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USS Flier (SS-250)

USS Flier (SS-250) patch


The USS Flier (SS-250) was a Gato-class World War II era submarine.

The namesake of the USS Flier is a silvery-green sunfish, Centrarchus macropterus, found from Virginia to Florida and through the lower Mississippi valley.

The radio call sign for the USS Flier was NAN-ITEM-TARE-WILLIAM.

The USS Flier, captained by Commander John D. Crowley, departed Fremantle on August 2, 1944, on her second and final war patrol. She had been ordered to patrol near the coast of French Indochina. 1

John D. Crowley was born on September 24, 1908. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1931 and served on a number of ships, including the battleships Maryland and Arkansas and the cruiser Minneapolis. In 1936, he entered the Submarine School at New London, Connecticut. After completing Submarine School and a period of postgraduate study at Annapolis, he served on more surface ships and submarines. On July 26, 1941, Lieutenant Crowley assumed command of the submarine USS S-28 (SS-133). On May 20, 1942, the S-28 and three other S-boats sailed for the American base at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. Crowley captained the S-28 for five war patrols in the harsh North Atlantic. He did not sink any vessels, but his ticket had been punched. On March 20, 1943, Lieutenant Commander Crowley was replaced as skipper of the S-28 and he was nominated to attend the Prospective Commanding Officer School at New London, Connecticut. Following his completion of this school, in July 1943 Crowley was assigned to new construction at the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut. There he would oversee the outfitting of the USS Flier (SS-250), a new Gato-class submarine. 2

On October 18, 1943, the Flier was commissioned at New London and then received thirty days of training at Newport, Rhode Island, prior to getting underway for Pearl Harbor. While en route to Pearl Harbor on her maiden voyage, a "friendly" merchant ship fired thirteen shells at her in the Caribbean Sea. Thankfully a rain squall afforded the Flier cover and she escaped undamaged. She reached Pearl Harbor on December 20, 1943. She received two weeks of training and underwent one week of voyage repairs and loading for her first war patrol, which she sailed for on January 12, 1944. On January 16, 1944, the Flier entered the channel at Midway Island to top off her fuel. Heavy seas and wind caused her to run aground on a reef. One crewman on her deck was swept overboard by a large wave and drowned. When a submarine rescue vessel arrived to assist the Flier, it also grounded on the reef. On January 22, 1944, the Flier was taken under tow off the Midway channel entrance by the submarine rescue vessel USS Florikan (ASR-9) to go back to Pearl Harbor for repairs to her starboard shaft and screw. However, other repairs needed to get her back into fighting shape were beyond the capabilities of the navy yard at Pearl Harbor, so the Flier limped to Mare Island, arriving there on February 24, 1944. On May 8, 1944, she made it back to Pearl Harbor and spent two weeks conducting training exercises. On May 21, 1944, she departed Pearl Harbor to continue her first war patrol. This time the Flier topped off her fuel at the outport on Johnston Atoll before heading for her patrol area west of Luzon Island in the Philippines. Her orders were to terminate her patrol at Fremantle where she and her crew would come under ComSubSoWesPac's authority. 3

On February 8, 1944, a board of investigation convened to look into the Flier's grounding at Midway issued its decision. After all was said and done, the grounding was not found to be due to the negligence of any person. However, as in any such investigation, there had to be some findings. They found that given the sea conditions, the crew on deck, and particularly the man who had drowned, should have been wearing a life preserver. Also, Crowley was criticized for entering the channel at the relatively slow speed of ten knots. The bottom line to all of it was that Crowley would remain as the Flier's captain. 4

On July 5, 1944, the Flier tied up at Fremantle. Her first patrol had produced some good news and positive results for her unlucky skipper. Rear Admiral Ralph Christie credited the Flier with sinking four freighters, for a total of 19,500 tons, and with damaging another freighter and a tanker, worth 13,500 tons. The outstanding performance boosted both Crowley's and the entire crew's confidence substantially, and made the Flier's captain eligible for a Navy Cross. 5

Crowley's Operation Order for the Flier's next patrol off the coast of French Indochina instructed him to take on fuel at Operation Potshot in Exmouth Gulf, and then to proceed via Lombok Strait, Makassar Strait, Sibutu Passage, and Balabac Strait to the South China Sea. It also cautioned him to avoid known minefields in the Sulu Archipelago and the Balabac Strait, and to use the deepest water routes when transiting the Balabac Strait, Sibutu Passage, and Mindoro Strait. The "deepest water route" in regard to the Balabac Strait was specified as and understood by Crowley to be the Nasubata Channel. In that body of water he would follow a route that was the track used by the USS Crevalle (SS-291) on May 8, 1944. The chart of the track used by the USS Lapon (SS-260) on June 10, 1944 was not available for Crowley to use at the time of the Flier's departure. What Christie and Crowley did not know was that the IJN minelayer Tsugaru had left Palau on March 24, 1944 with a mission to replenish the mines in the Balabac Strait. When the minelayer completed its work in the Balabac Strait, it headed south for Balikpapan, on Borneo's Makassar Strait coast, arriving there on April 2, 1944. The new mines were likely seeded near the end of March 1944. 6

Following a rest period at Fremantle, the refitted Flier got underway for her second and final war patrol on August 2, 1944. After a stop at Operation Potshot in Exmouth Gulf to top off her fuel tanks, Commander Crowley turned the Flier north. They were headed for the South China Sea where they would hunt for enemy shipping off Indochina. On August 13, 1944, as they were nearing the Balabac Strait, Crowley received an Ultra communication informing him of a southbound convoy in the South China Sea. He ordered the Flier to fifteen knots as they entered the Balabac Strait with the intent to intercept the enemy convoy. Crowley and extra lookouts were stationed on the bridge. At 3:00 P.M., the Flier followed the recommended track to Nasubata Channel. At 9:00 P.M., they made radar contact with Comiran Island; thirty minutes later they sighted it. Crowley ordered more lookouts topside, bringing the total to nine men, including the skipper. At 10:00 P.M., with the Flier believed to be just 6,700 yards distant from Comiran Island, a terrific explosion rocked the boat. Within twenty to thirty seconds, the submarine sank, leaving Commander Crowley and thirteen other men struggling to survive in the water. 7

Eight of the men, including Crowley, survived a perilous journey across enemy controlled waters and islands, without food, water, or medicines. Their courage, innovativeness, and determination was remarkable, in the face of the impossible odds stacked against them. Thanks to the effectiveness of the Spyron radio network that the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) had implemented throughout the Philippines, AIB-trained Filipino guerrilla fighters and coast watchers worked together to rescue and repatriate stranded Allied military personnel. With their help, on August 31, 1944, at Ipolote Bay, near Brooke's Point, on the eastern coast of Palawan Island, the USS Redfin (SS-272) evacuated seventeen people including the eight survivors of the USS Flier. She transported the seventeen evacuees to Darwin. 8

When back at Fremantle, Crowley wrote his narrative describing the Flier's second war patrol. All notes, logs, records, and charts had been lost with the boat, so his account was based on what he could recall. He wrote the following concerning what he believed had caused the explosion which sank the Flier:

At 2200 with COMIRAN ISLAND bearing 190 T distance about 6,700 yards there was a terrific explosion estimated to have been on the starboard side abreast of the forward battery. Oil, water, and debris deluged the bridge. There was a tremendous venting off of air through the conning tower hatch and the vessel sank in about twenty or thirty seconds while still making about 15 knots through the water.

It is my opinion that a mine was in contact with the hull just below the waterline at the time of the explosion, since there was no tendency to lift the ship, and it is further my opinion that the hull was clearly holed and not that the vessel's back was broken. 9

The investigation into the loss of the USS Flier found that "...the course being followed through the Nasubata Channel was a safe track. Insofar as danger from Japanese minefields was concerned, the Flier's track was between the track used by the Crevalle on 8 May 1944 and that used by the Lapon on 10 June 1944." 10 Therefore it seems likely that the Flier had either struck one of the newly planted mines which the Lapon and the Crevalle had been lucky enough to miss or that she had struck a mine which had loosed from its mooring and become a floater.

Flier's loss was made public on September 19, 1944:

Navy Department Communiqué No. 545, September 19, 1944

1. The submarine USS Flier was lost in recent operations against the enemy.

2. The next of kin of officers and crew have been informed.

Flier received one battle star for World War II service. She was credited by JANAC with sinking the 10,380-ton Japanese transport Hakusam Maru during her first war patrol. 11

A more recent assessment of the USS Flier's reports of enemy ships damaged and sunk conducted by John D. Alden and Craig R. McDonald found that the USS Flier was responsible for sinking 15,515 tons of enemy shipping in two vessels and seriously damaging one vessel. The ship damaged was towed to Manila and used as a floating AA battery by the enemy. 12

On February 2, 2010, the U. S. Navy confirmed that the wreck of the USS Flier had been discovered 330 feet beneath the surface in the Balabac Strait area of the Philippines at the geographic position 08° 02′ N, 117° 16′ E.

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

Also see:

Patrol Data & Tonnage Scores

The USS Flier Project

USS Flier’s Grounding At Midway Atoll

Navy Confirms Sunken Sub in Balabac Strait is USS Flier

Footnotes:

1. Blair, Clay Jr., Silent Victory: The U. S. Submarine War Against Japan, p. 714.

2. Sturma, Michael., The USS Flier: Death and Survival on a World War II Submarine, p. 5-13; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS S-28 (SS-133).

3. Sturma, Michael., op. cit., p. 21-38; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Flier (SS-250).

4. Sturma, Michael., op. cit., p. 43-45.

5. Ibid., p. 55.

6. Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Robalo (SS-273), "Record of Proceedings of an investigation conducted at the headquarters of the Commander Submarines Seventh Fleet by order of the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and the Chief of Naval Operations to investigate the circumstances connected with the loss of the U.S.S. Robalo and the loss of the U.S.S. Flier," 14 September 1944, Exhibit 4 (hereafter referred to as "The Flier Report"; Hackett, Bob, Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall, "IJN Minelayer TSUGARU: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet.

7. Sturma, Michael., op. cit., p. 66-67.

8. Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Robalo (SS-273), "The Flier Report," Finding of Facts; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Flier (SS-250), "Narrative of Second War Patrol of USS Flier."

9. Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Flier (SS-250), "Narrative of Second War Patrol of USS Flier."

10. Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Flier (SS-250), "The Flier Report," Finding of Facts.

11. Japanese Naval And Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II By All Causes, Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, USS Flier (SS-250).

12. 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 Flier (SS-250), Attack Nos. 2049, 2050, 2091, 2123, 2124, and 2125.