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The Homefront, Then and Now

Sub Sees Train. Sub Sinks Same.

The USS Barb sank the most enemy tonnage of any US submarine during World War II.
July 18, 1945: In Patience Bay, off the coast of Karafuto, Japan, Commander Eugene ‘Lucky’ Fluckey’s submarine crew is hatching a plan. A railroad runs down the Japanese coast, and they watch trains shuttling military supplies. The men decide a shore patrol, under cover of darkness, could blow up the track with one of the sub’s 55-pound scuttling charges. But they want more: they also want to take out a train.

How can they do that and still return safely to the sub? Billy Hatfield, who had cracked nuts on railroad tracks as a kid, knows how. Train tracks always sag under the weight of the engine. If they hook a micro switch connected to the charge under one rail, he explains, the train will blow itself up.

All they need is a little cloud cover to darken the moon when they go ashore. The commander picks eight men from the many volunteers and they prepare and practice as they wait.

On July 22, 1945, clouds cover the moon. At midnight the Barb creeps within 950 yards of the shoreline, lowers small boats, and the saboteurs paddle for the enemy beach. Pulling ashore 25 minutes later, they cross a highway and reach the track. In another 20 minutes, with charges set and buried, they head back to the boats, and at 1:32 a.m. signal Fluckey they are on the water.

Fluckey has daringly, skillfully guided the Barb within 600 yards of the enemy beach. By 1:45 a.m. the boats are halfway back when a gunner warns, “Train!” “Paddle like the devil,” Fluckey yells, knowing they can never make it in time. Two minutes later the darkness is shattered by brilliant light. The boilers of the locomotive explode, shattered pieces of the engine blow 200 feet into the air. The freight cars telescope into each other and burst into flames. The jubilant crew pulls the saboteurs aboard and celebrates their victory as the Barb slips back to the safety of the deep.

September 2, 1945: Documents signed in Tokyo Harbor end the war in the Pacific. The Barb’s eight saboteurs had conducted the only ground combat operation on the Japanese homeland during World War II. More significantly, Fluckey's aggressive style of fighting resulted in his ship sinking the most enemy tonnage of any US World War II submarine. In 1997, Fluckey wrote of his war experiences in the book, Thunder Below. It is still in print. For more information, see Wikepedia: USS Barb or Eugene B. Fluckey.

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