The early months of 1943 were a dark time for the submarines of the US Navy in the Pacific. Within a little over two months, four American submarines went missing. They were the Argonaut, Amberjack, Grampus, and Triton. Of the four, only the Argonaut, lost 10-JAN 1943, were details ever discovered.
The Argonaut was a peculiar submarine. The keel was laid down (start of construction) in 1925. With the designation V-4, she was part of a program of big “cruiser submarines” designed for long endurance more than high speed. The Argonaut was 381 feet long, with a displacement of 4,080 tons submerged. the USS Argonaut (SS-166). The Argonaut was a big slow monster with a maximum surface speed of 15 knots and a submerged speed of 8 knots. In addition, the Argonaut was slow to dive and cumbersome. She was the largest U.S. submarine ever built until nuclear submarines came on the scene in 1954. She also had the distinction of being the world’s largest submarine at the time.
By the time the war in the Pacific started, the Argonaut’s great size, low speed, lack of maneuverability, and meager torpedo armament made her useless or at least disadvantaged in fleet command. The submarine was described as “ancient and clumsy” by a previous Captain. Ironically, the ancient and clumsy Argonaut would be called upon to make one of the first attack approaches of the Pacific War.
On 5-JAN 1943, five Japanese transports were in a resupply convoy escorted by at least five destroyers. The destroyers were: Maikaze, Isokaze, Urakaze, Tanikaze, and Hamakaze. With five destroyers, the transports were very well-protected, and an attack would be ill advised and very dangerous.
The Navy identified and located the convoy on January 9th. The next day, the Submarine Squadron Commander assigned his submarines, Grampus and Argonaut to intercept. In the words of Kent Budge’s Pacific War Online Encyclopedia, the Argonaut “really had no business making a regular war patrol.” However, the Squadron Commander deployed the slow, clumsy Argonaut.
A message was received from the Argonaut in the early hours of 10-JAN 1943, by Lieutenant Commander Pierce on the Argonaut acknowledging the intercept order. Nothing more was ever received from the Argonaut.
Argonaut attacked and fired torpedoes. A U.S. Army plane circling overhead, which was out of bombs, unable to help, saw one destroyer hit by a torpedo, saw the explosion of two other destroyers, and reported five other vessels in the group. The Argonaut was credited with having damaged one Japanese destroyer in the action.
After a severe depth charge attack, the Argonaut was forced to surface. According to the plane’s report, the destroyers circled and pumped shells into her bow, which was sticking up at a considerable angle. Japanese reports made available after the end of the war record a depth charge attack followed by artillery fire, at which time the “destroyed top of the sub floated.”
Efforts to contact Argonaut by radio were fruitless. Based on the report given by the Army flier who witnessed the attack, it is certain that Argonaut met her end in this action.
Five St. Louis Men Perished:
William Edward Vierling of St. Charles County and 105 sailors on the USS Argonaut were reported missing and ultimately declared dead on 10-JAN 1943.
The St. Louis men who perished on the Argonaut included:
- Motor Machinist Mate William Edward Vierling
- Seaman Thomas A. Narrow Jr.
- Torpedoman Fred Edsel Schempp
- William H. Myers Jr.
- Electrician Mate, Alfred John Raismas
In addition, five other Missouri men also perished:
- Frank Howard Bowers
- Malcolm Marion Brooks
- Donald Henry Dischner
- Francis Marion Hogg
- Rau Hunter Hayti
The Post-Dispatch reported on 16-JUN 1943 that the Argonaut “accepted destruction rather than surrender.” The article went on to say, the Navy Department “paid high tribute to the courage and self-sacrifice of the Argonaut men.”