A Chivo Sea Story....
10 years ago RM3(SS) Donald H. Boberick 1947 sent me a story about Chivo's rescue of an Air Force C-54 crew downed in the Pacific. Since then it's been posted on our web site without much comment. Recently I received the following amazing emails from one of the men that were rescued:
A Chivo Sea Story by Donald H. Boberick
|Donald H. Boberick RM3(SS) 1947 was a frequent contributor to our collection of CHIVO photographs and memorabilia. In fact, one of his many contributions, a periscope photo taken off San Clemente Island, is continuously displayed on the web page that introduces the CHIVO photo section. Unfortunately, the man who takes all the photos is himself seldom photographed. So I don't have a picture of Don, and he was unable to attend our reunion in 2001 due to ill health. Sadly he departed on Eternal Patrol on 11 January 2002. Before his death, Don sent me the following sea story.|
The lifeguard story about CHIVO's rescue of a C-54 crew has remained largely untold outside of official naval records and a small town newspaper story until 1999 (long live the Internet) when Jim Hunicutt posted a message on a submarine bulletin board asking for any information about the USS Chivo and rescue of a C-47 [sic] crew in the fall of 1947? While most of the story has since been related in responses from former crewmembers to Jim's post, the full story of the rescue has never emerged in any articles. While there does exist a story article on the Internet with a similar title, that article itself tells no more about the rescue episode than
"After our stop in Fiji, while enroute to Guam, we were diverted to pick up the downed fliers. [T]hey were carrying rakes, hoes, and seed for Korea when they went down."The story of this lifeguard rescue deserves more than just cursory mention. That will now be done, based upon my recollections of the occurrence and those of some former shipmates, Bill Harvey, Bill Whitney and Gino D'Angelo.
Rescue of survivors of downed C-54
SUVA, FIJI - In August 1947 Chivo deployed to West Pacific - Hawaii, Fiji, Guam, Saipan, and Sasebo and Yokosuka, Japan. After calling at Suva, Fiji, USS Chivo departed on Saturday, September 20, 1947 enroute to Apra Harbor, Guam.
|Two employees of the Suva Water Department came to the pier on Saturday morning, September 20, 1947, to offer their "bon voyage" to Chivo.|
"MAY DAY" CALL - After Chivo reached a position approximately 600 nautical miles southeast of Truk Island, on Tuesday, Chivo was informed by ComSubPac of a MAY DAY call received at Johnstone Island, from an Army Air Force C-54 aircraft, to the effect that the aircraft was ditching in the Ocean. ComSubPac requested our current position. It was then concluded by ComSubPac that Chivo was the ship closest to the vicinity of the downed aircraft, and Chivo was ordered to make best possible speed to attempt a rescue of the crew. Chivo began navigating toward the position of the ditching at flank speed (20 knots) for what would eventually be a 26-hour run.
Later that day ComSubPac advised Chivo that survivors in a life raft had been located by a search B-29 aircraft from Guam, and that the aircraft had parachuted a "Higgins Boat" down to the survivors, and that they had successfully transferred from their rafts to the Higgins boat.
Chivo continued its high-speed traverse toward the East Carolinas Islands. What Chivo did not know at that time was that the survivors in their raft had drifted South of their last known position, but then after the Higgins boat (a vessel specially equipped with a sail, centerboard, hand powered LF "Gibson Girl" radio transmitter, water canisters, and food rations) was attained by the airmen they had rigged the sail and began a slow sail back toward the direction of Guam.   Both vessels were now on generally convergent courses.
Around sunset on Wednesday, Chivo - believing it was getting close to the calculated position where the airman might be found - set up a Radio Direction Finder (RDF) on the bridge to hopefully tune in on any radio signals coming from the crew's Gibson Girl transmitter. Also, extra lookouts were posted. Darkness that night was complete, with good visibility but no discernable horizon. No emergency radio signals were being received on the RDF (I was manning that particular equipment). After several hours of futilely looking toward the dark seas, several persons on the port side of the bridge, including me, spotted an intermittent white light about a mile distant on Chivo's port beam. After we were convinced that we had seen the white light on two or more occasions, the OOD ordered a change of course toward where we had seen the white light, although we were still several miles from the air crew's calculated position.
Moments later a Lookout spotted an unlighted "whale boat" (the Higgins boats were of a like design to the Navy's venerable Whale boat) just a few yards ahead on our starboard bow. It was six airmen from the C-54, and they were under sail in moderate seas. We had nearly run over them in the darkness, as they had no lights showing.
Chivo was maneuvered so as to place the Higgins boat (sans sail) on the leeward side of Chivo and effect the retrieval of the survivors. As I recall, the seas were much less than tranquil that night, and there were several times when we all held our breath as the airman were either hauled aboard whenever the Higgins was below our deck plates, or they would jump aboard as the Higgins boat rose to the level of our deck. Each aircrew member was wearing a Mae West life vest and some were armed with .45 cal automatics.
Almost immediately after the first few survivors came aboard Chivo, we began asking them about another boat or raft nearby with other survivors not in their boat. We were still thinking about that "white light" that we had seen earlier, and that we had suspected was also with survivors aboard. The pilots told us that the six individuals were all that comprised the aircraft's crew and knew nothing of any other raft or vessel that might be in the area.
|Co-pilot's Mae West life vest. Manufactured by United States Rubber Co., June 23, 1944.|
Although everyone on board Chivo, who had seen the mysterious white light, were certain that each had seen it, no one ever learned what that mysterious light might have been or whether it had truly been there in the first place.
When all the airmen were safe, many of us who were on the deck for the rescue thought it appropriate to ask them if they would provide us with personal items as our "booty" for the open sea rescue. A couple of the officers were given any sidearm the aircrew had and several others of us were given the Mae West Life Jackets worn by the crewmen during the ditching and eventual rescue. I received the Mae West life vest from the co-pilot, which I still have in my possession, some 54 years later. I am looking for an appropriate repository for that vest but so far have not found any lifeguard group or submarine museum that wishes to have it. Above is a scanned image of that life vest.
A day two after accomplishing the rescue Chivo was directed to rendezvous with a Navy sea-going tug who would take all of the air crewmen aboard that vessel and transport them back to Guam. We gave up the airmen to the tug and continued ourselves on our simulated war patrol and toward Guam. After transferring the aircrew to the tug we received, on September 26, 1947, the following radio communiqué from Commander Submarine Marianas Area:
The message pictured here is a scanned image of one of an original carbon copy of that message. I have no recollection of who transcribed the CW radio message. It could have been me, Gino D'angelo, or another member of the radio gang. All that I remember is that I kept one of the triplicate copies of the message and have retained it.
In recollecting the incident both Gino and Bill Harvey recall that the C-54 had been carrying farm implements to Asia. One recalls the aircraft's destination as China, and the other, as Korea.
When Chivo arrived at Apra Harbor in Guam there was no Navy or Army Air Force entourage at the pier to greet us - a fact that made the Captain understandably unhappy. As I recall, however, the Air Force did later throw a party for the crew at Harmon Field, the headquarters for the 20th Army Air Force.
Here, in part, is how this story was told by The Bakersfield Californian in October 1947 in the then hometown of Bill Harvey:
"Billie A. Harvey, seaman first class, former mailroom clerk at The Bakersfield Californian, who is serving aboard the submarine U.S.S. Chivo, is a member of the crew which recently rescued six survivors of an army C-54 transport plane after making an all-out 28-hour dash to reach them in waters off the Carolina Islands."
After several weeks in Guam and Saipan playing "target" for Navy and Marine pilots training to develop their anti-submarine warfare skills, Chivo proceeded with the remainder of its scheduled itinerary to Japan, returning to San Diego via Pearl Harbor around November 30, 1947.