On 25 October 1943, USS TILEFISH (SS-307) was launched at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA. The boat would go on to win five battle stars for her patrols during World War II and one for missions she undertook along the coast of Korea. Although her war patrol reports from the 1940s document a number of dramatic pursuits and kills—as well as one unintentional plunge to nearly 600 feet, far below what was considered to be her test depth—two other events stand out as well, both involving passengers—one animal, one human—who hitched a ride with the sub.
The first tagalong came aboard during the third war patrol, which began on 10 September 1944. The boat was prowling the Sea of Okhotsk, very close to Russia’s Kuril Islands, but her search for targets was hampered by waves up to 40 feet in height. TILEFISH still managed to send several vessels to the bottom—one trawler, two small cargo ships, a larger cargo ship, and an anti-submarine vessel; she also blew a giant hole in a ship that had already run aground, thereby preventing the Japanese from salvaging it. Then, at 0300 on 13 October, as the sub was patrolling in the Gulf of Patience between Sakhalin Island and Cape Patience, a new crewmember appeared. “BORIS HOOTSKI, night lookout first class (a Russian Owl) reported aboard for duty,” the commanding officer wrote in the war-patrol report. “He is now official ship’s mascot and stands battle stations on top of the tube blow and vent manifold.” No other mention of Boris appears in the reports, so it is not clear whether he continued to stand a regular watch or eventually went AWOL.
The next visitor arrived during TILEFISH’s fifth war patrol, during the winter of 1945, as the boat was winding her way through the Mariana Islands with USS THRESHER (SS-200) and USS PETO (SS-265). Towards the end of February, she reported for lifeguard duty in advance of planned air strikes on Amami Oshima, an island in the Ryukyu Archipelago. First thing in the morning on 1 March, the commanding officer noted the arrival of scattered U.S. aircraft; the first wave from a carrier flew by at 0834. At 0847: “Sighted smoke rising from southern end of AMAMI OSHIMA. The zoomies are getting in their licks.” At 0855: “Sighted three friendly fighters closing us at low altitude on port beam. One apparently in trouble.” One minute later: “Damaged fighter landed in water 500 yards on starboard bow. Headed for him. Plane sank within 20 seconds. Pilot in the water.” By 0859, Lieutenant (jg) William J. Hooks was safely aboard TILEFISH and his carrier, USS HANCOCK (CV-19), had been informed of his recovery. No doubt LT Hooks, although certainly dismayed by the loss of his plane, was overjoyed at having been able to splash down only feet from his rescuers; whereas some World War II pilots spent hours or even days (more than a month and a half, in one case) in the water before help arrived, Hooks spent only three minutes in the drink.
TILEFISH completed one more war patrol before the cessation of hostilities. She would later be sold to Venezuela, where she served as ARV Carite (S-11) for 16 years. In 1971 she changed allegiances to play a U-boat in Murphy’s War, starring Peter O’Toole. She was decommissioned for good in 1977. One hopes Boris Hootski was proud to have served on such a successful and multi-talented vessel.