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USS Burrfish Reconnaissance of Yap on 13 August 1944

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USS Burrfish at Pelilu WWII L-R: CPO Howard “Red” Roeder (KIA), Emmet L. Carpenter , Bob Black (KIA), John MacMahon (KIA) and CPO Ball

Picture Source:

USS Submarine Burrfish reconnaissance of Yap on 13 August 1944 and the loss of three UDT Men:
The Peleliu Case


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Excerpt From the book, The Naked Warriors : The Elite Fighting Force That Became The Navy Seals :
UDT men on messdecks of USS Burrfish after Pelilu,WWIIL-R: Leonard Barnhill, John MacMahon (KIA), LT M.R. Massey, Bill Moore and Warren Christensen.

Picture Source:

Peleliu - Portal to the Philippines

The extra trip, along with this three UDT teammates Warren Christensen, Leonard Barnhill, and William Moore. MacMahon anchored the rubber boat while Lieutenant Massey and the three UDT men, masked and grease-camouflaged, swam onto the reef and back. They discovered that discolored patches shown in air photos were only sea grass instead of reeds which would strand a landing craft.

Two nights later, on August 18, the Burrfish surfaced again two miles off the strongly guarded east shore of Yap. It was Roeder's turn again. He had Chief Ball and Carpenter of Waipio, and UDT men Robert Black and John MacMahon (making his third successive swim). They paddled within a quarter mile of shore and found a barrier reef just below the surface. Fearing the breakers might carry the boat ashore, they dropped the hook and left the best navigator, Chief Ball, aboard. The four started for shore. Fifteen minutes later, Black brought Carpenter back to the boat - the sea was too rough for a man without UDT swim training. Black rejoined MacMahon and Chief Roeder, swimming toward the island. There were barricades on the Tobaru islet reef, palm-log cribs full of rock linked with wire. Lights moved along the shore.

Time passed without any sign of the swimmers returning through the breakers. Ball and Carpenter became worried, and finally decided to hoist anchor and search for the swimmers. They made a sweep along the reef, but there was not sign of the three swimmers. Time had run out and they had to return to the submarine, hoping against hope that the others had swum straight out to the Burrfish. No such luck.

The submarine searched close inshore until dawn forced it to dive and move farther to sea. The next morning the Burrfish patrolled under water off the reef in another vain search. It surfaced twelve miles away, while Jap radar searched in its direction. The three surviving UDT men pleaded with the commander to let them go back to the barrier reef that night, being sure the lost men would try to make it after dark; but the sea had grown rougher, and the commander made the hard decision that having alerted the Japs and lost three men, he did not want to make it six. The Burrfish gave up the missing men and left for its next mission.

The three swimmers had indeed tried to come back to the reef against wind and breakers. Perhaps, carried off course, they could not find their rubber boat, and finally had to turn back to shore. Three grease-covered men in swim trunks, armed only with sheath knives, hid all day on the small island teeming with enemies. They tried the reef again the next night, but there was no boat there to make the rendezvous. Exhausted, they tried to hide again. Months later a captured Japanese document revealed the following:

ANNANSAKI 22 August 1944
Special Report GOTTO Unit
Intelligence Office (JOKOSHITSU)

On the 20th we seized 3 American prisoners at the TOBARU Battery on Yap. They belong to the FIFTH Demolition Unit. These men were transported by submarines. They jumped into the sea at points several miles distant from shore and by swimming reached the reefs off Tobaru Island, Leng and Lebinau. When they tried to return they lost sight of their submarine and swam back to the sea coast. They were captured while hiding. In view of this situation we must keep a strict watch especially in regard to infiltration of these various patrols and spies from submarines.

In view of the case, every lookout, whether it be might or day, shall carefully watch the nearby coast line, and if he observes any examples of the above, shall report it immediately without fail. He should without hesitation emulate the above captures. We are confident there is safety in this manner.

The report and the three prisoners were sent to Peleliu, with more detailed information about the "Bakuhatai" - demolition unit. The ruthless interrogators had learned that demolition units had four "LVPs" with sixteen men per boat, dynamite and electric igniters, to open underwater passages through the reefs. It was reported that each man could swim over ten miles, and that they only operated from submarines; the exact instructions of Commander Koehler who states, "I still recall the strange feeling I had when I read that CincPac Intercept of the Jap message."

On September 2, Roeder, MacMahon, and Black were placed aboard a Japanese sub-chaser for transfer to Davao and Manila in the Philippines. Nothing more was ever heard of them. Whether the ship was sunk, or they were killed or died on board or in a prison camp, nobody knows. They were not among the liberated prisoners when the Philippines were freed. Nothing is known except that they gave their lives for their country. They were posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

Their luckier mates returned to Hawaii in December. Moore, Barnhill, and Christensen joined the Maui training staff (their Team Ten was already in Hollandia, New Guinea, preparing for its fourth beach mission.) The three survivors were also awarded the Silver Star and the right to wear the submarine insignia.

The information gleaned from their night forays had gone immediately by the Burrfish's radio to Pearl Harbor, being added to the air and periscope pictures of the landing beaches.

Peleliu and its neighbor Angaur, and the more distant island complex of Yap, were heavily defended by underwater obstacles.

One group of UDTs joined the convoys heading for the Palau Islands, Peleliu and Angaur. The other group were already at sea heading for Yap when the radio reported a life-saving change of plans. A Philippine guerrilla report via a rescued Navy pilot had stated Japanese defenses were light, and the high command approved bypassing and isolating Yap. The four teams scheduled for Yap were rerouted at sea to the Admiralties, to prepare for the duly advanced date of the Philippine invasion.

There was no reprieve for Teams Six, Seven, and "Able"

Source: The Naked Warriors : The Elite Fighting Force That Became The Navy Seals by Francis D. Fane

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From the book, Purple Heart (Seals: The Warrior Breed, Book 2) :

LVPs, whatever the hell those are supposed to be. I tell you, Forsythe, when I gave you guys that send-off speech I never really figured anyone would actually be able to feed them false information. It was sure spooky when I saw the copy of that message, let me tell you."

"Sounds like Red Schroeder was in rare form that day, sir," Forsythe said with a grudging smile of his own. He was turn between pain and pride. Chapman was right about their chances for survival; POWs in Japanese hands died in droves in unsanitary camps with inadequate rations and cruel workloads. But Schroeder - those tall tales the Japs had believed must have come from him - Schroeder had handled his captors with the same combination of guts and humor he'd shown every day Forsythe had known the man.

"It hasn't been the same around here since he left," Chapman said quietly. "The three of them have been put in for Silver Stars. I hope they don't turn out to be posthumous. The rest of your team's up for the same awards. Yourself included, Lieutenant."

"Sir … er, thank you, sir." Forsythe swallowed. He didn't want the medal. His instant reaction was an angry feeling that it wasn't fair to Schroeder, White, and O'Leary if the whole recon team got the same recognition. It cheapened the honor those three men deserved to be shown. The brass didn't seem to understand, sometimes, that handing out medals indiscriminately was a damned poor policy. It was individual achievement that they should have been recognizing…

"No thanks necessary, Lieutenant. You and your team went up against some pretty good odds, and you did your jobs well. The preliminary survey off Peleliu was some damned fine work."

"I suppose so, sir." His tone was neutral.

"Sounds like you don't agree, Lieutenant. What do you know about the op that I don't?"

Forsythe hesitated, then abandoned caution and plunged ahead. "Only this, sir. I think we could have for Yap…that was bad luck, pure and simple. House adds catch up with the best gamblers, Lieutenant, and we all knew that this mission was on high-stakes gamble."

"If you say so, sir," Forsythe responded, keeping his voice flat and level.

"Your report's been read by every level of brass from here to the Pentagon and back, and on one's suggested you could have done anything different. Chief Schroeder and the others missed their rendezvous and were captured-"

"I wish I could be sure of that, sir" Forsythe interrupted. "I mean, there's just something about not knowing what happened to Red that makes my gut churn every time I think about it."

"Oh, we know they were captured, Lieutenant. We intercepted Jap radio traffic and confirmed it. Three American swimmers were captured on the beach at Yap on August twentieth. So that much is sure."

"Do we know anything else, sir? About where they are now?"

Chapman shrugged. "Presumably they would have been sent to a POW camp somewhere. There's no way to be sure. And anything could happen in the meantime. POW life is no picnic. We do know they were questioned pretty thoroughly on Yap…and we know they didn't crack."


Chapman actually smiled. "More intercepted Jap messages. We picked up a detailed summary of what the command on Yap had learned of American UDT operations. They call us the Bakuhatai, which is Japanese for Demolition Unit. According to their information, each of our teams is equipped with four submarines called LVPs which deploy swimmers ten miles away from an objective and let them swim the rest of the way in. The Japs are now busy taking extra precautions against future infiltrations by our dreaded swimmers, but I don't think they'll accomplish much if they're out there looking for

Source: Purple Heart (Seals: The Warrior Breed, Book 2) by H. Jay Riker

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US reconnaissance of Yap in August of 1944:

Three Marine frogmen

UDT-10 and the USS Burfish SS-312 performed reconnaissance on the Islands of Peleliu and Yap in August of 1944. This was the first time Navy special forces deployed from a submarine. Indecision on the part of Navy high command created a need for more information on the two islands in order to determine which of the two was more suitable for invasion. Peleliu was scouted successfully on August 9. On the 16th, Yap was scouted, also successfully. On the 18th Gagil Tomil was scouted and a barrier reef was immediately found. Leaving the boat and one member behind, four members swam ahead, although one later returned, unable to handle the strong currents sweepingg the reef. The three remaining members were never seen alive again, and intercepted communications later indicated they had been captured by the Japanese troops manning the island. No record of them was ever found and it is thought they were put on a boat back to Japan that was subsequently torpedoed by an unknowing American submarine.

(After the war it was learned they were captured and executed after being tortured)

Due to the information this team gathered, the island of Yap was deemed too costly and was bypassed; without reinforcements the Japanese garrison on the island withered until the end of the war

Still looking over old records on a server in japan from 30th Special Base Force HQ station commander IJN Palau, and Lieutenant-General Sadae Inoue, IJA Command.

Sadae Inoue, is on recard for war crimes

Source: Leondus Hutchison

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From the book, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: June 1944-January 1945: The Palaus and Ulithi:

This was not corrected by the reconnaissance of Peleliu and Angaur by eleven UDT "frogmen" under Lieutenant C. E. Kirkpatrick, because they were interested only in the beaches. Departing Midway Island 15 July in submarine Burrfish, Lieutenant Commander W. B. Perkins, this team arrived off Peleliu on the 27th and cruised about the Palaus, taking photographs for over two weeks. On the night of 13 August, in the dark of the moon, Kirkpatrick's party went ashore in two rubber boats, landed on one of the beaches subsequently used in the assault, and observed its characteristics. After delivering data and photographs to submarine Balao for quick delivery at Pearl Harbor, Burrfish reconnoitered Yap; four men of the UDT who went ashore there never returned.

Source: History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: June 1944-January 1945: The Palaus and Ulithi.

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From: U.S. Army Special Operations Command Web Site:
Operational Swimmer Group I was placed on temporary duty with the US Navy in the Central Pacific. Providing the nucleus for an Underwater Demolition Team, the unit cleared the way for the amphibious landings at Peleliu, Anguar, Ulithi, Zambales and Luzon. Five operational swimmers from Group I served with a Special Reconnaissance Detachment, reconnoitering islands in the Western Carolinas for the 3d Amphibious Force. In August 1944, during a reconnaissance sortie on the Island of Yap, two operational swimmers and a Navy Chief were captured and executed.


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Declassified U.S.S. Burrfish Report:

The following report is dated 24 August 1944 from the Commanding Officer pf the USS Burrfish to the Commander of Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet. The report details the reconnaissance of Yap and Palue Islands and the loss of three UDT men on 19 August 1944.

Source: Mark Swank

Mark Swank lives in the Washington, D.C. area and is currently employed with Northrop Grumman IT as a Senior IT Database Consultant at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He currently supports both the MissingAirCrew ( and BentProp ( Projects to research, locate and repatriate MIAs from World War II through his research at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

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The Peleliu Case:

The Peleliu Case demonstrates the zeal that defense counsel brought to U. S. war crimes trials.7 In 1949 Lieutenant General Sadae Inoue, commander of the Palau Islands group, and his chief of staff, Colonel Tokuchi Tada, were tried for the execution of three U. S. POWs on the island of Peleliu. General Inoue admitted ordering the executions. Colonel Tada's defense was that he had argued against these executions and had treated American POWs humanely in the past. His defense counsel, U. S. Navy Reserve Commander Martin Carlson, managed to find an American journalist, Gwen Dew Buchanan, who had been a POW of the Japanese in Hong Kong when Colonel Tada was stationed there. She wrote of Colonel Tada's humane acts toward POWs in Hong Kong; Colonel Tada was released.

Source: Leondus Hutchison

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