A collection of kill flags was sent to us earlier in 2016 by the grandson of Captain James Williams Blanchard. A 1927 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Blanchard served in the Panama Canal Zone before taking command of the submarine USS Albacore (SS-218) in 1943. Blanchard left command in late September of 1944, roughly one month before the Albacore was last heard from, presumably striking a mine before sinking with all hands on board. He was awarded the Navy Cross and two Silver Stars for his three war patrols.
David Blanchard has become an expert on his grandfather’s military history and the flags he inherited. The seven small rectangular kill flags weren’t army issue, but were instead made on board the submarine, possibly by the quartermaster. Four flags featuring a red sun with white and red rays commemorate four surface cargo ships struck by the Albacore. Two flags with the rising sun on a white ground were made in celebration of the Japanese surface combatant ships hit, the destroyer Sazanami and the Cha-165. One kill flag is all red, and was made after the Albacore struck the Taiho, Japan’s first steel-deck aircraft carrier. Accompanying the kill flags is a battle streamer, which was traditionally flown above the US Flag off the submarine’s fan tail. The pennant reads “USS Albacore SS218 8-9-10 War Patrols Dec 43 Sept 44” in cross stitch. The words “USS Albacore” appear to have been stitched at a different time than the rest of the writing. The hoist binding at one end is stamped, “No. 6.”
Captain James Williams Blanchard relinquished command of the Albacore in September 1944 to Commander Hugh Raynor Rimmer, taking with him the flags. The submarine left Pearl Harbor on October 24th, 1944 and stopped at the Midway Islands to refuel four days later. This was the last sign of the submarine and she was never heard from again. It is believed that the Albacore struck a naval mine off the shore of Hokkaido on November 7th, taking with her the entire crew of eighty-five men. This set of kill flags is believed to be the only existing set of kill flags from a US Sub that was lost with all hands.
During the winter of 2017, Museum Textile Services will be conserving the eight flags in this collection. The goal is to reduce the adhesive, and to suction cleaned with deionized water to reduce deterioration products, staining, odor, and generally improve their preservation level. After conservation, the owner will decide how he wishes to display the flags in the future.
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