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The Ensign & the USS Grunion, Part 2

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U.S.S. Grunion

On the morning of Wednesday, 30 September 1942, Postmaster and Mrs. W.H. Cuthbertson received a telegram from Washington their son which said:

"The Navy department deeply regrets to inform you that your son, Ensign William Hugh Cuthbertson Jr., United States Naval Reserve, is missing in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country. The department appreciates your great anxiety but details are not now available and delay in receipts thereof must necessarily be expected. To prevent possible aid to our enemy, please do not divulge the name of his ship or station."


The Navy reported Grunion and her crew of 70 submariners overdue from patrol and presumed lost on 5 October 1942.


Grunion's name was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 2 November 1942. A year later in September 1943, the Cuthbertsons received word that their son, previously reported missing in action, was now officially listed in government records as deceased. The letter, signed by Commander A.C. Jacobs, head of the casualties and allotments section of the Navy, contained the information that Ensign Cuthbertson was lost in the Aleutian-Alaskan area. It read:

"After a full review of all available information, the Secretary of the Navy is reluctantly forced to the conclusion that your son, Ensign William Hugh Cuthbertson Jr., United States Naval Reserve, is deceased, having been reported missing as of Aug. 1, 1942, while serving aboard the USS Grunion when that submarine was lost in the Aleutian-Alaskan area."


For the family members of the Grunion's crew, they would always wonder what had happened to the sub and their loved ones.


Captured Japanese records showed no antisubmarine attacks in the Kiska area, and the fate of Grunion remained a mystery for 65 years.


In 1998, retired Air Force Colonel Richard Lane found a piece of paper among cluttered World War II artifacts in an antique store in Denver, Colorado. It was written in Japanese and had a wiring diagram for a deck winch on a cargo ship named the Kano Maru. Lane purchased the paper for $1 and took it home. He then forgot about it.


In the summer of 2001, Lane came across the paper again. He searched for any information about the Kano Maru, but was unsuccessful. On 7 September he posted images of the diagram on J-aircraft.com, a website popular with military history buffs, asking if anyone knew anything about the Kano Maru. Lane was not optimistic that he would receive a response.

Kano Maru

However, much to his surprise, he received a response the next day. Yutaka Iwasaki, a Japanese historian and journalist wrote that the Kano Maru had been a supply ship. He also included a translation of an obscure article by Captain Seiichi Aiura, the ship's captain in 1942. In it Seiichi detailed a battle that took place off Kiska Island on 30 July 1942 (the date was actually 31 July because Japanese records were dated according to Tokyo time) between the Kano Maru and an American submarine. According to the report, the submarine fired up to seven torpedoes at the ship. One managed to cripple the Kano Maru, three missed and two hit the ship, but failed to detonate. Seiichi wrote that the sub began to surface, at which point Kano Maru's forecastle gun fired and a short reportedly struck the sub's conning tower. At that point, Seiichi said he heard a "dull but loud thud" just after the shot from the ship's deck gun hit the sub. Word of this action was reported to the Japanese Fifth Fleet and the Chief of the Grand Fleet via the fifth guard troop Commander (Kiska Island) but apparently was lost in transit somewhere, which is why there was no record of the attack in the official Japanese records after the war.


Believing that this new information could be important to family members of the sub's crew, Lane posted it on COMSUBPAC, a U.S. Navy website that had a Grunion page. It was eventually seen by Bruce Abele, one of the sons of Grunion's commanding officer, Mannert Lincoln "Jim" Abele in 2002. Over the next several years, the search for additional evidence about the sub's final moments and its possible location picked up.


In August 2006, Bruce Abele and his brothers Brad and John Abele hired Williamson & Associates of Seattle to conduct sonar scans off the Aleutians, spanning an area about 250 square miles. An Alaskan crabbing boat, the Aquila, ferried the equipment. "They were sending us e-mails every day, and I was getting up at 2 o'clock in the morning to see what was going on," Bruce says. A week into the search, scans detected a long, narrow silhouette 3,200 feet deep. Although it was 20 feet shorter than Grunion, the object appeared to have a curious appendage resembling propeller guards found on submarines of that type. Certain that they had found what they were looking for, the brothers sent Aquila back a year later, this time with an ROV (remotely operated vehicle). Almost right away, it returned images of a badly damaged submarine: a 50-foot section of its bow missing, exposed pipes and hoses, interior bunks and a dive wheel, an aft battery hatch blown wide open. With water pressure at 1,300 pounds per square inch, Grunion had imploded.


After an extensive examination of the historical and underwater archaeological data by the Naval Historical Center (now the Naval History and Heritage Command), Rear Admiral Douglas J. McAneny, ComSubPac, verified that the wreck is the Grunion in a statement issued on 2 October 2008. A memorial ceremony was hosted by USS Cod Submarine Memorial in Cleveland, Ohio, on 11 October 2008.


Over ten years later, Project 52 Lost  announced the discovery of Grunion’s bow on 30 July 2019. The missing bow section was located a one-quarter of a nautical mile (0.29 mi) from the rest of the submarine on a slope of an underwater volcano at a depth of over 2,000 feet.


Although it is not absolutely certain, the evidence strongly suggests that Grunion was lost as a result of multiple torpedo failures during her encounter with Kano Maru.


Presumably, on 31 July 1942 Grunion spotted Kano Maru and made at least four torpedo attacks. At 5:47am, a torpedo hit Kano Maru's starboard engine room, causing the loss of electric power and communications. Two more bounced harmlessly off Kano Maru without exploding. However, the remaining torpedo missed its target and circled back, striking the periscope supports on the submerged submarine without exploding. This is allegedly the "dull but loud thud" that Kano Maru's captain reported hearing. The damage the torpedo inflicted, combined with a jammed rear dive plane, triggered a sequence of events that caused the loss of depth control. Grunion lunged below her maximum operational depth, and at about 1,000 feet would have imploded. What remained of the ship struck the seabed, breaking off about 50 feet of her bow. The wreckage then slid two-thirds of a nautical mile (0.77 mi) down the side of an extinct volcano, coming to rest on a notch in the underwater mountain.

Lost 52 Project's 3D archeological photogrammetry model of the U.S.S. Grunion

When Grunion left Pearl Harbor on 24 May 1942, Ensign William Hugh Cuthbertson, Jr. was unaware that his wife Dorothy was pregnant. Six months after he was declared missing in action and presumed dead, his daughter Nancy Lee was born on 27 January 1943. Dorothy never remarried and died on 21 December 1989 at the age of 73. When Nancy learned of the Grunion's discovery, she said, "It is very sad. But it is a sense of relief because we can say that now we know."


Questions still surround what exactly transpired aboard Grunion before it sank, but at last the grave site of its crew is known. Now Ensign Cuthberston and his 69 fellow crewmembers are on "eternal patrol."




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