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American submarine rescued stranded Dutch crew in South China Sea

July 1945 event reenacted in Ohio

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

CLEVELAND, Ohio – In world submarine history, the U.S.S. Cod and the Dutch 0-19 after more than 60 years remain a class to themselves. Their July 1945 encounter recently was reenacted at an Ohio maritime museum, thousands of miles away from the original rescue point. The Cleveland program further fostered the bond between Northeast Ohio's Dutch community and the U.S.S. Cod Submarine Memorial.

The Cod made submarine history when it rescued the Dutch crew of 56 which had run aground on a South China Sea reef deep in enemy-controlled waters in the final weeks of World War II.

On the morning of July 8, 1945, the Cod arrived at Ladd Reef to aid the Dutch Submarine O-19, which sat on the coral outcropping. After two days of strenuous attempts at pulling O-19 free, the captains of both vessels agreed that there was no hope of achieving that goal. After moving the sailors to safety, the Cod destroyed the O-19 with two scuttling charges, two torpedoes, and 16 rounds from its 5-inch deck gun. The Cod was home to 153 men, including three Japanese prisoners and a volunteer Chinese interpreter, for the two and a half-day run to the recently liberated Subic Bay naval base.

Cod crewmen in life rafts re-staged the last act of the skipper of the O-19 - the transfer of the flag to the Cod - before the sub was destroyed to prevent its capture by the Japanese. According to Dr. John Fakan, who serves as president of the Cod Memorial, the Dutch submariners did not expect to survive an attack by the Japanese and were elated the Cod arrived to save them. The reenactment went a lot faster than the 1945 rescue because the currents in Ohio’s Northcoast Harbor are minor compared to those of the reef, which that had made the recovery of the O-19 crew so dangerous in 1945. They did not have to worry either about enemy fire.

Thank You turned into victory party

Several weeks later, when the Cod returned to her base in Australia, the crew of the O-19 was waiting at the dock to invite their rescuers to an appreciation party the next night. Making the event even more memorable, recalls Fakan, it was during that party that news of the Japanese surrender was broadcast. Everyone at the party suddenly realized they were going to survive the war. Ever since, the Cod's battle flag has carried a martini glass above the name 'O-19' to symbolize the unique rescue and party. Retired Navy Captain Joseph Adelman, an Ohio resident, was on deck to receive the O-19 flag when the flag carrier climbed aboard. Adelman is the last surviving skipper of the Cod and decommissioned the sub in 1954.

The O-19 rescue and another heroic incident involving the Cod were recorded in colour movies made by Navy photographer Norman Jensen who was assigned to film Cod's war patrol. The films were discovered in the National Archives in 1992.

Tough patrols

Far away from home but at least free, the O-19 crew was recovering from its previous patrol, which had been extremely hazardous when the crew and the submarine narrowly escaped from merciless depth charging enemy. It had taken quite a bit of time to repair the submarine, which gave the crew the opportunity to unwind and get back in shape for the next patrol: to pay the Japanese back for what they had done to them.

On the June 25, the O-19 left Fremantle, carrying 40 dummy mines and important supplies for the American base at Subic Bay in the Philippines, the actual patrol starting point. They topped up the fuel tanks at Onslow, east of Exmouth Gulf, then passed via Lombok- and Karimata Street into the South China Sea, expecting to reach Subic Bay, the 10th of July.

It did not quite happen that way. At 04:00am, the O-19 world came to a sudden stop followed by a violent shaking. The submarine, which had been doing 18 knots, had struck Ladd Reef, due to high water a submerged coral reef in the South China Sea. The impact was immense, 2300 tons at a speed of 18 kn/h coming to a complete stand still within 80 feet. The heavy shaking was caused by both diesels going full astern while the screwtips hit the reef.

At low tide, it showed the boat had grounded at various places around amidships. With the mishap reported and assistance requested, the ship's company transferred heavy weights from forward to the stern of the boat. Water and fuel not needed for the journey to Subic were blown overboard. The anchor and chain were dropped on the reef.

At dusk, the U.S.S. Cod arrived at the scene, ready to give assistance. Various innovative ways to help the vessel slip off the reef failed. At high tide the attempts started, with both diesels running astern at full power, torpedo's fired from all bow tubes, the gun firing, using the jump-effect and with the powerful Cod pulling, all to no avail. A smooth surface may have helped but the 0-19 had open mine bins lodged in the reef, preventing any shifting. The only option remaining was to comply with Com. Task Force 71 order to destroy the boat, ending its successful record against the overwhelmingly stronger enemy. The captain was the last the abandon the O-19.

Wrote U.S. Admiral C. A. Lockwood, CO of the Pacific Submarine Service: “Of the Netherlands submarines, we saw a great deal in Australia and the Philippines. Their crews were determined and their submarines, while smaller than ours and not so well equipped for habitability and comfort, were thoroughly effective. They handled their boats with great skill and need take off their hats to no one with respect to daring in making their attacks. My observations of their capabilities and their performance in the South- West Pacific merely confirmed my former high regard for their hardihood and fighting qualities.

Where there's a tough job to be done, I am ready at any time to team up with a Dutchman.”