The Gato SS-212, the first submarine with this name, was laid down by the Electric Boat Company and launched on August 21, 1941. Commissioned on December 31, 1941, she was commanded by Lt. Commander W. G. Myers.
Action in World War II
Following shakedown, the Gato headed to Pearl Harbor, beginning her first war patrol on April 20. During that patrol she unsuccessfully attacked a converted aircraft carrier before being driven away by depth charges from four destroyers. On May 24, she began a patrol of the western approaches to Midway, setting up station 280 miles westward during that significant victory. Her second tour involved patrolling east of the Kurile Islands toward the Aleutian chain, where she hit a ship with four torpedoes on August 15, 1942, doing an unconfirmed amount of damage. Her third patrol included operations off Kiska, and then the Truk atoll, where her December 6th attack on a convoy was broken off by aerial bombs and a severe depth charge attack by three destroyers. This patrol ended on December 23, 1942 at Brisbane, Australia.
Her fourth war patrol saw the Gato sink the transport, Kenkon Maru, on January 21, the cargo ship, Nichiun Maru, on January 29, and another cargo ship, Suruga Maru, on February 15. All of these successful engagements took place off New Georgia, Solomon Islands. During her fifth war patrol, she landed an Australian Intelligence party at Toep, Bougainville on March 29, 1943, evacuating 27 children, 9 mothers, and 3 nuns. She then transferred them on March 31 to SC-531 off Ramos, Florida Island. However, during a submerged radar attack approach on April 4, 1943 beween Tanga and Lihir Islands, she was shaken so violently by three exploding depth charges that she had to return to Brisbane for temporary repairs, lasting from April 11 to 20. Landing additional Australian commandos at Toep Harbor on May 29, she then transported more evacuees to Ramos Island, then investigating off Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands before sailing back to Pearl Harbor on June 6, 1943.
Receiving overhaul at the Mare Island Shipyard, she returned to Pearl Harbor to conduct her sixth war patrol. En route to her patrol area, on October 19, she attacked a convoy, scoring hits for unknown damage to two large cargo ships. Her seventh war patrol, lasting from November 18, 1943 to January 10, 1944, took her north of the Bismarck Archipelago. Making a coordinated attack with Ray, she sank the cargo ship, Columbia, Maru. After rescuing a Japanese soldier from a life-raft on December 16, she attacked a convoy in the Saipan-Massau traffic lanes 4 days later to sink the cargo ship, Tsuneshima Maru, also scoring damaging hits on another freighter. After close calls with depth charges, she ended her patrol on January 10, 1944, at Milne Bay, New Guinea.
Departing Milne Bay on February 2, 1944 to conduct her eighth war patrol in the Bismarck-New Guinea/Truk area, on February 15 she sank a trawler off Truk. She also sank a transport, Daigen Maru No. 3, on February 26th and the cargo ship, Okinoyama Maru No. 3, on March 12. She also destroyed two additional trawlers before her return to Pearl Harbor on April 1, 1944. During her ninth patrol, Gato took Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood to Midway, completed photographic reconnaissance of Woleai Island, and served on a lifeguard station for air strikes on Truk from June 11 to 18, ending her patrol at Majuro atoll. She began her tenth patrol on July 15, 1944, being beginning lifeguard duty for the carrier-based air strikes on Chichi Jima, rescuing two aviators. Returning to Pearl Harbor on September 2, 1944, she proceeded to Mare Island for overhaul and returned to Pearl Harbor.
The Gato’s eleventh patrol took it to the Yellow Sea to act as a part of a coordinated attack group which included the Jallao and the Sunfish. After sinking a coastal defense ship on February 14 and a cargo ship, the Tairiku Maru, on February 21, she returned to Guam. Departing for her twelfth patrol on April 12, 1945, she took up lifeguard station in support of the invasion of Okinawa. After a brief fight with Japanese submarines on the night of April 23, she avoided destruction narrowly. However, between April 27 and April 30, the Gato saved 10 Army aviators near the beaches Toi Misaki, Kyushu. She returned to Pearl Harbor on June 3, 1945. Departing for her thirteenth war patrol on July 8, she participated in lifeguard stationing for air strikes on Wake Island, followed by strikes off the eastern coast of Honshu.
After the War
She received word of the cease fire on August 15 while making an attack approach on a sea truck. The Gato then steamed into Tokyo Bay on August 31, staying for the signing of surrender documents on board the Missouri on September 2. She departed the next day, arriving in the New York Naval Shipyard, where she was decommissioned on March 16, 1946. She served as a naval reserve training ship at New York and later, Baltimore, Maryland, until being struck from the Navy List on March 1, 1960. She was sold for scrapping to the Northern Metals Company on July 25, 1960. In addition to receiving her 13 battle stars for her service in World War II, she also received the Presidential Unit Citation in recognition of her service during war patrols four through eight.
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.