After her commissioning on 22 July 1939 at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA, USS SWORDFISH (SS-193) shifted to San Diego for a time before leaving for Pearl Harbor at the beginning of 1941. She, along with three other subs, moved again in November, this time to Manila in the Philippine Islands. She was there when the Japanese bombed her former home port on 7 December. The next day, when Admiral Thomas Hart issued the order for unrestricted submarine warfare against the Japanese, SWORDFISH was ready. At 1511 on 8 December, her commanding officer recorded in the patrol report, “Submerged off mined entrance to Manila Bay. Proceeded westward.”
Early in the morning on 16 December, SWORDFISH, submerged, moved into Gaalong Bay on Hainan Island. The boat’s war patrol report describes what happened next:
1143: “Sighted steamer bearing 235 degrees, 5 ½ miles on course 100 degrees. Increased to full speed for approach. During approach noted that there were 6 steamers in loose column, distance 1000 yards. Finally got in to minimum torpedo run 2800 yards on last ship. Fired 3 torpedoes, range 2800, track 89 degrees port, gyro 44 degrees, aimed shots at forward goal post, MOT [middle of target] and after goal post. 35 seconds after firing first torpedo the first detonation was heard. Apparently one torpedo fired on arming. Second detonation 2-00 minutes. Observed ship stop and was afire amidships, listed 10 degrees starboard. Circled to southward of torpedoes ship about 4 miles.”
Although this is far from the most exciting or entertaining retelling of an attack in a World-War-II patrol report, the attack itself is significant: the doomed steamer was the first Japanese merchant vessel sunk by an American submarine. In the years to come, subs would send nearly five million tons of merchant shipping and more than 500,000 tons of naval vessels to the bottom, meaning that about 55% of all Japan’s seagoing losses were the responsibility of subs, which made up less than two percent of the Navy as a whole.
Sadly, SWORDFISH would eventually become a loss herself. She left Pearl Harbor on 22 December 1944 for her thirteenth war patrol and stopped off at Midway for fuel before heading for the Nansei Shoto island chain. She acknowledged receipt of a change of orders on 3 January, but was never heard from again. The exact cause and location of her loss have never been determined.
SWORDFISH, the recipient of eight battle stars for her wartime service, took 89 men to the bottom with her.