James Wiggin Coe

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James Coe
James Wiggin Coe.jpg
Commander James Wiggin Coe
Birth name James Wiggin Coe
Nickname(s) Red
Born (1909-06-13)13 June 1909
Richmond, Indiana, U.S.
Died 6 November 1946(1946-11-06) (aged 37)
Presumed South China Sea
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1926–1946
Rank US-O5 insignia.svg Commander (United States)
Service number 0-063137
Commands held USS S-39
USS Skipjack (SS-184)
USS Cisco (SS-290)
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Navy Cross
Purple Heart

Commander James Wiggin "Red" Coe (13 June 1909 – 6 November 1943 (missing), 8 January 1946 (presumed dead)) was an American submariner. A submarine ace,[1] Coe commanded the USS Skipjack and Cisco during operations in the Pacific theatre of World War II.[2] After a number of successful patrols, Coe and the Cisco failed to return from patrol in November 1943, and her captain and crew were presumed dead in 1946.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Richmond, Indiana, Coe attended Morton High School and then the US Naval Academy and Annapolis, Maryland. Commissioned in June, 1930, he served aboard the USS Nevada and then the USS Chicago. From 1931 he commenced training in submarines, and served on the USS S-27 in 1933, followed by the USS S-29 in 1935 and the USS S-33 in 1937. After two years back in the United States as an instructor, he took command of the USS S-39 following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, and transferred to the Skipjack in 1942.[2]


While in command of the Skipjack, he wrote a letter to his superiors in the supply division complaining about a lack of toilet paper aboard his vessel. Included in the memorandum was "a sample of the desired material" to help supply identify what was being asked for, while commenting that in the mean time "personnel during this period has become accustomed to the use of “Ersatz” the vast amount of incoming non-essential paper work" and closing with the remark that "in order to cooperate in war effort at small local sacrifice, the SKIPJACK desires no further action to be taken until the end of current war which has created a situation aptly described as “War is Hell”."[3] The letter later served as inspiration for a scene in the 1959 comedy film Operation Petticoat. He also fired the first Mark 14 torpedo to be shot with its magnetic influence disabled as part of a new test run ordered by Rear-Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, which took place off of King George Sound in June 1942.[4]

Loss of the Cisco[edit]

Given command of the Cisco in January 1943, he was awarded the Navy Cross "for extraordinary heroism" while serving in the Pacific sinking Japanese merchant shipping. In November 1943, he was dispatched to the South China Sea, where his submarine was presumed lost in action. He earned a posthumous Purple Heart.[2] Coe's successful patrols with the Skipjack and his command of the Cisco gave him some notoriety, leading to his name appearing in a contemporary list of the Top Skippers of World War II By Number of Confirmed Kills. A military rest camp in Subic Bay in the Philippines - part of the U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay - is named in his honour, as is a street in Naval Station Pearl Harbor.[5]


  1. ^ Blair (1975) p. 110-133.
  2. ^ a b c Naval History Division (17 August 1949). "Biography - Commander James Wiggins Coe, USN". Navy Department Library. Retrieved 27 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Naval History Division. "U.S.S. SKIPJACK - Toilet Paper Memorandum". Navy Department Library. Retrieved 27 January 2014. 
  4. ^ Blair (1975) p. 276.
  5. ^ Gugliotta (2000) p. 213-214.