7 December 1941

Leaving Manila and bad torpedoes

A red pirate submarine

War patrols

Living aboard a submarine

Service aboard three submarines

Picking up a u boat in Argentina

After the war

It was worth it


Arthur Killam was born in San Francisco and lived there until he was six years old when he moved to San Jose, California where he stayed until he went into the navy in 1940.Killam had a good life growing up. His family did not have it as bad as some did but it was a little rough. He played sports in high school and got the opportunity to go to the University of Southern California on a scholarship. This was about the time the war in Europe was heating up. One day he and some friends were at the Y [Annotators Note: YMCA] and decided to enlist before they got drafted so they joined the navy. Killam spent three months in boot camp. After boot camp he was ordered aboard the USS Altore, an old World War 1 transport ship, which took him to Pearl Harbor. Killam was assigned to the USS Richmond but instead ended up working in the battery shop at the submarine base. After a week there he was assigned to the submarine USS Seadragon which was leaving for the Philippines. When they got to the Philippines they conducted patrols. On 10 December 1941, after they [Annotators Note: the Japanese] bombed Pearl Harbor, they bombed the Cavite Naval Yard. The Seadragon was tied up in the navy yard when the attack occurred. The USS Sea Lion was tied up outboard of them and took a couple bombs. One the Seadragon’s officers was killed in the conning tower. Killam was knocked down through the conning tower hatch and fell about 14 or 15 feet down onto the deck. Moments later he heard the skipper call for the crew to abandon ship but as he was leaving the boat the skipper gave an order for them to turn around and go back. The submarine salvage ship USS Widgeon came in and pulled them out. They went over to Manila where the USS Canopus was. The crew of the Canopus would work on the Seadragon at night then the submarine would go out and lay on the bottom during the day. They worked on the submarine for three days. They left Manila and headed south. They went to Madagascar then from there to Surabaya, Java. The day they left they encountered enemy destroyers out past Corregidor and got their first taste of depth charges. When they got to Surabaya they went into a Dutch dry dock for some more repairs. They also made a few runs out of there but when they got back from their third time out the Japanese had captured the place so they were forced to head to Perth, Australia. That is where they operated from. When Killam arrived at Pearl Harbor he was assigned to the battery shop. He went aboard the submarine and was assigned to the electrical gang. Submarines are electric and diesel. When they run submerged they use only electrical power. His watch was in the maneuvering room. He got acquainted with some of the electricians and they got him in the book to become a third class electrician. After a week at Pearl Harbor they headed to the Philippines. There, they went out on patrol every day. They cruised down to different islands. They also conducted dives. On the day they attacked Pearl Harbor they wiped out all the air fields in the Philippines. All of the capital ships that could get out of there left so they knew something was going to happen. On 10 December they came in and blasted the hell out of the place. After that they went to Perth. Killam made six patrols aboard the Seadragon then returned to the United States and put the USS Muskallunge in commission and made four patrols on her. Even after they left Pearl they did not know what was going to happen. When the USS Marblehead and USS Houston left they knew something was coming. When they bombed Pearl Harbor they finally knew what it was. Killam does not know what kind of shape the Sealion was in in terms of getting underway after the attack. When they were at the Cavite navy yard they were spending all their time working and never listened to the radio so Killam does not recall exactly how they found out about the Pearl Harbor attack.


[Annotators Note: Arthur Killam served in the US Navy aboard the submarine USS Seadragon. Killam had reported aboard the Seadragon and steamed to the Philippines about a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.] Somebody said that on 10 December three flights of heavy bombers with 26 or 28 planes in each flight came over. Killam was below and was coming topside to see what was going on when a bomb hit the USS Sealion. An ensign who had recently reported aboard the Seadragon was hit in the back of the head by shrapnel and killed. Killam was wounded by the blast. The submarine had suffered damage to the superstructure and there were lines cut but much of it was patched up by the USS Canopus. When they went out and laid on the bottom while the Japanese were making their raids water would drip into the boat. On their way down to Surabaya it got kind of hairy because the water was dripping pretty good and they had to constantly dive the boat. Killam did not think about what had occurred until a few days after the attack. He was wounded but the doc took good care of him. All they had at the time for pain was aspirin. The doc was the Pharmacists Mate [Annotators Note: Pharmacists Mate Wheeler B. Lipes] who performed the appendix operation when they were in the China Sea on their third patrol. A seaman named Rector [Annotators Note: Darrell Rector] suffered an appendicitis. They could not go back to Perth so they operated on the kid on the submarine. It was quite an experience. Doc is the guy who got Killam the Purple Heart. Killam was on the bow planes at the time. Submarine men are pretty close and everybody works together. When they left Manila they could dive. They could have fired their torpedoes if they had to. They did not have a full load of torpedoes though. They only had the torpedoes that were in the tubes. They still had the racks but had taken the bunks out of the torpedo rooms. The guys had to share bunks for a while. The first war patrol they made was off of Cam Rahn Bay. They were patrolling close to shore and when they surfaced one night they came up almost alongside a Japanese destroyer. They got excited and dove the boat and the Japanese crew got excited and depth charged them but did no damage. During this time they were having problems with their torpedoes. The Mark 14s were not doing their job. The Mark 14 had a magnetic head so when the torpedo was fired it would go under the ship and the magnetic field would detonate the torpedo but they did not work. Even when the torpedoes were set at 0 depth. They put four torpedoes under a heavy cruiser coming into Cam Rahn Bay and none hit. They all passed beneath the enemy ship with no effect. They did not get repainted after the war started so a lot of the boats red lead primer was exposed. One day Tokyo Rose said on the radio that Japanese destroyers had sunk a red pirate submarine off the coast of Indo China [Annotators Note: now Vietnam]. When they got back into port the pharmacist mate decided that if they were all going to be pirates they would all wear an earring and pierced every one’s ear.


The first couple times Arthur Killam was depth charged it was a little hairy but he does not recall getting too upset about it. After the first two or three times they could tell how close they were. If they heard the click they could tell they were close. Killam believes that the Japanese had a set pattern for depth charging. They dropped their depth charges the same way all the time so they knew how to evade them. There were some pretty close ones. They had them hit on the deck and blow the deck off but in order to be forceful the charges would have had to detonate below the boat. They were in Saint Georges Channel on their way back to the United States. Saint Georges Channel is between New Britain and New Ireland. The Japanese had a big submarine and destroyer base at Rabaul. The Channel was part of their patrol area when they were on their way back to Pearl. On the way in they encountered a destroyer with a submarine alongside of it. Killam’s skipper scored two hits on it and sunk it [Annotators Note: On 21 November 1942 during Sea Dragons fifth patrol she torpedoed and sank the Japanese submarine I4 off Cape Saint George]. The water in the Channel was deep. One day they were spotted and a number of destroyers came out of Rabaul like a relay. They dropped a lot of depth charges on the boat. One of the gunners mates claimed that he counted every depth charge that detonated during that attack and by his count there were more than 400. Killam does not know how true that claim is and thinks it is a little farfetched. The enemy destroyers held them down for 48 hours. Any longer and they would not have made it back up because their batteries would have been drained. They went up and the skipper spotted a rain squall nearby so he surfaced and headed into the rain squall. They were able to get about 30 minutes worth of charge in their batteries then went deep and stayed there until the next day. The next day they headed out of the channel. They surfaced but moments later spotted four destroyers that had been headed in to Rabaul and had to dive again. The destroyers had spotted the Seadragon too. They came over and dropped three or four depth charges but that was it. They ended up making it to Pearl without any more hassles. They sank a 10000 ton ammunition ship that had five small picket boats as escorts. They dove after they fired. They hit the ship and the force of it exploding was so intense that it pulled the submarine to the surface. The skipper quickly looked around and only saw one picket boat remaining. This was on their fourth or fifth patrol. They [Annotators Note: the Japanese] used to carry ammunition on hospital ships because they knew the Americans would not fire on them. That was something Killam found out later. Every time they fired a torpedo it was hairy. When they fired a Mark 14 torpedo it left a visible wake that a destroyer could follow that would lead it to the submarine. After they fired a torpedo the first thing they did was turn to port or starboard to get away from that wake. On the six patrol runs they made they did not always sink something because of the problems with the Mark 14 torpedoes. The best torpedoes were the Mark 10 torpedoes which the old World War 1 S boats carried. Those were the ones they carried when they returned to the United States because they did not want them carrying Mark 14s back. The first ship they sank was part of a three ship convoy. They fired at the middle one and got a hit. The other two ran off. The ship they hit was in close to the beach so the skipper planned to battle surface and attack the ship with their three inch deck gun. When they surfaced the enemy ship dropped the sides down exposing a six inch gun. They quickly dove and got away. One time they were spotted by a plane which flew over and dropped a few bombs. When out on a patrol they would dive before sunrise and surface after sunset. The only radar they had was a plane radar and was not like what was installed on later boats.


[Annotators Note: Arthur Killam served in the US Navy as an Electricians Mate aboard the submarine USS Sea Dragon.] When they were at sea they were on watch most of the time. When they were in port they slept in the barracks. On patrol they were on watch for four hours then off for four hours. They did eat good even though they could only carry so much food. The navy gave them the best. On a German u boat they picked up in Argentina, the ribs of the boat were filled with dehydrated food. They must have taken a ton of food off that boat. The u boats would stay out at sea for six months. Everybody got along well aboard the submarine. Killam always had good shipmates and officers. On the beach they gave them a lot more respect than on the submarine. They called the skipper of the Seadragon Pappy but on the beach they did not. They hung their rates on the gangway when they went aboard. One day when they were in the Philippines before the war Admiral Hart came aboard with some of his aides who were all wearing their whites. One Lieutenant jg [Annotators Note: Lieutenant junior grade] asked where the head was and when one of the sailors offered to show him how to blow the head the officer refused the offer and ended up blowing the tank without covering the hole. He was rather embarrassed. Killam returned to the United States in 1943 and put in at Mare Island. He was transferred off the boat and sent to New London. There he was assigned to the USS Muskellunge. They reported aboard at the Electric Boat Company. The engineering officer was the first to report aboard and Killam and a friend of his who was a torpedo man were the first of the crew to go aboard. When they first arrived they checked in at the government barracks and until a crew was assembled they had free reign. They would check in with the boat in the morning then do what they wanted the rest of the day. They had just come back from the war zone and knew they were going back so they lived it up as much as they could. They finally got a crew together and put the boat in commission and took it on its shakedown cruise to Pearl Harbor. Due to a need for qualified men who had been in the war zone, when boats like the Seadragon came in practically the whole crew was transferred off to new construction boats. They went out to Pearl. While they were there they went out with the Litchfield [Annotators Note: USS Litchfield, DD336] and the Litchfield would drop a few depth charges on them so the new guys knew what they sounded and felt like. Killam’s controller was a 3rd Class who had just come from submarine school. The man did a good job when they were training but during their first patrol he froze when battle stations was sounded and they had to dive. Killam had to knock him out of the way so he could clear the board himself. If he had not been able to clear the board they would have been in real trouble. After that the man was good. Killam made four runs on the USS Muskellunge but none of them were too exciting other than being depth charged every now and then. He does not recall how many ships they sank.


[Annotators Note: Arthur Killam served in the US Navy as an Electricians Mate aboard the submarine USS Sea Dragon then was transferred to the new construction boat USS Muskellunge and went out on four patrols aboard her.] At the time they were patrolling out of Brisbane, Australia. When the war first started all they had were submarines. All the way from Surabaya to Japan there were areas with submarines in them so they could get anything coming out of Japan. Submarines sank most of the Japanese boats. It was tough. On their first or second patrol they picked up a bunch of food to take up to Bataan. When they got to Corregidor a pilot boat came to take them through the minefield into Mariveles Bay. They were told to tie up at the end of the Bataan Peninsula and were told that they would not be able to off load all the food they brought because the Japanese were too close. A lieutenant colonel was carried down to the boat for the Seadragon to take out along with three others. When they left they passed through the minefield without an escort. The skipper had charted it when they went in. Passing through a minefield is scary. They went through a minefield one time and could hear the cables scraping along the side of the submarine. Killam made four runs on the USS Muskellunge. He went back to the States in 1944 and was assigned to the USS Porpoise which was a school boat at New London. While he was assigned to the Porpoise he was one of the crewmen selected to go down to Argentina to pick up a German u boat. He was a Chief Electrician by then. They picked the u boat up in La Plata, Argentina and when they got back to the United States Killam got off the boat as fast as he could. The skipper had been talking about diving the u boat on the way back but did not. Killam thinks the crew would have mutinied if he had. When they got the u boat back to the United States they took it on a bond tour. Killam got off and was transferred to Mare Island where he put the Guardfish [Annotators Note: USS Guardfish, SS217] out of commission. He left the navy in 1946. The u boat they brought back was U530. It was one of the bigger ones [Annotators Note: U530 was a Type IXC]. They had flown down to Rio to pick up the German prisoners. When the prisoners were loaded up they looked like a bunch of kids. Their ages ranged from 21 down to about 15. Killam’s battle station was on the bow planes. The bow and stern planes are what make the submarine go up and down. During a battle situation they were too busy concentrating on their jobs to worry about something happening to them. Before the war it took about six months to qualify on submarines. They had to qualify on each compartment of the boat. After the war started the kids would learn the other compartments after they went aboard. When they were not at battle stations they were on watch. They pretty much stayed busy. Killam only heard Tokyo Rose a couple times. It was just a matter of luck that somebody caught it [Annotators Note: Tokyo Rose had referred to the crew of the USS Seadragon as pirates. When they returned to port, the pharmacist’s mate pierced the ear of every sailor aboard.]. Killam has worn his ear ring ever since. It has become a part of him.


[Annotators Note: Arthur Killam served in the US Navy as an Electricians Mate aboard submarines. After the war he was sent to Argentina with a crew to pick up a German u boat that had been surrendered there.] To Killam the German submarine sailors did not have a bed of roses. The German submarines were organized to do what they were made to do. The only thing that confused Killam was the maneuvering room. On the American submarines the room was in the stern by the after torpedo room. On the German boat it was in the middle between the two engines. Killam did not have much to do during the trip back to the United States. Killam would not have wanted to go to sea aboard one of those submarines. By the end of the war the German crews were nothing but kids. Killam does not think about the war much. It does bother him when he goes to the VA and sees kids coming back from Iraq missing limbs. If he would have been hit, that would have been it. World War 2 was a different situation altogether. What is going on now is different. After the war Killam was jumpy. If someone slammed a door or if there was a loud bang he would flinch. He drank quite a bit after the war but does not drink anymore. He is pretty sure that he came home from the war with PTSD [Annotators Note: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]. During his time in combat he was a kid and did not have time to think about what was happening. They were too busy to be afraid. When Killam went back to New London after his last trip he was assigned to the USS Kete [Annotators Note: USS Kete (SS-369)]. Before the Kete left to go out on patrol he was transferred off and assigned to a school boat in New London. The Kete was lost at sea soon after. One of the men lost aboard the Kete was a friend of Killam’s. Killam got himself transferred to Mare Island. After three or four months he was sent to Camp Shoemaker to be processed out. He got out of the navy and moved to San Jose. He went to work for the telephone company then to Carnation Company as a plant manager for 14 years. He then went into the insurance business running an agency for his mother. He later went into the bar business. While he was working the bar he became friends with the owner of a hotel restaurant. One day the guy asked him if he wanted to buy a restaurant. It was an opportunity. He bought the restaurant with a friend of his and they had it for 12 years or so before he sold it.


Arthur Killam kept up with some of the guys he served with in the US Navy during the war but never went to any of the submarine meetings. The submariners used to put out a magazine called the Polaris but there was a notice in the last one Killam got stating that it was the last one. There are not many of the submarine veterans left. The war caused Killam to grow up very fast. It gave him a different outlook on things. Over the years he has started feeling that the Japanese troops they were fighting against had been forced to fight just like they were. Killam did not have any animosity against the Japanese. He had gone to school with a lot of Japanese. Killam does not fear things like he used to. Keeping the history of the war alive is important. There are monuments and memorials all over the place. It is something people should know about. Killam enjoyed serving even though there was a war on. The friendships he formed were lifelong. It was a good experience and a good lesson. There was a lot of good stuff that came out of it.

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