USS Grouper and the Lisbon Maru

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SS-214 USS Grouper

A new definitive publication of the Lisbon Maru by Tony Banham

SS 214 USS Grouper fired 6 Mk 14 torpedo's at the Lisbon Maru after tailing her for a long time.

At no time did her C.O see any sign that the Lisbon Maru was anything other than an armed merchantman.

USS Grouper's 2nd Patrol

On leaving "Pearl Harbour" on her second patrol on 28 August 1942, "USS GROUPER" under Lt.Commander Claren.E.Duke had her fist 'kill' on 21st September, when the "Tone Maru" crossed her sights. She was now hungry for more Japanese freight, lurking just South of SHANGHAI, when on the 1st October she sighted an unmarked 7000 ton freighter, the "LISBON MARU".

The Torpedo Attack

On the night of 30th September 1942, the U.S.S. "Grouper" (SS 214) of the 81 st division of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Force, was engaged in its second War Patrol in an area to the South of Shanghai. It was a bright moonlight night, and about 04:00 "Grouper" sighted about nine Sampans and a 7000 ton freighter, the "Lisbon Maru". Her C.O decided that it was too bright for a surface attack, so he paced the target in order to determine her speed and course. "Grouper" then took up station ahead of the "Lisbon Maru" waiting for daylight. During the course of this action "Grouper" passed within 4000 yards of two fishing vessels which were well lit. At daylight, the "Lisbon Maru" altered course about 500. The "Grouper" was surprised, and so dived to start her under water attack. At 07:04 "Grouper" fired three torpedoes at 3200 yards, her closest working range. None of which hit. The "Lisbon Maru" stayed on course, "Grouper" fired a fourth, and two minutes ten seconds later heard a loud explosion. "Grouper" came up to periscope depth and saw that the "Lisbon Maru" had veered about 500 to starboard and stopped. "Grouper" then lined up abeam to starboard of the "Maru" for a bow shot. "Grouper's Commander recorded "Target meanwhile hoisted flag resembling 'Baker', and was firing at us with what sounded like small-caliber gun. Sharp explosions all round us".

On board the "Maru" the P.O.W.s heard and felt the explosion. They did not know if the explosion, engine stoppage, and power failure was due to internal breakdown or external attack. The Japanese were shouting wildly, and seemed very agitated, pushing all prisoners on deck back into the holds, including some sick who were permanently on deck in isolation. Then the ships gun began firing.

By 08:45 "Grouper" was ready for a 00 gyro, 800 track, range 1000 yards, attack. "Grouper" fired a sixth Torpedo with a six foot depth setting, but again missed. The "Maru" meanwhile had listed slightly to starboard, so "Grouper" went round to her port side in order to let off a stern tube. At 09:38 "Grouper" fired at 1800 gyro, 800 track, at a range of 1000 yards at zero depth setting, diving to 100 feet immediately. There was a loud explosion 40 seconds later. Upon diving the Commander spotted a Mitsubishi Davai 108 light bomber overhead, two minutes later three depth charges exploded, with no damage reported.

The P.O.Ws. did not record this torpedo hitting, it may have been mixed in with the depth charges exploding nearby. "Grouper" came up to periscope depth, the ship had disappeared, but the plane was still in sight, leaving the Commander assuming he had done the job.

Petty Officer Telegraphist Alf Hunt G3CHU [ex Cicala and MTB 12] and Telegraphist Jack.H. Hughieson [MTB 08] survived.

S.S Lisbon Maru [7038 g.t]

  • Over 1800 allied Prisoners of War were crammed into the three holds of the Lisbon Maru.
  • The POWs were guarded by 25 Japanese guards under Lieut. Hideo Wada.
  • There were also 778 Japanese troops on deck.
  • Only 748 Allied prisoners returned to the UK alive.

The Aftermath almost 60 years on

The Japanese are now sending their students and teachers from schools, colleges, and universities over here to the UK to be lectured and educated by former British Prisoners of War, about the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army. Below is an account by Jack Hughieson [ex telegraphist HMS Cicala and MTB 08] who survived the "Lisbon Maru".

"We were invited to London during July to meet up with a party of Japanese school children, University students, and teachers who were over here to obtain as much information as possible, about the atrocities meted out to Prisoners of War in the Far East during the last War. The initial program was for three days with ex-POWs giving lectures of their experiences, followed by questions from the Japanese. It was so successful it was extended several days. Their interest in what happened during our captivity was quite overwhelming. Their determination to get the truth in every detail, taking notes for their return to their respective Schools/Universities made it all worth while. One of the days was spent in the Japanese Embassy, London where we discussed our treatment in the presence of the Japanese Ambassador. He introduced two former Japanese Servicemen who were involved in such treatment. One, an ex Imperial Army Officer who had served with the Japanese Imperial Army during the building of the infamous Burma Railway. The other was a Japanese ex Naval officer, who had served in the Battles around Singapore. The atmosphere was, for some time quite tense, particularly when, through an interpreter, they told their side of the story, most of which tallied up with ours. The ex Army Officer was on his knees crying and pleading guilty and asking for forgiveness. The ex Naval Officer spoke of the number of times he had to witness the terrible atrocities carried out by the Army as his ship handed back prisoners picked up at sea. The beatings and torture he saw as the prisoners landed on the quay side from his ship still lived with him".

FEPOW net on 3.627 Mhz at 09:15 [local UK time] every Wednesday

In the Annals of modern warfare the sinking of the "Lisbon Maru", as a result of which over 1000 officers and men lost their lives, does not perhaps rate very high as a horror story. There have been many incidents in which many more people have been killed in more brutal fashion. But it stands out as an unnecessary killing, of callous disregard for human lives which could have been saved.

Each of the survivors remembers with clarity his own part of this affair, but few know all the facts. The account which follows is based on the account by Martin Weeden in his book "Guest of the Emperor". The newspaper account of the War Crimes trials of the Japanese responsible; extracts from the log book of USS "Grouper" which torpedoed the "Lisbon Maru"; newspaper accounts of the presentation to the Sing pan Islanders who helped the survivors; The newspaper accounts of the "Japan Times Weekly" dated 20th October 1942; "The Knight of Bushido" by Lord Russell of Liverpool; personal accounts written at the time; and personal reminiscences. One matter should be placed beyond doubt. The official Japanese account quoted the survivors as voicing indignation against the American submarine which sank the "Lisbon Maru". This is quite untrue. The "Lisbon Maru" was armed, and carried Japanese troops as well as Prisoners of War. She bore no sign that she was a P.O.W. Ship. The American submarine was fully justified in sinking her, and I have never heard any criticism of the Americans for their action.

The affair is worth recording for one other reason. The gallantry of a number of individuals, and the high standard of conduct of all the men. Some individual acts are recorded in these pages, but there were many others of which I have no personal knowledge. The general steadfastness was due in large measure to the leadership of Lt.Colonal H.W.M. Stewart O.B.E. M. C. the Commanding Officer of the Middlesex Regiment (The Diehards).

G.C. Hamilton Hong Kong 1st February 1966

Barbed Wire

Research and web publication by Buddy Hide Jnr ©

The contents of this web site led to a considerable number of escapee families contacting me and now each other, and remains the principle source of contact and private information for the spin off projects that have followed. The personal accounts enabled me to record the complete and true account of this remarkable episode of Sino-British war time co-operation. The information compiled here has directly resulted in a museum exhibition in Hong Kong, a re-enactment of the escape in Hong Kong and China, with a movie drama and documentary in the making.

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