The Atlantic coast is home to the Spot, a tiny sciaenoid food fish with a black spot behind its shoulders. In the Navy tradition of naming World War II era submarines for fish, the USS Spot Balao-class submarine was launched on Aug. 3, 1944.
Aboard Das Boot was Atlanta native Charles Crews, former projectionist at the fabulous Fox Theater. Crews recalled, “I’d served aboard the USS Nevada battleship when it bombarded Attu Island in the Aleutians, but I preferred a closer-knit crew so I volunteered for submarine duty.”
Among more enjoyable experiences, Crews danced with Betty Grable at a Hollywood canteen, met Clark Gable and Bob Hope, and heard aging vocalist Sophie Tucker tell a group of troops, “There’s snow on the roof, but there’s still a fire in the furnace.”
The USS Spot sailed into the fiery furnace called the Pacific in December of 1944, with Crews operating the starboard side maneuvering board.
“We had a surprise when we reached Pearl Harbor,” he said. “The Navy had the Spot listed as sunk. That sure was news to us.”
Then came the combat, with the Spot depth-charged four times while on patrol, twice by her own country.
“Our first patrol was around Wake Island,” Crew said. “We sank a couple of merchant ships, but I don’t recall any celebrations. No feelings of guilt, but no festivity, either.”
When not sinking Japanese combat ships, the Spot made unauthorized rendezvous with seagoing Japanese “Junks.”
“They were everywhere,” Crews recalled. “We knew they could radio in our position, but we still traded our canned goods for their fresh fish. The Navy got wind of it and finally ordered a cessation of our barter system.”
The submariners aboard Spot saw the grisly results of the fanatical Japanese Army while taking on supplies from a submarine tender near the island of Saipan. Crews said, “There were bleached bones of suicidal Japanese all over the beach. We saw other bones, too, American.”
On March 31, 1945, lookouts on the Spot sighted a destroyer. Slowly maneuvering closer, the destroyer turned and increased speed for an attack and opened fire.
Recognizing the destroyer as American (the USS Case, DD-370), the Spot fired a recognition flare. In response, the Case fired another salvo that narrowly missed her conning tower. The Spot submerged, only to be depth-charged.
Crews said, “Crew members of the Case apologized at a recent reunion. To be honest, I didn’t want to hear it!”
The Spot was mistakenly attacked by a U.S. Army plane; fought running deck gun battles with Japanese surface ships; surfaced into a Japanese minefield that almost cost crew members their lives; and submerged into a mud bank while escaping depth-charges. The deck gun crew suffered severe injuries in one surface battle, but all survived.
At war’s end, the Spot had achieved a record of at least 16 ships sunk, several damaged, and a radar installation destroyed.
On being depth-charged, Crews stated, “It’s like bombs going off in your face.”
When Japan surrendered, the Spot was being resupplied at Pearl Harbor.
And Crews? “I was sunbathing on Waikiki Beach. Nice way to end a war, don’t you think?”