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Operation Barney


"But the payoff for that transit [the Hellcat's exit from the Sea of Japan via the La Perouse Strait] and perhaps for all of Operation Barney took place aboard Crevalle when its Skipper, Commander Steinmetz, went below for the first time during the run, but that was not until the Sea Dog had resumed its place at the head of the column and the mine fields were far behind. It so happened that the day coincided with the second anniversary of the commissioning of the Crevalle. Steiny was asked to go to the after battery. There he found practically everyone who was not on watch gathered around the largest birthday cake he had ever seen. Prominent among the birthday greetings on the snow-white icing was an inscription in big red letters: 'Was This Trip Necessary?'"

Quote from Hellcats of the Sea, by Charles A. Lockwood and Hans Christian Adamson.

The above quote is from the final chapter of the book cited. The title of the chapter is "Mission Accomplished - Wahoo." In response to the question posed on Crevalle's birthday cake, Lockwood wrote that the trip was vitally necessary because "Not only did it deliver a terrific defeat to the enemy, destroy the last remnants of his shipping, cut him off from the support of the mainland and his armies therein; but it also did tremendous damage to the morale of his fighting forces and the people of Japan whose will to win or die in the last ditches fell lower and lower even as their Rising Sun flag sank in the Sea of Japan." 1

The Hellcat foray was probably the most daring submarine operation of the war. Operation Barney dispatched three wolf packs, each made up of three submarines (Hellcats), to the Sea of Japan. No American submarines had entered that area since October 1943. The operation was executed during the period May 27, 1945 to July 6, 1945. In order to reach their patrol areas in that sea, the Hellcats had to utilize a newly developed mine and torpedo detector (MATD) dubbed "FM sonar" to accomplish a safe passage through the heavily mined Tsushima Strait. Decisive defeats in the two 1944 battles in the Philippine Sea had reduced Japan's Navy to a third-rate sea power. However, it was estimated that Japan still had some two hundred steel-hulled ships afloat within the inner zone of empire waters. Fleets of merchant ships transited the Sea of Japan unopposed, shuttling supplies to and raw materials and food from Japanese conquests in Asia. A substantial force of antisubmarine vessels and aircraft stood ready to defend them at the first sign of trouble. Eight Hellcats sank forty-seven ships for 60,217 tons and damaged six ships for 5,727 tons; only Tunny failed to sink or damage any ships. These losses were not significant in terms of the shipping still available in the Sea of Japan and did not constitute a terrific defeat to the enemy, as written by Lockwood. The Hellcats' attacks during Operation Barney forced the Japanese to raise the security level in that strategic body of water and concentrate their available antisubmarine assets there. The Bonefish was lost during Operation Barney in the Toyama Bay from a counterattack by three sonar-equipped coastal defense vessels armed with depth-charge throwers. It is likely the news delivered to Japanese citizens was spun to falsely report great victories over American submarines. 2

In his book, Lockwood admitted that on a personal basis, he wanted to use Operation Barney to avenge the loss of the Wahoo. It is an emotion repeated frequently in Lockwood's book, and is expressed most poignantly in its final chapter:

"As I stood there, alone, gazing westward over the sea, it was as if, when the moon was beclouded, I saw once more the wraith of the Wahoo. She was heading out - fading into the moon streak on the water. Then I noticed that there had been a change in the signal flags that fluttered from her broken periscope above the rusty and barnacle-covered hull.

"The signal no longer read: 'Avenge Us!' Instead, distinct in the waning light, I read: 'Mission Accomplished!' ...And the broom - the broom which had not been lashed to the periscope on Wahoo's return from the Sea of Japan - swept proudly again above her shattered bridge.

"Now I could say in sadness and in pride: 'Go with God Wahoo!' 3

Lockwood's fondness for Mush Morton and his grief over the Wahoo's loss was known by everyone involved in Operation Barney. But it was never cited as an official reason for the undertaking. The Hellcats' mission, as approved by Admirals King and Nimitz, was to plot and chart the Tsushima Strait mine fields and destroy Japanese shipping in the Sea of Japan. The hoped for outcome of the Hellcats' foray was to deny the Empire use of its last seaway for food, supplies, and raw materials. This did not happen, but two atomic bombs would bring the war to a close shortly. When Operation Barney was being planned and executed, it was anticipated that the war in the Pacific would extend into 1946. Lockwood was not privy to information about the development of the atomic bombs. Nimitz was in the loop about them, but did not know when, where, or how they would be used.

The accuracy of the charts depicting the location of mine fields in the Tsushima Strait, along the border of the East China Sea from Kyushu to Formosa, and in the shallow parts of the Yellow and East China Seas, made by the Hellcats and other submarines involved in the FM sonar project, was confirmed after the war by reports from American mine sweepers. 4

The submarines assigned to Operation Barney were assigned to three task groups.

Task Group 17.21, Hydeman's Hepcats, consisted of USS Sea Dog (SS-401), USS Crevalle (SS-291), and USS Spadefish (SS-411).

Task Group 17.22, Pierce's Polecats, consisted of USS Tunny (SS-282), USS Skate (SS-305), and USS Bonefish (SS-233).

Task Group 17.22, Risser's Bobcats, consisted of USS Flying Fish (SS-229), USS Bowfin (SS-287), and USS Tinosa (SS-283).

All the boats made it through the Tsushima Strait minefields safely and reached their assigned patrol areas in the Emperor's Pond. All of them, with the exception of Bonefish, made it out of the Sea of Japan via the La Perouse Strait. The Bonefish was the victim of enemy depth charges in the Toyoma Wan on June 19, 1945. She went down with all hands.

Hydeman's Hepcats sank 23,502 tons of enemy shipping in twenty vessels. They damaged three other vessels for 1,657 tons.

Pierce's Polecats sank 19,958 tons of enemy shipping in seven vessels.

Risser's Bobcats sank 16,757 tons of enemy shipping in twenty vessels. They damaged three other vessels for 4,070 tons.

Overall, the three task groups sank 60,217 tons of enemy shipping in forty-seven vessels and damaged six other vessels for 5,727 tons.

The tonnage figures in my analysis are based on the book United States and Allied Submarine Successes in the Pacific and Far East During World War II, Fourth Edition, by John D. Alden and Craig R. McDonald.

Please use following link for more detailed information about the Operation Barney tonnage scores.

Tonnage Scores for Operation Barney Hellcats

Footnotes:

1.  Lockwood, Charles A., and Hans Christian Adamson, Hellcats of the Sea, p. 250.

2.  Sasgen, Peter T., Hellcats: The Epic Story of World War II's Most Daring Submarine Raid, p. 268.

3.  op. cit., Hellcats of the Sea, p. 251 and 264.

4.  op. cit., Hellcats of the Sea, p. 63.