USS BARBEL (SS-316) departed Fremantle, Australia, for her fourth war patrol on 5 January 1945; she was bound for the South China Sea. Eight days later she teamed up with USS BLUEGILL (SS-242) and USS BREAM (SS-243) to cover the western approaches to the Balabac Strait, which links the South China Sea with the Sulu Sea, and the southern end of the nearby Palawan Passage. Two weeks later she was joined by USS PERCH (SS-313) and USS GABILAN (SS-252).
On 3 February BARBEL sent a message to GABILAN, USS TUNA (SS-203), and USS BLACKFIN (SS-322) stating that she had been bombed by enemy aircraft three times that day and would transmit again the following night with more information. But no transmission came. On 6 February, TUNA indicated that she had been unable to raise BARBEL for 48 hours and requested a rendezvous with her sister sub on the following day. BARBEL didn’t show. The navy declared her overdue and presumed lost on 16 February, the day on which she was scheduled to leave her patrol area.
Japanese records examined after the war state that on 4 February a plane dropped two bombs on a surfaced sub, scoring one hit near the bridge. The crew of the aircraft watched the sub, on fire, plunge beneath the waves. It did not return to the surface. It is almost certain that the sub was BARBEL.
Eighty-one men were lost with their boat, the recipient of three battle stars for her World War II service.