USS Sculpin survives a depth charging

USS Sculpin (SS-191) off San Francisco, California, on 1 May 1943, following an overhaul.

On 28 September, she scored two hits on a cargo ship, but was forced to dive as a Japanese destroyer raced to the scene. Sculpin was under depth charge attack for three hours, during which she sustained minor damage.

The USS Sculpin was off Rabaul, New Britain just after midnight on the 28th September. Corwin Medenhall was a junior officer in charge of torpedoes at the time. His diary gives some insight into what ‘minor damage’ entailed:

An hour later masts were sighted to the west, and Sculpin commenced closing. The possibility of an attack was evident after twenty minutes of tracking, so we went to battle stations. The target was a large tanker of the Omurosan class, with only one small escort visible. They were zig- zagging wildly on an easterly base course at a speed of eleven knots. After an hour of maneuvering to gain firing position, we fired a spread of four fish at the tanker from the stern tubes at a range of 1,860 yards.

The captain saw two hits, and three explosions were heard throughout the boat. After watching for only a few seconds longer, the captain took Sculpin to deep submergence as the escort headed for us with a bone in his teeth [at speedl. Sonar reported hearing the screws of two escorts.

Long before reaching Sculpin he commenced dropping depth charges. We knew that he was way off target. All was quiet for about twenty minutes. The crew was released from battle stations, and I went to my bunk for some rest.

No sooner had I gotten in the bunk than I was almost knocked out of it by a string of four very close depth charges, seemingly right over me. I could hear water spewing into the compartment. I ran to the control room to report that water was coming into officers’ country in the vicinity of the head (toilet), and then went back to find the leak.

A gauge line to sea, located in the officers’ head, was broken. Water was building up on the splash-tight deck over the forward battery We dared not let that saltwater get into the battery below, because deadly chlorine gas would be formed when the saltwater reacted with the hydrochloric acid in the battery.

Calling for damage control to come quickly I went into the head and, by draping myself over the commode with my head back of it, I was able to use my hands to hold the gauge tubing and cut off the flow of water. The position was very awkward, and the pain of holding the water back with my hands was too much for me to stop the flow for more than a few seconds. It was incredible how much water could come in through a quarter-inch tube at a depth of 275 feet.

Baldwin arrived with plugs, turnbuckles, and other equipment to plug the leak. With him and a helper working on that job, I went to the after end of the compartment to help remove the water.

A bucket brigade was hurriedly formed. Jack trimmed the boat with a ten-degree up angle so the water would accumulate at the after end of the deck, in the officers’ country. He had to maintain two-thirds speed to keep Sculpin from going deeper. Sculpin was tons too heavy having taken on water from a number of leaks throughout the boat.

See Corwin Mendenhall: Submarine Diary: The Silent Stalking of Japan

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