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On USS Triton

An Australian-based website has published supposed information on how the USS Triton was lost. It reads in part as follows:

A friend of mine in Western Australia, Lindsay Peet, first advised me of the mysterious story about the fate of the USS Triton. He had been in contact back in 1997 with a lady in the USA, who is the daughter of one of those who was lost aboard USS Triton after making all six war patrols aboard her.

Based on a number of eye witness accounts of men who were waiting for Triton's arrival in Brisbane, it is believed that the USS Triton may have been sunk by "friendly fire" whilst coming into Moreton Bay near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia between 27 and 29 March 1943. Capricorn Wharf on the Brisbane River at New Farm in Brisbane was the home base for the USS Triton.

Lindsay Peet did some research into secondary sources and found that in March 1943 an Avro Anson squadron, No. 71 Squadron RAAF under the command of Squadron Leader P.L.B. Gibson was based at Lowood west of Brisbane. This squadron was carrying out anti-submarine patrols.

On 17 March 1943, a 250-lb bomb was dropped on a suspected submarine by Sergeant R.N. Walesby and, on the 28 March 1943, Walesby and his crew of Sergeant P.K. Yates and Flight Sergeant H.W. Howes reported being fired upon by a similar vessel" (page 88 in 'Maritime and Transport units, vol. 4 of Units of the RAAF, 1995).

One of the reports that I have seen, indicates that USS Triton had been been sent a signal on 25 March 1943, which ordered her to leave the operational area north of New Guinea and return to Brisbane. The Operational orders for USS Triton had instructed her to return to Brisbane Sub Base on 2 April 1943.

The lady in the USA has been told by the crews of 5 other submarines in port at the time, that USS Triton had made contact with Brisbane military authorities at about midnight on her return into Brisbane stating that she had spotted the Moreton Light and had surfaced and was entering Moreton Bay at 12 knots with an ETA at the New Farm submarine base of 8 a.m. Based on this message, the officers and crews of the six other submarines, and the Navy Band were waiting for USS Triton to arrive at the New Farm wharf. They had mail, fresh fruit and vegetables, and ice cream to give to the crew members of USS Triton. But it failed to arrive. A pilot boat had been dispatched to meet USS Triton. They did not find her.

Amongst the large crowd waiting at Capricorn Wharf in New Farm for the USS Triton to arrive that morning, were the crews of USS Albacore, USS Grampus, USS Grouper, USS Peto, USS Grayback, and USS Growler, along with relief crews and some men waiting to reboard USS Triton.

One man in Brisbane who was waiting to board USS Triton upon her return said that he was re-assigned to USS Albacore on the day he was told that USS Triton had been sunk by accident coming into New Farm Wharf. Albacore's Muster Rolls establish that he was assigned to USS Albacore on 29 March 1943.

So if it was true that USS Triton was about to enter Moreton Bay on 29 March 1943, why did it not make it into port? There are a number of possible reasons:

- sunk by friendly fire from an allied aircraft
- sunk by mines that ran across the entrance to Moreton Bay
- sunk by a Japanese submarine
- sunk by a Japanese mine
- collided with another ship in the dark" 1

The derivation of this tale is a bit tricky to track, but it seems to be based on what Lindsay Peet was told by a lady in the USA and on research Peet conducted of RAAF records. Peet relayed all this information to the website's author. Also, the website's author apparently saw reports which revealed that on "25 March 1943" the Triton had been ordered by radio signal to return to Brisbane by "2 April 1943."

The above account identifies six American submarines whose crews were "...waiting at Capricorn Wharf in New Farm for the USS Triton to arrive" on March 29, 1943. A review of the war patrol reports of these submarines discloses that two of them were not at Brisbane as indicated by the website's author. The USS Grampus left Brisbane for her sixth war patrol on February 11, 1943. She and her crew were never heard from again. Their fate remains unknown, however it is generally believed she and her crew may have been lost on either February 18, 1943 or March 5, 1943, due to enemy antisubmarine activity. The USS Grayback left Brisbane for her sixth war patrol on February 13, 1943. She did not return to Brisbane until April 4, 1943. So the crews of these two boats could not have been at Capricorn Wharf on March 29, 1943 to shower the returning Triton with gifts of fruit, ice cream, and music.

Now let's see what the remaining four submarines were up to. The USS Peto arrived at Brisbane on March 14, 1943 and departed there on April 2, 1943 for her first war patrol. The USS Albacore returned to Brisbane on March 11, 1943 from her third war patrol and moored alongside the tender USS Fulton. She departed Brisbane for her fourth war patrol on April 5, 1943. The USS Grouper returned to Brisbane from her fourth war patrol on March 18, 1943 and moored alongside the USS Fulton. She departed there on April 12, 1943 for her fifth war patrol. The USS Growler returned to Brisbane on February 17, 1943 from her fourth war patrol. Her bow had been seriously damaged after ramming an enemy gunboat. After repairs had been made, she departed Brisbane for her fifth war patrol on May 14, 1943. So these four boats were at Brisbane on the key date - March 29, 1943. Their combined crew complements exceeded 300 men. They would have had known if something had happened to the Triton as it sailed across Moreton Bay and up the Brisbane River. The website's author writes "If the USS Triton had been sunk by 'friendly fire,' it is probably feasible to suggest that such an incident would have been covered up." It is inconceivable the U. S. Navy had the ability or reason to conceal such a disaster. They would most likely have conducted a court of inquiry to gather the facts and recommend corrective or punitive measures, as had been done for other friendly fire incidents or accidents.

The website's author writes that the mysterious "lady in the USA" had been told by the crews of five "...submarines in port at the time" that the Triton had made radio contact with Brisbane military officials around midnight on the night of March 28-29, 1943, and told them she was entering Moreton Bay. The U. S. Navy says the USS Triton's last radio message was received on March 11, 1943 and she was never heard from again. Who's telling the truth here? I believe the Navy is. The Navy account reports the Triton was ordered to clear her area on March 25, 1943 and head back to Brisbane. When she failed to respond to this message, another was sent, probably on March 27, 1943, ordering her to do so. If there had been equipment problems preventing her from responding to the messages, she probably would have sailed to the American Navy base at Tulagi in the Solomons to assuage fears of her demise. It is just unthinkable to suggest she purposely ignored the radio messages from Brisbane and only established contact with the base "...on the night of March 28-29, 1943" as she entered Moreton Bay. Moreover, even if we assume she received Brisbane's March 25th message and immediately began her trek home, for her to have reached Moreton Bay by the night of March 28-29, 1943 is just not possible given the distance she would have had to travel from her assigned patrol area near longitude coordinate 145° east at the equator to Brisbane. The Triton was reported as lost on April 10, 1943. The public announcement of her loss was made on July 22, 1943, in Navy Department Communique No. 447.

The best evidence available today suggests the USS Triton was sunk on March 15, 1943, northwest of the Admiralty Islands, from damages sustained during a joint attack by the Japanese warships Submarine Chaser No. 22, Submarine Chaser No. 24, and destroyer Satsuki. However, the identity of the ship they attacked, though believed to have been the USS Triton, has never been firmly established. Therefore the cause for her loss is generally listed as unkown in most reliable sources.

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1. Dunn, Peter, "US Navy Submarine, USS Triton (SS-201) operated out of Brisbane Submarine Base during WW2 - Was it sunk by friendly fire?"