Fearless Freddie – WWII Ace Submarine Commander’s Revenge for Pearl Harbor

Fearless Freddie – WWII Ace Submarine Commander’s Revenge for Pearl Harbor


The date is 1943, and just a little under
a year ago the United States was rocked by a surprise attack against its most important
naval base in the Pacific, Pearl Harbor. Many ships were destroyed, more were seriously
damaged, and while the Japanese failed in their objective to destroy the US Pacific
carrier fleet, they did succeed in knocking the US Navy out of the fight for the foreseeable
future. Unable to muster a surface fleet large enough
to challenge the Japanese navy, the United States has instead dispatched the one part
of its Pacific fleet completely unaffected by the surprise attack- the American silent
service, a submarine fleet made up of dozens of silent killers. For months they have enacted their own revenge
on the Japanese, slipping past their pickets of destroyers and corvettes to strike at the
vulnerable merchant shipping fleet that all too often travels unaccompanied by armed escorts. The US has sunk tens of thousands of tons
of shipping in the first six months of the war, and the undersea campaign has only just
begun. Aboard the USS Seawolf, Captain Frederick
B. Warder keeps his eyes glued to the submarine’s periscope. This is his seventh patrol since the war started,
and technically will be his last as a submarine commander. After this final patrol he’ll return back
to a US naval station somewhere and be placed in command of a portion of the US’s submarine
fleet in the pacific, giving orders from a safe office somewhere rather than the bridge
of a sub deep in enemy territory. Warder could have finished his patrol quietly,
having finished his assigned patrol route and on his way back home. However he still had several torpedoes in
his hold, and going back home with live fish didn’t sit right with any submarine commander
in the US Navy. On a hunch, he decided to investigate a deep
water anchorage on a small island near the Philippines, hoping to run into a stray japanese
ship and expend his remaining torpedoes before sailing for home. What he finds the opportunity of a lifetime. Sitting at anchor are four Japanese cruisers,
lined up side by side next to each other. The Japs have built a small naval station
here, which will be good intel to share with command later, and along with the cruisers
are several merchant marine ships. By now he’s sunk many merchant marine ships,
ensuring that the vital flow of fuel, ammunition, and food would fail to reach stranded Japanese
troops across the Pacific. The cruisers are the real target here, and
with four of them lined up in a row he knows he’ll never have an opportunity like this
again. A fitting end to his final patrol. Submarines rarely ever attack Japanese combat
ships, as the risks are simply too great. Destroyers, cruisers, and especially corvettes
simply have too shallow a draft, and torpedoes need to be aimed perfectly or will more often
than not miss their target and detonate too far away to do any damage. That’s if the damned things even worked right
in the first place. On his first combat patrol, just a single
day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Warder and his USS Seawolf took on a load of torpedoes
from a Philippine base. The day after that he fired on a Japanese
vessel, getting two direct hits- which did absolutely nothing. Both torpedoes failed to detonate, and one
managed to get itself lodged in the ship instead. The third torpedo he was grateful hadn’t detonated,
as it had suffered a malfunction common to early American torpedoes and swam back around
to its launch point, making a big circle. If he hadn’t given the order to dive the torpedo
would have rammed his hull as well, though with the luck he was having this one probably
would have actually detonated. The torpedo problems were hardly unique to
Warder- the American Mark XIV torpedo had one of the best propulsion systems in the
world at the time, but suffered from a great many other defects that made it all but useless
in battle. Two of the biggest problems was its electromagnetic
detector, which was designed to sense the magnetic hull of a ship and explode when the
torpedo arrived at its closest point to the hull. In order to do this the detector would track
a series of electronic signals that would fire more and more rapidly the closer the
torpedo came to the hull, and then slow down as it traveled away from the enemy ship’s
hull. That way as soon as the signals began to slow
rather than increase, the detector would order the warhead to explode. Unfortunately while this had worked perfectly
in testing on the Great Lakes, anomalies around the equator and in the Pacific severely compromised
the detector. The second major problem with the Mark XIV
torpedo was its depth gauge, which would incorrectly read water pressure to tell the torpedo it
was traveling at a depth greater than it really was. This caused the torpedo to dive by as much
as twenty feet, completely missing its intended target. While problems plagued the torpedo, naval
command was reluctant to accept something was wrong with the weapon. To help pressure a decision to overhaul the
weapon, early in the war Warder had held his sub’s position even while under enemy fire
in order to record the effects of two of his dud torpedoes on an enemy ship. The footage nearly cost him his life, but
it would help ensure that many more American submariners wouldn’t be going into combat
with duds in their hold. Today though, Warder is not carrying duds. His fish are live and primed, and combat tested. Any submariner would still prefer to avoid
attacking enemy combat vessels who can fire back, as they are difficult targets to hit
versus slow, broad-keeled merchant ships, but even just a year into the war Japanese
merchant ships are already becoming rare. The American submarine campaign against Japanese
shipping has been devastatingly effective. The ships before him though are at anchor,
and to his surprise there is not a single vessel on patrol looking out for American
subs. Warder decides to take the opportunity, knowing
he would be poking the hornet’s nest and that any one of those ships, or the many Japanese
destroyers nearby, could blow him out of the water with a single depth charge. Warder lines up his attack against one of
the cruisers and fires off two torpedoes. The fish run straight and true, and through
the periscope Warder watches the line of bubbles speeding directly at the enemy ship. Moments later there are two explosions on
the ship’s stern- two direct hits. The crew give an excited shout, and then quickly
quiet back down as the ship immediately dives. Above the waves the Japanese ships are coming
to life, and already small patrol boats are looking for the intruding American sub. As the Seawolf slowly sneaks out of the small
cove, ships above begin to drop depth charges. Warder orders the boat forward at low power,
he doesn’t want to risk accelerating and giving his position away to any sonar operators aboard
the Japanese ships. This does mean that he’s exposed to the deadly
rain of depth charges for longer though, and a few near-misses shake the sub. Eventually though he manages to escape to
open ocean and safety. Warder carefully considers his next move. He still has a hold that’s half-full of torpedoes,
and incredibly the Japanese have still not dispersed their fleet. The three surviving cruisers remain and after
an initial flurry of activity, other Japanese destroyers seem to have resumed their normal
patrols. The ships inside the cove are still incredibly
vulnerable, probably figuring that no American submarine commander would be insane enough
to risk his life a second time. For Warder, there’s no option. He orders the men to rest. Tomorrow before dawn they will return and
strike once more. There are now more Japanese ships on the lookout
for subs, but the defensive screen is still surprisingly light and easy to penetrate. Silently, the Seawolf slips into a comfortable
range of under a thousand yards, takes her time to line up her shot, and fires two more
torpedoes. Another Japanese cruiser is struck, and this
one too will sink. Warder orders the Seawolf to dive once more,
and once more the Japanese fleet begins to saturate the area with depth charges. There’s more ships this time, and more depth
charges, but for a second time the Seawolf manages to avoid being destroyed and makes
for the safety of the open ocean. Two days, and two Japanese combat ships destroyed-
in just this short campaign Warder is already more successful than some submarine captains
over the course of multiple patrols. Sinking merchant ships is one thing after
all, but sinking full-size combat ships is another entirely. Especially those armed with depth charges. He has two torpedoes left now, and Warder
agonizes over his next choice: does he press his luck, attempt another attack, or does
he simply go home with two live fish in his hold? The opportunity to sink another Japanese combat
ship weighs heavily on his mind, but so does the look on his men’s faces. Most of them have accompanied him on all seven
patrols through the most dangerous waters in the pacific. They’ve sunk many ships together, and they’ve
cheated death on more occasions than he’d care to remember. Just like this is his last patrol, it will
also be the final patrol for many of his men. Warder can’t let the Japanese go though, not
after what they did at Pearl Harbor. He decides to return and resume the hunt,
determined to expend his last two torpedoes. The Japanese patrols are heavy on the third
day, having learned their lesson. Warder attempts to maneuver the Seawolf into
the cove but has to abort numerous times- the water’s practically boiling with japanese
ships zipping back and forth, every one of them looking for Warder and his sub and eager
for revenge. Warder decides to back off and put out to
sea once more. Now on the third day of this campaign he has
to decide if he is going to try again tomorrow, or let this go. His men are veterans, stalwart men of courage-
the only type of man fit for a life beneath the waves, where any mistake could cost you
your life. But he sees the fear edged on each man’s face,
he can see the exhaustion. The men are nearing their breaking point,
they want to go home. But they believe in their captain. Warder decides to press the attack once more. The Japanese patrols have slacked only slightly,
but this lapse is enough to give Warder the opening he needs. He maneuvers the Seawolf into the cove once
more, surely no Japanese sailor would ever believe that an American would be crazy enough
to attempt a third attack. What Warder does next though is insane even
by his own standards. There, slowly steaming along is a large Japanese
cruiser, and from its mast is flying the pendant of a Japanese squadron commander. The flagship of this detachment. Warder has his target. He spends thirty minutes slowly maneuvering
into position, narrowly avoiding detection by the swarm of ships above. Ever Japanese sailor in a hundred miles has
their eyes peeled and ears glued to a sonar it seems. Warder risks raising the periscope, hoping
that as it breaks over the waves some sharp-eyed sailor won’t spot it. He lifts it only long enough to confirm the
target, and then gives the order to fire. Two fish scream through the water, closing
range to the Japanese squadron commander’s flagship. In less than half a minute, twin detonations
rock the big ship, secondary explosions from stored munitions further adding to the chaos
and destruction. Warder however is already deep beneath the
waves, putting as much distance between himself and the Japs as possible. The Japanese fleet is furious, and a dozen
destroyers and cruisers scour the ocean for the Seawolf. They drop seemingly endless barrages of depth
charges, and the Seawolf is subjected to an incredible nine hour depth charge barrage-
the longest of any American submarine, perhaps longest of any submarine ever. Many of the hits are close enough to rock
the small sub, some are close enough to rattle the teeth inside Warder’s skull. The men hold, though Warder knows that he’s
driven them very close to the breaking point. The mission is over, and in his final patrol
Warder has scored his greatest victories. Warder’s men would go on to give him the nickname
of Fearless Freddie for his stunt in that small cove in the Pacific, a name that he
would distinctly dislike. As he would explain in later interviews after
the war, he was never fearless, he was just as afraid as any one of his sailors, and implying
he was fearless he felt took away from the courage of the men he served with. That attitude would perhaps best exemplify
the character of Rear Admiral Frederick Warder though, a man brave in combat, but humble
in victory. Not only did he care deeply for the men under
his command, but would often show compassion even to the Japanese who’s ships he sunk,
ordering his sub to surface and offering to take in the stranded sailors. Thanks to a loyal fanaticism to the emperor
and the shame of defeat, not a single Japanese sailor took him up on that offer, and so instead
Warder ordered his men to toss the stranded sailors supplies and life jackets. To Admiral Warder, all men were ultimately
brothers, even if they happened to be on opposite sides of the battlefield. If you liked this video then click on this
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