USS Growler (SS-215)
Growler (SS-215) was launched 2 November 1941, by Electric Boat Company of Groton, Connecticut, and commissioned on 20 March 1942, Lieutenant Commander Howard W. Gilmore in command.
Growler's first war patrol began 29 June 1942 as she cleared Pearl Harbor for her assigned patrol area around Dutch Harbor, Alaska; topping off at Midway on 24 June, she entered her area on 30 June. Five days later she saw her first action: sighting three destroyers, Growler closed them for a submerged torpedo attack and then surfaced. Her torpedoes struck the first two targets amidships, putting them out of action, and hit the third in the bow, but not before she had fired two torpedoes at Growler. As the Japanese torpedoes "swished down each side" of Growler, she dived deep, but no depth charges followed. One of the torpedoed destroyers, Arare, was sunk, and the other two were severely damaged. Growler completed her patrol without finding any more targets, and on 17 July berthed at Pearl Harbor.
On 5 August Growler began her second and most successful war patrol, entering her area near Taiwan on 21 August. Two days later she conducted a submerged night attack on a freighter, surfacing to give chase when both torpedoes ran under the target and failed to explode; the freighter's quick exit into shallow waters prevented Growler from gun attack. Patrolling amidst a large fishing fleet on 25 August, Growler sighted and fired at a large passenger freighter but all three torepdoes missed; after a 3-hour depth charge attack, in which some 53 ash cans were dropped, Growler surfaced and almost immediately spotted a convoy. After 2 hours of maneuvering, she failed to catch up with the main body of the convoy but did fire at and sink an ex-gunboat, the Senyo Maru. No more ships appeared in this immediate area for 3 days, so Growler shifted to the east side of the island. First to fall victim was Eifu'ku Maru, a 5,866-ton cargo ship Growler sank within 40 minutes after first sighting her on 31 August. On 4 September Growler sank by gunfire the Kashino, a 4,000-ton supply ship; 3 days later she sent two torpedoes into the 2,204-toh cargo ship Taika Maru, which broke in half and sank in 2 minutes. On 15 September Growler cleared her patrol area, and arrived back at Pearl 30 September.
During refitting, new surface radar was installed, as well as a new 20mm. gun; thus equipped, Growler sailed from Hawaii for her new patrol area in the Solomon Islands across the key Truk-Rabaul shipping lines. Her patrol area in these days of bitter fighting over Guadalcanal was almost continually covered by enemy planes, and only eight enemy ships were sighted with no chance for attack. Growler cleared the area 3 December and arrived in Brisbane, Australia, 10 December.
New Year's Day of 1943 saw Growler sail from Brisbane for what was to prove one of the most gallant actions in naval history. Entering her patrol area, again athwart the Truk-Rabaul shipping lanes, on 11 January, she waited only 5 days before sighting an enemy convoy. Maneuvering inside the escorts, Growler fired two torpedoes and saw them hit; then, as her war diary reports, she was in the unfortunate predicament of being about 400 yards from the destroyer and had to dive without being able to continue the attack. She was credited with sinking Chifu'ku Maru, a passenger-cargo ship.
Loss of Gilmore
The patrol continued as normal, with two further attacks, but no sinking's until shortly after 0100. 7 February when Growler stealthily approached a gunboat for a night surface attack. The small fast ship suddenly turned to ram. Comdr. Gilmore then took the only move to save his ship; he brought Growler left full rudder and rammed the enemy amidships at 17 knots. Machine gun fire raked the bridge at point blank range. The courageous sub seemed lost. Comdr. Gilmore cleared the bridge except for himself. Desperately wounded, he realized that he could not get below in time if his ship were to be saved. "Take her down" he ordered; and, as he floated in the sea, he wrote another stirring tale of inspirational naval history. For his heroic sacrifice to ship and crew, Comdr. Gilmore was awarded the Medal of Honor, one of six submariners to receive it.
Severely damaged, but still under control, Growler returned to Brisbane under command of her executive officer, Lt. Comdr. A. F. Schade; she docked 17 February for extensive repairs.
Growler's fifth, sixth, and seventh patrols, out of Brisbane to the Bismarck-Solomons area, were relatively uneventful; heavy enemy air cover and a lack of targets resulted in her coming home empty-handed from all but the fifth, on which she sank the passenger-cargo strip Miyadono Marti. The seventh patrol was marred by trouble with the storage battery and generators, and on 27 October 1943, only 11 days out of Brisbane, she was ordered to Pearl Harbor, arriving 7 November, and from there to the Navy Yard at Hunter's Point, California for an extensive overhaul and refitting.
Returning to the Pacific, on 21 February 1944, Growler departed Pearl Harbor, and after refueling at Midway, headed for her patrol area. However, a week out of Midway a typhoon's high seas and wind delayed her arrival to the patrol area. Once there, Growler was again plagued by violent weather which made even periscope observation almost impossible.
Growler returned to Majuro 16 April, and departed there 14 May to take up patrol in the Marianas-Eastern Philippines-Luzon area, where the first stages of the attack on the Marianas and the Battle of the Philippine Sea were getting underway. Rendezvousing with Banff and Seahorse to form a wolfpack, she continued the patrol closing several targets but achieving firing position only once, when she sank the cargo vessel Katori Maru.
Her 10th patrol, from Pearl Harbor 11 August, found her in a new wolfpack, nicknamed "Ben's Busters" after Growler's skipper Comdr. T. B. Oakley; in company with Sealion and Pampanito, she headed for the Formosa Straits area. Aided greatly by reconnaissance and guidance from planes, the wolfpack closed a convoy for night surface action 31 August; their torpedoes plunged the Japanese into chaos, with their own ships shooting at each other in the dark, but no sinkings were reported. Two weeks later. 12 September, the wolfpack sighted a second convoy and closed for torpedo action. A destroyer spotted Growler and attacked her, but the sub calmly fired a spread at the destroyer. Heavily damaged by the torpedoes, the flaming destroyer bore down on Growler and only adroit maneuvering took her out of the enemy's way; paint on the bridge was seared by the heat of the passing destroyer. Meantime Growler's other torpedoes and those of Sealion and Pampanito were hitting the convoy, and when Ben's Busters returned to Fremantle 26 September, they were credited with a total of six enemy ships. Growler had sunk the destroyer Shikinami and the frigate Hirado; and her companions had racked up two each. The submarines had also rescued over 150 Allied prisoners from one of the torpedoed ships which had served the Japanese as a prison ship. This difficult operation had been carried out despite rough seas caused by an approaching typhoon.
Growler's llth and final war patrol began out of Fremantle 20 October in a wolfpack with Hake and Hardhead. On 8 November the wolfpack, headed by Growler, closed a convoy for attack, with Growler on the opposite side of the enemy from Hake and Hardhead. The order to commence attacking was the last communication ever received from Growler. After the attack was underway, Hake and Hardhead heard what sounded like a torpedo explosion and then a series of depth charges on Growler's side of the convoy, and then nothing. All efforts to contact Growler for the next 3 days proved futile, and the gallant submarine, veteran of seven successful war patrols, was listed as lost in action against the enemy, cause unknown.
Growler has received eight battle stars for her service in World War II.
Medal of Honor Citation for Howard W. Gilmore
"For distinguished gallantry and valor above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the USS Growler during her Fourth War Patrol in the Southwest Pacific from 10 January to 7 February 1943. Boldly striking at the enemy in spite of continuous hostile air and antisubmarine patrols, Commander Gilmore sank one Japanese freighter and damaged another by torpedo fire, successfully evading sever depth charges following each attack. In the darkness of night on 7 February, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the Growler. Commander Gilmore daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker instead., ripping into the port side at 17 knots and bursting wide her plates. In the terrific fire of the sinking gunboat's heavy machine guns, Commander Gilmore calmly gave the order to clear the bridge and refusing safety for himself, remained on deck while his men preceded him below. Struck down by the fusillade of bullets and having done his utmost against the enemy, in his final moments, Commander Gilmore gave his last order to the officer of the deck, "Take her down." The Growler dived seriously damaged but under control, she was brought safely to port by her well-trained crew inspired by the courageous fighting spirit of their dead captain."
Article incorporates text from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain.
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