Archive for the ‘Submarines’ Category

USS Atule (SS-403): a World War II submarine that made four war patrols

March 4, 2018


Photo Credit: United States Navy

USS Atule (SS-403) was a World War II submarine.  Atule is special to me because my Father, John Robert Baker (1924-2018), served as a sailor (radioman) on this submarine during the war.  Atule (also referred to in an endearing manner as “O’Toole”) earned four battle stars for her World War II service.

Atule was a Balao-class diesel-electric submarine.  She was built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at Kittery, Maine, launched on March 6, 1944 and commissioned on June 21, 1944.  Atule was 311 feet long, 27 feet wide, displaced 1,526 tons and had a range of 11,000 nautical miles.

World War II submarines were basically surface ships that could travel underwater for a limited time. Diesel engines gave them high surface speed and long range, but speed and range were severely reduced underwater, where they relied on electric motors powered by relatively short-lived batteries.  Recharging the storage batteries meant surfacing to run the air-breathing diesels. Even combat patrols routinely involved 90 per cent or more surface operations.

Commanding Officer Jason Mauer — There were 10 officers and 70 enlisted sailors on Atule.  John “Jason” H. Mauer (1912-2009), a 1935 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, was the commander of Atule from 1944-1947.  (He was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1963.)  The United States Pacific Fleet awarded him the Navy Cross.  The citation, signed by C.W. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, United States Navy, stated:

“The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to John H. Mauer, Commander, U.S. Navy, for gallantry and intrepidity and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. ATULE (SS-403), on the FIRST War Patrol of that submarine during the period of 9 October 1944 to 11 December 1944, in enemy controlled waters of the Luzon Strait of the Philippine Islands. Commander Maurer launched well-planned attacks which resulting in sinking enemy ships totaling 25,000 tons.  Through his experience and sound judgment Commander Mauer brought his ship safely back to port.  His conduct throughout was an inspiration to his officers and men and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Commander Mauer was also awarded two Silver Stars: one while serving as Executive Officer of the USS Harder (SS-257), a Gato-class submarine, and one for his service as commander of Atule.

After Atule was commissioned she had a month of shakedown training before departing New London, Conn., and heading south to join the action in the Pacific.  There was a 15-day stopover at the Fleet Sound School in Key West, Fla.  Atule transited the Panama Canal and steamed to Pearl Harbor with USS Jallao (SS-368), a Balao-class submarine.

First War Patrol — On Oct. 9, 1944, Atule departed Pearl Harbor on her first war patrol in company with USS Pintado (SS-387), a Balao-class submarine, and Jallao.  The three submarines formed a “wolf pack.” On Oct. 11, 1944, the pack was joined by USS Plaice (SS-390), a Balao-class submarine, and USS Thresher (SS-200), a Tambor-class submarine. On Oct. 21, 1944, the pack arrived at Tanapag Harbor, Saipan Island.

On Oct. 25, 1944, the pack made its first score when Jallao sunk the Japanese light cruiser Tama (5,200 tons, commissioned 1921).  Three torpedoes hit Tama, breaking the ship in two. The cruiser sunk within minutes with all hands. The pack then set course for their patrol sectors in Luzon Strait and the South China Sea.

On Nov. 1, 1944, Atule encountered the Japanese transport ship Asama Maru (16,975 tons, built 1929) in Luzon Strait about 100 miles south of Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands).  After Atule fired six torpedoes Asama Maru was sent to the bottom of the ocean.  Asama Maru was escorted by the Japanese torpedo boat Sagi and minesweepers W-17 and W-18.  Atule was forced to dive to avoid the escort ships.  Nine depth charges exploded in the vicinity of Atule.

My Father wrote:

“Several escorts accompanied [Asama Maru] so we promptly submerged. Soon they started depth charging, to the detriment of the swimming survivors, I’m sure, but they never came very close to us.  . . . The enemy ships probably carried 3,000 to 5,000 troops, and the sound of that huge ship breaking up as she sank into the depths will never be forgotten.”

Another account of Commander Mauer and the sinking of Asama Maru stated:

“There are words to describe my reaction to duty on Atule but I don’t know them. I was elated to be back aboard a submarine and I had lucked out on a great one.  Her skipper, Commander John H. “Jason” Mauer, Naval Academy ’35, had a fine reputation. A Washingtonian, his dad was a professor of international law at Georgetown University. Atule was Jason’s first command; previously he had served with the distinguished Samuel D. Dealey in the Harder and helped compile an enviable record.  Dealey had been lost when Harder was sunk by a minesweeper on 24 August 1944 after sinking sixteen ships totaling fifty-four thousand tons, including four destroyers and two frigates. Mauer had departed not long before that date for command of Atule, a new construction boat from Portsmouth, named for a Hawaiian fish. I soon met the department heads in “the Fighting “O’Toole,” the engineer, Lt. Cmdr. Sidney W. Thaxter, a prominent New England attorney; gunnery, torpedoes and TDC operator Lt. Hollis F. “Tony” Church, another New Englander and an engineer in civil life; Lt. W. Hudson, a Texan; and Lts. (j.g.) Charles N. Pettit, an Iowan, Fred A. Oyhus from Montana, and Glenn O. Olson, an Oklahoma oilman. Atule was in the latter stages of her first war patrol during which she sank the pride of the Japanese merchant service, the huge Asama Maru of 16,975 tons, on her maiden attack, plus a freighter and two destroyers, totaling 26,000 tons.”

Source: Paul R. Schratz, Submarine Commander: A Story of World War II and Korea at p. 138 (Univ. Press of Kentucky — 1988).

Asama Maru was originally built as a Japanese ocean liner for passenger travel between Japan and the west coast of the United States.  In 1941, before the start of the Pacific War, the ship was called into Japanese Navy service as a troop ship.

Atule continued her patrol covering the Hong Kong-Manila traffic lane in the South China Sea.  On Nov. 3, 1944, Pintado sunk the Minekaze-class Japanese destroyer Akikaze (1,367 tons, built 1920), which was escorting aircraft carrier Jun’yo and cruiser Kiso toward Brunei.  Akikaze sank with all hands. It was said that Akikaze intercepted the torpedoes to save the aircraft carrier.  There was a tremendous explosion that was seen and heard on board Atule.  During days thereafter Atule was forced to zigzag and run to evade Japanese airplanes equipped with radar and magnetic detection devices.  The airplanes dropped 14 depth charges but none came close to Atule.  However, USS Halibut (SS-232), a Gato-class submarine, was severely damaged.

Atule then began patrolling her assigned scouting station west of Formosa. On Nov. 20, 1944, Atule sunk a vessel identified as Minesweeper W-38 (648 tons, built 1944). It was reported:

“After midnight, Cdr (later Rear Admiral/COMSUBPAC) John H. Mauer’s  (USNA ’35) USS ATULE’s (SS-403) SJ radar picks up a show moving vessel. Mauer moves in to attack on the surface, but the target is protected by a rain squall.  USS ATULE continues tracking the target. At about 0500, the target is silhouetted against a clear horizon. Mauer fires four torpedoes. The third torpedo hits below the minesweeper’s stack. Less than three minutes later, W-38 sinks by the bow.  Her depth charges explode as she goes under . . . .”

Source: — IJN Minesweeper W-38.

My Father wrote:

“At around 5 a.m. we fired four fish from our stern tubes. The first struck with a terrific explosion at about his forward stack.  Two and one-half minutes later his stern reared straight up and he slid under.  His depth charges kept going off as he plunged deeper and deeper into the depths.  No survivors.”

On Nov. 24, 1944, Atule sank two more Japanese war vessels.  My Father wrote:

“On the afternoon of November 24, 1944, Atule detected echo ranging on a bearing of 200 degrees True.  By 1400 we had four ships in sight and we went to battle stations torpedo. This would be our third attack on this patrol. Tracking showed this group of four ships to consist of a large transport with a destroyer covering the starboard bow, a patrol craft on the port bow and another destroyer trailing astern. . . . We eased in on the starboard flank jockeying for a good set-up at the transport and the destroyer. Flat, calm water for a change, and still they didn’t spot us!  After more careful tracking, Captain Maurer announced: ‘The near D.D. (destroyer) and the transport overlap. Commence shooting.’ . . . Torpedoes three and four hit the destroyer, which literally exploded into a funeral pyre. Nothing was left but fuel oil burning on the water. A few more seconds and # two hit the big transport followed by # seven.  The transport stopped dead in the water mortally wounded and then went under in less than 10 minutes.  This was a classic shot, i.e., two successive targets destroyed in one barrage.  The remaining Japanese escorts made a rapid search, fired a sporadic burst of gunfire, the dropped several depth charges, but in the wrong area.  As it turned out, we weren’t able to get a shot at them, so as we lost radar contact we secured from battle stations.  I felt elated, for on our very first patrol we seemed to be having great success.”

“The destroyer exploded with a blast that shook Atule like a terrier shaking a rat,” the patrol report stated. “All that was left of her was oil burning on the water.” [NOTE — The patrol report stated that the attack took place on Nov. 25, 1944.]

Atule’s final attack during her first war patrol was on Nov. 27, 1944.  Atule destroyed a Japanese transport ship of about 5,000 to 7,000 tons anchored between Dequey and Ibuhos Islands, Philippines.

“Fired four bow torpedoes,” Atule’s patrol report said.  “All hit.  His port side was almost entirely blown away. The ship burned like a torch with frequent violent oil and ammunition explosions.”

My Father wrote:

“When we approached, we identified a ship anchored at the northern end of the channel between the islands.  Four shots remained in the bow tubes on this patrol and we would not be denied. . . . Conditions were perfect and all torpedoes hit, one after another, and a gigantic fire erupted. She was aflame from bow to stern and heeled over as the stern settled to the bottom.  We turned 180 degrees and headed away at full speed. . . . The target burned for over an hour and lit up the sky with explosions on six different occasions. Finally, when we were about 18 miles away came the last and most brilliant explosion which blew the charred remains to bits. I was one of the crew allowed to come to the bridge one at a time to take a look at our accomplishment.”

Atule’s first war patrol ended on Dec. 11, 1944 at Majuro, where she was refitted by Submarine Division 142 and USS Bushnell (AS 15), a submarine tender.

My Father wrote:

“Coming to a rest camp area was a very special occasion for submarines after patrols. First of all, for the obvious reason — we had made it back safely — but also because of the warm welcome we received.  Immediately upon securing our lines we would become the recipients of boxes of fresh fruit — oranges and apples . . . . Most important of all, we were given our accumulated mail. The whole crew would be spread at topside, sitting everywhere, eating fresh fruit and reading all the precious mail from home — always in chronological order so we could keep events in proper perspective.”


Second War Patrol — On Jan. 6, 1945, Atule departed from Majuro for her second war patrol.  She was ordered to patrol the Yellow Sea.  She was accompanied by USS Spadefish (SS-411), USS Bang (SS-385) and USS Devilfish (SS-292). The pack later included USS Spearfish (SS-190) and USS Pompon (SS-267).

On Jan. 24, 1945, Atule torpedoed and sank Japanese merchant cargo ship Daiman Maru No. 1 (6,888 tons, built 1944) in the Yellow Sea.  Atule’s patrol report stated:

“Watched two torpedoes hit the target.  This target . . . looked brand new (which was correct, she was on her maiden voyage).  The crew started to abandon ship.  . . . The ship broke in half and the after part soon sank.”  Another patrol report stated:

“The target appeared to be a brand new engines-aft freighter. Set the depth at three feet and fired four torpedoes. The first fish struck abreast of his stack and the second near his after mast. The ship rapidly settled stern first as the crew quickly manner two motor life boats (one on each side). Just as the life boats cleared, the damaged rear section broke off, taking the engine room with it. The forward half popped up like a cork, floating higher than ever.”

My Father wrote about being fired on after attacking the freighter:

“About this time I heard that one of our lookouts shouted ‘Look, they’re sending blinker signals to us.’  Captain Jack answered: ‘Signals, hell! He’s firing at us with his 40 mm cannon!’ So we dove and fired a steam torpedo at him.  We missed.  (Torpedo went under his bow.) We had had shells exploding on either side of us, so we hastily left the immediate area and withdrew to decide our next move.”

On Jan. 28, 1945, Pompon and Spadefish reported a convoy of Japanese war vessels.  Spadefish sunk one of the ships.  “At 0255 we observed a terrific explosion with a column of water high in the air,” Atule’s patrol report stated. “Exchanged calls with Spadefish as she was standing by her victim, a ship observed to be burning from bow to stern.”

My Father wrote:

“Next, we commence criss-crossing the known Shanghai to the Empire shipping routes.  Our time will be spent patrolling all areas where enemy shipping might be expected. We are now en route to a patrol station east of Hangchow Bay (what a name) and sighted our first floating mine about 30 miles southwest of Socotro Rock.  In short order we sink five mines with our 30 caliber machine gun. The sixth mine detonates.  Contact mines are about five feet or so across and have several horns sticking out of their perimeters. Theoretically, when a horn is stuck and broken, the mine explodes its hundreds of pounds of explosives.  These mines were usually moored to the bottom at preset depths at the end of a cable attached to an anchor.  The areas where they were sewn were very often just where submarines were likely to travel.  The U.S. has been able to determine that seven of the 52 boats were destroyed by mines.  Only eight men were survivors of the USS Flier (SS-250).  On all the other boats all hands were lost.”

Atule actually struck a mine on Jan. 30, 1945.  Atule’s log stated:

“Floating mine bounced disconcertingly down the port side of the ship, plainly heard by the bridge watch and officers seated in the wardroom. . . . Thankfully this was another dud Japanese mine. Not all of them exploded when they were disturbed.”

On Feb. 7, 1945, nine depth charges in quick succession were dropped near Atule by unseen Japanese aircraft.  Atule’s patrol report stated: “These were not close enough to bother us, but weren’t so far as to have been directed at anyone else.”

On Feb. 18, 1945, en route to Daikokuzan to intercept a new battleship position, Atule struck another mine.  Atule’s patrol report stated: “Struck mine with a jar that turned out a good percentage of ship’s complement. It first hit near the stem, then it bounced several times down the side, busily exploring our limber holes with its horns.”

At a submarine convention years later at Albuquerque, N.M., Captain Jack mentioned this harrowing occurrence to the wives of submariners attending the convention and told them “they should appreciate having us,” my Father wrote.

Atule’s second war patrol ended on March 7, 1945 at Midway.  She was refitted by Submarine Division 322 and USS Pelias (AS 14), a submarine tender.  Atule was also dry docked while being refitted.

My Father wrote:

“Ah, rest camp. We’re certainly ready for it. The ship we sank in the Yellow Sea assured that we would be credited as having had a ‘successful patrol.’ This patrol . . . destroyed a total of 28 mines.  We were lucky with the last one.”

Third War Patrol — On April 2, 1945, Atule departed from Midway for her third war patrol.  She was ordered to patrol south of Honshu, Japan.  On May 5, 1945, Atule picked up a Japanese naval observer from a crashed Japanese aircraft.

On May 17, 1945, Atule departed the area for Pearl Harbor by way of Midway.  Atule ended its third war patrol on May 30, 1945, when it arrived at Pearl Harbor.  At Pearl Harbor she was refitted by Submarine Division 181 and the USS Euryale (AS 22), a submarine tender.  Atule was also dry docked while being refitted.

Fourth War Patrol — Atule began her fourth and final war patrol on July 3, 1945, when she departed Pearl Harbor.  She was ordered to patrol east of Honshu and Hokkaido. Atule was part of a pack that also included USS Gato (SS-212) and USS Archerfish (SS-311). On Aug. 13, 1945, Atule torpedoed and sank the Japanese frigate Kaibokan 6 (740 tons, built 1944) and torpedoed and damaged the Japanese frigate Kaibokan 16 (740 tons, built 1944) east of Hokkaido, Japan. (Kaibokan means “sea defense ship.”)  During this encounter Atule was subjected to terrific blasts from exploding depth charges.

On Aug. 15, 1945, while Atule was in her patrol area in Empire waters east of Honshu, news was received of Japan’s surrender.  Atule then headed to Pearl Harbor via Midway.  Atule ended her fourth war patrol upon arrival at Pearl Harbor on Aug. 25, 1945.  Five days later she departed Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal bound for New London, Conn.

Record of the Submarine Service — During World War II, the United States Submarine Service lost 52 submarines, 374 officers and 3,131 enlisted men.  (One out of 5.54 submarines in the fleet were lost.) Those personnel losses represented 16% of the officer and 13% of the enlisted operational personnel.  The loss rate was the highest among men and ships of any United States Navy unit.  Less than two percent of American sailors served in submarines, yet that small percentage of men and their boats sank 214 Japanese warships.  This included one battleships (Kongo) six aircraft carriers (Chuyo, Shinano, Shinyo, Shokaku, Taiho and Unyo), eight light cruisers, 43 destroyers, 23 large submarines and 1,178 merchant ships of more than 500 tons.  In all, U.S. submarines sank more than 55% of all Japanese ships sunk — more than surface ships, Navy air and the U.S. Army Air Corps combined.

Sinking of the Battleship Kongo — The battleship Kongo was sunk on Nov. 21, 1944 in the Formosa Strait by USS Sealion (SS-315).  (Kongo means “indestructible” in Japanese.)  The sinking of Kongo was reported in an article titled “USS Sealion Attacks and Sinks Battleship Kongo” in World War II Today.  (Source:  The article stated:

“Early on 21st November off Formosa, now Taiwan, the USS Sealion picked up such strong radar signals that at first they were thought to be bouncing off land.  They were then revealed to be a group of Japanese battleships and battle cruisers, including, as it turned out, the IJN ‘Indestructible’ Kongo. . . . In fact two torpedoes from the first salvo had hit the Kongo and a third torpedo had passed beyond her and hit the destroyer IJN “Wind of the Sea” Urakaze, causing a catastrophic explosion which sunk her with all hands.  With two compartments flooded the Kongo became to lose speed. [Commander] Eli Reich thought he had lost his opportunity, believing he had set his torpedoes at the wrong depth for a battleship. . . . Before Sealion had a chance to make another attack Kongo had blown up.  There were just 237 survivors from a crew of over 1,400.”

Sinking of the Aircraft Carrier Shinano — The aircraft carrier Shinano, the world’s largest aircraft carrier at the time at 72,000 tons, was sunk on Nov. 29, 1944 about 100 miles off the Japanese coast by USS Archerfish (SS-311).  Shinano is the largest warship ever to be sunk by a submarine.  The sinking of Shinano was reported in an article titled “Japan’s greatest aircraft carrier was sank by a tiny sub” by Logan Nye.  The article stated:

“The Shinano spotted the Archerfish following it and probably suspecting that the sub was one member of a wolf pack, began zig-zagging across the water to avoid shots from other subs. This was a mistake.  The Archerfish was alone and wouldn’t have been able to catch the Shinano if it had fled or dispatched one of its destroyers to hunt the sub. Instead, the carrier’s evasive maneuvers allowed the sub to slowly get in range and launch a spread of 6 torpedoes over 40 seconds.  Four of them smashed the Shinano just above the carrier’s thick anti-torpedo protections.  The Japanese destroyers finally turned to fight and the Archerfish was forced to dive to avoid the depth charges that followed. The torpedo damage to the Shinano caused it to slowly list. The Japanese captain attempted to flood the opposite side to keep the ship level, but the ship had rolled too far and the water inlets were exposed to the air.  Unable to correct the list, the captain gave the order to abandon ship.  It rolled and sank a few hours later.  The Archerfish was originally credited with sinking a light carrier. The Shinano’s silhouette was unique, and U.S. naval intelligence had to make its best guess as to what sank. After the war, the Japanese acknowledged the battle and alerted the U.S. to the size of the ship they sank.”


There were 465 Commanding Officers if submarines during World War II.  They made 1,474 war patrols for an average of 3.2 war patrols for each Commanding Officer.   The total number of submarine sailors was about 30,000.  About 16,000 of these made war patrols. Sailors who were killed aboard a submarine are said to be “On Eternal Patrol.”

Of the 52 submarines lost during World War II, the first was USS Sealion (SS-195) on Dec. 10, 1941 (scuttled following irreparable damage in an air attack) and the last was USS Bullhead (SS-332) on Aug. 6, 1945 (sunk by Japanese aircraft).

Vice Admiral C. A. Lockwood, Jr., Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (1943-1946) said during a speech in Cleveland on Navy Day 1945:

“To those whose contribution meant the loss of sons, brothers, or husbands in this war, I pay my most humble respect and extend my deepest sympathy. As to the 374 officers and 3,131 men of the Submarine Force who gave their lives in the winning of this war, I can assure you that they went down fighting and that their brothers who survived them took a grim toll of our savage enemy to avenge their deaths.  May God rest their gallant souls.”


Photo Credit: United States Navy

My Father later became the Commander of the C. A. Lockwood Chapter of the United States Submarine Veterans of World War II in the state of Washington.

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz prepared a dedication stating:

“We, who survived World War II and were privileged to rejoin our loved ones at home, salute those gallant officers and men of our submarines who lost their lives in that long struggle. We shall never forget that it was our submariners that held the lines against the enemy while our fleets replaced losses and repaired wounds.”

Atules’s History after World War II — On July 4, 1946, Atule became a member of Operation Nanook, a mission to establish advanced weather stations in the Arctic regions and to aid in the planning and execution of more extensive naval operations in polar and sub-polar regions. Atule later was involved in Navy and NATO operations in various areas including the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, South America and the Gulf of Mexico.

Atule was decommissioned on April 6, 1970.  In 1974 Atule was sold to Peru and renamed Pacocha (SS-48) as part of the Peruvian Navy.  On Aug. 26, 1988, Pacocha was on its way to the port of El Callao, the chief seaport of Peru.  Pacocha was accidentally rammed by a 412-ton Japanese tuna fishing trawler, No. 8 Kiowa Maru, causing the submarine to sink in 110-feet of water.  There were 44 survivors out of a crew of 52.  Twenty-two sailors jumped into the water as the submarine sank and were rescued. Seven of the crew members died (including Capt. Daniel Nieva Rodriguez) when the submarine sank and an eighth crew member later died from an embolism at a hospital.  Divers freed 23 sailors who were trapped in the submarine almost 24 hours after it sunk.  Capt. Rodriguez died when he left the cabin to close an outside hatch in a desperate effort to save his crew and then became trapped in an outer compartment that filled with water. “I want to point out the bravery of Capt. Nieva,” said Peruvian President Alan Garcia. “I want to stress the bravery of an officer who after leaving the ship through a hatch went back to rescue his mates.”   A documentary film about the occurrence titled “Miracle on the Pacocha” was released in 2007.


Photo Credit: N.Y.K. Line