James Wiggin Coe

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James Coe
James Wiggin Coe.jpg
Commander James Wiggins Coe
Birth name James Wiggins 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 Wiggins "Red" Coe (13 June 1909 – 6 November 1943 (missing), 8 January 1946 (presumed dead) was an American submariner. A submarine ace,[1] Coe commanded 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 USS Nevada and then USS Chicago. From 1931 he commenced training in submarines, and served on USS S-27 in 1933, followed by USS S-29 in 1935 and USS S-33 in 1937.

After two years back in the United States as an instructor, he took command of USS S-39 in January 1940 and, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he commanded her during three war patrols in the Southeast Asia. On March 4, 1942, Coe commanded S-39 when she attacked and sank a Japanese tanker in Sunda Strait.

Coe transferred to the USS Skipjack in March 1942.[2] [3]


Coe commanded Skipjack for three war patrols (Skipjack's third, forth and fifth) during which he sank four Japanese merchant ships and damaged another.

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”."[4] The letter later served as inspiration for a scene in the 1959 comedy film Operation Petticoat. Coe's letter and the roll of toilet paper are preserved at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut.

Coe 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.[5]

USS Cisco and death[edit]

Coe was appointed prospective commanding officer of the USS Cisco in January 1943. He became the submarine's first commanding officer when it was commissioned on May 10. He was awarded the Navy Cross "for extraordinary heroism" while serving in the Pacific sinking Japanese merchant shipping.

In September 1943, Cisco sailed on its first war patrol to the South China Sea, where his submarine was presumed lost in action. (Postwar analysis concluded that Cisco was sunk by Japanese forces on September 28.) Coe was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.[2]

Japanese ships sunk by submarines under Coe's command[edit]

  • 4 March 1942 - USS S-39 sank fleet tanker Erimo (6500 GRT).
  • 6 May 1942 - USS Skipjack sank transport ship Kanan Maru (2567 GRT).
  • 8 May 1942 - USS Skipjack sank transport ship Bujun Maru (4804 GRT).
  • 17 May 1942 - USS Skipjack sank troop transport Tazan Maru (5477 GRT).
  • 14 October 1942 - USS Skipjack sank transport ship Shunko Maru (6780 GRT).

Source - U-Boat.net


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.[6]



  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. Archived from the original on 22 January 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2014. 
  3. ^ http://uboat.net/allies/commanders/3149.html
  4. ^ Naval History Division. "U.S.S. SKIPJACK - Toilet Paper Memorandum". Navy Department Library. Archived from the original on 16 August 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2015. 
  5. ^ Blair (1975) p. 276.
  6. ^ Gugliotta (2000) p. 213-214.