How the USS Growler’s Heroic Commander Died Saving His Men

EVERY DAY, scores of midshipmen stroll down the seventh Wing hall on the U.S. Naval Academy’s sprawling Bancroft Corridor dormitory. As they go Room 7046, they could discover a plaque on the wall commemorating certainly one of their very own, Commander Howard Walter Gilmore, class of 1926. He was a World Conflict II submariner, a Medal of Honor recipient, and the person answerable for one of many navy’s most memorable rallying cries. After his sub, the USS Growler, was severely broken in a February 1943 collision with a Japanese ship, Gilmore, the lone man alive on the bridge, made the selection to save lots of his ship and crew, understanding full effectively he wouldn’t survive.

“Take her down!” he shouted under. “Take her down!” 

By then, Gilmore had been in fight for eight months and had repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to aggressively take dangers to perform his purpose of sinking enemy ships. He died within the prosecution of that purpose. However he confirmed how profitable taking dangers may very well be within the combat in opposition to the enemy. Within the early a part of the struggle, not each sub captain “received it.”


By mid-June 1942 it grew to become obvious to sub power commanders that males like Gilmore have been uncommon commodities. There have been too many submarine skippers who, having served their complete careers in peacetime, didn’t know the way to combat a struggle. These males, sometimes of their forties, had spent the interwar interval at comfortable billets like Pearl Harbor or Manila. Once they went on workout routines, their subs have been assigned as items of the fleet, to be employed for superior scouting. These skippers received their accolades for good, synchronous maneuvering and quick, correct flag signaling. Independence was frowned upon. And god forbid somebody ought to take dangers. So when struggle got here on December 7, 1941, many risk-averse submarine commanders have been unable to rise to the problem.

As submarine service historian and former navy man Clay Blair Jr. famous in his guide Silent Victory: “Throughout the first yr and a half of the struggle, dozens needed to be relived for ‘lack of aggressiveness.’” Blair chalked it as much as “overcaution” on the a part of skippers whose prewar coaching emphasised “bringing the boat again” over offensive operations. To fill the slots, “brash devil-may-care youthful officers” have been handed command. Their ranks included a veteran submariner, Howard Gilmore, then 39, who proved greater than able to throwing warning and precedent to the wind to indicate that assertive (however good) techniques in opposition to the Japanese introduced outcomes.

Submarine commander Howard W. Gilmore (above) had a fame as an aggressive hunter. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

from annapolis to the aleutians

AN ALABAMIAN BY BIRTH, Gilmore was raised in Meridian, Mississippi, the place his father owned Gilmore Tailor & Shirt Store, offering custom-made males’s clothes to residents of the small however rising metropolis. After graduating from highschool in 1920, Gilmore enlisted within the U.S. Navy, incomes a yeoman’s ranking. In 1922 he sought an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy by a troublesome examination the secretary of the navy gave yearly to serving sailors. He succeeded and joined the category of 1926 that September.

On the Academy, Gilmore excelled in lecturers, however, not like most of his fellow midshipmen, he shied away from athletics. His solely brush with organized sports activities was a stint as supervisor of an intramural soccer crew. His classmates, who ribbed him about his pink hair and freckles, loved his firm—he all the time had fascinating tales to inform. As an indication of their esteem, they took to calling him “Rely Gil.” That will have been due to his “unruffled disposition and complacent methods,” recalled one. In June 1926 Gilmore graduated thirty fourth in a category of 436. He joined the battleship USS Mississippi as a junior officer, the place he spent 4 years within the gunnery division.

Often called “Rely Gil” on the U.S. Naval Academy, Gilmore began his profession on floor ships earlier than transitioning in 1931 to submarines. (United States Naval Academy)

Floor ships have been okay, however in 1931 Gilmore determined to shake up his profession a bit and requested for a switch to the submarine faculty at New London, Connecticut. He aced the seven-month course and, in July of that yr, joined the USS S-48—on the time probably the most trendy submarines within the fleet. After 9 months at sea, the navy despatched him again to Annapolis for postgraduate research in ordnance; in his spare time he took up aggressive taking pictures, profitable distinction as an above-average marksman with each rifles and pistols. A stint on the Naval Gun Manufacturing unit in Washington, D.C., adopted, the place he helped supervise the manufacture of cannon of assorted calibers. In October 1935, after two years of shore responsibility, Gilmore was rotated again to sea and subs, ultimately turning into CO of his personal sub—the outdated S-48—in April 1941.

The day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Gilmore was assigned to command the USS Growler, nonetheless underneath building at Groton, Connecticut. Lieutenant Arnold F. Schade was named his government officer. Their mission was to see the boat completed, put it into fee, hone a cohesive combating crew, and take the sub to struggle. The 311-foot, 1,500-ton Gato-class boat was the end result of a decade of effort to make sure the navy had a contemporary, long-legged submarine able to working independently in Pacific waters. It carried 24 torpedoes, had a prime floor velocity of 21 knots, and a variety of 11,000 nautical miles. 

By early 1942, when this shot of the 4th Command Class on the submarine base at New London, Connecticut, was taken, Gilmore (prime row, far left), at nearly 40, was an outdated salt within the service. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command

Growler formally joined the navy in March 1942 and, on June 9, reached the submarine base at Pearl Harbor. Every day en route, Gilmore drilled his crew arduous in diving, gunnery, and torpedo-firing workout routines. After every week at Pearl, the boat departed for Halfway, an atoll almost 1,000 miles to the west. However when Commander Gilmore arrived on the navy base there on June 24, he discovered his mission had modified. As an alternative of heading on to the Western Pacific—the place all of the motion was stated to be—Growler was redirected towards the Aleutian Islands, 2,500 miles to the north, to look at Japanese operations within the wake of enemy landings on Attu and Kiska earlier that month. The invasion had been meant to attract U.S. forces away from the Halfway space and the nice battle fought there the primary week of June, but it surely additionally served to rattle the delicate psyche of the American public by demonstrating that Japan had the flexibility to assault and occupy American soil. 

The USS Growler conducts sea trials off Groton, Connecticut, on February 21, 1942. Gilmore had been named commander of the brand new Gato-class sub on December 8, 1941. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

On the morning of June 30, snow-covered Kiska Volcano got here into view to lookouts on the Growler, rising above the mists surrounding the island. The sub spent the subsequent few days patrolling the shoreline, reporting ship and plane contacts again to headquarters at Pearl. On July 5 they noticed three Japanese warships anchored shut collectively in Reynard Cove. The cove—about midway up the mountainous east coast of Kiska—had been the location of one of many Japanese landings on June 7. Gilmore recognized the vessels as 2,000-ton destroyers. It was an ideal setup: like three geese in a row.

He assessed the dangers and determined to assault all three without delay. It will be the primary shot of his struggle and he wished to benefit from it. The captain rang “normal quarters” and, at 5:55 a.m., fired 4 torpedoes. Two hit their targets amidships. One other exploded underneath the foremast of the third—a very good begin. However Gilmore hadn’t reckoned on an anchored destroyer taking pictures again. Certainly one of them fired two torpedoes from its deck tubes towards the American submarine. Working “scorching, straight and regular,” they “swished down either side of Growler,” the skipper wrote in his report in regards to the shut name. A number of toes nearer on both aspect, and the sub would have been on the backside of the bay. The incident completely spooked the crew, who may hear the missiles zinging previous the hull. Japanese planes and a patrol boat pressed house their assault on the sub, peppering the ocean with bombs and depth fees, and knocking out Growler’s supersonic sonar and one of many periscopes. Gilmore headed for deep water and stored the sub underneath for 5 and a half hours till it was away from the chaos. 

Its primary mission accomplished, Growler headed again for Pearl, arriving on July 17, 1942. The commander of the navy’s submarine power in the Pacific, Rear Admiral Robert H. English, opened his written evaluation with appreciable approval for Howard Gilmore’s efficiency: “The primary struggle patrol of the GROWLER was extraordinarily effectively performed and the outcomes have been most gratifying. The assaults on the three destroyers benefit the very best reward.” For the Aleutian motion, Gilmore was awarded his first Navy Cross, the service’s second-highest honor. Clay Blair referred to as him “a outstanding officer, who gave the impression to be with out concern.”

Rear Admiral Robert H. English (above) was filled with reward for Gilmore’s first struggle patrols, calling them “effectively performed” and “aggressively prosecuted”—their lethal accuracy mirrored on the sub’s battle flag (under). (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)
(Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

operating out of luck

GROWLER’S SECOND struggle patrol proved much more fruitful than the primary, although it received off to a sluggish begin. Patrolling off Formosa (now Taiwan) in late August 1942, the boat made two assaults on enemy freighters within the first three days. Each failed, and Gilmore chastised himself for being overanxious and going after targets underneath marginal circumstances. The strike on the second ship had led to a three-hour reprisal by Japanese antisubmarine forces. 

Simply earlier than 5 a.m. on August 25, Growler was operating submerged when the skipper ordered “up periscope” to take a fast go searching. He was astonished to seek out that he had sailed into the midst of a flotilla of almost 150 fishing boats, which have been “close to us for the subsequent three hours.” Early that afternoon he noticed the Senyo Maru, a 3,000-ton freighter. It took 4 torpedoes to sink the hapless merchantman. Then got here the same old livid counterattack from air and sea. The stress on the crew was large. One sailor had a panic assault at his station and needed to be sedated with morphine.

Six days later, on August 31, Gilmore sank the 5,800-ton freighter Eifuku Maru with two torpedoes. Within the early hours of September 4, he unlimbered Growler’s 3-inch deck gun and gave his gun crew an opportunity to down a sampan that had been trailing the sub. It took them simply six rounds. Later that very same day he attacked the ten,000-ton Kashino. The captain recognized the ship as a big tanker, however in actual fact it was a vessel specifically designed to move the huge 18.1-inch weapons for the super-battleship Yamato from the gun manufacturing unit to the shipyard at Kure. Every barrel was 70 toes lengthy and weighed 145 tons. He expended 4 torpedoes on Kashino and was happy when the massive freighter sank in two minutes.

Growler’s ultimate victory of the patrol got here on September 7 with the sinking of a small freighter, Taika Maru. Gilmore headed to Halfway on September 23, crusing into the sub base there with all 24 of his torpedoes expended. Admiral English poured extra accolades upon the commander’s efficiency, writing that “all assaults have been aggressively prosecuted.” The commander was awarded a second Navy Cross, within the type of a gold star. His fight file within the first eight months of the struggle put him within the ranks of what have been at the moment the submarine power’s most profitable skippers.

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On October 22, 1942, Growler departed Halfway heading southwest. Gilmore’s mission on this third struggle patrol was to scout what naval intelligence stated was a busy enemy transport lane alongside New Britain Island resulting in the Japanese fortress at Rabaul. The U.S. Navy may learn Japanese naval codes, together with the first one, “JN-25,” that informed them exactly the place a given convoy, or perhaps a single ship, could be at a given day and time. It was not an infallible system: a communications snafu on November 17 despatched Growler to the improper location to intercept a convoy of cargo ships headed south, and Gilmore discovered nothing. Late on November 20 the navy despatched one other cable directing Growler to a spot close to the northern finish of the island to interdict three teams of enemy warships inbound for Rabaul. However he once more discovered nothing, and misplaced one other alternative to assault.

On November 25 Growler made the patrol’s first actual enemy contact. Gilmore recognized the ship as a destroyer. But it surely was transferring too quick, so he deserted his effort. The following day he noticed a giant freighter at 16,000 yards and commenced getting ready for an assault, however his goal began zigzagging wildly, so he needed to let it go as soon as once more. Repeatedly the sub was able to pounce however the circumstances by no means appeared propitious. “Approaches have been tried on each vessel sighted. No assault potential,” he wrote. On December 4, the navy pulled the plug, and Growler was ordered to sail to its new house base at Brisbane, Australia. Thirty-one days on station and, regardless of the JN-25 decrypts, the boat had sighted simply eight Japanese ships and returned with all 24 torpedoes unfired. There can be no reward for this patrol. 


THE SUB’S FOURTH PATROL started on New Yr’s Day 1943 with orders to return to New Britain to once more seek for Japanese transport. On January 16 radar picked up a convoy of eight freighters with three escorts. It was simply the kind of goal Howard Gilmore relished. He reckoned the dangers have been manageable, so at 8:45 a.m. he began his method. Although the ships have been making frequent course zigzags, simply after 10 o’clock the enemy zigged instantly into the trail of Growler. The skipper fired two torpedoes that hit the 5,900-ton passenger and cargo ship Chifuku Maru. Down it went.

Watching by the periscope Gilmore noticed a destroyer simply 400 yards out charging towards his submarine. “Dive! Dive!” he ordered because the klaxon rang all through the boat. Depth fees from the destroyer rained down on Growler, some fairly shut, however the skipper once more managed to evade his attackers and proceed the patrol. On January 30, simply earlier than 7 p.m., he fired 4 torpedoes on the 6,400-ton Toko Maru. One hit and blew off the vessel’s bow. After the desultory third patrol, issues have been trying up on the fourth.

An hour after midnight on Sunday, February 7, Growler was patrolling on the floor off the southwest coast of the Solomon Islands. At 1:10 a.m., radar picked up a blip at a variety of two,000 yards. Moments later, regardless of depressing visibility, the boat’s 4 lookouts noticed the ship on the horizon. Haze intermittently blocked their view, however they might inform that what gave the impression to be a small gunboat was transferring away from the submarine. Commander Gilmore determined to provide chase. 

He instantly went into assault mode, made all tubes prepared, and joined his males on the slim, open-air bridge on the entrance of the conning tower. Growler bore down on the goal, slowly closing the hole. However by the dense haze, nobody in his crew observed that the enemy ship had apparently noticed the sub, reversed course, and was heading straight towards it at 15 knots. The adversaries have been on a collision course, with the gap between them diminishing quickly. The lads working the torpedo knowledge pc within the conning tower—a complicated analog machine that stored observe of vary, velocity, and course—introduced that they had locked onto the goal. Seconds later, government officer Arnold Schade referred to as as much as the bridge: “We’re too shut!” By that he meant that the exploders on the sub’s Mark XIV torpedoes required a run of no less than 500 yards to arm and the converging ships have been now nearer than that. It was too late…too late for Howard Gilmore to keep away from the inevitable. When he realized the hopelessness of his predicament, he ordered “left full rudder” and sounded the collision alarm. 

The fourth patrol turned lethal—for the Growler. It rammed a Japanese vessel, bending the submarine’s bow at a 90-degree angle (above), earlier than the enemy peppered its conning tower with gunfire (under), killing two males on the bridge and wounding the captain. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)
(Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

At 1:35 a.m. Growler smashed into the port aspect of what turned out to be the Hayasaki, acombat help vessel, at 17 knots, bending 15 toes of its personal bow again almost 90 levels to port, crumpling the primary 35 toes of the hull, disabling the ahead diving planes and ahead torpedo tubes, and making an enormous gap within the enemy boat’s aspect. The sub rolled 50 levels earlier than slowly righting itself. The influence knocked everybody aboard the submarine to the deck and killed a lot of the boat’s electrical programs. Water poured in by quite a few leaks—the pump room flooded to a depth of a number of toes. Issues appeared grim for Growler.

A number of machine weapons aboard the enemy ship started raking the conning tower, peppering the skinny metal plate with .50-caliber bullets and hanging all six males on the bridge, Gilmore included. “Clear the bridge!” the wounded captain shouted, ordering everybody to get under—however solely three males made it. Two others, Ensign William W. Williams and Fireman Wilbert F. Kelley, had been killed outright within the fusillade, leaving the captain the one dwelling soul topside. Beneath, Schade waited in useless for his skipper to look on the bridge hatch. That’s when he heard Howard Gilmore give his immortal order: “Take her down! Take her down!” 

Schade hesitated for a full half-minute earlier than turning to the yeoman and ordering him to “sound the diving alarm.” Growler slowly disappeared into the depths. Although watertight hatches protected the sub, a number of compartments quickly flooded, making it tough for the crew to take care of depth management. Schade stored the boat submerged for an hour, then surfaced so the crew may seek for the skipper, understanding of their hearts that they’d not discover him. Additionally they checked out the harm. “The ship was only a whole mess,” Schade recalled after the struggle. He fired off a radio message to HQ, explaining their scenario and the lack of the captain and two different males. Brisbane responded with an order to terminate the patrol and have Growler get again to Australia as greatest it may.


FOR THREE MONTHS, the “Silent Service” stored the story of Growler’s heroic skipper and his ultimate order to itself. On Could 7, 1943, the navy lastly launched an official communiqué that grew to become front-page information throughout the USA. Particulars ultimately reached chief of naval operations Admiral Ernest J. King, together with a request from the submarine power commanders that he bestow the nation’s highest honor upon Howard Walter Gilmore—the Medal of Honor. Gilmore would grow to be the primary submariner to obtain the medal in World Conflict II—to be joined by six others over the course of the struggle. In a ceremony in New Orleans on July 13, 1943, Rear Admiral Andrew C. Bennett, commandant of the Eighth Naval District, positioned the medal across the neck of Gilmore’s spouse, Jeanne, as their kids, Howard Jr. and Vernon Jeanne, appeared on. That September, Jeanne sponsored the launch of a brand new submarine tender, the USS Howard W. Gilmore, which served with distinction within the Pacific Theater.

5 months after Gilmore’s loss of life, his widow passes her husband’s Medal of Honor to their son, Howard Jr. Different honors included a brand new sub tender (under), the USS Howard W. Gilmore, launched on September 16, 1943. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)
(Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

Growler had limped into the bottom at Brisbane on February 17 after a Herculean effort by the ship’s crew to revive it to a semblance of operability. The large query was whether or not the ship’s bow was repairable and whether or not it may very well be accomplished in Australia. After surveying the harm, U.S. Navy engineers concluded {that a} new nostril may very well be fabricated at Brisbane; the work was accomplished in early Could, across the time Gilmore’s story went public. As a ultimate, whimsical contact the Australians welded nickel-plated kangaroo cutouts to every aspect of the nostril. On Could 13, 1943, USS Growler, with Lieutenant Commander Arthur F. Schade as its captain, steamed out on its fifth struggle patrol. Schade remained with the sub by its eighth patrol. 

Over the course of the struggle Growler racked up a formidable rating of 15 Japanese ships sunk and seven broken. The boat’s luck lastly ran out on November 8, 1944, throughout its eleventh struggle patrol, when it was sunk by a Japanese destroyer southwest of Manila Bay. There have been no survivors. 

However Gilmore’s brave order took on a lifetime of its personal, becoming a member of proud U.S. Navy slogans like “Don’t quit the ship,” “I’ve not but begun to combat,” and “Rattling the torpedoes, full velocity forward.” Any midshipman pausing exterior Bancroft Corridor’s Room 7046 can learn the phrases of Gilmore’s Medal of Honor quotation: “For distinguished gallantry and valor above and past the decision of responsibility.” Within the armed forces of the USA, there isn’t any greater calling. ✯