Wednesday, January 09, 2013

TFH 1/9: LCDR John R. Pierce, USN

The USS Argonaut (SS-166) was the only submarine of the United States Navy designed and constructed with minelaying as its primary mission and was the largest submarine constructed by the United States until the advent of nuclear power. She was commissioned on April 2, 1928.

Shortly after America's entry into World War II, Argonaut completed an overhaul at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California during which her minelaying equipment was removed. When she arrived back at Pearl Harbor, Argonaut was further modified to carry troops on raiding missions. Submarine-borne raids proved particularly effective and included attacks such as the one on Makin Island.

On the January 10, 1943, Argonaut, now under the command of Lieutenant Commander John Reeves Pierce, 36 years old and a 1928 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, was patrolling in the Solomon Islands when she observed eight Japanese ships: five freighters and three escorting destroyers.

An American aircraft flying overhead (itself out of ammunition and unable to assist) witnessed Argonaut's attack against the much larger Japanese force. It's because of the aviators we know what befell the submarine, and the circumstances that led to her captain posthumously receiving the Navy Cross.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Commander John Reeves Pierce (NSN: 0-6209), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. ARGONAUT (SS-166), on 10 January 1943, during the THIRD War Patrol of that vessel. Upon sighting a hostile convoy escorted by destroyers and aircraft, Lieutenant Commander Pierce, while maneuvering his ship to a favorable striking position, discovered that the ARGONAUT her self had been detected and had fallen prey to vigorous antisubmarine measures on the part of the enemy. Fighting desperately to extricate his ship and her crew from a critical encounter, he pressed home an aggressive counter attack on the surface, severely damaging a Japanese destroyer before his own vessel, her guns still blazing defiantly, eventually went down under a deadly concentration of enemy fire. His courageous leadership and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

The wreck of Argonaut has never been discovered. Lieutenant Commander Pierce rests with his 101 shipmates at the bottom of the Bismarck Sea. Her sinking was the largest single loss of life in submarines for the United States during all of the Second World War.

The Navy honored the boat sunk in January 1943 by giving a Tench-class submarine her name in 1944.  The new USS Argonaut (SS-475) was commissioned on January 15, 1945 and served until December 2, 1968. She served an additional six years until 1974 with the Royal Canadian Navy as the HMCS Rainbow (SS-75). The boat was finally scrapped in 1977.

(Blogger's note: this post is appearing a day "early" - properly should appear January 10th for the 70th anniversary - because there are two World War II Medal of Honor recipients that will be Their Finest Hour's focus tomorrow. Please stop back then!)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:52 PM

    Thank you for posting this article. My Mother's cousin S1C Thomas Narrow died on the Argonaut 70 years ago (yesterday). I am currently working on a book about the submarine and would welcome pictures and or stories that anyone may have of any of the sailors that died when she went down.

    Ken Harmon



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.