OCTOBER 23-24, 1944
Early in the morning of October 21, DARTER's radio picked up a news broadcast of McArthur's landing on Leyte. McClintock reasoned that the enemy fleet from Singapore would probably head for the short-cut route to Leyte Gulf -- Balabac Strait. Accordingly, he headed DARTER for Balabac, and late that evening the submarine made radar contact with three large warships. DARTER tracked them for seven hours, reporting the contacts.
The ships were traveling at high speed, and the submarine was unable to overhaul. Morning of October 22, McClintock abandoned the pursuit and headed southward for a rendezvous with DACE. Midnight, October 22-23, the two submarines were within hailing distance of each other. McClintock's patrol report tells the story:
0000:  Speaking to DACE, planning remainder of patrol.
0016:  Radar contact.
0017:  By megaphone to DACE -- "We have contact. Let's go!"
0020:  Targets headed up Palawan passage. [Both subs chased.] Between now and dawn sent out
           three contact reports, giving [as] final estimate task force of eleven heavy ships. Tracking
           party said that gaining attack position was hopeless due to high target speed (initial
           estimate, 22 knots). We managed to average about 19 knots. Estimates of enemy speed
           began to drop until finally it was 15 knots, We had them now! Did not attack in darkness,
           as it was considered vital to see and identify the force which was probably on its way to
           interfere with the Leyte landing. It was felt that there could be no radical dawn zig due to
           size of force and narrowness of Palawan passage. Targets did not zig during night.
0425:  20,000 yards dead ahead of port column of heavy ships. Slowed to 15 knots. Biggest ship is
           last in port column. Picked it as target.
0527:  Reversed course, headed towards port column and submerged. (DACE had just passed us
           to dive to northeast.) DARTER planned to attack from west in half light of dawn at 0540.
0527:  First four ships in column identified as heavy cruisers. Fifth one is probably a battleship.
0528:  Range is 2,880 yards to first cruiser in column.
0532:  Commenced firing bow tubes at leading cruiser. After firing two into him and one spread
           ahead, target was rearing by so close that we couldn't miss, so spread the remainder inside
           his length. Then swung hard left (to bring stern tubes to bear) while getting set up on
           second cruiser.
0533:  Torpedoes started hitting first cruiser. Five hits. Commenced firing stern tubes at second
           cruiser. Whipped periscope back to first target to see the sight of a lifetime. She was a mass
           of billowing black smoke from the number one turret to the stern. No superstructure could
           be seen. Bright orange flames shot out from the side along the main deck from the bow to
           the after turret. Cruiser was already down by the bow, which was dipping under. Number
           one turret was at water level. She was definitely finished. It is estimated that there were
           few, if any, survivors.
0534:  Started deep. Evaded. Heard four hits in second cruiser. Felt certain that four hits would
           sink this one too.
0539:  Depth charge attack began. Four destroyers milling about overhead.
0540:  Commenced hearing breaking up noises on sound gear, roughly where the targets should
           be stopped. They increased until they seemed to be right overhead and shook the
           submarine violently. Heavy rumblings and explosions.
0557:  Heard four distant torpedo explosions in rapid succession. Probably DACE firing.  The
           Japs must think our submarines are everywhere at once. From 0600 to 0604 there were
           tremendous explosions, probably magazines. It is estimated that from 0600 on, our target's
           breaking up noises began to combine with those of DACE's targets.
0605:  Depth charges began again. Probably meant for DACE this time. A total of about 16 were
           heard. From this time on more distant breaking up noises and distant rumbling explosions
           (not depth charges) could be heard until about 0625.
0630:  Last of depth charges.
0820:  At periscope depth. One ATAGO-class cruiser sighted, range 12,000 yards, at our attack
           position, listing slightly to starboard and dead in the water.
1100:  Started in towards cruiser.
1300:  Range to cruiser 8,000 yards. Two destroyers patrolling on beam at range of 4,000 yards
           from target. Four planes circling overhead. Decided we would never get to fire from beam
           with destroyers where they were, so commenced working around to bow.
1430:  Range 7,000 yards to cruiser. Coming in on port bow of target when destroyers both
           headed for us. . . . Went deep and evaded. Could not attack destroyers since our torpedoes
           were for the cruiser. Decided to wait until tonight when combined attacks of DARTER and
           DACE would outwit the destroyers.
1500:  Cruiser seen hoisting out a boat. He must have some steam now. Sunset -- Too close to
           cruiser to surface for star sights.
1915:  Surfaced. Cruiser in sight on radar. Proceeding to rendezvous with DACE. Sent contact
           report on the stopped cruiser and estimated composition of the remainder of the Jap force.
2100:  Cancelled rendezvous because DACE not yet sighted and reduced visibility rendering
           immediate attack favorable. DACE ordered to take attack position ten miles from cruiser;
           bearing 150 degrees true; and DARTER ten miles bearing 050 degrees true from cruiser.
           (Thought destroyers would attempt to tow cruiser in our direction towards Palawan
           Barrier Reef.)
2200:  Cruiser underway, speed varied from four to six knots; course was erratic as though target
           was steering with screws. One destroyer patrolling on each beam.
2245:  Started in for surface attack in very poor visibility. Told DACE we would attack in 90
           minutes and to sink him if we were forced down.
2400:  About one hour to run to gain attack position ahead. Making about 17 knots.
0005:  (October 24th). Navigator plotting in conning tower. Grounded on Bombay Shoal with
           tremendous crash.
In the meantime, DACE, having contacted the enemy, was in the thick of it. Interesting to follow Commander Claggett's blow-by-blow account as it synchronizes with McClintock's. At 0532 on the morning of October 23, DACE heard five torpedo explosions and Claggett noted that "DARTER must be getting in."
0534:  Four more torpedo hits. DARTER is really having a field day. Can see great pall of smoke
           completely enveloping spot where ship was at last look. Do not know whether he has sunk,
           but it looks good. Ship to left is also smoking badly. . . . There is much signaling, shooting
           of Very stars, etc. It is a great show. The big ships seem to be milling around. I hope they
           don't scatter too far for me to get in. Two of these large ships have been hit so far.
0542:  The situation is beginning to clear up. I have now picked a target. It looks like a battleship.
           Range 7,000 yards.
0545:  Have identified target as a heavy cruiser of the ATAGO or NICHI-class. There are two of
           these, but can now see a larger ship astern. Looks like a battleship! Famous statement:
           "Will let them go by . . . they are only heavy cruisers!" Shifted targets. . . . This is really a
           submariner's dream . . . sitting right in front of a task force! . . . Now with better light
           conditions I have seen the following: two ATAGO or NICHI cruisers leading a battleship
           or CA (my target); there are two other battleships believed to be the ISE-class in column
           about 1,500 yards to the westward, and behind my target presenting a zero angle on the
           bow. There are several destroyers milling around DARTER's position about six miles
           away. There is one large unidentified ship well to eastward; this looks like either a carrier
           or perhaps another battleship. Total: eight heavy ships, four destroyers.
0552:  The two cruisers passed ahead at about 1,500 yards. They were overlapping; appeared to
           be running screen for my target. My target can be seen better now, and appears to be a
           KONGO-class battleship.
0554:  Commenced firing a salvo of six bow tubes. Fired One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six. Took
           quick look around and saw next battleship still close, so started deep, turning in his wake.
0556:  First hit! Second hit! Fourth hit!
0601:  Heard two tremendous explosions. These explosions were apparently magazines as I have
           never heard anything like it. The soundmen said that it sounded as if the bottom of the
           ocean were blowing up.
0603:  Heard tremendous breaking up noises. This was the most gruesome sound I have ever
           heard. Noise was coming from the northeast, the direction of the target, and it sounded as
           if she was coming down on top of us. I have never heard anything like it. Comment from
           Diving Officer: "We better get the hell out of here!"
0605:  First depth charge -- not close, but they got progressively closer, and we received a severe
           working over for the next half hour.
1100:  At periscope depth. Nothing in sight. Commenced reload and served breakfast.
1425:  Saw tops of masts, headed for same.
1510:  Can now make out target as a damaged ATAGO cruiser guarded by two destroyers
           patrolling well out. He also has air cover. Decided that possibilities of getting in for a
           daylight attack are pretty slim. Cruiser is definitely stopped at scene of DARTER attack,
           and there doesn't seem to be much possibility of his getting away. Will make a submerged
           night attack.
2256:  DARTER says she will try surface attack from quarter. If she is forced down or chased
           away by destroyers, we are to attack the [the cruiser's] bow.
2330:  Received message that DARTER was making end around to west, was instructed to attack
           when ready. Commenced end around for better background for submerged attack. Night is
           dark, but have good horizon to east and will be able to make out target against it.
0007: (October 24th). Received message from DARTER saying she was aground.
DARTER was jammed, and in a most precarious position. Making 17 knots, she had ridden up to a draft of nine feet forward, and the reef held her in a relentless clutch. Desperate efforts to get clear were unavailing. The night roared with enemy aircraft. Any moment a Jap warship might come lunging from the dark. The submarine was trapped.
DARTER's call to DACE brought Claggett's submarine maneuvering to her aid. Aboard DARTER all confidential papers were burned and secret equipment was smashed. DACE came nosing up through the gloom. Claggett's report of the rescue follows:
0153:  Flooded down and approached DARTER. Got line over from bow to DARTER's stern and
           commenced rescue operations. Salvage impossible. Transferring DARTER personnel via
           two rubber boats, a slow task. Used up half the battery maneuvering to keep off reef.
           Current setting me on.
0439:  Last boat containing Commanding Officer and Executive Officer of DARTER came
           aboard. Cast off and backed clear. Received word that demolition charges and warhead
           were set for 0455, so decided to wait until then before torpedoing.
0500:  Heard slight explosion, but can see no damage.
0510:  Fired two torpedoes at DARTER. Both exploded on reef.
0530:  Fired two more. No apparent damage.
0545:  Commenced firing with deck gun. Expended 30 rounds of ammunition. These appeared to
           do little damage.
0558:  Caught by plane in the unenviable position of lying to with 25 men topside. Submerged
           with ammunition on deck and gun trained out. Heard two explosions which sounded like
           small bombs. Plane apparently picked DARTER for target.
0805: Surfaced to send message requesting assistance in destroying DARTER.
Redoubtable DARTER was not to be easily destroyed. In mid-morning a Japanese destroyer prowled up to the reef and lay to. Aircraft hovered over the warship, but this protection was unnecessary as DACE was out of torpedoes. Forced to hold DACE at safe distance, Claggett and McClintock could only stand by helplessly while the enemy inspected the stranded submarine.
That evening Claggett brought DACE to the surface and headed her toward DARTER, intending to use his own demolition outfit for the necessary destruction. But as DACE was closing in on DARTER, enemy "pinging" was heard. It sounded like a Japanese submersible, and the American submariners turned to meet this unseen adversary. Later that night DACE received permission to leave the area.
While DACE was on her way home with DARTER's crew, the submarine ROCK was dispatched to Bombay Shoal to destroy stranded DARTER. But again destruction was frustrated as ROCK's torpedoes exploded in futile fury against the intervening reef.
Finally, on October 31, NAUTILUS arrived off the shoal with orders to destroy DARTER. Firing point-blank, NAUTILUS' gunners pumped 55 shattering 6-inch shells into the target. Her commander noted, "It is doubtful that any equipment in DARTER at 1131 this date would be of any value to Japan -- except as scrap."
The above information is from Theodore Roscoe's book, "Pig Boats."
Copyright, 1949 and 1958 by the United States Naval Institute.
(Originally published under the title: United States Submarine Operations in World War II)
The USS Darter (SS-227) abandoned on Bombay Shoal.