Tag Archives: USS Spearfish

What a 20-pack of diesel boats look like in hard storage

Here we see at least 20 inactivated boats of the WWII-era Salmon/Sargo, Gato, and Balao classes at rest at Mare Island, California on 3 January 1946.

Click to bigup

Click to bigup USN photo # 17-46, courtesy of Darryl L. Baker. Text courtesy of David Johnston, USNR. Photo via Navsource

Front row left to right: Sand Lance (SS-381), next two could be Sealion (SS-315) and Seahorse (SS-304), Searaven (SS-196), Pampanito (SS-383), Gurnard (SS-254), Mingo (SS-261), Guitarro (SS-363), Bashaw (SS-241).

Back row left to right: Unknown, Tunny (SS-282), next three could be Sargo (SS-188), Spearfish (SS-190), and Saury (SS-189), Macabi (SS-375), Sunfish (SS-281), Guavina (SS-362), Lionfish (SS-298),Piranha (SS-389).
The Scabbardfish (SS-397) is docked in ARD-11 on the other side of the causeway.

Although out of commission, most of these boats remained in pier-side service as classroom for Naval Reserve units for years and many returned to active duty in either the U.S. or allied fleets– in fact, two are still afloat today.

  • Sand Lance would be transferred to Brazil as the Rio Grande do Sul (S-11) in 1962 and struck ten years later.
  • Sealion who sank the Japanese battleship Kongō, would be recalled to operate in Korea and as a SEAL boat in Vietnam, would be struck in 1977 and sunk as a target off Newport on 8 July 1978.
  • Seahorse would never be beautiful again and would be sold for scrap, 4 December 1968.
  • Searaven, who tried to reinforce Corregidor, was A-bombed at Bikini then sunk as a target off southern California on 11 September 1948.
  • Pampanito has been a museum ship in San Francisco since 21 November 1975.
  • Gunard was sold for scrap, 29 October 1961.
  • Mingo was transferred to Japan in 1955 as the Kuroshio, then sunk as a target in 1973.
  • Guitarro was transferred to Turkey as TCG Preveze (S 340) and remained in service until 1972.
  • Bashaw was GUPPY’d and returned to service until 1969 then scrapped in 1972.
  • Tunny gave hard service in Korea and Vietnam, then expended as a target in 1970.
  • Sargo, another Corregidor vet, was scrapped in 1947.
  • Spearfish was likewise scrapped in 1947.
  • Macabi was transferred to Argentina as ARA Santa Fe (S-11) and remained in service until 1971.
  • Sunfish only left Mare Island again when was scrapped in 1960.
  • Guavina was converted to a submarine tanker (AGSS-362) and was to be used to refuel P6M SeaMaster strategic flying boats at sea. However, as SeaMaster never took off, she was scrapped sunk as a target off Cape Henry, 14 November 1967 (see below).
  • Piranha was scrapped in 1970 after 24 years at Mare Island.
  • Lionfish was brought back for Korea and after she was finally struck was donated to become a museum ship at Battleship Cove, Fall River, Massachusetts in 1972.
  • Scabbardfish was transferred to Greece as Triaina (S-86) and remained in service until 1980– the longest-serving of the above subs.
  • As for ARD-11, the Auxiliary Repair Dock, she was given to Mexico in 1974 and her final fate is unknown.
 USS Guavina (AGSS-362), refueling a P5M-1 Marlin flying boat off Norfolk, Virginia (USA), in 1955. Prior to World War II several submarines were fitted to refuel seaplanes. During the war, Germany and Japan used this technique with some success. After the war this technique was experimented with within the US Navy. It was planned to use submarines to refuel the new jet powered P6M Seamaster flying boats. As part of this program Guavina was converted to carry 160,000 gallons for aviation fuel. To do this blisters were added to her sides and two stern torpedo tubes were removed. When the P6M project was canceled, there was no further need for submarine tankers. This concept was never used operationally in the US Navy.


USS Guavina (AGSS-362), refueling a P5M-1 Marlin flying boat off Norfolk, Virginia (USA), in 1955. Prior to World War II several submarines were fitted to refuel seaplanes. During the war, Germany and Japan used this technique with some success. After the war this technique was experimented with within the US Navy. It was planned to use submarines to refuel the new jet powered P6M Seamaster flying boats. As part of this program Guavina was converted to carry 160,000 gallons for aviation fuel. To do this blisters were added to her sides and two stern torpedo tubes were removed. When the P6M project was canceled, there was no further need for submarine tankers. This concept was never used operationally in the US Navy.

The secret submarine blockade-runners of the PI

When World War II came to the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941, the U.S./Philippine forces under Gen. MacArthur (land and air) and the Navy’s Asiatic Fleet under ADM Thomas C. Hart seemed mighty enough for regional defense. Hart’s fleet, however, was a paper tiger, consisting of a couple dozen seaplanes, two cruisers, 13 destroyers, and a number of gunboats and auxiliaries.

What Hart did have was 29 submarines–, which would have been deadly effective had their torpedoes actually ran straight at the correct depths and detonated on impact.

As McArthur’s land and air forces were overwhelmed and pushed back, Hart was directed to fall back with the fleet to the comparatively safer waters of Australia and the Dutch East Indies. With the Japanese largely controlling the sea-lanes around Luzon and the skies above it, it was suicide to maintain surface ships in those waters.

Yet, with MacArthur’s troops cut off, Hart endeavored to attempt a force of blockade-runners to bring in vital food, ammunition, and medicine to the PI. While huge cash bounties offered to civilian sailors brought a few desperate souls to attempt the voyage in small freighters and coasters, these attempts inevitably either ended with mutinous mariners turning around short of the islands or with burnt-out hulks adrift and riddled with Japanese shrapnel.

But what about those 29 submarines?

Well, a lot of these were small, cramped old boats including a half-dozen aging S-boats, slow 800-ton submersibles that dated to the First World War and were arguably obsolete even then. However, there were also a number of large and comparatively modern fleet boats of the Sargo, Salmon, and Porpoise-classes. These went some 2,000-tons and could range up to 10,000 nautical miles on their economical diesels.

USS_Seawolf; http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/08197.htm Port side view of the Seawolf (SS-197) underway off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 7 March 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. US Navy photo # NH 99549.

USS_Seawolf;  Portside view of the Seawolf (SS-197) underway off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 7 March 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. US Navy photo # NH 99549.

It was with this in mind that the Asiatic Fleet’s subs started to run the Japanese gauntlet from Australia and Java into the Philippine archipelago. Over a 45-day period, at least nine made it all the way to Manila and the last U.S. stronghold in Luzon at the “Rock” of Corregidor.

Carrying antimalarial drugs, small arms and anti-aircraft ammunition, diesel for the island fortresses generators, and tons of all-important food, they unloaded these under cover of night and then evacuated the Philippines national treasury, 185 key personnel, codes, and vital records that could not fall into Japanese hands. On both the entry and exit they had to evade destroyer and aerial patrols, weave through minefields and navigate using primitive tools and often inaccurate charts, typically just surfacing at night.

Here is a brief rundown of those missions:

USS Seawolf (SS-197) a Sargo-class submarine, left Australia with 40 tons of ammo that consisted of 700 boxes of 50-caliber machine-gun bullets and 72 3-inch anti-aircraft shells. Arriving at Corregidor on January 17, she left with a cargo of submarine spare parts that had been left behind and 25 Navy and Army evacuees.

USS Trout (SS-202) a Tambor-class submarine barely in service a year before the war started, left Pearl for Manila with 3500 rounds of 3″ AAA ammunition for the Army gunners and unloaded them in Manila in early February. She then took on 20 tons of gold bars and silver pesos (all the paper money in the islands had already been burned), securities, mail, and United States Department of State dispatches, which she brought back to Pearl.

USS Trout (SS-202) unloads gold to USS Detroit (CL-8), March 1942 Photo #: 80-G-45971 USS Trout (SS-202) At Pearl Harbor in early March 1942, unloading gold bars which she had evacuated from Corregidor. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Trout (SS-202) unloads gold to USS Detroit (CL-8), March 1942 Photo #: 80-G-45971 USS Trout (SS-202) At Pearl Harbor in early March 1942, unloading gold bars which she had evacuated from Corregidor. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Sargo (SS-188), head of her class, offloaded her torpedoes (keeping only the war shots in her tubes) and took on 1-million rounds of .30 caliber ammunition which she landed in Polloc Harbor on Valentine’s Day 1942. On her return trip, she evacuated 24 B-17 specialists from Clark Field.

Swordfish (SS-193), entering Pearl Harbor prior to WW II. USN photo by Tai Sing Loo, courtesy of Scott Koen & ussnewyork.com.

Swordfish (SS-193), entering Pearl Harbor prior to WW II. USN photo by Tai Sing Loo, courtesy of Scott Koen & ussnewyork.com.

USS Swordfish (SS-193), this Sargo-class sub took the Submarine Asiatic Command Staff at Manila and headed for Soerabaja, Java, at the end of December, the last submarine to evacuate the Philippines with the fleet. She then returned to the islands with supplies and evacuated the President of the Philippines, his family, and select high-ranking officers as well as some Navy codebreakers in late February. She was on her way back with 40-tons of food crammed into every space when Manila fell and was ordered to abort.

USS Permit (SS-178), a Porpoise-class submarine, in December, embarked members of Hart’s staff at Mariveles Harbor and brought them to Java. On a blockade run return trip, she surfaced off Corregidor on the night of 15–16 March, took on board 40 officers and enlisted men (including 36 precious cryptanalysts from the vital cryptanalysts and traffic analysts intelligence station, CAST), and landed her cargo of ammunition. She endured a 22-hour depth-charge attack from three Japanese destroyers on her way back.

USS Seadragon (SS-194), a Sargo, on the night of 4/5 Feb in Manila Bay offloaded her cargo of vital radio gear and spare parts, as well as a portion of 34 tons of rations and almost 12,000 gallons of petroleum, then settled on the harbor floor during the day, then surfaced the next night and took aboard 25 high-value passengers including 17 CAST members, as well as 3000 pounds of crypto gear to include a vital “Purple” machine capable of deciphering the Japanese diplomatic code and made her getaway.

USS Sailfish (formerly the lost submarine USS Squalis) (SS-192), another Sargo-class boat, landed 1,856 rounds of 3-inch anti-aircraft ammunition while taking a moment out to pump four torpedoes into the 6,440-ton Japanese aircraft ferry Kamogawa Maru, who she mistook for the carrier Kaga.

USS Snapper (SS-185), a Salmon-class boat, brought 46 tons of food and 29,000 gallons of diesel oil into Corregidor on April 4, evacuated 27 personnel, and weaved her way back through the blockade, the last successful cargo landed on the besieged fort.

USS Spearfish (SS-190) another Sargo-class boat, unable to reach Corregidor proper to offload anything, surfaced in Mariveles Bay on May 3, just two days before the Rock fell. She took on the last Americans evacuated from that doomed fortress: 25 personnel, including 12 Army nurses. She was the last U.S. ship out of the Bay.

As an honorable mention, USS Searaven (SS-196), a Sargo-class boat, left Fremantle in Australia on 2 April with 1,500 rounds of 3-inch antiaircraft ammunition but was also diverted and failed to deliver any of the shells to Corregidor.

For more detail on this chapter in U.S. military history, try the U.S. Naval Historical Center and the U.S. Army Center for Military History.