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A submarine, blacked out and silent, lay tied to a pier. The location was Corregidor and the time -- early 1942. USS Trout had just completed the first leg of a war patrol that had started in Pearl Harbor days previously, and was anxious to be away from the "Rock" before dawn revealed her position to the attacking Japanese. But before she could leave the island, Trout needed ballast. After a few hurried phone calls, the ballast began arriving on the pier, small bars of metal with numbers imprinted on the side. Each weighed almost forty pounds. As the bars were passed one by one down into the illuminated interior of the boat, the working party saw that the metal bars reflected a soft burnished yellow color. Soon the ballasting was finished and Trout was off, seeking refuge on the bottom of Manila Bay. To the men of Trout each bar represented forty pounds of badly needed ballast. To a banker, each bar would have represented almost $23,000 worth of gold.

The Philippine Islands lay on the eastern flank of Japan's lifeline to the southern resources area. Occupation of the islands by the Japanese was necessary if Japan was to exercise control over the Western Pacific. On 10 December 1941, the Japanese made their initial amphibious landings on the north side of Luzon at Vigan and Aparri. On 23 December, General Douglas MacArthur, realizing that he would be unable to hold the enemy in the north, ordered the forces under his command to begin falling back toward Bataan.

Luzon was under blockade by air and sea. Munitions, food and supplies soon became crucially scarce commodities. For every surface vessel that succeeded in running the blockade, two more were sunk by enemy action.

By January 1942 the situation on Bataan was hopeless, and the island fortress of Corregidor became the last U.S. foothold against the invading forces from the north. The island stood guard at the entrance to Manila Bay.

On Corregidor, probably the most famous defensive feature was the man-made rock tunnel near the middle of the tadpole-shaped island. Opening to the north and south side of the island, the tunnel became an underground storehouse for the Philippine and U.S. Forces.

On December 28th, news of the evacuation of Manila and the transfer of General MacArthur's headquarters to Corregidor, reached Japanese Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, commanding officer of the Japanese Fourteenth Army. General Homma ordered Lieutenant General Hideyochi Obata's Fifth Air Group to begin operation against the island with support from the Japanese Navy's Eleventh Air Fleet. Corregidor still had to be taken, as well as the islands south of Luzon, before Japan could integrate the Philippine Island archipelago into the Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

By night and day the island of Corregidor was pounded from overhead and by artillery fire from Cavite on the mainland. Life on the "Rock" was nearly unbearable. Even the rock-hewn tunnel trembled from interminable bombardment. The laterals of Malinta Tunnel became the refuge for the personnel on the island. Their number increased every night with the secret transfers of evacuees from Bataan and Manila across the bay.

Topside, the men at the guns took the real punishment as they watched and waited to make a hit on the Japanese bombers. Their bravery was incredible. The gunners did well with what they had. On the action of the first day, the score for the 3-inch mounts was thirteen medium bombers. The Japanese pilots learned to respect the effectiveness of the men and guns of Corregidor and soon began flying above range of the powder-train fuze projectiles. From such extreme altitudes precision bombing was most difficult, but mechanically-fuzed ammunition capable of reaching an altitude of 30,000 feet, the altitude to which the attackers had been driven, was in extremely short supply.

There was an adequate supply of powder-train fuze projectiles effective to a height of 24,000 feet, but only enough of the longer range type for one of the batteries. When the planes came in over 24,000 feet, only this one battery was capable of offering resistance. General Jonathan M. Wainwright, in charge of the American forces in the area, realized the urgent need for more mechanically-timed fuze ammunition to keep down the effectiveness of Japanese bombers and observation planes. Recognizing the seriousness of the shortage, General Wainwright implored General MacArthur and the War Department to "get me more of this type."

This was the mission of USS Trout. She was to leave Pearl Harbor carrying 3,500 rounds of mechanically-fuzed, high altitude ammunition for the defenders of Corregidor.

During the withdrawal to the "Rock," vast amounts of gold, silver, and securities were sent to Corregidor for safekeeping. This transfer was accomplished through the efforts of the High Commissioner to the Philippine Islands, Francis B. Sayre, and his assistants. The advance of the Japanese to Manila proper was inevitable. Provisions were taken to keep American and Philippine portable wealth out of the hands of the enemy. The wealth consisted of paper currency of both countries, silver pesos (valued at about one-half dollar each) of the Manila Banks, gold bullion from city vaults and mining concerns, and valuable possessions of individuals on the mainland and of military personnel on Corregidor. Commissioner Sayre was given authority to accept and sign for these valuables in order to guarantee their safekeeping and later restoration to the rightful owners. In the case of the loss or destruction of the valuables after this transaction, the owners would be reimbursed. Authority for the transfer emanated from the First War Powers Act passed by Congress in 1941. Sayre was notified of the power given him by the President through the War Powers Act on 27 December 1941 by radio:"... in particular, you are fully authorized by the President to take whatever steps you deem necessary to prevent such assets and reserves from falling into [the] hands of the enemy." This meant that he was directed to "...takeover for safekeeping and [or] destruction, any reserves or assets in or with banks, brokers, safe deposit companies, insurance companies or elsewhere, including any form of currency, coin, bullion, securities, drafts, checks, negotiable papers, etc."

The job of collecting and transferring this wealth was accomplished under extremely difficult conditions. Small vessels carrying supplies and personnel to the "Rock" were pressed into service. The transfer of the valuables to the Commonwealth vaults on Corregidor had to be done under cover of darkness and complete blackout. Despite the difficulties encountered, it is believed that all the assets received under authority of the First War Powers Act reached Corregidor safely.

The amount of wealth accepted by Sayre was staggering. There were 18,000 Treasury checks totaling $38,000,000 which had been received by the Philippine Treasury for payment and had not been sent to the United States for credit. In addition to these securities, there was on Corregidor a large amount of gold, silver, securities, and government documents as yet not been turned over to the Commissioner. These had served as the Philippine Commonwealth reserves and comprised over one-and-a-third million grams of gold and nearly sixteen and one-half million silver pesos. A rough summation of the valuables collected under the first War Powers Act was nearly $3,000,000 in American currency, $28,000,000 in Philippine currency and 10,800 pounds of gold. The paper currency was easily disposed of by burning after the serial numbers had been recorded and radioed to the United States.

Because the gold was the most indestructible, it was important to get it out of the Philippines. As the opportunity for this seemed unlikely, it appeared inevitable that the gold would soon have to be sunk in the Bay and risk recovery by the Japanese. President Quezon and the High Commissioner were greatly concerned with the problem. If it could not be destroyed, or safely sunk in the bay, there was but one answer remaining -- evacuate the gold and silver by submarine.

The siege of Corregidor thus set the scene for the second war patrol of USS Trout. She was one of the newest fleet type submarines and was on her first patrol near Midway when war broke out in December, 1941. Her commanding officer was Lieutenant Commander Frank W. Fenno, USN, of Westminster, Massachusetts.

Trout was ordered back to Pearl Harbor for alterations and repairs. On 10 January 1942, Commander Fenno's division commander, Captain F. M. O'Leary(Commander SubDiv 62), asked him just how soon he could have his boat buttoned up for sea. Trout had been designated to carry 3,500 rounds of mechanically fused ammunition for the antiaircraft guns on the "Rock." In spite of the fact that she was lying in drydock undergoing evaporator alterations and a propeller replacement, Trout was underway for Corregidor at 0843 two days later. Ahead of the boat lay a 57-day war patrol through the Japanese blockade. This order meant that after leaving Corregidor, she had orders to continue her patrol in the hunting grounds of the Western Pacific. After topping off with fuel oil and making minor voyage repairs, Trout departed Midway on the 16th, reached the Bonin Islands on 21 January and finally her destination on 3 February. Remaining submerged until nightfall, she made preparations for unloading the ammunition. The 3-inch shells had been stowed in every available space. All torpedoes, except for one in each tube, had been removed to make room for the projectiles. The 3-inch shells had to be taken from their racks in the torpedo and handling rooms and stacked ready for quick off-loading.

At 1945 hours, Commander Fenno rendezvoued with Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley, USN. The motor torpedo boat squadron commander came on board, and ten minutes later Trout was following the P.T's wake through the minefields surrounding Corregidor. To follow the fast moving torpedo boat in the pitch black of night was a difficult and delicate operation for the fleet type submarine. Two minefields had to be negotiated. The Army's minefield was controlled and thus could be cut off as Trout passed, the Navy's field was active. At one point a mine was heard scraping down the port side of Trout--a risky situation for a submarine loaded with high explosives. Fenno followed Bulkeley around the island and moored star-board side of South Dock at 2034 hours. Six minutes later, the projectiles were being passed up the hatches one by one and unloaded on the dock. Speed was of essence as there was the constant threat of air attack or of shelling from enemy artillery emplacements on Cavite. While the ammunition was being unloaded aft, Trout took on torpedoes through her forward hatch and simultaneously received fuel from her port side. Safety precautions were overridden by the necessity for haste. Food supplies on Corregidor were scarce, and Trout transferred all the food, cigarettes, and medical supplies that could be spared. For the remainder of the patrol, spaghetti was to become a common item on Trout's menu.

Near midnight, it developed that Commander Fenno would need more weight on board for ballast to help make up for the tons of heavy projectiles removed. He requested 25 tons of ballast in the form of sand bags or crushed rock. But none could be spared on the "Rock." Bags of sand and crushed rock were far too valuable on Corregidor. Lieutenant Commander

T. C. Parker, naval aide for the High commissioner, woke up Philippine Vice President Sergio Osmena and members of the High Commissioner's Staff. Perhaps gold bullion would serve just as well. Here was the answer to several problems. Trout would receive her ballast and Commissioner Sayre would be rid of his gold. After clearance with General MacArthur by phone, it was arranged to transfer the gold bullion, securities, and some silver to Trout for ballast and ultimate delivery to Pearl Harbor for eventual transfer to the United States for the duration of the war.

Commissioner Sayre's financial advisor, Woodbury Willoughby, was in charge of the delivery of the treasure from the vaults and, after clearance, was told by Commander Parker to have twenty tons of gold, securities, and silver ready for loading on Trout. Mr. Willoughby made arrangements with Acting Secretary of finance for the Philippine Commonwealth, Jose Abad Santos, for members of his staff to proceed immediately to the Treasury Reserve vaults and to be prepared to supervise the loading of all Commonwealth gold and as much silver as Parker would take. There was no time for receipts or an itemized check. A certain degree of security was provided by the fact that Commonwealth officials observed every part of the transfer of the valuables from the vault to the five-ton flat-bed Army trucks that made the delivery to South Dock.

Dawn was but a few hours away. An all hands effort of available military personnel, Commissioner Sayre's staff, officers of the Philippine Commonwealth, and even Philippine stevedores was required to load the forty-pound gold bars from the truck and hand then singly down the hatches of what might be termed a modern Spanish Galleon. Three hundred and nineteen gold bars were taken board, weighing approximately six and one-half tons. The remaining ballast was received in the form of six hundred and thirty bags of coins, each containing a thousand silver pesos.

By 0250 hours, the treasure was aboard. At 0300 hours, Trout again got underway. Three miles off Corregidor, she dove in a predetermined spot. There in 140 feet of water, she lay seeking protection from the enemy. Submerged, she waited until nightfall for one final load of securities.

After working for two nights and a day, Trout's crew was given a day's rest. There was to be a rendezvous that evening with a small patrol boat which would deliver the remaining securities and some additional diplomatic mail. That evening the final transfer was made, and fifty minutes after surfacing, Trout was on her way to the Eat China Sea with probably the richest ballast ever carried in a warship. The gold and silver would be worth nearly $10,000,000.

Before leaving, Commander Fenno asked if there were to be any passengers, but the answer was "no," for no one could be spared from Corregidor. Just as Trout pulled away from the small boat at the time of the final transfer, an officer tossed Fenno a small bag of gold nuggets with the comment, "These are for you!" Commander Fenno was not sure what to do with them, and so he put them in his desk safe and considered keeping them for a souvenir. Later, checking an itemized list of the cargo, he found that these, too, were included in the inventory, and so put them in the cargo to be delivered.

As commanding officer of Trout, Commander Fenno had assumed responsibility for the treasure of gold and silver. The manner in which the loading was conducted was such that he could not personally check exactly what was brought aboard during those dark hours. Therefore, he put a note on the bottom of the receipt he signed: "...received without verification of numbers of bars or contents of the container, [and] the articles described above." In a letter from President of the Philippines, manual Quezon, Fenno's instructions were that he was to... transfer [the gold, silver and papers of the Philippine Commonwealth] to the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States as to their disposal.

Commander Fenno now had as valuable a cargo to carry to Pearl as he had brought to Corregidor. Even in time of global war, negotiable securities and precious metals have high value. But the monetary value had no disturbing effect on the performance of Trout's officers and crew.

The presence of treasure did not change his orders to carry out his war patrol, and accordingly, he set course for the East China Sea.

Bad weather slowed the speed of advance and hampered visibility. Pushing through the heavy seas of the monsoon season, Trout did not enter the East China Sea until 10 February. At 1625, a Japanese cargo ship of approximately four to five thousand tons was sighted. Three torpedoes were fired at ranges of 2,000, 800,and 600 yards respectively. The second and third torpedoes were hits. Twenty-five minutes later, four explosions were heard, the ship's boilers had blown up.

Proceeding on a southerly course, Trout surfaced about two hours later, Working northeast, she re-entered the East China Sea via the passage between Sakishima Gunto and Okinawa Gunto. Remaining in the grip of the same northeaster, she found weather conditions growing worse. Visibility was cut down to, at best, a thousand yards during daylight hours and fifty feet at night. Celestial navigation was impossible. For eight days (9-17 February) she could not obtain a navigational fix. On 15 February, following the orders of her patrol, Trout left the area and cruised as far north as the Bonins. From that position her course was set for home. On 19 February, while still near the Bonins, a light was sighted at 10,000 yards. Upon closing the range, Commander Fenno saw what appeared to be a trap consisting of one small ship showing a light, to lure an enemy ship to her, while her unlighted partner-ship was in a position to close unnoticed upon the prey. At 2100 hours, a submerged approach was made. At 2105 hours, two of Trout's torpedoes were fired unsuccessfully. Between the firing of number one and two torpedoes, the swish of an enemy torpedo was heard overhead, and then another as Trout dove to 120 feet; Commander Fenno's suspicion of a trap was justified. He fired a third and final torpedo on a nearly constant bearing track, and it hit. After the explosion, the other vessel was tracked on sonar, as it ran off at high speed, and Fenno was unable to close for an attack.

No more contacts with the enemy were made en route to Pearl Harbor. Two days out of Pearl Harbor, Trout rendezvoused with USS Litchfield. On the afternoon of 3 March, Trout moored port side to USS Detroit at Fleet Air Base in Pearl Harbor. The cargo of gold, silver, and securities was turned over to Detroit, and subsequently to Treasury officials. At last everything seemed to be accounted for. However, a few days later, a single forty-pound gold bar was found in one of the forward compartments of Trout. For several days, Commander Fenno had forty pounds of gold, for which no one was willing to take responsibility. Later, a Treasury official receipted for it and the last remnant of Trout's gold ballast was finally in official custody.

USS Trout took part in the Midway operations from 3-6 June 1942 and on 17 June Commander Fenno was relieved by Lieutenant Commander L. P. (Red) Ramage. After receiving eleven battle stars (one for each war patrol), Trout was "reported missing" on 8 February 1944 under command of Lieutenant Commander A. H. Clark. For her war patrol to Corregidor and the East China Sea from 12 January to 3 March 1942, Commander Fenno was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for "extraordinary heroism" by direction of the Secretary of War.

In the words of Commander Fenno's division commander, Captain F. M. O'Leary, USN, "...the cruise of the USS Trout on patrol is considered as outstanding performance for a submarine in this war." His squadron commander, Captain A. R. McCann, USN (COMSubRon 6) reported that the cruise of Trout was: "...highly successful and I can not too highly praise the officers and crew of this vessel for the successful accomplishment of their mission."

With the impending collapse of Corregidor, General Wainwright still found himself with what he estimated to be $140,000,000 in Philippine currency and $15,000,000 in highly negotiable silver. As pointed out earlier, most of the paper currency was burned, but the problem of the silver pesos was solved by dumping 350 tons of them in the Bay,and the location of the dump radioed to Washington. Since then, most of the silver off Corregidor has been salvaged by the Seventh Fleet Ship Salvage Group. The Japanese recovered over 2,000,000 pesos by November 1942, but they then ceased operations.

One may raise the question, could not the Japanese have been denied the use of the gold by dumping it in the 35,000 foot depths of the nearby Mindanao Straits? Yes, they could have been, but it must be remembered that Trout carried the gold because she needed the weight for ballast and she showed up at the opportune moment. To have sunk the gold and securities in the straits would have made salvage impossible. Commissioner Sayre, in his communications with Admiral Hart, had proposed a similar plan to remove the treasure by submarine, but when Trout presented the opportunity, the mission became hers. It was less trouble for Trout to carry away the bullion, (in fact it was necessary, as no other ballast was available) than it would have been to haul it out to the deep water in the presence of the enemy blockade.

In addition to the denial of the negotiables to the enemy, an important function of the Treasury Department was carried out. Without the efforts of Commissioner Sayre, Commander Fenno, and his men, the safe delivery of the consignment would not have been possible. The Treasury Department would not have accomplished its full purpose of preserving these valuables as guaranteed by the First War Powers Act.

The story of USS Trout illustrates the usefulness of U.S. submarines on patrol. As important as was commerce warfare by submarines, the special missions performed by our submarines in World War II played a dramatic and important role in the American war effort. These missions are almost countless, and many will never be told; but to the men who undertook them, like those who served in Trout, belong the lasting appreciation for a job well done.

 

Ensign John L. Dettbarn, USN

 

POST-WAR RECOVERY OPS 1945-88 | SPEEDY GONZALES  |   BATTERY MORRISON  | AH-MOON'S   |  THE ENGINEERING TUNNEL   |   GRAVE - GOLD   |   THE MARCOS CONNECTION   |   THE NORTH DOCK GOLD HOLE   |   THE FOURTH LATERAL   |   THE NORTH HARBOR SALVAGE BARGE   |    THE PRESIDENTIAL YACHT "CASIANO"   |   THE LORCHA DOCK   |  SILVER PESOS    |  NO MORE GOLD   |   CONCLUSION

CORREGIDOR - THE TREASURE ISLAND OF WWII    |    GOLD IS ALSO BALLAST    |    THE GOLDEN PATROL OF THE USS TROUT |  SALVAGING A SILVER TREASURE  | THE JAPANESE OVERSTRIKE

On February 29, 1944 SAKITO MARU was sunk and another ship badly damaged. Since TROUT was the only U.S. submarine which could have attacked at this time in this position but did not report the action, it is assumed she was lost during or shortly after this attack. More than eighty crewmen were lost with her. 

INFORMATION COURTESY NAVAL HISTORIC CENTER

 

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