Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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  • Boats-Ships--Submarine
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  • World War II 1939-1945
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Flier (SS-250)

1943–1944

A species of sunfish native to swamps, ponds and weedy lakes in southern Illinois east to the Potomac River basin and south to Texas.

(SS–250: displacement 1,526; length 311'9"; beam 27'3"; draft 15'3"; speed 20 knots; complement 60; 1 3-inch gun, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Gato)

Flier (SS-250) was laid down on 30 October 1942 at New London, Ct., by the Electric Boat Co.; launched on 11 July 1943; and sponsored by Mrs. Anna Smith Pierce, daughter of Sen. Ellison D. Smith (D-S.C.).


Mrs. Anna Smith Pierce and Mr. Frank B. Bentley smile after being showered with champagne at Flier’s christening at New London, 11 July 1943. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-77833, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: Mrs. Anna Smith Pierce and Mr. Frank B. Bentley smile after being showered with champagne at Flier’s christening at New London, 11 July 1943. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-77833, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

Commissioned on 18 October 1943, Lt. Cmdr. John D. Crowley in command, Flier worked up in the waters off New London and Newport, R.I. before setting her course for the Pacific on 24 November.


Flier at sea, 30 November 1943, as seen from a VP-32 Martin PBM-3S Mariner flown bv Lt. (j.g.) V. Niland. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph, 19-LCM Collection, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: Flier at sea, 30 November 1943, as seen from a VP-32 Martin PBM-3S Mariner flown bv Lt. (j.g.) V. Niland. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph, 19-LCM Collection, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)


As Lt. (j.g.) Niland makes a low pass near Flier, some of the boat’s crew views the plane through binoculars or waves to the aviators, 30 November 1943. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph, 19-LCM Collection, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: As Lt. (j.g.) Niland makes a low pass near Flier, some of the boat’s crew views the plane through binoculars or waves to the aviators, 30 November 1943. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph, 19-LCM Collection, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

She entered the Panama Canal Zone and moored at Pier three, Berth A, Naval Operating Base (NOB) Coco Solo on 2 December. Three days later, she stood out from Coco Solo and sailed through the canal to NOB Balboa, where she moored at 1410. Flier set course for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii (T.H.), at 0632 the next morning.

Over the next two weeks, Flier conducted several drills and training dives. She moored in Pearl Harbor on 20 December. While in the Hawaiian Islands, the submarine underwent three weeks of repairs, training and loading in preparation for her first war patrol. She sailed for Midway Atoll on 12 January 1944.

As Flier neared Midway at 1415 on 16 January 1944, she received orders to await the assistance of a harbor pilot on board harbor tug Negwagon (YT-188). Unfortunately, extremely heavy seas prevented a rendezvous between the two vessels. At 1500, Negwagon directed the submarine to follow her into Midway Channel. In the midst of a passing rain squall, Flier sailed through the channel entrance buoys at 1523, but, a minute later, ran aground. Over the course of the next two hours, extremely heavy seas pushed her onto the shoal eastward of the channel.

After she ran aground, Flier attempted to drop her anchor. As her anchor detail stood on the forecastle of the submarine, a large wave broke over the deck and swept TM1c Clyde A. Gerber and TM3c James Francis P. James Cahl overboard. Gerber successfully swam to a sand spit in the channel, where he was later rescued. Unfortunately, Cahl, who was last seen off Flier’s port side, perished. His remains were recovered and buried at sea four days later on 20 January.

At approximately 1530, Flier reported her predicament to Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet, Subordinate Command, Midway. Thirty minutes later, the submarine rescue ship Macaw (ASR-11) stood out from Midway Lagoon en route to the stricken submarine. At 1515, she anchored in Midway Channel near the No. 2 entrance buoy. Unfortunately, because of Macaw’s position in the channel, initial efforts to attach a tow line to the stranded boat proved unsuccessful. Thirty minutes later, Macaw shifted her position approximately 75–100 feet northwest of the channel buoy and again attempted to rescue Flier. During this attempt, the strain imposed by a 26-knot wind and very rough seas ran out 75 fathoms of Macaw’s anchor chain, forcing her to cut the chain and abort her second attempt to rescue the stuck submarine. As she attempted to reposition herself for a third attempt, Macaw ran aground at 28°12'30"N, 177°21' 0"W at 1612 on 16 January 1944.

With Macaw stranded, ComSubPac ordered the submarine rescue ship Florikan (ASR-9) to sail from Oahu, T.H. to Midway “at best speed.” She arrived at the atoll three days later on 19 January 1944.

As Florikan readied to take the submarine in tow on 22 January 1944, she discovered that the large shackle at the end of her 2-inch tow wire was too large to pass through Flier’s bullnose. To overcome this obstacle, she shackled a 1½-inch wire pendant to her tow wire, which she subsequently attached to a towing bridle on the submarine. Florikan refloated the submarine and, escorted by the submarine chaser PC-602, began the long journey to Pearl Harbor at 1545.

Over the next several hours, increasingly heavy seas chafed the tow wire between the two vessels. Finally, the wire snapped at 0613 on 23 January 1944. Florikan steamed upwind and, on her third try, successfully used a rope gun to pass a messenger line to the submarine. Using both of her capstans, Flier reattached the tow line several hours later. As the three vessels neared the Hawaiian Islands, the escort vessel Dionne (DE-261) joined the convoy at 0245 on 30 January.

On 1 February 1944, ComSubPac convened a Court of Inquiry into the grounding on board Bushnell (AS-15). After five days of testimony and two days of deliberations, the Court issued its opinion on 8 February. The Court found Cmdr. Crowley responsible for the grounding of his boat. However, it also found that the grounding did not occur because of negligence on the part of Crowley and his crew.


As Flier lies in dry dock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, 31 January 1944, workmen contemplate the extensive damage received during the boat’s grounding at Midway earlier in the month. Note the broken port strut and the gnarled port screw. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS 110198, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: As Flier lies in dry dock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, 31 January 1944, workmen contemplate the extensive damage received during the boat’s grounding at Midway earlier in the month. Note the broken port strut and the gnarled port screw. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS 110198, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

Initially towed to Pearl Harbor, where she underwent temporary repairs, Flier arrived at the Mare Island Navy Yard on 16 February 1944. Workers at Mare Island spent several weeks repairing the damage to the submarine as well as upgrading her radar. She arrived back in the Hawaiian Islands on 8 May and underwent ten days of voyage repairs and training.


Flier, 20 April 1944, following a period of repairs and alterations. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS 65327, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: Flier, 20 April 1944, following a period of repairs and alterations. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS 65327, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)


Close-up view of the alterations made to Flier’s conning tower, Mare Island Navy Yard, 27 April 1944. While the submarine lying astern is not identified, in the background can be seen the open lighter YC-312 (L) and the covered lighter YF-505 (R) moored outboard of her. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS 65332, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: Close-up view of the alterations made to Flier’s conning tower, Mare Island Navy Yard, 27 April 1944. While the submarine lying astern is not identified, in the background can be seen the open lighter YC-312 (L) and the covered lighter YF-505 (R) moored outboard of her. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph BS 65332, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

Escorted by the submarine chaser PC-602, Flier stood out of Pearl Harbor in accordance with TF 17 Operation Order 171-44 at 1100 on 21 May 1944. She released her escort at 2000 and set course for Johnston Atoll, where she arrived at 1534 on 23 May. After refueling, she sailed en route to her patrol area at 1830. Over the next several days the crew conducted fire control drills as well as training dives.

As she patrolled the Philippine Sea during the evening of 3-4 June 1944, Flier detected multiple enemy vessels. At 1918 she selected a Japanese convoy sailing to the south-southwest as her first target. At 0501 the next morning the submarine came to periscope depth and fired a three-torpedo spread at each of two Japanese cargo ships. Two torpedoes struck the 10,380-ton Hakusan Maru and one torpedo struck the second unidentified cargo ship. Enemy warships immediately converged on the submarine’s location and dropped 34 depth charges over the next hour and a half. Flier eventually surfaced and cleared the area at 1020. In an attempt to regain contact with the convoy, on the evening of 4–5 June the submarine sailed back to the location of her attack on the convoy. At approximately 1030 on the morning of 5 June, she recovered a cache of Japanese documents and a Sperry Mk. 15 gyro compass from the cargo ship sunk the previous day. She spent the next two days unsuccessfully hunting for enemy merchant vessels.

Flier transited the Balintang Strait during the early morning of 8 June 1944 and began patrolling off Luzon. After several days of unsuccessful hunting, she sighted smoke at bearing 015°T at 1305 on 13 June 1944. The submarine submerged and sailed toward the contact, eventually identified as a large convoy of 11 merchant vessels escorted by six Japanese warships. As she attempted to maneuver in between the convoy and the beach, the submarine briefly lost power to her stern diving planes from 1418 to 1429. At 1452, she fired torpedoes from her four stern torpedo tubes at the 5,135-ton Marifu Maru. As their boat repositioned for a second attack on the convoy, sailors heard two torpedoes strike the tanker. A misunderstanding between Lt. Cmdr. Crowley and his diving officer caused a loss of depth control and prevented a follow up attack. As the submarine dove deeper, she again lost power to her stern diving planes, forcing the crew to level their boat by hand as a total of 105 depth charges exploded overhead. Flier eventually surfaced and sailed toward Manila, Philippine Islands at 1948. She would not come into contact with another enemy convoy for several more days.

At 1600 on 17 June 1944, the submarine detected a convoy of five cargo ships escorted by two warships sailing near the northern coast of Verde Island, Philippine Islands. However, she was unable to close and fire on the convoy before losing contact with it in the waning daylight at 2100. She unsuccessfully searched for the convoy for over two hours prior to sailing to Calavite Pass at 2318.

As she sailed through the Apo East Pass at 1830 on 22 June 1944, she saw five columns of smoke bearing 210°T at a range of 15 miles. Approximately three hours later, Flier fired a three torpedo spread at each of two cargo ships. She successfully struck both vessels, which immediately dropped out of the convoy and attempted to beach themselves. As the convoy escorts began a depth charge attack, the submarine sailed around the convoy’s port side. At 0023 on 23 June, she successfully torpedoed a medium sized cargo ship. As her target settled by the stern, the submarine successfully evaded an attack by Japanese warships and sailed westward out of the area.

Flier set a course for the submarine base in Fremantle Harbor, Australia, at 0207 on 23 June 1944. En route to Freemantle, the submarine made radar contact with Robalo (SS-273) at 0310 on 30 June. Several hours later at 1037 she maneuvered alongside a sailboat in the Java Sea. After the submariners determined there were no Japanese among the sailboat’s crew, they provided the mariners with food and resumed their course to Fremantle. The submarine evaded Japanese patrol boats at both ends of Lombok Strait and exchanged radar signals with Bonefish (SS-582) the next day. She ended her first war patrol and moored in Fremantle Harbor at 1200 on 5 July. While moored there she underwent a refit from 5 July to 2 August.

The submarine got underway on her second war patrol at 1500 on 2 August 1944. She sailed east of Pearl Bank into the Sulu Sea and began patrolling at 0300 on 13 August. Later that evening at 1800, using bearings taken from peaks on Balabac and Palawan islands, she fixed her position as 50 miles offshore Balabac Island, Philippine Islands. As she sailed at bearing 190°T approximately 6,700 yards off Comiran Island, a “terrific explosion” occurred on the starboard side of the boat abreast of the forward battery compartment at 2200. As air vented out through the conning tower, the submarine sank in an estimated 20 to 30 seconds. Crowley and 14 other sailors—of whom six, sadly, died shortly thereafter—survived the sinking of their boat.

After several hours of swimming in the Sulu Sea, Crowley, FN Earl R. Baumgart, CRT Arthur G. Howell, Ens. Alvin E. Jacobson, Lt. James W. Liddell and MoMM3c Wesley B. Miller came ashore on the southern coast of Mantangule Island, Philippine Islands at 1530. The five sailors were met by QM3c James D. Russo, who had come ashore earlier in the day. An eighth survivor, FC2c Donald P. Tremaine joined the group at 1700. After a couple days ashore, sailors gathered pieces of bamboo, lashed them together with vines into a 7 by 5-foot raft and sailed for nearby Byan Island at 1500 on 16 August 1944. They came ashore just after sunset and spent the night on the island. Near low tide at 1600 the next afternoon, the sailors embarked on board their makeshift raft and sailed across a coral reef to Gabang Island.

The sailors spent the morning of 18 August 1944 searching for food. After sharing a coconut, they sailed for Bagsuk Island at 1400. Three hours later they landed on Apo Island and spent the night sheltered in an abandoned house. Soon after sunrise the next morning, two local boys guided the sailors inland to an abandoned school where they met with Filipino guerillas ordered to transport marooned Allied civilians, sailors and airmen to Brooke’s Point, Palawan. During the meeting sailors dined on fish and rice, enjoying their first meal since their boat sank six days prior. Cmdr. Crowley and the seven other survivors from his crew sailed for Palawan at approximately 1600 on 20 August and arrived at Cape Buliluyan eight hours later. They sailed for Brooke’s Point at noon on 21 August. Unfavorable weather conditions forced them to anchor in the Tuba River for the night and resume their journey at 1100 the next morning. They arrived at Brooke’s Point early on 23 August.

After their arrival at Brooke’s Point, Crowley used a radio provided by a U.S. Army coastwatcher unit to report Flier’s fate to Commander, Task Force 71. Filipino guerillas then escorted the sailors to an evacuation point five miles inland. The sailors utilized the next three days to organize an evacuation plan. On 29 August 1944, Commander Seventh Fleet notified Crowley that Redfin (SS-272) would arrive off Brooke’s Point the next day. The eight survivors from the stricken submarine and nine other “marooned persons” embarked in two small boats and sailed southeastward at 2000 on 30 August. Crowley and his crew sighted Redfin at 0050 and reported on board the submarine at 0103.

A Court of Inquiry into Flier’s loss convened at Headquarters Commander Submarines Seventh Fleet on 14 September 1944. After three days of testimony, the Court found that the submarine sank because of an external underwater source that was not launched by a Japanese ship or aircraft. Despite these findings, the court was not able to definitively conclude whether Flier hit a mine or was struck by a submarine-launched torpedo.

Flier was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 23 September 1944. The Navy presented Crowley with the Navy Cross on 26 October 1944 and the Legion of Merit on 11 September 1945.

Over sixty years later in the spring of 2009, the documentary film company YAP Films located the wreck of a submarine they believed to be Flier. After an extensive investigation by the Naval History and Heritage Command, Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet Rear Adm. Douglas McAneny confirmed the discovery of the submarine’s location in a statement issued on 1 February 2010.

Flier received one battle star for her service during World War II.

Commanding Officer Dates of Command
Lt. Cmdr. John D. Crowley 18 October 1943–13 August 1944


Christopher J. Martin

5 February 2019

Historian R. J. Hughes, author of Surviving the Flier, provided invaluable research assistance during the preparation of this entry.

Published: Mon Mar 04 15:40:03 EST 2019