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The Search for the Japanese Fleet: USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway

The Search for the Japanese Fleet: USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway

by David W. Jourdan, Philip G. Renaud
The Search for the Japanese Fleet: USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway

The Search for the Japanese Fleet: USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway

by David W. Jourdan, Philip G. Renaud

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In The Search for the Japanese Fleet, David W. Jourdan, one of the world’s experts in undersea exploration, reconstructs the critical role one submarine played in the Battle of Midway, considered to be the turning point of the war in the Pacific. In the direct line of fire during this battle was one of the oldest boats in the navy, USS Nautilus. The actions of Lt. Cdr. William Brockman and his ninety-three-man crew during an eight-hour period rank among the most important submarine contributions to the most decisive engagement in U.S. Navy history.

Fifty-seven years later, Jourdan’s team of deep-sea explorers set out to discover the history of the Battle of Midway and find the ships that the Allied fleet sank. Key to the mystery was Nautilus and its underwater exploits. Relying on logs, diaries, chronologies, manuals, sound recordings, and interviews with veterans of the battle, including men who spent most of June 4, 1942, in the submarine conning tower, the story breathes new life into the history of this epic engagement. Woven into the tale of World War II is the modern drama of deep-sea discovery, as explorers deploy new technology three miles beneath the ocean surface to uncover history and commemorate fallen heroes.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612347554
Publisher: Potomac Books
Publication date: 06/15/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 11 MB
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About the Author

David W. Jourdan is the founder and president of Nauticos, a company devoted to the exploration of the deep sea. Jourdan and his Nauticos team are responsible for the discovery of the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga and the Japanese World War II submarine I-52. He is the author of The Deep Sea Quest for Amelia Earhart and Never Forgotten: The Search and Discovery of Israel’s Lost Submarine Dakar. Capt. Philip G. Renaud, USN (Ret.), is the current executive director of the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation and a former commanding officer at the Naval Oceanographic Office.
David W. Jourdan is president of Nauticos, a company devoted to deep-sea exploration. He and his Nauticos team are responsible for the discovery of the Japanese World War II submarine I-52 in the Atlantic. He is the author of several books, including The Search for the Japanese Fleet: USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway (Potomac Books, 2015) and The Deep Sea Quest for Amelia Earhart.

Read an Excerpt

The Search for the Japanese Fleet

USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway

By David W. Jourdan


Copyright © 2015 David W. Jourdan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61234-755-4


War Patrol

Checked depth charge bill and assured ourselves that each man knew what was expected of him.

—USS Nautilus, Report of First War Patrol

The sun was bright, nearly halfway along its climb to noon, almost directly overhead in tropical Pearl Harbor. Already the day was pleasantly warm, nearly eighty degrees, tempered by a gentle breeze of about eight knots. Slightly humid, a few puffy clouds, the barometer rock steady, unlimited visibility—a perfectly average Hawaiian day in May. For those who sought comfort in good omens, it was an auspicious day to get underway on war patrol.

Since that infamous December day almost six months earlier, the naval base was no longer quiet on Sundays. This was especially true of the submarine harbor at Southeast Loch, home to the Pacific Fleet submarine squadron and its force of nineteen steel black hulls. Among them was SS-168, USS Nautilus, recently arrived from the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California where the vessel had been modernized and readied for war. Though new engines and radio equipment installed in the boat were essential to the task at hand, the feature probably most welcome to the ninety-three-man crew facing patrol in tropical waters was an air-conditioning system.

All available submarines were westward bound. Few men on board were privy to their destination, and fewer yet knew why they were going. Like the men of Nautilus, most were on their first war patrol, with no experience in battle. Their peacetime training and the experience of their young leaders would have to serve.

And young they were. Among the "grizzled" veterans on board Nautilus was the thirty-seven-year-old commanding officer, Lt. Cdr. William Brockman. A Baltimore native, the submarine commander was described by shipmate Buzz Lee as a "tough guy" and stern, commanding tremendous respect from the crew. He was an imposing figure who was big enough to play football on the offensive line at the Naval Academy, which no doubt enhanced his image. "He had a way about him; you immediately knew that he had command," related Lee in a 2005 interview. Brockman was more than a physical presence, he was also capable—he "knew what he was doing." But his most notable trait as a submarine captain was his willingness to boldly pursue the enemy. Lee said, "He was the bravest man I ever knew. He never turned away from anything." This attribute would serve him and the crew of Nautilus well in battle and would play a key role in the events soon to follow in the dark waters northwest of Midway Island.

Brockman had enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1922 and graduated from the Naval Academy five years later. In 1929 he joined the submarine force and was given his first command, the submarine rescue ship Mallard (ASR-4), at the age of thirty-four. In March 1942 Brockman took command of Nautilus while it was still in the shipyard, departing San Francisco in April bound for Pearl Harbor, his first time underway as a submarine commanding officer.

After less than a month of final crew training and equipment maintenance, half of the time spent in dry dock, the ship (or "boat," as a submarine is often called) and its young, inexperienced, but confident crew left Hawaii for their first war patrol. It would be just one of fourteen remarkably successful sorties for Nautilus over the course of World War II. But as events would unfold, the actions during an eight-hour period early in that first patrol would rank among the most important contributions of a submarine to the most decisive engagement in U.S. Navy history.

* * *

Sunday, May 24, 1942. 0630 YST—Underway from Submarine Base. USS Wasmuth escorted this vessel until dark. Made trim dive.


"YST" referred to "Yoke Time"—today called "Yankee Standard Time"—the local time zone for Midway Island. Twelve hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT, it is the time zone that borders the International Dateline to the east. Though many different time zones were observed by different vessels and commands during the battle, all times mentioned in this narrative have been converted to YST. (Nautilus observed local time while in Honolulu, which back then was designated at nine and a half hours ahead of GMT, known as "WV," or phonetically, "William Victor," so the local departure time that Sunday morning was a more humane 9:00 a.m.)

The simple entry in the official ship's log belied the complexity of the event. Getting a naval vessel underway is a daunting exercise in time and task management, involving a myriad of activities that must be completed on a schedule, rely on entirely different groups of workers, require independent permissions and certifications, have every chance of interfering with each other, and any of which can result in serious injury. Over the course of the prior evening and overnight, the ship was alive with stores loading, last-minute repairs, fueling, torpedo and ammunition loading, inspections, and crew preparation for a patrol that could last seven weeks or longer.

Of course Nautilus was not the only vessel involved in this process; it was competing with the other boats in the squadron, all of which had the same needs, limitations, and sense of urgency. Though most of the crews and dock workers involved were in the dark about their coming mission, it was clear that all available boats were preparing to sail, and something serious was afoot.

Against the odds, the ship's duty officer succeeded in his daunting task. The diesels were started, roaring life into the vessel and blowing smoke around the harbor. "Shore power" lines were removed as the umbilical to land was no longer needed. The acrid smell and hammering noise of the ship's engines were good signs to the dockyard workers—their job was done, and Nautilus was leaving.

Casting off mooring lines, the massive 371-foot, 4,000-ton submarine moved away from the pier and made its way slowly into the Southeast Loch. Turning northwest toward the entrance to the Pearl Harbor South Channel, the men on deck could not fail to be moved by the solemn sight before them. Dead ahead was Ford Island, with its Battleship Row, mooring place of the eight American capital ships damaged or destroyed during the Japanese attack in December. Off the starboard bow was the wreckage of USS Arizona, much of it already removed by salvage crews. The capsized hull of USS Oklahoma was front and center, and other damage to the docks and facilities was still evident. However, in the space of a few short months, a remarkable feat had been accomplished. Three of the great ships (Maryland, Tennessee, and the flagship Pennsylvania), lightly damaged, had been repaired and already placed back into service. Two others (California and Nevada) were in dry dock, and West Virginia would join them in two weeks. Eventually, Oklahoma was righted and refloated, though it never again served. The hull of Arizona remains in place to this day, a memorial to the battle and the sailors, soldiers, airmen, and civilians lost that day.

Heading west into the Main Channel, the sailors left their thoughts of life ashore and looked ahead to the open sea and the battles before them. Turning south around Hospital Point and merging into the Entrance Channel, Nautilus was joined by her escort, USS Wasmuth, an aging (1920s vintage) four-stack destroyer converted to a high-speed minesweeper. Veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack, Wasmuth served in the Pacific theater until December 1942 when, while the vessel was operating in a gale in Alaskan waters, two depth charges fell overboard and exploded under her keel. Amazingly, all crew members were rescued over the next several hours though the valiant efforts of the men of the tanker Ramapo; but Wasmuth sank, bearing witness to the destructive power of depth charges. The Nautilus crew would soon have the opportunity to personally confront that terrifying weapon under the waters near Midway.

Nautilus and her escort headed west into calm seas. Crewmen of the Wasmuth and the few submariners lucky enough to be stationed on their boat's bridge enjoyed the sunny afternoon and watched the skyline of Oahu sink into the sea. The Waikiki beachfront lacked the high-rise office buildings it has today; its most prominent features were the stately Royal Hawaiian and Moana hotels, the former's striking color scheme lending it the nickname Pink Palace of the Pacific. Normally a haven for high-end tourists, the Royal was closed to visitors during the war and instead served as a place of rest and relaxation for U.S. submariners. Buzz Lee remembers his weekend visits:

We were all picked up on a bus and taken out to Waikiki to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which had been turned over to the American navy ... we were the guests until the war ended. It was for sub and air crews; they had an open barbecue out on the lawn all day long. We were wined and dined. You couldn't buy hard liquor, you know, only officers could get it. The sub guys used torpedo fuel, [known as] "pink lady." It was [mostly] alcohol, and they had a still so they could distill the pink out.

"Pink lady" was the active ingredient of "torpedo juice," a drink made from a mixture of pineapple juice and the 180-proof grain alcohol fuel used in torpedo motors. The fuel was rendered undrinkable by the addition of additives, mainly dye and methanol. The dye turned the fuel pink, hence the term. Sailors would use various methods to remove the poisonous additives from the desirable ethanol, including the use of stills and even filtering the liquid through loaves of bread. The fuel was so poisonous, and the sailors so persistent in drinking it, that the navy eventually reverted to using croton oil as an additive. This would make a man violently sick but was less likely to kill him.

As Nautilus headed to sea, views of Honolulu receded. The city and beach were flanked on the east by the prominent volcanic crater Diamond Head, home to Fort Ruger, the first military installation on the island. The rugged Waianae Range to the west featured the highest point on Oahu, Mount Ka'ala. As the signs of civilization dipped below the horizon, the four-thousand-foot peak remained visible in the clear air for the rest of the afternoon.

Soon it was time to exercise the essential and distinctive quality of a submarine, as the crew prepared to make its first dive.

* * *

Diving a submarine is both routine and complex. It is a well-choreographed ballet of actions that must be performed quickly and safely; it is the activity of a submarine most prone to accident, but the one most important to its survival. Many a submarine on war patrol owed its continued existence to a quick, smartly executed dive, escaping the attack of an aircraft or its detection by a destroyer. The first dive after leaving port, known as a trim dive, is by far the most challenging.

Submerging a submarine is essentially the act of sinking the vessel in a deliberate manner so that its depth can be controlled and it can later be returned safely to the surface. The key to this process is to maintain a delicate balance of weights and forces so that the ship remains as "neutrally buoyant" as possible, with no pitch (fore and aft), a condition known to submariners as "in trim." (As with any ship, it is also desirable to minimize the side-to-side "list" of the vessel, but that does not affect depth control.)

The buoyancy of a ship is simple to understand. The submerged hull displaces a certain volume of water. If the weight of this water exceeds the weight of the ship, the ship will float; otherwise, it will tend to sink. If the weight of the displaced water exactly equals the weight of the ship, the buoyancy is neutral. The trick is to adjust the weight of the ship by filling or pumping seawater to or from tanks in the ship. The complication is that the weight of the displaced water can change, depending on the temperature, pressure, and salinity. These things can, in turn, change with depth, so diving the ship can be especially difficult.

This simple theory becomes complicated in practice. While Nautilus was in port, the distribution of weights in the ship naturally changed as tanks were drained or filled, weapons and supplies were brought on board, crew arrived or departed, and equipment was added or removed. All of this affected the buoyancy of the vessel when it next submerged. For example, a Mark-15 torpedo carried by Nautilus weighed about 3,800 pounds, equivalent to almost five hundred gallons of seawater, so if a torpedo was added, that much ballast water had to be pumped out. And location was important—a weight forward in the ship would require ballast to be removed from forward tanks or added aft, with additional water pumped out amidships.

To move all this water around, the vessel was equipped with a trim pump and a maze of piping and valves, allowing seawater in the tanks to be pumped to sea or between tanks at a rate of over a ton per minute, on the surface. At a depth of four hundred feet, sea pressure reduced this by half, so the launching of a single torpedo could require some time to make trim adjustments. Flooding of the tanks was accomplished by allowing sea pressure to force water in. In a pinch, water could be expelled by a high-pressure air system, a network of pipes connecting the tanks to flasks of stored compressed air called "air banks."

Lt. Tom Hogan was the ship's diving officer for Nautilus. As soon as the ship put to sea, Hogan made trim adjustments based on a complex calculation of weights and balances and data he had collected on changes while in port. If he did everything right, the boat would be in perfect trim when submerged. Of course, there was only one way to find out: dive the boat.

While on the surface, the ship had significant positive buoyancy. This was achieved by blowing dry the main ballast tanks, a collection of ten large tanks surrounding the pressure hull with a total capacity of about 1,200 tons of seawater. The ship was designed to be nearly neutral when these tanks were full—in that case, the ship, fully loaded, weighed about 4,000 tons. When all of those ballast tanks were empty, the ship weighed only 2,800 tons and floated high on the surface.

As Nautilus approached the dive point, all hands were at their stations, alert for leaks or any other emergency that would require action to save the ship. With water depths exceeding two thousand fathoms, the hull would be crushed long before it reached the bottom. There would be no rescue for a serious mishap; usually, a submarine accident meant the loss of all hands. The most senior watchstanders were in position for the event. Captain Brockman was on the bridge, and his executive officer, Lt. Cdr. Roy Benson, was officer of the deck. Tom Hogan was in the control room, looking over the shoulder of the diving officer of the watch. The chief of the watch, a senior enlisted member of the crew, supervised the watchstanders in the control room. Traditionally, officers did not touch the equipment; rather, they gave orders and monitored actions. An enlisted man would actually operate the appropriate switch, valve, or wheel.

The protocol for diving was well established and formal. The ship was already "rigged for dive" shortly after leaving port. This involved making all weight compensations and setting all hull openings in a position of readiness for diving. That way, the officer of the deck could order a dive at any moment, to escape attack or detection. As clearly stated in NAVPERS 16160, The Fleet Type Submarine, the bible for World War II submarine operations:

The officer of the deck must have full information of the status of every department of the ship at all times. He must have knowledge of the condition of all hull openings, ballast tanks, flood valves, vents, variable tanks, pumps, and so forth. Particular attention must be given to the ship's readiness to dive, permitting nothing to jeopardize this condition without the commanding officer's permission.

A submarine is always ready to dive.

"Clear the bridge!" With this preliminary order, all but the captain, officer of the deck, and a lookout quickly climbed down the ladder from the exposed bridge into the conning tower. A few minutes' warning in this case gave the men enjoying a smoke on the cigarette deck aft of the bridge a chance to take a few last puffs before going below decks. Left in relative solitude, Captain Brockman indulged in a moment of reflection, gazing at the horizon. Cruising at five knots in gentle swells, the sea hissing by the bows and the deep growling of the engines were soothing and familiar sounds. The first dive of the first war patrol of Brockman's first submarine command was beginning on a note of peace and tranquility.

Brockman drew a last breath of salt-drenched sea air, ordered Benson to submerge the ship, and quietly went below. His order was relayed by the officer of the deck to the control room crew. Immediately the chief of the watch signaled two short blasts on the diving alarm, the "ah-oo-gah" sound familiar to anyone who has seen a submarine movie. He announced, "Dive, dive" over the announcing system, known as the "1MC." Upon this word, the crew sprang into action throughout the ship. Without further orders, the engine room watch stopped the diesels, shifted propulsion to the electric motors powered by the battery, and answered, "All ahead standard" speed. Engine and ventilation intake and exhaust valves were shut. The bridge party scrambled down the ladder into the conning tower, traditionally the officer of the deck at the rear of the procession. He closed the conning tower outer hatch and announced, "Last man down, hatch secured."


Excerpted from The Search for the Japanese Fleet by David W. Jourdan. Copyright © 2015 David W. Jourdan. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Prologue: "So We Have Won After All",
1. War Patrol,
2. The Quest,
3. Kido Butai,
4. Revealing the Deep,
5. Hide, Seek, and Attack,
6. Under Siege,
7. The End of Kido Butai,
8. The Art of Renav,
9. Return to Midway,
10. History Revealed,
11. Victory and Sacrifice,
Epilogue: The Heroes of Nautilus,
Appendix A: Further Questions on Nautilus and the Battle of Midway,
Appendix B: The Crew of USS Nautilus (SS-168),
Appendix C: The Explorers,
Appendix D: Order of Battle,
Appendix E: Chronology of the Battle of Midway,
A Note on References and Selected Bibliography,

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