Warship Wednesday Dec.2, 2015: The Brass Tiger Fish of the Lifeguard Service

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Dec.2, 2015: The Brass Tiger Fish of the Lifeguard Service

Photo via Navsource. Courtesy of John Hummel. Partial text courtesy of DANFS.

Photo via Navsource. Courtesy of John Hummel.

Here we see the Tench-class diesel-electric submarine USS Tigrone (SS-419/SSR-419/AGSS-419), at the Philadelphia Navy Yard sometime circa 1964 as she is preparing for her next role in the fleet after her first two had proved remarkably different.

With the brilliant success of the Gato-class fleet boats in the first part of the war in the Pacific, the Navy soon ordered 84 follow-on Tench-class boats to an improved design starting in 1944. The same 311-feet long overall as the Gatos, the Tenches were slightly heavier and had longer legs, being able to cover 16,000 nautical miles over their predecessor’s paltry 11,000. This meant they could roam further and stay away longer if needed.

While the Gatos were finished in time to bloody the Japanese fleet, few craft worthy of a torpedo were still around when the Tench class began to reach the Pacific. In fact, just 10 of the class were completed during the war and a further 55 were canceled just after.

Of the 10 that made it to the fight, one is the hero of our little tale.

Named after a species of the tiger shark, USS Tigrone (SS-419) was laid down at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine just a month before D-Day. Her crew nicknamed her the Tiger Fish and she is the only ship on the Naval List to have carried the moniker.

Commissioned on 25 October 1944, she got her first combat patrol underway from Guam on March 21, 1945, with three other U.S. fleet boats in a Yankee wolf pack. Although they spent the better part of two months in Japanese waters, they found few targets and her only brush with combat was to bombard a reef with her rear 5″/25 deck gun (she had a 40mm Bofors single forward).

Her second patrol was more exciting.

On May 25, she took up a lifeguard station off the coast of Honshu, Japan, and by end of the week had a full house, picking up the crews of two B-29s that had ditched as well as three fighter pilots. U.S. submarines rescued 504 downed airmen– to include future President George Bush–  during WWII lifeguard duty.

TIGRONE has saved the Air Force and is now returning to Iwo Jima with 28 rescued zoomies,” radioed her skipper, CDR. Hiram Cassedy, USN.

Back on station by June 26 and then soon had to set course for Guam, arriving on 3 July to disembark another 23 waterlogged aircrews plucked from the water. These 52 airmen Tigrone returned to land throughout the patrol constituted a new submarine-force record.

The Commander Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet extended his congratulations to, “the commanding officer, officers, and crew for this outstanding patrol” and commended them for “the excellent judgment, splendid navigation, and determination displayed by the TIGRONE in effecting these rescues….”

SilentService_ad2

The Tigrone‘s lifeguard service patrol was so inspiring that she received her own episode of the 1950’s documentary series The Silent Service (season 1, episode 8) “Tigrone Sets a Record” which aired on 06 May 1957 and is below in its entirety.

On her third patrol, she came within sight of the Japanese home islands on lifeguard duty and saved an aviator as well as breaking out her big gun again on Aug. 13 when she bombarded Mikomoto Island (Pearl Island), scoring 11 hits on a radio station and lighthouse tower in one of the last exchanges of hate in the war as the Empire sued for peace on the 15th.

When peace came, she was part of the massive armada in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, and received two battle stars for her service.

There she is, all the way at the end...

There she is, all the way to the end…

Soon after, she found herself in red lead row in Philadelphia.

Dusted off in 1948, Tigrone was designated SSR-419 (radar picket submarine) and given the MIGRAINE I conversion that included AN/BPS-2 search radar sprouting from the after portion of the sail, and the height finder mounted on a freestanding tower just abaft it.

Tigrone, left, after refit as SSR

Tigrone, left, after refitting as SSR. Her sister ship USS Thornback has been GUPPY’d. Thornback would later serve 28 years in the Turkish Navy and is preserved there as a museum ship today.

This put the 15-foot search antenna some 40 feet above the water, with the height finder only a little below. Also came a below deck CIC for the radar, an extra generator to help push the volts needed to run it all, and guidance equipment for mid-course control of Regulus cruise missiles. In exchange, the boat sacrificed her stern tubes and surface armament.

Tigrone (SSR-419), underway in Grand Harbour, Valetta, Malta, c1952.

Tigrone (SSR-419), underway in Grand Harbour, Valetta, Malta, c1952.

Between 1948-56 no less than 13 SSRs– including several Tench-class boats– were put into service, roughly split between Atlantic and Pacific with Tigrone spending her time as a picket boat with the Second Fleet in the Caribbean and North Atlantic, with regular participation in NATO exercises and periodic deployments to the Mediterranean as part of the Sixth Fleet.

By 1 November 1957, a decade as a radar boat had ended, replaced by more modern vessels, and Tigrone again found herself a member of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, Philadelphia.

However, the Navy wasn’t through with her by a long shot.

The Tigrone (AGSS-419) underway in a channel, between conversions

The Tigrone (AGSS-419) is underway in a channel, between conversions

Recommissioned 10 March 1962 and reclassified Auxiliary Research Submarine (AGSS-419), for the next decade Tigrone operated in conjunction with the Navy Underwater Sound Laboratory (part of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center at Newport), conducting underwater systems tests, and evaluating new equipment. The information provided by these tests, utilizing experimental transducers, would prove invaluable in sonar development.

In late 1963, the Bottom Reflected Active Sonar System (BRASS) II Transducer and system were installed on Tigrone, and, after 1965, the much-upgraded BRASS III system was installed.

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Note the unique side-facing rear sonar rack near the sail.

Note the unique side-facing rear sonar rack near the sail that came with the BRASS III conversion

While conducting her tests, she was often trailed by Soviet intelligence collection ships, which on at least one occasion felt the full force of the BRASS rig.

From a bubblehead who served on her during these tests

I cannot tell you how many watts the BRASS was capable of transmitting into the water, but suffice it to say it far exceeded anything else in anybody’s Navy at that time and maybe even today’s Navies for all I know. To give you an idea of the sound level it produced, all hands forward of the engine rooms were required to wear enginemen’s hearing protection when it was operating!

The overhead of that boat was festooned with enginemen’s earmuffs, hanging from every possible location to be readily available when the word was passed: “Now rig for BRASS Ops!” There were no torpedo tubes on the Tigrone at that time.

The after room had been turned into a bunkroom and held tier after tier of racks for the crew. The forward room was dedicated to the sonar system including its very own MG set to power that monster. The sonar men stood their watches on standard AN/BQR-2B passive sonar set which was in a little corner up forward where the tubes used to be. The Port half of the forward room was all the equipment the civilian USN/USL personnel used to operate the BRASS. It was a very sophisticated system, capable of varying both the amplitude and duration of the pulses it generated and if I can attach the picture, you will note a huge “shit can” mounted where the bow should be. Inside that huge and cumbersome protrusion was a transducer which looked like a huge log lying on it’s side atop a round table. The round table could be rotated, thereby presenting the horizontal length of the “log” in whatever direction was desired. In addition to the horizontal training, this transducer “log” was constructed in staves (like a barrel) and the operators could select which staves were to be used, giving them the ability to direct the transmitted beam in whatever direction they would like it to go.

We would go to test depth off the Azores and transmit a pulse in a South Westerly direction so that it could be received by the USS Baya [SS/AGSS-318, a Balao-class submarine modified in 1958 to accomidate LORAD, an experimental long-range sonar and 12 scientists] who would be operating off the Tongue of the Ocean in the Bahamas!!!!

Like I said, BRASS put a LOT of power into the water. Needless to say our activities drew the attention of the Russians and one of those ‘fishing boats’ brisling with antenna, would follow us around, undoubtedly listening to and recording every transmission we made. Well one day we were pounding away with the BRASS when one of the civilians asked me where the Russian fishing boat was. I was standing a regular passive sonar watch and I need to explain that whenever the BRASS transmitted a relay in my sonar set would cut out my audio for the duration of the pulse and then cut back in. When the audio returned, I could hear the reverberations from the transmission bouncing off the bottom, off waves, off thermoclines and maybe off the Azores themselves for several minutes, it was deafening!

I reported that the ‘fishing boat’ was dead astern making 80 RPM’s, just enough to keep up with our three knot submerged speed. “Keep us posted if anything changes.” I was told and I sat up to pay closer attention. Pretty soon I noticed a decrease in the amplitude (power) of the transmitted pulses from the BRASS. The same was true of the pulses following that and so on, until the BRASS was barely making a ‘b-e-e-p’ for each transmission. “He’s picking up speed and closing,” I announced to the civilians who were twisting the dials on the BRASS equipment and watching me to see if their efforts were producing the desired results. “Tell us when he’s directly overhead,” was the request as the pulses became weaker still. Evidently, the Russian figured that we had sped up and were leaving him behind; as the very loud transmissions we had been making were now so weak, he could hardly hear them. “He’s making 220 turns and coming right up our stern,” I reported. The USN/USL boys made some more adjustments to their equipment, “Is he overhead yet?” they asked, “Almost”, I said, wondering what in hell they were going to do. Just then, he came out of our baffles and I could hear his diesel engine roaring above the sound of his cavitating propeller blades, as he picked up speed.

“HE’S OVERHEAD NOW NOW NOW!!” I shouted and just then, the relay in my audio circuit cut my sound. It didn’t matter, I could hear the prolonged blast of a BRASS transmission coming right through our hull, it seemed that it would never end. I didn’t realize they could extend the pulse length so long! The operators had turned the transducer table until the ‘log’ was crosswise to the length of our hull, then they had selected just the top staves so that all that transmitted energy went straight up to the Russian Trawler who listening equipment was undoubtedly turned up has far as it would go in an effort to hear our previously weaken signals over their own ships noise. You guys know what test depth was in those old boats, so you know just how far away his receiver was from probably a million or more watts being aimed directly at him. We fried his sonar system . . . cooked it . .. blew every transistor . . . toasted every tube . . . Probably rendered the operator deaf for life. You’ve heard the old saying, “That noise was ten dB above the threshold of pain” well can you imagine what sound level BRASS could produce at that short a distance? It was a wonder we didn’t blow a hole in his hull and sink him.

For the next week, the only time that ‘Fishing Trawler’ caught up with us was when we surfaced after a day’s work. He could still pick us up when we were on the surface with his radar, but he couldn’t find us when we were submerged and BRASS was transmitting. After about six or seven days, a second trawler showed up and relieved him. They would follow us, but never got real close to us. Once burned, twice shy….

USS Tigrone (AGSS-419) with experimental bow sonar, off Ponta Delgada, Azores, 1967 [1400×843]

USS Tigrone (AGSS-419) with experimental bow sonar, off Ponta Delgada, Azores, 1967

April, 1970 USS Tigrone (419) leaving Halifax after Exercise Steel Ring

April 1970 USS Tigrone (419) leaving Halifax after Exercise Steel Ring

Tigrone continued her quiet Cold War service until 27 June 1975 when she was decommissioned after more than 30 years with the fleet– all but about six of those in active service.

She was the last active submarine in the Navy that had served in WWII, which is something of a record in and of its own right.

USS Tigrone by William H. RaVell III

USS Tigrone by William H. RaVell III

While she was expended as a torpedo test target on 25 October 1976 in deep water off the North Carolina coast at 36deg. 05.2′ N x 71deg. 15.3′ w, she is remembered at Submarine Force Museum and the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum as well as by an active veterans group.

Of her sisters, 14 were transferred to 9 foreign navies and one, ex-USS Cutlass (SS-478) remains semi-active in Taiwan’s Republic of China Navy as Hai Shih (meaning “sea lion”) at age 70.

Three are maintained as museum ships:

USS Requin as a museum ship is about as close as you can get to Tigrone.

USS Requin as a museum ship is about as close as you can get to Tigrone. Image via Wiki.

-USS Requin (SS-481) at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA. This ship was also converted to an SSR in the late 1940s and served with Tigrone in the Second and Sixth fleets during the 1950s.

-USS Torsk (SS-423), moored at Pier Three, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, (alongside the National Aquarium in Baltimore) in Maryland.

-TCG Uluçalireis (S 338) (ex-USS Thornback (SS-418)), on display at Rahmi M. Koç Museum, Golden Horn in Istanbul. She is shown above in the comparison shot next to sister Tigrone.

Specs:

Tench class, WWII configuration, via shipbucket http://www.shipbucket.com/images.php?dir=Real%20Designs/United%20States%20of%20America/SS-417%20Tench.png

Tench class, WWII configuration, via ship bucket

Displacement:
1,570 tons (1,595 t) surfaced
2,414 tons (2,453 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft. 8 in (95.00 m)
Beam: 27 ft. 4 in (8.33 m)
Draft: 17 ft. (5.2 m) maximum
Propulsion:
4 × Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D8-⅛ 10-cylinder opposed piston diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
2 × low-speed direct-drive Elliott electric motors
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
Speed:
20.25 knots (38 km/h) surfaced
8.75 knots (16 km/h) submerged
Range: 16,000 nautical miles (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 knots (19 km/h)
Endurance:
48 hours at 2 knots (3.7 km/h) submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft. (120 m)
Complement: 6 officers, 60 enlisted as designed. Up to 90 when used for SSR/AGSS duties
Armament:
(1945)
10 x21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, 6 forward, 4 aft, 24 torpedoes
1 x 5-inch (127 mm) / 25 caliber deck gun
1 x Bofors 40 mm
1 x Oerlikon 20 mm cannon
2 x .50 cal M2 (detachable)
(1948)
6 x 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, forward, 12 torpedoes
2 x .50 cal M2 (detachable)
(1963)
Soundwaves, baby, yeah

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