino guerrilla leader, it was concluded that Robalo was probably sunk on July 26, 1944, two miles off the west coast of Palawan Island in Balabac Strait from an explosion in the vicinity of her after battery, likely caused by an enemy mine. Her skipper, Manning Kimmel, and perhaps six men may have survived the explosion, swam ashore, and made their way up the east coast of Palawan Island to look for friendly guerrilla fighters. They were captured by Japanese military police and jailed at Puerto Princesa Prison Camp. There are various accounts about what happened to these men, however no hard evidence was ever found to support any of the suppositions. They were never seen or heard from again.

With the exception of the Robalo, Moore sheds new light on the last patrols of these submarines, and their final battles and capture by the Japanese. His book is strongest in describing the horrific treatment they received from their captors and the deplorable conditions they managed to survive in. Their Japanese captors bore particular hatred for American submariners. They were interrogated relentlessly in an attempt to forcefully unlock the secrets of the Silent Service. The accounts of torture are both sickening and vexing. At times the accounts made me put the book down and just shake my head in disgust. The methods of torture used on American submariners as exposed in Moore's book are far worse than anything I have ever read about before. The ones who survived and were repatriated carried their ever present physical and mental scars with them to their graves. These accounts are telling of just how immoral and depraved the Japanese naval and army warrior classes had become in World War II. Reading them will make you angry and disgusted.

Another strongpoint of Moore's book is his narrative on the various Japanese prison and interrogation camps situated throughout the Pacific - such as at Formosa, Omori, Penang, Singapore, Makassar, Truk, Ofuna, Fukuoka, Palawan, and Ashio. Some camps were known to the Red Cross. The more specialized ones, like the interrogation "holding" facilities, were "off the books." American submariners passed through all of them. At the war's end, most of them were in labor camps. At all locations, the treatment of Americans was subhuman and the threat of torture and death was ever present.

Most of us have read about the boats that were lost in World War II and about the few cases when American submariners became POWs. I always knew imprisonment was no cake walk for them. You could see the toll it took on them in the pictures taken when they were liberated. But I never knew it was this bad. So I am glad Moore wrote this book and that I read it. I will remember what happened to these American submariners for the rest of my life.

Moore is also very good at narrating each boat's last patrol. His accounts are laced with anecdotes from crew member interviews and memoirs. It's almost like reading a novel as events unfold ever closer to each boat's inevitable date with destiny. Moore puts you on the bridge of the Tang on that fateful night in October 1944 as Richard O'Kane conns her close in for a surface attack on an enemy transport damaged in an earlier attack. He gives the order to fire two Mark 18-1 electrics - the first one runs true, but soon the second one turns sharply to the left, broaches, and circles back back toward the Tang. Emergency speed and full rudder are not enough to save her.

During a night surface attack in March 1944, the Tullibee is closing a large transport and fires two Mark 14 torpedoes at her. Two minutes later a tremendous concussion shakes the boat violently - a circular run claims another victim.

In the Kurile Islands on a night in March 1943, while running on the surface the S-44 detects a merchant on her radar. She closes it and fires at it with her deck gun. The vessel returns fire. The "merchant" is the IGN Shimushu-class escort ship Ishigaki, armed with three .45-caliber guns and four 25mm anti-aircraft guns. The Ishigaki makes several direct hits on the S-44. She begins flooding and sinks quickly.

In April 1943, in the shallow Strait of Malacca, the Grenadier crash dives at the first sign of an incoming enemy bomber. As she passes 120 feet, a violent explosion rocks the boat, and all lights and power are lost. She bottoms out at 270 feet with heavy leaking and no propulsion. After thirteen hours on the bottom, the crew manages to coax the heavily damaged submarine to struggle to the surface. The electricians and engineers continue working to restore propulsion from the diesel engines, but both shafts are too badly damaged. Her skipper, John Fitzgerald, gives the order to scuttle the boat. As a Japanese merchant vessel with a small escort heading for the Grenadier come into sight, Fitzgerald lines his men up on the deck in their life jackets. As the Japanese ships get closer, the vents are opened and the Grenadier sinks by the stern.

In November 1943, while making a surface end-around to attack a Japanese convoy, the Sculpin is detected by the IJN destroyer Yamagumo and is heavily damaged by depth charges. She is forced to surface and fight the Yamagumo with her deck guns. It is a one-sided engagement. The ensuing gun battle kills her commanding officer, his executive officer, and the gunnery officer, and inflicts additional damage to the Sculpin. Command of the Sculpin passes to the remaining senior officer, who orders the boat scuttled and abandoned. After most of the surviving crewmen escape, the Sculpin is flooded with Captain John Cromwell and eleven other men still aboard, some dead and others there by choice. Cromwell chooses to go down with the boat to prevent the enemy from obtaining secret information he knows.

In March 1942, in the Java Sea, following a series of battles against multiple units of the Japanese Imperial Navy, during which the Perch is severely damaged and rendered unable to dive safely or to defend herself, and with three enemy destroyers firing on her, commanding officer David Hurt orders his vessel abandoned. The entire crew makes it into the water safely. He sends the Perch to the bottom with an open conning tower hatch in order to prevent its capture.

I am not making any spoilers here. This is all information available online at "U.S. Submarine Losses World War II." Instead, it pretty much reflects the starting point of Moore's narrative on each boat. His narratives are much more thorough and include details from interviews with the survivors, family archives, diaries, and POW records.

The following table shows the number of personnel pulled out of the water and taken prisoner by the Japanese. It also shows the number who died as POWs and the number who were freed at the end of the war.

Boat POWS Died Freed
Perch 60 6 54
Grenadier 76 4 72
Sculpin 42 21 21
S-44 2 0 2
Tang 9 0 9
Tullibee 1 0 1

Many of the S-44's crew were visibly in the water, but the Japanese chose to take only two prisoners to prove to their superiors that they had indeed sunk an American submarine. The crew members who were left in the water likely succumbed to hypothermia and drowned. Only one of the Tullibee's crew members survived the explosion. Forty-two of the Sculpin's crew were pulled out of the water by the Japanese. Nineteen of them were killed while being transported from Truk to Japan when the IJN carrier Chuyo was sunk by the USS Sailfish on December 3, 1943. One crew member had been wounded by gunfire before the boat sank, and was captured and killed by the Japanese. One crew member died in a POW camp.