Warship Wednesday, May 4, 2022: Release the 30-Only-One!

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, May 4, 2022: Release the 30-Only-One!

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 72318

Above we see the Balao-class fleet submarine USS Kraken (SS-370) tipping on the way during launching at Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co., Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on 30 April 1944.

And splash…NH 72319

During World War II, the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company built 28 submarines for the U.S. Navy and had contracts to build two more that were canceled.

Sponsored by Ms. Frances (Giffen) Anderson, wife of influential and rabidly anti-Japanese GOP Congressmen John Zuinglius “Jack” Anderson of California, Kraken’s side launched into the Manitowoc, as shown above, in April 1944 then commissioned on 8 September of the same year.

Kraken on trials in Lake Michigan circa 1944. Note she only had one 5″/25, aft, and two 20mm Oerlikons on her sail. Description: Courtesy of Alfred Cellier, 1978. NH 86955

This picture is of the crowd gathered for the commissioning ceremony of the submarine USS Kraken (SS 370) at the Manitowoc on 8 September 1944. Huge scrap piles of material for unfinished submarines can be seen in the background. The large cylindrical sections labeled “SS-379” would have formed hull portions of the USS Needlefish (SS 379). Other parts would have gone into the Needlefish or the USS Nerka (SS 380). In July 1944, with the war winding down, those contracts had been canceled and the parts for those two unbuilt boats were scrapped, as shown here. (Manitowoc Library photo P70-7-505)

USS Kraken (SS-370) running surfaced in Lake Michigan, Michigan. September 1944. NH 72321

Incidentally, Ray Young, a Manitowoc artist who was employed as a designer at the shipyard, would create Kraken’s insignia, that of a binocular-eyed sea dragon. He would do the same for the last nine subs completed by Manitowoc as well as for a quartet of boats built by Electric Boat.

Some of Young’s amazing insignia, with Kraken’s being in the top left corner.

Off to war!

Immediately following her commissioning, Kraken steamed via Chicago to Lockport, Illinois, then was towed in a floating dry dock down the Mississippi River arriving at Algiers Naval Station, across the river from New Orleans, on 4 October.

Kraken, with crew on deck, passed inbound up the Manitowoc River through the open Eighth Street drawbridge in Manitowoc, September 1944. NH 72323

Setting out for the Pacific via the Panama Canal, Kraken was assigned to Submarine Division 301, SUBRON 30, part of the 7th Fleet. She arrived in Hawaii on 21 November, just in time for Thanksgiving, then made ready for her inaugural war patrol.

Leaving Pearl Harbor on 12 December 1944, she made for the South China Sea for anti-shipping work. Pulling lifeguard duty for carrier airstrikes off Hong Kong on the morning of 16 January 1945, she rescued one Ensign R. W. Bertschi, USNR, an F6F-5 Hellcat pilot (BuNo 70524) of the “Jokers” of VF-20 from USS Lexington (CV-16).

A week later, on 22 January, Kraken encounter a 5,000-ton oiler and made a submerged daylight attack with three fish that resulted in no hits. A nighttime surfaced attack two days later, firing a spread of four torpedoes against a Japanese destroyer, also resulted in no damage. She ended her 1st Patrol at Fremantle on Valentine’s Day 1945, and Bertschi, in addition to his wings of gold, finally made it to shore, just falling short of earning a set of dolphins.

Her next sortie was lackluster. Kraken arrived at Subic Bay, the old U.S. Navy base that had just been liberated, on 26 April, concluding her 2nd Patrol.

Her 3rd War Patrol was conducted in the Gulf of Siam, the South China Sea, the Java Sea, and the Eastern Indian Ocean between 19 May and 3 July. She was part of a “Yankee Wolfpack” consisting of USS Bergill (Comwolf), Cobia, Hawkbill, and Bullhead patrolling the Pulo Wai-Koh Krah Line, then near the British T-class subs HMS/m Taciturn and HMS/m Thorough. By that time of the war, the seas were undoubted target poor.

In the predawn hours of 20 June, Kraken surfaced alone off Japanese occupied Java to shell the Merak roadstead, following up on a report from Bullhead. This resulted in a surface gun action with two anchored “Sugar Charlie” type coasters, reportedly sinking one (later confirmed to be the 700-ton Tachibana Maru No.58) and damaging the other.

Two days later, Kraken shelled the Anjer Point Lighthouse just after midnight and got into an artillery duel with a Japanese coastal battery for her trouble.

However, she did stalk a small coastal convoy of five Marus and three escorts, then followed it through ought the next day before taking a run at it during the bright moonlight on the morning of the 23rd in a combined torpedo and gun attack.

In the swirling four-hour engagement, Kraken expended five MK XIV-3A and four MK XVIII-1 torpedoes at ranges just over 2,000 yards along with 54 rounds of 5-inch HC, 116 rounds of 40mm, and 474 rounds of 20mm at ranges as close as 1,500 yards. The Japanese escorts, small subchasers, fired back and bracketed Kraken but caused no damage.

Kraken was credited at the time with sinking a 1,600-ton transport oiler and a 700-ton coastal steamer, as well as damaging two ~400-ton escorts, although this was not borne out by postwar boards.

She ended her 3rd, and most successful, Patrol at Freemantle, steaming some 11,926 miles in 45 days.

Kraken (SS-370) with Ray Young’s “Sea Dragon” and WW II sinkings on the conning tower. USN photo courtesy of Scott Koen & ussnewyork.com via Navsource.

Further detail of the Kraken’s “Sea Dragon” and WW II sinkings on the conning tower. Note three Maru sinkings, three ships damaged including two Japanese naval vessels, two shore bombardments, and Ensign Bertschi’s rescue. Courtesy of ussubvetsofwwii.org via Navsource.

It was in Australia that she was given a quick overhaul that included doubling her armament to make her one of the late war “gunboat submarines.”

However, her following 4th War Patrol did not gain any kills, although Kraken suffered one of the last active Japanese air-and-naval pursuits of the war, logged on 13 August. The Patrol ended after just 23 days when Kraken was signaled to halt hostilities on 15 August due to the Japanese surrender and proceeded to Subic Bay.

She would linger there for a few days before being ordered stateside as her crew was made up of several very experienced officers and men that had been drawn from other boats, some having as many as 15 war patrols under their belts.

Setting out for California, Kraken would be one of the escorts for the famed battleship USS South Dakota (BB-56), as she carried Admiral Halsey under the Golden Gate Bridge in October.

The crew of USS Kraken (SS 370) unloads their torpedo stores at the end of World War II in San Francisco. An MK18 is shown. Note the camo on her 5″/25.

Kraken received just one battle star (Okinawa) for World War II service. She was initially credited with sinking three ships, totaling 6,881 tons.

Kraken is listed as one of 15 Manitowoc Balaos in Jane’s 1946 entry.

Peacetime

Placed out of commission 4 May 1946, Kraken languished in mothballs with the Pacific Reserve Fleet until August 1958, when she was ordered partially manned and towed to Pearl Harbor NSY for snorkel conversion.

She emerged much changed, with a streamlined profile, no deck guns, and a very modern appearance.

Kraken remained at Pearl for the next 14 months, heading to sea for brief exercise periods.

Her final deck log was dated 24 October 1959 and closed quietly.

El Inolvidable Treinta y único

The reason for her USN deck log ending was because Kraken had been transferred on loan to the Spanish Navy as SPS Almirante García de los Reyes (E-1). While Franco, the old fascist buddy of Mussolini and Adolf, was still in power, the 1953 Madrid agreements thawed the chill between the U.S. and the country, opening it to military aid in return for basing.

The Spanish at the time only had two circa 1927 EB-designed pig boats (C1 and C2) that had survived the Civil War but were in poor condition, two small 275-foot/1,050-ton boats (D1 and D2) constructed in 1944 at Cartagena that were both cranky and obsolete, and G-7, the latter a partially refirb’d German Kriegsmarine Type VIIC U-boat, ex-U-573, which had been interned after receiving damage and sold to Franco’s government.

This made Kraken/Almirante García de los Reyes the only relatively modern sub in the Spanish Navy in the Atomic era as she had the fleet’s first snorkel, guided torpedoes (Mk37s), and submarine sonar. As such, after her pennant number shifted to the more NATO-compatible S-31 in 1961, the boat was termed “El Treinta y único” or “Thirty-Only One” as she was the sole submarine in the force considered battle-ready.

This would endure for more than a decade.

Visiting New York

Melilla August 1971 El treinta y unico El Mejor Spanish S-31 submarine Admiral Garcia. Note the old light carrier USS Cabot as Dédalo with Sikorsky S-55 Pepos on deck

In July 1971, USS Ronquil (SS-396), a Guppy’d Balao-class smoke boat became SPS Isaac Peral (S-32) and allowed the old Kraken some backup. The next year two more Balao Guppies, ex-USS Picuda (SS-382) and ex-USS Bang (SS-385), would arrive in October 1972, renamed SPS Narciso Monturiol (S-33) and Cosme Garcia (S-34), respectively.

Kraken/Almirante García de los Reyes’s 1973 entry in Jane’s.

Sold to Spain and struck from the US Naval Register, on 1 November 1974, Kraken would endure in operation until April 1981, when she was finally removed from service and scrapped.

By that time, Spain had a force of four brand-new French-built Daphné-class submarines in service.

Epilogue

Kraken’s plans and deck logs are in the National Archives but as far as I can tell little else remains of her.

Sadly, her name, possibly the most epic sea creature there is, has not been repeated on the Navy List.

Eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country. None are Manitowoc-built boats.

Nonetheless, 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 will not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is hopefully in the process of being saved and moved to Kentucky)
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.

Specs:

Displacement: 1,525 surfaced; 2,415 submerged.
Length 311′ 9″
Beam 27′ 3″
Draft 15′ 3″
Main machinery: 4 x General Motors diesel model 16-278 A, 4 x General Electric electric motors
Speed (knots): 23 surfaced, 11 submerged.
Range (miles): 11.000 at 10 knots (surfaced), 95 at 5 knots (submerged). Patrol endurance was 75 days.
Complement: 70 (10 officers)
Sonar: Passive: AN/BQS-2 B. Active: AN/BQS-4 C.
At the end of his career used an updated BQR-2 taken from stricken SS-382/S-33.
Guns:
1 x 5″/25 (second added in July 1945)
1 x 40mm/60 Bofors (second added in July 1945)
1 x 20mm Oerlikon
All were removed when she entered service in Spain.
Torpedoes:
10 x 533mm tubes: 6 forward, 4 aft
24 torpedoes: 16 forward and 8 aft.
Initially armed with Mk14/18 torpedoes, in the last years of her career changed to Mk37


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