< Chapter 3.6
The Battle of Cape Lookout

Chapter 3.8 >
"Mister Roberts" and the USS Algol

3.7 The Coronados Incident

This officer [is] lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership and cooperation. He acts without forethought as to probable results.

- Rear Admiral F.A. Braisted, July 15, 1943

After Hubbard's battle with two supposed Japanese submarines - determined by the Navy to actually have been an underwater magnetic deposit - he was ordered to take his ship, the USS PC-815, south to the naval base at San Diego and carry out her shakedown cruise en route. Hubbard's request to search for the wrecks had been refused; it must have been a frustrating experience to have sailed past the spot where the "battle" had taken place without being allowed to stop and look for the proof.

The USS PC-815 set off from Seattle on May 28, 1943 but had her orders changed that same day to call in first at the port of Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco. There she rendezvoused on May 30 with the USS Croatan (CVE-25), a recently-commissioned escort aircraft carrier, which she was to escort the following day to San Diego. The two ships arrived at the southern Californian port on June 2. Hubbard's second-in-command, Lt Thomas Moulton, left at this point to return to Seattle (and was soon to get his own command).

The PC-815 now began a stint at San Diego which was to last for the next two and a half years. New equipment was fitted, a "Mousetrap" forward-firing depth charge launcher replacing its old depth charge racks. The ship's crew had had little time to conduct a shakedown , due to hold-ups at the Naval Base. At the end of June 1943, the ship was ordered to sea again to conduct anti-submarine training exercises in the waters off San Diego. It was at this point that Hubbard's enthusiasm seems once again to got the better of him. Unlike the embarrassing but well-intentioned "battle" the previous month, his latest lapse of judgement was to have much more serious and, for him, career-damaging consequences.

The exercises ordered by the Fleet Operational Training Command on June 28, 1943 had ended early that day, at only 4 p.m. Hubbard decided to use the opportunity to hold a gunnery drill with the PC-815's 3" gun, firing three rounds of practice ammunition. A drifting target used during the day's earlier exercises was used as an aiming point. The ship then headed for a nearby island, where it anchored in seven fathoms of water to sit out the night.  A small arms drill was also conducted, firing an estimated 120 rounds of .30 (rifle) and .45 (pistol) ammunition. The crew fished for food before turning in for the night. At 7 a.m. the following morning, Hubbard returned to San Diego - and to a lot of hot water.

The PC-815 had anchored in the territorial waters of Mexico, just off South Coronados Island. The Coronados Islands (Islas los Coronados) are an otherwise insignificant group of four small rocky islands just inside Mexican waters, about five miles south of the US-Mexican sea border. They have never supported a permanent settlement, being too arid and rugged, though a short-lived "Coronados Yachting Club" ran a hotel - actually an offshore drinking establishment - during the last two years of Prohibition in the United States. 

During the Second World War, which Mexico entered on May 22, 1942, the islands were the scene of Mexican and US military exercises. Earlier on the day of Hubbard's visits they had apparently been the scene of a bombing practice by the US Army Air Force, with the permission of the Mexican authorities. The islands are, however, garrisoned by a small detachment from the Mexican Navy, who must have been surprised to have seen the USS PC-815 turn up and hold an impromptu gunnery practice near one of the islands. It was probably these observers who saw Hubbard's vessel at anchor and firing shells offshore. A formal complaint was made to the US authorities, and less than 48 hours after returning to San Diego, Hubbard and his crew were ordered before a tribunal to explain themselves.

The facts of the case were indisputable - no attempt was made to deny that what had been reported had actually happened. Instead, as Hubbard's opening statement to the Board of Investigation shows, he pleaded a mixture of ignorance and innocence:

Q. Relate the movements and operations of the PC 815 from 1500 to 1700 on 26 June 1943.

A. The operation during that period to the best of my knowledge and belief is, that at 1600 or thereabouts, this ship received permission from OTC to secure from exercises. In view of the fact that it was only 1600 and in view of the fact that this ship had been informed that it must make every effort to complete its shakedown, of which it had had very little, due to the delay in repairs at the Destroyer Base, San Diego, California, I ordered general quarters and exercises at general quarters. The ship came to general quarters and as there was a target in the vicinity used by air-craft for bombing practice I ordered that four rounds of target ammunition be expended when I observed the range was clear of ships. The order to commence fire was given. The exercises having been concluded and the night appearing foggy and this vessel being without accurate calibrations, and in that I had had a very arduous day and have not yet been able to train my officers to dependability in piloting, I proceeded to the bank at the East side of South Coronado Island and anchored there in 7 fathoms of water after the ship had been veered, heading 182 degrees on the South Point, 336 degrees on the North Point of South Coronado Island - degrees are gyro.

The ship secured and the men at dusk fished for whatever they could catch. The gunner's mates and other people of the landing party fired small arms from the starboard side of the fan tail at a target thrown over from the ship. The firing was to the Eastward and no shots could have possibly ricocheted into the Coronados as I supervised it personally. A very small quantity of ammunition was expended for I was trying to teach my officers to safely handle a .45.

At no time was I aware of invading Mexican Territorial waters, and had no intention whatsoever of causing any damage to Mexican property, or to frighten the Mexican population.

During the night a skiff approached the ship, evidently from shore, and the men in it requested of us 10 gallons of gas to get to the mainland, which gas my Executive Officer did not see fit to expend. There were several fishing vessels, names not recorded, lying well inside us close to shore and in communication with it. At no time did anyone even casually refer to the Island being shelled.

My actions during this period were based upon: (1) the necessity of training the gun crews at every possible chance (2) the unofficial statements to me at the Saturday conference by Commander Ferguson that it would be all right for me to arrange for planes which I took to include as permission to hold non-scheduled firing practice; and, (3) an attempt to obtain enough rest for myself so that I could competently instruct my officers on the following day in mousetrap firing and anti-submarine warfare training.

That is the answer to the Board's questions to the best of my knowledge and belief.
(Source: Transcript of Board of Investigation on the circumstances attending the firing of 3 shots from the USS PC-815, 30 June-3 July 1943)

A succession of witnesses from the PC-815's crew were called to give evidence. The Navigation Officer admitted that this was the second time that the PC-815 had anchored off the Coronados, that he thought the Coronados belonged to the United States and that he had not consulted the navigational guides before the ship's anchoring. The other witnesses were cross-examined in detail about the circumstances of the firing itself. The conduct of the exercise and the question of whether the shells had actually hit land were examined in particular detail. The evidence on the latter point was inconclusive - some said that all four shells fired had fallen in the water, but others reported seeing impacts on land. One of the most damaging points to emerge, from Hubbard's point of view, was that his orders had not granted him permission to anchor at discretion, especially not in Mexican territory:

Exercise 54-2. Vessels schedule [sic, should be "scheduled"] for Sound School the following day will remain at sea. Operating in Sound School areas plus 4626, 4726, 4826, 4825, 4725, 4625 [apparently map grid references] unless given other areas for night steaming and exercises. Other vessels, unless scheduled for other exercises, upon completion of Sound School work will return to port prior dark.
(Source: Transcript of Board of Investigation on the circumstances attending the firing of 3 shots from the USS PC-815, 30 June-3 July 1943)

In other words, Hubbard was explicitly confined to a specific area off San Diego. His new second-in-command, Lt (jg) George Asmann, admitted that the orders did not include authority to anchor if desired. He also admitted that while he knew that the Coronados Islands were Mexican territory, "it did not particularly come to my mind that they were Mexican islands" and that he had assumed that they were included in the Sound School operating areas. When pressed by the investigating officers, Asmann admitted that he was in the pilot house of the PC-815 during the firing "because it was cold and wet outside and that [he] wanted to be warm and dry."

Recalled as a witness, Hubbard attempted - somewhat ungallantly - to pin the blame on the inexperience of his crew:

Q. Captain, why did you anchor at the Coronados Islands in the position shown by the testimony on the 28th of June?

A. Because I have no officer with more than three and one-half months total officer of the deck experience aboard naval vessels and because it was foggy and there were kelp beds and menaces to navigation in my designated operating area, which I did not leave. By so entering I would have had to spend the entire night on the bridge a thing which I have done on the ship many times before. On three separate occasions when leaving my officers in charge of the bridge they have become lost, a fact which was dangerous to the safety of the ship. I am attempting to remedy their lack of experience as rapidly as possible but at the time in question I do not think any commanding officer sensible of his responsibilities would have guaranteed the safety of his ship unless he utilized an existing anchorage. There was no reason to continue steaming in these waters through the night.
(Source: Transcript of Board of Investigation on the circumstances attending the firing of 3 shots from the USS PC-815, 30 June-3 July 1943)

After having heard 13 hours of evidence, the board concluded its hearings on Saturday 3 July, 1943 and produced eighteen findings of fact (DOCUMENT A):

1. That the U.S.S. PC 815 fired 4 rounds of 3"/50 caliber turret ammunition at about 1619 on 28 June 1943, from the one 3"/50 caliber gun mounted on board.

2. That no navigational data was available to determine the position or course of the PC-85 at the time the shots were fired at about 1619 on 28 June, 1943.

3. That the position of the ship was in general, Northeast of South Coronados Island at an undetermined distance.

4. That land was in the line of sight at the time of firing and that this land was some part of the Coronados Island [sic].

5. That neither a safety officer nor a check-sight observer was stationed at the gun.

6. That all of the fall of shot of the 4 shots fired from the 3"/50 caliber gun were not observed by any officer on the ship.

7. That an undetermined number of splashes were observed in the water in the direction of land during the firing.

8. That evidence of shells hitting land or rocks on the Northern end of South Coronados Island was observed on two separate instances during the conduct of firing.

9. That evidence of a shell hitting land or rocks on the Northern end of South Coronados Island or on land behind the Northeastern end of South Coronados Island in the line of fire was observed on a third instance during the conduct of firing.

10. That the ship was underway at the time of firing making one-third engine speed, about 9 knots.

11. That there was no U.S. Naval directive prescribing that the PC-815 fire guns of any caliber in any area on 28 June, 1943.

12. That upon completion of firing of the 3"/50 caliber gun the PC-815 proceeded on various courses and speeds and at about 1706 on 28 June, 1943, anchored about 500 yards off the Eastern shore of South Coronados Islands in 7 fathoms of water with 65 fathoms of chain to the starboard anchor with the lighthouse structure on the Northeast sector of South Coronados Island bearing about 326 degrees true and the left tangent of South Coronados Island bearing about 185 degrees true.

13. That after anchoring on the afternoon of 28 June 1943, firing of .30 caliber and .45 caliber weapons was conducted from the port and starboard quarters of the PC-815 by certain officers and members of the crew during the period from about 1730 until sometime after sunset.

14. That approximately 80 rounds of .30 and 40 rounds of .45 caliber ammunition was expended, some of which were fired into the water in the direction of South Coronados Island.

15. That shots from the small arms firing were not observed to hit the South Coronados Island.

16. That the ship remained at anchor throughout the night of 28-29 June, 1943.

17. That the ship remained in the vicinity of South Coronados Island on the afternoon of 27 June and remained overnight in approximately the same position as the ship was anchored on 23 June, 1943.

18. That there was no U.S. Naval directive authorizing the PC-815 to anchor in the vicinity of the Coronados Islands on 27 and 28 June, 1943.
(Source: Transcript of Board of Investigation on the circumstances attending the firing of 3 shots from the USS PC-815, 30 June 1943)

Rear Admiral Frank A. Braisted, Commander of the Fleet Operational Training Command, Pacific, approved the findings of the investigation and pronounced his verdict on the culprits. Hubbard was deemed primarily responsible and was relieved of command as well as being given a formal letter of admonition; Lt (jg) George Asmann, his executive officer, was also given a letter of admonition (DOCUMENT B). In the letter, the Rear Admiral informed Hubbard (DOCUMENT C):

1. The facts and testimony ... indicate that on June 28, 1943, while serving as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. PC 815, you:

(a) Disregarded orders by having the vessel under your command conduct a gunnery practice without proper authority; and

(b) Disregarded orders by anchoring in Mexican Territorial waters without proper authority.

2. The above led to the receipt of a complaint against the vessel under your command from Mexican Authorities.

3. Because of the short time that you have been in command and the exigencies of the service, this letter of admonition is written in lieu of other more drastic disciplinary action which would have been taken under normal and peacetime conditions.
(Source: Letter of adminition to Lt L. Ron Hubbard, Rear Adm F.A. Braisted, July 15, 1943)

The USS PC-815 after Hubbard

For the remainder of the war, the USS PC-815 served as a shore patrol vessel in the waters off San Diego. It is recorded as having escorted two more vessels, the submarines MV Tinosa and Cod. On November 2, 1945, a period of inactivity came to an end when the vessel was restored to active duty with the Pacific Fleet. On 11 November, however, the ship collided with the destroyer USS Laffey off San Diego and sank within two minutes. One man (presumably from the PC-815) was recorded as missing, presumed drowned. Navy divers demolished the wreck in early November 1945.

As the Rear Admiral made clear, the needs of the wartime Navy and Hubbard's own inexperience saved him from more severe disciplinary action; in peacetime, the offences committed would certainly have entailed a court-martial, resulting in a demotion or possibly even a dishonorable dismissal. The loss of his command was the very least that could have been expected, however, and so it was that on July 7, 1943, after only eighty days in command, Hubbard made his last entry in the PC-815's log book: "1345, Signed on Detachment, L. R. Hubbard". He was posted to temporary duty onshore at the Issuing Office, Headquarters, Eleventh Naval District in San Diego, whilst waiting for another assignment, which he hoped would be in the South Pacific.

One final consequence of this affair was a stinging Fitness Report on Hubbard submitted by Rear Admiral Braisted (DOCUMENT D). The Rear Admiral noted that he would "prefer not to have him" under his command and rated Hubbard "below average" overall. In his concluding remarks Braisted declared:

Consider this officer lacking in the essential qualities of judgement, leadership and cooperation. He acts without forethought as to probable results. He is believed to have been sincere in his efforts to make his ship efficient and ready. Not considered qualified for command or promotion at this time. Recommend duty on a large vessel where he can be properly supervised.
(Source: L. Ron Hubbard fitness report, 29 May 1943-7 July 1943)

A similar recommendation had been made by the US Naval Attaché to Melbourne the previous year but had not been acted on. This time notice was taken; Braisted was the most senior officer to report on Hubbard during his entire Naval career and his comments were devastating for Hubbard's prospects. Reports on the case went all the way up to the Secretary of the Navy and the Judge Advocate General, casting a permanent blight on Hubbard's career. In his remaining seven years of service in the United States Naval Reserve, L. Ron Hubbard never commanded another vessel.


A. Findings of fact, Board of Investigation on the circumstances attending the firing of 3 shots from the USS PC-815, 3 July 1943

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B. Record of admonition of Lts L. Ron Hubbard and George M. Asmann, 13 July 1943

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C. Letter of admonition of Lt L. Ron Hubbard, 15 July 1943

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D. L. Ron Hubbard fitness report, 29 May 1943-7 July 1943 

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< Chapter 3.6
The Battle of Cape Lookout

Chapter 3.8 >
"Mister Roberts" and the USS Algol