After having started for her fifth patrol twice, and being forced to return to Brisbane because of major breakdowns, S-39, under Lt. F.E. Brown,* once more was faced on 7 August 1942 with the necessity of heading for land. Her Executive Officer had been put on the sick list on 5 August, and two days later his condition warned of the development of pneumonia, so Brown asked for instructions and was instructed to proceed to Townsville, on the northeast coast of
In the night of 13-14 August, S-39 stuck a submerged reef off
At high tide on the morning of 14 August the screws were backed and twisted until the low voltage limit on the batteries was reached. The ship backed about 50 feet, but again listed about 30 degrees to port and pounded heavily on the rocks. Ballast tanks ruptured by the rocks were again flooded in an effort to ease the pounding. In the afternoon word came from
Throughout the day breakers 15 or 20 high feet broke over the ship. Efforts were made to charge the batteries, but several cells had been reversed and only the after battery could be charged. Shortly before dawn on the 15th, the torpedoes were inactivated and fired.
Again Brown tried backing on the after battery, but the screws were too high and had little effect. With the termination of backing efforts, the ship rapidly rolled over until the list was 60 degrees port. Fearing the seas would roll the ship over entirely, the Commanding Officer gave permission to anyone who desired to swim to a nearby reef, although he was not prepared to abandon ship. No one ventured into the water, but Lt. C.N.G. Hendrix volunteered to swim to the reef with a line and then to haul the two mooring lines to the reef as a riding line for the rest of the crew.
When Hendrix gained the reef and was having a difficult time with the lines, due to the seas, W.L. Schoenrock, CCStd(PA), offered to swim ashore and help. The two men pulled in the lines and secured them to one of the torpedoes, which was resting on the reef. Thirty-two men reached the reef via the line, and twelve remained aboard when HMAS KATOOMBA arrived shortly after noon.
By 1000 of 16 August KATOOMBA’s boats had made three trips to shore and all hands were safely aboard the ship. It was felt that S-39 would soon be broken up by the seas, and no attempt was made to shell her from KATOOMBA. The S-39 crew arrived in
S-39’s first war patrol was conducted east of the
On her second patrol, she reconnoitered
*Lt. Comdr. Francis E. Brown was lost in S-44.