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Bullhead (SS-332)


Any of several fresh water catfishes. The bullhead is easily recognized by its scaleless body, squared tail, and four pairs of fleshy barbels surrounding its mouth. Rarely exceeding 18 inches in length, the bullhead is highly regarded in some regions as a source of food and is also valued as a sport fish.


(SS-332: displacement 1,525 (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, 1 40 millimeter, 1 20 millimeter, 2 .50 caliber machine guns; class Balao)

Bullhead (SS-332) was laid down on 21 October 1943 at Groton, Conn., by the Electric Boat Co.; launched on 16 July 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Howard Doyle; and commissioned on 4 December 1944, Cmdr. Walter T. Griffith in command.

Followlng a month of shakedown training in Narragansett Bay, the submarine sailed on 9 January 1945 for Key West, Fla., where she received two weeks of additional training before pushing on to Panama. She emerged from the canal on 11 February and headed for Hawaii. On the first day out, a near disaster occurred. During a practice dive, the main induction failed to close rapidly enough because of low hydraulic pressure, and tons of water flooded in before it could be shut. The crew saved the submarine by shifting ballast, pumping out water, and continuing the dive. She proceeded on without incident and reached Pearl Harbor on 26 February.

After voyage repairs, Bullhead left Oahu on 9 March 1945. Ten days later, she paused at Guam to refuel and then, on the 21st, embarked on her first war patrol carried out in the northern part of the South China Sea. The submarine first hunted the waters near Formosa through 30 March. Encountering no enemy shipping, she abandoned that vicinty for the one off Hong Kong. En route, she shelled targets on enemy occupied Pratas Island. While off Hong Kong, she also provided lifeguard services for Allied aviators. On 8 April, an American "Liberator" mistakenly bombed Bullhead; but, fortunately, the bombs missed her by at least 75 yards; and, though severely shaken, she sustained no damage. On 16 April, four miles off the China coast, the submarine took on board the three surviving crewmembers of a downed Army aircraft along with the bodies of their three dead comrades.

The submarine concluded the patrol on 28 April 1945 when she arrived at the new base at Subic Bay on Luzon in the Philippines. Bullhead refitted at Subic Bay, then carried out eight days of exercises along the Luzon coast, and finally set out on her second war patrol on 21 May. This time, the submarine operated with Bergall (SS-320) and Kraken (SS-370) as part of a coordinated attack group that made a sweep of the Gulf of Siam and the Java Sea. Bullhead entered the patrol area on 25 May but encountered no suitable targets until 30 May when she made a machinegun attack on a 150 ton schooner and claimed to have sunk the Japanese vessel. On 4 June, the submarine moved to a new station south of Anambas Island, but this area proved to be barren.

On the 16th, she entered the western end of the Java Sea. Bullhead discovered her next victim on the 18th. Once again, she trained her guns on a 700 ton vessel which sank soon after being hit at the waterline. Later that day, the submarine sighted a small convoy of two merchantmen and a pair of escorts, but the ships spoiled her attack by taking shelter inshore on the Java coast. On the morning of the 19th, Bullhead duelled with two subchasers and two picket boats on the surface and claimed credit for sinking a 70- ton subchaser and damaging a smaller one. The remaining Japanese vessels tried to take cover behind a point of land, but Bullhead closed the shore and continued firing on the boats. The encounter did not end until the submarine exhausted her supply of 5 inch ammunition. On 25 June, Bullhead opened fire on a small Japanese vessel with her 40 millimeter gun, set the boat ablaze, and claimed to have sunk the Japanese boat. She completed the patrol at Fremantle, Australia, on 2 July. Despite her claims, postwar accounting failed to credit Bullhead with destroying any Japanese shipping during this patrol.

After a brief refit period, in the course of which her 5 inch gun was replaced, the submarine left Fremantle on 31 July 1945 to begin her third patrol. She was to transit Lombok Strait and patrol in the Java Sea with several other American and British submarines. Bullhead rendezvoused with a Dutch submarine, Q 21, on 2 August and transferred mail to her. Four days later, the submarine reported that she had safely passed through the strait and was in her patrol area.

No further word was ever received from her, and, on 24 August, she was reported overdue and presumed lost. Postwar analysis of Japanese records revealed that a Japanese Army plane from the 73rd Chūtai, depth-charged a submarine off the Bali coast near the northern mouth of Lombok Stralt on 6 August. The pilot claimed two direct hits and reported a gush of oil and air bubbles at the spot where the target went down. It was presumed that the proximity of mountains shortened her radar's range and prevented Bullhead from receiving warning of the plane's approach. The submarine went down with all hands. Her name was stricken from the Navy list on 17 September 1945.

Bullhead received two battle stars for her World War II service.

LuAnne Parsons
23 November 2005

Published: Wed Nov 10 23:57:20 EST 2021