Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Go Ahead England

In the first half of 1944 The Japanese Army and Navy were having an argument over the use of the Japanese Navy’s huge Type C submarines. These monsters were over 100m in length, to put that in perspective the most common German U-boat was only 67m long. The Navy wanted to keep doing naval related stuff with the submarines, maybe even attacking US installations at long range, using the Type C's 14,000 nautical mile endurance to reach those targets. The Army however wanted to use them to move supplies to cut off islands. In the end the Army declared it would build its own submarines and use them. Rather than let any of its area of responsibility slip into the Army's hands the Navy relented. Thus, the I-16 was dispatched to Buin on Bougainville Island, loaded with supplies.
I-18, I-16's sister.
Unfortunately for the Japanese they transmitted a coded message about the mission over a radio. US intelligence picked it up and quickly read it. Orders then came down for three Buckley class destroyer escorts in the Escort Division 39 to track her down and sink the submarine. The ships were the USS England (named after a Sailor killed at Pearl Harbor), the USS George (named after a posthumous Navy Cross winner in 1942) and the USS Raby (named for a USN Rear Admiral killed in a traffic accident in 1934). The three ships would start near Bougainville Island and begin a run back along the submarines projected course, where they should hopefully bump into each other.
USS England
Shortly after 1300 on the 18th of May the USS England's sonar operator detected a submarine dead ahead and the USS England launched its first Hedgehog salvo at 1341, this was the opening salvo of a remarkable two weeks for the USS England.
The Hedgehog was a multi-barrelled spigot mortar that lobbed 65lb bombs in a pattern ahead of the escort carrying it. These bombs would sink through the water and explode on contact with the submarines hull.
US patten Hedgehog launcher.
Over the next hour five Hedgehog attacks were launched by the USS England, the last one at 1433 was reported to have scored six hits, this was followed by a huge explosion that caused the destroyer escorts hull to rear out of the water. For the rest of the day the three ships continued their search to make sure the sub was destroyed. The next morning, as they had encountered this submarine some twelve hours earlier than expected they continued their sweep looking for the I-16 heading towards Japan for another day.
During that day a US plane flying out of Manus Island spotted a Japanese submarine and launched a failed attack on it. As the USS England and her sisters were close by they were ordered to head to the area and hunt down the submarine. By a sheer coincidence the three US ships were heading in a straight line that would cross the locations of five Japanese submarines. This Submarine Division had been placed in a line to act as a reconnaissance force to spot any US fleet movements.

The first submarine was detected by radar during darkness early in the morning of the 22nd of May. At 0501 The USS England carried out a second Hedgehog attack, scoring three hits on the submarine and destroying it. The following morning at 0600 another submarine was detected on radar. Again, the USS England launched the killing blow scoring twelve hits with her Hedgehog projector. The following morning at 0214 another five hits killed the fourth submarine. Late in the evening on the 26th at 2318 the USS England gained another kill with six hits.
Hedgehog projectiles rain down into the water.
Over the next day or so the three ships docked and resupplied at Manus island then when leaving on the 30th they detected another submarine. For the next 25 hours they tried to get the submarine, however all their efforts were for nought, the submarine briefly surfaced between the USS Raby and USS George to take on air before submerging again. As the submarine was between two ships neither could fire for fear of hitting the other ship.
After several attempts to hit the submerged submarine all failed, the task force commander resignedly radioed "Go ahead England." Of course, the USS England steamed in and fired a single salvo scoring ten hits.

Or at least that's the story according to Wikipedia. There are a few problems with this story that make me doubt parts of it. First let me be clear I am not challenging the claim that the USS England sunk those submarines, indeed it is blindingly clear they achieved this record.

However, lets look at that last submarine, the claim it remained on the surface for five minutes between two ships and neither ship could shoot at it for fear of hitting its allies. The Buckley class are rated at 23 knots, that means each ship is moving at about 629m per minute, and yet neither ship could clear out the way? Another source suggests there were orders to maintain the contact until daylight when the attack could be prosecuted much easier and with reinforcements.

While we're questioning the Wikipedia account let’s look at the claimed number of hits with the Hedgehog. First you need to understand how the Hedgehog works. Each salvo fires twenty-four rounds in a circle. These then sink downward at a rate of about 23 feet per second, if they hit a submarine they detonate. This is important because the sonar of the time could only give you bearing, not depth*. Thus, the rounds comb the entire column of water.
This is the patten fro ma double hedgehog (IE twin mounts) it gives you the idea of the shape of the patten.
Now depending on which mark of Hedgehog launcher the USS England was fitted with the circle would have been either 120 feet long and 140 feet wide, or 180 feet diameter. In the latter case that's one bomb every 718 feet along the circumference, assuming a full spread was launched and there were no blinds, prematures or duds. Discounting the I-16 the Japanese submarines were all 60m, or 199ft long. Yet the Wiki article is claiming up to twelve hits, or half the salvo, in some cases, hit the submarine. I don't need to tell you how suspicious that sounds, as the submarine would need ot be curved like a banana, and a lot longer than it was.

*Which is another strike against the Wiki article considering it talks about depth estimates causing the Hedgehog to miss.

Image credits:
www.ussslater.org and warfarehistorynetwork.com