USS Barb SS-220 and
Rear Admiral Eugene "Lucky" Fluckey
The Sub That Sank a Train


Thanks to my friend, Ford Murray, USS Missouri tour guide, for sending this in.

For all his exploits, Admiral Fluckey said he was most proud of 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.”

In 1973 an Italian submarine named Enrique Tazzoli was sold for a paltry $100,000 as scrap metal. The submarine, given to the Italian Navy in 1953 was actually an incredible veteran of World War II service with a heritage that never should have passed so unnoticed into the graveyards of the metal recyclers.

The U.S.S. Barb was a pioneer, paving the way for the first submarine launched missiles and flying a battle flag unlike that of any other ship. In addition to the Medal of Honor ribbon at the top of the flag identifying the heroism of its captain, Commander Eugene "Lucky" Fluckey, the bottom border of the flag bore the image of a Japanese locomotive. The U.S.S. Barb was indeed, the submarine that "SANK A TRAIN".

FluckeyJuly 18, 1945 (Patience Bay, Off the coast of Karafuto , Japan ) It was after 4 A.M. and Commander Fluckey rubbed his eyes as he peered over the map spread before him. It was the twelfth war patrol of the Barb, the fifth under Commander Fluckey. He should have turned command over to another skipper after four patrols, but had managed to strike a deal with Admiral Lockwood to make one more trip with the men he cared for like a father, should his fourth patrol be successful. Of course, no one suspected when he had struck that deal prior to his fourth and what should have been his final war patrol on the Barb, that Commander Fluckey's success would be so great he would be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Commander Fluckey smiled as he remembered that patrol. "Lucky" Fluckey they called him. On January 8th the Barb had emerged victorious from a running two-hour night battle after sinking a large enemy ammunition ship. Two weeks later in Mamkwan Harbor he found the "mother-lode" ...more than 30 enemy ships. In only 5 fathoms (30 feet) of water his crew had unleashed the sub's forward torpedoes, then turned and fired four from the stern. As he pushed the Barb to the full limit of its speed through the dangerous waters in a daring withdrawal to the open sea, he recorded eight direct hits on six enemy ships.

What could possibly be left for the Commander to accomplish who, just three months earlier had been in Washington, DC to receive the Medal of Honor? He smiled to himself as he looked again at the map showing the rail line that ran along the enemy coastline. Now his crew was buzzing excitedly about bagging a train.

USS BarbThe rail line itself wouldn't be a problem. A shore patrol could go ashore under cover of darkness to plant the explosives.. .one of the sub's 55-pound scuttling charges. But this early morning Lucky Fluckey and his officers were puzzling over how they could blow not only the rails, but also one of the frequent trains that shuttled supplies to equip the Japanese war machine. But no matter how crazy the idea might have sounded, the Barb's skipper would not risk the lives of his men. Thus the problem... how to detonate the charge at the moment the train passed, without endangering the life of a shore party. PROBLEM?

Solutions! If you don't look for them, you'll never find them. And even then, sometimes they arrive in the most unusual fashion. Cruising slowly beneath the surface to evade the enemy plane now circling overhead, the monotony is broken with an exciting new idea. Instead of having a crewman on shore to trigger explosives to blow both rail and a passing train, why not let the train BLOW ITSELF up. Billy Hatfield was excitedly explaining how he had cracked nuts on the railroad tracks as a kid, placing the nuts between two ties so the sagging of the rail under the weight of a train would break them open. "Just like cracking walnuts," he explained. "To complete the circuit (detonating the 55-pound charge) we hook in a micro switch ...between two ties. We don't set it off, the TRAIN does." Not only did Hatfield have the plan, he wanted to be part of the volunteer shore party.

The solution found, there was no shortage of volunteers, all that was needed was the proper weather...a little cloud cover to darken the moon for the mission ashore. Barb EmblemLucky Fluckey established his own criteria for the volunteer party: ...No married men would be included, except for Hatfield, ...The party would include members from each department, ...The opportunity would be split between regular Navy and Navy Reserve sailors, ...At least half of the men had to have been Boy Scouts, experienced in how to handle themselves in medical emergencies and in the woods. FINALLY, "Lucky" Fluckey would lead the saboteurs himself.

When the names of the 8 selected sailors was announced it was greeted with a mixture of excitement and disappointment. Among the disappointed was Commander Fluckey who surrendered his opportunity at the insistence of his officers that "as commander he belonged with the Barb," coupled with the threat from one that "I swear I'll send a message to ComSubPac if you attempt this (joining the shore party himself)." Even a Japanese POW being held on the Barb wanted to go, promising not to try to escape.

In the meantime, there would be no more harassment of Japanese shipping or shore operations by the Barb until the train mission had been accomplished. The crew would "lay low", prepare their equipment, train, and wait for the weather.

July 22, 1945 (Patience Bay, off the coast of Karafuto, Japan) Patience Bay was wearing thin the patience of Commander Fluckey and his innovative crew. Everything was ready. In the four days the saboteurs had anxiously watched the skies for cloud cover, the inventive crew of the Barb had built their micro switch. When the need was posed for a pick and shovel to bury the explosive charge and batteries, the Barb's engineers had cut up steel plates in the lower flats of an engine room, then bent and welded them to create the needed tools. The only things beyond their control were the weather....and time. Only five days remained in the Barb's patrol.

Anxiously watching the skies, Commander Fluckey noticed plumes of cirrus clouds, then white stratus capping the mountain peaks ashore. A cloud cover was building to hide the three-quarters moon. This would be the night.

MIDNIGHT, July 23, 1945
The Barb had crept within 950 yards of the shoreline. If it was somehow seen from the shore it would probably be mistaken for a schooner or Japanese patrol boat. No one would suspect an American submarine so close to shore or in such shallow water. Slowly the small boats were lowered to the water and the 8 saboteurs began paddling toward the enemy beach. Twenty-five minutes later they pulled the boats ashore and walked on the surface of the Japanese homeland.

Stumbling through noisy waist-high grasses, crossing a highway and then into a 4-foot drainage ditch, the saboteurs made their way to the railroad tracks. Three men were posted as guards, Markuson assigned to examine a nearby water tower. The Barb's auxiliary man climbed the ladder, then stopped in shock as he realized it was an enemy lookout OCCUPIED tower. Fortunately the Japanese sentry was peacefully sleeping and Markuson was able to quietly withdraw and warn his raiding party.

The news from Markuson caused the men digging the placement for the explosive charge to continue their work more slowly and quietly. Twenty minutes later the holes had been dug and the explosives and batteries hidden beneath fresh soil.

During planning for the mission the saboteurs had been told that, with the explosives in place, all would retreat a safe distance while Hatfield made the final connection. If the sailor who had once cracked walnuts on the railroad tracks slipped during this final, dangerous procedure, his would be the only life lost. On this night it was the only order the saboteurs refused to obey, all of them peering anxiously over Hatfield's shoulder to make sure he did it right. The men had come too far to be disappointed by a switch failure.

1:32 A.M.
Watching from the deck of the Barb, Commander Fluckey allowed himself a sigh of relief as he noticed the flashlight signal from the beach announcing the departure of the shore party. He had skillfully, and daringly, guided the Barb within 600 yards of the enemy beach. There was less than 6 feet of water beneath the sub's keel, but Fluckey wanted to be close in case trouble arose and a daring rescue of his saboteurs became necessary.

1:45 A.M.
The two boats carrying his saboteurs were only halfway back to the Barb when the sub's machine gunner yelled, "CAPTAIN! Another train coming up the tracks!" The Commander grabbed a megaphone and yelled through the night, "Paddle like the devil!", knowing full well that they wouldn't reach the Barb before the train hit the micro switch.

1:47 A.M.
The darkness was shattered by brilliant light and the roar of the explosion. The boilers of the locomotive blew, shattered pieces of the engine blowing 200 feet into the air. Behind it the cars began to accordion into each other, bursting into flame and adding to the magnificent fireworks display. Five minutes later the saboteurs were lifted to the deck by their exuberant comrades as the Barb turned to slip back to safer waters. Moving at only two knots, it would be a while before the Barb was into waters deep enough to allow it to submerge. It was a moment to savor, the culmination of Barb Emblemteamwork, ingenuity and daring by the Commander and all his crew. "Lucky" Fluckey's voice came over the intercom. "All hands below deck not absolutely needed to maneuver the ship have permission to come topside." He didn't have to repeat the invitation. Hatches sprang open as the proud sailors of the Barb gathered on her decks to proudly watch the distant fireworks display. The Barb had "sunk" a Japanese TRAIN!

On August 2, 1945 the Barb arrived at Midway, her twelfth war patrol concluded. Meanwhile United States military commanders had pondered the prospect of an armed assault on the Japanese homeland. Military tacticians estimated such an invasion would cost more than a million American casualties. Instead of such a costly armed offensive to end the war, on August 6th the B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a single atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima , Japan . A second such bomb, unleashed 4 days later on Nagasaki , Japan , caused Japan to agree to surrender terms on August 15th. On September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Harbor the documents ending the war in the Pacific were signed.

The story of the saboteurs of the U.S.S. Barb is one of those unique, little known stories of World War II. It becomes increasingly important when one realizes that the 8 sailors who blew up the train at near Kashiho, Japan conducted the ONLY GROUND COMBAT OPERATION on the Japanese "homeland" of World War II.

The eight saboteurs were:

Paul Saunders
William Hatfield
Francis Sever
Lawrence Newland
Edward Klinglesmith
James Richard
John Markuson
William Walker.

Medal of Honor Citation:

MOHFor conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Barb during her 11th war patrol along the east coast of China from 19 December 1944 to 15 February 1945. After sinking a large enemy ammunition ship and damaging additional tonnage during a running 2-hour night battle on 8 January, Comdr. Fluckey, in an exceptional feat of brilliant deduction and bold tracking on 25 January, located a concentration of more than 30 enemy ships in the lower reaches of Nankuan Chiang (Mamkwan Harbor). Fully aware that a safe retirement would necessitate an hour's run at full speed through the uncharted, mined, and rock-obstructed waters, he bravely ordered, "Battle station — torpedoes!" In a daring penetration of the heavy enemy screen, and riding in 5 fathoms [9 m] of water, he launched the Barb's last forward torpedoes at 3,000 yard [2.7 km] range. Quickly bringing the ship's stern tubes to bear, he turned loose 4 more torpedoes into the enemy, obtaining 8 direct hits on 6 of the main targets to explode a large ammunition ship and cause inestimable damage by the resultant flying shells and other pyrotechnics. Clearing the treacherous area at high speed, he brought the Barb through to safety and 4 days later sank a large Japanese freighter to complete a record of heroic combat achievement, reflecting the highest credit upon Comdr. Fluckey, his gallant officers and men, and the U.S. Naval Service.

Thunder Below BookFoot note: Eugene Bennett Fluckey retired from the Navy as a Rear Admiral, and wears in addition to his Medal of Honor, FOUR Navy Crosses...a record of awards unmatched by any living American. In 1992 his own history of the U.S.S. Barb was published in the award winning book, THUNDER BELOW. Over the past several years proceeds from the sale of this exciting book have been used by Admiral Fluckey to provide free reunions for the men who served him aboard the Barb, and their wives.

PS: The Admiral graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1935 and lived to age 93, passing on in 2007, Obituary below.

Obituary by Richard Goldstein, published July 2, 2007

Rear Adm. Eugene B. Fluckey, one of America’s most daring submarine commanders of World War II and a recipient of the Medal of Honor, died Thursday in Annapolis, Md. He was 93.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said his daughter, Barbara Bove.

FluckeyThe skipper of the submarine Barb in the Pacific from April 1944 to August 1945, Commander Fluckey was known for innovative tactics. He was the only American submarine skipper to fire rockets at Japanese targets on shore, and he oversaw a sabotage raid in which sailors from his submarine blew up a Japanese train.

In addition to receiving the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, he was awarded four Navy Crosses, his service’s second-highest decoration.

The Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, which provided final, official tallies for World War II submarine attacks, credited him with destroying 95,360 tons of Japanese shipping, the highest total for an American submarine commander. According to Admiral Fluckey’s own findings, based on his 10 years of postwar research, the Barb sank about 145,000 tons under his command during five extended periods at sea.

He was credited by military authorities with sinking 16 Japanese ships and taking part with two other skippers in a 17th sinking, the fourth-highest total among World War II submarine commanders from the United States. By his own accounting, he sank 28 ships and took part in a 29th sinking.

In September 1944, the Barb sank the 20,000-ton Japanese aircraft carrier Unyo and an 11,000-ton Japanese tanker in the same torpedo salvo.

Richard O’Kane, also a Medal of Honor recipient, ranked No. 1 in sinkings, with 24, but No. 2 behind Commander Fluckey in tonnage destroyed, according to the joint assessment unit, whose postwar findings generally differed from submarine commanders’ reports filed in the aftermath of combat.

Telling of the Barb’s attacks on Japanese shipping early in 1945, Clay Blair Jr. wrote in the book “Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan” that when Commander Fluckey took his submarine back to Pearl Harbor, “he was greeted with a red carpet.” “His endorsements were ecstatic. One stated, ‘The Barb is one of the finest fighting submarines this war has ever known.’ ”

Eugene Bennett Fluckey was born in Washington on October 5, 1913. When he was 10, he was mightily impressed by a radio speech by President Calvin Coolidge emphasizing persistence as a prime ingredient for success.

He named his dog Calvin Coolidge, and inspired by the admonition to excel, he finished high school at age 15. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1935 and served on the submarine Bonita in the early years of World War II, before commanding the Barb and taking as his motto “we don’t have problems, just solutions.”

He was awarded the Medal of Honor for the Barb’s attacks on Japanese ships from December 1944 to February 1945 in waters off the eastern coast of occupied China and was cited specifically for the events in the predawn hours of Jan. 23, 1945. The Barb, riding above the surface in shallow, uncharted, mined and rock-obstructed waters, sneaked into a harbor some 250 miles south of Shanghai and scored direct hits on 6 of the more than 30 Japanese ships there. A large ammunition ship was blown up in the attack, according to the citation.

“Clearing the treacherous area at high speed,” the citation said, “he brought the Barb through to safety, and four days later sank a large Japanese freighter to complete a record of heroic combat achievement.”

In the summer of 1945, the Barb became the first American submarine armed with rockets, and it used them to strike a Japanese air station and several factories. On July 23, 1945, the Barb embarked on a sabotage mission. With the submarine standing 950 yards offshore, eight volunteers, aboard a pair of rubber boats, paddled onto Japanese soil on the southern half of Sakhalin Island under cover of night and planted explosive charges on railroad tracks 400 yards inland. Commander Fluckey had considered giving the crewmen a terse Hollywood-style sendoff, but as he told The New York Times afterward, all he could think of was: “Boys, if you get stuck, head for Siberia, 130 miles north. Following the mountain ranges. Good luck.” The crewmen did not get stuck, and as they paddled back to the Barb, a 16-car train came by, triggering the explosives. The wreckage flew 200 feet in the air.

Soon after the war ended, Commander Fluckey became an aide to Navy Secretary James Forrestal and to the chief of naval operations, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1960.

He commanded American submarine forces in the Pacific and was the director of naval intelligence in the 1960s. He retired from military service in 1972.

In addition to his daughter, of Summerfield, Fla., and Annapolis, he is survived by his wife, Margaret; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His first wife, Marjorie, died in 1979.

For all his exploits, Admiral Fluckey said he was most proud of one thing. As he put it in his memoir, “Thunder Below!” (University of Illinois Press, 1992): “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.”

Related Submarine Pages:

Strong and Silent

Proven in Battle

Main Submarine page