Macassar Strait

USS Flier (SS-250)

USS Flier (SS-250), a Gato-class submarine, was the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for the flier, a round sunfish widely known in the United States. Her keel was laid down by Electric Boat Company of Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on 11 July 1943 sponsored by Mrs. A.S. Pierce, and commissioned on 18 October 1943 with Lieutenant Commander John D. Crowley in command.

Flier reached Pearl Harbor from New London, Connecticut, on 20 December 1943, and prepared for her first war patrol, sailing 12 January 1944. Damage suffered in a grounding near Midway Island necessitated her return to the west coast for repairs, and on 21 May she sailed again for action, heading for a patrol area west of Luzon. She made her first contact on 4 June, attacking a well-escorted convoy for five merchantmen. Firing three torpedoes at each of two ships, she sent a large transport to the bottom and scored a hit on another ship, before clearing the area to evade countermeasures.

On 13 June 1944, Flier attacked a convoy of 11 ships, cargo carriers and tankers, guarded by at least six escorts. The alert behavior of the escorts resulted in severe attack on Flier before she could observe what damage she had done to the convoy. On 22 June, she began a long chase after another large convoy, scoring four hits for six torpedoes fired at two cargo ships that day, and three hits for four torpedoes launched against another cargo ship of the same convoy the next day.

Sunk by a mine

Flier put in to Fremantle, Australia, to refit between 5 July 1944 and 2 August, then sailed on her second war patrol, bound for the coast of Indochina via the Lombok Strait, Macassar Strait and Balabac Strait. At about 2200 on 12 August, as she transited Balabac Strait on the surface, she struck a naval mine. Traveling at , she disintegrated and sank in less than a minute, but several of her crew got out of her.

Treading water in the darkness, the survivors took muster by shouting out their names. Fourteen had survived, meaning that 72 officers and men had gone down with Flier.

Although they knew that they were only three miles from land, they could not orient themselves in the overcast night. Commander Crowley directed the survivors to tread water until they could determine direction.

Moonrise was five hours later. By the time it became light enough to see a small island, six more of the crew died and the sea had become choppy. Unable to keep the survivors together, Commander Crowley ordered Lieutenant Liddell, Ensign Jacobson, RTC Howell, FCR2 Tremaine, QM3 Russo, MoMM3 Baumgart, and MoMM3 Miller to each make their own way to the beach. At about 1600 on 13 August, eighteen hours after the explosion, seven survivors met on Mantangula Island; Miller was unaccounted for.

Escaped crew fights for survival on island

They slept that night burrowed into the sand, then began building shelter the next morning. Their exploration discovered that Mantangula had no fresh water; they must travel to another island or die of thirst. The officers were familiar with their area from studying navigational charts and knew that the two best possibilities were Balabac Island to the west and Bugsuk Island to the east. They decided on Bugsuk, and began constructing a raft. While foraging for materials, they met Miller, who had come ashore on the eastern tip of the island and spent the night alone. Construction of the raft continued through the day as the survivors grew weaker from thirst. They spent a second night on the island.

The next morning, searchers found two coconuts, which were shared by all -- and transpired to be the only food or drink they would have for days. They set out on their raft for Byan Island on the way to Bugsuk that afternoon at low tide. Two men rode the raft and steered with paddles while the others swam pushing it. They reached Byan exhausted, and collapsed on the beach.

The next morning, the party crossed Byan and the channel separating it from Gabung Island, where they passed the next night. The following day was the worst they experienced. They were blistered by sunburn; their feet were lacerated and poisoned by coral; they were plagued by stinging insects; in the four days since their submarine had hit the mine, the only thing they had had to eat and drink had been one-quarter of a coconut each. They made good time on the next crossing because the water was shallow enough to allow wading rather than swimming, though at the price of further injuring their feet on the coral bottom.

Finally reaching Bugsuk, the survivors came ashore into a small coconut grove where they partially relieved their thirst and hunger. Bugsuk had been inhabited in the past; the party explored several empty buildings and discovered a cistern full of fresh water. They slept that night in one of the abandoned buildings.

Meeting up with guerrillas

The next morning, Ensign Jacobson awoke before the others and encountered a young Filipino, a member of the guerrilla "Bugsuk Bolo Battalion." He led the survivors to their headquarters where about 20 more guerrillas were encamped. Here the survivors had their first hot meal in many days, fish and rice, cooked by the guerrillas.

Some of the guerrillas were a party from Palawan Island who had come to Bugsuk to search for possible survivors of a lost submarine. The survivors were disappointed to learn that they were referring not to Flier but rather , lost three weeks earlier in this same vicinity. The search party transported the survivors to Cape Buliluyan on Palawan, a three-day boat ride. There they rendezvoused with another party of guerrillas who had been scouting Balabac for Robalo survivors. After several more days traveling up the east coast of Palawan, they reached their base at Sir John Brooks Point. Also at the base was a United States Army coastwatcher unit, recently landed by a submarine, which readily agreed to send a message to Commander Seventh Fleet.

While they waited for help to arrive, the survivors were moved some five miles (8 km) into the mountains, to a trading post owned by an American, Mr. Edwards. In the cooler mountain environment, the survivors began recovering from their ordeal.

The survivors arranged with Commander Seventh Fleet a date for pick-up by submarine and a recognition signal, and arranged with a Moro native to borrow a motor launch.

Rescue rendezvous

When the rendezvous date arrived, 30 August 1944, eight other refugees joined the party to be rescued. However, the plan was hampered by the presence of a Japanese merchantman anchored near the rendezvous point. Rather than use the agreed-upon signal light, which might be seen by the merchant, they used hand-cranked radio. received the signal and surfaced nearby. The submarine gave the guerrillas a generous assortment of food, lubricating oil, medical supplies, small arms ammunition, and all the spare shoes and clothing they had aboard as reward for helping the survivors.

After the refugees and survivors were aboard, and the Moro's motor launch was out of danger, Redfin attacked the anchored merchantman by gunfire, but was unable to do significant damage before the ship weighed anchor and got underway. Redfin gave up the attack and set course for Darwin.

The Flier survivors were thence flown to Perth where Crowley made his report and was awarded the Legion of Merit for organizing and leading their escape. Liddell, Howell and Russo also received awards for displaying initiative and resourcefulness in the escape. All eight were awarded the Purple Heart Medal.

Flier received one battle star for World War II service on her single war patrol, designated "successful." She is credited with having sunk 10,380 tons of Japanese shipping. See also List of U.S. Navy losses in World War II.


  • It also includes material from the article "Loss of USS Flier," as reported to Bill Wolfe, by Captain John D. Crowley, published in the June 1981 issue of "Polaris," the official publication of the US Submarine Veterans of World War II.

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