Warship Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018: Nimitz’s pogy boat
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Here we see the Balao-class diesel-electric fleet submarine USS Menhaden (SS-377) underway during sea trials in Lake Michigan, January 1945. One of 28 “freshwater submarines” made by Manitowoc in Wisconsin during WWII, she cut her teeth in the depths of the Great Lakes but was soon enough sent off to war. Before her career was said and done she would participate in three of them and help aid the next generation of bubbleheads well into the Red October era.
A member of the 128-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were ‘fleet’ boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home.
Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their 4-inch/50 caliber and 40mm/20mm AAA’s. They also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.
We have covered a number of this class before, such as the rocket-mailing USS Barbero, the carrier-sinking USS Archerfish the long-serving USS Catfish, and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories
Like most pre-Rickover submarines, the subject of our tale today was named for a fish. Menhaden, commonly called pogy, is a small and greasy fish of the herring family found in the Lakes, as well as in the Atlantic and Gulf. Where I live in Pascagoula, we have a menhaden plant that processes boatloads of these nasty little boogers to mash for their oil, which is later used in cosmetics (remember that next time you see lipstick) and for fish oil supplements.
Her insignia, like almost all those on the WWII fish boats, is great.
Laid down by Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co., Manitowoc, Wis., 21 June 1944, USS Menhaden was commissioned 366 days later 22 June 1945, Navy Cross recipient CDR David H. McClintock in command.
While she may have been commissioned (as it turns out) too late for the war, her crew was far from green.
USS Darter (SS-227), a Gato-class submarine commissioned in 1943, in her 13 months of existence won a Navy Unit Commendation and four battle stars across a similar number of war patrols, credited with having sunk a total of 19,429 long tons (19,741 t) of Japanese shipping. While a part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Darter sank the massive 15,000-ton Japanese heavy cruiser Atago and seriously damaged her sister, the cruiser Takao, directly impacting the outcome of the fleet action. However, she paid a price and, hard aground in the Philippines, had to be abandoned.
To retain their high esprit de corps, the entire Darter crew was ordered to Wisconsin to take over Menhaden, fleshed out by 20 new blue jackets.
As it turned out, this gave the new ship with her crack crew of salty veterans a unique rendezvous with destiny.
You see some four years prior, at Pearl Harbor just three weeks after the bloody attack that crippled the U.S. battleship force in the Pacific, Adm. Chester William Nimitz, Sr. (USNA 1905), who cut his teeth on cranky early submarines before the Great War and by 1939 was the chief of the Bureau of Navigation, assumed command of the U.S Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) on the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, replacing the outgoing Adm. (reduced to RADM) Husband Edward Kimmel. As a nod to his early days (and because no battleships were available), Nimitz hoisted his flag first on the Tambor-class submarine USS Grayling (SS-209).
Nimitz, of course, would be slightly better remembered than Kimmel and would hold his job until replaced at Thanksgiving 1945 by ADM Raymond A. Spruance. That’s where Menhaden comes in.
Arriving at Pearl on 16 Sept 1945 after their trip down the Mississippi River to New Orleans from the Great Lakes and a run through the Canal, Menhaden was chosen to host the change of command between Nimitz and Spruance.
Although untried in combat, she was one of the newest boats in the Submarine Service and incorporated the latest improvements in submarine design and equipment. Moreover, her “gallantly battle‑tested” crew epitomized the “valor, skill, and dedicated service of submariners” during the long Pacific war. Thus, on her deck that morning Fleet Admiral Nimitz read his orders assigning him to duty as Chief of Naval Operations, and his relief, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, read orders making him CINCPAC and CINPOA.
The brand-new submarine and her crew of vets operated out of Pearl Harbor for just four months then received orders for San Francisco where she was decommissioned on 31 May 1946 and mothballed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet after less than a year of active duty.
In 1951 the still “new-old-stock” fleet boat was taken back out of storage for use in Korea, recommissioning at Mare Island 7 August 1951, earning the Korean Service Medal and UN Service Medal.
However, as before, she didn’t get any licks in and remained on the West Coast for most of the conflict, converting the next year to a “Guppy IIA” modification, which she would carry the rest of her career. Nimitz attended the recommissioning ceremony as an honored guest, the second time the young boat would fly the flag of a five-star admiral.
After her first West Pac deployment starting in Sept. 1953– picking up the China Service Medal for services to the Chinese Nationalist Navy Vessels in Formosa– Menhaden would rotate back and forth between training operations off California and patrols in the troubled waters off Korea and Taiwan, keeping tabs on Chinese and Soviet assets in the region and just generally serving as “the powerful seagoing arm of freedom in the Far East,” as DANFS notes.
She completed four lengthy West Pac deployments by 1964.
Then came two tours in the waters off Vietnam (Nov 1964-May 1965 and Aug 1966-Feb 1967), seeing her active shooting war for the first time, and was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal with two campaign stars.
As far as WWII diesel boats, the late 1960s and early 1970s were not kind to them. The last two Gato-class boats active in the US Navy were USS Rock and USS Bashaw, which were both decommissioned in Sept 1969. The last Balao-class submarine in United States service was USS Clamagore (SS-343), which was decommissioned in June 1973. The final submarine of the Tench class, as well as the last submarine which served during World War II, in fleet service with the U.S. Navy, was USS Tigrone (SS/AGSS-419) which decommissioned in June 1975.
That’s where Menhaden was given a reprieve of sorts, remaining in (sort of) service with the Fleet well past her sisters had gone to the breakers. Decommissioned on 13 August 1971, her name was taken off the Naval List two days later and she was again in mothballs.
By 1976, she was transferred to the Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station in Keyport, Washington who would use her as a surface and submerged target ship for another decade. In this role, she had her engines and batteries removed and she was painted bright yellow.
A literal Yellow Submarine.
By the late 1980s, even Menhaden, known around Keyport as “The Hulk” was no more, and she was scrapped by 1988. As far as I can tell, she was the last WWII-era diesel sub in use by the Navy in any form.
Lots of remnants and tributes to the ship endure.
The National Museum of the Pacific War, home of the Nimitz Museum in Texas, has some artifacts from the Menhaden. There is an extensive crew/reunion site for the vessel (here) and a historical marker on the north bank of the Milwaukee River, on The Manitowoc County 28 Boat Memorial Walk, adjacent to her sister, the USS Cobia, at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.
At the USS Bowfin submarine museum and park in Honolulu (a sister ship of Menhaden), they have a war-bonnet-wearing pogy donated to the site by one of Menhaden’s skippers.
From the Bowfin Museum:
The sub’s emblem displays the head of the fish Menhaden, decorated with a war bonnet that honors the Manitowoc Indians who used said fish for food and fertilizing their fields. Dale C. Johnson, who was one of USS Menhaden’s commanding officers (1964), was raised on the Yakima Indian Reservation, and when childhood friends learned of his occupation on such a boat, they arranged to have a war bonnet made and sent to Johnson and his crew. A pattern maker from USS Sperry carved the fish head, fin, and torpedo-tomahawk, which when added to the war bonnet, made the emblem three-dimensional and to be displayed on festive occasions. Commander Johnson has since donated his treasure to the USS Bowfin Museum and Park, where it is on display today
Although Menhaden is no longer afloat, eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.
Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:
-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
–USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
–USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
–USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which is, sadly, set to sink as a reef in the next few months)
–USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also in poor shape)
–USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
–USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Navy List has not carried the name of another Menhaden, which is a shame.
Her first skipper, CPT. David Haywood McClintock (USNA 1935) retired from the Navy in 1965 and died in 2002 at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Michigan, aged 89.
1,848 tons (1,878 t) surfaced
2,440 tons (2,479 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft
Beam: 27 ft 4 in
Draft: 17 ft
4 × General Motors Model 16-278A V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
4 × high-speed General Electric motors with reduction gears
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
(1953): Snorkel added, one diesel engine and generator removed, batteries upgraded
20.25 knots surfaced
8.75 knots submerged
17.0 knots maximum
13.5 knots cruising
14.1 knots for ½ hour
8.0 knots snorkeling
3.0 knots cruising
Range: 11,000 nautical miles surfaced at 10 knots
48 hours at 2 knots submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)
Complement:10 officers, 70–71 enlisted
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
6 forward, 4 aft
1 × 5-inch (127 mm) / 25 caliber deck gun
Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, small arms
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