May 5

Ensign Bradley and the U-853

Tuesday, May 5, 2020 12:01 AM

By

Navy TBM Avenger
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

On Friday morning, 5 May 1945, Ensign John G. Bradley Jr. and his Radioman 3rd Class, Clifford Brinson, were flying their TBM Avenger torpedo-bomber from out of Composite Squadron 15, Fentress Field, Virginia. Their assignment out of Quonset Point Naval Air Station was as an air detachment to act as targets simulating being an enemy plane for the U.S. submarines operating out of Groton, Connecticut, to train their lookouts to spot German subs. The theater of operations was south of Fish’s Island, New York, and Westerly, Rhode Island, just east of Long Island Sound.

According to Bradley, they spotted the U-853 off the eastern tip of Long Island and off of Montauk Point at approximately 1030 hours; with his pilot’s enemy ship recognition training, her distinct laundry basket conning tower shape gave her identity away. She was prowling the waters and proceeding at 10 knots on the surface toward the southwest ledge buoy of Block Island. Their estimated position of that submarine put her approximately 2½ miles southeast of Point Judith Lighthouse, Rhode Island, where she later torpedoed the coal vessel SS Blackpoint, at 1740 hours. After only fifteen minutes, the Blackpoint went down forever and 12 lives were lost. This was not even seven hours after Bradley’s Avenger first sighted the Nazi sub.

After first spotting the sub and plotting her projected course, Bradley took evasive action and, using the standard operating procedure of the time, lowered his altitude under radio silence, hoping the U-boat did not spot them. Bradley and Brinson made it their mission to sound the alarm, flying close to the water’s surface to avoid being spotted by the U-853 and to get the warning back to their superiors immediately.

Bradley recalled that they returned to base and proceeded directly to the admiral’s office at Quonset Naval Air Station to report their sighting to the air combat information (ACI) officer, and they were met with skepticism and raised eyebrows.

While the German U-boat stalked the waters around Block Island from 1300–1600, the ACI officer grilled the flyers relentlessly, according to Bradley—without putting the word of warning out to U.S. Navy destroyers at sea nearby or to alert merchant shipping in the quadrant, nor did the officer activate the station’s own hunter-killer planes actively training with the U.S. Navy subs out of Groton.

And so without the protection of foreknowledge, the crew of the Blackpoint met their fate on that May night in choppy seas. And for 75 years, Lieutenant Commander John Gordon Bradley Jr. (USNR, Ret.) has had to live with the thought of what may have come to pass, had he and his radioman’s warning been heeded and proper action taken.

Two weeks prior to Ensign Bradley’s TBM Avenger spotting her and the subsequent Blackpoint sinking, at approximately 1200 hours on 23 April 1945, the U-853 sank the USS Eagle 56 (PE-56) while she was patrolling off the coast of Maine. The U.S. Naval Board of Inquiry initially ruled the catastrophe a “boiler explosion,” until evidence surfaced reclassifying the loss of the Eagle as a combat loss.

And now, let us recognize the valor and determination of Ensign Bradley and Radioman 3rd Class Brinson. It is high time that Bradley and his deceased comrade garner some recognition and accolades for their heroism and bravery. займ на карту