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Narwhal II (SC-1)

USS V-5 (SC-1), later USS NARWHAL (SS-167)

V-5 (SC-1), later Narwhal running trials off Provincetown, Massachusetts, July 1930. Copyright owner: Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog#: NH 45647 

(SC-1: displacement 2,730 (surface); displacement 3,960 (submerged); length 371 feet; beam 33 feet 3 inches; draft 15 feet 9 inches; speed 17 knots; (surface); speed 8 knots (submerged); complement 88; armament 2 6-inch, 2 .30 caliber machine guns, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Narwhal)

A gray and white arctic whale which averages 20 feet in length. The male has a long, twisted ivory tusk of commercial value.


Narwhal (SC-1) was laid down as V-5 by Portsmouth, Navy Yard, N.H., 10 May 1927; launched 17 December 1929; sponsored by Mrs. Charles F. Adams, wife of the Secretary of the Navy; and commissioned 15 May 1930, Lt. Comdr. John H. Brown, Jr. in command.

V-5 departed Annapolis, Md., 11 August for a cruise to the West Indies, where she visited Port of Spain, Trinidad; Curacao, W.I.; and Coco Solo in the Canal Zone. She then returned north to Portsmouth for final acceptance trials on 11 September 1930. She trained in New England waters until 31 January 1931 when she sailed for the west coast via the Panama Canal, arriving San Diego, California, 4 April. On 19 February 1931 V-5 was renamed Narwhal and on 1 July 1931 reclassified SS-167.

After overhaul, Narwhal departed Mare Island Navy Yard 2 February 1932 for fleet exercises off Hawaii. She returned to San Diego 17 March for training patrols along the West Coast. The submarine got underway 12 July 1934 for a cruise with Submarine Division 12 to Alaska and then Hawaii before returning to San Diego 18 September. For the next three years she operated locally, save for the occasional cruise north to Seattle or west to Hawaii, before the latter became her home base of operations in March 1938. Although the base was still not complete at that stage, the main machine, torpedo and battery shops, as well as repair, training and berthing facilities were all in place. More submarines arrived over the next three years and by 1941 Narwhal served in Pearl Harbor in company with 21 other submarines.

Consequently, Narwhal was one of five submarines docked for overhaul at Pearl Harbor when Japanese aerial raiders struck in the early morning of 7 December 1941. Within minutes of the first bomb explosions on Ford Island, Narwhal's gunners were in action to assist in the destruction of two torpedo planes. Luckily for the submarine, the Japanese ignored the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, as their aircraft concentrated on the battleships instead, and Narwhal suffered no damage.

Fitted out for combat duty, the submarine departed on her first war patrol (2 February-28 March 1942) with Lt. Comdr. Charles W. Wilkins, USNR, in command. Underway to reconnoiter Wake Island 15 through 16 February, she then continued on to the Ryukyu Islands. On 27 February she made her first torpedo attack of the war, heavily damaging tanker Manju Maru. Six days later the submarine sank the small army cargo ship Taki Maru south of Kyushu. After missing a large target in a rain squall on 11 March, the submarine returned to Pearl to refit and rearm.

She spent her second war patrol (28 May-13 June) in defense of Midway Atoll. As TF 16, with Enterprise (CV-6), Hornet (CV-8), and Yorktown (CV-5) prepared to meet the Japanese attack, Narwhal joined Plunger (SS-179) and Trigger (SS-237) in scouting northeast of Midway. Deployed as a reserve in case the Japanese turned toward Hawaii, the submarines listened to the results of the Battle of Midway, 3 to 6 June, by radio. As the first major American naval victory of World War II, the dramatic engagement checked the Japanese advance across the Central Pacific and canceled their proposed invasion of Fiji and Samoa.

Narwhal's third patrol (7 July-26 August) took her close to Hokkaido to stalk Japanese shipping off the Kuriles. In rapid action on 24 July, the submarine sank guardboat No.83 Shinsei Maru and freighters Nissho Maru and Kofuji Maru. Continuing her patrol into August, Narwhal then attacked Japanese shipping south of Shiraya Saki on the 1st, sinking freighter Meiwa Maru and oiler Koan Maru despite aircraft bomb and depth charge retaliation. Seven days later she sank crab boat Bifuku Maru in the same area. On the morning of 14 August the submarine raised her periscope to discover three enemy destroyers crossing her stern in column. Deciding caution was the order of the day, the boat submerged to wait it out while the destroyers, according to one of her submariners, "were running all over the ocean" dropping depth charges at every shadow. Slightly damaged, Narwhal departed her patrol area the next day.

On 8 September Narwhal sailed from Pearl Harbor for the west coast, arriving at Mare Island Navy Yard on the 15th for overhaul. While there, she received new engines and was fitted out to carry 120 raiders and their equipment. After shifting to San Diego, the submarine practiced rubber boat landing exercises with the 7th Infantry Scout Company off San Clemente Island in early April. Departing San Diego on 18 April 1943 with 106 Scouts embarked, she proceeded north to Alaska, arriving Dutch Harbor the 27th.

The submarine began her fourth war patrol (30 April-25 May) in company with Nautilus (SS-168), the two boats reconnoitering the western Aleutians in early May. On 11 May, the two boats moved off the north coast of Attu and successfully landed Army Scouts in the early morning darkness. After a few more days patrolling off the Aleutians, Narwhal returned to Pearl Harbor on the 25th, following a stopover at Dutch Harbor 14 to 18 May.

Narwhal got underway for the Kurils on her fifth war patrol (26 June-7 August) with Cdr. Frank D Latta, USNR, in command. Sailing northwest, Narwhal closed the island chain on 15 July and shelled the airfield on Matsuwa Island. Her crew fired her twin 6-inch guns at hangers and the landing strip for almost ten uninterrupted minutes until return fire came too close for comfort and she was forced to dive. The diversion did attract enemy attention away from the Sea of Okhotsk though, allowing Lapon (SS-260), Permit (SS-178), and Plunger (SS-179) to transit the heavily defended La Perouse and Etorofu Straits without detection. Although those boats continued on east for Pearl, Narwhal remained in the Kurils for another week before the lack of targets forced her to turn for home as well.

Narwhal made her sixth war patrol (31 August-2 October) to the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific. Following a reconnaissance of Milli Atoll in early September, the boat made a quick run to Nauru upon the news a Japanese ship was in the area. On the morning of the 11th she torpedoed and sank transport Hokusho Maru about five miles north of the island. After firing two unsuccessful “fish” at pursuing escorts, and suffering a severe depth charging in return, she proceeded to Kwajalein Atoll to look for targets. Her only chance came on the 15th, when she closed two cruisers and four destroyers but two Japanese torpedoes came her way and Narwhal went deep to safety. Unable to close for an attack, and with later patrols coming up empty, the boat turned south on 24 September. Following a refueling stop at Tulagi in the Solomons, the boat arrived in Brisbane, Australia on 2 October.

Shifting to the west coast port of Darwin, Narwhal began preparations to assist the Filipino guerrilla movement by landing passengers and supplies in the Japanese-occupied Philippine Islands. Given her large size and spacious accommodations, Narwhal was an excellent choice for these missions as she could carry far more supplies than the standard Gato or Balao-class fleet boat.

Narwhal was loaded down with 92 tons of ammunition and stores and a party of ten for her seventh war patrol (23 October-22 November). She was in the Sulu Sea, off Mindanao, the night of 10 November en route to Puluan Bay when two Japanese ships astern opened fire. As star shells burst nearby, the boats four diesel engines — promptly christened “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke,” and “John” – helped her zig-zag into the darkness and escape her pursuers. Three nights later Narwhal crept into Puluan Bay off Mindoro, and landed two parties of men and 46 tons of supplies on the west beach of the bay. By midnight she was safely on her way to Nasipit, Mindanao. Although the crew received a scare on the 14th when Narwhal went aground on hard sand in the harbor channel – where she remained stuck for almost half an hour – the boat shook free and then unloaded the rest of her cargo at Nasipit to the tune of "Anchors Aweigh" played by a grateful Filipino band. Embarking 32 evacuees, including 8 women, 2 children, and a baby, the boat sailed for Darwin and the end of her patrol.

Delivering stores and ammunition and picking up odd assortments of passengers soon became routine for Narwhal. She departed on her eighth war patrol (25 November-18 December) with 90 tons of cargo and 11 Army officers and men embarked. Reaching Butuan Bay, Mindanao, on 2 December, she landed her passengers and cargo. With seven evacuees taken on board, Narwhal sailed for Masacalar Bay, arriving off Negros Island the next day. Taking on nine more evacuees, she stood out of Alubijid after midnight on 5 December. Around sunrise that same day the submarine spotted and sank the small cargo ship Himeno Maru (ex-Philippine Dos Hermanos) in a blaze of gunfire off Camiguin Island. After dropping off her passengers at Darwin on the 11th, she continued on to the submarine base at Fremantle, Australia.

On her ninth war patrol (18 January-15 February 1944), the submarine returned to Darwin to embark observer Cdr. F. Kent Loomis and 90 tons of ammunition and cargo. Following a nighttime transit of Surigao Strait, Narwhal slipped west and north for a submerged patrol off Naso Point, Panay. Proceeding into Pandan Bay on the night of 5 February, she transferred 45 tons of cargo ashore and embarked six new passengers. Shifting to Negros Island on 7 February, the boat delivered another 45 tons of supplies near Balatong Point. Narwhal then received 28 more evacuees for the trip back to Darwin.

In a reprise of her first trip to the Philippines, Narwhal returned to Butuan Bay, Mindanao, on her tenth war patrol (16 February-20 March). Depositing 80 tons of cargo at Nasipit on 2 March, the boat embarked 28 evacuees and sailed for Tawi Tawi. While en route, Narwhal torpedoed and damaged river gunboat Karatsu [ex-U.S. river gunboat Luzon (PR-7)] and was heavily bombarded with enemy depth charges for her trouble. On the night of 5 March, she unloaded part of her cargo at Bohi Gansa via two small boats and four rubber rafts. Interrupted by three Japanese ships, the balance of unloaded cargo was jettisoned and ten evacuees were taken in the boat. Despite receiving gunfire that forced her to dive and rig for depth charges, Narwhal eluded her pursuers and turned southeast for Australia. After transferring her 38 passengers to RAN tug Chinampa on 11 March, the submarine proceeded to Fremantle.

Following a relatively short refit, Narwhal set out for the Philippines for her eleventh war patrol (7 May--9 June), Cdr. Jack C. Titus in command. While en route, the boat unsuccessfully attacked a convoy on the 19th. Poking quietly into Alusan Bay off Samar the submarine landed 22 men and unloaded 25 tons of supplies on the night of 24 May. The crew also provided diesel fuel and lubricants for local boat operations as well as flour, electric lamps, radio parts and 20 mm ammunition from ships stores. Proceeding over to Mindanao the following week, another 16 men and 25 tons of supplies were landed near Pagadian Bay on 1 June before the boat turned for home.

At this point, Narwhal began showing signs of her age as her diesel engines were suffering from lack of proper maintenance. Captain Titus noted he now regarded “the ship as having a certain charm similar to that possessed by an elderly gentlewoman of the old school. However, as with all elderly persons, there are certain infirmities worthy of mention.” These difficulties included almost continuous engine oil leaks, high noise levels in machinery both surfaced (and more dangerously) submerged, and a very smoky diesel exhaust. Despite these problems, the boats cargo and passenger capacity were too valuable to give up and the boat continued on its assigned missions of delivering and installing a network of coast watchers, weather observers and aircraft spotters throughout the southern and central Philippines.

After hasty voyage repairs in Darwin, Narwhal loaded cargo and supplies for a trip to the Dutch East Indies. Departing on her twelfth war patrol (10 June-7 July), she sailed for Ceram Island and a reconnaissance of the Japanese-held petroleum facilities at Bula. Submerging off that port on 13 June, she sighted a large two-mast schooner standing east out of the bay with other schooners anchored in the harbor. Concluding these ships were carrying oil to Japanese garrisons in the region, the submarine spent the rest of the day conducting a careful reconnaissance of the town, fixing the position of oil storage tanks, a boiler house and pipeline pumping station. That night Narwhal closed the shore and fired 56 rounds of 6-inch projectiles into these targets, destroying three gasoline and oil storage tanks and setting fires around the power-house and pumping station area. When enemy shore batteries worked shell splashes to within several hundred yards, the crew secured her guns and “advanced away from the enemy.” Ships’ company was gratified to see the glare from the flames at Bula as far away as two-dozen miles.

Cruising north to Panay, she moved off Lipata Point and surfaced at sunset on 20 June to rendezvous with local boats. The presence of a nearby Japanese garrison proved worrisome for the nine and a half hours it took to unload her cargo and four passengers, however, and the crew departed with 14 evacuees embarked with some relief. The still loud and smoky engines attracted a Japanese sub chaser to her wake but the slow craft was thrown off her trail in the early morning darkness. Narwhal came across powered sailboat No. 2 Shinsu Maru southwest of Culasi a few hours later and sank her with 6-inch gunfire. Turning for home, the submarine sailed into the Sulu Sea and, after dodging past two small escorts, damaged Japanese tanker Itsukushima Maru with two torpedoes on the 22d.

Her thirteenth war patrol (12 August-10 September) started at Fremantle where she embarked Cdr. Charles Parsons, a veteran liaison of numerous Philippine supply and evacuation missions. Under his direction, a shore party floated bamboo rafts in Dubut Bay on the east coast of Luzon on 30 August, greatly speeding up the time to unload her 20 men and 10 tons of cargo. After landing Cdr. Parsons on the Magnac River the next day, the boat surfaced at an agreed upon beach to unload another 10 tons of cargo on 1 September. Embarking four evacuees in return she completed the patrol on the 10th.

With plans for the liberation of the Philippines approaching fruition, Narwhal departed almost immediately on her fourteenth war patrol (14 September-5 October) with 41 passengers embarked. On the night of 22 September, the boat crept into the Pangay River in southwest Mindanao to land 35 tons of cargo plus critical supplies for the shore party, including several pounds of coffee. Despite grounding on a mud bank for half an hour, Narwhal withdrew without discovery and sailed to Balingasag on the north coast of Mindanao. She delivered three men and 20 tons of cargo there on the night of 27 September before moving into nearby Sairi Bay. There, the submarine evacuated 81 Allied POWs who had survived the 7 September sinking of Japanese transport Shinyo Maru by submarine Paddle (SS-263). While en route to New Guinea, Narwhal was forced to dive upon the approach of a Japanese antisubmarine patrol plane. Unfortunately, her stern planes locked in a 20-degree down angle, sending her plunging to 170 feet in “probably the fastest dive she ever made.” By venting main ballast and backing emergency the boat not only reversed direction but also popped out of the water stern first just two minutes after the initial dive. Luckily, the wild ride surprised the patrol plane as much as Narwhal’s crew and it could not maneuver into attack position fast enough before the submarine dove to 90 feet and safety.

Following a short refit at Mios Woendi, Dutch New Guinea, she departed on her fifteenth and last war patrol (11 October-2 November), Cdr. William G. Holman, in command. Two days into the patrol – on Friday the 13th – the boat was surfacing after doing a quick repair to her trim pump. As she passed 45 feet, the CO spotted a patrol bomber homing in on the sub from about two miles away. Quickly popping two red smoke bombs – the recognition signal for a friendly sub – the crew held their collective breath as the Consolidated PBY Catalina circled the boat. After eleven revolutions, and zooming close three times to take pictures, the flying boat signaled “good luck” and departed. Narwhal's historian wrote ships company felt they might need it, as “all hands have indicated that they will be glad to get to an area where the Japanese have control of the air!”

Having gone more than two years without a navy yard overhaul, Narwhal’s list of ills grew longer and longer. As noted by Cdr. Holman, “silent running is a theoretical condition only” as the submarine suffered from a weak battery, unreliable stern planes, leaky manifolds, and completely rusted engine mufflers. Arriving at Tawi Tawi, the submarine carried out a submerged reconnaissance of the shoreline since the CO was afraid the clanking diesels would alert any Japanese garrison. Closing on the night of 17 October, she delivered 11 tons of cargo to local boats and traded cigarettes and flour for bananas and coconuts in return. Two days later she unloaded the rest of her 60 tons of cargo and 37 men at Negros Island and took on her last passengers, 26 in all, for the trip to Brisbane, Australia.

Narwhal departed Brisbane 6 January 1945 for the east coast via the Panama Canal, entering the Philadelphia Navy Yard 21 February. With little need for the large but aged submarine, Narwhal was decommissioned at Philadelphia on 23 April. She was struck from the Navy List 19 May 1945 and sold for scrap.

Narwhal received 15 battle stars for World War II service.

30 April 2004

USS V-5 (SC-1), later USS NARWHAL (SS-167)

V-5 (SC-1), later Narwhal view looking forward from the conning tower during trials off Provincetown, Massachusetts, July 1930. Her commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander J.H. Brown Jr., is in the foreground. Copyright owner: Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog#: NH 45644 

Published: Mon Jul 01 14:50:04 EDT 2019