Shadowy Object May Be Lost Submarine
Thursday, October 5, 2006; 4:36 AM
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The underwater sonar images of a black shape against a grainy, monochrome background are the biggest clues in more than 60 years to the fate of Bruce Abele's father and the submarine he commanded during World War II.
For decades, relatives of the USS Grunion's 70 lost crewmen had no information beyond fragmented U.S. Navy records, and a few rumors, about where and why the sub went down near the islands at the tip of Alaska's Aleutian chain.
They knew the Grunion had sunk two Japanese submarine chasers and heavily damaged a third in July 1942 near Kiska, one of two Aleutian islands occupied by the Japanese. They knew her last official radio message to the sub base at Dutch Harbor, on July 30, 1942, described heavy enemy activity. They knew Dutch Harbor responded with an order to return to the base, but they don't know if Grunion ever received it.
Until a few years ago, the clues were too sparse to justify a search, said Abele, whose father, Mannert Abele, was the Grunion's commander.
"We really didn't do anything about it because there was nothing, no information," Abele said. "What were we going to do?"
Four years ago, a man who had heard about the Grunion's disappearance e-mailed links to several Grunion Web sites to Bruce Abele, who lives in Newton, Mass.
One site held an entirely new clue, a note from a Japanese model ship builder who said he thought he knew what had happened to the Grunion.
Abele's youngest brother, John, contacted the man, who translated and sent him a report written in the 1960s by a Japanese military officer who served in the Aleutians.
It described a confrontation between a U.S. submarine and the officer's freighter, the Kano Maru, on July 31, 1942, about 10 miles northeast of Kiska.
The sub dispatched several torpedoes. All but one bounced off the boat without exploding, or missed, the officer wrote, although the hit knocked out his engines and communications. He said he returned fire and believed he had sunk the sub.
The Abele brothers _ Bruce, Brad and John _ began investigating the identity of the sub in the Kano Maru officer's report.
They hired a marine survey firm, Seattle-based Williamson and Associates, for an expedition in August to Kiska.