USS Cutlass SS-478 (1945-1973)
Named for the cutlassfish, the USS Cutlass was a submarine of the Tench class. Construction began on this vessel at the Portsmouth Navy Yard on July 10, 1944, and by November 5, she was ready to be launched. However, her commission would not come until March of the next year, under the command of Commander Herbert L. Jukes.
Service Around the World
The Cutlass began her first war patrol on July 17, setting sail out of Pearl Harbor to patrol the Kurile Islands. Though she arrived here one day after the surrender of Japan on August 15, she remained at this post for another nine days before returning to Pearl Harbor and, ultimately, New York. For a time, she cruised the U.S. East Coast, but then was sent to the Panama Canal Zone at the beginning of 1946. For the next two years, she largely remained in the Caribbean Sea, based out of Cristobal. In the fall of 1947, she patrolled down the coast of South America, stopping at Valparaiso in Chile.
After modernization and overhaul in early 1948, the Cutlass participated in Operation Rainbow, an experiment which tested various color schemes on the interior of submarines to determine their effect on quality of life for sailors who remained on these submerged vessels for long periods of time. During this time, she was ported out of Key West, where she remained until being transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, in the summer of 1952.
After a cruise to the Mediterranean Sea, she returned to the Caribbean to aid in local operations and training. In 1956, she once again visited the Mediterranean, this time with NATO forces. Later, the submarine took a tour of Northern Europe, stopping at Scotland and Denmark. Continuing to return to Norfolk between missions, the Cutlass participated in antisubmarine warfare training off the coast of Virginia and exercises with the Pakistani Navy near Karachi.
The USS Cutlass was decommissioned on April 15, 1973, and her name struck from the Naval Register that same day. Later that year, the submarine was sold to the Republic of China Navy, where she serves as the ROCS Hai Shih to this day.
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.