Daily Event for February 7, 2012

USS Growler SS-215 was on her fourth war patrol northwest of Rabaul on February 7, 1943, when they sighted a ship about 2,000 yards off the starboard bow. The boat was brought around to make a torpedo attack. About the same time the unknown vessel must have sighted the submarine (which was on the surface) and turned toward the boat evidently to attack. On the conning tower her captain, Commander Howard W. Gilmore, shouted down "left full rudder" and sounded the collision alarm. Growler was moving at 17 knots and Gilmore, rather than be rammed amidships, turned his boat and rammed the vessel almost head on. The force of the collision rolled Growler to 50° and threw everyone off their feet. Eighteen feet of Growler's bows were bent to port and there was much other damage to the boat. She was taking water and had about 6' in the control room and more in the pump room.

At the same time that the collision occurred, the Japanese began to rake the Growler with machine gun fire, the bullets killed two men, and wounded three others, including Gilmore. The order "Clear the bridge" was given, by Gilmore, and the wounded were helped to get below. Before they could submerge the Executive Officer, Lt. Commander Arnold F. Schade, waited below for Gilmore to come down, but he was mortally wounded and did not appear. Gilmore shouted down through the hatch "Take her down" and Schade closed the hatch and the boat submerged and left Gilmore to his fate. For his heroism Gilmore received the Medal of Honor, the first U.S. submariner to receive the award. And this is how the story has been told.

Schade assumed command of the boat and signaled his intention to return to base for repairs, for his leadership he was awarded the Navy Cross. Growler was repaired and made six more war patrols, she was lost on her eleventh and last patrol on Nov. 8, 1944 with all hands.

The attacker has been identified in several sources as the Kinesaki class auxiliary Hayasaki (920 tons), which survived the war and was later turned over to Russia. Schade reported that the ship which they engaged was of 2,500 tons. When Schade surfaced thirty minuets later there was no sign of any vessel in sight and it was assumed that the ship sank, but there was also no sign of survivors or debris that might be expected after a ship sinks.

There is one aspect of the story that has more than one ending. In his Medal of Honor citation (and every published account I have been able to find about this event) it is stated that Gilmore, wounded and dying, was not able to get below and gave the order "Take her down." However in the war patrol log submitted by Schade on Feb. 17, 1943 this version was not mentioned. Shade wrote only this;

"The O.O.D. and quartermaster descended followed by two wounded survivors who were pulled through the conning tower hatch. About 30 seconds elapsed. No one else appeared at the hatch. Sounded the diving alarm, closed the hatch. Submerged. The Commanding Officer, Assistant O.O.D. and one lookout were left on the bridge. It is believed they were killed by enemy gun fire and washed overboard."

In the war diary, Schade, clearly states that he thought that Gilmore and the other two men were dead, because "No one appeared at the hatch." And it was he, Schade, who decided to dive the boat. He does not mention an order from Gilmore to "Take Her Down."

Schade also singles out Lt. L. L. Davis as being; "deserving of much credit for cool and able handling of the ship during the dive under extremely adverse conditions." Why Schade would include the two orders given by Gilmore (left full rudder and Clear the bridge) and the actions of Lt. Davis and omit "Take Her Down," this most famous of all orders is unclear to me.

I have noticed one other thing, the two other men who were killed in the action are mentioned only occasionally and it gives the impression that only Gilmore remained outside the boat when she went under. I have no way of knowing if these two men were killed instantly or were still alive when Growler submerged, however neither were decorated.
© 2012 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honor
In memory of those who lost their lives in
USS Growler SS-215
February 7, 1943
"Their Names Are Forever Etched Into History As American Patriots"

Gilmore, Howard W.
Commanding Officer
Kelley, Wilbert F.
Fireman 3rd Class (USNR)
Williams, William W.
Medal of Honor (Posthumously)
Navy Cross
Gold Star (In lieu of 2nd Navy Cross)

USS Growler SS-215.

Lt. Commander Howard W. Gilmore, USN seen just after receiving the Navy Cross.

"Take Her Down" by Fred Freeman showing the scene on the conning tower of USS Growler Feb. 7, 1943.

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