Fateful Encounter off Sonsorol

By Folta, George | Sea Classics, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Fateful Encounter off Sonsorol


Folta, George, Sea Classics


Rushing toward the submarine USS BLUEGILL with 'a bone in her teeth' the Japanese light cruiser YUBARI met an unexpected rendezvous with eternity. As USS BLUEGILL cut loose a spread of torpedoes, the U.S. Marines who perished defending Wake Island could at last take solace that their deaths had been avenged. fi

General Quarters, General Quarters, man your battle stations. Enemy aircraft approaching from starboard. Make ill preparations for getting underray," shouted the Officer-of-theDeck on the Japanese light cruiser YUBARI. The cruiser was anchored lt Rabaul, New Britain, one of the Solomon Islands in the South ?Pacific. It was 0654 on the morning if 11 November 1943. He had just sighted a large formation of 80 to 100 US Navy attack aircraft. These were from the US aircraft carriers SARATOGA and PRINCETON. Subsequently the YUBARI took evasive action under cloud cover but even so was attacked by torpedo bombers (TBFs). She evaded three torpedoes and shot down two TBFs. Three men on the YUBA:RI were wounded. After the American planes departed the crew of the cruiser were treated to one of their favorite desserts in recognition of their fine performance: riceballs.

They didn't know, nor would they have cared if they did, that half way around the world on this same date in the northern hemisphere an American submarine was being commissioned at the Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut. A submarine that YUBARI was destined to meet. She was named USS BLUEGILL (SS-242), Lt. Cmdr. Eric L. Barr commanding.

Eric had assembled an outstanding crew on BLUEGILL. He had already made three war patrols as executive officer on the submarine KINGFISH. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, class of 1934, he was "all Navy." His father had command of a submarine in World War I. His grandfather had sailed before the mast. Even though he looked ten years younger than his actual age - too young to command a submarine - he was all business: very thorough, very demanding. He knew what he wanted.

Number two aboard was the executive officer, Bud Cooper. He, too, was a graduate of the US Naval Academy, class of 1939. He possessed a strong character based on a deep religious faith and a love of family. He had a profound understanding of people and exhibited unusual compassion in his handling of the crew's problems. As Hugh Story, one of the BLUEGILL officers, once observed, "Bud is the complement to Eric; he's the link between the captain and the crew." Bud had already made six war patrols on the submarine POLLOCK

Number three aboard was the engineering officer, Kenny Beckman, a graduate mechanical engineer from the University of California. Kenny was an outstanding "diving officer." In fact, in all respects he was an outstanding officer and great fun to be with. One side of him loved music and poetry; the other side loved girls and the "grapes." His self confidence was infectious. He had previously made seven war patrols on the submarine PLUNGER.

During the "fitting out" of the BLUEGILL these three chose members of the precommissioning crew they figured would be dependable shipmates in the severest of conditions. They chose well. BLUEGILL, was almost 312 feet in length, displaced 1526 tons, and had a test depth of approximately 300 feet. She carried 24 torpedoes and had ten torpedo tubes; six forward and four aft. BLUEGILL had been constructed by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut.

The YUBARI was designed by Doctor Hiraga to conform with the rules of the Washington Disarmament Conference. She was the model for the heavy cruisers MOGAMI and MIKUMA. She was 435 feet in length and displaced 2890 tons. Her main battery consisted of six 5.5/50 guns. She was completed in July 1923.

After commissioning, the BLUEGILL conducted training exercises in the New England area and while en route to Milne Bay, New Guinea, where she arrived on 22 March 1944.

On that same day the YUBARI departed Kisarazu, on the east shore of Tokyo Bay, for Saipan. …

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