The USA Honor Squad, a military drill unit of third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade students in the Swanville and Upsala Elementary schools spent the night aboard the USS Cobia, a World War II submarine moored in Manitowoc, Wis. As a reward for their work providing nearly 1,000 pounds of needed items to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wounded Warrior project in the southern district of Afghanistan, the members of the squad were able to spend time in areas of the submarine that are ordinarily off limits to other visitors.
Although she was built by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Conn., the Cobia is a Gato-Class fleet submarine similar to the 28 boats that were built in Manitowoc during World War II. She saw action in the Pacific during that war completing six patrols and was credited with sinking 13 Japanese vessels for a total of 20,000 tons of enemy shipping. She was nearly sunk herself during an eight-hour depth charging by a Japanese warship. A national historic landmark, the Cobia has been restored to what she was like in 1945.
In order to qualify for the overnight on the Cobia, members of the squad were required to read Captain Edward L. Beach’s book, “Submarine,” a collection of stories of the war patrols of many American submarines operating in the Pacific during World War II.
During the Second World War, submarines comprised less than 2 percent of the U.S. Navy but was responsible for sinking more than 30 percent of Japan’s navy including eight aircraft carriers.
While the U.S. Navy’s submarine force played a significant role in America’s ability to gut the Japanese industrial and military strength, despite having to deal with faulty torpedoes for the first two years of the war, the success of the submarine fleet came with considerable cost as 52 boats and their crews of 372 officers and 3131 men remain on “Eternal Patrol.”
Submarine losses were the highest for any type of U.S. Naval ship operating in the Pacific during the Second World War.
While they were on board the Cobia, the squad members were surprised that a crew of sixty officers and men were able to tolerate living in such a small area for up to 75 days at a time on a patrol. Among the activities squad members did during their overnight aboard the sub were rigging the boat for depth charges and silent running, an ammunition drill which required them to haul all the ammunition from the magazine through the control room up through the conning tower and finally out on deck where they manned the deck guns.
Squad leader Abby Kurowski, served as skipper for the overnight and issued the commands aboard the boat including the command to man battle stations which required the squad members to watch all the gauges and perform many of the same duties that the crew had performed nearly 70 years ago.
They also learned how sonar works and how the Japanese sonar had difficulty detecting American submarines once they got below the thermal layer, how to make a torpedo approach and how to dive the boat.
“We want to thank our guides, Tim and Colin, from the Wisconsin Maritime Museum for all the things they taught us and did with us while we were aboard the Cobia. It was a really great experience and everybody was really into what they were supposed to be doing. We had a really good time,” said Kurowski
The overnight aboard the Cobia came a little more than a month after the squad spent a day and night at Camp Ripley learning about life as a soldier. They experienced Army physical training, did a land navigation exercise, completed a lengthy night patrol and sampled Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) for their noon meal.
Incoming Squad Leader Alex Bellefeuille said, “We really want to thank all the people at Camp Ripley, especially COL Scott St. Sauver, the post commander, our drill instructors for the overnight, MAJ Neal Wilson and CW3 Scott Bjerke, and SFC Michelle van Lith, who did most of the arrangements for us, for all the help and support they’ve provided for the squad. We also extend special thanks to CDR Thavee Douangaphaivong, CDR Shannon Tolliver and the other people at the Navy Recruiting District (NRD) in Minneapolis for all the things they do and have done for the squad. The support from the people at Camp Ripley and the NRD means a lot to the squad members and it makes the experience of being in the squad a lot more fun.”