The USS Cavalla (SS-244) was considered by some to be the luckiest ship in the submarine service.
She sank the Japanese carrier Shokaku that participated in the Pearl Harbor attack, made 570 dives and sank 34,180 tons of enemy shipping near the end of World War II without sustaining any serious injuries to the crew.
Louis Roybal, a resident of Village of Holiday Lakes in Englewood, Fla., was a cook aboard the Cavalla when it sent the enemy carrier to the bottom.
“I was on my first war patrol off the Philippines, when the whole Japanese fleet sailed right by our sub,” the 86-year-old submariner said. “Our captain was told not to fire on any of the ships until ordered.
“The fleet was on its way to Manila. We sent a message to ComSubPac telling them where the Japanese fleet was headed. The skipper got the word from higher-ups to go ahead and fire.
“Our captain was good. We managed to slip back under the Japanese fleet. On the way we got a few depth charges from enemy destroyers, but they weren’t near us,” he said. “We came up to periscope depth, got into position with the enemy all around us and fired four torpedoes at the Shokaku.
“Over the sub’s intercom the crew could hear what was happening. We heard three of our torpedoes explode as they hit the side of the carrier,” he said. “Our crew was hooting and hollering as we headed for deep water in a hurry. We stayed at a depth of 400 feet and escaped without a scratch after four or five hours of elusive action.”
As a kid, Roybal grew up in Colorado. His father was a cattleman. When the war started, he was 21 and a worker in a Seattle shipyard.
“In July 1942, I went down to the recruiting office and signed up for the Navy. I was picked to go to cooks and bakers school. I volunteered to go to submarine school,” he said. “I took a bunch of tough tests to get into sub duty. I went to the destroyer base at San Diego and three weeks later I got orders to report to the Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash.”
It was there he boarded his first submarine that would sail into war with him aboard — the S-35, a World War I sub that was 208 feet long, had two engines and a crew of 58 men.
“World War I subs were called S-boats. They had no names just numbers, but our crew called the S-35 ‘The Old Black Magic,'” he said. “In June 1943, we made our first cruise aboard her. We sailed for the submarine base at Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
“There’s an old saying: ‘Never a sailor yea shall be until you sail the Bering Sea.’ On my first combat cruise we sailed the Bering Sea to our station north of Japan,” Roybal said. “On that first patrol we caught a 12,000-ton Japanese ship that caught and canned fish at sea. We put two torpedoes into her and she went down off the coast of Paramushiro, Japan.”
Unfortunately for the crew of S-35, Paramushiro was a base for Japanese destroyers.
“Within minutes they came after us with a number of destroyers. We took 148 depth charges that first hour,” he said. “We went down to our maximum depth of 250 feet. Seven hours later we finally managed to slip away.”
After four combat patrols, the crew of S-35 was ordered to sail for Pearl Harbor.
“When we arrived in Pearl we were given two weeks’ leave. It was like we had gone to heaven after being based in Dutch Harbor,” he said. “The S-35 was sent to a base in the Marshall Islands on Majuro Island.”
It was there Roybal transferred from the S-35 to a brand new submarine, the USS Cavalla, a Gato class sub.
“It was like going aboard a luxury liner to go from my old S-boat to the Cavalla. My new submarine had four engines instead of two, air-conditioning, which we didn’t have on the old S-boat, and she was much larger with a bigger crew,” he said.
Sailing out of Fremantle, Australia, he was on his first combat cruise aboard the Cavalla when they sank the 32,000-ton Japanese carrier, Shokaku. It was June 1944 and he had been in the submarine service a year.
“On our second or third war patrol aboard the Cavalla, we were on our way back to Fremantle when our skipper spotted a big Japanese destroyer,” Roybal said. “Because we were low on fuel, our skipper wasn’t sure whether he wanted to go after the destroyer or not. He finally decided to attack the enemy destroyer.
“This was in the Java Sea off Borneo. We came up to periscope depth and shot two torpedoes into her. They both hit and the destroyer blew up and sank,” he said.
By this time, it was early 1945, Roybal decided his luck was about to run out because he had made seven war patrols without a scratch.
He had been overseas a long time, so he requested stateside duty. He got it — the problem was getting from Fremantle to Brisbane on the other side of Australia.
“They put us on a troop train and it took us 18 days to get there,” he said. “The funny part was we ate lamb stew three times a day for 18 days.”
Roybal sailed into San Francisco Bay aboard the former American luxury liner SS Luriline with 4,000 other servicemen and 1,000 war brides.
After 30 days’ leave, he was assigned to the sub base at Groton, Conn. Shortly after arriving there, the Japanese surrendered and the war was over.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Feb. 26, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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Joseph Louis Roybal, born Jose Luis Eugenio Roybal, Dec. 22, 1920 in Dawson, N.M., son of Samuel Evaristo Roybal Sr. and Eloisa Sanchez Roybal, fourth child in the family of seven children and loving partner for 65 years of Ann (Russo) Roybal, passed away Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011 at Middlesex Hospital.
He grew up on a cattle ranch in Sangre De Christo Mountain area of Colorado. In 1942 he moved to the Pacific Northwest and went to work at the Seattle Shipyards as a welders helper and from there enlisted in the US Navy in September 1942. Louie did his boot training in San Diego, Calif. where he was assigned to Cooks and Bakers School.
He graduated a Third Petty Officer. He volunteered for submarine service and his first assignment was a World War I Type Submarine,the U-35, which made patrols in the Bering Sea area and the North Japanese waters.
After three war patrols in the Bering Sea the S-35 was transferred to Pearl Harbor where Louie was transferred to a Fleet Submarine-the USS Cavalla-SS244. The S-35 left Pearl Harbor on war patrol and was never heard from again. That is when his ship mates started calling him “Lucky Louie.”
On its first war patrol the USS Cavalla sank one of the largest aircraft carriers of the Japanese Navy. The USS Cavalla and its crew were presented the Presidential Unit Citation for this action.
After being on sea duty for three years, he was transferred back to the US. He finished his fourth year of duty at the submarine base in New London, Conn.
In 1946 he was discharged from the Navy and married Ann Russo in October. He moved his family to the state of Washington and worked for five years for Fiberboard Corporation. Returning to Connecticut in 1951 he worked for New Departure in Meriden for five years.
He started his own company, Roybal Fire Equipment Co., from which he retired after 35 years in 1966.
He was a member of Saint Colman Church, lifetime member of the Middlefield Volunteer Fire Department, member of the Middlefield Rockfall VFW Post 10362, Connecticut Fire Marshall’s Association, World War II Submarine Veteran’s Southwest Chapter, Florida and World War II Submarine Veteran’s Thames River Valley Chapter of Connecticut. He was a member of the BPOE Elks1ill 2010 and a longtime supporter of Ahearn Whelan Baseball League.
From 1986 to 2008 he and his wife traveled to Florida for the winter and spent summers in Rockfall.
He is survived by his wife Ann Roybal, daughter Shirley Bauer and her husband Jerry, daughter Betty Kindschi and her husband Ken, daughter-in-law Bonnie Roybal of Middletown, sister Rebecca Maria Moore of Sparks, Nev., nine grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, four great-great-grandchildren and numerous nieces,nephews and cousins.
He is predeceased by his parents, his son William Roybal of Middlefield, four sisters Rosa Roybal of Colorado, Eva Dickinson, Mary Lucero, Madelaine Trujillo and a brother Samuel Roybal all of Sumner, Washington.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held Friday morning at 10 a.m. at Saint Colman Church. Burial with military honors will be at Saint Sebastian Cemetery. Relatives and friends may call at the D’Angelo Funeral Home 22 South Main St. Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. In lieu of flowers donations in his memory may be made to VFW Post 10362 Middlefield Rockfall c/o Commander John Capega 342 Baileyville Rd Middlefield 06455.
Published in the Middletown Press on Oct. 19, 2011