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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » CONNECTICUT » Captain John P. Cromwell Remembered
The USS Sculpin
Captain John P. Cromwell Remembered

SUBASE Honor's a World War II Hero

By Mark B. Oliver | September 27, 2011

The Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut, dedicated the new headquarters of the Submarine Learning Center in honor of Captain John P. Cromwell, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during World War II.

Captain John P. Cromwell

Born in Henry, Illinois on 11 September 1901, John Cromwell enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy in 1920, graduating in June 1924.   He served initially on the battleship USS Maryland.

Two years later, he attended submarine school and was assigned to USS S-24. He then had three year’s diesel engineering instruction, followed by further tours of duty in submarines, before achieving command of USS S-20.

By the beginning of World War II he was serving on ComSubPac’s staff, overseeing the operations of two divisions, and taking command of a third.

On November 5, 1943, Cromwell departed Pearl Harbor aboard USS Sculpin, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Fred Connaway.   Sculpin’s ninth war patrol was being undertaken as part of Operation Galvanic - the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.

Should conditions warrant, Captain Cromwell would form a wolf pack with Sculpin, USS Searaven, and either USS Spearfish or USS Apogon. Because of his position in the Pacific submarine command structure, Cromwell was thoroughly familiar with the operational plans for Galvanic.

Sculpin made radar contact with a large Japanese convoy on the night of November 18, 1943.   Following the vessels until early morning, Sculpin moved in to attack, but Japanese lookouts spotted her periscope, and the convoy’s escorts immediately turned on the submarine.

Sculpin was subjected to two depth charge attacks, the second keeping her underwater for hours while critical repairs were undertaken, but the damaged depth gauge went unnoticed.

When Connaway decided to go to periscope depth, the diving officer failed to realize that the depth gauge wasn’t moving, and instead of leveling off at sixty-two feet, Sculpin surfaced with the depth gauge still reading 125 feet. She was spotted by the destroyer Yamagumo, which opened fire immediately.

The Medal of Honor

Connaway ordered a crash dive, but Yamagumo’s follow up depth charge attack was perfectly timed and, with Sculpin uncontrollably submerged, Connaway was forced to battle surface and attempt a gun fight.

Yamagumo’s first salvo hit Sculpin’s bridge, killing Connaway, along with his executive and gunnery officers. With the senior officers dead, Lieutenant G.E. Brown, Jr. assumed command, ordering the crew to abandon and the boat to be scuttled.

Cromwell decided to go down with Sculpin, fearing that he could be forced to reveal what he knew about Operation Galvanic.

The forty-one survivors were split into two groups, and put aboard the aircraft carriers Chuyo and Unyo for transport to Japan. In a cruel and ironic twist, Chuyo was torpedoed and sunk by USS Sailfish killing all but one of the twenty-one Sculpin survivors aboard.

USS Sailfish was originally named the Squalus, but she sank during a training exercise.   Sculpin was instrumental in finding the submerged vessel, which was then raised and put back into service.

When Captain Cromwell’s actions became known after the war, he was nominated for the Medal of Honor, which was awarded posthumously to his widow. In 1954 the destroyer-escort USS Cromwell was named in his honor.

Cromwell family members including retired Captain John P. “Jack” Cromwell, Jr., a 1951 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, attended the dedication event which was held on August 19, 2011.

In these trying times, it is fitting to remember those, such as Captain John P. Cromwell, who willingly gave the greatest sacrifice of all, so we can continue to live with freedom and liberty.




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