USS STURGEON (SS-187)
IN AUSTRALIAN WATERS DURING WW2
" I can assure you that they
went down fighting and that their brothers who survived then took a grim toll
of our savage enemy to avenge their Deaths "
Vic Admiral. C. A. Lockwood, USN.
The Second USS Sturgeon (SS-187) a Salmon class submarine, whose keel was laid down on the 27 October,1936 by the Naval Yard, at Mare Island, California. She was launched on the 15 March 1938, and was Commissioned on the 25 June 1938. USS Sturgeon was handed over to Lieutenant Commander A. D. Barnes who then took command of the Submarine.
USS Sturgeon then commenced her shakedown cruise on the 15 October 1938, visiting ports in Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Ecuador, and then on to Costa Rica before returning to San Diego on the 12 December 1938.
On her return from her shakedown cruise she then was assigned to the Submarine Squadron 6 (SubRon 6).
USS Sturgeon operated along the West Coast and made two squadron cruise to Hawaii with the Pacific Fleet from 1 July 1939 to 16 August 1939 and from 1 April 1940 to 12 July 1940. USS Sturgeon sailed from San Diego on the 5 November 1940 for Hawaii and then to Pearl Harbor and operated from there until November 1941.
USS Sturgeon departed Hawaii, on the 10 November 1941, and headed for the Philippine Islands, arriving there on 22 November 1941, She was then attached to SubRon 2, Submarine Division 22 (SubDiv 22), United States Asiatic Fleet. USS Sturgeon was moored in Mariveles Bay on the 7 December 1941.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbur USS Sturgeon was given orders to go to sea and to patrol an area between the Pescadores Islands and Formosa. A small tanker was sighted in the afternoon of the 9 December 1941, but it remained out of torpedo range.
Continuing on her patrol it was on the 18 December 1941 that she sighted a Japanese convoy made up of 5 merchantmen and a cruiser and several destroyers as escorts. As USS Sturgeon came up to periscope depth and within attacking range she was sighted by the one of the Japanese escorts and was forced to dive hoping to go deep as soon as possible. However she was only at a depth of 65 feet when the first of the Japanese depth charges exploded, breaking numerous light bulbs but causing no serious damage to the submarine.
USS Sturgeon began to run silent and evaded the escorts. On the evening of the 21 December 1941, USS Sturgeon again sighted a darkened ship believed to be a large cargo carrier. She fired a spread of torpedoes from her stern tubes, but these all passed ahead on the ship due to an error in her estimated speed. Her first war patrol ended when she returned to Mariveles Bay on the 25 December 1941.
After a refit USS Sturgeon was again at sea on 28 December 1941 with a new skipper that being Lieutenant Commander William L. Wright. This time she sailed for the Tarakan area, off the coast of Borneo. A Japanese tanker was sighted southwest of Subutu Island on 17 January 1942, but all three torpedoes missed and the tanker escaped. On the night of 22 January 1942, USS Sturgeon was alerted by USS Pickerel (SS-177) that a large convoy was headed her way in the Makassar Straits. A few minutes later, her sonar picked up the pings of ships astern, she submerged and fired four torpedoes at a large ship, with two explosions following. The submarine was then subjected to a two and a half hour depth charge attack by the two Japanese destroyers which caused no damage.
The USS Sturgeon next sighted an enemy transport and four destroyers off Balikpapan, Borneo on the 26th January 1942. She fired a spread of torpedoes from her forward tubes which resulted in a very large explosion on the transport, and her screws stopped turning. No post-war record of this sinking could be found, but the transport was believed to have been damaged. The submarine came to periscope level within a destroyer screen, on the 25th, but found no large targets, three days later, she made two hits on a tanker.
On the morning of 8 February 1942 USS Sturgeon was on the lookout for an enemy invasion fleet that was heading for Makassar City, Sulawest Celebes (now part of Indonesia). She submerged to avoid detection by several destroyers and a cruiser, as they passed overhead, but was able to report the movement of the convoy to Commander Submarines Asiatic Fleet. USS Sturgeon retired from her patrol area, two days later, when she was ordered to Java, Netherlands East Indies. She arrived at Soerabaja on the 13 February 1942; but, as the Japanese were advancing upon that base, she continued to Tjilatjap. After embarking, part of the Asiatic Fleet Staff, Sturgeon and the USS Stingray (SS-186) sailed for Fremantle, Australia, on the 20 February 1942, as escorts for the USN Holland (AS-3) and the USN Black Hawk (AD-9).
USS Sturgeon remained at Fremantle, from 3 to 15 March 1942, then after a refit she commenced her Second War Patrol on the 15 March 1942. She sailed again for the waters off Makassar City, and it was on the 30 March 1942, that she sighted and sank the Japanese Cargo Ship "Choku Maru" of 842 tons, at 5-39S,119-00E. Then on the 3 April 1942, she sighted a small Japanese Frigate of some 750-ton which she fired at and hit the Frigate directly under the ships bridge. It was officially listed as probably sunk at 03-36N,119-19E. USS Sturgeon then fired three torpedoes at a merchantman but missed. With only one torpedoes left in the blow tubes, she fired and hit the target abreast of the foremast, and when last seen, it was listing heavily to port and making for the Celebes shore line.
On 6 April1942 USS Sturgeon sighted a Japanese tanker and fired a spread of torpedoes at the tanker; but the range was so close that they failed to arm, and the submarine was subjected to a depth charge attack from the Japanese escorts, but was able to eluded them and continued to patrol off the Cape Mandar in the Makassar Strait.
On 22 April 1942, a destroyer's search light blinked to USS Sturgeon, and she went deep to avoid the subsequent two-hour depth charge attack. On 28 April 1942, USS Sturgeon sailed for Australia, however, she was interrupted in her voyage on the night of the 30th April 1942, in an attempt to rescue some Royal Air Force personal who were reported to be on the island, at the entrance of Tjilatjap Harbour. A landing party under Lt. Chester W. Nimitz, Jr., entered the cove and examined it by searchlight, but found only a deserted lean-to. USS Sturgeon then continued on to Fremantle and arrived there on 7 May 1942.
USS Sturgeon remained at Fremantle from 7 1942 May until 3 June 1942 during which time she had a refit and her crew had R&R. USS Sturgeon then sailed on the 3 June 1942, for her patrol area in the waters west of Manila. On 25 June 1942 she caught up with a nine-ship convoy before daylight, and she fired a spread of some three torpedoes at the largest ship which resulted in her hearing explosions from the said vessel. After this USS Sturgeon was subjected to 21 depth charges being dropped by the Japanese escorts. She managed to escape with only a few gauges broken. It was on 1 July 1942 that she sighted the Japanese transport ship " Montevideo Maru" of some 7,267 ton which she sent to the bottom at O240 hours. Her skipper Lt. Commander William L Wright, did not know that the transport was at the time was carrying some 1,035 passengers made up of Australian Army Personal, from the 2/22 Battalion of the 8th Division, Australian Army and also some Army Nurses and other civilian's personal that were being transferred to Japan. On the 5th June 1942 she again scored hits on a Japanese tanker in a convoy northbound from Manila. Her war patrol ended on the 22 July 1942 when she arrived at Fremantle for a further refit.
The headquarters of Legacy in the city of Geelong in Victoria, Australia is known as "Murray House" and was donated to Geelong Legacy by Miss Florence Craig, the aunt of Private Norman Joseph Murray (VX35780), a member of No 1 Independent Coy. Private Murray was lost at sea as a Prisoner of War on the Japanese ship "Montevideo Maru" which was sunk by the submarine USS Sturgeon. A web page by Rod Miller indicates that 1053 Australians died when the Montevideo Maru was sunk. There are 871 Australians shown as dying on the 1 July 1942 on the Roll of Honour Database. The most general belief is that there were no survivors from the Montevideo Maru. However there are stories that a few survivors were picked up by a Japanese destroyer and taken to Japan.
A commemorative service was held for those who died on the Montevideo Maru at the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in the Memorial Ballarat Botanical Gardens on Saturday 7 February 2004. The Montevideo Maru tragedy remains the worst maritime disaster involving the loss of life for Australian Service personnel. About 20 Japanese crew members were saved. The 1053 men lost comprised approximately 200 civilians and troops from the 2/22 Battalion and the 1st Independent Company.
Whilst in port at Fremantle, Australia, the USS Sturgeon had an other change of Command to Lt. Commander Hermen A. Peczentkowski. He and his crew sailed on the 4 September 1942, to begin the Fifth War Patrol, this time she was assigned to waters in the area between Mono Island and the Shortland Islands in the Solomon group. On 11 September 1942 she began patrolling west of Bougainville to intercept enemy shipping between Rabaul, Buka, and Fasi. On 14 September 1942 she sighted a large cargo ship and fired four torpedoes all of which missed. Soome three days later she sighted a tanker and fired a spread of torpedoes and two apparently hit. Then again at 0536 hours on the 1 October 1942, USS Sturgeon sighted the Japanese aircraft ferry "Katsuragi Maru" of some 8,033 tons, and fired a spread of some four torpedoes which resulted in three hits which sent the ship to the bottom. A Japanese escort depth charged the submarine for a while and then broke off to rescue survivors. USS Sturgeon then moved south of Tetipari Island and patrolled there until she returned to Brisbane, Australia, on the 25 September 1942, for repairs and a further refit and R&R for the crew.
After repairs had been carried out and the refit completed, she made ready and sailed on the 30 November 1942, on her Sixth War Patrol, to patrol the waters off Truk. It was on the 2 December 1942, that she sighted a Japanese ship (Maru) and fired four torpedoes but observed only one hit. She missed targets on the 9 December 1942 and 18 December 1942. USS Sturgeon withdrew from the area on the 25 December 1942 and sailed for Pearl Harbor, arriving there on the 14 January 1943. She later sailed for San Francisco where she had an overhaul until 11 May 1943.
USS Sturgeon's Seventh War Patrol, began on the 12 June 1943 and ended on the 2 August 1943, at Midway Atoll. During this patrol she had sighted seven worthwhile targets but was able to attack only one. That attack occurred on the 1 July 1943 when she sighted a freighter and fired a spread of torpedoes at this ship and heard two hits, causing possible damage. She sailed on her Eighth War Patrol, with a new skipper namely Lt. Charlton l. Murphy, from 29 August 1943 until the 23 October 1943, but was equally unrewarded and she returned to Pearl Harbor.
USS Sturgeon sailed on her Ninth War Patrol, on 13 December 1943 and headed for Japanese home waters. There she sighted a seven-ship convoy along with four escorts on the 11 January 1944. Finding an overlapping target, she fired four torpedoes and the cargo ship" Erie Maru" was sunk at 32-56N,132-02E. The submarine was forced to go deep to avoid a depth charge attack, and was then unable to regain contact with the convoy.
Some five days later on 16 January 1943, she sighted a freighter and a destroyer which she attacked and heard four timed hits on the targets, but the Japanese did not record this attack. Sturgeon was then pinned down all afternoon by counter attacks but was able to clear the area around 1855 hours. Then on 24 January 1944, she again sighted a further four-ship convoy. She fired and one hit was registered on a Maru. She fired a spread of torpedoes at the other ships and she sank the "Chosen Maru" sending it to the bottom. Two days later that being the 26 January 1944, she made a fruitless attack on two freighters and then she left the area and sailed back to Pearl Harbor, via Midway atoll, for another refit.
USS Sturgeon's then sailed on her Tenth War Patrol on the 8 April 1944, when she sailed to the Bonin Islands. This patrol included aircraft lifeguard duties near the Marcus Island, during carrier strikes there. Then on the 10 May 1944, she attacked a convoy of some five merchant ships and two escorts, she made two hits on a small freighter before the escorts and an enemy plane forced the submarine to dive deep. USS Sturgeon finally came to periscope depth and trailed the convoy until the next day. In the morning she made an end-around run and fired four torpedoes at a freighter.
As the result of this attack she recorded three hits to the "Seir Maru" of some 1,904 tons and sent her to the bottom in two minutes at 29-30N, 141-40E. and she then swung around and fired her bow tubes at another freighter and the ship got two hits and was last seen dead in the water, billowing smoke heavily. USS Sturgeon began aircraft life guard duty on the 20 May 1944, and rescued three airmen before heading for Midway Atoll two days later.
The USS Sturgeon sailed for Nansei-Shoto [Ryukyu Islands ] on 10 June 1944, which was to be her last War Patrol. Only two worthy contacts were made, and they were to heavily escorted vessels. She made two hits on a small freighter, but with no result's. It was on the 29 June 1944 that she sighted a convoy of some eight ships, she fired four torpedoes at a large ship, then it was the Japanese ship " Toyama Maru of 7,089-ton that was sunk by four torpedoes at 27-41N, 129 09E .
On the 3 July 1944 USS Sturgeon sighted another convoy of nine ships and numerous small escorts and air cover. The submarine registered three hits on the cargo ship "Taitin Maru" of some 6,861 ton, which blew its bow off and holed its side. The ship rolled on its side and sank at 38-52N ,129-56E. A this attack on the Japanese ship USS Sturgeon went deep to avoid a 196 depth charge attack and aerial bombs that were rained down on her. She evaded the escorts and returned to Pearl Harbor on the 5 August 1944.
USS Sturgeon was then routed to California, for a complete overhaul and arrived at San Francisco on the 15 August 1944.
USS Sturgeon (SS--187) received 10 Battle Stars for her World War II Service.
I'd like to thank Russ Walter for his assistance with this web page.
© Peter Dunn 2006
This page first produced 21 March 2008
This page last updated 11 January 2009