Return to DANFS IndexImage of an anchorReturn to Naval Historical Center homepage
flag banner
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships banner
DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

History of USS Sailfish

A large pelagic fish inhabiting tropical seas, istiophorus is related to the swordfish, but possessing scales and a large sail-like dorsal fin.

(SS-192: displacement: 1,450 (surface), 2,350 (submerged); length: 310'6", beam: 27'1", draft: 13'8"; speed: 20 knots (surfaced), 8.75 knots (submerged); complement: 55; armament: 8 21" torpedo tubes, 1 3" gun, 2 .50 cal. machine guns; class: Sargo)

Sailfish (SS-192) was laid down on 18 October 1937 as Squalus by the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Portsmouth N.H.; launched on 14 September 1938, sponsored by Mrs. Caroline Brownson Hart, wife of Rear Admiral Thomas C. Hart; and commissioned on 1 March 1939, Lt. Oliver F. Naquin in command.

After fitting out at Portsmouth, Squalus began a series of test dives beginning on 12 May. She sank after a valve failure during one such dive on the 23d. Salvaged and towed to Portsmouth, the submarine was formally decommissioned on 15 November. She was renamed Sailfish on 9 February 1940. After reconditioning, repair, and overhaul, the submarine was recommissioned at Portsmouth on 15 May 1940, Lt. Comdr. Morton C. Mumma in command.

With sea trials complete on 20 September, Sailfish departed Portsmouth on 16 January 1941 and headed for the Pacific. Transiting the Panama Canal, she refueled at San Diego and arrived at Pearl Harbor in early March. The submarine then sailed west to the Philippines, where she operated out of the Cavite Navy Yard with Submarines, Asiatic Fleet. She was in port when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

Sailfish departed Manila on her first war patrol that same day, took up a position off the west coast of Luzon, and began searching for Japanese invasion shipping. On the night of 13 December, she made contact with a convoy escorted by three Japanese destroyers. Although the submarine fired four torpedoes at a troopship and a destroyer, none of them scored and she was forced to dive to escape a vigorous 20-depthcharge counter-attack. Returning to Manila on the 17th, the submarine refueled and rearmed before embarking on her second war patrol on 21 December.

Sailing northwest, Sailfish spotted a Japanese submarine off Cabre Island on the 22d, but the enemy boat quickly dived and escaped. She then searched Japanese invasion supply routes between Taiwan and the Philippines into January 1942, making an unsuccessful attack on a cargo ship on 2 January. Later that month, on the 26th, Sailfish found and tracked a Japanese cruiser while cruising off Cape St. Augustine. Unfortunately, like the three supply ships sighted the next morning, it was moving too fast and the submarine could not attack. On the afternoon of 27 January she fired four torpedoes at a Japanese cruiser--none of which hit--before diving to avoid the accompanying escorts.

With the Philippines invaded by major Japanese ground forces, and enemy detachments striking south into Borneo and the Celebes, the submarine retired south to the Dutch naval base at Tjilatjap in Java to rearm and refuel. After arriving there on 14 February, Sailfish underwent a short refit and got underway on the 19th for her third war patrol. Assigned a patrol zone north of Java, she kept watch for the expected southward heading Japanese invasion forces.

On 28 February, Sailfish made contact with a cruiser and two destroyers. She began tracking them south until determining they were Houston (CA-30) and two escorts, a portion of the ill-fated Allied force retreating from the Battle of the Java Sea. Continuing her patrol, she moved to a position north of Lombok Strait, where she could attack any Japanese ships attempting to move into the Indian Ocean. On the morning of 2 March, she attacked a Japanese destroyer but, after her torpedoes missed, was forced to dive deep to avoid depthcharge attacks by the destroyer and an enemy patrol plane.

That night, while in the Bali Sea, Sailfish contacted a Japanese aircraft transport escorted by four destroyers. At 2059, the submarine fired four torpedoes and was gratified to see two hits on Kamogawa Maru. Leaving the target aflame and sinking, Sailfish dove to escape a depth-charge counter-attack. After eluding Japanese destroyers and aircraft, she arrived at Fremantle, Australia, on 19 March.

Following a replenishment period, the submarine departed Australia on 22 April, heading into the Java and Celebes Seas for her fourth patrol. Pickings were slim, however, and Sailfish made only one contact, which she was unable to approach. She returned to Fremantle empty-handed on 21 May.

Underway again for her fifth war patrol on 13 June, Sailfish moved northwest through Lombok Strait, Makassar Strait, and Balabac Passage before taking up a patrol position in the South China Sea on the 29th. Moving to the coast of French Indochina in early July, Sailfish spotted and attacked a Japanese army cargo ship on the 9th. Although at least one torpedo struck home, Aobasan Maru survived the damage and returned to port. The submarine had no further luck that patrol and returned to Fremantle on 1 August.

Shifting her base of operations to Brisbane on 7 September, the boat got underway for her sixth war patrol on the 13th. In a change from her summer patrol areas, she headed east for the western Solomon Islands. Once there, she operated in support of the American forces who had landed on Guadalcanal a month earlier. On the night of 17 and 18 September, Sailfish encountered eight Japanese destroyers escorting a cruiser--probably one of the nightly "Tokyo Express" reinforcement convoys run from Rabaul to Guadalcanal--but could not obtain a favorable attack position. Two days later, she unsuccessfully attacked a minelayer and suffered minor damage in the ensuing 11-depthcharge counter-attack. Although she continued to spot and report contact with Japanese reinforcement convoys--which helped American forces at Guadalcanal and Noumea intercept such enemy movements--the submarine made no further attacks. This was partly bad weather and partly owing to strong Japanese convoy defenses--as they were primarily made up of heavily-armed cruisers and destroyers. Sailfish returned to Brisbane on 1 November.

Returning to the same area for her seventh war patrol on 24 November, Sailfish patrolled off New Britain and in the western Solomons through December. Continuing her bad luck with enemy warships, she missed a Japanese destroyer on 2 December and endured a depthcharge counter-attack. She spotted nothing else until 24 December when she fired a quick salvo of torpedoes at a Japanese submarine but again missed. A week later she also missed a Japanese cargo ship and a destroyer, provoking the usual depthcharge attacks in return. Running low on torpedoes, the submarine sailed east for Hawaii, arriving at Pearl Harbor on 15 January 1943. She then moved to San Francisco in preparation for repairs and an overhaul scheduled to begin on 27 January at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard.

With yard work complete on 22 April, Sailfish returned to Pearl Harbor on the 30th to conducted refresher training in Hawaiian waters. Departing the area on 17 May, she stopped for fuel at Midway and proceeded to the east coast of Honshu where she took up station on her eighth war patrol. Over the next four weeks, the submarine made several contacts but was unable to attack owing to bad weather. Finally, on 15 June, she encountered two freighters south of Todo Saki and mortally damaged one with a spread of three torpedoes. Sailfish then went deep, rigged for silent running, and listened to 36 inaccurate depthcharges dropped by Shinju Maru's three escorts.

Ten days later, Sailfish attacked a Japanese convoy off the northeast coast of Honshu and sank army collier Iburi Maru. Quickly diving to evade three previously concealed escorts, Sailfish listened as they dropped 26 depthcharges near her location. Unwisely coming to the surface too soon, the submarine was attacked again, this time enduring a ten-hour 71 depthcharge pounding before eluding her pursuers. She then set course for Midway Island, arriving there on 3 July.

Following a refit there, Sailfish departed the submarine base on 25 July and proceeded to Taiwan, via the Bonins, arriving at her patrol station in early August. Contacts were few, and those she did spot were too small to spare a torpedo, and she moved to Okinawa Gunto later in the month. Her poor luck continued there and she returned empty-handed to Midway on 16 September before moving on to Pearl Harbor four days later.

After a refit, Sailfish got underway for her tenth war patrol on 17 November and, proceeding west via Midway, headed for her station off Japan. Just before midnight on 3 December, while in the midst of a severe storm, Sailfish made radar contact with a group of Japanese warships about 300 miles southeast of Honshu. Approaching the formation, the submarine spotted an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, and two destroyers. Despite heavy seas and driving rain, the submarine fired a spread of four torpedoes--set to run deep below the waves--and scored two hits at 0015 on the 4th. Diving to avoid an 18 depthcharge counter-attack, the boat crossed astern of the carrier and began tracking the damaged warship.

At 0552, Sailfish managed to get into position again and fired three more torpedoes at the cripple, scoring two more solid hits. The four Japanese escorts immediately counter-attacked and the submarine dove to reload her torpedo tubes. As depth control on Sailfish was very difficult, owing to the mountainous seas, it took almost four more hours for the boat to retarget the listing carrier. At 0940, three more torpedoes were fired, two of which hit and finally sunk what proved to be escort carrier Chuyo. Unfortunately, in a cruel twist of fate, the carrier had been carrying 21 survivors from submarine Sculpin--sunk off Truk on 19 November--and 20 of these men died in the sinking. Ironically, this was the same Sculpin that had helped locate and raise Squalus in 1939.

While operating off Kyushu on 7 December, Sailfish was--in another ironic note--surprised on the surface and then bombed and strafed by a Japanese fighter. Damage was slight, however, and the submarine continued her patrol. Almost a week later, she picked up two enemy cargo ships east of Tokara Strait and closed to attack. At 2306 on 13 December, she fired a spread of four torpedoes at the two overlapping freighters. Going deep, the submarine's crew heard the explosions that sank army cargo ship Totai Maru.

A week later, Sailfish made contact with an enemy hospital ship--which she let pass without harm--before finding a six cargo ship convoy off Miya Saki on the morning of 21 December. As described by the submarine's war diary, the crew was heartbroken "to have such choice of targets with only five torpedoes on board." At 1133, she fired three "fish" from her stern tubes, two of which hit and sank Uyo Maru. After avoiding 30 depthcharges dropped near her position, the submarine moved east and, on the 23d, set course for Hawaii.

Arriving at Pearl Harbor, via Midway, on 5 January 1944, the submarine proceeded on to San Francisco for an extensive overhaul at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Those repairs and modifications, conducted between 15 January and 17 June, cut back her sail to reduce her silhouette and provided the submarine with a new surface search radar and two new 20- millimeter guns. Returning to Pearl Harbor in late June, Sailfish joined Billfish (SS-286) and Greenling (SS-213) and sailed west in a coordinated attack group on 9 July.

Arriving in their patrol area near Luzon, the submarines spent several weeks fruitlessly searching for targets. Finally, on the morning of 7 August, the American submarines spotted a Japanese convoy in Luzon Strait. Late that afternoon, Sailfish fired three torpedoes at what she thought was a tanker. One hit struck home, blowing up army cargo ship Kinshu Maru in a massive explosion. The submarine then started tracking a transport but it escaped during the night.

Less than two weeks later, Sailfish encountered a group of fast Japanese warships, including what she thought was an enemy battleships. At 0135 on the 18th, she fired four torpedoes at that target. Unfortunately, one of the heavy ships' escorts moved into their path and two of the torpedoes detonated early, spoiling the attack. Although Sailfish claimed a kill, a postwar review of records revealed that no Japanese warships were sunk or damaged in that area.

On 24 August, while operating in Luzon Strait, Sailfish and Billfish made radar contact with an enemy convoy. In position at 0333, Sailfish fired four torpedoes at a group of cargo ships protected by two small escorts. Two hits severely damaged transport Toan Maru. A second attack later that morning put the target on the bottom. Shortly thereafter, the submarine sailed for Midway, arriving there on 6 September and completing her eleventh war patrol.

After a short refit, Sailfish joined Pomfret (SS-391) and Parche (SS-384) for a patrol north of Luzon. Departing Midway on the 26th, she first took up a lifeguard station south of Formosa. Following the 12 October raids on Formosa and northern Luzon by the fast carriers of Task Force 38, Sailfish rescued eleven Navy fliers who had ditched their damaged planes at sea. During one rescue, the submarine sank a Japanese sampan and damaged an enemy tug that had tried to capture an American pilot. She picked up a twelfth flier the following day but, after her radio transmitter failed, she was then forced into port for repairs, arriving at Saipan on 24 October.

Rejoining Pomfret and Parche at sea on the 29th, Sailfish made contact on 2 November with an enemy convoy in the Bashi Channel north of the Batan Islands. Although Sailfish's attack failed, Pomfret had better luck; mortally wounding two transports and forcing the convoy to take cover off Sabtang Island. That attack attracted a Japanese escort group of seven ships, which began searching for the American submarines. On the 4th, Sailfish encountered this group and, at 1544 that afternoon, fired seven torpedoes at two closing enemy warships. Two hits severely damaged destroyer Harukaze--which was later towed to port--while another damaged landing ship T.111. During this submerged attack, several bombs--presumably from a Japanese patrol aircraft--landed close by and Sailfish was forced to dive deep. Although shock waves from the bombs started flooding and a fire in the after torpedo room, good damage control contained both crises, the boat was brought to an even keel, and she escaped.

After riding out a moderate typhoon on 9 and 10 November, Sailfish continued to patrol in and around the Batan Islands. At 1805 on 24 November, she made contact with another convoy consisting of four cargo ships and four escorts. Radioing the enemy's position to Pomfret, Sailfish then began tracking the enemy ships. Two hours later, while moving into position, one of the escorts suddenly swung away from the column and headed directly for the submarine. Sailfish quickly fired three torpedoes "down the throat" and, when two of the torpedoes exploded, thought she had sunk the escort. Unfortunately, when the smoke cleared, the undamaged Japanese escort began firing at the submarine. Quickly diving, Sailfish immediately endured six fairly close depth charges. Pinned down by three escorts, the American submarine weaved through the murky waters, desperately seeking to escape four and a half hours of determined Japanese attacks. She finally safely cleared the area at 0135 the following morning.

Shortly thereafter, Sailfish headed for Hawaii, arriving at Pearl Harbor via Midway on 11 December and completing her twelfth and last war patrol. After receiving minor repairs, the veteran submarine sailed east and, after passing through the Panama Canal, arrived in Connecticut on 22 January 1945. The submarine subsequently provided four and a half months of target and training services out of New London. In early June, Sailfish moved south to Guantanamo Bay, providing training services there until 9 August. She then sailed north to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for a six-week overhaul. While there, her crew heard the news of the end of the war on 15 August.

Moving to New Hampshire in early October, the submarine soon began inactivation procedures at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Sailfish decommissioned there on 27 October 1945. Initially scheduled for use as a target ship in the summer 1946 atomic weapons tests, or to be sunk by conventional ordnance, she eventually did neither; instead, the bridge and conning tower were removed and installed as a memorial at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on 11 November 1946. The rest of the hulk was struck from the Navy list on 30 April 1948 and sold to Luria Brothers of Philadelphia for scrap on 18 June 1948.

Sailfish was awarded nine battle stars for World War II Service.



30 July 2001