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Even in a war zone union rules are union rules

Piranha's first depth charge attack

Japan surrendered

Battle flag of the USS Piranha


Charles Bishop was born in New Haven, Connecticut in November of 1920. The depression years were sketchy. His mother was divorced and worked hard to raise him. After graduating from New Haven High School in 1937 he took the exam to get into the Naval Academy. He got an appointment and went in with the class of 1942. Bishop's Naval Academy class was advanced and he graduated just a few weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Bishop was in Annapolis at a movie with a girl whose father was a commander in the navy. When they left the theater they heard about the Pearl Harbor attack. His date's father was stationed at Pearl Harbor at that time and she was shocked by the news. The midshipmen at the Naval Academy knew that they would be graduating early and were excited to get out. Bishop knew ahead of time that he would be going aboard the destroyer USS Cummings (DD-365). Aboard the Cummings Bishop was the assistant gunnery officer and torpedo officer. The Cummings had three quadruple torpedo tubes which could do a lot of damage. The first thing they did was to escort a troopship out to Honolulu then returned to San Francisco. They made several trips back and forth between Hawaii and the mainland. In March or April [Annotators Note: March or April of 1942] they took a convoy to the South Pacific to Fiji and the New Hebrides. The trip was exciting because they knew that the Japanese had attacked the Philippines and Wake Island and they did not know where the Japanese would strike next. The first time they went to the New Hebrides they escorted a troopship to Efate. When they arrived there was no pilot vessel to bring them into the harbor. This was not a good thing because they were just sitting out in the open. The chief quartermaster spotted a periscope and the Cummings dropped depth charges on what they believed to be an enemy submarine. After the depth charge attack they did soundings with the ship's sonar but never got a return that would indicate a submarine. The Cummings spent much of the time on escort duty protecting troopships and ammunition ships. They escorted a convoy to Guadalcanal. On one trip they were loading up ammunition to bring back up to Guadalcanal. After loading up they steamed out at top speed. They were steaming at night and the wind out of the west got very strong. Bishop was tasked with walking the ship to check all of the lookouts to assure that none of them had been washed or blown overboard. The ship rolled and Bishop had to grab hold to a torpedo arming wire to keep from going over the side. He was pleased with the sailors putting the arming wires on good and tight.


Life aboard ship was just something Charles Bishop and his fellow sailors adjusted to. They worked four hours on and four hours off. As torpedo officer, Bishop had a routine with his men where they checked and maintained the torpedoes every week. They also did a lot of training. New men would come aboard and some of them had never seen salt water before. Bishop had occasional contact with the captain when he was junior officer of the deck. The captain had an odd personality but the officers and men got used to him. In early 1943 Bishop could see that all his ship would be doing for the rest of the war was escort duty for troop and supply ships. The newer destroyers were being sent out to join the fleet. He requested a transfer to submarine duty. The captain of the Cummings [Annotators Note: USS Cummings (DD-365)] had had submarine duty before and approved Bishop’s request. He had orders cut for Bishop to go to submarine school. Bishop got off of the Cummings at New Caledonia and had to wait for a troopship to take them from Noumea, New Caledonia to San Francisco. The trip took almost three weeks. On the ship there were three or four graduates from Bishop’s class at the Naval Academy, the Class of 1942, going back to the United States. There were also a number of reserve officers who had been with the first group of PT Boat officers to go to the Pacific. Those guys were worn out. There were also eight nurses on the ship. The forward hatch held general courts marshal cases who were being sent back to the United States. The ship, a large supply ship, was captained by a Merchant Marine captain. In Bishop's cabin there were six men. There were three bunks on each side. One of the men in Bishop's room was a chief warrant officer who had been an engine man in battleships and had been in the navy for quite a while. When the ship was about two weeks out from the United States word went out that the fresh water supply had to be conserved due to a problem with the distilling plant. This chief warrant officer went to the Merchant Marine captain and offered his services but the captain turned him down because he wasn't a union man. When Bishop landed in the United States he received orders to report to a new destroyer. He went to Washington to the Bureau of Naval Personnel and got it cleared up. He got orders to report to the submarine school in New London, Connecticut. After submarine school he got orders to report to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. During this time Bishop met his bride to be who was an ensign in the navy at the time. She was assigned to duty in the navy's Bureau of Ships in Washington DC. They met in September and married in October. They had gone on three dates. Bishop decided that he wanted submarine duty because he was assigned to an old destroyer that was in a combat zone but was never in combat. The older destroyers did not have the capabilities that the newer ships did so the newer destroyers went to the battle fleets.


For Charles Bishop, submarine school was pretty intense. The course lasted three months during which the class spent a good deal of time at sea in S boats and R boats which were older submarines. During their time at sea in the old boats they learned all of the jobs on the boats. The men got well acquainted with the boats. The newer submarines had a lot more technology. When the men graduated from submarine school they had learned the basics that they could then build upon. When the boats would dive there was a slam when the hatch slammed shut then air pressure was pumped into the boat. The men were busy doing their individual jobs and did not pay much attention to other happenings. When Bishop reported to the Piranha [Annotator's Note: USS Piranha (SS-389)] it was still being built. The captain of the submarine was a lieutenant commander who had commanded an S boat in the Pacific. The exec [Annotator's Note: executive officer or second in command] also had war patrol experience as did a lieutenant who was junior to Bishop. Bishop was made engineering officer. He had a chief warrant machinist named Dick Otto [Annotator's Note: unsure of rank or spelling of last name] who assisted and taught Bishop the ropes. By the time Otto left the boat after the third patrol Bishop knew what he was doing. The Piranha left from New Hampshire and steamed through Panama to Pearl Harbor. Between New Hampshire and Panama they had to watch out for German u boats. By the time they got to Pearl Harbor the boat and crew were running like clockwork. At Pearl experienced submarine officers went aboard the Piranha and spent two weeks doing some final training before the boat went out on her first patrol. For the first patrol the Piranha was part of a three submarine wolf pack assigned to patrol Convoy College which is the water between Formosa [Annotator's Note: present day Taiwan] and Luzon. There the Japanese convoys were coming up from Malaysia and other points farther south and steaming up to Japan. In these waters the Piranha made her first attacks and sank her first two ships. She also received her first depth charge attack. During a depth charge attack the men are at their battle stations and cannot move around. Bishop's battle station was in the conning tower as the assistant TDC [Annotator's Note: Torpedo Data Computer] officer. His job was to send information from there to the torpedoes so they could be fired. The conning tower was crowded. One guy in there was a first class signalman who was a veteran of previous war patrols. When the depth charges came down on them he kept track of the number of them by writing on the bulkhead with a piece of chalk. When a charge went off close to the submarine the signalman walked to the other side of the conning tower and started keeping count on that bulkhead. The crew was excited when they sank their first enemy ship. After they sank their first ship they were depth charged most of the day until making their escape in the afternoon. That evening they followed what they thought was a convoy track to the other side of Luzon, caught up with the convoy the next day, and sank another ship. The Piranha's second patrol was out running around in the ocean looking for the Japanese fleet that was believed would be coming down to contest the American landings on Guam. They spent a lot of time running around but never saw anything. For Piranha's third patrol she went up north to patrol an area west of Honshu in the waters between China and Japan. It was in the winter and very cold with rough seas. They did not see a thing until the end of the patrol when they were heading back when they saw and attacked a convoy.


[Annotators Note: Charles Bishop served in the navy aboard the destroyer USS Cummings (DD-365) then later aboard the submarine USS Piranha (SS-389).] After the third patrol the Piranha [Annotators Note: USS Piranha (SS-389)] got a new skipper, Commander Don Irvine. The Piranha's fourth patrol was back in Convoy College. This time there were not many targets. Their fifth patrol was off the northeast side of Honshu. They did have some targets there and also encountered a lot of antisubmarine activity. After the fifth patrol they returned to Pearl Harbor to prepare for their sixth. The crew went ashore for ten days and a relief crew boarded the submarine to take care of the list of repairs and maintenance that was left by the crew. The crew went back aboard the day before they were to shove off to get the ship ready. The next morning they started the engines and were preparing to shove off when whistles started blowing and rockets were going off. They got the word that Japan had surrendered. Even though the Japanese had surrendered, at eight in the morning the Piranha slipped her lines, shoved off, and left for a war patrol off of Japan. They were four or five hours out when they got word that they were to return to Pearl Harbor. Bishop was relieved to hear that the war was over. His wife had become a mom while he was away. They had only been communicating by mail and now he would get to see her. There was a problem. All of these ships were returning to Pearl Harbor and they would not all fit. Some of the vessels were sent out to Midway Island and Bishop's was one of them. After a couple of weeks at Midway they steamed for San Francisco. Bishop’s wife Eleanor met him in San Francisco. The USS Piranha was about 318 feet long and had forward and aft torpedo rooms. The torpedo men slept in bunks by the torpedo tubes. Moving back from the forward torpedo room was the wardroom where the officers had their bunks. Then there was the cabin where the boat's five Chief Petty Officers bunked. Behind the chiefs’ quarters was a control room, then the galley. Behind the galley was main bunk room for the crew. Behind the crews quarters were the two engine rooms, the maneuvering room, and the aft torpedo room with bunks for the torpedo men in there. When they were preparing to get underway they were informed that the commodore was coming down to wish them well. Bishop was topside and watched as the senior torpedo man from the forward torpedo room crawled up on deck. Then he saw the senior torpedo man from the aft torpedo room crawled up. The two men met each other in the middle and told each other good bye for 60 days. They were going out on a patrol and would not see each other again until the patrol was over even though they were on the same 318 foot submarine. The food aboard the Piranha was standard navy chow. The submarine did have a good cook. When the Piranha arrived at Pearl after a patrol the cook left the ship and got a job at a bakery in Honolulu. He learned more about baking and picked up some new recipes then returned to the boat. He was a character but very much a professional. The Piranha had three black [Annotators Note: African American] stewards serving aboard. They took care of the ward room and the officers’ rooms in addition to their general quarters. Bishop does not recall any of his men who cracked under the pressure; having guys like the torpedo men making jokes helped out. When the boat submerged the radio was shut off. The radiomen would climb up to the conning tower and man the sonar. They were listening to the sounds of the ocean. Some of the radiomen would carry on conversations with the fish in the ocean that they could hear through their listening gear.


Charles Bishop stayed with the Piranha [Annotators Note: USS Piranha (SS-389)] to put her out of commission since he was the engineering officer. He then became the executive officer and later the commanding officer. It took a long time for the Piranha to be decommissioned because during the last patrol a depth charge attack knocked one of the boat's main motors out of line. They sent a request to the Bureau of Ships but the bureau had been inundated with requests at the end of the war. The request from the Piranha was put at the bottom of the pile. The Piranha returned to the United States in September 1945. Bishop picked up his wife and son in Portland, Oregon and brought them down [Annotator's Note: to San Francisco, California]. They were given temporary quarters where they could stay for 60 days. While Bishop was waiting for the Piranha to be decommissioned he and his family had to move five times from one set of Quonset huts to another. In May 1946 the Piranha was decommissioned. By that time Bishop had become commanding officer of the boat and had a crew of about 12 men. After the decommissioning, Bishop got orders to report to a boat down in San Diego. Bishop feels that having museums like The National World War II Museum is important. He believes that students should continue to study and learn about the Civil War, World War 1, and World War 2; especially World War 2. Bishop's message to future generations is that they should always know why they are doing what they are doing. He also wants people to realize that we are all human beings who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. We do not all speak the same or think the same but we are all Americans and we stick together. Bishop holds up the Piranha's battle flag and describes how it came to be. One of the crewmen came up with the idea to contact Disney Studios. They told the people at Disney the name of the boat and described to them what kind of a fish a piranha was. Disney created the design and sent it back to the crew. The top of the battle flag has five Japanese national flags, one for each enemy merchant ship she sank, and three rising sun flags, signifying an enemy combat vessel sunk by torpedoes. The flags on the bottom, five merchant and one combat vessels, represent vessels Piranha sank with gun fire. The small Japanese flags represented enemy ships Piranha claimed to have sunk. Bishop does not know if they all went down or if any made it back to Japan.

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