Submarine rescues were still pretty rare in 1942.
The rescue of the sailors from the sunken USS Squalus in 1939 was made possible because of the emerging technology that allowed a rescue bell to be attached to the boat. On the morning of May 23, 1939, the submarine USS Squalus slipped beneath the storm-tossed surface of the Atlantic on a sea trial. Minutes into the maneuver, she began flooding uncontrollably. The Squalus sank to the ocean floor nine miles off the New Hampshire coast, trapping 59 men on board.
Their story is recorded here:
But in January 1942, help would not arrive in time for the S-26.
This article is from the Washington Times February 8th edition detailing the rescue efforts:
Survivors of S-26 Describe How 33 Were Lost in Collision
Expert Divers, Sent From Washington, Arrive Too Late to Rescue Crew
By the Associated Press. AT SEA OFF PANAMA. Feb. 7.—The United States submarine S-26 sank in the Pacific January 24 after a sudden collision with an escort vessel and took with it all but 3 of 36 crewmen. The three survivors were two officers and a seaman who had been standing on the bridge during the submarine’s surface operations. They were the commanding officers, Lt. Comdr. Earle C. Hawk of Saugerties, N. Y.; Lt. Robert E. N. Ward of Antioch, Calif., and Seamen Joe B. Hurst of Oda, Okla. The impact threw them clear of the submarine’s superstructure and they were fished out of the water.
The Navy Department in Washington in announcing the sinking, said all hope had been abandoned for those who went down with the ship and added:
“The next of kin of casualties have been notified.”
Names of the men were not disclosed.
Explaining events preceding the tragedy. Comdr. Hawk said he had been called to the bridge to view a passing merchantman when he spotted the escort vessel following a crossing course. He said the submarine’s course was altered, but that the escort ship was maneuvering closer and closer. On seeing that a collision was imminent, he said the S-26 put her engines in reverse and that collision quarters were sounded. In a matter of moments, however, the escort ripped into the starboard torpedo room. “The submarine remained stationary 15 or 20 seconds after the impact,” he related, “then took a heavy down angle of perhaps 45 degrees—and suddenly plunged.
“The first thing we knew we found ourselves swimming. One seaman and I swam to the escort ship, which had halted. One of their boats picked up Lt. Ward. “We never again saw a second seaman who was on the bridge with us.”
The S-26 finally was located about midnight, January 27, by a sweep wire dragged between two rescue ships. Even if the submarine had been located in time to attempt to save any lives, the Navy announcement here said, it would have been impossible to use the diving bell to remove any survivors.
Both Ends Flooded.
A message, enclosed in a buoy and sent to the surface by signal gun, advised the rescuers that both ends of the submarine—the only places fitted for rescue work with the diving bell—had been flooded and that the crew members were huddled in the central operating compartment. The design of the conning tower structure on the S-26 precluded use of the diving bell. Rescue efforts were made, however, under the command of Rear Admiral Frank H Sadler, Commandant of the 15th Naval District, and Capt. Thomas J. Doyle. The Navy dispatched the U. S. S Mallard, one of six World War type mine sweepers converted into submarine rescue ships, to assist operations. From Washington the Navy sent by airplane five expert divers to help those already engaged in diving operations. Three of these divers—Chief Boatswains’ Mate Forrest E. Smith and Boatswains’ Mates George Crocker and Neil G. Shahan —had participated in rescue operations in the sinking off Portsmouth, N. H., of the submarine Squalus in May, 1939, and the 0-9 in the same general area last June.
Diver Goes 301 Feet.
It was not until January 29 that conditions became favorable for diving operations and Diver Robert Agness was lowered 301 feet to the submarine’s resting place. Back came his report—and it was what everyone already knew to be certain—that none of the occupants were alive. The Navy’s announcement did not give figures on the men aboard but said the normal complement of a submarine the type of the S-26, a World War type vessel which was started in 1918 and commissioned in 1923, was 35 men and four officers.
Since the day of the tragedy, Comdr. Hawk and his fellow survivors have been aboard ships of the rescue fleet which tried vainly to reach their comrades. News of the loss was permitted to be sent out yesterday. Persons familiar with submarine operation said that a submarine in surface condition is more vulnerable to collision than when ready for submersion. They added that had the S-26 been prepared for submersion its watertight Integrity would have been high. Yesterday at noon a sister submarine submerged over the spot where the tragedy occurred, gently releasing a wreath from her periscope in solemn tribute to those who lost their lives. Funeral Rites Held. Flags of vessels participating in a final ceremonial tribute were at half-mast and officers and men stood with bared heads, at attention as both Protestant and Catholic services were read. Admiral Sadler dropped a wreath of lilies, fern and laurel over the spot where the S-26 had settled to the floor of the Pacific. Then the sister of the S-26 submerged slowly, releasing her wreath.
The S-26 was the second submarine lost in the Canal area. The P-5 went down in 1923 off Cristobal at the Canal’s Atlantic entrance following a collision with a freighter. Only three men were lost in the P-5 and two men who were trapped were rescued when she was raised.
The commanding officer, Earle Clifford Hawk, USN, was born on April 5, 1905 in New York.
He would later go on to command the USS Pompan SS 267 from 17 Mar 1943- 9 Feb 1944.
Pompon (SS-267) was laid down by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co., Manitowoc, Wisconsin, 26 November 1941; launched 15 August 1942; sponsored by Miss Katherine Mary Wolleson; and commissioned 17 March 1943, Lt. Comdr. E. C. Hawk in command.
On 5 April 1943 Pompon began her voyage down the Mississippi River to New Orleans in a floating drydock. Stores were loaded at New Orleans and she sailed for the Pacific.
17 Apr 1943 USS Pompon (Lt.Cdr. E.C. Hawk, USN) departed New Orleans, Louisiana for Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone.
22 Apr 1943 USS Pompon (Lt.Cdr. E.C. Hawk, USN) arrived at Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone from New Orleans, Louisiana and commenced a training period.
22 Apr 1943 USS Pompon (Lt.Cdr. E.C. Hawk, USN) arrived at Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone to begin a training period.
Pompon steamed from Brisbane, Australia on 10 July to conduct her first war patrol in the Truk area. Only a few days out, a Japanese submarine fired two torpedoes at her, both passing ahead. Besides patrolling off Truk, Pompon formed a scouting line with other submarines to cover 7th Fleet operations. On 25 July she seized the opportunity and torpedoed 5,871 ton cargo ship Thames Maru. In the same action two more attacks damaged a second transport and also a smaller transport. Numerous patrol boats and another enemy submarine were evaded, and Pompon returned to Brisbane 22 August.
She departed Brisbane on 12 September for the second patrol. Enroute to her area in the South China Sea north of Singapore, she was fired on by a “friendly” liberty ship. Luckily the range was too great for damage. After several unsuccessful attacks and a near miss by a Japanese submarine, Pompon returned to Fremantle, Australia on 5 November for Supplies.
The third patrol began on 29 November and again took her to the China Sea area off French Indo-China. After running Balabac Strait, where two radio-equipped Japanese motor sampans were sunk by gunfire, Pompon mined waters southwest of Cochin China. After a five day sortie into the Celebes Sea, Pompon returned to Darwin for fuel, ending her patrol on 28 January 1944.
Two years after the sinking of the S-26, her Commanding Officer was relived in a normal command rotation after three successful war patrols on the Pompon. Hawk would rise to the rank of Captain, but I have been unable to find any additional information n what happened to him after the war.
On 11 May 1946 Pompon was decommissioned and placed in the U.S. Atlantic Reserve Fleet, New London Group. On 15 June 1953 she recommissioned, after being converted to the latest type radar picket submarine (SSR-267) on 11 December 1951.
After a shakedown cruise to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she reported to her new home port at Norfolk, Va. In November she departed for the Mediterranean where she operated with the 6th Fleet until 4 February 1954. In January of 1955 she again left the Virginia Capes area, this time for the Caribbean, returning in March. Pompon returned to the Caribbean in February 1956. From 6 July to 3 October she operated in the Mediterranean.
During September and October 1957 Pompon participated in the large-scale NATO exercise “Strikeback,” visiting Clyde River, Scotland; LeHavre, France; and Portland, England. She continued to operate in the Atlantic and Caribbean until 17 June 1958 when she entered the Mediterranean, remaining there until September. Returning to Norfolk, she then operated off the east coast until placed in commission in reserve at Charleston 2 February 1959. Following decommissioning Pompon was struck from the Navy List 1 April 1960 and was sold to Commercial Metals Co. 25 November 1960.
Pompon earned 4 battle stars for World War II service.
Submarine rescue equipment has evolved over the last century. Theoretically, a Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle could be sent and under the right conditions bring a crew back to the surface. But with the depths and areas submarines routinely operate in and around, that probably would not be realistic. The US Navy has lost two nuclear submarines (Thresher and Scorpion) and in neither case would there have been any need for a DSRV. The very best way to make sure the crew comes home safely is to keep up the training and vigilance and pray for God to watch over the crew as it performs its mission for freedom and defending the nation’s interests.
23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
24 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.
28 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
30 Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.