Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Two Ships in a Death Grip: The Story of the USS GRUNION

An Aleutian Showdown

It’s July 29, 1942. Fitted with big deck guns for protection against enemy ships, the Japanese cargo ship KANO MARU arrives at Holtz Bay, Attu Island, Alaska, a remote and foggy Aleutian island that the Japanese have occupied in order to divert US naval resources away from Midway and thereby divide the US Navy. The occupation marks the first time in history that US soil has been occupied by a hostile foreign power. The KANO MARO’s mission is to bring supplies to Japanese troops on both Attu and Kiska Island, both of which are occupied by troops who have dug extensive tunnels and trenches to defend their positions. The captain and crew of the KANO MARO have no idea that this routine re-supply mission will turn out to be anything but routine. 
The KANO MARU takes on cargo and leaves for Kiska Island, escorted by a sub chaser CH-26.  Later that day, contact with the sub chaser is lost in a thick fog of the Bering Sea.

July 30, 1942.  The KANO MARU approaches Kiska Island, but the heavy fog prevents her from entering Kiska Harbor. She drifts far off shore.

As the fog begins to thin out, KANO MARU heads toward Kiska Harbor at 15 knots.

Meanwhile, the American submarine USS GRUNION is on her first war patrol. When she reports anti-submarine activity, she is ordered back to Dutch Harbor.

Then the USS GRUNION surprises the KANO MARU, launching a torpedo that hits the machinery room of the Japanese cargo ship. Two Japanese sailors are killed. The starboard machinery room floods, and the diesel engine shuts down.
The KANO MARU remains afloat although she now lacks engine power. When the Japanese crew spots a periscope, they open fire with their big 40-calibre 3-inch guns. No hits scored.
On the USS GRUNION, LtCdr Mannert L. Abele fires another torpedo, but Mark-14 torpedoes are unreliable. This one passes beneath the KANO MARU. The GRUNION fires two more, scoring two hits, but both torpedoes fail to explode. It is a devastating moment for Abele and his crew.
Faced with the prospect of failure, Abele takes bold and courageous action. He orders the GRUNION to surface, where the crew attempts to sink the disabled KANO MARU with gunfire. 


The KANO MARU also has her guns, however. She opens fire on the GRUNION. One shot hits the GRUNION’s conning tower. The GRUNION dives. Abele’s crew loses depth control. GRUNION plunges into the deep.
She exceeds crush depth and implodes in the freezing Bering Sea waters. Sudden death claims every crew member.
Later, sub-chaser CH-26 ISHIZAKI and cable-layer ship UKISHIMA arrive on scene. The crewmen spot debris from the doomed USS GRUNION floating on the surface. A crew from ISHIZAKI boards the KANO MARU to assist with repairs.

A Japanese transport ship attempts to tow the KANO MARU back to the relative safety of Kiska Harbor, but the towing cable breaks. The KANO MARU drifts all night in the dark and stormy Bering Sea.
The next day KANO MARU is towed to Kiska Harbor where her cargo is offloaded. The US aerial bombardment of Kiska Island continues. The day of her arrival, two bombs explode near the wounded ship. She sustains hull damage from a near miss on her port side.
An Aleutian storm drives the KANO MARU against the coast. More than a mile SW of Kiska Harbor, she runs aground at the base of an eighty foot cliff.  She is deemed beyond repair and abandoned.
Back at the Dutch Harbor US Naval Operating Base, the fate of the USS GRUNION is unknown. She has simply disappeared in the vast gray waters around the Aleutian Islands, a chain that stretches a thousand miles from the Alaskan peninsula toward Russia’s Kamchatka.
In 2006, after more than six decades at the bottom of the Bering Sea, the USS GRUNION is found. She is located north of Kiska Island at a depth of more than 2000 feet. The fishing vessel AQUILA, which is towing a sidescan sonar to search for the GRUNION finds her. The search is led by the two sons of the GRUNION’s Commander Mannert Abele.
For more information on the GRUNION, visit http://www.ussgrunion.com/
The shipwreck of the KANO MARU remains on Kiska Island, Alaska.


Today, there are many shipwrecks on Kiska Island, which is one of the most remote islands in the world. It is also an official National Historic site, although few people visit. The island has one of the most hostile environments in the world due to frequent Aleutian storms.
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Side note: After learning about Kiska's unique war time history and discovering that to this day she preserves this forgotten WWII battlefield, I decided to set my novel The Golden Catch on Kiska Island. This action-packed thriller centers around a Japanese shipwreck and it’s mysterious cargo.

You can purchase it here: THE GOLDEN CATCH
 Download to your mobile device:  THE GOLDEN CATCH

 Roger Weston writes action-packed thrillers with a maritime twist.
You can find all of his books here: Roger Weston's Amazon Author Page 
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