Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Day That Transformed The Submarine Force

The attack on Pearl Harbor 72 years ago today forced the U.S. Navy to change its perception of how submarines would be used in war, from fleet auxiliary to independent operations. Among the first orders given after the attack was to "execute unrestricted submarine warfare" against Japan. This change in mission resulted in most of the pre-war COs being relieved for ineffectiveness after a couple of patrols, and a new generation of aggressive young skippers was fleeted up; it was these men who established our best traditions. Keep them and the sacrifices of thousands of Submariners in your heart as we face the challenges of the new millennium.


Anonymous Cupojoe said...

All the WWII patrol reports. Awesome reading!

12/07/2013 7:50 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read "Silent Victory" by Clay Blair.

Excellent account of US Submariners at war.

12/07/2013 8:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Silent Victory" highlights the main players in the submarine force, including tabulated scorecards for every CO and each of his war patrols. Also, every major policy, factor and tactic of submarine warfare is discussed.

Some commands were embarrassing failures, and their COs, who are named, were relieved accordingly.
The appendices include tabulations of successes and failures and respective COs.

Any modern sub CO's unfamiliar with Clay Blair's volumes, hardly understands what he (or someday, she) may face in actual wartime.
Quitting is not an option; being badgered for poor performance gets a new priority.

12/07/2013 2:02 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

Recent book specifically on decision to abandon treaties and "conduct unrestricted submarine warfare." Excellent

12/07/2013 4:15 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read a synopsis of the events leading up to the US's success in submarine warfare. Namely, the fact that sub COs were reporting that the proxy sensor was faulty and Admirals telling them that it was user error. Then the Admirals finally capitulated and let COs disable the proxy sensor. COs then reported that torpedoes wouldn't detonate on impact. Again, Admirals said it was user error until an experiment definitively proved that the exploder mechanism crushed in direct impact.

In 70 years the Navy has forgotten anything it learned from that experience. When COs report glaring issues, squadron tells them it's operator error.

12/07/2013 11:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what would have happened if the torpedoes actually worked when the war started.

12/08/2013 2:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The inevitable outcome would have occurred faster. Japanese generals and admirals knew that they couldn't beat the U.S. before the war started due to industrial output capabilities, but one does not question the god emperor or publicly tell him that he cannot win.

It's also why American politicians and generals put a higher emphasis on beating Germany firstm.

12/08/2013 10:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yamamoto knew it (see but there is scant evidence others did. It is beyond folly to start a war you know you will lose. Hirohito acquiesced to war, it was Tojo who wanted it. As the war went on, there are Japanese commentators who say the war was lost at Guadalcanal, others at Siapan, and still others at Leyte.

If it were up to the American people, the Pacific war would have been first. It was Hitler who did Churchill the great favor of declaring war on the US that got us overtly into the war in Europe. And not all generals (or admirals) agreed with Europe first. King and MacArthur come to mind.

12/08/2013 10:36 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many of those skippers fired at the beginning of the war for "not being aggressive" were actually fired for refusing to make torpedo approaches with weapons they had determined wouldn't work? Maybe after the first few times you endangered your ship and crew by counting on your weapons to actually work but achieving no results, you might start waiting for conditions favorable for a surfaced approach too.

I don't know if that's what happened - maybe those skippers avoided surfaced approaches too - but it's interesting that a bunch of relatively junior officers (O4s) get fired early in the war, then after a few years we find evidence of underlying problems resulting from the failures of more senior people.

It's always nice to evaluate the prevailing narrative by testing it with a few questions - doesn't mean those questions are right or that the narrative is wrong, and validation through testing can actually strengthen the original conclusion. Could make an interesting research project for some 1120 at NPS or NWC who can't come up with a topic.

12/08/2013 11:21 AM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

The skippers fired early on in the war didn't lose their jobs because of faulty fish. They were relieved for conducting lackluster patrols with scant results from lack of engagement with the enemy.

Two causes. the one that's well documented had to do with faulty pre-war training that emphasized the ability to follow the script on canned exercise shots. Each run had its 'correct' answer and grades were given out on how well the boat and skipper followed the preset pattern. The real world proved far more complex than the training environment and skippers were judged accordingly. But note that Joe Grenfel in the 211 GUDGEON brought in the war's first kill on 11 December (from memory am sure someone will correct me if wrong).

Second problem not well documented. I got onto it when Rickover called me (bite that, nukes) to say good words about a Proceedings article I'd written. In the conversation he asked if I knew why he'd left submarines for his ED career (he'd been an XO). I said no. He said "They were all drunks." The skippers he'd sailed with in his pre-war submarine career were hard drinkers. I later had the chance to discuss this with one of my favorite WW-II submariners, Bill Rhue. When I asked him if it was true, he paused for quite awhile and then said "They weren't ALL drunks."

12/08/2013 1:32 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:21:

It doesn't really matter what the American people want with regard to wartime strategy, unless you're trying to say that they know better than senior officers who, during that time period, had all had combat experience in their careers.

Also, of course MacArthur wanted a focus on the Pacific Campaign. The younger Army brass tried to 'hide' him in the western Pacific in the 'less important' assignment. Meanwhile, MacArthur's men were dying because the U.S. wanted to expend most of its ground and air resources in Europe. As for Admiral King...the Germans didn't really have much of a Navy in WWII outside of its U-boat fleet. Not an insignificant problem, but not as threatening to Adm King as several battleships and carriers that can be used to stage an invasion on U.S. territory. Hitler wanted to focus on conquering mainland Europe and didn't think he needed a fleet to do it. It probably would've made the invasion of Normandy infinitely more difficult if Germany had a Navy.

And yes, the plan to attack Pearl was a strategic blunder followed by a fatal tactical error when the Japanese withdrew prior to bombing Pearl's oil stores as originally planned. The Japanese brought the house to fight a decisive battle to knock us out of the Pacific Ocean, and then called it off early lucky for us. But there were few senior officers on either side who believed Japan could win a prolonged war with the U.S., which is why the plan was to try to annihilate the fleet in Pearl and set us back several years in capital ship production.

12/08/2013 3:52 PM

Anonymous 3383 said...

>>It doesn't really matter what the American people want with regard to wartime strategy....

Seriously? Strategic decisions are always made with public opinion in mind. Were senior officers allowed to continue to Baghdad after footage of the fleeing Iraqi convoy was televised? Were senior officers allowed to complete the job in Somalia after the events of "Black Hawk Down"?

King should've worried more about fighting U-boats (read "Operation Drumbeat") and reportedly strongly disliked the British, but the fleet attacking the US was Japan's.

MacArthur did well after blowing the defense of the PI, but never realized how lucky he was to get another chance. His retention was surely influenced by what the American people want.

We should be used to doing "what the American people want" by now.

12/08/2013 6:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

December 10, 1941 aircraft from the USS Enterprise sank the Japanese submarine I-70 the first Japanee combatant vessel sunk in WWII.

December 10, 1941 a PBY of squadron VP-101 shoots down a Japanese zero fighter the first air-to-air kill of the war.

12/08/2013 7:27 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

Well, Rubber Ducky, at least your scathing vile has been 50% consistent:

"Rubber Ducky said...

There were two basic problems with the submarine COs who were in command at the start of WW-II. First was training. The torpedo exercises were set-piece runs, canned in every way, and the skippers were judged on demonstrating their ability to produce 'the right answer.' Innovation was neither allowed nor rewarded. Skippers were trained to follow the track plan by rote. WW-II's need for courage and intelligent battle were not in the script.

The second problem is that a pretty fair percentage of the early skippers were drunks. I can't cite a definitive reference on this, but you see it in the books and I've heard it enough over the years to know it was so. When I've pulsed it with submariners wearing the combat pin, they've pretty much confirmed it. For example, the best I could get from Bill Ruhe (great guy, died at 88 in 2003) was "No, I don't think they were ALL drunks." Rickover cited this factor as primary in his decision to leave the boats after his XO tour and move into the ED world (BuShips during the War)."

TSSBP - "Connecticut CO Fired After NJP" 6/14/2011 12:44 PM

12/08/2013 8:13 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

[quote]Seriously? Strategic decisions are always made with public opinion in mind. Were senior officers allowed to continue to Baghdad after footage of the fleeing Iraqi convoy was televised? Were senior officers allowed to complete the job in Somalia after the events of "Black Hawk Down"?[/quote]


If by 'always' you mean 'amost never' maybe you'd have a point. But it's obvious you've never read official memos or transcripts from the time period.

Politicians' philosophy going back at least as far as WWII has always been that the people are fickle. Your example about Somolia is because the incident exceeded Clinton's threshold for pain and because the U.S. had nothing to gain by remaining involved in another nation's domestic conflict, and not because there would be public outcry for finishing the job.

The American public doesn't dictate U.S. strategy during armed conflict. Never has, never will.

12/08/2013 8:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not all CO's were drunks. To be sure there was some hard partying after an arduous war patrol. Why the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was given over to sub crews for R&R. Dick O'Kane XO of Wahoo and CO of Tang was a teetolaer and awarded MOH. As was Howard Gilmore of Growler. To say they were all lushes does the officers and crews of the Fleet boats a disservice.

12/09/2013 6:09 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What was truly criminal was the material defects in our torpedoes and failure of our the senior submarine force leaders to accept and correct these problems. The torpedoes ran too deep, both exploders (influnce and contact)were unreliable and at least two of our own boats were sunk when their own torpedoes experienced a circular run.

12/09/2013 9:49 AM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

The first kill of a Japanese submarine was December 7th 1941 by USS Ward. Action report here:
Confirmation of the sinking is here:

The hole was right where the Ward said it was.

12/09/2013 10:35 AM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12/09/2013 10:35 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The American public doesn't dictate U.S. strategy during armed conflict. Never has, never will." Let's check. The American public decided the ends of Korea, Vietnam, the second Gulf War, and Afghanistan. So no, not true. "War Weariness" has been the counter-strategy of our enemies since our Civil War, and recently, it usually works.

The thought of Japan going into Pearl Harbor was that the US would soon sue for peace following the horror, and recognize the greater SW Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Admiral King's counsel, going into Midway, was to pull the fleet back to California.

I gave you Yamamoto as a significant figured who doubted Japan's success. Who's another?

12/09/2013 10:52 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"At least two of our own boats were sunk when their own torpedoes experienced a circular run." True, but Tullibee was sunk by a MK14, and Tang was sunk by a MK18. Different torpedo, different issues. Here's the definitive study.

12/09/2013 10:59 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not all the relieved COs were incompetent. Morton Mumma had himself relieved by his XO, yet rose to distinction in the PT boat war and retired as a rear admiral. See

12/09/2013 11:42 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blair does have his problems. In "some instances, both wartime credits and postwar credits are rounded off to the nearest 100 tons." (p. 900) This does nobody but Blair any favors. Roscoe, at least, agrees with JANAC. See

12/09/2013 12:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


You don't have a very good understanding of history.

Korea: Ended because China entered the war and the U.S. elected a new President (Eisenhower). The U.S. would achieve its objective of preventing communist expansion into South Korea by suing for peace. The alternative was to escalate the war effort and risk MAD when Russia came to play, too. Popular opinion had nothing to do with it and you won't find any official memos factoring public opinion into the decision calculus.

Vietnam: LBJ's administration recognized it as a no-win for several years, but he didn't want to jeopardize his domestic policy and image by appearing soft on communism. Again, if you read any memos written by LBJ the only 'public opinion' he feared was opposition to his Great Society plan. He couldn't care less about Vietnam other than the fact that he was unwilling to allow his leadership to give him bad news, literally kicking military leadership out of the oval office for reporting anything other than that the war effort was going well.

It's worth noting at this point that the U.S. was involved militarily in 'nam since the 1950s (1956 is cited as the official start) and didn't leave until 1975 -- approximately 18 years, during which time they killed 8 Vietnamese for every American death. Also, LBJ won reelection during the apex of the conflict. "War weariness" is not a very good strategy.

Iraq: We're still there. It's been 11 years, and the objective of installing a stable, democratic government is being achieved. So much for 'war weariness.' Again, read Cobra II. The decision to go into Iraq had nothing to do with popular opinion. The philosophy among Rumsfeld and Bush was that the American people would back a winner, and no one goes into war planning to lose. Despite its unpopularity in the mid 2000s, Bush won reelection and we are still there several years later.

American politicans only care about public opinion in election season. Outside of that, they do whatever they want and worry about selling it to the public later.

12/09/2013 5:02 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's an interesting comment. I teach military history. You're missing a big point. Presidents may start wars and conflicts. It is the common voter who ends them. War weariness is not our strategy, it is the common goal of all of our opponents since Vietnam.

Korea ended because the American people elected a president (IKE) who campaigned to end it. The people dictated the result. And oh by the way, there is no peace in Korea, only an armistice.

Vietnam ended because the people elected a president with a "secret plan" (Nixon) to end it, and the elected Congress stopped funding it.

Iraq is over. Those despised people elected an anti-war president over MaCain. We left without even a SOF agreement. Afghanistan will be over in 2014 for the same reason, with probably the same result.

In our democracy, the will of the people to continue the fight is the strategic center of gravity. When that will-to-fight is gone, the war is soon over. A Panama or Grenada operation can be conducted for several reasons, but as important as any is that it's over before the letters to the editors can be printed.

Pot to Kettle, over.

12/09/2013 6:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach military history. You're missing a big point. Presidents may start wars and conflicts. It is the common voter who ends them. War weariness is not our strategy, it is the common goal of all of our opponents since Vietnam.
You don't do a good job of it, then.

If what you say is true that public opinion is what caused us to end each of those wars (which I know it isn't), it should be easy for you to link some primary sources that site public opinion as the drivers for the decisions these administrations made.

But it wasn't. You're confusing correlation with causation. Yes, all of the above were unpopular (eventually), but all wars must come to an end at some point. The driving factors for deciding to end those wars was when the political objective was either satisfied or no longer worth the price of continuing the effort.

12/09/2013 10:04 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:04 said: some primary sources that site public opinion...



1. quote (a passage, book, or author) as evidence for or justification of an argument or statement, esp. in a scholarly work.

12/10/2013 8:22 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, Hot Shot, I'm tired of this. I'm not going to do your homework for you. Here's one citation.

You can find the rest. Amongst many reasons for no longer making an effort is being weary of paying the price for said effort. My recommendation is that you get yourself into a good Strategy and Policy course and that you pay attention, more attention than you're paying here. Two people here have tried to get you to understand the point that the will of the people in a democracy ultimately prevails.

I'll rejoin this conversation when you come up the name of a second important Japanese figure who opposed the Pacific war.

12/10/2013 9:48 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guess what day it is!

Now THIS is priceless:

12/12/2013 11:59 AM

Anonymous Kolohe said...

My understanding alway was that even with the faulty torpedoes and many ineffective skippers, the first couple of years of the war were still hampered with the prioritization given to IJN warship targets (even though nothing was off limits). Going after what were naturally 'harder' targets led to more losses with fewer gains.

It wasn't until the last two years when target priority was given to oil tankers and other transports that the required strategic effect was achieved.. (i.e. cutting off supply routes and strangling Japanese Home Island military and civilian economy)

Is that correct?

12/12/2013 6:48 PM

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12/15/2013 1:05 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The attack on Pearl Harbor 72 years ago today forced the U.S. Navy to change its perception of how submarines would be used in war, from fleet auxiliary to independent operations."

After the lessons of WWI and the first two years of WWII Pearl Harbor and the initial failures of our submarines in the Phillipines should have been irrelevant. The fact that doctrine hadn't been changed already reflects badly on Navy senior leadership. The torpedo fiasco only reenforces that conclusion.

"The younger Army brass tried to 'hide' him in the western Pacific in the 'less important' assignment."

Allow me to translate; The non-senescent Army leadership, after MacArthur's bumbling defense of the Philipines, tried to place him in a position where he could do less harm to Allied forces, since they could not dismiss him due to political reasons.


12/15/2013 2:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"OK, Hot Shot, I'm tired of this. I'm not going to do your homework for you. Here's one citation."

An opinion article in the NYT is not a primary source. Try again.

I have read several primary sources that contradict your opinion on how much public opinion influences international policy decisions, which is why I'm asking you for a source.

I don't care to spend hours at the library trying to prove your point for you. If you think you're right, give me evidence. This isn't a submarine where you get to feel like a superior human being for sending someone on a wild goose chase and I assume you're right because I'm not qualified. If you don't provide a credible source, I'm going to believe the several official memos I've read from the Cold War era that cite almost every reason except public opinion for policy decisions. And I'm going to continue believing that you're another misinformed teacher.

12/19/2013 11:58 PM


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