The first submarine commissioned with this name, the Grenadier was laid down by the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Sponsored by Mrs. Walter S. Anderson, wife of the Director of Naval Intelligence, she was launched on November 29, 1940. The Tambor-class diesel electric submarine was commissioned on May 1, 1941 and commanded by Lt. Comdr. Allen R. Jova.
On June 20, the USS Grenadier joined in the search for O-9, a vessel that failed to surface after a deep test dive. The submarine was also present 2 days later as memorial exercises were conducted over the spot in the ocean where the O-9 and her crew lay. She returned to Portsmouth on November 5, following shakedown in the Caribbean, to receive a refitting. She then sailed to the Pacific less than three weeks after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor to join the submarine fleet which was America’s first line in that region.
Action in World War II
The Grenadier’s first war patrol, which took her to the Japanese home islands, gave the submarine several targets which she failed to sink. Departing from Pearl Harbor for her second patrol on April 12, the vessel was able to get one of her most important kills of the war effort on this patrol. On May 8, she torpedoed and sank the transport, Taiyo Maru, which post-war records showed to be an extremely important vessel. According to those Japanese records, this transport was traveling tothe East Indies with a group of Japanese scientists, economists, and industrial experts looking for ways to exploitthe conquered territory. The loss of this transport significantly hurt the Japanese war effort.
On May 25, the Grenadier was diverted from her patrol area to Midway to form part of the submarine patrol line as the American fleet, participating in a violent battle which was the first defeat of the Imperial Navy in three hundred years. Her third patrol, taking place in the Truk area, gave the submarine many targets, though enemy planes did not allow her to take down any. She returned to her new base in Fremantle, Australia without a hit.
The Grenadier sailed to the Malay Barrier for her fourth patrol, which lasted from October 13 to December 10. Following the Grenadier’s laying of a minefield off of Haiphong, Indochina, the submarine made an unsuccessful attack on a large freighter. However, depth charges followed this attack, which allowed sea water to seep into the ship’s batteries. That damage allowed chlorine gas to escape from the vessel, sickening the crew with headaches and nausea for the remainder of that patrol. She also spotted an enemy carrier heading through the Strait of Makassar, though she was too distant to shoot at it, adding to the difficulties of this patrol.
Her fifth war patrol proved much more successful as she sank a 75-ton schooner with her deck guns on January 10, 1943. She then sank a small both a small tanker and barge, which was in tow, with her deck guns, choosing not to waste one of her torpedoes on the small vessels. Although her patrol along the Borneo coast through shallow and treacherous waters was hampered by fathometer failures, she was able to aggressively attack a pair of cargo ships on January 22, though she did not succeed in sinking them.
Her sixth and final war patrol saw her leave from Australia on March 20 and she headed for the Strait of Malacca, which is the gateway between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. While patrolling along the Malay and Thai coasts, the Grenadier sank a small freighter off the island of Phuket on April 6. Remaining in the area, the night of April 20 she sighted two merchantmen and closed in for an attack. However, when sailing on the surface the next morning, she spotted and was spotted by an enemy plane. While crash-diving the submarine was rocked by bombs, cutting the power and lights completely to the fatally-wounded ship. While settled at the bottom of the sea, 267 feet below the surface, she attempted to make repairs and address the fire raging in her maneuvering room.
After 13 hours, the Grenadier managed to surface to clear the boat of smoke and inspect its damage. Unfortunately, the ship’s propulsion system was completely destroyed. Despite Comdr. John A. Fitzgerald’s best efforts to bring his ship close to shore where the crew could escape, which even included an attempt to construct a sail, their efforts proved futile. The next morning, the crew sighted two Japanese ships heading towards them. Wisely deciding not to dive without power, the crew began burning the ship’s confidential documents before abandoning ship. As a Japanese plane attacked the submarine, the vessel was able to hit it with her machine guns on its second pass. Veering off, the damaged plane’s torpedo landed about 200 yards from the submarine and exploded.
Finally deciding to open the ship’s vents, the crew abandoned ship as the Grenadier sank. Picked up by a Japanese merchantman, 8 officers and 68 enlisted men were taken to Penang, Malay States. There the crew was questioned, beaten, and starved before being sent to other prison camps. Word of the crew’s survival did not even reach Australia until November 27, 1943. Separated and ultimately transferred to Japan after visiting several other prison camps, the crew suffered inhumane treatment during their imprisonment, which was worsened by the crew’s refusal to share military secrets. Despite their treatment at the hands of their captors, all but four of the Grenadier’s crew survived the more than two years spent imprisoned by the Japanese. The Grenadier received four battle stars for her service in World War II.
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.