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Caiman (SS-323)


A salt water latiloid fish inhabiting the waters of Florida and the West Indies. Also the name applied to a genus of Central and South American crocodilians.

Caiman (SS-323), originally named Blanquillo, was laid down 24 June 1943, at the Victory Yard, Electric Boat Company, Groton, Connecticut. The submersible, a Balao-class boat, was launched 30 March 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Raymond C. Bonjour, President of Periscope Navy Wives Club of New London, Ct.; and commissioned 17 July 1944, Commander John B. Azer in command, at the New London Submarine Base.

Training operations off New London continued until 21 August when she departed for the Fleet Sound School, Key West, Florida. After five days of sonar training she moved to Fort Lauderdale for three days of experimental work for Bureau of Ships and Harvard University Underwater Sound Laboratory. She departed 7 September and, after a short stay in the Canal Zone, Caiman arrived Submarine Base Pearl Harbor 1 October. During the next six weeks she overhauled her hydraulic system, conducted night exercises, and fired practice torpedoes.

She departed Pearl 13 November and made course for Saipan. On 24 November Caiman, while cruising at periscope depth after a trim dive, sighted a periscope and impulse bubble on the starboard quarter. She dived to 350 feet, evaded the torpedo, and lost contact with the enemy boat. Berthed at Saipan on 25 November the Caiman received a new CO, Commander Frederic C. Lucas, four days later. She departed on 8 December for her station off the Philippines.

Caiman chopped to CTF 71 on 11 December and took on lifeguard duties off Pt. Sampoloc, Luzon, 14 December. Japanese shore-based radar, float planes, and patrol craft out of Subic Bay, kept her submerged during the daylight hours while she waited for the carrier air strike on Manila. On 18 December, with the air strike cancelled, she established a patrol line off Lingayen Gulf.

On 27 December, "because of a hunch on the name", she moved to Caiman Point, Luzon, to intercept possible convoy traffic. Later that morning she spotted a single high-speed destroyer and fired three electric torpedoes from the stern tubes. They missed but, after avoiding 4 depth charges, Caiman eluded her stalker.

Assigned to another patrol station in the Mindoro Strait, her patrol radius was limited by a dozen aircraft contacts that forced her underwater. It was not until 2 January, 1945, while in a patrol line with Sealion and Blenny, that she spotted and tried to close with a troop transport and two escorts north of the Spratley Islands. But high visibility, and speed of target, forced her to break off her approach while Sealion's surface attack missed. Three more Japanese patrol escorts arrived and Caiman was driven off the convoy.

On 4 January she received orders to patrol off Cape St. James and Cam Rahn Bay, Indochina. After a week of uneventful patrolling, and a diversion off Singapore for lifeguard duty following a B-29 strike, she departed the area for Freemantle, Australia. She arrived in port 22 January for a normal refit and attack training.

Caiman's second war patrol began 18 February when she departed for the Java Sea. On 25 February, while enroute in the Bali Sea, she had four depth bombs dropped near her by a Japanese patrol aircraft. She fruitlessly cruised off the Anamba Islands until 2 March before taking up lifeguard station off Singapore. While surfaced, and waiting for the air strike, Caiman was surprised by a low flying float plane. The single depth bomb missed while four more plane sightings kept her submerged for the remainder of the day.

In company with Pintado she set up a patrol line off Puto Kapas, Maylasia, but obtained no ship contacts. For three weeks she patrolled the Malaysian coast, and the Gulf of Siam, but it was not until 27 March that she sighted two southbound merchant vessels close inshore to Pulo Kapas, Malaysia. Unsure of the bottom depth Caiman launched four torpedoes at long range but failed to get any hits.

Fruitless patrolling continued, enlivened by numerous air warning receiver contacts, until 1 April when she departed for Subic Bay. After arrival 6 April she underwent a refit, by Anthedon's repair force and SubDiv 262's refit crew, before departing on her third war patrol 28 April.

She proceeded to Cam Rahn Bay area and patrolled in a special anti-submarine zone until 3 May. Assigned to lifeguard station off Indochina she watched four Liberators bomb Japanese installations in Fan Rang Bay on 8 May. The next day, off Cam Rahn Bay, a Jake float plane dropped two depth bombs dangerously close to the surprised submarine.

On 11 May she departed the anti-submarine zone enroute to the Gulf of Siam. Friendly air patrols, however, found no shipping for the submarine and she returned to the Cam Rahn Bay area on 15 May. While off Pulo Cecir de Mer, on lifeguard duty, Caiman spent three fruitless days searching for two downed aviators. She returned to Subic Bay on 31 May, due to low fuel, but was underway within hours for the west coast of Borneo.

Caiman patrolled between Pontianak and Kuching, Borneo, on lifeguard duty, until 10 June when heavy Japanese air patrol forced her off the Serasan Passage. The following morning, near the Burong Islands, she came across two topsail schooners in Singkawang Bay. After Caiman determined they were not native craft, their size and rigging were above local quality, the schooners were sunk with 83 rounds of 5" gunfire.

On 16 June, after watching heavy Japanese air traffic off Raja Point, she was ordered to the Java Sea. After spotting Kraken and Chub she spent four uneventful days cruising near the Laurot Islands before returning to Australia. Enroute to Freemantle she contacted no fewer than seven friendly submarines, including the Netherland's O-19, before mooring at Freemantle harbor on 27 June.

During refit a new surface radar, two 40 mm, and one 20 mm gun were installed, indicative of an increased reliance on surface gunnery. Approach training, torpedo exercises, and gunnery training were conducted until 22 July when Caiman departed for her fourth war patrol. She investigated the coast of Lombok and interrogated natives fleeing the island before continuing on into the Flores Sea. On 31 July she began cruising off Kendari, Celebes, to pick up Allied agents. Contact was not made, however, nor did she find any surface targets. Returning to the Flores Sea, on 6 August, she was almost attacked by Chubb before recognition signals could be exchanged.

On 9 August she landed three agents on Sekala, for scouting missions on Java, and began investigating native shipping. The next day, off Bandjermasin, she investigated, and sank with 40 mm fire, a native prau that was carrying Japanese cargo. After passing through Karimata Strait Caiman received orders, at 1430 on 15 August, to cease hostilities against Japanese forces and returned to Subic Bay four days later.

In company with nineteen other submarines, and tender Gilmore, the submarine departed Subic ten days later and arrived in San Diego 22 September. The submarine remained active after the post-war shrinkage of the Navy and began, on 2 January 1946, a training cruise to Guam. Convoy exercises, submergence drills, and system tests filled her time until 26 April when she returned to Pearl Harbor.

On 21 May, in a live fire exercise, she fired two hot torpedoes and sank ex-Japanese submarine I-203. On 14 July when she arrived at Mare Island Naval Shipyard to commence a regular overhaul. By 7 October, after having her hull scraped and valves cleared, she began trial runs and arrived at Pearl Harbor 7 November. The submarine departed 21 November for a simulated war patrol that took her to Yokosuka, Okinawa Shima, and Guam.

On 5 January 1947 Caiman commenced training exercises in the central Pacific. Radar tracking, carrier air avoidance, and ASW drills with destroyers continued until 10 February when she returned to Pearl Harbor. During the Fleet Problem exercise 2-47 she fired "water slugs" on a convoy but was plagued by air contacts. Type training continued until 16 June when she entered ARD-29 floating drydock for a valve check. A month later, 15 July, she got underway with Chubb, Cabezon (SS-334), and Nereus (AS-17) for the Arctic ocean. After a refueling stop at Adak they proceeded to St. Paul, Pribilof Islands, to conduct shoal soundings. The group crossed the Arctic Circle (becoming "Blue Noses"), contacted ice floes, walrus, and polar bears on 1 August, and lay to in the Chukchi Sea to collect scientific data. Returning through the Bering Strait Caiman conducted a photo reconnaissance exercise off the Diomede Islands on 5 August. She spent a week looking for a missing aircraft before returning, via Juneau and Vancouver, to Pearl Harbor on 6 September. During attack training, in October and November, she had the misfortune of losing three exercise torpedoes that all ran erratic and sunk. On 6 December she entered drydock at Pearl Harbor on for another overhaul.

Post-overhaul exercises, including sound and speed tests, began on 2 March, 1948, so it was not until 25 April that Caiman moored at Seattle for a month of naval reserve training off Oregon and British Columbia. On 1 June, enroute to San Francisco, she spotted a drifting mine and sank it with gunfire. While underway on 27 June she detonated another mine with gunfire before mooring at Pearl Harbor on 3 July. The routine of practice dives, sonar drills, and gunnery exercises was broken on 30 July when Caiman observed a live fire exercise against BB ex-Nevada . In August she conducted sonar exercises with Diadon (SS-349), one of the new snorkel-equipped submarines, before continuing training exercises into November. After a short ASW exercise with Canadian ships she drydocked in ARD-29 at Pearl Harbor for a short hull inspection.

On 20 January 1949 the submarine got underway for Kodiak Island, Alaska, for reconnaissance training. Beach recon exercises with Underwater Demolition Team 3, submerged photo reconnaissance, and beach landings with HQ Recon Platoon of 1st Marine Division took place between 28 January and 10 February. She returned to Seattle, and then San Diego, for reserve training, night maneuvers, and aircraft avoidance drills until 7 June when Caiman entered drydock at San Francisco Naval Shipyard. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 13 October and spent the remainder of the year conducting mine laying and reloading exercises, sound tests, and practice dives until the end of the year.

In January 1950 she continued radar and sonar tracking exercises, gunnery firing, and other drills until 18 May when she entered drydock at Pearl Harbor. Reserve training in Seattle and ASW exercises with Fleet Air Wing 4 continued until 25 August when she departed the area. After spotting a drifting mine on 30 August the submarine moored at Pearl Harbor 1 September. On 13 October Caiman rendered passing honors to President Truman. She continued training exercises, including sound tests and a deep dive to 415 feet, through the end of the year.

On 6 January 1951, while in ARD-29 drydock, she received new propellers. A series of barrier patrol, RDF, and sonar tests followed until 2 April when she entered at Mare Island Naval Shipyard for a major overhaul. In an effort to increase her underwater speed the submarine drydocked on 2 May to undergo a "Guppy" conversion. Caiman, because of the high cost of the Guppy II conversion, received the less expensive Guppy 1A modification. Her hull and sail were streamlined, the deck guns removed, and a high capacity battery system, hydraulic snorkel, and five bladed propellers were also installed. Pier side and inshore trials culminated in a snorkel sea trial on 29 September. On 10 October the submarine arrived at Pearl Harbor to begin a series of type training and target services. The new "snort", as the snorkel was called, was worked up and she began preparations for her first WestPac cruise 5 February, 1952.

Over the next four years Caiman conducted another WestPac tour, in late 1954, and continued standard training exercises and target services out of Pearl Harbor. Refresher training, including snorkel cruises, ASW exercises, and electronic training, was broken only by two short training cruises and routine overhaul at the Pearl Harbor shipyard. During her second overhaul, begun 15 August 1955, she was awarded the Battle Efficiency "E" for SubRon One, was transferred to SubDiv Three, and had her home port shifted to San Diego.

Caiman departed on 21 January, 1956 and, after port visits to Tahiti and Christmas Island, arrived at San Diego for a summer of training and services. On 19 November the submarine departed on her third, and most intense, WestPac cruise to Yokosuka, Japan. Caiman conducted two special operations patrols in Chinese waters, qualifying for the China Service Medal (Extended), before departing Yokosuka on 1 April, 1957, for Hong Kong. She provided ASW services for Chinese Nationalist forces on 9 April, spent the following week at Hong Kong, and arrived Brisbane, Australia on 30 April for "Coral Sea Week" celebrations. The submarine returned to San Diego, via Pearl Harbor, on 30 May, 1957. She was awarded another "E" for overall excellence a month later.

After a long period of upkeep, training, and services she entered San Francisco Naval Shipyard on 2 April, 1958 for another routine overhaul. Work was not completed until 28 August but she completed refresher training in time for SLAMEX, a coordinated ASW exercise held off Esquimalt, B.C., between 18 - 25 September. On 29 December, she departed for her fourth WestPac cruise.

Returning from Yokosuka on 24 July, 1959 Caiman entered San Diego shipyard for interim docking and a battery renewal. Refresher training, target services, and submarine exercises continued in the San Diego area until 4 January, 1961 when she departed for San Francisco Naval Shipyard. In addition to a regular drydock overhaul Caiman also received modifications to further increase her underwater speed. A new plastic sail, and streamlined superstructure aft, were both installed by 26 May. Sea trials followed, which included conducting her 5,000th dive on 1 July, until she departed for her fifth WestPac cruise on 19 July.

She did not return until 9 January, 1962, when she moored at Pearl Harbor to refuel. Departing the next day Caiman steered for San Diego but, in a final exercise, conducted a simulated torpedo attack against Preble (DLG-15). She avoided the destroyers' countermeasures and moored at San Diego on 18 January. Local operations, including ASW exercises with aircraft, firing exercise torpedoes, and snorkel operations continued through the spring. These exercises were marred only by a minor dockside collision with Salmon (SS-573) on 26 March and a small fire in the maneuvering room on 28 March. On 27 April departed for Seattle, spending 4-8 May in port for the World's Fair, before setting course to San Francisco. On 3 July Caiman entered drydock at the Naval Shipyard for a battery renewal. After refit the submarine commenced local operations off San Diego until 10 November, broken only by short visits to Bangor and Vancouver, when she departed on a training cruise to Pearl Harbor. Arriving 19 November she remained in port only a week before returning to San Diego on 4 December.

On 2 January 1963 Caiman began a three month period of training operations off San Diego. The next day, while providing target services, she was struck by two practice torpedoes. On 4 January she obtained a measure of revenge by firing an exercise torpedo at Caliente (AO-53). Snorkel operations and torpedo firings continued, despite two fires that occurred in the pump room on 19 March, until 5 April when she got underway for Yokosuka. Arriving three weeks later Caiman conducted exercises with Seventh Fleet units and visited the ports of Hong Kong, Sasebo, and Kobe. Underway on 5 July, the submarine crew enjoyed firing an exercise torpedo at Kearsarge (CVS-33) during a drill and, on 7 July, conducted their first helicopter transfer of personnel while at sea. After a small fire broke out in the aft engine room on 9 July she returned to Yokosuka. She then conducted a special operations patrol, between 26 July and 13 September, and did not return to San Diego until 18 October. Dur ing local operations on Friday 13 December Caiman, while preparing to snorkel, suffered an explosion and fire in the forward engine room. Five crewmen were injured, two critically, and all were transferred to Bennington (CVS-20) for medical care.

She did not get underway again until 15 January 1964 when she began preparations to enter San Francisco Naval Shipyard for a regular overhaul. She crossed into drydock 27 January and did not emerge until 21 April. After electronics and snorkeling tests her overhaul was declared complete 17 June and she arrived at San Diego three days later. Local training operations began on 29 June and, after degaussing and deperming the hull on 30 July, continued throughout the remainder of the year. Her only highlight was the simulated torpedoing of a carrier and three destroyers during exercises on 28 September.

Caiman began the new year continuing local operations out of San Diego. On 10 February she fired an exercise torpedo at Gridley (DLG-21) and conducted reconnaissance training with personnel from 1st Marine Division. She entered San Francisco Naval Shipyard drydock on 23 March for a battery renewal and did not emerge until 27 April. Local exercises, designed to prepare the submarine for her seventh WestPac, commenced 4 May and included simulated mine planting. Caiman was awarded the Navy "E" on 1 July and, almost before the paint was dry, departed for Yokosuka. After a brief stop at Pearl Harbor, from 15 to 19 July, the submarine arrived at Yokosuka on 31 July. After voyage repairs she got underway 12 August for a special operations cruise off the Asian mainland. Returning to Sasebo 1 September Caiman departed four days later for another classified cruise that lasted until 29 September. The submarine conducted two more special operations cruises, one between 16 October and 15 November, and the other lasting from 26 November until 22 December when she returned to Yokosuka.

After finishing up an upkeep period at the Submarine Repair Facility, Yokosuka, Japan, Caiman got underway for Hong Kong on 1 January 1966. After a one week transit, complete with drills and ISE, she moored in Victoria Basin for a port visit. She flew her flag at half mast on 12-13 January, 1966, in deference to the funeral of Jal Bahadur Shastri, Prime Minister of India. She departed for Yankee Station the next day, trailed a short distance by a PRC Gunboat, and rendered services to Task Force 77 on "Yankee Station". She conducted a Submarine Intruder Exercise against Kittyhawk (CVA-63), Ranger (CVA-61), and their escorts, to test the ability of a diesal submarine to close with surface forces. She proved she could come into very close range but the numerous escorts, shallow isothermal water, and made it difficult to remain undetected.

After a short visit to Subic Bay Caiman, via Pearl Harbor, arrived at Point Loma, SanDiego, on 1 March. She underwent an interim drydocking at Long Beach Naval Shipyard unntil 25 April. Her sea valves, rudder, and operating gear were overhauled, and her hull sand-blasted and painted. From 1-5 May she participated in HUKASWEX 3-66, an anti-submarine exercise, and trained against Kearsarge (CVS-33) and her ASW group. For the next two months she provided training services for shore-based air squadrons off San Diego. In late July, after winning another Battle Efficiency "E", she took part in CONVEX 2-66. On 27 July she intercepted a convoy, escorted by DesDiv 192, and made four successful simulated torpedo attacks. Two other exercises followed in the fall, including ASWGRU III where she simulated torpedo attacks on Yorktown (CVS-10) and two escorts, until 14 December when she entered Mare Island Naval Shipyard for her regularly scheduled overhaul.

As part of a modernization program Caiman received four new GM diesal engines, on-line cryptographic equipment, and corrected flooding problems. Returning to San Diego 16 June, 1967 the submarine, with the help of Sperry (AS-12), received a new torpedo fire control system. After workup, type training, and further upkeep she got underway 29 September for a six-month WestPac deployment. She arrived at Yokosuka 24 October and began a series of aircraft operations. Caiman was plagued by gryo problems, and had her propeller replaced twice, but finally embarked on an extended cruise 22 November.

Chronic engine problems, that shut down two of her four diesal engines, marred operations. As she approached Yokosuka on 10 January, 1968, heavy smoke forced her to secure the other two and enter port on battery power. Repairs were finished by 29 January and the submarine got underway for a short deployment. She arrived at San Diego on 3 April, via Hong Kong, Guam, and Pearl Harbor, for voyage repairs and upkeep.

Type training, to familiarize new recruits, and simulated harbor sortie attacks followed in May and June. On 17 June, in a rare occurance, an injured torpedoman was transferred to shore via helicopter. On 29 June she entered Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard for battery renewal, propeller replacement, and shaft realignment. Work was completed by 30 August and Caiman, upon learning she was deploying for another WestPac cruise, began an intensive series of training, photographic, and observation exercises. The submarine left port 6 November, arriving in Yokosuka at the end of the month, to begin operations with 7th Fleet. Aircraft services, including a VP barrier exercise called "Fortress Wall", were conducted to test aircraft versus submarine tactics.

On 1 January, 1969, Caiman departed Yokosuka for five weeks of operations and services. Tragedy was narrowly avoided when a sailor was washed overboard, due to a parted safety line, but was rescued within the half hour. ASW training operations, interspersed with port visits to Sasebo, Hong Kong, and Pusan, continued until 25 April when the submarine departed for Pearl Harbor. She arrived at San Diego 16 May and began a month of upkeep and leave. The remainder of the year was spent in type training, target services for air and surface units, and summer midshipman training.

7 January, 1970 found the submarine at Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard for a regular overhaul. Aging equipment was refurbished, exterior equipment cleaned and repaired, and a new battery system was installed. Sea-keeping and electronic trials were conducted in early June and, after loading spares and stores, the overhaul was declared complete 26 June.

Caiman's crew celebrated the 4th of July at Redwood City, California, before sailing for Bangor for Weapons Systems Accuracy Trials. Advanced fire control equipment, and exercise torpedoes, were utilized during the day long exercise in Dabob Bay, Washington. She returned to San Diego on 27 July for refresher training and preparations for a late fall WestPac deployment. After successfully passing the Operational Readiness Inspection in mid-October Caiman departed on her tenth WestPac deployment on 8 November.

After an uneventful crossing the submarine arrived at Yokosuka on 4 December. Type training and ASW exercise "Fortress Wall 1-71" kept the submarine busy until 31 December when she moored at Pusan, South Korea. On 3 January 1971 she began exercises with South Korean Naval Forces, that included destroyers built, like Caiman, during World War II. After a short port visit to Hong Kong she commenced upkeep at Subic Bay 21 January. The submarine then swung down to Singapore, for another port visit, until 11 February when she provided ten days of CAST services to 7th Fleet off Vietnam. Four days of ASW exercises were provided to the Republic of China navy off Taiwan in mid-March before returning to Subic Bay for another short upkeep.

On 26 March Caiman's crew began conferences in Manila for the upcoming SEATO exercise SUBOK-1971. Type training and target services with Commonwealth and Philippine naval units lasted until 5 April when she returned to Subic Bay for a final upkeep. On 11 April Caiman sailed with ASW Group Three for the Sunda Straits. Three weeks of sailing, and four days of operations in the Eastern Indian Ocean, were concluded 30 April when she moored at Darwin, Australia. Passing through the Torres Strait she provided target services for the Australian Air Force in the Coral Sea before a port call at Brisbane on 12 May. The submarine returned home, via Suva, Fiji, the rarely visited Pago Pago, American Samoa, and Pearl Harbor, before arriving in San Diego on 11 June.

After a series of local services, type training, and fleet exercises Caiman entered Cambell Machine Industrial Shipyard, San Diego, on 9 November for a modified interim drydocking. Her underwater hull, shafts, and propellers were cleaned and, in December, she was found to be in excellent physical condition and passed the Insurv inspection. She was, however, below the technological standards of future submarine warfare requirements.

In early 1972 Caiman, after a series of engineering and weapons system trials, the submarine took one last cruise along the West coast before returning to San Diego on 7 May. An advance party of Turkish personnel arrived, to begin the eight week preinactivation period, and on 30 June 1972, after twenty-eight years of continuous service, Caiman was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Register. She was immediately commissioned in the Turkish Navy as TCG Dumlupinar (S-339). She disappeared from the Turkish Navy list in 1985.

Caiman had her fourth war patrol designated successful, was awarded the combat insignia, and earned two battle stars for World War II.


Published: Mon Jun 29 14:18:25 EDT 2015