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Mannert Lincoln Abele -- born in Quincy, Mass., on 11 July 1903, the son of Francis I. Abele, Jr., and Addie L. (Tupper) Abele -- attended Cranch Grammar School and three years at Quincy High School before enlisting in the U.S. Navy at the age of seventeen on 12 August 1920. Assigned to battleship Utah (BB-31) just before she departed for European duty, Abele attained the rank of apprentice seaman while training at Newport, R.I.
Detached from Utah in December 1921, Abele received orders back to take entrance examinations to the U.S. Naval Academy. Upon his appointment-at-large, he became a midshipman in June 1922. Nicknamed “Jim” (a name even his sons affectionately called him), Abele was a member of the Naval Academy’s soccer squad before graduating and being commissioned ensign on 3 June 1926. Two years later, he received promotion to lieutenant (junior grade); promoted to lieutenant on 30 June 1936; and to lieutenant commander on 1 December 1940.
Ens. Abele’s first assignment upon graduation was on board battleship Colorado (BB-45), serving until 7 January 1929. Applying for submarine school, he was accepted and reported to the Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut, for instruction. Completing the course several months later, he received assignment to S-23 (SS-138), a unit of Submarine Division 4, serving on board as engineering officer until April 1933.
Receiving orders for shore duty to the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, until 30 May 1936, Lt. (j.g.) Abele served first on board R-11 (SS-88) before accepting command of R-13 (SS-90). While commanding R-13, his commanding officer described him as “the ablest commanding officer in the division,” leading R-13 to receive the Navy’s coveted “E” for excellence award. From June 1939 – August 1940, the scholarly submariner served as Assistant Professor of Naval Science, in connection with the Naval Reserve Officers Training Command (NROTC) unit at Harvard University. One of Lt. Cmdr. Abele’s students, Endicott Peabody, an all-American football star, later served as Governor of Massachusetts.
Receiving orders to S-31 (SS-136), Lt. Cmdr. Abele commanded that boat (August 1940 – November 1941), before fitting out Grunion (SS-216), built at the Electric Boat Company, Groton, Ct., and assuming command of her upon her commissioning on 11 April 1942.
After her shakedown cruise out of New London, Grunion sailed for Pearl Harbor on 24 May 1942. A week later, on 3 June, Grunion arrived at Coco Solo, Panama, having transported 16 survivors of USAT Jack, victims of a torpedoing by German submarine U-558. Grunion resumed transiting the Panama Canal in early June, continuing to make way for Hawaii. Arriving in Oahu on 20 June, Cmdr. Abele soon received orders to the Aleutian Islands, and Grunion steamed out of Pearl Harbor on 30 June, for the western Aleutians.
On 10 July 1942, Grunion, reassigned to the waters north of Kiska, hunted enemy ships. (15 – 30 July), came under attack on 15 July from three unidentified Japanese vessels. Firing a spread of torpedoes at her tormentors, Grunion allegedly sank all three. Postwar records determined the “destroyers” to be enemy Submarine Chasers No, 25 and Submarine Chaser No, 27. Commander Abele received credit (and later a Navy Cross) for sending both to the bottom, as well as damaging the third, Submarine Chaser No, 26. In addition, Grunion (by some accounts) torpedoed and damaged the 8,572-ton freighter Kano Maru.
Receiving orders on 19 July 1942 to proceed with S-32 (SS-137), Triton (SS-201) and Tuna (SS-203), to patrol an area approaching Kiska’s harbor, Grunion and the three boats were to make way to Kiska by 22 July. Grunion reported an attack on unidentified “enemy ships” six miles south off Sirius Point, Kiska, on 28 July. Firing two torpedoes, Cmdr. Abele observed no explosions. Resuming duties in her patrol area, [the official Navy account] states an intensive increase in anti-submarine activity off Kiska caused Grunion’s recall to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on 30 July 1942.
Grunion never arrived to Dutch Harbor and all communications to her went unanswered. Reported missing on 16 August 1942, the U.S. Navy presumed her lost on 5 October. Stricken from the Navy Register on 2 November, Grunion would remain missing for the next 65 years.
The Navy Cross citation for Cmdr. Abele, presented to his wife Catharine and sons, Bruce, Brad, and John, stated Abele availed himself “of every attack opportunity with alert skill and efficiency, (and) succeeded in sinking, in one day, three Japanese destroyers. Mrs. Abele was magnanimous in sharing news of the award with the families of Grunion’s lost crew. She wrote the next-of-kin of the men, declaring that the award belonged as much to their loved ones’ as to her husband.
Source: Naval History and Heritage Command