Posted by: SJS | July 15, 2016

The submariner who survived a kamikaze attack in 1945

Submarine survivor

On March 20, 1945, the USS Devilfish–a Navy submarine–narrowly avoided a direct hit from a Japanese kamikaze suicide attack plane.  At the time, the sub was cruising on the surface west of Iwo Jima “doing lifeguard duty” of picking up crew members of downed Army Air Force planes.

On board that day was young Paul “Joe” Brunner who held the rank of TME 3:  Torpedoman-Electric 3.  His job was to maintain and operate the sub’s battery-powered torpedoes and torpedo tubes.  It so happened that Joe and two other shipmates were on lookout duty that day when one shouted “Plane!”  “Plane!”   Thanks to constant drilling the Devilfish was able to dive more than 50 feet within seconds.  The sub managed to avoid taking a direct hit, but it did suffer damage to one of its periscopes which resulted in water pouring into the control room.  The sub then remained submerged for several anxious hours until the captain, Lt. Cmdr. Stephen S. Mann, decided it was safe to resurface that night.

According to a report from the Reference Branch at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, the kamikaze attack on the Devilfish was the only such attack that occurred against a US submarine in WWII.  Joe Brunner credited his commander’s insistence on the practice drills for the survival of the Devilfish on that fateful day in 1945.

My thanks to fellow PT Splinter, Mike Nixon, for sending me the clipping from the Daytona Beach News-Journal (November 11, 2015) which featured this amazing story.  Mike’s father, Jim Nixon, served with my father on PT 373 in the South Pacific in 1945.

During WWII, service on the PTs and submarines was strictly voluntary.  Both were considered more hazardous than service on other ships.  Neither were spared from kamikaze attacks.  Like the sailors on board the PTs, submariners had to be ready to take on larger and better armed adversaries with little advance warning.  They relied on stealth, speed, and more than a little bit of luck.







  1. Great story for a post. I’ve made note of the address for it. Love it!

  2. Great story! -Jennie-

  3. Quite a unique story. We don’t often think of submarines rescuing people during invasions let alone having to dive away from Kamikaze attack.

    • I had the same reaction. It was great to learn about this amazing episode from the USN of WWII. Thanks for your continued support!

  4. a fabulous article-great reading-ana

    • Thanks very much. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  5. My dad was on the devilfish he was an electrian he never talked about it he was awarded the bronze star for his work on the Sub gelling it under way so it could be repaired.
    Does any one remember my Dad.? His name Nathan John Ayer

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