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Albacore

 

The albacore is a small tuna found in temperate seas throughout the world. It is easily distinguished from other tuna by its pectoral fin. Albacore usually weigh between 40 to 80 pounds. The fish are also noted as rapid swimmers. Albacore is a popular food fish and is one of the most valuable for canning purposes. The albacore is also a fine sporting fish and struggles violently when hooked. The first Albacore retained her former name; subsequent ships were named for the fish.

 

II

 

(SS-218: dp. 1,526 (surf.), 2,424 (subm.); 1. 311'9"; b. 27'3"; dr. 19'3"; s. 20.25 k. (surf.), 8.75 k. (subm.); cpl. 60; a. 1 3", 4 mg. 1021"tt.; cl. Gato)

 

The second Albacore (SS-218) was laid down on 21 April 1941 by the Electric Boat Co., Groton, Conn.; launched on 17 February 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Elwin F. Cutts, the wife of Capt. Cutts; and commissioned on 1 June 1942, Lt. Comdr. Richard Cross Lake in command.

 

Following shakedown, the submarine proceeded via the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor and, from that base on 28 August, began her first war patrol which took her to waters of the north and northeast pass through the coral reef which surrounds the Truk Islands. On 13 September, Albacore sighted two cargo vessels sailing in a column formation and prepared for her first combat action. Lake made a submerged approach and fired three torpedoes at the leading ship and two at the second. One—or possibly two—torpedoes hit on the first ship; but none struck the second. Albacore claimed to have damaged the leading vessel.

 

Her next enemy contact came on 1 October when the submarine made a night surface attack on a Japanese tanker. She expended seven torpedoes and scored two hits. Although the tanker appeared to be low in the water, she was still able to leave the scene under her own power. On 9 October, Albacore spotted a Zuikaku-class carrier escorted by a heavy cruiser and a destroyer but was depth charged by the escorts and forced to break off her pursuit. The next day, she attacked a freighter. One torpedo hit the mark; and, 12 minutes after firing, the sound of two heavy explosions caused the submarine's crew to presume that they had downed the vessel.

 

Beginning at mid-morning on 11 October, Albacore underwent a series of depth chargings, all of which exploded close aboard. At 1548, the conning officer finally spotted the Japanese attackers, two submarine chasers and an airplane. A third ship equipped with sound gear joined the group and continued the hunt. The ships crisscrossed over Albacore close enough for propeller noise to reverberate throughout the submarine and compelled her to proceed under her most silent running conditions. All auxiliary systems were secured, off-duty men remained in their bunks, and all watch personnel were barefoot. After a chase of nearly seven hours, the Japanese ships disappeared astern, and Albacore then surfaced to clear the immediate area. On 12 October, Albacore headed for Midway. Although she had had several opportunities to score during the patrol, Albacore was not credited with any damage to Japanese shipping. The submarine arrived at Midway on 20 October and commenced a refit.

 

With her refurbishing completed and a new 20-millimeter gun installed, Albacore sailed on 11 November for her second patrol. Her assigned areas were the Roger St. George's Channel, New Britain; along the east coast of New Guinea to Vitiaz Strait; and the Dallman Pass off Madang harbor, New Guinea. On 24 November, the submarine spotted a convoy of two cargo vessels and their escorts. Albacore maneuvered into position and fired two stern tubes, but neither torpedo found its target. Two days later, on 26 November, Albacore herself became the quarry. Two Japanese destroyers depth charged her, and the explosions caused numerous small leaks around the cable packing glands in the pressure hull. After a two-hour chase, the Japanese retired; and Albacore shifted her patrol area to Vitiaz Strait. Another golden opportunity arose on 13 December, when Albacore found three Japanese destroyers. She released a three-torpedo spread but again was unsuccessful. On 18 December, Albacore was stationed in the area of Madang, New Guinea. The submarine discovered what seemed to be a transport and a destroyer.

Albacore torpedoed the "transport," and it exploded in a mass of flames and sank. Albacore had in fact downed the light cruiser Tenryu, a 3,300-ton vessel and the second Japanese cruiser sunk by an American submarine in World War II. Albacore put into port at Brisbane, Australia, on 30 December 1942.

 

After an overhaul of her engines, Albacore got underway on 20 January 1943 to begin her third patrol. Off the north coast of New Guinea, she spotted 11 targets in as many days. The first group, encountered on 20 February, consisted of a destroyer and a frigate escorting a minelayer. Albacore fired 10 torpedoes and believed she had downed the destroyer and damaged the frigate. In the following days, Albacore attacked one tanker, several freighters, and another destroyer. Of eight torpedoes expended during these actions, all missed their targets. When Albacore ended her patrol at Brisbane on 11 March, she was credited with sinking one destroyer and a frigate for a total of 2,250 tons lost.

 

Albacore was briefly drydpcked for repairs and underwent refresher training before sailing for a fourth patrol on 6 April. This time, her area was around the Solomon and Bismarck Islands and off the north coast of New Guinea. While she sighted several convoys, she recorded no hits. Albacore returned to Brisbane on 26 May. While Albacore was being refitted at that port, Lt. Comdr. Oscar E. Hagberg relieved Lt. Comdr. Lake in command of the submarine.

 

On 16 June, Albacore was underway for her fifth patrol and waters surrounding the Bismarck and Solomon Islands. During this patrol, she sighted three separate convoys and attacked two. Albacore claimed to have damaged a transport on 19 July, but the submarine failed to sink any vessels. Albacore arrived back at Brisbane and began a refit alongside Fulton (AS-11).

 

On 23 August, Albacore left to patrol roughly the same area as on her previous assignment. She spotted a Japanese submarine on 31 August but was unable to press home an attack. On 4 September, she encountered a two-ship convoy protected by two escorts and sank one of the ships, Heijo Maru, with three torpedo hits made shortly after the initial contact. The submarine then pursued the other vessel for the next two days but was able only to inflict minor hull damage on her target. She terminated her patrol at Brisbane on 26 September.

 

Albacore's seventh patrol began on 12 October. She fired six torpedoes at a large merchant ship on 25 October but recorded no hits. On 6 November, she received a report of a convoy, which had been spotted by Steelhead (SS-280), and began to search for it. On the 8th, the submarine found the convoy and started to track it. However, a plane from the 5th Air Force bombed her and caused her to lose contact with the Japanese ships. The submarine sustained no damage from this attack. Albacore was again bombed by an American aircraft on 10 November. This time, the submarine suffered considerable damage. All auxiliary power was knocked out, and the submarine was plunged into total darkness. The main induction valve went under before it was shut and began filling up with water. Albacore plunged to a depth of 450 feet before her dive was checked. For the next two and one-half hours, she bounced between 30 feet and 400 feet while at various attitudes. She finally managed to return to the surface with her trim almost restored. The submarine resubmerged, and it was decided to continue the patrol while simultaneously making necessary repairs.

 

Following this ordeal, Albacore received orders to locate and attack the light cruiser Agano, which had been hit and damaged by Scamp (SS-277). Albacore found Agano on 12 November and tried to attack, but Japanese destroyers held the submarine down with a four-hour depth charge barrage. On her return to Brisbane on 5 December, Lt. Comdr. James W. Blanchard relieved Hagberg of command.

 

Albacore departed Australia on the day after Christmas 1943 to patrol north of the Bismarcks. She spotted her first target on 12 January 1944 and sank cargo vessel Choko Maru with two separate torpedo attacks. Two days later, she blew up the destroyer Sazanami with four shots from her stern tubes. Following more than a fortnight of uneventful patrolling, the submarine headed home. She made brief fuel stops at Tulagi and Midway before reaching Pearl Harbor on 22 February. After three days of voyage repairs, Albacore continued on to the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., for overhaul.

 

Albacore left Mare Island on 5 May and held training exercises with Shad (SS-235) en route to Hawaii. The submarine reached Pearl Harbor on 13 May and spent the next two weeks on final repairs and training. Albacore began her ninth patrol on 29 May and was assigned waters west of the Marianas and around the Palaus. During the next few days, she made only one contact, a Japanese convoy which she encountered on 11 June. However, before the submarine could maneuver into attack position, a Japanese aircraft forced her to dive and lose contact.

 

On the morning of the 18th—two days after American forces began landing on Saipan—Albacore shifted from her position west of the Marianas to a new location 100 miles further south. Admiral Nimitz had ordered this move in the hope of enabling the submarine to intercept a Japanese task force under Admiral Ozawa reportedly steaming from Tawi Tawi toward Saipan. At about 0800 the next morning, 19 June, Albacore raised her periscope and found herself in the midst of Ozawa's main carrier group. Blanchard allowed one Japanese carrier to pass unharmed and selected a second one for his target. He fired six bow tubes. Three Japanese destroyers immediately charged Albacore. While the submarine was diving to escape, her crew heard one solid torpedo explosion. About that same time, 25 depth charges began raining down on the submarine. Then Blanchard heard "a distant and persistent explosion of great force" followed by another.

 

One of the torpedoes had hit Ozawa's flagship, the 31,000-ton carrier Taiho—the newest and largest floating air base in the Japanese fleet. The explosion jammed the enemy ship's forward aircraft elevator, and filled its pit with gasoline, water, and aviation fuel. However, no fire erupted, and the flight deck was unharmed. Ozawa was unconcerned by the hit and launched two more waves of aircraft. Meanwhile, a novice took over the damage control responsibilities. He believed that the best way to handle gasoline fumes was to open up the ship's ventilation system and let them disperse throughout the ship. This action turned the ship into a floating time bomb. At 1330, a tremendous explosion jolted Taiho and blew out the sides of the carrier. Taiho began to settle in the water and was clearly doomed. Although Admiral Ozawa wanted to go down with the ship, his staff persuaded him to transfer to the cruiser Haguro. After Ozawa left, Taiho was torn by a second explosion and sank stern first, carrying down 1,650 officers and men.

 

No one on Albacore thought Taiho had sunk. Blanchard was angry for "missing a golden opportunity." After this action, Albacore was assigned lifeguard duty for planes striking Yap and Ulithi. On 2 July, Albacore shifted over to intercept traffic between Yap and the Palaus. The submarine spotted a wooden, inter-island steamer loaded with Japanese civilians. Blanchard decided to stage a surface gun attack. After insuring the ship was afire, Albacore dived to avoid an airplane. The submarine surfaced soon thereafter and picked up five survivors.

 

Albacore put in to Majuro on 15 July. She was praised for an aggressive patrol and received credit for damaging a Shokaku-class carrier. American codebreakers lost track of Taiho after the Battle of the Philippine Sea and, while puzzled, did not realize that she had gone down. "Months and months went by," Blanchard recalled. "Then they picked up a POW someplace who said Taiho went down in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Even then,intelligence was doubtful. So I said, 'Keep him alive until he convinces them.'" After confirmation finally had been obtained, Blanchard was awarded a Navy Cross.

 

After a refit alongside Bushnell (AS-15), the submarine began her 10th patrol on 8 August. Her assignment was the Bungo Suido-Kii Suidp area; and, during this period, Albacore was credited with sinking two Japanese vessels, a cargo ship and a submarine chaser. The patrol ended at Pearl Harbor on 25 September.

 

Albacore left Pearl Harbor on 24 October, topped off her fuel tanks at Midway on 28 October, and was never heard from again. According to Japanese records captured after the war, a submarine assumed to be Albacore struck a mine very close to the shore off northeastern Hokkaido on 7 November. A Japanese patrol boat witnessed the explosion of a submerged submarine and saw a great deal of heavy oil, cork, bedding, and food supplies rise to the surface. On 21 December, Albacore was assumed to have been lost. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 30 March 1945.

 

Albacore won the Presidential Unit Citation for her second, third, eighth, and ninth patrols and nine battle stars for her service during World War II.

 

 

Albacore (SS-218) in Measure 9 camouflage (dull black) off Groton, 9 May 1942. Note the large conning tower and periscope sheers. (NH 57776)