b. 11/09/1901 Henry, Illinois. d. 19/11/1943 at sea on USS Sculpin off Truk Islands, South Pacific.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 19/11/1943 Truk Islands, South Pacific.
Cromwell was born in Henry, Illinois, on September 11, 1901. Appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1920, he graduated in June 1924 and served initially in the battleship USS Maryland school and was assigned to USS S-24 (SS-129) during 1927–29. He next had three year’s diesel engineering instruction, followed by further tours of duty in submarines.
Lieutenant Cromwell commanded USS S-20 (SS-125) in 1936–37, then served on the staff of Commander Submarine Division 4. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in 1939 and spent two years in Washington, D.C. with the Bureau of Engineering and Bureau of Ships. In May 1941, he became Engineer Officer for the Pacific Fleet submarine force. During 1942–43, Cromwell commanded Submarine Divisions 203, 44 and 43, flying his pennant in USS Sculpin (SS-191).
Following promotion to Captain, he went to sea in Sculpin as prospective commander of a mid-Pacific submarine wolf pack. Sculpin was commanded by LCDR Fred Connaway, making his first war patrol. If conditions warranted, Cromwell would form a wolfpack with USS Searaven (SS-196) and either USS Spearfish (SS-190) or USS Apogon (SS-308) under his direction. As a senior officer, Cromwell was completely familiar with the plans for the upcoming Battle of Tarawa, Operation Galvanic, and knew a lot more about ULTRA- and its source – than anyone else on Sculpin. It was Cromwell’s first war patrol also.
While attacking a Japanese convoy on November 19, 1943, Sculpin was forced to the surface, fatally damaged in a gun battle and abandoned by her surviving crew members. Captain Cromwell, who knew secret details of the impending operation to capture the Gilbert Islands, deliberately remained on board as she sank.
Forty-two members of Sculpin’s crew – three officers and 39 enlisted men – were pulled from the sea by the Japanese, though one of the latter, badly wounded, was thrown back. The 41 survivors were taken to Truk and interrogated for ten days by Japanese intelligence officers. The group was divided in half for transport back to Japan on two escort carriers – 21 on Chuyo and 20 on Un’yō. Those on Unyo arrived in Japan in early December and spent the rest of the war working in the Ashio copper mines, after which they were repatriated to tell their story.
On the evening of 3 December 1943, 240 miles southeast of Yokosuka – with some help from ULTRA – USS Sailfish (SS-192) sank Chuyo, and only one of the Sculpin prisoners on board survived. When the story of John Cromwell’s heroic sacrifice was revealed in the accounts of the Sculpin survivors, COMSUBPAC VADM Charles Lockwood nominated him for the Medal of Honor. The award was approved and presented posthumously on 24 April 1946 to Cromwell’s widow in San Francisco, California.
As his body was not recovered from the South Pacific, he is named on the Wall of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commander of a Submarine Coordinated Attack Group with Flag in the U.S.S. Sculpin, during the Ninth War Patrol of that vessel in enemy-controlled waters off Truk Island, November 19, 1943. Undertaking this patrol prior to the launching of our first large-scale offensive in the Pacific, Captain Cromwell, alone of the entire Task Group, possessed secret intelligence information of our submarine strategy and tactics, scheduled Fleet movements and specific attack plans. Constantly vigilant and precise in carrying out his secret orders, he moved his underseas flotilla inexorably forward despite savage opposition and established a line of submarines to southeastward of the main Japanese stronghold at Truk. Cool and undaunted as the submarine, rocked and battered by Japanese depth-charges, sustained terrific battle damage and sank to an excessive depth, he authorized the Sculpin to surface and engage the enemy in a gun-fight, thereby providing an opportunity for the crew to abandon ship. Determined to sacrifice himself rather than risk capture and subsequent danger of revealing plans under Japanese torture or use of drugs, he stoically remained aboard the mortally wounded vessel as she plunged to her death. Preserving the security of his mission at the cost of his own life, he had served his country as he had served the Navy, with deep integrity and an uncompromising devotion to duty. His great moral courage in the face of certain death adds new luster to the traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
BURIAL LOCATION: LOST AT SEA.
NAMED ON THE WALL OF THE MISSING, NATIONAL MEMORIAL CEMETERY OF THE PACIFIC, HONOLULU, HAWAII.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SUBMARINE FORCE LIBRARY AND MUSEUM, GROTON, CONNECTICUT.