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Kingfish (SS-234)

1942–1960

Named for a fish.

(SS-234: displacement 1,526 (surface); length 311'8"; beam 27'4"; draft 15'3"; speed 20 knots (surface); complement 60; armament 1 3-inch, 2 .50 caliber machine guns, 2 .30 caliber machine guns, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Gato)

Kingfish (SS-234) was laid down on 29 August 1941 at Portsmouth, N.H., by the Portsmouth Navy Yard; launched on 2 March 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Marie D. (Blandin) Stuart, the wife of Rear Adm. Harry A. Stuart; and commissioned on 20 May 1942, Lt. Cmdr. Vernon L. Lowrance in command.

Putting out to sea for the first time on 21 June 1942, Kingfish steamed southeast of the Isles of Shoals to commence “training operations in preparation for war duty.” After returning to Portsmouth, on 26 June, she got underway again on the 30th, to conduct a mock war patrol in “the Portsmouth Submarine Areas.” The boat conducted a deep submergence test on 8 July, and then the following day she headed to Newport, R.I., to conduct further training with Task Group (TG) 25.5.

The submarine concluded her shakedown training on 5 August 1942, and voyaged to the Panama Canal, arriving off Cristobal, C.Z., on the 13th. Reporting for duty with the Pacific Fleet on 14 August, Kingfish then transited the Panama Canal and steamed to Pearl Harbor, T.H., arriving there on the 31st. A few days after mooring at the Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, she commenced voyage repairs and participated in several training exercises in the local area in preparation for her first war patrol.

On 9 September 1942, Kingfish stood out from Pearl Harbor for her first wartime mission, bound for what Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance described as “lucrative hunting grounds off the entrance to the Inland Sea.” While en route, on the 22nd, she encountered several well-armed Japanese trawlers on picket duty, however, the boat managed to bypass them, and a few days later arrived in her designated patrol area off the coast of Honshu, Japan.

While patrolling on 25 September 1942, Kingfish spotted a formation of six Japanese ships. Closer observation indicated at least “three freighters and three escort ships.” She submerged and launched three torpedoes at “the last freighter in the column.” Sound reported hearing at least one hit, but the extent of any damage that may have been inflicted (along with the identity of the convoy) remains undetermined.

Immediately following the attack, “a Temozuru [sic – Tomodzuru] class destroyer [sic – torpedo boat]” closed on Kingfish at full speed and fired a torpedo at her. Kingfish went deep, escaping the “unexpected maneuver,” and then remained submerged as several Japanese warships pursued her with depth charges for another 18 hours. Thanks to some skillful maneuvering by Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance, the boat managed to escape the area unharmed.

Resuming her patrol on 1 October 1942, Kingfish spotted the “heavily laden” Japanese cargo ship Yomei Maru (2,860-tons) “hugging the coastline.” The submarine fired “three fish” [“fish” being slang in the submarine force for torpedo] and made one confirmed hit. With her bridge awash, “the target went down by the stern,” sinking in the proximity of 33°35'N, 135°15'E. Five Japanese escorts and one observation plane then quickly moved in on the submarine. Despite a bout of heavy depth charging, she managed to elude her pursuers and resumed her patrol.

Steaming off Muroto Zaki, Japan, on the night of 5 October 1942, Kingfish spotted an unidentified “freighter standing in.” The ship “presented her stern,” and Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance gave the order to launch a spread of torpedoes. None of the fish managed to hit their mark and the freighter commenced evasive maneuvers. Kingfish then fired another single fish aimed at the vessel’s starboard side and lookouts reported that it “blew off her bow.” In desperation, the freighter’s crew trained a 5-inch gun on Kingfish and landed several hits “uncomfortably close.” The heavy fire forced Kingfish to dive and her last periscope view of the freighter showed the target ship down by the bow.

Kingfish initially cleared the area, however, eager to determine the fate of the Japanese vessel, she returned the next day and observed “much floating debris at the point of attack.” Despite these observations and a review of Japanese records the vessel’s identity and fate remains unknown.

For several weeks, Kingfish failed to develop any more good targets in her assigned area but did manage to avoid a number of patrol boats sent out to hunt her. The submarine’s luck changed significantly on the afternoon of 23 October 1942; while patrolling the south entrance of the Kii Straits [Kii Channel], she spotted the (ex-gunboat) auxiliary transport Seikyo Maru (2,608-ton), accompanied by a small freighter, running along the coast. Obtaining a good attack position, Kingfish fired two torpedoes at Seikyo Maru and struck the vessel forward and aft. At approximately 33°45'N, 135°25'E, the transport’s deck went awash and she sank rapidly thereafter, taking 43 of her crew down with her. Having observed the fate of Seikyo Maru, the crew of the second smaller Japanese ship commenced a furious barrage of fire with their deck guns while simultaneously beaching the vessel on the nearby shoreline. Satisfied, Kingfish withdrew from the area.

The next day, she located and engaged a small freighter, however the target vessel managed to avoid both of submarine’s torpedoes, likely by “turning after sighting the torpedo wakes,” and subsequently escaped. A few days later, on 28 October 1942, while conducting a surface patrol, Kingfish closed on a trawler while manning her deck gun. The trawler sighted Kingfish a short distance out and opened fire, the force of which, reportedly “convinced everyone she was too big a match for a sub.”

As October 1942 came to a close, so did Kingfish’s first war patrol. The submarine departed her patrol area off the coast of Japan and voyaged to Midway Atoll, arriving there on 3 November. While at Midway for the next several weeks, she underwent a refit and her crew got some much-needed rest and relaxation.

On 25 November 1942, Kingfish stood out for her second war patrol and later arrived off Chichi Jima, Bonin Islands. Over the course of the next week, she spotted an enemy patrol boat and a few planes, but otherwise located no good targets. On 5 December, the submarine departed the area and shaped a course for the South China Sea.

Just a few hours after arriving in her new patrol zone, the submarine made contact with the Japanese transport Hino Maru (4,391-tons), steaming south along the horizon. Kingfish trailed the transport for several days, and then late on 7 December 1942, closed to engage. She launched a full spread of torpedoes but, the freighter began “radically zigzagging,” and all of them missed. Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance, then gave the order to fire two more torpedoes and “both hit the target.” One of the fish struck the transport’s after well deck and ignited the hold—enveloping the ship in flames “two hundred feet high.”

Kingfish’s crew gathered around the periscope “to view the fiery spectacle,” a sight that Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance recalled is always “sure to boost sailors’ morale.” At 2120, in the proximity of 23°30'N, 138°20'E, No. 3 Hino Maru broke in two and sank beneath waves taking 19 of her crew down with her. Another 26 of her sailors managed to escape in a life boat and were later rescued by the hospital ship Takasago Maru.

Steaming north of Okinotorishima at 1615 on 8 December 1942, Kingfish intercepted the seaplane tender Kagu Maru and the high-speed cargo ship Nankai Maru. The submarine then achieved a good firing position, and fired three Mark 14 torpedoes—one of which hit Nankai Maru. Unfortunately for Kingfish, as was often case with the faulty Mark 14, the ordnance failed to explode. Kagu Maru responded swiftly by brazenly steaming full speed at Kingfish in an attempt to ram her, but the submarine went deep and managed to avoid the collision. Disappointed in the performance of her torpedoes, Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance gave the order to withdraw from the area and the Japanese ships continued on their way.

In the weeks following the failed attack on Nankai Maru, Kingfish managed to locate two other Japanese ships, one on 17 December 1944, and the other on 22 December. Unfortunately, the submarine could not get close enough for an effective attack and both became “sorely missed opportunities.” In fact, the run of bad luck had “all hands getting awfully mad,” and Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance proclaiming “God help the next enemy ship to come along.”

Late, on 28 December 1942, Kingfish located the cargo ship Choyo Maru (5,388-tons), and shortly thereafter hit the unsuspecting vessel with a single torpedo. All hands gathered on the bridge to spectate as Choyo Maru sank to the bottom in the proximity of 24°46'N, 120°40'E.

Not long after her attack on Choyo Maru, Kingfish got into two gun battles with armed Japanese trawlers. The submarine encountered the first of these on 6 January 1943—riddling the vessel with gunfire and then setting her ablaze with oil-soaked rags. The next day, she engaged a second trawler and sank her with gunfire. These two skirmishes capped off a remarkably successful patrol and her crew departed the area in a spirit of triumph. On her voyage home, Kingfish briefly touched at Midway for fuel, and then arrived at Pearl Harbor on 23 January.

Upon her arrival at the Submarine Base at Pearl, Kingfish received a “well done,” from Vice Adm. Charles A. Lockwood, the Commander of the Submarine Force Pacific Fleet. The boat then commenced a three-week overhaul while her crew enjoyed some shore leave.

Commenting on the morale of the crew prior to getting underway on their third war patrol, Kingfish’s war diarist observed: “There is no confidence comparable to that of a submariner in himself and his ship when he has done much damage to the enemy.” In such spirits, the boat departed Pearl Harbor early on 16 February 1943, and shaped a course for Formosa [Taiwan], via Midway.

Not long after stopping at Midway for fuel, Kingfish passed through the Bonin Islands and while doing so caught sight of a Japanese trawler. Gunfire from the submarine quickly overwhelmed the small vessel, which “caught fire almost immediately and went down.” Not long after this minor tussle “all hands received a somewhat doubtful thrill after lookouts reported a periscope.” She submerged, but as was often the case with submarines, the mutual “game of hide and seek, with each poking above the surface for the other,” failed to produce a good target.

Shortly after arriving in her assigned area off Formosa, Kingfish spotted her first worthy target. On the night of 10 March 1943, she fired three torpedoes at a freighter, but all of them missed and the ship escaped. Adding “to her crew’s disappointment,” the boat had to go deep for several hours to avoid a depth charge attack from a previously unseen patrol plane operating in the area.

Just two nights later, while patrolling on the surface, a search light from “a lurking patrol boat,” unexpectedly illuminated Kingfish and she had to dive to avoid a depth charge attack. On 15 March 1943, the submarine contacted and subsequently engaged an unidentified passenger freighter. “One solid heart warming torpedo hit was heard throughout the boat,” however, this was never visually confirmed as she had to go deep to evade depth charges from two planes. The identity of the target ship remains undetermined.

The following week proved far more lucrative for Kingfish’s hunt. Patrolling off Taichu [Taichung] at about 2300 on 17 March 1943, she picked up the general requisitioned transport Tenryugawa Maru and fired two torpedoes, both of which struck the transport’s stern. Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance gave the order to fire an additional torpedo but, despite hitting the target, the fish failed to explode. Believing Tenryugawa Maru to be “in a sinking condition,” she submerged and left the area in anticipation of a depth charge attack. In fact, despite being heavily damaged, and losing two of her crewmembers, Tenryugawa Maru managed to stay afloat and eventually made it to her port of call.

On 19 March 1943, Kingfish received word via Ultra (Allied intelligence), of several Japanese transports moving through her patrol area en route to the Philippines. Remembered by her crew as perhaps the “greatest thrill of the patrol,” at 0900, while steaming at approximately 25°50'N, 122°30'E, she located the cargo vessel) Takachiho Maru (8,154-tons), escorted by the minelayer Sokuten. Once in an attack position, the boat fired a spread of four torpedoes at the unsuspecting vessel. Two of the torpedoes missed their mark but one struck under the bridge and another exploded at her stern—sealing Takachiho Maru’s fate. The cargo ship began listing badly to her starboard and then settled “her bow pointing skyward.” As the ship sank, Kingfish’s crew observed throngs of passengers (mostly troops) and crewmen attempting to jump into the water.

In his after action report, Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance estimated that at least 200 Japanese troops went down with Takachiho Maru but, in actuality the true number was much higher. Only a few lifeboats managed to escape and in total, 844 troops, passengers and crew perished. The loss so angered the Imperial Japanese Navy that several additional anti-submarine warfare ships, supported by additional aircraft were dispatched to the area. The sinking had dealt a sure blow to the Japanese war effort. A few days later, on 21 March, the submarine attempted to capitalize on her success by engaging another cargo ship in the area, but none of her torpedoes hit their mark.

Just before dawn on 23 March 1943, Kingfish spotted what her lookout believed to be a Japanese destroyer, but was actually Sokuten, from the Takachiho Maru sinking. The boat maneuvered to engage but before she could manage to get into an advantageous firing position the minelayer spotted her periscope and promptly preempted the attack.

Kingfish dove, and Sokuten commenced a relentless depth charge attack, which was apparently aided immensely by a noisy propeller shaft on the submarine. Notified of the presence of a submarine the Mako Guard District also dispatched the auxiliary gunboat Chohakusan Maru and the auxiliary submarine chasers No. 21 Nitto Maru and No. 22 Nitto Maru. Over the course of the next 16 hours these warships punished Kingfish with 41 depth charges. As a result of the attack, she suffered severe damage; parts of her pressure hull were pushed in (nearly four inches in places), machinery moved off its foundations and glass on all instruments was shattered. As leaks sprang and mechanical casualties mounted, Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance gave the order to burn all secret codes and material in preparation for abandoning ship.

A final string of depth charges burst Kingfish’s main induction piping and created a huge air bubble that rose to the surface. Most likely believing that the bubble was from the submarine sinking, Sokuten and the others ceased their attack—thinking they had sent the boat to the bottom. Rattled and cautious, she surfaced and, to Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance’s ire, some of their pursuers were spotted just “a few thousand yards off, lying to.” Kingfish was put to the maximum speed she could handle, and to the everlasting relief of her officers and men, managed to clear the area without notice.

Following her scrape with death, Kingfish steamed directly to Pearl Harbor, arriving there with “an immensely grateful crew,” on 9 April 1943. In light of the extensive damage she sustained, Kingfish received orders to proceed to the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif. She arrived off the coast of California on 20 April, and then commenced a major yard overhaul and repair period during which, entire sections of the boat were re-built or newly installed.

In all, Kingfish spent nearly three full months having her battle damage repaired. Finally, on 16 June 1943, she stood out from Mare Island and steamed to Pearl Harbor. The voyage to Pearl revealed that the veteran submarine still needed some additional work done and after reaching Hawaiian waters on 23 June, she went into dry dock to have the oil seal rings in several of her main generators renewed.

In early July 1943, Kingfish’s intrepid submariners began an “intensive period of refresher training,” and prepared to get underway for the boat’s fourth war patrol. She stood out from Pearl at 1300 on 7 July, and shaped a course for Midway. En route, the crew conducted daily training dives and fire-control drills. Arriving at 0700 on 11 July, the submarine fueled and then at 1400, got back underway bound for her patrol area in the Babuyan Channel, north of the Philippines. The submarine later arrived in her patrol area on the 26th.

For the first several weeks of her patrol Kingfish failed to develop any significant targets, prompting Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance to request a shift in patrol areas. On the morning of 5 August 1943, she steamed south of the Ryukyu Islands hoping to locate a “suspected traffic lane.” Late, on the afternoon of 6 August, the submarine sighted the “masts of a passenger freighter,” however, owing to a lack of speed during the initial approach she could not close on the vessel to achieve a sufficient range of fire.

Kingfish then surfaced and began tracking the unidentified freighter and two accompanying escorts. After trailing the ship for several hours, she finally obtained a favorable vantage point, and while making a radar approach fired three torpedoes. All of the fish appeared to miss their mark and meanwhile, two more escort ships showed up and began to close in. Deciding that “chances of a successful attack were small,” Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance gave the order to clear the area.

On 9 August 1943, the boat spotted a single unidentified hospital ship standing out of the Corregidor area, but left the vessel “unmolested.” On the 11th, the submarine stood in towards Corregidor, and enjoying good visibility and flat seas, began patrolling the area. At 1719 that evening, she sighted a Japanese convoy consisting of what appeared to be “two tankers and two medium ships,” standing out of the channel, and decided to shadow them; intending to “surface at dark and make a night attack on one of the larger vessels.”

Later, at 1941, Kingfish closed in on the convoy. One of the warships, the escort Etorofu, “evidently saw or heard us surface because he had a zero angle on the bow and was closing range when sighted.” She evaded at flank speed “hoping to out distance,” Etorofu and then keep on the trail of the convoy. Etorofu fired flares and turned on her searchlight, despite which, Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance reported she still “seemed unable to pick us up.” The Japanese escort ship then fired four single salvoes in Kingfish’s general direction, with the closest one landing “about 1,000 yards away.” These shots were followed up with four, 3-gun salvoes—the last one falling “too close for comfort.” She then submerged and ran silent.

Etorofu, however, Cmdr. Maeda Sekai, in command, did not give up the hunt easily. After forcing Kingfish to submerge, she launched several depth charge attacks, but failed to guess the submarine’s course and eventually lost her. The boat remained submerged for several hours and then re-surfaced to send out a contact report at about 2313. Meanwhile, Etorofu broke off from the convoy and ended up spending the next two days searching for the submarine.

Over the course of the next few days Kingfish patrolled off Cabra Island and Capones Island, Philippines. On 14 August 1943, she stood in towards Corregidor Island and spotted multiple patrol boats. One of these steamed to within a five-mile radius of the submarine and challenged her however, Kingfish increased speed and managed to “shake them off.”

Despite scouring her assigned patrol area for the next several weeks, Kingfish remained unable to develop any more targets. As a result of the limited Japanese activity in the area, she received orders to refit at Fremantle, Australia. Accordingly, she got underway on 29 August 1943, and after conducting a number of drills en route, arrived safely at Fremantle on 3 September.

For the next several weeks a relief crew from the submarine tender Pelias (AS-14) completed the boat’s refit. Afterwards she had a short training period and participated in several deep submergence tests. With her crew refreshed by “an excellent rehabilitation period in the social whirl of Perth,” Kingfish prepared for her next war patrol, with orders to “proceed via Lombok Strait to Area 403 and execute a special mission.”

On 24 September 1943, Kingfish got underway for Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia, proceeding by way of a bombing restriction lane. The submarine transited the Lombok Strait on 30 September, and noted sighting “numerous fires and lights,” on Nusa Besar and Bali, Indonesia.

At 1422 on 1 October 1943, Kingfish sighted a sailboat (estimated to be 25-tons) and maneuvered close aboard. The submarine then fired a shot across the vessel’s bow and “told him in Malay to douse his sails.” In response, the sailboat ran up a Japanese flag and attempted to evade, however, three well placed rounds from the submarine’s 4-inch gun quickly ended the escape.

As the sailboat began to sink, Kingfish attempted to rescue the crew, which consisted of “two Japanese and approximately four natives,” but “they kept diving under the wreckage,” and so they were left to the mercy of the sea. Just an hour after the encounter, she stopped a second sailboat, which proved far more compliant. A boarding party inspected her and confiscated some papers, but afterwards the vessel proceeded unmolested.

At 0908 on 8 October 1943, Kingfish “sighted smoke,” and began stalking a new target westward. A few hours later, at 1210, the vessel appeared to change course “likely to pass close aboard,” of Cagayan Sulu Island [Mapun Island], Philippines. At last able to get a better look at her, Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance guessed the ship to be a tanker, “probably of the Nippon Maru class,” being escorted by a destroyer. Not far off from his estimation, Kingfish had in fact located the Japanese oiler Hayatomo and the destroyer Asanagi.

All through the night Kingfish stalked the oiler as it steamed south. Finally, at 0520 on 9 October 1943, just off Sibutu Island, Philippines, the submarine made her move. At a range of 1,360 yards, the submarine fired four torpedoes at Hayatomo. One of the torpedoes hit the ship’s engine room and rendered her dead in the water and unable to navigate. The oiler’s escort, Asanagi (Lt.Cmdr. Otsuji Shūichi commanding) reacted quickly and began frantically searching the area, meanwhile Kingfish submerged and put some distance between them.

Eager to determine the fate of their target, later that morning, Kingfish moved to periscope depth and at a distance of about eight miles observed Hayatomo (located at 05°09'N, 119°18'E), “dead in the water and down astern,” with her escort, Asanagi still searching the area. Confident that the tanker “was done for,” she cleared the area. Hayatomo did experience heavy flooding, but unbeknownst to Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance, she was salvaged and towed to Singapore.

On 16 October 1943, Kingfish picked up on a four-ship convoy, and although she initially achieved a good attack position, her efforts were thwarted by the arrival of several Japanese patrol planes. Despite the setback, she continued trailing the convoy for several days. On the 18th, she moved in for a second attack, but the vigor of the attending escorts managed to dissuade Lt. Cmdr. Lowrance from further action.

A few days later, on 20 October 1943, Kingfish spotted the Japanese cargo vessel Sana Maru (3,365-tons) while steaming off Cape Varella, French Indochina [Vietnam]. The submarine closed to a good firing position about 1,600 yards from the cargo ship and then fired four torpedoes from her bow tubes. One fish hit Sana Maru under her bridge and another struck her aft. As a result of the explosions “the after part of the ship sank immediately and then appeared to break in two, aft of the bridge.” The submarine crew then observed a large life boat with approximately 50 survivors make their way to a nearby beachhead. In addition to a large quantity of floating debris, a forward portion of the ship, which included the bridge remained afloat at an upward angle of 50-degrees. She continued to observe the wreckage for several hours and then cleared the area.

In the course of the next several weeks, Kingfish failed to develop any more targets and on 2 November 1943 she shaped a course for Fremantle, ending her fifth war patrol. Shortly after her arrival on 15 November, she went alongside Pelias to commence an overhaul. Work on the submarine continued well into the first week of December, during which, she had to have extensive repairs made to her no. 3 main engine blower.

Sailing with a new skipper, Cmdr. Herbert L. Jukes, Kingfish stood out of Fremantle for her sixth war patrol on the afternoon of 16 December 1943. The submarine then made her way to the South China Sea by way of Lombok Strait, Makassar Strait, Sibutu Passage and Balabac Strait—none of which provided any good targets. She arrived in her designated patrol area on 1 January 1944.

At 2116 on the night of 2 January 1944, Kingfish made radar contact on a “four to five ship convoy,” and commenced tracking. Upon closer inspection, Cmdr. Jukes guessed the convoy to be composed of “one large AO, three AKs and one unknown smaller ship.” Japanese records indicate that she had likely intercepted ‘T convoy’ sailing out of Singapore, which included the oilers Nampo Maru, Nichirn Maru and Nichinan Maru, the naval tanker Ose (ex-Dutch Genota), and the auxiliary minelayer Tatsuharu Maru.

In the dark early morning hours of 3 January 1944, Kingfish moved in on the convoy at a speed of 15 knots while keeping her starboard bow pointed directly at the largest ship in the formation. Closing to 2,600 yards, at approximately 08°10'N, 112°43'E, she fired three torpedoes at “the largest AK.” The first torpedo “ran straight and hit the bow of the tanker,” while the second exploded prematurely and “the third ran erratic.” The submarine fired another salvo of torpedoes but the “premature fish,” alerted the second ship in the column and she maneuvered to avoid.

In an instant the convoy began to scatter and the various ships started “wildly tossing depth charges,” all the while Tatsuharu Maru closed on Kingfish “dead astern.” Cmdr. Jukes gave the order for the bridge to be cleared but the order was apparently misunderstood and the diving officer initiated a dive “while the captain was still on the bridge.” Luckily, Jukes made it below decks and the dive proceeded although not without some complications and the situation was made all the worse by the fact that Tatsuharu Maru then dropped five depth charges directly overhead. The befuddled dive had made it difficult for the boat to go deep quickly, and left Jukes and the rest of the crew praying they could make it to at least 350 feet.

Despite the initial difficulties, Kingfish did manage to get deep enough and just after 0200, she cleared the area and sent out a contact report for any other submarines that might be lying in wait further down the convoy’s projected track. Although Cmdr. Jukes believed the submarine had made “at least three hits,” the convoy escaped unscathed.

Shaking off her chaotic early morning skirmish, Kingfish headed towards Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia, in hopes of finding another target. Just a few hours later lookouts “spotted a smokestack,” and the boat commenced tracking Japanese fleet tanker Ryuei Maru (5,141-tons). She followed the tanker for more than eight hours before finally getting into a suitable attack position. Closing to approximately 1,700 yards at 1815, Kingfish fired a spread of four torpedoes, at least three of which, reportedly hit the tanker.

Immediately upon executing the attack, sound reported what “appeared to be a torpedo coming straight at us.” The boat then made flank speed to avoid, but whether the torpedo was real and who fired it remains undetermined. She came back up to periscope depth about 15 minutes later and observed that “flames covered the entire field of view.” Ryuei Maru sank at 06°03'N, 110°02'E, with 46 members of her crew.

On the same day that she sank Ryuei Maru (3 January 1944) Kingfish has also been credited with sinking the tanker Bokuei Maru (5,136-tons), however this claim appears to be erroneous. Records from Kingfish do not account for a second ship being hit that day and moreover, Japanese records indicate that on 4 January, Bokuei Maru collided with the cargo ship Terukuni Maru west of Moji, Japan, and sank. The confusion regarding Bokuei Maru may be due to the fact that the tanker steamed from Singapore to Tokyo, Japan, the week prior in a convoy with Ryuei Maru. However, Ryuei Maru was detached from this convoy on 28 December, and proceeded independently to Miri, where she was intercepted by Kingfish on 3 January.

Following the events of 3 January 1944, Kingfish headed for the southwestern edge of Dangerous Ground, Spratly Islands, to continue her patrol. The Spratly Islands cover an area of more than 160,000 square miles, and although there are hundreds of distinct landforms among them, many are either partly or fully submerged—making the entire area extremely hazardous to ships. Because of this, early European maps illustrated the Spratly Islands only as a blank space labeled “Dangerous Ground.”

On 7 January 1944, Kingfish made radar contact with Japanese convoy No. 2602, en route from Miri to Manila and consisting of the oilers No. 2 Ogura Maru and No. 3 Fushimi Maru; escorted by submarine chaser CH-46 and torpedo boat Tomodzuru. At 0811, she submerged and attempted to approach the convoy but was unable to develop a suitable attack position. The submarine then surfaced and commenced “a highspeed chase through Dangerous Ground.” In his report on the action Cmdr. Jukes makes special mention of the British Secret Charts (CB 01914), which became “absolutely essential for the success of this chase.”

Patrolling across the target track, Kingfish intersected the convoy at approximately 2024 and then within the course of the next hour, moved in for a night surface attack. With the moon shining directly overhead, she fired four torpedoes at the second ship in the column and then “swung left and fired two at the tanker.” Two of the submarine’s torpedoes hit No. 3 Fushimi Maru and ignited her fuel stores. Kingfish immediately dove as Tomodzuru commenced an anti-submarine sweep and CH-46 maneuvered to escort No. 2 Ogura Maru out of the area.

After weathering five depth charges, she re-surfaced, at about 2240, and reported observing two fires about 2,000 yards apart. Cmdr. Jukes reported that the flames from one of the fires rose approximately three hundred feet high and appeared to burn “dark reddish yellow with heavy black smoke that completely obscured the southern half of the sky.” Although he believed they had hit both of the tankers, No. 3 Fushimi Maru was the only casualty; she sank at 09°27'N, 117°36'E, with 38 members of her crew.

Following her successful attack on No. 3 Fushimi Maru, Kingfish cleared the area and then, the following morning, shaped a course for Balabac Strait. On 11 January 1944, she ended her war patrol and headed for Pearl Harbor. After briefly fueling at Midway on the 22nd, the boat arrived at Pearl on the 26th. For his role in the immense success of the patrol, Cmdr. Jukes received a Navy Cross, and all hands received the honor of wearing the Submarine Combat Insignia.

While at Pearl, Kingfish underwent a refit performed by the submarine tender Sperry (AS-12). On 10 February 1944, she began testing and then commenced a three-day training period prior to getting underway for her seventh war patrol.

On 19 February 1944, Kingfish stood out of Pearl, escorted (briefly) by the submarine chaser PC-1080, and then shaped a course for Midway. The submarine topped off her fuel at Midway on 23 February, and then continued on to her assigned patrol area off Saipan, Mariana Islands. She arrived in the vicinity of the Saipan-Kobe traffic lane on 4 March, and commenced her patrol. In the course of the next several weeks she encountered daily Japanese air patrols and made multiple radar contacts on enemy ships but could not “attain any suitable firing positions.”

Looking for more fertile hunting grounds, Kingfish shifted over to the Saipan-Empire traffic lane on 14 March 1944. While steaming off Anatahan Island, Northern Mariana Islands, on 17 March, she took numerous reconnaissance pictures, and then the following day sighted “two freighters and two destroyers.” The boat maneuvered to ambush the convoy however, “an unlucky zigzag,” sent them directly at her and she had to go deep as the “targets passed serenely overhead.” Once in the clear, she surfaced and attempted to catch up with the convoy but “couldn’t manage it.” Not long after sending out a contact report an unidentified plane “dropped a bright blueish flare 5,000 yards off our port bow.” The submarine quickly submerged and not wanting to attract any more attention quit the area.

A short time later, Kingfish again shifted patrol areas, making her way to the Truk-Saipan Channel. Upon her arrival in the new zone, she started coming under almost constant threat by Japanese air patrols; Cmdr. Jukes remarking that “they seem to pick us up every time we surface,” despite being a full 90 miles away from Saipan. Eager to escape the reach of the air patrols she steamed back to the Saipan-Empire Lane.

Late on the night of 29 March 1944, Kingfish “picked up a convoy with two large vessels and six escorts.” Tracking them into the early morning hours of the 30th, the boat attempted to approach the convoy a total of five times, however the numerous attending escort ships managed to thwart all her attempts at a successful attack. Eventually, she drew some considerable attention, largely in the form of enemy depth charge attacks, and Cmdr. Jukes gave the order to submerge and clear the area.

The following day, on 31 March 1944, Kingfish located a Japanese freighter and moved in for an attack. Cmdr. Jukes was only seconds away from giving the order to fire a spread of torpedoes when a Japanese plane dropped two bombs close abroad. At least two escorts that had been with the freighter then commenced an anti-submarine sweep, resulting in “numerous depth charges and some close calls.” She managed to escape her attackers and then spent 1 April, submerged in order “to give everyone the chance to get back to normal.”

Commenting on the morale of his men, Cmdr. Jukes observed that “It was a hard patrol, full of rotten luck,” and so it ended. Kingfish departed her patrol area and arrived in Majuro, Marshall Islands, on 9 April 1944. The submarine moored alongside Sperry for a refit that lasted until the 23rd, and then had a four-day training period.

Commencing her eighth war patrol, Kingfish stood out from Majuro on 1 May 1944, steaming in company with the escort vessel Manlove (DE-36). On the 3rd, Manlove broke away, and then on 10 May, she arrived in her patrol area off Haha Jima, Bonins. Coinciding with her arrival, the submarine’s SJ radar went out of commission and she had to “lay low,” for a few days to try to get it working again.

Despite her radar becoming “semi-functional,” on 15 May 1944, Kingfish didn’t develop any solid contacts for almost a full week. Finally, on the 21st, she spotted and attempted to engage a small convoy consisting of a single freighter and two escorts, but “the target zig zagged away.” Another opportunity arose on 25 May, while steaming north of Chichi Jima. She “sighted smoke on the horizon,” and commenced a high speed pursuit however, upon her approach an additional escort appeared and forced the submarine underwater. “With daylight an hour away and no chance to get ahead,” Cmdr. Jukes cleared the area and sent out a contact report hoping that “someone up north could solve the nightmare that I could not.”

A few days later, Kingfish investigated an abandoned motorboat and “salvaged some papers, including letters and magazines,” after which, the small boat was sunk using a demolition charge. On 28 May 1944, she shaped a course for Sofu Gan [Sōfu Iwa], to patrol the Empire-Chichi Jima traffic lane. On 30 May, another convoy escaped the submarine’s grasp—Cmdr. Jukes observing that continued radar issues “played a significant part.”

At 1025 on 31 May 1944, Kingfish observed several masts and closed in to investigate, observing 17 small fishing vessels and one larger trawler type vessel with none of them appearing to be over 10-tons, except the trawler. “The temptation to surface and shoot up a few was great,” but ultimately, Cmdr. Jukes thought the better of it, suspecting that the action would interfere with his orders to rendezvous with a group of other submarines later that night. Passing on the opportunity, she steamed on, and during the early morning hours of 1 June, arrived in the vicinity of Sofu Gan with Grouper (SS-214) to intercept “a possible enemy convoy.” With nothing developing after several days, she headed for Tori Shima, Izu Islands, and rendezvoused with Batfish (SS-310), who, “surfaced 5,000 yards off our port beam,” a move that gave Cmdr. Jukes a notably “unconformable feeling.”

Still unable to locate any Japanese targets, Kingfish received orders to return to Pearl Harbor ending “a disappointing war patrol.” Departing her assigned zone on 9 June 1944, the submarine stopped briefly for fuel at Midway on the 15th, and then arrived at Pearl on the 19th. She then received orders to return to the West Coast for a refit. In his report, Cmdr. Jukes observed that “After a year of intensive warfare her machinery is in need of repair,” and needless to say “all hands were eager to return stateside for some well-deserved liberty and leave.” She made the voyage to the Mare Island Navy Yard from 22-28 June.


USS Kingfish (SS-234)
Caption: Kingfish off Mare Island, 8 September 1944. Note that at this point in her career, the boat carries mounts for two 20-millimeter Oerlikons on the conning tower, while a 5-inch/25 caliber “wet mount” gun can be seen on the main deck aft. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-N-72408, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

Ready for sea again by the fall, Kingfish stood out on 13 September 1944, and headed for Pearl Harbor conducting a week of training and torpedo exercises en route. On 12 October, the submarine set out on her ninth war patrol headed initially for Midway. While en route on 14 October, EM1c John A. Vaugn, was badly wounded in his left arm and left side after CEM William E. Floyd, accidently fired a .45 caliber pistol; Floyd also received injury to his left index finger. Upon her arrival at Midway on 15 October, both men were transferred to the U.S. Naval Hospital, Midway Island, for treatment. The submarine then continued on to her patrol area.

On 24 October 1944, Kingfish arrived in the Bonins, and just a few hours later “sighted masts and smoke,” near Kita Iwo Shima. The submarine then began tracking Japanese convoy 4023B, consisting of the freighter Ikutagawa Maru (1944 built 2D standard type, not ex-Italian Calietea II), the destroyer Hatakaze and the escort Amakusa. After stalking the convoy to a point off Chichi Jima, and following a “well developed approach,” Kingfish hit Ikutagawa Maru (2,220-tons) with a salvo of torpedoes. Shortly thereafter the freighter sank at approximately 27°08'N, 143°13'E. Following the stunning attack, the she received swift retribution from the convoy’s escorts, who pursued her for several hours and dropped an estimated 24 depth charges. The boat managed to escape and then later, she returned to the area “for a crack at the escorts,” but they had already left.

Just a few hours before midnight, on 26 October 1944, Kingfish made SJ radar contact on the Japanese army cargo vessel No. 4 Tokai Maru (537-tons). The submarine tracked the cargo ship for several hours and then at 0110 on 27 October, she fired a spread of torpedoes, two of which were believed to be solid hits. Although “visibility conditions precluded any good observations, much breaking up noise was heard,” and Kingfish then went deep to weather a depth charge attack. No. 4 Tokai Maru sank at 25°22'N, 141°31'E.

Later that afternoon, at about1525, and steaming roughly 30 miles northeast of Iwo Jima, Kingfish spotted masts from the landing ships T. 138 and T. 132, and their escort, submarine chaser CH-47. Eager to capitalize on her early morning success, she closed in and despite the “definitely wary” posture of CH-47, managed to fire a spread of three torpedoes at the formation. Immediately following the launch, the boat dove to weather a depth charge attack but was unable to observe any hits. Lt. Cmdr. Talbot E. Harper, the submarine’s new commanding officer, reported that he believed the target ship “had put on speed and the torpedo missed.” Coupled with the onset of some heavy weather, Harper gave the order to clear the area. Unbeknownst to Harper the torpedoes had actually made solid hits and T. 138 sank in the vicinity of 25°22'N, 141°31'E. CH-47 managed to pull an unknown number of survivors from the water and T. 132 delivered her cargo to the Japanese garrison on Iwo Jima a few hours later.

Following the attack on T.138, the submarine deployed to operate off Okinawa, arriving in the vicinity of that island on 1 November 1944. During her first week in the area, she encountered multiple convoys but couldn’t manage to develop a suitable attack position to engage any of them. During one of these missed opportunities, on 7 November, Kingfish found herself submerged just 12,000 yards from a convoy of four large ships, but a zigzag maneuver brought them directly over her head. With nothing else developing and mechanical issues for the boat mounting, she shaped a course for the Marianas on 23 November.

Upon her arrival at Apra Harbor, Guam, on 28 November 1944, Kingfish entered the auxiliary floating dry dock ARD-26, and, along with Trigger (SS-237) became one of the first U.S. submarines to be refitted there since Guam’s recapture by U.S. forces in August. While the boat underwent repairs “every officer and man in the crew had an enjoyable and healthy time at Camp Ealey.” Lt. Cmdr. Harper received a Bronze Star for his skillful command during the patrol.

Underway for her tenth war patrol on 23 December 1944, Kingfish shaped a course for the Nanpo Shoto area, between Chichi Jima and Tokyo. Christmas day 1944, “found all hands enjoying an excellent roast turkey,” thanks to the hard work of the galley crew. A few days later on the 29th, while still en route, the submarine came across a small group of Japanese vessels, but “none of them seemed worthy of our torpedoes.”

Steaming in her patrol area at 0518 on 2 January 1945, Kingfish’s radar picked up Japanese convoy No. 4101, sailing from Chichi-Jima to Tateyama, Tokyo Bay, and commenced tracking. The convoy consisted of the passenger cargo vessel Shibazono Maru, cargo ships Yaei Maru, Yoneyama Maru and Nanyo Maru, and escorts, defense ship CD-12, minesweeper W-29, and submarine chaser CH-42. Tracking them into the late afternoon, she finally arrived in a good firing position ahead of the convoy at 1843.

Despite the fact that “seas had now become mountains due to a gale,” Kingfish took a position off the port bow of her targets and closed for “a down sea shot.” At 2024, her bow tubes were readied but at that same moment two huge waves “rolled over the boat, pooping us,” as water poured into the main induction and down the conning tower hatch. “Miraculously,” no vital equipment was grounded and she commenced firing tubes 12 and 3. Neither of the fish hit their targets, and the convoy continued on, apparently “not realizing we were there.” Commenting on the miss, Lt. Cmdr. Harper conjectured that the weather could have been a factor but “Mk-18 torpedoes were also known to breach and burn themselves out.”

With her presence still unknown to the convoy, Kingfish continued tracking them well into the late morning hours of 3 January 1945, at which time, the weather began to improve immensely. Deciding a night attack would be best, the boat continued to keep her distance. Finally, at about 1846, she closed for an attack. With “Venus high and bright,” the submarine crossed the bow of the convoy (roughly 10,000 yards ahead) on four engines in order “to get to the dark side.” At 2028, her crew manned their battle stations and initiated their second attack, firing a total of six torpedoes at two of the ships in the formation. All hands on the bridge observed several direct hits and the explosions could “even be felt by those below decks.”

Two of Kingfish’s torpedoes struck Shibazono Maru in the vicinity of her No.1 and No. 2 holds—piercing the ship and exploding on the inside, causing her hull to split in half. Another fish struck a fatal blow at Yaei Maru’s bow. Within minutes of being hit both vessels sank at approximately 30°29'N, 142°03'E. Shibazono Maru (1,83-tons) took 57 of her passengers and crew with her and Yaei Maru (1,941-tons) went down with two passengers, two ship’s gunners and 27 crewmen.

As the two ships floundered and heavy smoke choked the area CD-12 and CH-42 jumped into action and began dropping depth charge patterns in the area. Having submerged, Kingfish heard the depth charges but managed to make her way northwest, apparently undetected by the Japanese warships. Confident that she had sunk her targets Kingfish then began stalking the convoy escorts, which “appeared to be searching for survivors.” However, just as the submarine completed reloading Lt. Cmdr. Harper received orders from Commander TG 17.7, to aid in the rescue of some downed aviators in the vicinity of Sofu Gan.

At 0655 on 4 January 1945, Kingfish surfaced and began searching south of Sofu Gan for the missing fliers. Later that night the condition of Ens. Robert T. Hughes (E) USNR, (suffering from acute tonsillitis) worsened and Lt. Cmdr. Harper requested re-routing in order to deliver him to a medical facility in Saipan. Instead, she received orders to rendezvous with Spearfish (SS-190) to affect a transfer. While en route on 6 January, she ran into heavy weather and at one point “caught a combination of waves that stopped us dead in the water.” A wave subsequently poured down the conning tower until the lower hatch was closed and filled the tower up to the floor plates.

On 7 January 1945, Ens. Hughes’ improving condition enabled Kingfish to cancel her rendezvous with Spearfish and proceed to her newly assigned lifeguard station. The submarine remained on lifeguard duty for the rest of her patrol. On 1 February, she exchanged recognition signals with the escort vessel Dempsey (DE-26), off Apra Harbor, and proceeded into port. Shortly thereafter, she commenced a refit with Submarine Division 282 and several major repairs were completed. Lt. Cmdr. Harper received a Silver Star for his skillful command during the patrol.

Following her repair period, Kingfish conducted five days of training and torpedo exercises. During one of her firing tests, a 20 millimeter round exploded prematurely near “the end of the gun’s muzzle,” and bullet fragments injured 1st Lt. James H. Powell, USMCR, and S1c Cecil F. Bussear, USNR. Both men were returned to port for medical treatment.

In accordance with Operation Order No. 55-45, Kingfish set out on her eleventh war patrol on 6 March 1945, steaming as part of a coordinated attack group with her sister ship Icefish (SS-367). The submarine later arrived in her assigned area, patrolling in the vicinity of Ishigaki Jima on 10 March. Five days later, Sawfish (SS-276) joined the attack group—codenamed “Poto’s Panthers.” Despite maintaining almost constant vigilance, the patrol failed to develop any solid targets and on 21 March, she proceeded to a lifeguard station.

Arriving on 26 March 1945, Kingfish began performing lifeguard duties for a British carrier task force conducting air strikes on Ishigakijima and Iriomotejima. In the course of these operations, on 27 March, the boat rescued Lt. Cmdr. Fred C. Nottingham, RNVR, attached to the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. “Having Nottingham on board,” Lt. Cmdr. Harper recalled, “solved all of our problems with communication.” Several days later, on 31 March, a British torpedo bomber crash landed approximately 1,000 yards from Kingfish. Three members of the downed plane’s crew cast off from the wreckage in a rubber life boat and subsequently embarked on board the submarine. Harper noted that the rescued British aviators “quickly took to submarine life and regularly volunteered for watches.”

From 9 to 14 April 1945, Kingfish steamed to Saipan, where her passengers debarked. On 15 April, she stood out with Grouper (SS-214) and assisted in escorting infantry landing craft LCI(L)-371 out to sea. On the 20th, she broke away from the group and shaped a course for Pearl Harbor, arriving there on 25 April.

While at Pearl, Kingfish underwent some extensive repairs and then on 3 June 1945, commenced a nine-day training period in preparation for her twelfth war patrol. Setting out with Task Unit 17.3.25, she got underway on 17 June, and steamed to Guam, arriving on the 29th. The submarine maneuvered to get back underway again on 2 July, however, faulty coils on both her stills delayed the departure. She finally stood out again two days later, on 4 July, and steamed in company with Lionfish (SS-298) to her assigned patrol area off the coast of Honshu.

On 7 July 1945, Kingfish arrived in her assigned area and began an anti-picket boat sweep in advance of Third Fleet bombardments of Honshu and Hokkaido. During this time, she operated with “Abe’s Abolishers,” a submarine attack group consisting of Thornback (SS-418) (officer in tactical command), Sea Poacher (SS-406), Angler (SS-240) and Cero (SS-225). During her first several days in the area Kingfish made few contacts, other than an occasional floating mine, and spent most of her time “running at high speed to get out of the way of other task forces.”

Patrolling off Kinkasan Point, Honshu, on 10 July 1945, Kingfish sighted smoke on the horizon and proceeded to conduct a submerged approach on four Japanese trawlers. The submarine fired a total of seven torpedoes but “all missed due to the target maneuvering to avoid wakes.” Despite Kingfish’s bad luck, Moray (SS-300) joined in the action and managed to “blow up one of them.” A second sweep failed to locate any more targets.

Late in the evening, on 16 July 1945, Kingfish steamed north at full speed bound for the Kurile Islands. On the 24th, she arrived 40 miles of Sakhalin, and after making contact with Barb (SS-220), exchanged information on possible targets in the area. Digesting the intelligence received from Barb, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas D. Keegan, Kingfish’s new commanding officer, decided to “reverse course and head for La Perouse Straight [sic].” Unfortunately, after several more days of patrolling, she failed to spot any good targets and on 30 July, she steamed “along the island chain to relieve Moray on a lifeguard station,” east of Shumshu.

On 3 August 1945, Kingfish arrived and attended to her lifeguard duties while airstrikes were conducted in the nearby area. Late, on the night of 4 August, she closed on the coast of Shumshu to patrol the Kurile Strait. Shortly after spotting an “uncharted navigational light on Kamchatka,” the submarine made radar contact with an unknown ship at 3,000 yards. At 0135 on 5 August, she sighted “white light from a sampan picket boat guarding the channel entrance.” A short time later, the boat closed to within 500 yards of the sampan and “commenced firing with all guns.” Despite low visibility due to fog and darkness, Lt. Cmdr. Keegan observed that the target appeared “low in the water with her stern missing and on fire.” A second sampan “not much farther away,” also fell prey to the submarine’s guns and a third managed to escape by heading for shallow water.

Following her skirmish with the sampans, Kingfish continued her lifeguard duties for a few more days and then cleared the area on 8 August 1945. The submarine later arrived at Midway on 15 August, just two hours before the end of the war to “a deafening din of ship whistles and bells.”

On 27 August 1945, Kingfish stood out from Pearl Harbor and voyaged to Galveston, Texas, arriving there on 23 September. Her crew enjoyed some well-earned leave at Galveston, and then following a brief refit, she steamed to Orange, Tx., to celebrate Navy Day on 25 October. The submarine then stood out on 30 October, and voyaged back to her home port in New London, Conn., arriving there on 5 November.

Kingfish was decommissioned and placed in reserve on 9 March 1946. She was later stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 March 1960, and subsequently sold to Albert Heller on 6 October 1960 for scrapping.

Kingfish was awarded nine battle stars for her service in World War II.

Commanding Officers

Dates Assumed Command

Lt. Cmdr. Vernon L. Lowrance

20 May 1942

Cmdr. Herbert L. Jukes

1 December 1943

Lt. Cmdr. Talbot E. Harper

29 June 1944

Lt. Cmdr. Thomas D. Keegan

31 May 1945

Jeremiah D. Foster, Historian

8 February 2021

Published: Fri Nov 19 10:06:56 EST 2021