The Hedgehog: The Royal Navy's Secret Weapon to Kill Japanese Submarines

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April 20, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: MilitaryTechnologyWeaponsWarSubmarines

The Hedgehog: The Royal Navy's Secret Weapon to Kill Japanese Submarines

Tokyo hated this during World War II.

Shortly after midnight on May 24, George reported she had picked up a submerging submarine at a distance of seven miles. England raced to intercept the enemy and soon made sonar contact at a depth of 165 feet. Pendleton fired a full barrage of Hedgehogs. Three projectiles exploded on the target. All hands waited expectantly for the usual large explosion, but the sea was silent—nothing on sonar.

The three DEs circled and searched the area. The surface of the water for many miles from the attack point was coated with a thin film of oil, pieces of deck planking, and cork. Evidently the submarine, RO-116, had been badly damaged but continued moving for several minutes before sinking.

By that time, the ships of Division 39 were running low on oil and Hedgehogs. At 11 pm on May 26, while steaming for Manus Island to refuel and load ammunition, England and Raby made a surface contact at a range of five miles. The target, RO-108, immediately submerged but was rapidly picked up by England’s sonar. Minutes later, England launched a Hedgehog salvo. Several tremendous explosions quickly turned the quiet waters to a bubbly froth. Pendleton’s ship circled the area until dawn. At the center of the blast, oil was still seen rising to the surface. A whaleboat was lowered, and a large amount of wreckage was recovered.

On the afternoon of May 27, England, George, and Raby steamed into Seeadler Harbor at Manus. The destroyer escort Spangler was waiting for them with a fresh supply of Hedgehogs. The following morning, after refueling, the rugged submarine chasers headed back out to sea. They were joined by Spangler and the destroyer Hazelwood.

At 2 am on May 30, Hazelwood made a sonar contact at about eight miles. The destroyer attacked with conventional depth charges, but was unable to flush the submarine. The four DEs were directed to help search for the enemy craft.

Six Submarines in 12 Days

Throughout the day, RO-105’s captain played cat-and-mouse with his antagonists. The frustrated American ships were unable to maintain regular contact with the elusive submarine.

Finally, at 3:20 am on May 31, George and Raby regained sound contact with the enemy sub. England and Spangler soon arrived on the scene. George and Raby had been firing Hedgehog barrages, without success. Spangler was then called in to try her luck. Again, nothing.

Around daybreak, Admiral Halsey advised Escort Division 39 that Japanese aircraft were in the vicinity and for the division to leave the area fast. Frustration aboard England was very evident. She still had not fired one salvo at the cunning submarine. Pendleton requested permission for one last shot and was given the green light.

At 7:30, England made a good sonar contact at 1,650 yards and headed into her firing run. RO-105tried to swing away from the attack, but Pendleton was not fooled. He launched a Hedgehog salvo in the direction the submarine was heading. Moments later, two projectiles struck their target, and then a resounding explosion was heard. The DE was again bounced hard, but remained in one piece.

Pendleton headed for the site of the explosion. Oil and debris covered the water. A whaleboat was lowered to recover some of the wreck age. Among the items picked up were bottle corks with Japanese lettering, deck planking, varnished hardwood, and one chopstick.

The sinking of six Japanese submarines in 12 days by a single ship was a feat unparalleled in naval history. England was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, and the skillful employment of the Hedgehog signaled the death knell for the enemy’s undersea fleet.

Toyoda’s scouting line had been destroyed. The admiral logically assumed that the heavy American buildup at Manus and the loss of his submarines indicated a strike at the Palau Islands. He immediately sent his fleet in that direction. Two weeks later, American naval and land forces invaded the Marianas. Saipan, Tinian, and Guam were soon cut from the fabric of Hirohito’s empire.

By this time, Hedgehogs had become standard equipment on American destroyer escorts. During the month of June 1944, Banguet blasted RO-111 and Burden R. Hastings sank RO-44.

July was a banner month for DEs patrolling off Saipan. William C. Miller destroyed I-6, Wyman clobbered RO-48, and Wyman and Reynolds, operating as a team, sent I-55 to the bottom.

Proof of Concept for the New War Machine

In late September, while scouting the waters between Guam and Palau, McCoy Reynolds sank I-75. The following month, Samuel S. Miles blasted I-364, Richard M. Rowell destroyed I-362, and Whitehurst sent I-45 to the bottom.

In early January 1945, Fleming made the first kill of the year—sinking RO-47. A few days later, while patrolling as a team, Conklin, Corbesier, and Raby sank I-48. On the last day of the month, Ulvert M. Moore blasted RO-115.

The Japanese submarine force was rapidly being picked to pieces. During February, Thomasondestroyed RO-55 and Finnegan sent the crew of I-370 to the bottom.

During the war, 19 destroyer escorts were awarded Presidential Unit Citations, and eight received Navy Unit Commendations. The Hedgehog had certainly proved that it could play in the big leagues.

Originally Published September 25, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.