On 10 January 1944, USS SKIPJACK (SS-184) headed out on her ninth war patrol in the central Pacific. On the morning of 25 January she came upon a convoy of two merchant ships and a destroyer. SKIPJACK’s crew tracked the ships throughout the day and into the night. As the 25th faded into the 26th, the sub began her attack.
At three minutes after midnight, she launched a spread of four torpedoes. “Torpedoes began hitting DD [destroyer]. Four hits,” the commanding officer wrote in the patrol report. “Between #2 and #3 hits, commenced firing four torpedo salvo aft…. The AK [merchant ship] was brilliantly illuminated for a few seconds by the exploding DD, momentarily blinding the C.O. at the periscope. #5 torpedo prematured 9 seconds after firing and 2 seconds after #6 was fired, severely jarring the boat, breaking a few light bulbs, chipping off paint, possibly springing #5 and #6 outer doors slightly, and possibly jamming open #6 poppet valve.”
Despite the commanding officer’s calm tone, his boat was in real danger. The fact that a valve was stuck open meant there was a direct line between the sub’s “people tank” and the ocean outside. “Began taking an up-angle,” the C.O. wrote just minutes after firing the torpedoes. “Tubes aft reported After Torpedo Room flooding. Ship went out of control with a 20 degree up-angle increasing, and was sinking rapidly by the stern. With Control Room depth gauges showing 155 feet [nearly 100 feet below the depth at which she had launched her attack] blew MBT’s [main ballast tanks] and Safety.”
By ten minutes past midnight, SKIPJACK was on the surface—silhouetted for all the Japanese ships to see against a field of burning fuel oil. Fortunately, the enemy vessels mounted only a halfhearted attack and she was able to slip away. Luck was also with the boat when it came to flooding. “Started pumping down After Torpedo Room by use of both trim and drain pumps. The initial water level was within a few inches of the door sill with the ship on the surface. …We later calculated 25 tons of water entered the room before the correct globe stop was secured.”
Undeterred, SKIPJACK and her crew continued the patrol.