Torpedo Attack on the USS St. Louis
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The minesweepers' perspective

I was thinking along these lines when I came across the after-action report by the minesweeper USS Condor. Many do not realise that at the time of the cruiser's dramatic exit out of the harbour entrance, three minesweepers were streaming their gear alongside, and generally parallel to, the harbour entrance channel. USS Condor and Cockatoo were sweeping along the eastern side of the channel; USS Crossbill, the western. Condor's report describes (and illustrates, see diagram below) an interesting variation on St. Louis's story. In their account, the cruiser came out of the harbour entrance at high speed, then suddenly executed a sharp turn to the east and took Crossbill's minesweeping paravane under fire with her #3 gun. As the cruiser continued racing east, she cut across the tow line on the Condor's (and Cockatoo's?) paravane, severing both. The absence of any mention of explosions in the minesweeper reports is noteworthy, especially since Crossbill was streaming gear in the same area where St. Louis reported seeing the torpedoes detonate. From the minesweepers' perspective, it appears that both the commanding officer and gunners of the USS St. Louis mistook Crossbill's minesweeping float for the conning tower of a small submarine. USS St. Louis crewman, John O'Neill, noted that the ship hit something in her mad dash that put a hole in the side of the chain locker up forward, minor damage that was fixed later at the Mare Island shipyard. He thought the ship had rammed the midget submarine, but more likely it hit the Condor's paravane.

This, following the USS Blue's earlier sortie out the harbour, where her acting Commanding Officer, Ensign Asher, reported running through an unnamed minesweeper's (Cockatoo?) paravane roughly abeam of the landing at Fort Weaver, possibly cutting it loose. The minesweepers were not having a good day.

Diagram entered into evidence as Exhibit No. 75, "Diagram illustrating attack by a U.S. cruiser on a float mistaken for a submarine," during the 1945 Hewitt Inquiry. Accompanying this diagram was the following entry from the Condor's war diary: "A Cruiser of the ST. LOUIS class evidently mistaking the Oropesa float of the CROSSBILL for a submarine turned sharply to the left and commenced firing at said float. In so doing she severed the magnetic cable of this ship approximately 100 yards from the out board end."

A minesweeping paravane of the type towed by the USS Crossbill being lowered into the water. Would this appear to be a small submarine to sailors who were expecting to see one after an attempted torpedo attack?

In this context, it is important to note that in his first report on the incident, Captain Rood would not commit to the identity of the object his gunners took under fire. He suspected that it was a submarine because the object was seen near the point from where they believed the torpedo tracks originated, but would only record that, "This object was not positively identified as a submarine periscope." It wasn't until his addendum to his original report, written almost 3 weeks after the attack and after he had had a chance to examine the captured I-24tou at the Naval Base, that he positively identified the "dark gray" object as a "baby" submarine. Rood provided an estimate of the dimensions of the object — 18" long, projecting 8" above the water — but I suspect a typographical error and cannot consider these dimensions reliable enough to draw any conclusions.

When asked if St. Louis had fired on a minesweeping float, crewman Doug Huggins said that even though he couldn't see what Mount #3 was firing at, he insisted that "[the minesweepers] couldn’t have been in that close to the beach with a paravane." This, however, doesn't square with Ensign Asher's account of running across a paravane abeam of Fort Weaver, right at the harbour entrance.

Essentially, we have the word of a respected cruiser skipper with experience in submarines and his crew against that of three minesweeper crews, two of which lost their minesweeping floats that day. Whom do you believe?

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