|Jacob Kopf of Bridgewater Gave his Life for our Country in World War II
By Bruce Doorly
It is important that a community remember those who gave their life in defense of our country. In this article we profile Bridgewater’s Jacob Kopf who was
killed during World War II while serving aboard the submarine the USS Bullhead. Tragically it was the last ship we lost during the war.
Jacob was a member of a prominent extended Bridgewater family that had multiple residences along Foothill Road. During World War II five Kopf men from Bridgewater would serve their country. The only other family name found more often among Bridgewater’s World War II Honor Roll was Mancini. (The Mancini family of the Bradley Gardens section of Bridgewater had seven brothers serving in the war.)
During World War II the Kopf family owned what today we know as the historic “Jacob Vosseller House” on Foothill Road in Bridgewater. (The house is marked with a sign out front.) Initially built around 1753 the historical home would have a farm that over time would extend to fifty acres.
On the property once was a blacksmith shop, carriage house, barn, chicken coop and turkey coop. In its early years the building was both a store and a tavern. Around 1838 it was no longer used as a tavern, but a residence for the Allen family. In 1908, with the death of John Allen, the home and farm passed to Phoebe (Helena) Allen Kopf, who had married into the Kopf family. In the upcoming decades the Kopf family used it primarily as a dairy farm. They also divided the land into various lots to build homes for family members. Thus, there came to be many Kopf families living in Bridgewater.
Jacob, the youngest of eight children, was born in 1908. Professionally he was a plumber at Elling Brothers of Somerville.
Socially he was the scoutmaster of Green Knoll Boy Scout Troop 88. They were a busy troop which received newspaper coverage for their vast community service. Due to his leadership, he was presented with the prestigious “scoutmaster key”. He must have inspired the scouts, because after his departure for the Navy, his troop, in April of 1944, sponsored an Honor Roll display on the grounds of the Green Knoll School that listed 100 names of the men and women from the Green Knoll section of Bridgewater who were serving in the war.
|Jacob Kopf entered the Navy in October of 1943. He took boot camp in Newport, Rhode Island, and entered submarine school at New London, Connecticut.
Sometime during breaks in military service, he married Hazel Kellam of Readington.
The submarine to which Jacob was assigned was the USS Bullhead. It was a brand-new sub having just been launched in July of 1944. Submarines get shortchanged in World War II history. This is perhaps because their successful attacks were on just one ship at a time rather than headline grabbing big battles such as Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, and D-Day. Another contributing factor was that during the war submarine whereabouts and travels were top secret. In the Pacific Ocean US submarines are credited with causing tremendous shortages of materials and food through the sinking of Japanese supply ships. This crippled the Japanese war production and economy.
But it came at a high price for the Americans as 13% of the sailors who served aboard a submarine lost their life.
|The U.S. submarines were just coming into their own in 1944, having evolved over the years.
Many imperfections had been worked out. In the last half of the war the last major issue, which was torpedoes not exploding, had been fixed.
The Bullhead was 311 feet in length and 27 feet wide. It was capable of firing torpedoes from the front or the back. Twenty-four torpedoes could be loaded on the sub. They also had four heavy guns permanently mounted on the deck. When surfaced these could fire a good distance and had the power to sink a small ship.
|The Bullhead could travel at a speed of 22 MPH when surfaced and 10 MPH when submerged.
Staffing the submarine were 10 officers and 71 enlisted men. All were volunteers. Every position was important.
Thus, the staffing did not include a chaplain or even a doctor. Religious service could be conducted by anyone.
As for the lack of a doctor, a pharmacist mate trained in first aid acted as doctor.
Only those totally healthy were allowed on submarine duty. There were not many injuries on a sub. But if a sub got hit under water all personnel could be lost.
|Jacob Kopf was an electrician’s mate. The Navy charges its electrician’s mates with the operation of the ship’s appliances,
lighting systems, and electrical equipment.
Their duties consist of the routine maintenance, testing, operation, and even repair of electrical equipment.
|Beards were common on submarines|
The USS Bullhead would go on three separate patrols in 1945. Jacob Kopf was on all three.
All patrols were in the Pacific against the Japanese. Subs usually stayed out about ten weeks before they and the crew needed maintenance, restocking and rest.
The first patrol was March 21st – April 28th. On that patrol a war correspondent, Martin Sheridan, traveled with them. He was the only reporter to be allowed on a sub during World War II. A highlight of this patrol was the dangerous rescue of three downed airmen from a B29 that had been shot down. During this patrol they experienced close calls as they were bombed by both the Japanese and accidentally by the U.S Air Force.
|The second patrol which was May 21st through July 2nd saw the sinking of two small Japanese freighters, a schooner, and a sub chaser vehicle.
Ironically, all hits were by the guns, not the torpedoes.
After the second patrol, Jacob had leave in Australia, and would write his wife three letters. It would be the last she heard from him.
|Click for large view|
| The third patrol left from Australia on July 31st. On August 6th, the day that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima,
Japan, the USS Bullhead was positioned off the coast of Japan. A Japanese plane using special bombs set to go off after a predetermined depth in the water
found its mark.
The Bullhead along with its 81 sailors, including Jacob Kopf of Bridgewater, would perish.
|Click for full article|
|A sailor from Raritan, Charles Dougherty, who was also on the Bullhead, was killed in the attack as well.|
|Click for link to story about Charles Dougherty|
|Ten days after the surrender of Japan the Kopf family and his wife Hazel got the dreaded telegram that Jacob’s submarine was missing at sea and probably lost.
Today there are three Memorials that list the names of the crew on the USS Bullhead. One is in Groton, Connecticut, and another in Australia. The third Memorial is a park in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that is dedicated to the USS Bullhead. It is called USS Bullhead Memorial Park.
|And that war correspondent who was on the first patrol wrote a book about the Bullhead
“Overdue and Presumed Lost – The Story of the USS Bullhead” .
It is available at Amazon.
|Click to view book at Amazon|