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Fri Nov 13, 2020, 03:13 PM

Depth Charged for Seventeen Hours By John T. Woltjen, 19 years old

(My father wrote this story about his time in the submarine service)


The following is a true tale, written several days after the incident, which took place January 15, 1944. The locale was off the island of Truck in the Carolinas, southwest Pacific. The submarine was the USS Blackfish, SS221. She was Captained by Commander Davidson. The patrol was the second for the Blackfish, in the Pacific and besides the two marus sunk in this individual attack, she accounted for two Terutsuki tincans before she returned to port. The author was a radioman and soundman aboard the Blackfish and stayed with her until the war’s end, at which time she returned to new London for her decommissioning.

We were closing now. Range approximately thirty five hundred yards. We were closing and ready. This would be our fifth approach. Four times we had crept towards this convoy and four times our periscope was spotted. They apparently had many lookouts. Probably survivors off the eleven ships previously sunk on their way to Truk from Yokohama. We were tense now. Never in this close before. We were positioned in the mouth of Truk harbor and our hope was that those lookouts would be looking at that long awaited island and not at our periscope. The seconds ticked cautiously as my heart pounded within me, each beat tightening the knot in my stomach, each beat closing the gap between the living and the dead. The skipper wet his lips, mopped the sweat from his forehead and “upped scope” once more. Just a few inches, a very few inches, had to be careful, oh so careful for we were close now and the sea calm. “Down scope” he breathed. “Bearing 350 degrees, range 2600, prepare to fire”. I had them on sound gear. That steady, heavy whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, so typical of lumbering, heavily ladened merchantmen.

The skipper beamed now. We had a solution and would fire very shortly. They were four in number. Two fat marus and the remainder in sleek, new Terutsuki tincans. Everything was readiness. Both torpedo rooms were waiting for the bang of high pressure air and the release of four, maybe six of their tenderly coddled mark 18s. The lead tincan powered over us and into the harbor. The marus came slowly toward us. The clock seemed to stop as I awaited the Captain’s word. Fire 4, Fire 3, Fire 2, Fire 1.

The boat lurched and lunged and the “old man kept his eye glued” to the scope. I followed the first one out on sound gear, followed its virgin wake as it churned the sea towards its target, toward its rendezvous with death. Soon a dull throttled explosion, then three more in rapid succession and all the lookouts in the world would not be able to atone for the damage done. The skipper screamed something about one settling fast and one rolling over like a dog playing dead.

I spun the sound head around searching frantically for that destroyer and found her approaching our stern. The Captain spun the scope, screamed tin can and down we went. The angle was bad but no one cared. We wanted depth. The depth gage seemed to be standing still in a stage of shock. I rose to my feet to tap it when the first pattern went off. Three in succession and I had to be on my feet at the time.

I felt the concussion whistle through my ears and found myself lying flat on my stomach with cork, black paint and an officer sprawled on top of me. I got to my knees and after a quick glance around, knew we were still in business. The Captain leveled off at four hundred, maintaining a direct course, putting us between the two sinking ships. It was sickening hearing those ships break up when sea pressure crushed their closed compartments. For a moment, I forgot those tincans topside and just sat there listening to steel grind into steel, like death.

Then a wham and a bam and a snarling of seams, more cork off the bulkhead, more paint off the beams. I was once again jolted back into the reality of the situation. The skipper kept calling for bearings and I gave them as fast and as accurately as I could. The soundman on the destroyer was busy pinging every inch of the ocean in search of us and once he’d find us, he’d stay right on us until a few more invitations to infinity were released. I felt apprehensive now. This seems to be the core of fear. It isn’t what is happening to you, it’s what might happen a second, a minute, an hour from now. It’s the next one, the one coming up, the one you’re waiting for. Will he be down the old drainpipe, will he give up and go home. Why doesn’t he give up and go home, please God, please make this guy give up and go home.

The minutes build into hours and it was hot, miserably hot and I wanted to douse my head in cold water, but I couldn’t cause he’d hear and I couldn’t let him hear. The sweat streaked down my body in rivulets, my stomach felt weak and my heart seemed intent on smashing its way through my ribs. He’d drop two and sometimes three, then slowly drift out of sound range. I’d hope a little, hope and try to grin and try to believe that he had gone home until I’d hear that pinging, then double pinging, then those high speed screws and I’d know he hadn’t quit. Kisella, the executive officer tried to convince the captain that a “battle surface” was our only alternative. We had been depth charged for ten hours now and each run by one of the destroyers chipped away at our morale. The skipper would have no part of it. He argued that we had made it this far and we could make it the rest of the way. I listened to their discussion and was giddy with delight when the Captain turned him down.

The destroyers would drop all of their charges, return to Truk, reload and come back pinging for our location. They were getting tired too though, because they weren’t jarring my teeth and clubbing my eardrums. Why, I could even hear their detonators. That was good, oh so good. Just stay tired, go home, go to bed, you’ve done your bit, now go home. I guess he couldn’t hear me because he stayed, stayed for seventeen ungodly long hours. By that time, I guess I didn’t really care one way or the other. I was washed out.

It was dark topside, it was dark and I could hear myself mumbling, “He’s going Captain, he’s increasing speed and moving away Captain.” The “old man” looked up and murmured something about this being a hell of a price to pay for a couple of damned scows as we slowly moved further away.

John Woltjen





USS Blackfish





Commander John Frederick Davidson





Clarence Woltjen (my Dad's father)




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Reply Depth Charged for Seventeen Hours By John T. Woltjen, 19 years old (Original post)
Beringia Nov 2020 OP
mahina Nov 2020 #1
UpInArms Nov 2020 #2
Best_man23 Nov 2020 #3
yonder Nov 2020 #4
Bradshaw3 Nov 2020 #5
white cloud Nov 2020 #6

Response to Beringia (Original post)

Fri Nov 13, 2020, 03:28 PM

1. Wow.

Thank you, and them.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Blackfish

World War II Edit
Blackfish was assigned to Submarine Squadron 50 (SubRon 50), United States Naval Forces in Europe. On 15 October 1942, now under the command of Lieutenant Commander J. F. Davidson, she departed Montauk Point, New York on her first war patrol in support of Operation Torch. From October 1942-July 1943, Blackfish completed five war patrols in waters extending from Dakar, West Africa, to the north of Iceland. She is credited with having sunk a German anti-submarine trawler, Patrol Boat No. 408 with two torpedoes off the north coast of Spain on 19 February 1943. She was damaged by a second German vessel and had to return to port early for repairs.[7]

She returned to the United States in July 1943, and after refitting, proceeded to the Southwest Pacific. From 19 October 1943 – 14 August 1945, she completed seven war patrols in an area including the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, South China Sea, East China Sea, and the Yellow Sea. Blackfish sank one Japanese cargo vessel of 2,087 tons during her Pacific patrols.

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Response to Beringia (Original post)

Fri Nov 13, 2020, 03:35 PM

2. impressive

nerves of steel

....

my hat and heart is off to them all

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Response to Beringia (Original post)

Fri Nov 13, 2020, 03:38 PM

3. Incredible Story, Thanks for Sharing This

Its likely those Japanese destroyers were both sunk when Operation Hailstone hit Truk a little more than a month after the Blackfish and your Dad went through this experience.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Hailstone

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Response to Beringia (Original post)

Fri Nov 13, 2020, 03:55 PM

4. Riveting account and thanks. I was glued to the screen till finished.

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Response to Beringia (Original post)

Fri Nov 13, 2020, 04:30 PM

5. Great firsthand account

Thanks for sharing.

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Response to Beringia (Original post)

Fri Nov 13, 2020, 05:56 PM

6. Thank you had me on edge

Great story and had me on edge till the end.
Greatest Generation doing their job.
Thanks for sharing

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