Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Submarine That Blew Up a Train

Ever since I was a kid, I had a fascination with World War II.  One of the games that I played as a teenager was a game on the Commodore 64 called "Silent Service".  That led me to an interest in submarines.  Also at the time, I read a series of fictional books about the submarine service by Edward Beach.  The most famous of those being "Run Silent, Run Deep".  While the books were fictional, many of the stories were based on his experiences as a submariner.  Several years ago, I picked up a book called "Thunder Below" by Rear Admiral Eugene Fluckey.  It was about his career as the commander of the USS Barb.
The USS Barb was a Gato class submarine (similar to the USS Silversides pictured above) that was launched from Electric Boat Yards in Groton, Connecticut in April 1942.  She would end up going on a total of 13 war patrols in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.  Eugene Fluckey would go on to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for one of those patrols where he penetrated a harbor in China and wreaked havoc on the Japanese ships that were docked there.  His crew would receive the Presidential Unit Citation for that action as well.
Fluckey was excited to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor until the requirements for one dawned him.  Basically the part about carelessly disregarding his life because to him that meant he was sacrificing his boat and subsequently his men.  After the war, he was asked what his proudest accomplishment during the war was, he said that it was the fact that none of his crew were awarded the Purple Heart, meaning that none of his crew were wounded or killed in combat.

The Purple Heart thing was no small feat given the Barb's record during the war.  This is a picture I took of her battle flag which was at the Submarine Museum in Groton.  Her crew members were awarded a number of Silver and Bronze Stars for their actions.  They managed to sink a Japanese Aircraft Carrier while it was out on sea trials.  They also managed to sink a German ship during one of her patrols in the Atlantic.  They managed to pluck several downed aviators from the sea.  If I remember correctly, they even rescued a ship of POWs.  She also had the first distinction of being the first submarine to launch rockets at enemy targets ashore.  In addition to the Presidential Unit Citation, she would receive the Naval Unit Citation and eight battlestars.  After the war, the Barb was sent to Italy and renamed the Enrico Tazzoli.  She would serve the Italian Navy until 1972 after which she was scrapped.
All of those actions were fairly normal for a US Submarine during World War II.  However, if you look closely at her battle flag, you will see the silhouette of a train.  During her last patrol, on the night of July 22, 1945, she landed a shore party.  The shore party consisted of eight men who set out to blow up a Japanese train.  The action figure above is an approximate depiction of how they would have looked.  They used explosives from the ammunition locker and weapons from the boat's locker.  In order to darken their faces, they used bearing grease from the engines.  They managed to blow up a train and returned safely to the boat.
You will notice that I use the term boat instead of ship in this post.  All submarines are known as boats by their crews. 

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