December 1942

U.S.S. Beluga (Narwhal class)

Lt. Commander Randall Skelley

A whole year since Pearl Harbor. A year of war. A year of hard campaigns. The boys are still fighting at Guadalcanal. Command is sending us back to the Solomons.

Calm seas for a few days. Our fourth patrol and the crew are still on edge. Some think we’ve had it too easy. Other than our losing XO, we’ve emerged from each patrol rather unscathed. I’m inclined to agree. Spending Christmas and the New Year on the waves is never good for morale either.

Nothing that first week. Eerie. Must be bad luck. Or good. Or plain old luck.

Finally, blood in the water. Two ships with accompanying escort around midday. The Isuzugawa Maru at 4200 tons and the Aso Maru at 3000 tons.  We plotted a course to attack, I didn’t want them to slip away into the night.

Approaching at medium range, we allotted three torpedoes to each target. Only one torpedo connected with the Isuzugawa Maru. She smoked but remained afloat. The escorts came around slowly, ill-trained and plodding and were unable to detect us.

The Isuzugawa fell behind, limping into the night- an escort remained to protect her. We followed and closed in. Already down to eight front torpedoes, I opted for all four tubes in the rear. Overkill, perhaps, but we wanted another kill for the tally. The boys at Guadalcanal deserved a reprieve to whatever the Japanese were hauling their way.

I gave the order to fire once we closed into medium range and rounded the stern towards the target. The first three missed but the fourth struck. Plume of detritus and flame. Down went the Isuzugawa.

A competent escort this time, swung around, and swept the area for us. We slipped away silently, away from the danger.

Nearing the end of our patrol, we sighted another target. Dark night, no moon. A small freighter barely silhouetted against the horizon. The Shinkoku Maru, just 4000 tons. Closing in at medium range, we unleashed hell. All six torpedoes. Five struck. The ship utterly disappeared in an orgy of oil and flames. The escort never detected us. We were silent as the dead.

Only two ships but a decent 8200 tons. Two seemed par for the course, two had been sunk on each prior patrol. Just one more and I could have been eligible for the Bronze Star. But I need to push away those fleeting thoughts of glory and think about the men dying on Guadalcanal. I felt lucky. And that luck held up when a trained aircraft detected us on the surface the following day. We scrambled off the deck and got the Beluga under just in time.

We arrived back in Brisbane without further incident but before I could settle to complete this after action report, I was summoned to HQ. Turns out two ships a patrol and a year’s worth of service was enough to get me promoted. Commander Randall Skelley. Still sounds unnatural but I know the crew will feel delighted. In reality, its their promotion. I would not have gotten my extra bars without them.

Here’s to our luck continuing into 1943.

Ships sunk: 2

Patrol Tonnage: 4200 tons

Career Tonnage: 32100