WORLD RECORD MUSKY
By Tony Welch
the waning days of 1942, an avid fisherman by the name of Louis
Spray forfeited his 1940 world record musky title, together with
all bragging rights.
The new record – and
we’re under oath here – was nothing short of colossal. It weighed in at 3,052,000 pounds and measured
a stunning 3,744 inches in length.
Any mention of its girth would only provoke further disbelief.
|Spray’s record catch was bested by
the United States Navy, when on December 13, l942 the fleet submarine
Muskallunge (SS-262) slid
down the ways at the Electric Boat Company in Groton, CT. The Muskallunge
– “musky” in angling lingo --numbered among an eventual 205 Gato/Balao
class submarines, joining earlier boats named after fresh water fish
such as Sturgeon, Perch, Pike, Trout, Bass
and Bluegill. Before war’s end the Bureau of Ships even found
room to squeeze in the Chub,
Dogfish and Carp.
His responsibilities were many, including attending
to the 300-ton bank of batteries that drove the ship when submerged.
The sub’s diesel engines, used for surface running, were another
matter; they proved inherently defective in the Gato class subs and tormented
the motor machinists responsible for their care and feeding.
Gradually, all twelve boats in Kennedy’s squadron were re-booted with dependable
General Motors diesels, packing 6,400 hp.
sail September 7, l943 from Pearl Harbor on the first of seven war
patrols. True to its namesake, the boat’s primary mission
was to lie in ambush undetected and wait for prey to enter her strike
zone. Including travel time, the average submarine patrol lasted
60-70 days and consumed 110,000 gallons of diesel fuel over the
course of 11,000 miles. Fewer than half the 85-man crew would see the sky until home port was reached at patrol’s
The outbound Muskallunge held a bellyful of
24 “fish,” as the 3,000-pound torpedoes were labeled.
Aboard were the very first electrically-driven torpedoes
to be fired in combat. The
electrics traveled at a modest 28 knots, but had the advantage of
leaving no tell-tale surface turbulence in their wake, as did the
earlier steam-driven projectiles which they gradually replaced.
Still, faulty torpedoes plagued submarine skippers well into
1944. Many a Japanese vessel arrived safely in port displaying fender
benders -- deeply dented hulls, clear evidence of a dud torpedo.
Charles A. Kennedy, an electrician’s mate, helped commission Muskallunge and was aboard during the boat’s first two war patrols.
commissioning ceremony, New
London CT, March 15, 1943. The marine bugler is playing "Anchors
Aweigh" as the National Ensign is raised atop the mast. Musky's
skipper, LCDR Willard Saunders, is at far left in front row.
|(Each Photo enlarges when
Charles Kennedy helped commission
and served aboard for two war patrols before transferring to Bergall
(SS-320). Kennedy's pictured here at a 2003 Bergall
reunion in Reno, Nevada,
where 28 surviving crew members and their wives met to reminisce.
WW11 "smokeboaters" (diesel engine sub crews) customarily
wear vests adorned with colorful patches and decals to such gatherings.
The names of the submarines they served aboard are displayed in
large letters on the backs of the vests -- as one vet described
it "....so we can easily spot a fellow crew member from one
end of the bar to the other, despite our failing eyesight."
Image courtesy USS Bergall.org
skipper on our first patrol was a sun worshipper,” recalls Kennedy,
now age 86 and a Camarillo, CA resident.
“Day after day he’d sit in a comforter chair topside, wearing
only shorts and sunglasses while reading a book and munching candy
bars as we cruised along.
“On this particular morning, one of the three bridge lookouts spotted
a distant Japanese aircraft preparing to attack the boat.
The diving klaxon sounded and everybody ran for the open
hatch, including the captain. His
sunglasses and cap went flying, his book and chair and candy bar
went flying, so I’m told. And
none of it was ever to be seen again.
“At the time I was way aft in the maneuvering room,” Kennedy continues,
“and noticed the propellers were making a commotion –- a very different
sound. I happened to glance at the angle of dive indicator and noticed
immediately the switch was on the wrong setting, so I ran over and
reset the stern hydroplanes to speed up our rate of descent.
Moments later a bomb exploded close overhead – it shook the
boat badly and scared hell out of me.
We continued down to about 200 feet when I heard my name shouted
over the intercom
– ‘Kennedy – report forward to the
captain.’ Well, I got all
puffed up – I was going to be complimented by the skipper. Maybe
even get a medal on the spot for having saved the boat. Except I
wasn’t wearing a shirt, so what would he pin it to?
Maybe my bare chest…”
could have prepared Kennedy for what happened next, and to this day he
remains somewhat shaken. “Mind
you,” he chuckles, “I was only 18 at the time.
And here’s the ship’s captain, the lord our god, standing there
with a .45 automatic strapped to his waist. And
he yanks the sidearm out of its holster and jams it in my belly, and he
says – ‘Kennedy, you (expletive), I’m going to kill you!” And I half-turned away, and he said it again,
and that’s when the ship’s executive officer grabbed the captain from
behind and pinned his arms to his sides.”
“I later learned that one of the mess cooks had got to poking
around looking for certain food ingredients.
Like all subs, we had food stashed in every possible nook and
cranny and the mess cook thought he might
room for everything on a submarine....except a mistake."
|have moved the control switch by accident.
So that’s what happened. But
the captain somehow concluded I had intentionally altered the switch
on the sly. And then while under attack, that I’d rushed over and
reset the controls so I could appear the hero who saved the day.”
Kennedy notes that none dared approach the captain with a plausible
explanation, adding that “…with all our ongoing engine troubles and
various electronic malfunctions, the captain gradually became more
and more distrustful of the crew. On more than one occasion he made that point
pretty clear, and in salty language we all understood.”
Leland D. White, CMoMM(SS)
Leland White served
as motor machinist mate aboard
from launch to layup
-- 40 months. Lee retired in 1960 -- a half-century ago -- as a
chief petty officer after 23 years active duty. Post-war, he had
duty tours on four other submarines. Now age 91 and active, he numbers
among four known surviving crew members of Muskallunge.
Despite his bizarre encounter, Kennedy
is quick to note that the skipper went on to command other submarines,
and eventually retired a deeply tanned rear admiral.
Prowling off the Palau Islands in her assigned sector, and using
detected a distant enemy convoy at 22,000 yards. Running surfaced in the dark, the boat set off
at 20 knots on an intersecting course.
A setup on various targets was calculated, followed by
a spread of six fired torpedoes. Kennedy pitched in helping to
reload the launching tubes.
“Below deck we could hear
a series of distant explosions,” says Kennedy. “But except for what sounded like it might be
an ammo ship blowing up, we couldn’t tell what other damage we’d
inflicted.” The exploding vessel illuminated the night sky, Kennedy
adds, and assorted debris rained down on the surfaced sub, including
sections of the ship’s smokestack. The electrician spent 14 months
and two war patrols aboard Muskallunge before being transferred.
Kennedy later served on four other subs prior to ending
his naval career as a commissioned officer.
Now meet Leland D. White, another Californian (Chula Vista), who
says he goes to exercise class twice a week and is still adept
at mixing a “just so” before-dinner martini.
Approaching his 92rd birthday, Lee’s 24-year naval career
began in 1937. “I’m a triple dipper,” he notes, having collected
Navy retirement pay for close to half a century, plus a
corporate retirement pension and social security.
Lee helped commission and decommission Muskallunge,
and sailed on all seven of her war patrols over a 40-month
We asked Lee a burning question:
were there any musky fishermen aboard the boat?
|“Well, yes….I’m certain
of it. One would be Leonard
Johnson, a chief torpedoman. We were tied up at Staten Island and the crew
was given a month’s R&R. Do
as we pleased, the war’s over. Len invited me to visit his home town,
so we hopped the ferry to Manhattan and off we went by train from
Grand Central Station to Eau Claire, Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. Besides carousing and terrifying the natives,
we went deer hunting. Never
got musky fishing, though. Too cold. And no venison as it turned out, but we drank
lots of beer and ate platters of bratwurst. “ Lee even remembers –
64 years later -- that the Wigwam Tavern was on Madison Street, “…just
before the bridge.” (And still
|Lee had two close
calls aboard Muskallunge.
The first took place at Camranh Bay, Indo-China. The boat
lay suspended well offshore at periscope depth as it waited
for the departure of a convoy tracked the previous day entering
At 0800 hours, a mixed bag of 15 merchant marine and anti-submarine
escort vessels got underway for Saigon. At 0952, a sharp-eyed
Japanese lookout aboard transport Durban Maru gave the alarm. With its wheel
hard over to port, the 7,163-ton vessel narrowly avoided the
first of three torpedoes. Moments
later a second “fish” lanced into Durban’s
number four hold, causing serious flooding. Within an hour the
order was given to abandon ship,
and Durban sank stern-first in mid-afternoon. Unknown to the Muskallunge, a full regiment of Imperial Japanese Army troops –3,354
men --was jammed on board, of whom 515 lost their lives.
Lee White joins
electronic technician Steve Gillett at the 52 Boats Memorial,
San Diego -- all generational gaps aside. Gillett served aboard
a number of Nuclear subs over a 20-year span, retiring in
2006. The ties that bind are reflected in the engraved names
of 3,506 sub sailors "on eternal patrol" -- lost
in action and honored at this site.
boat. “We talked about our lives past and present,
anything and everything” Lee recalls of their meeting. Kimoto held the belief that personal friendship
between victors and vanquished was the path to forgiveness and a lasting
peace between nations. “And he was on a mission to prove just that,”
FOES, NOW FRIENDS -- MUSKALLUNGE crew members
Carl Urbany with wife Audry (left) and Leland White with wife
Helen (right), join former enemy Ujihito Kimoto and his wife
(center) at a 1991 "reconciliation" reunion in California.
Kimoto narrowly escaped with his life when Musky
torpedoed and sank transport Durban
Maru in 1944.
Kimoto survived a raging storm by clinging to the remnants
of a bamboo raft; 515 other Japanese troops perished. Notes
Lee White: "I think we all were a bit awed that the meeting
actually happened -- from the South China Sea to the Marina
Del Ray Hotel."
after the war, Lee would relive the events of August 21, 1944
in a fashion he never could have foretold.
Carl Urbany and I both coincidentally answered a Navy publication
classified ad that was seeking contact with former Muskallunge
crew members,” Lee explains.
“To our total amazement up pops this Japanese fellow,
a survivor from the transport we sank.
Only now he’s the owner, president and board chairman
of Kimoto and Company Limited and its American subsidiary,
Kimoto USA in Atlanta.”
honored guests of Ujihito Kimoto, Urbany and White were given
the best hotel accommodations at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in
Marina Del Ray, CA. Floral arrangements adorned their suite,
with a full liquor bar. Following introductory “Ice Breaker”
cocktails, the trio and their spouses were driven to dinner
and a show in Hollywood. “Mr. Kimoto even provided an interpreter,”
Lee learned that Kimoto had survived 24 hours adrift in the
South China Sea, first aboard a flimsy bamboo raft and then
supported by a piece of flotsam when the raft broke up in
a storm. Of
the 12 men in his group, only three remained alive to be rescued
by a Japanese patrol
On August 8, 1945 Muskallunge
suffered its first and only onboard casualties.
Merchant shipping had been
scarce for months, so the captain decided to target lesser prey with the
deck gun. “We called these cargo vessels ‘sea trucks’,”
Lee explains, “They ran around 200 tons – too small for torpedoes. We’d
locate them on radar and then move in on the surface.”
|Hours before Durban Maru settled to the bottom, the
Japanese anti-submarine vessels began punishing Muskallunge with the first of more than 50 depth charges. The counter-attack went on intermittently for
eight hours. One or more “ashcans”
detonated close enough to the sub to cause serious leaks. “We tried sneaking off at a couple knots – no
good,” Lee recalls. “Their
sonar kept right on tracking us, even below 300 feet.
Lots of water accumulated in the aft engine compartment and
this extra weight slammed our stern into the ocean bottom, burying
the props. Finally we formed a bucket brigade and hauled
the water forward, then packed a bunch of the crew into the forward
torpedo room for added weight. And that’s how we finally broke the
stern free – rather like a teeter-totter.” A long voyage to Fremantle,
Australia followed, for repairs.
departs Pearl Harbor
September 4, 1943 on her first war patrol. A year later,
Musky narrowly escaped an 8-hour depth charge pounding after
sinking a 7,160 ton transport off Cam Ranh Bay, French Indo-China.
Aboard was a regiment of 3,000 Japanese soldiers, of whom 515 perished.
A heavy fog blanketed the Sea of Japan that day.
The radar range shortened until
suddenly a cluster of three sea trucks came dimly into view.
Selecting a target, Muskallunge commenced firing its main deck
crew members monitor various
shipboard controls during a shakedown cruise. Musky
made her first war patrol in September 1943, taking station off
the Palau Islands. The Gato-class submarine was decommissioned in
1947, then turned over to the Brazilian Navy and served a further
15 years as the Humanita."
She ended her days
as a practice target off Long Island NY in 1968."
|“My battle station was
to train this modified artillery piece,” Lee says. “Meaning, I maneuvered the gun horizontally
while the gun pointer to my left moved it vertically to get the weapon
on target. It was tough going because we kept poking in and out of
dense fog banks.”
Higher up on the conning tower’s cigarette deck, electrician’s mate
Chuck Whitman of Mayfield, N.Y. was busy manning a .50 caliber rail
mounted machine gun. As the running battle progressed, several hits
from the deck gun were observed. Then sudden return fire from one
of the Japanese vessels struck Whitman, killing him instantly. Lee escaped the volley, while two nearby sailors
received shrapnel wounds. The
firefight was terminated, and later that day Whitman -- believed to be the last submariner to die
in action during the war -- was buried at sea off the Kurile Islands
in a brief ceremony. Three weeks later Muskallunge
joined eleven other subs in Tokyo Bay for the formal surrender ceremonies
ending World War Two.
Muskallunge was decommissioned in 1947 and laid up for a
few years, then loaned to the Brazilian Navy and returned in 1968.
|“By pure chance a former
Muskallunge shipmate who was still on active duty, Val
Scanlon by name, happened to be at a Navy pier when the boat
came in and tied up,” Lee recalls. “He went aboard and it was a mess. Paint peeling off the bulkheads, trash everywhere.
Not the Muskallunge any of her old crew would ever care to see.”
Steel ships, iron men.
And a touch of irony. Three months later Scanlon was ordered to join
a certain Atlantic fleet sub for temporary one-day duty. On July 9 the boat departed New London, CT and
steamed to a Navy target practice area off Long Island, N.Y. In the
distance, Scanlon spotted the submersible he’d helped commission a
quarter-century earlier. Now
the boat was empty, a derelict rolling in the ocean swells and straining
at her anchor chain as though determined to get underway on her own.
duty that day? To accomplish
what the Imperial Japanese Navy strove for 32 months to do,
but failed. No salvage yard for this aging warrior, nor the
indignity of a welder’s cutting torch.
pushed the red firing button.
Two minutes later, her back broken by an exploding
torpedo, Muskallunge began her final plunge to the ocean floor. Half a world away from where she earned her
laurels -- but less
than 50 miles from her birthplace.
And what of Louis Spray?
In 1949, Louis went on to top his old record with a 69
pound/11 ounce Wisconsin musky that likely will never be bested.
Unless, of course, the Bureau of Ships decides to launch
Louis Spray poses
with the largest of three record-breaking muskies he caught
in his lifetime (69 lbs/11 oz). Note the musky's
fins, located fore and aft in pairs. They almost perfectly
match the four diving planes (hydroplanes) on the Muskallunge
(SS-262) -- and serve the self-same purpose by allowing both
fish and sub to angle bow-upward when surfacing and bow-downward
when submerging. In short, technology mimicking nature."
Image courtesy lakestclair.net
Tony Welch has recorded oral histories of WW11
vets in seven states. His interest in preserving first-person battlefield
accounts began a half-century ago, when as a U.S. Navy journalist
he began "picking the brains" of senior enlisted men.
"If they had five or more hash marks on their sleeve and campaign
ribbons on their chest, they were fair game," Welch says.