DD 784 crew


This one is reported in the book "Blind Mans Bluff - The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage" by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew; "U.S. intelligence officials have long believed that a U.S. surface ship sank a Soviet sub that came close to an aircraft carrier attack force in 1950, early in the Korean War, according to two former intelligence officers."The United States was so concerned that the Soviet Navy would try to help the North Koreans that surface ships were under orders to protect U.S. warships by depth charging any possible hostile submarines, and in this case, one force depth charged a suspected Soviet sub and then saw no signs that it had survived."


This is the story of Rancher and two Russian submarines. Rancher is the call sign for the destroyer USS McKean DD-784, otherwise known as "Mighty Mac". The Russian submarines were part of numerous USSR combat missions during the Korean war, Russians against Americans. The incident started December 1950. Rancher and it's crew had left Long Beach August 1950, and now five long months later her crew was battle hardened. She had previously dropped 5 depth charges on a submarine on September 23, 1950. Under the command of Cdr. J. C. Weatherwax since November 1950, what the Russians did not know was Capt. Weatherwax had been in submarines during WW2 and knew how and why they moved.

December 18, 1950 Rancher had just left the harbor at Sasebo to rejoin Task Force-77. Task force 77 included the USS Missouri BB-63, USS Badoeng Bay CVE-116, USS Sicily CVE-118, USS Philippine Sea CV-47, USS Princeton CV-37, USS Valley Forge CV-45, USS Manchester CL-83, ST. PAUL CA-73 and dozens of destroyers to screen the capital ships. Rancher was steaming with the Frank Knox DDR-742. About an hour after clearing the sub nets, but with the Japanese shoreline still in site, she received a hard contact from sonar. "Bridge, Sonar, we have a solid contact." Sonar had picked up two contacts. Duty Quartermaster on the bridge of Rancher was John D. Price QM3, Cdr. Weatherwax had gone to his stateroom. The OOD ordered Quartermaster Price to get the Captain. Cdr. Weatherwax ran to the bridge as fast he could go. He didn't waste any time ordering Quartermaster Price to call general quarters.

Quartermaster John Price in picture below
John Price QM3

After general quarters sounded Cdr. Weatherwax ordered depth charge runs. Quartermaster Price was logging into the ships log that Rancher was making depth charge runs on a submarine, when the Captain checked the log and ordered Price to strike the word submarine from the log. He said that this could lead to an international incident. The Captain had the sonar sounds piped to the bridge, so they were able to follow the approach to the contact. It was almost a typical training exercise, with the pinging and the course changes leading us in. Rancher immediately sent out the international identification code, dot dash or letter A . Three times this was sent with no response, but evasive action was being taken by the subs.

Rancher started a depth charge run, rolling from the rear racks and firing from the side charges. The tracter aircraft overhead reported a silhouette in the center of the pattern at the time of the explosions, after which silhouette disappeared and was not sighted again. The aircraft then reported sighting air bubbles near the location of the first attack and an oil slick, which grew larger as time passed. This oil slick was also sighted by the McKean and the USS Frank Knox, which joined about 20 minutes after the first attack. She completed her initial run, at times she lost contact but then she picked it up again and made an additional run. Rancher dropped 11 depth charges per pattern. Rancher would drop a pattern and the Frank Knox would cross her wake and drop a pattern.

USS Frank Knox DDR-742 in picture below

Frank Knox DD 742

Torpedo man Hudnall was on depth charge central which was on the starboard side of the ship one deck below the bridge. Torpedo man Hudnall fired the k-guns electronically and the crews on the k-guns fired manually. The pattern of depth charges were eleven to a pattern, three on each side of the ship and two stern racks. The submarine was in 250 feet of water or above because any deeper the depth charges would not go off. McKean fired 54 depth charges the day of December 18th, 1950.

Below a shot of the depth charge racks on Rancher
fantail USS McKean

K-Guns in picture below

K guns

Price and Huddnell
Above is a shot of the inside of the pilot house during a special sea detail. QM3 Price (background) on the annunciators and TM3 Don Hudnall (foreground) from Texas on the wheel.

Around 1817 hours (6:17 PM) the Mighty Mac finished her 5th run on the sub began to run out of depth charges and was ordered to return to Sasebo harbor where the USS Dixie AD-14 (Destroyer Tender) was stationed. USS Endicott DMS-35 was in the area and was ordered to begin dropping it's charges. The USS Taussig (DD 746) was in port and she was sent out to assist the Endicott in depth charging the cornered sub.

When the USS Taussig got there, Rancher went back into Sasebo, where it was now night time. The submarine net crews first had to be woken up. Then when Rancher came alongside the Dixie she were moving a little too fast and came in hard against the Dixie's side, waking the Captain and other crew members. The Captain of the Dixie yelled down to Weatherwax; "Hey, what's going on down there?" To that Weatherwax replied; "In case you haven't heard, there's a war going on and I need more depth charges." The Dixie went to General Quarters to give Rancher a full load of depth charges. In fact extras were lashed to the deck. Rancher picked up 94 depth charges

Rancher immediately left the Sasebo harbor through the nets and relieved the second destroyer on the scene. After making three more attacks on the sub the next morning dropping another 33 depth charges on the 19th of December 1950, Rancher finally got no movement out of the sub. Rancher had dropped about 84 depth charges in a 24 hour period. The morning of the 19th of December, one of the three anti-sub airplanes overhead reported a torpedo wake passing astern of the McKean. It just missed Rancher, and she didn't even see it. The other Russian submarine was lashing back.

A salvage ship the U.S.S. GREENLET ASR-10, arrived out of Sasebo on December 20th, to join the 5 destroyers and 3 anti-submarine airplanes at the site of the sinking. A hard hat diver was lowered to the scene. In a very short time he returned to the surface with a pair of new binoculars. In addition the Russian submarines had deployed during the depth charge a decoy that made all the sounds of a submarine. This Black Box was so top secret the Greenlet immediately returned to Pearl Harbor with it. Rumor has it the Greenlet was not allowed to return to the war area because it had retrieved so many Russian secrets. Perhaps it got their code books? Rumor also has it that 43 days later all the B girls knew everything that happened, but the crew couldn't say anything because they had signed the letters of secrecy. The story the crew was told was that it was a "sunken jap freighter the IONA MARU". Supposedly the IONA MARU capsized on 10 December 1950. The Navy brass had already formated their cover story with the skipper of the U.S.S. GREENLET ASR-10. "If those binoculars were from W.W.II, why wasn't there debris or barnacles, on the item". Recently a former shipmate commented, "We sunk a hulk ship that was doing 5 knots!".

Then the the Admirals decided that story was not good enough. Thence the affidavit of secrecy signed by members of Ranchers crew. What happened to the second Russian sub is unknown.

Rancher then returned to Sasebo, Japan on the 21th of December, 1950. Perhaps the BRASS thought she deserved a reward, some liberty. Rancher was in Sasebo until December 25th, when she rejoined Task Force 77 off the coast of Korea. She remained with the Task Force 77 until January 5th, 1951, when she again returned to Sasebo. All hands were sworn to secrecy. Nothing was ever said or reported until "Blind Man's Bluff" hit the best seller list. Late February and most of March 1951 Rancher was with Task Force 95 the United Nations Blockading and Escort Force, whose job was shore bombardment at Wonsan March 16 to 18th, Songin the 18th to March 20 1951, and Kychon March 21, 1950. Other destroyers in task force 95 were USS Holister DD-788, USS Frank Knox DD-742, USS Chandler DD-717, USS Manchester CL-83 (cruiser),USS Rupertus DD-851, USS English DD-696, USS Stickell DD 888, USS Wallace L. Lind DD-703, USS Ozbourn DD-846, USS Charles S. Sperry DD-697, USS Douglas H. Fox DD-779, USS Zellars DD-777,and USS Norris DD 859.

Rancher completed her deployment in the Far East March 28th of 1951 and returned to San Diego California April 11, 1951. USS McKEAN (RANCHER) received three battle stars for Korean service. But the sinking of the Russian sub remained secret for forty seven years.