Submariner’s remembrance…

Posted on March 13, 2011 by

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I’m slightly distracted today… for a number of reasons… so, I’m going to deviate slightly from the standard content here… and yes, I’ll be getting back to the story I started yesterday.

I pitched an idea to fellow submariners today (on FaceBook), thinking it would be interesting to learn not just about the boats lost, but actually some of the men who remain on “eternal patrol” (lost in submarines). The idea was for fellow submariners to post a bio sketch on FB, of a submariner “on eternal patrol”, who hailed from their community, hometown, county, region, or state, or etc.

So, having pitched the idea, I thought I’d open with a story of a submariner from my home county.

Walter McCormick Baker, SC1 (SS)
USS Cisco

The youngest son of Oscar Oreland Baker (1883-1961) and Elizabeth Singleton Haylois (1881-1967), Walter M. Baker was born on May 1, 1916, probably in Springfield, Page County, Va. where the Baker home was located. While his mother’s side of the family remains somewhat of a mystery to me, I have found that his father’s family was descended from the families of Baker, Kauffman, Strickler, and Moyer.

Walter M. Baker (Service # 2563093) joined the Navy on February 5, 1936, well before the United States became actively involved in the Second World War. It is unclear where his service took him in his earliest years, but Baker volunteered for submarine duty in 1939. By 1943, he was listed as Ship’s Cook First Class, during his tour of duty aboard the USS Cisco.

U.S.S. Cisco, SS-290

Cdr. Coe

The Cisco was the sixth boat in the Balao class, and was built by Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine. She was laid down on October 29, 1942, launched on December 24, 1942, and commissioned on May 10, 1943; only nine days after Baker’s 27th birthday. Following her training and initial trials, by August 7, 1943, the Cisco had departed Panama and was on her way to Brisbane, Australia, under the command of Cdr. James Wiggins Coe. Coe had previously made three war patrols as commanding officer of the USS Skipjack (SS-184) and was considered a “most able and successful submarine officer.”

On a side-note, and holding the character of Cdr. Coe in high esteem for his “archly humorous letter” regarding the requisition of toilet paper, as a submariner and former supply-type, I can’t resist telling a particular story about Cdr. Coe, while aboard the Skipjack. As yet another “supply-type,” I’m sure Submate Baker would have appreciated the humor amidst this otherwise solemn reflection of his loss during the Second World War.

Indeed, Cdr. Coe’s letter/memo didn’t get by Hollywood either. In 1959, when Cary Grant, in his fictional role as Cdr. Matt Sherman of the USS Sea Tiger, was making the movie Operation Petticoat he, to some degree, mirrored Coe’s memo to the supply officer at Mare Island Naval Base. Coe’s memo read:

USS SKIPJACK

SS184/LS/SS36-1
June 11, 1942

From: Commanding Officer
To: Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, California

Subject: Toilet Paper

Ref: (a) (4608) USS Holland (5148) USS SKIPJACK req 70-42 of 30 July 1941
(b) SO NYMI canceled invoice No. 272836

Encl: (1) Sample of canceled invoice
(2) Sample of material required.

1. This vessel submitted a requisition for 150 rolls of toilet paper on July 30, 1941, to USS HOLLAND. The material was ordered by HOLLAND from the Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, for delivery to USS SKIPJACK.

2. The Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, on November 26, 1941, canceled Mare Island Invoice No. 272836 with the stamped notation “Canceled — cannot identify.” This canceled invoice was received by SKIPJACK on June 10, 1942.

3. During the 11-3/4 months elapsing from the time of ordering the toilet paper and the present date, USS SKIPJACK personnel, despite their best efforts to await delivery of the subject material, have been unable to wait on numerous occasions, and the situation is now quite acute, particularly during depth-charge attacks by the “back stabbers.”

4. Enclosure (2) is a sample of the desired materials provided for the information of the Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island. The Commanding Officer, USS SKIPJACK, cannot help but wonder what is being used at Mare Island in place of this unidentifiable material, once well known to this command.

5. SKIPJACK personnel during this period have become accustomed to the use of “crests,” i.e., the vast amount of incoming non-essential paper work, and in so doing feel that the wish of the Bureau of Ships for reduction of paper work is being complied with, thus killing two birds with one stone.

6. It is believed by this command that the stamped notation “cannot identify” was possible error, and that this is simply a case of shortage of strategic war material, the SKIPJACK probably being low on the priority list.

7. In order to cooperate in the war effort at a small local sacrifice, the SKIPJACK desires no further action be taken until the end of the current war, which has created a situation aptly described as ‘War is hell.’

J. W. Coe

*See the actual memo, here.

(Embedding has been disabled for the clip, but see here, beginning around frame 6:15 for beginning of the particular scene from Operation Petticoat)

Just over two weeks after arriving in Brisbane on September 1, 1943, the Cisco, with Baker aboard, departed from Darwin, Australia on her first war patrol with orders to patrol the South China Sea. However, not long after departure, she was forced to return with defects to her main hydraulic system. Repaired overnight, the Cisco got underway once again on September 19, on her original mission.

According to several websites, “Cisco’s area was a large rectangular one in the South China Sea between Luzon and the coast of French Indo-China. In order to reach it, she was to pass through the Arafoera Sea area, the Banda Sea, Manipa Strait, Molukka Passage, the Celebes Sea, Sibutu Passage, the Sulu Sea and Mindoro Strait. On 28 September, Cisco should have been due west of Mindanao in the center of the Sulu Sea off Panay Island in position 09.47N, 121.44E (if you want, you can put the coordinates into Google Maps to see this location). On that day a Japanese antisubmarine attack was made slightly north and east of Cisco’s expected position. In reporting the attack the Japanese state ‘Found a sub tailing oil. Bombing. Ships cooperated with us. The oil continued to gush out even on tenth of October.’”

According to Navy records, no submarine that returned from patrol reported having been attacked at this time and position, giving even more indication that the attack was made on the Cisco.

More records reveal that, in fact, Japanese aircraft from the 954th Kokutai probably made the initial bombing of the Cisco and then called in the depth charge attack from the gunboat HIJMS Karatsu upon the Cisco.

USS Luzon, PG-47/PR-7

The Karatsu, incidentally, was formerly known as the USS Luzon (PG-47/PR-7) which the US Navy had used in the Yangtze Patrols since 1928. Though scuttled (to prevent capture by the Japanese) by the Navy off of Corregidor, Philippines (in position 14.23N, 120.35E) on 5 May 1942, the former Luzon was raised by the Japanese, repaired and commissioned as the Karatsu. On March 3, 1944, Karatsu had its first tangle with an American submarine when she was damaged by the USS Narwhal (SS-167) headed for Tawi Tawi. Though the Karatsu made it out of the scrap without being sunk, the Japanese “rewarded” the Narwhal with some heavy depth charging. While the Narwhal made it through the entire war, the Karatsu met her end on February 5, 1945 when, once again, she was scuttled, this time at Manila.

The former USS Luzon, as the HIJMS Karatsu

Nevertheless, again, most of the websites on the loss of the Cisco state that “nothing had been seen of or heard from the Cisco since her departure from Darwin, and on November 4 and 5, 1943, Headquarters Task Force Seventy-One was unable to make radio contact with her. At the time of her loss it was considered very unlikely that a recurrence of trouble with her main hydraulic system could explain her sinking, and the only other possible clue was the fact that a Japanese plane was reported over Darwin at twenty thousand feet on the morning of her second departure. The attack listed above is thought to probably explain this loss. No enemy minefields are known to have been in her area, or en route to it.”

On November 18, 1943, the Page News & Courier reported among its front page stories, that the Baker family had received a telegram from the office of the Chief of Naval Personnel, Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, stating that Walter Baker had was officially reported as missing “in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country.”

Though lost between September 28 and October 10, 1943, the memorial headstone for Petty Officer First Class Baker in Beahm’s Chapel Cemetery (near his parents’ final resting place) records him as missing in action as of November 15, 1943. Baker is also one of 36,282 listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery (pdf) in the Philippines (76 men were lost at sea aboard the Cisco; see here for a complete list). Baker was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. For her brief service, the USS Cisco received one battle star.

In all, the United States lost 52 submarines and with them, 3,617 submariners during the Second World War. However, the US submarine force also accounted for about 55% of all Japanese tonnage sunk in the war. As one website points out, this “was done by a branch of the Navy that accounted for about 1.6% of the Navy’s wartime complement.”

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