In March of 1917, the U.S. Navy authorized the construction of a new S-class submarine which was laid down two years later at the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation in Quincy, MA. She was commissioned as USS S-27 (SS-132) on 22 January 1924. After stints in New London, San Diego, and Pearl Harbor, and an overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, she was sent to Alaska in May of 1942 to patrol the frigid northern waters in support of the war that America had only recently entered.
S-27 spent the first week of her first patrol prowling around Adak and Amchitka, two islands at the end of the Aleutian chain; on the night of 16 June she was ordered to head to Kiska, which lies even further to the west. On the 18th she entered Amchitka’s Constantine Harbor to check for Japanese; finding none, she made her way around the southern tip of the island. That night, before setting out for Kiska, she stopped to charge her batteries. But while she was doing so, currents or tides caused her to drift about five miles from where the crew, using dead reckoning, believed her position to be. Since the boat was enveloped in a thick fog, the drift went undetected. At 0000 on 19 June, she got underway once more, although on only one engine as the crew continued to charge batteries with the second. But at 0043, things started to go wrong when breaking waves were sighted just 75 feet ahead of the boat. The “back emergency” order was given, but to no avail. Just seconds later, S-27 ran aground.
The situation did not improve as the night wore on. Waves continued to pound the boat, shoving her further onto the rocks and causing her to roll from side to side, up to fifteen degrees in either direction. The crew dumped their fuel in an attempt to lighten the sub and lift her off the rocks, but they only succeeded in making her rolls even more violent. To make matters worse, one of her propellers struck a rock and was rendered useless. The commanding officer next tried to move the boat forward, but she made it only 20 feet before grounding once more. At 0115, the first of six distress calls went out. Only one would actually be received, and it contained no location. S-27 and her men were on their own.
The weather worsened as dawn drew near, so the decision was made to move as many crewmembers as possible to shore. A pulley system was set up between the boat and the beach; a rubber raft hauled back and forth between the two carried men, weapons, and supplies to shore. Six Sailors, including the commanding officer, remained on board, destroying equipment and burning classified materials in case the Japanese later discovered the wreck. Three of the six went ashore at 1530, when the torpedo room began to flood. Just before 1600, the last three abandoned ship.
The crew spent the night on the beach without shelter, but the following day they moved to Constantine Harbor. There had been a village there before the Japanese bombed it and the Sailors were able to take advantage of several undamaged buildings and some heating equipment. In true military fashion, the men organized a watch bill of sentries and sent work parties back to the beach—and even onboard the wreck—to recover more supplies.
The organization of a camp proved, however, to be largely unnecessary. On 24 June, a PBY Catalina aircraft conducting a routine surveillance flight discovered the camp and landed nearby. Fifteen men left on that first plane; three more arrived the next day to rescue the rest. Although the sub was lost, every man survived.