The USS Cavalla, a Gato-class diesel-electric submarine, was laid down on March 4, 1943 by the Electric Boat Company of Groton, Connecticut. Sponsored by Mrs. M. Comstock and commanded by Lieutenant Commander H. J Kossler, the submarine was commissioned on February 29, 1944. She left New London on April 11, 1944, arriving at Pearl Harbor May 9 for repairs and training.
Action in World War II
On May 31, 1944, the USS Cavalla sailed to enemy-held waters in the Pacific. On June 17, 1944, the vessel’s maiden voyage, the Cavalla discovered a large Japanese task force. The Cavalla was headed to her station in the eastern Philippines when she discovered this enemy fleet. She then proceeded to track the task for several hours, relaying vital information that would earn her a Presidential Unit Citation and aid in the complete domination of the United States in their victory in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, known as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot,” which took place on June 19 and 20, 1944. Cavalla even succeeded in sinking the Shokaku after landing three torpedo hits.
Her second patrol saw the submarine support the invasion of Peleliu on September 15, 1944 as a member of a wolfpack. Her third patrol proved successful again, as she made a surface attack on two Japanese destroyers, sinking the Shimotsuki. Later in the same patrol, the Cavalla sank two converted net tenders on a night surface attack. Cavalla’s fourth and fifth war patrols saw her cruise the South China and Java Seas. Although she encountered few enemy vessels, she did rescue an ally on May 21, 1945. That rescue involved the escort of HM Submarine Terrapin, which was damaged by enemy depth charges. Standing by the wounded vessel, the Cavalla and Terrapin arrived at Fremantle on May 27, 1945.
During her sixth war patrol, which saw her performing lifeguard duty off Japan, Cavalla received the cease-fire order. Just a few minutes after receiving that order, a Japanese plane bombed the submarine, although she did not sustain serious damage. The Japanese plane had apparently not yet received the same cease-fire information. Joining the other fleets entering Tokyo Bay on August 31, she stayed for the signing of the surrender on September 2, leaving for New London the next day. She arrived in New London on October 6, 1945 and was placed out of commission on March 16, 1946.
After the War
The USS Cavalla was briefly recommissioned from April 10, 1951 to September 3, 1952, joining Submarine Squadron 8 for fleet exercises off of Nova Scotia and in the Caribbean. After decommissioning on September 3, 1952, the submarine was sent to the Electric Boat Co. yard to be converted to a hunter-killer submarine. She was reclassified as the SSK-244. After conversion, she was recommissioned on July 15, 1953 to join Submarine Squadron 10. However, the new sonar equipment the submarine had acquired made the Cavalla a useful experimentation vessel and she was then transferred to Submarine Development Group 2 on January 1, 1954. With that group she evaluated new weapons and equipment, and participated in fleet exercises. During that period, the Cavalla sailed to Europe to participate in NATO exercises and visited Norfolk, Virginia to take part in the International Naval Review, remaining active through 1963. However, on August 15, 1959, the Cavalla’s classification transferred back to SS-224.
Reclassified an Auxiliary Submarine AGSS-224 in July 1963, the Cavalla was decommissioned and struck from the naval register on December 30, 1969. The Cavalla was transferred to the Texas Submarine Veterans of WWII on January 21, 1971, eventually being delivered to her permanent berth at the Seawolf Park in Galveston, Texas. The Cavalla received four battle stars for her World War II service, in addition to her Presidential Unit Citation. The first and third war patrols out of her six were designated successful and in total, the Cavalla received credit for sinking 34,180 tons of shipping.
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.