John Clear EMC(SS) USN Ret.

April 24, 2007

 

Much has been written over the years regarding the USS Sealion SS-195 and her ill-fated trip into destinyís pages, she being our first submarine casualty in World War II.The Sealion was effectively sunk at Sangley Point, Republic of the Philippines by Japanese bombs within 48 hours of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.At this point in time, December 10, 1941 (local), the stories take many different directions, however some facts remain, most important of which was that four crew members were killed at their stations on that fateful morning.Those killed were; Sterling C. Foster EM1, Melvin D. OíConnell EM1, Ernest E. Ogilvie, and Vallentyne L. Paul EM3 (just 17 years old).It is at this point, amid much confusion that different versions of the Sealionís ultimate end actually begin.

 

One immediate omission of that morning was the fact that even though we were now ďofficiallyĒ at war with Japan and that they had started bombing Manila two days before, the Sealionís engineering officer, Ltjg. Eli T. Reich, was not aboard overseeing the much needed completion of repairs.He had been invited to lunch aboard the flag yacht anchored in Manila Bay and ended up viewing the bombing at Cavite from that vantage point.Reich later became the Commanding Officer of the 2nd USS Sealion SS-315 and paved the road for her many sterling war records.

 

 

Next on the list of what actually happened was the scuttling of the submarine by our own forces to prevent her use in any way by the Japanese.By most correct accounts, the boat was down hard by the stern in mud and debris, listing toward starboard.Over the next two weeks, when possible, various gear was removed from the wreck such as the TDC from the conning tower, the Mark 19 gyro, and even the health records aboard.The after half of the boat was inaccessible and the bodies of the four crew members remained there (another fact not commonly known).It was on Christmas Day 1941 that charges were placed in the forward end of the sub and she was scuttled, in place where she had been first hit outboard of the USS Seadragon who was tied to the sea wall at that time. (another previous point of difference).

 

 

There the story goes on hold for about four years until warís end. The Philippines were retaken and the build up of previously held positions such as the Cavite, Sangley Point area.

 

 

 

The above pictures of the Sealion were taken at warís end.In the 2nd the conning tower is clearly seen in place, even providing a perch for a local fisherman.The starboard list is still apparent.

 

It was about at this point that I had thoughtI knew where the Sealion could be located ďuntilĒ I found the following two pictures posted on the internet as donated by Rich Crank ENCS USN Ret.

 

 

 

At this point I located Rich Crank in South Carolina and started emailing questions to him which he immediately answered back without hesitation or delay.One of my first questions was in regards to the relative position shown for the Sealion, it didnít look quite right as to the previous pictures taken during and just after the war (above).Rich was able to confirm that the wreck had been moved around the pier (east side) to facilitate pier side services needed for the salvage at that point.The picture below from google earth shows the original position in white checks to the salvage work position with yellow checks.

 

 

This original location was also confirmed by Joe Jordon who had been stationed there aboard a tug boat that tied up nose to wreck many a time.Joe said that the wreck would be covered in about 10 to 15 feet of water at high tide.

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(The following are the questions asked and answers provided by Rich Crank ENCS USN Ret. regarding the 1959 salvage of the USS Sealion)

 

Q: Some of the submarine historians say the remains of the four killed on the USS Sealion when initially bombed in 1941 were removed (prior to the 1959 salvage.

A: The skeletal remains we found were found scattered throughout the boat. We simply gathered all of them, bagged them up and they were shipped off to someplace unknown to me. I assume they were shipped to Hawaii but I am only guessing. Only two skulls were found and I do not recall how many of each other body parts were recovered.

 

Q: I have read the first person report of the engineering officer, Eli Reich who just passes by the whole subject saying the stern was deep in the mud.

 

A: The entire boat was buried in mud except for portions of the superstructure. That inlet between Cavite City and Sangley air station had been dredged after the war according to a conversation I had with by boss (W4 Bosín Gorden Perkins) once. The silt had been pumped to the end of the peninsula between the air strip runway and where the Sea Lion was located. This could explain why it was so deep in mud, plus the fact that entire inlet was very deep in a mucky type of mud. It wasnít a sandy bottom.

 

Q: and the crew had set charges in the forward torpedo room to scuttle her on Christmas day 1941.

 

A: There was evidence of internal explosions.

 

Q: Was there a Navy salvage directive to reference the salvage?

 

A: There was no salvage directive issued that I am aware of outside the local command. During my time there the Cavite Navy Yard no longer existed. It was nothing more than a small vessel and boat repair facility.

 

This was a case where the small diving unit there didn't really have a job to do. I wasn't attached to the diving unit even though I was a qualified Salvage Diver having attended the Salvage Diving school at the old Naval Gun Factory  at Washington, D. C. three years previously. I was attached to the staff of COMNAVFORPHIL in charge of the staff boat pool. I had 16 men and four boats so I didn't have much of a job either.

 

I believe what they did ( this is not fact) was simply get permission from the Commander Naval Forces Philippines who was headquartered there at the Naval Air Station, Sangley Point. Sangley and the Cavite Repair facility were side by side at the same location.

 

Bare in mind that the majority of enlisted personal work force stationed there were left over WWII sailors. They were known as the Insular Force.American sailors were in the minority.

 

Q: What happened to any personal effects?

 

A: All personal effects that could be identified as belonging to a crew member by name were boxed and shipped to surviving family members. Here again, I was just told this and don't know for fact that it was shipped off to where they said it would go. There were two good conduct medals that were supposedly boxed and shipped off to family members.

 

Many of the personnel stationed there gathered one or more souvenirs, either something of a personal nature or a part of the Sub. I never kept anything for myself. I only wanted the photographs I took. The Filipino sailors took about all that was not permanently attached.

 

During and after the salvage of the boat there was no historical value placed or discussed about the vessel other than the Japs had wiped out the repair facility and bombed the sub. The general attitude of the wheels in power was, "It's a piece of junk, letís get it up and get it the hell out of the way." The officer in charge of the repair facility was a LCDR Barr. He was also the diving officer but was not a qualified diver.

 

The boat was still afloat when I was transferred back to the states. Before I left there was talk of either cutting it up for scrap or towing it out to deep water and sinking again. My guess is that it was taken out and sank in deep water at some location off of Corregidor. There are some deep holes in that part of the oceans. 

 

I wish I could remember names of the personnel I worked with over there but the only one I remember is the O in C which I mentioned previously. It's odd that I remember 95 percent of the names of shipmates from the first ship I was on and don't remember a hand full of names from all the other ships and duty stations except ones who  became a close friend.

 

Q: Did this LCDR Barr get his orders from ComNavForPhil directly?

 

A: I am going to state the following but please do not accept it as fact because I am relying solely on memory which is not my best asset these days.I seem to recall that LCDR Barr and the repair officer who was a W-3 Warrant Officer and I do not recall his name, along with the divers pestering the both of them for lack of anything else to do, they wanted to salvage the sub just to move it from alongside the dock claiming it was a hazard to the small craft docking there. That was BS because there were 25 feet of water and nothing ever docked there with a draft greater than 15 feet.

 

LCDR Barr's boss was the CO of Naval Air Station, Sangley Point, P. I. Captain McCallister and of course McCallister's boss was COMNAVFORPHIL. I don't recall that Rear Admiral's name. The way it seemed to me at the time LCDR Barr simply requested permission through the chain of command up to COMNAVFORPHIL and the Admiral gave the go ahead. I doubt very seriously if the request went any higher up the chain of command than COMNAVFORPHIL. Again, please understand that I am just assuming this based on what little I was aware of during the planning stage. I realize how important facts are to you vs. "Ole granny tales"  or "Sea Stories" in cases like this. I don't want to be found guilty of distorting historical facts in any way or fashion.

 

All high ranking officers attached to COMNAVFORPHIL and the Naval Air Station were aviators. The majority of American enlisted men were also aviators. I am sure you are aware of the attitude aviators had towards surface and sub sailors back then.

 

Iíve copied the photo (sent) and marked the X's of the subs location. The bow of the sub was pointed towards the end of the peninsula (seaward). Evidently the sub had been tied at the sea wall there.

 

That dock where that vessel is tied up to alongside the X's was not there then. The old dock had been dismantled and removed and a new one built in its place to serve as the enlisted menís boat loading dock. The smaller dock to the left was there during my time.

 

There was a ramp at that end of the runway where the P5M planes were launched. It looks as though a seawall has replaced it. The circle structures were fuel storage tanks. The large building with the blue roof near the left was the NX and commissary.

 

Q: I hadn't realized based on some pictures from 1945 that so much water was "over" the hull when it was raised.  What else can you add to that portion? was it brought up in pieces, whole? 

 

A: The boat was brought to the surface in one piece. There was just barely enough hull damage to sink the vessel in the beginning. Two 100 ton cranes and air bags were used to bring it to the surface after the hull was patched up. 

 

Q: Was it placed on barges?

 

A: No.

 

Q: Is there anyway to find out if it was cut up or towed out to be sunk in deeper water? 

 

A: I am guessing it was towed out to the open sea by a tug brought down from Subic Bay But, I don't know that for fact. The distance from Sangley to the deep waters of the ocean off of Corregidor is only about 30 nautical miles if my memory serves me right. 

 

I am going to list several factors and you can draw your own conclusions from that.

 

Even with the use of two 100 ton cranes it would be impossible to lift the sub to land or placed on a barge. Bare in mind decreasing the angle of crane booms decreases the lifting capacity. The cranes could not be placed too close to the sea wall for fear of caving in and the cranes falling into the water. When two cranes are lifting the same object their swing is very limited.

 

Larger cranes were available at the Subic shipyard but that would have meant the shipyard would have been without cranes for at least two months considering the time it would have taken to disassemble, load on barges, tow to Sangley, reassemble, lift the sub, disassemble, load back on barges, ship back to Subic and reassemble again.I don't think so.

 

Cutting the steel away above the water line and gutting the insides to reduce weight while the sub was in the water would have been too hazardous.

 

The workers would have been Filipino Insular Force personnel and those were the slowest and laziest group of individuals I ever encountered in my entire life. When you gave one a job to do you had to explain it down to the minor details then even stand over him to make sure it was done correctly. Chief Balandra was the only one I ever had any respect for and even he wasn't the most ambitious person I knew. At their pace it would have taken 1-1/2 to 2 years for them to cut it up. The sub had been gone long before I left there sometime early 1961.

 

I do not believe any man in his right mind would have ordered the sub cut up by inexperienced personnel. I even believe LCDR Barr had more sense than that. Cutting into an empty fuel tank is far more hazardous than cutting into a full one.

 

What other options are left?.Your guess is as good as mine.

 

I did hear with my own ears during a group discussion, the option of towing the sub out to deep waters and sinking it. 

 

All this is based on my civilian experience with cranes and all other construction equipment. I was the southeastern district maintenance supt. for Kiewit Corp. for many years before I retired in 1994. Equipment we have today was unheard of back then.

 

Q: Between what dates would you estimate the Sealion went "missing"?

 

A: Near as I could estimate would be first part of 1960.

 

Q: What tug(s) were around at that time that could have taken the 30 mile or so journey with her to deeper water?

 

A tug would have had to come from Subic Bay. The repair facility at Sangley did have two mike boats (LCM's). They could have used those.

 

Q: Was there any official name to the dive group other than just being a diving locker per se?

 

A: No, two divers were assigned there in case one of the P5M patrol planes should crash while landing on the water. VP 40 had a squadron of P5M's assigned to Sangley to keep track of the Russian Trawlers sailing around in the South China Sea.

 

Q: Did you personally see those human remains (the 2 skulls and bones et al)? 

 

A: The only bones I personally laid eyes on was a rib cage and some other bones. The BM2 diver told me about the other.

 

Q: If so, how were they treated?

 

A: Casually I would say. 

 

Q:Was the Sealion's full pressure hull (other than the bomb damage aft and the scuttle breaches forward) intact (the full circle)?

 

A: Yes.

Q: You have previously said that they had her afloat and the photos seem to confirm that... Was the interior pumped out pretty much and washed down where one could walk around inside to some degree?  (it seems that it would almost have to be so in order to locate souvenirs et al).

 

A: It had been pumped out but the sub was full of mud and silt. It got cleaned to the point where only water and sludge were present. P-500's were used to pump the water out. 8 or 10 were used; I don't recall the exact number. Two days after the sub was on the surface I had to go back to my regular job at the staff boat pool. I spent quite a bit of time away from Sangley after that serving as a go-fer for the Admiral and some of the staff officers.

 

Q: With the two attached pictures and the google earth locater we have used previously; the two photos show a (big, white) pier between the Sealion and the end of the point (open bay), does that still conform with your check marks or would they be better placed to the left of that pier? 

 

A: The sub had sunk on the opposite side of that pier you see in the photo. When it was raised it was immediately moved to the opposite side which was more convenient to get at. 

 

When I first submitted those photos of the Sea Lion I received a simple thank you note from a Rear Admiral and that was it. No questions nor comments from him. I expected hundreds of questions and was better prepared to answer them then than now. Oh well, I guess he had other priorities.

 

That pier you see in the photo was the enlisted men's boat landing. Boats traveled from there to Manila and return three times daily as a convenience for the sailors and their dependents

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The following is an email received from Everett Butler YNC(SS) USN Ret., crew member of USS Sealion SS-195.

 

I have looked at the last two photos of 195.  Black and white do you know from what position it was taken.  It looks like it could be from off the port bow.

 

The periscopes would be aft and the after part of conning tower was destroyed by bomb hit.  However unless demolition charges forward also removed forward bulkhead of conning tower I donít see a hatch opening from bridge to conning tower.

 

Have been looking at other pics of Sealion taken from off starboard quarter but cant make out spacing of scopes, some of the prewar subs had a yardarm for call sign flags donít know what Sealion had.

 

The HM was able to salvage our health records from the after battery, I had mine when I reported on board Sailfish a week later.  Have no idea where the deceased crew members records may have ended.

 

Do you know if the B&W picture is at the location Sealion was hit on Dec 10th.

 

I will keep digging around my stuff and scratch my noodle and see what might pop up.

 

As far as I know all of the Sealion crew got out of manila on the boats that came, Sailfish picked up three or four in Tjilijap Java in Fed 42, UTZ the COB of 315 was one of them.  He died in Baltimore several years ago.  About 6 or 7 were at a SubVetWW2 national convention in Hartford in 1970 or 71.  I knew a couple but they couldnít place me until I told them that I was TAD to Canopus to modify pistons for main engines before the beginning of the yard overhaul.

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In conclusion to this gathering of information regarding the fate of the USS Sealion SS-195, I seem to have come up with more questions than I had originally started with, the most glaring I offer the reader are;

 

(1)            How could any local (aviation) command authorize the salvage, removal of remains and disposal of this submarine?This was a United States submarine (sic: ship of war) with crew members remains still aboard!

 

(2)            What happened to the wreck of the Sealion, where is her final resting place?