The first Finback (SS-230) was named for the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), also known as a finback whale, a species found in all oceans of the world. Possessing a slender, elongated body that ranges from 60 to 80 feet long and weighing up to 70 tons, they are the second largest animal on Earth after the blue whales and among the fastest whales.
(SS-230: displacement 1,526 (standard), 2,410 (submerged); length 311'8"; beam 27'4"; draft 15'3"; speed 20.25 knots (surface), 8.75 knots (submerged); complement 60; armament 1 3-inch, 2 .50 caliber machine guns, 2 .30 caliber machine guns, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Gato)
The first Finback (SS-230) was laid down on 5 February 1941 at Portsmouth, N.H., by the Portsmouth Navy Yard; launched on 25 August 1941; sponsored by Mrs. Adolphus E. Watson, wife of Rear Adm. Adolphus E. Watson, Commandant Fourth Naval District; and commissioned on 31 January 1942, Lt. Cmdr. Jesse L. Hull in command.
After shakedown training, Finback departed New London, Conn., for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on 2 May 1942, transited the Panama Canal on 13 May, and reached Pearl on 29 May. Two days later, with the Japanese Fleet on the move, she was ordered out on a defensive patrol during what history would record as the Battle of Midway, to guard the Hawaiian Sea Frontier. She returned to Pearl on 9 June to prepare for her first full war patrol, on which she sailed for the Aleutians on 25 June. Finback first contacted the enemy on 5 July, when she attacked two destroyers, and received her baptism of fire in a heavy depth charge attack. Two special missions highlighted this first war patrol, a reconnaissance of Vega Bay, Kiska, on 11 July, and a surveying operation at Tanaga Bay one month later, on 11 August. The submarine ended her patrol at Dutch Harbor on 12 August, and returned to Pearl Harbor on 23 August to refit.
Departing Pearl Harbor on 23 September 1942, Finback made her second war patrol off Taiwan. On 14 October, she sighted a convoy of four merchantmen, guarded by a patrol vessel. The submarine launched two torpedoes at each of the two largest targets, sinking the Japanese Army transport Teison Maru, then went deep for the inevitable depth charging. When she surfaced, she found two destroyers in the area, preventing a further attack. With tubes reloaded she headed for the China coast. Four days later, 18 October, she inflicted heavy damage on a large freighter, and on 20 October, Finback sent another large freighter to the bottom. Rounding out this highly successful patrol with a surface gunfire engagement with an ocean-going sampan, which she sank on 3 November, Finback returned to Pearl Harbor on 20 November.
During her third war patrol, between 16 December 1942 and 6 February 1943, Finback served for some time as escort for a carrier task force, forbidden to reveal herself by making attacks during a part of the patrol. On 17 January, she engaged a patrol boat in a surface gun duel, leaving the enemy craft abandoned and sinking.
After refitting at Midway, Finback made her fourth war patrol between 27 February and 13 April 1943, scouting shipping lanes between Rabaul and the Japanese home islands. On 21 March, she damaged a large cargo ship, and from 24 to 26 March made an exasperatingly difficult chase of a convoy. At last in position to attack, she fired three torpedoes at each of two ships, and was immediately fired upon, then forced deep by an uncomfortably efficient depth-charging. Almost out of fuel, Finback was forced to break off the contact, and shaped course for Wake Island and Midway. On 5 April, passing a reef south of the triangular Japanese-held atoll, Finback sighted a merchantman beached and well down by the stern. Through radical maneuvers and excellent timing, the submarine was able to elude both a patrol boat and a searching aircraft and put a torpedo in the beached vessel, which proved to be the Japanese troopship Suwa Maru, which had been damaged by Tunny (SS-282) on 28 March, then beached by her crew. Seadragon (SS-194), inflicted further damage upon the ill-fated troopship four months later, on 27 July.
Finback refitted at Pearl Harbor from 13 April 1943 to 12 May for her fifth war patrol, through most of which she patrolled off Taiwan, and along the shipping lanes from the Japanese home islands to the Marshalls. On 27 May, she sank a cargo ship, and sent another to the bottom on 7 June. Yet another of Japan's dwindling merchant fleet was sunk by Finback 4 days later. After refitting at Fremantle, Australia, 26 June to 18 July, the submarine sailed for her sixth war patrol along the Java coast. Her first contact was made 30 July, and although the freighter defended herself with gunfire, she was sunk, as was a larger cargo ship on 3 August. On 10 August, she outwitted both a surface escort and a patrol plane to inflict damage on another merchantman. Finback encountered two small mine planters, a tug, and an inter-island steamer on 19 August, and engaged all but the tug with surface gunfire, leaving three badly damaged ships behind when her dwindling supply of ammunition forced her to break off the action.
After a major overhaul at Pearl Harbor (12 September-15 December 1943), Finback sailed for the South China Sea on her seventh war patrol, one characterized by heavy weather, few contacts, and continual sighting of patrol planes. She sank a large tanker in a surface attack on New Year’s Day 1944, sent a fishing trawler to the bottom after a surface gunfire action on 30 January, and left another badly damaged after a similar action the next day.
The submarine refitted at Pearl Harbor again (11 February-6 March 1944), then sailed for her eighth war patrol, off Truk in the Caroline Islands. Prevented from launching attacks through most of this patrol because of her assignment as lifeguard for carrier air strikes on targets in the Carolines, Finback contacted a six-ship convoy on 12 April, noting three escorts. She attacked four of the ships before heavy counter-attack sent her deep. On 16 April, while making a reconnaissance of Oroluk Atoll, she fired on a partially submerged steamer and a lookout tower on the atoll. Three days later, she sank one of a group of sampans, then sailed for refit at Pearl Harbor from 1 May to 30 May.
During her ninth war patrol, off the Palaus and west of the Marianas, Finback again had as her primary mission lifeguard duty during plane strikes covering the opening of the Marianas operation. She returned to Majuro 21 July 1944 for refit, then sailed 16 August on her tenth war patrol, assigned to lifeguard duty in the Bonins. Guided by friendly aircraft, she rescued a total of five downed pilots, one very close inshore off Iwo Jima. One of those fortunate aviators, retrieved from the sea off Chichi Jima on 2 September, was Lt. (j.g.) George H. W. Bush, USNR, of Torpedo Squadron (VT) 51, who would go on to become the 41st President of the United States.
On 10 and 11 September 1944, Finback tracked a convoy, and although twice her attacks were broken off by an alert escort, she sank two small freighters. On her eleventh war patrol, for which she prepared at Pearl Harbor from 4 October to 1 November, Finback was again detailed to lifeguard duty in the Bonins. She sank a freighter on 16 December, and returned to Midway on 24 December, the day before Christmas.
The submarine’s twelfth war patrol, made between 20 January 1945 and 25 March in the East China Sea, was frustrated by lack of worthwhile targets, and Finback returned to Pearl Harbor for a thorough overhaul. Still at Pearl Harbor at the close of the war, she sailed for New London 29 August 1945.
Homeported at New London for the remaining five years of her active career, Finback was engaged in training student submariners. Twice, in 1947 and in 1948, she sailed to the Caribbean to take part in Second Fleet exercises.
Assigned to the New London Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet, on 2 December 1949, Finback reported to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet for inactivation on 4 January 1950. Decommissioned and placed in reserve at New London on 21 April 1950 when 100% inactivated, she was “[d]eclared “unfit for further naval service and authorized to be stricken on 1 Sep[tember] 1958.”
The boat that received 13 battle stars for her World War II service, had nine of her 12 war patrols designated as “successful,” had been credited with sending 59,383 tons of Japanese shipping to the bottom, and saved a young naval aviator who went on to become Chief Executive, was stricken from the Naval Register on 1 September 1958.
Commanding Officers Date Assumed Command
Lt. Cmdr. Jesse L. Hull 31 January 1942
Lt. Cmdr. John A. Tyree, Jr. 23 February 1943
Lt. Cmdr. James L. Jordan 16 May 1944
Lt. Cmdr. Robert R. Williams, Jr. 2 August 1944
Lt. Cmdr. William T. Alford 14 August 1945
Cmdr. Maurice Ferrara 4 January 1946
Lt. Cmdr. Howard J. Greene 26 June 1948
Updated, Robert J. Cressman
20 March 2018