Fluckey and the Barb
RADM Eugene B. Fluckey USN, the most highly decorated American serviceman then living, died on 28 June 2007, aged 93, of Alzheimer’s disease complications.
He won a Medal of Honor (the nation’s highest award for valour), four Navy Crosses and the Legion of Merit. His ship, the USS Barb (SS-220), was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the Navy Unit Commendation and eight battle stars. Above all, he said, he was “most proud that no one who served under my command was awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded or killed” (Fluckey p. 421).
RADM Fluckey’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Barb during her 11th war patrol along the east coast of China from 19 December 1944 to 15 February 1945. After sinking a large enemy ammunition ship and damaging additional tonnage during a running 2-hour night battle on 8 January, CMDR Fluckey, in an exceptional feat of brilliant deduction and bold tracking on 25 January, located a concentration of more than 30 enemy ships in the lower reaches of Nankuan Chiang (Namkwan Harbor). Fully aware that a safe retirement would necessitate an hour’s run at full speed through the uncharted, mined, and rock-obstructed waters, he bravely ordered, “Battle stations torpedoes”. In a daring penetration of the heavy enemy screen, and riding in five fathoms (9 metres) of water, he launched the Barb‘s last forward torpedoes at 3,000 yards (2.7 km) range. Quickly bringing the ship’s stern tubes to bear, he turned loose four more torpedoes into the enemy, obtaining eight direct hits on six of the main targets to explode a large ammunition ship and cause inestimable damage by the resultant flying shells and other pyrotechnics. Clearing the treacherous area at high speed, he brought the Barb through to safety and four days later sank a large Japanese freighter to complete a record of heroic combat achievement, reflecting the highest credit upon CMDR Fluckey, his gallant officers and men, and the US Naval Service.
USS Barb (SS-220) was a Gato class submarine, built by the Electric Boat Company, Groton. Launched 2 April 1942, she was initially employed in the Atlantic, conducting five patrols, chiefly out of Roseneath, Scotland. In September 1943, Barb transferred to the Pacific, operating out of Pearl Harbor.
After one war patrol as Barb‘s prospective commanding officer during her seventh patrol, LCDR Fluckey assumed command of the submarine on 27 April 1944. Until then, Barb had sunk only one ship. In very short time, Fluckey established himself as one of the greatest of all the American submariners.
RADM Eugene B. Fluckey (1935-2007).
During seven war patrols between March 1944 and August 1945, the submarine was particularly successful. Under his command, Barb was credited by the Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, which tallied wartime losses, with sinking 16 ships, and sharing one more, totalling 95,360 tons. Fluckey’s own data, derived after ten years’ diligent post-war research including delving into Japanese archives, and now recognised by the CNO, makes this 29.3 ships and 146,000 tons.
USS Barb (SS-220) seen here in May 1945, was a Gato class diesel-electric submarine, displacing 1525 tons (surfaced) on a 95 x 8.3 x 5.1 metres (311 ft 9 inches x 27 ft 3 inches x 16 ft 10 inches) hull. Her four GM Model 16-248 V16 diesels, delivered 5,400 SHP to twin propellers, that gave 20 knots surfaced, while electric motors drove her at 8.75 knots submerged. She carried a crew of 80. Barb had six 533 mm (21-inch) tubes forward and four aft, and carried a total of 24 torpedoes. Surface armament included one 75 mm (3-inch) gun and four machine guns.
In one action, on 17 September 1944, he sank the Japanese 18,000-ton escort aircraft carrier Unyo and an 11,000-ton tanker Asuza Maru, with the same torpedo salvo. His oft-stated philosophy was: “We don’t have problems, just solutions.”
Barb was also was the first to launch five-inch rockets from the deck of a submarine when the vessel destroyed enemy targets ashore in Hokkaido and Sakhalin during her 12th and final patrol that commenced 8 June 1945. Later on, during that same patrol, on 23 July 1945, with Barb standing 900 yards offshore, Fluckey sent a raiding party of eight sailors ashore in two rubber dinghies to set a scuttling charge on a rail line near Kashiho, Sakhalin. As the party rowed back, a 16-car train set off the charge and was promptly derailed, as planned. This was the only time an armed American force deliberately landed on a Japanese home island during WW II.
Barb had a chequered career after WW II, characterised initially by long reserve fleet layoffs, leisurely dockyard upgrades and conversion to a “GUPPY” (Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program) in 1954. Renamed Enrico Tazzoli (S-511) in December 1954, she was loaned to Italy and eventually sold as scrap for $100,000 in 1975.
CMDR Fluckey held a number of post-war appointments, including one as personal aide to FADM Chester Nimitz and others as commanding officer of a submarine, a submarine tender and a submarine flotilla. He also distinguished himself as a naval attache in Portugal, being awarded the first Medalha Militar ever awarded to a non-Portuguese officer.
Promoted RADM in July 1960, Fluckey served as Commander Submarine Force Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC) 1964-66. He retired in 1972 to run, with his wife, an orphanage they founded in Portugal.
Fluckey, E.B. Thunder below: USS Barb revolutionises submarine warfare in WW II. University of Illinois Press: Urbana, 1992.