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Belated Recognition

For Robalo

The best evidence tells us the USS Robalo (SS-273) was lost when she struck a mine off western Palawan on July 26, 1944. The last contact with the submarine happened on July 2, 1944 when she reported by radio to Fremantle her sighting of Japanese warships east of Borneo. The Robalo was under orders to patrol in the South China Sea in the vicinity of the Natuna Islands through August 2, 1944. When she did not return from patrol when expected, she was listed as presumed lost. After the war it was learned that an officer and four enlisted men swam to shore, but were captured and imprisoned at Puerto Princesa by the Japanese. They were placed aboard the merchant vessel Takao Maru on August 19, 1944 and then on the Nagara-class light cruiser Kinu on August 22, 1944. Kinu brought them to Manila on August 25, 1944. The evidence trail ends at Manila. Nothing more is known of what became of the Robalo survivors after they landed there. A note they had written while they were in the prison telling of their fate was conveyed surreptitiously to the widow of the Filipino guerrilla leader Captain Higinio A. Mendoza, Sr., M.D., who relayed the information to American authorities.

Until recently nothing was known of any attacks on enemy shipping Robalo may have made during her last patrol. An article in the latest edition of The Submarine Review, “A Message From the Deep,” by John D. Alden, provides strong evidence that she made successful gun attacks on two Japanese submarine chasers, the Kurama Maru and the Kamo Maru, both former steam trawlers of 234 or 235 tons. Japanese records indicate that on the night of July 18 the converted trawlers were en route to Kudat, a town on the northern tip of Borneo, when they engaged in a running gun battle with an American submarine and were sunk. The engagement occurred near 08° 00′ N, 114° 38′ E. Previously, the two losses had been credited to the USS Lapon (SS-267), however Alden shows this credit was erroneous. Robalo was the only other American submarine in that area at the time and is therefore undoubtedly responsible for sinking the two ships. Her skipper, Manning M. Kimmel, probably did not report the sinkings to Fremantle because the spitkits’ tonnage was under 500 tons and did not warrant breaking radio silence. Sixty-nine years later, Manning Kimmel and the eighty other Robalo crew members have finally received recognition for this success against the enemy.

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