July 2, 2012

The amazing adventures of the USS Barb

One of the more adventurous stories to come out of the War in the Pacific was that of the submarine USS Barb and her skipper, Eugene "Lucky" Fluckey. In one of the stranger incidents in the war, Fluckey sent a landing party ashore to set demolition charges on a coastal railway line, which destroyed a 16-car train. This is reputed to be the only landing by U.S. military forces on the Japanese home islands during World War II.

Fluckey wanted to blow the rail line, but he wanted to blow a train too and that presented a real problem. The rail line itself would no problem. A shore party could plant one of the sub's 55-pound scuttling charges and make short work of that.

Fluckey refused to risk the lives of his men, so he and his officers spent long hours trying to figure out how to detonate the explosives at the moment the train passed, without endangering the shore party. So Fluckey and his officers spent some time puzzling over how they could take out the rails along with one of the frequent trains shuttling troops and supplies to equip the Japanese war machine.

Electrician Mate Billy Hatfield, USNR, offered an idea: Instead a crewman on shore to trigger explosives, rig the charge so that the passing train would trigger it and blow itself up. Hatfield explained how he had cracked walnuts on the railroad tracks as a kid by placing the nuts between two ties so the sagging of the rail under the weight of a train would break them open.

So instead of nuts, Hatfield suggested, a micro switch could be hooked to the charge and mounted between two ties under the steel rail. The plan sounded good and was adopted by the officers. Volunteers were easy to find. Everyone on the boat wanted to go, including the Skipper. One of Flukey’s officers put an end to that idea by threatening to send a message to ComSubPac.

So it was that on the night of July 22, 1945, in Patience Bay off the coast of Karafuto, Japan, the Barb silently moved to within 950 yards of shore and dispatched a shore party of eight sailors. The charge was placed as planned and the party returned to the two boats that had carried them to shore. They were only halfway back when the sub's machine gunner spotted a train rolling up the tracks. Fluckey abandoned caution, grabbing a megaphone and yelling for the party to "Paddle like the devil!"

At 0146 hrs on the morning of the 23rd, with the shore party still a couple hundred yards from the Barb, the night lit up as the locomotive boilers split open and ammunition in boxcars started streaking into the sky. It was a full five minutes later before the shore party could be lifted to the deck. The Barb departed at the highest speed possible in shallow water and long moments before the sub reached water deep enough to find safety below the waves.

The USS Barb (SS-220) was a Gato-class submarine and contrary to common thought she was not named for a woman. She was the first U.S. Navy ship to be named for the barbus; a fish. She compiled one of the more outstanding submarine records of World War II. During the seven war patrols she conducted in the Pacific between March 1944-August 1945, she is officially credited with sinking 17 enemy vessels totaling 96,628 tons, including the Japanese aircraft carrier Unyo. Barb received the Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, and eight battle stars for her World War II service.

The little adventure with the train garnered Fluckey one of the four Navy Crosses he earned in a long and adventurous career. He earned the Medal of Honor for an earlier mission, also aboard the Barb. Regrettably the Barb suffered a more inglorious fate. In 1953 the submarine once crewed by the likes of “Lucky” Fluckey was loaned to the Italian Navy and renamed the Enrico Tazzoli. Less than 20 years later the once proud lady was sold for scrap.

On June 28 at Anne Arundel Medical Center, Medal of Honor and Four Time Navy Cross Recipient
Rear Admiral Eugene Fluckey died. He was 93 and had Alzheimer's disease, and he led one hell of a life. 

Fair winds, Lucky... and for the Barb as well.



Old NFO said...

Yep, one hellva interesting life! He was also a great speaker, and worked hard supporting the military and especially the Navy, even after he retired! Also, there is a building named for him in Japan that houses the current Submarine Commander for the Western Pacific.