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USS Grunion Found?

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Postby TMSmalley » Mon Aug 21, 2006 9:31 am

After six decades, a submarine's fate may surface
By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff | August 17, 2006

There was no distress call, no indication of enemy depth charges exploding or bulkheads breached, just a dead silence that stretched from a few days into 60 years.

The USS Grunion disappeared in July 1942, leaving 70 American families grieving and the three sons of skipper Mannert L. ``Jim" Abele, without a father. Abele's boys -- ages 5, 9, and 12 and living in Newton when their father disappeared -- grew up and built their own lives. But, they dwelt on the fate of their father. At 2 a.m. yesterday, a grainy sonar picture e-mailed via satellite appeared in Bruce Abele's inbox, appearing to finally show what they had been searching for much of their adult lives: the outline of an oblong object believed to be the Grunion deep in frigid Alaskan waters.

If the discovery is confirmed, it would signify a triumph of luck and perseverance and put to rest a quest for clues, financed by the personal fortune of one of the Abele sons, that has spanned decades.

``It's big, very big," 76-year-old Bruce Abele, the eldest of the three sons, said yesterday. ``This mystery has been a part of my consciousness for as long as I can remember."

The Grunion, one of the Gato-class attack submarines commissioned in the early part of World War II, was on its maiden operational voyage when it disappeared while patrolling the seas between Alaska's tip and Japan, according to a Navy website.

The submarine made several transmissions in July 1942, reporting it had sunk three Japanese destroyers. On July 30, it reported heavy antisubmarine activity nearby and said it had 10 remaining torpedoes. It was never heard from again. Warplanes searching for wreckage never found any evidence of the sub's fate.

For years, the sons -- Bruce, Brad, and John, who is founder of Boston Scientific Corp. -- have pored over Navy documents, any shipping records of the area they could locate, and contacted others interested in the Grunion's fate. John Abele, a billionaire, has paid for much of the search. He declined to say how much he's spent.

The effort wasn't made any easier by the brutal seas around the Aleutian Islands, widely considered some of the most dangerous in the world, with winds that can howl at 100 miles per hour, waves taller than a house, and ocean depths of 1,800 feet and greater. Any search mission would have to know where to look, since a long scouting voyage would be dangerous and expensive.

A break came in 2002, when a Japanese man, Yutaka Iwasaki, posted a translation of an article in an obscure Japanese shipping journal on one of several websites dedicated to the Grunion. The article, written by a military officer on board an armed Japanese merchant ship, the Kano Maru, described an exchange of cannon fire and torpedoes with an American submarine in an area where the Grunion would have been patrolling.

Iwasaki's involvement changed everything, John Abele said yesterday. Not only did the brothers have a place to look for their father's submarine, but they also had newfound friends from the other side of the war. They were so inspired by the cooperation they received from Iwasaki and others in Japan that they decided to expand the search to find two Japanese sub-chasers, SC-25 and SC-27, that were sunk by the Grunion and to find the Arare, a Japanese destroyer that went down in the same area.

``This has been a very emotional thing for a lot of us," John Abele said.

After four years of research, the brothers finally decided they could make a good enough guess at probable locations to start looking, with John Abele deciding to fund the search himself.

After a discussion with renowned Titanic explorer Robert Ballard, who declined to take on the exploration, the brothers hired a Seattle ocean surveying firm, Williams and Associates. They also chartered a crab fishing boat, the Aquila, skippered by a seasoned veteran of the dangerous waters, Kale Garcia. The family is represented on the boat by Peter Lowney, a former Newton resident and crab boat crewman who is chronicling the search with a pair of high-resolution video cameras and sending back frequent updates.

The search, with sonar equipment capable of returning high-quality images, began two weeks ago. The boat traversed a grid, seeing nothing but sonar images of the ocean floor.

Then they saw on the screen a smooth, oblong object with features that could be a tower and periscope mast.

With no other submarines they know of reported sunk in the area, they concluded it must be the Grunion.

John Abele said that the brothers will fly to Alaska next week on his private jet to tour the area and meet with the survey crew. They said they will probably return to the site next year and send an unmanned, remote-control device beneath the waves to get a closer look at the object and take pictures.

Jack Green, a historian at the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C., said yesterday the Navy has been aware of the Abeles' quest for the Grunion. Green said the Navy rarely helps with such searches and is unlikely to aid in theirs unless the brothers provide more proof than a sonar image.

``But this is very, very exciting," he said. ``We'll be very excited to see what they come up with."

While photographs could finally solve the puzzle of what actually happened to the Grunion, John Abele said the brothers' motivations are much more personal.

``We're doing this as much from a desire for connection with my father as to learn the answer to a mystery," he said.
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Postby Kwakelee » Thu Aug 24, 2006 8:54 am

Article in The New London Day:

Book May Finally Close On Sub Lost In WWII
Relatives Await Word: Is Wreckage Off Alaska that Of USS Grunion?
By Richard Rainey
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Published on 8/24/2006 in Main Photo » Main Photo

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More info about this image by Special To The Day
• The submarine USS Grunion (SS-216) shortly after its completion by Electric Boat in 1942.
• Lt. Cmdr. Mannert L. Abele

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The USS Grunion slid into the Thames River for the first time three days before Christmas 1941. Seven months later, the Gato-class submarine vanished into history.

Last week, however, the lonely pings of sonar off the Alaskan coast echoed across 64 years of silence, revealing the shadowy outline of a previously undiscovered submarine resting on the ocean floor.

If it can be confirmed that the image is the Grunion, brothers Bruce, Brad and John Abele will finally know the fate of their father, Lt. Cmdr. Mannert L. Abele, who was the skipper of the sub.

“It's a feeling that, unless you've gone through it, you can't explain it,” Bruce Abele, 76, said Wednesday after returning home to Newton, Mass., from a weeklong expedition to the Aleutian Islands, an archipelago where the Grunion had been sent to patrol in the summer of 1942.

Bruce Abele worked hard to contain his excitement.

“We're optimistic, but we have to be very careful,” he said.

The loss of the Grunion, made official in August 1942 by the U.S. Navy, reverberated throughout southeastern Connecticut. Many of the crew, including the Abele family, had ties to the area. The submarine had been built by Electric Boat in Groton.

The United States would lose 52 submarines during the war. The Grunion was the seventh.

On May 24, 1942, the captain of the Grunion sat down for dinner with his family at the Groton base, according to a written account by his son, Brad Abele. It would be the last time they were together.

The next day, the Grunion secretly set sail for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. According to a Navy Web site, the submarine was assigned to patrol the waters off the Aleutians, a chain of islands southwest of Alaska. There it sank three Japanese vessels.

On July 30, as it patrolled off the coast of Kiska Island, the Grunion reported it had 10 torpedoes remaining and that the Japanese navy was engaged in heavy anti-submarine activity nearby. Then the Grunion's radio went silent. The 70 men aboard were never heard from again.

The latest unraveling of the Grunion's fate began four years ago in the cluttered interior of a Colorado antiques shop, according to Bruce Abele.

There, a retired Army officer found an old wiring diagram of a Japanese merchant vessel. Sensing the document's importance, the officer posted it on the Internet, Abele said.

Yutaka Iwasaki, a Japanese historian, responded to the officer's query. He identified the diagram as belonging to the Kano Maru, a Japanese merchant frigate famous for its role in the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

Iwasaki recounted a confrontation between the Kano Maru and a submarine in late July 1942, off the shores of the Aleutians, Abele said. Torpedoes struck the Kano Maru's hull and the frigate returned fire, shooting at the submarine's conning tower. Silence followed and the Kano Maru limped home for repairs.

The report had many convinced that the submarine in question was the Grunion.

The Alaskan expedition used Iwasaki's report to zero in on its target. The spot was remote. The closest town, Adak, Alaska, had been mostly abandoned. The next-closest town with an airport, Cold Bay, Alaska, was 500 miles away.

But almost a mile beneath the ocean's surface, resting on the side of a steep underwater hill, a submarine's outline could be detected. The image included a large bar that ran the length of the propeller, a feature unique to Gato-class submarines.

“I liked that a lot — that was really significant,” Abele said. “But you have to remember that optimism can cloud the mind.”

Abele said researchers will send unmanned submersibles down to the site to take photographs sometime in the next year.


“You should have many children.”

That advice was the last Lawrence Kockler bestowed on his sister.

“And at the time I was three months pregnant, but he didn't know it and I didn't know it,” Kockler's sister, Doris Burr of Madison, recalled Wednesday.

Kockler, a torpedoman's mate aboard the Grunion, left his Hamden home for the last time in the spring of 1942. He was married just weeks before the Grunion set sail, Burr said.

“It was hard on the family,” she said.

The Grunion and its crew had strong ties to southeastern Connecticut.

Metalworkers at EB laid the Grunion's keel on March 1, 1941. The 312-foot submarine hit the water just two weeks after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 of that year.

The Gato class, which would include 77 ships, became the backbone of the American submarine fleet during the war and the last to run on diesel before the introduction of nuclear power. At a production zenith, EB was building them at a clip faster than a ship a month.

The search for relatives of the 70 men lost rests mostly with two women, Rhonda Raye and Vickie Rodgers. Since Aug. 1, the two have scoured the Internet, mailed countless letters, fielded early-morning phone calls and exhausted phone directories trying to locate the families.

For Rodgers, whose great-uncle went down with the Grunion, the project gives the men a shot at immortality.

“It kind of gives life to these guys again,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Kentucky.

An article published in The Day on Oct. 5, 1942, lists four sailors from the area who were serving on the submarine: John W. Nobles of Navy Heights, Leo Bedard of Taftville and M.D. Graham and M.J. Ledford, both of New London.

Kockler left the Navy in November 1941 only to re-enlist after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I don't even know if his discharge cleared, it was that quick,” his brother, William Kockler of North Carolina, said Wednesday.

Burr, 84, heeded her brother's familial advice.

“I had five more (children) after that,” she said.

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