Many of the top scoring German U Boat captains had achieved their scores by getting in amongst the Allied convoys before beginning their attack. It was a risky business, coming in close to and bypassing the escorting warships, yet had much potential to take advantage of the surprise and confusion created amongst the convoy ships.
The opportunities for Allied submarine commanders to adopt such tactics were far fewer. The actions of Commander Lawson P. Ramage on the 31 July 1944 were a notable example of a US submarine making such an attack, leading to the award of the Medal of Honor:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Parche in a predawn attack on a Japanese convoy, 31 July 1944.
Boldly penetrating the screen of a heavily escorted convoy, Comdr. Ramage launched a perilous surface attack by delivering a crippling stern shot into a freighter and quickly following up with a series of bow and stern torpedoes to sink the leading tanker and damage the second one. Exposed by the light of bursting flares and bravely defiant of terrific shellfire passing close overhead, he struck again, sinking a transport by two forward reloads.
In the mounting fury of fire from the damaged and sinking tanker, he calmly ordered his men below, remaining on the bridge to fight it out with an enemy now disorganized and confused. Swift to act as a fast transport closed in to ram, Comdr. Ramage daringly swung the stern of the speeding Parche as she crossed the bow of the onrushing ship, clearing by less than 50 feet but placing his submarine in a deadly crossfire from escorts on all sides and with the transport dead ahead.
Undaunted, he sent 3 smashing “down the throat” bow shots to stop the target, then scored a killing hit as a climax to 46 minutes of violent action with the Parche and her valiant fighting company retiring victorious and unscathed.
The following fuller account comes from Parche.org:
During the Parche’s second war patrol, she engaged in a predawn attack on a Japanese convoy on July 31, 1944. During this daring night surface action Parche worked her way in inside two escorts and began an approach on a medium AK at 0354. The target slid by about 200 yards away and then turned to avoid two torpedoes Parche had fired at her. That move effectively blocked an escort who had sneaked in behind her and also opened up an opportunity for shots at two tankers and the AK.
A stern shot took care of the cargo carrier and four bow tubes knocked out a tanker. CDR Ramage ordered “Right-Full Rudder” to bring the stern tubes to bear on the second oiler and fired three torpedoes. One missed ahead of the ship but the other two fish hit the forward section slowing down the tanker but not stopping her completely.
The escorts opened up with deck guns, machineguns and flares firing in all directions. The convoy started to mill about smartly with Parche in the middle. Suddenly a medium sized merchant-man with a sizeable superstructure came in sight. The torpedo reload crews forward and aft reloaded tubes as fast as they could and Parche fired two tubes as soon as the outer doors were opened. The two torpedoes broke the merchant-mans back, which sent her down within a couple of minutes.
With the merchant-man out of the way Parche came back after the first tanker to finish her off. Parche crossed her track astern at only 200 yards. At 500 yards the tanker opened up on Parche with everything she had, but her trim down by the bow kept her from depressing her guns enough to do any good. The small arms fire was peppering the bridge enough that Ramage sent all hands below except the quartermaster, who stuck to the after TBT until he had the set-up. At 800 yards Parche fired three torpedoes from the stern tubes at the tanker. All hit the tanker with terrific explosions effectively silencing the gunfire from that quarter. With five torpedoes in her the big tanker gave and went down leaving only a small oil fire.
The two escorts on the port quarter were now concentrating their machine gun fire on Parche. Ramage was about to come right to put them astern and head for the prize of the evening, a huge transport, when she spotted a ship coming in sharp on the starboard bow apparently intent on ramming. Ordering a full bell, Ramage sent the boat shooting across in front of the on-rushing enemy, then halfway across its track he ordered “Right-Full Rudder” swinging right the stern of the boat out of its path. The Japanese were screaming like a bunch of wild pigs as Parche barely missed being rammed by less than 50 feet. All hands exchanged mutual cheers and jeers.
Parche, now boxed in on both sides by several small craft and the big transport dead ahead had no alternative but to fire straight down the transports throat. The first fish started off to the right, so Ramage checked fire, spotted on, and fired two more. These were right in the groove and both hit the transport stopping her cold. Closing in on her starboard bow, the Parche swung hard left and fired one stern shot at 800 yards for a bull’s eye.
Stopping to take account of the situation, Ramage counted eight ships still visible on her RADAR screen. The bewildered escorts were still busy firing weapons in the darkness at Parche and at each other. The big transport was stopped and down by the bow, but showed no further signs of going down. Just as Parche started back to deliver the felling blow, the transport suddenly raised its stern into the air and went straight down, head first into the cold depths of the ocean. Parche then began an egress from the area yet one of the escorts continually challenged her with weapons fire amid the sounds of loud explosions in the darkness. The entire attack took 46 minutes.
When Parche was finished, she had gotten the Japanese ships to open fire at one another, and had sunk a 10,238 ton tanker, a 4,471 ton passenger-cargo ship, damaged several thousand tons of Japanese ships ,and had disrupted yet another convoy. She also worked together with Steelhead in sinking an 8,990 ton transport. Steelhead sank two other ships, a transport and a cargo vessel.