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USS Bonefish (SS-223)

USS Bonefish (SS-223) patch


The USS Bonefish (SS-223) was a Gato-class World War II era submarine.

The namesake of the USS Bonefish is a fish of the Florida Keys and southern California. The bonefish has bright silvery sides with faint dark stripes and often reaches a weight of about fifteen pounds. It feeds on bottom matter in shallow waters.

The radio call sign for the USS Bonefish was: NAN-BAKER-KING-FOX.

On May 28, 1945, the USS Bonefish, captained by Commander Lawrence L. Edge, departed the submarine base at Guam on her eighth and final war patrol in company with two other submarines also assigned to the Operation Barney task group Pierce's Polecats: USS Tunny (SS-282) and USS Skate (SS-305). The group was part of the American wolf pack Hydeman's Hellcats, which consisted of nine boats divided into groups of three. The other two groups were set up as follows:

1. Hydeman's Hepcats: USS Sea Dog (SS-401), USS Spadefish (SS-411), and USS Crevalle (SS-291).

2. Bob's Bobcats: USS Flying Fish (SS-229), USS Bowfin (SS-287), and USS Tinosa (SS-283). 1

Lawrence Lott Edge was born on November 15, 1912, at Columbus, Georgia. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1935 and then served for two-and-a-half years aboard the battleship USS Maryland (BB-46). He applied and was selected for submarine duty and reported to the submarine school at New London, Connecticut in January 1938. Following his graduation from the school in June 1938, he and Sarah Simms married in Atlanta, Georgia. A month later, Lawrence reported to the submarine base at Pearl Harbor as a lieutenant junior grade to begin his career as a submariner aboard the USS Narwhal (SS-167). In December 1940, Edge reported to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for duty aboard the USS O-4 (SS-65), a World War I era boat undergoing refit for service as a training vessel at the submarine school. In July 1941, Edge reported to the Naval Academy to begin a two-year postgraduate course of study in radio engineering. This program tied communications with the increasing amount of electrical gear and other technologies with which submarines were being equipped. As part of his studies, Lawrence and Sarah lived at temporary duty stations up and down the east coast where he studied the practical side of electronics and other technologies at the private companies responsible for developing them. On May 1, 1943, Edge was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander. In July 1943, he was ordered to report to New London to attend the Prospective Submarine Commanding Officer (PCO) School. He completed the PCO School in late September 1943 and then received orders to report to the headquarters of ComSubSoWesPac in Fremantle, Australia. He arrived there in late November 1943 and reported for duty to Submarine Squadron Sixteen. After completing a two-month course of training in submarine operations, in late January 1944 he received orders to serve as the executive officer aboard the USS Bluefish (SS-222). After serving as the Bluefish's executive officer for two war patrols under two skippers, on June 13, 1944, Rear Admiral Ralph W. Christie selected Lieutenant Commander Edge to succeed Commander Thomas W. Hogan as the commanding officer of the USS Bonefish (SS-223). 2 Edge would serve as the captain of the Bonefish on her fifth through eighth war patrols. Under his captaincy, according to the JANAC scoring, he was responsible for sinking five enemy vessels totaling 27,016 tons. The Alden-McDonald scoring indicates he sank eleven enemy vessels totaling 29,567 tons and seriously damaged the 17,000-ton enemy oil tanker Kamoi Maru. Based on data collected by the Submarine Operations Research Group (SORG) appearing in a report generated by ComSubPac, during his tenure as captain of the USS Bonefish, Commander Edge sank seven enemy vessels totaling 48,800 tons and damaged three others totaling 15,500 tons. Overall, the SORG score for the Bonefish is twenty-two vessels sunk for 154,300 tons and seven vessels damaged for 42,200 tons. Her JANAC score is twelve vessels sunk for 61,345 tons. Her Alden-McDonald score is fifteen vessels sunk for 64,047 tons and six vessels damaged for 45,266 tons. 3

As he steered the Bonefish out to the open sea from Apra Harbor at Guam on their final patrol, Commander Edge was likely thinking about the instructions in his official operation order. The submarines would enter the Sea of Japan submerged via the Tsushima Strait. They would gain propulsion from the swift flowing Kuroshio Current, which began in the East China Sea, swept through the Tsushima Strait and the Sea of Japan, and pushed through La Perouse Strait into the Sea of Okhotsk. When their mission was completed, they would exit via the La Perouse Strait, again taking advantage of the powerful Kuroshio Current. The most dangerous part of this mission was making safe passage through the enemy minefields sewn in the Tsushima Strait. All the boats had been fitted with the new mine-detecting FM sonar and their captains and key crew members had received extensive training in its use. Once they had made the passage and were at their assigned stations in the Sea of Japan, working in groups of three, the submarines were scheduled to begin their attacks at sunset on June 9th. Their orders from Vice Admiral Lockwood were very specific. They were to sink any type of Japanese shipping they encountered.

All the submarines in the wolf pack made the passage safely and began hunting for enemy shipping on schedule. Commander Edge was credited with sinking the 6,892-ton cargo vessel Ojikasan Maru on June 13, 1945. On June 16, 1945, he kept a rendezvous with his group leader, Commander George E. Pierce, captain of the USS Tunny (SS-282), and informed him of this sinking. He also asked for and received permission from Pierce to conduct a submerged daylight patrol in Toyama Wan, a large and 600-fathom deep bay in the mid-part of western Honshu. Having received permission, the pair parted ways. Edge's request to enter Toyama Wan was merely a matter of form, to let his group leader know where he was going, for the area requested was within his own assigned station. 4

The wolf pack was scheduled to depart the Sea of Japan via La Perouse Strait on the night of June 24, 1945. However, the Bonefish did not make the scheduled pre-transit rendezvous. The Tunny waited in vain off Hokkaido until the 27th. The operation order for the wolf pack had made provision for the submarines to proceed to Russian waters if necessary to claim a twenty-four hour haven, or to submit to internment in extreme need, or to exit from the Sea of Japan prior to or after June 24th. When all of these factors proved to be irrelevant, on July 30, 1945, the Bonefish was posted as presumed lost. 5

Japanese records reviewed after the war revealed that the 5,488-ton cargo ship Konzan Maru was torpedoed and sunk in Toyama Wan on June 19, 1945, and that an ensuing severe counterattack by Japanese escorts brought debris and a major oil slick to the water's surface. The Bonefish was sunk in this action. She went down fighting with all hands. 6

Records for IJN escort vessel CD-63 provide the following corroborative information:

19 June 1945:
Nanao Bay. At 0615, BONEFISH torpedoes KONZAN MARU at 37-13N, 137-18E. The 31st Escort Division is alerted immediately and CD-63, OKINAWA (F) and CD-207 arrive at the scene of sinking. OKINAWA makes sonar contact with a submerged submarine and drops a series of depth charges set to a depth of 295 to 390 feet. Next, CD-63 and CD-207 attack. CD-158 is also dispatched to the same location. After another attack, the sonar contact is lost. Pieces of cork and oil are sighted at 37-18N, 137-55E. USS BONEFISH is lost with all 85 hands. 7

As cited above, the final resting place of the Bonefish and her crew is at the geographic position 37° 18' N, 137° 55' E.

In his book Hellcats: The Epic Story of World War II's Most Daring Submarine Raid, Peter Sasgen visualizes the final moments of the USS Bonefish.

Patrolling submerged in Toyama Wan, Edge encountered three patrol boats. He attacked, but the torpedoes missed. Alerted, the patrol boats counterattacked in force. There wasn't time to fire another torpedo salvo - the enemy's ping, ping, pinging sonars had the Bonefish trapped in a vise. Get her down fast - four hundred feet! Rig for depth charge and silent running! Here they come! Three sets of angry, thrashing screws swept over the descending submarine. Depth charges rained down.

Whether by luck or fate, a hull-smashing explosion closer and more powerful than any the submariners had ever experienced caused mortal damage. In the split second it took the doomed men to grasp what had happened, the sea burst into the Bonefish like a snarling, killing beast. Sound the collision alarm! Blow safety! Blow bow buoyancy! BLOW EVERYTHING! In the confusion of anger and fear, frantic efforts to avoid disaster failed. Flooded and out of control, the Bonefish upended. Men, tools, anything not tied down crashed into the now horizontal bulkheads at the bottom of compartments. Depth-gauge needles wound violently to their stops. The water under the sub's keel was so deep that it was beyond comprehension. Down, down she plunged until, at the limit of their endurance, her stout frames and hull, moaning and shrieking in protest, gave way to the merciless sea. Trailing skeins of air bubbles and oil, the gallant Bonefish with her gallant captain and crew dived into eternity. 8

According to Vice Admiral Lockwood, if Commander Edge had lived to complete his last patrol he would have been shifted to the Submarine Training Command for duty in charge of training new submariners in the use of the latest electrical equipment. 9

The Bonefish earned Navy Unit Commendations for her first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth war patrols, and seven battle stars for her World War II service.

A list of the personnel lost with the Bonefish is maintained at On Eternal Patrol.

Patrol Data & Tonnage Scores

USS Bonefish (SS-223) First Patrol

NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive for the USS Bonefish (SS-223)

Footnotes:

1. Roscoe, Theodore, United States Submarine Operations in World War II, p. 480.

2. Sasgen, Peter T., Hellcats: The Epic Story of World War II's Most Daring Submarine Raid, p. 48-56.

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 Bonefish (SS-223), Attack Nos. 1153, 1160, 1161, 1181, 1182, 1195, 1196, 1209, 1374, 1383, 1384, 1398, 1532, 1601, 1602, 1608, 1863, 1864, 1874, 1932, 1959, 1960, 2210, 2225, 2248, 2259, 2277, 2304, 2357, 2386, 2496, 2709, 2717, 2797, 2798, 2830, 4098, 4099, and 4157; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, "Results of U. S. Submarine War Patrols Listed Alphabetically by Name of Commanding Officer."; Japanese Naval And Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II By All Causes, Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, USS Bonefish (SS-223).

4. Lockwood, Charles A. Sink 'Em All: Submarine Warfare in the Pacific, p. 311.

5. Roscoe, Theodore, United States Submarine Operations In World War II, p. 482.

6. Ibid.

7. Hackett, Bob and Sander Kingsepp, "IJN Escort CD-63: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet.

8. Sasgen, Peter T., op. cit., p. 265.

9. Lockwood, Charles A., op. cit., p. 312.