Warship Wednesday, June 26, 2019: The sub-smoking Greenfish of the Amazon
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
Warship Wednesday, June 26, 2019: The sub-smoking Greenfish of the Amazon
Here we see into the sail of the Bahia-class submarine Amazonas (S16) of the Marinha do Brasil, in January 1985 as she was headed across the South Atlantic to the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. Her crew is participating in a swim call and the bluejacket is armed with an FN49 battle rifle, dubbed an FS in Brazilian service, on shark watch. While our hearty sub never saw active ship-to-ship combat, she had a long life and would go on to sink not one, but two submarines on her own accord.
A member of the 121-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. The Balao class was deeper diving (400 ft. test depth) than the Gato class (300 foot) due to the use of high yield strength steel in the pressure hull.
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 5,000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their deck guns. The also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.
Some 311-feet long overall, they were all-welded construction to facilitate rapid building. Best yet, they could be made for the bargain price of about $7 million in 1944 dollars (just $100 million when adjusted for today’s inflation) and completed from keel laying to commissioning in about nine months.
An amazing 121 Balaos were rushed through five yards at the same time, with the following pennant numbers completed by each:
- Cramp: SS-292, 293, 295-303, 425, 426 (12 boats)
- Electric Boat: 308-313, 315, 317-331, 332-352 (42)
- Manitowoc on the Great Lakes: 362-368, 370, 372-378 (15)
- Mare Island on the West Coast: 304, 305, 307, 411-416 (9)
- Portsmouth Navy Yard: 285-288, 291, 381-410, 417-424 (43)
We have covered a number of this class before, such as the rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish the long-serving USS Catfish and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.
Originally to be named Doncella (after a shovel-nosed catfish), the Balao that became the first warship named Greenfish (after a Florida ladyfish) was laid down at Electric Boat Co., Groton, Connecticut, in June 1944– 75 years ago this week in fact– but came in too late for WWII service. She would be the 101st submarine to be launched at Groton.
Another task during her shakedowns was to Deep Six the captured German unterseeboot, U-234, off Cape Cod, Mass, 20 November 1947.
A Type XB “cargo U-boat” U-234 left Germany in the last days of the war in Europe with a dozen high-level officers and advisors, technical drawings, examples of the newest electric torpedoes, one crated Me 262 jet aircraft, a Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb and 1,210 lbs. of uranium oxide. She never made it Japan as her skipper decided to make for Canada instead after the fall of Germany. Two Japanese officers on board committed suicide and were buried at sea while the sub– packed with her very important glow in the dark stuff– surrendered to the destroyer escort USS Sutton south of the Grand Banks, Newfoundland on 14 May, a week after VE Day.
Though other U-boats popped up after her (U-530 and U-977 arrived in Argentina in July and August 1945, respectively) U-234 has been called “The Last U-Boat” in at least two different documentaries about her voyage.
Anyway, back to our sub.
After logging at least three short “Simulated War Patrols” in the late 1940s, less than two years after she left EB, Greenfish was sent back for GUPPY IIA (Greater Underwater Propulsion Power) SCB-47 conversion.
This conversion included adding German-style snorkeling equipment, enlargement of her sail, removal of much of her deck armament, and doubling her batteries to increase her submerged speed and range. She landed her WWII listening gear for an updated type WFA active and JT passive sonar set.
Also, her four electric motors were replaced by two of more modern design. Some 22 U.S. boats got such a conversion.
As noted by Capt. Alfred Scott McLaren, USN (Ret.), in his memoir Silent and Unseen on Patrol in Three Cold War Attack Submarines, from his time on Greenfish:
The most significant modification within the submarine, or below decks, was to provide the capability to shift electrical connections among the four main lead-zinc batteries from a normal parallel to connection in series. This shift, used during maximum or flank speed operations only, provided sufficient electrical current, or amperage, to the two direct-drive electrical motors such that they could drive both propeller shafts at a sufficiently high RPM to attain underwater speeds in excess of twenty knots, providing the hull was free of the marine growth that normally accretes from long periods in port. Such high speeds provided a boat, when under attack, with at least one good opportunity to break free of enemy active sonar contact and escape from an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) surface vessel.
As for her accommodations, McLaren notes:
Crews of seventy-five to eighty men normally manned diesel electric submarines of this era. All submarines—as high-speed, deep-diving warships—are compact, and Greenfish was no exception. By necessity they use every inch of interior space, but without compromising their war-fighting capabilities. Approximately a tenth of crewmembers had to hot bunk: that is, they had to share their bunk with a fellow shipmate, with one man climbing into a bunk as soon as its previous occupant had vacated it. Most hot bunking took place in the forward torpedo room where the most junior members of the crew slept in side-by-side pan bunks, positioned on top of the torpedo reloads.
Although all boats of this era had heating and air-conditioning systems, the systems were notoriously ill-distributed through any given submarine’s interior, despite the improvements that had been made since the war. Adding to crew discomfort when on the surface was the fact that GUPPY submarines now had a rounded bow, versus the previous uplifted, pointed or fleet bow, causing the submarine to ride less comfortably than previously on the surface, particularly when heading directly into rough seas. Finally, none of these older submarines was particularly clean below decks. The need to cram more and more improved equipment within each submarine created innumerable and inaccessible dirt- and moisture-collection areas throughout the boat, especially in the bilges, which became breeding grounds for cockroaches.
Her reconstruction lasting some eight months, Greenfish emerged ready to fight as one of the most modern diesel boats in the world and, assigned to the Pacific Fleet, arrived at Pearl Harbor 25 November 1948 to go about her Cold War career.
When the balloon went up along the 38th Parallel, Greenfish sailed for Korean waters and completed a war patrol there, 31 January to 1 March 1952. Following this, she was one of the first boats to operate among the ice with the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Lab— perilous duty for a snorkeler.
She conducted her second Korean War Patrol 21 Aug – 12 Oct 1953
Then followed a pattern of local operations out of Pearl Harbor, “special operations,” exercises along the American West coast, periodic overhauls, West Pac cruises, exercises, and the like, for several years.
She also proved a platform for a new breed of Recon Marines from time to time.
She would conduct at least six Special Patrols during this stage of her career:
Aug – Oct 1954
Oct – Nov 1955
21 Jul – 13 Sept 1956
3 Jun – 13 Jul 1958
17 -31 Jul 1958
Aug – Sept 1958
Greenfish entered Pearl Harbor Shipyard 15 December 1960 for a FRAM (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) overhaul and extensive conversion to a GUPPY-III (SCB 223) class ship. This included cutting Greenfish in half and adding a 15-foot plug to her of hull to permit a new sonar room as well as space for more batteries and other equipment. She had one of her diesels removed to accommodate more A/C capacity and a larger freshwater distiller. She also picked up a BQG-4 PUFFS passive ranging (attack) sonar, with its distinctive three topside “shark fins.” Gone was her late 1940s WFA & JT sonars, replaced with PUFFS and augmented with a BQR-2B passive search sonar and BQS-4 active search sonar.
Only nine U.S. subs got the full GUPPY III treatment.
Our still comparatively young boat, less than 13 years old, had by then been upgraded and converted extensively twice at this point. Her continued service included assignment to the 7th Fleet in Japan during the Cuban Missile Crisis, more periods of “special operations” which would result in a Navy Unit Commendation, ASW exercises, and, last but not least, a Vietnam patrol.
It is during this time that Greenfish counted her second “kill” when she torpedoed former Warship Wednesday alumni USS Barbero (SS/SSA/SSG-317) off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 October 1964, after that ship was stricken. Barbero was a Balao-class sistership.
Like the other WWII-era updated GUPPY boats, she was in the twilight of her U.S. service but had reached her prime.
In 1970, Greenfish received a shipyard overhaul and was reassigned to Submarine Force Atlantic, making deployments to the Caribbean, the Med, and the North Atlantic for a northern European cruise as part of an ASW hunter-killer group together with the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (CVS-11). It was during this time she apparently carried a couple Mk. 45 ASTOR nuclear torpedos.
Finally, Greenfish was decommissioned and struck from the US Naval Register on the same day, 29 October 1973, having completed 27 years of service for Uncle.
She had 16 skippers in U.S. service and made 2,600 dives while carrying the Union Jack:
CDR Ralph M. METCALF, USN 7 JUN 1946-27 JUN1947
CDR Robert C. GIFFIN, USN 27 JUN 1947-20 JUL1949
LCDR Murray B. BRAZEE, Jr., USN 20 JUL 1949-29 AUG1951
LCDR William P. W WILLIS, Jr., USN 29 AUG 1951-18 APR1953
LCDR Davis E. BUNTING , USN 18 APR 1953-10 JUL1954
LCDR James H. STEVENS, Jr. , USN 10 JUL 1954-23 JUN1956
LCDR John T. KNUDSEN, USN 23 JUN1 956-16 JUL1958
LCDR John A. Davis, Jr. , USN 16 JUL 1958-18 JUN1960
LCDR Homer R. BIVIN, USN 18 JUN 1960-7 JUL1962
LCDR John W. HEMANN, USN 7 JUL1962-10 JUL1964
LCDR Samuel L. CHESSER, USN 10 JUL1964-23 JUN1966
LCDR Robert C. BLANCHARD, USN 23 JUN 1966-13 MAR1968
LCDR Mark W. BYRD, USN 13 MAR 1968-7 APR 1970
CDR Karl L. PETERSON, USN 7 APR 1970-4 JAN 1972
CDR Kent B. LAWRENCE, USN 4 JAN 1972-26 OCT 1973
CDR Robert K. SLAVEN, Jr. , USN 26 OCT1973-19 DEC 1973
However, she was only halfway through with her career.
On 19 December 1973, she was transferred under terms of the Security Assistance Program to Brazil, where she was rechristened as the submarino Amazonas (S-16), the 8th such Brazilian warship to carry the name of that nation’s iconic river system.
Lt. Robert Wolfe, who was on board Greenfish for two years in the end her U.S. Navy career up to the transfer, was interviewed by the United States Navy Memorial in 2018 about the handover, being one of about a quarter of the crew who assisted with the physical transition.
The Brazilian Navy has long lived the words of Tenente Naval Engineer Emílio Julio Hess who said, “É o valor militar que justifica o submarino e define sua importância como arma de guerra” (It is the military value that justifies the submarine and defines its importance as a weapon of war.)
The Latin American nation has been in the submarine biz for 105 years, first contracting with the Italian firm of Fiat-Laurenti to craft three submersibles– F1, F3, and F5— commissioned 17 July 1914.
After these three, Rio ordered a further four larger subs from the Italians in the 1930s including a Balilla-class and three Perla-class boats, which they used through WWII.
In 1957, the Brazilians went American by borrowing the Gato-class fleet boats USS Muskellunge and USS Paddle for five years under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program before turning them back in in 1963 for a pair of Balao-class boats: USS Plaice (SS-390), and USS Sand Lance (SS-381).
During the 1972-73 time frame, Brazil pumped up their sub fleet with five surplus GUPPY II boats: USS Sea Leopard (SS-483), USS Amberjack (SS-522), USS Dogfish (SS-350), USS Odax (SS-484), and USS Grampus (SS-523) while Greenfish joined another GUPPY III, USS Trumpetfish (SS-425), as a pair of new British-made O-class subs were being built.
Greenfish/Amazonas went on to put in two decades with the Brazilians– including a 1985 African cruise, shown in the shark bait swim pic at the top of this post.
She took part in regular UNITAS operations, observed the British build up for the Falklands War, and, as noted by a former skipper, continued to carry old Mk 14 semi-straight running torpedoes and conduct (sometimes risky) dives to 400 feet well into her final years.
Greenfish/Amazonas struck from the fleet on 15 October 1992 but continued to serve as a museum boat at the Centro Historico da Marinha in Rio de Janeiro until 2004 when she was sold for scrap, as her condition had deteriorated.
As such Greenfish/Amazonas outlasted five of Brazil’s six U.S. smoke boats, as Grampus and Odax were retired in 1981, Dogfish was scrapped in 1983, Amberjack in 1987, and Trumpetfish left the fleet in 1990. Sea Leopard endured as a pier side training vessel until 1993.
Greenfish is well remembered in maritime art.
Although Greenfish is no longer afloat– and her name was never reused– 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 may not be there much longer)
–USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also on borrowed time)
–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.
As for Greenfish‘s final home country, currently, the Brazilians field five German Tupi-class (Type 209) SSKs commissioned between 1989 and 2005, which are slated to be replaced by five Riachuelo-class (French Scorpene type) submarines in the near future.
Meanwhile, the name Amazonas has been reissued a ninth time by the Marinha do Brasil, to a British-built corvette (P120) commissioned in 2012.
1,848 tons (1,878 t) surfaced (as built); 1,870 GUPPY IIA; 1,975 GUPPY III
2,440 tons (2,479 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft as built; 307 ft. GUPPY IIA; 322 ft. GUPPY III
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
(1949): Snorkel added, one diesel engine and generator removed, batteries upgraded to 504 cells, 2 electric motors
20.25 knots surfaced
8.75 knots submerged
18.0 knots maximum
13.5 knots cruising
14.1 knots for a 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, 70–72 enlisted
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
6 forward, 4 aft
2 × 5-inch (127 mm) /25 caliber deck guns (removed for GUPPY)
1x Bofors 40 mm and 1x Oerlikon 20 mm cannon (removed for GUPPY)
two .50 cal. machine guns
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