1935

USS Barb: A Sub That Sank A Train
A Sea Story

 

USS Barb: A Sub That Sank A Train

Provided by Richard Ardavany '61

In 1973 an  Italian submarine named Enrique Tazzoli was sold for a  paltry id="mce_marker"00,000 as scrap metal. The submarine, given to the  Italian Navy in 1953 was actually an incredible veteran of  World War II service with a heritage that never should have  passed so unnoticed into the graveyards of the metal  recyclers.  The U.S.S. Barb was a  pioneer, paving the way for the first submarine launched  missiles and flying a battle flag unlike that of any other  ship. In addition to the Medal of Honor ribbon at the top  of the flag identifying the heroism of its captain,  Commander Eugene "Lucky" Fluckey, the bottom border of the  flag bore the image of a Japanese locomotive. The U.S.S.  Barb was indeed, the submarine that "SANK A  TRAIN".

July 18, 1945 (Patience Bay, Off the  coast of  Karafuto,  Japan)
It was after 4 A.M.  and Commander Fluckey rubbed his eyes as he peered over the  map spread before him. It was the twelfth war patrol of  the Barb, the fifth under Commander Fluckey. He should have  turned command over to another skipper after four patrols,  but had managed to strike a deal with Admiral Lockwood to  make one more trip with the men he cared for like a father,  should his fourth patrol be successful. Of course, no one  suspected when he had struck that deal prior to his fourth and  what should have been his final war patrol on the Barb,  that Commander Fluckey's success would be so great he would  be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Commander Fluckey  smiled as he remembered that patrol. "Lucky" Fluckey they  called him. On January 8Th the Barb had emerged victorious from  a running two-hour night battle after sinking a large enemy  ammunition ship. Two weeks later in  Mamkwan    Harbor he found the "mother-lode" ...more than 30  enemy ships. In only 5 fathoms (30 feet) of water his crew  had unleashed the sub's forward torpedoes, then turned and  fired four from the stern. As he pushed the Barb to the full  limit of its speed through the dangerous waters in a daring  withdrawal to the open sea, he recorded eight direct hits  on six enemy ships.

What could possibly be left  for the Commander to accomplish who, just three months  earlier had been in  Washington ,  DC  to receive  the Medal of Honor? He smiled to himself as he looked again  at the map showing the rail line that ran along the enemy  coastline.

Now his crew was  buzzing excitedly about bagging a train.

The  rail line itself wouldn't be a problem. A shore patrol could  go ashore under cover of darkness to plant the explosives...one of the sub's 55-pound scuttling charges. But this  early morning Lucky Fluckey and his officers were puzzling  over how they could blow not only the rails, but also one  of the frequent trains that shuttled supplies to equip the  Japanese war machine. But no matter how crazy the idea might  have sounded, the Barb's skipper would not risk the lives  of his men. Thus the problem... how to detonate the charge  at the moment the train passed, without endangering the  life of a shore party. PROBLEM? 
 
Solutions! If you don't  look for them, you'll never find them. And even then,  sometimes they arrive in the most unusual fashion. Cruising  slowly beneath the surface to evade the enemy plane now  circling overhead, the monotony is broken with an  exciting new idea. Instead of having a crewman on shore to  trigger explosives to blow both rail and a passing train,  why not let the train BLOW ITSELF up. Billy Hatfield  was excitedly explaining how he had cracked nuts on the  railroad tracks as a kid, placing the nuts between two ties  so the sagging of the rail under the weight of a train would  break them open. "Just like cracking walnuts," he  explained. "To complete the circuit (detonating  the 55-pound charge) we hook in a micro switch ...between  two ties. We don't set it off, the TRAIN does." Not only  did Hatfield have the plan, he wanted to be part of the  volunteer shore party.

The solution found, there was no  shortage of volunteers, all that was needed was the proper  weather...a little cloud cover to darken the moon for the  mission ashore. Lucky Fluckey established his own criteria  for the volunteer party:

 ...No married men would  be included, except for Hatfield,
 ...The party would  include members from each department,
 ...The  opportunity would be split between regular Navy and Navy  Reserve sailors,
 ...At least half of the men had  to have been Boy Scouts, experienced in how to handle  themselves in medical emergencies and in the  woods.

FINALLY, "Lucky" Fluckey would lead the  saboteurs himself.

When the names of the 8 selected  sailors was announced it was greeted with a mixture of  excitement and disappointment. Among the disappointed was  Commander Fluckey who surrendered his opportunity at the  insistence of his officers that "as commander he belonged  with the Barb," coupled with the threat from one that "I  swear I'll send a message to ComSubPac if you attempt this  (joining the shore party himself)." Even a Japanese POW  being held on the Barb wanted to go, promising not to try to  escape.

In the meantime, there would be no more  harassment of Japanese shipping or shore operations by the  Barb until the train mission had been accomplished. The  crew would "lay low", prepare their equipment, train, and  wait for the weather.

July 22, 1945 (Patience Bay, Off  the coast of  Karafuto ,  Japan )
Patience    Bay  was wearing thin the patience of Commander Fluckey and  his innovative crew. Everything was ready. In the four days  the saboteurs had anxiously watched the skies for cloud  cover, the inventive crew of the Barb had built their micro  switch. When the need was posed for a pick and shovel to  bury the explosive charge and batteries, the  Barb's engineers had cut up steel plates in the lower flats  of an engine room, then bent and welded them to create the  needed tools. The only things beyond their control were the  weather....and time. Only five days remained in the Barb's  patrol.

Anxiously watching the skies, Commander Fluckey  noticed plumes of cirrus clouds, then white stratus capping  the mountain peaks ashore. A cloud cover was building to  hide the three-quarters moon. This would be the  night.

MIDNIGHT, July 23, 1945
The Barb had crept  within 950 yards of the shoreline. If it was somehow seen  from the shore it would probably be mistaken for a schooner  or Japanese patrol boat. No one would suspect an American  submarine so close to shore or in such shallow water.  Slowly the small boats were lowered to the water and the 8  saboteurs began paddling toward the enemy beach.  Twenty-five minutes later they pulled the boats ashore and  walked on the surface of the Japanese  homeland.
 
Stumbling through  noisy waist-high grasses, crossing a highway and then into a  4-foot drainage ditch, the saboteurs made their way to the  railroad tracks. Three men were posted as guards, Markuson  assigned to examine a nearby water tower. The Barb's  auxiliary man climbed the ladder, then stopped in shock as  he realized it was an enemy lookout tower....an OCCUPIED  tower. Fortunately the Japanese sentry was peacefully  sleeping and Markuson was able to quietly withdraw and  warn his raiding party.

The news from Markuson  caused the men digging the placement for the explosive  charge to continue their work more slowly and quietly.   Twenty minutes later the holes had been dug and the explosives  and batteries hidden beneath fresh soil.

During  planning for the mission the saboteurs had been told that,  with the explosives in place, all would retreat a safe  distance while Hatfield made the final connection. If the  sailor who had once cracked walnuts on the railroad tracks  slipped during this final, dangerous procedure, his would  be the only life lost. On this night it was the only order  the saboteurs refused to obey, all of them peering  anxiously over Hatfield's shoulder to make sure he did  it right. The men had come too far to be disappointed by a  switch failure.

1:32 A.M.
Watching from  the deck of the Barb, Commander Fluckey allowed himself  a sigh of relief as he noticed the flashlight signal from  the beach announcing the departure of the shore party. He  had skillfully, and daringly, guided the Barb within 600  yards of the enemy beach. There was less than 6 feet of  water beneath the sub's keel, but Fluckey wanted to be  close in case trouble arose and a daring rescue of his saboteurs  became necessary.

1:45 A.M.
The two boats carrying his  saboteurs were only halfway back to the Barb when the sub's  machine gunner yelled, "CAPTAIN! Another train coming  up the tracks!" The Commander grabbed a megaphone and  yelled through the night, "Paddle like the devil!", knowing  full well that they wouldn't reach the Barb before the  train hit the micro switch.

1:47 A.M.
The darkness was  shattered by brilliant light and the roar of the explosion.  The boilers of the locomotive blew, shattered pieces of  the engine blowing 200 feet into the air. Behind it the  cars began to accordion into each other, bursting into  flame and adding to the magnificent fireworks display. Five  minutes later the saboteurs were lifted to the deck by  their exuberant comrades as the Barb turned to slip back to  safer waters. Moving at only two knots, it would be a  while before the Barb was into waters deep enough to allow  it to submerge. It was a moment to savor, the culmination  of teamwork, ingenuity and daring by the Commander and all  his crew. "Lucky" Fluckey's voice came over the intercom.  "All hands below deck not absolutely needed to maneuver  the ship have permission to come topside." He didn't have  to repeat the invitation. Hatches sprang open as the proud  sailors of the Barb gathered on her decks to proudly watch  the distant fireworks display. The Barb had "sunk" a  Japanese TRAIN!

On August 2, 1945 the Barb arrived at  Midway, her twelfth war patrol concluded. Meanwhile   United States  military commanders had pondered  the prospect of an armed assault on the Japanese homeland.  Military tacticians estimated such an invasion would cost  more than a million American casualties. Instead of such a  costly armed offensive to end the war, on August 6Th the  B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a single atomic bomb on the  city of  Hiroshima ,  Japan . A second such bomb,  unleashed 4 days later on  Nagasaki ,  Japan ,  caused  Japan  to agree to surrender terms on  August 15Th. On September 2, 1945 in  Tokyo   Harbor   the documents ending the war in the Pacific were  signed.

The story of the saboteurs of the U.S.S. Barb is  one of those unique, little known stories of World War II.  It becomes increasingly important when one realizes that  the 8 sailors who blew up the train at near  Kashiho  ,  Japan  conducted the ONLY GROUND COMBAT OPERATION  on the Japanese "homeland" of World War II. The eight  saboteurs were:

Paul  Saunders
William Hatfield
Francis  Sever
Lawrence  Newland
Edward  Klinglesmith
James Richard
John  Markuson
William Walker

Footnote: Eugene  Bennett Fluckey retired from the Navy as a Rear  Admiral, and wears in addition to his Medal of Honor, FOUR  Navy Crosses...a record of awards unmatched by any living  American. In 1992 his own history of the U.S.S. Barb was  published in the award winning book, THUNDER BELOW. Over  the past several years proceeds from the sale of this  exciting book have been used by Admiral Fluckey to provide  free reunions for the men who served him aboard the Barb,  and their wives.
 PS:  The Admiral  graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1935 and lived to age 93,  passing on in 2007.

 

A Sea Story

By RADM Edward Keats, USN (Ret.), '35

One morning in early 1945 the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Force commenced its sortie from Saipan toward the Japanese island known as Iwo Jima. As a staff officer to the Commander I was on the flag bridge. I noted Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner and a man dressed in khaki but without any insignia come out of the door of the flag quarters. I recognized the stranger as James Forrestal, the Secretary of the Navy. Admiral Turner, always most gentlemanly, beckoned me to come over. “Mr. Secretary, this is my Air Officer, Commander Keats.” I saluted, the Secretary put out his hand, and we shook.

Just then a very large plane passed almost overhead at about two thousand feet and in a glide. The Secretary pointed to the plane. “What is he doing?” he demanded of me.

I recognized the plane as one of the Army’s newest bombers but that is all I knew about it and I had no inkling of its mission. I was on the distribution list for the Navy’s decodes of Japanese military messages so I was generally aware of the activities of the Japanese Air Force. But the Navy did not have a key to the Army’s code. I was better informed of Japanese air operations than those of the U. S. Army.

Plebe year, however, had taught me never to say, “I don’t know.” I had to make up something quickly. I said, “Mr. Secretary, that is the Army’s B-29. They have been out testing a new bomb sight and are now heading back to their base on Tinian.”

The Secretary accepted my story by nodding and saying, “Ah so.” Admiral Turner looked at me with an understanding smile.

 

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