Howard Gilmore, USS Growler (SS-215)

CDR Howard Gilmore – Medal of Honor Submariner

In March 1942 Gilmore took command of the new USS Growler (SS-215) and sailed her to the Pacific theater. Gilmore was born in Selma, Alabama, in 1902 and served first as an enlisted Sailor before entering the U.S. Naval Academy by competitive examination. He graduated from the Academy in 1926. Now four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor Gilmore was poised to take the fight to the Imperial Japanese forces. Less than a year later Gilmore would sacrifice his life to save the ship, giving his now-legendary order to “Take her down.”

In June 1942 Growler embarked on her first war patrol in the vicinity of the Aleutian Islands near Alaska. It was here that Gilmore attacked three Japanese destroyers off Kiska, sinking one and severely damaging the other two. Though one of the destroyers managed to fire off two torpedoes in retaliation, they were unable to fire depth charges. The rest of this first patrol was uneventful. In early August, Gilmore took Growler second war patrol which lasted for 49 days. It was measured as Gilmore’s most successful patrol. While sailing in the East China Sea near Taiwan, Growler sank four merchant ships totaling 15,000 tons and scored hits on one in every three torpedoes it fired. Gilmore and Growler scored no kills on its third war patrol under Gilmore’s command.

Growler departed Brisbane, its new base, on New Year’s Day 1943. She was embarking on her fourth patrol, and the last one that Gilmore would command. On 16 January, Gilmore sighted an enemy convoy. Through clever maneuvering, he evaded the convoy’s escorts and sank the Chifuku Maru.

A few weeks later, on the night of February 7, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the Growler. Gilmore moved to avoid a collision, but ended up ramming the attacker instead, ripping into her port side at 11 knots and bursting wide her plates. The enemy gunboat opened up on the sub with machine guns. The gunfire mortally wounded Gilmore, and killed several others on bridge. Gilmore ordered the bridge cleared. The executive officer and a few wounded men went through the hatch. Gilmore, realized he could not get down the in time. He then gave his legendary order: “Take her down.” The executive officer, Arnold F. Schade, reluctantly followed the order. Gilmore’s sacrifice ensured the survival of Growler, which Schade successfully brought back to  Brisbane on February 17, 1943.

USS Growler in Brisbane, Australia, in February 1943, after ramming Hayasaki in the Bismarck Islands. Note her badly bent bow. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

For sacrificing his own life to save his ship, Howard Gilmore was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on July 13, 1943. His Medal was presented to his widow by Rear Admiral A.C. Bennett. Additionally, the submarine tender Howard W. Gilmore (AS-16) was named for him and sponsored by his widow. Gilmore was the first US submariner to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II.

USS Growler (SS-215) (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Medal of Honor Citation

For distinguished gallantry and valor above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Growler during her Fourth War Patrol in the Southwest Pacific from 10 January to 7 February 1943. Boldly striking at the enemy in spite of continuous hostile air and antisubmarine patrols, Comdr. Gilmore sank one Japanese freighter and damaged another by torpedo fire, successfully evading severe depth charges following each attack. In the darkness of night on 7 February, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the Growler. Comdr. Gilmore daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker instead, ripping into her port side at 11 knots and bursting wide her plates. In the terrific fire of the sinking gunboat’s heavy machineguns, Comdr. Gilmore calmly gave the order to clear the bridge, and refusing safety for himself, remained on deck while his men preceded him below. Struck down by the fusillade of bullets and having done his utmost against the enemy, in his final living moments, Comdr. Gilmore gave his last order to the officer of the deck, “Take her down.” The Growler dived; seriously damaged but under control, she was brought safely to port by her well-trained crew inspired by the courageous fighting spirit of their dead captain.

Mrs. Howard W. Gilmore transfers her late husband’s Medal of Honor to her son, Howard Jr., at the ceremony in which the medal was posthumously awarded to Commander Gilmore. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

LEARN MORE: Howard Gilmore and the USS Growler

Submarine Heroes: Howard Gilmore
History of the USS Growler (SS-215)

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