Amazing Flight of the Truculent Turtle. World record flight: 1946

Interesting story about a Navy P-2 that flew non-stop from Perth Australia to Columbus , Ohio in 1946. 67 years ago! …and no computers,

More than 11,000 miles and more than 55 hours in the air…   it was all dead reckonning decisions!!

The oxidized Lockheed ‘Truculent Turtle’ had been squatting next to a Navy Air Station’s main gate, completely exposed to the elements and getting ragged around the edges.  Finally recognizing the Turtle’s singular historic value to aviation, it was moved to Pensacola to receive a badly required and pristine restoration.  It is now – gleamingly hanging – from the National Naval Aviation Museum ‘s ceiling where it earned its distinction.

Taxiing tests demonstrated that its Lockheed P2V-1’s landing gear might fold while bearing the Turtle’s extreme weight before carrying it airborne.  And during taxi turns its landing gear struts could fail carrying such a load.  For that reason, the Turtle was only partially filled with fuel before it was positioned at the head of Australia ‘s Pearce Aerodrome runway 27 at 7 A.M. on September 29th, 1946.

Lined up for take-off, all fueling was completed by 4:00 p.m.  At the same time JATO packs were carefully attached to its fuselage for the jet-assistance required to shove the Truculent Turtle fast enough to take-off before going off the end of the runway

The Turtle would attempt its take-off with CDR Thomas D. Davies, as pilot in command, in the left seat and CDR Eugene P. (Gene) Rankin, the copilot, in the right seat.  In CDR Rankin’s own words: “Late afternoon on the 29th, the weather in southwestern Australia was beautiful. And at 1800, the two 2,300 hp Wright R-3350 engines were warming up.  We were about to takeoff from 6,000 feet of runway with a gross weight of 85,561 pounds [the standard P2V was gross weight limited at . . 65,000 pounds].

Sitting in the copilot’s seat, I remember thinking about my wife, Virginia, and my three daughters and asking myself, ‘What am I doing here in this situation?’  I took a deep breath and wished for the best.

At 6:11 p.m., CDR Tom Davies stood hard on the brakes as both throttles were pushed forward to max power. At the far end of the mile-long runway, he could make out the throng of news reporters and photographers.

Scattered across the air base were hundreds of picnickers who came to witness the spectacle of a JATO takeoff. They all stood up when they heard the sound of the engines being advanced to full military power. Davies and Rankin scanned the engine instruments.  Normal .  Davies raised his feet from the brakes.

On this day, September 29, 1946, the reciprocating engine Turtle was a veritable winged gas tank . . thirteen tons beyond the two-engine Lockheed’s Max Gross Weight Limitations.

The Truculent Turtle rumbled and bounced on tires that had been over-inflated to handle the heavy load.  Slowly it began to pick up speed.  As each 1,000-foot sign went by, Rankin called out the speed and compared it to predicted figures on a clipboard in his lap.

With the second 1,000-foot sign astern, the Turtle was committed.  Davies could no longer stop on the remaining runway.  It was now fly or burn.

When the quivering airspeed needle touched 87 knots, Davies punched a button wired to his yoke, and the four JATO bottles fired from attachment points on the aft fuselage.  The crew’s ears filled with JATO bottles’ roar, their bodies feeling the JATO’s thrust.  For a critical twelve seconds, the JATO provided the thrust of a third engine.

At about 4,500 feet down the runway, 115 knots was reached on the airspeed indicator, and Davies pulled the nose wheel off.  There were some long seconds while the main landing gear continued to rumble over the last of the runway.  Then the rumbling stopped as the main landing gear staggered off the runway and the full load of the aircraft shifted to the wings.

As soon as they were certain that they were airborne, but still only an estimated five feet above the ground, Davies called ‘gear up.’  Rankin moved the wheel-shaped actuator on the pedestal between the pilots to the up position, and the wheels came up.  Davies likely tapped the brakes to stop the wheels from spinning, and the wheel-well doors closed just as the JATO bottles burned out.  Behind the pilots in the aft fuselage, CDR Walt Reid kept his hand on the dump valve that could quickly lighten their load in an emergency.

Roy Tabeling, at the radio position, kept all his switches off for now to prevent the slightest spark.

The Turtle had an estimated 20 feet of altitude and 130 knots of airspeed when the JATO bottles burned out. The JATO bottles were not just to give the Turtle additional speed on take-off, but were intended to improve the rate of climb immediately after lift-off.  The Turtle barely cleared the trees a quarter of a mile from the end of the runway.

The field elevation of Pearce Aerodrome was about 500 feet, and the terrain to the west sloped gradually down to the Indian Ocean about six miles from the field.  So, even without climbing, the Turtle was able to gain height above the trees in the critical minutes after take-off.

Fortunately, the emergency procedures for a failed engine had been well thought out, but were never needed.  At their take-off weight, they estimated that they would be able to climb at a maximum of 400 feet per minute.  If an engine failed and they put maximum power on the remaining engine, they estimated that they would be forced to descend at 200 feet per minute.

Their planning indicated that if they could achieve 1,000 feet before an engine failure they would have about four minutes in which to dump fuel to lighten the load and still be 200 feet in the air to attempt a landing.  With their built-in fuel dump system, they were confident that they were in good shape at any altitude above 1,000 feet because they could dump fuel fast enough to get down to a comfortable single-engine operating weight before losing too much altitude.

Departing the Aerodrome boundary, the Turtle was over the waters of the Indian Ocean .  With agonizing slowness, the altimeter and airspeed readings crept upward.  Walt Reid jettisoned the empty JATO bottles.  The Turtle was thought to have a 125 KT stall speed with the flaps up at that weight. When they established a sluggish climb rate, Gene Rankin started bringing the flaps up in careful small increments.  At 165 KT, with the flaps fully retracted, Tom Davies made his first power reduction to the maximum continuous setting.

The sun was setting and the lights of Perth were blinking on as the Turtle circled back over the city at 3,500 feet and headed out across the 1,800 miles of the central desert of Australia .  On this record-breaking night, one record had already been broken.  Never before had two engines carried so much weight into the air after the JATOS quit.

Their plan was to keep a fairly low 3,500 feet for the first few hundred miles, burning off some fuel, giving them a faster climb to cruise altitude and [hopefully] costing them less fuel for the total trip.  But the southwest wind, burbling and eddying across the hills northeast of Perth , brought turbulence that shook and rattled the overloaded Turtle, threatening the integrity of the wings themselves.

Tom Davies applied full power and took her up to 6,500 feet where the air was smoother, reluctantly accepting the sacrifice of enough fuel to fly an extra couple of hundred miles if lost, bad WX or other unexpected problems at flight’s end.

Alice Springs at Australia ‘s center, slid under the Turtle’s long wings at midnight and Cooktown on the northeast coast at dawn.  Then it was out over the Coral Sea where, only a few years before, the LEXINGTON and YORKTOWN had sunk the Japanese ship SHOHO to win the first carrier battle in history and prevented Australia and New Zealand from being cutoff and then isolated.

At noon on the second day, the Turtle skirted the 10,000 foot peaks of southern New Guinea , and in mid-afternoon detoured around a mass of boiling thunderheads over Bougainville in the Solomons.

As the sun set for the second time since takeoff, the Turtle’s crew headed out across the vast and empty Pacific Ocean and began to establish a flight routine.  They stood two-man four-hour watches, washing, shaving, and changing to clean clothes each morning.  And eating regular meals cooked on a hot plate. Every two hours, a fresh pilot would enter the cockpit to relieve whoever had been sitting watch the longest.

The two Wright 3350 engines ran smoothly; all the gauges and needles showed  normal.  Every hour another 200 miles of the Pacific passed astern.  The crew’s only worry was Joey the kangaroo, who hunched unhappily in her crate, refusing to eat or drink.

Dawn of the second morning found the Turtle over Maro Reef, halfway between Midway Island and Oahu in the long chain of Hawaiian Islands . The Turtle only had one low-frequency radio, because most of the modern radio equipment had been removed to reduce weight. Radio calls to Midway and Hawaii for weather updates were unsuccessful due to the long distance.

Celestial navigation was showing that the Turtle was drifting southward from their intended great circle route due to increased northerly winds that were adding a headwind factor to their track.  Instead of correcting their course by turning more northward, thereby increasing the aircraft’s relative wind, CDR Davies stayed on their current heading accepting the fact that they would reach the west coast of the U.S. somewhere in northern California rather than near Seattle as they had originally planned.

When Turtle’s wing tip gas tanks empty, they were jettisoned over the ocean. Then the Turtle eased up to 10,000 feet and later to 12,000 feet.  At noon, CDR Reid came up to the cockpit smiling. “Well,” he reported, “the damned kangaroo has started to eat and drink again. I guess she thinks we’re going to make it.”

In the fall of 1946, the increasingly hostile Soviet Union was pushing construction of a submarine force nearly ten times larger than Hitler’s.  Anti-submarine warfare was the Navy’s responsibility, regardless of the U.S. Army Air Force’s opposing views.

The Turtle was among the first of the P2V Neptune patrol planes designed to counter the sub threat.  Tom Davies’ orders derived straight from the offices of Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal, and the Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

A dramatic demonstration was needed to prove beyond question that the new P2V patrol plane, its production at Lockheed representing a sizeable chunk of the Navy’s skimpy peacetime budget, could do the job.  With its efficient design that gave it 4-engine capability on just two engines, the mission would show the Neptune ‘s ability to cover the transoceanic distances necessary to perform its ASW mission and sea-surveillance functions.

At a time when new roles and missions were being developed to deliver nuclear weapons, it would not hurt to show that the Navy, too, had that capability.

So far, the flight had gone pretty much according to plan.  But now as the second full day in the air began to darken, the Pacific sky, gently clear and blue for so long, turned rough and hostile.  An hour before landfall, great rolling knuckles of cloud punched out from the coastal mountains.  The Turtle bounced and vibrated.  Ice crusted on the wings.  Static blanked out its radio transmissions and radio reception.

The crew strapped down hard, turned up the red instrument lights and took turns trying to tune the radio direction finder to a recognizable station.  It was midnight before Roy Tabeling succeeded in making contact with the ground and requested an instrument clearance eastward from California .

They were 150 miles off the coast when a delightful female voice reached up through the murk from Williams Radio, 70 miles south of Red Bluff, California .  “I’m sorry” the voice said. “I don’t seem to have a flight plan on you.  What was your departure point?”

” Perth , Western Australia .” “No, I mean where did you take-off from?”

” Perth , Western Australia .”

“Navy Zero Eight Two, you are not understanding me.  I mean what was your departure airport for this leg of the flight?”

” Perth , Western Australia .  BUT, that’s halfway around the world!”

“No, only about a third.  May we have that clearance, please?”

The Turtle had departed Perth some thirty-nine hours earlier and had been out of radio contact with anyone for the past twenty hours.   That contact with Williams Radio called off a world-wide alert for ships and stations between Mid-way and the west coast to attempt contact with the Turtle on all frequencies. With some difficulty due to reception, the Turtle received an instrument clearance to proceed on airways from Oakland to Sacramento and on to Salt Lake City at 13,000 feet.

The weather report was discouraging.  It indicated heavy turbulence, thunderstorms, rain and icing conditions.  As Gene Rankin wrote in a magazine article after the flight :”Had the Turtle been on the ground at an airport at that threatening point, the question might have arisen: ‘Is this trip important enough to continue right through this stuff?

The Turtle reached the west coast at 9:16 p.m. about thirty miles north of San Francisco .  Their estimated time of arrival, further north up the coast, had been 9:00 p.m.  They had taken off about forty hours earlier and had covered 9,000 statute miles thus far.

They had broken the distance record by more than a thousand miles, and all of their remaining fuel was in their wing tanks which showed about eight-tenths full.  Speculation among the pilots began as to how much further the Turtle could fly before fuel exhaustion.  The Turtle’s oxygen system had been removed for the flight, so the pilots were using portable walk-around oxygen bottles to avoid hypoxia at higher altitudes.

The static and atmospherics began demonstrating the weird and wonderful phenomenon of St. Elmo’s fire, adding  more distractions to the crew’s problems. The two propellers whirled in rings of blue-white light. And violet tongues licked up between the windshields’ laminations.  While eerie purple spokes protruded from the Neptune ‘s nose cone.

All those distracting effects now increased in brilliance with an accompanying rise in static on all radio frequencies before suddenly discharging with a blinding flash and audible thump.  Then once again slowly re-create itself.

The St. Elmo’s fire had been annoying but not dangerous.   But it can be a heart-thumping experience for those witnessing it for the first time.  The tachometer for the starboard engine had been acting up, but there was no other engine problems.  The pilots kept the fuel cross-feed levers, which connected both main tanks to both engines, in the ‘off’ position so each was feeding from the tank in its own wing.

Somewhere over Nevada , the starboard engine began running rough and losing power.  After scanning the gauges, the pilots surmised that the carburetor intake was icing up and choking itself.  To correct that, the carburetor air preheating systems on both engines were increased to full heat to clear out any carburetor ice.  Very quickly, the warm air solved the problem and the starboard engine ran smoothly again.

With an engine running rough, CDR Davies had to be thinking about their mission.  The Turtle had broken the existing record, but was that good enough?  It was just a matter of time before the AAF would launch another B-29 to take the record up another notch. The Neptune was now light enough for single engine flight, but how much farther could it go on one engine?  And was it worth risking this expensive aircraft for the sake of improving a long-distance record?

Over Nevada and Utah , the weather was a serious factor.  Freezing rain, snow and ice froze on the wings and fuselage, forcing the crew to increase power to stay airborne.  The aircraft picked up a headwind and an estimated 1,000 pounds of ice.  It was problematic because the plane’s deicing and anti-icing equipment had been removed as a weight-saving measure.

The next three [3] hours of high power settings and increased fuel usage at a lower altitude of 13,000 feet probably slashed 500 miles from our flight’s record-breaking distance.

After passing Salt Lake City , the weather finally broke with the dawn of the Turtle’s third day in the air.  The Turtle was cleared to descend to 9,000 feet.  All morning, CDR Davies tracked their progress eastward over Nebraska , Iowa , and the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers .  To the north, Chicago ‘s haze was in sight.  But not surprisingly, the remaining fuel levels were gaining more attention from every member of the crew.

The wingtip tanks had long ago been emptied and jettisoned over the Pacific.  The bomb bay tank, the nose tank and the huge aft-fuselage tank were entirely empty.  The fuel gauges for both wing tanks were moving inexorably toward zero.

CDR Davies and his crew consulted, tapped each fuel gauges, calculated and recalculated their remaining fuel and cursed the gauges on which one-eighth of an inch represented 200 gallons.

At noon, they concluded they could not safely stretch the flight all the way to Washington , D.C. , and certainly not to the island of Bermuda .  CDR Davies chose the Naval Air Station at Columbus , Ohio to be their final destination.

At quarter past one that afternoon the runways and hangars of the Columbus airport were in sight. The Turtle’s crew were cleaned-up and shaven and in uniform.  And the fuel gauges all read empty.  With the landing checklist completed and wheels and flaps down, CDR Davies cranked the Turtle around in a 45 degree left turn towards final.  As the airplane leveled out on final, the starboard engine popped, sputtered and quit.

The port engine continued smoothly.

Down to 400 feet, as they completed their final turn, both pilots simultaneously recognized the problem. Their hands collided as both reached for the fuel cross feed fuel lever between their seats.  During the landing pattern’s descending final turn in the landing pattern, the near-empty starboard tank quit feeding fuel into the starboard engine.  Within seconds, the starboard engine began running smoothly again from fuel rushing in from the open cross feed.  The Turtle had been in no danger, since they were light enough to operate on one engine.  On the other hand, it would have been embarrassing to have an engine quit, in view of the growing crowd watching below.

At 1:28 p.m. on October 1st, the Neptune’s wheels once more touched the earth with tires intentionally over-inflated for our take-off at Perth , 11,236 miles and 55 hours and 17 minutes after take-off.

After a hastily called press conference in Columbus , the crew was flown to NAS air station in Washington , D.C. by a Marine Corps Reserve aircraft, where they were met by their wives and the Secretary of the Navy.  The crew were grounded by a flight surgeon upon landing in Columbus ..

But before the day was over, the Turtle’s crew had been awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses by Navy Secretary Forrestal.  Next day they were scheduled to meet with an exuberant President Harry S. Truman.

And Joey, was observably relieved to be back on solid earth.  And she was installed in luxurious quarters at the National Zoo.

The record established by CDR Tom Davies and the crew of the Truculent Turtle’s crew did not stand for a fluke year or two, but for decades.  The long-distance record for all aircraft was only broken by a jet-powered B-52 in 1962.

The Truculent Turtle’s record for piston/propeller driven aircraft was broken by Burt Rutan’s Voyager, a carbon-fiber aircraft, which made its historic around the world non-stop flight in 1986, more than four decades after the Turtle landed in Ohio .

After a well-earned publicity tour, the Truculent Turtle was used by the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River as a flying test bed for advanced avionics systems.  The Truculent Turtle was retired with honors in 1953 and put on display in Norfolk , Virginia , and later repositioned at the main gate of Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia, in 1968.

In 1977, the Truculent Turtle was transported to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola , Florida where it now holds forth in a place of honor in Hangar Bay One.

Many thanks to the Naval Institute Proceedings magazine, Naval Aviation News magazine, the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation magazine, CDR Eugene P. Rankin, CDR Walter S. Reid and CDR Edward P. Stafford, whose articles about the “Truculent Turtle” were the basis for this article.

Virginia-Class Nuclear Submarine — $2.4 Billion each

Virginia-Class Nuclear Submarine — $2.4 Billion each

Christina Shaw / US Navy

The USS Virginia-class submarinesare the United State ‘s newest and most advanced submarine.

The first Virginia slipped beneath the waves just eight years ago and only nine vessels have been completed.

They take more than five years to build and run about $2.4 billion apiece.

Here, we look at the Virginia class of submarines from stern to bow, finding out what makes these ships unique.

We’ll start in the engine room, move our way over the reactor, through the barracks to the command center and down into the torpedo room.

The Virginia-class submarine is a new breed of high-tech post-Cold War nuclear subs

Christina Shaw / US Navy

The submarines are nearly 400 feet long and have been in service since 2003

US Navy

The ships were designed to function well in both deep sea and low-depth waters

David Nagle / US Navy

So far, nine have entered service — here is Cheryl McGuiness, the widow of one of the pilots killed on 9/11, christening the USS New Hampshire

John Narewski / US Navy

Here are the USS Virginia’s engines, which powers a pump-jet propulsor rather than a conventional propeller

US Navy / Wikimedia Commons

This design cuts back on corrosive damage and also makes the ship stealthier This is kind of neat, huh!

Tosaka / wikimedia

The engine room, near the sub’s stern, is the place where power from the SG9 nuclear reactor core drives the ship to nearly 32 mph when it’s submerged

James Pinsky / US Navy

This hallway — extending from the engine room, over the reactor and through the living habitat in the center of the ship — is dark so that sailors can sleep

James Pinsky / US Navy

The ship has an airlock chamber with room for 9 SEALs I’ve been in one of these on the SSN Ray…

James Pinsky / US Navy

The SEALs can exit the sub while its underwater by passing through this airlock

Andrew McKaskle / US Navy

This lock-out chamber is in the center of the ship

Andrew McKaskle / US Navy

Submariners eat well — the quality of the food is designed to offset the stress and burden of living underwater for months at a time

Roadell Hickman / US Navy

As one sailor said, “It’s like having comfort food 24-hours a day

But with NO sexy waitresses? — Unless you don’t ask & tell; oh yeah Scott Brown voted to do away with that policy.

Jennifer A Villalovos / US Navy

Going further toward the bow of the sub, the command center is directly beneath the main sail of the sub and where the navigators do their work

Kevin S O’Brien / US Navy

The command center on the Virginia subs are much more spacious compared previous submarines

Kevin O’Brien / US Navy

The command center doesn’t have to be directly under the deck of the ship in the Virginia-class subs because there isn’t a periscope.

Peter Lawlor / US Navy

The monitor the Commander is looking at is this is the sub’s “periscope” — a state-of-the-art photonics system, which enables real time imaging that more than one person can see at a time

Jeremy Lambert / US Navy

The Virginia eliminates the traditional helmsman, planesman, chief of the watch and diving officer by combining them into two stations manned by two officers

James Pinsky / US Navy

The subs are equipped with a spherical sonar array that scans a full 360-degrees

Jennifer Villalovos / US Navy

The Virginia subs carry a full crew of 134 sailors

Kevin O’Brien / US Navy

Despite computer navigation systems, all routes are plotted manually as well.

Roadell Hickman / US Navy

Down below the command center is the torpedo room, where it is possible to set up temporary bunks for special operations team

James Pinsky / US Navy

The ships carry up to 12 vertical launch tomahawk missiles and 38 torpedoes

Kevin O’Brien / US Navy

Here an officer on the USS Texas fires water through the torpedo tubes as part of a test

Roadell Hickman / US Navy

The subs were designed to host the defunct Advanced SEAL Delivery system, a midget submarine that transported the Navy SEALs from the sub to their mission

Jennifer Villalovos / US Navy

The only thing in front of the torpedo room is the bow of the submarine, which contains sonar equipment and shielding designed to make the sub stealthier

James Pinsky / US Navy

Even as they are being built, new improvements and upgrades are being added into the design of the submarines

US Navy

That’s what the U.S. has beneath the waves.


A little-known story from near the end of World War II

“Lucky” Fluckey

Thirty-nine years ago, an Italian submarine was sold for a paltry $100,000 as scrap. The submarine, given to the Italian Navy in 1953 … was originally the USS Barb … an incredible veteran of World War II service … with a heritage that should not have been melted away without any recognition.

The U.S.S. Barb was a pioneer, paving the way for the first submarine to launch missiles and it flew a battle flag unlike that of any other ship.

In addition to the Medal of Honor ribbon at the top of the flag identifying the heroism of its Captain, Commander Eugene ‘Lucky’ Fluckey. And the bottom border of the flag bore the image of a Japanese train locomotive.

The U.S.S. Barb was indeed, the submarine that SANK A TRAIN !

July 18, 1945 In Patience Bay, off the coast of Karafuto, Japan .

It was after 4 A.M. and Commander Fluckey rubbed his eyes as he peered over the map spread before him. It was the twelfth war patrol of the Barb, the fifth under Commander Fluckey. He should have turned the submarine’s command over to another skipper after four patrols, but had managed to strike a deal with Admiral Lockwood to make a fifth trip with the men he cared for like a father.

Of course, no one suspected when he had struck that deal prior to his fourth and should have been his final war patrol, that Commander Fluckey‘s success would be so great he would be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Commander Fluckey smiled as he remembered that patrol. Lucky Fluckey they called him. On January 8th the Barb had emerged victorious from a running two-hour night battle after sinking a large enemy ammunition ship. Two weeks later in Mamkwan Harbor he found the mother-lode… more than 30 enemy ships.

In only 5 fathoms (30 feet) of water his crew had unleashed the subs forward torpedoes, then turned and fired four from the stern. As he pushed the Barb to the full limit of its speed through the dangerous waters in a daring withdrawal to the open sea, he recorded eight direct hits on six enemy ships.

What could possibly be left for the Commander to accomplish who, just three months earlier had been in Washington , DC to receive the Medal of Honor? He smiled to himself as he looked again at the map showing the rail line that ran along the enemy coastline.

Now his crew was buzzing excitedly about bagging a train!

The rail line itself wouldn’t be a problem. A shore patrol could go ashore under cover of darkness to plant the explosives… one of the sub’s 55-pound scuttling charges. But this early morning Lucky Fluckey and his officers were puzzling over how they could blow not only the rails, but also one of the frequent trains that shuttled supplies to equip the Japanese war machine. But no matter how crazy the idea might have sounded, the Barb’s skipper would not risk the lives of his men.


Thus the problem… how to detonate the explosives at the moment the train passed, without endangering the life of a shore party.
If you don’t search your brain looking for them, you’ll never find them. And even then, sometimes they arrive in the most unusual fashion. Cruising slowly beneath the surface to evade the enemy plane now circling overhead, the monotony was broken with an exciting new idea : Instead of having a crewman on shore to trigger explosives to blow both rail and a passing train, why not let the train BLOW ITSELF up ?

Billy Hatfield was excitedly explaining how he had cracked nuts on the railroad tracks as a kid, placing the nuts between two ties so the sagging of the rail under the weight of a train would break them open. “Just like cracking walnuts,”he explained. To complete the circuit [ detonating the 55-pound charge ] we hook in a micro switch… and mounted it between two ties, directly under the steel rail.
” We don’t set it off . . the TRAIN will.” Not only did Hatfield have the plan, he wanted to go along with the volunteer shore party.
After the solution was found, there was no shortage of volunteers; all that was needed was the proper weather… a little cloud cover to darken the moon for the sabotage mission ashore.

Lucky Fluckey established his criteria for the volunteer party :

[ 1 ] No married men would be included, except for Hatfield,
[ 2 ] The party would include members from each department,
[ 3 ] The opportunity would be split evenly between regular Navy and Navy Reserve sailors,
[ 4 ] At least half of the men had to have been Boy Scouts, experienced in handling medical emergencies and tuned into woods lore.

FINALLY, Lucky Fluckey would lead the saboteurs himself.

When the names of the 8 selected sailors was announced it was greeted with a mixture of excitement and disappointment.

Members of the submarine’s demolition squad were:
· Chief Gunners Mate Paul G. Saunders, USN;
· Electricians Mate 3rd Class Billy R. Hatfield, USNR;
· Signalman 2nd Class Francis N. Sevei, USNR;
· Ships Cook 1st Class Lawrence W. Newland, USN;
· Torpedomans Mate 3rd Class Edward W. Klingesmith, USNR;
· Motor Machinists Mate 2nd Class James E. Richard, USN;
· Motor Machinists Mate 1st Class John Markuson, USN; and
· Lieutenant William M. Walker, USNR.

Among the disappointed was Commander Fluckey who surrendered his opportunity at the insistence of his officers that as commander he belonged with the Barb, coupled with the threat from one that “I swear I’ll send a message to ComSubPac if the Commander attempted to join the demolition shore party.”

In the meantime, there would be no harassing of Japanese shipping or shore operations by the Barb until the train mission had been accomplished. The crew would ‘ lay low’ to prepare their equipment, practice and plan and wait for the weather.

July 22, 1945 Patience Bay [Off the coast of Karafuto, Japan ]

Waiting in 30 feet of water in Patience Bay was wearing thin the patience of Commander Fluckey and his innovative crew. Everything was ready. In the four days the saboteurs had anxiously watched the skies for cloud cover, the inventive crew of the Barb had crafted and tested their micro switch.

When the need was proposed for a pick and shovel to bury the explosive charge and batteries, the Barb’s engineers had cut up steel plates in the lower flats of an engine room, then bent and welded them to create the needed digging tools.
The only things beyond their control were the weather…. and the limited time. Only five days remained in the Barb’s patrol.

Anxiously watching the skies, Commander Fluckey noticed plumes of cirrus clouds, then white stratus capping the mountain peaks ashore. A cloud cover was building to hide the three-quarters moon. So, this would be the night.

July 23, 1945

The Barb had crept within 950 yards of the shoreline. If it was somehow seen from the shore it would probably be mistaken for a schooner or Japanese patrol boat. No one would suspect an American submarine so close to shore or in such shallow water.

Slowly the small boats were lowered to the water and the 8 saboteurs began paddling toward the enemy beach. Twenty-five minutes later they pulled the boats ashore and walked on the surface of the Japanese homeland.

Stumbling through noisy waist-high grasses, crossing a highway and then into a 4-foot drainage ditch, the saboteurs made their way to the railroad tracks. Three men were posted as guards, Markuson assigned to examine a nearby water tower. The Barb’s auxiliary man climbed the tower’s ladder, then stopped in shock as he realized it was an enemy lookout tower . . . an OCCUPIED enemy lookout tower.
Fortunately the Japanese sentry was peacefully sleeping. And Markuson was able to quietly withdraw to warn his raiding party.

The news from Markuson caused the men digging the placement for the explosive charge to continue their work more quietly and slower. Twenty minutes later, the demolition holes had been carved by their crude tools and the explosives and batteries hidden beneath fresh soil.

During planning for the mission the saboteurs had been told that, with the explosives in place, all would retreat a safe distance while Hatfield made the final connection. BUT IF the sailor who had once cracked walnuts on the railroad tracks slipped or messed up during this final, dangerous procedure . . his would be the only life lost.

On this night it was the only order the sub’s saboteurs refused to obey, and all of them peered anxiously over Hatfields shoulder to be sure he did it right. The men had come too far to be disappointed by a bungled switch installation.

1:32 A.M.
Watching from the deck of the submarine, Commander Fluckey allowed himself a sigh of relief as he noticed the flashlight signal from the beach announcing the departure of the shore party. Fluckey had daringly, but skillfully guided the Barb within 600 yards of the enemy beach sand.
There was less than 6 feet of water beneath the sub’s keel, but Fluckey wanted to be close in case trouble arose and a daring rescue of his bridge saboteurs became necessary.

1:45 A.M.

The two boats carrying his saboteurs were only halfway back to the Barb when the sub’s machine gunner yelled, ‘ CAPTAIN !’There’s another train coming up the tracks! The Commander grabbed a megaphone and yelled through the night, “Paddle like the devil !”, knowing full well that they wouldn’t reach the Barb before the train hit the micro switch.

1:47 A.M.

The darkness was shattered by brilliant light . . and the roar of the explosion !
The boilers of the locomotive blew, shattered pieces of the engine blowing 200 feet into the air. Behind it the railroad frieght cars accordioned into each other, bursting into flame and adding to the magnificent fireworks display. Five minutes later the saboteurs were lifted to the deck by their exuberant comrades as the Barb eased away . .. slipping back to the safety of the deep.

Moving at only two knots, it would be a while before the Barb was into waters deep enough to allow it to submerge. It was a moment to savor, the culmination of teamwork, ingenuity and daring by the Commander and all his crew. Lucky Fluckey’s voice came over the intercom. “All hands below deck not absolutely needed to maneuver the ship have permission to come topside.” He didn’t have to repeat the invitation.

Hatches sprang open as the proud sailors of the Barb gathered on her decks to proudly watch the distant fireworks display.

Members of the sabotage team pose with the Ships flag (The train mission is noted at the center bottom of the flag)

The Barb had sunk a Japanese TRAIN !

On August 2, 1945 the Barb arrived at Midway, her twelfth war patrol concluded. Meanwhile United States military commanders had pondered the prospect of an armed assault on the Japanese homeland. Military tacticians estimated such an invasion would cost more than a million American casualties.

Instead of such a costly armed offensive to end the war, on August 6th the B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a single atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima , Japan . A second such bomb, unleashed 4 days later on Nagasaki , Japan , caused Japan to agree to surrender terms on August 15th.

On  September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Harbor the documents ending the war in the Pacific were signed.

The story of the saboteurs of the U.S.S. Barb is one of those unique, little known stories of World War II. It becomes increasingly important when one realizes that the [ 8 ] eight sailors who blew up the train near Kashiho, Japan conducted theONLY GROUND COMBAT OPERATION on the Japanese homeland during World War II.

[Footnote : Eugene Bennett Fluckey retired from the Navy as a Rear Admiral, and wore in addition to his Medal of Honor . . [4]FOUR Navy Crosses . . a record of heroic awards unmatched by any American in military history.]

In 1992, his own history of the U.S.S. Barb was published in the award winning book, THUNDER BELOW. Over the past several years proceeds from the sale of this exciting book have been used by Admiral Fluckey to provide free reunions for the men who served him aboard the Barb, and their wives.

Available @

P.S. : He graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1935 … lived to age 93 …

” There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people … by the gradual … silent encroachments … made by those having political power … than by violent and sudden usurpations.” James Madison