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HISTORICAL REFLECTION
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USS Growler (SS-215) at Brisbane, Australia, for repairs to her bow,
after she rammed a Japanese patrol vessel in the Bismarck Islands on 7 February 1943.

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Medal of Honor Citation for Commander Howard W. Gilmore
For distinguished gallantry and valor above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the USS Growler during her Fourth War Patrol in the Southwest Pacific from 10 January to 7 February 1943. Boldly striking at the enemy in spite of continuous hostile air and antisubmarine patrols, CDR Gilmore sank one Japanese freighter and damaged another by torpedo fire, successfully evading severe depth charges following each attack. In the darkness of night on 7 February, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the Growler. CDR Gilmore daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker instead, ripping into her port side at 11 knots and bursting wide her plates. In the terrific fire of the sinking gunboat’s heavy machineguns, CDR Gilmore calmly gave the order to clear the bridge, and refusing safety for himself, remained on deck while his men preceded him below. Struck down by the fusillade of bullets and having done his utmost against the enemy, in his final living moments, CDR Gilmore gave his last order to the officer of the deck, “Take her down.” The Growler dived; seriously damaged but under control, she was brought safely to port by her well-trained crew inspired by the courageous fighting spirit of their dead captain.

Submarine Hero –
Howard Walter Gilmore


by Edward Whitman

The first U.S. submariner to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II, CDR Howard W. Gilmore, lost his life in a selfless act of heroism that has become one of the most inspiring legends of the Submarine Force.
Gilmore was born in Selma, Alabama, in 1902 and served first as an enlisted Sailor before entering the U.S. Naval Academy by competitive examination. He graduated from the Academy in 1926, standing 34th in a class of 456. Before the war, Gilmore had served as the executive officer of USS Shark (SS-174), and in a colorful incident during that time, narrowly survived an assault by a group of thugs in Panama, who cut his throat during an excursion ashore. In March 1942, four months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he took command of the new USS Growler (SS-215), fourth boat of the 81-ship Gato (SS-212) class and sailed her to the Pacific theater.

Operating out of Pearl Harbor, Growler was one of seven submarines assigned picket duty north and west of the islands as part of the Hawaii defense force during the early phases of the Battle of Midway in June 1942. Later that month, she embarked on her first war patrol in the vicinity of the Aleutian Islands, where Gilmore attacked three Japanese destroyers off Kiska, sinking one and severely damaging the other two, while narrowly avoiding two torpedoes fired at him in return. In early August, Gilmore took Growler on her second and most successful war patrol in the East China Sea near Taiwan, sinking four merchant ships totaling 15,000 tons, before returning to Hawaii in late September.

In October 1942, Growler sailed from Pearl Harbor to Brisbane, Australia, by way of Truk in the Caroline Islands, both to support the blockade of that Japanese bastion and as part of a general repositioning of submarine assets ordered by ADM Chester Nimitz during the early struggle for the Solomon Islands. Gilmore and Growler scored no kills on this third war patrol but arrived safely in Brisbane in mid-December.

Growler departed Brisbane on New Year’s Day 1943 for her fateful fourth war patrol, targeting Japanese shipping lanes between Truk and Rabaul in the Bismarck Archipelago. On 16 January, Gilmore sighted an enemy convoy, maneuvered inside the escorts, and sank Chifuku Maru, a 6,000-ton passenger-cargo ship. He was unsuccessful in subsequent attacks on a small convoy and a converted gunboat, but on the night of 6-7 February, while charging batteries on the surface, Gilmore spotted the 900-ton provision ship Hayasaki and manned the bridge for a surface attack. With Growler still a mile away, however, Hayasaki’s watch saw the on-coming submarine, and Hayasaki turned to the attack herself, attempting to ram her assailant. As the small ship charged out of the darkness, Gilmore sounded the collision alarm and shouted, “Left full rudder!” – to no avail. Perhaps inadvertently, Growler hit the Japanese adversary amidships at 17 knots, heeling the submarine 50 degrees, bending sideways 18 feet of her the bow, and disabling the forward torpedo tubes.

Simultaneously, the Japanese crew unleashed a murderous burst of machine gun fire at Growler’s bridge, killing the assistant officer of the deck and a lookout, while wounding Gilmore himself and two other men. “Clear the bridge!” Gilmore ordered as he struggled to hang on to a frame. As the rest of the bridge party dropped down the hatch into the conning tower, the executive officer, LCDR Arnold Schade – shaken by the impact and dazed by his own fall into the control room – waited expectantly for his captain to appear. Instead from above came the shouted command: “Take her down!” Realizing that he could not himself get below in time if the ship were to escape, Gilmore chose to make the supreme sacrifice for his shipmates. Schade hesitated briefly – then followed his captain’s last order and submerged the crippled ship.

Surfacing some time later in hope of reattacking the Hayasaki, LCDR Schade found the seas empty. The Japanese ship had, in fact, survived the encounter, but there was no sign of Gilmore, who apparently had drifted away in the night. Schade and Growler’s crew managed to control the ship’s flooding and limped back to Brisbane on 17 February. Taken immediately into dry dock, Growler was repaired and fought again – at first under the command of LCDR Schade, and then under CDR Thomas B. Oakley, Jr. Sadly, she was lost on her 11th war patrol in November 1944, while attacking a Japanese convoy south of Mindoro in the Philippine Islands. Growler received eight battle stars for her role in the Pacific War.

For sacrificing his own life to save his ship, CDR Howard Gilmore was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Subsequently, the submarine tender Howard W. Gilmore (AS-16) was named for him and sponsored by his widow. Even today – over 50 years later – “Take her down!” remains one of the legendary phrases of the U.S. Submarine Force.

      — Dr. Whitman is the Naval Science Advisor at the Center for Security Strategies and Operations (CSSO)

          at the Techmatics Division of Anteon Corporation in Arlington, Virginia.

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                          Japanese patrol vessel burning after being attacked by Growler (SS-215).


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USS Growler (SS-215), underway 5 May 1943,
probably off Brisbane, Australia
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USS Growler (SS-215) was launched on 2 November 1941 at the Electric Boat Company, Groton, Connecticut, and commissioned on 20 March 1942. (Then) LCDR Howard Gilmore was her first commanding officer. Growler was an early member of the Gato (SS-212) class, which then represented the highest stage of development reached by U.S. fleet
submarines prior to World War II. Eventually, 81 Gatos were launched between May 1941 and November 1943: 41 by Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut; 18 by the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Navy Yard; eight by the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California; ten by the Manitowoc Ship Building Company, Manitowoc, Wisconsin (from whence they were barged down the Mississippi to New Orleans); and four by Cramp Shipbuilding, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Gato-class ships were followed in series construction by the Balao (SS-285) class, first launched in October 1942, but the brunt of the Pacific submarine campaign was borne by the earlier boats. Consequently, 21 of the Gato class – over a quarter – were lost in World War II, most with all hands. Growler’s principal characteristics – typical for a Gato-class fleet boat – are listed here:

Displacement:   Surfaced: 1,526 tons
Submerged: 2,424 tons
Length: 311’ 9”
Beam: 27’ 2”
Draft: 15’ 3”
Speed: Surfaced: 20.25 knots
Submerged: 8.75 knots
Endurance: 11,000 nm at 10 knots, surfaced
Armament: 

10 21” torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft)
1 4”/50 deck gun
4 machine guns

Complement:  66 men