S-44 (SS-155) was laid down on 19 February 1921 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., Quincy, Mass.; launched on 27 October 1923; sponsored by Mrs. H. E. Grieshaber; and commissioned on 16 February 1925, Lt. A. H. Bateman in command.
S-44 operated off the New England coast into the summer of 1925. In late August, she departed New London for Panama and, on 5 September, arrived at Coco Solo to join Submarine Division (SubDiv) 19. With that division, she conducted training exercises, participated in fleet exercises and joint Army-Navy maneuvers, and made good will visits to various Caribbean and Pacific, Latin American ports until the spring of 1927. From that time to December 1930, she operated out of San Diego with her division, interrupting exercises off southern California twice for fleet problems in Hawaiian waters.
In December 1930, the S-boat was transferred to Hawaii where her division, now SubDiv 11, was home ported for four years. The boats then returned to San Diego; and, in 1937, they were shifted back to Coco Solo.
In the spring of 1941, as American involvement in World War II increased, the Panama S-boats were ordered back to the east coast for overhaul. With S-42 and S-46, S-44 proceeded to New London and thence, in November, to Philadelphia where the work was done.
Trials took S-44 into the new year, 1942; and, on 7 January, she got underway to return to Panama. Arriving on the 16th, she departed Balboa on the 24th with S-21, S-26, and S-28 to conduct a security patrol in the western approaches to the canal. Within a few hours, however, she was engaged in rescue operations for S-26 which had been rammed and sunk by PC-460.
From Panama, the division, now SubDiv 53, was ordered to the southwest Pacific. Starting across the Pacific in early March, the boats reached Brisbane in mid-April; and within ten days, S-44 was underway on her first war patrol. She cleared Moreton Bay on 24 April. Three days later, her port engine went out of commission; but, 36 hours of hard work and ingenuity put it back in operation. On the 29th, she began running submerged during the day and surfacing at night to recharge batteries and allow fresh air into the unairconditioned boat. By 2 May, she was in her patrol area, New Britain-New Ireland waters. Six days later, she sighted a ship through a haze of rain; fired two torpedoes; missed; and attempted to close for another attempt. The surface ship soon outdistanced her. The next afternoon, she attempted to close a destroyer, east of Adler Bay; but was again easily outrun. On the 10th, off Cape St. George, she closed another target but was sighted and attacked.
In late afternoon of the 12th, 15 miles from the cape, she sighted a merchantman and a trawler escort. For the first time, the weather, her position, and the target's course were in her favor. She fired four torpedoes, scored with two, then submerged. Shoei Maru, a salvage vessel of over 5,000 tons went under. Her escort went after S-44 and delivered sixteen or more depth charges, none of which was close. On the 14th, S-44 headed home, arriving at Brisbane on the 23d.
Overhaul followed; and, on 7 June, she again moved out of Moreton Bay on a course for the Solomons. Within the week, she was on patrol off Guadalcanal, operating from that island to Savo and to Florida. A few days later, she shifted south of Guadalcanal and, on the 21st, sent the converted gunboat, Keijo Maru, to the bottom. The force of the explosion, the rain of debris, and the appearance and attack of a Japanese ASW plane forced S-44 down. At 1415, S-44 fired her torpedoes at the gunboat. At 1418, the enemy plane dropped a bomb which exploded close enough to bend the holding latch to the conning tower, allowing in 30 gallons of sea water; damaging the depth gauges, gyro-compass, and ice machine; and starting leaks. Her No. 1 periscope was thought to be damaged; but, when the submarine surfaced for repairs, a Japanese seaman's coat was found wrapped around its head.
Three days later, S-44 was in Lunga Roads. On the 26th, poor weather set in and blanketed the area until the S-boat turned for home. She departed her patrol area on the 29th and arrived back in Moreton Bay on 5 July.
S-44 departed Brisbane again on 24 July. Cloudy weather, with squalls, set in. On the 31st, she commenced patrolling in the Rabaul-Tulagi shipping lanes. The next day, she sighted a convoy off Cape St. George, but heavy swells hindered depth control and speed, and precluded her attacking the convoy.
From Cape St. George, S-44 moved up the east coast of New Ireland to North Cape and Kavieng, where she waited.
On 7 August, the Allied offensive opened with landings on the beaches of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Gavutu, and Florida islands. On 9 August, off Savo Island, Cruiser Division 6 of the Imperial Japanese Navy inflicted one of the worst defeats of the war on Allied surface ships. The next morning, the victorious cruisers neared Kavieng.
At 0750, S-44 sighted the formation, four heavy cruisers; their track less than 900 yards away. At 0806, she fired four torpedoes at the rear ship, only 700 yards away. By 0808, all four torpedoes had exploded; Kako was sinking; and S-44 had begun her escape. By 0812, Japanese destroyers had started depth charging, without success.
Three days later, S-44 was again fighting heavy swells. Her damaged bow planes required three hours to rig; after which they remained out. On the 23d, she moored at Brisbane.
On 17 September, S-44 began her 4th war patrol. The following day, a hydrogen fire blazed in her forward battery compartment, but was extinguished in three minutes. On the 22d, she began surfacing only at night; and, two days later, she assumed patrol operations off New Georgia to intercept Japan's Faisi-Guadalcanal supply line. During the patrol, her hunting was hindered by Japanese aerial and surface antisubmarine patrols and her own operational capabilities, which were further limited by material defects and damage inflicted during depth chargings.
On the morning of 4 October, she damaged a destroyer, then survived an intensive depth charge attack with seemingly minor damage. The next day, however, when she submerged, the submarine began taking on water. She surfaced, made repairs on the high induction valves, then submerged to 50 feet. Leaks were found in her motor room and torpedo room flappers. The latter were jacked shut, but the former continued spraying water onto both motors. Within an hour, four Japanese destroyers had moved into the area. S-44 went to 70 feet. The leak worsened. The motors were covered in canvas and sheet rubber and the crew waited for the destroyers to pass over her position. As they disappeared, S-44 moved up to 55 feet and repairs were made on the flapper. That night, further repairs were made while the ship was surfaced off Santa Isabel Island; and, by midnight, the S-boat was en route back to her patrol area. On the 7th, bad weather set in; and, on the 8th, she departed the area, arriving in Moreton Bay on the 14th.
A month later, S-44 departed Brisbane and headed back to the United States. In early January 1943, she transited the Panama Canal, then moved across the Caribbean and up the Atlantic seaboard to Philadelphia. There, from April to June, she underwent overhaul; and, in July, she retransited the Canal en route to San Diego and the Aleutians.
She arrived at Dutch Harbor on 16 September. On the 26th, she departed Attu on her last war patrol. One day out, while en route to her operating area in the northern Kurils, she was spotted and attacked by a Japanese patrol plane. Suffering no damage, she continued west. On the night of 7 October, she made radar contact with a "small merchantman" and closed in for a surface attack. Several hundred yards from the target, her deck gun fired and was answered by a salvo. The "small merchantman" was a destroyer. The order to dive was given, but S-44 failed to submerge. She took several hits, in the control room, in the forward battery room, and elsewhere.
S-44 was ordered abandoned. A pillow case was put up from the forward battery room hatch as a flag of surrender, but the shelling continued.
Possibly eight men escaped from the submarine as she went down. Two, Chief Torpedoman's Mate Ernest A. Duva and Radioman Third Class William F. Whitemore, were picked up by the destroyer. Taken initially to Paramushiro, then to the Naval Interrogation Camp at Ofuna, the two submariners spent the last year of World War II working in the Ashio copper mines. They were repatriated by the Allies at the end of the war.
S-44 earned 2 battle stars during World War II.