After war was declared with Japan in December 1941, 14 Squadron RAAF based at Pearce, intensified its maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrols along the Western Australian coastline. On 4 March 1942, Lockheed Hudson A16-122, from 14 Squadron RAAF attacked USS Sargo (SS-188), a US Navy submarine returning to Fremantle Submarine Base. The submarine was travelling on the surface and about one day out from Fremantle. They had 31 evacuee passengers on board. 



At 1338 hrs, the port forward lookout spotted and reported a plane dropping out of the cloud cover about 5 miles from the submarine. They recognized that it was an RAAF camouflaged Lockheed Hudson bomber, that was now turning straight for them.

They flashed the recognition signal "Lemon Moon" at the Hudson several times with no response. The Hudson continued its apparent bombing run at the submarine. They immediately cleared the bridge and sounded the diving alarm. The first pair of bombs exploded close aboard their port quarter when they had reached 40 feet. The explosion lifted the stern up out of the water. 

USS Sargo was out of control and going down at a steep angle. After other corrective actions they blew all ballast tanks plus Safety and Bow Buoyancy. This pulled the submarine out of its dive at approximately 300 feet and now she started to speed to the surface with its new buoyancy. They vented the tanks as fast as they could to slow its upward motion but one of the Main Ballast Tanks was stuck. It was eventually vented by hand. As a consequence USS Sargo broached the surface quite spectacularly.

They now started to dive again to elude the next load of bombs from the Hudson bomber. A second pair of bombs exploded when they were at about 50 feet of keel depth. The bombs went off very close to their starboard beam. 

This second lot of bombs led to a loss of all electric power. Most lights and gauges and the optics in both periscopes were all shattered. The Conning Tower door, the Conning Tower upper hatch, and the After Battery hatch were all damaged. The USS Sargo was taking water at these damaged locations. 

90 seconds later the Electrician's Mate managed to restore power temporarily. They discovered that if they stayed at a certain depth the water pressure would close the warped door and hatches and minimise the leaks. They continued at this depth until darkness came and then they finally surfaced. They contacted Fremantle base about the incident and were told that the Australian Hudson crew would be at the wharf to apologise. The Hudson crew came aboard the USS Sargo when it arrived and moored against the tender ship Holland. There were many handshakes and sincere apologies.

The submarine was badly damaged. The pilot was later exonerated after a Court of Inquiry. USS Sargo left Fremantle on her fourth war patrol on 8 June 1942.


I'd like to thank Jeff McKenzie and Gordon Birkett for their assistance with this home page.



"Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force"
by Steve Eather

"The Saga of Bob Rose and Sargo's Welcome to Australia"
By Doug Rhymes


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This page first produced 30 September 2001

This page last updated 11 March 2017