Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Capt. John P. Cromwell, USN, 1901-1943

John Cromwell was born in Illinois, but his heart took him from the midwest to the ocean. He graduated from Annapolis in 1924.

His initial sea service was on the battleship Maryland, but his abilities led to him being picked for the fledgling American submarine force. He served aboard, and commanded, some of the United States Navy's first large submarines.

After several tours at sea, Cromwell was selected for further training in the complex diesel engines that were critical to submarines of the pre-nuclear era. He rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a division commander.

WWII found now-Captain Cromwell in the Pacific, commanding submarine divisions 203, 43, and 44. His flagship was the U.S.S. Sculpin.

In November, 1943 Sculpin (commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Fred Connaway) put to sea with orders to rendezvous with the submarines Searaven and Spearfish to attack Japanese shipping. Upon arrival Cromwell would take command of the group.

The Americans were preparing to invade Tarawa island later that month. It would be a critical (and bloody) fight to wrest control of the central Pacific from Japanese forces. Cromwell was aware of the operation's details, and was also familiar with the top-secret American ability to read Japanese military codes.

On November 18, 1943, while en route to the rendezvous, Sculpin was preparing to attack a Japanese convoy. A damaged depth gauge, however, caused her to surface rather than go to periscope depth, and she came up directly in front of the Japanese destroyer Yamagumo. Although Connaway quickly dived again, it was too late. Yamagumo pounded Sculpin with a series of depth charges, causing severe damage.

With no way to escape, and more destroyers coming, Connaway decided to surface again and try to fight it out. The destroyer was ready. As the Sculpin came up, Yamagumo's first salvo killed her entire bridge crew (including Connaway) and those running to man the weapons.

Sculpin's surviving senior officer ordered the submarine scuttled, and the crew to abandon ship.

Captain Cromwell realized the secrets he knew could seriously jeopardize the American war effort. The Japanese couldn't be allowed to learn the invasion plans for Tarawa, or that the Americans had broken their codes. While he wouldn't voluntarily talk, there was no guaranteeing he might not break under torture or the influence of interrogation drugs.

He therefore decided to stay with Sculpin forever. He helped the crew abandon her, but made no move to leave himself. He was last seen standing in the control room, watching it fill with water.

His Congressional Medal of Honor was presented to his widow.


Anonymous said...


bobbie said...

Much man.

Saluting him, and the others we remember today ~

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your service to all Armed Forces personnel

Anonymous said...

Greater love hath no man, and all that...excuse me, I have something in my eye...both eyes...

Anonymous said...

Sadder postscript to this story: 42 survivors of the Sculpin were picked up by the attacking destroyer. 21 of the crew were later transferred to the carrier Chuyo, which was torpedoed by the USS Sailfish, killing 20 of the 21 POWs aboard.

The Sailfish was formerly known as the Squalus, which sank in 1939, and was later raised and renamed. Sculpin had come to her aid 4 years earlier, and her efforts led to the rescue of 33 of her men.

gin4407 said...

All heros.

Anonymous said...

Every time I'm reminded of the people who serve in uniform, all I can think is: we're not worthy.

Anonymous said...

Was walking around Arlington this past weekend.
The number of Congressional Medal of Honorees noted is both sobering and humbling.

Watching mid school teams place new wreaths at the tomb of the unknowns was an unexpected blessing.

Unknown said...

Very brave man in a company of brave men.
Gret story Dr G.

Chief Illiniwreck said...

Fred Connaway deserved the MOH more than Cromwell did. He knew his boat was lost, but did what he could to save as many of her crew as he could- over Cromwell's objections. But for Connaway's actions, the Sculpin would have been lost with all hands.

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