USS Albacore (SS-218) was a submarine that was assigned to the Pacific during World War II. A Gato class, Albacore was designed to be a “Fleet submarine.” Her mission was to lead a fleet, scout and initially engage the enemy, preparing the way for the full scale fleet attack. As such, these boats carried heavy armaments and had a fairly shallow dive depth.
The USS Albacore won four Presidential Unit Citations along with nine Battle Stars. The Albacore is listed as sinking 13 Japanese ships and sinking the most tonnage of any US submarine. She was built at General Dynamics Electric Boat at Groton, Connecticut where her hull was laid on April 21, 1941. She was commissioned on June 1, 1942 with Lt. Cmdr. Richard C. Lake as her first commander.
Action in World War II
Following her shakedown cruise, the Albacore was sent to patrol the area around the Truk coral reef in the Northern Pacific. The Albacore harried Japanese shipping and military groups. On October 10 the Albacore encountered and hit a Japanese freighter. Explosions after the hit led the Albacore to believe she sunk this ship. On October 11, after being pursued by a Japanese patrol group for 11 hours with depth charges, the Albacore escaped and pulled in at Midway Island.
All of the Albacore’s nine patrols were considered successful. After refitting, the submarine left Mare Island and returned to Pearl Harbor. The Albacore headed for her ninth patrol in the Mariana Islands on May 29. Early on June 18, the Albacore was ordered to a new location due to the movement of a task force under Admiral Ozawa. Albacore found herself under the fleet and decided to attack the second ship of the group. She launched six torpedoes at the ship and then dived due to depth charges.
Several hours later, due to the misjudgment of the repair crew, the enemy ship exploded due to gas fumes. The Albacore had sunk the admiral’s flagship, the aircraft carrier Taiho, a 31,000 ton ship. It took a number of months before it was realized that the Albacore had indeed sunk the ship it had hit. During its tenth mission, the Albacore sank two enemy craft a submarine chaser and a cargo ship.
Disappearance at Sea
On October 24, 1944, after leaving Pearl Harbor, she stopped at Midway. On October 28 she sailed from Midway, after which all contact was lost. On March 30, 1945, the Albacore was finally taken off the Naval Vessel Register. After the war, Japanese records showed that a submarine had exploded after hitting a mine in the area patrolled by the Albacore. It is presumed that the ship was the Albacore.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.