U.S.S. Barb: The Sub That Sank A Train

U.S.S. Barb: The Sub That Sank A Train

U.S.S. Barb: The Sub That Sank A Train

In 1973 an Italian submarine named Enrique Tazzoli was sold for a paltry
$100,000 as scrap metal. The submarine, given to the Italian Navy in
1953 was actually an incredible veteran of World War II service with a
heritage that never should have passed so unnoticed into the graveyards
of the metal recyclers. The U.S.S. Barb was a pioneer, paving the way
for the first submarine launched missiles and flying a battle flag
unlike that of any other ship. In addition to the Medal of Honor ribbon
at the top of the flag identifying the heroism of its captain, Commander
Eugene "Lucky" Fluckey, the bottom border of the flag bore the image of
a Japanese locomotive. The U.S.S. Barb was indeed, the submarine that
"SANK A TRAIN".

July, 1945 (Guam)
Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz looked across the desk at Admiral Lockwood
as he finished the personal briefing on U.S. war ships in the vicinity
of the northern coastal areas of Hokkaido, Japan. "Well, Chester,
there's only the Barb there, and probably no word until the patrol is
finished. You remember Gene Fluckey?" "Of course. I recommended him for
the Medal of Honor," Admiral Nimitz replied. "You surely pulled him from
command after he received it?"

July 18, 1945 (Patience Bay, Off the coast of Karafuto, Japan)
It was after 4 A.M. and Commander Fluckey rubbed his eyes as he peered
over the map spread before him. It was the twelfth war patrol of the
Barb, the fifth under Commander Fluckey. He should have turned command
over to another skipper after four patrols, but had managed to strike a
deal with Admiral Lockwood to make one more trip with the men he cared
for like a father, should his fourth patrol be successful. Of course, no
one suspected when he had struck that deal prior to his fourth and what
should have been his final war patrol on the Barb, that Commander
Fluckey's success would be so great he would be awarded the Medal of
Honor.

Commander Fluckey smiled as he remembered that patrol. "Lucky" Fluckey
they called him. On January 8th the Barb had emerged victorious from a
running two-hour night battle after sinking a large enemy ammunition
ship. Two weeks later in Mamkwan Harbor he found the
"mother-lode"...more than 30 enemy ships. In only 5 fathoms (30 feet) of
water his crew had unleashed the sub's forward torpedoes, then turned
and fired four from the stern. As he pushed the Barb to the full limit
of its speed through the dangerous waters in a daring withdrawal to the
open sea, he recorded eight direct hits on six enemy ships. Then, on the
return home he added yet another Japanese freighter to the tally for the
Barb's eleventh patrol, a score that exceeded even the number of that
patrol.

What could possibly be left for the Commander to accomplish who, just
three months earlier had been in Washington, DC to receive the Medal of
Honor? He smiled to himself as he looked again at the map showing the
rail line that ran along the enemy coastline. This final patrol had been
promised as the Barb's "graduation patrol" and he and his crew had
cooked up an unusual finale. Since the 8th of June they had harassed the
enemy, destroying the enemy supplies and coastal fortifications with the
first submarine launched rocket attacks. Now his crew was buzzing
excitedly about bagging a train.

The rail line itself wouldn't be a problem. A shore patrol could go
ashore under cover of darkness to plant the explosives...one of the
sub's 55-pound scuttling charges. But this early morning Lucky Fluckey
and his officers were puzzling over how they could blow not only the
rails, but also one of the frequent trains that shuttled supplies to
equip the Japanese war machine. Such a daring feat could handicap the
enemy's war effort for several days, a week, perhaps even longer. It was
a crazy idea, just the kind of operation "Lucky" Fluckey had become
famous...or infamous...for. But no matter how crazy the idea might have
sounded, the Barb's skipper would not risk the lives of his men. Thus
the problem... how to detonate the charge at the moment the train
passed, without endangering the life of a shore party. PROBLEM? Not on
Commander Fluckey's ship. His philosophy had always been "We d't have
problems, only solutions".

11:27 AM
"Battle Stations!" No more time to seek solutions or to ponder blowing
up a train. The approach of a Japanese freighter with a frigate escort
demands traditional submarine warfare. By noon the frigate is laying on
the ocean floor in pieces and the Barb is in danger of becoming the hunted.

6:07 PM
Solutions! If you don't look for them, you'll never find them. And even
then, sometimes they arrive in the most unusual fashion. Cruising slowly
beneath the surface to evade the enemy plane now circling overhead, the
monotony is broken with an exciting new idea. Instead of having a
crewman on shore to trigger explosives to blow both rail and a passing
train, why not let the train BLOW ITSELF up. Billy Hatfield was
excitedly explaining how he had cracked nuts on the railroad tracks as a
kid, placing the nuts between two ties so the sagging of the rail under
the weight of a train would break them open. "Just like cracking
walnuts," he explained. "To complete the circuit (detonating the
55-pound charge) we hook in a micro switch ...between two ties. We don't
set it off, the TRAIN does." Not only did Hatfield have the plan, he
wanted to be part of the volunteer shore party.

The solution found, there was no shortage of volunteers, all that was
needed was the proper weather...a little cloud cover to darken the moon
for the mission ashore. Lucky Fluckey established his own criteria for
the volunteer party:
...No married men would be included, except for Hatfield,
...The party would include members from each department,
...The opportunity would be split between regular Navy and Navy Reserve
sailors,
...At least half of the men had to have been Boy Scouts, experienced in
how to
handle themselves in medical emergencies and in the woods.
FINALLY, "Lucky" Fluckey would lead the saboteurs himself.

When the names of the 8 selected sailors was announced it was greeted
with a mixture of excitement and disappointment. Among the disappointed
was Commander Fluckey who surrendered his opportunity at the insistence
of his officers that "as commander he belonged with the Barb," coupled
with the threat from one that "I swear I'll send a message to ComSubPac
if you attempt this (joining the shore party himself)." Even a Japanese
POW being held on the Barb wanted to go, promising not to try to escape.

In the meantime, there would be no more harassment of Japanese shipping
or shore operations by the Barb until the train mission had been
accomplished. The crew would "lay low", prepare their equipment, train,
and wait for the weather.

July 22, 1945 (Patience Bay, Off the coast of Karafuto, Japan)
Patience Bay was wearing thin the patience of Commander Fluckey and his
innovative crew. Everything was ready. In the four days the saboteurs
had anxiously watched the skies for cloud cover, the inventive crew of
the Barb had built their micro switch. When the need was posed for a
pick and shovel to bury the explosive charge and batteries, the Barb's
engineers had cut up steel plates in the lower flats of an engine room,
then bent and welded them to create the needed tools. The only things
beyond their control were the weather....and time. Only five days
remained in the Barb's patrol.

Anxiously watching the skies, Commander Fluckey noticed plumes of cirrus
clouds, then white stratus capping the mountain peaks ashore. A cloud
cover was building to hide the three-quarters moon. This would be the
night.

MIDNIGHT, July 23, 1945
The Barb had crept within 950 yards of the shoreline. If it was somehow
seen from the shore it would probably be mistaken for a schooner or
Japanese patrol boat. No one would suspect an American submarine so
close to shore or in such shallow water. Slowly the small boats were
lowered to the water and the 8 saboteurs began paddling toward the enemy
beach. Twenty-five minutes later they pulled the boats ashore and walked
on the surface of the Japanese homeland. Having lost their points of
navigation, the saboteurs landed near the backyard of a house.
Fortunately the residents had no dogs, though the sight of human AND
dog's tracks in the sand along the beach alerted the brave sailors to
the potential for unexpected danger.

Stumbling through noisy waist-high grasses, crossing a highway and then
stumbling into a 4-foot drainage ditch, the saboteurs made their way to
the railroad tracks. Three men were posted as guards, Markuson assigned
to examine a nearby water tower. The Barb's auxiliary man climbed the
ladder, then stopped in shock as he realized it was an enemy lookout
tower....an OCCUPIED tower. Fortunately the Japanese sentry was
peacefully sleeping and Markuson was able to quietly withdraw and warn
his raiding party.

The news from Markuson caused the men digging the placement for the
explosive charge to continue their work more slowly and quietly.
Suddenly, from less than 80 yards away, an express train was bearing
down on them. The appearance was a surprise, it hadn't occurred to the
crew during the planning for the mission that there might be a night
train. When at last it passed, the brave but nervous sailors extracted
themselves from the brush into which they had leapt, to continue their
task. Twenty minutes later the holes had been dug and the explosives and
batteries hidden beneath fresh soil.

During planning for the mission the saboteurs had been told that, with
the explosives in place, all would retreat a safe distance while
Hatfield made the final connection. If the sailor who had once cracked
walnuts on the railroad tracks slipped during this final, dangerous
procedure, his would be the only life lost. On this night it was the
only order the saboteurs refused to obey, all of them peering anxiously
over Hatfield's
shoulder to make sure he did it right. The men had come too far to be
disappointed by a switch failure.

1:32 A.M.
Watching from the deck of the Barb, Commander Fluckey allowed himself a
sigh of relief as he noticed the flashlight signal from the beach
announcing the departure of the shore party. He had skillfully, and
daringly, guided the Barb within 600 yards of the enemy beach. There was
less than 6 feet of water beneath the sub's keel, but Fluckey wanted to
be close in case trouble arose and a daring rescue of his saboteurs became
necessary.

1:45 A.M.
The two boats carrying his saboteurs were only halfway back to the Barb
when the sub's machine gunner yelled, "CAPTAIN! Another train coming up
the tracks!" The Commander grabbed a megaphone and yelled through the
night, "Paddle like the devil!", knowing full well that they wouldn't
reach the Barb before the train hit the micro switch.

1:47 A.M.
The darkness was shattered by brilliant light and the roar of the
explosion. The boilers of the locomotive blew, shattered pieces of the
engine blowing 200 feet into the air. Behind it the cars began to
accordion into each other, bursting into flame and adding to the
magnificent fireworks display. Five minutes later the saboteurs were
lifted to the deck by their exuberant comrades as the Barb turned to
slip back to safer waters. Moving at only two knots, it would be a while
before the Barb was into waters deep enough to allow it to submerge. It
was a moment to savor, the culmination of teamwork, ingenuity and daring
by the Commander and all his crew. "Lucky" Fluckey's voice came over the
intercom. "All hands below deck not absolutely needed to maneuver the
ship have permission to come topside." He didn't have to repeat the
invitation. Hatches sprang open as the proud sailors of the Barb
gathered on her decks to proudly watch the distant fireworks display.
The Barb had "sunk" a Japanese TRAIN!

On August 2, 1945 the Barb arrived at Midway, her twelfth war patrol
concluded. Meanwhile United States military commanders had pondered the
prospect of an armed assault on the Japanese homeland. Military
tacticians estimated such an invasion would cost more than a million
American casualties. Instead of such a costly armed offensive to end the
war, on August 6th the B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a single atomic
bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. A second such bomb, unleashed 4
days later on Nagasaki, Japan, caused Japan to agree to surrender terms
on August 15th. On September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Harbor the documents
ending the war in the Pacific were signed.

The story of the saboteurs of the U.S.S. Barb is one of those unique,
little known stories of World War II. It becomes increasingly important
when one realizes that the 8 sailors who blew up the train at near
Kashiho, Japan conducted the ONLY GROUND COMBAT OPERATION on the
Japanese "homeland" of World War II. The eight saboteurs were:
Paul Saunders
William Hatfield
Francis Sever
Lawrence Newland
Edward Klinglesmith
James Richard
John Markuson
William Walker.

Footnote: Eugene Bennett Fluckey retired from the Navy as a Rear Admiral,
and wears in addition to his Medal of Honor, FOUR Navy Crosses...a
record of awards unmatched by any living American. In 1992 his own
history of the U.S.S. Barb was published in the award winning book,
THUNDER BELOW. Over the past several years proceeds from the sale of
this exciting book have been used by Admiral Fluckey to provide free
reunions for the men who served him aboard the Barb, and their wives.

1 Comment

4 years 13 weeks ago, 9:42 AM

ivantank

ivantank's picture

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thanks sam...i learned something new, my day is done

I have reasons for the things I do, just don't expect them to be reasonable
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Posted by: samD
4 years 13 weeks ago
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