The USS Gudgeon (SS-211) sailed from Brisbane on December 22, 1942, captained by Lieutenant Commander William Shirley Stoval, Jr. (“Shirley”), for her sixth war patrol. The next day, when she was only a hundred and fifty miles out of Brisbane, a piston in her number two main engine seized and the resulting heat caused an explosion in the crankcase. The cause of the piston seizure was thought to be due to insufficient ring clearance. They had also experienced several leaks during their initial dives. The Gudgeon had just undergone an overhaul by the tender Sperry, so these problems were especially disappointing to Shirley and his crew. The engine damage alone was so bad that Shirley knew they had to return to Brisbane for repairs. He sent a dispatch to Comtaskfor 42 stating this decision. Comtaskfor 42 concurred verbally with it when they were back alongside the Sperry, on December 24th.
Over the next two days Gudgeon underwent emergency repairs to her number two main engine. While the repairs were being made, Shirley learned that his original patrol orders had been changed. The Gudgeon had been chosen to transport and land an Allied intelligence party in the Philippine Islands at Mindanao and Panay islands. On December 25th Gudgeon embarked about 2,000 pounds of special gear for this party. They also stowed an eighteen-foot wooden boat to be used on this mission. Other supplies embarked for the landing party included weapons, a radio, money, medicines, candy, and cigarettes.
On December 27th the seven-man landing party came on board. The six Filipino soldiers were led by Major Jesus Villamor. He was also a Filipino and distinguished fighter pilot who was a hero in the eyes of the Philippine people because of his exploits against the Japanese aggressors. General Douglas MacArthur had chosen Villamor to lead Operation Planet - the establishment of a Philippines-wide radio, intelligence, and armed resistance network. The Gudgeon was underway for the Philippines the same day. While en route Villamor told Shirley that based on information he received just before boarding the submarine he decided that there would be only one landing instead of the two originally planned. He chose a location on the west coast of Negros Island at about 9°-31'N, 122°-32'E, subject to periscope reconnaissance upon their arrival there. Villamor also said he did not plan to use the wooden boat stowed on Gudgeon. They made it to the area of the proposed landing point on January 13, 1943 and began using the periscope to find a suitable location. One could not be found so the search continued the next day. They settled on a spot near Cansilan Point on the west coast of Negros Island. At 1927 hours that night, Gudgeon disembarked the landing party 1,000 yards south of that location. Gudgeon’s deck gun crews covered the landing site with their weapons just in case some Japs showed up. At 1955 hours Shirley received a prearranged signal from Villamor saying the landing was successful. Gudgeon then stood out to the open sea. The successful landing was the first of many more to come as the war progressed and the Submarine Spy Squadron, or Spyron as it would come to be known, expanded its operations.
Shirley's next move was to position Gudgeon in a merchant traffic lane on the southeastern tip of Mindanao Island. He hoped for good hunting there. On January 19, 1943, they spotted what appeared to be a small Japanese escort vessel. Gudgeon tracked it in the hope it was heading for a rendezvous with a merchant ship. Soon they lost sight of it due to poor visibility conditions.
On January 23rd Shirley ordered the submarine to head southeast toward Ambon Island via the Molucca Sea and thence the Ceram Sea. On January 25th Shirley discovered that repairs to damages Gudgeon sustained on an earlier patrol that were supposed to have been fixed during their last overhaul had been overlooked by the tender crew. As a result, the Gudgeon was not properly ballasted. On January 26th Gudgeon began patrolling off the entrance to the Bay of Ambon. At 0648 hours sonar picked up echo ranging sounds, but could not see a target. An hour later, they spotted a small picket boat that resembled an old-style American submarine chaser. It was one of the tokusetsu kanshitei or specially equipped guard boats that American submarines would see in increasing numbers as the war progressed. He went to short scale pinging, speeded up, and headed for Gudgeon. Shirley surmised he had probably spotted their periscope. A barrage of four depth charges was dropped astern giving Gudgeon a good shake, but not causing any damage. Shirley started evasive tactics. Another four depth charges were dropped; in his report, Shirley said they “…knocked the hell out of us.” The enemy vessel obviously had excellent sound gear and knew how to use it. Gudgeon dove to 315 feet and ran silent. She eventually took cover beneath a rain squall. The damages incurred from the last depth charge barrage were extensive. Sixty-two damaged units were listed in Shirley’s post-action report, including the dished-in hull in the after torpedo room. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries to anyone aboard Gudgeon. She headed out to the open sea to lick her wounds and make repairs. For the remainder of her patrol, only two of her ten torpedo tubes would be functional. None of the after tubes were useable.
On January 27th she began patrolling south of the Bay of Ambon while the repair work continued. On Jan 29th and 31st they spotted native sailboats; Shirley decided not to attack them. The same day they spotted a destroyer 15,000 yards distant. It was running so fast they would never manage to get into a good firing position; the destroyer disappeared over the horizon. Thirty minutes later they heard what sounded like two heavy objects dropped in the water alongside. No explosions were heard so Shirley suspected an aircraft had dropped two dud depth charges. Their periscope had been exposed about two minutes before this occurred. Shirley ordered Gudgeon to 150 feet. Later that day they received orders to patrol the northern approaches to the Banda Islands so Shirley pointed Gudgeon’s nose north. On February 5th they were ordered to patrol north of Timor Island. They took up station there on February 7th. On February 8th they picked up echo ranging on Gudgeon’s sound gear. Fifty minutes later they spotted another guard boat about 7,000 yards distant. Gudgeon went deep and evaded detection successfully. At 1200 hours Shirley decided to head for the barn using the passage south of Timor.
On February 9th Gudgeon received word that they were to evacuate a party off Timor before proceeding to Fremantle. On February 10th, at 2225 hours, Gudgeon embarked twenty-one Australians, one Englishman, one Portuguese, and five Timorese from enemy-occupied Timor. On February 18th, Gudgeon and her twenty-eight passengers moored alongside the tender Pelias at Fremantle.