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Warship Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020: The Empire Strikes Back

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020: The Empire Strikes Back

National Archives 80-G-703401

Here we see Balao-class fleet submarine USS Atule (SS-403), left, torpedoing ex-U-977 during weapon tests off Cape Cod, 14 November 1946. The (in)famous German boat was far from Atule’s only kill, although it was likely her easiest. However, in the end, she would meet a somewhat ironic fate that had, some contend, an aspect of divine intervention.

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, and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

The first (and only) U.S. warship named for the bluish-olive colored fish, Atule (SS-403) was laid down 25 November 1943 at Portsmouth; launched on 6 March 1944; and commissioned on 21 June 1944, LCDR (later RADM) John Howard Maurer (USNA 1935) in command. Maurer would be Atule’s only wartime skipper, coming to the new boat from a stint as Engineer Officer and later XO of USS Harder (SS-257) across three successful patrols that saw him receive the Silver Star.

Launch of USS Atule at the Portsmouth Navy Yard 3.6.44. NARA

Following a rushed wartime shakedown cruise and fortnight at the sonar school at Key West, Atule was soon off to the Pacific, leaving Pearl Harbor on her first patrol in company with sisterships USS Pintado (SS-387) and USS Jallao (SS-368) as a Yankee wolfpack on 9 October under the latter sub’s skipper’s nominal tactical control.

Aerial photo USS Atule (SS-403) 15 August 1944. Note she is just wearing her 5″/25 aft and two M2s on her sail, an armament that would soon be augmented with a 40mm and a 20mm. NARA 80-G-313787

Heading for patrol areas in the Luzon Strait and the South China Sea, partner Jallao bagged the Japanese Kuma-class light cruiser Tama (5,200 tons) on 25 October northeast of Luzon.

On Halloween night, it was Atule’s turn and she bagged a big one, stalking a large Japanese surface contact in a night surface radar attack and into All Saints Day.

From her Patrol Report:

0305 hours – In position 19°59’N, 117°25’E obtained radar contact bearing 225°, range 26000 yards. Started tracking.

0325 hours – Obtained radar contact on escort vessel.

0331 hours – Obtained radar contact on a second escort vessel.

0359 hours – Started attack, during the approach a third escort was sighted.

0432 hours – In position 20°09’N, 117°38’E commenced firing six torpedoes from 1850 yards. The target was a large passenger liner. Two torpedoes were seen to broach and then disappear.

0434 hours – A terrific explosion threw material three times the height of the target’s masts. Range to one of the escorts was only 1200 yards. Decided to dive. When clearing the bridge, a second torpedo hit the target. Atule dived to 450 feet.

0440 hours – 9 depth charges were dropped but they were not close.

0445 hours – Heard very loud and crackling breaking up noises on the bearing of the target.

0740 hours – Lost contact with the escorts.

The contact was the Japanese NYK liner Asama Maru (16,955 GRT), escorted by two armed minesweepers and a torpedo boat.

Asama Maru was a beautiful ship that in her peacetime service had such personalities as Baron Nishi Takeichi, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Hellen Keller grace her decks. In wartime, she repatriated U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Grew and hundreds of American diplomats and their families back to the West before serving as a shuttle carrying up to 5,000 of the Emperor’s troops at a time to the front lines while hauling Allied POWs back on “hell ship” missions back to the Home Islands. While a troopship, she was armed with depth charges, listening gear, 8cm deck guns, and an assortment of AAA mounts.

Asama Maru and her sisters were literally page no. 1 in ONI 208J “Japanese Merchant Vessels,” hinting at how big a prize she was for American sub skippers.

When Atule found her, Asama Maru was carrying a mix of 1,383 military personnel, civilian employees for the military, and survivors from sunken Japanese merchant ships as well as 170 tons of iron scrap, 80 tons of hemp, 80 tons of raw rubber, and other items. As noted by Combined Fleets, “98 of 201 crew, 21 of 266 gunners and armed guards and 355 of 1,383 military personnel and passengers are KIA. Survivors are rescued by the three escort vessels.”

On 20 November, Atule drew blood once again, sinking the Japanese minesweeper W-38 (648 tons).

Just five days later, Atule haunted Japanese convoy MATA-34 just after midnight on 25 November, with six overlapping torpedoes from her bow tubes reaping the freighter-turned-sub tender Manju Maru/Santos Maru (7,266 GRT)  and the escort patrol boat No.38 (935 tons) in the same salvo. Santos Maru was carrying 2,400 troops and sailors including 430 survivors of the battleship Musashi. In the end, she took almost a third of those men to the bottom with her. As for No.38, it “disintegrated.”

Finally, Atule bagged a 4,000-ton freighter on 27 November, anchored between Dequey and Ibuhos Islands, Philippines. “Fired four bow torpedoes,” said her patrol report. The rest of the report was eloquent if terrifying:

Via NARA

Postwar, Atule was not given credit for the almost certain kill, although Nanko Maru No. 6, which went missing at about the same time, seems a good fit.

Wrapping up her first patrol at Majuro on 11 December, which ran 63 days/16,570 nm with a green crew (53 of 77 men were on their first patrol) and expended 22 Mk 18 torpedoes for 11 hits, Atule claimed five ships for a total of 26,600 tons. Postwar, this would be confirmed at four ships and 25,804, which is fairly close to the estimate tonnage wise.

Atule shipped from Majuro on her second war patrol on 6 January 1945, bound for the Yellow Sea. There, she sent the brand-new freighter Daiman Maru No.1 (6888 GRT) to the bottom on 24 January, having to break ice off her deck gun in the process. Not as exciting as her inaugural cruise, she ended her 2nd war patrol at Midway on 7 March.

Her third patrol left out of Midway on 2 April, tasked with lifeguard duties off the Japanese Home Islands which were under constant attack by Navy and USAAF planes, with her crew often taking the time to sink floating mines and wreckage found in her operational area and (unsuccessfully) stalk an elusive Japanese submarine near the Ashizuri lighthouse.

In a twist of irony– she would have many in her career– the only aviator she would rescue was a Japanese naval observer on 5 May. The observer was retrieved from the water from a downed Jake, which had been smoked by a passing B-29 gunner with spotting provided by the sub.

Once again, Maurer, Atule’s skipper– who was a near classmate of Robert Heinlein— showed his prose in detailing the scene in the patrol log.

“A thick wad of currency, a vial of perfume and several condoms showed he was ready for any eventuality.” (NARA)

Putting into Pearl Harbor on 30 May, she had some downtime to train and resupply, then left on her fourth patrol on 3 July– no Independence Day leave in Honolulu for them– bound once again for Japan’s front yard. On that cruise, in a night action across 12/13 August, she spotted two Japanese frigates, Kaibokan 6 and Kaibokan 16 (both 740 tons), sinking the former and damaging the latter with a brace of six torpedoes.

And that was it, the ceasefire was called on the 15th when Emperor Hirohito announced that his country would accept unconditional surrender. With that, she was ordered to terminate her patrol on the 45th day by COMSUBPAC and return to Pearl via Midway, arriving in Hawaii on the 25th.

By the end of August, even before the official surrender, she was headed to New London.

Reaching the East Coast, Atule was assigned to Submarine Squadron 2 and was used as a training and trial boat. In this role, she traveled to the Arctic in July 1946 as part of Operation Nanook in company with the icebreaker USS Northwind (WAG-282), two auxiliaries, and the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, the latter embarking PBM flying boats.

Atule off the northwest coast of Greenland, on 20 July 1946, during Operation Nanook. Note that she has her full AAA armarment on her sail. 80-G-636420

It was on this frozen trip along the coast of Greenland that she “reached latitude 79 degrees 11 minutes north in the Kane Basin, setting a record for the United States Navy,” and rescued a PBM that had to put down with engine trouble.

Then came her dramatic sinking of U-977, the Type VIIC that famously ignored the formal German surrender order for U-boat at sea on VE-Day and made for South America instead. The rouge boat entered the port of Mar del Plata, Argentina on 17 August 1945, some 108 days and more than 7,600 nm after it had departed Norway.

U-977 lies in in Mar del Plata, Argentina; rusty and weather beaten after 108 days at sea – Photograph courtesy of Carlos J. Mey – Administrator of the Historia y Arqueologia Marítima website http://www.histarmar.com.ar/ via U-boat Archive

In the end, turned over to the U.S. Navy and towed to Boston for a photoex, Atule sent her to the bottom in the test of a prototype steam-powered torpedo off Massachusetts.

View showing torpedoing of U-977 by ATULE (SS403) on 13 November 1946. As noted by the Navy: The pressure hull of U-977 has apparently been completely severed by the detonation and that the forward and after portions of the hull have jack-knifed. U-977 was a standard German Type VII-C design: length 220′-2″; maximum beam 20′-4″; diameter of pressure hull 15′-5″; pressure hull plating thickness .73″; and submerged displacement 880 tons. The torpedo used by ATULE was a Mark 14 body fitted with a Mark 16, Mod. 4 magnetic proximity-fuzed warhead containing 660 lbs. of Torpex and is believed to have detonated almost directly underneath the keel of U-977. This photograph demonstrates the great destructive power of torpedoes when used against unprotected ships such as submarines.

Her wartime service complete, on 8 September 1947, she was placed out of commission, in reserve, with the New London Group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Atule earned four battle stars for World War II service.

Her confirmed WWII tonnage tally stood at 33,379

Atule’s WWII battle flag eventually found its way to the USS Bowfin Museum in Pearl Harbor, where it remains on display today. Note the 51 mines zapped, the rescued Japanese flier chit, and four Rising Suns (Kyokujitsu-ki) and four Hinomaru flags for the eight ships she claimed sunk or damaged

As for Maurer, who earned the Navy Cross on Atule, he went on to hold two surface commands, including the cruiser USS Saint Paul, and be both COMSUBPAC and COMSUBLANT. His final assignment was as Commander of Naval Forces in Key West, retiring from the Navy in 1974.

When it comes to Atule’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

Rebirth

After three years on red lead row, Atule was towed to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard– her birthplace– for reactivation and conversion to a Guppy 1-A type submarine.

Of the 48 GUPPY’d WWII diesel boats that were given a second life in the Cold War, Atule was one of the first 10 IA series boats which recieved the most basic reboot when compared to the other Balaos and Tenches modified later.

Outfitted with a German-style snorkel not too different from the one the Navy inspected on U-977, and a streamlined superstructure sans deck guns, Atule rejoined the fleet a stronger, more versatile warship, recommissioned 8 March 1951.

GUPPY-1A USS Atule (SS-403). NHHC L45-15.02.01

For the next 19 years, she led a quiet life, participating in operations with Latin American allies in a series of UNITAS exercises, working with NATO allies on Mediterranean deployments as part of the 6th Fleet, visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras, training naval reservists, and, as part of SUBRON12, alternated duty at Key West with service at Guantanamo Bay supporting ASW training for the destroyer force while keeping an eye on Castro.

Reclassified AGSS-403 on 1 October 1969, Atule was decommissioned on 6 April 1970, and her name was struck from the Navy list on 15 August 1973.

In all, she had spent 29 years on the Naval List, with nearly 24 of those on active duty. Not a bad return to Uncle Sam for the $7,000,000 original cost to build her.

The GUPPY-1A entry from the 1973 Jane’s, listing Atule and the last four of her type in U.S. Navy service, USS Sea Poacher, USS Becuna, USS Blenny, and USS Tench, then in reserve.

Points South

Ex-Atule was sold to Peru in July 1974, and renamed BAP Pacocha (S 48), duplicating the name of an earlier boat used by the Marina de Guerra del Perú. She was sent south in tandem with BAP Pabellón de Pica/La Pedrera (SS-49), ex-USS Sea Poacher (SS/AGSS-406) after a refit. Atule/Pacocha was commissioned on 28 May 1974 into the MGP, where she continued her quiet life of training and exercises over the course of the next 14 years. Then came disaster.

On the evening of 26 August 1988, with a reduced crew of 49 men aboard, the 44-year-old submarine was operating on the surface with her hatches open when, just off the port of Callao, a 412-ton Japanese fishing trawler with a reinforced ice-breaking prow collided into her aft port quarter, opening her like a tin can with a 2 meter by 10 centimeters split in the pressure hull. Pacocha didn’t even have time to sound her collision alarm.

Via U.S. Navy Submarine Medical Research Labratory Special Report SP89-1

It was almost as if the ghosts of the Asama Maru, Santos Maru, and others, had returned as wraiths and exacted retribution for the Atule’s past actions.

Nonetheless, the Peruvians had a spirit of their own, it seems.

With the boat taking on water and three men dead, including the skipper, 23 submariners were able to scramble off the submarine before she raced for the bottom of the Pacific some 140 feet down. As the boat was drowning, Teniente Roger Cotrina Alvarado was somehow able to dog a partially flooded hatch to compartmentalize the sub’s forward torpedo room with 21 other survivors, a feat he chalked up to the help of Marija of Jesus Crucified Petković, a Croatian nun who had traveled extensively through Latin America helping the poor and sick.

A 61-page U.S. Navy report on the resulting rescue, compiled in 1989 through first-hand interviews, is fascinating but somewhat outside the scope of this. Suffice it to say, rescue divers were able to use the escape trunk in the forward torpedo room to retrieve the remainder of the crew 23 hours later in six groups, utilising Mark V dive lines.

Naturally, after spending almost a full day 140 feet down in a compromised atmosphere and making a swim to the surface with only the assistance of a rescue hood, most suffered from the bends, but in the end, only one perished.

As for Alvarado, a documentary was made of his efforts and his personal beliefs on the source of his “humanly impossible” strength that day.

Some 11 months after Atule/Pacocha hit the bottom, she surfaced again following 800 hours of work by Peruvian Navy salvage crews, raised on 23 July 1989.

Towed ashore and drydocked, she was studied for the effects of the ramming and sinking, then her hulk was cannibalized for spare parts for other Peruvian submarines.

In the U.S., Atule’s war engineering drawings, patrol diaries, post-war deck logs, and complete WWII muster rolls have been digitized and are online at the National Archives. A veteran’s group was active for several years, but their webpage has since been archived.

Eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is 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: 1,526 tons (surfaced), 2,391 (submerged)
Length: 311.7 ft.
Beam: 27 ft.
Draft: 13.75 ft.
Machinery: Fairbanks Morse diesel engines, 5,400 HP, fuel capacity, 116,000 gals.; four Elliot Motor Co. electric main motors 2,740 shp, two 126-cell main storage batteries, 2 shafts
Speed: 20.25 kts. (surfaced) 8.75 kts. (submerged)
Endurance: 11,000 miles surfaced at 10 knots; submerged endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots; 75 days
Test Depth: 412 ft.
Complement: 6 officers, 60 enlisted
Radar: SJ
Armament:
1 5″/25cal deckgun, 25 rounds
1 40mm/60 Bofors AAA
1 20mm/80 Oerlikon AAA
2 M2 .50-cal machine guns
10 21-inch torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft), 24 torpedoes
(Post GUPPY 1A)
Displacement: 1,870 tons standard (surfaced), 2,440 (submerged)
Length: 308.
Beam: 27 ft.
Draft: 17
Machinery: 3 Diesels; 4,800 bhp. 2 Electric motors; 5,400 shp, 2 shafts
Speed: 17 kts (Surfaced) 15 kts. (Submerged)
Endurance: 90 days
Complement: 8 officers, 73 men
Armament:
10 21-inch torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft) 24 torpedoes

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Warship Wednesday, June 26, 2019: The sub-smoking Greenfish of the Amazon

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, June 26, 2019: The sub-smoking Greenfish of the Amazon

Here we see into the sail of the Bahia-class submarine Amazonas (S16) of the Marinha do Brasil, in January 1985 as she was headed across the South Atlantic to the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. Her crew is participating in a swim call and the bluejacket is armed with an FN49 battle rifle, dubbed an FS in Brazilian service, on shark watch. While our hearty sub never saw active ship-to-ship combat, she had a long life and would go on to sink not one, but two submarines on her own accord.

A member of the 121-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were ‘fleet’ boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home. The Balao class was deeper diving (400 ft. test depth) than the Gato class (300 foot) due to the use of high yield strength steel in the pressure hull.

Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5,000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their deck guns. The also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

Some 311-feet long overall, they were all-welded construction to facilitate rapid building. Best yet, they could be made for the bargain price of about $7 million in 1944 dollars (just $100 million when adjusted for today’s inflation) and completed from keel laying to commissioning in about nine months.

An amazing 121 Balaos were rushed through five yards at the same time, with the following pennant numbers completed by each:

  • Cramp: SS-292, 293, 295-303, 425, 426 (12 boats)
  • Electric Boat: 308-313, 315, 317-331, 332-352 (42)
  • Manitowoc on the Great Lakes: 362-368, 370, 372-378 (15)
  • Mare Island on the West Coast: 304, 305, 307, 411-416 (9)
  • Portsmouth Navy Yard: 285-288, 291, 381-410, 417-424 (43)

We have covered a number of this class before, such as the rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish the long-serving USS Catfish and the frogman Cadillac USS Perchbut don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

Originally to be named Doncella (after a shovel-nosed catfish), the Balao that became the first warship named Greenfish (after a Florida ladyfish) was laid down at Electric Boat Co., Groton, Connecticut, in June 1944– 75 years ago this week in fact– but came in too late for WWII service. She would be the 101st submarine to be launched at Groton.

Commissioned 7 June 1946, her shakedown cruises included one of the first transfers of personnel from an aircraft carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), to a submarine by helicopter.

Greenfish in her as-built WWII-configuration, shown off Groton, Connecticut, in October 1947. Note her forward and aft 5-inch guns as well as her 40mm and 20mm cannon on the sail. Courtesy of D.M. McPherson, 1974. Catalog #: NH 79772

Greenfish in her as-built late WWII-configuration, shown off Groton, Connecticut, in October 1947. Note her forward and aft 5-inch guns as well as her 40mm and 20mm cannon on the sail. Courtesy of D.M. McPherson, 1974. Catalog #: NH 79772

Another task during her shakedowns was to Deep Six the captured German unterseeboot, U-234, off Cape Cod, Mass, 20 November 1947.

A Type XB “cargo U-boat” U-234 left Germany in the last days of the war in Europe with a dozen high-level officers and advisors, technical drawings, examples of the newest electric torpedoes, one crated Me 262 jet aircraft, a Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb and 1,210 lbs. of uranium oxide. She never made it Japan as her skipper decided to make for Canada instead after the fall of Germany. Two Japanese officers on board committed suicide and were buried at sea while the sub– packed with her very important glow in the dark stuff– surrendered to the destroyer escort USS Sutton south of the Grand Banks, Newfoundland on 14 May, a week after VE Day.

Though other U-boats popped up after her (U-530 and U-977 arrived in Argentina in July and August 1945, respectively) U-234 has been called “The Last U-Boat” in at least two different documentaries about her voyage.

Anyway, back to our sub.

After logging at least three short “Simulated War Patrols” in the late 1940s, less than two years after she left EB, Greenfish was sent back for GUPPY IIA (Greater Underwater Propulsion Power) SCB-47 conversion.

This conversion included adding German-style snorkeling equipment, enlargement of her sail, removal of much of her deck armament, and doubling her batteries to increase her submerged speed and range. She landed her WWII listening gear for an updated type WFA active and JT passive sonar set.

Also, her four electric motors were replaced by two of more modern design. Some 22 U.S. boats got such a conversion.

As noted by Capt. Alfred Scott McLaren, USN (Ret.), in his memoir Silent and Unseen on Patrol in Three Cold War Attack Submarines, from his time on Greenfish:

The most significant modification within the submarine, or below decks, was to provide the capability to shift electrical connections among the four main lead-zinc batteries from a normal parallel to connection in series. This shift, used during maximum or flank speed operations only, provided sufficient electrical current, or amperage, to the two direct-drive electrical motors such that they could drive both propeller shafts at a sufficiently high RPM to attain underwater speeds in excess of twenty knots, providing the hull was free of the marine growth that normally accretes from long periods in port. Such high speeds provided a boat, when under attack, with at least one good opportunity to break free of enemy active sonar contact and escape from an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) surface vessel.

As for her accommodations, McLaren notes:

Crews of seventy-five to eighty men normally manned diesel electric submarines of this era. All submarines—as high-speed, deep-diving warships—are compact, and Greenfish was no exception. By necessity they use every inch of interior space, but without compromising their war-fighting capabilities. Approximately a tenth of crewmembers had to hot bunk: that is, they had to share their bunk with a fellow shipmate, with one man climbing into a bunk as soon as its previous occupant had vacated it. Most hot bunking took place in the forward torpedo room where the most junior members of the crew slept in side-by-side pan bunks, positioned on top of the torpedo reloads.

Although all boats of this era had heating and air-conditioning systems, the systems were notoriously ill-distributed through any given submarine’s interior, despite the improvements that had been made since the war. Adding to crew discomfort when on the surface was the fact that GUPPY submarines now had a rounded bow, versus the previous uplifted, pointed or fleet bow, causing the submarine to ride less comfortably than previously on the surface, particularly when heading directly into rough seas. Finally, none of these older submarines was particularly clean below decks. The need to cram more and more improved equipment within each submarine created innumerable and inaccessible dirt- and moisture-collection areas throughout the boat, especially in the bilges, which became breeding grounds for cockroaches.

Her reconstruction lasting some eight months, Greenfish emerged ready to fight as one of the most modern diesel boats in the world and, assigned to the Pacific Fleet, arrived at Pearl Harbor 25 November 1948 to go about her Cold War career.

Greenfish stepside sail

Note her streamlined GUPPY IIA profile, with her guns deleted and a step-side sail

When the balloon went up along the 38th Parallel, Greenfish sailed for Korean waters and completed a war patrol there, 31 January to 1 March 1952. Following this, she was one of the first boats to operate among the ice with the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Lab— perilous duty for a snorkeler.

She conducted her second Korean War Patrol 21 Aug – 12 Oct 1953

Then followed a pattern of local operations out of Pearl Harbor, “special operations,” exercises along the American West coast, periodic overhauls, West Pac cruises, exercises, and the like, for several years.

She also proved a platform for a new breed of Recon Marines from time to time.

Reconnaissance scouts of the 1st Provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force load into a rubber boat from Greenfish, a submarine of the Pacific fleet as they leave on a night mission against “enemy” installations on the island of Maui. The training afforded the Marines of the Task Force, which is based at the Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, is the most versatile offered to Marines anywhere October 7, 1954. Note the classic WWII “duck hunter” camo which had by 1954 been out of use for almost a decade except for special operations units. (Sgt D.E. Reyher DEFENSE DEPT PHOTO (MARINE CORPS) A290040.)

Night training launch from USS Greenfish 5.1.1953 via Force Recon Assoc

Night training launch from USS Greenfish 5.1.1953 via Force Recon Assoc

She would conduct at least six Special Patrols during this stage of her career:

Aug – Oct 1954
Oct – Nov 1955
21 Jul – 13 Sept 1956
3 Jun – 13 Jul 1958
17 -31 Jul 1958
Aug – Sept 1958

Stern view of four boats tied up in Pearl Harbor about 1959. Inboard to outboard are the Sabalo (SS-302), Carp (SS-338), Sterlet (SS-392) & Greenfish (SS-351).

Stern view of four GUPPY II boats tied up in Pearl Harbor about 1959. Inboard to outboard is USS Sabalo (SS-302), Carp (SS-338), Sterlet (SS-392) & Greenfish (SS-351).

Greenfish entered Pearl Harbor Shipyard 15 December 1960 for a FRAM (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) overhaul and extensive conversion to a GUPPY-III (SCB 223) class ship. This included cutting Greenfish in half and adding a 15-foot plug to her of hull to permit a new sonar room as well as space for more batteries and other equipment. She had one of her diesels removed to accommodate more A/C capacity and a larger freshwater distiller. She also picked up a BQG-4 PUFFS passive ranging (attack) sonar, with its distinctive three topside “shark fins.” Gone was her late 1940s WFA & JT sonars, replaced with PUFFS and augmented with a BQR-2B passive search sonar and BQS-4 active search sonar.

Only nine U.S. subs got the full GUPPY III treatment.

USS Greenfish (SS-351) with the shark fin arrays with the standard BQG-4 PUFFS system. This photo was taken in the 1960's timeframe. Text courtesy of QM2(SS) David Johnston, USNR. USN photo courtesy of http://ussubvetsofwwii.org

USS Greenfish (SS-351) with the shark fin arrays of the standard BQG-4 PUFFS system. Note her streamlined sail which had been raised an additional 5 feet to accommodate ever-increasing amounts of ESM equipment. This photo was taken in the 1960’s timeframe. Text courtesy of QM2(SS) David Johnston, USNR. USN photo courtesy of http://ussubvetsofwwii.org

Our still comparatively young boat, less than 13 years old, had by then been upgraded and converted extensively twice at this point. Her continued service included assignment to the 7th Fleet in Japan during the Cuban Missile Crisis, more periods of “special operations” which would result in a Navy Unit Commendation, ASW exercises, and, last but not least, a Vietnam patrol.

It is during this time that Greenfish counted her second “kill” when she torpedoed former Warship Wednesday alumni USS Barbero (SS/SSA/SSG-317) off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 October 1964, after that ship was stricken. Barbero was a Balao-class sistership.

Like the other WWII-era updated GUPPY boats, she was in the twilight of her U.S. service but had reached her prime.

Greenfish (SS 351) on Oct. 29, 1964, just three weeks after zapping sister ship Barbero. Photograph by Walter E. Frost City of Vancouver Archives

Greenfish at dock Dec. 2, 1967, Note her “E” swash on the sail and visiting Canadian Forces on deck. Photograph by Walter E. Frost, City of Vancouver Archives

Greenfish This submarine is shown underway in Subic Bay, Philippines, 28 October 1969. K-78775

Greenfish: This submarine is shown underway in Subic Bay, Philippines, 28 October 1969. K-78775

In 1970, Greenfish received a shipyard overhaul and was reassigned to Submarine Force Atlantic, making deployments to the Caribbean, the Med, and the North Atlantic for a northern European cruise as part of an ASW hunter-killer group together with the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (CVS-11). It was during this time she apparently carried a couple Mk. 45 ASTOR nuclear torpedos.

Finally, Greenfish was decommissioned and struck from the US Naval Register on the same day, 29 October 1973, having completed 27 years of service for Uncle.

She had 16 skippers in U.S. service and made 2,600 dives while carrying the Union Jack:

CDR Ralph M. METCALF, USN 7 JUN 1946-27 JUN1947
CDR Robert C. GIFFIN, USN 27 JUN 1947-20 JUL1949
LCDR Murray B. BRAZEE, Jr., USN 20 JUL 1949-29 AUG1951
LCDR William P. W WILLIS, Jr., USN 29 AUG 1951-18 APR1953
LCDR Davis E. BUNTING , USN 18 APR 1953-10 JUL1954
LCDR James H. STEVENS, Jr. , USN 10 JUL 1954-23 JUN1956
LCDR John T. KNUDSEN, USN 23 JUN1 956-16 JUL1958
LCDR John A. Davis, Jr. , USN 16 JUL 1958-18 JUN1960
LCDR Homer R. BIVIN, USN 18 JUN 1960-7 JUL1962
LCDR John W. HEMANN, USN 7 JUL1962-10 JUL1964
LCDR Samuel L. CHESSER, USN 10 JUL1964-23 JUN1966
LCDR Robert C. BLANCHARD, USN 23 JUN 1966-13 MAR1968
LCDR Mark W. BYRD, USN 13 MAR 1968-7 APR 1970
CDR Karl L. PETERSON, USN 7 APR 1970-4 JAN 1972
CDR Kent B. LAWRENCE, USN 4 JAN 1972-26 OCT 1973
CDR Robert K. SLAVEN, Jr. , USN 26 OCT1973-19 DEC 1973

However, she was only halfway through with her career.

On 19 December 1973, she was transferred under terms of the Security Assistance Program to Brazil, where she was rechristened as the submarino Amazonas (S-16), the 8th such Brazilian warship to carry the name of that nation’s iconic river system.

Lt. Robert Wolfe, who was on board Greenfish for two years in the end her U.S. Navy career up to the transfer, was interviewed by the United States Navy Memorial in 2018 about the handover, being one of about a quarter of the crew who assisted with the physical transition.

The Brazilian Navy has long lived the words of Tenente Naval Engineer Emílio Julio Hess who said, “É o valor militar que justifica o submarino e define sua importância como arma de guerra” (It is the military value that justifies the submarine and defines its importance as a weapon of war.)

The Latin American nation has been in the submarine biz for 105 years, first contracting with the Italian firm of Fiat-Laurenti to craft three submersibles– F1, F3, and F5— commissioned 17 July 1914.

First Brazilian submarines: F1, F3, and F5, circa 1914.

After these three, Rio ordered a further four larger subs from the Italians in the 1930s including a Balilla-class and three Perla-class boats, which they used through WWII.

In 1957, the Brazilians went American by borrowing the Gato-class fleet boats USS Muskellunge and USS Paddle for five years under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program before turning them back in in 1963 for a pair of Balao-class boats: USS Plaice (SS-390), and USS Sand Lance (SS-381).

During  the 1972-73 time frame, Brazil pumped up their sub fleet with five surplus GUPPY II boats: USS Sea Leopard (SS-483), USS Amberjack (SS-522), USS Dogfish (SS-350), USS Odax (SS-484), and USS Grampus (SS-523) while Greenfish joined another GUPPY III, USS Trumpetfish (SS-425), as a pair of new British-made O-class subs were being built.

Greenfish/Amazonas went on to put in two decades with the Brazilians– including a 1985 African cruise, shown in the shark bait swim pic at the top of this post.

Amazonas na Baia da Guanabara, note red sail numbers and PUFFS system. Via naval.com.br

She took part in regular UNITAS operations, observed the British build up for the Falklands War, and, as noted by a former skipper, continued to carry old Mk 14 semi-straight running torpedoes and conduct (sometimes risky) dives to 400 feet well into her final years.

Greenfish/Amazonas struck from the fleet on 15 October 1992 but continued to serve as a museum boat at the Centro Historico da Marinha in Rio de Janeiro until 2004 when she was sold for scrap, as her condition had deteriorated.

Scrapping ex-Greenfish, Aft via HNSA

As such Greenfish/Amazonas outlasted five of Brazil’s six U.S. smoke boats, as Grampus and Odax were retired in 1981, Dogfish was scrapped in 1983, Amberjack in 1987, and Trumpetfish left the fleet in 1990. Sea Leopard endured as a pier side training vessel until 1993.

Greenfish is well remembered in maritime art.

USS 351 USS Greenfish loading a torpedo by John Houlden NHHC

USS Greenfish (SS-351) in Drydock – Bow by Jonathan Scott NHHC Accession Number 88-160-EG

Crew of Greenfish Shape-Up on Deck, December 16, 1970. Painting, Acrylic on Paper; by Dante H. Bertoni 88-161-aq

The crew of Greenfish Shape-Up on Deck, December 16, 1970. Painting, Acrylic on Paper; by Dante H. Bertoni NHHC 88-161-aq

Although Greenfish is no longer afloat– and her name was never reused– eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also on borrowed time)
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

As for Greenfish‘s final home country, currently, the Brazilians field five German Tupi-class (Type 209) SSKs commissioned between 1989 and 2005, which are slated to be replaced by five Riachuelo-class (French Scorpene type) submarines in the near future.

Brazilian submarine Tupi class S30 SSK German Type 209 frogmen commando swimmers

Brazilian Tupi (S30) a German Type 209 SSK, with frogmen commando swimmers. The more things change…

Meanwhile, the name Amazonas has been reissued a ninth time by the Marinha do Brasil, to a British-built corvette (P120) commissioned in 2012.

Specs:
Displacement:
1,848 tons (1,878 t) surfaced (as built); 1,870 GUPPY IIA; 1,975 GUPPY III
2,440 tons (2,479 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft as built; 307 ft. GUPPY IIA; 322 ft. GUPPY III
Beam: 27 ft 4 in
Draft: 17 ft
Propulsion:
(1945)
4 × General Motors Model 16-278A V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
4 × high-speed General Electric motors with reduction gears
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
(1949): Snorkel added, one diesel engine and generator removed, batteries upgraded to 504 cells, 2 electric motors
Speed:
(Designed)
20.25 knots surfaced
8.75 knots submerged
(Post-GUPPY)
Surfaced:
18.0 knots maximum
13.5 knots cruising
Submerged:
14.1 knots for a ½ hour
8.0 knots snorkeling
3.0 knots cruising
Range: 11,000 nautical miles surfaced at 10 knots
Endurance:
48 hours at 2 knots submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)
Complement:10 officers, 70–72 enlisted
Armament:
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
6 forward, 4 aft
24 torpedoes
2 × 5-inch (127 mm) /25 caliber deck guns (removed for GUPPY)
1x Bofors 40 mm and 1x Oerlikon 20 mm cannon (removed for GUPPY)
two .50 cal. machine guns

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, Dec. 19, 2018: Nimitz’s pogy boat

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Photo by Harry Berns, Official photographer of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co., Manitowoc, WI., courtesy of Robert E. Straub, RM2SS, Guavina SS-362 (August 1944 to August 1946). Photo i.d. courtesy of John Hummel, USN (Retired). Via Navsource

Here we see the Balao-class diesel-electric fleet submarine USS Menhaden (SS-377) underway during sea trials in Lake Michigan, January 1945. One of 28 “freshwater submarines” made by Manitowoc in Wisconsin during WWII, she cut her teeth in the depths of the Great Lakes but was soon enough sent off to war. Before her career was said and done she would participate in three of them and help aid the next generation of bubbleheads well into the Red October-era.

A member of the 128-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.

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 5000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their 4-inch/50 caliber and 40mm/20mm AAA’s. The also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

We have covered a number of this class before, such as the rocket-mailing USS Barbero, the carrier-sinking USS Archerfish the long-serving USS Catfish and the frogman Cadillac USS Perchbut don’t complain, they have lots of great stories

Like most pre-Rickover submarines, the subject of our tale today was named for a fish. Menhaden, commonly called pogy, is a small and greasy fish of the herring family found in the Lakes, as well as in the Atlantic and Gulf. Where I live in Pascagoula, we have a menhaden plant that processes boatloads of these nasty little boogers to mash for their oil, which is later used in cosmetics (remember that next time you see lipstick) and for fish oil supplements.

I give you, menhaden, in its most common form…I take it every day. Omegas and all that.

Her insignia, like almost all those on the WWII fish boats, is great.

Insignia: USS MENHADEN (SS-377) Caption: This emblem originated in 1944, prior to MENHADEN’s commissioning. It features a fish wearing an Indian war bonnet and carrying a tomahawk with a torpedo for a head. The idea for this design developed because the Menhaden fish was a staple food of the Manitowoc Indians. The ship was built at Manitowoc, Wisconsin. This embroidered patch emblem was received from USS MENHADEN in 1969. Description: Catalog #: NH 69767-KN

Laid down by Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co., Manitowoc, Wis., 21 June 1944, USS Menhaden was commissioned 366 days later 22 June 1945, Navy Cross recipient CDR David H. McClintock in command.

Menhaden, the last of the Manitowoc‑built boats to have commissioned service during World War II, trained in Lake Michigan until 15 July. Thence, she was floated down the Mississippi River to New Orleans where she departed for the Canal Zone on 27 July. She conducted extensive training out of Balboa during the closing days of the war against Japan, and between 1 and 16 September cruised to Pearl Harbor for duty with SubRon 19. Photo via Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

While she may have been commissioned (as it turns out) too late for the war, her crew was far from green.

USS Darter (SS-227), a Gato-class submarine commissioned in 1943, in her 13 months of existence won a Navy Unit Commendation and four battle stars across a similar number of war patrols, credited with having sunk a total of 19,429 long tons (19,741 t) of Japanese shipping. While a part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Darter sank the massive 15,000-ton Japanese heavy cruiser Atago and seriously damaged her sister, the cruiser Takao, directly impacting the outcome of the fleet action. However, she paid a price and, hard aground in the Philippines, had to be abandoned.

USS DARTER (SS-227) Caption: Aground on Bombay Shoal, off southwest Palawan. Note damage caused by her crew’s attempts to scuttle her. DARTER had gone aground on 24 October 1944, after a successful attack on the Japanese fleet, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. From U.S. Submarine Losses, World War II, page 113. #: NH 63699

In order to retain their high esprit de corps, the entire Darter crew was ordered to Wisconsin to take over Menhaden, fleshed out by 20 new blue jackets.

As it turned out, this gave the new ship with her crack crew of salty veterans a unique rendezvous with destiny.

You see some four years prior, at Pearl Harbor just three weeks after the bloody attack that crippled the U.S. battleship force in the Pacific, Adm. Chester William Nimitz, Sr. (USNA 1905), who cut his teeth on cranky early submarines before the Great War and by 1939 was the chief of the Bureau of Navigation, assumed command of the U.S Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) on the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, replacing the outgoing Adm. (reduced to RADM) Husband Edward Kimmel. As a nod to his early days (and because no battleships were available), Nimitz hoisted his flag first on the Tambor-class submarine USS Grayling (SS-209).

USS Grayling (SS-209). The signed inscription reads, “At Pearl Harbor on 31 Dec. 1941 hoisted 4-star Admiral’s flag on U.S.S Grayling and took command of U.S. Pacific Fleet. C.W. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, USN” NH 58089

Nimitz, of course, would be slightly better remembered than Kimmel and would hold his job until replaced at Thanksgiving 1945 by ADM Raymond A. Spruance. That’s where Menhaden comes in.

Arriving at Pearl on 16 Sept 1945 after their trip down the Mississippi River to New Orleans from the Great Lakes and a run through the Canal, Menhaden was chosen to host the change of command between Nimitz and Spruance.

As noted by the Navy,

Although untried in combat, she was one of the newest boats in the Submarine Service and incorporated the latest improvements in submarine design and equipment. Moreover, her “gallantly battle‑tested” crew epitomized the “valor, skill, and dedicated service of submariners” during the long Pacific war. Thus, on her deck that morning Fleet Admiral Nimitz read his orders assigning him to duty as Chief of Naval Operations, and his relief, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, read orders making him CINCPAC and CINPOA.

In a change of command ceremony, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, is relieved as Commander-in-Chief Pacific-Pacific Ocean Area (CINCPAC-CINCPOA) by Admiral Raymond A. Spruance on board USS MENHADEN (SS-377) moored at Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, 24 November 1945. Shown here boarding the submarine is Fleet Admiral Nimitz followed by Admiral Spruance. the sub on the opposite side of the pier is USS DENTUDA (SS-335). Description: Catalog #: NH 62274

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance relieves Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, as Commander-in-Chief Pacific-Pacific Ocean Area (CINCPAC-CINCPOA)onboard USS MENHADEN (SS-377) moored at Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, 24 November 1945. Standing in line, L To R, are Vice Admiral J.H. Newton, Vice Admiral C.H. McMorris, Rear Admiral D.C. Ramsey, Commander James Loo, and Lieutenant Sam L. Bernard. All USN. Here, Admiral Spruance reads his orders. Description: Catalog #: NH 62272

USS MENHADEN (SS-377) Caption: In Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 24 November 1945, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, hoisted his 5-star flag on MENHADEN and turned over command of U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean areas to Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN. The writing on the photo is Fleet Admiral Nimitz’s. Description: Catalog #: NH 58081

The brand-new submarine and her crew of vets operated out of Pearl Harbor for just four months then received orders for San Francisco where she was decommissioned 31 May 1946 and mothballed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet after less than a year of active duty.

In 1951 the still “new-old-stock” fleet boat was taken back out of storage for use in Korea, recommissioning at Mare Island 7 August 1951, earning the Korean Service Medal and UN Service Medal.

However, as before, she didn’t get any licks in and remained on the West Coast for most of the conflict, converting the next year to a “Guppy IIA” modification, which she would carry the rest of her career. Nimitz attended the recommissioning ceremony as an honored guest, the second time the young boat would fly the flag of a five-star admiral.

USS MENHADEN (SS-377) Caption: Off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, California, 4 May 1953, after her “Guppy 11A” conversion. Note change in the sail, the addition of a snorkel, and removal of deck guns, etc. Description: Catalog #: NH 90862

After her first West Pac deployment starting in Sept. 1953– picking up the China Service Medal for services to the Chinese Nationalist Navy Vessels in Formosa– Menhaden would rotate back and forth between training operations off California and patrols in the troubled waters off Korea and Taiwan, keeping tabs on Chinese and Soviet assets in the region and just generally serving as “the powerful seagoing arm of freedom in the Far East,” as DANFS notes. She completed four lengthy West Pac deployments by 1964.

Menhaden (SS-377) underway, c. 1961. Her sail would later be further streamlined. via Navsource

Then came two tours in the waters off Vietnam (Nov 1964-May 1965 and Aug 1966-Feb 1967), seeing her active shooting war for the first time, and was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal with two campaign stars.

As far as WWII diesel boats, the late 1960s and early 1970s were not kind to them. The last two Gato-class boats active in the US Navy were USS Rock and USS Bashaw, which were both decommissioned Sept 1969. The last Balao-class submarine in United States service was USS Clamagore (SS-343), which was decommissioned June 1973. The final submarine of the Tench class, as well as the last submarine which served during World War II, in fleet service with the U.S. Navy, was USS Tigrone (SS/AGSS-419) which decommissioned June 1975.

That’s where Menhaden was given a reprieve of sorts, remaining in (sort of) service with the Fleet well past her sisters had gone to the breakers. Decommissioned 13 August 1971, her name was taken off the Naval List two days later and she was again in mothballs.

By 1976, she was transferred to the Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station in Keyport, Washington who would use her as a surface and submerged target ship for another decade. In this role, she had her engines and batteries removed and she was painted bright yellow.

A literal Yellow Submarine.

Under tow to the Naval Torpedo Station, Keyport, Washington, 28 December 1976, where it will be used as a surface and submerged target to obtain data on torpedo effects. The sub is painted yellow to enable easier damage assessment. Tug is a torpedo retrieval boat. KN-25569

Ex-Menhaden (SS-377) at the Explosive Handling Wharf, Naval Submarine Base, Bangor, Washington, in the early 1980s. Text courtesy of Dave Carpenter. Photo courtesy of Les Guille. Via Navsource

By the late 1980s, even Menhaden, known around Keyport as “The Hulk” was no more, and she was scrapped by 1988. As far as I can tell, she was the last WWII-era diesel sub in use by the Navy in any form.

A port bow view of the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Chicago (CG-11) laid up at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Washington (USA). To the left of Chicago is the submarine USS Menhaden (SS-377), another submarine and the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34). To the right is USS Hornet (CVS-12). National Archives and Records Administration cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 6450775. DN-SC-90-03977

Lots of remnants and tributes to the ship endure.

The National Museum of the Pacific War, home of the Nimitz Museum in Texas, has some artifacts from the Menhaden. There is an extensive crew/reunion site for the vessel (here) and a historical marker on the north bank of the Milwaukee River, on The Manitowoc County 28 Boat Memorial Walk, adjacent to her sister, the USS Cobia, at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

At the USS Bowfin submarine museum and park in Honolulu (a sister ship of Menhaden), they have a war-bonnet wearing pogy donated to the site by one of Menhaden’s skippers.

Via Bowfin Museum

From the Bowfin Museum:

The sub’s emblem displays the head of the fish Menhaden, decorated with a war bonnet that honors the Manitowoc Indians who used said fish for food and fertilizing their fields. Dale C. Johnson, who was one of USS Menhaden’s commanding officers (1964), was raised on the Yakima Indian Reservation, and when childhood friends learned of his occupation on such a boat, they arranged to have a war bonnet made and sent to Johnson and his crew. A pattern maker from USS Sperry carved the fish head, fin, and torpedo-tomahawk, which when added to the war bonnet, made the emblem three-dimensional and to be displayed on festive occasions. Commander Johnson has since donated his treasure to the USS Bowfin Museum and Park, where it is on display today

Although Menhaden is no longer afloat, 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 is, sadly, set to sink as a reef in the next few months)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also in poor shape)
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.

The Navy List has not carried the name of another Menhaden, which is a shame.

Her first skipper, CPT. David Haywood McClintock (USNA 1935) retired from the Navy in 1965 and died in 2002 at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Michigan, aged 89.

Specs:

Balao-Class USS Menhaden shown in model re-fitted as a remotely-controlled, unmanned acoustic test vehicle, known as the ‘Yellow Submarine’ serving with the Naval Underwater Systems Center until she was scrapped in 1988 Via ARC Forums

Displacement:
1,848 tons (1,878 t) surfaced
2,440 tons (2,479 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft
Beam: 27 ft 4 in
Draft: 17 ft
Propulsion:
(1945)
4 × General Motors Model 16-278A V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
4 × high-speed General Electric motors with reduction gears
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
(1953): Snorkel added, one diesel engine and generator removed, batteries upgraded
Speed:
(Designed)
20.25 knots surfaced
8.75 knots submerged
(Post-GUPPY)
Surfaced:
17.0 knots maximum
13.5 knots cruising
Submerged:
14.1 knots for ½ hour
8.0 knots snorkeling
3.0 knots cruising
Range: 11,000 nautical miles surfaced at 10 knots
Endurance:
48 hours at 2 knots submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)
Complement:10 officers, 70–71 enlisted
Armament:
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
6 forward, 4 aft
24 torpedoes
1 × 5-inch (127 mm) / 25 caliber deck gun
Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon
(1953)
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, small arms

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.

Warship Wednesday June 15, 2016: It’s you, you’re the rocket mail

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, June 15, 2016: It’s you, you’re the rocket mail

Source: NARA San Francisco, Mare Island Naval Shipyard Ship Files. USN photo # NY9-27726-1-56

Source: NARA San Francisco, Mare Island Naval Shipyard Ship Files. USN photo # NY9-27726-1-56

Here we see a port-quarter view of the Balao-class diesel-electric submarine USS Barbero (SS/SSA/SSG-317) at Mare Island on 18 January 1956. Though she served a hair over 20 years in the fleet, not a very long time at all, her appearance and mission morphed numerous times.

A member of the 128-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.

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 5000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their 4-inch/50 caliber and 40mm/20mm AAA’s. The also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

We have covered a number of this class before, such as carrier-sinking USS Archerfish the long-serving USS Catfish and the frogman Cadillac USS Perchbut don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

Laid down 25 March 1943 at General Dynamics Electric Boat, Groton, Connecticut, the hero of our tale, Barbero, was commissioned 13 months later on 29 April 1944, T/Cdr. Irvin Swander Hartman, USN, in command.

I can't find a good wartime profile of Barbero, but here is her most excellent sistership USS Baya SS-318, who was built the same week she was.

I can’t find a good wartime profile of Barbero, but here is her most excellent sistership USS Baya SS-318 in 1944, who was built the same week she was, for reference

Transiting the Panama Canal, Barbero arrived at Pearl and departed on her first war patrol 9 Aug 1944, headed for the Philippine Sea.

The only Japanese warship she spotted, an armed trawler in San Bernardino Strait, escaped harm but Hartman surfaced his boat and plastered the occupied Batag Island lighthouse over two nights 23/24 September, firing 58 rounds of 4-inch and some 40mm from a range of just 4,500 yards, peppering the keeper’s structures and extinguishing the light.

Barbero departed on her second war patrol 26 Oct 1944 from Freemantle, Australia and made for the South China Sea where on 2 November she attacked a transport and two escorts with seven torpedoes in a six-hour long-running battle, in the end sinking the Japanese army cargo ship Kuramasan Maru (1995 GRT, built 1927) in Makassar Strait in position 04°30’S, 118°20’E.

She followed this up a week later by splashing the merchant tanker Shimotsu Maru (2854 GRT, built 1944) in the South China Sea about 250 nautical miles west of Manila in position 14°32’N, 116°53’E.

Barbero closed out her patrol on the holidays with a sinking on Christmas Eve– the submarine chaser Ch-30 (built 1942) in the South China Sea in position 02°45’N, 110°53’E– and on Christmas itself of the transport Junpo Maru (4277 GRT, built 1911) about 30 nautical miles west-south-west of Kuching, Borneo in position 01°10’N, 108°20’E.

While returning to Freemantle, Barbero was attacked on the surface by aircraft and damaged, put out of action for the rest of the war, arriving at Portsmouth Navy Yard in May 1945 for repairs and refit. She won two battle stars for her brief wartime service.

With the end of the conflict, the need for a scratch and dent sub, though with low miles on her, was little, so she was placed in commission in reserve, 25 April 1946 at Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California.

There, Barbero was converted to an experimental cargo submarine (redesignated SSA-317) complete with forward and aft cargo booms.

The Navy had used submarines extensively to resupply Corregidor in early 1942 and the idea was that such a conversion could prove useful in the future– especially in resupplying isolated outposts and islands. For this conversion, she landed most of her deck guns and achieved a more streamlined topside.

USS BARBERO (SSA-317) Caption: Off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, California, September 1948, following conversion to a cargo carrier.Description:Catalog #: NH 90818

USS BARBERO (SSA-317) Caption: Off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, California, September 1948, following conversion to a cargo carrier. Catalog #: NH 90818

Using sling and cargo boom to lower cargo into LVT from Barbero (SSA-317) on 10 March 1949. USN photo # 80-G-422914 by PFC William R. Keating, from NARA, College Park, Maryland, courtesy of Sean Hert.

Using sling and cargo boom to lower cargo into LVT from Barbero (SSA-317) on 10 March 1949. USN photo # 80-G-422914 by PFC William R. Keating, from NARA, College Park, Maryland, courtesy of Sean Hert via Navsource

So converted, she was one of the first submarine force units to operate in the Arctic when in 1950 sistership USS Perch (APSS 313), and Barbero, conducted a joint reconnaissance patrol and simulated amphibious raid in the Bering Sea.

Perch, photographed from Barbero.

Perch, photographed from Barbero.

Returning from the Arctic, her conversion proved unsuccessful and she was decommissioned, 30 June 1950 then laid up.

Barbero (SS-317), pre 1950, place unknown note modifications

Barbero (SS-317), pre-1950, place unknown note modifications

In 1955, Barbero was the second of her class to be picked for conversion to a floating missile slinger (redesignated SSG-317), firing the immense 42-foot long SSM-N-8A Regulus submarine-launched, nuclear-armed turbojet-powered cruise missile.

SSM-N-8 REGULUS

Capable of carrying a Mark 5 nuclear bomb (120kt yield) or a ton and a half of high explosives, this updated buzz bomb could fly 600 miles and was reasonably accurate for the era.

An enormous hangar was built on her stern that held two of the big missiles and a trolley ramp to accommodate their undercarriage. Likewise, her aft tubes were removed to help trim weight.

Barbero (SSG-317) with a Regulus missile exiting from launcher.

Barbero (SSG-317) with a Regulus missile exiting from the launcher.

Recommissioned 28 October 1955, she embarked on life anew.

Barbero spent the next three years in the Atlantic performing deterrence patrols. Before moving to the Pac in 1959, she was designated an official U.S. Post Office for a brief experiment in Missile Mail.

You read that right.

On 8 June 1959, off the northern Florida coast, Barbero fired a red-painted training Regulus towards an impact zone at Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Mayport, Florida loaded with some 3,000 canceled pieces of mail. Just 22 minutes later, the inert missile landed on a cleared runway 100 miles away and its warhead compartment, containing officially marked Postal Service containers, was removed intact.

missile mail

Regulus 1 fired from Barbero

“Missile Mail” Regulus 1 fired from Barbero

Regulus I missile landing at Mayport, Florida

Regulus I missile landing at Mayport, Florida

Reporters and photographers patiently wait the removal of the first Missile Mail from Regulus. The missile was fired from USS Barbero (SS 317) and landed Mayport, Florida

Reporters and photographers patiently wait for the removal of the first Missile Mail from Regulus. The missile was fired from USS Barbero (SS 317) and landed Mayport, Florida

Summerfield removes mail from Regulus I after flight

U.S. Postmaster Gen. Summerfield removes mail from Regulus I after the flight

Letter carrier Noble Upperman places first guided missile letters in mailbag as other postal officials look on. Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield is to the right of Upperman holding the bag. The Regulus Missile fired from USS Barbero (SS 317) landed at Mayport, Florida. NHHC Photograph Collection, L-File, Weapons.

Letter carrier Noble Upperman places first guided-missile letters in mailbag as other postal officials look on. Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield is to the right of Upperman holding the bag. The Regulus missile fired from USS Barbero (SS 317) landed at Mayport, Florida. NHHC Photograph Collection, L-File, Weapons.

President Eisenhower (left) receives Regulus I mail from DC letter carrier Noble Upperman the day after the flight while PMG Summerfield (middle) looks on

President Eisenhower (left) receives Regulus I mail from DC letter carrier Noble Upperman the day after the flight while PMG Summerfield (middle) looks on

Regulus-03

Barbero‘s footnote in postal history complete, she chopped the Pacific where she conducted regular deterrent patrols until Regulus was retired in 1964 in favor of the new Polaris SSBNs.

With her reason for being gone and the Rickover Navy full steam ahead for atomic boats, the thrice-commissioned Barbero passed once again into mothballs on 30 June 1964 and was stricken the next day.

She was disposed of by the submarine USS Greenfish (SS-351)—a sistership– off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 October 1964.

Barbero remains the only ship in the fleet every named for the humble surgeonfish.

Few artifacts remain from her, though a special exhibit at the Smithsonian remembers her Missile Mail experience. It was the only time U.S. Mail has been delivered by missile.

Regulus I Missile Mail container. Third Assistant Postmaster General files, NPM, National Postal Museum. June 8, 1959.

Philatelic Cover from USS Barbero (SS 317) commemorating the first Missile Mail. The missile was fired from USS Barbero (SS 317) and landed Mayport, Florida. Courtesy of the National Postal Museum, Smithsonian.

Philatelic Cover from USS Barbero (SS 317) commemorating the first Missile Mail, complete with canceled postmark made aboard the sub. The missile was fired from USS Barbero (SS 317) and landed at Mayport, Florida. Courtesy of the National Postal Museum, Smithsonian.

Although she is no longer afloat, eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also on borrowed time)
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Specs:

balao16

Displacement, Surfaced: 1,526 t., Submerged: 2,424 t.
Length 311′ 10″
Beam 27′ 3″
Draft 15′ 3″
Speed, Surfaced 20.25 kts, Submerged 8.75 kts
Cruising Range, 11,000 miles surfaced at 10kts; Submerged Endurance, 48 hours at 2kts
Operating Depth Limit, 400 ft
Complement 6 Officers 60 Enlisted
Armament, (as built) ten 21″ torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 24 torpedoes, one 4″/50 caliber deck gun, one 40mm gun, two .50 cal. machine guns
(Regulus conversion)
1 × Regulus missile hangar and launcher
2 × Regulus I missiles
6 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes (forward)
14 torpedoes
Patrol Endurance 75 days
Propulsion: diesels-electric reduction gear with four Fairbanks-Morse main generator engines., 5,400 hp, four Elliot Motor Co., main motors with 2,740 hp, two 126-cell main storage batteries, two propellers.
Fuel Capacity: 94,400 gal.

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