Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Related Content
  • nhhc-topics:submarine
Document Type
  • nhhc-document-types:ship-history
Wars & Conflicts
File Formats
Location of Archival Materials

Amberjack I (SS-219)


A large vigorous sport fish found in the western Atlantic from New England to Brazil.

(SS-219: displacement 1,526 (surfaced), 2,424 (submerged); length 311'9"; beam 27'3"; draft 19'3"; speed 20.25 knots (surfaced), 8.75 knots (submerged); complement 60; armament 1 3-inch, 4 machine guns, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Gato)

The first Amberjack (SS-219) was laid down on 15 May 1941 at Groton, Conn., by the Electric Boat Co.; launched on 6 March 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Randall Jacobs, wife of Rear Adm. Randall Jacobs, the head of the Bureau of Personnel; and commissioned on 19 June 1942, Lt. Cmdr. John A. Bole, Jr., in command.

After shakedown training in waters off New London, Conn., and Newport, R.I., the submarine got underway on 20 July 1942, bound for the Pacific. She transited the Panama Canal in mid-August and reached Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the 20th. Following training exercises, Amberjack got underway for her first war patrol on 3 September. Two days later, she touched at Johnston Island to refuel and, later that day, resumed her voyage to her patrol area between the northeast coast of New Ireland and Bougainville, Solomon Islands.

On 15 September, Amberjack was patrolling off Kavieng, New Ireland. Three days later, she made contact with a large Japanese transport escorted by a destroyer and fired a spread of four torpedoes at the vessels, but none hit. While patrolling in Bougainville Strait on the 19th, the submarine fired two torpedoes at an enemy freighter. The first hit under the target's bridge, and the second broke her keel in two. Amberjack was credited with having sunk the passenger-cargo vessel Shirogane Maru.

The submarine made her next contact with Japanese shipping on 25 September, spotting a large cruiser escorted by a destroyer. However, before the submarine could get in position for an attack, the destroyer headed toward her and forced her to go deep. Several depth charges were dropped on the submarine, but they inflicted no damage. During the next few days, Amberjack reconnoitered Tau, Kilinailau, Greenwich, and Ocean Islands.

Amberjack spotted a Japanese cruiser on the morning of 30 September and launched four torpedoes from her bow tubes. None hit, so she fired another two forward tubes shortly thereafter. These also went wide of the mark, and the cruiser escaped damage. One week later, the submarine was patrolling off Kavieng when she spotted smoke on the horizon. After a Japanese cargo ship steamed into view, Amberjack fired two torpedoes. One missed forward and the other hit the target's hull forward. The enemy ship was still able to continue under her own power, and Amberjack took up pursuit. About one hour later, both sides opened fire with their deck guns but neither was within range of the other and they broke off fire. After two more hours of the chase, the submarine fired a slow speed torpedo which hit its target five minutes later. The cargo vessel, later identified as Senkai Maru, swung left and seemed to stop. Her bow swung up in the air, the ship took a vertical position, and sank from sight shortly thereafter. Lifeboats carrying the cargo ship's survivors were later spotted as the submarine headed for Kavieng.

While patrolling off Kavieng harbor on 10 October, the submarine spotted Japanese ships in the harbor and launched four torpedoes into the anchorage. One damaged a freighter and another damaged a large 13,500-ton whale factory, Tonan Maru II, which was being used to ferry airplanes. The vessel sank in shallow water, but was later salvaged, towed to Japan for repairs, and was returned to service. On 16 October, the submarine headed to Espiritu Santo for repairs to her ballast tanks and arrived there on the 19th. While undergoing repairs, she was assigned the task of hauling aviation gas, bombs, and personnel to Guadalcanal. While en route to the Solomons, her destination was changed to Tulagi. She arrived there on 25 October and unloaded her embarked troops and cargo under the cover of darkness. The next day, she set a course for Brisbane, Australia, and reached that port on the 30th.

After a refit alongside Griffin (AS-13) and a series of training exercises, Amberjack began her second war patrol on 21 November. On that day, she set a course for the area south of Shortland Island. On the morning of 27 November, the submarine encountered two enemy destroyers which were probably carrying supplies for Japanese forces on Guadalcanal. While launching four torpedoes from her stern tubes, the submarine heard the screws of a third ship crossing ahead of her bow. None of the torpedoes hit their target, and the submarine began taking action to avoid depth charges. Approximately two hours later, all sounds had faded away; and the submarine rose to the surface to look for signs of damage. She spotted nothing so she assumed a new station at the southern end of the eastern entrance to Shortland harbor.

On 29 November, while on patrol 10 miles east of the Treasury Islands, Amberjack spotted a surfaced Japanese submarine. Before she could set up an attack, however, the enemy vessel rapidly drew away. She again saw a Japanese submarine on 3 December proceeding toward the entrance to Shortland harbor and sent four torpedoes toward the fleeing enemy, but all failed to hit. During the next one and one-half weeks, she made numerous ship contacts but carried out no attacks. On 15 December, the submarine sighted a convoy consisting of four or five ships on a course for Rabaul and fired two torpedoes at a large freighter, one at a small tanker, and one more at a small freighter. However, she apparently inflicted no damage on any of the targets.

Her next contact occurred on 20 December. While patrolling submerged, Amberjack began hearing a series of explosions which drew closer and closer. She surfaced and saw two Japanese destroyer escorts, which soon thereafter began raining depth charges on the submarine. Within the space of one minute, six exploded close aboard, shook the vessel considerably, and caused numerous broken light bulbs forward. Some fittings mounted on the overhead were broken off, and several valves were sprung open. However, the submarine suffered no crippling damage and moved on to continue her patrol off the northeast coast of New Ireland.

She spotted another Japanese ship on 3 January 1943, a destroyer which apparently was waiting to rendezvous with a convoy from the Palau Islands. The submarine was unable to attack the ship and, two days later, set a course for Brisbane. She reached that Australian port on 11 January and safely concluded her patrol.

Following this patrol the submarine's period of refit was cut to 12 days due to the urgent need for submarines to patrol enemy infested waters. She got underway on 24 January but was forced to return to Brisbane for repair of minor leaks which developed during a deep dive. Amberjack again departed Brisbane on the 26th and began her third patrol, which took her to waters surrounding the Solomon Islands. On 29 January, she was directed to pass close to Tetipari Island and then proceed to the northwest and patrol the approaches to Shetland harbor.

On 1 February, the submarine was ordered to move north and patrol the western approaches to Buka Passage. She complied with these directions and made her first radio report on 3 February. Amberjack had made contact on 1 February with a Japanese submarine 14 miles southeast of the Treasury Islands. She also claimed to have sunk a two-masted schooner by gunfire at a position 20 miles from Buka on the afternoon of the 3d. At the time of this report, the submarine was ordered to move south along the Buka-to-Shorland shipping lane and to also patrol east of Vella Lavella.

In a second radio transmission on 4 February, Amberjack reported having sunk a 5,000-ton freighter laden with explosives in a two-hour night surface attack on the 4th. During this engagement, one crew member was killed by machinegun fire, and one officer was wounded in the hand. On the 8th, the submarine was directed to move to the west side of Ganongga Island. Two days later, she moved south to cover the traffic routes from Rabaul and Buka to Shortland Island.

The last transmission was received from Amberjack on 14 February. She reported having been forced down on the 13th by two destroyers, and that she had recovered an enemy aviator from the water and taken him prisoner. All further messages to the vessel remained unanswered. The submarine was reported as presumed lost on 22 March 1943. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 21 June 1943.

No conclusive explanation was ever found as to the cause of her loss. Postwar analysis of Japanese records provide several clues but no positive confirmation.

Amberjack was awarded three battle stars for her World War II service.

Published: Tue Nov 28 22:51:05 EST 2017