Eugene B. Fluckey, 93; renowned WWII submarine commander
Retired Rear Adm. Eugene B. Fluckey, a renowned World War II submarine commander whose daring attacks on Japanese ships earned him a Medal of Honor, has died. He was 93.
Fluckey, who shared the nickname “the Galloping Ghost of the China Coast” with his submarine, died Thursday of complications of Alzheimer’s disease at a hospital in Annapolis, Md., said his daughter, Barbara Bove.
As the innovative and courageous skipper of the USS Barb in the Pacific from April 1944 to August 1945, Fluckey was awarded the Medal of Honor and four Navy Crosses, among other decorations.
“He revolutionized submarine warfare,” Carl LaVO, author of “The Galloping Ghost: The Extraordinary Life of Submarine Legend Eugene Fluckey,” which was published in May by the Naval Institute Press, told The Times on Monday.
“He was the first submarine skipper in history to employ a submarine to launch guided missiles at an enemy target,” said LaVO, referring to missiles fired from a number of tubes arranged in a rack anchored to the Barb’s deck that destroyed factories in two coastal Japanese cities.
“The Japanese thought this had to be an aerial bombardment, but they could not find any airplanes,” LaVO said. “By that time, the submarine was long gone.”
Fluckey, he said, “also thought submarines could be used for landing saboteurs on shore, and they blew up a 16-car train on a northern island off the Japanese mainland.
“He also is credited for creating havoc by hit-and-run tactics, so that the Japanese never knew where the attack was coming from, and that’s how he got this moniker, ‘the Galloping Ghost.’ ”
The nickname was coined the night of Jan. 25, 1945, when the Barb was lying in wait in shallow waters between two promontories off the coast of China. After hours of nervous waiting, the expected Japanese convoy failed to materialize, and Fluckey decided to move back out to sea.
“No joy at this [position]. Let’s gallop,” he said to his executive officer.
To which his executive officer responded: “Captain, where is the Galloping Ghost of the China coast going to gallop tonight?”
It was just a short time later, LaVO said, that Fluckey “theorized there must be a secret harbor somewhere where the Japanese ships were anchoring at night, and they could only get to it by going up this inland sea, where it was really shallow, to find it.”
Traveling on the surface of the waterway, it took the Barb about an hour to reach Nam Kwam Harbor.
They expected to find a convoy of six or seven ships, said LaVO. “What they found was 27.”
He said the Barb fired eight torpedoes, keeping four in reserve in case they had to shoot at any destroyers that counterattacked.
“The idea was the element of surprise and get the hell out of there,” LaVO said. “It was very risky because they could not dive. He had to go 20 miles out to sea before he could dive, and in getting out of there, they reached a record speed for submarines of 23 knots.”
Up until that attack, LaVO said, “the Japanese navy felt it could send convoys safely from ports in Japan to the Philippine islands using the coastal waters of China, which were too shallow for submarines to hide in. They never expected it to come in on the surface.”
Although the Navy officially credited the Barb with the explosion of an ammunition ship, LaVO said, Fluckey and his crew believed more than just the one ship had been sunk.
Feeling that the Barb was not given adequate credit for the attack, Fluckey returned to Nam Kwam Harbor in 1991. “He spoke to two elderly men who were teenagers the night of the attack,” said LaVO, “and they said four ships were sunk and three damaged” during the Barb’s surprise attack.
The daring mission was the highlight of the Barb’s war patrol along the east coast of China from Dec. 19, 1944, to Feb. 15, 1945, which earned Fluckey the Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Barb.”
During the war, Fluckey took the greatest pride in one thing. “No one who ever served under my command was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded or killed, and all of us brought our Barb back safe and sound,” he wrote in “Thunder Below!,” his 1992 book published by the University of Illinois Press.
At the end of the war, LaVO said, the Navy credited Fluckey in his five war patrols in command of the Barb with sinking 25 ships, totaling 179,700 tons. But after reviewing Japanese records about a year and a half later, LaVO said, the Navy credited him with sinking 16.3 ships, totaling 95,360 tons.
“That put him at No. 4 in the list of ships sunk by American submarines, but No. 1 in terms of tonnage,” said LaVO, noting that that among the sunken ships were an aircraft carrier, a cruiser and numerous cargo ships.
Fluckey was born in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 5, 1913, and graduated from high school at 15. A 1935 graduate of the Naval Academy, he served on the submarine Bonita during the early part of the war.
After the war ended, he became personal aide to the chief of naval operations, Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. Promoted to rear admiral in 1960, he later served as commander of the submarine force in the Pacific, director of naval intelligence and chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Portugal.
He retired from active duty in 1972.
Fluckey’s first wife, Marjorie, died in 1979. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Margaret; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.