Frustrated submarine crew off Tokyo Bay

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The new U. S. Submarine Trigger began her combat career in the Battle of Midway in May-June 1942 by running aground on a reef with the Japanese fleet or aircraft expected momentarily. She finally worked free, but with a gaping hole that required a return to dry dock at Pearl.

Following repairs she made aggressive patrols and sank a number of ships. She experienced the frustration of most American submarines of having torpedoes fail. Admiral Lockwood in the spring of 1942 tested torpedoes and found they ran eleven feet deeper than set, so the crews he commanded adjusted their depth settings. Torpedoes continued to “premature” or explode shortly after leaving the submarine and long before getting to the target, often shaking up the submarine. Other torpedoes could be seen and heard to hit the target but not explode. All of these exploder problems were being researched when on June 10, 1943 Trigger under command of Roy Benson was patrolling off the big naval bases of Tokyo Bay.

The code breakers notified Trigger that a new aircraft carrier was coming out of Tokyo Bay with destroyer escort on trials. Trigger intercepted, ducked under the destroyer escorts, and from the ideal range of 1,200 yards fired six torpedoes, then dove deep to escape retribution. Her crew heard four distinct explosions. Depth charges rained down on them, keeping them deep. They returned to Pearl Harbor without seeing the results of their attack. Meanwhile, the code breakers at Pearl Harbor had listened in and knew that only one torpedo had hit for damage, but the damage was serious enough that a tug had to tow the cripple back into Tokyo Bay.

That experience shattered any remaining hope or confidence in the magnetic exploder, and Admiral Lockwood ordered it deactivated and discarded.

After the war an officer who was on the bridge of the new aircraft carrier, the Hiyo, wrote to Edward Beach who had written a book about his experiences on the Trigger to describe what happened on the Hiyo. Her skipper turned the wrong way to avoid torpedoes. Two passed ahead of the Hiyo, another prematured, another hit near the bow and exploded, doing little damage. A fifth hit the ship but did not explode. The sixth hit the ship near the engine rooms and caused extensive damage, so all fires had to be put out, so there was no power.

Admiral Lockwood wrote his superiors in Washington of the frustration of traveling across the Pacific to Tokyo Bay to find your torpedoes do not work, since that could just as easily have been discovered by tests in the water off the Rhode Island torpedo facility.

Trigger had more productive war patrols, and in late 1944 Beach was detached to become executive officer of the new Tirante. During her first patrol in March 1945 she daringly entered a harbor on the surface at night to sink three ships. Days later she was told to contact Trigger for cooperative patrol, but Trigger did not answer repeated radio messages, and Beach was devastated at the repeated silence after calls to Trigger.

The attack on Hiyo led to a story, that one of our submarines slipped into Tokyo Bay to see a new carrier launched and torpedoed and sank it.