Whitey was on the USS Darter in 1943
Wreck of USS Darter (SS-227)
Ernest R. Gaines “Whitey”
As told by Don Myers, Whitey is a great Americans he and I became friends in 1948. Whitey was 19 years old when he joined the Navy, he was just a farm kid from PA. I asked him one time if he ever saw water come into the sub while they were submerged like the movies showed; he said yes, mainly when the enemy dropped depth charges; I never heard him mention nor brag about his time in the war unless I asked a question.
Best way for me to describe Whitey Gaines, he was a great friend, loving father and husband. He was very devoted to God’s way in his life and telling others about God’s love for all; yep, that’s Whitey Gaines. Whitey Gaines is a true American guy, he became a school teacher the rest of his working life, he was a “model” Christian all the years I have known him, which are many. Whitey was a model of models as a school teacher, really cared about the kid’s education, and their morals. He never was pushy, but was respected by kids. Stay with us a little longer Whitey, you’r good to have around. DM.
Laid down in October 1942 as the 16th member of the Gato Class of Submarines for the United States Navy, USS Darter commissioned into service in September 1943 as a member of the US Atlantic Fleet. After shakedown and transiting the Panama Canal, the Darter joined the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in November 1943, where she provisioned and departed on her first War Patrol in December.
Despite being plagued with engine troubles, the Darter succeeded in damaging a Japanese merchant ship and surviving a depth charge attack by the convoy’s escorts on her first patrol before she arrived in her new operating base at Brisbane in February 1944. Based in Australia for the remainder of her service, Darter prowled the waters off New Guinea and Rabaul during her second and third patrols, notching her first confirmed kill on a Japanese man-of-war when she torpedoed and sunk the Fleet Minelayer HIJMS Tsugaru off Morotai in June 1944.
Following a refit at Darwin, Darter put to sea on her fourth and final War Patrol in August 1944 to patrol the Celebes and South China Seas, joining forces with her fellow sub USS Dace (SS-247) after a refueling stop at Mios Woendi in late September. Both Submarine Commanders were briefed on the upcoming American Invasion of the Philippines and were ordered to operate together to monitor the Balabac and Mindoro Straits for Japanese Navy movements during the invasion at Leyte. After unsuccessfully attacking a tanker convoy enroute to their patrol area, Darter and Dace assumed their picket stations off Palawan Island on October 21st and waited for signs of their enemy.
Only two days passed before radar screens aboard both Dace and Darter came alive on the night of October 23rd as a large body of Japanese warships passed into their picket area. Unknowingly coming into contact with the ‘Central Force’ of a large three-pronged Japanese Naval Force dispatched to destroy the American landing force, Darter’s Captain sent a flash message to Pacific Fleet Command of his sighting before his sub and Dace went to full speed to outflank the fast-moving Japanese warships. Electing to attack at first light on October 24th, Darter took a position on the Northwest flank of the Japanese formation while Dace took a position to the Northeast, putting the Japanese ships in a crossfire between the two subs. As the sun began to light the Eastern sky, Darter’s Captain lined up his shots on the nearest ship to his position and fired all six of his bow torpedoes into her path at 0531hrs.
Catching the Japanese ships totally by surprise, four of Darter’s shots hit the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Atago along her Port Side, setting her aflame and sinking the 15,000 ton ship in 18 minutes with 360 of her crew. Darter’s first and last torpedoes sailed wide of Atago but continued onward into the Japanese formation where both struck the Heavy Cruiser Takao and severely damaged her propulsion systems. As Japanese Destroyers broke formation to hunt down Darter, Dace’s torpedoes slammed into and sank the Heavy Cruiser Maya on the other side of the formation, throwing the entire Japanese force into disarray. Going deep and silent to evade detection, both Darter and Dace elected to abandon their track of the main Japanese force and began to shadow the crippled Takao and her escorts as they slowly made their way West.
Playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Japanese Destroyers through the daylight hours of the 24th, nightfall allowed both subs to surface and attempt to once again outflank their targets for a daybreak attack. Moving at her 21-knot top speed through what was thought to be open waters, Darter ran headlong into the largely uncharted Bombay Shoal and firmly lodged herself aground on the shallow reefs shortly after midnight on October 25th. Efforts to free the Darter began immediately but the falling tide left her high and dry as dawn approached, and the order was passed to abandon ship. After all sensitive documents were destroyed and scuttling charges armed, Darter’s Colors were struck and her crew were taken aboard the Dace which then stood by to ensure the charges went off. After the charges failed to sufficiently damage the Darter, Dace closed in and pumped 21 3-inch rounds into her hull before she departed the area for Australia. Over the next seven days, Darter’s hulk was bombed by a Japanese aircraft and shelled again by the USS Rock (SS-274) before it was finished off by the twin 6-inch guns aboard USS Nautilus (SS-168), which sent 55 shells into the Darter and sufficiently destroyed her on the reef.
For her actions in the Battle of Palawan Passage, USS Darter received the Navy Unit Commendation and her fourth Battle Star for her World War Two service. Today Darter’s hulk remains on Bombay Shoal where she grounded, though time and weather have reduced her to little more than scattered wreckage.