USS Barbel SS-316 (1943-1945)
The USS Barbel, named for a fish that in the same family as minnows and carps, was built in 1943 in Groton, Connecticut. A Balao-class submarine, she was commissioned in 1944 and shortly thereafter sent to Pearl Harbor to prepare for war patrol.
Action in World War II
During her tenure in World War II the Barbel sank ten ships, causing 55,200 tons of loss, and damaged another two ships. Her first sinking was in the Nansei Shoto chain. She sank three freighters and a tanker in this area. During her second patrol she struck it lucky again and sank another freighter and several escort vessels. Her third patrol in the South China Sea would result in the loss of two more Japanese freighters.
The USS Barbel departed for a fourth war patrol from Fremantle on January 5 1945. She was going to conduct training exercises while heading to Exmouth Gulf. She was topped off with fuel when she left Exmouth Gulf, three days after departing Fremantle. From there, she headed to Lombok Straight, Java Sea, and Karimata straight to patrol the South China Sea. She was scheduled to return to Fremantle in the middle of February.
She was directed to cover the Western approaches of Balabac straight with two other submarines. However, on January 27th she was told to form a wolfpack with the Perch and Gabilan from there they were to cover the Western approaches and Southern entrance to Palawan Passage. The Barbel reported that she was encountering multiple aircraft on a daily basis.
Disappearance at Sea
In early February, Barbel was attacked by aircraft with depth charges. She transmitted one last that was the last bit of contact that anyone had with the Barbel. On February 6 the Tuna reported that she had had no contact with the Barbel for 48 hours and that the required rendezvous between the two ships did not happen. The Tuna then started searching for the Barbel, but she was unsuccessful.
According to the Japanese records, planes attacked a submarine near the Barbel’s last reported position. The records also tell of a bombing attack that almost certainly sank the Barbel with two bombs being dropped and one of them hitting on the bridge of the ship.
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.