A spiny fish with a short, broad body which grows to one foot in length. Batfish are generally found in shallow waters from the Chesapeake Bay to the West Indies.
The first Batfish (SS-310) was laid down on 31 December 1942 by the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard; launched on 5 May 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Nellie W. Fortier; and commissioned on 21 August 1943, Lt. Comdr. Wayne R. Merrill in command.
Following her commissioning, the submarine underwent an extensive shakedown and training period to instruct the crew, over half of whom were yet to qualify in submarines, in combat procedures for diving, attacking, evading, and damage control. Batfish left Portsmouth in mid September, paused briefly at Newport to practice on the torpedo range, and then continued on to New London, Conn. She arrived there on 26 September and, after voyage repairs, underwent additional training in submarine combat routine. She left New London on 15 October to join the war in the Pacific.
While still northeast of the Panama Canal, Batfish sighted another submarine and, believing it to be a German U-boat fired her first torpedo in battle. Although the torpedo missed its mark, the other submarine disappeared. Batfish's men no longer felt far removed from the dangers of war and increased their alertness. Her confrontation with the supposed German submarine notwithstanding, Batfish's closest call might have visited her just as she approached the canal when an American Navy patrol bomber nearly unloaded its payload on her. Ship misidentification occurred throughout the war, and submarines were particularly likely to suffer its effects. On 1 November, Batfish tied up at Coco Solo for an overnight stop, then transited the canal, and spent a week in Balboa for minor repairs and rest. On the 8th, she resumed her journey, steaming independently and conducting daily drills, until her arrival in Pearl Harbor on 19 November.
After reporting for duty to the Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet (ComSubPac), Batfish spent five days in availability with Griffin (AS-13) and then carried out intensive training in Pacific Fleet procedures. She left Pearl Harbor behind on 11 December and began her first assignment, an open sea patrol south of Honshu. She fought typhoons most of the way but finally reached her patrol area on 28 December. However, bad weather continued to dog her operations and made it impossible for her to attack the few convoys she sighted. On 14 January 1944, the submarine's radar picked up a large contact. Radio intelligence indicated identified her as the huge Japanese battleship, Yamato, one of the two largest warships in the world. Batfish lost her chance for glory, however, when the skipper chose to dive rather than use the cover of the heavy seas to close the battleship on the surface. The submarine's slower submerged speed caused her to fall rapidly out of range from Yamato and her escorts.
Shortly after noon on the 19th, a convoy of four ships appeared on the horizon; and, with nightfall, Batfish made a high-speed surface run to close for the attack. She fired three torpedoes at each of two freighters, sinking one and crippling the other. Two ships escaped, but Batfish remained at the scene to sink the crippled freighter early the following morning. Postwar assessment of Japanese shipping losses, however, only credited Batfish with this last sinking, the 5,486 ton freighter Hidaka Maru.
Batfish ended a barely successful first war patrol on the 24th and headed back through typhoons to Midway where she arrived on the 30th for a fortnight's refit and a week of training. The submarine departed Midway on George Washington's Birthday and steamed to another patrol area south of Honshu. This patrol was unsuccessful because of continual high winds and heavy seas that seemed to have kept the enemy in port. Batfish departed her patrol area on 3 April without making contact with any ship larger than a sampan. She proceeded to Pearl Harbor for refit, which began upon her arrival there on 15 April. A relief crew from the tender Proteus (AS-19) took over to allow Batfish's crew two weeks of rest. The refit was extended; but finally, on 10 May, the submarine sailed for Midway and additional training. While she was at Midway, Lt. Comdr. John K. “Jack” Fyfe relieved Lt. Comdr. Merrill.
On 26 May, Batfish departed Midway to patrol the area covering the southern coasts of Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu. The weather was excellent. On 10 June, Batfish attacked and thought she had sunk a freighter being used as a training ship, but the kill was not confirmed. Depth charge attacks by planes and patrol boats failed to damage Batfish, and the she resumed the patrol. The reward for her diligence appeared on 18 June when she sighted two ships, a coastal freighter and a small, but heavily laden, tanker. Although within sight of the Honshu shoreline, Batfish closed in for the kill and claimed to have sunk the freighter. Four days later, a large Japanese freighter was steaming independently down the Japanese coast when Batfish fired three of her bow tubes at the mark, but all three passed astern.
As the first target rounded Andakino Point and headed away, a larger freighter passed her on an opposite course. Firing her after tubes at the new target seemed to allow Batfish to make a quick escape out to sea. She fired four torpedoes, and the freighter, Nagaragawa Maru, sank by the stern. However, a patrol boat immediately gave chase to the submarine, forcing her to dive to avoid depth charges. Unfortunately, the charts she used were not accurate. They showed depths of 400 feet, but Batfish grounded on a volcanic peak at 240 feet. The commanding officer rapidly eased backwards and upwards, but Batfish endured a tense eight hours punctuated by more than 50 depth charges before she could surface and survey her own damage. The depth charges had caused no problems, but the grounding had jammed the starboard sound head, reducing the submarine's underwater listening capabilities, and had bent the starboard shaft and propeller.
Nevertheless, Batfish continued her patrol. The submarine sighted another convoy on 28 June; but, before she could reach a suitable attack position, the Japanese attacked her with torpedoes and aerial bombs, forcing her to let that convoy escape. However, she picked up another contact on 29 June, a convoy with a freighter as a prime target. Batfish fired three bow torpedoes that missed their mark when the enemy maneuvered to avoid them. That convoy also made good its escape.
On 2 July, as Batfish departed her patrol area bound for Midway, a lookout sighted two ships, a small trawler traveling with an escort. The submarine closed in for a surface attack, and her guns filled the trawler with holes but failed to trigger an explosion. The escort moved at high speed to ram Batfish, which backed at emergency speed and narrowly avoided a collision. Full of holes from the submarine's raking gunfire, the converted yacht was engulfed in flames and quickly sank. Batfish suffered one casualty, the pharmacist's mate caught a bullet in the knee while at his post on deck in the surface gun action that ended in the destruction of what proved to be the guardboats Kamoi Maru and No.5 Isuzugawa Maru.
Batfish underwent a 16 day refit alongside Proteus followed by training in firing the new electric Mark XVIII torpedoes. She departed Midway on 1 August for her fourth war patrol that took her to waters surrounding the Palau Islands. Her assigned area offered up no worthy targets, but a report of a destroyer grounded to the north of the Palaus sent her to Velasco Reef to investigate. There, she found a minelayer and a transport aground on the reef and the destroyer Samidare, which had run aground on 18 August on the beach across the atoll. A floatplane, two tugs, two patrol boats, and a second destroyer were in attendance. Batfish selected the transport as her first target; but poor visibility, rain, and rough seas intervened. On 23 August, while making an approach to locate the transport again in a rainsquall, the submarine found the other destroyer in her sights instead. She fired three bow torpedoes that hit the warship and blew her apart. Japanese records later identified this "destroyer" as Minesweeper No. 22. On the 26th, Batfish turned Samidare, into unsalvageable junk with two torpedoes, and later witnessed the enemy’s completing the destruction of the destroyer with demolition charges.
Called away from Velasco Reef by orders to stand lifeguard duty off Pelelieu between 27 to 29 August during air strikes on that island and on nearby Koror, the submarine did not return to Velasco Reef until two days before her departure from the patrol area. One ship still lay high and dry, but closer inspection revealed her to be already beyond salvage. Batfish chased a minelayer for 90 minutes, but it outmaneuvered her and escaped. On 3 September, the submarine headed for refit at Fremantle, Australia.
Batfish arrived at Fremantle on 12 September, and Griffin (AS-13) provided a relief crew to begin the refit, while her own crew relaxed in Perth. Escorted by HMAS Parker, Batfish departed Fremantle on 8 October and sailed with Guitarro (SS-363) to Exmouth Gulf, West Australia, for refueling. On 11 October, two hours after leaving Exmouth Gulf, a periscope jammed in the fully raised position and defied the crew’s efforts to correct the problem. Batfish proceeded to Darwin, Australia, for emergency repairs alongside Coucal (ASR-8). Finally, on 17 October, the submarine headed out on her fifth patrol. Still, chronic engineering problems plagued her throughout the patrol. Two days later, she picked up a radar contact--one large ship with two escorts. When close enough, Batfish fired a salvo of six torpedoes, but all passed under the target. Surprisingly, the tanker and escorts took no evasive action, and the submarine closed for another attack. She fired a single torpedo set at a very shallow depth, but it too passed under the target, although it did take out an escort on the other side. Batfish continued the pursuit because the destruction of tankers impeded the vital supply of oil to Japan.
Batfish closed for a surface attack; but at 5,500 yards, the target suddenly turned to attack. She was a "Q-ship," a heavily armed decoy for unwary Allied submarines, capable of speeds of 20 knots. The Q-ship fired at the submarine with 4 inch guns and depth charges. Batfish dived and steadied up somewhere between her test depth and her crush depth to hide. After several hours, she began to move from the area and slowly rose to the surface where she found herself alone.
Her delays in Australia and the hide and seek game with the Q-ship caused Batfish to miss the invasion of the Philippines. She was assigned patrols in the Sulu Sea and the area between Mindanao and Negros Island and to the west of Luzon until 4 November, when she received orders to lifeguard duties off Lingayen Gulf. Two days later, Batfish sighted a 13 ship convoy including a choice target, a damaged heavy cruiser. As the submarine approached and crept to periscope depth, she was nearly run over by a destroyer and only avoided collision by an emergency dive. Upon closing again, she fired six bow torpedoes at the trailing transport, but all missed. Batfish was forced to dive and maneuver to evade depth bombing by the convoy's escorts. On the 7th, she again caught up with the convoy when it anchored in San Fernando Harbor. As she closed the crippled cruiser again, the escorts gave chase and depth bombed her until she retreated.
Batfish had no further opportunities to attack any Japanese ships until 14 November. Then, while operating in an attack group with Ray (SS-271) and Raton (SS-270), she stalked a convoy of eight ships. After Ray and Raton had attacked, Batfish moved in and fired four stern torpedoes that she thought sank a transport and an escort. However, these kills were not later confirmed. Soon thereafter, Batfish received orders to return to Pearl and arrived there on 1 December.
Following refit, Batfish got underway on 30 December, bound for the Marianas. En route, she drilled with her compatriots in the attack group, Blackfish (SS-221) and Archerfish (SS-311). They arrived at Apra Harbor, Guam, on 9 January 1945 but returned to sea the next day to take up patrol in the South China Sea to the northeast of Hainan Island. Early on the 23d, the group made radar contact with a small fleet of junks. Batfish surfaced and fired at one of the larger junks, then boarding parties searched four of the junks and found nothing but harmless Chinese fishermen. After giving the junks some supplies, Batfish resumed her patrol to the south to avoid further contact with the junks. Since Japanese convoys dwindled constantly, both size and number, due to American advances and faltering Japanese defenses, Batfish encountered only small and isolated transports, and her attacks on them were cut short either by foul weather or by torpedoes that consistently passed under their targets.
On 2 February, Batfish's patrol area changed to Babuyan and the Calayan Islands north of Luzon. After arriving on station, she sighted a small landing barge on a northerly course toward Formosa and made a surface attack. She was unable to sink the barge, but started a fire on board and thoroughly raked it with gunfire before leaving her behind. She made no other contacts until 9 February when her radar began tracking a blip moving at 12 knots, and it was tentatively identified as a Japanese submarine. Using radar and sound data to determine the target's course and speed, Batfish attacked with four bow tubes, but all four torpedoes missed. She prepared for another attack, only this time, the enemy warship was visible as Jack Fyfe, alone on the bridge, guided Batfish in toward her target. One of the three bow shots fired this time ran true and hit and sank the Japanese submarine, I 41.
The next day, while running submerged, Batfish had to dodge a torpedo, possibly dropped by an American plane that took her to be an enemy. She went deep and narrowly avoided the torpedo. On the 11th, Batfish picked up a contact; and, as she closed range, her lookouts identified the stranger as another Japanese submarine. The target then dived suddenly only to surface again 30 minutes later and resume her course, apparently unaware of Batfish's presence until struck by torpedoes from Batfish's forward tubes. The victim, later shown to be RO-112, sank rapidly. The next day, Batfish attacked and sank RO 113 applying tactics nearly identical to those she had used on RO-112. Thus, Batfish performed the amazing feat of sinking three enemy submarines in only four days. There were no survivors from any of the three actions.
Batfish headed for Guam on 16 February in company with Blackfish. As she pulled alongside Apollo (AS-25) in Apra Harbor on 21 February, Navy photographers greeted the successful "sub killer." She continued on to Hawaii in company with Archerfish and reached Pearl Harbor on 3 March. On 6 March, the submarine departed Pearl Harbor on her way to the west coast for overhaul. She arrived in San Francisco on 13 March and entered the yard at the Bethlehem Steel Shipbuilding Co. The submarine started preparations to participate in Operation "Barney," a projected foray into the minefields guarding the southern entrance to the Sea of Japan by a nine submarine unit equipped with new mine detectors to make way for the Allied forces. The yard period, however uncovered mechanical problems that delayed her preparations. These difficulties, along with her age, rendered Batfish too noisy for such a delicate operation.
She finally departed the shipyard on 31 May, reached Pearl Harbor on 8 June, and trained for a fortnight before resuming the voyage west on 26 June. The submarine sailed via Saipan to a lifeguard station off the southeast coast of Kyushu. In the process of lifeguarding and avoiding friendly submarines and aircraft, Batfish became the target of two torpedoes, both of which crossed narrowly ahead. On 24 July, while creating a diversion for Sennet (SS-408) and Pogy (SS-266) that were scheduled to pass the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan, Batfish battle surfaced and bombarded the village of Nagata. The following day, she sighted a Japanese submarine and attempted to close her for attack. However, the enemy boat moved safely through a mined channel and into Kagoshima Wan before Batfish could reach torpedo range.
On 26 July, Batfish rescued three survivors from a ditched B-25. Weakened Japanese defenses had allowed friendly air activity to increase greatly, but the planes were not always careful in identifying their targets. On 1 August, an Okinawa based B-25 dropped four bombs in the vicinity of Batfish, but none landed close enough to damage her. The rescued aviators disembarked at Iwo Jima on 4 August, and the submarine returned to lifeguard duty off Honshu. On the 15th, word of Japan's capitulation arrived, and Batfish received orders to cease offensive operations. Tigrone (SS-419) relieved her on station, and Batfish proceeded via Midway to Hawaii, arriving at Pearl Harbor on 26 August. On 2 September, the submarine left Oahu and headed back to the west coast. She arrived in San Francisco on 9 September and proceeded to the Mare Island Navy Yard to prepare for decommissioning. On 6 April 1946, she was placed out of commission, in reserve, and was berthed at Mare Island.
During the Korean War, Batfish was reactivated. After an overhaul in January and February, she was recommissioned on 7 March 1952. Following sea trials, final corrective repairs, and loading of supplies, Batfish sailed for San Diego on 28 March to train and provision before continuing on to her new homeport in Key West. She arrived there on 9 May and served the remainder of her active career engaged in training operations in the West Indies and along the east coast.
Batfish was ordered deactivated again on 5 May 1957. She was decommissioned on 4 August 1958 at the Charleston Naval Shipyard and was berthed with the Charleston Group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. In the summer of 1959, she was assigned as a naval reserve training ship at New Orleans. She was reclassified an auxiliary submarine and was redesignated AGSS-310 in 1962. Batfish remained at New Orleans until her name was struck from the Navy list on 1 November 1969. She was towed to the Naval Inactive Ship Facility, Orange, Tex., to await disposal. On 18 February 1972, she was transferred to the Oklahoma Maritime Advisory Board and towed up the Arkansas River to Muskogee, where she became a memorial to to Oklahoma's combat submariners.
Batfish earned nine battle stars during World War II and received a Presidential Unit Citation for her sixth war patrol.
Raymond A. Mann
28 February 2006