Subic Bay lies just to the north of the much larger and better-known Manila Bay on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. On 21 April 1945, USS BOARFISH (SS-327), commissioned on 23 September 1944, pulled in after completing the second of the four war patrols she would undertake during the war’s final year. Less than a month later, on 16 May, the sub headed south for the Java Sea. Just before midnight on the night of 28 May, BOARFISH made contact with a small patrol craft. At 0030 on 29 May, she sighted a second; a third and fourth appeared at 0221 and 0422, respectively. “I believe these four contacts were all different ships,” the commanding officer noted in his patrol report, “and that the Japs keep this area well patrolled.” The reason why appeared just after two that afternoon: a convoy of three ships, including a tanker, and two escorts. At 1442, the BOARFISH attacked, loosing four torpedoes from her bow tubes. What happened next demonstrated the critical importance of accurate charts—and the unfortunate consequences of incorrect ones.
At 1444: “Back at periscope depth and screws of escort sounding very loud, took a look at the escort. He had a zero angle on the bow, coming in fast and close aboard, did not look at the target [at which they had just fired] but went deep immediately. The chart showed 240 feet at this spot so went 215 feet.” One minute later: “As we were passing 100 feet, first depth charge followed by two more fairly close below and astern.” The concussions from the detonations damaged the boat’s “JP” hydrophone; the crew was scrambling to fix it when BOARFISH “went aground in 216 feet of water, …making much noise.” The collision alerted the enemy vessel to the stricken sub’s position; eight depth charges followed. At 1459: “Backed off the submerged hill, evidently hitting port propellor [sic] on the bottom at this time for there was a heavy bump astern. Eased up to 180 feet and tried to fish tail away from the escort. …Every time the escort headed away went to 70 rpm and he was right back in again. [The sub’s noise level was, at that point, three times higher than usual.] With the escort hanging on like a leech, decided to head away from the coast and, if he was still there at dark, try to out run him on the surface.” Fortunately, the escort apparently acquired a false contact and began to drop depth charges in another direction.” The mistake was a fortunate one given the damage BOARFISH had sustained: in addition to losing sound gear, the crew soon discovered that “any speed over 14.5 knots caused excessive vibration in port shaft.” At 2236 on 30 May, after alerting superiors to her injuries, the boat received orders to head to Fremantle, Australia for repairs.
Fortunately for whatever organization had prepared the faulty chart, the commanding officer noted far more pressing deficiencies: although the boat had managed to “procure its allowance of ten movies” before the patrol began, the crew was not able to exchange their old Armed Forces Radio transcriptions for new ones. In addition, the books in their library were wearing out and “none of the monthly shipments of books have reached this ship since commissioning and there was no activity in or around SUBIC able or willing to supply us with any books. The same condition exists in regard to magazines. We departed on patrol with no new reading material whatsoever.” To top it all off, “during the second week on patrol, the mixing motor on the ice cream machine burned out” and they had no replacement. “It is recommended that a spare motor for the machine be supplied to all submarines.”