Dealey – The Destroyer Killer II

After depositing Ensign Galvin with his comrades, Dealey continued Harder’s patrol. As he cruised the area north of the western Caroline Islands, Dealey’s sub was spotted by Japanese planes, which called in the destroyer Ikazuchi to hunt the American down. By this time in the conflict the Japanese had themselves developed accurate sonar and the Japanese destroyer sent “ping” (the sound of the sonar’s emission) after “ping” in an attempt to find the US submarine. Destroyers were (and are) fast maneuverable ships, heavily armed and usually commanded by an aggressive captain. Killing an enemy destroyer was not only a feat, it was incredibly dangerous. One of the primary purposes of the destroyer in both WWII and today is that of submarine hunter. This time however, the Ikazuchi met her match.

Diving to avoid the spotter planes, and only coming to periscope depth briefly to chart the course of the Japanese destroyer, Commander Dealey let the Japanese ship get within 900 yards before opening fire. Harder’s torpedoes struck home and the Japanese vessel was torn apart, sinking in five minutes time and taking her crew with her to the bottom of the sea. At Navy Headquarters, Dealey’s after-action notice brought smiles. “Expended four torpedoes ad one Jap destroyer.” The legend of the Destroyer Killer had begun, and on the way the naval base at Fremantle, Australia, Harder added to her luster by sinking another Japanese freighter and bombard the island of Woleai with her deck gun for added measure. After three weeks of rest, resupply and repair in Fremantle, Dealey was ordered to take his sub on her fifth patrol, this time to lurk in the waters off the Japanese base at Tawi Tawi at the very southwest tip of the Philippine Islands.

While the men of the Allied forces were dropping into, landing on and shelling the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944 the war continued in thousands of different actions around the globe. Busy also on the night of June 6th was Harder, which had been ordered to approach northwestern Borneo from her station off Tawi Tawi and pick up friendly guerrilla fighters from the Indonesian island.

As he passed through the Sibutu Strait between the island of Tawi Tawi and Sibutu Island, Dealey spotted three tankers and two destroyers – plum targets. As he was planning his attack, one of the Japanese destroyers noticed Harder and made full steam to attack her. As he had previously, Dealey let the submarine get close – 1,100 yards.

To illustrate how close this really is, imagine a 16-inch shell from a battleship. Just one shell can level an average house and leave a crater 200ft wide and many feet deep. The concussion from the explosion of a 16-inch shell can sometimes be felt for miles. Now realize that the torpedoes carried by most submarines in WWII were 21-inches in diameter, and packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives. Any closer than what Dealey had already chanced in his encounters could result in the sub being damaged or even sunk by the explosion or concussion of its own torpedoes.

At flank (full) speed, a Japanese destroyer could cover 1,100 yards in a minute or so. Once a destroyer closed to within one hundred yards or so, she would start to drop or launch her depth charges, and then the submariners were thrown into a nightmare that might end with the ocean rushing into their broken ship and extinguishing their lives far from another living soul.

When the Japanese warship was almost too close, Dealey fired three torpedoes that struck the enemy vessel (IJS Minatsuki) sinking her quickly, and almost losing his boat as the wreckage of the Japanese destroyer passed over his ship. By this time, the convoy and the remaining Japanese destroyer were miles away, and Dealey’s attempt to pursue came to naught.

On the morning of June 7th however, Dealey spotted another Japanese destroyer, IJS Hayanami, which she sank with another salvo of three torpedoes. On June 8th, Harder made the rendezvous with the guerrilla force, and began to head back to base.

As Harder entered the narrowest part of the strait between the islands, Dealey observed two more destroyers who were likely looking for him. Turning the tables on his pursuers, Dealey approached the destroyers undetected. As they passed by each other in his periscope, Dealey fired four torpedoes at the two subs. One destroyer, Tanikaze went shortly to the bottom. Dealey and his crew believed they had sunk the other Japanese ship as well, hearing further explosions, but this was likely the sound of the Tanikaze’s ammunition exploding as she sank.

Harder’s after action report relating this event reads:

Commenced firing the bow tubes. No. 1 appeared to pass just ahead of the first destroyer, No. 2 struck it near the bow, No. 3 hit just under the destroyer’s bridge, and No. 4 passed astern of the near target. The sub was now swung hard right to avoid hitting the first destroyer and fire was withheld on remaining tubes until a new setup could be put into the T.D.C. for an attack on the second destroyer. About thirty seconds after turning, the second destroyer came into view just astern of what was left of the first one, then burning furiously. Just then No. 4 torpedo, which had passed astern of the first target, was heard and observed to hit the second target. – (No more torpedoes were needed for either.)

Meanwhile, a heavy explosion, believed to be caused by an exploding boiler on the first destroyer, went off and the sub (then about 400 yards away) was heeled over by the concussion. At almost the same time a blinding explosion took place on the second destroyer (probably his ammunition going off) and it took a quick nosedive. When last observed, by the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, the tail of the second destroyer was straight in the air and the first destroyer had disappeared. “Sound” now, reported, “No more screws.”

The above listed pandemonium may not be in exact chronological order but is as accurate as the happenings over that eventful few minutes can be remembered.

CDR Dealey wearing the Navy Cross presented to him by Vice Admiral Lockwood 19 October 1943.

On June 10, having deposited his passengers, Dealey returned to station near Tawi Tawi and it was there that she ran across the kind of prize a submarine captain dreams of – a convoy of three battleships, four cruisers and a number of escorting destroyers. A target like this was not going to be easy and unprepared and the Japanese had a number of observation planes aloft, one of which spotted Harder. As one of the screening destroyers steamed toward his position, Dealey sent three torpedoes her way and dove deep. Though they heard explosions of some kind, the Harder did not sink a Japanese ship that day. What did happen was that she had to endure the nightmare described on the preceding page? Two hours of Japanese depth charges and prayers that none of them would crack the Harder in two below the waves, or destroy her engines, in which case the crew would suffocate after their oxygen was depleted.

Luckily, for Dealey and the crew of the Harder, none of the enemy’s depth charges hit home and after two tense hours, Dealey surfaced the boat to find the Japanese vessel gone. On June 21st, Harder reached home. News of her exploits had preceded her and her captain was informally referred to as the “Destroyer Killer”. An indirect effect of Dealey’s success was the decision made by the Japanese Navy to abandon the Tawi Tawi base as untenable – and when the Japanese fleet there left, it was decided by the Japanese High Command to attempt to chase the Americans from the Philippine Sea. The resulting battle of the Philippine Sea and the aerial battle known famously as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” were in a way caused by Dealey and his success in the Sibutu Strait. For his actions in the Tawi Tawi area, Dealey was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

While in Darwin, Dealey had the unenviable job of taking a desk bound admiral out on a short combat patrol so that officer could at least say he had seen some action during the war. In the course of the weeklong sortie, Dealey pursued a number of targets, including a cruiser, but was not able to close within range. He was also forced underwater for close to two days by Japanese observation planes overhead.

When he returned the admiral back to Australia, it was suggested to Dealey that he retire from combat command and allow a younger man to take over his sub. While Dealey knew he was pushing the odds, he asked to take Harder out on one more patrol to train new crewmen who had never seen combat.

Dealey’s sixth war patrol began on August 5, 1944 with Dealey in command of a five submarine wolfpack. The son and namesake of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, one of the great leaders of World War II, commanded one sub, the USS Haddo. At Paluan Bay in the Philippines, Dealey’s wolfpack sank four merchantmen to no losses, but Harder did not score any of the kills herself.

Dealey and Nimitz then split from the other three subs and headed towards Manila Bay, where they picked up three survivors of the convoy they had attacked shortly before. Both commanders racked up one kill each and shared another, sending more ships and supplies to the bottom.

The two commanders then moved north along the Philippines’ largest island of Luzon and were to rendezvous with another sub, the USS Hake, when they ran across the destroyer Asakaze. Nimitz slammed two torpedoes into the Japanese ship and turned for base, out of ammunition. Dealey, met by Hake, remained outside the bay where they believed the destroyer had been towed waiting for it or other Japanese ships to emerge.

The next morning, August 24 1944, a Japanese destroyer and minesweeper emerged from the bay. As Dealey’s comrades on the Hake pursued her as she turned back into the bay (and escaped), Harder was left to deal with the minesweeper that was unusually aggressive and was pinging her sonar madly in apparent pursuit of Harder. The Commander Frank Haylor and the crew of the Hake heard the sonar pings as the Japanese ship moved out of the bay towards Dealey and his boat. At 6.47am, Haylor caught sight of Harder’s periscope – the last trace anyone ever saw of Dealey and his crew. A bit more than a half hour later, Hake heard fifteen explosions as the minesweeper dropped depth charges near where Harder had last been seen. Evading Japanese ships through the day Hake stayed in the area and surfaced at night to look for any trace of the Harder or its crew and found none. Over the next two weeks, Hake patrolled the area, hoping that somehow members of Harder’s crew had made it to shore, but no one was ever found. After the war, the report of the Japanese minesweeper was found and her captain reported oil, wood and cork floating in the area where Harder had been.

Captain Dealey and his crew had been lost forever. Harder had been responsible for the sinking of 18 Japanese ships making Captain Dealey the fifth ranking US Navy submarine ace of the war.

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