The USS Grayback was a Tambor-class submarine, whose keel was laid down by the Electric Boat Company out of Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on January 31, 1941 and sponsored by Mrs. Wilson Brown, wife of Rear Admiral Wilson Brown the Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy. Grayback was commissioned on June 30, 1941 with Lieutenant Willard A. Saunders in command. Upon the United States entry into the war, Grayback sailed for Pearl Harbor on February 8, 1942.
Grayback completed a total of ten war patrols. Her first involved sailing to the coast of Saipan and Guam where she sank her first ship on March 17th, a 3,291-ton cargo ship off Port Lloyd. Grayback’s home port was in Fremantle, Australia for much of the war, and from there she traveled on her third and fourth war patrols to the South China Sea and St. George’s Passage. During these patrols Grayback damaged several freighters and an enemy submarine, contributing to the success of America’s first offensive campaign in the Pacific war, the Guadalcanal campaign.
Lost at Sea
In subsequent patrols Grayback was successful in her efforts against the opposition. Grayback’s tenth patrol would be her most triumphant concerning tonnage sunk; however, it would also be her last. On January 28, 1944 Grayback left Pearl Harbor, sailing for the East China Sea. Before her last communication on February 25th Grayback had reported sinking two cargo ships, damaging two others, as well as sinking the tanker Nanho Maru. Grayback was scheduled to arrive at Midway on March 7th and never arrived. On March 30, 1944 ComSubPac listed Grayback as presumed lost with all hands.
After procuring Japanese records from the war it is understood that a Japanese carrier-based plane attacked Grayback. These reports state that the submarine “exploded and sank immediately” after which anti-submarine craft were instructed to depth charge the area. Grayback ranked 20th among all Navy submarines as far as total tonnage sunk and 24th in terms of total number of ships sunk. The Grayback crew received two Navy Unit Commendations, as well as the submarine’s eight battle stars for her World War II service.
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.