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Besugo (SS-321)


The besugo is a food fish of the sparidae (porgie) family. Abundant in tropical waters, this predatory fish has strong teeth, with prominent incisors.

(SS-321: displacement 1,526 (surfaced), 2,424 (submerged); length 311'9"; beam 27'3"; draft 15'3"; speed 20.25 knots (surfaced), 8.75 knots (submerged); complement 81; armament 10 21-inch torpedo tubes, 1 5-inch, 2 20 millimeter; class Balao)

Besugo (SS-321) was laid down on 27 May 1943 at Groton, Conn., by the Electric Boat Co.; launched on 27 February 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Margaret P. Homer; and commissioned at New London, Conn., on 19 June 1944, Cmdr. Thomas L. Wogan in command.

Besugo completed shakedown training in the waters off New London before heading south on 25 July 1944. Arriving at Key West, Fla., on 1 August, the submarine conducted another two weeks of training with the Key West Sound School before setting out for the Pacific on the 13th. Besugo transited the Panama Canal on 17 August and, after five days of voyage repairs at Balboa, continued on to Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, arriving there on 7 September.

Following two weeks of type training in Hawaiian waters, Besugo put to sea for her first war patrol on 26 September 1944, escorted until dark by the submarine chaser PC-486.  In company with Gabilan (SS-252), the submarine sailed west and stopped at Midway to refuel on the 30th. Departing the same day, the two submarines rendezvoused with Ronquil (SS-396) before heading northwest to the Bungo Suido entrance to Japan's Inland Sea. While en route on 6 October, the submarines spotted a small enemy patrol craft lying to northwest of Marcus Island. As Besugo closed to destroy the picket, Gabilan and Ronquil continued on course.

At 2102, Besugo fired three torpedoes at the target. All missed, probably because of the shallow draft of the patrol boat. After waiting for night to fall, the submarine circled the target, surfaced and closed for a gun attack at 2228. Although the combination of light swells and insufficient moonlight made 5-inch fire ineffective, the two 20-millimeter guns scored some hits. The Japanese patrol vessel responded with sporadic bursts of light machine gun fire. Unfortunately, just as the enemy closed range, both of Besugo's 20-millimeter guns jammed. The Japanese picket boat then opened fire with a heavy machine gun, bullets began striking the water around Besugo, and several struck the conning tower and periscope shears. Splinters from these hits wounded the gunnery officer and a lookout. Unable to return fire effectively, the submarine withdrew, leading the commanding officer to remark "Not an auspicious beginning to our fighting career."

Unfortunately, similar luck plagued the rest of the voyage to her patrol station as well. On 8 October 1944, the submarine spotted a Japanese Mitsubishi G4M Type 1 land attack plane [Betty] and submerged for the remainder of the day. The next morning, a patrolling armed trawler forced her under, further delaying her progress. Then, at 0329 on the 10th, Besugo's radar indicated a Japanese patrol plane to be on her tail. As put by the war diarist, it took half an hour of "nerve-wracking" maneuvering to shake him off.

At dawn, the submarine reached her station and began a submerged daylight patrol on the eastern approaches to the Bungo Suido. Owing to the upcoming landings at Leyte, the submarine was tasked with spotting any Japanese heavy fleet units departing Bungo Suido. This intelligence was important enough that the submarine was restricted from firing on any targets until after sending in a contact report. On the morning of the 15th, Besugo watched as five cruisers and a destroyer steamed by her position before radioing in a contact report that evening.

She had better luck the next night when her radar picked up two targets transiting Bungo Suido. Believing they were heavy cruisers, Besugo maneuvered into firing position and loosed six bow torpedoes at the nearest target. Two minutes later, at 2212, one torpedo hit one of the Japanese warships just abaft the bridge. The enemy vessels "milled about" for a few minutes, during which time Besugo retired to reload; but the Japanese quickly skirted the coast of Kyushu and turned for home. The submarine tracked them for almost two hours but was unable to close for another attack. A postwar review of records indicated that the damaged target was actually destroyer Suzutsuki.

Two days later, on 18 October 1944, the submarine spotted two more warships, this time entering Bungo Suido rather than leaving, and dutifully noted the contacts. Although Japanese air patrols increased noticeably over the next few days, including one radar-equipped search plane that kept the submarine pinned down on the 22nd, Besugo and Ronquil did manage to find a Japanese formation early on 24 October.

At 0349, Besugo closed a Japanese tanker, protected by two coast defense vessels and a destroyer, intending to sneak between two of the escorts for a shot at the oil carrier. Unfortunately, two rapid Japanese "zigs away" put the tanker out of reach, so the submarine turned on the port quarter escort instead. She fired three torpedoes at Coast Defense Vessel No. 132 and, at 0415, at least one torpedo hit the target. In a blinding flash, the enemy warship suddenly blew up, illuminating the entire area and silhouetting Besugo on the surface. The submarine crash dived, expecting to be depth charged by the rear escort, but an attack did not materialize.

Over the next week, Besugo and up to half a dozen other submarines patrolled the approaches to Van Dieman Strait and the east coast of Kyushu, hoping to catch some of the Japanese warships retiring north from the battles around the Philippines. Unfortunately, the only things Besugo spotted were three enemy patrol planes, an enemy periscope, and a drifting contact mine, all of which she evaded with some difficulty. Retiring to the Marianas on 1 November 1944, the boat moored alongside the submarine tender Fulton (AS-11) at Saipan on the 5th.

Following minor repairs and a torpedo reload, Besugo departed Tanapag Harbor for her second war patrol on 10 November 1944. Transiting the Luzon Strait on the 16th, she entered the South China Sea and took up a position off Linapacan Island four days later. At 0455 on 22 November, Besugo picked up a radar contact while operating off the northern tip of Palawan. Owing to the approaching dawn, she attacked the target quickly, firing four torpedoes at a suspected enemy tanker. One torpedo hit amidships, starting an enormous fire that eventually sank what turned out to be Japanese landing ship T.151. A few minutes later, the submarine spotted a 300-foot barge nearby, probably a tow abandoned by the stricken landing ship, and sank it with two torpedoes.

Returning to her patrol station that evening, Besugo encountered rough weather and the heavy swells interfered with her surface search radar. At 2138, she closed her only good contact and fired four bow torpedoes at a large vessel. All missed, possibly because they grounded in the shallow water. Over the next 10 minutes, the submarine fired eight more torpedoes, one of which finally hit and slowed the cargo ship to a stop. Besugo then fired her last four torpedoes into the target. Two of them demolished the midships section; and the ship settled to the bottom in six fathoms of water, leaving the superstructure still visible. A postwar records review, however, did not indicate any Japanese losses in that area; and Besugo did not receive credit for a sinking. With her torpedoes gone, the submarine sailed south, passed through the Lombok Strait and arrived at Fremantle, Australia, on 4 December 1944.

After a refit alongside Anthedon (AS-24), the submarine got underway for her third war patrol on 24 December 1944, the day before Christmas. She passed through Lombok Strait late on the 30th and entered the Celebes Sea. The next day, she sighted a small enemy merchant ship emerging from a rain squall. Besugo dove and attacked with three torpedoes, but all missed, and the target escaped out of sight. The enemy ship probably radioed in a contact report because Besugo was later driven down four times by searching enemy aircraft. Clearing Karimata Strait on 2 January 1945, she took up a patrol station off the southern tip of French Indochina two days later.

At 1840 on 6 January 1945, Besugo's lookouts sighted a Japanese tanker escorted by a destroyer and two coast defense vessels. She closed the target without being spotted and, at 2118, fired six torpedoes at the heavily laden target. Three of the torpedoes hit home, and the tanker burst into flame and sank. As Besugo cleared the area, the escorts dropped seven depth charges in desultory and ineffective attacks.

Joined by Hardhead (SS-365), Cobia (SS-245), and later Blackfin (SS-322), the submarine spent the next two weeks fruitlessly patrolling a scouting line south of the Ca Mau peninsula. Finally, at 0530 on 24 January 1945, Besugo received a contact report from Blackfin. As she closed the three Japanese ships (destroyer Shigure, tanker Sarawak Maru, and a small minesweeper) her crew heard Blackfin send one torpedo into the tanker. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese escorts drove Besugo off with gunfire and depth charges. Twenty minutes later, Besugo tried approaching again and, despite frantic sonar searches and a close depth-charge attack by the escorts, the submarine fired six torpedoes at the tanker. The torpedo tracks attracted unwanted attention, and Besugo endured a furious pounding from the two escorts, who dropped a total of 22 depth charges over the next half hour. Later that afternoon, the submarine's crew heard Japanese escorts drop another 32 charges. A postwar records review determined the tanker to have been damaged in the attack.

A week later, Besugo discovered four Japanese antisubmarine vessels conducting a sound sweep off Cape Laguan, Malay Peninsula. After calling in Blackfin and Hardhead for help, Besugo crept under the right flank ship and took up a firing position. At 0227 on 2 February 1945, she fired four torpedoes at the right center ship, and one of them hit and sank Coast Defense Vessel No. 144. The submarine easily evaded the ensuing counterattack and withdrew from the area. As no further contacts developed, she turned for Australia on 5 February, transited Lombok Strait on the 8th, and moored alongside Euryale (AS-22) in Fremantle harbor on the 15th.

As the port was very busy, Besugo's refit was delayed for two weeks, and she was not ready for operations until 24 March 1945. Underway that same day, the submarine proceeded to the eastern Java Sea for her fourth war patrol. Passing through Lombok Strait on the 31st, she joined Gabilan and Charr (SS-328) and took up a position near Bangko Island off Sumatra on 3 April.

The next day, while on submerged patrol, Besugo contacted an enemy group consisting of a cruiser, three torpedo boats and a minesweeper. After they passed over the horizon, the submarine surfaced, radioed a contact report, and proceeded after the Japanese force. During the afternoon and evening, she tried to work around the task group; but enemy air cover forced Besugo to dive four times. Finally, at 0358, after a long night of maneuvering, the boat fired six torpedoes at the cruiser; but all of them missed. Even worse, a nearby escort forced Besugo to dive and dropped 13 depth charges in the area before the submarine escaped.

Later that morning, the submarine received orders to patrol the Sumba Strait while Allied aircraft from Australia attempted to sink the elusive Japanese task group. At the very least, these attacks might force the warships to retire through the submarine's position. And, on 6 April 1945, this is exactly what happened. Unfortunately for Besugo, the cruiser's high speed and haze gray camouflage allowed her to surprise the American submarine, quickly slipping by her and evading all nine hastily fired torpedoes.

Despite the appearance of enemy patrol planes, Besugo was better prepared for the trailing Japanese escorts; and she blew minesweeper W.12 in half with one of four torpedoes fired. Although the minesweeper's bow sank immediately, her stern remained afloat in a sea filled with Japanese sailors abandoning ship. Before the submarine could fire a torpedo at the hulk, a sudden attack by a Japanese patrol plane forced Besugo to break off the attack and dive to safety. The American submarine spent the next two hours dodging enemy air attacks, she was bombed once and strafed twice, before finally sinking the hulk with her last torpedo.

The submarine then returned to Fremantle on 11 April 1945 for another load of torpedoes, before putting to sea on the 16th. Transiting Lombok Strait on 21 April, she took up a patrol station in the Java Sea in company with Blower (SS-325) and Perch (SS-313). Two days later, Besugo spotted unusual prey, a German submarine painted with Japanese colors, and sank U-183 with a torpedo. Quickly surfacing, the U.S. submarine recovered the only survivor, a badly wounded German warrant officer.

After returning to her patrol duties, Besugo sighted nothing of interest until 28 April 1945 when she began tracking an enemy guard boat. Surfacing at 0220 on the 29th, the submarine quickly sank Otome Maru with 5-inch gunfire. The next evening, after sailing toward an immense pillar of fire spotted over the horizon, Besugo rescued a badly burned sailor, most likely from the recently mined Japanese Army tanker Yuno Maru. From then until 12 May, the submarine patrolled off Java, between Surabaya and Batavia, scouting for any enemy warships responding to the Allied landings on Borneo. After swinging through the Gulf of Siam, the boat arrived in Subic Bay in the Philippines on 20 May.

Following a refit alongside Anthedon, the submarine got underway for her fifth war patrol on 13 June 1945. Sailing southeast to French Indochina, Besugo spent close to three uneventful weeks on a lifeguard station off Camranh Bay. Then, on 5 July, she moved to the south coast of Borneo but again made no enemy contacts. The boat returned to Fremantle, via the Lombok Strait, on 25 July and received a refit alongside Clytie (AS-26).

Besugo lay at Fremantle when news of the war's end reached her on 15 August 1945. She stayed there until the 29th, when she sailed south and east for Sydney, arriving on 5 September. Two days later, after being "entertained by the Royal Navy and the Australian populace," she got underway for home, arriving in San Diego on 26 September.

Following an extended period of leave and upkeep, Besugo entered the Mare Island Navy Yard [soon to be renamed the Mare Island Naval Shipyard], Vallejo, Calif., for an overhaul on 31 October 1945. Upon completion of these repairs on 8 February 1946, the submarine headed to Hawaii for duty with the Pacific Fleet. Aside from one cruise to Guam and back, Besugo spent the next year operating locally in Hawaiian waters. These operations included type training at French Frigate shoals in December and a simulated attack exercise against the light cruiser Oakland (CL-95) in January 1947. Between 3 February and 5 May, she received another regular overhaul at Mare Island before returning to Pearl Harbor on 13 May.

In light of growing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Navy began planning for possible confrontations with the Soviet Navy. One training measure, devised to give submarine crews experience was the "simulated war patrol," a mission upon which Besugo embarked on 7 June 1947. Sailing west from Hawaii, the submarine avoided numerous air and surface contacts in an attempt to avoid detection enroute to the Marshalls. Arriving off Majuro Atoll on the 18th, she conducted a photo reconnaissance of the area before heading on to the Philippines. After a stop at Subic Bay between 4 and 7 July, where she provided target services to Martin PBM Mariner and Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer patrol aircraft of Fleet Air Wing (FAW) 1, the submarine sailed to Hong Kong on the 8th. There, the crew enjoyed liberty under the "care" of the British light cruiser HMS Belfast.

Sailing on to Tsingtao, China, where she arrived on 18 July 1947, Besugo began a six-week series of exercises with Seventh Fleet units in the Yellow Sea. These included radar tracking drills with Entemedor (SS-340), salvage drills with the submarine rescue vessel Bluebird (ASR-19), and, in company with Catfish (SS-339), a simulated attack exercise against an "enemy" task force. During the latter mission, the two submarines were plagued by aircraft contacts and failed to make any successful attacks. After stops to refuel at Okinawa and Midway, Besugo arrived home to Pearl on 21 September.

The submarine remained in Hawaiian waters through the end of the year 1947, conducting routine upkeep and local training operations. Then, following a visit to Hilo, Hawaii, between 3 and 8 July 1948, she got underway for a reconnaissance mission to the Bering Sea on the 9th. Arriving at Adak, Alaska, on 16 July, the submarine sailed east and rendezvoused with Diodon (SS-349) two days later. After exchanging information, Besugo moved to St. Lawrence Island on the 19th and began three weeks of photo reconnaissance operations off Cape Navarin. During this time, she sighted three Soviet warships, a destroyer escort, a patrol frigate, and a minesweeper, and six cargo ships; all without being detected. After a rendezvous with Blower on 10 August, the submarine returned to Pearl Harbor on the 20th, via Adak and Kodiak.

Besugo remained in Hawaiian waters for the next 18 months, conducting independent ship's drills, ASW exercises, and other local operations out of Pearl Harbor. Despite the outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950, the submarine entered the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for an overhaul not long thereafter. Completing those repairs on 28 September, she departed Pearl Harbor on 19 October and crossed the Pacific to arrive at Yokosuka, Japan, on the 31st. After four weeks of type training, including target services for friendly ASW planes and warships, the submarine began the first of her two Korean War reconnaissance patrols. Leaving Japan on 6 December, Besugo passed through the Tsugaru Strait and took up a patrol station off La Perouse Strait north of Hokkaido on the 9th. There, in spite of rough seas and a succession of snow storms, the submarine spent two weeks tracking Soviet shipping moving between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan.

Returning to Yokosuka in late December 1950, Besugo remained in Japanese waters for the next three months, conducting local operations and twice visiting Okinawa. During her first visit there, Besugo sailed to Naze Ko, Omami o Shima, on 12 January 1951 to rescue six survivors of a crashed Mariner flying boat. Departing the Far East on 11 April, she returned to Pearl Harbor on the 22nd.

Following nine months of local operations in Hawaii, and two shipyard periods, during which new sonar equipment and mine clearing cables were installed, the submarine got underway for Subic Bay on 7 January 1952. Arriving there on the 24th, Besugo embarked on her second special mission the following day. Ordered to conduct a photo reconnaissance of Hainan Island, the submarine took up a submerged patrol station off Yulin Bay on 28 January. Frequent contacts with fishing sampans, and even with entire fishing fleets on a half dozen occasions, made surveillance and photographic operations very difficult. In addition, the small wooden boats constituted an even greater hazard at night, since they had no running lights and registered poorly on radar. As a result, the mission produced limited results.

Returning to Subic Bay on 28 February 1952, and then to Hawaii in March, Besugo's crew received a two-month leave and upkeep period. Then, the submarine entered the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for a three-month overhaul in July. The yard work was complete in September, but the boat was not actually ready for service (owing to a small electrical fire on 23 October) until December. Departing Pearl Harbor on 31 January 1953, she sailed northeast for a visit to Puget Sound and its environs. Between 9 February and 22 March, she visited Esquimalt, British Columbia, and Seattle, Wash., before conducting a training exercise off Cape Flattery. The submarine returned to Pearl Harbor on 29 March, and her only other movement later that spring was a mid-May visit to Nawiliwili, Kauai.

Having been tapped for reserve training duty, Besugo departed Pearl Harbor on 2 August 1953 and arrived at her new home port of San Diego on the 9th. Once settled in, the submarine conducted local operations in nearby waters for the next five years. In addition to providing target services to local fleet units, she also carried out the occasional operational and reserve training cruises. Her first such exercise took place that fall when she sailed to Lahaina Roads in Hawaii and laid a drill minefield on 21 October.

In the fall of 1955, she visited the Puget Sound area again for ASW exercises with Canadian warships and a reserve training cruise. Returning south, the submarine received an overhaul in San Francisco during the spring of 1956. In January 1957, in company with Remora (SS-487), she made a cruise south for a port visit to Mazatlan, Mexico, which was followed by a reserve training mission back in Puget Sound in February. In August of that year, the submarine sailed to San Francisco for ASW exercises; and, in November, she returned again to Mazatlan.

As the Navy was in the process of switching to nuclear-powered submarines, the unmodernized Besugo was tapped for inactivation. She departed San Diego for the last time on 6 January 1958 and entered the Mare Island Naval Shipyard to commence deactivation procedures on the 8th. Besugo was decommissioned at Mare Island on 21 March 1958 and was assigned to the Mare Island Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet, that same day. She was reclassified an auxiliary submarine and redesignated AGSS-321 on 6 November 1962. On 31 March 1966, the submarine was transferred, on loan, to the Italian Navy, in which she served as Francesco Morosini (S514). Her name was struck from the Navy list on 15 November 1975, and she was disposed-of by Navy sale 1 April 1976.

Besugo earned three battle stars for her World War II service and one battle star for Korean War service.

Timothy L. Francis

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

13 October 2021

Published: Wed Oct 13 14:28:04 EDT 2021