Archive for August, 2014

Helping Those in Peril Beneath the Sea

On 27 July 2006, the Navy’s Deep Submergence Unit (DSU) at Naval Base Coronado in California was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation in part because of a rescue mission they undertook in the opening days of August 2005.

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Bad Charts, No Movies, and Old Books

BOARFISH in the Chukchi Sea, 1946.

Subic Bay lies just to the north of the much larger and better-known Manila Bay on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. On 21 April 1945, USS BOARFISH (SS-327), commissioned on 23 September 1944, pulled in after completing the second of the four war patrols she would undertake during the war’s final year. Less than a month later, on 16 May, the sub headed south for the Java Sea. Just before midnight on the night of 28 May, BOARFISH made contact with a small patrol craft. At 0030 on 29 May, she sighted a second; a third and fourth appeared at 0221 and 0422, respectively. “I believe these four contacts were all different ships,” the commanding officer noted in his patrol report, “and that the Japs keep this area well patrolled.” The reason why appeared just after two that afternoon: a convoy of three ships, including a tanker, and two escorts. At 1442, the BOARFISH attacked, loosing four torpedoes from her bow tubes. What happened next demonstrated the critical importance of accurate charts—and the unfortunate consequences of incorrect ones.

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RUNNER’s Romp to Tokyo

Stern view of RUNNER from the south catwalk, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, 3 January 1942.
When this photo was taken, Portsmouth had four building ways in place, but they were not arranged in sequence. If you were to look into the building shed from the water the ways were numbered 2, 4, 3, and 1. Sometime between the date of this photo and 20 March 1942, the workers at Portsmouth rearranged the scaffolding between two of the ways and inserted a fifth. The keel of USS SCORPION (SS-278) was laid there on 20 March while RUNNER was still under construction.

On 17 October 1944, USS RUNNER (SS-476) slid down the ways at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. By May of 1945 she was in Pearl Harbor; soon thereafter she headed out on her first war patrol. Although she was only supposed to be scouting for minefields in the Sea of Japan, on 10 July she got the chance to take out an enemy minesweeper, although the accomplishment was very nearly negated when the torpedo in the #6 tube, running hot and wedging the exterior door open, refused to leave the boat. So the commanding officer got creative: “Put large down angle on boat and blew air into #6 tube, backing full, and shook the torpedo out. No explosion.” In July RUNNER set a course for Guam, picking up 16 rescued airmen from USS GABILAN (SS-252) and USS ASPRO (SS-309) along the way.

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The Dramatic Loss of USS COCHINO (SS-345)

On the morning of 25 August 1949, USS COCHINO (SS-345) and USS TUSK(SS-426) were engaged in a training exercise north of the Arctic Circle in the roiling waters of the Barents Sea. The following is from a publication, entitled “Submarine Casualties Booklet,” compiled by the U.S. Naval Submarine School in 1966:

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The Loss of USS HARDER (SS-257)

Commissioned on 2 December 1942 at Electric Boat Company in Groton, CT, USS HARDER (SS-257) set off from Pearl Harbor on her first war patrol just seven months later. What followed was a streak of incredibly successful patrols, notably the fifth, which some have called the most brilliant patrol of the entire war. Over the course of four days in the area around the Japanese anchorage at Tawi-Tawi, HARDER sank four destroyers and damaged a fifth. Perhaps more importantly, the sheer number of attacks and submarine sightings convinced Japanese Admiral Soemu Toyoda that subs were swarming over the anchorage, although HARDER was the only boat in the area. Fearing further sinkings, he sent the fleet out from Tawi-Tawi a day early, thus upsetting battle plans and contributing to the Japanese defeat in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

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KENTUCKY’s Unusual Alcohol

After nearly three years of construction, USS KENTUCKY (SSBN-737) was ready to be launched on 11 August 1990. But the ceremony that sent her into the waters of the Thames River had a bit of a twist, as detailed in a 9 August article in the New London Day:

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TINOSA’s Terrible Torpedoes

Photo taken from the pier above USS SPADEFISH (SS-411) as TINOSA, decked out with flags, returns to port at the end of her 11th patrol, Pearl Harbor, 4 July 1945.

At 0555 on the morning of 24 July 1943, Lieutenant Commander L.R. “Dan” Daspit, the commanding officer of USS TINOSA (SS-283), spotted the Japanese fleet’s largest tanker as it headed straight for his sub. Tonan Maru No. 3 weighed over 19,000 tons and was making her way from Palau to Truk with a cargo of precious fuel; TINOSA had been alerted to the ship’s movements by codebreakers and was ready to act. At 0928, TINOSA fired four torpedoes, two of which struck the target and exploded. “Two explosions heard by personnel in submarine,” Daspit wrote in his patrol report. “Second hit in port quarter made much smoke and target stopped, took port list and settled by stern almost immediately.” Figuring Tonan Maru No. 3 was on the ropes, Daspit moved in for the kill. “Having observed target carefully and found no evidence of sinking, approached and fired one torpedo at starboard side,” he wrote. “Hit, heard by sound to stop at same time I observed large splash. No apparent effect. Target had corrected list and was firing at periscope and at torpedo wakes with machine guns and four inch.” By this point, TINOSA had expended seven torpedoes on the tanker with only two explosions. At 1011, she tried again. “Fired eighth torpedo. Hit. No apparent effect.” The same phrase applied to torpedoes nine and ten. At 1048, “fired eleventh torpedo. Hit. No effect. This torpedo hit well aft on the port side, made a splash at the side of the ship, and was then observed to have taken a right turn and to jump clear of the water about one hundred feet from the stern of the tanker. I find it hard to convince myself that I saw this.”

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Demonstrating POLARIS’s Potential

Seen through the periscope of USS CARBONERO (SS-337), submerged 25 miles from the aim point, this illustration shows FRIGATE BIRD’s mushroom-shaped cloud boiling skyward from its original burst altitude of 11,000 feet. The range clock at the upper right indicates 1433, which was the local time at the launching point. (Local time at the aim point was one hour earlier.)

On 14 September 1959, the keel of USS ETHAN ALLEN (SSBN-608) was laid down at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, CT. Although she was the sixth of the “41 for Freedom” ballistic-missile submarines, she was the first specifically designed as such—the earlier GEORGE WASHINGTON-class BNs were built as variants on the design of a fast-attack boat, USS SKIPJACK (SSN-585). The result was the heaviest sub the U.S. had ever built: 6,900 tons on the surface. That may not seem like much when compared with the 18,000-ton ballistic behemoths that prowl the seas today, but at the time it was huge. ETHAN ALLEN was 1,000 tons heavier than USS TRITON (SSN-586), which was 37 feet longer, 1,500 tons heavier than GEORGE WASHINGTON, and 4,500 tons heavier than the average World-War-II sub.

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CHARR’s Troubles

A 1944 charcoal drawing by the artist Griffith Baily Coale entitled "Busy Fremantle--Busy Mother."

Commissioned on 23 September 1944, USS CHARR (SS-328) completed three war patrols before the end of World War II. By July of 1951, she had been converted to a fleet snorkel submarine, meaning she acquired, in addition to a snorkel, improved air-conditioning and electrical systems; she then deployed to the Far East to support United Nations forces in Korea. In 1954, she took Chiang Kai Shek on his first submarine cruise. But one of the boat’s most dramatic moments took place not far from San Diego, her home port, on 26 September 1961, and is detailed in a 29 September New London Day article entitled, “Sailors Save Submarine As Compartment Floods”:

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Isn’t the War Over?

In August of 1945, USS CAVALLA (SS-244) was on lifeguard duty off the coast of Japan. On the fifteenth of the month, she found out the hard way that wars do not end for everyone at exactly the same time. What follows is an excerpt from her sixth and final war-patrol report.

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