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Barbel I (SS-316)


A European fresh water minnow. Its name derives from the pair of fleshy, beard-like appendages found on either side of its thick lips.

(SS-316: displacement 1,525 (standard) 2,424 (submerged); length 311'9"; beam 27'2"; draft 19'3"; speed 20.25 knots (surfaced), 8.75 knots (submerged); complement 80; armament 10 21-inch torpedo tubes, 1 5-inch, 1 40-millimeter, 3 20-millimeter; class Balao)

Barbel (SS-316) was laid down on 11 March 1943, at Groton, Conn., by the Electric Boat Co.; launched on 14 November 1943; and sponsored by Mrs. Harold A. Allen.

Barbel enters her element at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, 14 November 1943 (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-216385, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: Barbel enters her element at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, 14 November 1943 (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-216385, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

Commissioned on 3 April 1944, Cmdr. Robert A. Keating in command, Barbel worked up in the waters off New London and the Naval Torpedo Station, Gould Island, Conn. Just after midnight on 10 May 1944, she stood out of New London en route to Key West, Fla. Over the next four days Barbel conducted numerous systems tests as well as general and emergency drills. She moored starboard side to Pier A, Naval Operating Base (NOB) Key West at 1223 on 16 May. After her arrival, the submarine conducted training exercises for the next two weeks. Escorted by the submarine chaser SC-1064, Barbel sailed to Panama early on 1 June.

En route to Panama on 1 June 1944, Barbel’s radar detected a target bearing 265°T 6,500 yards distant. Unfortunately, she was not able to locate the target during a brief eight-minute search. After an uneventful day, she released SC-1064 from escort duty at 2300. She sailed alone until she joined with the submarine chaser PC-1236 at 0747 on 4 June. Approximately four hours later, a Panama Canal pilot came on board and began guiding her through the canal. She cleared the canal and moored port side to pier 2C at NOB, Balboa, Canal Zone, at 1658. After an uneventful three days in Balboa, Barbel got underway at 1223 on 7 June in accordance with Commander Submarines Pacific Fleet (ComSubPac) Operation Order No. 188-44. She sailed alone in the vast Pacific Ocean for the next fifteen days.

As she neared Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii (T.H.), on 23 June 1944, Barbel joined with her escort, the submarine chaser PC-487 at 0550. Approximately five hours later, she moored port side to Saury (SS-189) at Berth S-6, Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor. Later that afternoon, she briefly got underway and shifted to Pier S-0 at 1453.

Early the next morning, Barbel sailed to Pearl Harbor’s West Loch and began a sound test at 0625. She completed the test approximately an hour later and moored port side to Pier S-0 at 0752. Later that afternoon, Vice Adm. Charles A. Lockwood, ComSubPac, came on board for a brief 25-minute visit. Shortly after Lockwood departed at 1615, Barbel got underway en route to the floating drydock ARD-1. Her bow crossed the dock’s sill at 1650. She was fully out of the water and resting on keel blocks only eighteen minutes later. A thorough inspection of the boat the next morning found her in satisfactory condition. She left dry dock and moored port side to Pier S-0 at 1740 on 26 June 1944.

Barbel stood out en route to the waters off Pearl Harbor at 0632 on 28 June 1944. She sailed through the ship channel and began the first of several sound tests at 1011. The submarine concluded the day’s tests and re-entered the Pearl Harbor shipping channel en route to Berth S-9 at 1447. She moored on the starboard side at 1650. The next morning at 0845, Barbel sailed out of Pearl Harbor on a training cruise in company with escort vessels LeHardy (DE-20) and Lyman (DE-302) and submarine Spadefish (SS-411). She returned and moored overnight at Berth S-6 on 3 July 1944. She made three more practice cruises (3–4, 10–11, and 12 July) and conducted a brief sound test on 6 July.

Barbel began preparations for her first war patrol at 0815 on 13 July 1944. Late that afternoon, she completed loading 8,200 gallons of fuel, 18 torpedoes (twelve Mk. 18-1 torpedoes forward, six aft) and 15 rounds of 4-inch/.50-caliber ammunition.

Escorted by PC-571, Barbel got underway on her first war patrol at 1335 on 15 July 1944. After an uneventful voyage, she arrived at Midway and moored port side to Pier S-2 at 1004 on 19 July. After taking on fuel and the completion of minor repairs, she stood out en route to her patrol area, designated 11-A, at 1543. She released her escort and proceeded independently at 1815. She uneventfully sailed en route to her patrol area for the next thirteen days.

At 1010 on 28 July 1944, the submarine’s aircraft detection (SD) radar identified a contact 10 miles from the submarine’s position at 29°24'N, 140°17'E. She quickly dove and turned ninety degrees to the right to avoid a lone depth charge dropped by the Japanese plane. After an uneventful night, sailors noticed increasing wind and sea swells throughout the next day as their boat sailed toward Nansei Shoto, Ryuku Islands. She reached her patrol area in the midst of a storm at 0700 on 30 July.

Barbel saw her first contact with an enemy convoy on 2 August 1944. At 0910 that morning, the submarine sighted a freighter at 5,000 yards, bearing 130°T, escorted by two enemy coastal patrol vessels.    As she attempted to close on the target, at 1010 the submarine detected two Mitsubishi G4M Type 1 land attack planes (Bettys) flying cover for the convoy. Unable to maneuver into a position closer than 5,000 yards, Barbel aborted the attack and resumed her planned routine patrol route at 1034. Later that afternoon, she photographed the Sotsuko Saki light on the southwestern tip of Amami Ōshima.

Barbel unexpectedly gathered additional intelligence on 4 August 1944 when she sighted a Japanese Tachikawa Ki-36 Ida aircraft patrolling overhead of a previously unknown airstrip located at 27°49'8"N, 128°54'E on the island of Tokuno Shima. A periscope sweep conducted at 1050 sighted smoke and she began tracking a new target at 27°36'N, 128°54'E. As the boat neared the target, she identified her prey as a medium cargo ship escorted by three patrol craft. Barbel attacked the convoy with a three torpedo spread at 1233. After firing the torpedo in Tube No. 3, she realized that the target had “zigged” away. After quickly calculating a new firing solution, she fired a torpedo from Tube No. 4 that struck the 970-ton Miyaku Maru at 1235 and she began to settle stern first off the coast of Tokuno Shima at 27°36'N, 128°54'E. As the Japanese patrol craft surrounded the stricken cargo vessel, Barbel dove deeper and sailed toward the island. The Japanese fired three depth charges well astern of the submarine at 1241. Nine minutes later, another detonated well aft, followed by another close overhead at 1303 and a third that detonated well aft at 1325. Barbel came to periscope depth at 1403 and discovered that her pursuers had vacated the area. She continued on an easterly course and surfaced for the evening at 2003. Just over three hours later, she changed course and began patrolling northwest of Okinawa.

Barbel patrolled on the surface westward of Okinawa during the evening of 7 August 1944. Her radar detected a contact at 16,500 yards, bearing 290°T at 1956. At 2101, Barbel fired a six torpedo spread. Within a few minutes, detonations of the torpedoes were heard causing the crew to believe they had hit their intended target. The boat’s radar, however, indicated the still unidentified target kept steaming at 7.5 knots. A periscope sweep detected a large tanker sailing approximately 2,500 yards off Barbel’s stern. She fired a four torpedo spread from her aft tubes at 2233 and a minute later, a torpedo struck No. 11 Sakura Maru amidships, followed by a second torpedo that struck the vessel’s engine room.

As the Japanese ship sank southwest of Tokuno Jima at 27°36'N, 121°46'E, Barbel detected a new target at a distance of 17,000 yards. After reloading her tubes, she sailed toward the new target at 0100 on 8 August 1944. As she maneuvered to within 8,000 yards, the boat’s radar identified a second smaller target believed it to be an escort ship sailing on the port quarter of a larger vessel. This was followed at 0154, by contact with a third enemy vessel. Barbel assumed a westerly course toward the latest contact at 0201. Extremely heavy seas pounded the submarine as she slowly attempted to close on her target over the next hour and a half. The enemy vessel unexpectedly increased its speed and turned away at 0330. Rather than attempt to chase her, Barbel broke contact and sailed north. After the conclusion of the patrol, Keating wrote that he believed his boat had “blundered into a southbound convoy that had been battered by the storm and was trying to form up again.”

As Barbel patrolled on the surface in the Philippine Sea at 0200 on 9 August 1944, her radar detected a ship bearing 200˚T at 25,000 yards. She eventually identified the contact as a convoy of three large merchant ships escorted by six Japanese warships, including a destroyer. After initially maneuvering into a position 12,000 yards ahead, Barbel dove at 0323 and sailed toward the convoy. As she passed underneath a small Japanese escort vessel at 0401, she fired a four torpedo spread from her forward tubes at the 1,937-ton cargo ship Yagi Maru. A minute later, she fired a torpedo from tubes no. 5 and no. 6 at the 2,333-ton passenger-cargo ship Boko Maru, 1,500 yards “dead ahead.” Unable to determine whether the Japanese ships were astern, Barbel increased her depth, sailed under the cargo ship, and then cleared the enemy formation. Her radar indicated the torpedo fired from Tube No. 3 struck the transport at 0403. A minute later, the torpedoes fired from tubes No. 5 and No. 6 struck the cargo ship. This prompted the Japanese warships to launch the first of four separate depth charge attacks against Barbel at 0407. The Japanese followed up the first volley of three with two more at 0412, eight at 0418, and nine more at 0424. After the conclusion of the Japanese counterattack at 0435, Barbel heard two large explosions followed by the sounds of ships breaking up. With only the four torpedoes remaining in her after tubes, Barbel broke off the attack.

Later the same day, a periscope sweep sighted three Japanese patrol craft and a “UN-1 class” destroyer searching for enemy submarines at 27˚ 55'N, 128˚ 28'E. A follow up sweep at 1630 showed the Japanese well eastward, but within two hours the enemy had steamed back toward Barbel and began an intense search for the submarine at 1820. Despite a serious leak in the boat’s periscope packing and an “extremely noisy” vibration around the periscope shears, Barbel remained undetected, but unable to vacate the area, for several hours. By 2025 Barbel “was in pretty bad shape, CO2 3%, hydrogen 3%, the battery getting lower, and all hands getting pretty exhausted.” The Japanese gave up the search at 2100 and sailed eastward. As their boat surfaced at 2137, sailors secured from battle stations and enjoyed their first hot meal in approximately 26 hours.

The submarine’s next action came three days later. Just after midnight on 13 August 1944, radar detected two ships on a course of 040˚T at 28˚32'N, 129˚16'E. The submarine came to a course of 084˚ at 0142 and sailors manned the boat’s 20-millimeter battery. Rather than engage the Japanese with the submarine’s deck gun at 0155, she launched her final four torpedoes. Two of the four torpedoes hit the Japanese auxiliary Koan Maru, which quickly exploded and sank at 28°31'N, 129'18'E.

Barbel, with all of her torpedoes expended, departed the patrol area at 0830 on 13 August 1944 en route to the Marshall Islands. On the voyage to Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands (14–19 August), the submarine conducted multiple training dives and surface battle drills. She rendezvoused with the escort vessel SC-1011 on 21 August at 0725 and ended her first war patrol moored portside to the submarine tender Bushnell (AS-15) at 1716.

After her return from patrol, Barbel underwent refit alongside Bushnell (22 August–4 September 1944), upon completion of which she conducted three days of night training led by Commander, Submarine Division (SubDiv) 142 (8–10 September). The boat then took on stores and ammunition (11–12 September) in preparation for her second war patrol.

Barbel got underway at 0530 on 13 September 1944, escorted by SC-1011. She dismissed her escort at 1000. Three days later, she entered the “dog lane” south of the Bonin Islands at 2100. Barbel uneventfully patrolled the area until she received clearance to sail to her assigned patrol area at 1200 on 21 September. She arrived northeast of Amami Ōshima two days later.

On 25 September 1944, a routine periscope sweep detected smoke at a distance of 15 miles, and at 1600, two cargo ships were identified. Barbel chose to continue tracking the two and prepared for a night attack. She surfaced at 2000 and located the two 25 minutes later. Two Japanese escorts joined the convoy at 2100. As clouds obscured the moon at 2156, the submarine maneuvered ahead of the leading escort, a Chidori-class torpedo boat, and came right to firing course 290˚T. She fired torpedoes from her six bow tubes at 2159. As the submarine began turning to align her stern tubes at 2201, she was rocked by the premature detonation of one of her own torpedoes. Keating later wrote, “at the time I thought we had been hit by a circular run, or by a large shell. The splashes of the broaching torpedoes, plus the splash of the premature, looked like ranging shots of a four-inch gun, and scared the hell out of me. I looked aft and could see no evidence of a hit but wanted to shoot the four fish aft before we sank anyway.” Two minutes later, Barbel watched as a torpedo sank the 1,222-ton cargo ship Bushu Maru off No Shima at position 29° 46'N, 129° 40'E. Rather than continue the attack, the submarine vacated the area at 2037.

She continued her patrol without contact between the Amami Island chain and Okinawa until 4 October 1944. That same day, at 1956, she extended her patrol area to the sea lanes between Kume Shima, Okinawa and Formosa [Taiwan]. The next afternoon, she photographed a Japanese radar station on the northwest coast of Kume Shima, as well as the location of a possible fighter base on the island’s northern coast.

As the wind and seas increased at 0100 on 8 October 1944, Barbel headed toward uninhabited Tori Shima to ride out an oncoming storm, and she submerged at 0634. The storm quickly passed, and the submarine resumed her patrol at 1300. When she surfaced for the evening, sailors tightened numerous rattling fittings in the boat’s superstructure loosened by the heavy seas encountered earlier in the day. According to Keating, “the 10-pound blow system [was] a prolific source of rattles.” Official U.S. Navy and translated Imperial Japanese Navy documents offer differing accounts of Barbel’s next encounter with an enemy convoy.

According to her Report of Second War patrol, while on the surface at 0448 on 13 October 1944, Barbel detected and began tracking a ship contact bearing 267°T, 24,000 yards distant. Watchstanders also reported sighting four star shells fired approximately 10,000 yards away in the same direction. The submarine changed course to 345° at 0530 and attempted to close on her target. Seven minutes later, she corrected her final course to 255°, which allowed her to lead the target by 20° and close to within 13,000 yards. As she slowed to ten knots at 0549, she identified her target as a large convoy in a rough column--two small cargo ships, escorted by a destroyer and a second unidentified Japanese warship sailing 2,000 yards ahead of three larger ships. Another Japanese destroyer trailed on the starboard side of the column. The leading cargo ship began to smoke heavily at 0552, as the convoy turned to the right. Because of the heavy smoke, Barbel did not detect the turn until after firing all six bow tubes at 0554. As the smoke lifted a minute later, Barbel realized the two Japanese escorts at the head of the convoy now sailed directly toward her. She quickly swung to the right, identified the final ship in the convoy as a fleet oiler and fired her after tubes at 0558. A minute later, Barbel came to course 020° and headed away from the convoy at flank speed. As the convoy drew aft the port quarter the torpedo fired from Tube No. 7 struck the fleet oiler. Two other torpedoes struck and sank the destroyer. In his endorsement of Barbel’s war patrol report, Vice Adm. Lockwood credited the submarine with sinking an unidentified 1,500-ton destroyer and damaging an unidentified 10,000-ton fleet oiler in this attack.

As Barbel slowed to ten knots at 0620, she sighted a large ship in a Japanese convoy sailing 10,000 yards distant. As the submarine sailed on a parallel course, a Japanese destroyer opened fire. The shells fell well short as the submarine, at flank speed, widened the distance between herself and the convoy to 9,000 yards. Rather than attempt another surface attack, Barbel submerged and slowly maneuvered toward the Japanese vessels at 0650. Unable to “get in on” the convoy and attack the remaining cargo ship, she chose to target a destroyer sailing on the convoy’s right side. The entire convoy, however, turned right “and went over the hill” at 0929. While securing from battle stations, the boat did not abandon the hunt. She continued to trail the convoy until a periscope sweep at 1250 failed to detect any sign of the enemy. Eight minutes later, Barbel surfaced and sailed for the convoy’s predicted destination, Kusakaki Jima. When she arrived in the approaches to the island at 2400, the submarine again failed to detect any sign of her prey. Rather than pursue the Japanese further, she returned to her assigned patrol station during the early morning hours of 14 October.

On 15 October 1944, Barbel shifted to an area north and east of Amami Ōshima at 1928. On 19 October, she photographed a mine floating at 29°15'5"N, 129°39'E. Later that afternoon at 1525, a periscope sweep sighted a Japanese warship bearing 174°T, eight miles distant. At battle stations, the submarine maneuvered toward her target and fired a four torpedo spread from her bow tubes at 1558. All four missed and exploded at the end of their run, apparently unnoticed by the Japanese.

With all of her torpedoes expended, Barbel broke off contact rather than engage in a surface battle. In a message sent to ComSubPac at 2100, she reported the results of her second war patrol and requested permission to proceed to the submarine base at Sand Island, Midway for refueling. After she exited her assigned patrol area, Barbel exchanged a series of messages with ComSubPac from 0130-0630 on 20 October 1944. As a result of those messages, she was ordered to rendezvous with Salmon (SS-182), transfer Lt. John M. McNeal on board, and then proceed to Saipan for refueling. During Salmon’s patrol, McNeal endured three instances of severe pain within a week and required evacuation. The two submarines rendezvoused and McNeal transferred by rubber boat at 0840.

While still in the Philippine Sea later that day, watchstanders sighted smoke at 15 miles bearing east-south-east. Rather than avoid the target, later identified as a Japanese “Type B.1” submarine, Barbel closed at high speed. Without torpedoes, Barbel hoped to catch the enemy submarine on the surface before sunset and cripple it with her deck guns. As she closed to within 14,000 yards at 1859, the Japanese submarine dived. Realizing that her prey would not surface before dark and, “inasmuch as we can’t shoot a gun for sour apples in the dark, and he has torpedoes and possib[ly] superior speed,” Barbel chose to break off contact and sail away at full speed. She did not seek battle during the rest of her patrol. The submarine rendezvoused with the motor gunboat PGM-9, Parche (SS-384) and Sailfish (SS-192) on 24 October 1944 at 0600 and moored port side to Holland (AS-3) in Tanapag Harbor, Saipan, at 1111. In his endorsement of her war patrol report, Lockwood credited Barbel with sinking a 600-ton Chidori-class torpedo boat, a 4,000-ton cargo ship and a 1,500-ton destroyer as well as damaging a second cargo ship and a 10,000-ton fleet oiler.

Barbel underwent repairs alongside Holland (25–27 October 1944) before getting underway at 1300 on 30 October 1944 for a ten-day patrol under Task Force (TF) 71. She cleared the safety lane northwest of Saipan just after midnight on 1 November and set a course for Luzon Strait, Philippine Islands. She entered her assigned patrol area in the vicinity of Macclesfield Bank in the South China Sea early on 6 November.

Barbel encountered a five-ship convoy on 14 November 1944 and launched six torpedoes at a Japanese cargo ship at 2210. A few minutes later, the ones fired from Tube No. 1 and Tube No. 2 hit the 4,420-ton Misaki Maru, the second causing a large explosion that hurled debris an estimated 200 feet into the air. As Misaki Maru settled into the sea, her two starboard escorts “went wild, dropping charges, shooting guns and flares and flashing lights.” Despite the frenzied activity, the Japanese were apparently unaware of Barbel’s position and did not attack. After reloading her torpedo tubes at 2255, she maneuvered into position for a second attack on the convoy. At 0215 on 15 November, she fired torpedoes from her after tubes at the 4379-ton Sugiyama Maru. Two minutes later, the one fired from Tube No. 8 hit the cargo ship at the fireroom after bulkhead, splitting the ship into two, and she sank at position 15.15°N, 112.10°E, approximately 217 miles east of Cape Nha Trang, French Indochina [Vietnam]. After clearing the area, Barbel would not locate another significant enemy vessel for another eleven days.

During the early morning of 26 November 1944, Barbel’s radar detected a contact bearing 276°T. After going to battle stations, the boat reversed course and began closing on its prey. Having estimated the target to be a Japanese destroyer, she set her torpedo depth settings to run at six feet. Barbel fired six torpedoes at a range of 3,020 yards at 0430. All missed. Keating later wrote that he believed the enemy vessel was likely a destroyer escort rather than a destroyer, and his boat’s torpedoes should have been set to run at three feet. Because there were no explosions at the ends of the runs, the enemy did not detect the submarine as she came to course 256°T and proceeded away.

Two days later, Barbel crossed the equator. At 1300 His Majesty Neptunus Rex and his Royal Party came on board the submarine and officiated at a Line-Crossing Ceremony for the “pollywogs” of the crew. She completed her third war patrol and moored port side to Berth Three, North Wharf, Fremantle, Australia, at 0730 on 7 December 1944.

After nearly a month in port, Barbel departed for her next war patrol on 5 January 1945, en route to a refueling barge stationed in Exmouth Gulf. During the three-day voyage, she conducted multiple training exercises. After quickly refueling in Exmouth Gulf, the submarine headed for her patrol area in the South China Sea via the Lombok and Karimata straits in the Java Sea.

Barbel received orders to join Bluegill (SS-242) and Bream (SS-243) in a wolfpack patrol in the western approaches to Balabac Strait on 13 January 1945. She was then ordered, on 27 January, to join Perch (SS-313) and Gabilan (SS-252) in a wolfpack covering the western approaches to Balabac and the southern entrance to Palawan Passage. The boat later sent a message to Tuna (SS-203), Blackfin (SS-322) and Gabilan on 3 February, that reported numerous daily contacts with enemy aircraft. Three of those attacked Barbel dropping depth charges. The message promised further details “tomorrow night.” This message, however, was the last contact with Barbel.

Tuna reported on 6 February 1945 that she had been unable to contact Barbel for the previous 48 hours. The submarine also failed to rendezvous with Tuna at 7°30'N, 115°30'E the next day as ordered. Tuna’s subsequent search on 7 February, also proved unsuccessful. Barbel was officially reported as lost on 16 February and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 30 March 1945.

Japanese records examined after the war indicate that an aircraft reported dropping two bombs on a submarine at 7°49.5'N, 116°47.5'E on 4 February 1945. One reportedly hit its target near the bridge. This information led Navy officials to conclude Barbel likely sank during this attack.

Barbel received three battle stars for her World War II service.

Commanding Officers Dates of Command
Cmdr. Robert A. Keating, Jr. 3 April 1944–27 December 1944
Lt. Cmdr. Conde L. Raguet 27 December 1944–16 February 1945


Christopher J. Martin
7 February 2019

Published: Thu Feb 28 08:23:07 EST 2019