by Priscilla Rall
Raymond Lloyd was born in 1921 in Hanover, Pennsylvania, and graduated from high school in 1939. He is a small, unassuming gentleman, who lives near Ladiesburg with his wife. He worked at the Naval Ordnance Plant in York, Pennsylvania, but left to join the Navy in May 1942. After completing basic training, he volunteered for the submarine service and received his training at the submarine base in New London, Connecticut. This included practice in the escape tank and pressure tank as well as extensive psychological screening. Raymond then had further training at their sound school learning construction and the use of sound gear.
He was finally assigned to his first submarine, the USS Gunnel that left the United States, going through the Panama Canal on his way to Pearl Harbor and then onto Midway Island. The submarine’s captain was John S. McCain, Jr. (the father of the late Sen. John McCain). The Gunnel’s first war patrol was in the area west of Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. Raymond described just one of the ship’s battles with the enemy when the crew sighted two freighters escorted by three destroyers.
“All aboard immediately went to their battle stations, although only three of their four engines were operating,” he said. “After closing to about 2,500 yards, the captain ordered the firing of three torpedoes at the closest freighter and three at the second one.” Unfortunately, the torpedoes left a blue smoke screen which gave away the sub’s position. The first torpedo hit home and within minutes the first freighter went down. Seconds later the second enemy vessel was hit as well. The Japanese destroyers lost no time in closing on the Gunnel’s position, and the Gunnel went into a step dive as the captain ordered to “rig for depth charges.” The Japanese dropped seven depth charges on the Gunnel at 150 feet, and according to Raymond, “they almost deafened us.”
A few exploded underneath the Gunnel, knocking out the lighting circuit and the bow and stern planes which caused the bow to rise toward the surface. Capt. McCain quickly ordered the safety chamber to be flooded in order to submerge the Gunnel. Raymond vividly remembers that “another attack of depth charges came down on us really tearing up the boat and the captain ordered ‘silent running’ while the crew stripped off all their shoes, keyrings, etc. … and secured all operating machinery” to prevent any noise that the enemy might hear. The crew operated the bow and stern planes manually.
While still at a depth of 150 feet, a grappling hook or chain rattled slowly down the ship’s port side. This was a method to try to hook a sub and then force it to the surface. The captain ordered the Gunnel to 300 feet and to run as close to the bottom of the sea as possible. After staying submerged for more than 30 hours, the sailors could no longer hear any enemy ships and using their last power, they slowly rose to the surface and immediately began to recharge their batteries and pump out the flooded bilges.
Lloyd continues, “Just 15 minutes later, a destroyer was sighted at about 5,800 yards. We went to battle stations and got two after-tubes armed with torpedoes. From a distance of about 1,500 yards, the Japanese destroyer began shelling the Gunnel with projectiles on both sides of us. We then sighted two other destroyers and all three began firing at us.”
With this, the captain ordered the two torpedoes on the stern tubes to be fired “down the throat” meaning that rather than aiming at the side of a vessel which is a large target, you aim for the narrow front, a dangerous and risky move. He then immediately ordered a deep dive as a torpedo hit the first destroyer which sunk. “But while we were only at 35 feet, five depth charges went off at our stern,” recalls Lloyd. The Gunnel soon leveled off at 200 feet as more charges exploded around her.
The captain called a meeting in the ward room to review the condition of the boat and crew. He explained that they had only 30 to 50 minutes of battery power left for propulsion, the crew was exhausted, foul air was making breathing difficult, carbon dioxide absorbents were used up, temperatures in the boat were reaching 120 degrees, and the humidity was 100 percent. McCain then told the crew his intentions; if they did not surface soon, they would never be able to. He wanted to ease the Gunnel to the surface with the 5-inch guns, 20mm, and machine guns manned in order to “shoot it out with the enemy.”
The other option (which he was dead set against) was to destroy all the classified material and equipment and bring the Gunnel to the surface and scuttle her. Then all hands would jump into the sea with the hope that they would be rescued and not shot. The captain wanted the decision to be a unanimous one by all hands. There was no discussion as all hands shouted “Let’s get going skipper and shoot it out!” As they surfaced, all hands swept the horizon but the enemy destroyers were nowhere in sight! The severely injured Gunnel was ordered to Mare Island, California for repairs.
When the Gunnel was ship-shape again, she was ordered to proceed to the approaches to Tokyo Bay and attack any Japanese warships, oil tankers, or cargo ships she might encounter. On this war patrol, they sighted a large passenger freighter heavily laden and running low in the water. At a range of 1,000 yards, the captain fired four torpedoes and all four hit home. The crew could hear many explosions as the freighter broke up and quickly went down. The enemy’s destroyer escort promptly attacked the Gunnel with at least 36 depth charges. The Gunnel suffered only slight damage, but the crew’s eardrums felt the effects.
Raymond was then transferred to a new submarine, the USS Moray, captained by Frank Barrows. It patrolled the seas around Japan in “lifeguard” duty, picking up crews of downed U.S. planes. When President George H. W. Bush was a young Navy aviator during WWII, he was shot down near Iwo Jima, and it was a submarine that rescued him before the enemy could get to him.
The Moray’s torpedoes did hit an enemy tanker that erupted into flames and sunk during their 52 day war patrol.
Raymond Lloyd, First Class Petty Officer, was discharged due to medical reasons after spending 11 months in a Navy hospital. He later attended Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. Raymond was the assistant Commissioner, Division of Labor and Industry for the State of Maryland and retired in 1986.
Lloyd was just one of the almost 16,000 sailors in the Silent Service, 3,506 who never returned. Their casualty rate of 22 percent was the highest of any branch in the military. It took a certain kind of American to brave the depths in the close confines of a boat deep under the sea for months at a time. America owes these brave submariners a great debt of gratitude.
Drawing is the mascot of the USS Gunnel.