Becoming a Sailor and Joining the USS Spadefish (SS-411)
Life and Combat on the USS Spadefish (SS-411)
Donald Joseph Scholle was born in New York City in July 1923. He served in both World War 2 and the Korean War. Before initially going into the service, he attended high school in the Bronx. He was at a movie when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He did not react strongly to the news. That trait paid off for him while he was a submariner. He was drafted in 1943 and elected to go into the Navy. He had the option of joining the Marines but rejected the idea of fighting in a foxhole.
Donald Scholle went to boot camp in Newport, Rhode Island. It was enjoyable and not too tough an experience for him. He went to Signal School and decided to join the submarine force after observing a submarine transit under a bridge he was crossing. He had further training in New London, Connecticut. Spritz Navy made things tough. [Annotator's Note: A highly regimented training named for a particularly discipline minded veteran diver named Charles Spritz]. Besides class work, he had to go through the 50 foot escape tower like all submarine trainees. After completing New London training with high scores, Scholle was sent to Key West for a month of additional training. Scholle then was sent to the submarine base at Mare Island. His boat, the Spadefish [Annotator's Note: USS Spadefish (SS-411)] was being completed and commissioned there. It was a Balao class submarine. She gave the crew no problems during the practices. Scholle had a bunk under the aft loading room. He mainly served as a lookout on the bridge of the boat. He was recognized as being a good man at that position.
Donald Scholle and his ship, the USS Spadefish (SS-411), sank 14 ships on its first patrol. On the second patrol, the submarine sank a small Japanese carrier. The sub trailed the carrier for three hours until an escort pulled out of the way. Spadefish fired six torpedoes and immediately was set upon by the other ships escorting the damaged carrier. SS-411 was positioned well by Underwood [Annotator's Note: US Navy Commander Gordon Underwood was skipper of the Spadefish] to evade the depth charges. The boat had just learned that it had previously sunk another Japanese ship larger than they estimated. That sinking was prior to the attack on the enemy carrier. The Spadefish had 29 ships sunk with the Tang [Annotator's Note: USS Tang (SS-306)] sinking 25 ships.
Donald Scholle was responsible on his submarine [Annotator's Note: USS Spadefish (SS-411)] for manning the conning tower and observing the lookouts coming down into the boat. He took notes while they did so. He would also go above and provide additional information to the captain [Annotator's Note: US Navy Commander Gordon Underwood was skipper of the Spadefish]. When Scholle had free time, he would go above and assist in spotting floating mines. The crew would use rifles to detonate the threat. If that did not work, a machine gun would do the job. Some subs might have been sunk because they did not do that for fear of making noise and being recognized. The Spadefish did not worry about that. They detonated the mines to avoid hitting them at night. They had sonar equipment to find the mines but did not use it until Spadefish went into the Sea of Japan. The detection gear failed about halfway into the Sea. SS-411 dove deep to avoid any mines. The mine gear came back and the threats were identified when they were within ten feet of the boat. That was close. Pearl Harbor was the sub's home base, but she only went there once during the war and once afterward. For rest, the Spadefish would put into various islands. Pearl Harbor was a good location for rest, but the curfew was too early. The sub used Midway and Guam for rest even though Japanese soldiers were still on Guam. They were a threat to sailors going on liberty. The forward bases had limited opportunities for escapism compared to Pearl Harbor. Scholle even had a Japanese soldier behind him in the chow line while he was on Guam. The submarines had defective torpedoes in the beginning of the war. It took years before the issues were corrected. Spadefish had good torpedoes by the time of its first patrol. Scholle did not do the fourth war patrol because of quota issues. He remained on the tender Proteus [Annotator's Note: USS Proteus (AS-19). He had an opportunity to go on the ill-fated patrol of the USS Bonefish (SS-223). He did not have the needed qualifications so he missed that mission. The Bonefish was sunk on that patrol. He was not meant to go at that time. He lost his buddy on that fatal mission. Spadefish had a good career in 1943 and 1944. They even sank a carrier. The boat had gun battles while on the surface until the captain fired torpedoes at the enemy vessels. The Presidential Unit Citation was issued for the first and second runs. When the war ended, the boat was at Pearl Harbor.
Donald Scholle was proud to have served on the USS Spadefish (SS-411). He did not like the second skipper who drove the sub into an enemy depth charge attack. Scholle heard the click of the detonator as the individual explosions were about to go off. The result would shake the sub and sometimes deform the structure and even take paint off the bulkheads. Submarines took a terrible beating. They could be trapped by Japanese surface ships or aircraft. If the enemy captured them, the prisoners were sometimes beaten unmercifully. The Tang [Annotator's Note: USS Tang (SS-306)] committed a terrible mistake when it fired its last fish [Annotator's Note: naval slang for a torpedo]. The practice was for a sub to always to return with least one torpedo. [Annotator's Note: The last torpedo fired by the USS Tang (SS-306) malfunctioned, made a circular run back at the boat and sank her with the loss of nearly all of her crew.] Scholle was discharged in 1946 as a Quartermaster 2nd Class (QM2c). He was in the reserves and served in the Korean War. He was on a submarine but there were no war patrols.
Donald Scholle enjoyed the Second World War except for the second skipper on his boat [Annotator's Note: USS Spadefish (SS-411)]. Those wartime experiences helped him get a good job afterward. He used the G.I. Bill to further his education. He was called back to the Navy to serve in the Korean War. Sinking the enemy aircraft carrier was his most memorable experience during World War 2. He watched the carrier burn and her planes slip off the flight deck as she sunk. The submariners were out to sink enemy vessels. They did not focus on the collateral loss of human life. The National WWII Museum is important to teach future generations about what happened in the "Silent Service." Scholle is proud to receive recognition for his service.
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