[On 7 December 2011, the author set out to game the entire WWII U.S. submarine campaign against Japan, in real time.
Every sub, every patrol, every attack.
This is the story of that game.]
By late April ’42 in the real world, the U.S. had lost five submarines in the Pacific. In that regard, at least, we have been very, very lucky.
Two of those five sub casualties were claimed in combat at sea, one was scuttled after being bombed in port, and two others were lost to mishaps that were not directly combat related. In contrast, going into the final week of April, only a single AL&SW boat had been lost—and that, all the way back in December, when the war was less than a full week old. We’ve had a few close calls, to be sure. But 60 boats have sailed in the Pacific Fleet, and after 18 weeks of sustained and intense combat operations, 59 of them remained in commission. A remarkable run. But this wretched month wasn’t finished with us just yet.
On 22 April, a land-based bomber surprised USS Thresher (SS-200) on the surface in the Marshall Islands operating area, two days after she’d embarked upon her fifth war patrol. The big American fleet boats were not quick divers, making the sudden appearance of enemy aircraft a constant worry. The Japanese plane dropped a string of bombs on the crash diving sub. One was a direct hit, or near enough: the sub’s pressure hull was fatally breached just aft of her conning tower. The sea poured through the wound as, for one last time, The Troublemaker slipped beneath the calm surface of the Pacific.
Her life and career were brief but spectacular. Thresher went down as unquestionably the service’s top performer. Just five days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she made the first American attack on a Japanese capital ship. She (wildly) missed a heavy cruiser, but (after narrowly avoiding disaster in the ensuing counterattack) she doggedly lined up a second attack on the same target—only to miss (wildly) again. Three weeks later she scored her first kill, sinking a target by gunfire (the only sub yet to do so). That put her in an early tie atop the leader board for number of ships sunk; she would never in her life relinquish that spot. Her war ended with five enemy ships sunk, totaling 24,000 tons.
On a personal note, Thresher’s loss affected me more than anything, good or bad, that I can ever remember happening in a game. It’s silly how emotionally invested we can get in these things, isn’t it? (Or maybe that’s just me, and my sentimental streak showing through.)
[If you’d like to see the full version of this entry, or read any of the earlier ones, please visit my blog, A Long and Silent War.]