"Sink 'Em All" Excerpts

"Sink 'Em All" by Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood

"In the predawn hours of September 12, 1944, a wolf pack (Ben's Busters) consisting of Growler, Sealion (Cmdr Eli T. Reich), and Pampanito, contacted a nine-ship convoy with seven escorts in the Convoy College area.

In the attacks which followed this encounter, four ships and two escorts were sunk and several others damaged, the Rakuyo being among those who went down via the Sealion's torpedoes. She sank slowly, giving the Japanese crew and guards ample time to make off in the lifeboats, leaving the prisoners to shift for themselves. The prisoners were 1,350 English and Australian prisoners of war being transported from Singapore to Japan. This fact was unknown to anyone and it only came to light when some of the survivors were saved.

photo from National Archives

The submarines, totally unconscious of what had happened, pursued the remnants of the convoy until it took refuge in Hong Kong, then they returned to station. On September 15, in late afternoon, Pampanito sighted a raft full of people, and found them to be the prisoners covered with crude oil. She sent a message to Sealion asking for help. (Growler had departed for home). Sealion spotted her first survivors at 6:30pm on the 15th. Pearl directed the Barb and Queenfish to assist. And by noon of the 17th all remaining survivors had been picked up. In all 159men were saved by the four submarines, which then raced back to Saipan."

photo from National Archives

"On November first, Sealion II left Pearl Harbor on her third patrol. In the early morning hours of November 21, 1944, Sealion was patrolling the East China Sea, 40 miles northwest of Formosa, when at 0020 her radar operator reported contact at the unusually long range of 44,000 yards. This indicated a very large target, or the existence of a sort of radar mirage. Such phenomena were frequently encountered in those areas, especially in the Yellow Sea, where a freak distance of 60,000 yards had been reported on a target no larger that a good-sized junk. On this particular occasion, however, the submarine's radar turned in a beautifully consistent performance. The night was almost perfect for making a surface attack: sky overcast, no moon, the sea calm and visibility about 1,500 yards, hence Eli decided to remain on surface as long as possible. Against naval vessels equipped with radar, this plan might not work. However, he determined to make the attempt in order to retain the advantage of his surface speed and maneuverability.

By this time, the Japanese force had been identified as four ships in column: cruiser, battleship (Konga-which had supported the attack on Pearl Harbor), battleship (Haruna), cruiser with a destroyer on either bow and one on the starboard beam. Sealion was on the port bow of the formation, the best possible position. The enemy was heading about northeast (060 true and probably heading for Sasebo after the Battle of Leyte Gulf) at 16 knots and not zigzagging-a fatal omission against a radar-equipped submarine. As the range shortened, Reich kept his bow pointed directly at the nearest destroyer, so as to present the smallest possible target, but, finding that he was getting closer that he wanted to be, put his helm over and made a complete circle.

He picked the first battleship as his target and set his electric torpedoes at eight feet, just in case a destroyer might get in the line of fire. The Japanese gave no evidence of concern, just plowed steadily on into the disaster which awaited them. Reich could hardly believe his astounding good luck. He had dreamed of such a situation every since that ill-fated day in December, 1941. Eli Reich had been an officer in the first Sealion, bombed and sunk at Cavite on December 10, 1941 in which four men were killed and three others wounded At 0256, his sights came on and he commenced firing his six bow tubes.

It was customary in the boats to mark a name on the head of each torpedo as it was loaded into the tube nest. They usually bore the names of the torpedo crews' wives or best girls. Some, made at Sharon works, carried the names of the employee who had sold the most war bonds during a given period. That night, however, four of Eli's fish, as they raced out of their tubes, were stamped with the names Foster, O'Connell, Paul and Ogilvie-the men who had been killed in the bombing of Sealion I nearly three years previous. Swift vengeance was on it's way.

Reich wasted no time in reminiscences, however, but put his rudder hard right and swung the stern tubes onto the second battleship. At 0259 he stopped the engines, lest swirls from the propellers roll his torpedoes, and fired three stern shots.

Eli said that the four minutes required for his first salvo to reach the target seemed endless. All sorts of doubts assailed him. Had this set-up been correct? Had he underestimated the enemy's speed? Had his whole spread missed? Suddenly, the low clouds were lighted by the brilliant flames of three explosions along the length of the leading battleship. One minute later a violent explosion and sudden rise of flame lighted his second target.

By this time Sealion was racing at highest possible speed for the obscurity to westward. The Japs had not discovered her, and one escort was observed by radar to dash out to eastward, where she dropped a string of depth charges. Not a very sharp outfit.

Meanwhile, Reich paralleled the formation at 8,000 yards, continued tracking and reloaded his tubes. He found to his dismay that the target group had speeded up to 18 knots despite the hits it had absorbed. Evidently, his eight-foot torpedo setting had been wrong and the explosions had merely dented their armor-plated sides. Next time he would follow the book instructions. The increased speed introduced difficulties, for the sea had begun kicking up and the wind was dead ahead. Even with his engines running at 25% overload, he could make only about 17 knots.

Then, at 0450, came a break. The enemy formation split in two. The PPI scope showed three heavy ships holding their course and speed while one heavy ship-Sealion's first target-slowed to 11 knots and dropped astern with two destroyers as escorts. The third destroyer was nowhere to be seen. She was on the bottom of the East China Sea, sunk by the torpedo which Reich thought hit the second battleship.

Eli decided to attack this slower group. By 0512, he had attained position ahead of his target, slowed and turned in for a second attack. A few minutes later his tracking party reported the target had stopped, then, at 0524, there was a tremendous explosion. The sky was brilliantly illuminated.

Slowly the target's pip disappeared forever from the radar screen. This was the end of Kongo. Sealion I dead were avenged.

Reich's Log of 0524: Tremendous explosion dead ahead-sky brilliantly illuminated, it looked like a sunset at midnight. Radar reports battleship pip getting smaller-that it has disappeared- leaving only the two smaller pips of the destroyers. Destroyers seen to be milling around vicinity of target. Battleship sunk-the sun set.

Footnotes: Kongo laid down 1-17-1911 and completed 8-16-1913 and had a designed speed of 26 kts. All four ships in this class were refitted 1926-1930 and Kongo was completely rebuilt 1935-1937 and given added armour against torpedo and aerial attack. Standard displacement was 29,300 tons and crew complement was 980, beam was 92' and draft 20-27'. She carried 3 aircraft, 8-14", 16-6", 8-5"AA and four torpedo tubes. " The destroyer sunk was named Urakaze.

"Sealion also sunk a large merchantman in December of 1944 off Hainan."

"Sealion also credited with rescuing one allied airman"

"In June of 1944, Sealion II was operating in the East China Sea on her maiden patrol. Although not a formal wolfpack, they were in semicoordinated areas with Tang (O'Kane) and Tinosa (Weiss). On the night of June 24th, the three boats rendezvoused about 120 miles southwest of Nagasaki. O'Kane and Reich sent their XO's over to the Tinosa for a strategy meeting.

The next night O'Kane picked up a large convoy heading into Nagasaki and he flashed the word to Tinosa and Sealion. Neither boat was able to close and O'Kane took the charge. Post war records indicate O'Kane sank four ships that night. After that, the three boats move northward, taking station off the southwest coast of Korea. On June 28th, Sealion sank a 2,400 ton ship. Then on July 3rd O'Kane and Reich met again to compare notes. Tinosa had moved south. Reich later found two ships and on July 6th, the Sealion sank a 2,000 ton freighter off Shanghai and moving into the shallow waters of the Yellow Sea, the Sealion sank two more ships of 2,400 and 1,000 tons. The Sealion was credited with sinking four ships in this voyage for 7,800 tons."

"On August 17th, the three boats comprising Ben's Buster's departed Midway and reached Luzon Straight on August 29th. The next morning after receiving an Ultra message about a southbound convoy, the boats (including another wolf pack- Ed's Eradicators of Barb, Queenfish and Argonaut), rushed to intercept. Sealion watched a tanker burn and sink that was hit by fish from the Queenfish. Reich later fired ten torpedoes at a tanker and a freighter for damage. He then fired three at a freighter and three at what he believed was a destroyer. He hit both, sinking the minelayer Shirataka, 1,300 tons. Later he fired three torpedoes at a patrol craft, all missing. "

SS Sealion (APSS 315) off Little Creek, VA on 4 May 1956, with an H-34 helicopter on deck. Originally a WWII "fleet boat", Sealion served in various troop-carrying configurations postwar, including special forces transport. She carried several designations: SS, SSP, ASSP, APSS, and later LPSS