The four submarines were: USS Swordfish, on
active patrol near the islands; USS SeaDragon, on active patrol near the
islands, USS Seawolf, already outbound from Pearl Harbor, and the USS Trout,
dispatched express from Pearl to Corregidor Island.
The fact that Pearl Harbor was unaware of the
Securities on the island is reflected in the orders given to Cdr. Fenno of
the USS Trout. He was ordered to continue his assigned war patrol and was
not expected to deliver any cargo or individuals back to Pearl Harbor. As we
now know, Fenno did indeed continue his regular patrol, even as he carried a
10 million dollar cargo, sinking two Japanese vessels prior to arriving Back
at Base later in the month.
Up to this point there seems to be a lack of
clarity regarding just how much of the gold bullion portion of the
Philippine National Treasury was actually saved. The following quotation is
from an official Naval History regarding the days just prior to the arrival
of the USS Trout:
January 25, 1942
Navy Headquarters, Queen Tunnel
Rockwell called Champlin into his improvised office, swore him to secrecy,
and then told him that in the vaults on Corregidor there were about $ 40
million in gold bars. The Treasury official in charge of the gold, a man
named Willoughby, was very concerned about the capture of the gold and
had, with the blessing of the High Commissioner Francis Sayer the senior
US Government representative in the Philippines, appealed to the Navy for
help. The Commissioner’s office had contemplated sinking the gold in
relatively shallow water at some definitely fixed points with a view to
recovery after the island had been liberated. This confirmed in Champlin’s
mind that all talk of rescue was merely propaganda. Though he long
suspected this to be the case, it still came as a considerable shock to be
confronted with the hard truth of their predicament.
admiral said, "I want you to go to Willoughby. I have mentioned your name
already to him, and he is expecting you. You will offer to him the
complete and full cooperation of the Navy and speak as my representative.
You are to work and plan with him to any extent necessary to carry out his
desires and to preserve this money for the future use of the Philippine
and United States Governments. This is a matter of utmost secrecy".
hurried across to Malinta tunnel and sought out Willoughby. Sinking the
gold in carefully selected points in Manila Bay Champlin saw as presenting
insurmountable problems. "In the first case, it would have to be a
large-scale operation involving a considerable amount of men", Champlin
to raise the question of security", Willoughby agreed.
Champlin said, "there are problems over location. There are few places
where the bottom of Manila Bay is sandy, much of it is mud. It wouldn’t
take the Japanese long to work out the location".
Champlin said, "there is the question of the containers to be used. How
long will it be there? What effect will salt-water corrosion have on the
The two men
agreed to meet again the next day after they had given some more thought
to the question.
When they met the
next day Champlin was astounded to hear Willoughby announce that the
problem had been solved. "There’s nothing to worry about, Champ", he said.
"The High Commissioner presented the problem to General MacArthur at
dinner last night. He has offered to take full and complete responsibility
on behalf of the Army".
in a daze, returned to Queen Tunnel. He couldn’t see how the Army could
solve the problem but nevertheless reported this later development to
"That’s just big
talk, Champ", the admiral said. "Don’t worry, the problem isn’t solved
The accounts of the
conversation between Cdr. Frank Fenno, General MacArthur, and Admiral
Rockwell are taken from the combined interviews with Morris Solomon and
Admiral Frederick Gunn, (audio-tape interview, 1987).
According to Admiral
Gunn, he himself noticed two Philippine Scouts literally throwing gold
bricks over to the submarine crew from the dock. Cdr. Fenno was requested to
sign a receipt for dollar amount by the Treasury agents, but Fenno would
have no part of it. He eventually signed a receipt for the "number of ingots
and bags of coins" received onboard his vessel, he himself counting them
from his vantage point up on the conning tower as
they were brought down the various hatches.
Admiral Gunn, (at that
time a Lt.), was witness to this strange affair between Cdr. Fenno and
President Quezon. According to his eyewitness testimony Quezon was actually
attempting to board the Trout in an effort to leave the island. Cdr. Fenno’s
remarks to this were: "If we aren’t allowed to remove some of our Army and
Navy Nurses, what makes you think that we’re going to take you?"
There apparently was
also a small controversy over one missing gold ingot about the size of a
small matchbox when the shipment was finally re-inventoried on it’s arrival
at San Francisco. Many within the Navy Dept. believed that one of the crew
may have stolen the item. When Col. Willoughby finally arrived at San
Francisco a month or two later he quickly cleared up the matter by producing
the missing ingot from his briefcase. Evidently, the ingot had been dropped
on the floor of the vault at Corregidor during the transfer process, which
Willoughby found shortly after the Trout had departed the dock.