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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
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Blackfish

Any one of several small, dark colored whales, especially the almost totally black pilot whale.

(SS-221: dp. 1,525 (surf.), 2,415 (subm.); l. 311’9”; b. 27’3”; dr. 16’10”; s. 20.25 k. (surf.), 8.75 k. (subm.); cpl. 80; a. 10 21” tt., 1 3”; cl. Gato)

Blackfish (SS-221) was laid down on 1 July 1941 at Groton, Conn., by the Electric Boat Co.; launched on 18 April 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Henry de F. Mel; and commissioned on 22 July 1942, Comdr. Raymond W. Johnson in command.


After three months outfitting and training, the submarine got underway on 19 October and proceeded to western Africa, where she conducted reconnaissance patrols off Dakar. The invasion of North Africa, codenamed Operation “Torch,” got underway on 8 November, and Blackfish patrolled the Senegalese coast on the lookout for Vichy French forces which might seek to reinforce their comrades in Morocco. Enemy traffic was light, but on 9 November, the submarine attacked a Vichy French convoy of three cargo ships escorted by one destroyer, damaging one of the cargo ships. In retaliation, the escort dropped a series of depth charges; but the boat weathered the attack and continued her patrol until ordered to Rosneath, Scotland, where she arrived on 27 November for refit.


Blackfish then conducted her second patrol in the North Atlantic, searching for the enemy until 18 January 1943. Although planes and friendly ships abounded, she encountered no legitimate targets before she returned to Rosneath.


The submarine departed Rosneath on 1 February to conduct her third war patrol in the Bay of Biscay outside Bilbao Harbor, Spain. Her patrol ended abruptly on 19 February, following her attack on two German antisubmarine patrol boats disguised as trawlers. Blackfish fired two torpedoes at each boat, sinking Patrol Boat No. 408, but coming under a heavy depth charge attack from the other. The boat bottomed out during evasive maneuvers, but the rain of depth charges came close enough to damage her conning tower. Nevertheless, Blackfish escaped and made port safely at Falmouth, England, on 22 February. Her external damage was repaired by the Royal Naval Dockyard in Devonport, England.


Her mechanical troubles corrected, Blackfish set out on her fourth patrol on 5 April, which took her off Norway and Iceland. Ice built up on her hull and slowed Blackfish’s diving time, but she encountered no ships and sighted only a few planes in the area of continuous daylight before ending the patrol on 14 May at Rosneath.


Blackfish concluded her Atlantic Fleet operations with a disappointing fifth patrol in the northern Atlantic. The submarine spotted no favorable targets, and the patrol was terminated on 4 July. Blackfish sailed for New London, where she arrived on 26 July to begin an availability period, to replenish her supplies, and to undergo refresher training in preparation for duty in the Pacific.


The submarine departed New London for training off the Canal Zone before setting course for Brisbane, Australia. After three weeks devoted to refitting and training, Blackfish left Brisbane on 19 October for her first war patrol in the New Guinea-Solomon-Bismarck Islands area. Bad weather and light traffic made the early weeks of the patrol unrewarding; but, on 22 November, the boat sighted the smoke of a convoy and quietly moved to a favorable firing position by trailing the four cargo ships and two escort vessels all day. Early on the 23d, she attacked the convoy with six torpedoes and claimed to have sunk one of the cargo ships. The escorts pursued Blackfish for 40 minutes, but the submarine evaded them, made an end run, and attempted to attack again. Detected and chased off before she could fire, Blackfish failed to regain the convoy until the next morning. She shadowed the enemy ships until dark, then fired six more torpedoes. Her crew counted five explosions, but could not observe the attack results because the Japanese escorts kept the boat maneuvering to escape their guns and depth charges. The patrol ended on 4 December, when Blackfish pulled into Milne Bay, New Guinea, for refit.


Christmas 1943 brought no holiday festivities for Blackfish; instead, she embarked upon her seventh war patrol. After a refueling stop in Tulagi on 29 and 30 December 1943, the boat headed for her patrol area in the Solomon Islands. Although she sighted many ships, Blackfish failed to get close enough to any of the targets to mount a satisfactory attack. Finally, on 16 January 1944, the submarine attacked a convoy of two cargo ships escorted by a destroyer. Her spread of six torpedoes sank the 2,087 ton Kaika Maru and damaged the other merchantman. On 3 February, another two-ship convoy with two destroyer escorts crossed Blackfish’s path; and, in the ensuing attack, the submarine claimed damage to a freighter and a destroyer.


Refit began at Brisbane on 13 February. On 1 March, Blackfish put to sea for a new assigned patrol area, in New Guinea waters. The frequent appearance of aircraft kept the crew alert, but surface shipping presented little challenge. The submarine's first surface contact was a convoy of three freighters with two escorts. While approaching the Japanese ships with Bashaw (SS-241) in a coordinated attack, the submarines were ordered to withdraw in favor of attack by Army Air Force planes. Blackfish managed two other attacks during the 80 day patrol, but scored no hits. On 7 May, the boat received orders to return to Pearl Harbor. Travelling via Midway, Blackfish arrived in Hawaii on 19 May, took on provisions and departed two days later for overhaul at Bethlehem Steel Corporation's Submarine Repair Base in San Francisco.


Blackfish arrived in San Francisco on 27 May and commenced a three-month overhaul. Ready for action again late in August, she stood out of San Francisco Bay on the 31st bound for Hawaii. Voyage repairs at Pearl Harbor and refresher training in the Hawaiin operating area occupied Blackfish until 23 September, when she set course for Saipan.


Travelling in company with Shark (SS-314) and Seadragon (SS-194), the boat conducted daily training dives, general drills, and battle problems along the way. The three submarines arrived at Saipan on 3 October, refueled, and departed the next day for their patrol area south of Formosa. Blackfish's first opportunity to attack came on 12 October, when she sighted a Minekaze-type destroyer. Making a perfect night radar attack from the short distance of 2,000 yards, Blackfish fired four torpedoes from her stern tubes. Certain of a hit, the submarine was surprised to hear four end of run explosions. She regained firing position just after midnight on the 13th, and fired three torpedoes from her bow tubes. After three more end-of-run explosions, the skipper broke off the attack to check for the cause of the misses. Blackfish ended her patrol and made port at Saipan on 17 November. There, she received orders the next day to refit and repair at Midway commencing on 24 November.


On New Year's Day 1945, Blackfish began her 10th war patrol. Her first action occurred in the South China Sea to 23 January, when she engaged a large two-masted sailing vessel with gunfire. The submarine riddled the ship with holes, but failed to sink her and broke off the attack because of problems with her guns. Small junks and fishing craft abounded, and on the 30th, Blackfish attacked two large sampans with torpedoes, which passed under both of the shallow-draft targets. Gunfire proved to be more effective, and the submarine sank one of the sampans and left the other one badly damaged. Again training her guns on a fleet of junks during the night of 1 February, Blackfish sank three and damaged eight others. She stood into port at Guam on 21 February for a refit alongside Proteus (AS-19).


The submarine conducted another patrol in the South China Sea from 21 March to 10 May. Though assigned primarily to lifeguard duties, Blackfish also brought her guns to bear on Batan Island north of Luzon on 28 March and on Pratas reef on 31 March and 24 April. Her gunfire wrecked radio towers, buildings, and possibly an ammunition or fuel dump. Blackfish found no target worthy of torpedo attack throughout the last days of her patrol and moored in Tanapag Harbor on the 3Oth. The submarine continued on to Pearl Harbor and arrived at the Submarine Base there on 10 May.


Blackfish carried out her 12th and final war patrol in the Nanpo Shoto, East China Sea, and Yellow Sea areas from 14 June to 14 August. Despite thorough coverage of the area, she made contact with no enemy ship, and saw only one enemy aircraft. The crew held target practice on numerous floating mines she encountered and on lighthouse, radio, and radar installations on Kusakaki Shima. Once again, lifeguard duty constituted her primary responsibility; and, on 5 August, she rescued six grateful Army aviators. Blackfish retired to Guam at the patrol's end and arrived there on 14 August.


After making repairs and taking on provisions, Blackfish set out for the east coast of the United States on 27 August. The boat stopped at New York and Camden, N.J., before arriving at New London in September. After preinactivation overhaul, Blackfish was placed out of commission, in reserve, on 11 May 1946 at New London. She remained in the reserve fleet at New London for almost three years.


Early in January 1949, Blackfish was chosen to be used as a reserve training ship. Late in the month, she was towed to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for renovation; and, on 5 May, the submarine reported to the Naval Reserve Training Center, St. Petersburg, Fla. Blackfish served in this capacity until 2 February 1954, when she reported to New London to commence her second inactivation overhaul. On 19 May 1954, she was decommissioned and berthed again with the reserve fleet at New London. On 1 September 1958, her name was struck from the Navy list. In May 1959, she was sold to Luria Brothers and Co., Inc., of Philadelphia and scrapped.


Blackfish earned eight battle stars for World War II service.



7 February 2006