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Triton III (SS-201)

(SS-201: dp. 1,475 (surf.), 2,370 (subm.); 1. 307'2"; b. 27'3"; dr. 13'3"; s. 20 k. (surf.), 8.75 k. (subm.) ; cpl. 59; a. 10 21" tt., 1 3", 2 .50-cal. mg.; cl. Tambor)

A Greek demigod of the sea who was the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite. Triton, who possessed a man's body above the waist and that of a fish below, used his conch-shell trumpet alternately to summon storms and to still the sea.


The third Triton (SS-201) was laid down on 5 July 1939 by the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard; launched on 25 March 1940; sponsored by Mrs. Ernest J. King, wife of Bear Admiral (later Fleet Admiral) Ernest J. King; and commissioned on 15 August 1940, Lt. Comdr. Willis A. Lent in command.

The new submarine held her shakedown training in the Caribbean from 14 January 1941 to 26 March and then conducted training and minelaying exercises in the Portsmouth-New London area. Triton departed Portsmouth on 1 July, transited the Panama Canal on the 12th, and arrived at San Diego on the 20th. Nine days later, she and Trout (SS-202) headed for Hawaii and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 4 August.

Assigned to Submarine Division 62, Triton made a training cruise to Midway from 30 August to 15 September and then participated in local and fleet operations in the Hawaiian area. On 19 November, the submarine headed west to conduct a practice war patrol and arrived off Wake Island on the 26th. On 8 December, she saw columns of smoke rising over the island but assumed that it was caused by construction work being done ashore. That night, when she surfaced to charge her batteries, she was informed by radio that Wake and Pearl Harbor had been bombed and was ordered to stay out of range of Wake's guns. The next morning, Triton observed the Japanese bombing the island. On the night of the 10th, she was surfaced, charging her batteries, when flashes of light from Wake revealed a destroyer or light cruiser on a parallel course. The submarine was silhoutted against the moon, and the enemy ship turned towards her. Triton went deep and began evasive action. When the Japanese ship slowed astern, the submarine came to 120 feet and fired four stern torpedoes. Her crew heard a dull explosion 58 seconds later and believed that one of her torpedoes had hit the target. The submarine then went to 175 feet and cleared the area. On 21 December, the submarine was ordered to return to Hawaii, and she arrived back at Pearl Harbor on the last day of the year.

On 25 January 1942, Triton got underway for the East China Sea and her second war patrol. She was off Kyushu on 17 February when she contacted a freighter. The submarine fired four torpedoes and scored one hit in the target's stern. The ship stopped for a few minutes and then slowly got underway. That evening, Triton attacked another freighter with two torpedoes at a range of 1,200 yards. One hit the Japanese cargo ship aft of her well deck, and the maru went dead in the water and began settling. Soon, several heavy explosions marked the end of Shinyo Maru No. 5. Four days later, the submarine intercepted two cargo ships. She sank Shokyu Maru with two torpedoes but could not attack the second ship because of its speed and the appearance of a four-engine patrol plane. On the night of the 27th, the submarine was on the surface for a battery charge when she sighted a ship approximately three miles away. She closed to attack and fired two torpedoes. One torpedo hit, but haze over the water and smoke from the damaged ship prohibited a second attack. Triton made no further contacts and returned to Pearl Harbor on 17 March.

Triton got underway on 13 April to return to the East China Sea. Ten days later, the submarine contacted a 1,000-ton trawler near Marcus. After missing with two torpedoes, she surfaced to battle with her deck guns and left the trawler a sinking wreck. On May Day, the submarine sighted six freighters, in two columns, escorted by two torpedo boat escorts. She fired two torpedoes, and both hit the leading ship. Triton then fired two torpedoes at the next freighter, but both missed. The submarine passed under the convoy and fired two more torpedoes at the damaged cargo ship. One missed, but the other broke the back of Calcutta Maru, which promptly sank. The submarine contacted an escorted convoy on 6 May and fired two torpedoes which missed the last ship. Triton next spotted a destroyer coming to the rear of the convoy, fired twice more, and went deep to elude it. Her sonar heard two violent explosions. At that point, the submarine maneuvered around and ahead of the convoy to position for another attack. When she attained the desired angle, she fired four torpedoes, two at the third ship and two at the fourth. Triton heard two explosions from the first spread but none from the second as she was forced to take evasive action. The submarine later returned to periscope depth, but no ships were in sight. The convoy had cleared the area after the freighter Taiei Maru and the transport Taigen Maru had sunk. On 15 May, she sank two deep-sea fishing boats with her deck guns. The next day, she spotted an aircraft carrier and a destroyer at a range of six miles but could not close the range. She then radioed a report of the contact, but it was not acknowledged. Triton sighted a Japanese submarine on 17 May and fired a torpedo from 6,200 yards into I-164. Parts of the target were blown 100 feet into the air, and I-164 went down by the stern. Four days later, she fired four torpedoes at another enemy submarine, but all missed. The patrol terminated at Pearl Harbor on 4 June, as the Battle of Midway began.

Triton's fourth war patrol took her to Alaskan waters and lasted from 25 June to 24 August. On Independence Day, she was patrolling in a heavy fog, in the vicinity of Cape Sabok, when the fog lifted enough to reveal a Japanese destroyer. The submarine trailed the enemy all day, in and out of patches of fog, until she had closed the range to 3,000 yards. Triton then fired two torpedoes, and one hit the target amidships. The destroyer Nenohi capsized to port and slid under the waves. Triton sighted a freighter on the 28th but lost it in a fog bank. The same thing happened the next day. On 9 August, Triton saw an enemy submarine's periscope and prepared to attack. However, the Japanese sub struck first, forcing Triton to go deep as enemy torpedoes passed overhead. On the 15th, Triton fired four torpedoes at a darkened ship from a range of 1,500 yards. There were two consecutive explosions, and flames shot over two hundred feet into the air. To Triton, the enemy ship appeared to be larger than a destroyer. However, there is no official record of a sinking on that date. The submarine made no further contacts before returning to Pearl Harbor on 7 September. She then entered the navy yard for an overhaul that lasted until 6 December.

On 16 December, Triton got underway for a position 20 miles east of Wake on the Midway-Wake route. She was one of three submarines stationed between the two islands to mark the way for Army Liberator bombers in strikes on Wake and to rescue the crews of any planes forced down at sea. She made no rescues; but, on the night of 23 December, she aided in guiding the Liberators in a night bombing attack on the island. On Christmas Eve, the submarine sighted the mast of a ship on the horizon that was headed for Wake anchorage. Triton closed to 1,000 yards and fired two torpedoes. One hit under the stack and the other hit under the foremast. Amakasu Maru No. 1 was obliterated in a cloud of smoke and steam as she went under. The submarine then set a course for Brisbane. On 28 December, she sighted an enemy ship, closed to 7,000 yards, and fired three torpedoes into the transport Omi Maru. The ship sank almost immediately and, although there was much wreckage, no survivors were seen. Triton was then ordered to patrol the Truk-Rabaul-New Guinea shipping lanes, north and northwest of New Ireland, and arrived on station on 30 December 1942.

On 10 January 1943, Triton stalked an unidentified vessel but withheld her attack upon observing that the target was marked as a hospital ship. Three days later, she fired four torpedoes at a tanker and scored one hit. When the enemy ship began firing at her periscope, the submarine went deep to begin an end around. About 20 minutes later, the submarine returned to periscope depth and launched a spread of four torpedoes. Two geysers of water rose amidship as high as the target's bridge, but no explosions followed. The next day, Triton attempted to attack a freighter, but an escort forced her down where she was subjected to a two-hour depth charge attack. On the 16th, she attacked two cargo ships, scoring two hits on the first and one on the second; but her victims forced her to submerge before she could evaluate the damage. Later that day, Triton fired her last three torpedoes at a large freighter but heard no explosions. She then headed for Australia and reached Brisbane on 26 January.

On 16 February, Triton began her sixth and final war patrol, hoping to destroy enemy shipping between the Shortland Basin and Rabaul. Ten days later, she reported that she had seen smoke on the 22d and that the Japanese had installed radar at Buka. On 6 March, the submarine attacked a convoy of five destroyer-escorted ships, sinking the cargo ship Kiriha Maru and damaging another freighter. One of her torpedoes made a circular run, and Triton crash-dived to evade it. She attacked another convoy on the night of 8 March and claimed that five of the eight torpedoes she had fired scored hits. She could not observe the results or make a follow-up attack because gunfire from the escorts forced her down. On 11 March, Triton reported that she was chasing two convoys, each made up of five or more ships. She was informed that Trigger (SS-237) was operating in an adjoining area and ordered to stay south of the equator. On the 13th, Triton was warned that three enemy destroyers in her area were either looking for a convoy or were hunting American submarines.

On 15 March, Trigger reported that she had attacked a convoy and had been depth charged. Even though attacks on her ceased, she could still hear distant depth charging for about an hour. No further messages from Triton were ever received. Post-war examination of Japanese records revealed that on 15 March 1943 three Japanese destroyers attacked a submarine a little northwest of Triton's assigned area and subsequently observed an oil slick, debris, and items with American markings. On 10 April 1943, Triton was reported overdue from patrol and presumed lost.

Triton received five battle stars for World War II.

Published: Wed Sep 30 19:55:00 EDT 2015