ROBERT H. ENGLISH, RADM, USN
Robert English '11
Date of birth: January 16, 1888
Date of death: January 21, 1943
From the 1911 Lucky Bag:
Robert was lost on January 21, 1943, when the aircraft he was aboard crashed near Ukiah, California while enroute from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco. The flying boat, a Pan Am Clipper, was being operated by Pan Am employees but was a contracted Navy flight, and all ten passengers were Navy officers.
On 21 January 1943, a Pan Am clipper operating for the Naval Air Transport Service was on a flight from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco. On board the transport aircraft was Rear Admiral Robert H. English, Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet, headed for a conference at Mare Island, together with three of his senior staff officers. Once matters had been completed at San Francisco, English and the others were scheduled for inspection trips to U.S. submarine facilities at Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, and then San Diego.
Bob English, a 1911 graduate of the Naval Academy, was a veteran submariner. Awarded a Navy Cross as Commanding Officer of the submarine O-4 during World War I, English also had received a Letter of Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy, while stationed at the New York Navy Yard in October 1918, for entering the after battery compartment of submarine O-5 following an internal explosion, in order to rescue her disabled skipper Lieutenant Commander G. A. Trever from being burned to death. Assigned as Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet in May 1942, Rear Admiral English had experienced a rocky eight months in command. A tough taskmaster, he had relieved a number of his submarine skippers for their repeated failures to sink their Japanese merchant shipping targets, unaware that a significant part of the problem had to do with the faulty Mark XIV torpedoes they were using. Yet he was seen by many of his contemporaries and his seniors as a hardworking officer who was achieving positive results with his submarine campaign.
As English’s plane approached San Francisco that morning, it ran into a bad storm, with high winds, stinging rain, and fog, and radio contact with the control tower was lost. When next heard from, the aircraft, still in the storm, was located well north of San Francisco, over Bell Valley some 115 miles away. Navy authorities later surmised that the crew was trying to find Clear Lake to make an emergency landing. But this was not to be. The Pan Am clipper struck a 2,000-foot ridge near Boonville, California and exploded, killing its ten passengers and nine civilian crewmen instantly. It took ten days for the bodies and the wreckage to be found in the rugged hills. Admiral English was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on 9 February 1943. Just over a month later, Navy Secretary Frank Knox presented his widow with the Distinguished Service Medal Admiral English had been posthumously awarded for his “exceptionally meritorious service” as Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet.
English was born in Warrenton, Georgia, and he was a member of the United States Naval Academy class of 1911. Early in his naval career he became a submariner. In 1917, while commanding the submarine USS O-4 (SS-65), he received the Navy Cross for his great heroism in rescuing an officer trapped in the submarine USS O-5 (SS-66) after an explosion.
After a series of important assignments, he became commanding officer of the light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50), and during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on 7 December 1941 was one of the first to bring his ship into action.
Robert English assumed command of Pacific Fleet submarines in March 1942. Described as an aloof, tough-minded officer, he replaced a large number of the less aggressive submarine commanders in his squadrons. His endorsements on patrol reports were so harsh that a subversive poem began circulating amongst his submarine skippers, alleging that desk commanders were out of touch with real conditions on the firing line.
English maintained confidence in the Mark VI magnetic torpedo exploder much longer than was warranted, discounting the complaints of the sub skippers about their torpedoes as excuses for timid hunting and poor shooting. His employment of his submarines is also subject to criticism; they achieved little at the Battle of Midway (though much was claimed at the time) and their placement close to bases and ports ensured that the submarines would encounter heavy antisubmarine patrolling.
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Commander Robert Henry English (NSN: 0-7724), United States Navy, for distinguished service as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. 0-4, engaged in the important, exacting and hazardous duty of patrolling the waters infested by enemy submarines, destroyers and mines, protecting vitally important convoys of troops and supplies and in offensive and defensive action, vigorously and unremittingly prosecuted against all forms of enemy naval activity during World War I.
Division: U.S.S. O-4
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Commander Robert Henry English (NSN: 0-7724), United States Navy, for his heroic conduct upon the occasion of the explosion on the U.S.S. 0-5. At the risk of his own life Lieutenant Commander English entered the after battery compartment, which was filled with smoke and debris from the exploding batteries, and rescued Lieutenant Commander G. A. Trever, U.S.N., from being burned to death.
Division: U.S.S. O-5
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (Posthumously) to Rear Admiral Robert Henry English (NSN: 0-7724), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States, as Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet, during World War II. In that position of great responsibility, he directed the operations of his command with marked skill and resourcefulness, as a result of which heavy damage was inflicted on enemy ships and shipping. His example of tenacity and devotion to duty was in large part responsible for the high degree of combat efficiency attained by his command.
General Orders: Commander in Chief: Serial 1158)
Division: Submarines, Pacific Fleet
Memorial Hall Error
Robert, along with his classmate Donald Godwin '11, are the only two Naval Academy alumni who perished in this crash who are not included in Memorial Hall. Their loss is clearly an operational one, and six other alumni who were aboard are listed with their classmates.
Donald Godwin '11, Robert Smith '20, John Crane '26, Francis Black '26, William Myers '26, John Coll '27, and George Stone '31 were also lost in the crash of Pan Am Flight 1104. Eight of the ten passengers were Naval Academy graduates.