For the captain and crew of the USS Salmon, the events of October 30, 1944 probably felt more than just a little like their own spin on Das Boot. If you’ve seen that classic movie, you know the crew of the Salmon had some serious danger that day. If you haven’t seen it, you now have a two-part homework assignment: find Das Boot…watch Das Boot. Out on what was her 11th patrol of the war, she was near the Ryukyu Islands (you might recognize Okinawa as the main island) with a couple of other submarines. On this night, the group attacked Jinei Maru, a Japanese tanker, and all three subs scored hits.
But like most wartime surface vessels, Jinei Maru was guarded by escorts, and they immediately responded to the threat. The subs separated and the Salmon received a severe depth-charging, which crippled her. Quoting NavSource.org, “This case of damage can be considered one of the most serious to have been survived by any U.S. submarine during World War II. Pressure hull deformation was extensive in way of both engine rooms.” She began taking on water, slipping deeper into the darkness and closer to her doom. The crew probably watched in growing horror as the needle on the big depth-o-meter drooped past 300 feet (the typical test depth for which WWII-era subs were rated), then 350, then 400. It wasn’t until a hull-crushing 500 feet that the dive was finally checked.
With his sub damaged and buoyancy compromised, the captain had no choice but to surface and take his chances, badly outgunned and wounded. They opened their hatches at the surface and found themselves undetected in the darkness, but with the nearest enemy vessel little more than four miles away. For several hours they feverishly worked to make repairs, but then their time was up…the enemy had found them and was closing fast.
The captain of the Salmon, possibly taking a lesson from Commander Evans just a couple of days before, turned his sub toward the enemy and attacked…on the surface…at full speed. Passing within a couple of hundred feet of the Japanese escort CD-22, she let loose with everything she had, which amounted to some machine guns and the deck-mounted 3-incher. They raked the escort’s structure and kept right on going at maximum speed, finding an ever-so-friendly rain squall waiting to mask their escape.
And escape they did…all the way to Saipan, where clean clothes and repair facilities awaited the fortunate crew. The USS Salmon wouldn’t take to the water again until the war had ended, but her final encounter at sea had been perilous, and one from which most submarines didn’t survive.