By Bill Durette
The USS Grayback was a highly-decorated submarine having earned two Presidential Naval Citations.
One of its crewmembers was Charlestown’s George Ferry, who was lost at sea with the Grayback until recently when researchers were able to locate and recover the storied war-time sub.
The Grayback had a deadly reputation and was one of the more successful submarines in the US Navy. It went out on 10 war patrols wreaking havoc on Japanese shipping. On one of its war patrols, in September-October 1943, the Grayback formed the first of the Submarine Force’s highly successful “wolf packs,” referring to a mass-attack tactic in which the Grayback, the USS Cero and the USS Shad teamed up to sink 38,000 tons of ships and damage 63,300 more worth of material on enemy convoys. The Grayback was responsible for sinking a fleet tanker and two transport ships, including one already damaged by the Shad.
Grayback’s 10th patrol, her most successful in terms of tonnage sunk, was also to be her last. She sailed from Pearl Harbor on January, 28, 1944, for the East China Sea. On Feb. 24, Grayback radioed that she had sunk two cargo ships on Feb. 19 and had damaged two others. On Feb. 25 she transmitted her second and final report. That morning she had sunk the tanker Toshin Maru and severely damaged another. With only two torpedoes remaining, she was ordered home from patrol.
Due to reach Midway Island on March 7, Grayback did not arrive.
On March 30, the Navy reluctantly listed her as missing and presumed lost with all hands. All together Grayback sunk nine cargo ships, one submarine, one light cruiser, one destroyer and a tanker. From captured Japanese records, the gallant submarine’s last few days can be pieced together. Heading home through the East China Sea on Feb. 27, Grayback used her last two torpedoes to sink the freighter Ceylon Maru. That same day, a Japanese carrier-based plane spotted a submarine on the surface in the East China Sea and attacked. According to Japanese reports the submarine “exploded and sank immediately,” but anti-submarine craft were called in to depth-charge the area, clearly marked by a trail of air bubbles, until at last a heavy oil slick swelled to the surface. Grayback had ended her last patrol, one which cost the enemy some 21,594 tons of shipping.
According to a news release, the Lost 52 team discovered that historical documents erred in the translation of the longitude of where the Grayback sank. With the new data and newly discovered Japanese mission logs, the searchers were able to refocus their efforts, and by using groundbreaking robotics and technology, found the dilapidated sub 100 miles from the area recorded in the original historical records.
The submarine was found in 1,427 feet of water 50 miles south of Okinawa Japan. The lost 52 team was able to get a firsthand glimpsed of the Grayback resting in its watery grave.
WWII submarine service was one of the most dangerous assignments in the Navy. The casualty rate was significantly higher than any other type of ship in the Navy. There were 3,505 submariners killed during the war.
Along with George Ferry from the Grayback, there were four other Charlestown men killed serving aboard submarines – Anthony J. Parrino, Edward P. O’Rourke, Patrick H. McCormack and William D. Fitzgerald. All together Charlestown had 13 men in the submarine service with only eight men making it back home. For the ones who didn’t, they will forever be on “Eternal Patrol.”
So as we pay tribute to this year’s 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, we must remember the sacrifices of all the Charlestown men and women who gave their lives.
Sacrifices that helped change a world at war to a world at peace.
Bill Durette is the founder of the Charlestown Veterans History Project.