Author Topic: Interesting Pampanito story  (Read 11734 times)

Offline Lance Dean

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Interesting Pampanito story
« on: September 17, 2008, 04:00:37 PM »

Seeing Pampanito, 64 years after a near death

Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 17, 2008       

To most visitors, the submarine Pampanito is a curiosity, a memorial to another time and place berthed near the restaurants and tourist attractions of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf.

Alistair Urquhart, an 89-year-old Scot and retired businessman, knows better. Urquhart was nearly killed by the Pampanito. It happened 64 years ago this month, when the sleek, gray submarine torpedoed and sank the Japanese transport ship Kachidoki Maru. He was aboard the ship and barely escaped with his life.

It was one of the tragic incidents of World War II. Unknown to the U.S. Navy sailors aboard the Pampanito, the Japanese ship was carrying more than 900 British prisoners of war, many of them survivors of construction of the "Railway of Death" in Thailand, an experience made famous in the movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

Three hundred eighty prisoners died as a result of the attack. For five days, Urquhart, covered with fuel oil, starving and nearly dead, drifted in the South China Sea.

Urquhart was one of the lucky ones. On the fifth day, Sept. 17, 1944, he was picked up by a Japanese whaling ship, taken to Japan and- still a prisoner - forced to work in a coal mine.

This week, he stood on the deck of the old submarine to tell his story.

It was one of those strange coincidences. Both Urquhart and the boat that nearly killed him survived the war.

The old man had come to San Francisco from his home in Scotland to see the submarine, drawn by a pull of memory he couldn't explain.

He stood in the control room where Lt. Cmdr. Paul Summers, captain of the submarine, had tracked the Kachidoki Maru, moved in for the kill and gave the order to fire. He stood in the forward torpedo room where five torpedoes were fired at the Kachidoki Maru. Two of them hit, one midships, one aft. The ship sank in 15 minutes late in the night of Sept. 12, 1944.

On the Pampanito the other morning, tourists - Canadians, some east Indians, a few speaking Japanese - looked at the old man speaking in a soft Scots burr, telling his story.

Urquhart was 19 when he was drafted into the British army in September 1939. He was assigned to the Gordon Highlanders, a famous Scottish regiment, put through training and shipped halfway around the world to the British garrison in Singapore.

The Japanese attacked Hawaii, the Philippines and the British colonies in Malaya in December 1941. The British had a big army on the Malay Peninsula and in Singapore. But they were outmaneuvered and outfought by the Japanese and had to surrender. More than 100,000 British, Australian and Indian soldiers were taken prisoner.

After a few months, the Japanese picked crews to work on a railroad they were building to connect Burma and Thailand. "They made it sound like a holiday camp," Urquhart said.

The reality was an atrocity. "To build the railway we worked 12, 14, 18 hours a day. We were ... starved ... beaten up for no reason; maybe going too slow, or maybe misunderstanding the work orders. A rifle butt in the back.

"Nobody - but nobody - knows how many died, or where they died," he said.

"I did two years," he said. "One day at a time."

When the railway was finished, many of the survivors were picked to be sent to Japan. Urquhart was among 900 prisoners put aboard the Kachidoki Maru, a 10,500-ton passenger and cargo ship. The ship had been captured from the Americans early in the war. Its original name was President Harrison, and its home port was San Francisco.

It was late summer in the tropics, hot and humid. The Japanese forced the prisoners into the cargo holds and battened down the hatches. Many of them were sick, some with malaria, some with dysentery.

"I don't want to go into what we were like," he said, "but you can imagine."

The Kachidoki Maru was part of a convoy, heading north for Japan. The Americans sent three subs - Sealion, Growler and Pampanito - to intercept the convoy.

The Pampanito spotted a ship and Captain Summers worked the sub into firing position, tracked a big target's course, bearing and speed, and fired.

When the torpedoes hit, it made "the most unimaginable sound," Urquhart said. The Japanese crew took the lifeboats. The ship was carrying Japanese wounded, and a Japanese officer went around with a pistol shooting them. The coverings on the hold were opened, and among the prisoners, it was every man for himself.

5 days adrift

Urquhart was a good swimmer and he got away from the sinking ship. He drifted for five days, eventually on a piece of wreckage.

He looked at the placid water of San Francisco Bay the other morning, remembering the waters of the South China Sea, thick with oil from sunken ships, men drifting on makeshift rafts.

One night, Urquhart said, the men in the water - "the lads," he called them - began to sing.

"They sang a hymn, 'Abide With Me,' and they sang 'Rule, Britannia,' " he said. The last line goes, "Britons never, never, never shall be slaves."

By morning, when Urquhart woke, half dead, he had drifted away from the other men.

Some prisoners, survivors of other ships, were picked up by American subs. The Pampanito saved 73 men.

A prisoner again

Urquhart was lucky, but not so lucky. He was picked up by a Japanese whaling vessel and taken to the island of Hainan. He and the other prisoners were marched naked through the streets. Many of the people watching spit on them.

The survivors were taken to Japan, worked in a coal mine near Nagasaki and were liberated in September 1945.

They were skin and bone. Taken to the United States, they stayed for several weeks at a hospital in San Francisco. Urquhart remembers it fondly.

There was no great welcome when he got home to Aberdeen, Scotland. "They made us sign a paper. 'You will not talk about this,' it said."

Why? he was asked. "Politics," he said. He almost spat the word out.

He got married; told his wife he had been a soldier and a prisoner of war, and little else.

After she died in 1993, he began to rethink what he had gone through and, encouraged by his two children, started to write his memoirs.

Word got out, though, and last year, the city of Aberdeen gave him a medal for heroism.

He survived his wartime ordeal because, he said, he was always strong as a boy, played soccer, played rugby. "That and my mother's cooking," he said.

Was there more than that? "Mind over matter," he said. "Mind over matter."

Offline BrokenArrowtiger

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Re: Interesting Pampanito story
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2010, 04:22:33 PM »
Hey Lance i did do some reasrch and its historically accuret and it goes with the log of the pampantio the sad thing is there was maney casses of American submarines torpedoing hell ships and such.
I am a fan of the batfish and the U-505 i have been interested in world war 2 since i was little my dad and his father and my dads fathers mother served in wars i am interested in the Submarine war of world war 2 and someday i want to be a marine archaeologist and or a world war 2 historian