At the end of every World-War-II patrol report, submarine commanding officers included an addendum in which they analyzed different aspects of the patrol, including attacks, weather, and defects and damage. Two other sections—typically entitled “Personnel” and “Health, Food, and Habitability”—discussed the crew and living conditions aboard the sub. These sections were usually short and covered such information as how many men qualified during the patrol and whether the ice-cream machine survived the entire trip without breaking down. But when it came time to write these sections for the second and third war patrols of USS ANGLER (SS-240), the commanding officer had much more to say.
In the midst of her second patrol, in February of 1944, ANGLER was dispatched to Panay, an island in the Philippines, to evacuate civilians in advance of a Japanese invasion. The crew was told to expect about 20 refugees; in reality, there were 58. The trip back to Australia was long and the quarters cramped, but the worst part came towards the end of the trip when, the commanding officer wrote in the “Health, Food, and Habitability” section, “our fresh water became contaminated (cause still unknown) which caused numerous cases of severe nausea. During the last week of the patrol this nausea was so pronounced that 1/3 officers and crew could not hold food in their stomachs.” When the boat arrived in Fremantle on 9 April, he requested that the fresh water tanks be thoroughly cleaned.
On 3 May, the third war patrol, which took ANGLER to the seas around Java, began. On 20 May she sank a guard boat in the only action she would see during the patrol. Then, at 2155, the commanding officer wrote, “Secured from battle stations; …have had several cases of nausea…. At this time I felt it might be due to running silent and the attendant heat etc., although the heat was never excessive and the duration of this running silent was not long enough to cause such general discomfort.” Within eight hours, things had gotten worse. “Situation on board is rapidly becoming critical—all officers are now afflicted with nausea and about 75% of the crew.” On 22 May at 0600: “Physical condition of officers and crew is so bad that it is difficult to maintain a proper watch either surface or submerged.” Concerned that the water supply was once again contaminated, the C.O. switched the entire crew to fruit juice. He also ordered a thorough cleaning of the boat and called for extra supervision of cooks and dishwashers. The next morning: “Decided to run submerged today since we do not have enough able-bodied officers and men to maintain a proper surface watch.” By the next day, it had become clear that ANGLER could be of no use to the war effort with her crew in such a state. She got in touch with other American vessels in the area to alert them to her plight; USS CREVALLE (SS-291) and USS CHILDS (DD-241) rendezvoused with their stricken sister ship to provide fresh water, medical supplies, and a doctor.
Although an investigation later attributed the illnesses to an illegal cleaner, carbon tetrachloride, which had been brought aboard the boat by an electrician, the C.O. had other suspicions. “Most of the men complained of a metallic taste in the water since the beginning of the patrol,” he wrote in the “Remarks” section at the very end of the patrol report. “They also stated that cigarettes did not taste good immediately after drinking water. When questioned, several of the men felt that the water seemed to precipitate their vomiting more than did fruit juices or food.” He also noted that “following four hours silent running, the boat became very hot and almost everyone drank unusually large quantities of water.” In essence, he believed that the fresh water tanks had not been cleaned very well at the end of the previous patrol, when the first cases of nausea had occurred. Whatever the cause of the sickness, it would not, fortunately for ANGLER’s crew, crop up again in the five patrols the boat subsequently undertook before the end of the war.