Seventy years ago today, the American submarine USS Barb torpedoed the Japanese carrier Unyo in the South China Sea, one of the legendary feats of the famed sub and its skipper, Eugene B. Fluckey. In Thunder Below, Fluckey puts us in the action:
How great can personal and impersonal moments become? Depth charges bursting all around, yet my mind was keenly alert as I directed evasive courses, speeds, feints, coaching the well-honed Barb team so the ship and her men and I would survive to rescue others. Yet a small part of my subconscious pondered the fate of the carrier that, head high, proudly steamed along just four minutes ago. Now she was writhing in her death agonies, her planes slithering over the side. The ugliness of destruction was tempered by the sobering knowledge that such planes could deal death no more.
Random depth charges were felt far off, not close. “Sonar reports destroyer turning and heading back at us.”
“Dave, give me a course from plot to pass within 50 yards astern of the tanker’s position when hit. Bob, I’m cutting as close as I date to the stern of the tanker. There should be something burning up above. I hope she can’t follow without getting singed.”
On the Unyo after the Azusa exploded the hydrophone room detected a torpedo sound just abaft the starboard beam. The emergency alarm was pressed, indicating the sub’s direction on the bridge battle board. Captain Ikuzo Kimura ordered, “LEFT FULL RUDDER! BATTLE STATIONS!”
The Unyo had turned less than ten degrees when the torpedo hit below the steering room on the starboard side. Two seconds later a second torpedo hit the main engine room. Captain Kimura was furiously doling out myriad orders over the damage control circuit that was feeding information to the bridge, fighting to keep his Unyo alive. Reports kept jamming in: “steering, main engines, auxiliary machinery stop functioning and are unfunctional. All lights are out. Fire are extinguished in all boiler room and al main valves closed. Eighteen dead in engine room, one in steering.”
Just then the third torpedo hit near the stern. The Unyo heeled over five degrees starboard, righted herself, and began to sink stern first, slowly.