Although there were many unusual occurrences on submarines during World War II, only one was turned into a comic by the famous Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. In today’s “Tidbit” we’ll set the scene with excerpts from the seventh war patrol of USS GATO (SS-212). Over the next two days we’ll showcase the pages from the actual comic, which was published in September of 1953.
GATO set off from Brisbane, Australia, for what would become her most famous patrol on 18 November 1943. By 20 December, the date on which the incident occurred, she was in the waters off Rabaul, a township in Papua New Guinea. Early in the afternoon she began tracking a contact; at 1614 she submerged and manned battle stations for an attack on what was believed to be one cargo vessel or tanker, one cargo vessel or troop transport, and two escorts. The C.O. noted that the escorts “are the new type we have unpleasantly met recently.” At 1731 GATO launched three torpedoes. One of the vessels sank almost immediately, but the sub didn’t hang around to see about the second because the escorts were already headed her way.
Eight minutes later, “the first of 19 depth charges were dropped. This was the worst depth charging we have ever received. Practically all of the charges seemed right on top of us and the ship was shaken violently with each one. However, the Gato took it very well. These new escorts are too proficient. The spotted us accurately and stayed on, although we were at all times about 70 feet below our test depth. They did not speed up to drop, but passed directly overhead at slow and deliberate speed. Also believed they may use a fathometer to determine our depth. None of our ‘bag of tricks’ was effective in shaking them, for about two hours, when a slow gradual turn seemed to leave them astern.” Two hours later, GATO surfaced and escaped under cover of a rain squall.
Shortly after 2000 she returned to the scene of the attack to assess the damage. “Then saw [an] escort [at] 2,000 yards. Swung hard to right at flank speed. Drawing away from escorts who seem more surprised than we are.” By 2033, “situation resembled a five ring circus. Gato was simultaneously: outrunning the two escorts, trying to overtake the maru, reloading the forward tubes, making some necessary minor repairs, [and] trying to dispose of one unexploded depth charge without blowing our rudder off.” An hour later, a prisoner of war that GATO had taken, as well as one of the boat’s officers who was interested in languages, “each copied the markings on the depth charge, after which it was lashed to [a] rubber boat and set adrift with a slow leak. When last seen it was bobbing along in the path of our pursuers.”
It is worth noting that what GATO had just experienced was not a routine occurrence. In fact, no other American submarine is known to have surfaced with an intact depth charge perched on her deck. Yet the C.O. clearly had more pressing matters to deal with since he didn’t even acknowledge the presence of the device in his report for nearly an hour after surfacing and it took him another 30 minutes or so to dispose of it. (There is no mention of the state of mind of the men who had to convey the explosive, which was probably—although not certainly—a dud, into the raft.) The most important consideration for the captain: “Gato has convinced herself that she sank both ships in this convoy.”
GATO went about her business until 10 January 1944, when she pulled up alongside the tender USS FULTON (AS-11) for refit in Milne Bay in another part of Papua New Guinea.
In the next two days’ “Tidbits,” take a look at Ripley’s rendering of this story and see how much of it lines up with the C.O.’s practical accounting.