Dealey – The Destroyer Killer I

Sinking of the Japanese destroyer Yamakaze on 25 June 1942 approximately 110 km southwest of Yokohama harbour, Japan, photographed through the periscope of the U.S. Navy submarine USS Nautilus (SS-168).

A curious fact about the United States Navy: many of its greatest heroes and commanders have come from landlocked states or areas far from the ocean. Perhaps the mystery of the sea draws them. Perhaps the ocean provided the adventure the Great Plains and cities of the interior could not. One of these men was Dallas-born Texan Samuel David Dealey. Dealey Plaza of JFK assassination fame was named after his uncle, George Dealey, founder of the Dallas Morning News. Dealey achieved a record of success and bravery rarely matched in the history of the United States Navy, awarded the Silver Star, the Navy Cross with three gold stars (in other words, he won the Navy’s 2nd highest award for bravery four times), the Distinguished Service Cross (for aiding the Army) and the Medal of Honor. His boat was also awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

Born in 1906, Dealey applied for and was given a slot at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, but washed out due to poor grades. Applying himself, he won reinstatement and graduated Annapolis in 1930. In the years before the war, Dealey attended the Navy’s Submarine School and was posted to a variety of duties, mostly involving training and scientific experimentation. When war broke out, this seemingly, boring set of duties had made Dealey one of the most experienced young submariners in the fleet.

A year after Pearl Harbor, Dealey was given command of the new Gato-class submarine USS Harder (the harder is a type of mullet – subs of the US Navy were once named for fish). Harder’s first action was inauspicious – she had to evade attack by a US patrol plane in the Caribbean as she voyaged to the Panama Canal to cross into the Pacific. (Note: for those of you new to naval terminology, the commander of a ship/submarine is referred to as “captain”, no matter what his/her actual rank. Lieutenant Commander Dealey was Captain of Harder)

After testing and training of the crew, the first war patrol of the Harder began on June 7, 1943. She was ordered to waters off northern Honshu, the largest of the Japanese Home Islands – far from home and far from help. Harder’s first action came two weeks later off the Japanese coast. Sighting two enemy ships, Dealey prepared to attack when her presence became known to the enemy. Dealey fired torpedoes, but before he could see whether they had been effective, an aggressive Japanese escort vessel came after Harder and Dealey was forced to make an emergency dive – and the sub crashed into the bottom. Not the start that Dealey or anyone else on the boat had hoped for. Though it was believed that Harder missed with its first salvo of the war, post-war examination of Japanese records indicates that one merchant vessel was damaged and put out of action for some time.

A 2000+ ton submarine diving into the bottom causes quite an impact, and the risks of damaging the sub, injuring crew members and possibly being trapped in the soft bottom (forever) are very real. Luckily, for Dealey and his crew, they were able to avoid both the Japanese escort and being stuck forever at the bottom of the Pacific.

Two nights later, Dealey attacked another Japanese merchant vessel, causing so much damage that she had to be beached and was eventually turned into scrap. During the coming days, Dealey led Harder on a number of attacks, but only managed to damage one vessel.

Two things about the Pacific War at sea: American submarine commanders were, and were taught to be, hyper-aggressive. Like English fighter pilots during the Battle of Britain in 1940, American sub commanders paid very little attention to odds – their job was to sink Japanese ships, and after Pearl Harbor, they needed no coaxing. Secondly, the Japanese government and the Imperial Navy severely limited information about American or Allied subs in Japanese waters. This was the case before the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942. Japanese citizens believed that they areas around their home islands were safe and that the Imperial Navy would not allow American subs to venture so close to Japan. Japanese merchantmen relied on word of mouth and for much of the war, had to fend for themselves. Admitting the growing success of the Americans would mean that the Navy and the government had made an error, which could not be admitted.

At the beginning of July, one of the Harder’s engines lost power. This was a common flaw in the Gato-class subs, and cost the Navy as a whole and the Harder in particular much time. Taking a mound of spare parts with him for his next war patrol, Dealey left Midway Island for Honshu once again at the end of August 1943. In fourteen days, Dealey attacked nine separate times in Japanese waters and sank five ships totally 15,000 tons. Along with other US submarines, Harder was starting to bring the war home to the Japanese people. Unfortunately, engine problems again caused Dealey to return home, this time to Pearl Harbor, where she stayed until the end of October.

While in Hawaii, Harder and two other subs (Snook and Pargo) formed a small wolfpack and were sent to the Mariana Islands in the central Pacific to help clear the area around Tarawa Atoll of Japanese shipping in advance of the American invasion of Tarawa on November 20.

Though by this time the United States had been in the war for nearly two years, submarine tactics in the US Navy still needed work and equipment (such as the radios on the subs themselves) often failed or did not meet expectations. Though the Harder was supposed to work in tandem with the other two submarines, she managed to stay in contact with Pargo to attack a merchant vessel (with unknown results) and sink a minesweeper on November 12 before becoming separated from the other two American boats and operate on her own.

A week later Harder got on the track of a Japanese convoy of three large freighters and their escorts north of the Mariana Islands. Carefully calculating the distance and time to each target, Dealey fired a spread of ten torpedoes at the Japanese. Two of the freighters were hit and sunk quickly, taking most of their crews with them. The Japanese Navy had proved to be an aggressive force itself, and Japanese destroyer commanders proved tough and enduring. Over the course of the evening of the 19/20 August 1943, Dealey had repeated close calls with the Japanese, though Harder remained undamaged.

Later that night Dealey surfaced and spotted the one freighter that had escaped him earlier and plotted a course to intercept. Over the next hours, the freighter was the target of eleven more torpedoes from Harder, which circled her both submerged and surfaced firing from different angles. All this time the Japanese crew of the freighter engaged her with their deck gun. When Harder ran out of torpedoes, Dealey decided against further engaging the Japanese on the surface and made way for Pearl Harbor to replenish his torpedo supply. Later intelligence informed Dealey and his crew that this last tough Japanese ship too had sunk giving her a total for her third patrol of four ships sunk.

Though she had proven resilient and her skipper deadly, the crew of the Harder must have been quite frustrated with their boat, for on the way back to Pearl Harbor, another of her German designed diesels broke down again. Dealey was ordered to Mare Island in San Francisco Bay at the end of November to have the boat’s engines completely replaced.

Harder was back in action in March 1944, Dealey and the Harder proved themselves on a different sort of mission. On her fourth patrol, the sub was to standby to rescue American pilots shot down in the sea near the Caroline Islands. Just west of Woleai, Navy pilot John Galvin was stranded on a small enemy held island. He had been shot down during an American carrier based strike on the island and was in danger of being taken prisoner or being executed.

Other pilots from Galvin’s carrier kept the Japanese away from their comrade, but night would soon fall and Galvin’s fate would be sealed.

Dealey and Harder were in the vicinity and were ordered to get Galvin off the island whatever the cost. Dealey ordered his sub onto the reef just offshore bow first and to keep the propellers spinning to keep her there while a rubber dinghy with armed sailors raced into shore to get the downed pilot. Crewmen of the Harder paddled into shore under Japanese fire, retrieved Galvin and paddled back to the sub still under fire from shore. For this action, Dealey and his crew were given commendations.

 

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