WW2 USN Submariner ‘Dolphins’ from an officer aboard USS Skipjack (SS-184)

USN Submariner badge, type 2, "deep wave" variation made by Hillborn & Hamburger Inc. and engraved "To Audrey from Sidney Kelf 11.25.42". Collection: Julian Tennant

USN Submariner badge, type 2, “deep wave” variation made by Hillborn & Hamburger Inc. and engraved “To Audrey from Sidney Kelf 11.25.42”. Collection: Julian Tennant

Another item from my collection this week. This time it is a WW2 USN “deep wave” type 2 Submariner badge made by Hillborn & Hamburger that I acquired from a family here in Australia. The badge originally belonged to Lieutenant Sidney Alfred Kelf who served aboard the Salmon class submarine, USS Slipjack (SS-184) in 1941 and 1942.

The badge came from the estate of Audrey Beryl Hughson an Australian who was given it as a keepsake by Kelf whilst he was stationed in Australia during WW2. The badge is engraved “To Audrey from Sidney Kelf 11.25.42” which indicates the engraving was done at the conclusion of the boat’s 5th war patrol which took Skipjack from the submarine base at Fremantle in Western Australia to Pearl Harbor.

USS Skipjack (SS-184) off Provincetown, Massachusetts during sea trials, 14 May 1938. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS Skipjack (SS-184) off Provincetown, Massachusetts during sea trials, 14 May 1938. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS Skipjack (SS-184) was laid down on 22 July 1936, launched 23 October 1937 and commissioned on 30 June 1938. It was one of the 29 submarines that formed the US Navy’s Asiatic Submarine Fleet that was based in Manila in the Philippines at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Skipjack left for her first war patrol off the east coast of Samar two days later. It ended on 14 January 1942 in Darwin, Australia and after 16 days in port, commenced her second patrol in the Celebes sea which concluded in March at the Fremantle base in Western Australia.

American Submarines at North Wharf, Fremantle, 1945. The ship in the background is submarine tender USS PELAIS, surrounded by her 'brood', which included the subs BONEFISH, RASHER, BOWFIN, BLUEFISH, NARWHAL, TINOSA, CREVALLE and COD. Photo: Family of RAN photographer, Saxon Fogarty

American Submarines at North Wharf, Fremantle, 1945. The ship in the background is submarine tender USS PELAIS, surrounded by her ‘brood’, which at that time included the subs BONEFISH, RASHER, BOWFIN, BLUEFISH, NARWHAL, TINOSA, CREVALLE and COD. Photo: Family of RAN photographer, Saxon Fogarty

On the 14th of April, under the command of Lt. Cdr. James Wiggins Coe, Skipjack left Fremantle for her third war patrol, this time in the South China Sea. The submarine had her first success on 6 May 1942 when it torpedoed and sank the Japanese transport ship Kanan Maru (2567 GRT) about 25 nautical miles north-east of Cam Ranh Bay, French Indochina. It followed this up on 8 May when it sank the Japanese transport ship Bujun Maru (4804 GRT) about 125 nautical miles east of Cam Ranh Bay and then the Japanese troop transport Tazan Maru (5477 GRT) near the Gulf of Siam on 17 May before returning to Fremantle on the 2nd of June.

On 18 July 1942, USS Skipjack left Fremantle for her 4th war patrol, this time in the Banda Sea and had her next victory when she torpedoed and damaged the Japanese fleet oil-tanker Hayatomo (14050 GRT) south-west of Ambon, Netherlands East Indies on 23 August. The patrol ended when she returned to Fremantle on 4 September.

I am not sure of when Sidney Kelf met Audrey or the circumstances of their meeting and the Audrey’s family could not provide me with any additional information about the relationship, but it would have occurred before Skipjack left for her 5th war patrol on 29 September 1942. Once again she was ordered to patrol in the Banda Sea, then work her way up north and end this war patrol at Pearl Harbor. On 14 October Skipjack had her next success sinking the Japanese transport ship Shunko Maru (6780 GRT) about 450 nautical miles west-south-west of Truk.

The Japanese Freighter S.S. Shunko Maru sinking in the central Pacific, after she was torpedoed by Skipjack (SS-184) on 14 October 1942. Photographed through Skipjack's periscope. Shunko Maru's back appears to be broken, and her hull bears traces of pattern camouflage paint. Photo: US National Archives # 80-G-33292

The Japanese Freighter S.S. Shunko Maru sinking in the central Pacific, after she was torpedoed by Skipjack (SS-184) on 14 October 1942. Photographed through Skipjack’s periscope. Shunko Maru’s back appears to be broken, and her hull bears traces of pattern camouflage paint. Photo: US National Archives # 80-G-33292

The submarine concluded her 5th war patrol in Pearl Harbor on 26 November 1942, before being ordered to Mare Island Navy Yard for an overhaul. It appears that Sidney Kelf did not accompany the submarine for refit to California but remained in Pearl Harbor and assigned to the Lapwing class Minesweeper,  USS Seagull (AM-30) which was reclassified as a Submarine tender.

USS Skipjack returned to Pearl Harbor after her overhaul and completed another 5 war patrols, sinking Japanese destroyer Suzukaze and transport ship Okitsu Maru on her 9th patrol and damaging the Japanese motor sail ship Tatsu Maru No.6 on her 10th and final patrol in November 1944. The submarine was then retired to training duties before being sunk during Test Baker, the second of two atomic bomb tests conducted at Bikini Atoll on 25 July 1946.

Insignia of USS Skipjack (SS-184) during WW2

Insignia of USS Skipjack (SS-184) during WW2

My research regarding the life and service of submariner, Lt. Sidney Alfred Kelf is far from complete and I do need to do a lot more research as my original records were lost when a computer hard-drive failed. I do know that he originally joined the navy as an enlisted man and was a Chief Torpedo-man before being commissioned. I also have a photograph of his grave headstone which indicates that he was born on May 8 1902, died October 31 1966 having served in the Navy in both World War 1 and 2.

USN submariner Kelf headstone

In addition to his submariner ‘dolphins’ badge, Sidney Kelf’s participation in two successful war patrols would have qualified him for the Submarine Combat Insignia with gold star. I am not sure what his medal entitlement is but as I intend to continue to research this individual, I’ll update this article as new information presents itself.

USN Submarine Combat Insignia qualification.

USN Submarine Combat Insignia qualification. This is one of two rare variations made by Sheridans of Perth to supply the submariners stationed at Fremantle during the war. Collection: Julian Tennant

EDIT: 01 May 2020.
Not directly related to Sidney Kelf, but I just found this amusing article from the National WW2 Museum in New Orleans relating the to frustration felt by the skipper, Lieutenant Commander James Coe, when the submarine’s request for toilet paper was denied. You can read the Skipjack’s battle for toilet paper on the museum website.

 

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Merredin Military Museum, Western Australia

 

Situated approximately 256 km (159 miles) east of Perth and roughly halfway to the goldfields surrounding Kalgoorlie, the town of Merredin was established as a rest stop for travellers making their way to the goldfield region. Being so far from the coast the town also became an important military base during World War 2 when military planners were establishing a defensive line in the event of a Japanese invasion. Merredin was considered distant enough from the coast to be out of range of carrier borne aircraft, close to major road and rail supply routes and in an area where there were good food and water supplies. As a result the town and surrounding district was home to several military bases during the war and since the early 1990’s, home to the Merredin Military Museum.

I had been wanting to visit this museum for some time and after giving the curator, Rob Endersbee a call to confirm that it would be open, I left Perth early on Friday morning for the three-hour drive. Because of its history during WW2, there are a number of military related sites around the area, so the plan was to stay in town overnight and make a leisurely drive back to Perth on Saturday or Sunday, checking out anything that took my fancy on the way.

Despite leaving quite early, I did get a little distracted on the drive when I passed an old service station in the town of Meckering, just over an hour outside of Perth. The gas station had been redecorated to look like a huge SLR camera and was now The Big Camera – Museum of Photography, a private collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of old cameras and photographic equipment that made for a nice little rest stop.

Arriving at the Merredin Military Museum shortly after 11am, I was met by Bill Beer, one of the volunteers and a little later, Rob the curator, both of whom were happy to talk about the exhibits and provide additional information about the pieces on display. The museum was established in the early 1990’s after three local collectors accepted an offer from the Merredin army cadet unit to pool their collections and set up a display in one of their sheds.

By 1998 and with support from the local shire the collections had been relocated to a new home, the old railway communications building less than 200m away from the train station and tourist information centre making it very convenient for any visitor arriving from Perth. The current location houses the three private collections as well as the museum’s own growing collection, so it is rather eclectic and as a result quite fascinating, including items that I had not expected to encounter in a regional town.

Very rare Australian 'Folboot' collapsible canoe used by Australian Special Forces operatives from Z Special Unit during World War Two. Photo: Julian Tennant

An extremely rare Australian Mk III ‘Folbot’ collapsible canoe used by Australian Special Forces operatives from Z Special Unit during World War Two. Photo: Julian Tennant

The first of these is in the main display room where an extremely rare Folbot (folding boat) canoe used by the Australian Services Reconnaissance Department’s “Z” Special Unit operators is suspended from the ceiling. This was the same type of canoe used by the two-man teams during OPERATION JAYWICK to paddle into Singapore harbour and attach limpet mines to the Japanese shipping. There is also a small display of other “Z” Special Unit items, including a detonator timer and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) which is the Australian made dagger based on the famed Fairbairn Sykes design.

merredin military museum-01

Sten gun magazines with magazine filler and a very rare Australian Army Stiletto (AAS) issued to “Z” Special Unit operatives and members of the 2/6th Independent (Commando) Company. Looking at the detail of the knife, I believe that this is the pattern made by Gregory Steel Products in Melbourne. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Newspaper and Type 95 Japanese NCO's sword brought back to Australia by Signalman Harold Hardy after the surrender of Japanese forces on Morotai Island. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Newspaper and Type 95 Japanese NCO’s sword brought back to Australia by Signalman Harold Hardy after the surrender of Japanese forces on Morotai Island. Photo: Julian Tennant.

Other rooms in the building feature an extensive selection of models and communications equipment, including an interesting display relating to one of Australia’s first surveillance units, the 2/1st Northern Australia Observation Unit, whose role was to carry out horse mounted patrols in the arid north watching for signs of Japanese invasion. There are also spaces dedicated to the local military history including several uniforms related RAAF personnel and the nurses who served with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital that was based at Merredin in 1942-3, as well as the Vietnam war, a weapons display and the WW1 Honour Rolls room. This last room reminds us that of the approximately 375 local men who left to serve in WW1, 70 were killed in action. A significant number for any small rural community of the time.

2/1st North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU) display. Nicknamed the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys”, was created in mid-March 1942 and were given the task of patrolling northern Australia to look for signs of enemy activity. They operated in small groups, and most of their patrols were on horseback. The men made use of the knowledge of local Aboriginals and maintained coastwatching outposts. They were disbanded in 1945 after the risk of invasion had passed. Their traditions are carried on today by the Regional Force Surveillance Units. Photo: Julian Tennant

2/1st North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU) display. Nicknamed the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys”, the unit was created in mid-March 1942 and given the task of patrolling northern Australia to look for signs of enemy activity. They operated in small groups, with most of their patrols were on horseback, taking advantage of the knowledge of local Aboriginals and maintaining isolated coastwatching outposts. They were disbanded in 1945 after the risk of invasion had passed. Their traditions are carried on today by the Regional Force Surveillance Units of the Pilbarra Regiment, Norforce and 51 FNQR. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

A very rarely seen RAAF Search & Rescue patch from the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. Photo: Julian Tennant

A very rarely seen RAAF Search & Rescue patch from the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

 

 

Outside and in the vehicle shed are a several military vehicles plus aircraft, some of which are undergoing restoration, including a working Mk III Valentine tank, an CAC Aermacchi MB-326H (Macchi) training jet built under license by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, a 1980’s era Toyota station wagon (something that for some reason I never expected to see in a museum) and an interesting Bren Gun carrier, officially designated the Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2 (LP2),  that had been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder anti-tank gun. Designated the Carrier, Anti-tank, 2-pdr, (Aust) or Carrier, 2-pdr Tank Attack, it is a heavily modified and lengthened LP2 carrier with a fully traversable QF 2 pounder anti-tank gun mounted on a platform at the rear and the engine moved to the front left of the vehicle. Stowage was provided for 112 rounds of 2pdr ammunition. Bill said that around 200 were produced and were used for training but he did not think that they saw operational service.

One of the more unusual vehicles undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. This is a modified Bren Gun Carrier which has been converted to carry a 2 Pounder Anti-Tank gun manufactured by General Motors in South Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

One of the more unusual vehicles undergoing restoration at the Merredin Military Museum. This is a modified Bren Gun Carrier (Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2) which has been converted to carry a QF 2 Pounder Anti-Tank gun manufactured by General Motors in South Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Chatting with Rob and Bill towards the end of my visit, it was quite interesting to hear some of stories surrounding the exhibits, but it also reinforced my respect for the people who keep places like the Merredin Military Museum open to the public. This is a private museum, running on a very tight budget, relying on donations and the goodwill of the public, plus its dedicated volunteers to stay afloat. When Rob heard that I was coming up from Perth for the visit, he told Bill, who actually turned up before the 10am opening time to make sure that somebody would be there when I arrived… which kinda made me feel bad for taking the break at The Big Camera in Meckering.

Rob also told me that despite a lot of information still stating that the museum is only open from Monday to Friday, it is NOW OPEN 7 DAYS PER WEEK from 10:00 until 15:00, but if you’re passing through Merredin and want to visit outside of those hours, give him a call and he will try to arrange to have it opened so that you can get in. That shows real dedication and I definitely recommend a visit the Merredin Military Museum as a day or overnight trip from Perth or if you’re making a trip to visit the goldfields around Kalgoorlie. Finally, if you are interested in exploring more of the sites related to the war history of Merredin and the wheatbelt region this RAC magazine article and this guide from the Merredin Tourist Visitors Centre are also worth reading.

The Merredin Military Museum

Great Eastern Highway
Merredin
Western Australia 6415

Phone: +61 (0) 429 411 204 (Rob Endersbee – Curator)

https://www.australiasgoldenoutback.com/business/attractions/merredin-military-museum

Opening Times                                                                                                               

Everyday 10:00 – 15:00  Or call Rob to arrange a visit

 

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Australian made USN Submarine Combat Insignia Restrike

Some of the more desirable of the WW2 era US Navy Submarine Combat Patrol badges are those made by the West Australian company of Sheridan in Perth. This company made USN submariner badges to supply the large US submarine fleet operating out of Fremantle during the war.

Recently, incomplete strikes of the Sheridan type1 badge have been appearing on eBay. Concerned that these may be ‘finished’ and aged then sold as originals to collectors I bought one for comparison to my original badge and also contacted the seller. He told me that he is the grandson of a former USN submariner and he had these made by Sheridan around ten years ago. According to him, the die was quite fragile and incomplete which is why the badges have not been sheared-cut from the sterling sheet. This also explains why the detail is not as sharp and defined when viewed next to an original example. This is particularly noticeable on the reverse and the difference can be clearly seen around the lettering of the hallmark and ‘silver’ stamp. It should be noted that, John, the guy who had these restrikes made has never attempted to sell them as anything other than restrikes/reproductions, but it will be worthwhile for collectors to make note of the differences shown in my picture for future reference.

Comparison of the original Sheridan type 1 Submarine Combat Insignia (top) and the recently manufactured restrike. Note the differences in fine detail and finish.

Comparison of the original Sheridan type 1 Submarine Combat Insignia (top) and the recently manufactured restrike. Note the differences in fine detail and finish. Click on the image to enlarge.

WW2 US Navy Submarine Combat Insignia

WW2 period USN officer's 'Dolphins' submarine qualification badge (manufacturer H&H, New York) and Submarine Combat Insignia with stars indicating successful completion of 4 'war' patrols (manufacturer AMICO, New York).

WW2 period USN officer’s ‘Dolphins’ submarine qualification badge (manufacturer H&H, New York) and Submarine Combat Insignia with stars indicating successful completion of 4 ‘war’ patrols (manufacturer AMICO, New York).

On March 26, 1943, the US Navy authorized an award, known as the Submarine Combat Insignia, for successful completion of a ‘war’ patrol in which the submarine sunk, or assisted with the sinking of at least one enemy vessel or carried out a combat mission of comparable importance. The award consisted of a silver submarine pin approximately 5.6cm (2 ¼ inches) long with a scroll beneath the waves where a gold star was affixed for each successful war patrol. The badge itself represented the first successful patrol, so the addition of the first gold star represented the second patrol, an additional star the third patrol and so on. The scroll only allowed space for three stars (four successful war patrols) so if a fifth successful patrol was carried out, one of the gold stars was removed and replaced with a silver star. The attachment for the badge was a horizontal pin back. Clutch backed versions do exist, although they are post WW2 replacements.

Both officers and men wore the Submarine Combat Insignia on the left breast just above the centre of ribbons or medals and in the case of officers, directly below the gold submariner ‘dolphins’ badge. It should be noted that enlisted seamen who qualified for submarine duty prior to and during WW2 wore an embroidered version of the ‘dolphins’ badge on their right sleeve. This was moved to the chest in mid 1947, but the ‘enlisted’ silver metal variation of ‘dolphins’ badge was only approved in September 1950.

My interest in these badges was aroused when I saw WW2 veteran Australian Special Forces operator, Jack Wong Sue DCM wearing a USN Submarine Combat Insignia badges on his medals during an ANZAC Day commemoration. Jack served with Z Special Unit and was one of a seven-man team that operated for six months behind Japanese lines in Borneo. The team, code named AGAS-1, was inserted by the US submarine, USS Tuna, a Tambor class submarine on it’s thirteenth patrol of the war.

WW2 Australian Special Forces soldier, Jack Wong Sue DCM wearing his medals and the USN Submarine Combat Insignia award during the ANZAC Day commemorations.

WW2 Australian Special Forces soldier, Jack Wong Sue DCM wearing his medals and the USN Submarine Combat Insignia award during the ANZAC Day commemorations.

As I researched a little further I started to uncover a multitude of manufacturers variations of this fascinating badge and soon had developed a sideline collection of combat patrol insignia, some of which are shown below.

Manufacturer: Amico, New York

Manufacturer: Amico, New York

Manufacturer: Vanguard, New York

Manufacturer: Vanguard, New York

Unknown manufacturer - hallmarked Sterling

Unknown manufacturer – hallmarked Sterling

Unknown manufacturer - hallmarked Sterling

Unknown manufacturer – hallmarked Sterling

Manufacturer: Sheridan of Perth, Australia type 2

Manufacturer: Sheridan of Perth, Australia type 2

Manufacturer: Sheridan of Perth, Australia type 1

Manufacturer: Sheridan of Perth, Australia type 1

Manufacturer: NS Meyer, New York

Manufacturer: NS Meyer, New York

Manufacturer:  Hilborn & Hamburger inc, New Jersey type 2

Manufacturer: Hilborn & Hamburger inc, New Jersey type 2

Manfacturer: Hilborn & Hamburger inc, New Jersey type 1

Manfacturer: Hilborn & Hamburger inc, New Jersey type 1

Manufacturer: Gemsco, Conneticut.

Manufacturer: Gemsco, Conneticut.

Manufacturer: Gemsco, Conneticut. Pin back variation (early post war)

Manufacturer: Gemsco, Conneticut. Pin back variation (early post war)

Fullsize and miniature mess dress variations of the Submarine Combat Insignia in display/sales boxes. Three 'war patrol' stars can also be seen wrapped in cellophane in the box of the miniature badge, which was made by the NS Meyer Company of New York. The larger badge on the left is in a box from the Los Angeles based firm of Wolf-Brown Inc, although the badge itself is hallmarked Gemsco and has clutch back fittings indicating early post war stock.

Full size and miniature mess dress variations of the Submarine Combat Insignia in display/sales boxes. Three ‘war patrol’ stars can also be seen wrapped in cellophane in the box of the miniature badge, which was made by the NS Meyer Company of New York. The larger badge on the left is in a box from the Los Angeles based firm of Wolf-Brown Inc, although the badge itself is hallmarked Gemsco and has clutch back fittings indicating early post war stock.

For any collector interested in exploring these or the USN ‘Dolphins’ qualification badges in more detail, I thoroughly recommend David A. Jones’ excellent book US Silent Service: Dolphins & Combat Insignia 1921-1945.

US Silent Service: Dolphins & Combat Insignia 1924 - 1945 by David A. Jones. Published by R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 0-912138-88-2

US Silent Service: Dolphins & Combat Insignia 1924 – 1945 by David A. Jones. Published by R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 0-912138-88-2