Five sailors with black shoe polish on their faces peer over the shoulder of Engineman 3rd Class Hatfield as he connects the wires to the crude pressure switch detonator wedged between the two wooden beams. There was no chance to test the crude device before using it. It was a jury-rigged affair and it would either work or blow them all to Hell as soon as the wires picked up the current from the three dry cell batteries they were attached to. Hatfield’s hands worked under the dim red glow of a red lensed flashlight.

It was shortly after 0100hrs on July 23rd, 1945. These sailors from the USS Barb submarine had landed on Japan in the first commando raid of WWII on the Japanese Home Islands. Their mission was to torpedo a train.

The USS Barb was laid down in June of 1941 and launched in April of 1942. She was assigned to SUBRON50 and sent to the Atlantic Ocean to support allied landings in North Africa. She then made five war patrols without sinking a single target. This could not be blamed on the Barb’s crew as much as on the absence of German and Italian shipping in Barb’s Mediterranean patrol areas. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest J. King, decided that SUBRON50 was serving no useful purpose in the target-sparse Atlantic theater and deployed the submarine squadron to the Pacific where the war was heating up.

In September 1943, departing from Pearl Harbor on her sixth patrol, the Barb got hits on two ships without sinking them. Her seventh patrol did nothing to improve her war record. Then in May of 1944, the Barb got a new skipper, Eugene B. Fluckey, and embarked on her eighth war patrol. Under the aggressive style of Commander Fluckey, the Barb torpedoed and sank numerous ships, sampans, patrol craft, and trawlers. On that single patrol, she was credited with sinking 15,472 tons of enemy shipping. Fluckey went on to his ninth, 10th, and 11th patrols continuing to sink ships including the 20,000 escort carrier Unyo.

The new skipper had made all the difference. When the ships of the Japanese navy would not present themselves to fight, Fluckey would take the fight to them. On the night of January 23rd, 1944, Fluckey boldly sailed the Barb right into Namkwan Harbor, surfaced, and engaged some 30 ships lying at anchor there. The Barb loosed eight torpedoes from her bow and stern tubes. Eight giant explosions lighted the night sky. Three Japanese ships were sunk and three burned furiously. Fluckey then brought the sub about and steamed at 21 knots on the surface for an hour and out of a shallow and mined harbor for which the U.S. did not have charts.

Fluckey was awarded the Medal of Honor for this feat and Barb received the Presidential Unit Citation.


‘Now There Is a Target I’d Like to Blow Up’

Fluckey embarked on his 12th war patrol aboard the Barb in December 1944. By now the fortunes of war had turned against Japan. Most of her fleet had been sunk by the planes, ships, and subs of the U.S. Navy; most of the Japanese merchant fleet had also been sunk. This forced submarine commanders to sail perilously closer to the Japanese Home islands to find targets that were hugging the coast and sailing only at night. This, in turn, brought them within range of shore batteries, aircraft, and fast sub-hunting corvettes. Most of the U.S. submarines and crews lost in WWII were near the Japanese home islands.