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Fremantle, West Australia, USN Submarine Base


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Fremantle was the second largest submarine base after Pearl Harbour in the Pacific theatre with US, British and Dutch submarines operating from Fremantle during the war. US submarines operating from Fremantle accounted for approximately one quarter of all US submarine patrols in the Pacific.


At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour 29 US submarines were based at Manila, Philippines, as part of the United States Asiatic Fleet which were attacked by the Japanese on 10 December 1941. One of those, the USS Sealion (SS-195), was sunk while the remainder escaped to sea. From the Philippines, some these submarines escaped to the Dutch East Indies, from where they operated in the following two months. When the bases at Surabaya and Tjilatjap were also overrun by the Japanese, these submarines escaped further. Initially, Darwin was considered as a base but the facilities there were insufficient and within striking range of land-based Japanese aircraft.

Consequently,Fremantle, which was  out of reach of land-based Japanese aircraft became the main base of the US submarines with the first ten arriving by 10 March 1942. Apart from the US submarines, three Dutch submarines also arrived in Fremantle at the time, while four others of the Dutch submarines had escaped to Ceylon. Fremantle provided a safe, large harbour but had the disadvantage of being far away from the submarines' patrol areas and being difficult to reinforce should a Japanese attack take place. Despite this remoteness, experience taught the US command to be cautious and to split the submarines in Fremantle and send five of them and a submarine tender, the USS Holland (AS-3), even further south on 15 March now to Albany, where the Holland stayed for the next four months.


Following the retreat from the Philippines, Captain John E. Wilkes, who had supervised the retreat became the first commander of the submarines based at Fremantle.  Under Wilkes, the submarines heading out on patrol from Fremantle sank only a modest amount of tonnage but this was largely due to the fact that the boats were utilised for special missions rather than outright patrols and supplying and rescuing troops in the Philippines.

Wilkes was replaced by Captain Charles A. Lockwood on 22 May 1942. Lockwood's first task was to raise the morale of the submariners under his command which he perceived as being very low because of the constant retreat they had experienced until then. Lockwood's other tasks were to replace the aging S-boat submarines in his command with newer models and to deal with reliability issues with the Mark 14 torpedoes used, which were found to run deeper than set in trials ordered by him, causing them to miss their targets.

Altogether, 26 US submarines carried out 61 patrols from Fremantle during 1942, sinking 40 enemy ships in the process.


The first half of 1943 brought only limited success for the submarines based at Fremantle. The number of patrols per month remained low, at four. With the low number of patrols the number of sunken enemy ships was also low at a confirmed total of 19 with a tonnage of 87,350. Worse, with the loss of USS Grenadier (SS-210) which had to be abandoned by its crew after being damaged, the base also lost its first submarine. Attempts to establish a base further north, at Exmouth, to cut the necessary travel time to the patrol areas for the boats by two days each way, also failed because of unsuitable conditions and a lack of infrastructure there.

The second half of the year saw a turnaround of events for the Fremantle submariners. 32 patrols were conducted during the six months sinking 47 enemy ships with a tonnage in excess of 200,000, more than doubling the success rate of the previous six months. Having previously gone twelve months without a submarine loss, the second half of 1943 saw the disappearance of USS Grayling (SS-209), only three month after the Grenadier but, unlike the latter, the were no survivors of the Grayling.[


The first half of 1944 saw another increase in patrols, number of ships and tonnage sunk despite the fact that March because of the fears of attack saw few patrols go out. The number of submarine patrols from Fremantle was increased to an average of nine and 75 enemy ships were sunk in the period with a tonnage of almost 320,000. April 1944 saw the best monthly total so far, accounting for almost a third of the six month total.


After no submarine losses from Fremantle for almost a year July and August saw the loss of three submarines in quick succession, USS Robalo (SS-273), USS Flier (SS-250) and USS Harder (SS-257). Harder was lost without survivors while four of the crew of Robalo may have survived the initial sinking, but not captivity. Of the crew of Flier at least thirteen survived the initial sinking but only eight of those made it ashore. Uniquely, these eight were rescued and returned to Australia without ever falling into Japanese hands, being helped by Filipino Guerrilla fighters and picked up by another US submarine.


 1944 saw the arrival of British submarines at Fremantle, which previously had been engaged in the Mediterranean, then moved to Ceylon and finally to Western

British submarines smaller than their American counterparts were predominantly used in shallower water and against smaller craft which they attacked with their deck gun rather than torpedoes. This approach carried a number of risks, it being harder for a submarine to hide in shallow water and the gun crew being exposed to enemy defensive fire.

British submarines based in Fremantle were also heavily involved in special operations.

The second half of 1944 proved to be the pinnacle of the war efforts of the US submariners based in Fremantle. In 83 patrols, the boats sank 105 enemy ships at a combined tonnage of 445,000.


The first two month of 1945 saw a continuation of the success rates of 1944 for the Fremantle-based submarines, sinking 27 enemy ships with a total tonnage of 77,000. The following six months until the end of the war this dropped off however with exactly the same number of confirmed sinkings in the final half a year of the war for submarines from Fremantle, the number of larger enemy targets sharply dropping off during the final stage of the war. This figure does however not include craft under a tonnage of 500, which the Joint Army–Navy Assessment Committee did not count in this figure. Smaller craft of that size or below were often sunk with deck guns rather than torpedoes. There had been some reluctance to attack smaller craft earlier in the war but in 1944, the British Admiralty allowed the sinking of such vessels in the Far East. British submarines consequently sank 300 such craft in 1944 and another 400 in 1945. The US submarines accounted for 200 such vessels in 1944 but tripled this figure in 1945.


With the reconquest of the Philippines, US submarines returned to bases there. Subic Bay was first used in February 1945. Fremantle was still used as a base while Subic Bay with its very basic facilities was not a popular location for British and American submariners.


From 1942 to 1945, submarines based at Fremantle sank 377 ships, 340 of those sunk by American boats, this figure not including small craft. The combined tonnage of these 377 ships was 1,519,322 tons. The Japanese government and its leaders at the time ranked the destruction of the Japanese merchant navy through submarine warfare as one of the root causes for the country's defeat.  22 percent of all US submariners on patrol during the war lost their lives and only eight of the 43 US submarines lost during the Pacific War had survivors. When it was fully active the base saw 160 American, Dutch and British submarines pass through the harbour.

127 US submarines operated from Fremantle carrying out 353 patrols. Ten Dutch submarines also operated out of Fremantle and from August 1944, British submarines also started operating from the base. Submarines based in Fremantle accounted for 416 patrols during the war.

Of the US submarines operating from Fremantle eight were lost on patrol while a further ten formerly based at Fremantle subsequently were lost while on patrol from another base. One Dutch and one British submarine were also lost while operating out of Fremantle.


The American Naval Base was on the North Wharf of Swan River, while the British and Dutch occupied the southern Victoria Warf.  Drydocks and Submarine Tenders could handle even the worst of damage. Like Pearl Harbour the Navy rented  hotels the Wentworth, King Edward, Ocean Beach and Majestic for the submariners to stay in while they were on leave.  Private apartments  were soon rented too for certain officers and men.  In addition, many submariners reassigned to Perth multiple times made friends with the local residents and often stayed with their families.  The Navy purchased the entire output of a brewery, the Emu Brewery, which was rationed to the submariners when they came in port. 

The Australian military had largely left Australia to fight with Britain in 1939, but with the Japanese expansion many feared an imminent invasion so the addition of the US Navy was welcomed.  Since many young eligible men were at the war fronts in Europe and Africa local women enjoyed the influx of companions for dances, dates, and social events.  The Americans enjoyed the Australian company and there were a significant number of marriages between American sailors and Australian women.  This was one area where Fremantle outshone Hawaii, many veterans said that many of the women in Hawaii were already attached or married to sailors while a far lesser proportion of Australian women seemed to be similarly attached.

Fremantle became the most desired base to be placed between patrols.


Knowledge of its existence was very carefully guarded as a wartime secret, however, in August 1945, newspaper reports openly acknowledged the impact of the forces' activity.

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Samuel David Dealey (left), commander of the USS Harder (SS-257) a boat successful in six patrols until sunk by the Japanese with all hands lost in August 1944.



The Sub base at Fremantle, showing the Sub Tender Pelias surrounded by her sub charges

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The Fremantle war memorial on monument hill overlooks Fremantle harbour and was established by the Fremantle Town Council in 1928 to commemorate the losses of the First World War. It also remembers Australian losses in WW2, the Korean war, the Malayan emergency 1950-60, The Indonesian confrontation in Borneo 1964-66, Vietnam 1962-75.

 A 21-inch-diameter mounted torpedo dedicated to the memory of United States Navy submariners who died at sea during the Second World War was unveiled by Rear Admiral Herman J. Kossler on 8 September 1967 jointly financed by the City of Fremantle and the United States Submarine Veterans Association. 








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"E" Battery of the 2nd Battalion of the 197th Coast Artillery Regiment arrived in Fremantle on 23 March 1942 and manned a number of defensive position (50 Calibre machine guns) along the quay leading to the US Navy Fremantle Submarine Base.




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USS Cobia (SS/AGSS-245) is a Gato-class submarine, she did two war patrols from Fremantle.

Original ww2 patch [unfortunately not mine]





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In front of King Edward Hotel, Perth,Western Australia 1943 after USS BONEFISH's first successful war patrol.

GM1C(SS) C.R. Bartholomew and COB Chief Eugene Freaner, Chief Torpedoman(AA)

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Bowfin's (SS-287) crew receiving the Presidential Unit Citation from Admiral Christie upon return from the second War Patrol. Bowfin is moored alongside Orion (AS-18) in Fremantle.


Returning from war patrol.



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The U.S. Navy submarine tender USS Anthedon (AS-24) moored pierside at the U.S. Submarine Base, Fremantle, Australia, while tending submarines, 26 January 1945.

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Salvage Sailor

Fremantle was also the forward homeport of the Pacific Fleet submarine rescue ships (ASR) dispatched from Pearl Harbor & San Diego.


Shown below at Fremantle, the hard working USS CHANTICLEER (ASR-7).  Rescue, Salvage, Diving, Tug, Repair Tender & Firefighter all in one vessel.


uss chanticleer.jpg


Below:  Sailors and ships fight a dock fire, 17 January 1945. Submarine rescue ship in right center is either USS CHANTICLEER (ASR-7) or USS COUCAL (ASR-8). Photographed by USS EURYALE (AS-22).


80-G-264336 (1).jpeg



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1945: Victoria Quay Fremantle 

The three subsein the middle distance are US, the three farther back on the right appear to be British 'T's.


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RN T class submarine HMS Trenchant (P331) on a slipway in Fremantle 1945.

Trenchant operated in the Far East mostly off South East Asia against Japanese shipping sinking a range of vessels both transports and warships, using her torpedoes, gun and also by ramming. She often operated in company with her sister sub HMS Terrapin,  in 1945 they engaged and sunk the IJN CH-4 Class sub chaser CH-8 in a surface action with their deck guns.

On 23 September 1944 she sank the German submarine U-859 in the Straits of Malacca, by torpedoes. 11 of the crew were taken aboard as prisoners of war.

On 27 October 1944, "Chariots" carried into action by Trenchant sank a Japanese Army cargo ship, the Sumatra Maru in Phuket harbour, Siam.

Her most significant action during the war was on 8 June 1945, when she sank the Japanese cruiser Ashigara at a range of 4,000 yards with five out of eight torpedoes fired. The action in the Bangka Straits earned her commander a second DSO and the US Legion of Merit, and the ship the battle honour "Malaya 1944-45". The Ashigara had been carrying some 1,600 Japanese Army troops and materiel.

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 Refitted by depot ship USS PELAIS, USS BONEFISH returns from a 1600 mile patrol into the South China sea.

The RAN cruiser HMAS ADELAIDE can be seen berthed opposite in the middle distance, just left above BONEFISH's conning tower. Opposite her on the left side of the photo - is the US Navy's Auxiliary Repair Dock ARD10.


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Sept. 1945: Sub tender USS CLYTIE passes through the Fremantle boom.

From the crew crowding the decks that this could be the ship's final departure for home.

The 7150 ton Aegir Class submarine tender built was built by Pascagoula Shipbuilding Company in Mississippi, and had a short service life, commissioned on Jan 18, 1945 and arrived in Australia on Feb. 24 She was decommissioned and placed in reserve on Oct. 5, 1946.

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49602058546_86f53e662f_k.jpg.51c401868a23d86820ee20db03eecedd.jpgSouth Mole South South Mole breakwater, Fremantle, winches for the ww2 boom gate.

It was first of its kind in Australia  and used Electrically operated winches to open and close the Gate, a steel net supported by metal barrels. 

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US Navy 7 Naval Ammunition Depot (7 NAD) was located at Springhill near Northam, Western Australia. It was one of three US Naval Ammunition Depots developed across Australia during World War II to support operations in th South West Pacific.The USN purchased land at Springhill near the Australian Army Central Ammunition Depot and constructed a Naval Ammunition Depot  to supply ammunition to warships and in particular torpedoes for submarines of the US 7th Fleet operating from the newly established Fremantle Submarine Base. 7 NAD was attached to the 137 Ammunition and Ordnance Unit more commonly referred to as Navy 137, located predominately at Springhill except for a torpedo technical depot established in Subiaco in Perth becoming operational in July 1943. To facilitate the transfer of ordnance from Springhill, 100 kilometres to the harbour at Fremantle, magazines were also constructed at Fremantle (HMAS Leeuwin now Leeuwin Barracks) and Woodman Point. These technical workshops checked and readied the torpedoes for loading onto submarines in the Fremantle Harbour.


Navy 137 was used for the storage of torpedoes, naval and army gun ammunition, anti-tank mines and small arms ordnance with approximately 4,000 tons of ordnance being stored and maintained which arrived by rail from the Fremantle Harbour each rail load weighing 400 tons. 


7 NAD Springhill predominately stored the Mark 14 torpedo which was the primary submarine-launched, anti-surface ship torpedo used in World War II until the introduction of the electric Mark 18 Torpedo.  4,000,000 tons of enemy shipping were sunk by the Mark 14 torpedo. Originally introduced for use as mechanically set torpedo, the Mark 14 was modified for use with modern fire control systems and designated Mod 5.


 With the 109 ammunition structures there were 118 buildings within the depot.

The men attended dance nights at the Town Hall in Northam with a number of men commencing relationships with the local Northam women which developed into some of the first war brides to leave Australia.

One aspect of living in the depot was the swimming pool, the structure of which remains today. This concrete pool was apparently also used for diving training.



Ammunition Bunker No.26

1085464370_2880px-Concrete_reinforced_drums_US_Navy_7NAD_Springhill-2.jpg.36bece3a18a6b5de07e00d4e0cff7be5.jpgConcrete reinforced drums



Detonator Hut No. 2



Remains of swimming pool

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 Plaques in Kings Park which overlooks the City of Perth on the Swan River, a short distance away is Matilda Bay which was home to the Catalinas of the USN
Patrol Wing Ten/ Fleet Air Wing 10 (FAW-10) in WW2.

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