On 10 May 1943, the U.S. Navy commissioned USS CISCO (SS-290) at Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine. Soon after, the boat set out for Darwin, Australia, arriving in the middle of September. While there, Chief Radioman Howell B. Rice became sick and was sent to the local Navy hospital. On 18 September, his boat set out on her first war patrol without him. A leak in her hydraulic system forced her to turn back for repairs, but two days later CISCO headed back out. She was never heard from again.
CISCO was scheduled to patrol in a rectangular area in the South China Sea, between Luzon in the Philippines and French Indo-China. On 28 September, her expected position was in the center of the Sulu Sea, through which she would have had to pass to reach her area. On that date just north and east of that location, Japanese records indicate the discovery of a submarine. “Found a sub tailing oil,” the records note. “Bombing. Ships cooperated with us. The oil continued to gush out even on tenth of October.” Because no other American boats were operating in the area at the time, it is presumed that the victim was CISCO. The terrible irony is that she was probably destroyed at least in part by one of her sisters: USS LUZON (PR-7), a U.S. gunboat that had been captured by the Japanese, renamed Karatsu, and deployed to attack American forces. This vessel was aided by purely Japanese forces: Type 97 “Kate” attack bombers belonging to the 954 Naval Air Squadron.
On 4 November and again on the fifth, Headquarters Task Force 71 attempted to raise CISCO on the radio. There was no response. The boat was ultimately declared lost; it is possible that a recurrence of her hydraulic headaches created the oil slick that drew the enemy to her.
76 men went down with CISCO. Rice, who would recover from his illness, was the crew’s only survivor.