Category Archives: submarines

RAN getting into the SSN Game, apparently

The Royal Australian Navy Submarine Service has been around since 1964 but the Ozzies have been running subs going back to the Great War-era British E class submarines AE1 and AE2, which we have covered here on a Warship Wednesday.

Besides the Es, the Australians operated a half-dozen J-class boats in WWI, two O-class boats in the 1920s, and eight British Oberon-class submarines through the Cold War.

Barbecue on top of HMAS Onslow, a diesel submarine operated by Australia’s Navy from 1968 to 1999.

Today, they have the half dozen controversial (but Australian-built!) Collins-class submarines in service that are aging out.

Collins-class submarines conducting exercises northwest of Rottnest Island 2019

Driven by political pressure against nuclear-powered subs– both Australia and New Zealand have had issues with American “N” prefixes visiting in past years– Canberra signed a contract for a dozen planned Attack-class SSKs from France in a competition that saw both German and Japanese designs come up in a close tie for second place.

However, with the French boats not being able to get operational into some time in the mid-2030s, the Australians are scrapping the stalled French contract and going with a program with the U.S. and Royal Navy to field SSNs.

The AUKUS program is ambitious to say the least. 

RAN’s official statement, with a lot more detail than you get elsewhere: 

The submarines will be built at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, where French company Naval Group was to construct the soon-to-be canceled submarines, which is a heavy lift for sure, but not insurmountable. 

As SUBSCOL in New London is very good at what they do at training Nuclear Program submariners, and the production line for the Virginia-class boats is white-hot, it is likely something that could be done inside the decade with some sort of technology sharing program similar to how Australian acquired their FFG-7 frigates in the 1980s, provided the RAN can cough up enough submariners (they have a problem staffing their boats now as it is) as well as the cash and political will.

If a Virginia-class variant is chosen, perhaps one could be hot-loaned from COMSUBPAC, with a cadre of specialists aboard, to the Australians for a couple years as a training boat while theirs are being constructed. 

Can Canberra buy and man 12 boats? Doubtful, but a 4+1 hull program with one boat in a maintenance period and the four active subs, perhaps with rotating blue/red crews, could provide a lot of snorkel.

Plus, it could see American SSNs based in Western Australia on a running basis, which is something that has never happened. Of course, the precedent is there, as 122 American, 31 British, and 11 Dutch subs conducted patrols from Fremantle and Brisbane between 1942 and 1945 while the Royal Navy’s 4th Submarine Flotilla was based in Sydney from 1949 until 1969.

Of course, the French, who have been chasing this hole in the ocean for five years, are going to raise hell over this. 

The “breakup statement” of French Naval Group with Australia Attack class submarine deal…no mention of them being overpriced, overdue and under delivery.

Meanwhile, off Korea

In related Pacific submarine news, the South Koreans successfully fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile on Wednesday, just hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea.

The ROKN boat, likely the new ROKS Dosan Ahn Changho (SS-083), which just commissioned in August, fired the indigenous Hyunmoo conventional warhead SLBM, of which not much is known. The 3,700-ton Changho-class, of which nine are planned, have six VLS silos for such missiles in addition to their torpedo tubes.

Cantankerous Canuck Submarines Nearing Sea Again

The 30-year-old Canadian Upholder-class submarine HMCS Victoria (SSK 876) passing the Fisgard Lighthouse, Esquimalt, BC, Sept 2020, on her way to sea trials after extensive refits. (RCN photo)

The Type 2400/Upholder/Victoria-class diesel submarines have been something of an albatross of naval history. The last snorkel boats built in the UK, they were to replace the hard-serving Oberon-class boats for surveillance and coastal special operations but the end of the Cold War found the Admiralty rapidly losing interest in the series. Of the eight planned ships, only four (Upholder, Unseen, Ursula, and Unicorn) reached the Royal Navy between 1990-93. Then these boats, just barely past their shakedowns, were all paid off in 1994.

After a deal fell through to sell them to Pakistan (!) London and Ottawa got to talking and Canada picked up the quartet for a song to replace their own Oberon-class boats in 1998. Then came an extensive refit/rework on these low-mileage boats that only saw them begin to enter Canadian service in 2003.

Canadian submarine HMCS Victoria, ex HMS Upholder

Since then, the four boats, (now the HMCS Chicoutimi, Victoria, Corner Brook, and Windsor) have had a mixed bag of incidents to include a fairly serious fire at sea (Chicoutimi), “catastrophic damage” to the electrical system of another boat (Victoria) and a sea-floor collision (Corner Brook, followed by a dry dock fire), as well as mechanical issues and hundreds of bad welds that have left them tied up for years at a time.

Nonetheless, they have had periods of good luck, including a 105-day training cruise in 2015 for Windsor followed by a 133-day Atlantic/Med patrol in 2018 (the first time a Canadian submarine was operational in the Mediterranean in more than four decades) and a 197-day West Pac deployment by Chicoutimi in 2018 (the first time a Canadian submarine has visited Japan since HMCS Grisle in May 1968). Now, pushing into their third decade of service, they are getting closer to being right with Victoria recently finishing sea trials and crew training following an extensive refit. Corner Brook, which had been laid up since 2014, is supposed to be repaired enough to return to service sometime late this year. Windsor is reportedly doing the same, recently completing a lengthy Transitional Docking Work Period (TDWP).

Tusker 333 (CC-130H) Hercules provides top cover for Tusker 912 (CH-149) while conducting hoist training with HMCS Windsor off the coast of Nova Scotia. Photo by SAR Technician Matthew Sebo, 413 Squadron

Three of the boats so far have ditched their old Type 2040 sonar for a new AN/BQQ-10 A-RCI sonar suite, similar to American submarines. They are also now armed with the Mark 48 MOD 7AT torpedo, an upgrade from the previous Mark 48 MOD 4M that required significant upgrades to the 1990s-vintage weapon handling, weapon discharge, and fire control systems.

The RCN recently released this sizzle reel, planning to keep the quartet around for another decade. 

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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Cod, Underway

The famed Gato-class fleet boat USS Cod (SS/AGSS/IXSS-224), who earned seven battle stars across the same number of War Patrols against the Japanese Empire, has been a lovingly cared-for museum ship in Cleveland since 1976.

Used as a training vessel for naval reservists on the Great Lakes during the Cold War, she was never given the common GUPPY modernizations that the rest of her class survivors got, and as such is the only World War II Fleet submarine that is still intact, with no stairways and doors cut into her pressure hull for public access.

That means she is still able to float and, although her screws and propulsion plant are quiet, she can be towed in open water, as proved by a recent trip to Donjon Shipbuilding and Repair in Erie, Pennsylvania, where she was in hull maintenance drydocking.

While she has been in fresh water for most of her life, she still needed a lot of TLC, and this shot is after 40 years of marine growth has been removed.

With the torpedo shutters off

What a difference two months in dry dock makes!

She returned to her traditional Cleveland berth yesterday, aided in a 13-hour by the tug Manitou.

That’s not a view you see a lot of these days

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.

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Warship Wednesday, August 11, 2021: The Guacolda-class submarines, via Quincy, Mass

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, August 11, 2021: The Guacolda-class submarines, via Quincy, Mass

Original caption: July 4, 1917, Boston (Charlestown) Navy Yard, “Six British subs bottled up in Navy Yard because of U.S. Neutrality are given to the Chilean government in exchange for a Man of War which could not be built by England.”

The Chilean flag was hoisted in that day over six Holland-type submarines, marking the creation of the Chilean Navy’s submarine branch, which has the motto, “Semper Fidelis.” Photo by Leslie Jones, via Boston Public Library, Print Department. Note the famed “original six” frigate USS Constitution in the background. 

Ordered in 1914 from the Fore River Yard at Quincy, Massachusetts, once the Great War kicked off, then-neutral Uncle Sam interned HMS H11 through HMS H20 for the duration of hostilities (or at least, it turned out, American neutrality), despite the fact they did not have their torpedo tubes installed.

Holland 602 type submarines designed to meet Royal Navy specifications, nine other 150-foot/360-ton H-class boats were built by Vickers Canada in Monreal for the Admiralty while another 23 were ordered from Vickers, Cammell Laird, Armstrong Whitworth, and William Beardmore in Britain.

HM Submarine H.4, one of the Canadian Vickers-made boats, at Brindisi, August 1916. Notably, H4 sank U-boat UB-52 in the Adriatic on 23 May 1918, one of the biggest wins for the class. Photograph SP 578 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

Of the 10 Yankee “H” boats, the British eventually transferred two, later christened HMCS CH-14 and CH-15, to Canadian service, while HMS H11 and H12 were cleared to sail after the U.S. entered the war in April 1917 only to be scrapped shortly after the conflict.

CH14 and CH15, Canadian submarines 1920-22

Likewise, the Canucks laid up their H-boats by 1922 and disposed of them soon after.

The remainder, H13 along with H16 through H20, were transferred to the Chilean government to partially compensate for Chilean vessels under construction in Britain that were seized in 1914 (such as the dreadnoughts Almirante Latorre/HMS Canada and Almirante Cochrane/HMS Eagle) for the fight against the Kaiser.

Commissioned into the Chilean Navy as Guacolda (H1), Tegualda (H2), Rucumilla (H3), Guale (H4), Quidora (H5), and Fresia (H6), on 28 March 1918, the flotilla set sail for Valparaíso on its maiden voyage under the command of RADM Luis Gomez Carreño.

These obsolete craft remained in service in Latin American waters through WWII, with the last only scrapping in 1949. Rucumilla had a particularly interesting rescue/salvage after she was lost at sea. 

As far as I can tell, they were the last pre-WWI Holland design sent to the breakers, and probably the last to submarines to carry 18-inch tubes on active duty. Of note, the Brits completed H21 and above with 21-inch tubes, some of whom continued to serve in WWII. 

Chilian Guacolda (Holland 602/H-class) submarines, via Jane’s 1946

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!

Warship Wednesday, July 28, 2021: What a Loony Idea

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, July 28, 2021: What a Loony Idea

National Archives Photo 80-G-416714

Here we see, some 73 years ago this month, an LTV-N-2 guided missile going dramatically to pieces over the Balao-class guided-missile submarine USS Cusk (SSG-348), while off Point Mugu, California.

Let’s get another view of that, from the same day.

NH 72684

Of the July 7 Loon explosion, from her Veterans’ group:

Horrified onlookers saw the boat disappear beneath a towering fireball and smoke cloud. “Everyone thought the Cusk had sunk,” remembers Captain Pat Murphy, USN (ret.) another Loon-era veteran. “But the Cusk’s captain [Fred Berry] saw what happened through the periscope and saw that there was no hull rupture. Well, he submerged. They had all the water they needed to put out the fire.” The Cusk survived with minor damage.

We’ll get on to the rest of the story of Cusk, but first, we should probably talk about the German rocket-carrying submarines of WWII.

Gruppe Seewolf and Operation Teardrop

The concept of strapping a primitive vengeance weapon rockets to a U-boat, then allowing it to creep across the Atlantic to get within range of American ports at, say New York or Boston, was attractive to the cropped mustachioed Austrian corporal and was even trialed. In 1942, U-511*, an advanced IXC type, test-fired a variety of rockets in the Baltic.

As detailed by Uboat.net:

A rack for six 30 cm rockets was installed and extensive tests carried out. These concluded with the successful launch of rockets from a depth of 12m (40ft). These amazing tests failed to convince Donitz’s staff of the merit of this innovatory weapon system, and it was not put into service. The rocket in question, the 30cm Wurfkörper 42 Spreng, was not advanced enough to target ships, but it might have been used to bombard shore installations such as oil refineries in the Caribbean. This idea was developed in late 1944 with a proposal for Type XXI electro boats to tow V-2 launchers which would attack shore bases. Neither the launchers nor the type XXI boats became available before the war ended.

*Interesting, but beyond the scope of today’s post, U-511 was handed over to Japan on 16 September 1943 at Kure as a goodwill donation from Germany to the Emperor and became Japanese submarine RO-500, ultimately handed over to the USN and scuttled in 1946.

Fast forward to September 1944 and, although there was no functional German rocket submarine afloat, Abwehr agent Leutnant Oskar Mantel, who was to be landed on the East Coast near NYC to act as a paymaster for German spy rings, instead fell into the hands of the FBI after his U-boat was sunk off the coast of Maine. Spilling his guts, Mantel told tall tales of Vergeltungswaffen-equipped U-boats headed to Amerika. This was later backed up by Abwehr agents William Curtis Colepaugh and Eric Gimpel, the last agents Germany attempted to land in the United States, who were captured in late 1944.

The rumors, mixed with intel that seven advanced U-boats, assigned to Gruppe Seewolf, the last Atlantic Wolfpack, were headed across the Atlantic, sparked Operation Teardrop, an extensive barrier program of ASW assets that ranged the East Coast in early 1945. In the end, Gruppe Seewolf was a dismal failure and the German rocket submarine program never got off the drawing board.

Mark Felton on the German program if you want a deeper dive:

Enter Cusk

The U.S. Navy had, simultaneously with the Germans, attempted to use rockets from submarines in WWII, having mounted and semi-successfully fired a ripple of Mk 10 5-inch unguided rockets from the surfaced Gato-class submarine USS Barb (SS-220) on 22 June 1944, against the Japanese coastal town of Shari from a range of 5,250 yards.

As detailed by DANFS:

She fired 12 rockets that exploded in the town center causing damage but no fires. The Japanese believed that an air raid was in progress and activated air search radar and turned searchlights to the sky while Barb retired safely seaward.

Cusk, meanwhile, was too late for the war. Launched 76 years ago today– 28 July 1945– by Electric Boat Co., Groton, Connecticut, she only commissioned 5 February 1946. Following a Caribbean shakedown, she reported for duty at her planned homeport at San Diego on 6 June to join Submarine Division Fifty-One.

First Publicity Photo USS Cusk 1946. Note her late war “gunboat submarine” layout of two 5″/25cal deck guns and two 40mm singles on her sail. She could also mount two .50 cal BMGs which were kept below deck. 

Crew of USS CUSK (SS-348) Group portrait, photographed by O.W. Waterman at San Diego, about 1946.
Courtesy of Ted Stone, New York. NH 64048

As VE-Day faded to the Iron Curtain and the Cold War, the U.S. was eager to update its technology in the new Atomic era, borrowing where it could from captured German trade secrets to help stay a few steps away from the Russkis. This included snorkel and sonar tricks borrowed from Donitz’s boys, and modified V-1 rockets, cloned by Republic-Ford as the JB-2 (Jet Bomb no 2), popularly just called the Loon. While the Army Air Force soon launched hundreds of these American buzz bombs from ramps near Destin and Santa Rosa Island in West Florida, the Navy was eager to try out a few of their own.

Outfitted with an AN/ANP-33 radar transponder (instead of the V-1’s simple gyrocompass autopilot control) the Navy’s version of the JB-2, of which 399 were ultimately produced, could receive course corrections while in flight via a ship-or trailer-borne microwave radar. The Navy’s model of the Loon was the LTV-N-2 (Launch Test Vehicle, Navy 2) and the idea was that it could be fired from ramps located either on surface ships or ashore. However, instead of either of those, the first test platform was to be our humble little fleet boat.

With Cusk retrofitted at Mare Island with an airtight missile hangar and launch ramp behind her sail, it was thought she could carry and launch a Loon while at sea. As the ramjet engine had no possible underwater launch capability, the idea was that the submarine would battle surface, unpack the missile from the hangar, make it ready to fire by attaching wings and four JATO rockets, and fire it from the surface with support from the sub’s SV-1 type radar for the first 50 miles or so– no speedy task. Early tests found that it took an hour to accomplish. As Loon could carry a 2,200-pound warhead of conventional explosives (the V-1 only carried 1,870-pounds) to a target approximately 160 miles away, though, it was deemed worth the risk.

USS CUSK (SSG-348) With an LTV “Loon” on launcher and deck hangar during operations off Point Mugu, California, 20 January 1948. 80-G-410665

The arrangement of Cusk’s hangar and launch rail, from a Point Magu report on the Loon.

On 12 February 1947, Cusk made the Navy’s first missile launch from a submarine, ushering in the era of today’s Harpoon, Tomahawk, and Trident-equipped attack boats and boomers. It was not a success. 

USS CUSK (SS-348) First launching of a Loon missile, off Point Mugu, California. Wed, Feb 12, 1947. The missile reportedly traveled 6,000 yards and then crashed. NH 72680

Of course, there were dramatic incidents such as the one shown at the top of this post– Loon had a failure rate of about 45 percent as a whole and it would not be until Cusk’s fifth launch that the missile was considered fully successful– other launches would be more productive. To note her new mission, Cusk was designated Submarine, Guided Missile (SSG) 348, on 20 January 1948.

Launch of a Loon missile from USS CUSK (SSG-348), off Point Mugu, California. Sun, Sep 12, 1948. NH 72688

Same as above, NH 72689

Same as above, NH 72690

Loon Derby launch #586 (SL-160) from USS Cusk (SSG-348), Naval Air Facility, Point Mugu, California, June 29, 1949. 80-G-405931

One other fleet boat, the Balao-class USS Carbonero (SS-337), would join Cusk as a Loon launcher in a series of tests conducted between 1947 and 1952, demonstrating that the Germans, if they had pushed just a little harder or had an extra year or two worth of time, could have produced an Unterseeboot-carried vengeance weapon. The sisters would participate in a fleet operation that would herald today’s missile boats.

As detailed in a scholarly work on the Loon by Gary Francis Quigg:

A November 1949 Navy exercise, off Hawaii, provided convincing evidence. Loon missiles fired from the submarines USS Cusk and USS Carbonero managed to escape unharmed through a gauntlet of anti-aircraft fire from thirty-five surface vessels and elude the machine guns of fighter aircraft from carriers USS Valley Forge and USS Boxer.

And Cusk would set a few records that today sound like footnotes but for the time were incredible. Quigg:

In the most successful transfer of radio guidance control of a missile from ship to shore on March 22, 1950, the USS Cusk launched a Loon just off Point Mugu. The Cusk guided the missile for twenty-five miles before surrendering radio control to a station on San Nicolas Island. Navy technicians on the island guided the missile another twenty-five miles to a splashdown in the Pacific just over a thousand feet from the center of the target. On May 3, the Cusk set a new distance record for the Loon. Diving to periscope depth immediately after the launch, the submarine controlled the missile and tracked its position for 105 nautical miles.

In all, the Navy would launch 46 Loon missiles from shore launchers at Point Mugu, 38 from our two submarines, and three from the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound. Coupled with launches made elsewhere in the Pacific, Cusk would fire at least 77 Loons in her short career, with the last taking to the air on 6 November 1952.

However, the twin Loon boats would be left behind by technology, the program canceled in 1953– although 25 missiles had been married up to warheads and made available just in case they were needed for use in Korean War. Carbonero was redesignated an Auxiliary Submarine (AGSS-337) in 1949 and both subs would soon chop to help develop the follow-on SSM-N-8A Regulus missile program, which would successfully launch a 400-mile range missile in 1953. Meanwhile, Cusk would continue to be a testbed platform for missile guidance equipment but would lose her “SSG” designation in 1954 as she carried no missiles of her own.

Just nine years to the day after Pearl Harbor: USS Cusk (SSG-348) off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, 7 December 1950. She has her missile hangar but no Loon present. Courtesy of Jack Howland, 1980. NH 90848

USS CUSK (SS-348), same location and date as above, NH 90846

In 1954, Cusk would receive a basic “Fleet Snorkel” GUPPY conversion at Mare Island and leave her “hangar” and ramp behind, and pick up a new, more streamlined fairweather while still maintaining her advanced missile avionics gear. Her AN/BPQ-1 (XN-1) Regulus missile guidance equipment was only finally removed in 1960.

USS CUSK (SS-348) Off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, California, circa 1954, following SCB 47B conversion to a “Fleet-Snorkel” submarine. NH 90849

This unusual view shows 11 vessels of Submarine Squadron Five (nine submarines in a variety of GUPPY configurations, a submarine rescue vessel, and a submarine tender) moored side by side for a recent change of command ceremony at San Diego, California. CPT Eugene B. “Lucky” Fluckey, USN, MOH, relieved CPT Francis B. Scanland, USN, as Commander, SUBRON5 on August 1, 1955. Nested alongside the submarine tender USS Nereus (AS 17) are the Regulus missile boat USS Tunny (SSG 282), USS Cusk (SS 348), USS Carbonero (SS 337), USS Tilefish (SS 307), USS Spinax (SS 489), USS Rock (SS 274), USS Remora (SS 487), USS Catfish (SS 339), and USS Volador (SS 490), and the submarine rescue vessel, USS Florikan (ASR 9). USN photo 681920

Cusk (SSG-348) and Remora (SS-487) in 1963. What might be an SSK, Bashaw (SSK-241), Bluegill (SSK-242), or Bream (SSK-243)) is bringing up the rear. Photo i.d. courtesy of John Hummel, USN (Retired).
USN photo courtesy of flickr.com via Stephen Gower, through Navsource. 

Her homeport shifted to Pearl Harbor, Cusk completed five lengthy Westpac cruises (1958, during which she would participate in Special operations near Soviet ICBM range in Vladivostok; 1960; 1962, where she would serve as the Subplot 7 Mining platform, 1963, where she would spend two months in North Korean water before her and sister ship USS Carbonero were rewarded with a show-the-flag visit to French Polynesia; and 1964-65) as a standard diesel-electric fleet boat in a “smooth” condition. During her 1962 cruise, Cusk made a month-long patrol in the tense South China Sea and spent another month in Yokosuka and Sasebo, serving as a sonar training target for Japanese destroyers and aircraft. Her 64-65 Westpac would include significant time on Yankee Station as an ASW asset, and three close-in patrols of the North Vietnamese coast via the Gulf of Tonkin.

Again, moving homeports, this time to San Diego, in 1966, Cusk would go on to complete two further Westpac cruises in 1967 and 1969, with both spending time in the Vietnam area of operations. On her last tour, she would be submerged on patrol for 43 days in the South China Sea, conducting special operations in Communist Chinese waters, of which her Veteran’s group recalls, “It was an adventurous time that included on one occasion, accidentally straying into an abandoned minefield. Later during the reconnaissance patrol, the Cusk was detected and attacked by unfriendly forces.”

Her time with the Navy coming to an end, Cusk sailed to Hunter’s Point Shipyard, was Auxiliary Research Submarine (AGSS-348) on 30 June 1969, and “she was gutted of virtually all of her equipment by her final crew. Everything that would fit through a hatch was lifted out, stacked on pallets on the pier, and hauled away for scrap.”

Following that, she was decommissioned on September 24, 1969, and the hulk was sold 26 June 1972, to Zidell Exploration, Inc. of Portland, Oregon, for $112,013.

Besides her 77 Loons and title as the world’s first guided-missile submarine, Cusk stood by to deliver said missiles during Korea, was awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Award (1964) and four Vietnam Service Awards (1965, 1967, 1968, and 1969) in addition to holding down numerous Battle Efficiency “E” awards.

Epilogue

A former Navy-owned Loon was donated to the Smithsonian in 1965, 12 years after the program shuttered, and is on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

One-half right side view of Loon Missile as displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia

Loon launches from the Cusk were featured in an episode of Time for Defense (a radio program broadcast nationally on the ABC network), and in the May 1950 issue of Popular Science along with the January 1953 issue of Parade, where she graced the cover.

On Christmas weekend 1950, Columbia Pictures released the Glenn Ford submarine vehicle The Flying Missile, which features the actor as the skipper of the fictionalized SSG USS Bluefin, including footage of our very own USS Cusk, although the Loon program was on its last legs before the film hit cinemas.

 

There is a Cusk Veteran’s group, that was very active from 1990 through 2019.

 

Specs:

Cusk’s rapidly shifting profile from 1946 to 1947, to 1954, as told by Submarine Sighting Guide Spec VA52.A92 ONI 31SS Rev.1.

(1946)
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)
Sonar: WFA projector, JP-1 hydrophone (1946 fit)
Armament:
(1946)
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 28 torpedoes max (typically MK V), or up to 40 mines
2 x 5″/25 deck guns (wet mounts)
2 x 40mm guns (wet mounts)
2 x .50 cal. machine guns (detachable)
(1947, as SSG)
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 28 torpedoes max or up to 40 mines
1 Loon surface-to-surface missile
2 x .50 cal. machine guns (detachable)
(1954, as Fleet Snorkel SS)
6 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, forward, 18 torpedoes (typically MK 14), or up to 30 mines.
2 x .50 cal. machine guns (detachable)

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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.

Rig for divers

COMSUBPAC recently released several images of things you don’t usually see: Dry Deck Shelter and submerged diver operations on a Virginia-class hunter-killer submarine.

PACIFIC OCEAN (June 18, 2021) — The Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS North Carolina (SSN 777) conducts operations off the coast of Oahu, Hawai’i. U.S. military forces are present and active in and around the Pacific in support of allies and partners and a free and open Indo-Pacific for more than 75 years. (U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex Perlman/Released)

The Navy only has about a half-dozen of the 38-foot DDSs (2-3 in each of the SDV Teams), which were put into service in the 1980s to replace the capability lost when the Pentagon scrapped the old transport submarines (see USS Perch) of the Vietnam-era. Boats such as Perch could put ashore platoon-sized elements of Marines or UDTs/SEALs via small boats and do so in relatively (for the blue water Navy) shallow water.

While usually older boats operate DDSs– for instance converted Tridents turned into SSGNs– 10 of Virginias are believed equipped to operate DDSs, which can support a SEAL platoon (16 operators) for dive or small boat (CRRC) operations.

Previous to these images, some of the last good quality released images of DDS shelters in use on DVIDS date to earlier this year and, beyond that to 2008, both on converted SSGNs.

Tip of the Spear

Sail looking kinda rough, but keep in mind that Springer was commissioned 28 years ago. Also, how long before you spot the M249 light machine gun?

APRA HARBOR, Guam (July 8, 2021) Sailors aboard the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Springfield (SSN 761) depart Naval Base Guam after completing a regularly scheduled evolution with the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS 39). Springfield is capable of supporting various missions, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, strike warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Victoria Kinney)

Commissioned in 1993, it was announced last month that Springfield would have her homeport shifted to Guam, which will now host five submarines at a time. It was just two years ago that the attack boat shifted homeports from Maine to Pearl Harbor, joining SUBRON 7.

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