FREMANTLE SUBMARINE BASE, US NAVY
FREMANTLE, WA DURING WW2

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visits since 4 April 2004

Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Navy's Asiatic Submarine fleet (29 submarines) had been based in Manila in the Philippines along with 3 cruisers, 14 destroyers and a numbers of smaller vessels. 

When the war started the Japanese bombed the Navy Base at Cavite quite extensively. The submarines were operating near the Philippines at that time. Captain John Wilkes who had been Commander SubsAsiatic Force was due to return to the States prior to the start of the war with Japan. Admiral Thomas C. Hart, the Commanding Officer of the Asiatic Fleet told Wilkes he was staying. 

Captain Wilkes was given command of the six "S" type and some other Fleet type submarines and told to use facilities at Soerabaja in Java. 

Captain John Fife was ordered to proceed to Darwin to establish a new Submarine Headquarters and a repair base where the submarine Tender USS Holland (AS3) would be based.

It was soon realised that Darwin, with its high tides was unsuitable for Submarine operations and was too open and hence could be easily mined. USS Holland (AS3) was then relocated to Tjilaljap in Java, which also proved unsuitable.

All three locations were often bombed by the Japs. Java was then eventually taken by the Japanese leaving the Asiatic Submarine Force without a base. Exmouth Gulf in Western Australia was also considered for a while as a likely contender for a new Submarine Base. The sub fleet sank only three merchant ships during December 1941. USS Sealion (SS195) was sunk by the Japs while it was moored at the wharf in Cavite Navy Yard. They only sank another 3 Japanese ships in January 1942 and Submarine S-36 was lost  in the Makassar Straits. Admiral Hart requested to be relieved of his duties.

Finally on the 3 March 1942, the USS Holland (AS3) arrived in Fremantle to establish the new Fremantle Submarine Base as home for 8 submarines of the Asiatic Fleet. The Officers of the submarine command started to arrive in Fremantle and finally started to form a united command. Captain Wilkes ordered that two large wheat loading sheds on the wharf be leased. They were each 800 feet long and 50 feet high making them very suitable for their submarine workshop space. The area was also serviced by a railway line which was ideal for their operation. They also established an Auxiliary Submarine Base at Albany further south on the Western Australian coast.

Captain Wilkes, who was now well overdue for replacement, was finally replaced by Rear Admiral Charles Lockwood, who commandeered  four hotels as Rest Camps for his submarine crews.

Submarine Tender USS Euryale AS 22 and USS Griffin AS13 served at Fremantle during WW2. USS Euryale was stationed in Fremantle from August 1944 to early 1945.

Submarine Tender USS Griffin AS 13 was assigned to the Pacific Fleet after Pearl Harbor and left Newport, R.I. on 14 February 1942 headed for Australia. USS Griffin arrived in Brisbane, in southern Queensland on 15 April 1942 to look after Submarine Squadron 5 (SubRon5) at the Brisbane Submarine Base.

USS Griffin left Brisbane on 11 November 1942 and headed for the Fiji Islands and eventually the USA. USS Griffin left Pearl Harbor for Fremantle Submarine Base on 8 April 1944. She arrived at Brisbane Submarine Base on 22 April 1944 and left for Fremantle on 27 April 1944. She arrived in Fremantle on 7 May 1944. USS Griffin left Fremantle on 20 November 1944 and arrived in Brisbane on 29 November 1944 and left Brisbane on 1 December 1944 to proceed to Mios Woendi, New Guinea to tend submarines and various surface craft.

"E" Battery of the 197th Coastal Artillery (AA) Regiment arrived in Fremantle on 23 March 1942 and manned a number of defensive positions (50 Calibre machine guns) along the quay leading to the Fremantle Submarine Base until 27 July 1942.

Warren "Wally" E. Rollins of the 197th Coastal Artillery (AA) Regiment made the following notation in his diary:- 

On March 14, 1942, the SS Monterey sailed out of Brisbane to Perth and the Fremantle Harbor. We set up defensive positions along the key leading to the submarine base. 

The 197th Coastal Artillery (AA) Regiment (197th CAAA), New Hampshire National Guard, had earlier arrived in Brisbane, Queensland on 9 March 1942 on board the SS Monterey.

Warren "Wally" E. Rollins told me that he got a thankyou from the Lord Mayor of Perth and other than that, nothing has ever been said of their occupation in Fremantle. 

Thomas Michael from Manchester NH at the entrance to the heavy
anti-aircraft machine gun emplacement on the beach in Fremantle

 

Part of the defensive positions of the 197th CAAA along the quay
leading to the Fremantle Submarine Base

The submarine captains while serving in the Philippines, had complained bitterly of defective torpedoes. Rear Admiral Lockwood, endeavoured to get the Bureau of ordnance to carryout some torpedo performance tests. After his request was denied, he ordered his men to carry out their own tests. 

Captain Fife ordered a target net to be anchored in Princess Royal Harbour, near Albany in Western Australia. USS Skipjack (SS188) was used to fire three Mark XIV torpedoes at the net.

The first two torpedoes were set to travel at 10 feet below the surface. They hit the net at 18 feet and 25 feet. The third torpedo was set to run on the surface. It bounced off the 65 feet harbour floor and penetrated the net at eleven feet from the surface.

The Bureau of Ordnance discredited the tests and suggested that Rear Admiral Lockwood should conserve his scarce supply of torpedoes. Undaunted, Lockwood organised another test. In July 1942 USS Saury (SS189) fired five Mark XIV torpedoes at the net. All of the torpedoes ran deep.

By this time The Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet, Admiral King, had heard of the issues and became involved. King indicated that he believed Lockwood's tests and finally the Bureau of ordnance begrudgingly acknowledged that the Mark XIV torpedoes ran too deep.

Rear Admiral Lockwood was promoted to Vice Admiral and ordered to command the Pacific Fleet Submarines at Pearl Harbor after the incumbent, Admiral English, was killed in an air crash. Rear Admiral Ralph Christie took over from Lockwood.

The Submarines that had formed the Asiatic Fleet were returned to the US for overhaul and new submarines arrived at Fremantle. A very large floating dry dock arrived and Submarine Repair Unit 137 was established.

USS Bowfish (SS287) and then USS Bonefish (SS223) achieved the best results in 1943. Four Submarines based out of Fremantle were lost in 1943 as follows:-

USS Grenadier (SS210)
USS Grayling (SS209)
USS Cisco (SS290)
USS Capelin (SS289)

By the end of 1943, the number of submarines operating out of Fremantle had increased to thirty. Advanced fuelling bases were established at Manus in the Admiralties and Mios Woendi at Biak. In 1944, another four submarines were lost as follows:-

USS Robalo (SS273)
USS Flier (SS250)
USS Harder (SS257)
USS Growler (SS215)

USS Growler was earlier based out of the Brisbane Submarine Base. USS Growler was on patrol in the Solomons in early 1943. On 7 February 1943, USS Growler made a surface attack on a Japanese Naval vessel. The Japanese vessel opened fire and killed two of those on the bridge and wounded three others. The Japanese vessel then rammed the USS Growler. The Captain, Commander Howard Gilmore, who was one of the wounded, ordered the bridge to be cleared. The two other wounded men were dragged below. Commander Gilmore issued his final order "Take her down". He remained on the bridge and lost his life in order to save his boat. He was posthumously awarded the first submariner Medal of Honor.

USS Growler returned to Brisbane Submarine Base with the Executive Office assuming command of the submarine. USS Growler had 18 feet of its bow bent at right angles. Evans Deakins & Co. at Rocklea manufactured a new bow for USS Growler which was fitted at the South Brisbane Dry Dock.. USS Growler left the dry dock on 1 May 1943 with a nickel kangaroos painted on the new bow of the submarine. After this incident, USS Growler was known as the "Kangaroo Express". 

At the Brisbane Submarine Base at New Farm, The USS Growler's main hull
is pointed towards the CSR Sugar Refinery across the Brisbane River but
her battered  bow is pointing towards Hawthorne

Admiral Fife took over command of the Fremantle Submarine Base from Admiral Christie on 30 December 1944. In 1945 another three submarines were lost as follows:-

USS Barbel (SS316)
USS Lagarto (SS371)
USS Bullhead (SS332)

Approximately 170 American, British and Dutch submarines made a total of 416 war patrols out of Fremantle Submarine Base during WW2.

American

British Dutch
Angler Flasher Pike Clyde K.VIII
Aspro Flier Pintado Porpoise K.IX
Barbel Flounder Pompon Rorqual K.XI
Barbero Gabilan Porpoise Sea Rover K.XII
Bashaw Gar Puffer Seascout K.XIV
Batfish Grampus Rasher Sidon K.XV
Baya Grayback Raton Sirdar O.19
Becuna Grayling Ray Sleuth O.21
Bergall Grenadier Redfin Solent O.24
Bersugo Growler Robalo Spark Tigjerhaal
Billfish Guavina Rock Spirit Zwaardvisch
Blenny Gudgeon S.37 Spiteful  
Blower Guitarro S.38 Stoic  
Blueback Gunnel S.39 Storm  
Bluefish Gurnard Sailfish Stubborn  
Bluegill Haddo Salmon Sturdy  
Boarfish Hake Sandlance Stygian  
Bonefish Hammerhead Sargo Supreme  
Bowfin Harder Saury Taciturn  
Bowfish Hardhead Sculpin Tantalus  
Bream Hawkbill Sea Lion II Tantivy  
Brill Hoe Sea Robin Tapir  
Buena Icefish Seadragon Telemachus  
Bugara Jack Seal Terrapin  
Bullhead Kingfish Searaven Thorough  
Bumper Kraken Seawolf Thule  
Cabrilla Lagarto Silversides Tiptoe  
Caiman Lamprey Skipjack Tradewind  
Capelin Lapon Snapper Trenchant  
Capitaine Lark Spearfish Trump  
Carbonero Lizardfish Stingray Tudor  
Cavalla Loggerhead Sturgeon    
Charr Mingo Swordfish    
Chub Muskallunge Tambor    
Cisco Narwhal Tarpon    
Cobia Nautilus Tautog    
Cod Paddle Thresher    
Codfish Pampanito Tinosa    
Crevalle Pargo Trout    
Croaker Perch II Tuna    
Dace Permit      
Finback Pickerel      

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Left to Right:- Votrobek (USS Blenny), Peniston (USS Bluegill), Bibb (USS Perch), Crump (Ship's Co.)

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Left to Right:- Votrobek (USS Blenny), Peniston (USS Bluegill), Bibb (USS Perch), Crump (Ship's Co.)

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Peniston, Bradfield (USS Euryale), Bibb, Crump

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Peniston, Bradfield, Bibb, Crump

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Crump, Bibb, Votrobek, Peniston, William E. Bradfield 

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Crump, Bibb, Votrobek, Peniston, William E. Bradfield 

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

L to R:- Peniston, William E. Bradfield

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

L to R:- Peniston, William E. Bradfield

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

"Wish it were mine!" William E. Bradfield

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Horsing around along the Swan River

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Peniston

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Perth Waterways

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Perth Waterways

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Crump

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

L to R:- Votrobek, Bibb, unknown Australian, William E. Bradfield

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

L to R:- Votrobek, Bibb, unknown Australian, William E. Bradfield

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Kings Gardens

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

Back L to R:- Bibb, Peniston
Front L to R:- William E. Bradfield, Votrobek

 


Photo:- William E. Bradfield, 1944

 

Submarine USS Sargo (SS188) attacked
and hit by a Hudson Bomber
based out of Fremantle Submarine Base

 

Brisbane Submarine Base, US Navy

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Warren "Wally" E. Rollins, who was a member of the 197th CA (AA) Regiment for his assistance with this home page. I'd also like to thank William E. Bradfield a former crew member of USS Euryale (AS22) for his assistance with this web page.

 

REFERENCES

The Fremantle Submarine Base
by Bart Bartholomew 

Cairns, L., 1995, Fremantle's Secret Fleets: Allied submarines based in Western Australia during World War II Western Australian Museum, Perth.

 

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 Peter Dunn 2004

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This page first produced 4 April 2004

This page last updated 19 October 2008