Sub-to-Sub Rescue Still Remembered After 70 Years

USS Cod (SS 224) photographed following World War II. NHHC photo NH 79761

USS Cod (SS 224) photographed following World War II. NHHC photo NH 79761

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Before we had “sound bites” or pithy mission themes, and well before hash-tagging anything, the crew on USS Cod (SS 224) understood the meaning of #PartnershipsMatter.

It was July 8-10, 1945, when the Gato-class submarine came to the assistance of a partner nation, Dutch sub 0-19, after it became grounded on a coral outcropping in the South China Sea.

The rescue of the crew would later turn into an epic thank-you party that would be immortalized on Cod’s battle flag and conning tower. And now 70 years later, both countries will take the time to re-enact their shared moment in history at 2 p.m. Saturday (July 11) at the USS Cod Submarine Memorial, North Marginal Road, Cleveland, Ohio. It has been reacted every year since 2004.

As the “submariners” board USS Cod by raft — minus strong currents and the possibility of enemy warships — the Dutch flag will be transferred and attached to the jack staff of USS Cod. A US Navy World War II-era Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber will fly over the ceremony, keeping a watchful eye out for danger, just like one did in the South China Sea seven decades earlier.

There will also be the Tolling of the Boats ceremony to honor Dutch and American boats lost during World War II. A number of American and Dutch officials will attend the re-enactment.

 Seventh War Patrol

It was a “there but for the grace of God, go I” moment. On her seventh war patrol while cruising in the South China Sea, USS Cod caught the distress signal of another vessel. As the diesel-powered sub grew closer, they could finally make out it was another submarine grounded on an outcropping of coral. With the boat’s nose in the air, it was completely helpless to any attacks, either by man or nature.

Even as the war was waning, Japanese warships were no less lethal when they came upon allied ships, especially a sitting duck like Dutch sub 0-19.

The Dutch-flagged submarine 0-19 after running aground on Ladd Reef in the South China Sea. Photo courtesy of dutchsubmarines.com

The Dutch-flagged submarine 0-19 after running aground on Ladd Reef in the South China Sea. Photo courtesy of dutchsubmarines.com

The event was captured on film by Norman Jensen, a motor machinist’s mate who had been assigned to document USS Cod’s seventh war patrol. He was up top when they came upon the stricken boat.

“When we first approached, all we saw was a blinking light,” he stated in a video about the event. “We came up to it, and here was this vessel. All I could see was this angle, possibly a 35-degree angle. It had hit the reef and gone boom, right up, and then sunk down. It hit it at low tide, surprisingly enough, and at high tide, it still couldn’t get off.”

The Dutch crew was understandably ecstatic to see friendly faces approach to help them.

The crew on USS Cod spent two days trying to salvage the sub, a welcome respite of saving a ship rather than destroying them. But finally the decision was made that 0-19 could not be freed from the reef. And so, thanks to Jensen’s video, the American submarine made history on July 10, 1945, with the first recorded international submarine-to-submarine rescue.

American aircraft circled overhead to protect the U.S. and 56 Dutch sailors as they left their boat in yellow rafts, buffeted by strong currents, to board USS Cod.

“It was the saddest thing you ever saw in your life, those guys coming aboard,” Jensen said. “They had been aboard that thing for five years, hadn’t even been home in five years.”

One of the men clutched a little doll, “like a kachina doll made by the Hopis,” Jensen said. “That doll had been with them, had been their good luck” doll.

The Dutch sub had been lucky, although it might not have felt like that at the time. The boat was traveling at 18 knots at 4 a.m. when it slammed into the reef, coming to a dead stop within 80 feet.

While the “good luck” didn’t last for the 0-19, it did for its crew. As the 0-19’s skipper left the boat, his last act was to transfer the Dutch flag to the American submarine. Then what began as a rescue mission turned into one of destruction as the boat was scuttled to keep it from the Japanese.

USS Cod destroyed the 0-19 with two scuttling charges, two torpedoes, and 16 rounds from Cod’s 5-inch deck gun, according to Paul Farace, a Cod curator. It was cozy quarters, to say the least, for the next nearly three days as the American submarine, built for a crew of 60, hauled her 153 crew and passengers to the Subic Bay naval base. Included onboard were three Japanese prisoners and a Chinese interpreter.

After the Dutch disembarked, the story could have ended there, the rescue of 0-19 becoming just a footnote in Cod’s impressive seven war patrols.

When USS Cod returned to her Perth, Australia home base on Aug. 13, they were greeted by the grateful Dutch crew inviting them to a thank-you party. When word got out the Japanese had surrendered, the party turned into a 3-day celebration they had survived the war.

USS Cod's WWII battleflag arrives at the Dutch Submarine Force historical center in Den Helder, Netherlands June 30, 2015. Holding the flag are Captain Hugo Ammerlaan, commander of the Dutch Submarine service and Gerard Horneman of the historical center. Capt. Ammerlaan will be aboard Cod July 11 for the 70th anniversary commemoration of Cod's rescue of the crew of the Dutch sub 0-19. Photo courtesy of USS Cod Submarine Memorial Facebook page

USS Cod’s WWII battleflag arrives at the Dutch Submarine Force historical center in Den Helder, Netherlands June 30, 2015. Holding the flag are Captain Hugo Ammerlaan, commander of the Dutch Submarine service and Gerard Horneman of the historical center. Capt. Ammerlaan will be aboard Cod July 11 for the 70th anniversary commemoration of Cod’s rescue of the crew of the Dutch sub 0-19. Photo courtesy of USS Cod Submarine Memorial Facebook page

To commemorate the shared comradery between the two submarine crews, USS Cod’s battle flag and conning tower both carry a cocktail glass garnished with an olive above the name “0-19.”

USS Cod earned seven battle stars for her World War II war patrols and was credited with sinking 12 enemy vessels. Although commissioned only three years earlier, Cod would be decommissioned in 1946 and placed into reserves. She was recommissioned in 1951 during the Korean War, and decommissioned again in 1954 and placed back into reserves. The submarine was then hauled to Cleveland where it served as a naval reserve training vessel and a popular field trip destination for school children.

Following the Navy’s move to nuclear-powered submarines, USS Cod was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1971. Five years later, the boat would begin its career as a museum and memorial to the United States Naval Submarine Force, docked at Lake Erie. It was a fitting location for Cod: the boat’s four diesel engines were built by General Motor’s Cleveland Diesel plant.

Ten years after becoming a memorial, Cod received yet another honor, named as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

As for the Dutch submarine, the 0-19 is also a memorial, of a different sort. Still clinging to Ladd’s Reef, in the 1990s, the hulk warns passing vessels of the dangers of the South China Sea.

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