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The USS Runner (SS-275) was commissioned on July 30, 1942, with Commander Frank W. Fenno, Jr., in command. Fenno would captain Runner on her first two war patrols. On January 10, 1943, Runner arrived at Pearl Harbor following her shakedown at New London. She had additional equipment installed and conducted training exercises. Once she was depermed and tested a new power train for her SJ radar, Fenno reported her ready for sea. On January 18, 1943, she departed Pearl for Midway under escort of USS Litchfield (DD-336). Outside of Pearl she conducted gunfire exercises using a target streamed by the escort. On January 22nd, she moored at Midway Island, fueled to capacity, and repaired her gyro compass. Three hours later she departed Midway and headed for her assigned patrol area in the Palau Islands.

During the patrol, Fenno reported nine instances of vessel sightings. Seven of these instances resulted in torpedo attacks.

Attack Nos. 1 & 2

Location: Philippine Sea, northwest of the Northern Mariana Islands, 20°0'N, 142°0'E.

On February 2nd, at 0934 hours, Runner sighted two single-stack freighters with kingposts forward and aft, similar to 6,798-ton Yamabiko Maru class vessels. The freighters were running in column and making frequent radical zigs. They were accompanied by three escort vessels, which were positioned along the near side of the convoy. Fenno ordered periscope depth and orchestrated a submerged attack. From a range of about 700 yards, Runner fired three bow torpedoes at the leading merchant. Fenno then swung the boat and fired three stern torpedoes at the trailing freighter from a range of 1,200 yards. In his patrol report, Fenno wrote that two torpedo explosions were heard from each salvo. After these explosions, sonar could no longer detect screw noise from either freighter. However, sonar did report crackling or rumbling noise, which Fenno wrote was indicative of the targets breaking up. Just before he ordered Runner to go deep to evade the escorts, Fenno took a quick look at the first freighter and found her "...settling with much brown smoke in evidence. There is no doubt in the Commanding Officer's mind that both ships sank practically at once." 1  The escorts dropped about fifty depth charges, but none of them exploded close enough to cause any damage to Runner. At 1404 hours, Fenno ordered the boat planed up to periscope depth and a quick sweep disclosed the area was clear of enemy ships.

Attack Nos. 3 & 4

Location: Philippine Sea, northwest of the Palau Islands, 10°-10'N, 133°-50.5'E.

On February 9th, at 0715 hours, Runner sighted two coal-burning freighters similar to 5,800-ton Chicago Maru class vessels, steaming in column. The trailing ship was about 3,000 yards astern of the first vessel. Fenno decided to surface after dark, run ahead of the ships, and attack them that night. At dusk Fenno began his run for a favorable attack position ahead of the freighters. With the freighters about 8,000 yards distant, Fenno commenced a surface approach on the batteries. At this point SJ radar picked up three targets. The leading one was smaller and assumed to be an escort. The SJ radar then began to malfunction and became useless due to high seas. Fenno ordered Runner to 40 feet. Soon echo ranging was heard. Nothing could be seen through the periscope because clouds obscured the moon. The escort was sighted at a range of 400 yards and turning toward Runner. One of the freighters was sighted at a range of 600 yards. From the stern tubes Runner fired one torpedo at the escort, which was then seen to be a destroyer, and two torpedoes at the freighter. Twenty-five seconds after firing the first fish at the freighter a torpedo explosion was heard followed almost immediately by a louder explosion, which was assumed to be from the freighter's boilers or an explosive cargo. A quick look through the periscope "...showed the freighter low in the middle and floundering." 2  Runner then went deep and the destroyer dropped a salvo of seven depth charges in short order. Two of them went off very close and apparently overhead. Runner leveled off at 300 feet and ran silent. At 0119 hours the next day, all was clear and Runner surfaced to take stock of any damages incurred. It was found that the depth charges had caused sea water to leak into the conning tower firing panels, shorting the system. For the remainder of the patrol all torpedoes would have to be fired by hand in the torpedo rooms. Fenno was confident they had sunk a 5,800-ton freighter.

Attack No. 5

Location: West of Babelthuap in the Palau Islands, 7°-31'N, 134°-21'E.

On Feb 14th, at 1303 hours, while running submerged, Runner sighted a steamer standing into Toagel Mlungui Passage west of Babelthuap. They identified it as a 7,150-ton Nagara Maru class freighter. At 1341 hours they fired three bow tubes at the freighter and soon heard two torpedo explosions. Sonar reported that the freighter's screws had stopped, however they detected the fast screws of an escort on another bearing. Two periscope observations showed the freighter to be sinking with its main deck awash. Fenno was confident they had sunk the freighter. Runner planed down to 250 feet and headed seaward. From 1348 to 1351 hours, four explosions were heard fairly close. Fenno believed they were caused by bombs or depth charges from an enemy aircraft. No further antisubmarine measures were experienced.

Attack Nos. 6 & 7

Location: West of Babelthuap in the Palau Islands, 7°-35'N, 134°-25'E.

On February 19th, while patrolling submerged off the entrance to Toagel Mlungui Passage, Runner detected echo ranging and headed for it. At 1257 hours, they sighted two destroyers sweeping back and forth along a line running southwest from the entrance to the passage. Fenno surmised the destroyers were probably conducting an antisubmarine search along the path of a convoy. He decided to intercept the destroyers at the southwest end of their patrol line and commenced Runner's approach so her bow was pointed at them to reduce her echo ranging signature. At 1440 hours, Fenno sighted the masts of a freighter standing out of the pass, so he altered Runner's course to attack him. As the range closed it was seen that it was a convoy made up of two freighters abeam of each other with one destroyer on each flank. At a range of about 2,000 yards, sonar detected the right hand destroyer's screws speed up to 200 turns. At 1455 hours, Fenno ordered all four stern tubes to be fired at the destroyer from 1,400 yards. Fenno then lined up Runner for bow shots at the left hand freighter. He identified the merchants as two 7,390-ton Akagi Maru class freighters and the escorts as similar to two Fubuki-class destroyers. At 1456 hours, from a range of 600 yards, Runner fired one torpedo at the freighter. Immediately after it was fired, an aerial bomb exploded close along the port side, giving Runner a violent shaking. Fenno ordered two more tubes fired at the freighter. After about thirty seconds, "...a torpedo hit was definitely heard on the freighter. Some people claim to have heard two." 3  The sound gear, power to the bow planes, and both periscope hoist motors were knocked out by the blast from the aerial bomb. Runner headed seward at 200 feet. Later six depth charges were heard well astern. After conducting a complete inventory of damages caused by the bomb, Fenno decided it was time to end the patrol and return to Pearl. On March 7, 1943, Runner moored at the Pearl Harbor.

Post Patrol Events

Comsubpac's endorsement of Runner's first patrol credited her with sinking three freighters for a total of 19,815 tons and for damaging two freighters for a total of 14,189 tons. Comsubpac also noted the two freighters credited as damaged were probably sunk, but because of antisubmarine tactics by the enemy, evidence was insufficient to credit them as sinkings. In other words, Fenno did not see the vessels sinking.

The tonnage amounts awarded by Comsubpac did not withstand the rigors of postwar analysis. Neither the JANAC nor the Alden-McDonald assessments credit Runner with any sinkings during her second war patrol; there was insufficent evidence in U. S. Navy and Japanese records to support the claims made by Fenno or the credits awarded by Comsubpac.

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Footnotes:

1. Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Runner (SS-275), Report of First War Patrol, p. 1-2.

2. Ibid., p. 4.

2. Ibid., p. 8.

3. Alden, John D., and Craig R. McDonald, United States and Allied Submarine Successes in the Pacific and Far East During World War II, Fourth Edition, see USS Runner (SS-275), Attack Nos. 593, 594, 606, 612, 624, 770, 878, 921, 928, 4770, 4818, and 4820; and JANAC.