YEOMAN FIRST CLASS FRANCIS TYLER ST. JOHN was born on February 9, 1921. He enlisted in the United States Navy on January 22, 1940, at either Binghampton or Albany. He volunteered for submarine duty and was trained as a Yeoman. On March 7, 1941 he was transferred from the United States Navy's submarine base at New London, Connecticut to the submarine USS R-17 (SS-94), which was being recommissioned and readied to be put back into service. Francis T. St. John by this time had been promoted to Yeoman Third Class.
The USS R-17 (SS-94) was an R-class coastal and harbor defense submarine of the United States Navy. Her keel was laid down by the Union Iron Works in San Francisco, California, on
May 5, 1917. She was launched on December 24, 1917 sponsored by Miss Bertha F. Dew, and commissioned on
August 17, 1918 with Lieutenant Commander William R. Munroe in command.
The submarine, given hull classification symbol SS-94 in July 1920, departed Pearl Harbor December 12 1930, called at San Diego, California, thence continued on to the East Coast for inactivation. Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 9, 1931, she was decommissioned May 15 and berthed at League Island until after the outbreak of World War II in Europe.
Re-commissioned at New London, March 25 1941, R-17 headed south on 14 May, patrolled in the Virgin Islands during June; off the Canal Zone in July, August, and September; then, in October, returned to New London. For the next four months she conducted training exercises. On 9 March 1942, she was decommissioned and transferred to the United Kingdom under the lend-lease agreement.
On March 9, 1942 Francis T. St. John, by now promoted to Yeoman 2nd Class, was transferred to the USS AMBERJACK (SS-219), based at New London, Connecticut. By November of 1942 he had been promoted to Yeoman First Class
USS AMBERJACK (SS-219) was a Gato-class submarine, the first United States Navy ship named for the AMBERJACK, a vigorous sport fish found in the western Atlantic from New England to Brazil. Her keel was laid by the Electric Boat Company of Groton, Connecticut, on May 15, 1941. She was launched on 6 March 1942 (sponsored by Mrs. Randall Jacobs), and commissioned on 19 June 1942, Lieutenant Commander John A. Bole, Jr. in command.
After shakedown training in waters off New London, Connecticut and Newport, Rhode Island, AMBERJACK got underway on July 10, bound for the Pacific. She transited the Panama Canal in mid-August and reached Pearl Harbor on August 20. Following training exercises, AMBERJACK got underway for her first war patrol on September 3. Two days later, she touched at Johnston Island to refuel and, later that day, resumed her voyage to her patrol area between the northeast coast of New Ireland and Bougainville, Solomon Islands.
On September 15, AMBERJACK was patrolling off Kavieng, New Ireland. Three days later, she made contact with a large Japanese transport escorted by a destroyer, and fired a spread of four torpedoes at the vessels, but none hit. While patrolling in Bougainville Strait on September 19, the submarine launched two torpedoes at an enemy freighter. The first hit under the target's bridge, and the second broke her keel in two. AMBERJACK was credited with having sunk Shirogane Maru.
AMBERJACK made her next contact with Japanese shipping on September 25, spotting a large cruiser escorted by a destroyer. However, before the submarine could get into position for an attack, the destroyer headed toward her and forced her to go deep. Several depth charges were dropped on the submarine, but they inflicted no damage. During the next few days, AMBERJACK reconnoitered Tau, Kilinailau, Greenwich Island, and Ocean Island.
The submarine spotted a Japanese cruiser on the morning of September 30 and launched four torpedoes from her bow tubes. None hit, so she fired another two forward tubes shortly thereafter. These also went wide of the mark, and the cruiser escaped damage. One week later, the submarine was patrolling off Kavieng when she spotted smoke on the horizon. After a Japanese cargo ship sailed into view, AMBERJACK launched two torpedoes. One missed forward and the other hit the target's hull forward. The enemy ship was still able to continue under her own power and AMBERJACK took up pursuit. About one hour later, both sides opened fire with their deck guns but neither was within range of the other and they broke off fire. After two more hours of the chase, the submarine fired a slow speed torpedo which hit its target five minutes later. The cargo vessel, later identified as Senkai Maru, swung left and seemed to stop. Its bow swung up in the air, the ship took a vertical position, and sank from sight shortly thereafter. Lifeboats carrying the cargo ship's survivors were later spotted as the submarine headed for Kavieng.
While patrolling off Kavieng Harbor on October 10, AMBERJACK spotted Japanese ships in the harbor and launched four torpedoes into the anchorage. One damaged a freighter and another damaged Tonan Maru II, which was being used to ferry airplanes. The vessel sank in shallow water, but was later salvaged, towed to Japan for repairs, and was returned to service. On October 16, the submarine headed for Espiritu Santo for repairs to her ballast tanks and arrived there on 19 October. While undergoing repairs, she was assigned the task of hauling aviation gas, bombs, and personnel to Guadalcanal. While en route to the Solomons, her destination was changed to Tulagi. She arrived there on October 25 and unloaded her embarked troops and cargo under the cover of darkness. The next day, she set course for Brisbane, Australia, and reached that port on October 30.
After a refit alongside Griffin and a series of training exercises, AMBERJACK began her second war patrol on November 21. On the morning of November 27, the submarine encountered two enemy destroyers which were probably carrying supplies for Japanese forces on Guadalcanal. While launching four torpedoes from her stern tubes, the submarine heard the screws of a third ship crossing ahead of her bow. None of the torpedoes hit their target, and the submarine began to take action to avoid depth charges. Approximately two hours later, all sounds had faded away, and the submarine rose to the surface to look for signs of damage. She spotted nothing so she assumed a new station at the southern end of the eastern entrance to Shortland Harbor.
On November 29, while on patrol ten miles (16 km) east of the Treasury Islands, AMBERJACK spotted a surfaced Japanese submarine. Before she could set up an attack, however, the enemy vessel rapidly drew away. She again saw a Japanese submarine on December 3 proceeding toward the entrance to Shortland harbor and sent four torpedoes toward the fleeing enemy, but all failed to hit. During the next one and one-half weeks, she made numerous ship contacts, but carried out no attacks. On December 15, the submarine sighted a convoy consisting of four or five ships on a course for Rabaul and launched two torpedoes at a large freighter, one at a small tanker, and one more at a small freighter. However, she apparently inflicted no damage on any of the targets.
Her next contact occurred on December 20. While patrolling submerged, AMBERJACK began hearing a series of explosions which drew closer and closer. She surfaced and saw two Japanese destroyer escorts, which soon thereafter began raining depth charges on the submarine. Within the space of one minute, six exploded close aboard, shook the vessel considerably, and caused numerous broken light bulbs forward. Some fittings mounted on the overhead were broken off, and several valves were sprung open. However, the submarine suffered no crippling damage and moved on to continue her patrol off the northeast coast of New Ireland.
She spotted another Japanese ship on January 3, 1943, a destroyer which apparently was waiting to rendezvous with a convoy from the Palau Islands. The submarine was unable to attack the ship and, two days later, set a course for Brisbane, Queensland. She reached that port on January 11 and safely concluded her patrol.
Following this patrol, the submarine's period of refit was cut to 12 days due to the urgent need for submarines to patrol enemy infested waters. She got underway on January 24 but was forced to return to Brisbane for repair of minor leaks which developed during a deep dive. Again departing Brisbane on January 26, AMBERJACK started her third war patrol in the Solomons area. On January 29 she was directed to pass close to Tetipari Island and then proceed to the northwest and patrol the approaches to Shortland Basin. Orders were radioed on February 1 for her to move north and patrol the western approaches to Buka Passage. Having complied with these orders, AMBERJACK made her first miles southeast of Treasury Island on February 1, and of sinking a two-masted schooner by gunfire 20 miles (32 km) from Buka the afternoon of February 3, 1943. At this time she was ordered to move south along the Buka-Shortland traffic lane and patrol east of Vella Lavella Island.
In a second radio transmission on February 4, AMBERJACK reported having sunk a 5,000 ton freighter laden with explosives in a two-hour night surface attack that date in which five torpedoes were fired. During this engagement, Chief Pharmacist's Mate Arthur C. Beeman was killed by machine gun fire, and an officer was slightly wounded in the hand. On February 8, AMBERJACK was ordered to move to the west side of Ganongga Island and on February 10, she was directed to keep south of latitude 7°30'S and to cover the traffic routes from Rabaul and Buka Island to Shortland Basin. On February 13, AMBERJACK was assigned the entire Rabaul-Buka-Shortland Sea area and told to hunt for traffic.
The last radio transmission received from AMBERJACK was made on February 14. She related having been forced down the night before by two destroyers, and that she had recovered from the water and taken prisoner an enemy aviator on February 13. She was ordered north of latitude 6°30'S, and told to keep hunting for Rabaul traffic.
All further messages to
AMBERJACK remained unanswered, and when, by March 10, she had failed to make her routine report estimating the time of her arrival at base, she was ordered to do so. No reply was received, and she was reported as presumed lost on
March 22, 1943.
However, no final conclusions can be drawn, since the submarine USS GRAMPUS was lost in the same area at about the same time. From the evidence available, it is considered most likely that the attack of February 16, sank AMBERJACK, but if she did survive this attack, any one of the attacks and sightings thought to have been made on GRAMPUS might have been made on AMBERJACK.
Yeoman First Class Francis Tyler St. John was survived by his wife, Mrs. Dorothy May St. John, 402 Burrit Street, New Britain, Connecticut.
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