Ken Beaton: A World War II submarine veteran’s story
An 18-year-old Becker, Minn., native, Del Schwichtenberg, joined the Navy on July 2, 1940.
He graduated in October and reported to New London, Conn., for three months of submarine training, in which he proved he could live and work in a confined space and use the escape hatch. In January 1941, Del reported to USS 06 (SS67), a “rusted bucket of bolts” in Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
USS 06 was a World War I submarine brought out of the mothball fleet. By March 1941, the 06 was ready to perform sea trials, including a 200-foot dive with the 09 and 010. After performing various maneuvers, the 06 and 010 surfaced, but the 09 never resurfaced, a sacred tomb for 28 submariners.
During World War II, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard built more than 70 submarines. The keel for the USS Sand Lance (SS381) was laid on March 12, 1943. Del was the eighth sailor to report aboard the Sand Lance, which was launched on June 25, 1943 and commissioned on Oct. 9, 1943. The skipper was Commander Malcolm Garrison. After training exercises in New London, Conn., she sailed through the Panama Canal on Dec. 18, 1943 and arrived at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Jan. 17, 1944.
After passing through two typhoons, fields of slush ice and intermittent drift ice the Sand Lance arrived at her patrol station, Paramushiro, on Feb. 24, 1944. She sunk a cargo ship, the Kaika Maru despite the fact her No. 1 periscope had been damaged by drift ice in the attack.
Commander Garrison came up to periscope depth to discover a convoy in his cross hairs.
Between March 2 and 3, the ship sank the cargo ship Akashisan Maru while damaging other Japanese ships. On March 3 she sunk an unmarked Russian merchant ship, Byelorussia. The Byelorussia’s captain should have flown the Soviet “hammer and sickle” flag to identify in enemy waters. The Soviet government vehemently protested, but Admiral Nimitz defended Commander Garrison. The Byelorussia was carrying essential supplies to the Japanese Navy.
On March 13, 1944 at 0200 hours, the Sand Lance came up to periscope depth in a Japanese convoy, five merchant and three heavily armed warships. With six remaining torpedoes, two stern torpedoes sank a cargo ship with 1,000 enemy troops. Two stern torpedoes sunk the light cruiser, Tatsuta. Two bow torpedoes severely damaged a cargo ship.
For the next 16 hours, the Sand Lance was pounded by more than 100 depth charges from enemy destroyers. The Sand Lance arrived at Pearl Harbor on April 23, 1944. Her maiden war patrol was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation signed by James Forrestal, the Secretary of the Navy for President Roosevelt.
There were citations awarded to our sailors during World War II, but few Bronze Stars were awarded to enlisted men serving on submarines.
Del received the following Commendation and Bronze Star with the V for Valor as follows:
THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the BRONZE STAR MEDAL to
DELMAR JOHN SCHWICHTENBERG
CHIEF MOTOR MACHINIST’S MATE
UNITED STATES NAVY
For service as set forth in the following
“For meritorious service as a Crewman on board the USS Sand Lance, during the First War Patrol of that vessel in enemy Japanese-controlled waters, from February 8 to March 23, 1944. Undaunted by intermittent heavy snow storms and the constant threat of Japanese serial attach, SCHWICHTENBERG worked two days and nights on top of that periscope shears to cut away the upper bearing and allow the lowering of number one periscope which was bent and jammed in the raised position, there-by aiding his commanding officer in conducting aggressive attacks against the enemy to sink one light cruiser, two freighters and two passenger-freighters and damage another freighter. In addition, he contributed to his ship’s success in employing effective evasive tactics during enemy counter attacks. His devotion to duty was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
SCHWICHTENBERG is authorized to wear the Combat “V”
For the President,
Secretary of the Navy
Her second war patrol involved sinking five more merchant Japanese ships. Her third war patrol began July 3, 1944, sinking four more ships. At a depth of 100 feet, a submarine is easily spotted by enemy planes. On Aug. 6, 1944, two Japanese bombs exploded near the Sand Lance’s stern, lifting it several feet and damaging her port propeller shaft. Enemy escorts were dropping depth charges. The crew discovered a torpedo running ‘hot’ in No. 8 of her stern tubes. The Sand Lance came up to 100 feet and fired the “hot” torpedo, which exploded just eight seconds after launch. The bad news was more damage to the stern. The good news was the Japanese escorts disengaged. It took almost two months for the damaged Sand Lance to arrive at Mare Island Shipyard in the Bay area on Nov. 1, 1944.
On her fourth patrol she sunk one more Japanese ship. The fifth war patrol was uneventful. She was assigned to a “lifeguard station” picking up downed bomber crews off the Japanese home islands. Aug. 16, 1945 the Sand Lance set a course to San Francisco docking on Sept. 7, 1945. SS381, the Sand Lance was a fighter. She earned five battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation.
After 20 years of service, Del retired from the Navy in 1960 ranked as Chief Warrant Officer 3. Del married Mary Ellen in 2004. She proudly assisted me in providing photos of her 94-year-old World War II submarine veteran hero.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.