Category Archives: for those lost at sea

Warship Wednesday, August 25, 2021: At Least the Middle Bit is Still There

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, August 25, 2021: At Least the Middle Bit is Still There

From the collection of James A. Senior, RCN, via For Posterity Sake. 

Here we see the Improved A-class/River-class destroyer, HMCS Saguenay (H01/D79/I79) entering Willemstad Harbor, Netherlands Antilles, during her 1934 cruise. The Royal Canadian Navy’s first “new” warship, she would lose large portions of herself on two different occasions during WWII but prove to be one very tough tin can.

In 1927, the Admiralty ordered nine new A-class (Active, Acasta, Arrow, Ardent, et. al) destroyers from a series of five firms around the UK– spread out those contracts– all laid down within a few months of each other. Powered by two Parsons geared steam turbines, each with their own shaft, using steam provided by three Admiralty water-tube boilers equipped with superheaters, these 1,350-ton (standard) 323-foot greyhounds were extremely fast, able to hit 35 knots. Armed with four QF 4.7″/45cal Mk IX singles and a pair of quadruple 21-inch torpedo tubes, they could hold their own. Able to (kind of) sweep mines, they initially carried little ASW gear as, after all, when they were designed, the Versailles Treaty had barred Germany from making or owning U-boats.

By 1928, Ottawa moved to order a pair of modified A-class destroyers of their own. Dropping the superheaters, they had a slightly longer range while keeping the same speed on an improved hull that was both three feet shorter and better suited to withstand ice– a very Canadian problem. They also had a redesigned superstructure to keep the ships drier, among other minor changes from both the builder (slab-sided funnels) and the Canadians. These two new vessels, Saguenay, and Skeena were named after Canadian river systems and were never “HMS” but rather “HMCS” vessels. As the other A-class ships had “H” pennant numbers originally, Saguenay and Skeena became H01 and H02 on the RCN’s list.

Tadoussac Landing and mouth of the Saguenay River 1901 via LOC ppmsca-18100-18111

Built at Thornycroft in Hampshire, Saguenay launched on 11 July 1930 and was commissioned on 21 May 1931, with sister Skeena, crafted at the same yard, taken into service three weeks later.

They were the first warships built entirely to Canadian specifications and made a big splash when they arrived “home” for the first time on 3 July.

A Happy Peace

Canada’s Navy Arriving! Destroyer Saguenay leading Skeena and Champlain. 3 July 1931. By J. Hayward. H.F. Pullen Nova Scotia Archives 1984-573 Box 1 F/3

Great profile photo of HMCS Saguenay near Montreal, P.Q., 1932. LAC 3399174

HMCS Saguenay, Montreal, P.Q., 1932. LAC 3399173

HMCS Saguenay at Montreal, P.Q., 1934. Note her early H01 pennant number. LAC 3399179

HMCS SAGUENAY (K156) visiting Chicoutimi, present-day Saguenay, in Quebec

In the winter of 1934, HMCS Skeena, HMCS Saguenay, HMCS Champlain, and HMCS Vancouver took part in Winter exercises off South America.

Two years later, the RCN escorted the pilgrimage to and provided the Royal Guard for King Edward VII at the Vimy memorial unveiling, the first such honor for the service. As it would turn out, that detail was provided entirely by Saguenay’s tars. It should be noted that this detail was the first armed Canadian military contingent in France for the first time since the end of the Great War.

The Naval Historical Section would later emphasize the significance of the decision:

” …here was something more than a ship; here was a symbol – a symbol of Canada’s faith that her future was inexorably bound to her sea-borne trade – of a maturing nation’s acceptance of responsibilities commensurate with her development as a world power – of a people’s belief that peace and prosperity were rooted firmly in pre-paredness and the ability to defend, if necessary, her ocean seaways.

The dedication of the Vimy Memorial. HMCS Saguenay provided the Royal Guard, seen to the far right – 1936. Courtesy of Bob Senior. Via For Posterity Sake.

“The Royal Guard represented roughly one-third of the Saguenay’s entire complement and consisted of three officers, three petty officers, and 60 ratings (sailors). The Officer of the Guard was Lieutenant (later Rear-Admiral, OBE) Hugh Francis Pullen, RCN, while Lieutenant Morson Alexander Medland, RCN, served as the Colour Officer (the guard carried a white naval ensign ashore with it) and Gunner (T) Patrick David Budge, RCN, served as the Second Officer of the Guard. The three petty officers were Robert Brownings (who formed the right guide), Charles J. Kelly, and Frederick W. Saunders (who, by 1953, was a chief petty officer honoured with the George Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal). The remainder of the guard incorporated five leading seamen, two leading stokers, 30 able seamen, 11 stokers, 10 ordinary seamen, one signaler, and one telegraphist, all of whom were RCN regulars.”

Ship’s company, HMCS Saguenay in the King’s Guard of Honour, at Vimy Memorial unveiling, July 1936. LT Hugh Francis Pullen, future RADM, in command (source: Canadian Geographic Journal)

WAR!

When Canada entered WWII, Saguenay and Skeena were part of the soon-to-be famed “Barber Pole squadron,” Escort Group (EG) C-3, operating out of St. John’s, Newfoundland, so named due to the red and white band carried on the aft funnel. Both ships had their ASW armament increased considerably.

She began the war as D79, later changed in 1940 to I79

She was part of the very first Halifax convoy, HX001, sailing 17 September 1939, just over a fortnight after the war started.

Taking a break from her convoy work, Saguenay, working with the cruisers HMS Orion and Caradoc, intercepted the  German tanker Emmy Friederich in the Yucatan Straight on 23 October. Formerly the Clyde-built tanker Borderer, Friederich was sailing from Tampico loaded with cargo to keep the pocket battleship Graf Spee in the surface raiding biz but scuttled herself at the sight of the Allied warships. As remembered by every naval history nerd, it was Graf Spee’s lack of fuel that forced her endgame in the South Atlantic seven weeks later.

HMCS Saguenay I79 with a disruption paint scheme. From the collection of CPO Lloyd Wallace. Courtesy of Peter Hanlon. Via For Posterity Sake.

HMCS Saguenay (I79), between 1940 and 1942 note her “barber-pole” ring on her stack and the new I79 pennant on her side

Returning to Halifax to resume local escort duty, over the next 25 months, Saguenay would ride shotgun on a whopping 84 Atlantic convoys, mostly to and from Halifax and Liverpool but also Sydney, Nova Scotia (SC) convoys, as well as Halifax-to-St. John coastwise runs (HJ).

You can’t walk on glass that long and not get cut.

Sailing from Axis-occupied Bordeaux, the Italian submarine Argo was part of the Italian BETASOM group, the submarine was a member of spaghetti wolfpack “Giuliani,” along with the Giuliani, Tarantini, and Torelli, assigned interdiction duty off the coast of Ireland.

On 1 December 1940, while some 300 miles from the Irish coast during escort of HX47, Argo sighted our little destroyer and hit her with a torpedo, removing 20-25 feet of her bow structure and killing 21 of her crew. Remarkably, good damage control allowed the ship to withdraw from her escort duties and proceed to Barrow in Furness under her own power with HMS Highlander in escort. She would spend the next five months in extensive repair and reconstruction.

HMCS Saguenay, likely at Barrow-in-Furness, after catching an Italian torpedo and losing all her bow forward of her guns. Via the Alberta Maritime Museum

Via Regia Marina.net, from the entry on R. Smg. Argo: 

At 04.49 on December 1st, Captain Crepas sighted a silhouette very low on the horizon. Concerned that it could be another Italian submarine, Captain Crepas sent a message with the on-board light. Once the ARGO was close enough, the unit was recognized as a two-stack destroyer and the attack commenced immediately. A single torpedo (the Italians tended to use only one weapon and this was often not sufficient in sinking the enemy vessel) was launched and it hit the target squarely. A second torpedo was also launched later on, giving the impression that the target was destroyed. Once back to the surface, the crew of the ARGO picked up numerous debris indicating the vessel in question as H.M.C.S. Sagueney (D79). Only 10 days later, the German submarine command (B.d.U.) received information that H.M.C.S. Saguenay, despite having been seriously damaged, had been towed back to England. After the war, the Royal Navy added that the destroyer was part of the escort for convoy HG.47 and that it had reached Barrow in Furness on December 5th (five days after the attack), confirming this information.

Four days after hitting Saguenay, Argo sank the British freighter Silverpine (5,066 tons) while on the same patrol, her only “kill” of the war. She was scuttled in September 1943 after Italy left the war and the Germans arrived at Monfalcone.

Remembering the loss of Saguenay’s brush with Argo. Via the CFB Equimalt Museum VR1991.83.4

Back to work

Returning to Atlantic convoy work, in August 1941 Saguenay was part of the escort for the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, carrying Churchill to Newfoundland to meet with FDR.

Able Seamen Brignull and E. Groombridge relaxing aboard the destroyer HMCS Saguenay at sea, 30 October 1941. Note the gun mount. LAC 3576679

Personnel preparing to fire depth charges as the destroyer HMCS Saguenay attacks a submarine contact at sea, 30 October 1941. Built without any such weapons, by 1940 she carried 70 depth charges for use in her stern racks (more on this later) and projectors. LAC 3576681

In January 1942, while on Convoy OS52, she suffered more damage at the hands of Neptune, taking heavy wave hits to her superstructure which required another four-month stint in crowded, overworked repair yards. (The fact that the Atlantic itself was a combatant against all sides in the Battle of the Atlantic was not to be overlooked. Sadly, Saguenay’s  closest sister Skeena was storm wrecked in Iceland in 1944.)

Saguenay returned to service with Convoy HX191 in May.

Her last convoy duty was with HJ018, during which on 15 November 1942 she was accidentally rammed by the American freighter SS Azra (the requisitioned 1,700-ton Danish cargoship Marna) 50 miles Southeast of Cape Spare, Newfoundland. In that collision, Saguenay lost her stern when her depth charges exploded but, in a weird twist of fate, took her assaulter with her, as two of the fused charges exploded under the hull of Azra, sending the freighter to the bottom. The reeling Canuck in turn took Azra’s waterlogged crew members onboard.

The damaged stern of the destroyer HMCS Saguenay. Saguenay was rammed by SS Azra south of Cape Race and lost her stern when her depth charges exploded. November 18, 1942. LAC 3264016

HMCS SAGUENAY I79 after collision Azar

Saguenay, disabled but amazingly suffering no casualties, was taken in tow to St John for repair. After a survey, the battered destroyer was declared beyond economic repair and her structure was sealed to allow the vessel to be towed to Halifax.

HMCS Saguenay stern in dry dock, Via CFB Esquimalt Museum VR993.59.10

Still, most of her equipment was intact and, although not able to steam, was useful as a training hulk, a mission she spent the rest of the war accomplishing at to HMCS Cornwallis at Digby, Nova Scotia. There, she was used in the shoreside schooling of new ratings in seamanship and gunnery from October 1943 until July 1945 when she was paid off, meaning thousands of Canadian tars cycled through her compartments on the way to the fleet.

Further, her first two skippers, Percy W. Nelles and Leonard W. Murray, both served as admirals during the Battle of the Atlantic, with the former rising to Chief of the RCN Naval Staff during the conflict.

The Canadian role in the Battle of the Atlantic is often overlooked but was key to the overall Allied victory in WWII. As noted by the Veterans Affairs Canada:

More than 25,000 merchant ships safely made it to their destination under Canadian escort, delivering approximately 165 million tons of supplies to Europe. The Royal Canadian Navy helped sink more than 30 enemy submarines but at a steep price. They lost approximately 2,000 sailors during the war. The Royal Canadian Air Force was also hit hard, losing more than 750 personnel over the Atlantic. More than 1,600 merchant mariners from Canada and Newfoundland were killed during the battle. Civilians were not spared either. On October 14, 1942, 136 people died when the ferry SS Caribou was torpedoed as it crossed from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.

Epilogue

After the war, Saguenay was sold for breaking up by International Iron and Metal at Hamilton, Ontario, and was towed there in early 1946.

Of the 11 A- and Improved A-class destroyers, besides Skeena, six were lost during WWII to include two, Acasta and Ardent, sunk in a surface action with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau off Narvik; Achates lost in the Barents in a one-sided fight with the German cruiser Admiral Hipper; Acheron lost to a mine, Arrow wrecked in an explosion in Algiers, and Codrington sunk by German bombers off Dover during the Battle of Britain. Of the remaining three “As” — Active, Antelope, and Anthony— obsolete for postwar work, they were soon paid off and scrapped by 1948.

Saguenay has an extensive entry maintained at For Posterity’s Sake, a Royal Canadian Navy Historical Project. 

Relics of Saguenay exist today, such as her bell, which is on public display in Halifax.

The bell for HMCS Saguenay H01/D79/I79 is located at the Naval Museum of Halifax, CFB Halifax. Photo courtesy of Brian Lapierre, via For Posterity Sake

In celebration of her history and status as Canada’s first warship that wasn’t a hand-me-down, Royal Mint Canada earlier this year announced a special $C50 silver coin in her honor, designed by artist Glen Green.

The old “Barber Pole” badge of Saguenay’s St. John’s-based squadron was retained with pride by the postwar Canadian Navy and is still in use by Atlantic units.

In 1956, the Royal Canadian Navy commissioned a new Halifax-built St-Laurent-class destroyer HMCS Saguenay (DD/DDH 206). Like her WWII namesake, she specialized in ASW and, in a funny coincidence, while on a 1986 NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea, she collided with the West German Type 206A coastal submarine U-17 (S196). Gratefully, there were no fatalities on either side and both warships went on to serve several more years.

HMCS Saguenay was paid off on 31 August 1990 after 34 years of Cold War service and was scuttled four years later for use as a recreational divers’ wreck off Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. (Photo: RCN)

Specs:

Destroyer HMCS Saguenay Canadian Navy Heritage website. Image Negative Number E-80027

Displacement: 1,337 long tons (1,358 t)
Length: 321 ft 3 in o/a, 309 ft. p/p
Beam: 32 ft 9 in
Draft: 10 ft
Speed: 35 knots (as built), 31 knots by 1943
Complement: 181
Radar: None originally, Type 286 search and Type 271 range finding by 1943
Armament:
(1930)
4 x QF 4.7″/45cal Mk IX guns (A, B, X, Y mounts)
2 x 4 tubes for 21-inch torpedoes
2 x QF 2-pounder 40 mm pom-pom guns
(1942)
2 x QF 4.7″/45cal Mk IX guns (B, X mounts)
1 x QF 3-inch 20 cwt 12-pounder AAA gun (in place of aft torpedo tube turn stall)
1 x 4 tubes for 21-inch torpedoes
6 x 1 20 mm Oerlikon AAA guns
Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar (in former A mount)
Depth charges (70) and Y-guns

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Warship Wednesday, August 18, 2021: The Last Sub Killer

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, August 18, 2021: The Last Sub Killer

National Archives photo 80-G-442833

Here we see a starboard bow view of the Balao-class fleet boat USS Spikefish (SS-404) underway on the surface on 5 June 1952 when she operated from New London making training cruises along the east coast from Bermuda to Nova Scotia. Commissioned in the twilight of the conflict, she is notable in naval history for sinking the final submarine lost by the Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II, some 76 years ago this week.

The Balao Class

A member of the 180+-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. They 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 completed 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 sub-killing USS Greenfish, rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish, the long-serving USS Catfish, the U-boat scuttling USS Atule, and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

Spikefish!

The first (and only) U.S. warship named for the common label for the striped Pacific marlin, Spikefish was laid down on 29 January 1944 at Portsmouth; launched on 6 March 1944, and commissioned on 30 June 1944.

Her christening sponsor was a true “Rosie” with a compelling backstory, Mrs. Harvey W. Moore. The widow of LT Harvey Wilson Moore, Jr., a submariner lost with USS Pickerel (SS-177) off Honshu the previous April, she was a welder at PNY and affixed Spikefish’s christening plate to the boat’s bow before ditching her leathers for the champaign ceremony.

Mrs. Moore. NARA 12563144, 12563137, and 12563134.

Commissioning day, 30 June 1944, finds the Spikefish (SS-404) off Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard. Note her single 5″/25 over the stern and her 40mm single on the sail. National Archives photo # 80G-453355

After workups, Spikefish arrived in Pearl Harbor the week before Halloween 1944 to prepare for her 1st War Patrol.

Setting out in mid-November with 24 Mark 18-2 torpedoes to conduct an anti-shipping sweep through the Kuril Islands and the Sea of Okhotsk, she didn’t have much luck as Japanese Maru traffic by this stage of the war had been halted as most of it was on the bottom of the Pacific by then. The highlight of her time in the area was being socked in a six-day gale and stalking two merchant vessels on Christmas Eve into Christmas that turned out to be Russian. She ended her 48-day, 9,976-mile fruitless patrol at Midway on New Year’s Day 1945. As noted by Submarine Force Pacific, even though “Spikefish on this patrol underwent the rigors of cold, rough weather in the Kurile Island areas at this time of year without the satisfaction of contact with the enemy…the award of the Submarine Combat Insignia for this patrol is not authorized.”

Setting out on her 2nd War Patrol on 26 January, Spikefish was ordered to patrol off the Ryukyu Islands.

On 24 February, Spikefish encountered a mixed convoy of six cargo ships protected by four escorts and conducted a submerged attack, firing all six forward tubes at two of the freighters, three of which were heard to hit. While it is not known if she sank anything, she did have to dive deep to withstand an 80-depth charge attack over the span of four hours.

Spikefish sighted another convoy on the morning of 5 March while working in tandem with her sistership USS Tilefish (SS-307), fired another six torpedoes with no confirmed results, and took another pounding. Meanwhile, Tilefish bagged a Japanese minesweeper.

Spikefish ended her patrol at Pearl Harbor on the 19th and was credited at the time with damaging a 5,000-ton Sinsei Maru-type cargo ship in her first attack. She had traveled 11,810 miles in 54 days. With space limited in barracks, her crew was put up at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which surely was horrible.

On 3 May 1945, Spikefish departed from Guam for her 3rd War Patrol and was ordered to patrol east of Formosa where she was assigned lifeguard station duties as the Fleet’s big carrier task forces were at the time hammering the Japanese province. She managed to pull a downed pilot (Ensign H.O. Cullen, USNR 390961, an FM-2 Wildcat pilot off the escort carrier USS Sargent Bay (CVE-83)) from the drink on 7 June. On the same patrol, our submarine conducted a fruitless attack on a passing cargo ship and rained 29 5-inch shells on the Miyara airstrip on Ishigaki Jima from a range of 10,000 yards.

USS Spikefish (SS-404) rescues Ens. Cullen (in the raft, lower right), VC-83, five miles off Ishigaki Jima, 7 June 1945. NS0308306. Via Navsource

Spikefish ended her 3rd patrol after 55 days and 13,709 miles in Guam on 13 June 1945.

She began her 4th, and most historically significant war patrol, on 8 July 1945, ordered to operate in the East China and Yellow Seas.

Besides dodging random Japanese aircraft and at least 19 floating mines (marksmen firing rifles from her cigarette deck detonated/sank at least six and hit four others that failed to explode), combat opportunities were slim, with most surface contacts proving to be Chinese junks which the sub sent on their way with the gift of a carton of cigarettes. She surfaced off Surveyor Island in the Yellow Sea on the night of 24 July and bombarded random points with 39 5-inch and 60 40mm shells from a range of about 4,500 yards, with the intent of hitting a supposed Japanese radar site.

On the pre-dawn of 11 August, Spikefish came across a 250-ton sea truck dead in the water. Closing to within 1,500 yards and ascertaining it was an awash Japanese Sugar Dog (SD) type wooden-hulled coaster, the sub opened with 5-inch (15 rounds, 5 hits), 40mm (28 rounds), and 20mm (20 rounds) on the vessel at close range. The craft was quickly sent to the bottom and Spikefish recovered three survivors, including the skipper who said the vessel was homeported in Korea.

Then, tipped off by Ultra intelligence provided by the FRUMEL team at Melbourne, came a two-day stalk of Japan’s only completed Type D-2 Modified “Tei-gata Kai” (Project Number S51C) transport submarine, I-373 while on her inaugural tanker run to Takao, Formosa.

I-370 Type D1 submarine by Takeshi Yuki via Combined Fleet. The 18 planned Type D submarines, 241-foot/2,200-ton boats could carry five Kaiten manned torpedoes of the Shinchō Tokubetsu Kōgekitai topside and carry 85-100 tons of freight or gasoline to blockaded far-flung outposts. Only 13 were completed 1944-45 and nine of those subsequently lost during the war. I-373 was the only one completed as a tanker.

Foreshadowing EW of today, Spikefish was able to track the zigzagging and doubling back I-373 some 200 miles SE of Shanghai in part due to the impulses of the Japanese submarine’s Type 13 air-search radar picked up on her primitive APR warning gear. The end game was played at 0424 on 14 August when the American sub let lose a full salvo of four Mk. 14-3A and two Mk. 23 torpedoes at 1,500 yards, with at least two hits.

After surfacing and passing through a debris field just after dawn, a single survivor, coated with oil, was taken aboard, the remaining 84 Japanese submariners were lost. The recovered Japanese sailor identified the lost sub as the non-existent I-382.

As noted by H-Gram 051, Spikefish claimed the last of 128 Japanese submarines lost during the war while her sistership, USS Torsk (SS-423) went on to claim the final surface warfare vessel:

Later that day, having penetrated the heavily mined Tsushima Strait, Torsk torpedoed and sank Japanese escort ship CD-47 and then did the same to CD-13, using new acoustic homing torpedoes and passive acoustic torpedoes. CD-13 was the last Imperial Japanese Navy ship sunk by the United States before the surrender, going down with 28 crewmen. (Other Japanese ships would be sunk by U.S. mines in the weeks after the surrender.)

At 0800 on 15 August, just over 27 hours after I-373 was sent to the bottom, Spikefish was notified by COMSUBPAC to cease hostilities. She put into Saipan on 21 August to turn over her two prisoners after a 44-day patrol, her war over. Spikefish received three battle stars for World War II service.

Besides claiming the last Axis/Japanese submarine sent to the bottom in WWII, Spikefish can arguably tote the title of the last warship to have sunk an enemy submarine in combat with the narrow exception of the Korean submarine infiltration stranding incidents in 1998 and 1996. While one day there may be an unlikely bombshell about one of the five Cold War-era submarines still on Eternal Patrol (K-129, Thresher, Dakar, Scorpion, and Minerve; four of which were all lost in 1968), Spikefish still holds the trophy.

When it comes to Spikefish’s sisters, of the schools of Balaos which were commissioned, 10 were lost in the war during operations while another 62 were canceled on the builders’ ways as the conflict ended. In 1946, the Navy was left with 120 units.

Jane’s entry on the Balao class, 1946

Postwar

Transferring to the East Coast, she was given a short refit at Portsmouth then in February 1946 was assigned to Submarine Squadron 2 at New London where she trained new personnel at the sub school, making regular training cruises along the east coast from Bermuda to Nova Scotia for the next 17 years, alternating with runs down to Key West to perform service for the Fleet Sonar School.

Portside view of the Spikefish (SS-404), 1950s. Note that her topside armament has all been removed and she has large sonar domes installed on her deck.

This streak as a school ship was only broken by two short refits/yard periods and a five-month deployment to the Med under the 6th Fleet in 1955, possibly the last such active overseas service for a non-GUPPY Balao. She earned the Navy Occupation Service Medal (Europe) for this cruise, which included exercising with the British submarine HMS Trenchant (P-331), being an OPFOR for the Greek Navy’s ASW forces off Crete, and port calls at Malta, Cartagena, Monaco, and Gibraltar.

Photograph of Spikefish undated. NHHC Photograph Collection, L-File, Ships.

Spikefish, as she looked in the late 50s with a large bubble trunk entrance on her foredeck.

Spikefish diving, photos by Larry Thivierge, Royal Canadian Navy, taken from HMCS Lanark off the coast of Newfoundland/Labrador, via RCN History.

“US Navy submarine USS Spikefish on display at Port of Tampa on McKay St. near 13th St banana docks, circa the late 1950s.” Original Kodachrome by photographer Hector Colado courtesy of Tampa native Yvonne Colado Garren via Tampapix. https://www.tampapix.com/tampa50s.htm

“A good view of the Peoples Gas tanks at 5th Ave. and 13th Street, Ybor City. The smaller tank was built in 1912 for the Tampa Gas Co. and at the time, its 212-foot height made it the tallest structure in Tampa. The tanks were disassembled in 1982 because they were no longer needed for storage and their upkeep was costly.” Original Kodachrome by photographer Hector Colado courtesy of Tampa native Yvonne Colado Garren via Tampapix. https://www.tampapix.com/tampa50s.htm

With so much time spent educating new bubbleheads, on 18 March 1960, Spikefish became the first United States submarine to record 10,000 dives, an impressive safety record that earned her the title of “The divingest Submarine in the World.” As she was the repeated target for scores of destroyers and ASW aircraft, she was probably the “Most depth charged Submarine in the World” as well, albeit they were simulator charges rather than the real thing as she had rained on her back in 1945.

It seems Mrs. Moore and her fellow tradespeople were good at their welding.

Spikefish (SS-404) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, circa the early 1960s, Courtesy of Jay Jones EM3, Roberts (DE-749). via Navsource.

Bill Bone, a Spikefish vet of that period, speaks of his experience on the aging diesel boat in Key West in 1960-61, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He confirms that Spikefish didn’t even have a snorkel conversion in place at the time but did carry warshot torpedos just in case:

Spikefish was redesignated an Auxiliary Research Submarine and renumbered AGSS-404 (auxiliary, submarine) in 1962, was decommissioned on 2 April 1963 at Key West, and was struck from the Navy list on 1 May 1963.

Epilogue

Spikefish was subsequently sunk as a target off Long Island, New York, SSE of Montauk point in about 255 feet of water on 4 August 1964, just past her 20th birthday. Ironically, she was sent to the bottom by another submarine. 

Eastern Search & Survey has extensively surveyed her wreck via side-scan sonar noting:

Due to residual buoyancy from air trapped in her hull, USS Spikefish moved on the bottom in the weeks after it sunk, making it difficult for Navy divers to locate the wreck and inspect the damage caused by the experimental torpedo that sunk her, a MK 37-1. Damage from this torpedo is still visible in these scans on the starboard side just aft of amidships. Also, note the shadows and faint reflections of nets that drape the wreck.

Note torpedo damage on the starboard side, just aft of amidships Via Eastern Search Survey

Her war history, patrol reports, logbooks, and positional reports are digitized in the National Archives. 

Finally, she has a small public Facebook group for vets and families of vets. 

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 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:
(1944)
Displacement: 1,570 tons (std); 1,980 (normal); 2,415 tons submerged
Length: 311 ft. 8 inches
Beam: 27 ft. 3 inches
Operating depth: 400 feet
Propulsion: diesel-electric reduction gear with four Fairbanks Morse main generator engines, 5,400HP, two Elliot Motor Co. main motors with 2,740HP, two 126-cell main storage batteries, two propellers.
Speed: 20 surfaced, 10 submerged
Fuel Capacity: 113,510 gal.
Range: 11,000nm @ 10 knots surfaced, 48 hours at 2 knots submerged, 75-day patrol endurance
Complement 7 officers 69 enlisted (planned), actual manning 10 officers, 76 men
Radar: SV. APR and SPR-2 receivers, TN tuning units, AS-125 antenna, SPA Pulse Analyzer, F-19 and F-20 Wave Traps, VD-2 PPI Repeater (1946 fit), Mark III Torpedo Data Computer
Sonar: WFA projector, JP-1 hydrophone (1946 fit)
Armament:
(1944)
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 28 torpedoes max, or up to 40 mines
1 x 5″/25 deck guns (wet mount)
1 x 40mm guns (wet mount)
1 x 20mm gun (wet mount)
2 x .50 cal. machine guns (detachable on six mounting points)

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Obon Season

August 15th is widely recognized as the anniversary of the end of World War II in Japan. The day also coincides with what is known as Obon or simply just Bon, season, the Buddhist–Confucian period when the spirits of Japanese ancestors return home.

Importantly, the remains of some 1.3 million Japanese soldiers, seamen, and airmen are still missing from WWII. The government, especially after 1943, typically sent back small empty boxes with stones to bereaved families, which makes the repatriation of old war (often unwanted) trophies currently in the hands of the families of American Veterans important. 

Malyutka 96, Found on Eternal Patrol

The Russian Geographical Society has recently confirmed the location of the Soviet Series XII M (Malyutka/малютка = “baby”) class submarine M-96.

Built at plant No. 112 Krasnoe Sormovo, Gorky, in six sections, the small (250-tons submerged, 123-foot oal, 2×21 inch tubes) “Baltic” style submarine commissioned 12 December 1939 in that odd period in which the Russians were only fighting Finland in the Winter War while co-occupying Poland with allied Nazi Germany.

Her actual WWII service with the Red Banner Baltic Fleet was lackluster, firing torpedos at and missing a series of at least three different Axis ships in 1942. Notably, one of her early skippers was Alexander Marinesko, the somewhat infamous captain of submarine S-13 which sank the German military transport ship Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945, sending 9,400 to a watery grave. 

However, even while Marinesko had moved on to a bigger, better command, M-96 was already on the bottom, lost with all hands in September 1944 on a mission to reconnoiter German minefields in Narva Bay.

M-96 lies in the northern part of Narva Bay at a depth of 42 meters. Inspection showed that the ship was destroyed on the surface, probably during the night charging of the batteries. The engine telegraph on the bridge shows the command “Full ahead”, the rudder is turned to the right, the upper conning tower hatch is open. A mine explosion occurred under the bow of the boat, breaking the hull.

Here’s the footage of divers at the sub, seen for the first time since 1944.

Warship Wednesday, June 30, 2021: Cleaning Up After the Queen

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, June 30, 2021: Cleaning Up After the Queen
 
 
Here, in this grainy still from a 16mm camera, we see one of the last organized surrenders of Japanese forces, some 70 years ago today– 30 June 1951– on the island of Anatahan to a whaleboat sent ashore by the Abnaki class fleet tug USS Cocopa, whose hull number (ATF-101) can be seen on the boat. The group of Japanese had previously refused to believe World War II ended in 1945, but surrendered to LCDR James B. Johnson, after losing their queen. 
 
But we will get to that. 
 
The 27 hulls of the Abnaki-class were intended for far-reaching ocean operations with the follow-on tail of the fleet. Constructed during the war, they were large for tugs, stretching out 205-feet in length and weighing almost 1,600 tons when fully loaded. Capable of 16.5 knots, they could steam a whopping 15,000 miles at half that clip on a quartet of economical GM diesels. Fairly well-armed for tugs, they carried a 3″/50 DP main gun, two twin 40mm/60 Bofors, and two Oerlikons. 
 

USS Abnaki (ATF-96) underway at Pearl Harbor, February 1952, showing the simple and effective layout of the class, which kept their WWII-era armament well into the 1950s. Cocopa surely emulated the above impression at Anatahan.

Named for Native American tribes, Cocopa carried the name of an Arizona tribe and was constructed by Charleston Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Charleston, S.C., commissioned 25 March 1944. 
 

Cocopas by Balduin Mollhausen, circa 1860. DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Her war history was largely skipped over by DANFS, with just 88 words dedicated it the period, but it was interesting if not the stuff of military legend, taking the tug from the Palmetto State to Shanghai with stops in the English Channel and brushes with German U-Boats while in two cross-Atlantic convoys. 
 
Via NARA
 
Amazingly, she did not earn a single battle star for her WWII service. 
 
Following a postwar overhaul at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, she was assigned to Alaskan waters, which at the time were still strewn in wartime wreckage and threats of mines. While operating out of Guam in 1951, she was dispatched to a far-off island to respond to the strange story of a group of Japanese holdouts that the war had forgotten. 
 

Anatahan

 
Located in the Northern Marianas, the natives there were removed by the Spanish in the 17th Century to turn the 8,300-acre volcanic island into a large coconut/copra plantation. This continued under the Germans, who picked up Spain’s remaining Pacific territories in 1899, and by the 1920s or so, the plantations had fallen into disrepair and, with the Japanese in charge, they stayed that way. 
 
 
Fast forward to June 1944 and U.S. air assets from the 15 carriers of VADM Marc A. Mitscher’s TF 58 found a Japanese convoy in the area, sailing from Tanapag to Japan.
 
 
Over the next three days, as a sideshow to the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” they had easy pickings, splashing the torpedo boat Otori, net layer Kokku Maru, transports Batavia Maru, Hinko Maru, Kamishima Maru, Imizu Maru, Nitcho Maru, Reikai Maru, and Tenryugawa Maru: the freighter Bokuyo Maru, Japanese Army cargo ships Fukoku Maru and Moji Maru, and the coaster Tsushima Maru.
 

Marianas Operation, 1944. Caption: Burning Japanese cargo ship that was attacked by USS LEXINGTON (CV-16) planes off Saipan, 14 June 1944. Description: Catalog #: 80-G-236902

In the aftermath, a group of some 31 Japanese soldiers and mariners including navy seamen, army privates, and four merchant ship captains, the survivors of several of the ships that were sunk, made it to the lush shores of Anatahan where they lived with a handful of locals who were leftovers from the old plantation days alongside Mr. Kikuichiro Higa, the Okinawan plantation manager, and one Japanese woman, Kazuko Higa, his common-law wife. The senior-most Japanese military member was Sgt. Junji Inoue. 
 
War came to the island when a Saipan-based B-29 Superfortress, T Square 42 (42-74248), from the 498th Bomb Group, 875th Squadron, 73rd Wing, crashed on 3 January 1945 on Anatahan, with no survivors. Meanwhile, the Japanese hid. 
 
On 10 May 1945, elements of the U.S. Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment, carried by the USS Marsh (DE-669), LCI(L)-1054 and LCI(L)-1082, landed on Anatahan and scouted around a bit, staying for a week. The Japanese continued to hide. 
 
In July 1945, the 6th Marine MP Battalion landed on the island and again the Japanese hid inland. They removed the 45 native Carolinians who remained in the village. Other Navy ships visited the island and, hailing the emperor’s remaining subjects there, urged them to surrender. 
 
After the war, in February 1946, a U.S. Army AGRS search party visited the island, located the crash site near the top of its 2,500 ft volcano, and recovered the remains of the crew. Still, the Japanese remained in hiding, despite messages to them that the war was over, including Japanese newspapers and magazines chronicling the peace, which were dismissed as a trick. 
 
As noted by the National Park Service, the Japanese eventually found the B-29, and their fortunes changed. 
 
Early in September 1946, Kazuko and Kikuichiro Higa were crossing the steaming 2,500-foot volcanic crater atop the island when they stumbled upon the wreckage of an American B-29.  Parachutes found in the aircraft yielded nylon for clothing and cord that was carefully unraveled, then rewoven into fishing lines. Using stone hammers, the men chopped away the duralumin plates and beneath them found aluminum, which was eventually formed into cooking utensils, razors, harpoons, fishhooks, spears, and knives. Wire from the springs in the machine guns was twisted into shark hooks. Oxygen tanks were modified for use as water catchments. Engine bolts were fashioned into chisels and other cutting and drilling tools. Plexiglass and strips of rubber were made into pairs of underwater goggles. Everything that could be carried away from this great prize was taken and zealously guarded.  When one man discovered a method for making a new implement, the less inventive of the group made copies. One man designed a model sailing vessel from duralumin and copper wire from the aircraft. Another produced several banjo-like samisens, traditional Japanese three-stringed instruments.
 
It also provided instruments of death: A pair of 45 caliber automatic pistols. The weapons were seized by two of Kazuko’s suitors. For the remaining months of their lives, the two reigned as kings of the island.
 
Soon, Kikuichiro was killed, as were no less than three other survivors, in a series of feuds over crab fishing and Kazuko, who became something of the Queen of Anatahan.  
 
In June 1950, LCDR James Johnson, Deputy Civil Administrator on Saipan, began to wage a hearts and minds campaign to get the Japanese on Anatahan to lay down their arms and go home. This included regular delivery of care packages under a white flag, amounting to letters from the soldiers’ relatives and Japanese authorities, Tokyo newspapers, magazines, food supplies, Japanese beer, and cigarettes.” 
 
This brought about the “surrender” of Queen of Anatahan, who was eager to leave her subjects behind. 
 

Kazuko Higa, the lone woman on Anatahan, the day of her surrender, June 1950. (N-1993.02). http://libweb.hawaii.edu/digicoll/ttp/ttp_htms/1993.html

 
Johnson kept up his efforts to get the last of the marooned Japanese off the island for eight months. After dropping leaflets promising the 18 men who were left would be returned to their families, a white flag appeared and our tug sailed from Guam, complete with a platoon of armed Marines and a LIFE journalist, Michael Rougier.
 
By Rougier, via the LIFE Archives: 
 
I found these two videos in the National Archives of the event and uploaded them to YT. They are silent but moving. 
 
 

Junji Inoue, the day of his surrender at Anatahan, June 1951. (N-1993.05). Inoue reads a document urging his compatriots to surrender. Scene aboard M.V. Cocopa, Anatahan, June 1951. Inoue’s personal implements. Note fiber zoris, coconut husk hat, knives fashioned from B-29 wreckage. (N-1993.07)

 
Once the men arrived in Guam, they were hospitalized for a week then flown to Japan. 
 

From the Aug. 1951 All Hands

 
The Lord of the Flies tale of shipwrecked soldiers and sailors fighting over a single queen while surviving on coconut wine and crabs was turned into several books and at least one internationally popular film, Josef von Sternberg’s Anatahan (1953).
 
 

Meanwhile, back to our ship!

 
With the war in Korea increasingly drawing in naval assets after the entrance of Chinese volunteers by the hundreds of thousands, USS Cocopa (ATF-101) was soon off to combat. Deployed to the region in the summer and fall of 1953, she was key in saving the Canadian Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Huron (G24), which had grounded while in range of Nork shore batteries. The mighty tug took the damaged Canuck, stern-first, to Sasebo. 
 
Cocopa did receive a battle star for Korea. 
 

USS Cocopa (ATF-101) moored pier side, date, and location unknown. Note The tug’s engineers have managed to paint their battle efficiency “E” on their ship’s tiny smokestack. NHHC

 
By 1954, she was supporting Operation Castle, a series of atomic tests at Bikini Atoll.
 
Then came numerous trips to Vietnam, deploying there five times between 1963 and 1972, earning five stars for her service in Southeast Asia. One of the most interesting taskings during her time there was as a “Yankee Station Special Surveillance Unit” to deceive and jam Soviet Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) and Electrical Intelligence (ELINT) trawlers that were monitoring American operations in the Gulf of Tonkin.
 

USS Cocopa (ATF-101) underway,1969, still with her 3-inch gun but with her Bofors and Oerlikons removed. L45-54.04.01

Decommissioned, 30 September 1978, she would go on to continue her service in more North American waters. 

Viva Armada!

 
Sold under the Security Assistance Program to Mexico, 30 September 1978, Cocopa was commissioned into the Republic of Mexico Navy as ARM Jose Maria Mata (ARE-03) until 1993, then as ARM Seri with the same hull number. 
 
She is still on active duty, based in Tampico. 
 

ARM Seri ARE03 Tampico Mexico 2016 via ShipSpotter IMO 7342691

Check out this video of her underway in 2017, looking good for her age. 
 
 

Epilogue 

 
Of Cocopa’s 26 Abenaki-class sisters, they have been very lucky with two exceptions– USS Wateree (ATF-117) was sunk during a typhoon, 9 October 1945 with a loss of eight crew members; and USS Sarsi (ATF-111) met her fate during Typhoon Karen in 1952 at the hands of a drifting naval mine off the coast of Korea. The rest lived to a ripe old age with the U.S. Navy, eventually being retired by Uncle Sam in the 1960s and 70s. While the last of her class in U.S. service, USS Papago (ATF-160), was disposed of in 1997, many were transferred overseas– such as Cocopa, who continues to serve alongside classmates ARM Yaqui (ex-Abnaki) and ARM Otomi (ex-USS Molala ATF-106)
 
 
As for Anatahan, it is uninhabited these days but is still home to one very testy queen. Home to a stratovolcano that consists of the largest known caldera in the Northern Mariana Islands, it blew its top in 2003, producing a cloud that was seen 600 miles away and burying the island in ash. 
 
Specs:  
Displacement 1,205 t.(lt) 1,675 t.(fl)
Length 205′
Beam 38′ 6″
Draft 15′ 5″ (lim)
Propulsion: (As-Built) four Busch-Sulzer (mod 12-278) Diesel-electric engines, single propeller 3,000shp
Ship’s Service Generators: two Diesel-drive 100Kw 120V/240V D.C., one Diesel-drive 200Kw 120V/240 D.C.
Modernized: (the 1960s) four Alco Diesel engines driving four General Electric generators and three General Motors 3-268A auxiliary services engines
Speed 16.5 kts.
Radar: SPS-5
Complement 5 Officers, 80 Enlisted
Armament (as completed)
one single 3″/50 dual-purpose gun mount
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
two single 20mm AA gun mounts
 
If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International
 
They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm 
 
The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.
 
With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.
 
PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.
 
I’m a member, so should you be! 

Recovered HMS Hood Ensign Preserved

From the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth:

On the eightieth anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hood, the museum has acquired a new acquisition with an association to the ship.

The flag came into the possession of Arthur George Parrot during the Second World War. A merchant seaman, he claimed to have picked it out of the debris floating in the water following the sinking of HMS Hood. For him, the flag was an item of special significance which he said represented all the boys he’d known from Winchester and Southampton who’d joined HMS Hood at the outbreak of war but did not survive.

The flag is currently in a fragile condition, it shows evidence of old repairs and many holes so it will require some attention to consolidate the fabric before it can be shared with visitors.

Notably, the NMRN also has Hood’s bell, recovered from her battered wreck in the Denmark Strait, conserved.

Remember the Reason Today

Keep in mind today the real reason why the mail doesn’t run, public employees have a three-day weekend, and why your mailbox is full of tasteless fliers.

USS Indianapolis (CA-35) commissioning pennant, used 15 November 1932, currently enshrined at the Indiana War Memorial. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Calm Seas to the Submariners of KRI Nanggala (402), on Eternal Patrol

Take a moment today to think of the crew of the Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala (402), lost at sea off Bali last week. While hope was flickering, search and rescue efforts only yielded a debris field with significant material and POL, according to an announcement from the Indonesian CNO.

Among the items recovered were torpedo tube liners, pipe insulation, orange bottles of submarine periscope lubricant, items used by the crew for prayers, and bathroom sponges.

The submarine is believed to have been lost at a depth of 850m, with 53 souls aboard. 

Hoping for the 53 Souls on KRI Nanggala

The Indonesian Navy reportedly has about 72 hours worth of oxygen left to rescue the 53 crew members of the Type 209/1300 submarine KRI Nanggala (402), which went missing in deep waters during a torpedo drill north of Bali on Wednesday.

A half-dozen warships, a helicopter, and 400 people are involved in the search while Singapore and Malaysia have dispatched additional assets, and the US, Australia, France, and Germany have offered assistance. The Indian Navy has dispatched their DSRV.

A 40-year-old boat, the German-made SSK underwent a refit in South Korea in 2012. In somber news, Nanggala disappeared in 2,300 feet of water (Type 209/1300s have a test depth of 800 feet) and an oil slick was observed shortly after.

150808-N-UN259-193 JAVA SEA (Aug. 8, 2015) The Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala (402) participates in a photo exercise during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia 2015. In its 21st year, CARAT is an annual, bilateral exercise series with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the armed forces of nine partner nations including Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor-Leste. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alonzo M. Archer/Released)

Remembering Thresher

Via the U.S. Naval Institute

On this day in 1963, 129 men were lost when the USS Thresher (SSN-593) sank during deep-dive tests in the Atlantic Ocean. After hearing about the disaster, the young son of skipper CDR John Harvey made this crayon drawing of the sub lying on the ocean floor.

The drawing is now in the collection of the U.S. Navy Museum in Washington, D.C.

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