After Action Report: Silent Victory – Patrol #5 (March 1943)

March 1943

U.S.S. Beluga (Narwhal class)

Commander Randall Skelley

For our next assignment, we were sent back to the waters of Indochina. We knew the way, snaking around the islands, constant course changes. Not like the open ocean. The last time we visited these waters, we scored our highest tonnage. Already a year has passed since then- where has the time gone?

Smooth waters as we sailed past Borneo and the Philippines. The first night all was quiet.

But by the second night, we spotted a ripe convoy consisting of three ships- Shinyu Maru (4600 tons), Aracsun Maru (6900 tons), and the Shogen Maru (3400 tons).

Angling for an attack at midrange, we targeted the largest ship. All four forward tubes were unleashed against the Aracsun Maru. With a dash of luck, it would take the plunge immediately and we could prey on the other ships.

Three torpedoes struck the target, hitting in rapid succession and detonating. Plumes of fire lit the dark water as the Aracsun Maru broke in two and disappeared.

On cue, the trained destroyers fanned out, searching for the danger in their midst. An escort barreled over us, dropping charges as she went. The hull shook under the pressure, our batteries took a direct hit.

“Take us deeper,” I commanded. It was worth risking test depth.

The hull groaned further, popping and creaking. For I moment, I thought we were done for. But the hull held and at that depth, the escorts lost us. They searched for a while longer but retired back to the convoy.

We surfaced and set about reloading the forward tubes and repairing the batteries as we shadowed the convoy. First salvo and we had already claimed a 6900 ton ship. We wanted more.

By daybreak, we closed on another element of the convoy and identified three more ships: Shinto Maru (900 tons), Hokuan Maru (3700 tons), and the Rakuyo Maru (9400 tons)

The Rakuyo was the obvious target of choice. At midday, submerged and at midrange, we unleashed all four front tubes against the large freighter.

The first missed. The second ran off on a circular run that looped far and wide from our vessel. The third hit and exploded. The Rakuyo lurched but kept her heading. Time for evasion. I didn’t want to test the Beluga’s hull again, so we remained above test depth.  With adequate speed, the escorts came about, prowling for us. They came up empty.

The convoy pressed on, but I wanted the Rakuyo sunk. We followed. A sole destroyer remained to shepherd the wounded ship.

We targeted the large freighter again the next day. All four front tubes dedicated to her destruction. There was a short debate on whether to save some of our munitions for a future engagement, but I pressed home the fact that the target was here, now and we should engage with maximum firepower. The four torpedoes were sent off. Three hit, one was a dud.

A catastrophic tear consumed the Rakuyo, debris dropping and scattering on the ocean.

The lone escort scrambled to find us. And she did. On her run, she inflicted a single hit on the SJ radar. Coming back around, I quickly weighed our options. The hull was weakened, so instead of dropping below test depth, we could try to outmaneuver the escort. As the destroyer bared down on us, we swung to the right. The quick turn spared us some damage but we still took a direct hit on the periscope. The continued our course and the Japanese were not able to pinpoint our location again. When all was calm, we surfaced close to dusk and set about repairing the damage.

The work continued into the night but neither the SJ radar nor periscope could be salvaged. Any further attacks this patrol would have to be made on the surface, a risky endeavor even at night, nigh impossible if any targets were under escort. With our attack capabilities hampered, we pressed on with the patrol.

We encountered nothing for a day or so but then we spotted two freighters under escort. With only 8 torpedoes left and an inoperable periscope, I let the ships pass.

Our next encounter was another convoy, ripe with opportunity. We could only proceed if we could close the distance and engage at night. The route of the convoy cooperated and under the cover of darkness we identified 3 large freighters: Toyo Maru (6900 tons), Totteri Maru (6000 tons), and the Ural Maru (6400 tons).

Just our luck.

We moved into position and targeted the largest freighter, the Toyo Maru from midrange. Firing a spread of 4 torpedoes from the front tubes, we swung around and fired an additional spread of 2 torpedoes from the aft. Our aim was true as 3 hit home and 2 detonated.

The Toyo Maru lurched and listed, leaking oil and smoking but remained afloat. Then came the escorts.

“Dive, dive, dive,” I shouted.

We dove as quickly as possible and by some minor miracle we escaped detection. We took inventory. Only 4 torpedoes left.

We couldn’t cut and run. Not while we had torpedoes left. We went at it again.

The Toyo Maru fell behind, limping in the water, still protected by a Japanese destroyer. We kept our distance during the day and at night, we closed in for the kill.

Firing a 2-torpedo spread from the aft at midrange, one connected but was a dud. The destroyer descended upon us in moments as we crash dove under the waves. The Japanese were already lobbing shells before we went down. Once under, I ordered us to veer to the left in hopes of further evading the coming depth charges. The charges came down and inflicted two hits on the Beluga. We took on water but we managed to stanch the flooding.

The destroyer would not let up and hammered us again. But instead of maneuvering, we bluffed and stayed the course straight. The Japanese didn’t take the bait and scattered a pattern of charges above us. Two hits shook the Beluga, as we took on more water and the defunct periscope was damaged further. We were given a respite when the destroyer did not come back around, ostensibly losing us.

We were dogged and determined and continued to stalk the Toyo Maru, following the oil slick trailing behind her sagging hull. We kept our distance during the day and would have to wait until night on account of our inoperable periscope. But without our SJ radar, the Toyo Maru and her escort disappeared into the night.

Disappointment settled across the crew. Without that third kill, we changed course and plotted our way back to Brisbane.

But Lady Luck had other plans for us. Out on the open ocean, alone and vulnerable was the small freighter, Eizen Maru (4700 tons).

At night, we pushed into close range and let hell loose. 2 aft torpedoes and 50 6-inch shells from the deck gun.

The first torpedo was a dud. The second detonated but did not sink her. The decks guns missed in the night. We brought up another 50 rounds and hammered away, slamming multiple shells into her until she finally went under. We had nabbed that third ship.

With nearly all our munitions spent but 21,000 tons to our name, we arrived back in Brisbane without incident.

Repairs will take an extra month on account of the hull damage, but the crew and I are commended for the remarkable tonnage we were able to bag.

I was awarded the Bronze Star for scoring three sunk ships in a single patrol. The Beluga’s total tonnage for the war so far stands at over 53000 tons. For the first time, I feel like a competent commander, worthy of the rank and title, worthy of commanding the Beluga in prosecuting this war against the Japanese.

Ships Sunk: 3

Patrol Tonnage: 21000 tons

Career Total: 53100 tons

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