Daily Event for December 9

December 9, 1942 off the island of Guadalcanal the Japanese submarine I-3, a 320' J-1 type, broke the surface on a mission to deliver several high ranking personnel. As the sub sat in the dark two US PT boats were searching the waters in the hope of giving her an surprise reception. The welcome committee consisted of Jack Searles and his PT-59 and Frank Freeland and his PT-44. A message had been intercepted by the U.S. placing the submarine there at 2 a.m. and Searles, Freeland and their crews were ready.

When the submarine was located the two PT's were about 1,500 feet apart and the target was right in the middle of them. Freeland was unable to fire on the sub, but Searles was in position. He ordered two torpedoes launched. Luck must have played a roll because the PT-59 was very close to the I-3, but soon after launch one of the torpedoes slammed into the I-3 sending her to the bottom. The normal crew of a J-1 type submarine was sixty eight. How many were aboard the night of Dec. 8 is not known to me. Only four of her crew, the Chief Gunnery Officer and three seamen, survived. They managed to escape the sinking sub and join the Japanese forces on Guadalcanal.

After the mission Searles and Freeland were discussing the action and Searles wondered aloud what had happened to the other torpedo. He could not believe it missed at such close range. Freeland told him the fish had gone under the sub. He knew this because he saw the torpedo pass under his PT boat soon after the explosion.

There were four J-1 type Japanese submarines built, none survived the war, all being sunk by US forces.

The PT-59 was later involved in a rescue of some fifty US Marines who were surrounded on Choiseul Island. Two PT's, one of them PT-59 was sent to the island to pick up the Marines, even though the 59 only had enough fuel to make it to the island, they would have to be towed back. When they arrived on the scene the Marines were being removed by a LCRP, but it had ripped a hole in her bottom and was sinking. Every man on the LCRP was transferred to the PT-59 before the LCRP went under.

The wounded Marine, Corporal Edward J. Schnell, was taken to the commanders bunk and watched over by Lt. John Stevens, a medical officer. Schnell died of his wounds at about 1 A.M. Nov. 3, 1943. The PT-59 was towed back to her base and the Marines disembarked. Major Bigger and Dr. Stevens did not know at the time the names of the men on the PT boat that rescued them, many years later they found out. The crew of the PT-59 included John E. Maguire, Edgar E. Mauer, Maurice L. Kowal, Edmund T. Drewitch and Leon Drawdy, under the command of one John F. Kennedy.

All these men had served with Kennedy on the PT-109. Maguire and Mauer were with Kennedy when the 109 was sunk. (Kowal, Drewitch and Drawdy all having been injured before the 109 was sunk and were not on board at the time.)

© 2005 Michael W. Pocock

An Elco 77' PT boat (same type as PT-59)


Lt. Jack Searles