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The Rescue at

Bombay Shoal

The David McClintock and Balden Claggett wolf pack had performed like a well oiled clock. Everything required in their operation order and more had been accomplished. Early on they had reported two northbound heavy Japanese warships with one escort west of Balabac Strait. They were unable to close the fast movers. Next the Commander, Seventh Fleet was informed the submarine commanders had spotted Admiral Takeo Kurita’s eleven heavy ship convoy steaming northward in the Palawan Passage to checkmate MacArthur’s return to the Philippines at Leyte Gulf. Then McClintock in the USS Darter and Claggett in the USS Dace acted to reduce the size of the Japanese task force by three heavy cruisers. McClintock took out Admiral Kurita’s flagship, the heavy cruiser Atago, and then critically damaged another heavy cruiser, the Takao. Claggett put four torpedoes into the heavy cruiser Maya, and watched her disappear beneath the waves in four minutes. Two destroyers were left to screen for the crippled Takao while the rest of the task force steamed north, apprehensive of additional submarine wolf packs.

When the smoke had cleared the Darter spotted the Takao twelve thousand yards away, dead in the water. The two Japanese destroyers were standing by her and four planes were circling overhead. McClintock attempted to close the range to within four thousand yards to attack with his Mark 23 torpedoes, which did not have a slow-speed long-range setting. But the destroyers detected him and drove him off. That night the submarines surfaced and McClintock laid out a plan. The Darter would make a surface attack from the southwest and draw off the two destroyers. Then the Dace would come in from the northeast and make her attack. Around eleven o’clock that night the Takao got underway at varying speeds. McClintock rang up seventeen knots to make an end around and attack from ahead. His course plot said he would pass Bombay Shoal by a margin of seven miles, but he had not been able to fix the Darter’s position for over twenty-four hours, and her dead-reckoning was inaccurate. At about five minutes after midnight, the Darter hit the reef at Bombay Shoal head on at full speed. The Darter rode up over the shoal, taking a large up angle. McClintock thought they had been torpedoed. Then the stern went under water as far as the the engine room hatch. Then it rose up and came to rest high and dry. It became clear they had run aground. McClintock ordered the burning of all confidential publications and the disposal of items that would lighten the ship to facilitate backing off the reef. It had no effect. All using the propellers did was to agitate the water, but the Darter did not budge. Since they were so close to Palawan and its airfields McClintock knew they had to get off the reef before dawn lest they be discovered by the Japs. McClintock had radioed the bad news about the grounding to Dace earlier. Hearing it, Claggett broke off his approach on the Takao and headed to rescue his pack mates.

Around 0300 hours they commenced abandoning ship in rubber boats to the Dace. Commander Claggett had brought the Dace right up to the edge of the shoal. He sent the Darter a line from his bow to their stern and by twisting his screws he managed to stay about fifty yards off the Darter’s stern until everyone was safely aboard Dace. McClintock later wrote that the trip back to Perth was a bit monotonous with more than 160 officers and men on board, but the worst of it was the steady diet of mushroom soup and peanut butter. He also expressed thankfulness for Claggett’s unselfishness in giving up the chance to knock off another heavy cruiser.

In his endorsement of the Darter’s final patrol, Ralph Christie, Commander Task Force Seventy-One wrote, “The Task Force Commander congratulates Darter upon inflicting a heavy blow upon the enemy at a most critical time. Her contact reports upon the two Task Forces were the first to be received concerning the enemy movements which preceded the Second Battle of the Philippines, just as her damage to the enemy was the first to be inflicted. The grounding of the Darter is one of the fortunes of war, but the extent to which her loss will be felt is much reduced by the rescue of all her gallant officers and crew.”

The hulk of the USS Darter reportedly with seven torpedoes and four mines aboard remained so on Bombay Shoal until January 7, 1952, when a Navy demolition team boarded her and found indications of rather recent visits. After finding five torpedoes in the forward tubes and a sixth one on the port side of the forward torpedo room, they planted over two tons of composition C-3 explosives throughout the submarine. No other ordnance was found in the after torpedo room or tubes. They disembarked and moved more than one mile away, whence the charges were remotely detonated. They reported that “Subsequent inspection of the wreck left little doubt that all torpedoes had been destroyed. The entire bow forward of the after bulkhead of the torpedo room was blown off and the wreckage, in general, was well scattered and well blown apart.”

USS Darter

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