Posted by: arbeam | December 31, 2018

USS Puffer (SS-268) First War Patrol



What was a WWII Submarine War Patrol like? This is a discussion of the USS Puffer (SS-268) first War Patrol out of Darwin Australia from 7 September to 17 October 1943; done by Craig McDonald.


During the closing stages of the war, Admiral Lockwood detailed his operations officer, Richard Voge, to write an official administrative and operational history of the submarine war.  Voge was assisted in this large undertaking by W. J. Holmes, W. H. Hazzard, D. S. Graham and H. J. Kuehn.  The Administrative History forms a portion of the navy’s unpublished series known as “United States Naval Administration in World War II.”  It is subtitled “Submarine Commands, Volumes 1 and 2.”  Copies are on file in the Navy Library, Washington, D.C., and at the Submarine Force Library and Museum, Submarine Base, New London.  Generally, it tells a positive story, however it does contain a section on the torpedo problems.

The Operational History produced by Voge and his staff is a massive document of more than 1500 pages dealing with every conceivable operational aspect of the submarine war.  It was originally a TOP SECRET document.  Generally it tells a positive story.  Later, John M. Will, while attached to the Bureau of Personnel (Assistant Director of Training), hired a writer, Theodore Roscoe, to reduce the Operational History to publishable form.  The result was United States Submarine Operations in World War II, published in 1949 by U.S. naval Institute, Annapolis.  It is in effect a truncated version of the Operational History, sometime reproduced word for word.  Since it was produced by the navy, it too is a positive story.  Comments by Russell Tidd provided insight into this document’s viewpoint.  United States Submarine Operations in World War II was published in condensed form in paperback by Bantam Books, under the title Pigboats.

Theodore Roscoe also wrote a more literary version of the events surrounding the depth charging in “True Tales of Bold Escapes” entitled Get-Away at Forty Fathoms.  Comments by Russell Tidd exposed this version as having much literary license, although a vein of accuracy in some of the text did exist.

The Operational History dealing with the First War Patrol of the Puffer (pages 310-321), with my comments and additions are in bold type. I have tried to pull together the comments and information of the crew members.  I must give Walter Mazzone and Russell Tidd special thanks for their help.  I also had conversations with Carl Dwyer (future commander of the Puffer), Charlie Brockhausen (quartermaster) and John Solak, who added details.   Ken Dobson’s written account also added much understanding of the situation.  I was able to obtain unpublished notes used by Clay Blair, from the American Heritage Collection at the University of Wyoming, that he used in writing Silent Victory.

Depth Charging of USS Puffer

Voge text with comments by Craig McDonald in bold text.

On 9 October 1943, PUFFER under command of Lt. Cdr. M. J. Jensen was patrolling the northern part of the Makassar Straits.  At 1110 that morning she hit a large merchantman with two torpedoes. (Four were fired from the forward tubes, using both contact and magnetic detonation systems.  It was probably impossible to fire six torpedoes, since the lower two tubes had been damaged when the submarine ran aground a few days earlier in the patrol).  The target was dead in the water and listing but not definitely sunk.  The escort, a CHIDORI class torpedo boat, had been seen earlier in the morning but was then nowhere in the immediate vicinity.  (Exec Officer Hess and Cmdr. Jensen continued to observe the damage to the freighter.  At the urging of Carl Dwyer who was concerned about the location of the Chidori, Jensen checked for the Chidori.  Nothing was seen on low power.  The scope was changed to high power, maybe the Chidori was barely visible.  Vision through the periscope was not always perfect, lenses fogged over, water dripped down onto the lenses.  The Chidori’s small profile may have made it extremely difficult to see in a sweeping periscope; a high sun would create reflections on the surface of the water and create no shadows.  Damage to the sonar head during the grounding a few day earlier meant the sonar required manual directing and further limited the “eyes” of the PUFFER.  Sonar was least effective when pointing aft toward the props, the direction from which the initial depth charging took place. Therefore at 1119 PUFFER fired two torpedoes from the stern tubes, one of which pre-matured. The other torpedo missed or was a dud, so PUFFER commenced maneuvering for another attack. (Pre-mature exploding torpedoes were generally caused by water leakage around the magnetic generator, which induced an electrical voltage –Chapter 6, reference 52 in Gannon.  Jensen stated on  page 22 of the WPR, “The premature and “dud” fired nine minutes later unquestionably cheated us of a sure sinking and gave the destroyer a starting point from which to track us.)   (Duds were typically caused by the torpedo hitting the target at a 90° angle causing the firing pin mechanism to jam.  In a worse scenario than PUFFER, on July 24, 1943 the Tinosa (SS283) spotted a target, it was the Tonan Maru III, the largest tanker in the Japanese Navy.  Tinosa’s skipper fired a spread of 6 torpedoes, none of which exploded, followed by 9 more duds fired one at a time in a period of 21 minutes.  The Tinosa safely cleared the area five minutes after a destroyer escort was sighted, firing its last two duds just before making its escape.)

The PUFFER had ample time to fire more torpedoes, but for some reason Commander Jensen hesitated.  Ken Dobson felt Jensen did too much fancy maneuvering.  The two remaining torpedoes in the stern tubes were ready, and the forward tubes could have been reloaded, but this was a noisy and dangerous job.  The target was stationery so the setup should have been relatively simple. The remaining two stern torpedoes had flooded during a previous attack that had been cutoff (see WPR-Torpedoes).  Jensen may not have had confidence in those two torpedoes.  Also torpedoes were in relatively short supply, using additional torpedoes on a ship that seemed to be already sinking may have been taken as excessive by Admiral Christie.)

On the 1119 entry the war patrol report mentions the Chidori “closing the scene fast.” A Chidori was capable of 30 knots, so “closing the scene fast” was an accurate description.  The target commenced firing small caliber guns in the direction of the submarine. The maneuvering for another attack continued after the Chidori was spotted.  After the previous remark the WPR states, “Commenced maneuvering for another stern shot and favorable track.”)

At 1125 three distant depth charges were heard and at 1128 there was pinging and noise of fast screws approaching.  Jensen decided to clear the vicinity, but because he still hoped to finish off the merchantman, he did not go deep. (Pinging would have started when the Chidori captain felt his boat was within about 4000 to 5000 yards of the submarine, the maximum effective range of echo ranging while moving at 6 knots according to captured Japanese anti-submarine documents dated 1944.  It takes about 20 minutes for a boat to travel 4000 yards (2.25 miles) at 6 knots; 1128 + 20 minutes equals 1148.  It was also suggested that either the XO or Jensen misread the distance to the Chidorithrough the periscope.  An error could overestimate the range of a ship by a factor of 4, low power vs. high power.)   At 1145 six depth charges went off very close aboard.  Since the PUFFER was still maneuvering for another attack, the periscope may have been sighted from time-to-time by the Chidori or the freighter directed the Chidori to the last known position of the PUFFER, greatly improving the accuracy of the depth charges.  The WPR also states, “The premature and “dud”…gave the destroyer a starting point from which to track us.”

The conning tower hatch and the conning tower door lifted off their seats, admitted a spurting shower of water, and then reseated.  (The shock bounced the after conning tower door open far enough to wet the back side of the officer operating the torpedo data computer, Carl Dwyer.  Ken Dobson’s battle station was in the main engine control.  He was sitting between two electricians mates that controlled the main motors.  They all bounced a foot in the air according to him.) A number of sea valves backed off their seats.  A plug in the sea valve casting in the after torpedo room was loosened and the resultant leak eventually admitted much water.  The water spurted by this plug in a flat stream and the size of a knife blade.  Repair forces hesitated to attempt tightening the plug for fear that it was broken rather than loose and that attempted repairs would only make matters worse.

The rudder and stern planes apparently suffered some damage, for there was increased noise of operation and the motors appeared to be overloaded.  The gaskets were blown out of the main engine air induction valve and the ships ventilation supply valves.  (Hatch gasket compression from water pressure typically caused gaps, allowing water to come into the boat if a hatch was unseated by depth charging.  See WPR-pages 26 and 27 for details.)  There was considerable miscellaneous and minor damage and lots of flying cork and glass.  (Damage was done from the deck gun aft to the stern planes and rudder.   The blondes nicknamed the “Gold Dust Twins” William E . ”Willie” Wilson and Russell Tidd were on the bow and stern planes.  Flying Plexiglas from the depth gauges imbedded in Tidd’s bare chest.  Tidd, Wilson and others rotated around the control room from the stern planes to the bow planes, and the helm.  With no hydraulics the planes had to be operated manually, a job that developed Popeye-like arm muscles.  Pharmacist Mate Robert Spalding had more than enough work to tend to the crew and officers.  There were no serious injuries, but the next it 30 hours would be an effort to prevent dehydration and heat stroke.  Tidd recalls “Doc” Spalding giving him and others an occasional teaspoon of whiskey to keep them going.)  PUFFER went deep.  (Probably around 350 to 400 feet initially, since depth charges were still described as “very close” at 1345, and 1525; at 1645 and 2240 charges were “extremely close”.  At this time in the war the maximum depth of most Japanese depth charges was 300 feet – Gannon in “Hellions of the Deep” page 153. Depth settings recommended to Japanese anti-submarine vessels were:  100 feet if periscope is sighted and continues exposed; 300 feet when submerged; when detected by echo-ranging 200 to 300 feet depending upon conditions; and 400 to 500 feet when the sub is in a “stopped” condition.-“Japanese Underwater Sound Gear and Methods”-August 1944 )

Ten minutes later there was one depth charge.  Fifteen minutes after that four depth charges went off overhead, staggered in depth.  It was apparent that the enemy was able to follow PUFFER (but not sure of her depth.).  The slow venting of the main induction and air supply trunk, as they flooded past the ruptured gaskets, may have been leaving a trail of air bubbles or they might have been oil leaks.  The current was a handicap in evasive maneuvers.  When the PUFFER was through with her ordeal she actually surfaced in (nearly) the same position that she submerged, all her underwater running being just enough to overcome the current.  (According to recent oceanographic studies of the Makassar Straits in mid-October by Dr. Amy F. Field of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the water flow at similar depths can be as much as 2 to 3 knots from south to north.  CDR. Jensen noted, “The current is throwing the ship around considerably making evasive maneuvering very difficult.”  Early in the ordeal the PUFFER may not have been moving forward relative to the surface.  However, relative to the water flowing in the opposite direction she would have been moving at around 3 to 4 knots at dead slow speed.  Although the current was making evasive action difficult, the relative speed of the water to the boat, and the 10° to 15° down angle reported at 2100 probably gave the PUFFER improved ability to maintain some amount of depth control, much like an airplane taking off into the wind.  Normal silent running would have been 40 RPMs, but the down angle required 60 RPMs to keep from sinking, which would normally produce a forward speed of about 1.5 knots.   As the batteries deteriorated and the screw speed slowed, the current moved PUFFER eastward about 10.4 miles and 5.8 miles northward, using the positions of the torpedoed freighter and patrol boat contacted upon surfacing.)

Practically all damage done to PUFFER occurred on the first attack.  Thereafter she was kept at deep submergence (mentioned at 0000 on October 10th) by the persistent and recurring attack of the escort.  Most of the depth charges went off close and directly overhead but evidently were not set deep enough to cause (additional) serious damage.  The ease with which the enemy could return directly to attack, sometimes after an absence of two or three hours was unnerving.  PUFFER had difficulty in her depth control.  There was much water in the bilges, the main induction and supply was flooded.  The leak in the after torpedo room was continually adding to the weight aft and the trim pump refused to pick up a suction on the after torpedo room bilges (because of the angle on the boat.).  The ship gradually worked down until the control room was at over 500 feet depth, and there was a 12° angle on the boat trying to hold her up at slow speed.  (535 feet is a number given by a couple of interviewees, this would place the after torpedo room 35 feet deeper, or 570 feet with the 12° angle.) After twelve hours a second anti-submarine vessel joined the first.

The air conditioning was stopped to conserve power and to prevent noise.  (Shutting off the A/C was a standard part of silent running.  A/C was installed to cool the added electronic equipment more than for creature comfort.  Substantial battery power had been used during the maneuvering for the torpedo attacks on the merchantman, making the maximum theoretical battery life of 48 hours impossible, if the A/C remained on. )  A bucket brigade was formed to keep the bilge water from grounding out the electrical motors.  (William Hetric, MoMM1c, lead the effort with EM’s, other MoMM’s and TM’s assisting in moving water forward from the aft torpedo room to the bilge pumps.  Without this effort the sub would have continued to drop by the stern, eventually the additional weight would have taken the boat to the bottom. There was nothing that could be done to alleviate the flooded induction.)  CO2 absorbent and oxygen was used after the ship had been submerged 12 hours.  (Charlie Brown recalls the men in the forward torpedo room stretching an oversize sheet between the bunks and putting the CO2 absorbent on top, in an effort to create a make shift filter.  Charlie Kerls got CO2 absorbent in his eyes and was temporarily blinded.)  The specific gravity of the battery electrolyte (gradually) went down so low it could no longer be read on the hydrometer (at the end of the nightmare).  

The damage to PUFFER was not severe.  (Read the damage report in the WPR, pages 24 to 27, damage was extensive.  The PUFFER was slowly sinking, and bilge pumps were unable to remove the water in the after torpedo room.  The main induction was flooded, which would make the engines temporarily useless upon surfacing.  PUFFER was in very difficult trim and being tossed about by strong currents.  )  She had no insoluble problem of ship handling.  What she did in evasion was conventional and correct.  The anti-submarine measures taken against her were unique only in their amazing persistence and deft sureness with which she was tracked and repeatedly attacked.  (Previously other subs had been held down for 24 hours, this seemed to be the limit of Japanese patience early in the war.  Japanese documents from 1944, encouraged 72 hours.)  PUFFER submerged at 0525 on 9 October.  She made her attack on the merchantman at 1110 on the same day.  A second anti-submarine vessel joined the first at 1820.  The two of them kept with her all night.  The last depth charges were dropped at 0115 on 10 October but the enemy kept over PUFFER making dry runs until 1225 on the 10th, 31 hours after the submarine submerged and more than 25 hours after the attack on the merchantman.  (It is probable the current pushed the PUFFER northward as the batteries died.  The same current could have supplied a layer under which to hide.  Oceanographic studies have detected huge masses of cold water being pushed upward during October in the Makassar Straits.  In October there is typically a temperature layer around 450 feet, weaker than the layer usually found near the surface layer, but well defined.  This phenomenon may have helped PUFFER hide from the Chidori shortly after the depth charging stopped as she sunk to a depth of 450 feet.)

After sound reported pinging had stopped it was decided to continue on at deep submergence until after dark.  PUFFER was then in very difficult trim, and to have attempted to come to periscope depth might involve loss of control.  (Periscopes were damaged making it impossible to take a look before surfacing.)  Safety tanks, negative, auxiliary tank, and after trim had been blown dry and had pressure in them.  There was a 12 inch pressure in the boat already which practically precluded venting these tanks into the boat.  They stuck it out until 1910 when they surfaced direct from deep submergence into the bright moonlight, 37 hours and 45 minutes after diving.  She surfaced with a sharp port list, due to the free water and flooded induction lines, and it was nearly an hour before she could be brought to even keel.  During that hour it would have been difficult to use the three-inch gun.  (The deck gun was damaged and unusable.) Contact with an enemy patrol was made about 15 minutes after surfacing.  PUFFER worked around and between the contact and the land and evaded (trying to present a minimum profile to the enemy).  At 0450 on 11 October she was able to make a trim dive and found no serious leaks.  She stayed down all day to rest the crew and then returned to port.

What happened to the PUFFER’s machinery and the detail of corrective measures is of little lasting interest.  In another war submarines may not have main motors, or storage batteries, or plugs in sea valve castings, or gaskets in the main induction valves.  What is of paramount concern is how her officers and men stood up under it, how they behaved, and what they were thinking about.  The minds of men can be conditioned by drill, traing and education.  The disciplined crew is not very apt to panic.  They will continue to behave in a rational manner long after an unorganized body of men would have destroyed themselves.  But the mental reaction of men under great stress does not change with times.  It was an old story when The Roman Legions felt the ground shaking under the approach of Hannibal’s elephants.  But is was also new when the Japanese Officers at Hiroshima saw the blinding light of the exploding atomic bomb, for each man reacts differently to the same situation.  (The “Fight or Flight” response has been understood since the 1930’s as the result of short term stress induced by an adrenaline rush. The effects of prolonged stress are startle responses, hyper alertness, inability to concentrate, insomnia or interrupted sleep patterns, and flashes of anger or irritability.)

With the air conditioning shut down the temperature within the ship went to a high figure.  A temperature of 125° F. was reported in the maneuvering room. The after torpedo room and the engine room were the coolest parts of the ship.  The forward torpedo room was practically unbearable.  The humidity must have been very high, but higher in the cooler rooms than in the hot spots like the maneuvering room and the conning tower.  The decks and bulkheads became clammy with condensed moisture.  Rivulets of sweat would form and follow right behind a towel rubbed over a man’s body.  (This was probably not exclusively sweat, but condensation of moisture from the saturated humid air on the cooler skin, much like the bulkheads.)

Although the temperature in the after torpedo room was probably well over 100°F. men going from the maneuvering room to the after torpedo room reported that they shivered and shook from the chill.  The human body possesses no mechanism for reducing its temperature below ambient wet bulb temperature.  It is therefore very probable that in such places as the maneuvering room the men had a high fever.  Although there were no reports of delirium the sudden chill may have been an indication that such fever did exist.  The liquids available for drink, fruit juices coffee or water, soon reached room temperature.  Frequently swallowing these liquids induced vomiting, yet thirst was so great the men were constantly drinking, vomiting, and then drinking again.  (The men I have interviewed don’t recall a great deal of vomiting, but some sickness did take place.)  Profuse sweating and difficulty in keeping liquids down produced severe dehydration in many cases.  No one cared to eat anything.

The bucket brigade struggled against the mounting water in the motor room bilges and against extreme fatigue.  As the hours wore on the air commenced to get bad.  Both CO2 absorbent and oxygen were used but despite that the air was very foul toward the end of the dive. (On the morning of October 9th the evening meal of rabbit had been removed from the freezer. The smell of the deteriorating meat added greatly to the foul smell-Charlie Brown, cook.)  Breathing was very difficult and headache was severe.  An officer making the rounds from control room to after torpedo room had to stop and rest several times on the journey.  A good many of the men were in a state of physical collapse.  From the stupor in which they sank, it became impossible to arouse them to go on watch.  (There were some who recalled that Cmdr Jensen at some point retired to his cabin, letting Hess and Bernard manage the situation until the boat was ready to surface.  To paraphrase his comments, “I’ve done all I can do.  If you know how to pray, pray.”) Toward the end, stations were manned by volunteers, and by men who had the stamina and the will to move and think.  Many of the others were past the stage of caring what happened.

The physical conditions were severe and had much to do with the mental reactions.  Both officers and men state the first mental reaction was anger.  They were mad at everything and anything.  They were particularly mad at themselves for allowing themselves to be caught in such a situation.  They cursed themselves for being such fools as to serve in submarines.  The cursed the enemy for their persistence.  They spent much time day dreaming abut what they could do to the torpedo boat above them – discussing such fantastic ideas as discharging acid around the ship to eat holes in the hull.  There is no doubt but the necessity of taking a beating without being able to fight back made a lifetime impression on the minds of the men.

Suspense was the hardest thing to bear.  The officers state that because of this, the ordeal was harder on the men than it was on the officers.  The officers, when on watch, were in the conning tower or control room.  They then knew the proximity of the enemy, the state of the battery, what was being done to evade and in general were busy in some manner or other.  On the other hand, men not engaged in some useful task could only sit and think, and frequently lacked information.  To remedy this, officers occasionally went through the boat and told the men what was happening.  The use of the public address system was annoying to many and a feeling existed that the noise of it might disclose the location of the submarine.  The conning tower telephone talker described what was happening to the other talkers on the fire control telephone circuit.  This was the best method of spreading the word and later became the standard practice.

The universal advice the men would give to anyone else who might have to go through a similar experience is “Find something to do to keep busy.”  To idle men, it was unbearable to realize that an hour or so had gone by since the last attack, and another would soon be due.  (The later depth charges were timed approximately one or two hours apart.  One crewmember suggested the Japanese skipper had a psychology degree from a U.S. university. Truth or myth?  I have been unable to find the name of the Chidori (maybe Kiji) or its captain.  Another crewmember suggested the ship PUFFER torpedoed was the last of a convoy, and the destroyer captain was taking out his frustrations on the PUFFER.)  Then to hear the screws on the approaching vessel, the pinging of her echo ranging as she deliberately and methodically probed for the submarine, finally the rush of racing screws, and the shattering detonation of a salvo of depth charges carried the suspense to a maddening pitch.  (One crew member climbed the escape hatch ladder in an attempt to escape, would hit his head, fall down, and then got up and tried the same futile escape again and again.)

None of the officers report any difficulty in reaching decisions, pointing out however that no close or rapid fire decisions were called for.  The major issue was whether or not to surface and fight it out with the deck gun – a truly desperate action with a Chidori.   (Russell Tidd felt this action was not seriously considered for any length of time. This action would have been totally futile.  The list to port due to the flooding of the induction would have delayed accurate firing of the gun  In addition the breach cover of the deck gun was damaged by the depth charges rendering the gun useless.-Walter Mazzone, photo.  Cmdr. Jensen reported in the war patrol report difficulty in training the gun after prolonged submergence.  The deck wood was swollen making it difficult to rotate the gun on its mount.)  The next possible question involved a choice between speeding up for evasion action, or conserving the remaining battery and waiting until dark.  In this connection one of the enlisted men reports that he was asked by somebody to vote for or against an immediate rise to the surface.  He reported that he was willing to go along with either way but he refused to accept the responsibility of committing himself one way or the other.

There seems to have been little active advocacy of a gun action in daylight.  PUFFER carried a three inch gun.  Several of the men thought that the armament was inadequate and that with a pair of five inch guns they could have made a good account of themselves on the surface.  (PUFFER was fitted with a 5 inch gun after the fourth war patrol.  With the deck gun placed forward of the conning tower it makes it difficult to use when attempting to flee the enemy.  Some submarines were equipped with both fore and aft guns later in the war.)  Actually a submarine in a geographical position of PUFFER could hardly risk a gun duel with a Chidori.  The desire for having deck armament seems to spring from a psychological abhorrence of sitting still and taking it without being able to fight back.  One man was reported to have suggested flooding everything and getting it over with quickly in sort of a mass suicide for the ship and crew.  Another man received a minor cut but painful injury and he quite evidently was incapable of understanding what went on about him toward the end of the dive.

Both officers and men seem to have reached the conclusion that they would never come out of it.  The persistence with which the enemy located and relocated the submarine (for about 24 hours) forced them to this conclusion.  This feeling was climaxed when after being at deep submergence for many hours, all hands were ordered to put on life jackets.  In the engine room one of the men broke out of his locker three cans of pineapple juice and passed them around.  (Battery readings by EM Robert Anderson did not even register on the hydrometer after 35 hours. It would soon be over.)  It was on longer necessary to save anything “for when things got worse.”  (Lt. William Pugh was ready to give away the money in his locker, he had no need for it.  He was also preparing to destroy documents as soon as enough air was present to burn the paper.)  Everyone questioned has vivid recollection of the tremendous psychological blow caused by the order to don life jackets.  The order was given to provide for a sudden contingence which might force them to the surface.  (Walter Mazzone recalls the order being given immediately prior to surfacing.  If the engines could not be fired up or the flooded induction caused the boat to capsize, it would be necessary to abandon ship.  Waiting at deep submergence was terrible, but a known quantity. The unexpected events that would occur on the surface might be worse.  The donning of life jackets merely coincided with this realization.  Many of the men expected the Chidori to be waiting on the surface to end it all.)  Experience proved that in such cases more men would be saved if they were in life jackets.  The adverse effect experienced on this occasion points to the necessity of some preparation being made in advance before the order is given.  (IF the order to put on life jackets had followed the order to surface, I suspect the mental impact would have been the same.  A week earlier the crew had made plans to scuttle the boat when stuck on a reef.  Scuttling the PUFFER or its sinking probably seemed inevitable in the fragile mental state of the crew. Most had given up hope.  In their fragile mental state some men probably came to the false conclusion the boat was going to sink.)  It cannot be too strongly stressed that the mental state of the crew of a submarine is one of the greatest factors in determining whether or not she will win through.

There is practically universal agreement that it was a mistake to shut down the air conditioning.  A submarine crew in such a tight situation is very allergic to noise, a squeaky pair of sandals being recalled by one man.  Nevertheless they would all take the noise of operation of the air conditioning machine in preference to enduring the heat and humidity.  (Who wouldn’t?  And if the air conditioning had been left on, the PUFFER would have been forced to surface sooner in the close proximity to the Chidori.  The events that follow from that decision could have been fatal to all involved.)  They feel that the additional noise is less dangerous than the slowed down mental reaction of extreme fatigue.

Despite the fact there was nothing for many of them to do they got very little sleep.  An officer states that in four hours off watch he got a nap of about fifteen minutes.  He recalls bitterly because the nap was broken by being awakened to don life jackets.  They spent all the time they could, huddled around anything that was comparatively cool, hunched against an uninsulated portion of the hull or wrapped around an exposed circulation water pipe.  (Since evaporation of sweat was impossible in the extremely humid environment with no movement of air, the only way to cool the body was through conduction.)

After surfacing and getting out of danger they recovered physically with great rapidity.  (With no batteries the PUFFER was committed to at least 6 hours on the surface, come what may.  Upon surfacing the boat had a severe list to port from the tons of water flooding the induction. It took a couple of minutes to get the conning tower hatch open.  Quartermaster Charlie Brockhausen and the officers went out the conning tower hatch and the forward torpedo room hatch was also opened.  Fortunately the Chidori was gone. Unfortunately there was a near full moon hanging high in the sky.  As luck would have it the PUFFER was in the shadow of a bank of large clouds that form daily in the tropics around evening time, as evaporated ocean water hits the cooling night air.    The two open hatches supplied enough air to get one of the diesels engines running and revive the crew.  Within an hour the induction was drained and the bilge pumps now had power to remove the water quickly.  When the induction was drained the other three diesels were fired up, and the boat was brought back into trim.  This process took what seemed like an eternity to Ken Dobson. Radar contact was made with a patrol boat within 15 minutes.  The captain performed a reverse end around, putting the PUFFER between the land and the patrol boat, and presented a minimum silhouette while making the escape.   Within twenty four hours they were normal physically.  For days however they were very nervous.  No one had much of an appetite for a day or two. If the diving officer wanted to cycle the vents, he had to pass the word quietly through the boat before hand.  The noise of opening the vents, without primary warning would bring every man out of his bunk standing.

There were several important suggestions by the officers.  When a submarine had gone through such an experience, the crew should be broken up.  (Although there was a 50 % turn over in officers after the first war patrol, the number of enlisted men leaving was only slightly more than the  typical movement of crewmembers to new boats or temporarily to relief crews, about 25% of a crew.  20 out of 70 enlisted men left the PUFFER, about 29 %.) The common experience of such an ordeal knits them together in such a bond that no one else can penetrate the inner circle.  Men who subsequently made several patrols on PUFFER were still not members of the gang, if they hadn’t been through THE depth charging.  (My father came on the PUFFER on the second war patrol and found no such clique in the after torpedo room.  There was no talk about the first war patrol; it was the “Silent Service.”  After a year and a half on the PUFFER, he still knew no details of the first war patrol.)  Another point well brought out:  Be careful and slow to form an estimate of man’s value until he had been observed under stress.  To a great extent the men who were on their feet, working to save themselves and the ship, when the long dive was over, were not the normal leaders of the crew.  The people who lasted out were those of a more phlegmatic (indifferent) disposition who didn’t bother too much when things were running smoothly.  The worriers and hurriers had all crapped out leaving the plodders to bring home the ship.  (Maybe more accurately, the dozen or so men and officers who were able to withstand the brutal physical and mental environment were able to get the PUFFER to the surface.)


Clay Blair in “Silent Victory” states on page 501:

When Puffer came into port, Christie had nothing but praise for the ship and her captain.  He wrote in his diary that “strength of character…skill and experience and knowledge, the excellent state of training, saved the ship….  A brilliant job carried through by guts determination and the inspired example of the Commanding Officer.  (Tidd recalled Admiral Christie flying beer to Darwin at altitude, so it would be cold when it arrived.  John Allen mentioned bar fights among the crew upon return to Fremantle, but the cause was uncertain.)

Christie’s staff, meanwhile, conducted a thorough investigation of the episode.  Those taking testimony then discovered the extent to which Jensen had lost control of the crew.  (I have not been able to find a person that was interviewed.  Men were unable to stand watch because they could not, not because they would not.  Cmdr. Jensen may not have instilled the greatest confidence among his crew, but there did not seem to be a loss of control of the crew.  A couple of crew members snapped under the pressure, but there was not a loss of control.  More likely, considering Jensen’s depth charging and bombing experiences on the Thresher, and the events on the Puffer, he had lost confidence in his ability to command a submarine.  P.G. Nichols in notes by Blair for his book “Silent Victory”(but not mentioned in the book) indicated Jensen was “all shook up” after returning from the first war patrol  The bond of mutual trust and confidence between crew and skipper was no longer present.  Walter Mazzone recalled the grumbling started after the Puffer had run aground a few days earlier.  The 38 hours of submergence and depth charging only reconfirmed the feelings of the crew about the Cmdr.)  In view of this and other factors, one Puffer officer suggested that the wardroom and crew be scattered to other boats.  This was done, in part; Jensen was relieved of command, becoming an assistant to Murray Tichenor, but Hess remained as exec.  Command of the Puffer fell to Gordon Selby, who had been exec on the first patrol of the Billfish.

For Selby, Puffer was a big challenge.  Later he wrote, “I didn’t have time to think about much of anything but training since I had a 50 percent turnover in officers, and (29 percent) turnover in crew.  And it was not only ‘training’ but ‘retraining’ since I felt it necessary to change attack procedures and various other things for psychological reasons.”  Jensen had used the “the system of making approaches wherein the XO calls the periscope observation which leaves the CO free to concentrate on maneuvering the ship to the best attainable position and insure all other details of fireing are correct.”  (War Patrol Remarks).  This is the same technique used earlier in 1943 by Richard O’Kane and “Muss” Morton on the Wahoo with great success.  Ironically the Wahoo was lost October 11, 1943, a day after the Puffer escaped.  O’Kane was no longer on the Wahoo.  He later commanded the Tang.

Jensen’s Post Puffer Service

Cmdr. Jensen was awarded the Silver Star for his service on the Puffer.  The citation states, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as Commanding Officer of the USS PUFFER during the First War Patrol of that vessel in enemy controlled waters.  Directing his ship courageously and with exceptional skill throughout twenty-four hours of intense enemy depth charging attacks, he maintained his vessel at periscope depth and pressed home his attacks boldly and with heroic aggressiveness, destroying a valuable enemy merchantman.  Although his submarine sustained severe damage during the vigorous engagement, he nevertheless returned her safe to base under her own power, thereby saving one of the important units of the Fleet for further service…”

For a year he was Assistant for Submarine Operations on the Staff of Commander Submarines, SEVENTH FLEET, and received a Letter of Commendation from the Commander SEVENTH FLEET as follows:  “For distinguishing himself by excellent service as Assistant Operations Officer on the Staff of Commander Submarines, SEVENTH FLEET and Commander Task Force 71 during the period of November 1943 to November 1944.  He demonstrated great mental alertness in directing of the complete submarine operations of this Force, and was in large measure responsible for the successful interception of two large enemy task forces which were bound on a mission to surprise and frustrate the offensive operations of our forces in the Philippine Islands…”  He remained in the Pacific until the end of hostilities in August 1945 with duty on the Staff of Commander SEVENTH FLEET.  He was in Naval Intelligence for 1945 to 1948, served in Turkey in submarine training the Turkish Navy, commanded USS ANCILLA and USS MISSISSINEWA, and served in various other capacities until retirement in 1959 and was advanced to Rear Admiral on the basis of combat awards.  (Navy Office of Information, Biographies Branch, 22 May 1958)  RAdm. Jensen died in 1993 at the age of 84.

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