Category Archives: submarines

‘A New Kind of Navy Man Pioneering a New Concept of Sea Power in the Age of Space’

Enjoy this great 27-minute circa 1960 film “Man And The FBM” covering the Navy’s Cold War Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine force and the UGM-27 Polaris nuclear-tipped SLBMs they carried. 

Keep in mind, the film was made just a few years after USS Nautilus took to the sea and only 15 since the first, comparatively puny, A-bomb was dropped from a propeller-driven bomber.

These first nuclear-powered FBM submarines, armed with long-range strategic missiles, were ordered on 31 December 1957, with the building attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589) lengthened with a 130-foot section to accommodate 16 Polaris missiles.

Rear Admiral William F. Rayborn, USN (left), and Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, USN, Chief of Naval Operations. Examine a cutaway model of the ballistic missile submarine George Washington (SSBN-598), July 1959. Official U.S. Navy photograph. Catalog#: USN 710496.

Completed as USS George Washington (SSBN-598), she was commissioned on 30 December 1959, just short of two years later, the first of the “41 for Freedom” boats that kicked off the strategic missile deterrent patrol system still maintained today. Footage of the GW’s commissioning is included in the film. 

Seldom heard from, the 41 boats of the FBM program made an incredible 2,824 armed patrols during their time on earth, each typically about 65 days. This is about 502 patrol years at sea during the Cold War.

Enjoy!

Guppy foursome

Subron-21’s GUPPY IIIs in formation on 18 April 1966.

USS Clamagore (SS-343) is in front, with USS Corporal (SS-346) on Clamagore’s port side, USS Cobbler (SS-344) on Clamagore’s starboard side, and USS Blenny (SS-324) bringing up the rear. All four submarines were part of the Balao-class, and all were commissioned into the U.S. Navy in the final two years of WWII although only Blenny arrived in time to make war patrols that earned battle stars (four) prior to VJ-Day.

In formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

In formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

Of the quartet, Clamagore survived the longest, retired in 1980, and was scrapped earlier this year after four decades of slowly wasting away as a museum ship in Charleston.

Blenny, the WWII combat vet, decommissioned in 1973, was scuttled off Ocean City, Maryland, on 7 June 1989.

Cobbler, who transferred to Turkey in 1973, was renamed TCG Çanakkale (S 341) and somehow served until 1998.

Corporal also transferred to Turkey although in 1974 and, commissioned TCG Ikinci İnönü (S333), served until 1996.

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2022: Way Down Upon…

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, Sept. 24, 2022: Way Down Upon…

U.S. Navy photo in the National Archives. 80-G-344419

Above we see Naval Aviators of the “Flying Boars” of Fighter Squadron (VF) 40, upon their return to the Sangamon-class escort carrier USS Suwannee (CVE 27), talking about splashing three Japanese Vals off Okinawa, on 16 May 1945. In flight suits are (L-R): Ensign Raymon L. Lebel, LT John E. Lockridge, and LT (jg) Joseph Coleman. For that month alone, the F6F-3 Hellcat squadron would claim six enemy aircraft and nine fishing boats destroyed.

Not a bad job for flying from a converted oiler.

Tanker flattops

During WWII, the U.S. launched 50 of the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company’s Casablanca-class and 45 smaller Bogue-class escort carriers between September 1941 and June 1944. These 95 rapidly built flattops, based on simple Liberty ship/C3-class freighter hulls, were the bulk of the “jeep carrier” production. At just 10,000-ish tons and about 500 feet long with the ability to carry about 20 or so aircraft (typically Wildcats and Avengers), these formed the backbone of the Allied “hunter-killer” ASW teams in the Battle of the Atlantic and later lent their shoulders to support amphibious warfare landings across the Western Pacific.

However, before the Navy settled for these little guys, it rushed a four-ship class of oiler conversions into service which set the bar high for the type.

The largest escort carriers converted for the U.S. Navy; the Sangamon-class all started life as big Maritime Commission Type T3-S2-A1 oil tankers. Large and turbine powered, the 553-foot, 11,300-ton (gross) vessels could tote 146,000 bbl. of oil at 18-19 knots and do it reliably. A full dozen of these had been laid down before WWII started, originally intended for a variety of U.S.-flagged oil companies. Of that dozen, all were rapidly taken up by the Navy in the summer of 1941 for conversion to desperately needed Cimarron-class oilers, a type the fleet would need possibly more than any other in 1942.

The thing is, in 1942, the Navy found it needed aircraft carriers even more.

Four CimarronsSS Esso Trenton, Esso Seakay, and Esso New Orleans, all originally planned for Standard Oil; and Esso Markay, which would drop the “Esso” and become just the SS Markay for the Keystone Tankship Corp– had only just gotten as far as changing their names to the Cimarron-class standard convention after rivers when the Navy stepped in once again and ordered their fast conversion to “Aircraft Escort Vessels,” often with different hull numbers to keep things properly confusing.

  • SS Esso Trenton became USS Sangamon (AO-28), then AVG-26.
  • SS Esso Seakay became USS Santee (AO-29), then AVG-29.
  • SS Esso New Orleans became USS Chenango (AO-31), then AVG-28
  • SS Markay became USS Suwannee (AO-33), then AVG-27.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

While our vessel is the only “Suwannee” on the NVR– named for the river which rises in Ware County in southeastern Georgia and flows southwest across Florida to empty into the Gulf of Mexico at Suwannee Sound– the Navy had two previous “Suwanee,”: a Civil War gunboat that spent her career fruitlessly chasing the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah, and a captured German steamer (ex-SS Mark) that was turned into a collier in the Great War.

Four ladies swimming and eating watermelon in the Suwannee River, Fanning Springs Florida

Our subject vessel was laid down at New Jersey’s Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. as hull number 5 on 3 June 1939 for Standard Oil, then, as mentioned, was delivered to Keystone in early 1941 sans her planned “Esso” prefix. She was purchased by the Navy on 26 June 1941.

Tanker SS Markay (incorrectly listed as Esso Markay) was photographed on 26 June 1941, just before conversion into USS Suwannee (AO-33), later AVG/CVE-27). Probably photographed in Baltimore, Maryland. 19-N-24297

Her Navy conversion was brief, and Suwannee was placed in commission on 16 July 1941 after just three weeks of work which consisted primarily of adding underway replenishment gear, painting her haze gray, and bolting on a topside armament of a single 5-inch gun and four water-cooled .50 caliber machine guns.

Her first task was to take Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron (MTBRon) 1, including its men as passengers and six 77-foot Elco torpedo boats (PT-20, PT-21, PT-22, PT-23, PT-24, and PT-25) as deck cargo, to Hawaii, shipping out from Brooklyn with the mosquito boats aboard and arriving at Pearl Harbor on 18 September, delivering the craft to Hawaii. Originally to go to the Philippines, MTBRon 1 would instead see action at Pearl Harbor, then later at the Battle of Midway, and participated in the Aleutian campaign.

PT Boats and Zeros Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Griffith Baily Coale; 1942; Unframed Dimensions 10H X 20W Accession #: 88-188-AF On the brightly colored waters of the lagoon, the PTs are skimming about, darting here and dodging there, maneuvering between the rows of machine gun splashes, incessantly firing their twin pairs 50 caliber guns.

Shipping back to the East Coast, Suwannee carried passengers and cargo from Texas to Newfoundland in the uneasy neutrality that was the U.S. in 1941. At Norfolk Navy Yard in maintenance on December 7th, she continued her service as an oiler, dodging U-boats along the East Coast.

With the success of the small early escort carriers USS Long Island (originally AVG-1, later ACV-1 then CVE-1), her sister HMS Archer (D78), and the Royal Navy auxiliary aircraft carrier (aka escort carrier) HMS Audacity (D10), it was decided just two months after Pearl Harbor to convert the quartet of above-mentioned oilers to carriers.

With that, Suwannee decommissioned on 20 February 1942 at Newport News, Virginia, to begin the conversion process.

Meet your new carrier

Recommissioned 24 September 1942– 80 years ago this week– our new carrier’s first skipper was Capt. (later Admiral) Joseph James “Jocko” Clark. The first Native American to graduate from Annapolis when the Cherokee passed out in 1917, Jocko learned his trade in the surface warfare field and then became a Naval Aviator in 1925. He was XO of USS Yorktown (CV-5) at the Coral Sea and Midway, having just seen his beloved carrier sent to the bottom just three months before taking command of his tanker-turned oiler-turned-AVG. Kind of a demotion and promotion all at the same time.

Armed with two 5″/38s, one port another starboard, these ships would eventually carry 22 40mm and 21 20mm AAA guns before the war was out, giving them a respectable self-defense armament.

The Sangamon class carrier’s air department included the flight deck and hangar deck crew, an Aerology Lab, radar, and radio maintenance shops, a photographic lab, a parachute loft, an ordnance gang, and Air Office. With a flight deck 503 feet long and 85 feet wide, they had a single catapult installed but would later pick up a second. They were the only CVEs during the war that were deemed suitable to fly dive bombers from as the SBDs were awkward on small hulls since their tough wings, filled with massive air braking flaps, did not fold.

Keep in mind that in their full-load 1944 displacement, the Sangamons went almost 25,000 tons, twice the weight of other CVEs. 

USS Sangamon, as converted

Suwanee’s first air group, 18 F4F Wildcats and 15 new TBF Avengers of Escort Scouting Group (VGS) 27 were the Navy’s top aircraft of the time and were attached on the day she was recommissioned. It should be noted this was significantly larger than the freighter-based CVEs (some of which only shipped out with eight aircraft) and, with a more robust hull type, the oiler-based baby flattops could conduct ops in higher seas. Truth be told, they should have been labeled “light carriers” as they were much close to the cruiser-hull converted Independence-class CVLs in size (15,000 tons, 620 feet oal for Indy) and supported roughly the same sized air wing.

As noted in Hunter-Killer: U.S. Escort Carriers in the Battle of the Atlantic by William T. Y’Blood:

The Sangamon-class ships were much more stable than the Bouge-class vessels because they had lower flight decks– 42 feet versus 54 feet– on a longer hull. These vessels also had two elevators but the hangar deck distance between them was shorter than in the other carriers. This shorter length was mitigated by increased width and no shear in the hangar deck area. A number of openings in the flat sides of the hull gave excellent ventilation for the hangar deck.

One big advantage that vessels of the Sangamon class had over the Bogue class was in the amount of fuel oil the former could carry. The Bouge could carry only 3,290 tons whereas the Sangamons could carry over 5,880 tons. Over and above this, too, was the fact that these ex-oilers could carry 100,000 gallons of aviation fuel and 7,000 gallons of aviation lubricants.

The Sangamon-class were very efficient, with more speed, greater range, increased stability, and the capability of operating more aircraft than the earlier escort carrier classes. However, because of the critical need for more oilers, these four ships would be the only such vessels converted. Had sufficient tanker hulls been available, the Kaiser CVEs might never have been built.

Aerial view of the escort carrier USS Suwanee (CVE-27) underway. USN 470158

Torch!

Just barely out of the shipyard– their guns had only been test fired for structural validation and yard workers were still aboard– the four Sangamons were joined with the Navy’s only “real” carrier in the Atlantic at the time, the smallish USS Ranger (CV-4), to form TF34 under RADM Ernest McWhorter and head to North Africa where they would support the Operation Torch landings.

As the Vichy French had 170 modern aircraft ashore in Morrocco as well as a significant surface and submarine force, and, if they wanted to, could be a formidable opponent, the five-carrier task force had its hands full.

The carriers had to mix and match their air wings so that Chenango could carry 76 Army P-40F Warhawks on a one-way trip. To support the landings, Ranger carried 54 Wildcats and 18 SBDs while Sangamon would ship with 9 Avengers, 9 SBDs, and 12 Wildcats; Santee with a strike-heavy package of 14 F4Fs, 8 TBFs, and 9 SBDs; and Suwanee with at least 29 Wildcats drawn from VGF-27 and VGF-28 and 9 TBFs. The Wildcats, fresh from Grumman, had to test fire their guns for the first time on the trip from the East Coast to the war zone.

USS Brooklyn (CL-40) and USS Suwannee (ACV-27) underway, with the amphibious convoy, en route to North Africa, in early November 1942. 80-G-30228.

USS Santee (ACV 29) en route to Torch landings

Color image showing SBD Dauntless and F4F Wildcat aircraft on the flight deck of USS Santee (ACV 29) during Operation Torch. Note the directions written on the deck

USS Chenango (CVE-28) ferrying army P-40F fighters to Morocco, with the North African Invasion force, November 1942. 80-G-30221

As the landings had three major objectives– Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers– Ranger and Suwanee would remain in the Center Attack Group (TG 34.9) headed for Casablanca, Sangamon and Chenango headed for Port Lyautey with the Northern Attack Group (TG 34.8), and Santee would cover the Southern Attack Group (TG 34.10)’s push off Safi.

Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighter (nicknamed “Rosenblatt’s Reply”) on board USS Suwanee (ACV-27), circa late 1942 or early 1943. The plane bears traces of the yellow Operation Torch marking around its national insignia. Photographed by Ensign Barrett Gallagher, USNR. 80-G-K-15634

SBD Dauntless dive bombers pictured in flight over an escort carrier during Operation Torch. NNAM photo

As noted by DANFS:

Early in the morning of 8 November, Suwanee arrived off the coast of Morocco, and, for the next few days, her Wildcat fighters maintained combat and antisubmarine air patrols, while her Avengers joined Ranger’s in bombing missions. Between 8 and 11 November, Suwannee sent up 255 air sorties and lost only five planes, three in combat and two to operational problems. On 11 November, off Fedala Roads, her antisubmarine patrol claimed the destruction of a submarine, a “kill” not verified in post-war accounting.

While DANFS says Suwanee’s claim wasn’t borne out post-war, most other sources disagree.

To expand on that, Suwanee’s operations included sending her Avengers with Ranger’s airwing to attack the French battleship Jean Bart and three submarines at Casablanca, scoring a bomb hit on the incomplete dreadnought and one on the docked submarines. Her Avengers also got in licks against the cruiser Primaguet and the destroyer Albatros as they tried to sortie from Casablanca’s outer harbor.

With her Wildcats burning gas providing a CAP over the Task Force, it once again fell to her Avengers to do the heavy lifting, with four TBF “Turkeys” smothering the French Redoutable-class submarine Sidi Ferruch (Q181) in a dozen Mk.17 depth bombs off Fedhala Roads.

French submarine Sidi-Ferruch (Q181) facing the cathedral of Saint Mary Major in the Old Port of Marseille, pre WWII

As noted by Y’Blood:

The Sidi-Ferruch was diving when the last four bombs exploded directly over her. The conning tower bobbed back up, and pieces of the vessel were flung in the air. The conning tower then submerged vertically. Violent explosions and a “boiling” of the water disturbed the surface for about ten minutes. Seeing the obvious death throes of the submarine, the fourth pilot held his bombs. A light boiling of the water, accompanied by some oil, continued for 45 minutes. There was no doubt that the VGS-27 fliers had destroyed the sub.

Even Uboat.net, the gold standard these days for Axis submarine losses in Europe, holds that Sidi Ferruch met her end at the hand of Suwanee’s air group.

It was the first time an American escort carrier would bag an enemy submarine but it would be far from the last. In the Battle of the Atlantic, jeep carriers would harvest more than 50 U-boats and at least two Japanese submarines while in the Pacific and Indian Oceans at least another nine would be added to the list. Suwannee’s sister Santee’s embarked VC-9 air group across a single cruise in July 1943 would tally three German boats: U-160, U-509, and U-43

Overall, the four “oiler carriers,” rushed through a hasty conversion to aviation vessels, acquitted themselves well in Torch. Despite almost near total inexperience by all involved, with new planes flown by green crews from ships that had been cobbled together, the three operational Sangamons flew 582 combat sorties in four days, dropped 399 bombs, and fired 111,000 rounds of ammunition. In exchange, they lost 29 aircraft– 21 from Santee alone– and landed 74 of 76 Army P-40s from Chenango.

Shifting gears to Guadalcanal

The Vichy regime over, and all but occupied metropolitan France now in with the Allies, Suwannee sailed home and, after a short yard period, was transferred to the Pacific where the fight around Guadalcanal was at its height and the Navy could only count on one or two forward deployed carriers at a time, all the others having been sunk or sent home with a beating.

Reaching New Caledonia on 4 January 1943, Suwannee spent the next seven months providing air escorts for Guadalcanal-bound convoys and in the occupation of New Georgia, Rendova, and Vanunu. She was interchangeably part of TF 18 and TF 69 during this period. The beans, bullets, and avgas that made it to the Marines and Soldiers on “The Canal” during this period largely did so under a protective umbrella of Wildcats and Avengers from Suwannee.

View from another ship showing a Sangamon-class aircraft carrier underway in the South Pacific in 1943. NNAM photo

It was during this time that one of her airedales, AMM B. L. Thomas, penned several safety drawings that were turned into posters.

USS Suwannee (AVG-27), April 7, 1943. Flight deck poster made by an AMM, B. L. Thomas, of the crew. Artwork details the dangers of propellers. Photograph: April 7, 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-39315

USS Suwannee (AVG-27), poster by Thomas. Artwork details crossing the flight deck during launchings. 80-G-39316

USS Suwannee (AVG-27), poster by Thomas. Artwork details crossing the flight deck during landings. 80-G-39317

USS Suwannee (AVG-27), poster by Thomas. Artwork details sitting on the flight deck during flight operations. 80-G-39318

Suwannee returned to the U.S. for a brief refit, leaving Espiritu Santo on 26 August and arriving at Alameda on 10 September. There, she left her original air wing of VGS-27 behind and picked up the 12 F6F-3 Hellcats, 9 TBM-1C Avengers, and 9 SBDs of the newly formed Air Group (CVEG) 60 composed of VC-60 and VF-60. She would carry this force through November 1944 and would be the only carrier to embark CVEG-60.

Leaving San Diego on 16 October, Suwannee was back at Espiritu Santo and returned to service in time to spend Thanksgiving 1943 as part of the Gilbert Islands operation, bombing Tarawa with TF 53.

Another short stint on the West Coast and she headed for the Marshalls in January 1944 with her planes raiding the Roi and Namur islands of the Kwajalein Atoll and performing antisubmarine patrols.

Parry Island, Eniwetok Atoll, under bombardment 21 Feb 1944 recon from USS Suwanee (CVE 27) 80-G-218634

Escort carrier Suwannee (CVE 27) pictured at anchor at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands in an image taken from the heavy cruiser Baltimore (CA 68) Feb 7, 1944

March, joining her three sisters– Sangamon, Chenango, and Santee— as Carrier Division 22 (CarDiv 22), brought raids on the Palau Islands while April saw Suwannee supporting the Hollandia landings. By June, they were part of the invasion of the Marianas including the campaigns against Saipan and occupied Guam.

Much as Suwannee has been the first escort carrier to sink an Axis sub in the Atlantic when she pulled the plug on Sidi-Ferruch, her sister Chenango was the first to sink one in the Pacific, with VC-35 aircraft flying from Chenango splashing I-21 (Inada) in November 1943. However, Suwannee soon caught up and would be the only carrier of her class to sink enemy subs in both oceans. 

As part of the Battle of the Philippine Sea in which CVEG-60 came face-to-face with a Japanese Type KD7 boat.

As told by Combined Fleets on IJN Submarine I-184:

19 June 1944: The Battle of the Philippine Sea: 20 miles SE of Saipan. The USS SUWANEE (CVE-27) is supporting the invasion of the Marianas. Ensign G. E. Sabin’s Grumman TBM-1C “Avenger” torpedo-bomber of VT-60 is flying an ASW patrol. Sabin drops below the cloud cover and spots a surfaced Japanese submarine. LtCdr Rikihisa spots the Avenger and crash-dives, but Sabin drops his depth bombs just ahead of the submarine’s track and sinks I-184 with all 96 hands at 13-01N, 149-53E.

By September, Suwannee was supporting the landings on Morata in the Dutch East Indies and then was placed in the vanguard of the force headed to liberate the Philippines after two years of Japanese occupation.

The Divine Wind

Sailing from Manus with RADM Thomas L. Sprague’s Escort Carrier Group Task Unit 77.4.1 (Taffy 1) of TF77 on 12 October with her sisters Santee and Sangamon along with the new Casablanca-class “Kaiser coffin” USS Petroff Bay (CVE-80), Suwannee’s planes were soon raiding the Visayas.

By the 24th Taffy 1 was embroiled in the wild combat that swirled around the Battle of Leyte Gulf, just escaping the sacrifice of TG 77.4.3 (“Taffy 3”) off Samar. While her airwing landed several blows against Japanese capital ships– battered survivors of the Battle of Surigao Strait– Suwannee and her sisters were subject to repeated kamikaze attacks from land-based planes across the 24th-26th.

Despite bagging at least one Zeke with her AAA guns, Suwannee took a hit about 40 feet forward of her aft elevator which peeled back a 10-foot hole in her deck and penetrated to the hangar where a 25-foot gash was ripped in the deck.

“Two Japanese Zero aircraft making suicide attacks on USS Sangamon (CVE 26) off Leyte Gulf, Philippines, as seen from USS Suwannee (CVE 27). One Japanese near miss near the bow. Trailing Japanese turned away and was shot down by our fighters, 25 October 1944.” 80-G-270665

Fires and explosion on USS Suwannee (CVE 27) resulting from a suicide hit of a Japanese “Zero” near Leyte Gulf, Philippines, taken from USS Sangamon (CVE 25), 25 October 1944. 80-G-270626

Japanese “Zero” crashes deck of USS Suwannee (CVE 27) and bursts into flames, Leyte Gulf, Philippines, 25 October 1944. TBM may be seen in flight behind the smoke. This plane which was loaded with a torpedo was unharmed by the crash. 80-G-270662

Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 1944. Damage done to USS Suwannee (CVE 27) after attack by a Japanese kamikaze off Leyte Gulf, photographed 25 October 1944. Note the hole in the flight deck. 80-G-270693

Battle of Leyte Gulf, wardroom of USS Suwannee (CVE 27) in use as an emergency sick bay following the kamikaze hit of 25 October 1944. 80-G-289527

Back conducting air ops just three hours later, the 26th saw a second kamikaze hit, this time creating a fire that destroyed nine of CVEG-60’s aircraft along with much of the ship’s bridge.

Fires and explosions on the flight deck of USS Suwannee (CVE 27), resulted from a suicide hit of a Japanese “Zero” near Leyte, Philippines. The airborne plane is friendly. Taken from USS Sangamon (CVE 26) at Leyte, Philippines, 26 October 1944. 80-G-270619

Japanese suicide “Zero” coming in for dive on USS Suwannee (CVL 27) off Leyte Gulf surrounded by ack ack This attack was the second one of the day, 26 October 1944. 80-G-270673

U.S. Navy escort carriers pictured at sea during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The photograph was probably taken from USS Petroff Bay (CVE-80), which was part of Task Unit 77.4.1 (Taffy I), together with the USS Sangamon (CVE-26), USS Suwannee (CVE-27), and USS Santee (CVE-29). The carrier burning in the background is most probably Suwannee, which was hit by two kamikazes, Santee by one amidships. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 2000.236.023

Damage done to USS Suwannee (CVE 27) after attack by Japanese suicide plane off Leyte Gulf. Note the shrapnel pattern. Photographed on 26 October 1944. 80-G-270689

Damage to elevator well on USS Suwanee following October 26, 1944 kamikaze hit

Nonetheless, her crew again patched up, made an emergency open-air navigational bridge, and made for the Palaus for repair.

An emergency bridge manned on after flight deck of USS Suwannee (CVL 27) was attacked by a Japanese kamikaze plane off Leyte Gulf, the Philippines, on 26 October 1944. 80-G-270674

In all, her two kamikaze hits in two days would result in almost 100 dead, another 58 missing, and 102 wounded. Keep in mind her crew and embarked air group at its largest only numbered about a thousand, meaning a full quarter of the men who sailed aboard her were on her casualty lists:

The same battle left sister Santee extensively damaged, hit both by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-56 and a kamikaze, while Sangamon was struck by two kamikazes of her own. Retiring on 29 October, Sprague’s “oiler carriers” proved they could take abuse of the kind that was hard to shrug off.

Operation Iceberg

After some quick patchwork to get her that far, Suwannee made for Pearl Harbor in mid-December and then spent Christmas in San Diego. Repaired, she set out for Hawaii again in mid-January 1945 where she would shake down with a largely new crew and a new air wing, Air Group (CVEG) 40 composed of VC-40 and VF-40. This final package, of 20 F6F-5s and 12 TBM-1Cs, would be her last and, like CVEG-60, CVEG-40 would only know Suwannee as home.

By April Fool’s Day, she was off Okinawa as part of TF for Operation Iceberg, an 82-day battle that is known in Japan as the Kotetsu no ame (“rain of steel”) due to the intensity of the Japanese kamikaze attacks sent at the American forces. Keep in mind Japan lost an estimated 1,600 planes against the U.S. Fifth Fleet at Okinawa, a figure that never fails to stun no matter how many times you read it.

Again, Suwannee would sail with her three sisters of CarDiv 22 and was the flagship of RADM William Dodge Sample.

F6F-5 Hellcats of Fighting Squadron (VF) 60 pictured preparing to launch from the escort carrier Suwanee (CVE 27) on April 21, 1945

From DANFs on Suwannee during the period:

Her first assignment was close air support for the invasion troops; but, within a few days, she settled down to a routine of neutralizing the kamikaze bases at Sakishima Gunto. For the major portion of the next 77 days, her planes continued to deny the enemy the use of those facilities. Periodically, she put into the anchorage at Kerama Retto to rearm and replenish, but she spent the bulk of her time in air operations at sea.

In May, Suwannee suffered another serious fire because of a cracked-up Avenger.

Fire-fighting crews on board USS Suwannee (CVE 27) brought the blaze under control when a 100-pound bomb of TBM-3 (Bu# 68368) exploded after the plane landed on board. Pilot, Lieutenant Junior Grade Obed F. Flingerland, USNR, was killed and 13 crewmembers were injured. One of the crewmen died later. Photographed by Seaman First Class Hyman Atias, 24 May 1945. 80-G-325116

Likewise, both Chenango and Santee would suffer similar incidents during the operation. High-tempo carrier ops in a combat environment on a 500-foot deck across extended periods with lots of new pilots will do that.

As noted in her War Diary:

Part of CVEG-40’s scoresheet for Iceberg:

Balikpapan

With Iceberg thawed, Suwannee was pulled from the line, stopped in the PI for a week or so, then shipped south for the Dutch East Indies to support the cakewalk Free Dutch-Australian landings at Balikpapan on the Borneo coast. That accomplished, she headed North to the Japanese Home Islands once again and was at Buckner Bay, Okinawa when the news came that the Emperor would throw in the towel.

F6F-5 Hellcat of Fighting Squadron (VF) 40 launches from USS Suwanee (CVE 27) on August 30, 1945

VF-40 pilots smiling around the “kill” scoreboard, August 1945. Left to right: LCDR James C. Longino, Jr., LT (jg) Levi Monteau– pointing to trophy flags– LT(jg) Joseph Coleman, Ensign Raymond L.J. Lebel, and LT Earl E. Hartman. 80-G-349434

While RADM Sample and Suwannee’s skipper, Capt. Charles C. McDonald would go missing after their Martin PBM Mariner flying boat disappeared near Wakayama, Japan soon after VJ Day (they would be recovered in 1948), the rest of her crew made it home in late September 1945 under the command of XO, CDR Schermerhorn Van Mater.

Epilogue

Assigned to the Atlantic Inactive Fleet in October 1945 at Boston, Suwannee spent the rest of her career in mothballs there where she was re-designated to an escort aircraft carrier (helicopter) CVHE-27 in 1955. Stricken from the Navy List on 1 March 1959, she was sold later that year for conversion to merchant service but, with that falling through, was instead towed to Spain where she was scrapped in 1962.

She earned a Presidential Unit Citation and 13 battle stars for her World War II service, the most decorated of her class.

Her 13 stars and Unit Citation

Suwannee’s war diaries and plans are in the National Archives but few other relics endure.

Her three sisters of CarDiv22 likewise were mothballed just after the war, silently redesignated CVHEs– a job they were no doubt suited for– and scrapped by the early 1960s. Between them, Santee, Sangamon, and Chenango received a total of 28 battle stars, a Navy Unit Commendation, and the Presidential Unit Citation during WWII. An impressive record. It should be noted that the Navy’s final 19 escort carriers ever finished, the Commencement Bay-class, were all based on Maritime Commission type T3 tanker hulls like the Sangamons. Apparently, a lesson had been learned.

Of Suwannee’s 31 Cimarron-class oiler half-sisters, two, USS Neosho (AO-23) and USS Mississinewa (AO-59) were lost during the war while the rest continued to serve throughout the Cold War. The final Cimarron in the fleet, USS Caloosahatchee (AO-98), only decommissioned in 1990 after an amazing 45 years of service and was not scrapped until 2010.

The U.S. Navy fleet oiler USS Caloosahatchee (AO-98) underway in 1988.

Specs:

(1942, as Converted)
Displacement (design): 11,400 tons standard; 24,275 tons full load
Length: 553
Beam: 114 over deck
Power plant: 4 boilers (450 psi); 2 steam turbines; 2 shafts; 13,500 shp (design)
Speed: 18+ knots
Endurance: 23,920 nm @ 15 knots (with 4,780 tons of oil fuel)
Aviation facilities: 2 elevators; 1 hydraulic catapult
Crew: 830 (ship’s company + air wing)
Armament: 2 single 5″/51 gun mounts; 4 twin 40-mm/56-cal gun mounts; 12 single 20-mm/70-cal gun mounts
Aircraft: 25-40


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 am a member, so should you be!

Bad month for Submarine Museums

While we have covered these in part in previous years, it looks like time has come and gone for the old HMAS Otama (SS 62/SSG 62), a retired Oberon-class diesel boat of the Royal Australian Navy that was decommissioned 22 years ago, the sisters USS Ling (SS 297) and USS Clamagore (SS-343), Balao-class submarines that, when retired were about the best preserved of their type anywhere in the world.

Otama

Otama, still fairly new and in good shape when she was retired after 22 years of service, was grossly neglected and never opened.

Set to be moved off Lookout Beach in Australia on Monday, she is headed to the breakers.

Ling

For over four years, the status of the USS Ling (SS 297), a Balao-class boat, has been in limbo. Decommissioned in 1946 after earning a single battle star, she was converted to an NRF training boat based at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and then disposed of in 1972. Towed to nearby  Hackensack, New Jersey the next year in near-pristine condition, she operated as a museum ship there for 40 years, a great example of a WWII fleet boat, until, cut off from shore access due to real estate development in 2018, the museum closed and “vandals” broke in and flooded her. 
 
Since then, assorted volunteer groups looking to save her formed and even bring her to Louisville, but that all stopped last winter and she is now possibly worse than ever.
 

USS Ling, in poor condition, cut off from shore, locked in the river by a bridge, and likely settled again on the bottom mud in 14 feet of river. This isn’t going to end well.

This was posted three weeks ago in a “Save the Ling” group: 
 
People are asking for updates. The best I can tell you is, we are constantly working to see things through. Due to recent circumstances, we could claim ownership of the Ling in about an hour. But, in doing that we could also own the liabilities she has, debts to the city, EPA fines, Bergen County fines, and a bunch of other hidden costs that could hit us should we become the new owners. 
 
That said, as I said in another post. Thanks to her being closed up for a year or more now, she is most likely covered in mold. She has her list back, which only tells us that she has settled back in place after the manifold system was stolen and we were unable to continue to blow tanks and exercise ballast tanks. 
We are cut off from shore. The gangway donated to LNM has fallen into the muck. There is no safe access point to her due to the developers moving on with construction. We had a window, we missed it, they moved on and that does not include the Ling. 
 
At this point, I am not sure what can be done. We continue to play cards we are dealt, but there are very few left in the deck. If someone is a lawyer, and willing to pro bono things, we can continue the fight.

Clamagore

Almost scandalously, the Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum outside Charleston, South Carolina, which had Clamagore since 1980, has scrapped her in almost total silence and, while there are supposed plans to preserve some of her artifacts in a compartment aboard the poorly preserved old Essex-class carrier USS Yorktown, also run by the organization, it seems like most of her will simply hauled off to the junk yard despite howls from Submarine Vets and those curious who have sought to pick up a small piece for their own collection.

Welcome Back, Nautilus

The Submarine Force Museum Association, adjacent to U.S. Navy Submarine Base, Groton, welcomed the old USS Nautilus (SSN-571) in from the Thames River over the weekend following a $36 million drydocking and restoration.

Laid down on 14 June 1952– making her hull now 70 years old– she was the first American nuclear-powered submarine when she was commissioned on 30 September 1954 and soon set out making and breaking records.

In this file photo taken Jan. 21, 1954, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571) is in the Thames River shortly after a christening ceremony.

Following 25 years of hard service during which she covered 300,000 nautical miles, she retired in 1980 and, following an unprecedented $4.7 million conversion that saw her reactor and still-classified components removed, from 1986 served as an exhibit at the Submarine Force Museum– one that allowed patrons to walk the decks of the only nuclear submarine open to the public.

“The unique museum ship continues to serve as a dramatic link in both Cold War-era history and the birth of the nuclear age,” notes DANFS.

To keep her shipshape, she was closed last year and moved next door to Naval Submarine Base New London in 2021 for dry-dock and refurbishment, her first since 2002. Structural maintenance, such as the ship’s wooden deck replacement, repairs to the vessel’s superstructure, and restorations to the ship’s hull, were performed to extend the vessel’s longevity.

Nautilus revolutionized not only submarine warfare, but all of naval warfare. The capability to operate virtually indefinitely without the need to surface to run diesel engines or recharge batteries gave it an immense tactical advantage,” said Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC) Director, RADM Samuel Cox last week. “Today we forget the existential nature of the Cold War, which drove the incredible pace at which Nautilus was conceived, designed, and built, truly a testament to American ingenuity. NHHC is proud to deliver this vessel back to the public and give future generations an opportunity to see it.”

The full ceremony 1.5 hours of the re-opening of USS Nautilus (SSN-571):

For more details on Nautilus, browse the NHHC.

Welcome back, HMS Anson

Yesterday’s Warship Wednesday profiled the final KGV-class battleship to join the Royal Navy, the sixth HMS Howe (32), and her WWII career which included a stint as the flagship of ADM Bruce Fraser’s British Pacific Fleet in 1944-45. We also touched on her sister, the seventh HMS Anson (79) which joined the fleet the same summer of 1942 as Howe.

HMS Anson dressed in Sydney Harbor for the Australia Day sailing regatta, 1946. The KGV-class fast battleship was commissioned in April 1942 but didn’t become operational until September, joining Convoy QP 14 on the Murmansk run. In all, she would watch over nine such convoys, support the Husky landings against Sicily, tag along on the Tungsten operation to sink Tirpitz and host RADM Cecil Harcourt’s liberation of Hong Kong in August 1945.

Like her four sisters that survived WWII, the battlewagon Anson would remain in mothballs until 1957 and was unceremoniously disposed of shortly after.

Well, the name Anson returned to the Admiralty’s list as the fifth of seven Astute-class hunter-killer submarines, commissioned yesterday into the Royal Navy at a ceremony at BAE Systems’ Barrow-In-Furness site. She had been christened in 2020 via a bottle of cider smashed against the hull– the drink favored by her namesake, 18th-Century Admiral George Anson, as a cure for scurvy.

Of interest, while both battleships Anson and Howe visited Australia in 1945 during the war, Royal Australian Navy submariners, as part of the AUKUS initiative to send SSNs down under, will join British crews to train on newly commissioned HMS Anson as announced yesterday by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. In reflecting this, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and a delegation of RAN officers attended Anson’s commissioning this week.

HMS Anson will join four other Astute class submarines in service with the Royal Navy –HMS Astute, HMS Ambush, HMS Artful, and HMS Audacious– all proud names carried by former vessels. Two further boats that echo historic battleship names – Agamemnon and Agincourt – are in various stages of construction at Barrow.

Avenger down der periscope

Paintings of Naval Aviation during World War II: Abbott Collection. #98: “The Kill” Artwork by Robert Benney.

“In this dramatic presentation of sea-sky battle, a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber, bomb bay doors open, leaves death in its wake as it zooms away from a conclusive attack on a surfaced enemy submarine. All the vivid action in this scene has been repeated many times in actual combat by U.S. Naval airmen. Naval planes from escort aircraft carriers wreaked havoc on submarine wolf packs attacking Atlantic convoys, and they virtually blasted them from the ocean for many months. Bombers were fitted with depth charges, one of which is pictured exploding off the U-boat’s beam here. In the attack, the plane’s rear ‘stinger’ gun splits death at the gun crews attempting to ward off these lethal hawks from the sky.” National Museum of the U.S. Navy Lot 3124-14

While the Grumman TBF Avenger was a war baby– the first production TBF-1 was completed on 3 January 1942– and saw its best use in the Pacific from Midway (where it saw its inaugural action) to Tokoyo Bay, chalking up a long list of layups in delivering torpedos against Japan’s surface ships and Marus of all types, it also did its work in the Atlantic.

Tapped to make up the sub-busting part of the composite air wings on escort carriers, Avengers would tally no less than 35 U-boat “kills” during the Battle for the Atlantic, running from U-569 (Oblt. Hans Johannsen)– scuttled on 22 May 1943 in the North Atlantic east of Newfoundland after being badly damaged by depth charges from two Avenger aircraft (VC-9 USN/T-6 & T-7) of the escort carrier USS Bogue— to U-711 (Kptlt. Hans-Günther Lange), sunk on 4 May 1945 at Kilbotn, near Harstad, Norway by bombs from Avenger and Wildcat aircraft (846, 853 and 882 Sqn FAA) of the British escort carriers HMS Searcher, HMS Trumpeter, and HMS Queen.

The crew of German submarine U-664 prepares to go over the side of the ship during an attack by two Avenger aircraft from USS Card (CVE 11), August 9, 1943. Note, the laughing sawfish insignia on the conning tower of the 9th U-boat Flotilla. 80-G-43638

Attack on German U-boats, 1943. Aerial attack on U-378, Incident #4786, October 20, 1943. The U-boat was sunk by Fido homing torpedo and depth charges from Avenger and Wildcat aircraft from Composite Squadron Thirteen (VC-13) based on USS Core (CVE-13). 80-G-207651

Air Attacks on German U-boats, WWII. U-801 was sunk on March 17, 1944, by a Fido homing torpedo by two Avengers and one Wildcat aircraft (VC-6) from USS Block Island (CVE-21), along with depth charges and gunfire from USS Corry (DD-463) and USS Bronstein (DE-189). Note, Lieutenant Junior Grade Paul Sorenson strafed and Lieutenant Junior Grade Charles Woodell depth charged U-801. 80-G-222854

Arizona Marine Det flotsam

While at Gunsite earlier in the month, I spent some downtime wandering around (so I didn’t cramp up in the Arizona heat, to tell you the truth) and saw lots of plaques and trophies dotting the walls of the classrooms. As legendary Marine Col. Jeff Cooper originally founded the training facility as the American Pistol Institute (API) in 1976, wall decorations abounded. Besides the myriad of police and LE plaques and letters, there were tons of Army SF (mostly 10th Group) and, as expected with the pedigree, lots of “thank yous” from assorted Marine units.

One of these I thought you guys would find interesting:

Yup, the old school FBM Simon Lake-class submarine tender USS Canopus (AS-34), the first submarine tender in the United States Navy capable of refitting and maintaining a submarine with the UGM-73 Poseidon SLBM System– hence her Marine detachment.

Laid down in 1964 at Ingalls in Pascagoula, Canopus repeated the name of a WWII-era tender (AS-9) lost in the Philippines in 1942.

USS Canopus (AS-34) after its launch in Pascagoula, Mississippi on 12 February 1965. “The Polaris submarine tender Canopus (AS-34) made her slide into the Singing River following her launching at Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries, Pascagoula, Mississippi today and came one step closer to becoming an indispensable part in support of the US Navy’s Polaris Weapons System. Upon her scheduled delivery this September, Canopus, from an overseas base, will be capable of fully supporting nine nuclear-powered submarines on patrol, keeping them in a high state of combat readiness.” NHHC Catalog #: L45-42.08.08

USS Canopus (AS-34) Underway at sea, circa 1968. This photograph, taken by Airman T.J. Sharpe, was received by All Hands magazine on 8 July 1968. NH 107767

On active duty for 29 years, Canopus shuffled between Rota, Spain; Bremerton; Holy Loch, Scotland; Charleston, and Kings Bay, being a mothership to her incredibly powerful brood.

Decommissioned on 7 October 1994 (after Trident I was phased in and Poseidon was retired), she was disposed of in 2010.

As the plaque refers to API and not Gunsite, it dates to pre-1992, which tracks.

Remember those front sight presses when using 1911s, guys.

1st USS Jacob Jones found

Laid down in Camden, New Jersey in August 1914, the day after the Kaiser’s troops crossed into Belgium, the Tucker-class tin can USS Jacob Jones (Destroyer No. 61) was the first U.S. Navy vessel named in honor of Commodore Jacob Nicholas Jones who, as skipper of the USS Wasp in 1812, was most notable for capturing the Royal Navy sloop of war HMS Frolic after an intense battle.

USS Jacob Jones (Destroyer # 61) underway in 1916, soon after she was completed. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 52123.

Sent to Europe after the U.S. entered the Great War in April 1917, the 1,225-ton four piper was steaming independently from Brest to Queenstown, Ireland on 6 December 1917 when she caught a torpedo in her starboard side three feet below the water line, rupturing her fuel oil tank located below the auxiliary and engine rooms. Shipping water, her stern depth charges went off and just eight minutes after the German fish struck, she went down some 25 miles southeast of Bishop Rock, Scilly Islands.

Kptlt. Hans Rose, commander of the U-51 class submarine SM U-53, had made a record (for the time) hit from over 3,000 yards. A gentleman of the old order, Kplt. Rose surfaced, took two seriously wounded blue jackets aboard, and radioed the approximate location and drift of the survivors to the American base in Queenstown, requesting rescuing ships give him an hour to leave the vicinity.

USS Jacob Jones (Destroyer # 61) Sinking off the Scilly Islands, England, on 6 December 1917, after she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-53. Photographed by Seaman William G. Ellis. Smithsonian Institution Photograph. Catalog #: Smithsonian 72-4509-A

Speaking of the survivors, DD-61‘s XO at the time was one LT Norman (Nicholas) Scott, a fighting salt who as a rear admiral would go on to lead his cruiser-destroyer force to victory at the Battle of Cape Esperance off Guadalcanal in October 1942 then perish under the lackluster command of the inexperienced RADM Daniel J. Callaghan the next month. Rose, at the time, was back in uniform complete with his Kaisarian-awarded Blue Max training officers for Donitz as a recalled Fregattenkapitän in 1. Unterseeboots-Ausbildungsabteilung.

Fast forward to yesterday and a group of divers in England have identified the bones of DD-61 in 400 feet of water 60 miles south of Newlyn, Cornwall.

USS Jacob Jones bell by Rick Ayrton

Ironically, the second USS Jacob Jones (DD-130) was also sunk by a German submarine albeit in WWII off New Jersey. It is possible that the good FKpt. Rose may have had a hand in training the young men who sent that tin can to the bottom.

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022: Savo Pig Boat Avenger

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, Aug. 11, 2022: Savo Pig Boat Avenger

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-33750

Above we see the bearded and very salty-looking crew of the S-42-class “Sugar Boat” USS S-44 (SS-155) manning the submarine’s 4″/50 cal Mark 9 wet-mount deck gun, circa January 1943. Note the assorted victory flags painted on the boat’s fairwater, she earned them.

The S-class submarines, derided as “pig boats” or “sugar boats.” were designed during the Great War, but none were finished in time for the conflict (S-1 was launched by the builders on 26 October 1918, just two weeks before the Armistice). Some 51 examples of these 1,000-ton diesel-electrics were built in several sub-variants by 1925 and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online. While four were lost in training accidents, six were scrapped and another six transferred to the British in World War II, a lot of these elderly crafts saw service in the war, and seven were lost during the conflict.

The six boats of the S-42 subclass (SS-153 through SS-158) were slightly longer to enable them to carry a 4-inch (rather than 3-inch) deck gun with its own dedicated gun access hatch in the deck. Some 225 feet long overall, their submerged displacement touched 1,126 tons, making them some of the largest of the breed. Armed with four forward tubes (and no bow tubes), they had enough storage space to carry 10 21-inch torpedoes but were restricted in size to 16-foot long WWI-era fish as their tubes were shorter and couldn’t handle the newer 21-foot long Mark 14 torpedo which was introduced in 1931.

The Mark 10 of the 1920s, compared to the Mark 14, was slower and had shorter legs, but still carried a 500-pound warhead. The older torps were simple and dependable– provided you could get close enough to make them count.

It was thought the Sugar Boats, after testing, had enough fresh water for their crews and batteries to enable a patrol of about 25-30 days, and provision and diesel/lubricants for slightly longer.

S-42 subclass. Drawing & Text courtesy of U.S. Submarines Through 1945, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman. Naval Institute Press. Via Navsource

Referred to as the “2nd Electric Boat/Holland” type of the S-boat series, all six were built at Bethlehem’s Fore River yard.

Commissioned on 16 February 1925 (all six of the class were similarly commissioned inside 10 months across 1925-26) S-44 completed her shakedown in New England waters and then headed south for Submarine Division (SubDiv) 19, located in the Canal Zone, where she joined her sisters. For the next five years, homeported at Coco Solo, they ranged across assorted Caribbean, Pacific, and Latin American ports. This idyllic peacetime life continued through the 1930s as the Division’s homeport shifted to Pearl Harbor, then to San Diego, and back to Panama.

USS S-44 (SS-155) In San Diego harbor, California, during the later 1920s or the 1930s. Note how big her deck gun looks and her high-viz pennant numbers. NH 42263

USS S-44 (SS-155) Underway during the later 1920s or the 1930s. NH 42262

USS S-44 (SS-155) Leaving Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 1929. Photographed by Chief Quartermaster Peck. NH 42264

With the “winds of war” on the horizon and the realization that these small and aging boats may have to clock in for real, sisters S-42, S-44, and S-46 were sent to Philadelphia Naval Yard in early 1941 to be modernized. By August 1941, S-44 was on a series of shakedown/neutrality patrols along Cape Cod and Rhode Island, conducting mock torpedo runs on the destroyer USS Mustin (DD-413), a tin can that would go on to earn 13 battle stars in WWII. Still on the East Coast when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor hit, she soon got underway for Panama.

S-44’s principal wartime skipper, from October 1940 through September 1942, covering her first three War Patrols, was Tennessee-born LT. John Raymond “Dinty” Moore (USNA 1929).

While most Sugar Boats still in the fleet in 1942 were relegated to ASW training and new submariner school tasks as well as defense of the Panama Canal Zone and Alaska, some were made ready to go to the West Pac and get active in the war. Though small and armed with obsolete torpedoes, a handful of Sugars– our S-44 included– were rushed to block the Japanese progress in the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands, until larger and more capable Fleet Boats (Balao, Gato, Tench classes, etc.) could be sent to the area.

First Patrol

Assigned to SUBRON Five, S-44 got underway from Brisbane for her patrol area on 24 April 1942, she haunted the Cape St. George area of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago for three weeks and reported a successful hit on a Japanese merchant of some 400 feet/4,000 tons on 12 May after a four-torpedo spread.

From Moore’s report: 

Post-war, this was confirmed to be the Japanese repair ship Shoei Maru (5644 GRT) returning to Rabaul after coming to the assistance of the minelayer Okinoshima, sunk by S-44′s sistership S-42 earlier in the day. Talk about teamwork.

USS S-44 returned to Brisbane on 23 May, just shy of being out for a month.

Second Patrol

After a two-week refit and resupply, S-44 left Brisbane again on 7 June 1942– just after the Battle of Midway– ordered to patrol off Guadalcanal where local Coastwatchers reported a Japanese seaplane base to be under construction. There, she compared the coastline to old Admiralty charts of the area and watched for activity, noting fires and shipping traffic. Midway into the patrol, the Sugar boat fired three torpedoes at a 200-foot/2,000-ton freighter with “69” on the side of her bridge and one visible deck gun.

From Moore’s report: 

This was post-war confirmed to be the Japanese auxiliary gunboat Keijo Maru (2626 GRT, built 1940) sent to the bottom about 12 nautical miles west of Gavutu, Solomon Islands.

As noted by DANFS:

The force of the explosion, the rain of debris, and the appearance and attack of a Japanese ASW plane forced S-44 down. At 1415, S-44 fired her torpedoes at the gunboat. At 1418, the enemy plane dropped a bomb which exploded close enough to bend the holding latch to the conning tower, allowing in 30 gallons of sea water; damaging the depth gauges, gyrocompass, and ice machine; and starting leaks. Her No. 1 periscope was thought to be damaged; but, when the submarine surfaced for repairs, a Japanese seaman’s coat was found wrapped around its head.

Two patrols, two kills under her belt, S-44 arrived back at Brisbane on 5 July.

Third Patrol

After three weeks of rest and airing out, S-44 headed North from Brisbane on 24 July, ordered to keep her eyes peeled off the New Britain/New Ireland area. After stalking a small convoy off Cape St. George in early August but unable to get a shot due to heavy seas, she began haunting the Japanese base at Kavieng Harbor on New Ireland. This, likewise, proved fruitless and she ranged the area until when, on the early morning of 10 August 1942 (80 years ago today), some 9,000 yards away, she sighted four enemy heavy cruisers steaming right for her.

What a sight it must have been!

Just 18 minutes later, having worked into a firing position for the oncoming column– over 30,000 tons of the Emperor’s bruisers in bright sunlight on a calm sea — S-44 fired all four tubes at the heavy bringing up the rear then dived deep to 130 feet. Four old reliable Mark 10s launched from just 700 yards did the trick.

Moore would later detail, “We were close enough to see the Japanese on the bridge using their glasses” and that the looming cruiser looked bigger than the Pentagon building. While submerged and listening, Moore would later say, “Evidently all her boilers blew up…You could hear hideous noises that sounded like steam hissing through the water. These noises were more terrifying to the crew than the actual depth charges that followed. It sounded as if giant chains were being dragged across our hull as if our own water and air lines were bursting.”

The details of action from Moore’s official report:

Post-war, it was confirmed this target was the Furutaka-class heavy cruiser HIJMS Kako, one of the four heavy cruisers of Cruiser Division 6 (along with Aoba, Furutaka, and Kinugasa) which just five hours before had jumped the Allied cruisers USS Astoria, Quincy, Vincennes, and HMAS Canberra off Savo Island, leaving all wrecks along Iron Bottom Sound. During that searchlight-lit surface action, Kako fired at least 192 8-inch, 124 4.7-inch, and 149 25-mm shells as well as ten Long Lance torpedoes, dealing much of the damage to the Allied vessels.

Furutaka Class Heavy Cruiser Kako pictured at Kure Naval Arsenal on March 30th, 1926

While Kako had received no damage at Savo, her meeting with S-44 was lopsided in the other sense.

As told by Combined Fleet: 

The Kawanishi E7K2 “Alf” floatplane from AOBA, patrolling overhead, fails to send a timely warning and at 0708 three torpedoes hit KAKO in rapid succession. The first strikes to starboard abreast No. 1 turret. Water enters through open scuttles of the hull as the bow dips and twists further within three minutes of being hit. The other torpedoes hit amidships, in the vicinity of the forward magazines, and further aft, abreast boiler rooms Nos. 1 and 2. KAKO rolls over on her starboard side with white smoke and steam belching from her forward funnel. An enormous roar ensues as seawater reaches her boilers.

At 0712, the Japanese start depth charging the S-44, but without success. S-44 slips away.

At 0715, KAKO disappears bow first in the sea to the surprise and dismay of her squadron mates. She sinks off Simbari Island at 02-28S, 152-11E. Sixty-eight crewmen are killed, but Captain Takahashi and 649 of KAKO’s crew are rescued by AOBA, FURUTAKA and KINUGASA.

“The S-44 (SS-155), vs HIJMS Kako. Patrolling off New Ireland, the veteran S-boat ambushes the enemy cruiser division at the entrance to Kavieng Harbor. Four torpedoes (range 700 yards) send Kako to the bottom, an 8,800-ton warship sunk by an 850-ton sub. This sinking of the first Japanese heavy cruiser avenged the defeat at Savo Island.” Drawing by LCDR Fred Freemen, courtesy of Theodore Roscoe, from his book “U.S. Submarine Operations of WW II”, published by USNI. Original painting in the LOC. 

S-44 returned to Brisbane, Australia, on 23 August 1942, where the sinking of Kako was a big deal for a Navy that had just suffered its worst night in history.

Truth be told, it was a big deal for the American Submarine Force as well.

In the first 245 days of the Pacific War, suffering from a mix of bad torpedoes (mostly the vaunted new Mark 14s) and timid leadership, U.S. subs had only accounted for nine rather minor Japanese warships, even though the Navy had no less than 56 boats in the Pacific at the beginning of the war and soon doubled that number:

  • Submarine I-73, sunk by USS Gudgeon, 27 January 1942.
  • Destroyer Natsushio, sunk by USS S-37, 9 February 1942.
  • Seaplane carrier Mizuho, sunk by USS Drum, 2 May 1942.
  • Minelayer Okinoshima, sunk by USS S-42, 11 May 1942.
  • Submarine I-28, sunk by USS Tautog, 17 May 1942.
  • Submarine I-64, sunk by USS Triton, 17 May 1942.
  • Destroyer Yamakaze, sunk by USS Nautilus, 25 June 1942.
  • Destroyer Nenohi, sunk by USS Triton, 4 July 1942.
  • Destroyer Arare, sunk by USS Growler, 5 July 1942.

Indeed, by that time in the war, the Japanese had only lost one heavy cruiser, Mikuma, which was finished off by carrier aircraft at Midway after she was crippled in a collision with another ship.

So of course, Dinty Moore earned hearty congrats and would eventually pin on a Navy Cross for S-44s action against Kako.

Captain Ralph W. Christie, USN, Commander Task Force 42 and SUBRON5 (left) Congratulates LCDR John R. Moore, USN, skipper of USS S-44 (SS-155), as he returned to this South Pacific base after a very successful week of patrol activity. (Quoted from original World War II photo caption) The original caption date is 1 September 1942, which is presumably a release date. 80-G-12171

Fourth Patrol

Dinty Moore would leave his first command to take control of the more advanced Sargo-class boat USS Sailfish (SS-192) and S-44 would head back out from Brisbane on 17 September with LT Reuben Thornton Whitaker as her skipper.

Dogged by Japanese ASW patrols as well as a persistent oil leak and a battery compartment fire, S-44 returned to Australia on 14 October after a 4,262-mile patrol with nothing to add to her tally board despite a claimed attack on an Ashashio-class destroyer that was not borne out by post-war analysis.

The boat needed some work, that’s for sure. She had spent 150 of the past 220 days at sea, with 120 of that on war patrol. She leaked and had numerous deficiencies, all exacerbated by repeated Japanese depth charging. Her crew, which was largely original men that had shipped out with her from Philadelphia in 1941, had lost up to 25 pounds apiece, and nerves were frayed.

Refit

On 4 November 1942, with LT Whitaker sent on to the Gato-class fleet boat USS Flasher (SS-249), S-44 was sailed for the East Coast via the Panama Canal under the command of LT Francis Elwood Brown (USNA ’33) (former CO of USS S-39) and slowly poked along until she arrived at Philadelphia Navy Yard in April 1943.

USS S-44 (SS-155) Underway off the Panama Canal Zone, circa February 1943, while en route to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for overhaul. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. 19-N-41382.

At PNSY, S-44 was reworked over the summer and picked up a 20mm Oerlikon as well as a JK passive sonar and SJ/ /SD radars.

USS S-44 (SS-155) Underway off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, after her last overhaul, on 11 June 1943. 19-N-46194

Same as above, 19-N-46193.

“S-44 (SS-155), was one of six E.B. boats extensively modernized during WW II. The refit included the installation of air conditioning, with the unit installed in the crew space abaft the control room, alongside the refrigerator. S-44 was fitted with radar (SJ forward, SD abaft the bridge), a loop antenna built into the periscope shears for underwater reception, & a free flooding structure carrying a 20-mm anti-aircraft gun, with a box for 4-in ready-service ammunition below it. A JK passive sonar, probably installed at Philadelphia during a refit between November & December 1941, was located on the forward deck. On the keel below it was a pair of oscillators.” Drawing by Jim Christley. Text courtesy of U.S. Submarines Through 1945, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman. Naval Institute Press, via Navsource.

Fifth, and Final, Patrol

Departing PNSY on 14 June 1943, S-44 transited the Ditch once again and arrived at Dutch Harbor, Alaska on 16 September, with Brown still in command. After 10 days of making ready, S-44 sortied out past the Russian church on her 5th War Patrol on 26 September, bound for the Kuriles, where she never came back from, although two survivors eventually surfaced in 1945.

The story of what happened to her was only learned after VJ Day.

It is believed that S-44 was sunk east of the Kamchatka Peninsula by the Japanese Shimushu-class escort vessel Ishigaki.

As detailed by DANFS:

On the night of 7 October, she made radar contact with a “small merchantman” and closed in for a surface attack. Several hundred yards from the target, her deck gun fired and was answered by a salvo. The “small merchantman” was a destroyer. The order to dive was given, but S-44 failed to submerge. She took several hits, in the control room, in the forward battery room, and elsewhere.

S-44 was ordered abandoned. A pillowcase was put up from the forward battery room hatch as a flag of surrender, but the shelling continued.

Possibly eight men escaped from the submarine as she went down. Two, Chief Torpedoman’s Mate Ernest A. Duva and Radioman Third Class William F. Whitemore, were picked up by the destroyer. Taken initially to Paramushiro, then to the Naval Interrogation Camp at Ofuna, the two submariners spent the last year of World War II working in the Ashio copper mines. They were repatriated by the Allies at the end of the war.

Epilogue

S-44 remains one of the Lost 52 U.S. submarines from WWII still regarded on eternal patrol.

S-44 was one of six Sugar Boats lost during WWII. Their names here are inscribed on a memorial at the USS Albacore Museum in New Hampshire. Similar memorials are located in all 50 states. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery USS S-44 memorial in Illinois, installed in 2003 by Members of U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War Two

Thus far, her wreck, believed off Paramushir (AKA Paramushiro or Paramushiru) Island, has not been located and as that windswept volcanic rock has been occupied by the Russians since August 1945, she likely will never be discovered.

S-44’s war records from August 1941 – October 1942, including her first four War Patrols, have been digitized and are in the National Archives. She earned two battle stars during World War II.

She was remembered in postal cachets on the 40th anniversary of her loss when the USPS issued an S-class submarine stamp in 2000, among others. 

For what it is worth, her killer, the escort Ishigaki, was herself sent to the bottom by the American submarine USS Herring (SS-233) in May 1944.

S-44’s most famous skipper, Dinty Moore, would command Sailfish on that boat’s 6th, 7th, and 8th War Patrols, sinking the Japanese merchant Shinju Maru (3617 GRT) and the Japanese collier Iburi Maru (3291 GRT) in 1943. He would join Admiral Lockwood’s Roll of Honor in 1944 and ultimately retire as a rear admiral in 1958. The Navy Cross holder would pass at age 79 and is buried in Georgia. 

RADM Dinty Moore 11 Oct 1905-10 June 1985.

Of S-44’s five Fore River-built EB-designed sisters, all survived the war and gave a full 20+ years of service in each case. They conducted over 25 patrols, mostly in the West Pac, and claimed a half dozen ships with class leader S-42 being the most successful (besides S-44) with the aforementioned minelayer Okinoshima confirmed as well as an attack on a destroyer logged. All these sisters were paid off just after the war and sold for scrapping or sunk as a target by the end of 1946.

None of the 51 Sugar Boats are preserved. Those ancient bathtubs held the line in ’42-43 during the darkest days of the Pacific War and proved their worth.

The Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee post-war attributed 201 Japanese sunken warships, totaling some 540,192 tons, to American submarines.

Specs:

Displacement: 906 tons surfaced; 1,126 tons submerged
Length: 216 feet wl, 225 feet 3 inches overall
Beam: 20 feet 9 inches
Draft: 16 feet (4.9 m)
Propulsion: 2 × NELSECO diesels, 600 hp each; 2 × Electro-Dynamic electric motors, 750 horsepower each; 120 cell Exide battery; two shafts.
Speed: 15 knots surfaced; 11 knots submerged
Bunkerage: 46,363 gal
Range: 5,000 nautical miles at 10 knots surfaced
Test depth: 200 ft.
Crew: 38 (later 42) officers and men
Armament (as built):
4 x 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes (bow, 10-12 torpedoes)
One 4″/50 deck gun


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!

« Older Entries